Tour de France 2018 Stage 5 Preview: Lorient -> Quimper

Today’s Recap

It finished in a bunch sprint, just, after the break of the day were caught just under 2kms to go. The frantic chase to catch them combined with the wide open road saw some riders go down as people tried to move up, with Zakarin being the main GC loser, shipping a shade under a minute.

The sprint was really messy but it was Gaviria who came out on top again thanks to some great work from Richeze, with Sagan and Greipel rounding out the podium.

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Will the fast Colombian be a feature tomorrow? Let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

A day where a lot of things could potentially happen, it looks as if the route has taken inspiration from the Tour du Finistère but has made the parcours a lot more difficult. There are no massive climbs or anything overly challenging gradient wise, but the constant up and down on narrow roads might make things nervous.

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As you can see on the profile, the final 50km of the day are very undulating and include two Cat-3 climbs along with many small uncategorised rises. Potential places for a counter attack depending on the race situation? Interestingly, the time bonus sprint comes at the top of a hill, the Côte de la chappelle de la Lorette which itself averages a very punchy 9.1% for 700m.

I’ve made a Veloviewer profile of the final 15km that you can view here.

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The first rise on the road is the Bonus sprint point and it features ramps of almost 15% on narrow roads. I’m intrigued to see if any of the GC contenders will try to push on and take a few seconds. Will it be worth the effort or will they even get the freedom to do so?

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A small descent and another short ramp follow before several kilometres of flat and descent. After that we then reach the second and easier climb in the final 15km.

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At only 4.7% for close to 1.3km it shouldn’t cause too many issues but it will depend on how splintered the peloton is as to how easy it is to control. The wider road should help in that respect.

The fighting for position will be very intense once we are into the final 2kms as the riders will want to be near the front for when they turn off the two-lane main road onto a narrower one-track street.

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470m at 8.2% sees the riders into the last 400m where the road itself constantly rises and falls ever so slightly as they twist and turn towards the finish line.

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The last corner comes at roughly 200m to go and given its quite sharp nature and road furniture on exit, I don’t think the organisers expect a big group to be coming to the line together. Being in second or third wheel at that point gives you a great chance for the win.

The final kilometre is the exact same as in the Tour de Finistère so you can have a look on the video above to get an idea of what it is like.

How will the stage pan out?

One of those days where a lot of things can happen.

We could see the break go early and stay away to the line if there is no one of real danger for the overall in it, or if BMC are happy enough to let the jersey slip. Although with the team in difficulty for next year then I don’t think that will be the case.

Dependent on how tough the day is race we might actually have some small GC time gaps at the end of the day if people are caught behind splits on the run in, similar to what we had in the Giro stage that Wellens won, albeit that was a much tougher final climb. We might even see some GC attacks if someone is feeling lively: Yates and Valverde could be two protagonists as they are the type to go for it on this finish. The bonus seconds might turn out handy at the end of the race.

Which brings me nicely to the time bonus sprint at the top of the steep 700m hill. Will we see the aforementioned GC guys go for it there? If they do then the race will be incredibly stretched out and difficult to control with only 12km to go once they pass through the point. A small escape group might form there and make it to the line.

If not, it will come down to a gallop up the finish hill with some no doubt trying to string it out on the steeper opening part, hoping to put the faster riders into difficulty. In theory, the likes of Colbrelli, Matthews and Sagan should be able to fight for the victory with the latter starting as the big favourite for the day. However, if the pace has been high on the earlier climbs it might take the sting out of their sprints. Likewise, if we see a massive attack on the final ascent it could be difficult for them. I wouldn’t put it past Sagan being that guy to attack though!

I could name countless riders and the different situations in which they *might* win but I’m going to keep it simple and just go with two. So in the words of Ciara…

One-Two Step

Julian Alaphilippe and Philippe Gilbert.

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There’s no point even separating the two of them here because they are both a very similar type of rider for this finish. Both of them are incredibly explosive and pack a punchy effort in the sprint just after a climb. After their success in two of the four stages so far I think Quick Step will want to continue their dominance at the race tomorrow by trying to take the yellow jersey, again. There is a possibility that they might save their efforts for the Mur de Bretagne on Thursday but this is Quick Step we are talking about: they only know how to win! It will be interesting to see how they approach the finale and if one of them attacks early. I think we might see Gilbert used as an early attacker on the time bonus climb, with Alaphilippe waiting to go all out at the finish. Or the other way round, who knows!

Prediction

Gilbert to be rewarded for his season so far where he has been a super team-mate for others by taking the win and spending another day in the yellow jersey.

TOUR DE FRANCE - STAGE ONE

Betting

Tweeted out my picks when the market went live and prices have shortened a little but would still take what they are at now.

1pt WIN Gilbert @ 20/1 (now 18/1)

1pt WIN Alaphilippe @ 20/1 (now 16/1)

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

BinckBank Tour 2017 Stage 6 Preview; Riemst -> Houffalize

Today’s Recap

An eventful day, although not as eventful as I thought it might be!

In the end though, we had an elite group of riders escape towards the end of the stage. Some missed out originally (Keukeleire / GVA / Gilbert / Greipel) but managed to bridge across not long after.

However, there was no real co-operation in the group with around 6kms to go, resulting in a flurry of attacks.

Vanmarcke tried his luck with 1.5km to go or so but it wasn’t the best timed move. Not long after his acceleration he had to slow down for a sharp, technical turn. This gave Sagan, arguably the best bike handler in the peloton, a relatively easy chance to close him down.

Almost instantly though, Boom counter attacked and that was that. Sagan, who by this point was fed up with doing the donkey work, just sat up to let others chase. Wellens came to the front but it was too late. Boom took not only the stage win but also the GC lead as well!

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Sagan sprinted to second with Van Avermaet taking some bonus seconds in third.

It leaves the GC race still relatively wide open with the top 10 only separated by 36 seconds. Let’s have a look at what’s in store for them tomorrow.

The Route

Another rolling day in the saddle but in Liege-Bastogne-Liege country this time.

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@LasterketaBurua

At 204km, it is the longest stage of the race and it will certainly tire the riders out. The climbing today was a lot more frequent but less severe, whereas tomorrow the gradients of some of the climbs are a lot steeper, or the climbs themselves are longer.

Tomorrow does feature the longest climb of the race; aptly named Mont Rigi. However, it is more than likely too far out to be of any major significance but I live in hope we see a crazy day of racing with early attacks.

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There is a chance of rain throughout the day but whether it materialises or not is a different matter. If the heavens do open though, it could make the stage more selective.

Like I’ve mentioned above, we could see some early moves from some strong GC contenders which would be great. However, the most likely place for the first blow to be landed is the Mur de Saint Roch. Averaging 9.7% for 1.3km it is certainly long and steep enough to cause some issues for the riders.

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According to Cols Cyclisme the climb itself is actually 1.1km and averages 11.5% with a max gradient of 18%. Either way, it is steep!

As you can see in the image above, the steepest sections come right near the start which will seriously knock any speed out of the bunch and consequently make it even tougher. It acts as a great launchpad for the stronger climbers to launch a move to distance the rouleurs.

Once over the summit there is roughly 30km of racing left and it should be full gas to the finish!

The road rolls for the next 20km, featuring three climbs of note and the Golden Kilometre.

The placement of the Golden Km follows a similar pattern to today’s stage, with it just startting after the summit of the Rue Bois de Moines; a 1.2km climb at 7.2%. With the GC being decided by seconds, I’d be very surprised not to see some of the overall candidates go for the bonuses.

The following two climbs aren’t too tough, they’re more similar as to what we had today. However, after a hard days racing, they could be the perfect launchpad for a late attack.

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As for the finish, it is not overly technical, but the hairpin turn they do at roughly 350m out is quite tight.

Furthermore, that last 350m is uphill at an average of 5.7% according to the data on Strava. It should be an exciting finish!

How will the race pan out?

Beats me!

I think we’ll see something similar to what happened today, but it will be selective earlier. The big moment is the climb of Rue Saint Roch and the following few kilometres. If a strong group forms there and they work well together, that could be them away for the day.

There is a chance though that we might see a regrouping in which case another counter-attack will go.

Again though, the race all depends on Sagan.

Everyone seems scared to tow him to the line but on an uphill finish like this, some will fancy their chances. If a group of 5 gets away that involves the World Champion then I think they’ll work together and wait until later into the stage to play games, if at all. However, if we have a group similar in size to today’s stage, then the Slovak will be left with the brunt of the work. Ultimately, he’ll then allow a rider up the road once he gets fed up with their lack of co-operation.

So with that being said, I won’t name an extensive list of favourites, just two riders to cover the above situations.

MyTwoPicksWorth™

Gilbert.

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Unbelievable in the Spring, the Quick Step rider really has had a season to remember and arguably one of his best to date. However, he has gone off the boil a bit really. Well, a stage win in Suisse was his most recent win back in June. Truly appalling by his standards…After having to pull out of the Tour due to illness, he then DNF’d at San Sebastian. I think he is over that illness now though and should be a force to be reckoned with tomorrow. Missing the initial move of big favourites today wasn’t great, but the way he came across with some others indicates that the form is there. I reckon it was just some bad positioning that cost him initially. He’ll love the look of the rise to the finish and is one of the riders who I think will happily ride with Sagan until the sprint. Can he win it? If he’s back to near his spring form then certainly!

Wellens.

The strongest rider of the day in my opinion. He was the first GC rider to launch an attack and looked ever so impressive while doing it. Strong on the flat run in that followed; he covered a few of the moves (closing down a very strong Sagan) and put a probing dig in himself. Not afraid to attack and clearly in good form, I think he’ll try to go solo from around 10km out, if he’s not already tried that earlier! A former winner of this race overall, the predicted bad weather is ideal for him. He loves a bit of rain!

Prediction

I’ll go for a solo winner and Wellens to take the spoils in the rain.

Montreal Grand Prix, 2015

Betting

1pt WIN Wellens @ 9/2

1pt WIN Gilbert @ 9/1

2pts Gilbert to beat Sagan at 5/2

 

Thanks as always for reading, any feedback is greatly appreciated. Who do you think will win tomorrow and how? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

 

Clásica Ciclista San Sebastian 2017 Preview

One of my favourite races of the year returns this weekend for its 37th edition. The Klasikoa marks the shift in the season from post-Tour blues to pre-Vuelta hype! An exciting Spanish one-day race that offers those a chance at glory for Ardennes style riders along with GC talents looking to prove a point after La Grand Boucle.

In 2016 we saw the latter, with Mollema taking a great solo victory.

Cycling: 36th Clasica San Sebastian 2016

He crested the final climb of the day along with Gallopin, Valverde and Rodriguez but the Trek rider decided to seize his opportunity and attack; not looking back until the finishing straight.

Given the two Spaniards discontent for each other, Gallopin was stuck with the world’s hardest negotiating job trying to get the trio to work together. In the end, he did the majority of the work but it was too late. He managed to sprint for 2nd, a slight consolation but it was a case of what could have been for the Frenchman, with Valverde following wheels into third.

Will we see something similar this year?

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

The Route

The organisers have stuck with a very similar route to what we had last year, although there seems to be a lot more climbing earlier in the day compared to 2016.

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@LasterketaBurua

However, I don’t expect the racing to get exciting until the first passage of the Jaizkibel at 127km, just over halfway through the race. Saying that, it probably won’t be until the second passage at roughly 60km to go that we will see the race liven up as this is a potential for a race winning move if the group contains the right riders and teams.

More than likely though, it will come down to the final climb of the Murgil and the descent/run to the line that follows.

Now, I wouldn’t call the climb Tontorra and I’m sure there was a similar issue last year where the organisers labelled the climb Murgil Tontorra when it should be called Murgil Bidea. That’s just me nitpicking though!

The climb itself is short but very sharp. However, its severity does depend on the source you are looking at. On the profile above it is a 1.9km long climb at 10.2% average. That’s close to the 1.7km at 10.3% that Strava suggests it is.

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The profile of which you can view here.

Yet, the organisers on their website claim it is 2.5km at a 9% average. The road does rise a little bit before the climb starts properly but to say it is that length is probably a bit generous. So I think there might be a mistake on their website!

Last year Devenyns managed the Bidea climb in 5’42 according to the Strava segment above. Watching the footage from the race, he seems to crest the summit ~18 seconds after the front 4 so that gives you an idea of the time of the ascent for the front group; 5’24.

Borderline between tipping the scales towards the pure climbers and away from those Ardennes specialists, it should produce an exciting finish.

The race doesn’t end at the summit though and we are often treated to a tactical battle on the false-flat/descent/flat run in to the line.

With no Valverde and Rodriguez here this year, we might actually see a group co-operate if they get away off the front!

Tour Legs?

A big cause of debate is how much does completing a Grand Tour help a riders legs and form. We often hear of riders saying that they feel the benefits of it the following year, but there are also short-term benefits too.

If the race isn’t too hard, then riders can carry their form over to some races the following months and we often see riders use the Vuelta as preparation for the World Championships for example.

The same can be said for the Tour and some of the races that follow at the end of July/start of August.

In fact, the last 10 editions of San Sebastian have been won by a rider who has came from the Tour.

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The table above highlights the top 3 at the last 10 editions of Klasikoa with their GC positions at the Tour in brackets. NR means that the rider did not compete at the Tour.

Looking at the table in more depth, it seems that riding the Tour is key for a good result in San Sebastian with only 6/30 of the podium places occupied by those who didn’t race La Grand Boucle. That trend seems to be even more prevalent as of late as only Meersman and Gilbert have podiumed in the last 5 years without having completed the Tour.

The average GC position of the winner for the last 10 years is 26.8 and with Romain Hardy’s Fortuneo team not competing here, we’ll round-up and go with Dani Navarro for the win…

Joking aside, it does seem that those coming from the Tour have an advantage but these “rules” can be broken!

Let’s have a look at who’ll be in the mix come the end of the race.

Contenders

Mollema.

One of the first four riders to crest the climb and eventual race winner, he returns back this year to defend his title. Having taken his first ever Tour win a few weeks ago he will be buoyed with confidence. Being able to take it “easy” during some of the stages should mean that he is fresher here than he was last year, where he seemed to be dead on his feet by the end of the race. Maybe that will have the opposite effect than what was expected?

Gallopin.

Second place last year, the Frenchman has a very impressive record at this race and it seems to suit him very well. I thought the climb might have been on his limit last year but it is proof that the race suits those who can put out a lot of watts for a short period of time! After his crash in the opening TT he was really attacking in the second half of the Tour, getting into the breakaway every few days. He’s a good candidate for another top 5 result. Team-mate Benoot could also be in the mix.

Kwiatkowski.

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So close to a win in the final TT of the Tour, Kwiatkowski was arguably the best domestique of the whole race. The length and quality of turns he did on the front of the race was incredible. Interestingly though, he lost the majority of his time during the TT on the short climb. So I’m beginning to wonder if he was lost some of his explosivity in exchange for more endurance. Will he be able to follow the best tomorrow?

Landa.

If Kwiatkowski isn’t there, then you would expect Landa to be there or thereabouts. He was incredible for the majority of the Tour but he did seem to tire at the end. Is doing the Giro and Tour finally taking a toll on his legs? I wouldn’t be surprised to see him ride everyone off his wheel tomorrow, or blow up early. I’m leaning towards the latter happening.

Uran.

The Colombian rode the Tour of his life to finish second overall, notching up a stage win along the way. He is clearly in scintillating form but how much has that race taken out of him? This season he seemed to be transforming into more of a one-day racer and he goes well on courses like this; he really should have won Lombardia at the end of last year. He has shown in the past few weeks he has the power to follow the best on the climbs and the speed to finish it off, can he do it again tomorrow?

Barguil.

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The rider who was the focal point of one of my favourite photos from the whole Tour arrives here as Sunweb’s leader, or does he? Dumoulin might have a say in that! Nonetheless, Barguil was incredible over the past three weeks; two stage wins, the KOM jersey and a top 10 on GC. In that final week of the race, he was putting out climbing numbers only the top guys on the overall standings could match. If he has kept that form up, then he should be in the front group on the final climb. Like Uran, he also packs a handy sprint from a small group. This looks like his best opportunity in a while to take a one-day race win!

Van Avermaet.

Bookmaker’s favourite, he is another rider with a good history at this race. He famously crashed into a motorbike while attacking away from everyone in 2015, while last year he couldn’t follow the best on the climb. Fairly disappointing at the Tour, I think we might see a repeat of last year’s performance from him. The same can be said for another rider of a similar build, Gilbert. I think it’s too early after his illness at the Tour for him to go well.

Yates.

Hoping to repeat his brother’s success, the White Jersey winner will come into the race with some pressure on his shoulders. His team tried to set the race up for him last season but he couldn’t follow the pace on the climb, probably because he didn’t have the Tour in his legs! This year he has, but he did look a little bit jaded towards the end of the race. Is he going to do a Mollema though?

There are a handful of possible outsiders who could go well such as Roglic or even Lammertink (Maurits).

As for those who weren’t at the Tour, they’ll find it hard to compete. Nonetheless, I think we could see Lopez, Dumoulin and possibly Fraile be in or around the top 10.

Prediction

Tour legs will shine through so I’ll go for one of the form riders of the race, it is just a case of who…

I have two in mind, either Barguil or Uran.

Hmmmm.

Given his better sprint, I’ll go for Uran to take the win, he is flying just now and a result here will top off a great July for him!

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Betting

I wouldn’t normally go EW on the two of them at their current odds but given that both could sprint for second or third behind a solo winner then I think it is worth it.

1pt EW on them both;

Uran @ 16/1 with Boyles (paying 4 places) would take 14/1 elsewhere

Barguil @ 20/1 with Ladbrokes/Coral

 

Thanks as always for reading, who do you think will win tomorrow? Will we see a small sprint to the line or will a solo rider take the day? Anyway,

They were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

Tour de France 2017 Stage 12 Preview; Pau -> Peyragudes

Today’s Recap

Zzzzzzzzzz.

I’m all for having sprints in the Tour as every rider needs some type of terrain to showcase their talents, but I’m definitely glad we don’t have another one tomorrow.

With regards to what the other sprint teams were doing today, I’m not angry, I’m just disappointed. No guts or courage to try something different. Instead Katusha and Lotto Soudal were happy to help pull all day and they were duly rewarded with 12th and 7th place finishes respectively.

Of course Kittel won again, he’s just too good at this moment!

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Groenewegen finished fast to come home second, with Boasson Hagen rewarding his strong lead-out with a third place. A good day in one sense as I tweeted out to back EBH in-play as I thought the technical run in might suit his team and it did, but I would loved to have seen something more gutsy from the sprint teams.

A big “fair-play” though must go to Bodnar who held off the bunch for oh so long, only to be caught within sight of the finish line.

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

The Route

After three rest-days, we finally have a stage that might entice some action.

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A long day out in the saddle, the riders will have to contend with some rolling roads for the first 55km of the day before they hit the first categorised climb. However, it won’t really be until after 120km that things get serious. The Col de Menté averages a very steep 8.1% for 6.9km. This is where we could see some of the GC teams come to the fore, maybe hoping to apply some early pressure but I think that’s unlikely. Instead, it is more likely to be where the break splits up, especially if we have a larger group.

Once over the summit the riders will tackle 10km of descent, along with 10km of valley roads before the road starts rising again up the Port de Balès. Officially 11.7km at 7.7%, the riders will actually be climbing for ~20km at 5.7%.

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Considering the riders descend almost all the way from the summit, there are only a few flat sections, to the foot slopes of the Col de Peyreseurde, it will be interesting to see if any riders attack early.

The Peyreseurde itself is shorter than Balès and is a lot more consistent, making it more suited for riders who are able to get themselves into a steady pace. Will we see some attacks? I sure hope so and I think we will, it’s just a case of when?!

The descent from the Peyreseurde is very straight forward, I’m sure the riders will be glad to know that, and they’ll hope to carry as much speed as possible into the tough final 3kms. A final kilometre at 13% is a brutal way to end the stage and with all the climbing that comes before riders can blow up massively here and lose a lot of time.

How will the stage pan out?

A classic 50/50 stage where the breakaway could stay away, but there is also a chance that the GC teams control it for the final few climbs and hope to get some bonus seconds.

There are faults with both plans though.

Firstly for the break, it will no doubt be a massive fight to get into the move and I wouldn’t be surprised if we only see the elastic snap after an hour of racing. The issue that lies here is that it will more than likely be strong rouleurs who make the move, with the flatter start being difficult for climbers to get in. No doubt there will be a few who sneak their way into it but it will certainly be tough. The steep gradients of the climbs make it hard for a rouleur to win so in a cruel twist of fate, while the break might be easier for them to make it into, it will be harder for them to win!

There are obviously riders in the peloton who can do both and they’ll be eyeing up this stage.

As for the GC riders going for stage victory; it depends on Sky’s attitude. If they are in their usual controlling mood then there is a good chance we’ll see a GC winner. Froome looks strong just now and is growing into the race but will he feel ready enough to attack the stage? I’m not sure. It is an easy day for Sky to control if they want to, with the tough climbs coming in the second half of the stage.

The crashes of Bardet and Fuglsang today might have a negative impact on the GC riders willingness to go for the win.

Furthermore, with a crazy stage coming the following day, I think we’ll see the break take it tomorrow. So time to play everyone’s favourite game again…

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Candidates

Names in hat time, so I’ll highlight a few possible contenders like always.

Andrew Talansky.

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One of those riders who might not be allowed away if he is to protect team-leader Uran, but on the other hand he could be sent up the road to help later on. If the break gets a big lead then Talansky is a strong enough climber to take the win.

Diego Ulissi.

The UAE rider has been very quiet so far this race, maybe saving his energy to attack on a stage? The steep gradients tomorrow should suit the punchy Italian and he is in relatively good form, finishing 2nd at the recent Italian National Championships. Although the length of the climbs might be tough, but he has went well in hard stages at the Giro in the past. Meintjes has struggled a bit on GC so far, and I think UAE will allow Ulissi to go on the offensive tomorrow, will he take his chance?

Fabio Felline.

Another rider who hasn’t been able to take his own chances so far due to having to help team-leader Contador. Yet, the Spaniard hasn’t been great this Tour (as was almost expected) and I think we’ll see Trek adopt an aggressive approach to the rest of the race. Felline isn’t known for his mountain climbing, but like Ulissi he is good on the punchy stuff. He’s a strong rider who’s having a great season and a good result tomorrow would take that even further.

Philippe Gilbert.

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Talking about riders who’ve had great seasons…Gilbert has had an incredible 2017 so far and he is surely targeting a Tour stage win at some point. He was active in the break on Planche des Belles Filles and was actually the last man standing, putting in a very impressive display of climbing. Tomorrow is a whole different ballgame but he is certainly not a rider to be discounted. Like many others, it all depends if he’s given the freedom and doesn’t have to work for his team leader. He did a lot of work today pulling at the front of the bunch, stretching his legs for a good hit-out tomorrow! Or that’s what I’m making of it anyway. 😜 A wild card given the climbing talent here but you never know.

Prediction

Break stays away by around a minute and Diego Ulissi takes a memorable victory.

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Betting

0.4pt EW Ulissi @ 100/1 (Boyles – 4 places)

0.25pt EW Talansky @ 150/1 (Ladbrokes/Coral/PP/Betfair)

0.25pt EW Felline @ 150/1 (Boyles – 4 places)

0.1pt EW Gilbert @ 300/1 (PP/BF)

 

Thanks as always for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated. Who do you think will win tomorrow? Will the break survive all the way or will we see a GC battle for the stage win? I’m just hoping for a good day’s racing! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

De Brabantse Pijl 2017 Preview

De Brabantse Pijl 2017 Preview

With the cobbled classics now finished, the peloton’s attention now turns to the Ardennes with the “warm-up” event of De Brabantse Pijl.

However, it’s offensive to just call it a warm-up race as it is an exciting race in its own right!

Last year after some probing and strong attacks throughout the day, it all came down to a charge up the final climb from an elite group of five. Vakoc stormed up it, dropping everyone, and holding on to the line to take what was his third win of the season.

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It was a good day for me as I had Vakoc at 33/1. I’m not sure we’ll see those type of prices on him again though, but I may be wrong. You’ll just have to find out at the end of this!

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

The Route

More of the same as we saw in the 2016 edition with a route that remains mainly unchanged, although this year the race is 6km shorter.

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A relatively tough day out in the saddle with 26 climbs, some of which are cobbled. Although there is more often than not space to avoid the cobbles themselves and go up the paved section at the side!

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The climbs on the day aren’t too tough, but if they are ridden aggressively gaps certainly can be made. Almost as important is the flat section just after the summit, because riders will be on the limit. Last year the winning move was made at the 4km to go mark, right at the top of the penultimate climb.

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The Bora rider was unable to follow the five out ahead once they rounded the corner and that was race over.

I’m not going to run through all of the climbs individually, but there is a nifty website that lists all 26 of them that you can view here!

The final climb of the day, Schavei, is 500m long and averages roughly 6%.

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There is time for a regrouping once over the top, but on the contrary, riders can maintain a gap all the way to the finish line.

Will it be a reduced sprint or solo winner this year?

Well, there is one factor that could have an influence…

Weather Watch

Yep, you guessed it; more racing in Belgium and more windy conditions!

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Source: Windfinder

With a constant and fairly strong Westerly wind, the riders will face a variety of wind directions as they go through the race.  Starting mainly with a cross-headwind, before some cross winds, then a cross-tail on the run in to the closing circuit.

As a viewer this has amped up my excitement for this race even more, not so much as a preview writer though because it adds another element of unpredictability to it all. I’m sure the peloton will have a similar view with some wind-natives licking their lips at the prospect.

How will the race pan out?

Before I had looked at the forecast I thought the race would be an attacking one this year, with the peloton continuing their aggressive racing from the cobbles classics onto the lumpier events.

The wind should ensure that it is aggressive and there will be plenty of teams looking to take advantage and I think we’ll see some large splits out on the road before we reach our final circuit.

Which in turn should make the last 60km of the race even more attacking because there in theory should be less team-mates to control things.

Or at least I’m hoping so!

Contenders

Quick Step come here with two big favourites in the form of Vakoc and Gilbert. The reigning champion looked good in Catalunya, building some nice form for his assault on the Ardennes. A brute of a rider, he really comes into his own on this type of terrain and certainly has a chance to double up tomorrow. Of course in Gilbert they have a rider who is on exceptional form. He’s won this race twice in the past (2011/2014/2017?) so knows what is required here! They have some strong domestiques and I expect them to be one of the main teams to try to split things up in the wind, hoping to drop the “sprinters”.

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QS aren’t the only strong Belgian team here, Lotto Soudal also have a stacked team with them! I imagine Wellens and Benoot will be team leaders and they are a duo that can certainly challenge for the race win. The former has had a quieter part in his season recently but he looked good following the moves on the stage into San Sebastian in Pais Vasco, and I think he’ll go well this coming week. His lack of explosivity is a downfall, but he is sure to go on the attack at some point. If no one follows quickly, then he could be tough to bring back!

I was disappointed to see Benoot not picked for Paris Roubaix after he has had a terrible cobbled classics campaign due to bad luck. This type of course suits him though and he is much more explosive than his team-mate and I think he’s a dark horse for this race.

Matthews has a great chance to finally win this race after being close on several occasions. In cracking form, his 6th on the TT in Pais Vasco was incredible, he might approach this race differently than in previous years. Normally would hold off for the sprint, but this year he might have to attack as his team doesn’t look that great. However, I fear for him in the wind!

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His old team Orica have a few good options to play tomorrow. In Gerrans and Impey they have two strong riders who can follow attacks but also pack a fast sprint after a tough day. I can’t see them chasing everyone down like they did last year!

BMC have a team packed full of young talent who will be looking to impress, lead by a relative veteran compared to his team-mates; Ben Hermans. After a barnstorming start to the season, he’s went off the boil recently but will be hoping to go well in the Ardennes so he should be getting back to his best shape here. If not, keep an eye out for Vliegen as a Kirby inspired, “cheeky side bet”.

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Bahrain bring with them a team to support Gasparotto and Colbrelli. Well, when I say support they might be there for the first 100km. The two Italians can mix it up in the sprint after a tough day and both finished in the top 6 last year. Gasparotto has been disappointing this year and has recently returned from a training camp so it will be interesting to see how he goes. Conversely, Colbrelli has been going well for most of the year so you would expect him to decline in form soon, but that probably won’t happen until after Amstel. Like Matthews, I fear for both of them in the windy conditions!

I don’t think Coquard will have a chance this year.

A few other, some less well-known, names to conjure with are Haas and Sbaragli (Dimension Data), Meurisse (Wanty), Bouet (Fortuneo) and Tusveld (Roompot).

Prediction

We’ll get a hectic first half of the race before we get to the circuit and the peloton will be split in the wind. That will then make the closing laps even more aggressive than normal and luck will be as important as form, and so will having strong team-mates.

I’ll go for a rider who’s been down on luck recently, but that will change here. He’s a great punchy classics man and this route suits him perfectly, but will just have to hope Gilbert isn’t the QuickStep representative up front…

Benoot to win his first pro race!

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It also gives me a good opportunity to share my favourite cycling related Instagram post…

View this post on Instagram

Forza Tiesj Benoot! 🎉 @tiesj #ohn

A post shared by Sporza (@sporza.be) on

Betting

Hoping #WinningWednesdays can continue…

1pt EW Benoot @40/1 with Bet365

0.5pt EW Vliegen @28/1 with Bet365

 

Thanks for reading as always and any feedback is greatly appreciated. Who do you think will win the race and how will they do it?! Amstel men’s and women’s previews will be next for me this weekend. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.