Volta Catalunya 2017 Stage 2 Preview; Banyoles -> Banyoles

Today’s Recap

Well that was bitterly disappointing. No fireworks, no real attacks on the climbs and a proper bunch sprint in the end. Nonetheless, that shouldn’t take away from Cimolai’s great win, as he pipped Bouhanni to the line.

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It was Sbaragli who rounded out the podium for Dimension Data.

I know I’m often wrong with my preview’s but it has been a while since I’ve been that far off. Let’s move swiftly on to tomorrow and it’s stupidly long TTT!

The Route

Long, rolling Team Time Trial that will have a massive impact on the rest of the race.

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Profile once again provided by @LasterketaBurua. Although in TT and TTT tradition, I feel that I need to make my own one on Strava! So here it is, you can view it here too, for those that like something more interactive.

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Although I somehow seemed to have gained an extra kilometre out on course compared to the official distance. I think I may have made the start/finish line ever so slightly further up the road, oh well!

The course is populated with lots of short climbs and fast descents, with rolling terrain in between. The climbs aren’t overly tough, with most of them being 1-2km and averaging 2-3%, but on a TT bike that will take its toll.

The hardest ascents they’ll face are; the Carretera Del Veïnat De Deri Climb which averages 6% for 1.4kms; the Repetxo Orfes (1.4km at 3.7%); and the Esponellà-Martís (1.9km at 4.1%).

I’m very intrigued to see how the riders deal with the Carretera, considering it has ramps of over 15% and comes within the first 10kms of the stage. You don’t want the climbers blowing the rouleurs’ gasket already!

The finish line does kick up at the end but at only around 2% for a couple of hundred metres.

Contenders

Pffft, it’s hard to tell.

We hardly ever get TTTs of this length throughout the season, I mean, the World Championships in the past two years have been shorter!

BMC will be hoping to pick up from where they left off in Tirreno.

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They were exceptional in that race but they don’t have their strongest team here, substituting out a few of the big guys for some climbers. On this terrain that may help but I think it will hinder them more than it will benefit them. Nonetheless, they still can’t be discounted. Watching them doing a TTT is like poetry in motion!

Sky will be lamenting me putting the curse on them for the Tirreno TTT and their wheels literally falling off that effort. They have an incredibly strong squad with them for the mountains and some very strong TT engines. The hilly parcour certainly helps the likes of Landa and Nieve who aren’t the best time trial riders. They should podium, if not win, and put their crack squad of climbers in a great position before the mountain stages.

Movistar always perform well in TTTs in Spain. They were beaten by less than a second by Sky in the Vuelta TTT last year. With Castroviejo in their team they have massive talent but the rest of the squad looks a bit thin in comparison to the one that they took to Tirreno. Will home advantage overcome that? They also have the benefit of being the last GC team down the start ramp.

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The words “Team Time Trial” would normally bring smiles to the bosses at Quickstep, but they have a very weak team compared to their top riders. I fear Dan Martin might lose a fair bit of time.

The same can be said for Trek, who on paper have some good time trialists but they aren’t notoriously a good TTT outfit. Contador and Mollema will be playing catch-up the rest of this week, which should make for exciting racing at least!

One team aside from the Big 3 favourites that I do like for this TTT are Orica Scott. The Aussie team used to be the par excellence for this discipline but they lost their way. However, they recently seemed to have managed to their fortunes around and have a very strong all-round squad with them here. I’m expecting to be pleasantly surprised by them!

Prediction

It will be tough to beat one of the Big 3 and I would actually favour Team Sky out of the trio. I do think that Orica can manage a podium spot if not better!

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Betting

No value in the top of the order. Orica do offer a good option.

1pt EW Orica @25/1 with Bet365 (They’re offering 5th odds for 3 places – would take down to 20s)

Plus this H2H treble 3pts on @ 2.83/1 (would take down to 2.2/1)

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Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win this stupidly long TTT stage? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

Women’s Ronde van Drenthe 2017

Women’s Ronde van Drenthe 2017

After the rip-roaring success of last weekend’s race and preview, I’m back this weekend to look at a one-day race and its rubbish climb…

No, seriously! The riders have to traverse the VAM-berg which is genuinely just a grass and road covered rubbish dump. How scenic!

Last year the race was won by Chantal Blaak after a group of 4 made it clear on the final cobbled section. Managing to work well for the remaining 60km of the race, before duking it out in a sprint.

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

The Route

More of the same this year in terms of parcours and route, with the race being extended by 14km to 152km in total.

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We are treated to an official profile from the organisers that appears as if it was made on Microsoft Paint.

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One ascent of the VAM-berg is followed by 7 sectors of pavé, totalling 13.2km of cobbled action! As we saw last year, this is one of the places where a race-winning move can be made. However, it is more often than not the double passage of the VAM-berg which is a launchpad for an attack.

The climb itself is short and sharp, but it’s the location at the start of the season which means it causes a lot of damage to the peloton.

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It’s only a few hundred metres long but does kick up to 20% in some places!

The finishing circuit around Hoogeveen is pretty simple and it’s all about either working well to maintain a lead, or the peloton co-operating to bring the race back together for a sprint.

There is one other factor that normally has an impact on the race and that is the wind.

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Wind forecast near Hoogeveen (Source: Windfinder)

The wind direction is favourable for cross-winds but the speed isn’t. Although you never know, a determined (and tired) peloton can still be ripped apart.

I’m fairly confident that the racing will be aggressive and we won’t see a full bunch sprint. There might be a situation where we have a group of 20 riders coming to the line together but that will be the most!

Contenders

Where better to start than with the defending champion and her team?! Boels are still without a win this season, a far cry from last year’s dominating start. However, they once again arrive with the strongest team on paper and 4 potential winners. Chantal Blaak will obviously be wanting to retain her crown and she seems to have started the season in good form, finishing 2nd at Omloop. She’ll probably want a tough selective race like last year, hoping to win a sprint from a small group. Or of course like all the Boels riders, they may play the numbers game up front and she might solo to the win. A rider very much similar to Blaak is Amy Pieters. The Dutchwoman has been exceptional form at the start of the year and without bad luck hampering her, she could have picked up a few better results by now. I imagine she’ll be reeling with herself after only managing second in Le Samyn and this would be a good race to turn it around! World Champion Amelie Diedriksen will be kept as the sprinter for the team, so I think it will be tough for her to win. Likewise, Anna van der Breggen may struggle in her first race of the season after skipping Strade due to illness. However, you can never write off the European and Olympic champion and she will certainly find the VAM-berg to her liking, she has won La Flèche the past two years in a row!

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Anna van der Breggen winning La Flèche

Team Sunweb send a very balanced squad with them and one that could certainly challenge Boels. Rider of the season so far (an award I have made up just now) Lucinda Brand will arrive as their main charge. She was strong in her opening race, winning Omloop, and was very unlucky in Strade to finish off of the podium. Clearly in great form, you would have to expect her to be near the front whatever happens tomorrow! Ellen van Dijk has had a very consistent start to the season, finishing in the top 10 of all three races she’s started. An incredibly tough all-round rider, she has the time trial abilities to get and maintain a gap on the bunch. Young classic prodigy Floortje Mackaij is a good option for a sprint after a tough day, but as we saw in Strade, she’s not afraid to go on the attack either. Likewise, Leah Kirchmann can mix it up over the climbs and in the sprint, I imagine she’ll play a similar role to van der Breggen.

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Floortje Mackaij winning Gent Wevelgem

Marianne Vos will be hoping for a winning return to a race that she’s not attended since clinching the title in 2013. With the climb not being too long, she should be able to follow any attacks and if she makes the front group then she’s an obvious danger. In Lauren Kitchen and Anouska Koster she has two strong team-mates who can help keep her protected for a lot of the race.

Orica Scott arrive with another strong team but it seemed to be a case of “too many chefs” at Strade. Unlike Boels, they haven’t managed to get the great rider to keen worker balance right. However, with the likes of Garfoot, Van Vleuten and Elvin they will certainly still be in contention for a good result.

Canyon SRAM also arrive with a few options for the race but I think Hannah Barnes will be the protected rider. The Brit has started the season well, grabbing a top 10 in Le Samyn after attacking late in the race with Van Dijk. She has a fast sprint on her, but has been turning herself into a very good classics rider as of late and is certainly one to keep an eye on.

We do have the likes of Hosking, D’Hoore and Wild here, but as I’ve said above, I think it will be very unlikely if we get a bunch sprint here.

Prediction

This race really hinges on the attitude of Sunweb and Boels, they both have incredibly strong teams. Brand and Blaak are the obvious favourites for the race, but I think they could mark each other out of it and instead that will open the door for their team-mates. I think we’ll see a similar race to last year where a selection is made on the cobbles, rather than the VAM-berg. If the group contains a rider from Boles, Sunweb, Orica, Canyon, WM3 and one of the sprinters teams then that will be it gone for the day. Obviously there might be more than one rider from each of those teams and then we get a really tactical battle!

After being horribly unlucky in her first two races, and picking up a second place just over a week ago, I fancy Amy Pieters to pick up Boels’ first win of the season here. She’s clearly in good form and loves the cobbles. Not only packing a strong sprint after a tough day, she’s a very attacking rider so won’t be afraid to take it up from far out.

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Coverage

You should be able to follow the race live on Saturday at 1pm GMT, either here or here.

 

Thanks for reading as always and any feedback is greatly appreciated! Who do you think will win? Will we see a dominant display from Sunweb and Boels? Or will an outsider sneak away? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Women’s Strade Bianche 2017 Preview; Siena -> Siena

Women’s Strade Bianche 2017 Preview; Siena -> Siena

The second season of the Women’s World Tour kicks off and what a race to start it with! Strade Bianche itself has been ran as a women’s race alongside the men’s event for the past two years, with this year being the third edition. It’s a hard race to predict (getting my excuses in nice and early) with it being the first race for many riders and form being a bit unknown. Nonetheless, Strade is always action packed with crashes, attacks and some testing conditions at times. Whoever wins is more than deserving of their crown!

Boels Dolmans are undefeated in this race, with Guarnier winning in 2015 and Deignan (then Armitstead) winning last year’s event.

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Can they make it three in a row this year?

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

The Route

*Word of warning, these profiles are a train wreck and none of them match up. But I’ll persevere!*

A tough day from the off as the riders face some rolling terrain as they head out on their loop from Siena.

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In fact, they face their first section of dirt roads after only 11.4km!

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I’m not sure if there is an issue with the profile or the route map, but the two don’t match up together, we have two extra dirt-road sections at the start of the race. Going off of Google Maps, the 4.7km and 4.4km sections are paved, normal road. So just ignore the 2nd and 3rd bits of Strade on the profile!

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That doesn’t look like Strade Bianche to me! (The first major climb of the race after 17km – just before Fontazzi)

Typical of Italian road books and profiles, the climb just looks like a little blip. Yet, it’s 5.7km long and averages 5.3% in gradient (Strava segment can be viewed here). It’s not the toughest ascent the women’s peloton will face this year but considering it’s position so early on in the race and how aggressively the bunch rides in these types of races: I would not be surprised if some riders get spat out the back.

Once over the top we have a descent -> plateau (no gravel here either) -> descent (there is gravel here).

The most challenging section of white roads comes at 58.5km into the race and is 9.5km long. This part features several sharp, short ascents mixed in with fast descents and some false flats. Taking it as a whole, it’s 9.5km at 1.8% but that certainly doesn’t tell the whole story!

We then have a lot of undulating normal road (how boring eh?!), before reaching the final 20km. Again, the following profile does not match what’s on the map, or even the other profile above. In fact, the profile below has the race ending at 121km, whereas the other profile has it as 127km long. Eugh.strade-bianche-we-2017-1480508255

There are two short sections of strade before we get to this final 20km profile that we see above.

This part of the course is constantly up and down, and it will really sap the riders legs. A big attack can be made on the final section of gravel, with the steep gradients on offer. From there, any riders left together at the front will possibly leave it to a showdown up the final climb to the square in Siena like we saw last year.

With some ramps of 16%, it’s a real grind at the end of a tough day!

How will the race play out?

As I mentioned above, women’s racing is often very attacking from the gun and I expect that to be no different on Saturday. It’s very unlikely we’ll see a breakaway get a substantial lead, if at all! With the first climb (5.7km at 5.3%) coming after only 17km, I think we’ll see the first selection made here, with the pace of the peloton being slowly ramped up.

From there on, it will be a race of attrition and teams attentively following any moves at the head of the race, making sure to try to get someone up the road whenever there is an attack. Therefore having a strong team is very important so that you can rotate attacks and share the work.

However, the race will more than likely be won by the strongest rider on the day, who’s also had their fair share of luck! Speaking of which…

Contenders

Boels Dolmans have won this race on both occasions and will be looking to make it three in a row this year. They have an incredibly talented squad with three very plausible winners in their line-up. Defending champion Lizzie Deignan will be hoping for a repeat of last year’s great performance. She was exceptionally strong that day, riding Johansson and Niewiadoma off her wheel on the final climb. However, she didn’t seem the same rider in the latter half of last year and without any racing so far this season, I’m just not sure if she’ll manage a repeat win. Oddly enough, I do think Anna van der Breggen can go well, even with no racing in her legs!

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The Dutchwoman continued on from here breakthrough 2015, with an equally brilliant 2016; managing to win La Flèche, the European Road Championships and the Olympics! Win wise, it was actually a worse year, so I’m sure she’ll be motivated to get back onto the top step of the podium more this year. This race presents a great opportunity to start off on the right foot. One of the best climbers in the peloton, she’s not a rider you can give much leeway!

Finally, to finish off the trio of Boels’ riders is inaugural World Tour Winner, Megan Guarnier. Like her team-mate AVB, Guarnier is one of the best natural climbers in the peloton but she also packs a good sprint after a tough day. Already with some racing in her legs she won’t want to go much longer without a win.

Away from Boels, the most successful current rider in the peloton, Marianne Vos, returns to road racing with her new team WM3. She’s an exceptionally strong rider, yet she’s not the best climber so this race doesn’t suit her perfectly. I’m sure she’ll love the gravel sections, considering her cyclo-cross background but instead I think it will be her younger team-mate who takes the limelight. Kasia Niewiadoma is arguable the biggest climbing and one day talent in the peloton at the moment. At just 21 years old, last season she managed to finish 2nd at this race, 4th at Flèche and picked up a few GC wins to boot. Finishing in the second group at Omloop (a race that doesn’t really suit her), highlights to me that she is starting this season well and can’t be discounted!

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Elisa Longo Borghini will arrive as Wiggle High5’s protected rider. The Italian has started the season in splendid form, picking up a solid 5th place at Omloop and like Niewiadoma that race doesn’t suit her characterisitcs. What I found more impressive though was her display the next day in Hageland. She seemed to be in every move that went off the front on the climbs and she still had enough energy left to attack in the final 10km, nearly holding off the bunch. Having finished 3rd and 4th here in the past and with Claudia Lichtenberg to support her, I think she’s a shoe-in for the podium again.

Those riders are the favourites but there are certainly others who can upset the apple-cart. Like with my men’s Samyn preview, I’ve written a lot more than expected already, so I’ll just briefly highlight some names to watch out for!

Canyon SRAM: Amialiusik, Cecchini (Think it’s too early for Ferrand-Prevot).

Cervélo-Bigla: Moolman.

Orica-Scott: Van Vleuten, Garfoot.

Sunweb: Kirchmann.

Prediction

I’ve had this rider in mind for this race for the past week and I’ve seen/heard nothing to convince me otherwise. Boels’ dry spell will continue and instead it will be Italian, Elisa Longo Borghini who takes the win! As I’ve said above, she looked exceptionally strong on the climbs in Hageland so she must already be in scintillating form. Having not finished outside the top 4 in this race, she knows what’s in store and now a year older and more experienced she ticks all the boxes for me.

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Coverage

According to the UCI website, an hour of the race is supposed to be televised…

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but I haven’t seen anything on the Eurosport schedule to suggest it will be. It might be on the Player rather than the actual channel? I hope we do get something as it’s going to be a very exciting race! Furthermore, it would be a disappointment for the first WWT race not to have coverage, considering that is one of the main improvements touted for this year. If we do get something I’ll most certainly tweet it out!

Nonetheless, thanks for reading and as usual, any feedback is greatly appreciated! Who do you think will win? I don’t normally beg for RTs and Shares but if you could be ever so kind and help to raise the profile of the race and some discussion on social media then that would be great 👍 . Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.