Vuelta a Andalucia 2018 Stage 2 Preview; Otura › La Guardia de Jaén

Today’s Recap

A bit of a quieter stage than what I expected, Astana decided to finally take up the pace making at around 50km to go. This was enough to thin the peloton down and catch the break, but we still had plenty of fast-men left to compete for the win.

In the end, Boudat just pipped a prematurely celebrating Modolo for the win. Although it has to be said, we’ve not yet seen the photo finish so I’m sure some might feel aggrieved! Ag2Rs Venturini finished in third.

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With the sprinters having their chance to shine on today’s stage tomorrow will give the mountain goats an opportunity.

The Route

We’re only on the second day of racing but we’re treated to the Queen Stage of the race.

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At only 141km in length, it is a fairly short day in the saddle for the riders but some of the climbs to pack a punch. The opening two-thirds of the stage will see the breakaway form and build up an advantage as although some of the climbs are reasonably long, they’re not steep enough for any crazy early attacks.

That might however change on the Puerto de Valdepeñas. At an average of 7.5% for 3.7km it is steep enough for a team to really up the pace and put some of the domestiques in opposition squads into difficulty. Cresting at 40km to go it is too far out for any serious move but I would expect to see a thinning of the bunch here.

The following 30km before we hit the final climb of Allanadas consist mainly of descent or climbing.

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The climbs that split up the descent aren’t too tough, but 3.3km at 5.5% and 5km at 4.2% will certainly disrupt the rhythm in the peloton. They’ll continue through the town of La Guardia de Jaén before starting the brutally steep final climb, although to be fair, the road even climbs through the town itself.

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Source: Altimetrias

5.5km at 9.6% is tough enough if it was a steady climb but the closing 3.3kms average close to 12%. This will be a sufferfest for most of the bunch!

If we get some tough racing earlier in the day then expect the time gaps to be massive come the end of the stage. The finish climb was last used in the 2015 edition of this race when Froome motored away from Contador and won by a resounding 29 seconds which was enough to lead the GC by 2 seconds. Behind riders lost a shed-load of time, with 10th place finisher Van den Broek coming home 1’38 down for example.

Contenders

Only the best climbers and those who are in form will be able to compete here. The result of this stage will go a long way as to shape the GC so a lot of the contender here will be the same as I mentioned in my GC preview. So I’m not going to waste your time with a massive speel about the candidates; I’ll keep it short and sweet!

Landa – If he’s in good form this is his stage to lose. Great on steep ramps he’ll want to gain as much of an advantage before the TT. His form is the unknown though.

LL Sanchez – His form is definitely known and he is flying. Normally a finish like this would be too tough for him but he seems to be in the shape of his life. It will still be difficult for him to win it, but coming home within 20 seconds is a good result.

Fuglsang – If LLS isn’t going well then no doubt the Dane will be up there for Astana as a ready replacement. In surprisingly good early season form by his standards he’ll be aiming for a top 3 at least.

Poels – Terribly disappointing in Valenciana, with a race in his legs will he go any better? On paper this is a good stage but we’ll just have to wait and see.

Antunes – He’s shown in the past to be explosive enough but can he compete on terrain like this? He might be the type of rider to benefit from not being too well-known and having a good awful TT.

Prediction

I’ll just stick with what I said in my GC preview; form is king at the moment so LLS to win.

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Or we see #AFreeLanda ride away from everyone on the aptly named Allanda climb. Or He Who Must Not Be Named just takes the piss.

All of which are likely possibilities.

Betting

6pts on LLS to beat Hermans at 5/6

 

Thanks as always for reading! I’m looking forward to the end of the stage, should be a great spectacle. Who do you think will win? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Vuelta a Andalucia 2018 GC Preview

A race that has been dominated by Alejandro Valverde in the past, he’s won 5 out of the last 6 editions, it was the same last year where he just pipped Alberto Contador to the title by one second.

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Thibaut Pinot was third at only 6 seconds back but with none of those riders here this week, we have a chance for a new winner.

First though, let’s look at what is in store for the riders over the week.

The Route

As I’ll be doing in-depth daily stage previews, this section will be a little truncated. All of the following profiles are thanks to @LasterketaBurua.

Stage 1.

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An interesting opening stage with a lot of climbing in the third quarter of the day. This could turn into a GC day but the likely outcome will be a reduced sprint of some kind.

Stage 2.

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Only the second day but we have the Queen stage of the race. At only 141km of racing the stage is short but it is filled with climbs. The finish up to Alto de Las Allandas could see some massive gaps. Those with a poor TT will have to go full gas here, it should be a great watch!

Stage 3.

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The only stage the should see a full bunch sprint but we do have a lack of quick-men here. Who will control the day?

Stage 4.

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A long day in the saddle but it is all about the final 1.5km; a short but steep ramp. Both the climbers and puncheurs will fancy it.

Stage 5.

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A TT to finish that has a 5km section of gravel that averages just over 2%. It should be one for the more traditional TT riders, but it is short enough for some surprise names to get in the mix. Will the GC title be decided on the final day?

With the stages briefly covered, let’s have a look at who might be challenging for the win at the end of the week.

But first…

The Elephant in the Room

This is Froome’s first race after his AAF was announced/leaked. Now, the decision to have him race is one that divides opinion amongst cycling fans but I’m fairly certain you will all know what side of the argument I am on. It will be interesting to see how he and Sky approach the race. Will they take it easy and hope to slip under the radar (well, as much as they can) or will they continue on as if nothing has happened?

Either way, there is no way that they can come out of this one, ahem, cleanly.

If Froome takes it easy then the accusations will fly suggesting that he needed medication to go well etc. Whereas if he goes full gas and features at the head of the race then a lot of people will take offence as to the audacity of the team considering all that is going on at the moment. They are stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place.

It will also be interesting to see how the riders in the peloton treat him. Will he be given the same respect as before?

No doubt the Brit will still have his fans that will cheer him on. In fact, I would suggest that they’ve become even more fanatical since the AAF finding so we can expect them to be vocal no matter what.

The voices of dissent will be as vocal as the cheers this week but I just hope no-one does anything stupid out on the road to take the situation into their own hands. Cycling’s image is already being made a mockery of, we don’t need stories of piss being thrown at him etc.

Personally I don’t think Froome will feature here. He’s essentially completed an extra Grand Tour while in South Africa as they attempt to recreate the situation and find a scientific reason as to why his salbutamol levels were so high. Surely he is spent after it all? Plus, I don’t think Sky can risk the outrage if he does win until the case/investigation is over. If he does, then it is a big “fuck you” to the sport.

So with that said, I’m going to discount him for this race. Let’s have a look at who else might compete though!

(Again though, this all opinion and shouldn’t be taken as fact. Plz don’t sue. I’m poor. 😐)

Contenders

Mikel Landa.

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Starting his first race for Movistar he’ll want to get his season up and running with a good result. On paper this looks ideal for the Spanish climber. He’ll love the steep and relentless finish on Stage 2 and he should be able to put in a solid time in the time trial. In fact, he should be the class act of the race but with his form being so unknown he could well win it or come home in 20th.

Jakob Fuglsang.

A rider that we do know the form of, the Astana man has started the season well with a 3rd place on GC in Valenciana. He followed that up with a solid 6th place in Murcia at the weekend. Astana have a very strong team here and they’ll hope to have a few guys near the head of the race in the important stages. Numbers could be crucial.

Luis Leon Sanchez.

The second Astana candidate for the race win, the Spaniard has started the European season in sensational form. After returning from the Tour Down Under where he finished a respectable 8th on GC, he’s since went on to finish second behind Valverde in Valenciana and then beat him in Murcia at the weekend. A strong TTer, he should have an advantage over some competitors in that stage and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him go well on some of the steep ramps, he did well in Valenciana on similar terrain.

De La Cruz / Poels.

With Froome taking this one easy (see my reasoning above) then Sky will turn to other riders for success. I’m not sure how either of them will go here though as their crack squad in Valenciana was extremely disappointing. Was it just a slow start to the season or is no-one in form yet as they all secretly want to lead at the Tour…I think it is too tough for De La Cruz to win GC, but if Poels has upped his game since a poor Valenciana then he of course is a contender for the win. We’ll find out on stage 2 where he is at!

Steven Kruijswijk.

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After pulling out of the Giro last year the Dutchman finished the season with a 9th place in the Vuelta. A rider who never really starts the season well I am intrigued to see if that changes this season given he is hoping to go to the Tour. On his day he can climb with the best and he can produce a good time against the clock. Yet, I don’t think he’ll be up and running yet so a top 10 would be a solid result.

Ben Hermans.

With three top 10s already in 2018, the Israel Academy rider will hope for a similar, if not better, result here. Juxtaposed to Kruijswijk, Hermans is a rider who normally does start his season well. I wouldn’t have him down as one of the best climbers here but given form is important at the start of the year he could surprise just like he did on the Green Mountain last season.

Amaro Antunes.

One of my favourite riders from 2017, it was great to see his season rewarded with a step up in level to ProConti with CCC. An explosive climber he’ll like the steep ramps that we have on a couple of the stages. In this field, he will fancy his chances to go well on those days. His TT definitely needs some work but his team have improved in the discipline over the past half a year, so I’m intrigued to see if it has had a positive effect on Antunes over the winter. Another top 10 on GC like Valenciana is certainly a possibility.

Prediction

Form is King early in the year so I have to go with Luis Leon Sanchez as the winner here.

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Part of the strongest team, he and Fuglsang should be at the head of the race on the toughest stages and that will be of massive benefit to them. Sanchez has looked the strongest on the climbs in the previous races so it will take a lot for someone to drop him. Furthermore, he possesses a strong TT which could see him seal the win on the closing day.

No odds are out as of yet but I might back him depending on the price.

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win the GC? I’ll be back later this evening with my stage 1 preview. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Il Lombardia 2017 Preview

The “Classica delle foglie morte” or “The race of the falling leaves” for those of us who speak little Italian, is arguably one of the most beautiful races of the year, and is the last Monument in the calendar. I don’t know if that is due to its position at the end of the season which makes everyone see it as one last huzzah as things wind down, or the very attacking racing we get. Probably both!

Last year saw Esteban Chaves take the win in a three up sprint against Rosa and Uran.

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More impressively though he managed to avoid the Haughey Curse, after I had backed him to the hilt in the preview. It was a good end to the year!

With 2016’s route taking the riders from Como to Bergamo, things will switch around this year as is tradition, with the finish being in Como.

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

The Route

Almost a carbon copy of the 2015 edition. Are the organisers trying to be kind to a certain native?!

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There are a few tough ascents early on in the day but the race really starts to kick into action once we get to 70km to go and the famous Madonna del Ghisallo. We’ll see a thinning out process here and possibly some early probing attacks by second and third tier riders from the top teams.

Any rider who is in difficulty this early on won’t have much time to rest though as they will soon face the toughest climb of the day; the Colma di Sormano.

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At 7kms in length it averages a leg breaking 8.9% in gradient. That is hard either way you look at it, but it is the final 1.9km of the climb that averages close to 16% which is the real killer.

If a team pushes on in the bunch, not many will be left in with a chance once they are over the top. Back in 2015 we had around 20 riders who made it over together, with a few more getting back on in the descent and flat roads as we head towards Civilgio.

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Anyone that went out the back door on the Sormano but managed to get back to the peloton, will unfortunately meet their maker for the second time in the race here. Steep and persistent is the best way to describe it, the climb will wear the riders down and only the strongest will be left at the head of the race. As a tough penultimate climb, it acts as the perfect launchpad. Will anyone manage to break free?

If not, then the race could be decided on the last climb of the day, the short San Fermo. At only 7.2% for 2.7km it is one of the easier ascents. However, given its position in the race and the fact the riders will have already covered 235km+ then we could see some go pop all of a sudden.

Cresting with just over 5km to go, it will then be a charge down to the line if we have a solo rider with a frantic chase behind as there is very little time to get organised. There is a chance things could still be toghether, and we see an incredibly tactical finale, or even a small gallop to the line!

How will the race pan out?

I expect action and chaos from as far out as the Ghisallo, with Bahrain being the main driving force behind it all.

During this week of Italian racing they have been exceptional, putting other teams to the sword on numerous occasions. They’ve only came away with one win but it is their attitude on the road that has impressed me most.

I think we’ll see Gasparotto and Brajkovic set a tough pace on the Ghisallo but it will be the Sormano where they will go crazy; hoping to shed as many riders from the peloton as possible. They’ll hope to have Visconti and Pellizotti left with Nibali, and hopefully no more than 20 other guys there either.

Things will inevitably regroup on the descent and flat, but those who rejoined will once again go backwards on Civiglio.

One of the key parts that will decide this race is how some of the stronger teams approach the flatter roads. Do Bahrain, Sky, Astana etc send someone up the road so that they don’t have to chase the move behind? I think it would be wise to do so, but will they?!

We could see a front group made up of Visconti, Fugslang, Latour, Haig, Formolo and Henao for example, that might well stay away. I am really intrigued to see how the teams approach this part of the race.

If things are all together, and when I say all together I mean a group of 5 or 6 riders, then it will be very tough for anyone to drop the rest of the bunch on the final climb. Like in 2015, it will come down to a tactical attack and everyone looking at each other, or a small bunch gallop.

Three Clear Favourites?

Nibali, Uran and Pinot have all shown their credentials over the past week and are the most obvious riders who should be in contention come the end of the day.

The Shark has been excellent all week, particularly in Emilia where he looked effortless. He chose to skip Torino and will come here as fresh as possible. He’s clearly in great form, but is he strong enough to drop everyone on the climbs? I’m not so sure. That then leads to the issue of; “surely no one will be foolish enough to let one of the best descenders get a gap on a descent” again? He either wins solo by putting down some astronomical watts on the climb, or not at all.

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Uran seemed forever the nearly man, but he is having arguably his best season as a pro yet. Since the Tour he has built slowly towards this race, looking fairly good in Emilia but taking that up a step and putting in a strong performance in Torino. Will that have taken a lot out of him? Possibly. He cruised up the climb last year to a third place finish, but he then seemed to not have the same kick as Rosa and Chaves in the final of Lombardia. The Astana man had an easier time of it in Torino, while last year’s winner didn’t race MT at all. It probably won’t make much of a difference but it is something to consider. One advantage that Uran has is his speed; he would be confident of winning a 3 or 4 rider gallop to the line. We’ll just forget about last year’s sprint though…

Pinot is almost the unknown here. A great climber who seems to put in solid performances at this race, his second half of the season has been geared towards this race. He was the only rider who could follow Nibali’s vicious attack in Emilia, and the Frenchman never really looked in trouble. I wouldn’t read too much into his result in Torino, as he will have gained enough confidence from Emilia, that Torino would have been more a training ride than anything else. Before the start of the season I would say he would be in the middle of the trio in terms of sprinting, but I think he has the speed to challenge Uran.

Will the three of them get the chance though?

Azure Attacks?

Although Astana have Aru in their ranks, they might not 100% back the Italian Champion and instead play an aggressive tactic, getting riders up the road. There are two riders who given the right situation, I think could surprise and win this race.

Jakob Fuglsang.

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On fire at the Dauphiné, his season really went downhill from there. Crashing out of the Tour and then injuring his collarbone in a criterium. Not ideal! He has returned to racing as of late but his form is not overly promising; DNF’ing both of the Canadian races and a 61st in Torino. He did win the “hilly” stage in the Tour of Almaty, but given that is basically a criterium and the best Astana rider wins on the day, then I won’t read much into it. However, I have a feeling that he might go well. I don’t really know why, but he is a classy, classy bike rider and can’t be underestimated. In the hilly one day classics he is often a feature near the front and animating the race, so he has experience in that sense. Remember his Silver in Rio? I can’t wait to watch him pull out of the race tomorrow with 100km left!

Pello Bilbao.

A pick based on a favourite rider?

*Pretends to be shocked*

If you’ve read the blog for a while, then you’ll know I’m a big fan of the Spaniard and I’m really pleased to see him take a step up this season. As I pointed out in my Milan Torino preview, he was arguably one of the best domestiques in the final week of the Vuelta, he just was outshone by Moscon. The distance might be an issue for him, but in a very tactical race he might just be Astana’s trump card.

Prediction

None of the above riders will win though…

Instead, I’ll go for somewhat of an outsider, although he really isn’t.

Wout Poels.

Liege - Bastogne - Liege 2016 WTThe winner of Sky’s first Monument back at Liege last year, he has the ability to go well tomorrow. His 6th place in Torino on Thursday was slightly underwhelming, but promising. I would call it considered.

His racing schedule has been a bit sparse but he is someone who seems to really time his peak at the end of the season. Especially when he isn’t racing heavily in the early season. In theory, compared to his rivals he should be “fresh” due to his time off the bike and I think this will help him massively tomorrow.

While Nibali and co mark each other out of it, Poels will manage to sneak away and take the win. If not, as we saw in Liege, he packs a fairly decent sprint. I wonder if it will be as easy for him as Angliru was?!

Betting

End of the season so pushing the stakes out there a bit more.

0.5pt EW on Fuglsang @ 150/1 with Skybet who are paying 4 places (would take 125 and no less)

0.5pt EW Bilbao @ 250/1 with various (would take 200)

2pt EW Poels @ 33/1 with Ladbrokes/Bet365 etc.

 

This could well be my last preview for the year. I won’t be doing anything for Paris Tours and it is very unlikely I’ll do something Turkey. The new stage race in China might be a possibilty but it does look pretty dull…

I’m not entirely sure what will feature in this blog over the off-season. There are a couple of things I have in mind that I could do but any suggestions would be appreciated! Rider interviews could be a possbility but I’ll have to get my finger out for that.

Thanks though for your continued readership throughout the year. I’m pleased/proud/whatever you want to call it of the blog this season and the way it has grown. Il Lombardia marks my 209th preview of the season, more than double from last year, but I wouldn’t be as motivated to continue if you didn’t keep reading and interacting/offering feedback etc.

There have been some ups and downs this season, from the glory days of Lampaert’s win in Dwars and the famous Le Samyn preview, to the duldrums of the Giro and some other unnamed races. And what about the Wongshots?!

So that’s it for the previews in 2017. I might make an appearnce with a few features, and I might well be featured elsewhere…but if not, I’ll see you all for the Tour Down Under.

Thanks again for reading.

Thos were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Vuelta a España 2017 Preview – The BFOG

Vuelta a España 2017 Preview – The BFOG

In a slight change-up to previous races where I’ve rolled out separate previews for the various jerseys, this year I’m going to include GC/Sprint/KOM all in one, in a Giro Rosa style BFOG.

Last year’s Vuelta saw some very aggressive racing with Quintana beating Froome by 1’23, with Chaves finishing in 3rd.

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Most of the time Quintana had over Froome was gained on a crazy stage 15 and I hope we see some similar tactics deployed this year.

I’ll be disappointed if my favourite Grand Tour of the year is a let down.

Over the coming three weeks expect some bold tactics, super steep finishes, messy sprints, random breakaway days and some surprising results!

The Route – What You Need To Know

To some it up in a word: tough.

Again, as I’ll be doing daily stage previews then I won’t be going over the route in massive detail here, just the key stages. Although this is the Vuelta, so any stage can almost become a key stage…

The opening day sees a TTT around Nîmes (yes, we start in France) which should set the GC order for the following few days. Thankfully, at only 13km long, the time gaps between the overall contenders shouldn’t be too big at the end of the day.

It is not long before we’ll get a rough idea of who has some early climbing form as Stage 3 features two Cat-1 climbs and a Cat-2 all within 158km. With a slightly technical downhill run I don’t expect to see any of the GC favourites try to attack 100%, maybe an aggressive top 20 candidate can escape to take the spoils?

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Stage 5 offers us our first hill-top finish with the Cat-3 climb of Ermita Santa Lucía. It doesn’t sound much, but remember that this is a SPANISH Cat-3 climb; 3.7km at 8.58% with max gradients of around 15-20%. It’s a shame Reijnen isn’t here so he can get Spained…

We then have a couple of rolling days that give the sprinters or opportunists a chance at stage glory.

The weekend before the first rest day sees two stages that both have Cat-1 climbs in the closing 10kms of the race.

Stage 8 will have riders summit the brutally steep Alto Xorret de Catí. Officially 5kms at 9%, the crux of the climb is more 4km at 11%! From there, they will then face a short but steep descent into town for the finish.

vuelta-a-espana-2017-stage-9-cumbre-del-sol-1484252526Stage 9 finishes atop the Alto de Puig Llorença which is another short but steep climb, averaging 8.8% for 4.1km. It certainly seems the organisers designed a route hoping that Valverde would be here! With a rest-day to come, expect the GC contenders to be full gas here and we could see some surprising time gaps.

After the rest day we should see a break survive on Stage 10, but the following day is the most challenging one so far with back-to-back Cat-1 climbs.

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Climbing or descending from pretty much 60km out, this could be a fairly brutal day in the saddle. With the finish above 2000m, we might see a GC favourite suffer from the altitude. One thing is for sure, this Vuelta isn’t a race you can ease yourself into for week 3!

Another couple of “who knows what these stages could turn into” days follow, before we get out first Especial finish of the race on Stage 14.

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Once again the riders are pretty much climbing for the last 25km of the race with the Cat-1 before the Esp finish. However, the two can be combined to form the climb below.

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It’s not a crazy average gradient at only 5.3%, but the 23km could see some weary legs by the top. Not great then when the toughest 3kms come within the final 5km! Someone could go pop. With a “flat” finish though, a small 5 rider sprint could be likely.

Either way, it will certainly stretch the riders legs for what is to come the following day.

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This is the type of Vuelta stage I love as a spectator. Pretty sure the riders might not think the same. Pure madness!

It finishes with a Cat-1 then Especial climb, but like a few of the stages here, they can be pretty much rolled into one.

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Ouch. Ouch indeed!

With the last rest-day to follow, expect the riders to leave everything out on the road.

After their day to recuperate and recover, the riders will be faced with a decisive 40km TT. It does climb and roll a little bit but it is certainly an effort that should suit a specialist. This stage will scare a lot of the pure climbers who will be gunning for a good GC position.

The GC days continue to come as Stage 17 finishes atop the now viral Alto de los Machucos.

Who knows what the GC composition will look like before the stage, and who knows what it will look like after! Those who lost time on the TT the day before hand will certainly be hoping to bounce back with a good performance.

Stage 18 finishes on one of those classic Vuelta Cat-3s; 2.3km at 8.3%. I wouldn’t expect any major splits between the GC guys but you just never know…It could be a day for the break, likewise is stage 19. Although a few teams might control it and hope for a sprint.

The last huzzah GC wise comes on Stage 20 where the riders will finish atop the mythical Angliru.

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Four categorised climbs in a 119km stage, including the three major ones in the last 50km. A very Vuelta-y stage to finish the Vuelta GC battle with!

Any sprinters that we have left will then fight it out for stage honours in Madrid on the final day. Although considering we don’t have many here already, could a late attack succeed?

GC Contenders and Pretenders

With the defending champion Quintana finally deciding to have a Grand Tour off after doing 4 in a row, we could well see a new winner this September. I’ll have a look at some of the contenders and outsiders for the title below, some in much more depth than others!

Chris Froome.

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This years Tour winner is gunning for a famous Tour/Vuelta double. He has tried to pull off the feat in the past but this year could be his best shot, given the 40km worth of individual time trialing. Starting as the bookies favourite, his form is massively unknown going into this race. In fact, he hasn’t made an appearance at any UCI event since the end of the Tour, instead, opting to earn a couple of extra quid with some post Tour crits. Not ideal preparation in my opinion for a race where you need to be on good form in the first week!

One of the things he does have going for him though is that he won the Tour not looking his best. In previous editions he has cruised the Tour but never had just enough left to win the Vuelta, so maybe that was in the back of his mind going into that race. Or is he on the decline in general? I thought the latter before the Tour, but I’m not so sure now. His team is strong, not as good as his TDF hit squad, but bloody close to it! He is still the rider to beat once the dust has settled.

Vincenzo Nibali.

Arguably Froome’s biggest contender for the crown, the Italian is a much more rounded Grand Tour rider than the Brit, showing consistency across all three of the races. I mean he has won them all! He finished third at this years Giro, a result I’m sure he’ll be disappointed with but it wasn’t a bad performance and he did beat some good riders. Traditionally, Nibali doesn’t show much form before a Grand Tour but that seems to have changed this season. A solid 9th place in Poland, where he looked fairly skinny, was good for him and he will no doubt be gunning for no less than the win here. The only issue is that his team is fairly weak, with the missing Izagirre a big blow. I can’t see him winning the race, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he does in the end.

Alberto Contador.

I said at the Tour last year he was past his best and his performance this year highlighted that even more. I’m sure he’ll go on a few hail mary attacks which could see him move up the standings. Will it be enough for a podium? Probably not. But a stage win and a top 10 is very much achievable.

Fabio Aru.

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Another rider who comes straight here with no other racing in his legs after La Grand Boucle. A former winner of this race, as more of a pure climber some of the very tough stages should suit him well. However, the long 40km TT could be his downfall in his overall title bid. I have no idea where his form is at, considering he was apparently struggling with bronchitis at the end of the Tour. He could be great, or he could be awful! Being near the top on GC is helpful, especially when Astana have another potential GC card to play…

Miguel Angel Lopez.

My outsider/dark-horse/whatever you want to call it for the podium and possibly even more. Which now inevitably means he is going to fall by the wayside after picking up an illness on stage 4.

The young Colombian is a super talented, all-round GC star of the future. He can climb very well, but he is also a deceptively good TTer for someone of his stature. It is a tough ask to see him compete at the pointy end of the race in what will be the first Grand Tour that he should hopefully complete. Nonetheless, I think he has the pedigree to do just so. Having been raced lightly this year after spending the first 6 months of the season sidelined due to injury, he should have plenty of juice left in the tank to go well here. He warmed up with a good showing in Burgos recently, winning the final stage. Coping well with the heat there is a promising sign for what will no doubt be a scorching Vuelta. Can Superman fly?!

Ilnur Zakarin.

After Froome, the Russian is arguably the best TT rider of the GC contenders here. He’s an attacking rider and in a race that is known for its crazy moments, he might just prosper. I’m still not 100% sold on his ability to climb with the best, especially at altitude but you just never know. He’ll be hoping for at least a top 5!

Yates / Yates / Chaves.

Thought I’d just combine Orica’s three-pronged attack into one here! Out of the Yates brothers, I imagine it would be Adam who will be going for the higher GC placing, but that doesn’t mean Simon can be discounted completely. However, Chaves should be their main charge. The only issue with that is the Colombian has struggled with injuries this season and took a big knock to his mental confidence after one of his friends tragically died back in Colombia while he was riding at the Tour. I’m sure his form will be a lot better at the Vuelta as that was the plan during the Tour anyway, to get up to race speed for this event. If he is firing on all cylinders, he could be a danger. The only issue for all three of them is the massive 40km of TT, it is by far their worst discipline and they could all lose bucketloads of time. Which should make for an exciting few mountain stages if they have to chase the race…

I feel like I have already named a load of riders but the list of quality top 10 contenders could continue for a while yet! Other guys we have here include but not limited to; Bardet, Jungels, Kruijswijk, Poels, Pozzovivo, Majka and Kelderman.

Prediction

Froome is the guy to beat but Sky are never as convincing at the Vuelta compared to their dominance at the Tour and there is a chance the Brit could be isolated on a few occasions. We saw in France that he didn’t seem to be at his best and he can’t chase everyone down when it is just the group of GC favourites. If Froome is to win, he needs a massive race from Poels.

I just can’t help shake the feeling that some of the teams will look to isolate him at some point, like the famous Stage 15 from last year. Will they succeed?

 

Hmmm, I don’t know. Surely Sky will be more alert this year…

Froome probably wins the race but you’ll read that a lot this week so I’ll go for young pretender turned young contender Miguel Angel Lopez to pull off a shock result!

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I’m really looking forward to the double act with Aru over the coming weeks.

Watch out for the Shark though, he’s lurking ready to strike.

King of the Mountains

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Unlike the Tour, the Vuelta’s KOM competition is much more traditional in the sense that climbs at the start of the stage are weighted equally compared to those at the end. None of this final climb double points nonsense!

Given the amount of summit finishes at the Vuelta you would think that a GC rider has a good chance of taking the jersey. However, there are bound to be several breakaway days during the race which makes it difficult for someone high up on the overall to challenge. In fact, you have to go back to 2007 when a proper GC guy won the jersey.

Omar Fraile has won the jersey the past two years; can he make it three in a row?

As for points distribution, it is as follows:

Screen Shot 2017-08-17 at 15.04.22

Thanks to Velorooms/@Searchhhh for whom I tea leafed the table from.

Overall, there are 315 mountain points available, with 91 of those coming at the end of stages. You can therefore see how it is tough for the GC favourites to compete.

However, unlike recent years, there are no nailed on breakaway days that garner a lot of points. Instead, we have 6 stages where there are between 15-25 points available during the stage, not including the finish climb, and they are Stages 3/5/12/17/19/20.

You would expect the break to take the majority, if not all of the points on those days. However, there are a few mountain top finishes where the break could stay away until the end as well.

Stage 14 is an example of that where we finish with an Especial climb, meaning that a rider could potentially take 28 points if they win the stage.

The following days action is similar too if the break manages to stay away and take the stage/Cima Alberto Fernández, totalling 40 points if they can do that.

How will the KOM race pan out?

It is tough to name a favourite for a competition such as this given the huge amount of variables. At the Tour, Barguil lost a lot of time in some of the early stages so that he was given the freedom to hunt KOM points later in the race. Whether that was intentional or not, I’m not too sure. Equally, Landa turned to the KOM jersey once he was out of GC contention at the Giro.

However, the difference between those two races and the Vuelta is that a lot of the KOM points were back loaded towards the end of the Grand Tour. Here, they’re much more evenly spread out.

In fact, on stage 3 (25pts) and stage 5 (21 pts) a rider can put their name into the mix with a strong early lead in the competition. If you look at the past couple of seasons the highest winning points total has been 82 by Fraile in 2016.

Therefore, a rider could take 43 points (not including the Cat-3 summit finish on stage 5) and be in a very commanding position at the end of the first week. I wonder if we’ll see some riders roll home at the back of the pack on Stage 2 to get some freedom the next day….

A poor TTT could set things up nicely to allow a rider the freedom to go into those moves. It’s also important to consider that the Pro-Conti teams will be gagging to get away in breaks for TV exposure, so a rider from their roster could be the one to take up the charge.

So with all that said, I’m going to suggest three names who might be there or thereabouts in the competition. Or probably not…

Merhawi Kudus.

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I’m a big fan of the talented Eritrean rider, he’s really taken a step up this season in terms of performance. A traditional mountain goat, he should be able to cope with a lot of the steep ramps and rises that the Vuelta has to offer. Now, Fraile is the most likely candidate on the Dimension Data squad to chase the KOM jersey, but there is a chance that the Spaniard might want to go for stage wins and leave the KOM hunting to someone else in the team; Kudus might be that man.

Jetse Bol (2.0).

The new and improved climbing Jetse Bol has found his passion for racing again with Colombian Wild Card team Manzana Postobon. They are guaranteed to lose a lot of time on the opening day TTT and will no doubt be chasing the breaks from therein. Given his sublime performance at the recent Vuelta Burgos, Bol seems to be in rather good shape at the moment. A jersey win for the Pro-Conti team would be incredible and the Dutchman might just be the guy to deliver it for them.

Larry Warbasse.

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There would be something poetic about Captain America taking the KOM jersey at the Vuelta. It was at this race last year that Warbasse gained a lot of my respect, so much so that I think he was the most heavily featured rider in my previews! He couldn’t manage a breakaway win but impressed enough to gain a contract with Aqua Blue for this season. I think it is fair to say he has delivered for them, taking their first ever win. Not bad considering it was at WorldTour level! Another team who are bound to be on the attack throughout the race Warbasse is their best climber and I would be surprised not to see them go for the jersey; they’ve done so in a lot of smaller races throughout the season so why not here too.

You know what, Warbasse is my KOM winner for this race!

Points Classification

Vuelta a Espana - Stage 21

Much like the KOM jersey, the Vuelta keeps things simple for the points classification and does away with the hassle of stage categorisations etc. Instead, riders will be given the same points for winning one of the sprint stages or the mountain top finish up the Angliru.

Screen Shot 2017-08-17 at 16.11.40

Again, the table is tea leafed from the same sources as above!

Therefore, it is very rare that a sprinter wins this jersey. It will be even harder this year given the parcours and the lack of proper sprint stages. Consequently, it will be a rider who can compete on multiple types of finishes that will win the jersey.

Valverde has dominated this competition and it is clear to see why. Packing a fast sprint, he can pick up a few points on the flatter stages but his climbing ability allows him to challenge for stage wins on the tougher days.

We could see a GC winner take the crown by being consistent on all of the mountain top finishes but I think we might see a few breakaways deny them the opportunity of competing for points.

Unlike the KOM competition, I only have one rider in mind for this competition.

A guy who is very much built-in the ilk of Valverde, albeit he is not as good a GC rider. Yet.

Julian-Alaphilippe-time-trial

There are several stage finishes that seem to suit the explosive French climber down to the ground. He’s had to miss both the Ardennes and the Tour for various reasons which would have been a massive disappointment for him. Nonetheless, I’m sure that means he’ll turn up here ready to perform well. On his return to racing in Burgos he was good, not great, more promising than anything else. With the cobwebs blown out now, I think he’s in for a big race. If he is performing to his Paris Nice level, then the Points jersey is his to lose!

Vuelta Picks

After continuing on from initial success, we had the highest numbers ever play the Tour Picks game back in July and I’m hoping to entice you to join Vuelta Picks for this coming month.

The premise of the game is simple; pick a separate rider for every stage, with their position on the day counting as your points. With the lowest cumulative score at the end of the Vuelta winning the prize pool.

However, one bad day does not mean that you’re completely out of it, with a prize on offer for the most stage wins too. In fact, at the Tour there were enough participants to introduce a KOM prize (lowest accumulated score over certain stages).

It’s also a good way for you to laugh at my awful, or terribly unfortunate picks. Picking an ill Sam Bennett on stage 2 of the Giro didn’t really go well for me…

I’ll also be adding a little segment at the end of each day’s blog section to cover; a “safe” pick, a risky pick (wongshot) and a deliberate Lanterne Rouge pick. Just to add a bit of spice to the game!

Think you can beat me and take my money?!

*Hint – the answer is probably yes*

Then follow the Cycling Picks Twitter handle @cycling_picks and simply put your name into the spreadsheet if you wish to play!

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/14U89El-B7h05tRgB5Lw8ml9pkF5v0ROvxH96-dk3w7o/edit#gid=0

Spreadsheet above^^^

Betting

Not a fan of betting ante-post on GC riders normally, but I’ll gladly back Lopez as an EW bet for this race.

Outright – 2pts Lopez EW @ 25/1 with Lads/Coral. (would take 20/1 lowest)

As for the KOM competition, I’m spraying some small stakes around on the riders I’ve mentioned above. Nothing too crazy.

0.75pt EW Warbasse @ 50/1 with various (Wouldn’t take any lower)

0.5pt EW Kudus @ 150/1 with Betfred (would take 100/1 lowest)

0.25pt EW Bol @ 300/1 with Betfred (would take 250/1 lowest)

As for the Points jersey, it’s simple.

2.5pts WIN Alaphilippe @ 6/1 with Lads/Coral.

I think I’ll leave it at that for the pre-race bets.

 

Thanks as always for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated! Who do you think will win the various competitions? I hope we’re in for an exciting 3 weeks of racing and I’m optimistic that we will be! 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.

TDPS6

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.

TDPS6KOM2

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.

TDPS6KOM3

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…

TDPS6fin

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!

gorka-izagirre-wins-stage-8-2017-giro-ditalia-picture-credit-lapresse-dalberto-ferrari

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.

 

 

 

 

Tour de Pologne 2017 Stage 3 Preview; Jaworzno -> Szczyrk

Today’s Recap

Another day that ended up in a bunch sprint but it was the odd one that was expected. Again, for some weird reason the peloton caught the break very early, creating an opportunity for some attacks.

Oss, Haas, Jungels all tried their hand but were reeled back in. Then as I thought might happen, Vakoc launched an attack at roughly 2kms to go. He quickly had a bit of a gap which seemed to grow as the sprint trains behind stalled. However, Paterski came to the front and sprinted all the way up the drag, catching Vakoc just as they completed the turn at the roundabout.

It was a frenetic run to the line with the riders amassed all over the road. In the end, Modolo just had enough left in the tank to hold on for the win.

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A fast finishing (again) Van Poppel charged at the line but it was only enough for second, with Walscheid taking third. His second place was enough to se Van Poppel move into the GC lead ahead of Sagan, based on their stage placings so far.

Will he be able to hold onto that lead tomorrow?

No way!

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

The Route

A stage that actually resembles its official profile!

tour-de-pologne-2017-stage-3-1494923832

Nonetheless, I’ll still be using my own one as the go to.

TDPS3

 

You can view the profile itself on VeloViewer here.

It’s taken me a few days but I’ve finally figured out how to rotate the profiles so that we get them at a side on angle…anyway…

The stage starts off fairly innocuous with a lot of flat roads in the opening 60km or so. However, once through the second intermediate sprint of the day the road rises all the way until the summit of the first climb; some 28km at 2.2% on average.

If I’m honest, I’m not entirely sure where the climb officially starts (I can’t be bothered to look it up again in the road book), but to me it seems to be 5km from the summit.

TDPS3KooM1

As you can see, the closing 5km averages 6% with a max gradient of 13.2%. Not too difficult but not easy either, it depends on the pace of the peloton whether we’ll see any riders dropped here.

Once over the top the riders descend all the way to the foot of the following climb; Zameczek.

TDPS3KOM2

Split into two parts, the climb as a whole averages 5.2% for 5.3km. Once again, not too difficult but it can be made hard. The second half of the climb is a lot more challenging than the first, averaging 8.1% for the final 2.2km.

On the first passage of the climb I can’t see there being much action here but the riders will summit for a second time with 33km left, so we might see a few probing attacks launched on the steeper slopes.

The riders will then face the penultimate climb; which is the descent off the first categorised climb they tackled. Like that first climb, I could dispute how long it actually is. You could argue the road rises from the 135km gone mark, which would make the climb 12km long at 4%. However, the opening sections most likely won’t be raced too aggressively. The same can’t be said for the latter parts though.

TDPS3KOM3

This is a proper climb and with the closing 4km averaging 7%, we could see some of the early GC players come to the fore.

With 9km of descent to follow, will we see any rider(s) who has escaped on the climb stay away before the rise to the finish? Well, the start of the descent is steep and technical but that only lasts for a couple of kilometres before it then runs along the side of the valley on a much straighter road.

They will descend all the way until 1.5km to go where they will make the following left hand turn and start the climb for home.

Screen Shot 2017-07-29 at 23.31.11

The climb itself averages 10.3% for 1.25km, however that doesn’t tell the whole story.

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As you can see in the profile above, the opening 479m are a rather “leisurely” 3.6%. All hell will break loose soon after though, as the final 700m averages a leg-breaking 15% and that includes a crazy 26% maximum gradient!

Screen Shot 2017-07-29 at 23.56.32

I’m not even sure the streetview does it justice. Whoever wins here tomorrow will have deserved it!

How will the race pan out?

It could be a really disorganised and messy stage.

The climbs are tough enough to make it a selective day in the saddle but they aren’t difficult enough so that we only see a group of 5-6 guys come to the finish climb together.

Furthermore, there are quite a few teams here with a few GC candidates, such as Sky/BMC/Bora who might decide to play the numbers game rather than control the bunch all day.

Feasibly, we could see a winning move go away on the second ascent of Zameczek if it contains the right teams and riders.

As the descent over the top of the penultimate climb isn’t too hard and doesn’t really favour a lone rider, I would be surprised if a team really pushes it on that penultimate climb to reduce the peloton drastically.

So i present two situations;

  1. An attack goes on the last ascent of the Zameczek that includes some strong riders from the main teams. It will most likely need a Bora, Sky, BMC, Katusha and Orica rider involved if it is to succeed. Obviously, other teams might be there too or not involved, but those squads listed look the strongest to bring any break back. That group stays away and fights out the finish.
  2. A race of attrition where things get whittled down and we have a peloton of 20 riders or so approach the foot of the final climb to the line and its every man for himself on with a finish very reminiscent of Flèche Wallonne.

Hmmm.

I think Situation 1 edges it.

As I’ve already rambled a bit, I’ll not be extensive with my riders in the following section!

Contenders

For a bit of fun, this is who I think could possibly be in that near end of stage move (watch none of them be in it now);

Hermans, Haig, Anacona, Rosa, Konrad*, Oomen, Spilak, Visconti, Costa and Hirt.

*I had grand ambitions for Konrad on this stage given his climbing ability and good result at Fleche, but alas he finished 1’55 down today so that’s out the window.

I’ll highlight a couple of others I like for this stage though.

Rui Costa.

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The UAE rider has had a good season so far; picking up a GC win in Abu Dhabi and a few podium placed finishes at the Giro. He was solid at the recent Tour de Suisse, finishing 5th on GC there. Like a lot of the peloton, he hasn’t raced in over a month but he’ll surely fancy his chances here as these week-long stage races are his bread and butter. He’s faired well at FW in the past which is a good indication for this finish. If he arrives in a small group his punchy nature could see him take a great stage win.

Diego Rosa.

Not normally given the chance to lead a Sky team for GC, this race looks like the perfect opportunity for both he and his team to test out that possibility. With Poels also in the squad, they have the ability to send someone on the attack early and play the waiting game behind. Rosa has only had one race day since the Giro, his National Championships but I still think he can go well here. He’s a strong hilly classics rider, as was shown towards the end of last season, and tomorrow’s terrain has that type of feel to it. Can he succeed?

I think yes…

Prediction

Diego Rosa to win!

20175965_358507_670

Betting

1pt EW on them both (with B365)

Rosa @ 33/1

Costa @ 22/1

 

Thanks as always for reading and I hope you enjoyed the in-depth route analysis. I certainly enjoyed writing it! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

Ruta del Sol Stage 3 Preview; Lucena -> Córdoba

Today’s Recap

My, oh, my! I did not expect that outcome at the end of the day.

Contador turned the heat on but just couldn’t see the result out. Thibaut Pinot made an excellent come-back in the final kilometre, out sprinting Contador; eventually winning by 2 seconds.

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It leaves the GC very interestingly poised going into tomorrow’s time trial. Let’s have a look at what’s in store for them!

The Route

A short 12km TT awaits.

vuelta-a-andalucia-ruta-ciclista-del-sol-2017-stage-3-1485552303

Not a very descriptive official profile, so as is the norm with TTs, I have made my own Strava profile. You can view that here.

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Once the riders “descend” from the start ramp they almost instantly going in the opposite direction, with only 200m of relatively flat roads. It’s then a 1.9km climb that averages 4.95% but does ramp up over 10% in some places.

A 4km long descent follows, which involves a few technical turns before a slight kick up and another kilometre of downhill. The road rises again for 1.6km, averaging 2.8%, before the riders plunge through the suburbs of Lucena.

The riders will have to keep something in reserve as they have a 500m long kicker to end the day.

What type of rider can win this TT?

I have to admit, I really like the parcours for this TT. With a third of the stage being uphill, the TT specialists won’t have it all their own way. Yet, the climbs aren’t overly challenging to completely discount them from the reckoning either.

Stage Contenders

Ion Izagirre probably starts as the favourite for this TT. He’s a rider who will be able to cope with the climbs but also is very strong on the flat. His TT has improved massively over the past few years and he’s put in some big performances over these short efforts. The one concern with him is that he can be a bit hit or miss at times in these events, so I’m not 100% confident in him to deliver.

Former World Champ Kiryienka is here but I think this TT is too short and twisting for him.

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Alberto Contador used to be a very solid TTer but lost his way in the past few years. He seems to do best when it’s the third week of a Grand Tour so I fear he will ship too much time and lose the leader’s jersey.

Thibaut Pinot on the other hand is a rider who’s made great improvements to his time trial in recent years. He took a great win at the Tour de Romandie last year and will certainly like the look of this course. He seems to be back in good form and will fancy his own chances of taking GC leadership.

Time for everyone’s favourite Swede, Tobias Ludvigsson, to step up to the plate. He’s showed great promise in the past in this discipline, but he hasn’t been performing as well on the road as I would have expected. Maybe he’s just saving himself for this? He certainly has a chance!

Alejandro Valverde did well to only concede 7 seconds today after what was a poor start to the climb from him. He dug in deep and is still in with a shot of the GC crown. Not often thought of a strong time trialist, Valverde is actually fairly solid in the discipline. Particularly in short events, but also particularly in Spain. I’m expecting to be pleasantly surprised by him tomorrow.

I’m also expecting to be surprised by Fabio Felline tomorrow. The Italian was exceptional on the lower slopes of today’s final climb, setting up his team leader. He’s capable of a top 10!

I don’t expect much from the likes of Campenaerts, Vorobyev, Le Bon, Poels and Landa.

Particularly Poels in fact. He won’t top 5.

Prediction

Underestimate Valverde at your peril…

I won’t be.

El Bala to win!

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Maybe I’m clinging on to that GC treble just a bit too much?

Betting

1pt WIN Pinot at 14/1 with Bet365 (would take 10/1 and the EW if you want to play it safe)

1pt WIN Valverde at 18/1 with Bet365 (would take 12/1 and the EW if you want to play it safe)

1pt on this 10.18/1 H2H Treble;

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Other bookmakers might price up more favourably later on, I just want to get this published!

Thanks again for reading, as usual any feedback is greatly appreciated. I hope we get an exciting TT that is close right up until the end. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.