Men’s Road Race World Championships Preview – Bergen 2017

After finding success on the rolling course in Richmond back in 2015, Peter Sagan went on defend his title a year later in Doha; winning a reduced bunch sprint.

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Can the Solvakian make it an unprecedented three wins on the trot tomorrow? Let’s take a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

Long, at a total of 276.5km! But that is what you would expect for the World Championships.

The riders don’t actually start in Bergen, instead, they’ll start in the town of Rong before heading south along a 40km stretch of exposed road and reaching the finish town. Thankfully or not, depending on what way you look at it, the wind forecast is for it to be very low so we won’t see any echelon action. Much to my disgust!

BergenRR Circuit

 

You can view the interactive version of my profile here.

If you’ve watched any of the action over the past few days then you’ll be familiar with the circuit above.

11 laps will certainly wear down the riders legs, with the total elevation gain for the day being roughly 3500m.

The key focal point for attacks over the past few races has been Salmon Hill and the small climb that comes just before it.

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Taken as a whole it is 3.7km at 4% which doesn’t sound much, but after 200km+ of racing then it certainly can cause some splits. The stronger climbers will be looking to put in their stinging attacks on the steeper ramps; either just before the “top” of the uncategorised climb, or halfway through Salmon Hill. This is where big gaps can be made.

The issue though is that after the summit there are still 10.4km of the course remaining. Any riders that make it away need to work well to ensure that they stay away from the chasers, especially with the final few kilometres being into a head wind.

I’m not going to bore you with any more route analysis though, as we’ve had plenty of that this week already. Instead, I’m going to jump straight into trying to figure this race out and what possible scenario we might see unfold tomorrow afternoon.

How do you stop Sagan?

A question many teams and riders ask themselves throughout the season but it is once again the case here.

Option 1 – Outsprint Him.

With a lot of nations bringing a rider who get involved in a reduced sprint at the end of the day, then there is a chance we might see it held all together to the line. Sagan is obviously fast in these types of situations, especially after a tough days racing. However, he has shown at MSR this year that he is certainly beatable.

Option 2 – Drop Him.

A tough task but some squads will certainly try it. If strong teams such as the Dutch, Belgians and French make constant attacks on Salmon Hill in the closing 80kms, then Sagan might get tired out trying to cover everything. That is of course assuming that he won’t have any team support left to work for him. The pace needs to be high from far out for that to happen though.

Option 3 – Refuse to work, hope your rider gets lucky.

We saw this recently in Quebec where no one wanted to co-operate with Sagan after he attacked in the closing stages. If they did, then there was a good chance they would have caught the group ahead, consequently fighting it for the win. They didn’t though and Sagan just shrugged and moved on. Although this is less likely to happen tomorrow as the Slovak will try to chase everything, it still might just do so. It is a very Sagan thing after all!

Option 4Illness

Bilogical warfare is probably a step too far, but there are rumours flying around on Twitter that he is currently suffering from illness and hasn’t been on the bike in a few days. I’m sure this was the case last year and has been for a few of his other races that he has went on to win. All mind games? We’ll just have to wait and see tomorrow.

Option 4 – Accept defeat.

He can follow almost any rider on the climb and he can match any rider here in a sprint after 200+km. Is there any point in trying?

Of course, and I think we won’t see him take a third title!

Definitely.

Maybe.

Possibly.

Ah who am I kidding, he probably will.

Contenders or Pretenders? The infamous Five

Like with my women’s preview, I’m only going to name a handful of riders here who I think could go well in a variety of situations. So once again apologies if I have not named someone you were hoping for; repeating the names you’ll no doubt have heard of a lot over the week such as Kwiatkowski, Matthews and Gaviria doesn’t appeal to me much!

Alex(bae)ey Lutsenko.

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The first punt I had committed to for this race and it was always going to happen, it was just a matter of time. If you’ve followed the blog over the past year and a half since its inception then you’ll know I have a lot of admiration for the talented Kazakh. He was strong at the start of the year; finishing a very respectable third in Dwars. Yet, it is his recent form at the Vuelta that impressed me most. He was super strong there to get a stage win and a second place finish on two tough breakaway days. The climb tomorrow is probably on his limit if the likes of Dumoulin go crazy in the final lap, but he has the quality to be close and he might infiltrate an earlier move. Will the former U23 champion take the step up?

Petr Vakoc.

My second punt for the race and another rider that was always going to be backed. A brute of a rider, he hasn’t taken as big a step forward in 2016 as I was expecting and hoping for but his performances have been solid. To win he’ll most likely have to go early and hope to be there if the strong climbers attack from behind. Packing a solid sprint from a very reduced group, he might fancy his chances in an 8 rider gallop.

Now that the two “long-term” selections are out of the road, it is time to move on to some other riders who I think could do well. Some are certainly more obscure than others.

Danny Van Poppel.

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Yup, you read that right. The Dutch have been on fire at these Championships so far and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them get a medal again tomorrow. Dumoulin is obviously one of their stronger guys and will be attacking early but if it all comes back for a 40 rider sprint then Van Poppel has a good outside chance. He’s impressed me a lot this season and certainly seems to becoming a more versatile rider. On the short bergs he can follow some of the stronger one-day riders, as was highlighted at BinckBank, but it will be interesting to see how it goes tomorrow. Given the instruction to not waste any energy at all and wait for a sprint, will he get his chance to shine?

Tony Gallopin.

A strong one-day racer, he arrives here in good form after taking two top-10s in Canada which were swiftly followed up by a second place in Wallonie. In terms of career he should be hitting his peak soon and given how strong he looked at San Sebastian in July, I think he’s in for a good couple of years; he just needs some luck. His last two appearances at the World’s have seen him finish 7th in 2015 and 6th in 2014. This course tomorrow in theory suits him very well, and packing a fast sprint he could fancy a small group of favourites battling it out at the line. It will be interesting to see how France approach tomorrow in general, with no “proper sprinter” they will no doubt be attacking throughout the day and making the race tough. Something that will help Gallopin a lot!

Daryl Impey.

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Last man on the list, Impey has had a fairly solid season in support of other riders at Orica. However, when presented with his own chances he has taken them, including a reduced bunch sprint in Catalunya earlier this year. A rider who’s climbing is very hit or miss, he showed some great form in the final week of the Tour, supporting Simon Yates deep into some of the stages. If he has those kind of legs tomorrow then he could be a real dark horse!

Prediction

We’ll see some fairly serious attacks around 50km out as teams try to make the race tough and ensure we don’t see a sprint. This will thin the bunch out going into the final 30km and the penultimate climb of Salmon Hill. Much like the women’s race, a smaller group will get away here but will be brought back due to a lack of cohesion ahead. This will then allow some riders to escape on the run-in before we hear the bell. A lot of the strong teams will be represented and with no impetus from behind, they stay away to the line.

Tony Gallopin to, erm, gallop home and take the win from a 7 rider sprint!

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Betting

Certainly a day to spread some punts around!

0.25pt EW Lutsenko @ 100/1 (would take 80s)

0.25pt EW Vakoc @ 200/1 (would take 150s)

0.25pt EW Impey @ 200/1 (would take 150s)

0.5pt EW Van Poppel @ 80/1 (would take 66s)

1pt EW Gallopin @ 66/1 (would take 50s)

 

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Could we see an upset on the cards, or will it be the cream rising to the top? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Ride London-Surrey Classic 2017 Preview

After spending a few years at .HC level, the race makes the step up to WT status for 2017. A decision that I’m not so sure about as with two WT races already going on at the weekend; team’s resources will be stretched to the limit and we could see some weaker teams sent here because of it. Furthermore, it takes away the opportunity for the UK Continental teams to shine. Oh well, it is what it is!

Last year saw the race come back for a relatively large bunch sprint which Tom Boonen won.

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The Aussie duo of Renshaw and Matthews followed the Belgian home to round out the podium.

Will we see a similar outcome this year? Let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders.

The Route

The organisers have slightly shortened the route for this edition, removing one of the climbs that we normally have during the middle of the race.

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Rolling out from London, the riders will face fairly flat roads with only a few minor lumps before reaching the first KOM of the day; Staple Lane.

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Uncategorised in last years race, it’s not an overly tough climb mainly due to the amount of false flat that it has. However, there are a few steep ramps and some longer sections at +5%. I wouldn’t expect it to do any damage to the peloton though.

Staple Hill does kick off the “serious” section of the race where the riders will be facing climbs every 15km or so.

Next on the agenda is Leith Hill.

LeithHill KOM

A more challenging climb than Staple Hill, we could see some of the stronger climbing teams push the pace on here to try to put the sprinters into difficulty early on.

Once over the top they’ll face a long shallow descent before the first passage of Ranmore Common.

Ranmore KOM

Another short climb, the peloton will no doubt fly up it. The gradient does get steepest near the top, peaking at 16%, which does offer a great opportunity to attack. Even more so because there are a few kilometres of false-flat to continue to apply the pressure on once you’re over the summit. The riders will then complete a loop back through Dorking and complete the Ranmore climb for a second time.

With roughly 50km remaining, the riders will face the last KOM of the day; Box Hill.

BoxHill KOM

For the professional peloton it shouldn’t be too much of a challenge, but it depends how aggressive the race has been up to that point. If we’ve had some very fast racing over the previous 60km then the 3.9% average gradient might seem a little harder than it is on paper!

When off the descent, the riders will have just over 40km until the finish in London. A lot of the route is flat in general, but the road does roll quite a lot. One thing British roads are known for is being “heavy” and energy sapping. This could really be of the detriment to any group up the road if they’ve already expended a lot of energy and the peloton is chasing keenly behind. Conversely though, narrow roads make it hard for a team to organise a chase.

The finish in London itself is the same we’ve had the past few years with the sprint along the Mall.

Weather Watch

As with most races in the UK, you never know what type of weather you’ll get on the day of the event.

Looking just now, the forecast for Kingston-upon-Thames has some possible localised thunderstorms mid-afternoon.

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Source: Met Office

That could certainly make the run in for home interesting; especially with a strong tailwind helping those staying away.

However, in Dorking (where most of the climbs are near) there is no rain forecast with fairly clear skies promised for the majority of the day!

All of this can change in an instant though and I wouldn’t be surprised if the forecast is different later on this evening compared to what it is when I’m looking at it now (10:30 am).

How will the race pan out?

The past 4 editions of the race have seen a small group stay away two times, with a reduced bunch sprint deciding the winner on the other occasions.

With the race now stepped up to WT level, we could see a race where teams are more happy to control the day hoping for a sprint and to gain some crucial WT points.

The step up also means that teams are able to bring an extra rider; 7 compared to 6 the past few years. Consequently, the bigger teams have another “disposable” rider to try to control the breakaway up ahead.

Conversely though, quite a few teams bring squads where they have riders who can cover both options.

I think I’m hoping more than anything else that we’ll get an exciting, attacking race, but I fear that it could end up being a relatively dull and controlled day.

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The majority of you seem to think the same way!

Sprinters

Matthews.

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Off the back of a great Tour de France, the Aussie will arrive here looking to keep the momentum going. As one of the best climbing sprinters in the world, he might actually get his team to apply some pressure on the KOMs during the middle of the race. He’s not the fastest on a pure flat sprint like the one we have tomorrow so he needs to take advantage elsewhere. He has a solid lead-out but it’s made up of mostly sprinters so they might be a bit disorganised. His team doesn’t really have anyone that will ride tempo on the front of the peloton all day so I’m intrigued to see if they try to get someone into the break.

Greipel.

Bitterly disappointed with his performance at the Tour, he’ll be here hoping to make amends tomorrow. In this type of field he should be making it over the climbs if they’re not rode aggressively and he should be there at the finish. Is he getting past his prime and starting to decline in prowess? Unfortunately, I think so. He just doesn’t seem as fast as he used to be and that’s shown at the Giro and Tour. I wouldn’t be placing my house on him to win tomorrow!

Bennett.

After picking up a handful of podiums at the Giro but just missing out on that elusive Grand Tour win, he bounced back with two wins in Slovenia. However, he’s not raced since the Irish Road Champs over a month ago so it will be interesting to see where his form is at. A rider I rate highly, he should be able to get over the climbs in fairly good shape and will be one of the fastest guys at the finish. If he’s on form…

Viviani.

According to an interview with Doull, Team Sky are backing Viviani 100% and that the Italian is in good form. Are they that confident in him or is that a bluff? Because to be honest, I wouldn’t be confident in Viviani winning! Sky have a few cards to play if the race does become attacking, such as Kennaugh or Stannard, so maybe they’re trying to play mind games with everyone. To be fair to Viviani, he did win a couple of stages in Austria recently but the field was hardly stacked with sprinting talent; Vanmarcke came home behind him in 2nd and 3rd on those two days.

Kristoff.

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Another rider who was poor at the Tour, he did seem to grow into the race as it progressed. However, he was then involved in a crash and that put a halt to things for him. If this was Kristoff of 2014 or 2015 vintage, there would be no point in having anyone else turn up as he would have this race in the bag. Can he roll back the years tomorrow? I’m sure he’ll be doing a rain dance tonight anyway!

Aside from those guys, there are plenty of riders who could get involved in a sprint including;

Drucker – Former winner, would need some of the faster guys to be distanced. In good form at the moment, picking up a win in Wallonie.

Theuns – I’m a big fan of his and without Degenkolb here he’ll now be designated sprinter. With De Kort and Stuyven he has a strong short lead-out. Does he have the legs to compete?

Cort Nielsen – After promising so much towards the end of last year he’s been a bit “meh” so far this season. A good climbing sprinter, he’ll probably want a tough race. If he’s not there, Orica might turn to Impey.

There are others, but I don’t want to list 20% of the start list!

Breakers/Late Attackers?

There are a few names I want to throw into the proverbial hat for this section.

Naesen.

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The Belgian Champion was one of the MVPs of the Tour, working selflessly for Bardet every day. Due to how well his team-mate was going, Naesen never got a chance to shine himself but tomorrow could be that day. AG2R arrive with an attacking team, as let’s be honest, Barbier isn’t going to win the sprint. A super strong rider on the short climbs and on the flat, he should be good enough to get into the moves.

Bauer.

A rider who earned a lot of my respect during the Tour, he often found himself last man standing as support for Dan Martin. Climbing better than ever before, he tried to get into the winning break on the penultimate road stage but just missed out. Quick Step don’t bring a proper sprinter as such, although that is doing Trentin a little bit of a disservice, so they’ll be trying to animate the race as much as possible. Bauer could be the man who makes it two in a row for them!

Van Baarle.

Another rider just out of the Tour, he was also climbing well on a few of the mountain stages, helping his team-leader Uran. Much more of a classics rider, tomorrow’s route suits him quite well and he is certainly a guy who can attack in the middle part of the race. Cannondale have an aggressive team and I expect to see Van Baarle on the move at some time. Will Tour legs benefit him?

Prediction

I really hope we see an attacking and exciting race but I think there will be enough motivation behind to bring things back for a sprint.

In that situation, I’ll go for a Bennett win.

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I’ll be waiting (possibly with bated breath) for a Bauer / Naesen / Van Baarle attack though…

Betting

No real value at the top of the order and if you’re to back a sprinter it is definitely an in-play day but I might avoid that completely.

Happy to have a gamble on two of my outsiders though;

0.5pt WIN on them both at B365;

Bauer @ 200/1

Van Baarle @ 100/1

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win tomorrow and how? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth

 

 

Tour de France 2017 Stage 21 Preview; Montgeron -> Paris

Today’s Recap

One second. Again! Think this must be the 6th time in two years that the rider I’ve backed for a timed event has lost out by one second.

Kwiatkowski rode a great TT but was just pipped by fellow countryman Bodnar, the latter getting revenge for being crushed by the Sky rider at nationals. After Sagan’s dismissal and Majka’s withdrawal it is good to see Bora still going well and challenging when they can!

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Froome came home third to convincingly take his 4th Tour title. Well, convincingly might not be the best word to use as he has looked anything but that this race, however the two TTs have won it for him! I wonder how the GC would have panned out if we had Valverde and Porte still here.

Oh well, let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders on their final day of racing.

The Route

You know the score by now, a little jaunt from the outskirts of Paris that finishes with some laps of the Champs-Élysées.

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A processional stage that will get more exciting once we hit the laps themselves.

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Coming out from the underpass first with a few lead-out men in front of your sprinters is important. From there, being able to lead it through the sweeping bends with 500m to go will put your sprinter into a prime position into the closing straight.

That’s about that for the route, nothing more needs to be said really!

Weather wise the riders will start out in overcast conditions but that could all change later on in the stage depending on how processional they make the day.

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A wet finish could certainly make things a bit more lively.

Sprinters

This is the Tour, not the Giro, so we will see a sprint finish tomorrow. With Kittel no longer here, the door has been opened for the rest of the fast men to take a stage win and it could consequently become a bit hectic because of that.

Matthews.

The Green Jersey winner (as long as he finishes tomorrow) will be looking to go out with a bang. With arguably one of the best lead-out trains, he should be put into a good position. Brimming with confidence just now, does he have the speed to finish off a great Tour for Sunweb?

Boasson Hagen.

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After getting a richly deserved stage win the Dimension Data will be looking to double up tomorrow. The other rider with a strong lead-out, he should be placed into a good position in the final straight. No doubt we’ll see Van Rensburg do another monster turn to get him there! There are questions about his willingness to take risks though which could see him start his sprint from further back.

Greipel.

Has won a stage at every Grand Tour he’s started over the past few years. He left it late last year, taking the final stage that time round and he’ll need to do that again this year if he wants to continue that record. His experience of managing his body through a race could be vital.

Groenewegen.

The flying Dutchman hasn’t really set sail this Tour so far, picking up two podium places along the way. However, he did look like one of the fastest riders on the pure sprint into Pau and with Kittel gone he’ll be hoping to go better.

Bouhanni.

Poor. That’s how I’ll describe his Tour so far. He’s a sprinter that I think can do really well but he’s just been very disappointing during this race. He’s been positioned well only for him to decide to fight for wheels instead, or just completely lack the kick to get involved in the dash to the line. He could turn it around tomorrow and he’ll probably be doing a rain dance tonight, but it I think it’s unlikely we’ll see him on the top step.

Degenkolb.

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He’s been okay this race, especially when you consider that his original aim was to help Contador on the flat days and then look after himself. Now that he’s been freed from those shackles, he’ll hope to have the favour returned to him by the team. He would prefer a tougher finish but he should be in or around the top 5.

Kristoff.

Another rider who falls into the poor category. He was close in some of the opening few stages but has fallen by the wayside recently. Crashing the other day hasn’t helped and he’s looked a bit sketchy since then. Maybe he’ll be hoping for poor weather to help turn his race around?

Petit, Colbrelli, Cimolai, Bennati and Selig will all be fighting for the Top 10.

Prediction

My angle of thought for today’s stage nearly worked: pick a rider who is clearly still in form at the end of the race.

So with that being said, I think Matthews will win the stage tomorrow.

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He may not be known as the fastest rider on a pure flat sprint, but after the past week he is the only one to have shown that he is in great form. His ability to climb over some of the mountains we’ve had should see him fresher for tomorrow’s finish. Brimming with confidence, he’ll take a memorable stage win in Paris wearing Green.

Betting

1.5pt EW Matthews @ 12/1 with PP/BF (Would take 10/1 elsewhere)

 

Thanks as always for reading but a big thanks if you’ve stuck with me through the past 3 weeks. It’s your continued support that makes me keep going when I’ve gone on awful stage prediction runs etc! During the Tour the blog surpassed 50,000 views for the year which is incredible so thanks once again. I hope that a few of you new readers will stick around for the rest of the season as we still have plenty more racing to go.

Next on the schedule for me will be San Sebastian and both the Ride London races.

Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

Tour de France 2017 Stage 10 Preview; Périgueux -> Bergerac

Rest-day Recap

A crazy stage filled with everything and it was certainly one of the most exciting I’ve watched in recent years. It was a stage that I’m sure even a non-cycling fan would be able to sit down to and enjoy for 5 hours.

In the end Uran managed to win a 6 rider sprint while effectively on a fixie. That just topped off a remarkable day!

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Day-long escapee Barguil finished second, while Froome nabbed third to pick up some bonus seconds and extend his GC lead over closest challenger Aru.

Of course, we had some very unfortunate crashes that took out some big names. However, that’s part of racing and it is nothing more than unfortunate. The riders push as fast as they want and are safe with, if they want to take risks, that’s up to them! It might be a slightly unpopular opinion but I see nothing wrong with yesterday’s stage lay-out; going downhill is as an important skill as going uphill. If not, why not just set up some turbos and see who can do the highest W/kg for an hour?!

Anyway, let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders tomorrow.

The Route

The riders will be glad to ease themselves back into racing after the rest-day with a fairly simple stage tomorrow.

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There are only two Cat-4 climbs out on course but the first one is generously given that classification as it only averages 3.3% for 3.5km. The second is slightly tougher but even then it is only 2.1km at 5.6%. Not exactly tough for the peloton!

As for the finish itself, there are a couple of roundabouts at roughly 3km to go but they won’t be too much of an issue.

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There are then two left-hand turns in the closing kilometre which could throw a spanner in the works for the lead-out trains.

The first one isn’t too sharp a bend but it is made tight due to some road furniture, effectively blocking off one side of the road. Or at least making the longer way around harder to go!

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Left Hand Turn #1

The narrowing road should ensure that the bunch is relatively strung out coming out of the turn. Which in theory will make the second left-hand corner easier.

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Left Hand Turn #2

I just hope that they’ve got rid of those gates! 😜

It will then be a 500m drag race to the line and we should see the fastest rider sprint for stage victory. Or should we…

How will the stage pan out?

It should be a sprint stage but post rest-day racing always produces some kind of odd result every now and then. Remember what I said in my Stage 7 preview…

With Kittel being so dominant, I’m not sure many of the other sprint teams will want to contribute to the pace setting. They’ll let Quick Step do the majority of the work, hoping to tire them out and take advantage of it later on in the stage. However, there is a chance that QS could call their bluff. The German already has three stage wins to his name so there is no pressure on him to win again. He didn’t look too great in his win on Stage 7, looking down at his power meter a lot, suggesting that he wasn’t feeling as strong. With a commanding lead in the Green Jersey competition the team also has room to ride defensively. Potentially give Martin an easier day after his crash yesterday?

Sprint Contenders

Kittel starts as the clear favourite but he is beatable. Especially now that Trentin is gone, that could be crucial for him. Although in fairness, his lead-out wasn’t firing on all cylinders anyway and he has three stage wins to his name.

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Greipel has been close but he hasn’t looked like winning any stage yet. Nonetheless, the experienced German has to be respected in a Grand Tour sprint. Will he be able to pick up a win tomorrow to keep his streak going?

Bouhanni might actually have a chance if he positions himself well. I still rate him as a fast rider and his acceleration could be key tomorrow to sprint out of the corners. Nonetheless, he’ll no doubt find himself 10 bike-lengths behind and that will be that.

Boasson Hagen arguably has the beast lead-out here now. So, so close to a win on Stage 7, Dimension Data were excellent; especially van Rensburg. The other sprinters will be aware of his strength now though so he might find it more difficult tomorrow.

Groenewegen will be there or thereabouts again. Two 5th place finishes for him so far, but he’ll be expecting more. He is fast and the finish does look to suit him. Can he make the step up and take a grand tour podium or even better, a win??

Kristoff has a great last man in Zabel and should be dropped off in a great position. He seems to be getting better as the race goes on, returning to his form of previous years? If so, he has the speed to win!

Matthews finished fast on Stage 7 but I’m still unsure if he has the raw-speed to compete on a pure flat sprint. His powers of recovery might be better than some of the proper sprinters, but he did have a big day out yesterday and I think that will take its toll tomorrow.

Colbrelli, Cimolai and McLay will be fighting for top 10 spots.

Break Candidates

I’d say the chance of the break sticking are better than any sprint stage so far, but it is still only a 10% chance at most. There will need to be some strong riders up the road and ideally be a 6-7 rider group.

I’ll throw a couple of names into the proverbial hat, sticking with some home-talent…

Thomas Boudat.

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The Frenchman is a young sprint talent who’s getting his first taste at Grand Tour riding. However, Direct Energie seem to be going with Petit for the big bunch sprints, with Boudat left to take opportunities from the break. Hailing from Langon, which is 80km from the finish in Bergerac, I imagine that a lot of his friends and family from home will be out to see him race. What better motivation to get into the morning breakaway than that?! He might not have the experience, but he will be tough to beat in a sprint if the break makes it all the way to the line.

Yoann Offredo

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A rider who was in the break on the first open road stage (with Boudat), he and Phinney nearly managed to hold on until the line, getting caught in the final few kilometres. Wanty are clearly motivated to try to get a rider into the move every day on the flat stages and that will be no different tomorrow. If he’s as aggressive and strong as he was on Stage 2 then he has a chance. His breakaway companions will certainly be Offredo him…

I’ll get my coat.

Prediction

We’ll probably still see a sprint and Kittel will probably win, again!

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I think that Kristoff could be his biggest challenger though. Although he only finished 4th on Stage 7, he showed some signs he’s riding back into good form. In search of a contract for next year, a good result tomorrow would certainly help that!

Betting

Definitely not lumping on Kittel tomorrow and almost tempted for a no bet, however…

0.8pt EW Kristoff @ 10/1 with William Hill

0.1pt EW Boudat @ 350/1 with BetVictor (would take 250s lowest elsewhere)

0.1pt EW Offredo @ 600/1 with Bet365 (would take 500s elsewhere)

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Can anyone beat Kittel? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

Tour de France 2017 Stage 6 Preview; Vesoul -> Troyes

Today’s Recap

A fast day in the saddle. the race finished a good bit ahead of schedule. With a strong break going from the gun, we easily could have seen them build up a 6-8 minute advantage. However, BMC had other ideas and began setting tempo at the front of the bunch early on, never allowing the advantage to go much further north than 3 minutes.

Once onto Belles Filles itself, Kwiatkowski took over and set a terrific tempo for Sky, resulting in riders slowly being churned out the back of the peloton. Yet, it was such an infernal pace that it put his own team in difficulty. Landa and Henao never managed to put their nose in the wind at all, and it was left to Nieve to take over.

Aru sensed the Spaniard was slowing and attacked with 2.2km to go. A foolish move considering Sky’s ability to drag those attacks back in the past, except he just kept getting further away. Thomas closed down an attack from Yates, but wasn’t able to offer too much more after that so Froome himself went on the offensive. Only Porte, Bardet and Martin could follow the yellow-jersey elect, but after some looking around the group behind caught up again with around 800m to go.

By then though, Aru had the stage in the bag, taking a great victory for the blog! And himself too I guess…

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What really impressed me was the gutsiness of his attack, but more importantly the way he kept driving to the line, only posting up to celebrate once over the finish.

Behind, Martin launched a terrific attack to gain time on the rest and finish second on the day. While Froome managed to pip Porte to third. I’m sure the latter will be disappointed after his team did most of the work today.

There’s still a long way to go and plenty of mountains left, just not mountain top finishes, but it is promising that it isn’t going to be a complete two-horse race.

The GC riders will take a back foot tomorrow with the sprinters having another chance at glory. Let’s have a look at what’s in store for them.

The Route

A fairly benign and long day in the saddle at 216km – it is a typical transitional stage!

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Nothing major to note until we get towards the finish in Troyes. I got mildly excited when looking at the weather forecasts as we do have some 25m/h crosswinds early in the stage but they die down once we get to 50km to go. So we won’t see any echelon action!

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The final 5km gets progressively more technical. Aside from a roundabout at around 5.5km to go, the lead-outs will be able to organise themselves and we’ll no doubt see a big fight to get to the tight turn just before 2km to go first.

From there, the road slowly bends around to the right. Holding the inside line will force opposition teams to take the outside route, elongating their own run in, and potentially tiring them out/ruining their timing.

More crucially though, it is important to be at the front going under the flamme rouge as things will get messy.

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Just as they pass under the kite the riders will be faced with this roundabout where they will be funnelled around the right-hand side. Well, according to the road book anyway.

The riders will then have to contend with another roundabout at what appears to be ~250m to go.

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However, it is not as bad as it sounds, with it really only being a slight kink in the road. The worst part though is that the road narrows from three lanes to two and some riders might find themself running out of space!

Contenders

With some of the key sprinters now gone from the race or injured, we should in theory have a safer run-in as fewer people will be competing for the win.

Démare has had the best/most consistent results out of all the sprinters so far with a second place and a win to his name. He was somewhat lucky to get away with cutting across Bouhanni on Stage 4 but there is no doubt he is one of the strongest here. He has a lead-out train long/strong enough to control it in the final 2kms but they’ve been disappointing so far. Can they turn it around tomorrow and see Démare take a second win?

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Kittel was never in it on Stage 4. Positioned too far back, he never got close to the top 10 of the race before it was decimated by the crashes. Another lead-out that was fairly disappointed, with a team as good as QuickStep, you would expect them to turn that around tomorrow. The crazy on sprint on stage 2 shows the German has form, but will he be in a position to show that again?

With Cavendish and Sagan now gone, it certainly opens up the sprints more and in theory should make them less chaotic as we’ll have fewer lead-out trains fighting for position.

Kristoff and his Katusha team were keen to do some work on Stage 4 but possibly took it up too early. The Norwegian came away with a second place but I’m not too sure what we can fully read into it. I’m still not convinced he’s as strong as he was in 2015 but with Zabel he has a very good last man he can trust. Another podium is a possibility.

Greipel picked up another podium on Stage 4 but he seemed to be really struggling today and was one of the first riders dropped. Ill? Or was he just using his experience and saving as much energy as possible?

Bouhanni is one that interests me a bit for tomorrow. Clearly riding himself back into a bit of form after his crash in Yorkshire, he was unlucky to be blocked by Démare on Stage 4. The technical final kilometre should suit the brave Frenchman and he does have the speed to compete. Will the win be too much? Only 1.19% (or 1/84) of the previous 4 Tour stages have been won by a rider riding at Pro-Conti level.

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Credit to @padsbets for that stat.

Groenewegen, Colbrelli and Matthews will be close and fighting for the top 5 but they should get a top 10.

Prediction

Kittel will return to winning ways!

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But I think we’ll see Bouhanni sneak onto the podium, the finish looks good for him. Just need Démare to stay out of his way!

Betting

Not willing to risk Kittel at his odds, so I’m once again going with a better value play on Bouhanni.

1pt EW Bouhanni @ 16/1 with SkyBet. (Would take 14s lowest elsewhere).

After two successful H2Hs in a row, I’ll play the profit up for tomorrow. The 3.6pt was turned into 7.92pt today so I’ll put…

4pt Bouhanni to beat Greipel @5/4 with WillHill.

Risky, but I like the Frenchman’s trajectory.

 

Thanks as always for reading, who do you think will win tomorrow? Will it be an easy win for Kittel or will someone else challenge him? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

Tour de France 2017 Stage 4 Preview; Mondorf-les-Bains -> Vittel

Today’s Recap

An exciting finale that had a little bit of everything but in the end the result was inevitable, wasn’t it? After managing to clip back into his pedal after unclipping, Sagan still had enough power to hold off a charging Matthews on the line to take a great stage victory.

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Dan Martin was the best of the GC guys, coming home in third place and taking 4 bonus seconds on the line plus a 2 second time gap back to the main GC group. Yates was the worst off today, losing 8 seconds to the likes of Froome/Porte etc.

A special mention must also go to Démare who managed to hold on to the wheels of the climbers and eventually finished 6th. He’s in stupendous form at the moment!

Will he get a chance to go for the win tomorrow?

Let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders.

The Route

A fairly simple stage with not too much to talk about!

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It should be a day for the sprinters so the stage is all about the final few kilometres.

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The road does rise and fall in the final 5kms but it’s nothing too severe. The climb that you see on the profile above averages roughly 1.8% for 2kms, so nothing more than false flat. Likewise, the finish itself does ramp up but it is only 1.7% for the final kilometre.

I’m sure all of the sprinters would expect to be there!

As for the run-in itself, it is more technical than what we had on stage 2.stage-4-5km

So here comes a little preview by pictures…

The first challenge the riders will have to face is the turn onto Rue de la Vauviard after they come off the short descent.

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Having gathered up a lot of pace, they’ll have to be careful not to misjudge the bend as it is a lot tighter than I expected going off of the stage map. From there, they will face a sweeping road until the “tight turn” at roughly 1.5km to go.

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Said “tight turn”

On a two-lane wide road the fight for position will be important as the best way to take the turn at maximum speed is to sweep from left to right. From there, they continue towards a roundabout which is a lot more precarious than the road book suggests.

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The two lanes that they approach on are split by some nasty looking road furniture, with the roundabout itself being very narrow. I hope we don’t see any accidents as every tries to funnel right.

Once through the roundabout the riders will hit the Flamme Rouge and from there things get a lot easier with no more sharp turns and slightly wider roads.

Conteders

Can anyone beat Kittel? Probably not.

The German was incredibly strong on the opening stage and if he produces the same amount of power tomorrow then he should eat up the finish. He will be hoping for a better lead-out though as he can’t afford to go too early on the rise as it could catch him (or anyone) out.

Démare again looks like his main challenger. The Frenchman missed his structured lead-out on stage 1 and he’ll bo hoping that changes tomorrow. They have the numbers to control the final 3km which is a huge advantage. Not afraid of a slight drag to the line, he has a good chance of going better than stage 2.7087035_1-0-1561477825_1000x625

Greipel loves a tougher sprint finish like this and he no doubt will be there at the end again. His train isn’t the best, he’ll need to use all of his experience to stay near enough to the front through the technical sections.

Cavendish took some promise from his result on stage 2. With another day of racing in his legs, will his form be on the up? Who knows! I’ll repeat what I said for the last sprint stage, his result won’t surprise me either way!

Bouhanni is the local boy and he will relish the technical finish. However, I’m still not convinced he’s at 100% after his crash in Yorkshire. He’ll give it his all and like Cavendish, I won’t be surprised with whatever he does.

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Groenewegen normally goes well on tougher run ins. The young Dutchman has no fear so he should be well positioned going into the final kilometre. Does he have the legs to compete with the best? A 5th on Stage 2 was promising and he may well sneak a podium tomorrow.

Matthews produced a very impressive final few hundred metres today, but it was too little too late. Not the fastest in a pan-flat sprint, the ever so slight gradient does bring him closer to the other sprinters.

Degenkolb was never really involved in the sprint on stage 2 and he might struggle with a lack of support. However, he looked very strong at the start of the year and you have to imagine that he will be close to that form again due to it being the Tour. If things click tomorrow, we might see a good result from the German sprinter.

Sagan will of course be up there again. Hampered on Stage 2, he was truly exceptional today. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him go back to back.

Colbrelli and Kristoff will looking to top 10 again.

Prediction

Boring, but Kittel wins again most likely!

Cue the glaringly obvious Kittel wins in Vittel headlines.

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He certainly can be challenged though and a few riders will fancy their chances, it won’t be as “easy” for him as it was on stage 2.

Betting

No value in Kittel but there are two “outsiders” I’d like to back because the odds are just ridiculous for them.

0.7pt EW Matthews @ 80/1 with PP/BF (Would take 66s)

The Sunweb rider actually has a fairly solid lead-out train with him and theory could be one of the better positioned riders in the finale tomorrow. He got blocked off on Stage 2 so could never really make any effort to go for the win. His finish today gives me a lot of confidence in his power right now and I think he could be up there tomorrow again. Definitly should be lower than a 66 or 80/1 shot.

0.3pt EW Degenkolb @150/1 with Sky/PP/BF (would take 125s)

He’s not been great as of late but that doesn’t warrant his massive price, I think his form is actually on the up. Another rider who didn’t really sprint at all on Stage 2, he might get lucky tomorrow. I find it absurd that he’s that price while McClay/Kristoff/Colbrelli are all shorter, and by some margin.

Probably another two losing “value” bets, but they could run close in a hectic finish.

 

Thanks as always for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated. Who do you think will win tomorrow? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Tour de France 2017 Stage 3 Preview; Verviers -> Longwy

Today’s Recap

I’ll be honest, I only caught the last 5km of the stage today. There was a crash earlier in the day involving Froome, Porte and Bardet but given early reports I don’t think it’s too serious for any of them.

We did end up with a sprint, no echelon action unfortunately, and it was a very messy sprint at that. No team was able to take control in the final kilometre and a few of the fast men were left on the front too early.

In the end, Kittel produced an incredible sprint to win comfortably. Well, as comfortable as you can be in a sprint like that! He was in the wind from about 400m to go then latched onto Colbrelli when the Italian launched, coming round him in the final 150m.

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Démare and Greipel rounded out the podium, with Cavendish finishing a promising 4th. Hopefully we’ll see more of him over the coming week.

The result sees Kittel move up to third place on GC. Will he be fighting for stage honours tomorrow and a stint in the yellow jersey? Let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders.

The Route

Another long day in the saddle at 212km, the terrain is definitely more rolling than today’s stage.

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There are 4 categorised KOM points out on course (a 5th if you include the finish) so no doubt we’ll see Phinney try to get into the morning break and defend his lead in that competition. However, it’s not just the categorised climbs that will sap the legs of the riders, there are several uncategorised bumps for them to deal with as well.

It all depends on the pace of the peloton but it could be a more wearing day than expected.

We might see a couple of riders try an attack within the final 10km if the break is brought back but more than likely it will come down to a battle up the final climb.

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At first look at the official profile I thought some of the tougher sprinters would have a good chance on a finish like this as they would carry a lot of speed into the climb due to the descent that ends with roughly 4km to go.

However, there actually appears to be a small rise just after the descent that we don’t see on the official profile.

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Link to the Strava profile can be found here.

Not long at 500m, it does average ~6.8% and it could be another springboard for someone to try to catch the peloton out.

Furthermore, the road seems to rise almost from the 4km mark on the above graphic to the finish line. Using the numbers from that, the final 2.4km average 5% which definitely makes it too tough for some sprinters!

It reminds me of the finish to Terme Luigiane (Stage 6) at the Giro this year, although that day is inverted to this one with the tougher gradients coming right at the end, whereas the steeper slopes come at the bottom tomorrow.

The difference from that day is that the run in at the Giro had a few slightly harder climbs, but fewer of them. You would also expect the riders to be a lot fresher here as those at the Giro had already climbed Etna two days before.

How will the stage pan out?

This is a really tough one to call.

Originally, I had this down as a nailed on Sagan stage like I’m sure a lot of people did/still have! However, since looking at the finish more I think it could be on the limit of the World Champion. No doubt he will be there or thereabouts but on a finish like this, Matthews looks like a better contender to me. The Australian is a better climber than him, although slower in a sprint, but this is nullified due to the uphill nature of the finish.

We could of course see someone attack early and try to catch the bunch out, looking at you Wellens, but it will be tough for any move like that to succeed.

The more I think about it though, the more I liken this finish to Amstel Gold Race of old where the day ended right at the top of the Cauberg.

Therefore, I’m leaning more towards puncheurs for the stage. In fact, I think with all of the climbing in the day beforehand, we might even see some GC riders put their nose into the wind.

Contenders

As there are a lot of possible riders who could win tomorrow I’m only going to name a few, so apologies if I miss someone out you were hoping for.

The King of the Cauberg, Gilbert is here and I imagine he will be given free rein tomorrow to chase the stage. In remarkable form this Spring, he returned to racing towards the end of May and looked as strong as he did before his enforced break. I’ll be very surprised not to see him feature in the top 10 tomorrow!

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Van Avermaet also has to be considered a favourite for tomorrow and is another rider who had a spectacular spring campaign. The climb could be on his limit but I think his one-day prowess should see him there or thereabouts.

Away from those two though, I think we could see a few “surprise” names in the mix. I really think it will be quite a selective day so here goes my trio of “outsiders”…

Carlos Betancur.

The Colombian tore the race to bits at the recent Hammer Series and rode a very solid Tour de Suisse, coming home in the top 20 on GC. Great for him considering where he was at the start of the year! Here to rider the race in support of his leader, I think he may just be given the nod to go for it tomorrow. The climb suits the Betancur of 2014/ down to the ground and I think we could see him fly up it like he did at the Hammer Series. I’m sure a lot of fans would love to see that!

Fabio Aru.

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After winning the Italian Championships last Sunday the Astana rider will be full of confidence. He’s looked back to his 2015 best as of late, packing a real punch when he attacks out of the saddle. The finish might be too easy for him, but given his aggressive nature and the fact he already finds himself 40 seconds down on Froome, he could well test the water. If so, he is a real danger for the stage.

Thibaut Pinot.

Not here for GC and only stage hunting, supposedly, tomorrow looks like a good day for the Frenchman. His form is a bit unknown as he’s only completed the French TT Championships after his efforts at the Giro d’Italia. Nonetheless, he is arguably one of the fastest out of the GC guys so if it becomes a really selective gallop to the line then he has a great chance of winning if his legs are good.

Prediction

Having been let loose from the shackles of my season-long fantasy team after scoring me 0 points in the first few months, Betancur will repay me here and take the win!

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I mean someone from Movistar has to do what Valverde would have done?!

Betting

Outsider central here…

0.5pt EW on them all;

Betancur @300/1 with PP/BF (would take 150s with Boyles who are paying 4 places, even 100/1 elsewhere).

Pinot @ 400/1 with various bookmakers.

Aru @ 300/1 with various bookmakers.

 

Thanks as always for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Is it as tough a day as I think or have I read far too much into it? We should be in for an exciting finale either way. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

Tour de France 2017 Green Jersey Preview

While a lot of the cycling world bemoans the easier route for this year’s Tour, there is one group of riders who will be happy with the flatter parcours: the sprinters.

The organisers have been kind to the fast men, with there looking to be 7 sprint stages but that could be increased to 9 or even 10 depending on how the peloton attacks the race.

Having won the jersey for the last 5 years in a row, Sagan is the rider to beat.

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Can he make it 6 this season?

First though, let’s have a look at how the points system works.

Scoring Points

The stages are categorised based on their difficulty, with the easier stages awarding more points to the winner at the end of the day.

The following table comes from @searchhhh on the Velorooms forums, that I have tea-leafed because I’m too lazy to make it myself!

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As for which stages fall into each category;

  • Stages 2, 4, 6, 7, 10, 11, 19, 21 are Cat 1, i.e. score maximum points
  • Stages 3, 5 , 8, 14, 15, 16 are Cat 2
  • Stages 1, 9, 12, 13, 17, 18, 20 are Cat 3

With 8 stages that reward 50 points at the line, it is possible for a dominant sprinter to build up a strong points tally. The sprinters will have to come out firing if they want to contest green because half of the “big” sprint stages come in the opening week of racing.

Sagan normally makes his mark by winning the Cat-2 stages and being close on the Cat-1 days. However, this year 3 and 14 look like the only days where we could have a reduced bunch sprint. Stage 5 will be a GC day and so could stage 8, with stage 15 looking like a breakaway day. Furthermore, Stage 16 actually looks like a stage where most of the sprinters could make it to the line as most of the climbing comes in the first half of the day.

Another way that Sagan cements his position in Green is by going on the hunt for the intermediate sprint points during the more rolling stages as his competitors normally can’t follow in the breakaway these days.

Yet, this year the organisers have seemed to “nerf” that aspect of his attack, with having most of the intermediate sprints on flatter parts of the route and before the big obstacles on the day. It’s really only on stages 9/15/17 that they’re in places inaccessible to most sprinters!

Even Stage 9 might be a little hard for Sagan to chase the points…

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Therefore, there is certainly a lot more emphasis on placing highly at the end of stages this year and picking up some minor points at the intermediates to keep the tally ticking over.

Contenders

With all that being said though, Sagan is still the clear favourite for the jersey. He looked lightning fast at the recent Tour de Suisse and he always ups his game in the sprints at the Tour. Even if he doesn’t win any of the flat stages, he’ll no doubt podium in at least 3 of them while picking up top 5s in a lot of the others. That will give him a good base of points to go and pick up some more during Stage 3 etc and some mountain breakaways.

So a rough points total for him could be;

2 Cat-2 wins (60pts), 2 Cat-1 2nds (50pts), 2 Cat-1 3rds (40pts), Top 10s in Cat-1s (~50 – 70pts), Intermediate Sprints (~70 – 100 pts) = 270 -> 320pts as an estimate.

A tough score to beat, but not impossible.

Kittel looks like Sagan’s biggest challenger, on paper anyway. Arguably the fastest sprinter in the world, a lot of these flatter stages will suit the fantastically haired German. His Tour didn’t go to plan last year, only winning one stage in the end. Not great for a man of his abilities. He’ll be hoping to go a lot better this year and that Cavendish arrives undercooked. If so, he could feasibly win 4 of the 8 Cat-1 stages, and get close on some others.

Picking up a few podiums and top 5s on the other stages as well as some intermediate sprint points, he will be there or thereabouts with Sagan’s total. It looks promising for him to launch a proper tilt at the Green Jersey this year.

Marcel-Kittel

And what about Cavendish? He took me and almost everyone else by surprise last year with his dominant performance in the sprints after seemingly coming into the Tour not on great form and possibly past his prime. This year, he faces an even tougher battle after recovering from the Epstein Barr Virus and only returning to racing a couple of weeks ago at the Tour of Slovenia. He only managed a second place there and was OTL at the British Championships (not a great sign but only 12 riders came home in time) so it’s not looking too good for his chances this year. Yet…

Now, you can call me crazy, but I have a feeling he will turn up and will be going well. Dimension Data won’t have wasted a spot for him on their team if he was going to use the first week as training, hoping to pick up a win later on in the race. Furthermore, a telling sign is that they’ve brought a strong lead-out train with them. That train could well be for Boasson Hagen, but it seems a bit over the top if it’s just for him.

On form, Cavendish is as fast as Kittel so he could well repeat last season’s performance and win 4 stages, putting him right in contention for the Green jersey. I’m certainly not ruling him out, that’s for sure.

Greipel will pick up his regular Grand Tour stage but at the Giro he went missing a lot in the sprints so he’ll need to be a lot more consistent to challenge for the jersey and I can’t see that happening.

Arnaud Démare is France’s best hope for a long time to win the Green jersey. He has been exceptional this year and his win at the recent French Nationals was truly dominant. As close to being a tier-1 sprinter without being one, he may well move up the rankings after this Tour. I expect good things from him this race and he is the most likely of all French riders to win a stage. With a team almost 100% focussed around him, the pressure will be on. Will he thrive under that pressure or crumble?

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I can’t really see anyone else being consistent enough to challenge for the jersey.

Groenewegen is a great talent but he has the propensity to be 1st or nowhere at times. A stage win for him would be a great result and that’s certainly a possibility, but to challenge for the jersey will be too tough an ask.

Matthews (as much as I like and rate him), is a poor man’s Sagan for this competition. Not as fast as others on the flat, not a good enough climber to win mountainous breakaway days.

The same can be said for Colbrelli.

Kristoff has been poor this season and his team seems to be against him.

Bouhanni still seems to be suffering from his crash in Yorkshire, possibly a lack of confidence which is surprising for him.

Prediction

Don’t get me wrong, Sagan should win the jersey again. He is fast enough to compete on the flat stages and strong enough to be there at the end when no other sprinters are. However, I just have a feeling that Cavendish will be as electric as he was last year and dominate the flat sprints.

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I expect this to all fall flat on its face when he doesn’t contest the sprint on Stage 2…

Betting

Now, it’s obviously a gamble but hey, that’s what betting is about!

If Cavendish is on fire, his current price is massive. If he is still under the weather, it is grossly under-priced. It would kill me to see him romp away with some stages this year knowing exactly what he did last year. Therefore, I’m willing to take the “gamble” on his form and back him EW for the Green Jersey and almost accept it could be a losing bet.

1pt EW Cavendish for Green Jersey @ 18/1 with Bet365 (and others)

Make sure you get 1/4 odds for 3 places, as some bookies are going 1/3 odds for 2.

Also, as I won’t be putting out any more Tour blogs until the stage 1 preview on Friday, I’ve backed Lotto Jumbo (0.5pt on) for the Team Classification @ 80/1 with Betfair. Would take 66s availalbe elsewhere.

Bit of an outside bet but they have an AG2R of 2013 feel about them where they should have 2 guys near the front of most stages and will be looking for breakaway success too.

Thanks as always for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated. Who do you think will win the Green Jersey? Is Sagan a shoe-in? And have I really lost the plot before the Tour has even started?

I’ll have my “Big fuck off” Giro Rosa guide out tomorrow which I would greatly appreciate if you shared and have a read of! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

La Flèche Wallonne 2017 Preview

The second of the Ardennes classics this week and we’re finally in the Ardennes! A race dominated by the famous Mur de Huy ascent and the sprint up it, the day is often won by some of the best climbers in the world.

Last year an imperious Valverde won it for the third time in a row (his 4th in total), beating Alaphilippe and Dan Martin.

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I’m not going to beat about the bush here though, this is one of my least favourite races of the year. A long afternoon waiting for one short effort up the final climb, not my idea of fun. Maybe that will change this year though after all the attacking racing we’ve had so far this Spring?

Let’s take a look at what’s in store for the riders.

The Route

A shade over 200km, with most of the challenges packed into the latter half of the race.

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The road is up and down for the last 80km but more than likely it will be the final 30km that will settle the day.

With the second passage of the Huy, some teams might look to increase the pace and shed some domestiques of the main favourites, or even send attackers up the road.

It’s then around 12km until they hit the Côte d’Ereffe, cresting with only 15km remaining. At 2.1km in length and averaging only 5%, it’s not a hard climb, but I expect the pace to be high and a few riders might get dropped from the peloton.

Once over the peak, we have a quick descent and an unclassified rise before a gradual drop to the penultimate climb of the day.

The Côte de Cherave is an easier Mur, averaging just over 8% for 1.3km. Last year saw Izagirre, Jungels and Wellens attack on the climb and we could well see some similar moves this year. With its proximity to the finish, if the peloton behind is not co-operating then there is a chance that riders make it all the way to the Mur with a gap. However, they’ll need to have something left in the tank before tackling the famous climb.

Mur_de_Huy_Huy_2_profile (1)

The 9.6% average gradient is a bit deceitful because we have a kilometre that averages closer to 11%, with much shallower slopes at the bottom and right at the end of the climb.

It will be a strong rider who wins tomorrow!

Weather Watch

It looks like a nice day out in the saddle for the riders, but it also looks to be a relatively windy day.

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Source; Windfinder

The above image is the forecast for a town called Maillen which is just north of the route near Yvoir (at the 63km gone mark).

It’s a similar story for the rest of the region tomorrow, with a brisk North-Easterly wind which means that it will be a head or cross-head wind for most of the day until we reach the closing circuit around Huy.

Combining the wind direction, speed and road direction then echelons are certainly a possibility but I fear there is a greater chance of it just being a block head-wind instead.

There are some exposed roads in the area though, so if the wind would turn ever so slightly, then that would be great!

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I’m just thinking wishfully again though.

How will the race pan out?

I’m really hoping that the attacking racing of the Spring continues here. The route has a lot of potential, especially the closing 15km, it just requires some teams to be risky for once. Otherwise, we’ll end up with another damp squib of a race again.

The onus is really on Movistar to do most of the work as Valverde is the man to beat on this climb, going for his 5th win and considering his form, no one else will win if the bunch comes to the foot slopes together. Barring any mechanical or other incident of course.

Therefore it’s up to other teams to make the race hard and wear down Movistar as the Spanish team here is solid, but not great. Potential race winning attacks will need to come further out than 15km to go though because they should still be able to cope with them then.

In theory, no one should help them and that’s how I would certainly play it if I was a DS of a team. Yet as we know, some teams don’t seem to think that way and I fear that Sky/QuickStep will crack and help do some work.

However, if Sky sent someone like Rosa up the road on the penultimate passage of the Huy then that would set alarm bells ringing in the Movistar camp and soften them up for the last trio of climbs. Joined by some allies from other teams, then we could have a race on our hands. It would need to be a meaningful attack though because the route isn’t tough enough to cause any damage if it’s a half-hearted effort.

With all that said though, I fear it may come down to a sprint up the Mur.

Contender(s)

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Anyone else?

Team Sky duo of Henao and Kwiatkowski should be up there. Both have finished well in the past at this race and they were strong in Amstel which will give them a lot of confidence going into tomorrow. A 1-2 punch might see them beat Valverde but Quick Step tried that last year and failed, so we could see a similar outcome again.

No Gilbert is a blow for Quick Step but they still have Dan Martin who will be in contention. He wasn’t great in Catalunya but that could turn around here, he won’t win though.

Albasini will top 10 again, possibly top 5.

Uran has looked good this season and should be up there again. His team-mate Woods should like this type of finish but his tactical ineptness lets him down at times. I guess there aren’t many tactics to a 1.3km uphill effort!

Several other GC riders/climbers will feature in and around the top 10, such as Bardet, Pantano and Costa.

As for outsiders;

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My logic still stands with Matthews for tomorrow, or at least it does in my head anyway! He seems to be going exceptionally well this year and he’s survived some steep climbs when I’ve not expected it. With the race only being 200km he should be fresh at the finish so in a 3-minute effort, why can’t he compete with the best GC riders in the World?

I’m also intrigued to see how Kudus goes. The Eritrean will benefit from the shorter race distance and I keep thinking back to how impressive he was in February on the climb to Llucena. The issue is that, that result was February and we’re now in April when riders are almost in peak condition and Kudus hasn’t shown so much recently. Nonetheless, as a proper outsider, he’s one to keep an eye on!

If we get a late attack succeed or a group of riders get away then Vakoc is my man for that situation.

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As QS’ join second best option IMO (along with Brambilla), he could be a good foil to send up the road in an attacking race. He looked incredibly strong in Brabantse, bridging the gap to Wellens and then to the leaders fairly comfortably. Peaking for this part of the season, I don’t think we’ve seen everything from him yet this week…

Prediction

An exciting/attacking race? Hopefully! But…

Cycling is a sport where 180 guys ride around on their bikes for 5 hours and in the end, Valverde wins.

Betting

I fear #HaugheyWednesdays will be coming to an end tomorrow. Some really small punts for interest but they are already a hiding to nothing and almost being marked down as a loss before the start…

0.125pt EW Matthews @ 300/1 (As I tweeted this I’m counting it, and I would maybe take the 200s still available. The 150 is a push)

0.125pt EW Kudus @ 500/1 with Betfair/PP (would take 300s lowest)

0.125pt EW Vakoc @ 250/1 with Bet365 (150/1 lowest but again, that’s at a push).

 

Thanks as always for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated. Who do you think will win? Will it be a walk in the park for Valverde? This is the first of three previews I’ll have out today, with Women’s Fleche out next then Tour of the Alps out later, so do return for those! Although the latter may be cancelled due to the weather. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

Amstel Gold Race 2017 Preview

Amstel Gold Race 2017 Preview

The Ardennes classic that isn’t in the Ardennes!

Amstel Gold Race returns once again this year as the opener for our Ardennes classic week, with the 52nd edition of the race. The cobbled classics in the north of France and Belgium are finished with the attention now turning to the rolling hills of the Ardennes and Limburg regions. We’re in the latter on Sunday for Amstel!

Last year saw a late attack over the top of the Cauberg from Gasparotto and Valgren. They managed to just hold on to the line, with the Italian taking an emotional victory, dedicating the win to team-mate Demoitié.

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Behind, it was Colbrelli who won the bunch sprint for third place.

If I’m honest, the reason I prefer the Cobbled Classics over the Ardennes is because the cobbled races are much more attacking (they’ve been even more attacking this year) whereas the likes of Amstel come down to a sprint up the final climb. However, that might change this year due to two reasons; teams seem more keen to attack from far out, and the fact the final ascent of the Cauberg has been taking out.

Speaking of which…

The Route

At 261km in length and with 35 ascents in total, it’s not for the faint-hearted!

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amstel-gold-race-2017
@LasterketaBurua

Although they go over a lot of climbs in the first three-quarters of the route, I expect those climbs to more sap the legs than anything else and for the race to really heat up when we’re into the last 50km of the day.

The fast passage of 4 climbs in succession; Kruisberg; Eyserbosweg; Fromberg; and Keutenberg between the 220km and 235km will be a launch point for some “early” attacks in my opinion. We’ve seen this in the past with the likes of Nibali surging away at this point to put the hurt on the riders behind. Considering the way that the one-day races (aside from MSR) have gone this year so far, it is probably advised for most teams if they stay attentive and try to get at least one rider up the road at this point. Preferably it should be at least a second or third favourite in the team and one they would be relatively confident in winning the race so they have to do no effort whatsoever behind.

I say “early” as it would be early for this race considering its history but there would only be roughly 30km to the finish from that point. We’ve had winning moves go from further out this Spring so far!

The almost 10km of flat between the Keutenberg and the Cauberg will be important in the race. Good co-operation ahead could see that group build a large gap if a lot of the favourites teams are represented and there is an unwillingness to chase behind. Likewise, the opposite scenario has an equal chance of playing out.

Cauberg_Valkenburg_profile

The Cauberg still could play a significant part in the race as it could be another launchpad for attacks. Once over the top, there’s only about 18km left in the race and not long until the penultimate climb; the Geulhemmerberg.

geulhemmerberg

Not an overly difficult climb, it does have some steepish ramps but it’s position at the end of the race is the main challenge. We then end with the Bemelerberg.

bemelerberg

Again it’s not an overly difficult climb, but depending on the racing before hand, we could see some small gaps here. There are then roughly 5km or so of flat before the sprint to the line, or will it…

How will the race pan out?

I expect an attacking race, although that might be wishful thinking more than anything else.

With the change of finish, the puncheurs can’t sit and wait because if they do, it’s game over as the “sprinters” we have here should be able to cope with the last two climbs easily.

Therefore, I expect attacks to come on the section of 4 climbs I highlighted above (at around 40km left), but I would not be surprised to see something relatively dangerous go even earlier than that.

It all then depends on who and what teams have made the split. As we saw in Brabantse on Wednesday, Direct Energie were very keen to chase to help Coquard but Sunweb were very disappointing in support of Matthews. The latter have a much stronger team here in support of the Aussie but they aren’t the type of riders you would rely on to chase down attacks all day.

The race is delicately poised between being a great afternoon of attacking cycling, or a snoozefest that’s controlled for a reduced bunch sprint. But if there is one race this week that has a chance of being won by what I would call a proper outsider, it is Amstel.

Contenders

There are obvious candidates for the win such as sprinters Matthews/Coquard/Colbrelli and Ardenne’s specialists like Gilbert/Valverde/Kwiatkowski, but as I think there is a chance we might get a relative shock of a winner and I’m nearly at 900 words already, I’m going to just name a shortlist of riders to keep an eye on in varying circumstances. So apologies if you were wanting an exhaustive list!

Lilian Calmejane.

Lilian-Calmejane

Aside from Van Avermaet, the Frenchman is arguably the form rider of the year; picking up 6 wins so far this season if you include his three GC wins. Most of his successes have come on rolling terrain and Amstel is the perfect platform for him to continue his outstanding season. Admittedly, this is a step up compared to the races he has been winning, but with a GT stage win already to his name, he must be confident! For him to win, he’ll need to be one of the riders involved in a far out attack and with a lot of teams represented, they stay away. He’s got an OK sprint compared to some other climbers, but more than likely he’ll have to come to the line solo. Allez Lilian!

Nathan Haas.

The Aussie had a great start to the year, finishing a very impressive 4th in the Tour Down Under and coming home 10th on the Green Mountain stage in Oman. Since then he’s struggled with allergies, particularly in Catalunya where he had to withdraw but his return to racing in Brabantse was promising. In fact, he looked good and was attentive at the front of the peloton in the final lap. The race on Wednesday will hopefully have opened the legs up and he’ll be an even greater fighting force come Sunday. I’m sure he’ll just be hoping for a bit more luck…

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Alexey Lutsenko.

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The Astana rider won the U23 World’s on this course back in 2012 after catching everyone by surprise and opening up his sprint early. Funnily enough though, it’s the change of course this year that gives him another chance of victory. The removal of the Cauberg helps the Kazakh as the professional peloton ride the climb more aggressively in Amstel than they did in that U23 2012 Worlds. With a solid sprint he has a chance of being up there in a reduced bunch gallop, but it’s his attacking nature that gives him the best chance of taking victory; whether that be from a breakaway or making a move in the final 3km as everyone hesitates behind. With his third in Dwars this season he’s highlighted his abilities as a rider and that big win is just around the corner for him I think.

Jens Keukeleire.

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A talented rider for a while who seemed to be hampered by bad luck or just underperformed when called upon. However, that changed in the second half of last season when he first of all won a stage in Slovenia but then followed it up with a very impressive sprint victory in the Vuelta. This year he’s been a bit off again so far, but it looked as if he was back to his best in when second in Gent Wevelgem. This change of course in theory should suit him and it will be interesting to see what role he takes in the Orica team along with Albasini/Gerrans/Impey. Definitely not a favourite, but he has a slim outside chance!

Prediction

I’m still torn between this race being great or extremely dull. Obviously I hope if it’s the former! The route change really throws a cat amongst the pigeons in terms of predictions and you’ll struggle to find anyone predicting the race with confidence.

Nonetheless, I’ll go for an exciting race and a win for a rider who’s been chasing that big win for a while, and his first part of the season has been aimed at this event. Nathan Haas to win!

Vuelta a Burgos 2016  stage 4

Betting

Definitely not a race to get heavily involved with;

Haas 0.5pt EW @50/1 with various (take the 4 places at Coral if you can)

Keukeleire 0.25pt EW @200/1 with Bet365 (take 150/1)

I tweeted out the Calmejane and Lutsenko picks midweek but they’ve since shortened.

Calemjane 0.25pt EW @250/1 (take 100s available but no less)

Lutsenko 0.25pt EW @200/1 (take 125s available but no less)

 

Thanks for reading and always any feedback is greatly appreciated. Who do you think will win? Will it be an open race or a dull one where everything stays together until the end? I’ll have my women’s Amstel preview out tomorrow so return for that! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.