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.

Vuelta a Andalucia 2018 Stage 5 Preview; Barbate › Barbate

Today’s Recap

Well that was an excellent finish!

The race all came together again just at the bottom of the final climb into Alcalá de los Gazules and Landa swiftly made an explosive attack. Only Wellens was able to follow the Movistar man and the two went back and forth for the closing kilometre. However, it was Wellens who took charge in the closing few hundred metres, rounding Landa in the penultimate turn and holding on for a spectacular win.

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Fuglsang trailed home 12 seconds down in third place with former GC leader Poels a further second behind.

The result consequently leaves Wellens in the lead going into the final day of racing. Let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

TT day!

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@LasterketaBurua

A fairly straightforward TT aside from the 5.5km of gravel roads the riders will face. Those kilometres on the dirt road have an average gradient of 1.6% which adds a little extra spice to the day. Not a steep climb, it is certainly one for the rouleurs and typical TT riders in the peloton.

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Once over the halfway point it will be a fast second part to the effort with the route being mainly downhill back in to town. One thing the riders might have to consider is the weather conditions.

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We should have similar conditions throughout the day which is good, but being beside the sea the wind can swirl and change around without much notice. The riders will need to save something so they don’t struggle into the headwind on the way back home!

Contenders

We have a pretty weak TT field here if I’m honest and makes the day wide open.

Chris Froome (a.k.a He Who Must Not Be Named).

On paper he is the class rider here against the clock but given everything over his head at the moment, will he go full gas? He certainly gave it a nudge on the opening mountain stage of the race so I wouldn’t be surprised to see him do the same tomorrow. Then again, I equally wouldn’t be surprised if he did nothing of note given his GC chances are out of the window.

Tim Wellens.

Given his sensational form at the moment, the current GC leader has a good chance of a good result against the clock. He’s not known for his time trial capabilities but he isn’t exactly bad in the discipline either, with a good few top 10s to his name. Riding with confidence, he’s certainly one to watch.

Luis Leon Sanchez.

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In spectacular form so far this season, he will have been bitterly disappointed to lose so much time today. That result throws his GC title tilt into jeopardy but he has a glimmer of hope with a good performance tomorrow. On his day he can produce very good times against the clock but those have been few and far between as of late; although it is hard to judge as he often doesn’t have to go full gas.

Stef Clement.

The Dutch rider is a very solid TT rider and in a field like this he can be classed as a specialist. The flat course should suit him well and he’ll hope to find similar form to what he had during the national championships last season which he only just lost out to a flying Dumoulin. Jumbo have massively improved in this discipline so I’m intrigued to see if they’ve made any more advances during the winter.

Moreno Moser.

It would be rude not to mention the Italian for what seems like the 7000th preview in a row. As you can probably tell, I’m scraping the barrel for any TT talent that we have here and a new Moser could possibly go well. He was third in the European Championships in 2016 and he’s been good against the clock in the past. Astana will want an early rider to go well to give their two GC guys race-pace info about the course so we might see Moser in full flight. Maybe.

Prediction

Piss weak TT field should make for an exciting and open day. I’ll go for Stef Clement to take the win!

Stef Clement N Lotto-Jumbo rode a strong tt finishes 4th on the stage

Betting

1pt EW Clement @66/1 (would take 33/1)

Thanks as always for reading and apologies for a slightly shorter than normal preview but I am shattered and there’s not much more to say really! The next race I’ll be previewing will be the Abu Dhabi Tour so I’ll see you all then. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Vuelta a Andalucia 2018 Stage 3 Preview; Mancha Real › Herrera

Today’s Recap

Well that was an exciting finish!

It wasn’t as decisive GC wise as I had expected but it was a very tactical and enthralling finale with attacks off the front being slowly brought back for a counter move to go instantly. In the end though, Wout Poels timed his last attack at the perfect moment and sprung away to take stage victory and with it the GC lead.

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Sanchez and Wellens trailed home just 2 seconds down with Landa and Fuglsang another two behind them. It leaves the race interestingly poised going into the next few stages.

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

The Route

The only stage of the race that should be a guaranteed sprint.

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With that being said though, the riders will have to contend with a lot of uncategorised climbing throughout the day so it will be interesting to see who takes up the chase.

The two Cat-3s shouldn’t be of any major difficulty for the bunch unless some have really suffered during today’s ridiculously tough finish. We do get an intermediate sprint at Puente Genil with only 10kms left, but given there are no bonus seconds on offer then it’s interesting placement becomes somewhat less interesting.

The final 12km does roll a bit though which makes it a not so straightforward finish.

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The major rise in the closing section averages 3.6% for 2.4km that “crests” at just over 7km to go. It might just be enough for a team to stretch the bunch out if they hit it hard, but they’ll need to keep the pressure on over the last 7km if it is to be worthwhile.

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At just 500m to go, the peloton will be greeted with a very tight left-hand turn. Expect a massive fight to get here as you’ll need to be in the first ten riders through here if you want to contend for the stage.

Those last 500m actually kick up ever so slightly but it is more of a grind than anything else at an average of 1.9%. It will certainly give the sprinters something else to think about as you don’t want to open up too early and fade in the end.

How will the stage pan out?

As I said previously, this should be a sprint stage. But nothing is ever certain in cycling!

We saw on the opening day that some of the sprint teams didn’t really want to commit to the chase and the break almost and probably would have stayed away if it wasn’t for Astana. Now, that stage was a lot harder than this one but with a few more days racing in the legs, some of the riders might not be as keen to work at the front all day.

Sky will set their usual tempo but if no one up the road is a danger to them, then they’re not going to over-extended themselves by brining it back unnecessarily. That realistically just leaves the sprinters teams and none of them really strike me with confidence.

Modolo messed up the first stage and he is probably the class sprinter here but can we really trust EF Education First to organise a chase? This was the team that struggled to bring back a break in the Giro even when their whole squad was TTing on the front.

AG2R might chip in to chase but they’ve been in both of the breakaways so far which indicates that they might play that card again. So will Direct Energie or Wanty help then either?

I’m really starting to lean-to the possibility that the break might actually have a better chance tomorrow than originally thought.

In fact, I’m just going to talk about some break candidates because if we get a sprint then I don’t expect Modolo to make the same mistake again.

Lottery Contenders

I’ll keep this bit short and sweet as I’ll no doubt be massively wrong and we’ll end with the obvious bunch sprint.

Moreno Moser.

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Back again with my favourite Italian on Astana, he and the rest of his team-mates have done a lot of work over the opening two stages for the team’s leaders. In an interview on the Astana website, Moser says that he wants to work well for the team but also chase his own opportunity at some point in the race. We’re running out of stages so he might just go in the break tomorrow if there is a sense in the peloton of no-one wanting to commit to a chase.

Oliver Naesen.

As I’ve said above, Ag2r seem keen on sending people up the road during this race. Naesen fits the bill perfectly tomorrow of being far enough down the order not to be a threat but he’s strong enough to win from a group. With the classics season on the horizon, a nice hit-out here would be a good test of form.

Damien Gaudin.

He really “found himself” last year while riding for the Armee de Terre squad picking up three victories to his name. Starting his season this year in the Bongo at which he finished third overall, he’s been a solid domestique for his team-mates since then. He’s the type of rider who is dangerous in a breakaway as he seems to be strong in one-day races. With an explosive short turn of power (he’s not too bad at prologues) he could surprise in a sprint from the break.

Lluís Mas Bonet.

Cycling: 51th Tour of Turkey 2015/ Stage 8

Token Spaniard breakaway pick who also doubles as current KOM leader. Mas Bonet gets into the break to defend and secure the KOM title but with no chase behind he turns his attention to the stage. He packs a surprisingly decent kick and it could catch out a few. The slightly rolling finish would be good for him.

Prediction

Breakaway stays away as EF Education First fail to organise a piss up in a brewery and no one else wants to commit to the work. In fact, other sprinters teams send riders up the road and a 7 man group stays away until the end.

That man Oli Naesen warms up for the classics perfectly by taking a confidence boosting win here!

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Or we get a fairly dull day where the sprint teams decide to actually co-operate and then it is anyone’s guess. Modolo would be favourite but he’s not unbeatable.

Betting

2 of the guys not priced up but I’m just going to “waste” 1pt on some break picks.

0.25pt WIN on them all.

Naesen @ 50/1

Moser @ 300/1

Valgren @ 400/1

Van Hecke @ 400/1

All with Bet365.

Thanks as always for reading. Who do you think will win tomorrow? Will it end in a sprint or will we see the break surprise? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Tour of the Alps 2017 Stage 1 Preview; Kufstein -> Innsbruck

GC Overview

I don’t have enough time to do a proper GC preview but here are a quick few words! Tough course with several stages that end in tricky climbs. Some short and steep but we do have longer, ahem, Alps here too!

So the winner of the race needs to be a very good climber and with a lack of TT, the proper mountain goats will be licking their lips. Sky have the luxury of two contenders with last years winner Landa and Giro contender Thomas. The Spaniard is supposed to be co-leader at the Giro but he’s not offered much this season so will need a big performance here and I think we’ll see just that.

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Pinot has a good chance for FDJ, along with Scarponi who will be Astana’s main hope of picking up a result and I’m also intrigued to see Formolo go for GC in a race without a TT! As for outside top 10 hopefuls I think Busato might sneak into that category. He was 11th last year and although the climbs are a lot tougher in this edition, he seems to be going well at the moment. An 8th place in Appeninno after crashing relatively hard during the race is testament to that. Likewise, Firsanov also crashed hard in that race while in the leading group. After a slow start to the year, the Russian is getting back to the shape he was in here last season, when he managed to finish 4th on GC. The longer climbs will be tough for him, but you never know! I would expect to see Torres up there fighting for a top 5 as well.

I’ll go for a Landa win though.

Right, onto stage 1 now…

The Route

Not exactly an easy day to start the race off with!

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@LasterketaBurua

Rolling terrain mixed in with some steep climbs. The stage is all about the final 25km though.

We have a tough ascent of Schlögelsbach, 3km long and averaging 9.1%, and it’s not even categorised. Tricky enough to put some riders in trouble, it will be interesting to see if any teams decide to take up pace-making duties there.

A technical descent then follows before some more rolling terrain as the riders reach Innsbruck and the final climb up to Hungerburg.

At only 3.6km long there shouldn’t be too many time gaps, but with an average gradient of 7.3% we might see some probing attacks from GC riders. The finish reminds me of the final climb we had at the end of stage 2 last year, although this year it is not as steep!

Contenders

GC rider or a punchy climber? That’s the conundrum I’m dealing with just now. I guess with the start-list we have, there is a lot of crossover between the two!

Thomas and Landa probably start as favourites. Both exceptional climbers, they have the added advantage of being able to pull off a 1-2 punch. With Thomas returning from altitude, it will be interesting to see how he fares on his first day back in the peloton. However, with some tougher stages to come, will they keep their powder dry? Probably not, expect an attacking closing climb from them!

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The finish isn’t ideal for Pinot, yet again, he was 2nd on the stage into Fermo in Tirreno last month. With no Sagan here, he has a much better chance of the win this time round! However, he hasn’t raced since Tirreno so it is yet to be seen where his form is.

Dennis might give it a nudge and in this quality of field, he certainly has a chance of stealing the victory, but I’m not overly convinced. Instead, I think BMC should also let Caruso have the chance to lead the team. The Italian is a criminally underrated domestique who climbs well and has a fast finish. He could well win a sprint to the line from the climbers.

I can’t really see anyone from Astana winning the stage. Scarponi isn’t explosive enough and the climb is probably just too long for Moser. Maybe Luis Leon Sanchez might have a go?!

Formolo definitely offers Cannondale their best chance on this type of terrain. Like many here, the young Italian is building towards the Giro and will want to put in a good performance. He’s been a bit off the boil so far this season but has shown glimpses of what he can do in races like Catalunya. Maybe Villella can even hang on?

This type of finish though does open it up to some riders from the ProConti teams and there are a few I’d like to highlight.

Busato has still to take a professional victory but he was flying in Appennino until the crash. This type of finish looks good for him, although on his limit, and I think he could surprise a few people!

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Firsanov was the first to cross the line behind Landa on Stage 2 of this race last, which had a very similar finish compared to tomorrow’s climb. As I mentioned above, he’s been poor this year so far, but his form seems to be heading in the right direction. Not someone to be properly marked, he has a good shot at taking the stage win.

Finally, relatively unknown rider Danilo Celano is worth a mention. He was the eventual winner of Appennino, flying up the final climb. Riding here for the Italian national team, if he’s retained any of that form then he is a proper dark horse for the win. Keep an eye on him!

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Prediction

I’ll go for none of the above though and instead opt for young Colombian sensation Egan Bernal to take the victory.

After making his breakthrough performance at this race last year, winning the young riders classification, he’s continued his development with some great results this year. The explosive, steep gradients of the finish climb suit him well and he has a handy sprint after a tough climb, if a group of 3 or so arrive at the summit together.

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Betting

No GC bet, so just stage 1 picks all with Bet365;

4pts Bernal to beat Pozzovivo  @5/4 (he was 11/8 but I was waiting for stage odds, would take down to 10/11 lowest)

 

 

Thanks as always for reading as always! Who do you think will win the opening stage? Will we see a lesser known rider take the spoils? I hope to see an attacking/exciting finale. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Strade Bianche 2017 Preview; Siena -> Siena

Strade Bianche 2017 Preview; Siena -> Siena

One of my favourite races of the year, hands down! It has the mix of everything really; awesome parcours; great start-list; amazing scenery; and some pretty aggressive racing.

Cancellara broke the heart of Brambilla last year, and managed to out-fox Stybar into the final corner, taking a quite excellent win.

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Cancellara is obviously not here this year, so that leaves the door open for a new victor or one of the three former winners that are here to regain their crown.

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

The Route

I’m going to make this section a lot, lot shorter than normal because there are already several previews out there with this information so I don’t want to bore you with it again!

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There you go…

Basically lots of short sharp punchy hills, although there are a couple of longer ones earlier on, interspersed with gravel sections. Rolling terrain for most of the day means there is little time to rest and the action is always on.

A tough closing 20km can see someone get away solo, but there is also the possibility that it all comes down to a sprint up to the Piazza del Campo!

One thing that may have a say in that is the…

Weather

After the brutal conditions in Samyn mid-week, I’m sure the peloton would have been hoping for something less miserable here. The fans certainly want the opposite and it looks as if the weather gods are going to appease the crowds.

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Weather in Siena (Source: Wunderground)

Nothing concrete but there is a very good chance we’ll get rain at some point during the race, which would make it even more of a spectacle. I’m sure a lot of you will remember the Giro in 2010…

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It probably won’t get as torrid as that, but even a smattering of rain could cause some issues for the riders!

Anyway, who’s got a chance of taking the crown this weekend?

Contenders

Where better to start than with the current world champion, Peter Sagan. The Slovak shredded the race to bits in Omloop last Saturday and once again was in the thick of the action on Sunday, managing to win Kuurne. He clearly is in very good form at the moment and he has gone well here in the past. My one issue with him is that he always seems to struggle on the final climb up to the Piazza so he’ll need to ride everyone off of his wheel before then. Not impossible, but I can’t see it happening. Am I being too bold discounting him?

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After me playing up his chances for Omloop, Zdenek Stybar, was left bitterly disappointed at the end of the race, visibly shaking his head as he crossed the line. That to me indicates that he knew he could and should have been a key protagonist in the outcome of the race. Held up in the crash that took out Boonen, he tried attacking later on in the race to bridge across to the lead group but couldn’t manage it. I’m sure he’ll want to bounce back this weekend in a race that suits him very well, he did win it in 2015 after all! With Brambilla and Vakoc, he has a strong support team which could very well be crucial.

Picking up the win in Omloop while still not at 100% form shows what a great cyclist Greg Van Avermaet is. The Belgian has done fairly well here in the past but hasn’t managed to win this race yet, with the closest being a second place finish to Stybar in 2015. Good on short, steep climbs and rough terrain, he has all of the characteristics to win this race. Yet, like Sagan, I just have a feeling he won’t and I’m not sure why. BMC do have a very strong team with them and an in-form Hermans could be a very useful second card to play in a tactical race.

Without Cancellara, Trek will turn to Fabio Felline as their main charge for this race. After an explosive start to his season, winning Il Laigueglia, he’s followed that up with a 5th place in the TT at Andalucia and a 4th at Omloop last weekend. This race should suit him perfectly and if he can follow the best over the gravel, he certainly has a very good chance up the punchy climb to the Piazza.

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Sky arrive here with a very solid squad; Kwiatkowski, Rosa and Puccio all have a chance of going well. The Pole seems to slowly be returning to the rider he once was before he joined Sky, finishing 2nd on GC in Algarve earlier in February. However, he still didn’t seem in tip-top shape so this race might be too early for him. On the other hand, Rosa looked very strong in Andalucia and had he not been working for others (again!), could have finished higher up himself. He seems to love one-day racing in Italy and may very well go on to win here, but he’ll need to come to the line alone! Puccio is a bit of a wild-card, but this is his home race and he always manages a fairly decent result here. Well, apart from last year when I had backed him and he had 3 mechanicals while in the front group. I won’t put the #HaugheyCurse on him this year, but I shall be watching with interest.

Benoot and Wellens will lead the charge for Lotto Soudal. Both riders are capable of winning here if they get a bit of luck, but both will need a different type of race to play out. Benoot will be the one happier waiting until the finish line whereas Wellens is much more likely to go on the attack from far out. He’s certainly a danger if given too much leeway!

I’m really intrigued by the selection that Astana bring to this race, because on paper it looks a very strong, well-rounded team. They have a former winner in the shape of Moser and a podium finisher with Gatto. Not to mention Amstel Gold runner-up Valgren, solid one-day racer and climber Sanchez, and Grand Tour winner Aru. The last of those makes his second appearance at this race after finishing 20th here way back in 2013. Often slated for his one-day racing, he’s not as bad at these types of races as he’s made out to be in my opinion, and I’m hoping to be pleasantly surprised by Aru tomorrow. The race only being 175km certainly helps him.

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FDJ arrive with a solid squad and it seems to be the same riders that are following Pinot around all year. Thibaut himself has had a good start to the season, picking up a very impressive stage win in Andalucia. Anyone who managed to beat Contador there must be going well! Making his debut in this race, he might struggle with some of the surfaces but I think his form will overcome that and he is my dark horse for the win. His team-mate Reichenbach is another good outside candidate if we get a very tactical race where the “second string” riders get sent up the road and manage to end up staying away. Like Pinot, he was also impressive in Andalucia and can’t be discounted.

Roglic, Haas, Dumoulin and Vanmarcke could all go well with a bit of luck.

Prediction

Like my women’s preview (shameless plug, view it here) I’ve had this rider in mind all week for this race. Unlike that preview though, I have had my doubts about him but that’s been purely based off of his odds being shorter than I would have liked. Nonetheless, after much deliberation I still think he’ll take the victory, capitalising on some good early season form. If we get bad conditions, that makes it even better for him. Stybar to win!

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Betting

As mentioned above, I was almost backing out of this one purely because I would have hoped for something like 10/1 on Stybar. But the more I think about it, the 6-7/1 on offer in places is still good value IMO.

Stybar 2pts WIN @7/1 with PaddyPower (would take 6/1 available elsewhere)

I tweeted these two out yesterday after prices were released but they have subsequently been shortened;

Pinot 0.25pts EW @200/1 with Bet365 (would still take 125/1 with PP or the 100/1 with William Hill)

Reichenbach 0.25pts EW @ 300/1 with Bet365 (would still take the 200/1 with PP or the 150/1 widely available)

I don’t really like any of the H2H available at the moment. Might change my mind later.

 

Once again, thanks for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated. Who do you think will win this incredible race? I’ll be back again tomorrow with a Paris-Nice GC and Stage 1 preview so keep an eye out for them. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Volta ao Algarve Stage 3 Preview; Sagres -> Sagres

Today’s Recap

Dan Martin fulfilled his favourite status with a very impressive win on the slopes of Fóia.

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Primoz Roglic did well to follow the Irishman and nearly pipped him on the line. It was also nice to see Kwiatkowski back to some kind of form with a third place.

Tomorrow’s stage will also go a long way to shape the GC. Let’s take a look…

The Route

TT time!

Print

The start of the course is more technical than the rest, as the riders will have to negotiate several roundabouts in and around the centre of Sagres itself.

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The final 2/3rds of the course are on a more traditional “out and back” route, running along the coast line. With the road being mainly straight and few sharp turns, this section is where the powerful riders can make up a lot of time.

Will the wind play any part?

From the early weather forecast it doesn’t look like it, but that can easily change over night.

Contenders

Tony Martin will start as the clear favourite and that’s only fair considering he is the current World Champion. The Panzerwagen has started this season off much better than his 2016 campaign; it took him 67 race days (not including TTTs or nationals) to take his first win then, it only took one this year! Clearly he is on some decent form but he does seem to go missing at times in comparison to his old self and has his improved climbing hindered his TT? Nonetheless, he is the guy everyone will be gunning for!

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He won’t have it all his on way though and there are several riders who might challenge here.

The current European Champion, Castroviejo, had a very consistent and solid 2016, picking up a 4th at the Olympics and 3rd at the Worlds. He wasn’t overly spectacular here last year, only managing 6th place. His form this year looks better though, and he finished in the top 20 on the tough climbing stage to Llucena in Valenciana and was in the top 10 today. Certainly not someone to discount.

Luis Leon Sanchez was going well until he crashed in this very TT last year. Not as good as he used to be in this discipline, on his day he can still certainly put in a shift. He’ll be hoping to top 5 and take some time on his GC rivals but he wasn’t as good today as I was expecting. Will be tough for him to win.

Roglic will fancy his chances tomorrow after today’s performance. The completely flat TT might not suit him perfectly, but that didn’t exactly stop him at the Giro last year. Brimming with confidence at the moment he has a big chance of getting one step higher on the podium than he did today.

I, like I imagine most people, was very pleased to see Kwiatkowski back up there and fighting today. Tomorrow’s TT is somewhere that if back to his best he could perform very well and is capable of winning. I don’t think he’s firing on all cylinders just yet, but he certainly is a dark horse for a podium placing.

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Some time-trial specialists who aren’t GC contenders also have a very good chance to take the stage win.

Alex Dowsett was on the attack, testing his legs in Dubai earlier in the month. He looked quietly good there out in the break and will love this type of stage. Seventh here last year, I think he looks better just now than then. Going out early, he might be in the hot-seat for a while!

His team-mate, Nelson Oliveira, finished just ahead of him on that day last year. The Portuguese rider will relish riding in front of a home crowd and this flat power course well suit him. He’s a proper brute of a rider when in the right mood. Will he turn up?

Cannondale duo Phinney and Mullen might also stretch their legs. The latter was particularly impressive at the Worlds last year and this type of out and back course is ideal for him.

I’m intrigued to see how Moser goes. He finished 3rd at the Euro TT Championships last year, beating the likes of Oliveira and Roglic. With only 3 race days in the legs so far, it might be too early for him but a top 10 would be a good result from him.

Prediction

Roglic looked sensational today, he crushes the TT on his current form.

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Two Movistar riders to round out the podium; Oliveira and Castroviejo. Tony Martin to disappoint!

Unfortunately, it’s unlikely we’ll get any odds. Spanish bookmaker Kirol seem to be the only firm consistently pricing up the race.

Thanks again for reading and as usual any feedback is greatly appreciated. Who do you think will win the stage? Am I being too bold by discounting Martin? Andalucia preview will be out later this evening. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth

 

 

 

Trofeo Laigueglia 2017 Preview

Trofeo Laigueglia 2017 Preview

After the GP Etruschi last weekend, Italian Cup action returns this Sunday with the 54th edition of the Trofeo Laigueglia.

Last year’s race was won by a late attack from Andrea Fedi in the final kilometres, holding off a small group behind that had escaped on the closing circuits around Laigueglia. With Colbrelli edging out Bole in the sprint for second place.

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The Route

After changing the route almost every other year, the organisers have this year stuck with the parcours that has been used in the past two editions.

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Big loop -> Medium sized loop -> Circuits of a small loop!

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The first GPM in Paravenna at 60km is 6.8km long, averaging 5.6% in gradient. Not overly tough for the peloton, but certainly a leg opener for later in the race.

We then have a descent and long flat section before the highest peak of the race at erm, ahem, Testico.

Now this climb was a real ball-ache to try to find figures for so I reverted back to what works best and made a Strava profile.

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Now, including that long false flat drag, the climb is 13.9km at 3% in gradient. However, starting at the 7km mark, the remaining 6.9km averages 4.6% with some sections over 9%.

Again, it’s not really challenging for the pros but it will sap the legs for the closing circuit. Speaking of which…

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As per, I’ve also made a strava profile that you can view here.

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The first climb on the circuit is 2km long, averaging 7.8% with ramps of 15% around some of the hairpin turns. Climbing this 3 times with the pace on will certainly hurt and it is a great place for a group to go clear; like we saw last year!

We then get a fast descent, that starts off technical, before reaching the flat roads through Andora and back to the coast line. The road then climbs again for 1.5km, averaging roughly 9.5%. Crest the climb with a good advantage and you have a good chance of making it to the line as there is 2km of a shallow descent followed by a flat finish to home!

How will the race pan out?

It’s only fair really to take into account the last two editions of the race as the course varied so much in the past.

Back in 2015, it was Lampre sprinter Davide Cimolai who managed to take the win. Beating Gavazzi and Tsatevich in a reduced 24-rider bunch sprint. Last year’s event, as mentioned earlier, was won by an attack from Andrea Fedi in the closing kilometres on the final downhill. He managed to hold off a pursuing group of 9 who sprinted for the remaining top 10 places.

I think we’ll see an aggressive race again this year, with maybe 15 riders at most coming home within 30 seconds of the winner.

Contenders

Diego Ulissi has to start as the favourite for this race.

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Off the back of a solid showing at the Tour Down Under, he went on to win GP Etruschi last weekend in miserable conditions. Attacking on the footslopes of the last climb, he quickly built up a good lead and was never seen again by the peloton. Making his move right at the bottom of the climb highlights to me the confidence he has in his condition just now and going off of that performance, he has every right to be confident!

However, the quality of climbers at Etruschi was not as strong as it is here this weekend so Ulissi won’t have it all his own way.

Etoile de Bessèges winner, Lillian Calmejane, arrives with a strong Direct Energie team. The young Frechman has the climbing ability to be able to match Ulissi here and will also be confident after last weeks showing. Having the likes of Chavanel and Voeckler to rely on will be a big aid for him. Being able to send riders on the attack and not have to follow everything, like Ulissi might have to do, should mean Calmejane is well rested for the final circuits. He is certainly capable of winning again this weekend!

Following on from his 3rd place in Etruschi, Francesco Gavazzi will be aiming further up the podium here. Not the best naturalised climber in the peloton, he will be hoping for a coming together in the closing kilometres and a reduced bunch sprint to the line.

Winning the only race he’s finished this year so far, Arthur Vichot will be hoping to continue his 100% record.

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A rider who has promised a lot in one-day races in the past, he certainly has the solid climbing abilities and good kick to contend here. Has he recovered from his flu that saw him pull out of Bessèges?

Delko Marseille will have a couple of cards to play in the form of El Fares and Finetto. The former finished 4th in Marseillaise at the start of the year so seems to be in good form. Likewise, Finetto finished a respectable 7th in that race, before coming home 3rd in a stage at Bessèges; beating Samuel Dumoulin in a sprint. Finetto normally goes well in these types of races and I’ll be very surprised if he doesn’t manage a top 5 placing here!

Astana arrive here with an interesting squad, but I imagine it will be Moreno Moser who will be leading the team. The 2012 winner of this race has struggled in the past after his incredible neo-pro season. However, last year he seemed to return to form with good showings in the Giro and Vuelta and I expect big things from him this year again. With a return from altitude camp on the cards and no racing in his legs, it will be very interesting to see how he performs here.

The team with my favourite hashtag in the peloton, Willier Triestina, will be looking towards Pozzato to either roll the clock back or for Matteo Busato to continue the good progression he showed last year. Although he’s not taken a professional victory yet, Busato took a number of Top 10s last season, including a very impressive 2nd place on the final stage at the Giro del Trentino. Following a pretty much non-existant Dubai Tour, I’m sure he’ll want to impress back on home soil. #LoveMyWillier.

The Italian National team has three candidates to go well here; Felline, Trentin and Bettiol. All on their day have the credentials to take a podium place here but I’m unsure of what their current form will be like.

Other names to keep an eye on are; Andreetta, Bouet and Torres.

Prediction

Ulissi is the clear favourite but I have a sneaking suspicion that Moser will be fired up for this race. He won’t get many chances to lead Astana this year so will want to make his mark nice and early!

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There is absolutely no PFCL fantasy team bias in this preview at all…none…ok…maybe a little.

 

Thanks for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated as always! How do you think the race will play out? Will it be a solo winner, or a reduced bunch sprint? I shall have an Oman GC preview out tomorrow evening sometime. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vuelta Stage 19 Preview: Xàbia -> Calp

Today’s Recap

A long, relatively boring day.

A weak break managed to escape, made up of only 5 riders and no sprint teams, so we were destined for a sprint at the end of the day. It was Giant and Arndt who looked to have things all under control, but the Giant lead-out man tired slightly early than he would have liked. Behind him, Arndt hesitated and Cort took advantage of that with a magnificently timed sprint launch and was never to be passed. A great win!

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Onto tomorrow.

The Route

Time Trial time and the single most pivotal stage of the Vuelta. Well, at least it was billed as that before the racing actually started. It’s where Froome is supposed to gain 2 minutes on Quintana and potentially the Vuelta too, but all hope looks gone by now.

Let’s have a look at the course.

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Now that’s the official profile but as is traditional on a time trial day, I’ve made a strava profile of the whole route that you can view here.

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Like we saw on the first TTT, the scale on the Strava profile distorts some of the climbs as it’s only a 0-200m scale, whereas the road book profile has 0-600m scale. Consequently some lumps have to be taken with a pinch of salt.

Nonetheless, “rolling” is how I’d describe the stage! The biggest challenge the riders will face is the climb that actually starts just after 5km. Although the road only rises ever so slightly, taking it from here makes it 7km at 2.1%. However, the “big” kick up at the end is 1.7km long at 6.5%. The strong climbers will hope to gain some time here.

An interesting thing to note is that the official profile only has 330m of elevation, whereas Strava suggests there’s 675m of elevation gain. Hmmmm.

There are a few more drags in the second half of the stage. 1.5km at 3.4% for example, that peaks at around the 25km mark. However, the riders will be able to put it in the big ring and power over these tests, although they certainly will sap the legs of energy.

Weather

A major factor in the outcome of TTs over the past few years has been the changing weather conditions throughout the day. The riders start times will be spread out over roughly 3 hours. Thankfully for the riders, they will all get dry conditions. However, the wind may play a part.

So back to a favourite website of mine, Windfinder.com

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Wind speeds in km/h, and max gusts @ Teulada

As you can see in the image above, the average wind speed actually picks up for those who start later on in the day. Although the differences are small, the direction looks as if it will switch from a cross-headwind to more of a headwind.

Ultimately though, I don’t think the weather will have that much of an impact on the favourites. It may favour a rouleur more than a climber, but the differences will be minimal.

Stage Contenders

A TT in Spain, so where best to start than with Movistar and Castroviejo? The Spaniard has to start as the favourite for this stage in my opinion. 4th in the Olympics, he’s been doing a lot of work for Quintana and was pivotal for the Colombian on the race splitting move during stage 15, but he’ll have had one eye on this stage.

Froome may start as the favourite though.

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He beat Castroviejo by 4 seconds at the Olympics and will hope to do the same here. He needs to pull a big performance out the bag here if he wants to put any pressure on Quintana going into the penultimate stage, but also to protect his second place. He’s seemed to re-find his TT ability this year and I wouldn’t be surprised if he wins. I just think he looks a bit too tired!

Luis Leon Sanchez will hope to go well here. He’s looked great all race and has been very active either in the breaks or the front of the bunch. In years gone by, he’d be threatening for the win but he doesn’t seem to be as good on the TT bike anymore. However, he can’t be discounted!

Nairo Quintana.

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Bit of a curveball, I know, but he was TTing exceptionally well at the start of the season. In fact, he was going so well that I had talked him up for taking the TT at the Tour. Unfortunately, he wasn’t firing on all cylinders then, but he seems to be on it here! Often during a TT at the end of a Grand Tour there is a mix of GC guys and specialists and it sometimes just comes down to who has the legs. Quintana certainly has the legs just now. I’d watch out for him.

Tobias Ludvigsson.

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If you’ve been somewhat paying attention to this blog then you’ll know that I’m a massive fan of Big T. He’s had a very underrated but quietly exceptional Vuelta so far, climbing better than ever. This TT will be a big goal for him and he’s stayed out of the breaks on the past few stages, saving energy for this. He has the quality and now the confidence to play a big part in this stage!

Aside from the five who I’ve mentioned, keep an eye out for Lampaert, Campenaerts, Moser, Felline and Valverde (it’s Spain!) to throw up a few surprises.

Prediction

I just can’t see past Castroviejo;

  • He’s an excellent TTer
  • The course suits him very well
  • He’s a Movistar rider
  • It’s Spain

Simple. Castroviejo wins!

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Unless of course Big T and Quintana surprise 😉

Betting

1.5pt WIN Castroviejo @ 7/4 (Bet365)

0.25pt EW Ludvigsson @ 20/1 (Bet365)

0.5pt EW Quintana @ 125/1 (Bet365)

Like normal, hunt around later when there are more prices out.

Thanks for reading as per! Who do you think will win the TT? Are we in for a shock? As usual, any feedback is greatly appreciated. Enjoy the race wherever you’re watching it from. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.