Abu Dhabi Tour 2018 Stage 1 Preview; Madinat Zayed -> ADNOC School

GC Overview

The last of the races in the middle-east and the only one that holds World Tour status, the Abu Dhabi Tour features five stages this year. We should have three sprints, one time trial and a mountain top finish with the latter two more than likely deciding the GC.

In 2017 it was Rui Costa who took the win which topped off his cracking start to the year.

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He’s here to defend his crown this year but with the added effort against the clock it will be difficult for him to do so.

Given the TT, anyone who hopes to go well in the GC can’t afford to lose anymore than 30 seconds here and even then, it might be a struggle to gain them back on Jebel Hafeet. So with that said we have a few stand-out candidates.

Tom Dumoulin races for the first time this season but that doesn’t really mean anything as he finished here in 2017 on his first outing. The TT/Mountain top finish combination suits him perfectly and he’ll hope to be close to winning both days. He might not actually get a stage win but it could be enough to secure the GC. Sunweb also have the benefit of having Kelderman here too and it will be interesting to see how the Dutch pair combine.

Rohan Dennis is hoping to develop into a GC rider with this season being a crucial point in that transformation. The best TT rider in the World over a course of this length he’ll hope to end the day with almost a minute of some of the climbers and maybe 15 seconds or so over Dumouln. Holding on to that lead of Jebel Hafeet will be tough but it will be a good acid test for him and his GC abilities.

Jonathan Castroviejo will get his first chance at leadership for Sky here. The British outfit have been flying in TTs as of late, winning both the Algarve and Andalucia efforts against the clock. Castroviejo is an exceptional TT rider but also a competent climber too. Jebel Hafeet will be on his limit but he’ll certainly be hoping to make the top 5 on GC and possibly go a bit better.

Alejandro Valverde isn’t great against the clock, but he’s not bad either. After a return to racing after his crash in the TDF last year, the Movistar man has once again looked imperious in the races he’s competed in so far. He’ll hope to limit his losses in the TT, to maybe 30 seconds at most then it is all up to a big effort on the final day. He’s certainly put a strong dig on Jebel Hafeet during training as he now holds the Strava record for te climb!

Others will be there or thereabouts but I’m not going to bore you with names, Tom Dumoulin to win the GC!

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

The Route

A boring sprint stage with an almost out and back route through the desert; no need for a profile as it is pan flat.

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It’s pretty much the same stage that was used last year. Expect a lot of images of camels and rocks!

The finale is fairly straightforward with there being only two key pinch points/turns. Apparently Google Streetview isn’t a thing in this part of the Emirates yet so a satellite image of the final 3km will have to suffice.

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One right-hand turn at roughly 2.5km to go is followed by a roundabout at ~1.3km. I’m not sure what way they’ll take the roundabout, whether they go on the inside line (likely) or if it will be taken as a sweeping turn as above. Either way, the teams will have one kilometre dead ahead of them with a final jockey for position before they release their sprinters.

We’ve seen so far this season how simple run ins like this cause a lot of chaos because everyone is fairly evenly matched and they’re all vying for the same road space. We have a stacked sprint field here so I expect this to be equally manic!

Wind Watch

Given that the riders will be travelling into the wide open desert the possibility of echelons increases (much to my excitement). I’ve had my eye on the forecast for the past few days and it has changed a bit. Originally it was supposed to be a crosswind across the main stretch of straight road except that has changed to more of a headwind now.

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You can see on the screen capture above Madinat Zayed at the top of the map with the “turning point” of the stage down at the bottom. The wind is probably not coming from the East enough to cause any crosswinds but there is the point around halfway up the image that the road itself heads more West. Could this be enough to see some echelon action? I would love it, but I’m not holding out hope!

I’ll certainly be doing by crosswind dance before I go to bed tonight though.

If we do get echelons, then expect the majority of sprinters to be present at the front of the race anyway as a lot of them are masters at riding in bad conditions. In that situation it would depend on how many team-mates are there to hold it together for a sprint but it is still likely we’ll see some type of gallop to the line.

Sprinters

It seems as if the whole sprinting peloton is here; so much so, that I’m fairly certain that I could write another 1000 words. I’m not going to bore you with that so I’ll try write a few sentences at most for each rider!

Kittel.

Disappointed with his poor performances in Dubai, he’ll be here to remind everyone that he is the fastest rider in the peloton. A straight forward finish should be good for him but he’ll need to be positioned better.

Cavendish.

Already matching his tally of wins from last season, the Manxman will hope to continue that winning streak here. A tenacious rider, he always seems to rise to the occasion and knowing that the majority of the top sprinters are here he’ll desperately want to get one over them.

Greipel.

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Started the season with a bang in Australia, taking two stage wins. The German seems to be as powerful as ever but his lead-out train lacks a fast last man. Will need to latch onto another train which might cause issues. Headwind sprint helps him a lot though.

Kristoff.

The second rider that I proclaim is the best in the peloton (along with Greipel) in a headwind sprint, he is a master of tricky conditions. After firing a few blanks in his first races, he opened his account in Oman. Can he continue that here?

Ewan.

Was good in Australia but didn’t seem his scintillating best in the sprints. However, he was very strong in Almeria with a comfortable win over Van Poppel. Having a strong, strong lead-out here for him will help massively.

Viviani.

Arguably the in-form sprinter of the season so far, he has been truly exceptional. Arriving with a slightly different train, he has his reliable pilot fish Sabatini and that will be pivotal. Will the winning run continue?

Van Poppel.

Looked good in Valenciana but he’ll have been humbled a bit by Ewan in Almeria. Nonetheless, he’s a strong guy and will be hoping to bounce back. Jumbo nailed the lead-outs for Groenewegen so far this season, will DVP get the same quality?

Bauhaus.

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I’m a fan of the ‘Haus and it will be good to watch his progression again this year. He had a few strong placings in Australia but just missed out on the win. Tipped as the “new Kittel” he’ll be able to rely on the massive engines of Dumoulin and Arndt for a lead-out. He could surprise but would it really be a surprise though?

McLay.

Gets his chance to sprint for EF Education here. No lead-out for him so he’ll have to freestyle but that might work to his advantage. He is capable of pulling a very good result out of the bag but a top 10 will be solid for him nonetheless.

Minali.

Another “M” sprinter who will probably have to fly solo, he looked fast in a few of the finishes in Dubai but he seems very inconsistent. Will require some luck for him to go well.

Guardini. 

My #PFCL4 rider is in high company here and a top 10 result would be nice in a few of the stages. Back in 2015 he was notorious for strong showings in the desert sprints but he has since lost his way. Has he found Bernard’s Watch and rolled back the clock?

There are even more guys to consider such as Ackermann, Bonifazio, Barbier and Halvorsen to name a few but I think that the list is exhaustive enough!

Prediction

After a bit of a wind-battered day in the peloton, the riders will be more fatigued than expected. I have to go with one of two riders that I proclaim are the best in the world in a headwind sprint, no doubt picking the wrong one…

Alexander Kristoff to take the win!

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Having start off the season promisingly but without the result to show for it, it was good to see him get the proverbial monkey off his back in Oman. He looks in great shape, a 4th place on Hatta Dam is testament to that and I think a few people will underestimate him here.

Betting

1pt EW Kristoff at 12/1 with Bet365 (would take 10/1)

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win the opener tomorrow? Will we see some splits in the bunch, or will it be a long day in the saddle? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Tour de Pologne 2017 Stage 4 Preview; Zawiercie -> Zabrze

Today’s Recap

We didn’t see as an attacking race as I thought and had hoped for, with things being relatively controlled throughout the day. Scenario 2 was the one that prevailed from yesterdays preview, with a group of 20 guys coming to the bottom of the final climb.

Taking things “slowly” to start off with, Conti decided to launch an attack off the front. His gap seemed to be growing quite large but Yates and Teuns made their move with roughly 350m to go. The former faltered, but the recent winner of the Tour de Wallonie pushed on, managing to hold on for the stage win.

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Arguably a more impressive rider though was Sagan who managed to power his way up the climb and take second place. Maybe he does stand a chance at the GC title after all? I still think stages 6 and 7 will be too tough, and if he picks up more bonus seconds tomorrow, they’ll be raced too aggressively for him. I think…But the way he’s riding I’m not going to write him off completely. Swallowing my already minimal amount of pride here.

Bora are in a great position though with Majka third on the day and up to the same position on GC.

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

The Route

A needlessly long sprint stage!

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My profile is missing some of the neutral kilometres that are included in the official one, and I think I may have skipped out a little bit of the route too. But considering the resources I had to work with, it will have to do!

Not much at all of interest during the stage really so let’s get straight to the finish.

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A simple 6.2km circuit, the riders will have an 800m straight run to the finish. Plenty of time for lead-outs to get organised and more than likely hit the front too early and burn out!

How will the stage pan out?

A long day like this could see a surprise breakaway stay away, but more than likely we’ll see another sprint in Zabrze.

If the peloton catches the break early then there is a chance for a late attack but it will hard to make it stick given the nature of the terrain. So once again, a bunch sprint is likely.

Contenders

Sagan.

Given the strength he showed today and the speed on stage 1, he still has to start as stage favourite. He went missing on stage 2 but that’s because he was a bit boxed in and the Bora lead-out was disorganised. Saying that, I think Sagan will surf wheels tomorrow as most of his team will be working all day to bring the break back. If he kick like he did on Stage 1, can anyone beat him?

Danny Van Poppel.

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Based off of the previous two sprints he seems like the most consistent challenge. He finished fast on Stage 1, he finished fast on stage 2. Both times he was out of position terribly! Maybe if he gets placed near the front he has a chance of winning the stage. Puccio will need to step up in that regards.

Ewan.

Jumped too late on stage 1, disappointing and blocked in on stage 2. The Aussie is fast, and he will be bitterly disappointed after that second day of racing.  If this was mid-season last year I would have a concern about his ability to last the distance, but his win at Cyclassics Hamburg in August of 2016 shows he still has a good turn of speed after 200km*. Furthermore, he did finish 10th at Milan San Remo this season, not bad for a first effort. With Mezgec, he has the fastest lead-out rider here but they will need to hit the front later than they have been. On stage 2 they seemed to get really giddy and Ewan was third wheel with 4km still to go. If they bide their time and come up in the last 1km then he has a great chance.

*Although that was after a Bouhanni DQ. Classic.

Modolo.

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Won stage 2 so there is obviously some form there and the confidence boost will do him a world of good. He’ll need to be lucky and hope the others are caught napping, but he certainly has the ability to be close again.

Minali.

Like a few others he was caught out on stage 2 by being swamped in the closing kilometre. Astana seemed very pro-active at the front of the race, bringing him in to a good position, but like Orica, they did it too early. The Italian had an impressive turn of speed to finish in the top 10 and I still think he can finish on the podium at some point this week but he’s running out of chances.

Walscheid, Bonifazio and Van Poppel will all be up there fighting for the top 5 again.

Prediction

Long stage (I’d watch Burgos instead if you can) that will end in a sprint, unsurprisingly.

Sagan will surf wheels but Orica will finally bide their time and get the lead-out right, with Mezgec delivering the Aussie Pocket rocket into a perfect position, seeing Ewan winning the day.

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Van Poppel will come flying but from too far back, again, and we’ll see Minali edge his way onto the podium.

Betting

2pts WIN Ewan 11/4

0.5pt EW Minali @ 22/1

 

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

Tour de Pologne 2017 Stage 2 Preview; Tarnowskie Góry -> Katowice

Today’s Recap

Orica and Bora controlled the break for most of the day and they had them within touching distance at 40km to go. Not wanting to catch them too early, they let the gap extend again, eventually reeling them in just before the start of the final circuits.

There were a few attacks off the front from Oss and Marczynski, followed by Martinelli in the closing kilometre.

However, they were all in vain as it was brought back for a big bunch sprint. Sagan launched relatively early but his acceleration was immense and he quickly got a gap. Ewan tried to close, and he did, but the finish line came too soon, the World Champion took the win!

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Van Poppel finished fast for Sky to take home third.

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

The Route

Another day that if you looked at the official profile, you might be confused for thinking this is a day for the puncheurs. Alas, it is another sprint.

TDP Stage 2 Profile

We finish with the same circuit that we’ve had in Katowice the past few years and it has thrown up a few surprising results.

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The circuit itself undulates a little bit but the climbs aren’t too difficult. However, taken at increasing pace they will wear down the legs a little bit for the sprint. That is if we get a sprint…

It’s almost a guarantee that someone will try to attack before the finish. Just after the 2km to go mark the road does rise all the way until the roundabout where the riders will make a “180-degree” turn. The rise itself averages 2.8% for 750m. Enough to cause a bit of panic in the sprinters teams if there is a bit of a stall in chasing.

Final 2km Stage 2 Poland

The downhill run to the line makes it a very odd sprint where riders stay seated most of the time. It is a sight to behold!

It sometimes produces an odd result where a rider can sit in the slipstream and pop out in the final 50m to seize the day. Van Genechten’s win in 2014, video above, is a great example of that.

A tale of two sprinters – again?

It was clear today that Sagan and Ewan are just a cut above the rest of the riders here.

The World Champion in theory suits tomorrow’s finish even more. A stronger rider, he should in theory be able to put a lot more power into the pedals while seated. We saw this at the Tour de Suisse where he trounced everyone in a slightly downhill effort on the final day of racing. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him double up tomorrow. There is always a concern with Sagan though that he gives a chance for a team-mate to go for glory, especially now that he has his own stage win. Maybe Baška?

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However, Ewan can’t be counted out. He finished very fast today, indicating that he is in good form. With Mezgec as his lead-out man he should be put into a good position, but will he be able to finish it off?

They won’t have it all their own way on a finish like this.

Van Poppel – Looked strong today, finishing very fast. If he’s in a good position tomorrow he could finish higher than 3rd.

Minali – Likewise, I was impressed with the Italian. He was the first to launch his sprint and held on strongly for 4th. He looks like a powerful rider so a seated effort might suit him.

Bonifazio – Fast but poorly positioned. The ultimate hot and cold sprinter. He seemed to glide through the peloton when I had backed him on the opening road stage of the Tour de Suisse, but it was too late as Gilbert already had the stage won. Can he make amends tomorrow?

Late Attack

We saw today that the finish was very chaotic with riders coming up in dribs and drabs to try to control the peloton. With Sagan and Ewan seemingly the strongest here, a few of the other sprint teams might not co-operate and it leaves a gap open for a strong rider to attack.

Vakoc tried his hand two years ago but was swiftly brought to heel. A few years stronger, I think he has the power to get a gap and maintain it if there is some hesitation behind. He’s one to watch out for as Quick Step don’t have a sprinter here. The Czech rider did provide 10 seconds worth of excitement back in 2015 when I had backed him at 400/1…

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If not him, maybe Terpstra will give it a go?

Dennis is another rider who could squirrel away. BMC like QS have no designated sprinter and they were interested in trying something today. Tomorrow’s stage is a lot more suited for a late attack. Could anyone stop the best short TTer in the world if he gets a gap?

Prediction

Most likely we’ll get a sprint and most likely it will be Sagan who’ll take the win again!

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I think Minali can sneak onto the podium if he times his effort better, he looks good just now!

Betting

Not taking a risk on Sagan at his price but I do think Minali is a good EW play, plus a bit on Vakoc, for old times sake;

0.9pt EW Minali @ 16/1 with Bet365

0.2pt WIN Vakoc @ 200/1 with Bet365

 

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Will it be a bunch sprint or will a late attacker prevail? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Tour de Pologne 2017 Stage 1 Preview; Kraków -> Kraków

GC Thoughts

As I don’t have enough time to do a full GC preview I thought I’d include them at the start of this preview.

Last year we saw Tim Wellens secure the overall title in absolutely horrendous conditions on Stage 5.

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He won that stage by almost 4 minutes and it highlights how bad the weather can get in the region. There is some rain forecast for this week but it changes severity and when/where it will fall every day so there is no point looking too far ahead.

As for the stages themselves, it will be stages 3, 6 and 7 that decide GC. Although it will mainly be 6 and 7. Stage 6 is almost a carbon copy of the stage Wellens won last year, with Stage 7 very similar to the day that was cancelled last year due to the weather.

The bookmakers have made Sagan their favourite, which is hilarious. I know that we will most likely see Tour Sagan here,  meaning that he can climb better than Spring Sagan, but the final two days will be too tough for him, even with the bonus seconds he should get. They’re proper GC days.

However, calling an actual winner of the race will be tough. Riders arrive all over the place in terms of form and looking towards the end of the season. We have no real dominant teams with stand-out riders so to speak, and most squads have a couple of guys who could theoretically challenge. Therefore, I’m hoping that we see some aggressive and unpredictable racing over the coming week!

As for a name to throw into the hat, I think Jan Hirt could go well here. With a breakthrough performance at the Tour of Croatia, swiftly followed up by an even more outstanding 12th on GC at the Giro, he really is having the best season of his career so far. Riding for Polish Pro-conti team CCC Sprandi Polkowice, I imagine they’ll have targeted this race to go well at. Looking at their squad, Hirt looks like the rider best suited for a GC push and if he picks up where he left off at the Giro, he is a dark horse here.

Enough of me throwing about wild outsiders for the overall, let’s have a look at what’s in store for the opening day of racing

The Route

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You might be tricked into thinking that tomorrow is a day that wouldn’t look out-of-place in the Ardennes. However, once you realise that they Y-axis is completely messed up then you’ll realise it is a straight forward sprinters stage!

TDP Stage 1

Like I have done for throughout the Tour of Poland, I have made a profile of the opening stage. (The one you see above).

It is almost pan-flat throughout the day with very little to worry the sprinters. The only thing that might cause them some concern is the little 6.7% kicker in the closing circuit, but I mean that is really stretching things as it only lasts for 135m!

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The closing circuit itself is very straightforward with only a few tight turns. Once the riders pass under the Flamme Rouge it is a straight run in to the line. There is one traffic island that splits the road briefly at ~800m to go but that is all there is by means of difficulties for the riders.

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We should see a really fast sprint and a big fight for position between the lead-outs. Unfortunately, this could lead to a crash as it often seems to be on the most simple run-ins that riders come into difficulty.

Sprint Contenders – A Two Horse Race?

Ewan.

The Aussie pocket rocket starts as the bookmakers favourite and I can understand why. A flat stage with a criterium style finish sounds right up the Orica riders street. He’s proven himself to be one of the fastest sprinters in the world on these types of finishes and in a lacklustre field he will fancy his chances. Having Mezgec as last man for him could be crucial.

Sagan.

Bitterly disappointed to be kicked out of the Tour, he will no doubt be here with a point to prove. With his season’s goals now shifted ever so slightly; I wouldn’t be surprised if we see him go to the Vuelta. This race will be ideal for him to keep his legs ticking over. He was flying in the pure sprints at the Tour de Suisse and I see no reason for that to be any different here. He’ll be Ewan’s biggest rival.

Away from those two we have several riders who will be hoping to challenge for the podium and with a bit of luck, possibly sneak the win. I won’t talk much about them as I don’t really know what to expect after most of them not having raced for a while.

Modolo.

Tour of Croatia 2017

Has shown a lot of promise this year, including a fairly strong cobbled campaign. God-awful at the Giro (I’ll blame myself for that one), he bounced back fairly strongly to win d’Argovie, yet he was trounced by Sagan in Suisse. I think the latter might happen again.

Bonifazio – A hot and cold sprinter. Sometimes seems like he could be the next big thing, but more often than not is out of position and finishes fast.

Van Poppel – Hasn’t really had an opportunity to shine at Sky this season but on his day he has a good turn of speed.

Walscheid – Has taken 5 pro sprint wins in his career, all of which were at Hainan last year. Can he make the step up at World Tour level? In this field he has a chance.

Sbaragli – Would prefer something tougher but the Dimension Data rider has one of the best lead-outs here. Will that be enough to see him onto the podium?

Debuscherre – Not really taken the step forwards that I had hoped this season. A fast rider on his day, he doesn’t have much support so will have to freewheel.

Minali – Fast young Italian sprinter who should enjoy the pan-flat nature of the route. Could surprise like he did at the start of the season.

Prediction

Two horse race and going purely off of form, I have to give this one to Sagan!

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He was on another level in Suisse and who knows what he could have done at the Tour. After losing out to Ewan in January, he’ll want to remind him and everyone that’s watching of how fast he is!

Betting

GC wise I’m going to have a small one on;

Hirt 0.25pt EW @ 150/1 with various.

Stage 1;

2.5pts WIN Sagan @ 3/1 with SkyBet. (Would take 11/4 with others)

 

Thanks as always for reading. Who do you think will win tomorrow and the race overall? If you haven’t already, please do check out my Ride London Classique and San Sebastian previews that are on the site already. Thanks! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Paris Nice 2017 Stage 5 Preview; Quincié-en-Beaujolais -> Bourg-de-Péage

*This will be short and sweet!*

Today’s Recap

Ahahaha, I should stop with the bold statements. It was the rider who I completely gave no chance to that ended up going on to win the stage. Julian Alaphilippe took a remarkable victory, he was flying!

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That result now puts QuickStep in a very good position for the overall and should ensure some attacking racing for the rest of the week.

As for Tony Martin, he seemed to be struggling on the bike and it was not a good sign when he didn’t set the fastest time at the intermediate check point. Oh well, onto the next stage!

The Route

A pretty uninspiring day compared to what we have in Tirreno.

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A lumpy start to the day will certainly inspire the breakaway and give them a good opporunity to build up a lead, but the latter half certainly lends itself to a bunch sprint.

The finish is technical. Well, from 3km to 1.5km to go is very technical!

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The three roundabouts will certainly string out the bunch, but thankfully for the riders they go round the same side of them all. We then get a sweeping road in the final kilometre, which will keep things strung out. Positioning and a good lead out will be key!

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It will be fast too as the riders descend ever so slightly before the road kicks up in the last 300m.

Could very well be another chaotic day!

Contenders

As much as I would like to try and argue that a break makes it, this is a sprint stage 100% and the last one we’ll see this race.

Kittel could potentially get involved but with his team now fully focussed on GC he more than likely will have to surf wheels and he’s not the best at that. So…

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Greipel has been poor in the sprints so far but he is capable of turning it around at any time. He just seems a bit tired at the moment, maybe an easy day today will have helped him?

Kristoff looked strong on stage 3 but just went too early and faded away at the end. If he can get the timing of his sprint right then he has a great chance on a finish that suits him.

Bennett was the one who benefitted from Kristoff’s early sprint on stage 3. The Irishman looked strong then but his lack of a lead-out may hinder him here.

Groenewegen was left reeling after crashing on stage 3. He looked in a great position and said his legs felt good. He’ll want to make ammends tomorrow.

McLay saw his Fortuneo team do a great deal of work on the front of the bunch but just got blocked on the wrong side. With a podium finish at a Tour stage, the Brit is not one to be underestimated here!

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Démare will want to taste stage glory again after losing his yellow jersey lead. He looks good, his team looks good; can they get it right again tomorrow?

Colbrelli will also be gunning for a second stage victory. The Italian should appreciate the ever so slight up-hill drag but his positioning sometimes lets him down and that again could be his downfall tomorrow.

Matthews was going strongly in the TT today until a crash on the uphill. He’s been up there on the sprints so far but not really involved. (If that makes any sense).

Degenkolb will have a good lead-out at his disposal and this finish suits him down to the ground. A second and a third so far, can he get onto that top step?

Cort, Sbaragli, Coquard and Minali could all be up there equally too on a crazy day.

Prediction

He was left bitterly disappointed today in the time trial as he was on for a good placing. Clearly on form and getting better as the race goes on, Michael Matthews has a real chance here. He has a very solid lead-out train and should be one of the best positioned going into the final kilometre. If he’s near the front for the final 300m he should have the power to take the win!

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Betting

Matthews 1pt EW @28/1 with Bet365 (Would take down to 18s)

 

Thanks for reading and aplogies for this being slightly shorter than normal! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

Abu Dhabi Tour Stage 1 Preview; Madinat Zayed -> Madinat Zayed

The opening stage of the race and one that should be decided by the sprinters.

The Route

An “out and back” style course through the desert.

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As you can see, it’s almost as flat as pancake with very little elevation change at all! The wind may be a factor out in the open desert.

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However, looking at the forecasts for Madinat Zayed and Mezairaa it doesn’t look promising for echelon action. We may get consistent 14 hm/h winds which may have caused some issue if they were coming from the correct direction, but that’s not the case. Instead it will be a headwind when they leave Madinat Zayed, that turns into a tail wind for a bit out on the course, then back to a head wind as they return to the starting town.

Maybe we still might get something? I mean, that tail -> head wind doesn’t happen instantly! No? I think I’m clinging onto too much hope here. So instead, this stage will all be about the closing kilometres.

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It’s the exact same finish that was used last year and I expect a similar dash to the final left hand turn at roughly 1km to go.

The peloton will be fairly strung out through it but the pace will ramp up even more as they approach a roundabout with 700m to go. Once through the roundabout, the riders will possibly be in single file and it will take a lot of extra energy to come from 20 places back and win the stage.

Last year it was a messy sprint as riders lost their lead-out men and it was in fact Mark Renshaw who did the perfect lead-out for Giacommo Nizzolo (not Cavendish), with the Italian going on to take the win.

Therefore it’s safe to say timing in the sprint is very important. You either want to have 2 riders left in front of the sprinter when leading out of the roundabout and power home from there. Or use the slight lull in action as sprint trains look for their sprinter, to then bring your rider forward in the final 300m.

Who’ll be competing for stage honours then?

Sprint Contenders

The perfectly-haired German, Marcel Kittel, has to start as the clear favourite for this stage. He started the season off in scintilating form, picking up 3 stage wins and the GC in Dubai. Not arriving with his normal lead-out may hinder him a bit. However, he does arrive with his favourite lead-out man Sabatini. Possibly not as dominant as in other races, he will still be the rider to beat!

Cavendish comes here after a very weird start to the year. Mechanicals and bad luck hampered him in Dubai, before he seemed to be on lead out duty for Boasson Hagen in the Algarve. As an ambassador for this race, he’ll be hoping for a much better showing than those previous starts. I’m not entirely sure that will happen on stage 1 as he has had a hectic schedule over the past few days. Nonetheless, with Renshaw by his side, he is a rider who can turn it on at anytime so can’t be discounted!

Off the back of a very good stage win in Algarve, Greipel will be in a buyouant mood ahead of this week. Another rider who is arriving here without his normal lead-out, he will probably be relying on De Bie to drop him off in a good position in the closing kilometres. It will then be over to Andre to follow the correct wheel, can he?

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Caleb Ewan arrives with a short, but rather strong lead-out; relying on Mezgec and Kluge to get him in position. They are the type of guys who could perfectly execute the old “move up in the final kilometre” tactic that I mentioned earlier. Ewan was unbeatable in Australia a month ago, has he managed to sustain that form?

Hot or cold sprinter Viviani will be hoping to profit in a messy run in here. One of the best riders in the world at positioning himself without a lead-out, this race he can at least rely on Doull and Dibben to pilot fish him a bit further up the bunch before he has to ride solo. I don’t know why, but I think he’ll go well here!

Aside from the riders listed above, Pelucchi, Bonifazio, Guardini and Ruffoni will be hoping to get in the mix.

One other rider I am intrigued to see perform this week is young Astana sprinter Riccardo Minali. He made very steady, but impressive improvements throughout the week in Dubai, ultimately finishing 3rd on the final stage. Can he repeat that peformance here, or go even better? I’ll be watching with interest, that’s for sure!

Prediction

Kittel probably wins this, doesn’t he? But I can’t be releasing two previews in a day that both have the favourite as the winner, so to mix things up a bit and I’ll go with Viviani.

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He’s the one sprinter out of them all who benefits most from a finish like this, and if he manages to come out of the right slipstream then he will be hard to beat. After all, he is no slouch!

Betting

0.75pt EW Viviani at 18/1 with Betfair (Paddy Power). Would take down to 14/1.

5pts on Minali to beat Bauhaus at 1/2 with Bet365

Thanks for reading. Can you see anyone beating Kittel? I’ll be back again tomorrow with a stage 2 preview. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.