Innsbruck 2018 World Championships: Men’s Road Race Preview

Innsbruck 2018 World Championships: Men’s Road Race Preview

After an exciting week of racing, the elite men have a lot to live up to tomorrow!

In 2017 we saw a tactical race but one that came down to a bunch sprint in the end, despite numerous attacks in the closing lap. So the best rider in that situation, Sagan, took what was his third title in a row, just edging out home favourite Kristoff.

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Matthews completed the podium in third place.

Sagan is going for 4 wins in a row but given the tough parcours awaiting him tomorrow it looks unlikely but you can never discount the Slovakian. Let’s have a look at what is in store for them.

The Route

A long day out in the saddle at a shade over 261kms but combined with 5000m of elevation gain according to LaFlammeRouge, it will also be a brutally tough one.

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To start off with the peloton faces 60kms of flat, albeit slightly rolling roads before they make it to the Gnadenwald climb, which will be familiar to those who did the time trial earlier in the week. download (40)

Very steep in the opening 2.5km, averaging roughly 10%, it has been used so far this week as a climb to thin down the bunch, but with just under 200km to go once over the top then I can’t see that being the case this time.

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The riders then move on to complete 6 full laps of the main circuit, and once more up the Igls climb for good measure.

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The climb isn’t too tough when taken on its own but as we have seen throughout this week, that if teams come to the front and put the pace on then it can cause some damage. Seven ascents of it will certainly take its toll!

The descent might also play a part in the day.

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It is very fast and the best going downhill can cause some issues for those that are less competent and confident. There are a few technical bends within Igls for example but nothing too crazy but it is a road that you can string some corners together nicely.

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After the last ascent of the Igls climb, the riders don’t complete the normal circuit, taking a detour to the much talked about “Hell” climb. At 11.5% for 2.8km it is a brutally steep ascent to be taking on at this point in the day and it will be one that will strike fear into many. It is *only* 3kms long though so it will tempt the puncheurs but will they be there to fight it out?

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The descent off of the climb is technical and will suit a solo rider well, before they return to the riverside and the familiar final 2.5kms that we’ve seen over the past few days.

How will the race pan out?

Beats me.

The usual rule of thumb for the Worlds is that the U23s and elite ment follow a similar pattern but that was thrown out the window a little last year. Plus, with the addition of the Hell climb in only the men’s race, we might see some teams wait until then, just like in a Fleche Wallone for example.

However, I do think the course is challenging enough before then for some serious attacks to go clear on the penultimate or last ascent of the Igls climb. There are several teams here with solid second options, or main riders in a nation that might not be classed as one of the favourites, so they have an opportunity to go early and anticipate any action later. Although I’m sure they would be happy if there was no action later!

Like I said in my preview for the women’s race, you have to be willing to lose the race to win it. Given how strong the likes of Valverde and Alaphilippe should be on the final climb, I think we might see quite a few riders plan to go early.

If the majority of the big nations, i.e. Spain, France, Italy, GB and Belgium, have a rider in a late attack there is a good chance that it stays away. That is the option that I’m going with for the following!

Four Hell-raisers

Basically my four riders to watch that aren’t any of the clear and obvious favourites, although one of them kind of is…

Jakob Fuglsang.

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Cast your mind back to Rio 2016 where Fuglsang finished second after a tough day out in the saddle. On that day he was one of the strongest and almost pulled van Avermaet across to Majka when chasing the Pole. So far this year he has produced some very strong and consistent results but has only picked up one win. His race schedule after the Tour has been pretty light and he’s focussed mainly on recovering from that race and building slowly for here. In the Canadian races he did some good training on the attack and doing work for team-mates. Has he timed that peak well?

Rafal Majka.

Rio rider number two, Majka came very close to winning the race but was caught in the final couple of kilometres and had to settle for bronze. In the recent Vuelta he looked to be strong in the final couple of stages and was on the attack in others, honing his form. Looking back, it is interesting to see that he made the break on both of the really steep summit finishes, stages 13 and 17. Getting some practice in for the Hell climb? It will be interesting to see how him and Kwiatkowski approach the race but I expect one of them to attack early and go from there. He’s not one to be underestimated.

Adam Yates.

I mentioned during the final week of the Vuelta that his form seemed to be on the up and he seems to provide a good second option for the British team, with the other obviously being his brother. A former winner of San Sebastian, a race that many say is a good form indicator for this course, he is a rider a lot of people will be wary of. Compared to Simon, Adam is the Yates with a better track record in the “classic” one-day races. Will this be of an advantage?

Tim Wellens.

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It’s pretty much blasphemous to have a short list of riders for a Worlds, even if they are outsiders, and not include a Belgian! The lowland nation has had a good championships so far and they will be looking to go out with a bang tomorrow. On paper they might not have stand-out riders for a route like this but Wellens, Benoot and Teuns could all go deep into the race. I expect them to be one of the most aggressive teams and they will look to animate the final 50kms. Wellens has had a great year and continues to develop into a very strong all round rider who can handle any terrain. He was flying at the start of the season before his form took a little dip but he seems to be on the way back up again. It would certainly be a dangerous tactic to give him any freedom.

Prediction

A lot of the main favourites to wait it out until the Hell climb but by then the race will be too far ahead.

Adam Yates to win after attacking on the penultimate ascent of Igls and forming a strong group that stays away before he drops them all on that now famous climb.

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Betting

I already have Yates from during the Vuelta but I’d still back him now, treating myself points wise after a very good women’s race today.

2pts WIN Yates @ 14/1 with various

1pt EW Majka @ 50/1 with SkyBet, Coral etc (would take 33s)

1pt EW Fuglsang @ 50/1 with various

1pt EW Wellens @ 50/1 with Skybet, Coral etc (would take 33s)

Thanks as always for reading. Who do you think will win tomorrow? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

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Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race 2018 Preview

Billed as Australia’s answer to the spring classics, Cadel’s Race offers some exciting one-day action early in the season.

The past three editions have seen one solo winner (Kennaugh in 2016) with the other two editions being won via a reduced bunch sprint.

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2017’s champion, Nikias Arndt, returns for this season but can he double up tomorrow? Let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

After having the same final circuit in the first three editions, the organisers have decided to alter it ever so slightly. They’ve taken out the climb of Hyland Road and bypassed some other areas, meaning the circuit is cut down to 17km from the 20km or so it was previously.

Furthermore, they’ll enter the circuit before the famous Challambra climb this year, meaning that the riders will have to tackle it 4 times throughout the afternoon, not the 3 it has been in previous years.

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@LasterketaBurua

So the organisers have somehow managed to make the race both easier and more difficult at the same time.

The removal of Hyland Road means that the only meaningful place to put in an attack on the circuit is Challambra. Of course, we could see attacks go throughout the Geelong circuit but the biggest differences should be made on the climb, in theory.

Challambra

It is a tough little climb as well, with the steepest section coming right at the top. However, as it is only 1km long, some of the stronger, heavier guys in the bunch can hold on to the coat tails of the climbers. If they can maintain the power that is!

Michael Woods holds the all important Strava KOM for the segment, clocking in at 2’28 in last years race. Interestingly, that was set on the second passage of the climb when he chased down Sebastian Henao, with the third effort taking 7 seconds more.

More importantly though, the summit of Challambra this year is only 9.2km from the finish unlike the 12.2km it was in 2017. Given that the first 2.5km of that is an incredibly fast descent, then an attack over Challambra sounds more appealing than in previous years.

A chase will need to be quick to organise, if a strong, small group of riders escape.

Weather Watch

With the TDU having been effected by searingly hot conditions last week, the riders probably won’t be pleased to hear the potential 39-degrees that could be about tomorrow.

Thankfully, there is meant to be some cloud cover throughout the day, but it will still be around 35 degrees in the afternoon when the riders are finishing.

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Source: Bureau of Meteorology

How will the race pan out?

Anyone’s guess.

History would suggest that it will be a selective finale, with a possible late move or small bunch sprint to the line.

The change to the route could make it more selective, or it could see the race stick together. I really don’t have an idea as to which way it will go!

Given that Challambra is the only meaningful place to attack and distance the fast men, I hope to see some teams really step up the pace in the opening two ascents. It is quite far out at 40km to go, but it is what is needed if they are looking to make the race as difficult as possible.

If that does happen, then we could see some attacks go on the penultimate passage, and with the correct riders and teams represented, it might just well stick to the line. If a group doesn’t go on the penultimate lap, then we’ll see the riders sprint up Challambra for the final time. Can Porte make it the new Willunga?

Yet, we could quite easily see a defensive race.

Teams might be afraid to take it up on the opening laps, cruising over the first two ascents. Consequently, the faster men in the bunch will be a lot fresher going into the final two laps meaning they would be much more likely to make the finish.

It will be tough for them to follow the best on the climb, but things can easily regroup, especially if there is only a 15 second deficit to the head of the race.

Hmmm.

See the conundrum I’m in?!

Two’s Company

I’m sure if you have read/are going to read plenty of previews on this race, then the same names will crop up again and again. So instead of me boring you with the usual suspects, I’m just going to name two riders and how they might be in with a chance of a good result.

That and the fact I’m incredibly tired and running a bit behind schedule with this preview, but you didn’t have to know that!

Richie Porte.

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Yup, the King of Willunga makes the list.

I almost ruled him out of that stage in the Tour Down Under, as I thought he was a bit under the weather. Boy, I was wrong! He put on his usual masterclass but what was even more impressive was that he did it into a headwind. Clearly in great shape at the moment and wanting to make up for his crash at the Tour last year, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him give it a go tomorrow. In last year’s race he lead the peloton over Challambra for the last time, but it didn’t seem as if he was going full gas. He did however attack the group on the ascent but was eventually reeled back in. BMC will probably front as if they’re working for Gerrans but I have a feeling they’ll make it tough on the opening few laps in an effort to give Porte a shot at it. The climb of Challambra is possibly just on the short side for the Tazmanian, but a harder race beforehand will make it seem longer for his competitors. If he can get close to matching the 10.37 W/kg he managed with his stinging attack on Willunga, many will struggle to follow him if it is full gas from the bottom. After that, it will be over to him to manage his pace and TT all the way to the line. Something that definitely could happen given the shorter distance.

Ruben Guerreiro.

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The more left-field pick, the Trek rider is now into his second season in the pro ranks and I’m intrigued to see what he can do this year. A talented rider; he can climb well on the short hills, but he also packs an explosive punch. Winning the Portuguese championships against the likes of Vinhaus, Vilela and Goncalves on an uphill finish is no mean feat. Furthermore, he managed an impressive sprint to 6th place in the tough Bretagne Classics last year, highlighting good levels of endurance for such a young rider and not to mention that explosive kick once again. He’s started this season with a solid string of results Down Under, including 10th place on Willunga, which saw him finish 9th on GC. If we get a small group escaping tomorrow over the final crest of Challambra, he seems to have the speed to challenge in a group of 5-6. Importantly as well, Trek seem to have started the season flying and there will be a feel good atmosphere in the squad. Can Guerreiro continue that streak?

Prediction

Beats me!

I think we’ll see a hard tempo from far out, hoping to eliminate the faster riders who might hold on to the finish on an easier day.

BMC will set things up perfectly for Porte to fire off some rockets right at the bottom of Challambra. No one will be able to follow him and that will be that for the race.

The King of Willunga will therein be known as the King of Willunga, Ruler of Challambra and breaker of chains.

Well, actually, hopefully he won’t become that last Game of Thrones reference!

Betting

A couple of punts for interest, but I don’t want to get overly invovled…

1pt EW Guerreiro @ 33/1 (would take 25s lowest)

1pt WIN Porte @ 66/1 with PP. Although I doubt you could get 1pt on there (I can’t), so I’d happily take the 18/1 available elsewhere (I’m going to have to).

Thanks as always for reading. What do you make of my two, slightly left-field candidates for the race? Who do you think will win? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Tre Valli Varesine 2017 Preview

After missing writing a preview for Emilia and Begheli due to some other things that cropped up, I thought it was only fair to get back into the swing of things with the next Italian one-day race; Tre Valli Varesine.

This is a time of the season that I enjoy. There is something about the Italian one-day races that are really special and this one is no different. A tricky circuit finish around Varese lends itself to some aggressive and tactical racing and we could see a whole host of outcomes tomorrow.

Last year it all came back together despite several attacks in the closing 10kms and Sonny Colbrelli won a very reduced sprint, beating Uran and Gavazzi.

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Will we see a similar outcome this year?

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

The Route

Pretty much the same as previous years with the riders leaving Saronno and completing almost 80km before they reach Varese and the traditional lap finish.

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Credit goes to @LasterketaBurua for the two main profiles I’ll be using today. Go check them out on Twitter and thank Ricky and Rafaelle!

The key part of the day is obviously the circuit in Varese that they will face 9 times. You can view an interactive profile of it here.

An undulating parcours, there are two important tests that the riders will face.

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First up is the short 1km (at 7.3%) climb. Due to its proximity near the start of the circuit it is hard for any winning moves to be made here, but it can be used to put the strain on the opposition. It is certainly tough enough though that some riders from several of the strong teams can breakaway here and not be seen again.

Once over the climb, the riders face a mixed-bag of descents and flat before they reach the final 4km.

These areas of flat often see an attack made, but only for the rider to gain 30m or so and be reeled in. Another will go, but the same will happen again! It is similar to the climb in the sense that a move could escape here but it would require either the right number of teams represented, or that the chasing “peloton” behind is actually only 8-10 riders big and no one wants to work together.

More often than not though, the race is decided by the final drag.

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With the steepest ramps coming right at the bottom, riders normally attack the final turn coming off of the descent so that they can be the first into the climb. This is what Nibali did rather brilliantly in 2015 on his way to victory.

I hope you didn’t get motion sickness after watching that!

Gaps can be made on the ascent but you need to be a very strong rider to maintain them if there is a concerted effort behind to chase. The one thing that does aid the solo rider is that things are very strung out from the bottom so it is hard for help to come from behind.

Anything that is brought back though then leaves the group open to counter-attacks again as the road then flattens out going into the final kilometre.

If things do stick together we’re most likely to see a group of no more than 20 riders contest a reduced bunch sprint.

How will the race pan out?

It beats me – this is arguably the most stacked start list this race has had in a long time, which certainly throws a few proverbial spanners in the works. There are several World Tour squads here who bring very strong teams and a selection of riders that can compete in differing scenarios.

Looking at the past three years you might think that a reduced bunch sprint is the most likely option.

Yet, given that it has happened 6 out of the last 9 editions, a solo rider winning is statistically the most likely outcome. However, with the much stronger teams here, then in theory it will be very hard for someone to stay away on their own.

The only way this can happen is if the race is ridden very aggressively from 3 or 4 laps out and the peloton is really stretched out going into the final circuit.

However, I think a group getting away early (i.e. before the last lap) to contest the finish or a reduced bunch sprint are the more likely options. Of course, with the former option we could see a solo victor!

Trying to cover my back as much as possible here 😉.

Names to look out for

Like always I’ll only suggest a few names to look out for as you and I could be here for a while otherwise!

Tom Dumoulin.

Superb in the time trial at the World’s he will come here full of confidence. With that race being his main target for the end of the season, there is a chance he could take his foot off the gas here. Unlikely! With Lombardia not too far away, he could well test his legs here. Given his incredible power at the moment, he is someone who could attack out of a small bunch  and stay away to the line. For that to happen he would need some luxury team-mates behind to mark everyone out and I guess he is in luck as he has just that!

Steve Cummings.

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His recent win in Toscana was a big middle finger to the British World Champs selectors, a course that he potentially could have animated in the finale. With Sbaragli most likely to be involved in any reduced sprint, then Cummings will be given the nod to mark out any attacks and make the race aggressive himself in the closing. I said above that the flat sections during the descent are ideal for a strong rider to attack an incohesive group; what I meant to say was that it looks ideal Cummings territory. He’s one of the few in the peloton who I think could get away and make it stick!

Davide Villella.

The Italian was very strong in these races towards the end of last season and I’m sure he’ll be looking to be at the same level this year. Giro dell’Emilia was his first race back after his KOM success at the Vuelta. Working for Uran, he put in a fairly solid performance and the favour might be returned here. Packing a fairly solid sprint from a small group, he could surprise.

Michael Valgren.

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Attacking in both of his recent races, the Danish rider seems to have carried some good form into the end of the season. Given his ability to cope with the short climbs, the course tomorrow looks ideal for him. Astana arrive without a sprinter so they will have to animate the race to make it successful and I think Valgren presents one of their better chances. A powerful rider, he should be able to churn up the final drag!

Marco Canola.

I have to include a PCT Italian rider in here somewhere! Canola has performed very consistently over the past few weeks, finishing no lower than 16th in all of the races he has competed in during September – not bad. He won the hilly Limburg Classic earlier this year, along with a tricky circuit stage in the Tour of Utah. He’ll probably have a tough task winning against the opposition here, but stranger things have happened.

Prediction

I think we’ll see the World Tour teams try to make this as an aggressive race and we’ll see the toughest Tre Valli Varesine in a while. Consequently, it will be unlikely that the bunch will be held together enough for a reasonable sized bunch sprint of 20 riders. There is a chance we could see 5 or so riders come to the line but I don’t think it will be any more than that.

Nibali looked exceptional in Emilia, but I think the drag up to the finish is suited much more to the new TT World Champion.

Dumoulin to attack and manage to hold off everyone behind thanks to Matthews marking anyone trying to follow as they won’t want to take the Aussie to a sprint.

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Betting

Not sure who else has prices, but in the UK SkyBet do.

1pt EW Dumoulin @ 33/1

0.75pt EW Valgren @ 66/1

 

Thanks as always for reading and as usual, any feedback is greatly appreciated! Who do you think will win and how? I think we’ll be in for a very exciting race! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

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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#SuperGallopinFantastic

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.

 

Men’s Individual Time Trial World Championships Preview – Bergen 2017

Last year saw Tony Martin smash the opposition on a pan-flat course in Doha but it is very unlikely he’ll manage to defend his title this time round. In fact, the second (Kiryienka) and third (Castroviejo) finishers from 2016 have a better chance than the German.

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Will any of them be able to match the big favourite for the event Tom Dumoulin? Let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders over the afternoon.

The Route

The riders will complete almost two full laps of what has been known as the “short” circuit for the TTs that we’ve had over the previous days.

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The laps are rolling but not overly difficult and the riders should be able to maintain a fairly high-speed of roughly 50km/h or so.

The biggest test they will face out on the route is a staggered climb that starts at roughly 5km into the day.

Bergen Short Lap Climb

At an average of only 3.5% for 1.5km in length, the more traditional TT riders shouldn’t lose too much time here. With that being said though, some of the steeper ramps involved in the climb do allow those who are less gravitationally challenged to gain a bit of an advantage. Nonetheless, it is one for the power riders to attack and it shouldn’t make a massive difference either way unless someone is on a bad day.

Tomorrow though is all about the final 3.5km which have been well documented about in the run up to these Championships with the ascent up Mount Floyen.

Mount Floyen

Tough!

So tough in fact that we will inevitably see bike changes in the special bike exchange zone just before the climb itself.

At an average of 9.3% for just over 3km this test will put to bed the hopes of Martin etc who are far too heavy to go close on this type of route. It is similar to the Mont Brouilly TT that we had in Paris Nice earlier in the year, but the closing climb is even harder here in Bergen.

Weather Watch

With the riders starts being so spread out due to the lap nature of the course, Lutsenko is first off at 13:05 while Martin starts at 17:03, then changing weather could no doubt have a massive impact in the outcome of the race.

You can view all of the start times here.

Once again, varying reports suggest different things, but we are sure to get rain at some point throughout the day.

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Source: Yr.no

After a fairly accurate forecast for today Yr.no suggests that the riders will be in for consistent rainfall throughout the day, but it will pick up more for the riders who are starting their efforts towards the end of the 3rd wave and those off at the start of the 4th wave.

The “big hitters” going off at close to 17:00 might not have the same levels of rain fall but they will have to contend with a wet route.

That is of course assuming that the forecast is close to being correct!

Ultimately though, I don’t think the weather will play too big of a part in the outcome of the race, with the rider’s legs doing the talking so to say.

Bike Change Kerfuffle

One of the hotly debated topics in the run of to tomorrow’s race is if rides will change from a TT bike to their road machines to tackle Mount Floyen.

Such a fuss was kicked up that the UCI have designated a specific “bike exchange zone” that is 20m long and is located just before the start of the climb. If you have watched any of the action over the past few days, you’ll recognise the section as the slight cobbled drag the riders have had to contest with.

The whole thing doesn’t sit right with me if I’m being honest. Yes, they should be allowed to change a bike if they want to, but there shouldn’t be a specific zone. Furthermore, by the sound of it riders will have a mechanic waiting road-side to make their change more seemless. In my opinion if a rider is wanting to change bike then it should still have to be taken from the roof of their following car. But hey, what do I know!

There is also a lot of confusion as to the rules that are to be followed in the exchange zone. I’m sure if you have been on social media today then you will have stumbled across videos of riders practicing their change-overs. In most videos you will see the riders get a 10-15m push from their mechanics to get them up to speed again.

Except, this is not allowed according to the UCI. I have a feeling that it might be a bit of a kerfuffle tomorrow!

If there is no pushing allowed, is that running and pushing, or just a static push? The latter isn’t so bad but it will need a UCI commissaire there to make sure everyone is doing it properly. Will they have the guts to DSQ a favourite if they make an improper change? I guess we’ll just have to wait and find out…

Contenders

Tom Dumoulin.

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On paper this is the Dutchman’s race to lose. He arrives here as arguably one of the freshest riders in the bunch, with this TT being his main focus in the second part of the season. He’ll be one of the fastest over the rolling section and the short climb where he can push out a lot of Watts is ideal too. We witnessed what he can do on an uphill at the Giro and more specifically with his win on Oropa. Can he handle the pressure of being the favourite?

Chris Foome.

The likely contender who is having his best ever season. Following on from winning the Tour, the Brit went on to clinch the Vuelta with a rather dominant performance, completing an unprecedented Tour-Vuelta double. The craziest thing is that when finishing the Vuelta he didn’t even look that tired, which is really ominous for his competitors here. Furthermore, a 31km effort isn’t going to add much to his current fatigue levels so he has as good a chance as any.

Rohan Dennis.

The Aussie looked very strong in the TTT and was putting his team-mates into the red which could have potentially cost them the title. The shorter length of the TT is great for Dennis who is the best short TTer in the world, a title awarded by me! However, although he is a good climber, I think he might struggle on Floyen. Furthermore, he is known to go out too fast and if he does that tomorrow, then he will go backwards on the final climb.

Vasil Kiryienka.

World Championships - Mens TT

Champion back in 2015, he is a rider who always turns up and performs on the big stage at the Worlds. A diesel engine, TTs of over 30km are good for him as he only seems to properly get going after 20km! One of Sky’s super domestiques, he will no doubt crush the opening two laps of the route but I’m intrigued to see how he goes on Floyen. He shouldn’t lose too much time, but compared to some of the better climbers he might struggle. Will he have enough experience to see him through?

Primoz Roglic.

One of the breakthrough riders of 2016, the Jumbo man has taken a step up in his performances this year. A very strong all-rounder he could be great tomorrow. However, his form has been a bit hit or miss lately and he did struggle at the Worlds last season. A year on though will he cope with the pressure better? I’m not so sure and I think he will fall flat. I’m ready to be pleasantly surprised though.

Jonathan Castroviejo.

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He is my dark horse for the podium and possibly better. Although saying he is a dark horse is unfair but that is what he is according to the bookmaker’s odds! His performances at the World’s in the past three years have been 10th/4th/3rd; a nice bit of progression and similar to Garfoot in the women’s race. Furthermore, he has shown form in longer TTs such as his Euro Champs win last year and 4th place at the Olympics. It was his 3rd last year on a completely flat course that really impressed me. Given his smaller build, he should in theory struggle on the flat and go better on the hills. Tomorrow’s route looks a lot better for him than last year! His build up to the race hasn’t been great with a bit of a lacklustre performance in Britain but he is a classy rider who has to be given some respect.

Jungels, Kelderman, Bodnar, Campenaerts and Küng will all be fighting for the top 10.

Prediction

I nailed my colours to the mast almost a week ago; Froome to win.

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As I’ve said above, he looked unbelievably fresh at the end of the Vuelta and if he has carried that form, which I think he will have, then he should win here.

Dumoulin to follow him home with Castroviejo to equal last year’s result in third!

Betting

I tweeted this out a few days ago;

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I would say that he is still back-able at the 4/1 or even 7/2 you an get in some places. So I’ll play up some of the profits from today’s women’s race..

Froome 4pts WIN @ 4/1 (with William Hill)

Castroviejo 1pt EW 125/1 with Bet365 (would take 80/1 or even 66/1)

He is just so massively overpriced – falls into the value bet like Garfoot today.

 

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Will we see the expected dual between Froome and Dumoulin? Or will another rider cause an upset?

Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

Grand Prix de Wallonie 2017 Preview

I was going to wait for the World’s to do another preview but after a couple of days of not writing, I’m bored. So here we are again, with a nice race on a Wednesday in Belgium. A time and place where the stars seem to align for me…

Last year’s edition of GP Wallonie saw a reasonably sized group of 35 riders come to the foot of the final climb together. Gallopin launched his attack at 1.1km to go and with a bit of looking around behind, he built up a gap that was too much to close down. Not that Vakoc didn’t try, as the Czech rider surged up from behind and almost stole the win on the line. Jerome Baugnies of Wanty followed home in third place.

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The timing of Gallopin’s attack was important but oddly enough, it was the exact same spot where his team-mate (Debuscherre) went on the offensive and won the race the previous year. Will we see the Lotto 1.1km to go attack this year?

First, let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

Although ever so slightly different to last year’s route, it follows pretty much the same pattern with the normal climbs at the end of the race.

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The road rolls for most of the day, but it is the final 50km that things will get interesting. We have a lot of up and down before the Côte d’Ermeton. The 8kms of rolling roads before the descent to the foot of the climb average 2%. Not leg-breaking, especially compared to the recent Vuelta, but it is certainly leg-sapping!

The Ermeton itself is only a short climb; at 1.6km in length.

Ermeton

The 4.5% average is enough to see some attacks, but like a lot of the climbs around here, they are suited to the power climbers, not mountain goats.

The riders will then face almost 15kms until the bottom of the next categorised climb; Côte de Lustin.

Lustin

Longer and tougher than the Ermeton, it is much more suited to a thinning out of the peloton. Expect to see some of the stronger riders come to the fore here. They might not attack themselves, but I’m sure some team-mates will. An aggressive team can make the end of this hard!

With only 6kms or so from the top to the next climb, the riders won’t have much time to recover if they went deep with their previous effort.

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Tienne aux Pierres is the penultimate climb of the day and it is one of the toughest the peloton will face. At 3.2km long and averaging 5.2% it will be attacked at a fast pace and is a great platform for some riders to launch a late move.

Riders will be dropped here, but it all then depends on who is up front as to how the race unfolds from there as there is an opportunity for a regrouping on the run in to Namur.

The riders will then climb in the closing 3kms up the snaking road to the Citadelle de Namur.

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As you can see, it isn’t a crazily tough finish, with the final kilometre almost being false flat. Therefore, if you’re a better climber than some others in the group, you have to attack early. Some of the steepest ramps come at just over 1km to go; no wonder that is why Lotto Soudal have launched their attacks at that exact moment over the past two years. Both moves have been winning moves. Will someone be savvy to it this time?

Weather Watch

The race is normally a fairly attritional one, with the stronger guys coming to the fore over the closing 50km.

This could be exacerbated more than normal tomorrow due to the forecasted bad* weather…

*Depends who you ask.

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Source: Windfinder.

The above image is the forecast for just south of Dinant, i.e. roughly 2/3rds into the race.

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The section as they head towards Dinant will be a headwind, with a little cross-head thrown in. However, there are plenty of other areas out on course where the riders will be cycling into a pure crosswind. For example, just before they come to the feed zone in Havelange you have roads such as these…

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Interesting!

Or on the road north as we head towards the Côte d’Ermeton…

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Some climbing and crosswinds you say? Very interesting!

Throw in too, the potential for some showers and we have a manic day on the bike on our hands. It might not be Le Samyn crazy, but it could be pretty close.

How will the race pan out?

Normally the race can be a relatively controlled affair, where some of the stronger teams look to reduce the peloton slowly; leaving roughly 30-40 riders somewhat in contention going into Namur itself. Other times, we see some strong attackers get away on the preceding climbs s a break and fight out the finish themselves.

However, I think the history book will be thrown out of the proverbial window tomorrow.

The conditions will cause some carnage out on the roads and we’ll have a lot of guys DNF after being distanced. In the sections where the wind comes from the side, the riders won’t have to really force to make echelons, they’ll almost happen naturally.

I imagine that the 6 World Tour teams will be well aware of that so they’ll want to be at the front. In theory they should be stronger, but a lot of the PCT and CT teams here are no mugs at cycling in bad, windy conditions.

Consequently, the nervousness in the bunch will make the echelons even more likely (not that they need to be made any more likely!)

This then leads to the next question; will a team have enough riders up the road to control things? Possibly, but the best form of defence is attack . Or so they say.

Therefore I think we’ll see a select group drive clear at some point. As to when that may be? Who knows! The peloton could be completely decimated by the wind and the lead group will form that way, or it may be done on the climbs. We could even see some escape in between the climbs!

Candidates

In a slight change to normal, I won’t go through everyone because in a race that could be all over the road; no one will be able to tell you with confidence how it will pan out.

So this list will be more of a “who to keep an eye on” kind of thing!

The Lotto Soudal triple threat of Wellens/Benoot/Gallopin. It will be interesting to see how they go tomorrow given that they have all been over in Canada racing recently; so jet lag might be a factor. Nonetheless, on paper they are arguably the strongest riders here and they will hope to use that to their advantage. Expect them to be attacking throughout the day! If it does turn wet, then Wellens will have a field day!

Montreal Grand Prix, 2015

Bakelants is another rider who’s been enjoying himself in Canada lately but this is a race where he always goes well. His record here is rather remarkable actually, having won it in 2013 and finishing in 11/2/3/5 in the other 4 years. Not bad! He doesn’t seem like the best rider in crosswinds though and that might come back to haunt him.

Gerts may not be the first name that stands out to you from the BMC line-up but “the Florist” has been building some nice form in Britain over the past week. This is the type of one day race that should suit the youngster and it might finally be the time for him to step up into a leadership role. Could his solid sprint and attacking nature see him take a great win?

Gaviria might have something to say about that. The Colombian returned to racing in Britain after a spell off the bike. He’s hit the ground running since then, picking up a stage win and a string of good placings. A deceptively good rider in tough conditions, he could be the strongest on Quick Step if the likes of Vakoc and Brambilla are suffering from jet lag.

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Van der Hoorn.

 

We’re now getting to the stage of the preview where I’m plucking slightly more obscure names out of the hat and guys that you might not have heard of yet. If you haven’t heard of the best named rider in the peloton, Taco, then you will over the next few years. The young Dutchman recently took the win at a brutally tough Schaal Seis to go with a lot of solid results in various other one day races. Can he take advantage of this purple patch?!

Peyskens.

The WB Veranclassic rider has been a consistent performer in one-day races this season, picking up several top 10s. A good climber on his day, he should be able to cope with the lumps towards the end of the race. His team always seem to go well in the tough races (Kirsch’s second at Le Samyn is an example of that) and tomorrow should be no different!

Backaert.

An eternal breakaway candidate at the Tour this year, the Wanty rider seems to have continued off from where he left of there, attacking in a lot of his subsequent races. He’s picked up a few decent results but nothing overly impressive. However, it is his early season results in Le Samyn and Omloop that have got me thinking for tomorrow. He seems to go well in tough conditions and he might just be able to slip away if some of the bigger names mark each other.

Prediction

I think tomorrow is going to be an incredible day’s viewing.

We’ll have very tough conditions that will wear down the riders but then team tactics will also play a massive part in the outcome of the race. I’ll go for someone in form and a non-WT rider to upset the apple cart again.

That man is the rider with the best first name in the peloton; Taco van der Hoorn.

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His form is great at the moment and he should be close to the front in the splits. Being more of an “unknown” will work to his advantage as the WT teams mark each other out of it. Can we get another GVK-style prediction right on what looks set to be a very similar day?!

Unfortunately, there seems to be nowhere pricing up the race, in the UK anyway. I know Kirolbet are offering odds and I assume a few Belgian bookmakers will be too. We might get something here after this! 😉

Thanks for reading as always! Cycling isn’t about the big races 100% of the time so it was nice to preview a smaller event – they often tend to be the most exciting! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

Vuelta a España 2017 Preview – The BFOG

Vuelta a España 2017 Preview – The BFOG

In a slight change-up to previous races where I’ve rolled out separate previews for the various jerseys, this year I’m going to include GC/Sprint/KOM all in one, in a Giro Rosa style BFOG.

Last year’s Vuelta saw some very aggressive racing with Quintana beating Froome by 1’23, with Chaves finishing in 3rd.

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Most of the time Quintana had over Froome was gained on a crazy stage 15 and I hope we see some similar tactics deployed this year.

I’ll be disappointed if my favourite Grand Tour of the year is a let down.

Over the coming three weeks expect some bold tactics, super steep finishes, messy sprints, random breakaway days and some surprising results!

The Route – What You Need To Know

To some it up in a word: tough.

Again, as I’ll be doing daily stage previews then I won’t be going over the route in massive detail here, just the key stages. Although this is the Vuelta, so any stage can almost become a key stage…

The opening day sees a TTT around Nîmes (yes, we start in France) which should set the GC order for the following few days. Thankfully, at only 13km long, the time gaps between the overall contenders shouldn’t be too big at the end of the day.

It is not long before we’ll get a rough idea of who has some early climbing form as Stage 3 features two Cat-1 climbs and a Cat-2 all within 158km. With a slightly technical downhill run I don’t expect to see any of the GC favourites try to attack 100%, maybe an aggressive top 20 candidate can escape to take the spoils?

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Stage 5 offers us our first hill-top finish with the Cat-3 climb of Ermita Santa Lucía. It doesn’t sound much, but remember that this is a SPANISH Cat-3 climb; 3.7km at 8.58% with max gradients of around 15-20%. It’s a shame Reijnen isn’t here so he can get Spained…

We then have a couple of rolling days that give the sprinters or opportunists a chance at stage glory.

The weekend before the first rest day sees two stages that both have Cat-1 climbs in the closing 10kms of the race.

Stage 8 will have riders summit the brutally steep Alto Xorret de Catí. Officially 5kms at 9%, the crux of the climb is more 4km at 11%! From there, they will then face a short but steep descent into town for the finish.

vuelta-a-espana-2017-stage-9-cumbre-del-sol-1484252526Stage 9 finishes atop the Alto de Puig Llorença which is another short but steep climb, averaging 8.8% for 4.1km. It certainly seems the organisers designed a route hoping that Valverde would be here! With a rest-day to come, expect the GC contenders to be full gas here and we could see some surprising time gaps.

After the rest day we should see a break survive on Stage 10, but the following day is the most challenging one so far with back-to-back Cat-1 climbs.

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Climbing or descending from pretty much 60km out, this could be a fairly brutal day in the saddle. With the finish above 2000m, we might see a GC favourite suffer from the altitude. One thing is for sure, this Vuelta isn’t a race you can ease yourself into for week 3!

Another couple of “who knows what these stages could turn into” days follow, before we get out first Especial finish of the race on Stage 14.

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Once again the riders are pretty much climbing for the last 25km of the race with the Cat-1 before the Esp finish. However, the two can be combined to form the climb below.

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It’s not a crazy average gradient at only 5.3%, but the 23km could see some weary legs by the top. Not great then when the toughest 3kms come within the final 5km! Someone could go pop. With a “flat” finish though, a small 5 rider sprint could be likely.

Either way, it will certainly stretch the riders legs for what is to come the following day.

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This is the type of Vuelta stage I love as a spectator. Pretty sure the riders might not think the same. Pure madness!

It finishes with a Cat-1 then Especial climb, but like a few of the stages here, they can be pretty much rolled into one.

VueltaS15 finish

Ouch. Ouch indeed!

With the last rest-day to follow, expect the riders to leave everything out on the road.

After their day to recuperate and recover, the riders will be faced with a decisive 40km TT. It does climb and roll a little bit but it is certainly an effort that should suit a specialist. This stage will scare a lot of the pure climbers who will be gunning for a good GC position.

The GC days continue to come as Stage 17 finishes atop the now viral Alto de los Machucos.

Who knows what the GC composition will look like before the stage, and who knows what it will look like after! Those who lost time on the TT the day before hand will certainly be hoping to bounce back with a good performance.

Stage 18 finishes on one of those classic Vuelta Cat-3s; 2.3km at 8.3%. I wouldn’t expect any major splits between the GC guys but you just never know…It could be a day for the break, likewise is stage 19. Although a few teams might control it and hope for a sprint.

The last huzzah GC wise comes on Stage 20 where the riders will finish atop the mythical Angliru.

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Four categorised climbs in a 119km stage, including the three major ones in the last 50km. A very Vuelta-y stage to finish the Vuelta GC battle with!

Any sprinters that we have left will then fight it out for stage honours in Madrid on the final day. Although considering we don’t have many here already, could a late attack succeed?

GC Contenders and Pretenders

With the defending champion Quintana finally deciding to have a Grand Tour off after doing 4 in a row, we could well see a new winner this September. I’ll have a look at some of the contenders and outsiders for the title below, some in much more depth than others!

Chris Froome.

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This years Tour winner is gunning for a famous Tour/Vuelta double. He has tried to pull off the feat in the past but this year could be his best shot, given the 40km worth of individual time trialing. Starting as the bookies favourite, his form is massively unknown going into this race. In fact, he hasn’t made an appearance at any UCI event since the end of the Tour, instead, opting to earn a couple of extra quid with some post Tour crits. Not ideal preparation in my opinion for a race where you need to be on good form in the first week!

One of the things he does have going for him though is that he won the Tour not looking his best. In previous editions he has cruised the Tour but never had just enough left to win the Vuelta, so maybe that was in the back of his mind going into that race. Or is he on the decline in general? I thought the latter before the Tour, but I’m not so sure now. His team is strong, not as good as his TDF hit squad, but bloody close to it! He is still the rider to beat once the dust has settled.

Vincenzo Nibali.

Arguably Froome’s biggest contender for the crown, the Italian is a much more rounded Grand Tour rider than the Brit, showing consistency across all three of the races. I mean he has won them all! He finished third at this years Giro, a result I’m sure he’ll be disappointed with but it wasn’t a bad performance and he did beat some good riders. Traditionally, Nibali doesn’t show much form before a Grand Tour but that seems to have changed this season. A solid 9th place in Poland, where he looked fairly skinny, was good for him and he will no doubt be gunning for no less than the win here. The only issue is that his team is fairly weak, with the missing Izagirre a big blow. I can’t see him winning the race, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he does in the end.

Alberto Contador.

I said at the Tour last year he was past his best and his performance this year highlighted that even more. I’m sure he’ll go on a few hail mary attacks which could see him move up the standings. Will it be enough for a podium? Probably not. But a stage win and a top 10 is very much achievable.

Fabio Aru.

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Another rider who comes straight here with no other racing in his legs after La Grand Boucle. A former winner of this race, as more of a pure climber some of the very tough stages should suit him well. However, the long 40km TT could be his downfall in his overall title bid. I have no idea where his form is at, considering he was apparently struggling with bronchitis at the end of the Tour. He could be great, or he could be awful! Being near the top on GC is helpful, especially when Astana have another potential GC card to play…

Miguel Angel Lopez.

My outsider/dark-horse/whatever you want to call it for the podium and possibly even more. Which now inevitably means he is going to fall by the wayside after picking up an illness on stage 4.

The young Colombian is a super talented, all-round GC star of the future. He can climb very well, but he is also a deceptively good TTer for someone of his stature. It is a tough ask to see him compete at the pointy end of the race in what will be the first Grand Tour that he should hopefully complete. Nonetheless, I think he has the pedigree to do just so. Having been raced lightly this year after spending the first 6 months of the season sidelined due to injury, he should have plenty of juice left in the tank to go well here. He warmed up with a good showing in Burgos recently, winning the final stage. Coping well with the heat there is a promising sign for what will no doubt be a scorching Vuelta. Can Superman fly?!

Ilnur Zakarin.

After Froome, the Russian is arguably the best TT rider of the GC contenders here. He’s an attacking rider and in a race that is known for its crazy moments, he might just prosper. I’m still not 100% sold on his ability to climb with the best, especially at altitude but you just never know. He’ll be hoping for at least a top 5!

Yates / Yates / Chaves.

Thought I’d just combine Orica’s three-pronged attack into one here! Out of the Yates brothers, I imagine it would be Adam who will be going for the higher GC placing, but that doesn’t mean Simon can be discounted completely. However, Chaves should be their main charge. The only issue with that is the Colombian has struggled with injuries this season and took a big knock to his mental confidence after one of his friends tragically died back in Colombia while he was riding at the Tour. I’m sure his form will be a lot better at the Vuelta as that was the plan during the Tour anyway, to get up to race speed for this event. If he is firing on all cylinders, he could be a danger. The only issue for all three of them is the massive 40km of TT, it is by far their worst discipline and they could all lose bucketloads of time. Which should make for an exciting few mountain stages if they have to chase the race…

I feel like I have already named a load of riders but the list of quality top 10 contenders could continue for a while yet! Other guys we have here include but not limited to; Bardet, Jungels, Kruijswijk, Poels, Pozzovivo, Majka and Kelderman.

Prediction

Froome is the guy to beat but Sky are never as convincing at the Vuelta compared to their dominance at the Tour and there is a chance the Brit could be isolated on a few occasions. We saw in France that he didn’t seem to be at his best and he can’t chase everyone down when it is just the group of GC favourites. If Froome is to win, he needs a massive race from Poels.

I just can’t help shake the feeling that some of the teams will look to isolate him at some point, like the famous Stage 15 from last year. Will they succeed?

 

Hmmm, I don’t know. Surely Sky will be more alert this year…

Froome probably wins the race but you’ll read that a lot this week so I’ll go for young pretender turned young contender Miguel Angel Lopez to pull off a shock result!

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I’m really looking forward to the double act with Aru over the coming weeks.

Watch out for the Shark though, he’s lurking ready to strike.

King of the Mountains

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Unlike the Tour, the Vuelta’s KOM competition is much more traditional in the sense that climbs at the start of the stage are weighted equally compared to those at the end. None of this final climb double points nonsense!

Given the amount of summit finishes at the Vuelta you would think that a GC rider has a good chance of taking the jersey. However, there are bound to be several breakaway days during the race which makes it difficult for someone high up on the overall to challenge. In fact, you have to go back to 2007 when a proper GC guy won the jersey.

Omar Fraile has won the jersey the past two years; can he make it three in a row?

As for points distribution, it is as follows:

Screen Shot 2017-08-17 at 15.04.22

Thanks to Velorooms/@Searchhhh for whom I tea leafed the table from.

Overall, there are 315 mountain points available, with 91 of those coming at the end of stages. You can therefore see how it is tough for the GC favourites to compete.

However, unlike recent years, there are no nailed on breakaway days that garner a lot of points. Instead, we have 6 stages where there are between 15-25 points available during the stage, not including the finish climb, and they are Stages 3/5/12/17/19/20.

You would expect the break to take the majority, if not all of the points on those days. However, there are a few mountain top finishes where the break could stay away until the end as well.

Stage 14 is an example of that where we finish with an Especial climb, meaning that a rider could potentially take 28 points if they win the stage.

The following days action is similar too if the break manages to stay away and take the stage/Cima Alberto Fernández, totalling 40 points if they can do that.

How will the KOM race pan out?

It is tough to name a favourite for a competition such as this given the huge amount of variables. At the Tour, Barguil lost a lot of time in some of the early stages so that he was given the freedom to hunt KOM points later in the race. Whether that was intentional or not, I’m not too sure. Equally, Landa turned to the KOM jersey once he was out of GC contention at the Giro.

However, the difference between those two races and the Vuelta is that a lot of the KOM points were back loaded towards the end of the Grand Tour. Here, they’re much more evenly spread out.

In fact, on stage 3 (25pts) and stage 5 (21 pts) a rider can put their name into the mix with a strong early lead in the competition. If you look at the past couple of seasons the highest winning points total has been 82 by Fraile in 2016.

Therefore, a rider could take 43 points (not including the Cat-3 summit finish on stage 5) and be in a very commanding position at the end of the first week. I wonder if we’ll see some riders roll home at the back of the pack on Stage 2 to get some freedom the next day….

A poor TTT could set things up nicely to allow a rider the freedom to go into those moves. It’s also important to consider that the Pro-Conti teams will be gagging to get away in breaks for TV exposure, so a rider from their roster could be the one to take up the charge.

So with all that said, I’m going to suggest three names who might be there or thereabouts in the competition. Or probably not…

Merhawi Kudus.

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I’m a big fan of the talented Eritrean rider, he’s really taken a step up this season in terms of performance. A traditional mountain goat, he should be able to cope with a lot of the steep ramps and rises that the Vuelta has to offer. Now, Fraile is the most likely candidate on the Dimension Data squad to chase the KOM jersey, but there is a chance that the Spaniard might want to go for stage wins and leave the KOM hunting to someone else in the team; Kudus might be that man.

Jetse Bol (2.0).

The new and improved climbing Jetse Bol has found his passion for racing again with Colombian Wild Card team Manzana Postobon. They are guaranteed to lose a lot of time on the opening day TTT and will no doubt be chasing the breaks from therein. Given his sublime performance at the recent Vuelta Burgos, Bol seems to be in rather good shape at the moment. A jersey win for the Pro-Conti team would be incredible and the Dutchman might just be the guy to deliver it for them.

Larry Warbasse.

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There would be something poetic about Captain America taking the KOM jersey at the Vuelta. It was at this race last year that Warbasse gained a lot of my respect, so much so that I think he was the most heavily featured rider in my previews! He couldn’t manage a breakaway win but impressed enough to gain a contract with Aqua Blue for this season. I think it is fair to say he has delivered for them, taking their first ever win. Not bad considering it was at WorldTour level! Another team who are bound to be on the attack throughout the race Warbasse is their best climber and I would be surprised not to see them go for the jersey; they’ve done so in a lot of smaller races throughout the season so why not here too.

You know what, Warbasse is my KOM winner for this race!

Points Classification

Vuelta a Espana - Stage 21

Much like the KOM jersey, the Vuelta keeps things simple for the points classification and does away with the hassle of stage categorisations etc. Instead, riders will be given the same points for winning one of the sprint stages or the mountain top finish up the Angliru.

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Again, the table is tea leafed from the same sources as above!

Therefore, it is very rare that a sprinter wins this jersey. It will be even harder this year given the parcours and the lack of proper sprint stages. Consequently, it will be a rider who can compete on multiple types of finishes that will win the jersey.

Valverde has dominated this competition and it is clear to see why. Packing a fast sprint, he can pick up a few points on the flatter stages but his climbing ability allows him to challenge for stage wins on the tougher days.

We could see a GC winner take the crown by being consistent on all of the mountain top finishes but I think we might see a few breakaways deny them the opportunity of competing for points.

Unlike the KOM competition, I only have one rider in mind for this competition.

A guy who is very much built-in the ilk of Valverde, albeit he is not as good a GC rider. Yet.

Julian-Alaphilippe-time-trial

There are several stage finishes that seem to suit the explosive French climber down to the ground. He’s had to miss both the Ardennes and the Tour for various reasons which would have been a massive disappointment for him. Nonetheless, I’m sure that means he’ll turn up here ready to perform well. On his return to racing in Burgos he was good, not great, more promising than anything else. With the cobwebs blown out now, I think he’s in for a big race. If he is performing to his Paris Nice level, then the Points jersey is his to lose!

Vuelta Picks

After continuing on from initial success, we had the highest numbers ever play the Tour Picks game back in July and I’m hoping to entice you to join Vuelta Picks for this coming month.

The premise of the game is simple; pick a separate rider for every stage, with their position on the day counting as your points. With the lowest cumulative score at the end of the Vuelta winning the prize pool.

However, one bad day does not mean that you’re completely out of it, with a prize on offer for the most stage wins too. In fact, at the Tour there were enough participants to introduce a KOM prize (lowest accumulated score over certain stages).

It’s also a good way for you to laugh at my awful, or terribly unfortunate picks. Picking an ill Sam Bennett on stage 2 of the Giro didn’t really go well for me…

I’ll also be adding a little segment at the end of each day’s blog section to cover; a “safe” pick, a risky pick (wongshot) and a deliberate Lanterne Rouge pick. Just to add a bit of spice to the game!

Think you can beat me and take my money?!

*Hint – the answer is probably yes*

Then follow the Cycling Picks Twitter handle @cycling_picks and simply put your name into the spreadsheet if you wish to play!

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/14U89El-B7h05tRgB5Lw8ml9pkF5v0ROvxH96-dk3w7o/edit#gid=0

Spreadsheet above^^^

Betting

Not a fan of betting ante-post on GC riders normally, but I’ll gladly back Lopez as an EW bet for this race.

Outright – 2pts Lopez EW @ 25/1 with Lads/Coral. (would take 20/1 lowest)

As for the KOM competition, I’m spraying some small stakes around on the riders I’ve mentioned above. Nothing too crazy.

0.75pt EW Warbasse @ 50/1 with various (Wouldn’t take any lower)

0.5pt EW Kudus @ 150/1 with Betfred (would take 100/1 lowest)

0.25pt EW Bol @ 300/1 with Betfred (would take 250/1 lowest)

As for the Points jersey, it’s simple.

2.5pts WIN Alaphilippe @ 6/1 with Lads/Coral.

I think I’ll leave it at that for the pre-race bets.

 

Thanks as always for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated! Who do you think will win the various competitions? I hope we’re in for an exciting 3 weeks of racing and I’m optimistic that we will be! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.