Vuelta a España 2018 Stage 3 Preview: Mijas -> Alhaurín de la Torre

Today’s Recap

Well I pretty much had today’s stage bang on in yesterday’s preview, if we just ignore the part where I decided to dream about a Benoot victory…The Lotto Soudal rider was with the front group but pulled off and swung left at roughly 2km to go, possibly struggling with the heat and rhythm of the bunch.

De Plus launched a very strong attack with just over 1km left and gained a reasonable gap while there was a bit of marking out behind. Valverde bit the bullet (see what I did?) and hit out to close him down, with only Kwiatkowski being able to stick to his wheel. The Pole came round Valverde at 250m to go, leading into the last corner. It worked out perfectly though for the Movistar man who was able to use Kwiatkowski’s slipstream and launch past him in the final metres to take the win.

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De Plus held on for third with a whole host of GC riders coming trailing in behind.

The result on the day means that Kwiatkowski moves into the leader’s jersey, 14 seconds ahead of Valverde and 25 ahead of Kelderman. With the parcours to come tomorrow, he should hold on to it, but who knows. Let’s have a look at what is in store for them…

The Route

A classic Vuelta “sprint day” where the riders have to traverse two categorised climbs, including the first Cat-1 of the race, and several other unclassified ascents, totalling over 3000m of altitude gain. Javier Guillén is the biggest patter merchant going!

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The Cat-1 climb of Puerto del Madroño averages 4.4% for 23.5km so it isn’t too tough gradient wise, but it is the length and heat combined that will cause some issues. If we don’t see the break form until here, then expect it to be strong again and it might be one that could go all the way.

The terrain continues to roll for pretty much the remainder of the day, taking in the Cat-3 Puerto del Viento (6.4km at 4.3%) and the uncategorised rise just after the feed zone which comes in at 4.1% for 6kms.

A long descent follows before yet more rolling terrain and some rises before the intermediate sprint point with only 25km left in the day.

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As you can see on the profile above, there are a few rises in the closing 7kms, with the most notable of them being a 1.2km drag (3.6%) average that ends with just 2.5km left in the day. From there, it is mainly flat, if not ever so slightly downhill all the way to the line.

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There are 4 roundabouts to traverse in those closing 2.5km, just a typical Vuelta finish really. The last of those comes with roughly 600m left but it is quite open so it shouldn’t be too bad.

Question Number 1: Break or no break?

The stage looks great for a breakaway to establish a good gap before the sprinters teams can start chasing properly once they are over the Cat-1 climb and normally it would be a good stage to get into the move. However, the issue lies with the fact that Kwiatkowski currently leads the overall and Sky might be keen to keep him in that position so they will keep things on a fairly tight rope, hoping to get some assistance later on. Consequently, I don’t think we’ll see the break win tomorrow despite the favourable profile, although I’ll still give it an 20% chance of it happening.

Question Number 2: Big bunch sprint or reduced bunch sprint?

We saw today that several of the sprinters bailed out early on what was an easier stage than tomorrow. It is hard to read into that though as many of them wouldn’t have rated their chances at all and just decided to save their energy.

However, we are in for a similarly hot day tomorrow and more climbing metres (roughly 400m more), then we could see several sprinters dropped early and not make it back. It will be interesting to see who pushes the pace on and given their current form, I think both Valverde and Kwiatkowski might fancy their chances in a reduced bunch gallop. Consequently, we could see Sky and Movistar form an entente cordiale at the start of the stage and drop most of the fast men on the opening climb. As looking at the stage profile, there isn’t really a lot of flat land where a team can make a concerted chance to get back if the pace is on at the head of the race. It’s not really until 40km to go that the major difficulties of the afternoon are out-of-the-way.

The slightly rolling run-in to the line as well could see some surprisingly lose contact after a tough day. If not, their zip might be gone.

It’s a tough one to call, but I think we’ll see a reduced bunch sprint of maybe 70-90 riders.

Contenders

Elia Viviani.

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Arguably the best sprinter this year, Viviani has had a truly incredible season. He recently won the Cyclassics Hamburg in rather dominant fashion but somewhat disappointed today. I would have expected him to stay with the bunch for longer but as mentioned above, he might just have decided to write the day off and focus on tomorrow. If he can manage the climbs and make it to the line, then he has to be the clear favourite.

Matteo Trentin. 

Another who disappointed me today, he finished ahead of the gruppetto but not by much, coming home almost 11 minutes down. Sensational in this race last year, will he get given the same free role now with Mitchelton? Theoretically he should be one of the fastest “climbing sprinters” here, but does he have the form…His win in Glasgow would suggest so but today’s performance doesn’t. Hmmmm.

Michal Kwiatkowski.

He just seems to be able to continue his great form, doesn’t he?! Today he got played by Valverde who let him lead into the final turn and the Pole will be desperately gutted to have missed out on the stage win, again. Being in the red leader’s jersey isn’t a bad consolation but he will want more. Sky have a strong team to put the sprinters into trouble early and if they form an alliance with other squads, we could see the current race leader sprinting for the win from a reduced bunch. He clearly has the form and speed at the moment to go well and the rises before the line will help to bring him closer to the fast men.

Alejandro Valverde.

Can El Bala make it two in a row? Much like Kwiatkowski, Valverde packs a good sprint on the flat too and he’ll no doubt want to chase some bonus seconds so he can move into the race lead. If the race is aggressive and attritional tomorrow then he has a great chance.

Tom Van Asbroeck.

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Slightly left-field pick but he impressed me a lot on the tougher finishes in the Vuelta last year and he seems to be arriving here in good shape. He was the best finishing “fast man” today, coming home only 2’15 down on Kwiatkowski. He should make it over the climbs with the main group tomorrow and if some of the properly fast guys have been dropped then he has a great chance of pulling off what is a shock result.

Nacer Bouhanni.

I still remember fondly the 2014 Vuelta and just how strong Nacer was then, it is a shame to see him a shadow of his former self, or is he? Today he came home alongside Nibali and Benoot: not exactly bad company for a sprinter on a tricky finish. To me that indicates that his climbing legs are starting to come back and I think he will be up for it tomorrow. On his day Bouhanni can climb very well and I keep harking back to his win in Catalunya last year. One to watch.

Ivan Garcia Cortina.

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The Bahrain rider really announced himself with a third place from the breakaway during last year’s Vuelta on what was a difficult day out. Like Bouhanni, he finished alongside his team-mate Nibali today so there is obviously a reasonable amount of form there at the moment. With Bahrain looking a little lacklustre GC wise already, only Ion is left, then they might turn their attention to Garcia tomorrow: he certainly could challenge for the podium in a reduced gallop.

Note I’ve left out Sagan (probably at my peril) because I still don’t think he’s 100% and isn’t fit enough to compete. Also left out Walscheid as he can barely get over a speed bump.

Prediction

Reduced sprint with some of the sprinters missing out.

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Kwiatkowski to get that win!

 

 

Betting

Backing two riders…

1pt EW Kwiatkowski @ 18/1

1pt EW Van Asbroeck @ 40/1

Should cover a few bases. Maybe not a Viviani win though!

Thanks as always for reading. Who do you think will win tomorrow? Will we see a sprint, reduced bunch sprint or even a breakaway contesting for stage honours? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Critérium du Dauphiné 2018 Stage 1 Preview: Valence › Saint-Just-Saint-Rambert

Today’s Recap

A bloke went faster than some other blokes around the town of Valence.

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Kwiatkowski delivered a stunning ride to beat Van Emden by a second, after the Dutchman had spent most of the early afternoon in the hot seat. Team Sky returned to their dominant TT performances of the Spring with Moscon coming home in third.

They could have quite possibly had 3 guys in the first 4 as Thomas crashed with 3.3km to go and ultimately finished 21 seconds down on his team-mate. Going from the rolling clock he was just getting back onto his bike at around the 20 second mark after his fall so considering all the lost momentum then he certainly would have been competing for the win. I do find it weird though that he crashed on a completely dry course on a rather innocuous corner; he’s making a bad habit of that!

As for the blog pick, Bevin finished in 5th which was respectable but just not good enough for the win. Boom was a disappointing after being only 2 seconds down at the split but he faded quite badly in the second half.

Jungles obviously lost by a second to Brandle which means I’m continuing off from where I left off at the Giro (not counting the last day winning hiccup with Bennett). Oh well, on to tomorrow and what looks like an interesting and unpredictable stage!

The Route

A fairly rolling day out in the saddle with some interestingly positioned climbs in the finale.

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The riders will be climbing from the gun, facing the toughest ascent of the day, the Col de Leyrisse. At an average of 4.5% for 8.5km then it isn’t Alpine by any means, but it will certainly have a few guys worried, especially if they’ve been watching the Giro. A short descent follows before the road drags up again at roughly 3% for another 4km.

We then have a longer descent which is followed by a 2-for-1 categorised climb deal: not sure it’s an offer I’d like to see. For the pros though the ~4.8% average for 11km shouldn’t be too much of an issue and we’ll no doubt see a nice controlled tempo.

After that the road rolls with a few small rises but it is mainly flat, before we get into the final 40km which features 3 categorised climbs, albeit just Cat-4s. More importantly though, they will complete a couple of laps of a circuit so the riders will be familiar with the parcours the second time round.

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There are two main rises in the circuit, the first is a fairly steady 1.9km at 3.4% before the slightly tougher second climb that averages 4.3% for 1.5km, with a few steeper pitches thrown in early on. Neither are very difficult and we won’t see any GC action but they do offer the perfect opportunity for a late attack from a puncheur.

The start of the descent is a little technical but for the majority of it the riders will have to pedal it in the big ring.

The final few hundred metres are uphill so any sprint will have to be timed perfectly.

How will the stage pan out?

It’s one of those days where anything could happen: breakaway, late attack or reduced sprint are all possible outcomes and equally as likely. Well saying that, with Sky now in the race lead I wonder if we will see a typically controlled stage from them and closing everything down to protect that yellow jersey? Consequently, I think the likelihood of a morning breakaway is much reduced but the chances of a late attack sticking are still quite high.

I’ll go 10% (Breakaway), 35 % (Late attack), 55% (Reduced sprint).

Sprinters

The race isn’t blessed with a great selection of sprinters but to be fair, who can blame them – there are only a couple of days that *might* end in a bunch kick and the rest are all GC days. Looking at ProCyclingStats, these are the top 15 sprinters here…

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Definitely not a stacked field when Nibali is the 8th guy on the list!

Out of them all, I would only class Ackermann, Jakobsen and Bauhaus as pure sprinters, while Impey, EBH and Coquard are “tough sprinters” then the rest are puncheurs or lead-out men, and Nibali.

I think the climbs will see the chances of the pure sprinters disappear tomorrow so it will be over to the tough sprinters and the puncheurs to battle it out on the run in to the line.

There are two riders that I like for tomorrow’s stage and one of them is currently in yellow.

Michal Kwiatkowski.

This type of parcours and finish is perfect for the Pole as he possesses a fast enough kick to compete with most, especially with the riders we have here. I expect Sky to control the race and hope to set him up for the sprint and gain some bonus seconds as every little bit of time here and there will be very helpful for the weekend. His performance today shows that he is in good form and the rise up to the line definitely favours him.

Jay McCarthy.

One of my favourite riders in the peloton, the Aussie is really developing into a great rider and tomorrow’s finish looks like a carbon copy of the uphill drag he won in Itzulia. This is his first race back after a period of rest and training after the Ardennes classics but a 34th place today was a pretty good result by his standards so I think he’ll be going well.

Late Attackers

As for late attackers, pick a name out of a hat as to who might give it a go. We’ll probably see something from De Gendt, Valgren and Terpstra. The latter of whom I think might actually have a chance as he delivered a good time today and was lively in the recent Hammer series.

Prediction

Sky are in Yellow so everything is controlled and Kwiatkowski doubles up, simple!

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Betting

1pt EW Kwiatkowski @ 16/1

1pt EW McCarthy @ 16/1

0.5pt WIN Terpstra @ 125/1

(All with Bet365)

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win tomorrow and how? It should be a good finish to the stage. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Strade Bianche 2018 Preview

A modern-day classic that this year only celebrates its 11th edition, Strade Bianche is a race that has won the hearts of many, myself included. The mix of rolling terrain, punchy climbs, gravel roads and a finish amongst the picturesque Piazza del Campo make this a great day to sit in front of the television and watch the race unfold. Given the wide-variety of parcours to be tackled, a range of riders have found themselves in contention coming into Siena at the end of the race.

Last year saw poor conditions with rain throughout the day which made the race one of attrition, especially as crashes splintered the peloton on crucial sections of Strade. An elite group of riders forged ahead but it was Michal Kwiatkowski who was rewarded for an incredibly attacking display by taking the victory.

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Behind, a trio of Van Avermaet, Wellens and Stybar fought it out for the minor podium places with a sprint up to the Piazza. They came home in that order with the Czech rider losing out.

This year we could be set for another great edition of the race due to an exciting start list but also some incredibly challenging conditions. First though, let’s have a look at the parcours the riders will face.

The Route

At 184km it certainly isn’t the longest race the riders will face all year, heck, there will even be plenty of stages in Grand Tours that are longer, but with 63km of dirt roads in total then it isn’t easy-going in the slightest.

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Sectors 5-8 are where the bulk of the “Strade” are, with the last being the most difficult. At 11.5km long big gaps can be made, especially when the rolling nature of the sector is considered. This is where Cancellara used to make his mark and after his third victory in 2016, the sector is nicknamed after the Swiss rider.

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Once through Monte Sante Marie there are just over 40kms and only 3 gravel sectors remaining but that doesn’t mean the action is over. With the continual rolling nature of the road there are many potential locations to attack and those at the head of the race need to be attentive for the final hour.

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There are two gravel sections in the closing 20kms, both of which involve uphill sections that are steep enough for stinging attacks. However, the flatter sections of road also provide a good launchpad for a move if there is no co-operation in a group. Really, all the riders need to be attentive throughout the closing stages of the day or the race could be lost in a few moments.

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The climb up to the Piazza in Siena is sharp but it is short enough that the puncheurs and climbers both have an equal chance to go well on it. Once over the crest, you really want to be at the head of the group as the run-in is very narrow and technical. Leading through the final 200m almost guarantees the win!

Weather Watch

Conditions are looking much better for the race than they were at the start of the week but they will still certainly be grim.

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Source: Windfinder

It looks as if it will be wet, wet, wet! The gravel roads will turn to mud and this will certainly make the racing more interesting to watch. It will also test the riders bike handling skills as they make their way down some tricky muddy descents. The winner will definitely deserve it come the end of the day!

Contenders

A wide-open race that has many potential winners amongst the start list, it all depends on how the race is played out. I’m going to go through the “big 5” according to the bookmakers then name three others who I think might have a good chance of the title, so apologies if the list is not as exhaustive as you were hoping for!

Michal Kwiatkowski.

The defending champion returns here in great form having just won the Volta ao Algarve. This is a race that he seems to love and it would not surprise me to see him go and win again, matching Cancellara’s record of three wins. The punchy climbs are great for him but he is also strong enough on the flatter sections to make a difference. Will he get as much freedom as last year? Probably not but given we have both GVA and Sagan here, then he might just profit from their rivalry.

Peter Sagan.

Back for his first race on European soil he’s spent a lot of time recently at altitude camp. It will be interesting to see how that transfers into his performances during races; it might take a little bit for him to get back into the swing of things. Sagan really wants to win San Remo so given the tricky conditions here he might just go 90% with a focus on what is to come. Then again, he is a racer and given his incredible talent, he is in with a great chance of taking a title that is missing from his palmarès.

Zdenek Stybar.

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Winner of the 2015 edition the former cyclo-cross star will love the terrible conditions that are forecast. Results wise the start of his season has been so-so but it is his performances that have impressed. He looked strong out on the attack in the final day of the Algarve, forcing those behind to do a lot of work to catch him. He then followed that up with an attacking display in Omloop that ultimately was fruitless in the end. Nonetheless, I’m sure he’ll be happy with his current condition. Last year I picked Stybar as my winner only for him to finish 4th and I’m not sure if I’ve seen anything that much different from him this season to see him finish any higher. He can’t be truly discounted though, especially when the weather is considered and with super-domestique Gilbert to help.

Greg Van Avermaet.

Incredibly consistent at this event he didn’t seem to pack the same punch at Omloop that he normally would. Now, that is probably not a good thing in terms of his chances of winning this race, but it is good for him being on track for the bigger goals slightly further along in the season. Nonetheless, GVA is a classy bike rider and with parcours like this he can’t be discounted. The short punchy climbs and challenging gravel sections are right up his street or should I say “Strade”. Sorry, I’ll let myself out…Saying all that, compared to the rest of the big 5, I just can’t see a situation where he wins.

Alejandro Valverde.

The evergreen rider from Movistar was originally on the start list for this race but it looked as if his participation was in jeopardy after having some stomach issues. He’s over that now and is here to race, I think it might all be a smokescreen anyway. In stupendous form as always, he’s somewhat disappointed at this race in the past only managing to come third on two occasions. That could well change this year!

One interesting thing to note from the “Big 5” is that they are all excellent bike-handlers, something that will be very important tomorrow. Now onto my three picks for the race, all of whom are Italian…

Moreno Moser.

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If you’ve kept up with this blog since the start of the season then you would know that this pick was pretty much inevitable! Astana have been flying this year with Moser picking up a great win in Laigueglia, breaking a duck that lasted for a few seasons. It was the way in which he won that race that really impressed me, his attack on the final climb can only be described as brutal. Admittedly the competition was at a lower level than it is here, but he made almost a 50m gap in roughly 200m. Following on from that he then went and worked selflessly for the team in Andalucia, often being the last rider in front of the two Astana leaders going onto the climbs. He arrives here with a strong team and I expect them to play a big part in the race, possibly splitting it early just like Lotto Soudal did last year. If they have numbers in the front group like they did in Omloop, then expect them to repeatedly attack until one gets away. Moreno has a great chance in a situation like that.

Gianni Moscon.

Who needs a snow plough when you can just get a Tractor instead?! Insanely talented, 2017 was not just a normal breakthrough year for the Sky man, I would describe it more as an explosion!

It started off rather innocuously until a very impressive 5th place at Roubaix got things rolling. Solid showings in Route du Sud were then followed with a win in the Italian TT champs and a 5th place in the road race. A second place on Stage 4 of Burgos was a microcosm of what we were going to see in the coming Vuelta; Moscon absolutely blitzing it on the short 2kms climbs and putting everyone into difficulty. A respectable 6th place in the Worlds TT came not long after before a very unrespectable disqualification in the road race. Two more top 10s in the end of season Italian one-day races before a big third place in Lombardia. All in all, not bad!

This year started off with some good outings in the pre-season style races in Spain before actually being the best Sky finisher GC-wise in Valenciana. Since then he’s been at training camps, honing his form. Strade on paper looks like a race that should suit him perfectly. He’s more than likely going to be the last Sky rider with Kwiatkowski and if things are getting cagey he will be the first to attack. If he’s anywhere close to that 5 minute power he showed during the Vuelta, then he is a dark-horse for this race.

Vincenzo Nibali.

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Predicting a Nibali peak outside of a Grand Tour is arguably one of the hardest bits of cycling punditry; the guy is an enigma. This is a race he’s attempted in the past but has fallen flat on almost every occasion. Last year was a quite literal example as he crashed before later suffering a flat tyre as well. His start to 2018 has been quiet, using the races in the middle east as training miles before his bigger goals later in the season. I have a feeling though that he really wants to give MSR a proper dig this year so his form will be on the up here. Conditions on Saturday also remind me a lot of that famous Tour de France stage back in 2014 when Nibali went on the attack on the cobbles. He’s not afraid of bad conditions and as an excellent bike handler, he might put some into difficulty on the descents. It will be hard for him to out-punch anyone on the final climb to the Piazza so he more than likely needs to arrive alone, but like with everyone else I’ve mentioned above, it is possible.

Prediction

Moscon to take the win!

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Like others, I think we’ll see a fairly tactical race with a lot of looking around at each other by the “Big 5”. Consequently, we’ll see a smaller group with some of the “second tier” riders get away to fight out for the win. If Moscon is at 90% of what he was like in the Vuelta last year, no one will be able to match him up the climb to Piazza del Campo. He’ll take a spectacular but very divisive win!

Betting

Backing the three picks;

1pt EW on them all…

Moscon @ 18/1 (Would take 14)

Nibali @ 80/1 (Would take 50s)

Moser @ 80/1 (Would take 50s)

I’ll take a little longer and have a look at some H2H later. If I find anything I’ll fancy then I’ll post them on Twitter.

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win tomorrow? I’m certainly looking forward to an 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.

 

Clásica Ciclista San Sebastian 2017 Preview

One of my favourite races of the year returns this weekend for its 37th edition. The Klasikoa marks the shift in the season from post-Tour blues to pre-Vuelta hype! An exciting Spanish one-day race that offers those a chance at glory for Ardennes style riders along with GC talents looking to prove a point after La Grand Boucle.

In 2016 we saw the latter, with Mollema taking a great solo victory.

Cycling: 36th Clasica San Sebastian 2016

He crested the final climb of the day along with Gallopin, Valverde and Rodriguez but the Trek rider decided to seize his opportunity and attack; not looking back until the finishing straight.

Given the two Spaniards discontent for each other, Gallopin was stuck with the world’s hardest negotiating job trying to get the trio to work together. In the end, he did the majority of the work but it was too late. He managed to sprint for 2nd, a slight consolation but it was a case of what could have been for the Frenchman, with Valverde following wheels into third.

Will we see something similar this year?

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

The Route

The organisers have stuck with a very similar route to what we had last year, although there seems to be a lot more climbing earlier in the day compared to 2016.

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@LasterketaBurua

However, I don’t expect the racing to get exciting until the first passage of the Jaizkibel at 127km, just over halfway through the race. Saying that, it probably won’t be until the second passage at roughly 60km to go that we will see the race liven up as this is a potential for a race winning move if the group contains the right riders and teams.

More than likely though, it will come down to the final climb of the Murgil and the descent/run to the line that follows.

Now, I wouldn’t call the climb Tontorra and I’m sure there was a similar issue last year where the organisers labelled the climb Murgil Tontorra when it should be called Murgil Bidea. That’s just me nitpicking though!

The climb itself is short but very sharp. However, its severity does depend on the source you are looking at. On the profile above it is a 1.9km long climb at 10.2% average. That’s close to the 1.7km at 10.3% that Strava suggests it is.

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The profile of which you can view here.

Yet, the organisers on their website claim it is 2.5km at a 9% average. The road does rise a little bit before the climb starts properly but to say it is that length is probably a bit generous. So I think there might be a mistake on their website!

Last year Devenyns managed the Bidea climb in 5’42 according to the Strava segment above. Watching the footage from the race, he seems to crest the summit ~18 seconds after the front 4 so that gives you an idea of the time of the ascent for the front group; 5’24.

Borderline between tipping the scales towards the pure climbers and away from those Ardennes specialists, it should produce an exciting finish.

The race doesn’t end at the summit though and we are often treated to a tactical battle on the false-flat/descent/flat run in to the line.

With no Valverde and Rodriguez here this year, we might actually see a group co-operate if they get away off the front!

Tour Legs?

A big cause of debate is how much does completing a Grand Tour help a riders legs and form. We often hear of riders saying that they feel the benefits of it the following year, but there are also short-term benefits too.

If the race isn’t too hard, then riders can carry their form over to some races the following months and we often see riders use the Vuelta as preparation for the World Championships for example.

The same can be said for the Tour and some of the races that follow at the end of July/start of August.

In fact, the last 10 editions of San Sebastian have been won by a rider who has came from the Tour.

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The table above highlights the top 3 at the last 10 editions of Klasikoa with their GC positions at the Tour in brackets. NR means that the rider did not compete at the Tour.

Looking at the table in more depth, it seems that riding the Tour is key for a good result in San Sebastian with only 6/30 of the podium places occupied by those who didn’t race La Grand Boucle. That trend seems to be even more prevalent as of late as only Meersman and Gilbert have podiumed in the last 5 years without having completed the Tour.

The average GC position of the winner for the last 10 years is 26.8 and with Romain Hardy’s Fortuneo team not competing here, we’ll round-up and go with Dani Navarro for the win…

Joking aside, it does seem that those coming from the Tour have an advantage but these “rules” can be broken!

Let’s have a look at who’ll be in the mix come the end of the race.

Contenders

Mollema.

One of the first four riders to crest the climb and eventual race winner, he returns back this year to defend his title. Having taken his first ever Tour win a few weeks ago he will be buoyed with confidence. Being able to take it “easy” during some of the stages should mean that he is fresher here than he was last year, where he seemed to be dead on his feet by the end of the race. Maybe that will have the opposite effect than what was expected?

Gallopin.

Second place last year, the Frenchman has a very impressive record at this race and it seems to suit him very well. I thought the climb might have been on his limit last year but it is proof that the race suits those who can put out a lot of watts for a short period of time! After his crash in the opening TT he was really attacking in the second half of the Tour, getting into the breakaway every few days. He’s a good candidate for another top 5 result. Team-mate Benoot could also be in the mix.

Kwiatkowski.

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So close to a win in the final TT of the Tour, Kwiatkowski was arguably the best domestique of the whole race. The length and quality of turns he did on the front of the race was incredible. Interestingly though, he lost the majority of his time during the TT on the short climb. So I’m beginning to wonder if he was lost some of his explosivity in exchange for more endurance. Will he be able to follow the best tomorrow?

Landa.

If Kwiatkowski isn’t there, then you would expect Landa to be there or thereabouts. He was incredible for the majority of the Tour but he did seem to tire at the end. Is doing the Giro and Tour finally taking a toll on his legs? I wouldn’t be surprised to see him ride everyone off his wheel tomorrow, or blow up early. I’m leaning towards the latter happening.

Uran.

The Colombian rode the Tour of his life to finish second overall, notching up a stage win along the way. He is clearly in scintillating form but how much has that race taken out of him? This season he seemed to be transforming into more of a one-day racer and he goes well on courses like this; he really should have won Lombardia at the end of last year. He has shown in the past few weeks he has the power to follow the best on the climbs and the speed to finish it off, can he do it again tomorrow?

Barguil.

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The rider who was the focal point of one of my favourite photos from the whole Tour arrives here as Sunweb’s leader, or does he? Dumoulin might have a say in that! Nonetheless, Barguil was incredible over the past three weeks; two stage wins, the KOM jersey and a top 10 on GC. In that final week of the race, he was putting out climbing numbers only the top guys on the overall standings could match. If he has kept that form up, then he should be in the front group on the final climb. Like Uran, he also packs a handy sprint from a small group. This looks like his best opportunity in a while to take a one-day race win!

Van Avermaet.

Bookmaker’s favourite, he is another rider with a good history at this race. He famously crashed into a motorbike while attacking away from everyone in 2015, while last year he couldn’t follow the best on the climb. Fairly disappointing at the Tour, I think we might see a repeat of last year’s performance from him. The same can be said for another rider of a similar build, Gilbert. I think it’s too early after his illness at the Tour for him to go well.

Yates.

Hoping to repeat his brother’s success, the White Jersey winner will come into the race with some pressure on his shoulders. His team tried to set the race up for him last season but he couldn’t follow the pace on the climb, probably because he didn’t have the Tour in his legs! This year he has, but he did look a little bit jaded towards the end of the race. Is he going to do a Mollema though?

There are a handful of possible outsiders who could go well such as Roglic or even Lammertink (Maurits).

As for those who weren’t at the Tour, they’ll find it hard to compete. Nonetheless, I think we could see Lopez, Dumoulin and possibly Fraile be in or around the top 10.

Prediction

Tour legs will shine through so I’ll go for one of the form riders of the race, it is just a case of who…

I have two in mind, either Barguil or Uran.

Hmmmm.

Given his better sprint, I’ll go for Uran to take the win, he is flying just now and a result here will top off a great July for him!

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Betting

I wouldn’t normally go EW on the two of them at their current odds but given that both could sprint for second or third behind a solo winner then I think it is worth it.

1pt EW on them both;

Uran @ 16/1 with Boyles (paying 4 places) would take 14/1 elsewhere

Barguil @ 20/1 with Ladbrokes/Coral

 

Thanks as always for reading, who do you think will win tomorrow? Will we see a small sprint to the line or will a solo rider take the day? Anyway,

They were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

Tour de France 2017 Stage 20 Preview; Marseille -> Marseille

Today’s Recap

I was disappointed to wake up this afternoon to see a 20-rider breakaway up the road and none of the picks represented. Even more disappointed when scrolling through the Le Tour Race Centre feed to see that Bauer and McCarthy were involved in an earlier move, oh well!

The breakaway stayed together over the last climb and we were treated to a very tactical battle in the final 40km.

Countless attacks went and were brought back but we did see a split over a slight rise which cut the group in half. From there, we had even more attacks but it was a roundabout inside the final 3km that decided the race. The majority of the front group took the left side, whereas Arndt and Boasson Hagen took the right, much shorter side.

The Norwegian picked up the pace just as Arndt was reaching his limit and swung over. Using a friendly moto he got a 5-10m gap and that was the race over from there! After all his close calls so far this race it is good to see him take the win.

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Arndt held on to finish second, with Keukeleire winning the reduced bunch gallop for third.

With all the GC riders rolling home together, let’s have a look at what’s in store for them tomorrow.

The Route

A pan-flat TT apart from one very short and sharp climb.

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The route is a very interesting one as the climb only makes up just over 5% of the stage. However, being an average of 9.5% for that 1.2km it will probably take the riders closer to roughly 12% of their total time.

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The climb is steep and will certainly ruin the rhythm of the TT specialists. I wonder if we’ll see any bike changes before it? Personally I would say it is not worth it but you never know!

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Aside from the climb, the course is more technical than the opening TT we saw in Düsseldorf. The roads are narrow, particularly along the Corniche, with the riders having to contend with a few tight turns and roundabouts. However, there are plenty of long straight sections for the powerhouses in the peloton to put the Watts down.

It will be a close battle between the TT specialists and the all-round GC riders for the stage win.

Quite often in a TT the changing weather throughout the day will play a part in deciding the outcome. However, it appears tomorrow that all the riders should have dry conditions with the later starts possibly benefiting from a drop in wind speed. Although that depends on what source you look at!

Contenders

Roglic.

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After crashing in the opening TT, the Jumbo rider has since turned things around and took an excellent stage win a couple of days ago. An excellent rider against the clock he should be there or thereabouts but I think he might have actually preferred a harder course with a longer descent!

Froome.

The last TT in a Tour means Froome normally turns up. He crushed Dumoulin last year in the closing time trial and the same can be said for his effort in the Vuelta TT where he put 45 seconds into joint stage favourite Castroviejo. The route looks ideal for the Brit with power sections where he can, erm, put the power down, but the climb should be suited to him too. The only issue is that he hasn’t looked great this Tour so far, yet he finds himself in Yellow. He’s the type of rider who will want to win a stage on his way to winning the race overall and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him on the top step tomorrow.

Küng.

Second place in the opening TT, the Swiss rider did very well to set a fast time when everyone else around him seemed to be struggling in the wet weather. He’s been anonymous since then but has possibly been saving himself for this effort. Tomorrow’s route looks similar to recent closing TT in the Tour de Suisse where he was second behind a flying Dennis. Can he repeat that performance tomorrow?

Martin.

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After failing to make a dream start to his race back in Düsseldorf, Martin has dabbled in a few breakaways since then. The climb is really steep for a guy like him, we saw what happened to him on the steep slopes during his solo breakaway. However, at only 1.2km long he will fancy his chances of powering up it. He should finish in the top 5 but I’m not too confident in his form just now.

Kwiatkowski.

If Froome and Landa want the best info as to how the course rides at race pace then they’ll need a team-mate earlier in the day to go full gas. Given how well he is currently riding, Kwiatkowski could be that man. The course looks a perfect distance for “Kawasaki” and he will probably want to honour his national champions jersey by giving it a good go. The only concern is that he might decide to have an extra rest day considering all of the work he has done so far.

Castroviejo.

The Spaniard is another rider who has had a quiet time this Tour, possibly with an eye on tomorrow’s stage. A great time trial rider he will be challenging again for the win.

As for an outsider who could challenge, I’ll once again highlight Bauer. The New Zealand TT champion got into one of the early moves today so his form is still there. Having taken it easy on the opening day, I think he might give it a nudge tomorrow. It will be tough for him to win but he could possibly sneak onto the podium if he gets lucky.

Predcition

This one is tough.

I’ve chopped and changed my mind between some of the riders listed above several times so far. Making cases for and against all of them and not really coming to any concrete/confident conclusion.

Right…

If he gets to go full gas then I really think Kwiatkowski has a chance of taking a stage win and be truly rewarded for all his work over the past three weeks!

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Betting

Bit of a lottery, and the 9/4 on Froome looks tempting but he’s still too short given his not so dominant performances recently.

1.35pts EW Kwiatkowski @ 20/1 with Ladbrokes/Coral (1/4 odds for 3 places)

0.15pts EW Bauer @ 500/1 with various

 

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Critérium du Dauphiné 2017 Stage 8 Preview; Albertville -> Plateau de Solaison

Today’s Recap

So as you may have gathered, I didn’t manage to get a preview completed yesterday in between the 2 hours of me getting up and going to work , so yeah, apologies etc!

It turned out to be a day for the breakaway, like I thought it might, and in the end Kennaugh took a strong win ahead of former team-mate Swift.

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Herrada held onto an attacking Bardet and outsprinted the Frenchman to nab third place on the day.

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Maybe I should blog less often?!

Behind, Porte looked imperious with only Fuglsang able to hold onto the wheel of the Australia, with Froome coming off worst out of the GC contenders. It means that Porte has a minute buffer over the Brit going into the final stage tomorrow and you would expect that to be enough to hold on for title.

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

The Route

A short and intense day to end the race!

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The road rises from the gun with a tricky, uncategorised climb before flattening out and rising almost all the way until the first summit of the day. I expect a lot of riders to be on rollers!

The opening three climbs aren’t too difficult in terms of average gradient but with them coming in quick succession we might see a few riders who are on a bad day struggle.

With 35km to go the riders will crest the penultimate climb and face a 15km descent before hitting the valley roads that see them travel to the foot slopes of the Plateau de Solaison.  The “easy” gradients on the earlier climbs are certainly made up for here!

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11.3km at 9.2% it’s another brute of a climb for the riders to deal with! Thankfully for some, the gradient does ease a little by the top down to a measly 7% roughly…

Will we see a solo winner again?

How will the stage pan out?

It’s a really tough stage to call as we could see some early GC fireworks but there is also the possibility the break makes it all the way.

With Porte having such a big lead and looking so strong, I’m not sure how willing other riders will be to spend a lot of energy early on to animate the race only for the Australian to be able to follow everything easily. Furthermore, BMC have looked strong so far and have been able to hold everything together reasonably well and I would expect a similar performance from them tomorrow.

It also all depends on where the breakaway goes and who’s represented. I think we’ll see it get up the road on the first categorised climb so it should be filled with strong climbers who are capable of winning the stage. If no GC rider has sneaked their way in and enough teams are represented then I think it can go all the way.

So time for everyone’s favourite game again…

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Candidates

A few darts to be thrown here…

Jack Haig.

The young Austrailian has been very consistent so far this Dauphiné and finds himself sitting 26th on GC, almost 10 minutes down on his compatriot. With Yates and Chaves underperforming, Orica will no doubt be looking towards the breakaway for success. Could Haig take a memorable win?

Serge Pauwels.

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The winner of the Tour de Yorkshire this year, the Belgian always seems to find himself in a breakaway at some point during a week-long stage race. He’s not been in one so far, but that could well change tomorrow! Having been so close to a win at the Tour last year (on the farcical Alpe d’Huez stage) coming up against a flying De Gendt, he has proven that he can climb exceptionally well. In the right move he has every chance.

Michal Kwiatkowski.

After his early season return to form, the Pole but in a great shift for Froome today, pacing the GC group. Is he eyeing up a spot in their Tour mountain train?! With Froome suffering, I think we could see Kwiatkowski “set-free” like Kennaugh was and to chase his own personal glory. Clearly going well, I have him as my favourite for the stage. He just has to make the break first…

Richard Carapaz.

I like to throw an obscure name into these every so often, but the Ecuadorian is a rider you will be hearing a lot about over the next few years. Extremely talented, he picked up a second place behind Yates (Adam) and ahead of Uran at the GP Industria earlier in the year. Since then, he has gone on to pick up two top-10s on GC at 2.1 races. Not bad for a first season in Europe and in the pro peloton! I’m not sure how he’ll fare over the longer climbs but I am keen to watch on with interest!

Prediction

As I said above, if Kwiatkowski makes the move, then I can’t see many riders beating him. Sky to go back to back!

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Betting

Tweeted this out before…

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I think they’re still both value at 66/1 and 80/1 respectively so would still recommend it.

 

Thanks as always for reading and as usual any feedback is greatly appreciated! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Will it be another GC showdown or will the break have its day again?

I’ve decided I won’t be doing daily previews for Tour de Suisse but I’ll still be tweeting out some stage picks so give me a follow if you don’t already. There are others who will be doing daily previews so check out @insidethepeloton96 and @cyclingmole for those!

I shall be back for the British national champs (men and women) and if I get bored, then maybe a .1 or .HC race in-between somewhere. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Critérium du Dauphiné 2017 Stage 4 Preview; La Tour-du-Pin -> Bourgion-Jalieu

Today’s Recap

The peloton here are about as reliable as that from the 2015 Giro!

They left the chase for the break too late and the early morning move stayed away to take the win for the second stage out of three.

It was young Koen Bouwman who sprinted to the win, with Siskevicius and Backaert rounding out the podium. Not a bad race to take your first professional victory in!

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Behind Démare “won” the bunch sprint for 7th but I’m sure he’ll be bitterly disappointed knowing he could have and probably should have, taken another win.

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

The Route

We’ll see the first proper GC shake up with a relatively long ITT.

The official profile isn’t overly helpful, so instead I’ve made my own. As is TT tradition! However, I’ve used Cronoescalada this time instead of Strava.

Dauphine Stage 4 (ITT)

You can view the interactive profile I made here.

As you can see, it’s not the toughest TT course ever but does include a few tricky climbs over its 23.5km.

The riders will actually lose more altitude than they gain over the route; 288m gain compared to a 378m loss.

The climbing can’t be discounted but it only makes up just over a fifth of the stage, so to me it seems that this stage is much more suited to the specialist time trial riders. The real powerful riders of the peloton who will be able to churn a big gear on the downhill sections.

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Aside from when leaving the start town and entering the finish town the course is very straightforward, with very few turns where the riders will have to apply the breaks.

Weather Watch

As is often is the case in TTs, the weather can play a massive part in the outcome of the stage.

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Source: Wunderground

Thankfully the riders should all face the same, fairly benign conditions. Should mean an even contest throughout the day!

Contenders

Tony Martin – The current World Champion should be suited to this course perfectly. He’s strong enough to be able to flatten the few kilometres of hills we have but also able to churn out a massive amount of power on the flat/downhill sections. His form is a bit unknown, but he really should be the guy to beat.

Chris Froome – On paper this TT isn’t ideal for Froome, I’m sure he’d prefer the hills ever so slightly longer. Nonetheless, he can produce a very good flat TT when needed! It will be interesting to see where his form is less than a month out from the Tour. I mean, it’s very unlikely that he’ll be as low as his Romandie level but you never know!

Richie Porte – The former Aussie TT champ is also not averse to putting in a good “flat” time trial. Arguably one of the riders of the season so far, he’ll sprint up those climbs. Can he hold it together on the downhill? Is he willing to take many risks with the Tour not so far away?

2016 Tour de France, stage 13: Porte

Those three are the top of the pile but there are certainly a few others who can challenge.

Michal Kwiatkowski is no stranger to a good TT. He was strong in the discipline before moving to Sky but this season he seems to have re-found that good form. A very powerful rider and great bike handler, he has a great chance at the podium.

Edvald Boasson Hagen would probably prefer a shorter course but given his current for, he can’t be ruled out either.

Alejandro Valverde has gone well this season so far in TTs but they tend to involve more climbing than this one. Nonetheless, with the year he is having, you can’t write him off too early!

For a proper outsider…

Damien Howson.

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The former U23 TT World Champion turned super-domestique certainly has the background and pedigree for this type of event. He rolled home today, possibly saving himself for days to come. If he gets the nod to go full gas, he could surprise!

Prediction

I’m going to go for none of the big 3, instead, I’ll go for one of their team-mates: Kwiatkowski.

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The Sky rider has regained his mojo this season and is now riding with a lot of confidence again which will be a huge lift to his performance. Returning from training camp with Froome, he has been attentive at the front of every stage so far which makes me think he’s going well. It would be of benefit for Sky to have two riders high on GC and I’m sure Kwiatkowski would happily oblige!

Betting

1.3pt EW Kwiatkowski @ 18/1

0.2pt EW Howson @ 300/1 

(Both 365, 1/5 odds)

 

Thanks as always for reading. Who do you think will win tomorrow? If you’ve not already, check out my preview for the first stage of the women’s tour! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Critérium du Dauphiné 2017 Stage 1 Preview; Saint-Étienne -> Saint-Étienne

GC Overview

No stand-alone GC preview from me but it looks set to be a showdown between Porte and Froome. The former won their battle in Romandie, looking imperious. However, the Dauphinè is Froome (and Sky’s) race. They’ve taken the title in 5 out of the last 6 editions and I’m sure the Brit will be here to put down a marker before the Tour.

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The TT should suit both of those guys and with the amount of climbing on offer, then they both should end up on the podium.

However, there is the potential that they could be caught out on the tough stages at the end of the race, particularly the explosive 115km Stage 8 test. We saw that in 2014 when Talansky went on a raid to win the overall. The Cannondale rider looked good in California, is a repeat performance on the cards?

Of course, we have several other contenders such as Valverde, Contador, Bardet, YatesMartin and Chaves (if he’s recovered from his injury) who might spring a surprise and catch the big-two napping on that last day.

Nonetheless, I’ll be boring/safe (delete as appropriate), this is Froome’s Duaphiné to lose. The parcours suits him very well and he seems to go better on the longer climbs in comparison to his former team-mate.

He needs a commanding performance, otherwise the Australian will go into the Tour buoyant and as a very, very serious title contender, if not the favourite!

Right, now let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders on the opening day.

The Route

A tough, tricky and very interesting route to start the race off.

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Lots of small climbs throughout the day but particularly in the circuit on the outskirts of Saint-Étienne which will no doubt shape the race.

I don’t envisage any of the early climbs being attacked aggressively enough for the sprinters to lose contact, so I’ll just skip them! However, they will no doubt stretch the legs of the riders for what is to come.

Instead, I’ll focus on the final 44km and the “interesting” finale.

According to the roadbook, the Côte de Rochetaillée is 3.4km at 5.4%. However, that doesn’t really tell the whole story, so out of interest I made a Strava profile of the final circuit that you can view here.

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They make the climb to be 3.8km at 5.8%. Either way, it’s not what I would call short and not what I would call extremely easy!

Moreover, the little lump/prelude of a climb is roughly 2.5km at 3.5%. It means for the final 44kms the peloton will be climbing for approximately 18km of them, totalling 1350m of elevation gain (~450 per lap according to Strava).

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The majority of the descent towards the line is fairly straightforward and the riders will be thankful to get a few looks at it. However, there is a pair of tight 90-degree right-hand turns just after the Flamme Rouge which could cause some issues.

Positioning will be very important.

The road even rises ever so slightly to the line, but it’s minimal!

How will the stage pan out?

This is a really exciting stage on paper because it is so tough to call.

Will the sprinters make it? Will the punchier riders fight it out? Will we see a late attack stick? Or none of the above?

I’ll stick my neck on the line and suggest that it will actually be a relatively selective bunch that comes to the line, maybe 30-40 riders. A few of the GC teams with fast riders who aren’t as strong in a TT might want to gain a few bonus seconds tomorrow!

My reasoning for this is that tomorrow’s stage reminds me an awful lot of the Barcelona circuit (Stage 7) we had at the Volta Catalunya earlier in the year. On that day they admittedly did many more laps (8 compared to 3), but the climb was actually easier (only 2.2km at 5.1%).

That stage ended with a front group of only 16 riders, but I imagine tomorrow might be just over double in size.

Therefore, that means I’m ruling out the majority of the sprinters, with possibly only Boasson Hagen and Colbrelli making it. Even then though I’m not too sure!

Contenders

Valverde is obviously the first name to spring to mind for a finish like this. He won the stage in Catalunya and has been his usual imperious self this season! Having not raced for a while his form is a bit unknown, but the Spaniard always turns up at the big races. Taking a few bonus seconds here could set him in good stead for an assault on the GC title.

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Kwiatkowski could be the Spaniards biggest challenger. Another rider who has not raced for a while, the former World Champion seems to have returned to his glory days this season having already won Strade Bianche and Milan San Remo. In Pais Vasco he was competing in the flatter reduced sprints and he certainly packs the speed to go well tomorrow.

Ulissi is a rider who on paper would relish this type of finish. Yet, with so many others, it is tough to know where his form currently is! I would not be surprised to see him in the top 5.

Gallopin should like the punchy circuit and with his fast kick he could be another rider challenging for a podium place.

There is one outsider who I would like to mention.

Dan Martin.

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He’s no slouch in a sprint from GC contenders and if we do get a properly reduced group like I think we will then he could sneak a podium place. Will he be given the chance if some of his team-mates make it? Hopefully!

Prediction

A tougher day than some might predict, but Valverde will continue his incredible 2017 with another win!

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With Dan Martin not too far behind him!

Betting

I think the 25/1 on Valverde looks massive value at the moment, it is a shame that I’ve just realised that Bet365 are offering win only ;

SkyBet are offering EW places though so bet with them if you can. I’m not too fussed with having to take Valverde straight up as I’m not allowed more than 0.5pt on with them Sky, so 365 it is for Valverde.

As for Martin, he is “EW value” so only bet if you can get him EW!

2pts WIN Valverde @ 25/1 with Bet365 (same price with SkyBet)

0.5pt EW Dan Martin @ 150/1 with SkyBet.

 

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

Liège-Bastogne-Liège 2017 Preview

La Doyenne or “the Old Lady” for the Anglicised among you, returns on Sunday for its 103rd edition!

Normally a very attritional race in its own right, last year’s race had the added dimension of truly awful weather with snow and rain throughout the day. In the end it was Wout Poels who took the victory from a small group that had escaped on the penultimate climb and stayed away until the end, sealing Sky’s first Monument win. Albasini and Rui Costa rounded out the podium.

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Poels isn’t here this year to defend his crown so it opens the door for a new winner, or one of the previous champions to step up to the mantle again.

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

The Route

258km of rolling road through the Ardennes awaits the peloton.

 

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Don’t let the fact that there are only 10 categorised climbs on course fool you, this is a tough and attritional race where the road is up and down a lot throughout the day.

The first 160km will serve as a warm-up for the riders and we’ll see our usual relatively large break go composed mainly of the Pro-Conti teams with a handful of World Tour representatives in their for good measure.

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Credit: Velorooms

Once we get to 90km to go, the climbs start in earnest, beginning with the Côte de Pont. But it’s the Col du Rosier which could be the site of the first potentially race winning attack I think. At 4.4km in length it is the longest ascent of the race and averaging 5.9% it is steep enough to gain some distance with a strong attack.

From there they tackle a descent before the Maquisard. However, it is probably the final three climbs that this race is famous for.

The Côte de la Redoute comes at roughly 40km to go.

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Short and steep, it’s one that might entice the punchy riders into a move depending on the race situation.

Next up after that is the Roche-aux-Faucons, with the Côte de Saint-Nicolas coming at under 10km to the finish line.

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There’s little time for the race to regroup once over the summit as they descend before starting the approach into Ans.

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The closing climb up to the finish line averages 5.3% for the 1.5km so isn’t overly difficult but at the end of a tough day riders will still need something left in the tank to cope with it.

How will the race pan out?

I think our aggressive Spring racing will continue here and we’ll see a similar race to Amstel. Plenty of teams have several options in their ranks and I would be very surprised to see them all happily wait for the final climb like they do in Fleche.

So we could well see some relatively serious attacks come on the Rosier. Who makes it and what teams are represented will then shape the rest of the race.

If we get strong enough riders from Movistar/Sky/BMC/Orica/Quick Step then it stays away in my opinion. Well, that is of course if they continue to work hard while out in front and everyone co-operates. Although we did see that the front group managed to stay ahead at Amstel even with JJ Rojas sandbagging them.

From there it’s just about being not only one of the strongest riders but one of the most tactically astute.

Or of course, it could all come back together and we get an aggressive final couple of climbs like we had in last year’s edition.

Contenders

With it being such an open race there is no clear favourite in my opinion, but Valverde is most definitely the closest to one that we have. Imperious on the Huy midweek, he seems to get better with age which is ridiculous when you consider his already illustrious career. In Amstel his Movistar team was caught out and probably would have preferred a different rider up the road. I’m sure they won’t make the same mistake twice but their team still doesn’t look that great. Having already won this race 3 times, he knows what it takes and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him on the top step of the podium again come Sunday afternoon!

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Team Sky in theory pose the biggest threat to the Spaniard as they have the great 1-2 punch of Kwiatkowski and Henao (Sergio), heck, you could even through Rosa into that mix too. This race looks best suited to the former world champion though. He’s really regained his footing as one of the best one-day racers in the world this year. With a monument win already under his belt this season he could well go on to make it two!

Dan Martin is QuickSteps leader for this race and rightly so. A former winner here, this is one of his favourite races in the calendar and he always seems to find himself at the pointy end of the day. Finishing 2nd to Valverde (again) on Wednesday, he’ll be hoping to go one better this Sunday. Yet, I have my eye on one of his team-mates and there is certainly some fantasy-league bias to this one; Petr Vakoc. With no Gilbert or Alaphilippe the Czech rider is co-leader elect and has all the abilities to go well on Sunday in my opinion. The way he easily bridged across to Wellens in Brabantse shows how well he is going because Wellens isn’t exactly short of form at the moment. He was unlucky to have suffered a mechanical at a bad time in Amstel and I get the feeling that we haven’t seen the last of him over this past week…

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BMC will have two leaders in this race who aren’t clear favourites according to the bookmakers, although I’m unsure as to why one of them isn’t. Those two riders are of course Teuns and Van Avermaet! The former was excellent in La Fleche, taking a great third place. It’s nice to see him living up to the lofty expectations that were put on him after his breakthrough performance in the 2014 Tour of Britain. He certainly has a good opportunity on Sunday to repeat that result. However, it’s his team-mate GVA that interests me more. According to the bookmakers he’s a relative outsider and I just can’t get my head around why! Yes, he was only 12th place in Amstel and looked jaded chasing the front group, but that’s because he was the rider shouldered with most of the workload. The climbs here aren’t too tough and the Olympic Champion has a very, very good chance of taking his second monument of the year.

I expect an attacking race from Orica as they have plenty of good climbers in their team. Likewise the same can be said for Cannondale and Astana. Yet, I just don’t see any of their riders winning this race.

I would love to see Haas go better than his 4th in Amstel for Dimension Data, but he was struggling with illness in Fleche. Maybe it was just a small bug and he’s managed to turn it around?

Izagirre is dangerous for Bahrain, so too are the UAE duo of Costa and Ulissi. I think the Italian will have a really good race here as he prepares for the Giro.

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He impressed me a lot in Pais Vasco, especially his 8th place in the TT. Since then he was in the second group in Amstel and finished in 10th place in Fleche. Not bad form!

Bardet and Barguil will hope to top 10, but this is me just filling up some words and naming some more names as I’ve already suggested my winner…

Prediction

Greg Van Avermaet to show that Amstel was just a blip and he rounds out one of the best spring classics seasons of all time with a fine victory in Liege!

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Betting

Set my stalls out with this tweet earlier this week and again this morning;

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I’ll be marking him down as 200/1 with 0.5pt EW on. He’s into 150/1 now with most places and I still think there’s value to be had with that, especially if you can get the 4 places available.

I went a bit heavy-handed on Vakoc thinking I’d only have two picks and that would be it, but I’m going to have three now so the stakes have risen. It is the last monument for a while though so YOLO as the kids these days say…

0.5pt EW Vakoc @ 200/1

1pt EW Ulissi @ 66/1 with Bet365 (take the 50/1 and 4 places available elsewhere)

2pts EW GVA @ 22/1 with Coral who’re paying 4 places. (would take 20s)

 

Thanks as always for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated like normal. Who do you think will win La Doyenne? Will we see an attacking race or will it come down to a relatively large group heading towards Liege? I’ll be back again with my Liege Femmes preview so please return for that! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.