Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana 2019 Stage 1 Preview: Orihuela -> Orihuela (ITT)

European stage racing starts this Wednesday with the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana in Spain and the Etoile de Bessèges in France. Both races attract a solid line up of teams but given that it is early in the year, form is often difficult to figure out so we could see a surprise result. Or of course, Valverde just wins like he did last year.

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GC Overview

With a route tailor-made for him and a bonus second system in place, it does look hard for anyone to topple the reigning champion. The opening day TT will see some time gaps but they shouldn’t be too significant given the short nature of the race against the clock. Saying that, a climber who has started the season a little slowly could see the race already slip away from them if they don’t hit the ground running. Stage 2 could be a surprise GC day but it is more than likely going to be a reduced bunch sprint, with stage 3 the first day we should see some kind of selection and an uphill sprint finish that looks perfect for Valverde. The overall will be decided on the penultimate day of racing though with a tricky climb out of the town of Alcossebre where the better climbers will hope to come to the fore and steal the race title.

Valverde starts as the obvious favourite but there are certainly some strong teams here with multiple options that could put the World Champion under pressure. Firstly, we have an Astana trio of Izagirre, Sanchez and Bilbao who all should be there or thereabouts with the tough to control stage 3 a day where they will hope to utilise those numbers with aggressive racing. Likewise, UAE (Martin and Costa), Mitchelton (Yates and Haig) and Sky (Thomas and De La Cruz) have a couple of options to ensure that this isn’t a walk in the park for Valverde.

However, like night follows day, Valverde wins his “home” stage race again.

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Let’s take a look at what is in store for the riders on the opening day of racing.

The Route

An almost pan flat 10.2km individual time trial awaits the riders but they need to be wary as it does have a sting in the tail.

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The route can really be split into three sections. First, we have the largest section which comprises of the opening 7.8km and is a pure test of power.

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There are a few roundabouts on course through that section but they are few and far between, with the majority of the corners being able to be taken at full speed. This is where the stronger and more traditional TT riders will hope to build up an advantage.

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Next is a shorter section which has quite a few roundabouts and tight corners to traverse, so good technique and line choice here will be important. As the cliché goes, you probably can’t win the stage here but you can certainly lose it.

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Finally we have the closing 700m and a climb to the line. The strava/veloviewer profile that I made for the whole stage above is quite deceptive as there is no “descent” in the final climb. Instead, it is more of a false flat than anything else, so this Strava segment is a much better indicator of what it actually looks like.

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The riders will face some “cobbles” as they leave the town and onto the hill but it would be offensive to the Spring Classics to call them anything serious, more like slightly bumpy paved stones.

The steep gradients will be a bit awkward on a TT rig but nothing the riders haven’t dealt with before. At 600m it is short enough for the traditional TT riders to fancy their chances of powering up it, but it is also at a length where the climbers/puncheurs will hope to gain back some time.

I really like this TT course because there will be quite a few in the bunch that will fancy their chances due to the varied parcours.

Contenders

Tony Martin.

After a pretty disappointing two years at Katusha, by his normal standards, the German made a switch of teams in the off-season to Jumbo Visma. I for one am really looking forward to seeing what he can do this year on the Bianchi bike, as Jumbo have their TT rigs properly dialled in. A 10km TT that is mostly about pure power with a short climb at the end would be perfect for Martin of 2014/2015 but have his legs waned in recent years? We’ll just have to wait and see.

Geraint Thomas.

Last year’s Tour winner arrives here early in the season but with his main goal to try to retain his crown in France this summer, will he be at a high enough level to challenge? On paper this course is ideal for him and Team Sky are one of the top TT teams around so no doubt he’ll put in a pretty solid time but I think this will be more of a training race for him. He had a festive off-season by the looks of it with some photos of him appearing a little podgy compared to the skeletal standards of most GT contenders. Since then he has seemed to lose a some weight so he could well hit the ground running but I just can’t see it.

David De La Cruz.

Conversely, I think it will be Sky’s Spaniard that will be the best finisher for their team tomorrow. A solid debut season for the outfit last year saw De La Cruz take home the TT win in Andalucia as well as the final stage in Paris Nice. Going to the Vuelta as co-leader for the team, he will have been disappointed with the final outcome and hope to hit the ground running. His results in efforts against the clock last year were fairly consistent with him being in or around the top 15 for the majority of them. Tactically for Sky it will be useful for them to have two riders near the head of the race before we head to the more mountainous stages so I expect a good result.

Alejandro Valverde.

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Although the race isn’t technically a “home” race for the current World road champion, the opening stage in Orihuela is only a 20km cycle from his home in Murcia, so the Movistar man will want to do well here. In fact, on a training ride recently he did some reconnaissance of the final ramp so he is most definitely preparing well and taking it seriously. Normally you wouldn’t consider Valverde for a traditional TT but given the short nature, he always starts the season well, that kicker at the end, plus some friendly Spanish motos: he has a very good chance of taking the stage and holding the GC jersey throughout the race.

Nelson Oliveira.

Likewise, his Movistar team-mate will no doubt be looking forward to this hit out as well, with Oliveira starting the season well over in Mallorca; doing some good work for his squad and managing to bag a 6th place in Trofeo de Tramuntana. Still only 29, he’s very consistent in efforts against the clock with a 15th place finish being his worst result in 2018. My one concern about him is that he doesn’t win too much and he’s never tasted victory in a TT aside from his national championships. Is this the year he finally breaks that duck?

Ion Izagirre.

From one dud of a TT bike to another, Izagirre will hope that his legs can do the talking rather than the bike. Astana arrive here with a very strong squad to challenge for the overall so they need as many of them as possible to be near the top of the standings after tomorrow. Izagirre looks the most likely to challenge for the stage as he has the best TT out of the lot of them. Saying that, he wasn’t as strong last year as he had been in previous seasons so it will be interesting to see what he can pull off tomorrow.

There are a couple of Katusha riders who I’m looking forward to seeing how they fare: Tanfield and Goncalves. The former will get his first chance to show his mettle in a TT for his new WT team, while the latter on occasion has produced a great TT and the short but punchy climb should suit his characteristics. I don’t think either of them will win, but they should turn in decent performances. Van Emden is also another one who should do well but given that his climbing ability is pretty abysmal, he might lose quite a bit of time on that final rise. Tratnik steps up to the WT this year as well but how will he fare on that Merida bike? He’s one to watch for a top 10 anyway. Finally, I have my eyes on the young Portuguese rider João Rodrigues who rides for W52 and their new-found Pro Conti license. If this was La Grandissima he would be a shoe-in for a good result but it’s not, so we’ll see how he goes.

Prediction

Tony to roll back the clock? Sky to keep up that great TT record? Valverde to smash his “local” 10km? Nope, I’ll go with the Oliveira to get his first pro TT win narrative!

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After a good hit out in Mallorca, I think he’s ready to start his season proper with a bang. I’ll go for De La Cruz to finish second with Valverde in an ominous third.

Zweeler

Once again I’ll plug the blog sponsor Zweeler and their fantasy sports games. For Valenciana they have a competition open for the race, with the top 23 finishers (there are 200 teams entered already) guaranteeing themselves a return on their entrance fee. You can sign up to play it via this link here (which helps the blog out a little).

If you fancy yourself as more of a long-term prospector of cycling talent, their “1st period” game starts with Valenciana too. For that you have to pick a total of 30 riders from 6 different categories, with points being scored right through from Valenciana to the Tour of California. Due to the amount of entrants for the game so far the total prize pool has increased from €1500 to €1900, with the overall winner guaranteed a cool €350 from their €7 entry fee. If that tickles your particulars, then you can sign up to that via this link!

Betting

As for tomorrow’s stage, I’m going to keep it simple-ish as TTs early in the season can often be a bit tricky.

2pts WIN Oliveira @ 6/1 (With Betway)

1pt WIN De La Cruz @ 16/1 (With SkyBet)

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

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Vuelta a España 2018 Stage 7 Preview: Puerto Lumbreras -> Pozo Alcón

Today’s Recap

Told ya, well, kind of.

A stiff headwind for a lot of the day saw a slow pace throughout the afternoon but a combination of some poorly marshalled bollards and wind resulted in splits throughout the bunch late on. Annoyingly, those pesky sprinters made the front group along with team-mates so things were kept at a reasonable pace and the wind just wasn’t strong enough to create any more splits in the final 10km, despite the best intentions from a few teams.

I did say in yesterday’s preview that Viviani wouldn’t win and that is exactly what happened. The Italian finished ridiculously fast but he was poorly positioned coming around the final roundabout and could only manage third place.

Instead it was Bouhanni who sprinted to the victory, a result that will probably be divisive in the cycling community. I for one am happy to see him pick up the result, it is what he needed desperately. It also puts to bed the fake news/misinterpretation that was spread yesterday after the stage.

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Van Poppel got up well to finish second but just didn’t have the legs to come past the Cofidis man.

There weren’t many GC losers today but Pinot and Kelderman were the main ones, both shipping 1’44 to their rivals. Not ideal but it isn’t the end of the Vuelta for them, however, they will have to work hard to gain that time back. Will they get a chance soon? Let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders tomorrow.

The Route

Another rolling day out for the peloton, with 2500m of climbing throughout the stage.

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Only two of the rises are categorised but as you can see on the profile, there are plenty of drags and peaks elsewhere. The rolling terrain does make it a bit more awkward for the sprinters teams to control but nothing should worry them too much in the opening 160km. It is the final 15km of the day that will be crucial and we might not see many of the sprinters make the line in what is billed as another flat day and one for them. In fact, I’ll be surprised if any of them do.

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Just ignore the fact I wrote Stage 8 above, bit of a brain fart…

To kick the closing 17.5km off, the riders will face the second categorised climb of the day: Alto de Ceal (4.3km at 5.8%). It is a very steady climb with the gradient keeping regular – good for those wanting to set a tempo. Once over the top, the road descends for 4kms, albeit that is interrupted by another short rise.

The day’s intermediate bonus sprint is handily placed on top of the following climb.

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The fight for position will be intense going into the climb and not because of the double-digit gradients that await in some points, but the ridiculously narrow streets through the village of Hinojares.

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Once through the sprint point a short descent follows before the road drags all the way up to the finish line, with an average gradient of 2% for the remaining 5.5km.

How will the stage play out?

It’s too difficult for any of the sprinters so it will be a puncheur that could sprint to the line from a reduced group. The final 20km actually look perfect for Valverde and Kwiatkowski but they also look very tempting for a late attack.

Will anyone want to work all day and hold the race together?

Movistar might, as today and tomorrow are both the closest stages to Valverde’s home in Murcia and given that the route suits him perfectly, they could give it a try. However, it will take a lot of energy to control things as I’m not sure many others will want to. Sky deliberately gave away the jersey to avoid controlling on days like tomorrow so I doubt they’ll decide to chase now.

Therefore, it once again looks like we’re about to play everyone’s favourite game…

TheBreakawayLottery

Dries Devenyns.

Solid rider with a good bit of form, Quick Step will want to be present in the break after missing out the other day. Devenyns is the type of guy who can finish it off. Can’t really be bothered to repeat myself from the other day so go and read that instead!

Dylan Teuns.

BMC were close to a win with De Marchi the other day and we saw the strange sight of Porte in a three-man break on a sprinter’s stage this afternoon. Teuns on paper looks their best shot at a win tomorrow as he can handle the punchy gradients very well.

Daniel Moreno.

No WT for EF Education up until Clarke’s victory on stage 5, can they get another one quickly? Moreno is in search of a contract for next year so I expect him to see him animate a few stages this race, it is just a question of which ones. Tomorrow looks like a good opportunity as Uran won’t need much help and there is time for him to recover before Sunday’s mountain top finish.

Nelson Oliveira.

Movistar are always competitive in the Team classification so if a big group goes up the road tomorrow then expect them to have someone there. Oliveira is a strong rider who can deal with varying terrain. The steep climb before the final 5km might be on his limit, but it all of course depends on his company in the move.

Prediction

Dani Moreno to roll back the years and make it two in three days for EF Education.

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Betting

“Punts on the break picks as per, then reassess in-play”, but given the price of Valverde, I’m also backing him…

2pts WIN Valverde @ 11s

1pt WIN Teuns @ 22s

1pt WIN Devenyns @ 50s

0.5pt WIN Moreno @ 250/1

0.5pt WIN Oliveira @ 125/1

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Vuelta a España 2017 Stage 12 Preview; Motril -> Antequera Los Dólmenes

Today’s Recap

A wet miserable day for the peloton or a typical Scottish summer day, take it as you will! It was another stage that it took the breakaway a while to establish, but we eventually had a group of 14 go clear.

In the end though the break never really had much of a chance as Orica started driving the pace early, reducing the gap to under a minute on the penultimate climb.

However, with no one else willing to take up the chase then things looked to swing back into the break’s hands. That was until Nibali called for action on the last climb of the day and soon the attackers were brought to heel.

A few probing attacks were made off the front of the race but it was Nibali who launched the first serious move in the closing 2kms. For a while it looked as if he had a good gap but Lopez countered strongly and bridged, with Froome in tow. The Colombian continued on, and with Nibali and Froome competing in a stare down, he held on to take his first Grand Tour win!

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Froome out-sprinted Nibali for second, with Kelderman finishing alongside the other two in 4th. There were some big time gaps behind today though and the GC was well and truly shaken up.

Will we something similar tomorrow?

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

The Route

We once again have a stage that has Valverde in mind!

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I do wonder how many of the previous break days would have been successful if the Spaniard was racing here.

Tomorrow’s stage starts with a lot of rolling road from the opening kilometre until we reach Nerja. Are 37km enough for the break to form? It hasn’t been the past few days!

From there, the route is almost pan flat as it travels further along the coast. However, as soon as we turn in-land, the riders will be greeted with the Cat-1 climb of Puerto del Léon.

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At 20.4km and averaging 4.6% it is a long climb but nothing of great danger for the GC guys. Furthermore, at almost 60km from the finish, it is too far out for any action.

The next climb might not be…

Puerto del Torcal is rather unkindly given Cat-2 status, as it is 7.6km long and averages 7% according to the road book!

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It is more 8.6km at 6.3%, but that does include some false flat at the end of the climb. However, that low gradient is fairly deceptive, as the opening 4.5km averages a very testing 8.9%! This is where the better climbers will hope to make their mark before it flattens out near the top.

The riders will then descend before a fairly flat final 5kms.

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With that being said, the road does rise ever so slightly to the finish line; averaging roughly 3% for the final kilometre. Although the majority of that comes in the space of 600m.

Will we see a small group battle it out for the stage in a sprint?

How will the stage pan out?

With the weather in the Malaga area forecast to be a lot better than what the peloton has had over the past few days, I’m sure lots of riders will be hoping for a quieter day in the saddle.

There is of course a chance that some of the GC teams, possibly Bahrain and Sunweb, want to chase the break in the hope to set up their main riders. However, that will require a lot of work and with the downhill/flat finish their efforts will probably go unrewarded.

We’ll more than likely see the GC guys roll in together, with maybe only one or two guys dropped if they’re really suffering. Instead, they’ll save their energy for other days.

Consequently, this looks like an ideal day to get into the break.

TheBreakawayLottery

Break Candidates

With the tough rolling conditions at the start of the stage, it will take a strong rider to make the morning move. That’s if it goes in the first 30km or so, who knows how long it will take considering how this Vuelta is going!

Alexey Lutsenko.

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Astana are flying just now and I’m sure they’ll try to get someone in the move tomorrow. After his stage win on the 5th stage, the Kazakh has taken it relatively easy recently. Is he saving himself for another assault? Tomorrow’s stage looks great for him but the tough opening 5km of the last climb could be his downfall if we have some mountain goats up the road. Will he risk it all and go early? He’s certainly confident enough at the moment to do just that.

Nelson Oliveira.

It seems clear that Movistar are chasing the team prize this race so if a break goes tomorrow then they will certainly have a couple of riders up the road. The Portuguese rider was strong at the start of the race but has lost some time since then. This type of terrain looks good for him tomorrow and if he can hang on to the best climbers on the steeper slopes of the climb then he has a good chance at attacking and time trialing his way to victory.

Jack Haig.

Surely Orica’s second strongest rider has to be let of the leash tomorrow. He was excellent in helping pace Chaves today and sitting 17 minutes down now, he is no threat to the overall. A strong rider on the climbs but also on the flat, he will be one of the most well-rounded riders up the road. Can he take advantage of his good legs?

Tobias Ludvigsson.

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I think I could be backing him a lot this Vuelta but tomorrow’s stage looks good for the big Swede. Strong on the flat and strong on the climbs, he’s similar to a rider like Oilveira. If he is climbing as well as he was on the day of his failed break, but his successful whip, then he certainly has a chance!

Vuelta Picks

This is definitely becoming rinse and repeat…

Safe Pick – Oomen

Chose a GC rider and hope they finish in a reduced peloton behind the break. If you can, try to pick someone who isn’t a massive GC threat so that you save the “big guns” for other stages.

Wongshot Pick – Oliveira

Breakaway Lottery day

Lanterne Rouge Pick – Wallays

Seems to still be struggling from this injuries.

Prediction

Break to make it all the way and Movistar to get their stage win through Oliveira.

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Betting

0.5pt WIN on them all;

Lutsenko @ 28/1

Haig @ 33/1

Oliveira @ 150/1

Ludvigsson @ 200/1

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.