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 2017 Stage 16 Preview; Circuito de Navarra -> Logroño

Rest-day Recap

Stage 15 turned into more of a damp squib than I was expecting with the majority of GC riders coming home together. Well, apart from Superman Lopez who forged ahead to take another stage win. I told you pre-Vuelta to keep an eye on him!

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Froome though is still in control of the race with closest rival Nibali just over a minute behind and third placed Zakarin 2’08 in arrears.

There is still a lot to play for going into the final week and the battle for the podium should be a great one, even if the GC win might be out of reach.

Will that be the case after tomorrow’s TT? Let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders.

The Route

A 40km individual effort against the clock that could (will) have a big say on the outcome of this race overall.

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In terms of the route itself, it is book-ended by two fairly technical sections. The stage starts on the motor racing “Circuito de Navarra” which has a lot of tight turns that will mean the riders can’t get up to full speed. Saying that, it is a fairly wide track so it is not like a street circuit where they would have to go really slow!

Once out and through Los Arcos they will power along mainly straight roads but with a few sharp turns littered throughout the itinerary. Nonetheless, it should be mainly full gas until they enter Logroño.

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The riders will have several roundabouts to traverse (classic Vuelta) and a very tricky closing kilometre. A good bit of time could be gained or lost here!

As for the parcours itself I’ve made a VeloViewer/Strava profile of the stage, as is tradition. You can view that here.

 

It is by no means a completely flat TT, as the official profile somewhat suggests, but it isn’t crazily difficult.

Vuelta TT Updated

We have a couple 1-2km drags at roughly 2.5-3% in the first 15km of the stage, before we reach the “hillier” part of the route.

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The above image is from 15.5 -> 19.9km into the route.

As you can see it is not leg-breaking, especially by Vuelta standards, but it will still require riders to manage their effort well. Quite a bit of it is false flat mixed in with some more standard climbing metres at 5% etc, but there are a few steep 10% ramps thrown in for good measure too!

From there, the riders will be onto the easier part of the course.

Vuelta Last 20kms TT

The second half of the TT dos have a few kick ups as you can see, which will knock some of the speed off from the descent, but the majority of it is mainly downhill.

Will riders keep enough in the tank to tackle the more rolling final 3kms?!

Weather Watch

As is often the case in time trials, the weather can play a big part in the outcome of the day due to the long time period between the first and last rider setting off.

Dunne will be the first rider down the ramp, starting at 13’34 local time, with Froome beginning his effort over 3 hours later at 16’52.

A full start list can be viewed here.

Fortunately for everyone they should all face the same road conditions, with no rain forecast for the area at all.

However, they will have different wind conditions…

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Source: Windfinder

Those starting later will have a lower wind speed, but a much more favourable direction, with a tailwind for the majority of the course. Whereas those who’re off at the start will have a less desirable cross-tail wind.

It might not play a massive part, but it is something to consider.

Unless of course that massive change in wind speed comes in a bit earlier then Froome might fly along the course!

Winner

With Dennis now gone, it does open up the stage for some riders. Well, I had originally wrote that I thought Froome would run the Australian close due to the latter’s not so great form on longer TTs recently. So with that said…

Froome.

Has to start as the overwhelming favourite. His past results in second week Grand Tour TTs are rather impeccable; 3/1/1 in the Tour/Vuelta/Tour. It is that win at the Vuelta last year that really stands out for me. In my preview for that day I wrote that I thought Froome looked tired after the previous stages and didn’t seem to be at his best fitness anymore. Sound familiar? He went on to crush that day and secure his second place. I think he’ll crush it tomorrow and secure his first place on GC.

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Podium Contenders

There are a whole host of riders who’ll be lining up to hopefully take the win if Froome misfires, but they have a more realistic chance of taking the podium behind the Sky rider.

Oliveira.

The Portuguese rider has been targeting this stage all race and he should be close to the front by the end of tomorrow. He started off the Vuelta very strongly but has faded recently. Whether that was due to him getting ill, or saving energy, we’ll only really find out tomorrow through his performance.

Lampaert.

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Winner on the opening road stage, the Belgian TT champ has ridden well in service of his team-mates over the past couple of weeks. Tomorrow is his chance to shine as an individual again though and he’ll certainly be up there. He finished 4th at last year’s TT and will hope to go better this time round!

Kelderman.

Seems to have avoided the illness that has plagued his team as of late, but he was slow to respond to his podium challenger Zakarin on the last stage. Was that a sign of weakness? He used to be considered a fairly strong TT rider while at Jumbo, but he seems to have regressed since his move to Sunweb. I don’t think we’ll see him on the podium tomorrow.

Luis Leon Sanchez.

The experienced hand at Astana always seems to go fairly well in long TTs at Grand Tours. He’s looked good in this race, picking days to attack but also willing to sacrifice himself for Aru and Lopez. On stage 14 he did a lot of the driving work to help pull the break back somewhat so I think his form is there. He took it a bit easier the following day and with Astana leading the Team Classification, I think he’ll go full gas tomorrow.

Ludvigsson.

I could not mention Big T, now could I?! Third on the final TT last year, the FDJ man has looked comfortable this race, but he’s not been as prominent and attacking as I had hoped for. Nonetheless, he will give it a good bash tomorrow and will certainly be in contention for another top 5 result.

Jungels.

Another rider who falls into the “strong team-mate who might be eyeing up this stage” category. The former Luxembourg champion should have the power to match the best over this type of distance, it just depends if he goes 100% or not. He was third on the similar TT during the Giro this year. Can he repeat that here?

As for some others, I’m quietly hopeful for a good time from Superman! He produced a very good time in the Tour de Suisse last year. That TdS result did come at altitude which could have helped him a bit. Nonetheless, with his current form, he should be closer to others than expected.

Vuelta Picks

Safe – Froome.

This is the day I have been saving the Brit for!

Wongshot – LLS.

A Spanish rider who’s going well and has a proven track record over the distance.

Lanterne Rouge – Blythe

The Brits to book-end the day.

Prediction

You haven’t been paying attention, have you? I told you above – Froome to win!

Luis Leon to sneak onto the podium somewhere and Superman Lopez to remain in the GC podium hunt going into the last few stages.

Betting

The good prices on Froome are gone now after Dennis’ withdrawal. Some bookmakers might Rule 4 any previous bets that you’ve made but I still think his current odds of 4/5 in some places offer value. He’s 10/11 on the exchanges if you can get there.

I genuinely can’t see past anyone else and although I don’t like advising odds on for stages;

5pts WIN on Froome @ 4/5 

2pts LLS to finish Top 3 (with B365)

Then 1pt on this H2H treble…

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Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Will it be Froome domination, or can someone upset the apple cart? 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!

Torco

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.

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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.

 

Tour de Pologne 2017 Stage 6 Preview; Wieliczka -> Zakopane

Today’s Recap

A shorter stage that delivered a few surprises.

We had a strong break of 5 get up the road early on in the day but they were never given more than 3 minutes, with a few teams helping Bora control the gap. There were some splits on the early climbs, but nothing too major.

However, the pace was really increased on the last climb of the day and the peloton was reduced to around 50 guys, with breakee Van Garderen still up the road. The American was ultimately brought to heel with about 3km to go. A crash just before the Flamme Rouge saw only 12 or so riders contest the sprint with Van Poppel finally getting his reward for strong performances all week.

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Mezgec ran him very close in second, while Sagan gained some more bonus seconds in third place.

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

The Route

Arguably the Queen Stage of the race with just over 4000m of elevation gain according to Strava/Veloviewer.

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I think this is the first stage that the Veloviewer profile undersells the day, whereas the official profile is actually pretty bang on.

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You can view the full profile here.

The first 100km of the day start off relatively innocuously, with only a few small rises and nother too serious. The action kicks off though with an uncategorised rise of 3% for 3km; a nice way for the riders to warm up and stretch their legs for the remainder of the stage.

Bystryk is the opening categorised climb.

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At 5.6% for 5.9km it certainly is not Alpine, but this is where we could see the sprinters un-hitch and pack in the race altogether.

The riders won’t get much respite as after a few kilometres of false flat and descending, they’ll face the second categorised climb of the day; Butorowy Wierch.

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Any speed the riders carry into the climb will be knocked off by the very steep ramps that come right at the bottom. From there, it will be a drag to the top with some light relief on some flatter sections.

The categorised climbs are put on the back-burner for the intermediate sprint point, although that cruelly is located on top of a 3.3km (3.9%) drag itself.

Next on the climbing menu is Głodówka which tops out with 48km left.

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One of the easier climbs of the day, it shouldn’t be of any major difficulties for the riders and I can’t imagine anyone who’s not dropped already, will be dropped here.

The road then plunges down the valley before some more uncategorised climbing that is actually pretty tricky. According to Veloviewer the climb is 4.4km long and averages 5.1%; making it tougher than our previous Cat 1! I guess they had to give the highest point on the stage a mountain category. From there the riders will face a really short descent before the second bump which is 1.4km at 7%. A sting in the tail if you’re not prepared for it!

A 5km descent follows before the riders start the final 22kms of the day, and arguably the most crucial as they face two-categorised climbs in quick succession with very little downhill in between.

The riders actually climb to Bystryk again for the penultimate KOM, but from a slightly different route.

TDPS6KOM4

It’s a steady climb, well, aside from the two sections of very steep gradients!

The climb of Butorowy Wierch is then the same as it is on the image above. With it cresting 8.5km from the finish, will we see a rider solo at this time, or will a small group crest together?

Those final 8.5km look as follows…

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A quick descent and a 2km rise up to the line averaging 2.5%. That small incline could see a riders legs seize up if they put too much in earlier on, although that is unlikely!

How will the stage pan out?

There is a chance the break makes it if none of the GC teams decide to play ball and chase the move. However, I think we’ll see some kind of GC showdown on the roads and a strong winner at the end of the day.

I expect an aggressive race, or at least I hope for one. Sagan has looked imperious so far and if I was a DS of an opposing team, I wouldn’t want to risk taking all the time back from him on the final stage.

Unfortunately for them, Bora also have Majka positioned rather nicely in third place. So if Sagan is dropped, the Pole is more than likely going to be there as a replacement!

Nonethless, I would still be sending/attempting to send my strong riders up the road with around 50km to go, on the 3rd categorised climb of the day. This is where having two riders on the team that are genuine GC threats comes in very handy as the person behind doesn’t have to work while other teams who have missed the move burn matches to try to close it down.

Looking at teams that have two serious candidates we have;

Bora – Sagan (1st) and Majka (’20 seconds down)

Sunweb – Kelderman (24 seconds) and Oomen (1’50)*

Sky – Poels (33s) and Rosa (1’14)

Orica – Yates (33s) and Haig (1’58)*

Movistar – Izagirre (39s) and Oliveira (1’02)

UAE – Costa (42s) and Conti (47s)

Lotto Soudal – De Clerq (44s) and Marczynski (1’05)

*These two are borderline non-threats but could be brought into the mix still.

Will a DS be brave enough to send someone up the road to risk losing their current GC standing? I hope so, this isn’t a Grand Tour so I can’t see teams riding to defend 7th etc. As for who that might be? I’m not too sure!

I’ll give it a go though and name a couple of riders who I fancy to go well and who might be given freedom to do so.

MyTwoPicksWorth™

Valerio Conti.

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After taking a Grand Tour stage win at the Vuelta last year, the UAE rider has really taken a step up this season. Constantly attacking throughout the Giro, he was in contention for stage victory from the breakaway on Stage 8 until he crashed going round one of the final hairpins. He looked strong that day on the uphill kick and I’m sure he would have managed to get on the podium at least. On stage 3 he was the first rider to start proceedings on the final climb but unfortunately for him, he was clawed back in. An attacking rider who might not be deemed an instant threat, he will be the UAE guy who I imagine is sent up the road. If he senses stage victory is there, he might just take it…

Gorka Izagirre.

The rider who beat Conti on that stage in the Giro, the “lesser” Izagirre brother has really broken through this season now that Ion has moved on! A loyal domestique, when given the chance to shine he often does. Earlier in the year he produced his best ever GC result when finishing 4th in the overall at Paris-Nice. He’s certainly no mug! Strong on this type of uphill drag to the line, if he arrives with a small group that doesn’t include Sagan, he’ll no doubt fancy his chances in the sprint.

Prediction

We’ll see an attacking, but relatively cagey day rolled into one.

A group of “lesser” GC guys will escape with Majka, while Sagan sticks with those behind. In the sprint to the line, Gorka will continue his impressive year and take the win. The Spaniard was pushing the pace on during the final climb today so he must be feeling sprightly!

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Betting

I don’t know why, but I have a good feeling about Izagirre for tomorrow. Good enough to disregard Conti completely from the equation? It would kill me if he did go on to win so no!

1pt EW on them both with B365;

Conti @ 20/1

Izagirre @ 40/1

Also;

6pts on Izagirre to beat Visconti @ 4/6.

Thanks as always for reading and as usual any feedback is greatly appreciated. Who do you think will win tomorrow? Will we see some GC attacks from afar, or will it be a relatively dull day? 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

 

 

 

Men’s ITT World Championship Preview – Doha 2016

Men’s ITT World Championship Preview – Doha 2016

The final time trial of the Championships is upon us and it’s time for the Elite men to go up against the clock.

In 2015 we had a relatively surprising winner in the form of Vasil Kiryienka. Surprising in the sense that it wasn’t one of the Big 3 (Dumoulin/Dennis/Martin) but considering Kiryienka came 4th at the final TT in the Vuelta and is known for his big engine, then not so much.

World Championships - Mens TT

The rest of the podium was against all predictions too, as Malori and Coppel finished 2nd and 3rd respectively, with Castroviejo coming 4th. The Big 3 only managed 5-7th places, all finishing over a minute down. They’ll be out for revenge here!

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

The Route

The men will cover the same route as the trade teams did for the TTT on Sunday.

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Starting at the Lusail Sports Complex, the riders will be faced with a fairly technical 14km section that they could struggle to find a rhythm in due to the relatively short sections and several obstacles (roundabouts/90-degree corners etc) in their way. However, as we saw in the TTT, a lot of these corners can be taken at speed with the correct line.

They then make their way south along a very exposed, straight highway. It will be possible for the riders to maintain a high speed if the wind is in their favour! Once into the outskirts of the city the road gets a bit more sweeping but nothing major of note. They then complete a truncated lap around the Pearl, missing out the east section that we saw today, before reaching the finish line.

Weather Watch

Once again, the riders will be faced with very hot conditions and a bit of a breeze.

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Forecast for Qatar University – 2nd intermediate time check. (Windfinder)

The wind isn’t overly strong and as we saw today, the speed and direction can change pretty quickly in this part of the world. If we do get a correct forecast, then the riders will have a cross-tailwind for the long section in the middle of the desert. Expect very fast times if that’s the case!

With the riders setting off at 1’30 intervals and there being no wave system, there’s only an hour and 40 minutes between the first and last rider to set off, then changeable conditions won’t be as much of an issue as they should all get similar weather out on course. Therefore there isn’t an obvious advantage for the early or late starts respectively. But as I’ve said above, the desert wind can change very quickly so who knows!

The start times for the riders can be found here.

Contenders

Where else to start than with the Big 3?

Rohan Dennis comes here as the bookies favourite and will be confident after his convincing win at the Eneco Tour. However, that TT was only over 10km, this is TT is four times that length. It is in the longer TTs that Dennis suffers but this one isn’t long by World Championship standards and the Aussie will be hopeful here. I’m just not convinced by his lack of consistency over this distance to be confident in him. Watch him prove me wrong now!

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Tom Dumoulin has continued on from where he left off in his breakthrough 2015 season, managing to wear the leader’s jersey at the Giro and win two stages at the Tour, along with winning a silver medal at the Olympics. Not bad! His form has been a bit patchy as of late but he was 4th on the Queen stage of Eneco which is a good indicator and he looked solid in the TTT too. He’s definitely not a right off like some people may suggest.

Tony Martin was instrumental in Etixx winning the TTT on Sunday and he looks back to his best after changing his position on the bike and reverting back to his old technique. Picking up his first win of the season at the Tour of Britain really helped him, it’s amazig what a bit of confidence can do! This type of flat, power-based parcours is ideal for the Panzerwagen and he’ll be gunning for victory. Second favourite with the bookmakers, he certainly has a very good chance!

2016 EQS Camp - Calpe, Spain

As for the rest?

You can’t rule out Kiryienka on a course like this, although he would prefer it longer. But after his poor 2016 season he’s made no indication of a turnaround in form for here so I can’t see him retaining his crown.

Castroviejo is probably the main challenger to the Big 3. On the back of winning the European Championships, he was left disappointed in the TTT after having to make a bike change early on. Having “Vuelta legs” could help him if he’s managed to sustain that form and he’s certainly one to keep an eye on.

There are a handful of other riders who could challenge for a medal if the others fall by the wayside; Bialoblocki, Phinney, Lampaert, Jungels and Oliveira.

I don’t really rate the chances of Bodnar, Durbridge and Van Emden. Contrary to the bookies who have them priced up as 7/8/9th favourites. Bodnar and Van Emden normally don’t go well over this distance and Durbridge was suffering in the TTT, plus has struggled in long TTs recently.

Prediction

Despite his slightly off the boil form recently, I think Tom Dumoulin will win this. He was going well towards the end of Eneco and looked good in the TTT. He is one of the most fluid riders on a TT bike that I’ve witnessed in my short 10 years of following cycling. He’s like poetry in motion! The distance is also very good for him too; a perfect balance for his speed/endurance abilities. He’s not been loud and brash about his form either, in fact playing it down at times, but he’s quietly confident of going well and I am too!

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I think Dennis will go out too hard and blow up later on in the race and we’ll have Castroviejo sneak onto the podium again, with Martin finishing 2nd.

Betting

I have to admit, the odds swayed this prediction slightly. Even with questionable form, no way should both Dennis and Martin be under 2/1, while Dumoulin is 3-4 times that price in most places.

1.5pt WIN Dumoulin @ 8/1 with Betfair Sportsbook (take the 6/1 with B365, or I’d even go down to the 11/2 available elsewhere)

I’ve also backed this H2H 4-fold with Bet365.

0.5pt on at 6.43/1

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Thanks again for reading! The blog recently hit over 20,000 views which is incredible 🙂 Who do you think will win tomorrow? Can anyone beat the top 3 and am I being optimistic with Dumoulin? As usual, any feedback is greatly appreciated! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

Eneco Tour Stage 6 Preview: Riemst -> Lanaken

Today’s Recap

BMC won, but a “not-completely ruled out” Etixx pushed them very close!

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It was a strong win from the Swiss outfit but not as convincing as I had expected and it leaves the GC battle well poised going into the final two stages, with several strong riders less than a minute behind. Here’s what the top 20 looks like.

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It’s great from a viewing perspective as a lot of riders will still fancy their chances, but it makes it harder from a previewing slant because it becomes more unpredictable and open.

Speaking of which, let’s have a look at tomorrow’s stage!

The Route

A mini-Amstel?

This stage is certainly not as tough as in previous years, but the organisers yet again haven’t been kind and provided proper information for the stage. So like on the previous road stages, I’ve had to consult several sources to try to get my head around this stage!

Although that’s not entirely helpful as several sites somehow take the one GPX file and produce varying figures of elevation gain; 1431m (ridewithgps), 1969m (Strava), 1116m (google maps on Maplorer), 4121m (raw data from GPX on Maplorer), 1272m (cronoescalada) and 2027m (utrack.crempa).

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The first profile you see above is from the Maplorer website, with the second being from @LasterketaBurua (Go check them out on Twitter!).

I’ve decided to put both profiles in as it provides a good comparison of how the scale can change how severe a climb looks. It’s also interesting to see that the profiles are pretty much identical in shape, yet the elevation gain is very different!

As you can see on the 2nd profile, we have a few short, sharp ascents around 50km from the finish. Potentially too far out from the finish to do any damage but you never know.

The Golden Kilometre (GK) starts 200m before the foot of the Hallembaye climb, which itself is 800m at 8.6%, with the end of the GK being at the summit. There is a 200m section of above 12%, which will sting the legs!

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We then have a shallow descent/flat until the final climb of the day, the Muizenberg at 18km left. The climb itself isn’t very tough, only 650m at 6.6%, but if the racing has been on early on then it is a potential launchpad for a group of riders to escape.

The final 3km is fairly technical, with a few sharp turns and roundabouts to navigate.

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Strava profile viewable here

 

The final 500m section of the stage rises at roughly 2.2%, with a max gradient of around 4.5%. Not exactly Amstel-esque!

How will the race pan out?

That very much depends on the attitude of the teams.

The stage isn’t overly tough and a few of the sprinters would hope to make it to the end of the day in the peloton. However, the 140-155km section is key. If some of the teams go crazy here, (looking at you Etixx!), then this could put an end to the sprinters hopes and make the final 40km incredibly exciting.

The only problem with this is that there are still 40km left.

There are the two hills that I’ve highlighted above, but the majority of it is flat-ish road. The Golden Kilometre will tempt the Ardennes riders into action. That may be on the toughest section mentioned above, or on the actual climb itself. But there is still plenty of road left for teams to re-organise and bring them back. Unless of course we get the right mix of riders and a highly motivated escape group!

I think the bonus seconds on offer later on in the stage will result in the day’s early breakaway not making it all the way.

So we’re left with two probable outcomes; a GC selection at around 50km to go that makes it to the line, or some kind of reduced bunch sprint. Both outcomes come with an attached “late-attack” option.

Either way, this man will be there.

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Outcome 1 -> GC shake-up

In this situation we get a strong group of around 20-30 riders getting clear with about 40km to go. Due to the amount of teams and strong riders represented they manage to stay away as the chase behind is unorganised and lacking in firepower.

Once the gap has been established it will be incredibly tactical! A battle between BMC and Etixx as they both have 4 riders within 40 seconds of the race lead. Etixx actually have 5, but I’m discounting Kittel because I don’t think he would be able to follow over the quick succession of climbs.

Anytime an Etixx rider attacks, BMC will follow and vice versa. The danger for BMC is that looking forward to Sunday’s stage, they might not be overly confident with how Dennis will cope on the cobbles of the Muur, so they can’t rest on his 16 second advantage. Therefore, Van Avermaet is their trump card. He’s the rider that they would be most confident in following anyone (Sagan) up the Muur so they will need to keep him close in GC tomorrow.

Dennis may use his TTing abilities himself and go on the offensive himself!

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This tactical battle between BMC/Etixx/Sagan could see other teams benefiting from it. A rider could launch a late attack in the final 10km and with no real organisation behind it could stick until the finish. Look to the likes of Izagirre, Dumoulin, Naesen, Navardauskas or Wellens.

Of course, we could see this group come to the line together, or even a fragment of it (10 riders or so) and get an uphill sprint.

No-one will want to tow Sagan to the line though!

Outcome 2 – Reduced Bunch Sprint

The damp squib option.

With the parcours not being overly difficult a few of the better climbing sprinters could make the split if the pace isn’t too high over that now famous 140-155km section.

In this situation, we would probably have a peloton of around 80 or 90 riders come to the line together.

There would more than likely be a split in that group when they pass the golden kilometre, but in this situation it would regroup afterwards, much like we saw in Stage 4.

Like Outcome 1, there is the possibility of a late attack sticking if they are the correct rider(s), strong enough, and there is no co-operation behind.

If we do get some kind of sprint I would expect Matthews, Kristoff, Degenkolb, Nizzolo, Boasson Hagen, Trentin and possibly Greipel to make it.

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Of course, GVA and Sagan will be there too.

But no-one will want to tow Sagan to the line though!

Prediction

Hmmmm. It’s a tough one.

Sagan is a favourite in every situation, so much so that he won’t win in my opinion. Unless he just decides to ride away from everyone!

I think Outcome 1 is more likely, but I favour some kind of late attack. Whether that be solo or a small group of 5-10 riders getting away. For it to succeed there will need to be at least 1 Etixx/BMC rider in it.

I’ve already mentioned a few riders I like for this situation above, but another few I’d like to throw into the ring are Stybar & Degenkolb.

Stybar because he looked incredibly strong in the Vuelta, has won this race before, not afraid of an uphill sprint and he is reasonably far down on GC at 40 seconds.

Degenkolb is more of a long-shot but if this was last year then he’d be up there with Sagan on the “don’t tow to the line” wagon. He seems to be re-finding his feet after the horrific accident earlier in the year, and I would love to see him go well here. He should be able to cope with the climbs, possibly with that GC selection Option and the uphill sprint is right up his street! Far enough down on GC to find himself in that late attack if he doesn’t fancy it against Sagan in the sprint.

But I’ll go for neither of them and say that Nelson Oliveira winsMovistar are a team without a sprinter and will be going on the offensive. Oliveira isn’t a real danger on GC as he should struggle on Sunday, so could well be given some leeway!

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I did have this down as a Naesen win but the odds are too short and I can’t suggest someone to win and not have backed them!

 

Betting

A day for small stakes and putting eggs in several baskets!

0.1pt EW on the following;

Ion Izagirre @ 250/1

Nelson Oliveira @ 300/1

Navardauskas @ 150/1

Devenyns @ 200/1

Kelderman @ 200/1

 

Thanks again for reading, hope you enjoyed this slightly longer preview. How do you think tomorrow’s stage will play out? As usual, any feedback is greatly appreciated! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.