Tour de France 2017 Stage 13 Preview; Saint-Girons -> Foix

Today’s Recap

A break formed relatively quickly, only after 20km of so or racing but they were never given more than 6:30 of an advantage from a Sky led peloton.

With the move caught on the Peyresourde, it looked as if we were going to see some GC fireworks before the top but the group whittled down to around 10 and that was it. No one else was dropped and the riders found themselves approaching the final 500m together.

Bennett launched an attack but was brought back easily by Landa, before Bardet and Aru sprung up the inside. Froome wasn’t able to follow and the Frenchman held on for a great victory.

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Uran did well to get up for second while the Italian National Champion took third and moves into yellow for tomorrow’s stage.

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

The Route

Arguably the most talked about stage of this year’s whole Tour. Taking a page out of what we’ve seen at the Giro and Vuelta recently, tomorrow’s route is short and sharp.

 

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We have three Cat-1 climbs packed into 100km of racing which should surely lead to a fast pace from the gun! With that being said, there are 25.5km of false-flat before we hit the Col de Latrape for the hopeful escapees to try to get up the road.

Latrape isn’t a long climb (at only 5.6km) but averaging 7.3% it is fairly steep and will act as a nice warm-up for what’s to come. I wonder if we’ll see any early attacks on the climb? A short descent follows which isn’t too technical, before the toughest climb of the day.

The Col d’Agnes comes in at 10km long, averaging 8.2%.

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It’s actually hardest right at the bottom, with the opening 3kms averaging 9.2%. Nice and explosive! From there it gets “easier” but if a team takes it up or a GC rider attacks early, there is a good chance the race gets blown to bits. Given the short nature of the stage, that looks like a strong possibility!

Once over the top we have a long descent (almost 20km) before the next climb. The descent itself starts off very technical and we could see AG2R attack here like on Stage 9. It does ease off later on but the damage could already be done.

The Mur de Pérguère averages 7.9% for 9.3km but that doesn’t really tell the whole story…

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I did wonder why it was given the honour of being called “Mur” but it made sense once I saw the profile. The opening 6kms of the climb are fairly straightforward compared to what the riders have faced earlier in the day, only averaging 5.55%. However, it is the final 3.3km that will really test the riders legs – averaging a very painful ~12.5%!

The riders will then descend pretty much all the way to the finish, although it does get flatter in the last 10km and is more of a shallow descent. Will we see a solo rider come to the line or it will be a reduced sprint to the line?

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With a technical run-in, I certainly hope it’s the former!

How will the stage pan out?

It should be a GC stage but you can never be 100% sure. I thought the GC teams would let the break get away today, with one eye on tomorrow’s stage but Sky almost double-bluffed everyone and closed it down.

We’ve seen at the Giro and Vuelta that these type of stages are very explosive and entice aggressive racing from the GC contenders. No doubt some of the teams will try to get lieutenants up the road to hopefully help later on, but considering everyone will be trying to do that, then it could be hard! It might be another day where a 40-rider “break” goes but never gets more than 2 minutes or so.

The issue is that with no climb right at the start, and no summit finish, some of the GC riders might not fancy their chances. I guess they’ll hope that the battle to get into the break is so fierce that they’ll be within touching distance on the first climb.

It is Bastille Day so no doubt we’ll see numerous French riders try their hand throughout the day. Whether that be those looking to get in the break and hopefully win the stage that way, or someone like Bardet who will hope for a big GC fight.

We’ve not had a French winner on Bastille Day though since David Moncoutié back in 2005 though!

Like Natalie Imbruglia, I’m Torn.

Do the other GC teams sense enough of a weakness in the Sky came to try to isolate Froome, taking advantage of his “bad legs” that he had today. It will be a tough stage for Astana to control so no doubt they’ll be happy to see the break go. However, I think AG2R/QS/Orica will all want the race controlled.

Bardet is obviously on stellar form at the moment and will be wanting to go as well as he can while he’s flying. I imagine they’ll place a few riders in the break but he will attack on the middle climb of the day, hoping to bridge to them. The same can be said for Yates and Orica who always seem to get their tactics right on days like these.

Candidates

As I’ve waffled on already and may need to rush this a bit before work, I’ll just list two riders and how they might win tomorrow.

Louis Meintjes.

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After suffering on stages 5 and 9, the South African coped a lot better today (finishing 5th on the stage) and like a few others seems to be getting better just now. At almost 5 minutes down on the overall, he’s not an immediate threat for the big guns and could be given some leeway to attack from a reduced group that might be heading to the finish together. There is also a chance that he could sneak himself into an early breakaway and take the stage from there. Finishing 3rd on the very attacking final stage at the Dauphiné there is a chance he repeats that feat here, if not going better.

Mikel Landa.

He looked ominously strong today. Like, just ridiculously strong, it barely looked like he was breathing going up the final climb. I was more out of breath watching the stage than he was riding it! He could have closed Bennett down much quicker but almost had to rein himself in not to put Froome in the red. After pulling at the front and moving over to the side to let his leader attack, he still had enough in the tank to get back up to speed and finish 4th. Not bad considering the head-start he gave everyone else! Although it is unlikely as Sky tend to take the approach of “all for their leader”, I would be getting Landa to attack tomorrow if I was DS. If Froome isn’t great just now, it is much better to have two riders close to the top of the GC going into latter part of the race so they can play the numbers game. He is the one rider I can see attacking everyone on the final climb and holding on to the finish. Will Sky be willing to let him do that? Probably not, but you never know. Will Landa listen to them either way? That’s also debatable.

Prediction

In an act of defiance that turns out to be a great race strategy for Sky, the mercurial Spaniard takes the win.

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Froome recovers from today’s efforts and manages to mark everyone else out of chasing, allowing Landa a good time gap to put him back into overall contention.

Betting

1pt WIN Landa @ 33/1 (various bookmakers)

0.5pt EW Meintjes @ 125/1 Coral/Ladbrokes (who are paying 4 places)

 

Thanks as always for reading and apologies the “contenders” section is shorter than normal! Who do you think will win? Will we finally see a French rider win on Bastille day? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

 

La Vuelta a España 2016 GC Preview

La Vuelta a España 2016 GC Preview

Jeez, this year has went fast and the third and final Grand Tour is upon us! Arguably the most exciting of the Grand Tours, the Vuelta always offers exciting and unexpected racing, throwing up a few surprises here and there.

Last year saw Tom Dumoulin take centre stage as a GC prospect and it looked for a while that he was going to take the leaders jersey all the way to Madrid. However, his well-documented and massive capitulation on the penultimate stage saw him slip from first to 6th on GC. Fabio Aru took a well-planned win, with Rodriguez and Majka rounding out the podium.

As I’m doing daily previews for the stages, I won’t focus on the route here at all. You just need to know that it’s a typical Vuelta route: tough!

Previous Winner Patterns?

The Vuelta start-list is always full of riders who are at different parts of their own personal seasons. Some will be coming here from the Tour, hoping to continue the good form that they had then or if they were misfiring there, try to prove the doubters wrong here. Others come to Spain after a block of training, or doing some of the smaller preparation races, having possibly done the Giro earlier in the year.

Traditionally the Vuelta is the key preparation race for the Worlds. But considering the very tough nature of the race this year, and the sprinter friendly World Champs course most have decided against it.

It’s therefore hard to gauge just where everyone is at. Which is great from a viewing perspective, not from a preview/prediction perspective!

Is there are a clear pattern from previous winners or those in the top 10? Hmmm, let’s have a look.

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The table above shows the top 10 on GC at the Vuelta, and if they completed another GT in the same year. In brackets is the finishing position at that Grand Tour.

A quick glance and it seems obvious that the winner will be someone who hasn’t completed a GT in that year, with 2015 being a bit of an irregularity. Everything seems to point towards an Alberto Contador win here. However, a more in depth analysis shows that the other years results are actually a bit more odd.

In 2014, both Froome and Contador crashed out of the Tour and used the good legs that they would have had to smash the opposition here. Especially El Pistolero who won by over a minute. Would they have done as well if they’d finished the Tour? It’s hard to say.

2013 and Horner. One of those surprises that I mentioned earlier!

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Swiftly moving on…

2012 saw Contador win after his return from his back-dated drugs ban that saw him miss the Tour that year. Would he have been competing for the win here even if he was at the Tour? Quite possibly, he always seems to go well in Spain, but again, it’s hard to know!

Finally, 2011 had the another unexpected winner Juan Jose Cobo, followed by Tour DNF Wiggins in second. This was the race where Froome came to the fore as a potential GC candidate, with a real mix bag of a top 10.

What can we take from this? There’s an equal split (15 each) for those finishing the Giro or Tour getting a top 10 at the Vuelta. With those not completing a GT earlier in the year taking up the remaining 20 spaces.

If you narrow it down to the top 5 the split is; Giro (7), Tour (11), Neither (7). So when it comes to the business end, it seems that doing the Tour is the best route into the Vuelta. Although looking at the finishing positions of the riders, doing well at the Tour isn’t always the best. Interestingly, those who finish around 20-30th go equally as well, if not better than those on the podium at the Tour. In fact, making the top-3 at the Giro seems to be a more consistent path to the top of the pile at the Vuelta.

All of this of course, is discredited if you are a certain Alejandro Valverde, who’s done both this year!

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Who are the riders to watch then?

As you can probably guess from my yabbering on above, I’m finding this one particularly hard to nail down. There are so many variables regarding riders form etc, that makes this the toughest Grand Tour to predict!

And with almost 750 words wrote up to this point, I really don’t want to keep you here for the same again so I’ll keep this next part short(ish) and maybe sweet. With a sentence or so for each challenger.

Splitting the riders into the categories above (Giro/Tour/Neither) here are those who could make a mark at this years Vuelta.

Giro

Chaves – The runner up at the Giro is a favourite rider of mine and he made his “breakthrough” performance here last year. He’ll be aiming for a podium spot that looks possible.

Kruisjwijk – For so long it looked like he was set to win the Giro before his crash. He’ll be back to prove that wasn’t a one off. If he climbs like he did at the Giro, the others will be worried.

Atapuma – 9th at the Giro, he will probably be 3rd choice for BMC but can’t be discounted. Another top 10 is possible.

Scarponi – arguably the best climber at the Giro this year, he will probably be working for Lopez but the veteran will be up there on all of the mountain top finishes.

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Brambilla – Bit of an outsider but he rode excellently at the Giro. A top 10 would be a great result!

Tour

Froome – The Tour winner will look to do the double here. If he’s performing like he was in France then it is very possible. A downside for him is his weaker team.

Quintana – Third for him ended up being a good result, he seemed to be struggling through the whole race. If he’s got over his illness/whatever was wrong then he will be a force to be reckoned with.

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Valverde – Mr Consistent has done both GTs so far, winning this well be a step too far for him. A top 10 would be a fantastic achievement for him!

Meintjes – The peloton ticket-collector, I really like his style of riding. However, I think it will be too much for him to go well here, he’s too young to do back-to-back GTs.

Barguil – Never really got going at the Tour. His two professional wins came at the 2013 Vuelta. Another stage win here would be good.

Van Garderen – Struggled in France and BMC are supposedly working for Sanchez. He’ll still be protected and has the pedigree to compete if he’s refound his form.

Neither

Contador – The favourite for the race, he comes here after winning in Burgos. He isn’t as good as he used to be, but he always goes well in Spain. His team is weak, a big hinderance to him.

Yates – Someone I’ve not seen mentioned much, if Adam can, then so can Simon! Might be supporting Chaves, but it’s more beneficial having two riders in contention than just one.

Sanchez – Supposedly leading BMC, I don’t know why. I guess a top 10 is good enough for them.

Lopez – The young Astana rider is the real deal, winner of the Tour de Suisse. However, this is his first GT and I think it will be too much for him. A stage win or the KOM jersey should be his goal in my opinion.

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Carthy – A great talent, but he’s fully aware that his first Grand Tour is a learning experience. Not sure what to expect from him, a stage win would be great!

There are others too that I haven’t mentioned, such as Talanksy and Gesink, but I don’t think they’ll be up to much. I would like to see Dombrowski go well.

Prediction

Did I mention already that this is a tough race to predict and that I’m struggling? 😉

So here goes…

Despite suggesting that those who podium at the Tour don’t always go well here, and that those coming from the Giro and no GTs have a much better chance.

Quintana will put his “poor” Tour behind him and take the win here. It’s amazing to think that he struggled all the way around France, yet still had enough quality to finish on the podium. He is one of the most naturally talented Grand Tour riders! I hope for him more than anything, that he has recovered to go well and prove any doubters wrong. He has the strongest team here to support him, which as we saw with Froome at the Tour, is vital. I hope to be shouting “QUINTANA, QUINTANA, QUINTANA!” several times this month!

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Sorry Nairo, I’ve just put the #HaugheyCurse on you 😦

Betting

I don’t do GC betting week 1 of a GT. Almost tempted by an EW play on Yates at 100/1 but I’m sticking to my rules!

 

Thanks again for reading! Hope you enjoyed the preview, who do you think wins the most unpredictable race of the year? We should be in for some exciting racing over the next 3 weeks, I can’t wait! Any feedback as usual is greatly appreciated.

I was intending on doing a points & KOM preview but I don’t think I’ll have the time. Instead, I’ll share any thoughts on Twitter so give me a follow on there @JamieHaughey. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

Tour de France – White Jersey preview

Tour de France – White Jersey preview

The competition for the baby-faced riders of the Tour de France, the White Jersey adopts the same approach as the Yellow Jersey but with the only condition being that the riders have to be 25 or under at the start of the calendar year.

It’s a breeding ground for future Grand Tour stars (although some of them are already well established). With the likes of Quintana (2015 and 2013), Pinot (2014), Tejay van Garderen (2011) and Andy Schleck (2010) all having won it recently.

Who qualifies this year?

Warren Barguil.

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National and bookies favourite, Warren Barguil comes into this race after a stellar performance at the Tour de Suisse where he finished 3rd on GC. However, I fear going that deep and performing that well at that race will have a negative effect on his aspirations here. The TDS was a lot more gruelling than the other preparation race (the Dauphiné) which is where all of the main stars went.

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I’m not sure he’ll have enough left over in the final week.

Adam Yates.

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Second favourite for the Jersey, Yates has performed well over week-long stage races recently, finishing 7th at the Dauphiné. However, his forte seems to be the lumpy one day classics. As I said in my KOM preview, Orica come to this race without GC ambitions and will be on the hunt for stages. This will be the same for Yates, therefore, I can’t see him winning this jersey.

Louis Meintjes.

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A Carlton Kirby favourite, the South African has had a pretty poor season so far. However, things seem to be on the upward trajectory after finishing 9th on GC at the Dauphiné. A great climber on his day he finished 10th on GC at the Vuelta last year after having to withdraw from the Tour. He’ll have learnt a lot from those races, both physically and mentally and will benefit from it this year. With normal GC rider Rui Costa going for stage wins, I think Meintjes will be given the all clear to go for the classification. He has a very good chance in my opinion.

Wilco Kelderman.

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Kelderman has for a while been touted as the next big thing in Dutch cycling, being a potential challenger for the Tour in the future. He’ll like the amount of TT-ing in this race and that puts him at a big advantage over his competitors. However, after looking strong at the opening of the TdS he faded quite badly towards the end of the race. Maybe saving something for here? With Gesink out of the squad he should be their main GC hope, but Lotto insist that he will have a Carte Blanche. Too many times in the past I’ve been let down/disappointed by his performance. I can’t see that changing here.

Julian Alaphilippe.

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If Meintjes was a favourite of Kirby’s, I can’t put into words how much he loves Alaphilippe! I might set up a ticker each stage to see how many times he’s mentioned. Anyway, the Frenchman has had a very good middle part of the season after an illness/injury plagued first part. He won the Tour of California convincingly and managed 6th on GC at the Dauphiné. Winning the White Jersey along the way. Like others on the list though. I think he’ll be given more of a free role in the team, hunting stages. I’m not sure if he’ll stay in contention for the White Jersey here.

Best of the Rest

Argentinian Eduardo Sepulveda could give the jersey a tilt, but I don’t think he has enough quality over the three weeks. Lawson Craddock has had a very consistent season so far and could definitely step up here. However, I think he’ll have to do some team-work for Pierre Rolland and will lose time that way. Patrick Konrad, Jan Polanc and Natnael Berhane all qualify and have an outside chance but I can’t see it personally.

One outsider who I would like to highlight is former German champion, Emanuel Buchmann.

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The Bora rider has had an underwhelming season so far, plodding along, picking up top 10s and 20s here and there. However, for some strange reason I think he’ll go well here. Like others I’ve mentioned, doing the Tour last year will have taught him a few things. He actually managed to finish third on one of the mountain stages, behind Majka and Dan Martin. He is definitely talented!

Prediction

I don’t think the two main favourites will live up to the expectations and little Louis will win! He might even manage a top 10 on GC along the way.

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Betting

Louis Meintjes – .9pt WIN @ 5/1 at various

Emanuel Buchmann 0.1pt WIN @ 50/1 various

 

Hope you enjoyed my thoughts on the white jersey. Apologies if this is shorter than normal! Mainly because there isn’t much to say and I’m away at my graduation so I’m short of time. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.