Tour Down Under 2018 – Stage 5 Preview; McLaren Vale -> Willunga Hill

Stage 4 Recap

That didn’t disappoint, although I did think the race would be slightly more selective. We saw attacks from many riders throughout the closing 10kms, all of which looked at some point as if they might be “the one”. However, things were eventually brought back together for a super fast sprint into Uraidla, with Sagan showing his raw power by overcoming Impey in the closing 50m. Luis Leon Sanchez rounded out the podium.

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That result means the World Champion is in Ochre heading in to the classic Willunga stage. Let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders; this will be brief!

The Route

If you’ve watched the Tour Down Under at any point then you’ll know what is coming.

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Nothing all day really until we get to the final 25km and the first ascent of Willunga.

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In the grand scheme of things it is not an overly difficult climb but the combination of the heat and the speed they ascend, makes it tougher than it seems.

Porte has flown up here the past few years, normally launching his attack from ~1.2km to go, and fully dropping everyone by the S-bends at ~800m to go. Will we see the same this year?

Weather Watch

After the ridiculously hot conditions of the past few days, it will ease in temperature a bit for Willunga. The following is the forecast for nearby Mount Terrible.

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Source: Windfinder

There is one thing that has caught my eye though…Look at that wind. I didn’t expect to get the opportunity to speak about the possibility of echelons this early into the season!

They are unlikely, but given we’ve seen some teams try before, I’m hoping that might be the case this year. It all depends on what way the wind ends up blowing.

The 4kms along McMurtie Road could offer a prime opportunity if the wind does come from the south.

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Likewise, the same can be said for the 3.5km of Main Road as the riders head directly south for town of Willunga, if the wind has swung round.

How will the stage pan out?

With so many riders still close on GC, there are 33 riders within 14 seconds, then I hope we see some aggressive racing early. Leaving it to the last ascent of Willunga really narrows down the list of riders who can win this race overall.

Ideally, I’d love to see a few teams set a very hard pace up Willunga the first time followed quickly by some counter-attacks over the top. This could create some really interesting, tactical racing.

Will we see that though?

I fear not and once again it will be a sprint up Willunga but the headwind will play a big part and we might not see as wide margins as we have in the past.

Can anyone stop Porte?

Probably not, he looked strong on stage 4 and seems as lean as ever going by the pictures floating around social media. However, there are reports that he was suffering from a bit of an illness on Friday, although that didn’t really show the other day! Yet, if that has matured into something worse, then it certainly could be highlighted on Willunga. Porte has attacking spot nailed down; putting in a strong dig at 1.2km and not slowing down until the finish. With the headwind though he might have to hold on until later, meaning his winning gap might not be as big in the end.

From what we’ve seen so far there are a few riders who might go close to the BMC rider.

McCarthy has been consistently strong throughout this race and he impressed me on the climb of Woods Hill in yesterday’s stage. He’s not a pure climber, but given his current form he certainly should be up at the pointy end on Willunga. The headwind is a massive advantage for him as it plays nicely into his good sprint. He’ll hope to finish no more than a few seconds behind Porte if possible, then pick up some bonuses on the final day.

Pozzovivo is lurking and has been climbing to the fore on the few tests we’ve had so far. Bahrain still have three riders close which could play wonderfully into their hands if they attack the race. The Izagirre brothers have been solid too and I really hope we see them go full gas on the first ascent. It will be hard to beat the King of Willunga, but if they can isolate him early then who knows.

Canty.

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A bit of an outsider, he was one of the standout riders for me yesterday. On the passage of Norton Summit he was very attentive, coming over the crest in third place behind Gerrans and Porte. Then once we got onto Woods Hill he made a move with Gorka Izagirre. That didn’t last too long but he was one of the first to follow when Porte went again later. To me that suggests he’s going well and feeling confident. Completing his first Grand Tour last year will have a positive effect on him this season; will we see that come to fruition on Willunga?

Prediction

The King will be dethroned!

Porte will try his best to get rid of everyone on Willunga but the headwind will scupper him and he’ll rue the missed opportunity to work with his successor on stage 4…

George Bennett to win!

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I was really impressed with the Kiwi on stage 4 and he arguably looked the strongest on Woods Hill Road; a great sign for Willunga. It was a shame that Porte soft-pedalled a few turns when the two of them had got a gap, but it will only make Bennett hungrier to beat the BMC rider on his own turf.

He is a classy rider who took a big step forward last year and I think that upwards trajectory will continue in 2018!

Betting

B365 have been boring and went 1/5 odds for 3 places not the usual 1/4, but anyway;

1pt EW Bennett @ 14/1 

0.5pt EW Canty @ 50/1

3pts on Canty to beat Hamilton @ 1/1

 

Thanks as always for reading. Apologies that this is a slightly truncated preview but given that it is the same route every year and I’m a bit knackered after the past few days; what can you do?! Who do you think will win on Willunga this year? Can Porte really be dethroned? Can Sagan somehow hold on enough to be in with a chance on Stage 6? Anyway,

Those 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:

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Giro d’Italia 2017 Stage 18 Preview; Moena -> Ortisei

Today’s Recap

Just like buses…

After waiting almost two years for a World Tour win, Cannondale got their second in one week with Pierre Rolland taking a fine stage victory today!

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He was not only the strongest in the break but also the tactically most astute, attacking the big group at the perfect time. With a disorganised chase behind, the Frenchman had enough time to sit up and properly celebrate his win.

Costa won the “bunch” sprint for second with Izagirre third.

All the GC contenders rode home safely, keeping their powder dry for tomorrow. Let’s tae a look at what’s in store for them.

The Route

A short but very sharp stage!

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At only 137km the riders will be in for a fast day in the saddle, albeit with five categorised climbs to contend with.

The road rises steadily from the gun (14.1km at 1.7%) before the peloton will tackle the first climb of the day. The Passo Pordoi is a fairly steady climb, averaging 6.7% for 11.85 kilometres.

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The same can be said for the following Cat-2 climb of Passo Valparola which averages a shade over 6.4% for almost 13km.

The riders then descend again before tackling the third climb of the day. However, by then a break will have been formed and it’s not difficult enough for the GC riders so I’m just going to gloss over it!

On the long descent that follows, the road does rise back up briefly for the Cat-3 climb and it could cause some issues with a peak gradient of 15%.

However, the stage should come down to the Cat-1 climb of Pontives and the run in to the line that follows it.

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At only 9.3km, it is not the longest climb the peloton will face, but after a stage that is constantly up and down it certainly won’t be easy. Averaging 6.8%, it is the final 3km which could cause some splits as it averages a more stinging 9.3%. This is where we could see some attacks from the GC favourites and those on a bad day might crack and go backwards.

Once over the summit, the riders won’t be at the finish line just yet and will have to contend with another 4km of rising road.

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A tough drag, riders struggling over the KOM could really struggle here as false-flats after a big effort can be a massive challenge. The road pitches up to 13% with 450m to go and any riders looking to avoid a sprint to the line will no doubt attack here.

How will the stage pan out?

With it being such a short day, it will be hard for a breakaway to build up much of a lead. Particularly when considering the way that Bahrain Merida have been riding over the past few stages. They set a fierce pace in the peloton over the first two climbs today and I expect them to do the same tomorrow.

Consequently, it will be another chance for the GC riders to go for stage glory on the day!

Contenders

It’s tough to see past those who were near the pointy end on Stage 16.

Nibali –  Obviously won that stage and is riding himself into form in the final week of a grand tour and in classic week-three Nibali style, he looks like he can follow anyone. On the steepest section of the closing climb, only Quintana was able to stick with the Shark and he will be hoping for something similar on the steep ramps towards the top of Pontives. Will the shark take a second bite out of the GC lead?

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Quintana – Supposedly still not at 100% after his crash, the Colombian looked relatively comfortable following Nibali but lost some time on the descent. He’ll be happy the stage ends with only a little descent! My only issue with him is that the finish isn’t ideal for him with the few kilometres of false flat after the steepest parts of the main climb. He’ll struggle to maintain any gap there.

Zakarin – Will be very glad that the stage ends on the top of a mountain after he lost over 30 seconds on the descent during stage 16. He’s always willing to attack (not always at the correct times morally), so he is sure to give it another go tomorrow.

Pozzovivo – It was nice to see him at the head of the race again but like Quintana, his light frame isn’t ideal for tomorrow’s finish. He’ll no doubt give it a go off the front though if he senses an opportunity.

Landa – Although not a GC candidate as such, the Sky rider was very strong on Stage 16 and it was only his naivety/poor cornering that allowed Nibali to win. Not being a GC threat, he will hope to be given some leeway.

As for the riders in the second group on Stage 16, I like Yates the best for a finish like this.

Prediction

However, I’ll go for none of the above.

Instead, I think current Maglia Rosa Tom Dumoulin will take another stage win.

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His nature break was clearly a freak occurrence because he climbed the Umbrailpass in an almost identical time to his rivals. That’s very impressive considering he rode most of it on his own while others were paced for a lot of the way! Taking tomorrow’s final climb on it’s own, it looks very similar to the finale into Oropa that Dumoulin won. After no one waited for him on Stage 16, I think he won’t be holding anything back and will want to re-stamp his authority on this race.

Betting

I was going to go EW on him, but his price has fallen from 18/1 to 12/1 when I’ve been finishing this off so the EW value has diminished a bit. So I think with that in mind I’ll just go;

2pts WIN Dumoulin @ 12/1 (with Bet365).

 

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

Giro d’Italia 2017 Stage 4 Preview; Cefalù -> Etna

Recap

Stage 3 wasn’t as fraught with crosswind danger as I was hoping for, but we did get some action in the last 10km. Quick Step were the main protagonists behind the splits that we did get and their young Colombian sprint sensation, Gaviria, duly delivered the result taking first place and the Maglia Rosa too.

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Selig took second, with Nizzolo coming home in 3rd. It was a frustrating watch for me with 200/1 man Jungels looking the strongest in the group! There was one moment that a gap started to form and even with my incandescent shouting at my TV, telling him to “Go!”, Richeze decided it was a great idea to close him down.

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Richeze spoiling my fun

Still miffed about that, but oh well!

Let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders after the early rest day.

The Route

Toughest stage of the race so far with two very long climbs, including a summit finish up Mount Etna.

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The first climb of the day, Portella Femmina Morta is an absolute monster in terms of length, coming in at a whopping 32.75km! Gradient wise it’s not so bad, averaging roughly 4.5% for the whole climb.

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It does pitch up to 8% in some areas but it’s certainly not a climb for attacking, just tempo riding all the way to the top.

We then have a reasonably long descent before the first intermediate sprint, which is actually on top of a hill. But I guess the organisers needed to fit it in somewhere! The road then descends again before the second intermediate sprint in Biancavilla.

From there, all focus will turn to Etna and the approach to it.

The riders will be able to stretch their legs on the prelude to the main event, an uncategorised climb from Santa Maria di Licodia to Ragalna. At 6.6km in length and average a shade over 5% it’s not tough, but if the pace is on already then we could see a few riders shed from the peloton here.

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At 17.95km it’s another long climb but it is steeper than the previous climb on the day, averaging 6.6%. However, the most important thing about the climb is its irregularity. There are several sections that go well above the average gradient and the kilometre at almost 12% half way up could be a launch-pad for the proper mountain goats to attack.

Will they go on to take the win though…

How will the stage pan out?

The first mountain top finish of a Tour is a tough one to predict (getting my excuses in early). You would expect Quickstep to honour the jersey, but how deep will they really be willing to go knowing that it might be tough for Jungels at the end of the stage to hold onto it? I’m not sure if they’ll burn all their matches and instead will look to other teams for help.

Who of the GC favourites will want to take the jersey early and spend energy over the following stages protecting it until Blockhaus?

Well, I’m sure Nibali would. The Shark as he is affectionately known is from Sicily itself, but more importantly he is from Messina where we finish stage 5. I’m sure he would love to wear the Maglia Rosa into his home town.

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Will his Bahrain team get any help from anyone else? I’m not so sure, but Sky certainly have the squad here to control the race if they want to. It’s the first time I’ve looked at a Sky team for the Giro and thought that it could match what we have seen at the Tour over the past few years. With a two-pronged threat in Landa and Thomas they have the ability to let one attack while the other sits in.

There is going to be a slight headwind on the climb and that might discourage riders from attacking but given that it’s the first summit finish of a Grand Tour I highly doubt everyone will sit in the wheels!

With it being the first summit finish though and as it comes so early in the race there is a chance we could see an “outsider” win. A rider who is a good top 10 candidate but isn’t seen as an immediate threat for the overall GC.

In that situation there are two riders I have in mind.

Domenico Pozzovivo – The Italian looked very sprightly at the Tour of the Alps and he was a feature at the pointy end of the race in the mountain top finishes. He always seems to wane in the last week of a GT so I imagine he’ll want to take advantage of his current form here. Due to his terrible/atrocious/awful (delete as appropriate) time trial, he probably isn’t viewed as a massive threat for the GC, so he might just be given some leeway.

Tejay van Garderen – He probably would have been the last rider on my list from the GC contenders had you asked 2 weeks ago who I thought would be competing here. However, he was very strong in Romandie and that has changed my mind! Like Pozzovivo, Tejay often is let down by having one bad day at some point during a three-week race so he will want to make the most of his form. He might surprise one or two tomorrow!

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Breakaway Hopes?

There is always a chance that the break stays away on a stage like this. Last year’s race saw Wellens win the first mountain top finish of the Giro. Although that finishing climb was a lot easier, we could still see a similar situation play out tomorrow. I think QS would be quite happy to relinquish jersey duties and as I mentioned above, I’m not so sure many others will want to take over this early.

Therefore, I think it’s a 50-50 split and it’s a tough one to call! Like normal though, I’ll buy a few lottery tickets and name a couple of break contenders.

Rohan Dennis – Bitterly disappointed after his crash on Stage 3, the Aussie says that his GC attempt is all but over. However, he says that he will continue and see how far he can push himself in the race, trying to take some opportunities over the next few weeks. Why not start tomorrow?! He is in very good form at the moment and looked strong in the Tour of the Alps, although he did have one bad day there. Nonetheless, I think if he makes the break it is unlikely that there will be many better riders than him that are up the road as well.

Giovanni Visconti –  Riding for Nibali’s Bahrain team, Visconti may be sent up the road earlier in the day as a ploy to have a man up the road for a Nibali attack. However, if the gap is too big to the breakaway then Visconti himself could challenge for the win. Always lively at this time of year, he’ll be hoping to repeat something similar to his very impressive performance on the Green Mountan in Oman from back in February.

Prediction

I’m looking forward to a good race but I think there is a chance we might see a race on two fronts, with the break taking the stage but there still being some fireworks behind. I’ll go for a feisty Australian to turn things around from the break, Dennis to be a menace and win!

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If not, I think we might see Pozzovivo take a surprise win ahead of the other GC contenders.

Betting

Not a day I can advise backing GC guys before the off, although the EW odds on my two highlighted riders look tempting, it’s just not worth it. The odds won’t change too drastically after the start of the stage so I might go in-play on them if it looks like it will be a GC day, but pre-stage I’m just backing my two breakers;

0.5pt WIN Dennis @ 150/1 with Ladbrokes/Coral (Would take 125/1)

0.5pt WIN Visconti @ 150/1 with Bet365 (Would take 125/1)

Thanks as always for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated. Who do you think will win tomorrow and how will the stage be won; break or GC? I hope we get an exciting stage either way! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Tour of the Alps 2017 Stage 3 Preview; Villabassa -> Funes

Another brief preview as this is the third of the day and even though I love cycling, I’m slowly losing the will to live writing this one. Plus, with one route change already, who knows if there might be another tomorrow!

Today’s Recap

Heavy snow fall meant the race was shortened by 60km which may have had an impact on the outcome of the stage at the end of the day. Either way, I was hopelessly wrong again which isn’t good. I haven’t got to grips with this race yet and I don’t like it!

Dennis powered his way home ahead of Pinot and a very impressive ride from Ballerini who got up for third.

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A total of 67 riders finished on the same time as our Aussie winner, which is definitely a lot less selective than I thought it would be.

Swiftly moving on to tomorrow!

The Route

The original route has already been changed once due to snow and that might happen again tomorrow morning!

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They’ve taken out the big climb at the start of the day but we still have the long and steep Alpe Rodengo Zumis to tackle, which crests at just under 40km to go.

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A very tough climb and it will be freezing at the top of it! I wonder if any teams will risk taking up the pace this early?

Once over the summit, we have a long descent followed by around 25km of valley roads before reaching the foot slopes of the final climb of the day.

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Another tough climb, although easier than the previous Alp in the day, the gradients are severe enough for some big time gaps. Especially when you consider the conditions look set to be pretty grim, with a good chance of rain/snow throughout the afternoon.

Contenders

GC day so only the best can compete here;

Scarponi v Pinot v Thomas v Pozzovivo v Dennis v Formolo.

The last rider on that list, Formolo, seems to be the weakest going by form at the moment so I’ll discount him.

Dennis was good today but I’m still not convinced by him on long climbs and the 8.7km test to finish tomorrow is right on his limit. So…

its a no

That leaves us with 4.

I had discounted Pozzovivo at the start of the race, because if I’m honest, I think he’s past his big performances and has never really looked the same after his horror crash in the Giro. However, he looked good on stage 1 but there is a difference between a 3km climb and an almost 9km effort. So he’s out as well!

A fine trio remain.

Scarponi surprised everyone on Stage 1 taking a great sprint win. On that climb he looked composed and relatively comfortable on a stage that really shouldn’t have suited him. The longer efforts are more his forte and he should appreciate tomorrow’s slog to the line.

Pinot was a bit out of position at the start of the climb on stage 1 but slowly made his way back to the attackers, eventually finishing. He then went and improved on that today with a good second place and that trajectory could well continue tomorrow! On a finish like this and in this field, he is probably the rider with the best pedigree.

Thomas will be hoping to change that over the coming weeks though. He has been incredible so far this year and I’m convinced he can podium at the Giro. Strong on stage 1, he just didn’t have enough in the tank to drop everyone. A longer climb may help him fatigue the others before putting in a stinging attack.

Prediction

I’ll go for a Pinot win.

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Just like his namesake wine, the Frenchman is much better when chilled.

Betting

No bet. Odds too tight and the risk of another route change is too high.

Apologies again for this being short, but with the two other previews today, this one was always going to take a hit. Nonetheless, who do you think will win tomorrow’s stage? We might even see another route change in the morning. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.