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 9 Preview; Orihuela -> Cumbre del Sol

Today’s Recap

Once again the breakaway stayed away to contest the stage. I really thought that some of the other GC teams would chip in and help Sky chase but it was not to be! As much as I love a breakaway, it is going to make the remaining two weeks long in terms of preview writing. Although I guess we can view it as getting to watch a race on two fronts, if we’re trying to be positive about it all!

Majka and Alaphalippe were the strongest riders on Xorret de Catí in the break, but they played a very tactical game; constantly stalling and then attacking. This allowed Polanc to come back on the descent but in the end, the outcome was inevitable in a sprint finish to the line.

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The Frenchman won the stage with Polanc pipping Majka for second.

Behind, Froome made his way up the GC group on the climb and ended up dropping everyone except Contador, with the Trek rider regaining contact just as they crested. While their attacks were strong, they only gained 17 and 28 seconds on the majority of their competitors. It leaves the top 5 within a minute of the race lead, with all of the top 10 less than 2 minutes behind Froome.

Plenty still to play for as we head into our final stage before the first rest day.

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

The Route

Lots of flat ->short, steep climb -> flat -> longer version of short, steep climb.

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The riders won’t face many difficulties in terms of terrain tomorrow apart from the Alto de Puig Llorança. Although with this being the Vuelta, a fairly flat day still has almost 2000m of elevation gain.

On their first passage, they’ll almost complete the full climb but continue straight on instead of turning off.

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The final ascent averages 10.2% for 3.7km with maximum ramps of 23%. It’s another steep one!

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Used back in the 2015 Vuelta, tomorrow’s route is pretty much a carbon copy of that route.

Dumoulin won that day with Froome second, will the Brit go one better tomorrow?

How will the stage pan out?

With the stage travelling along the coast, I had high hopes for some crosswinds and echelon action.

However, that doesn’t appear to be on the cards. We will get some crosswinds at points on the route, but at only 12km/h or so, I can’t see them being of any effect.

There will be a headwind in parts too tomorrow which could be bad news for the break. Although that was apparently the conditions they were facing today and that didn’t hinder their motivation and ability to fight out for the stage.

As mentioned above, I was shocked that we didn’t get a team like Trek help Sky chase down the break so that Contador could go for the stage win. I guess in the long run it is a good tactic, as it will wear the current leader’s team-mates down; with the aim of hoping to benefit from it later in the race.

I also thought Sky would want Froome to get a stage win, but they seem fairly content at doing the bare minimum to retain the jersey to counter-act the tactics employed by the other teams (see above point). Maybe they’ll hope he’ll take the TT? We can’t have a Tour-Vuelta winner not take home a stage in either race!

Nonetheless, tomorrow will be probably be a rinse and repeat of today’s stage.

Big fight early on to get into the break -> assess who is there -> no one of real danger then Sky will let the gap grow -> no other team takes up the chase with them -> race on two fronts.

Time to play that game. Again.

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Break Candidates

The issue with tomorrow’s stage is that the first part of the race is conducive for a completely different rider to make the move compared to one who would excel on the final climb. Well, traditionally that’s how it is!

With the flat start we should see a lot of strong men in the peloton make the move, with a few more natural climbers littered in the mix too.

Tactics will then important as there are almost 40kms from the summit of the first passage until the foot slopes of the final assault. We could well see a situation where someone attacks from further out and holds on a la Lutsenko.

So once again I’ll throw a few darts into the mix…

Jaime Roson.

Strong in Burgos recently, the Caja rider was somewhat in GC contention a few stages earlier so would never have been allowed much freedom to go on the attack. However, he now sits at 5 minutes down and should be given a lot more leeway. A punchy climber who should be able to cope with this type of ascent. He packs a fast sprint at the top of a climb which could see him take the win!

Luis Leon Sanchez.

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The term “pissed off” was probably an understatement as to how the Astana rider was feeling after his complete miscalculation on Stage 6. The legs are clearly there but he’ll have to more astute this time around. A rider who fits the bill of “good rouleur but strong on the climbs” perfectly, I’d be surprised not to see him up the road tomorrow.

Jack Haig.

He was Orica’s 4th rider in the top 16 at the close of yesterday’s stage, but an untimely puncture at the bottom of the final climb today saw him drop way out of contention. Orica have been relatively conservative in terms of their tactics so far, not even making it in the break yet. But with their triple threat not firing on all cylinders, they might have to change things up.

Marc Soler.

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Arguably the strongest rider in the break on the final climb Stage 5, it is a shame he started so far behind Lutsenko. He’s stuck with the GC group the past few days and he even put in a couple of digs early on the climb today. His form seems to be on the up and if he comes to the climb in a group then he will be tough to beat on the ascent!

Vuelta Picks

Safe Pick – Aru (Any GC rider)

Same logic as for today’s stage, pick someone who will be finishing near the front of the GC riders and forgot about a possible break win. This also applies to those who are hoping to play it more conservatively for the KOM competition.

Wongshot – Soler (Any Break rider)

Once again, same as today. Be bold, chase those stage wins and let me win that KOM prize 😉

Lanterne Rouge Pick – Vanbilsen

Name in a hat.

Prediction

Orica to be attacking and Haig to take the win!

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With the way that Orica are riding just now, they are on course for a bit of a “close but no cigar” Vuelta. Chaves/Yates/Yates aren’t cuasing Froome too much concern at the moment. The Colombian is doing well sitting in second place, but he seems to almost be content with a podium and I can’t see him taking any leaps forward tomorrow. Hunting for a stage win and getting it will take the pressure off the team and the confidence could help their leaders. Haig himself was very impressive in Poland, taking his first ever pro win. He was an exceptionally talented junior and it seems to have now translated into his professional career. Will his first win soon be followed up by his first GT stage?!

Betting

Soler and LLS are too short for my liking with an unpredictable stage so I’m going to change them out for a couple of longer shots…It’s also the weekend so yolo…

0.8pt EW Haig @ 150/1

0.4pt EW Roson @ 150/1 

0.3pt EW Ludvigsson @ 400/1

0.5pt EW Bennett @ 125/1

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Will we once again see a break make it all the way? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.