Women’s European Road Race Championships Preview – Glasgow 2018

Now in its third edition as an event for the elite peloton, as it was formerly just an under 23 and junior event. Last year saw an attacking race that was mainly led by the Dutch, shock, and a strong group of three managed to escape and contest the win on what was a course really suited for a bunch sprint.

Vos proved to be the fastest, beating Bronzini to the line with a failed late attack from Zabelinskaya seeing the Russian round out the podium in third.

 

Screen Shot 2018-08-04 at 15.30.20

Will we see a similarly aggressive race this year? First though, let’s take a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

Very similar, if not exactly the same (I can’t remember) to the circuit that used for the Commonwealth Games back in 2014. The women will complete 9 laps for a total of ~130km.

I’ve made a profile of the circuit that you can view here. The organisation’s one is pretty useless if I’m honest.

Glasgow RR Circuit

It’s quite a surprisingly rolling course with there also being a lot of turns given the nature and layout of Glasgow streets.

Screen Shot 2018-08-04 at 16.53.06

There are several small hills and drags, more notably in the middle of the course. The first one goes past the University buildings, averaging 5% for 500m before a quick descent and a 300m kicker at 8% up Great George Street.

Screen Shot 2018-08-04 at 16.59.02

That’s arguably the toughest climb on the course and will be one of the places where the puncheurs will hope to put some pressure on. There are another couple of few hundred metre drags at roughly 3% or 4%.

Screen Shot 2018-08-04 at 17.03.01

Last on the agenda in terms of climbing is the 400m drag (4.8% average) up Montrose St, which crests with just 3.5km left in the day. Given there is 1.5km of descent, it is really only a 2km effort on the flat that someone needs to make to stay away.

Easier said than done!

The Flying Dutchwomen

Can anyone stop the cycling powerhouse?

As I mentioned above, we witnessed the Dutch tear it apart in what was a flat course in Denmark so what can they manage to do here? I expect them to be constantly on the attack throughout the afternoon and their whole squad could realistically win. It will be interesting to see what the hierarchy will be; if they even have one at all.

Any dangerous attack that goes will have at least one Dutch rider in it but more likely there will be two or three there. This will put them at a massive tactical advantage compared to the other nations. We witnessed this at the Worlds last year when Blaak was able to attack and van der Breggen and van Vleuten marked the chase behind. I think we’ll see something very similar tomorrow and it won’t be a big sprint finish. Instead, it will either be a small group that fights it out or a solo rider will get the jump on everyone and come home alone.

What move do you follow?

This will be the question that the majority of the peloton will be asking themselves tomorrow morning. There are plenty of good sprinters here but they arrive with weak/small teams so it will be very difficult for them to control things all day. Take for example Lepistö, she is the type of rider who in form could make a reduced bunch sprint but with only two team-mates the likelihood is that she will have to attack to make the selection, rather than rely on others bringing it back. It is a mixture of good race reading ability but also a bit of luck to get yourself into that right attack. Then it is just up to your legs to finish it off!

I think we’ll see things whittled down almost immediately and the first 4 or 5 laps will see a race of attrition before the second half of the race. From that point onwards a winning move could go at any time.

The one team who has several cards to play that can almost match the Dutch are the Italians. With Bastianelli, Cecchini, Longo Borghini and Bronzini they have four riders capable of following a lot of attacks from those in orange. It will be interesting to see if they are equally as attacking as their counterparts.

A Trio to Watch

As I expect the race to be very dynamic and unpredictable I’m just going to name three riders who I think have a good chance of producing a strong result tomorrow. So apologies if you were looking for a long list here!

Elisa Longo Borghini.

Strade Bianche - Elite Women 2018

A very aggressive rider, the former Italian Champion has had a consistently solid season but has just missed out on that big win. She did win the Mediterranean Games road race, however, the opposition there wasn’t as strong as it will be tomorrow. One of the punchier riders in the peloton who seems to cope well on rolling courses, it is amazing she hasn’t won more. Maybe a change of team will do wonders for her next year? Here she gets to ride in the Italian tricolore though and they always come to these events fired up to do well. No doubt they will have a plan to either sprint with Bronzini or Bastianelli, but I think Longo Borghini will be given a free card to mark attacks and follow any move she deems dangerous. Will she finally get some luck?

Lucinda Brand.

I can’t exactly not include a Dutch rider here, can I? Brand is the hipstery pick but I really rate her chances for tomorrow. We saw in both the Giro Rosa and La Course that her climbing has improved massively on the longer ascents but it is the short punchy climbs that we tomorrow which should suit her more. If she has maintained her level of form from the start of July then she will be a big threat and a good wild card for the Dutch team to play.

Dani Rowe.

OVO Energy Women's Tour 2018 | Stage 2 Rushden to Daventry

A “home” championships will certainly motivate Rowe, who has had a very good season so far. Her change of team to WaowDeals has seen her gain some freedom at times, mainly in the UK races. Tomorrow she will probably be Team GBs leader, although Barnes will be hoping for a sprint. Rowe has shown in the past that she is capable of following the best in the World when on small climbs; her performance in Yorkshire is testament to that. An attacking rider, I would be very surprised if we didn’t see her off the front of the bunch at some point. In the right group she has every chance.

Prediction

It is nigh on impossible to stop the Dutch if they play the race right so I’ll go with Lucinda Brand to take the win, something she has deserved over the past month of racing!

Lucinda_Brand-1024x683

Coverage

The race will be shown live on Eurosport Player from start to finish, with the pre-race coverage starting at 12:20 UK time. I’m not too sure if it will be on elsewhere but I imagine so!

Betting

I kindly asked B365 if they would price this up before and they delivered, truly remarkable. Probably be the only time outside of Worlds I get a chance to lose some money on the women’s races so I’m going in and backing the three to watch.

No EW available though which is a shame so 1pt WIN on the following…

Brand @ 20/1

ELB @ 22/1

Rowe @ 50/1

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Giro d’Italia 2018 Stage 20 Preview: Susa -> Cervinia

Today’s Recap

Well shit, that was insane.

Love him or hate him, you have to admire just how ballsy and mental that ride from Foome was today. Team Sky set him up perfectly on the Finestre and the Brit attacked once onto the gravel section, with still a good portion of the climb to go, let alone the remaining 70 odd kilometres. But he did it, unbelievably, he managed to hold off the remaining GC group of Dumoulin/Pinot/Lopez/Carapaz but a good bit of that can be attributed to the lack of organised chase, especially between the two young jersey riders.

DeDJAxtXkAAVI2-

His time gap when he crossed the line was 3 minutes to second placed finisher Carapaz with Pinot finishing another 7 seconds behind. More importantly though, Dumoulin was even further behind and Froome now consequently leads the race by 40 seconds which should be enough to see him crowned champion.

A few riders had bad days in the saddle with Pozzovivo losing his podium position but Yates had a terrible day and he’s dropped down to 18th place on GC.

It will have been a tough day out for all though as the last rider home came in over 45 minutes down. Not fun. Good thing there is an easy stage tomorrow, oh wait…

The Route

It is easy to start off with to be fair but the final third is very cruel!

stage-20-profile

130kms of mainly flat ground which will see a fight to get into the break before three tough cat-1 climbs in the closing 80km of the day to play host to any final changes in GC.

stage-20-col-tsecore

First up is the Col Tsecore and it is arguably the toughest climb the riders will face all day, averaging 7.7% for its 16kms. That includes a 3km section of 11.4%. I would say it is too far out for any action but you never know. Once over the crest the riders will plunge straight down for the following 20kms on what could be a treacherous descent.

No time for respite though, because after a kilometre or so of valley roads they once again start heading upwards, this time for the Col Sant Pantaléon.

stage-20-col-de-saint-pantaleon

Another climb that averages north of 7%, this time 7.2%, for its 16.5km, the riders will have weary legs once they reach the top no doubt. With the toughest section coming in the closing 2km, it is the perfect launchpad for an attack before committing full gas to the descent.

stage-20-cervinia

The finish climb to Cervinia is the easiest of the day but with the tough double-header before and taking into account just how aggressive this Giro has been, a few rider’s might get some nasty surprises from their legs here.

How will the stage pan out?

Today well and truly turned the race on its head, so much so that Froome’s 40 second gap to Dumoulin seems too big for the Dutchman to overcome. Especially if the Sky rider is as good as he was today. We saw just how strong his team was this afternoon and it will take a lot for Sunweb to shake off Poels, Henao and Elissonde. We’ll no doubt see a vintage Sky mountain train tomorrow where they ride tempo to deter any attacks on the first two climbs. It depends on Dumoulin’s mood but he said post-stage today that he felt pessimistic about tomorrow, which to me signals that he knows he’s lost.

Sky will be happy for a large break to get up the road with no dangermen from GC and they’ll just control things behind.

Tomorrow is 90% a breakaway day but it all depends on who makes the move. If someone on the cusp of the top 10 sneaks into the move then we’ll see whoever is going to be knocked out of that position’s team chasing to hold onto that spot. It’s disappointing to see, but a Top 10 in a GT means a lot for some of these teams and riders.

The only real dangerous riders to watch out for in that situation though are Formolo, Geniez, Dennis and Poels.

If none of them make the break then I can see it winning by 10+ minutes again.

Making the break

Something that is a lot easier than it sounds but with everyone in the peloton knowing that a break is likely to stick, there will be a lot of fighting to get ahead. You need to be lucky with what move to follow but also need to manage your effort well and choose what break attempts to go in wisely.

Furthermore, we saw after Schachmann’s stage win that Van Poppel had tried to get into the break with one of their leader’s for the stage (probably Eg, knowing my luck), but he was not able to follow the Dutchman’s wheel. These things happen and it will be similar tomorrow where the morning terrain suits the rouleurs but to win the stage you need to go well uphill too.

Anyway, time to play everyone’s favourite game again.

TheBreakawayLottery

Jack Haig.

20176224_388268_670

With Yates well and truly out of the GC picture now, Mitchelton will probably go on the offensive tomorrow to try to win another stage. Haig impressed a lot in the Vuelta last year and he has continued that development this season, working incredibly well for his leader over the past few weeks. In the previous two stages we have had, the Aussie rider has taken it “easy” (well, as easy as it can be in a GT), so he should be a bit fresher than he was. We’ve seen so far in this race how strong he can be on the climbs and not many in the break will fancy their chances if he’s there.

Jose Goncalves.

I’ve not mentioned Mr #GoOnCalves for a while and that’s because he’s mainly been riding a really awkward race for me to do so, sitting on the cusp of the top 15 and too close on GC to try anything. Today he came home in a respectable 19th but at more than 26 minutes down on GC, he can finally go on the attack and be allowed some freedom. He is riding very well so far this race and has surpassed my expectations of what he could possibly do as a rider – can he take a stage to round it off?

Joe Dombrowski.

For old time’s sake. We’re into the final week of a Grand Tour and I’ve only mentioned Dombrowski once before so it feels right to do it again. The American has great powers of recovery and with a tough stage today, it should level the playing field a bit for him tomorrow. He has one of the best endurance engines I’ve seen in the peloton, and I genuinely think he’d be a contender in a 6-week race! The tricky climbs will see him at home tomorrow and would be great to see him finally deliver on that junior performance.

Carlos Betancur.

DccAn2VW0AEquwM

Much to the dismay of his faithful following, Betancur dropped out of the top 20 on GC today after coming home 34 minutes down. Is he cooked, or saving himself for one final shot at stage glory? We all know what type of rider he can be when he wants, and he seems to be getting to that stage again. This race is normally a good stomping ground an I’m sure the majority of the cycling public would love to see the Colombian raise his arms at the end of the day.

Prediction

#GoOnCalves.

José-Gonçalves

That is all.

Betting

I think I should be giving out a gamble responsibly mission statement here. None of the prices really appeal to me just now so hoping they get better later.

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Giro d’Italia 2018 Stage 13 Preview: Ferrara -> Nervesa della Battaglia

Today’s Recap

Dull sprint stage they said, well they weren’t wrong but it was the Sky which was particularly dull in the closing 30kms. We saw torrential rain fall on the riders and with a little bit of a wind and on a sketchy descent, the peloton split in two before we even hit the final circuit.

Things were brought mostly back together but there was one big omission as pre-stage favourite Viviani was in the group behind.

Wellens attacked as things regrouped and held on until the final 10km but he was caught on the climb. Some attacks flew but nothing major stuck until Betancur and Mohoric slithered away out the front of the peloton on the descent. Thanks to the Slovenian’s skills, they managed to hold off the charging bunch going under the Flamme Rouge but as it flattened out the Movistar rider refused to take a pull. So taking a leaf out of Sagan’s book, Mohoric just sat up and let the bunch catch them. After the stage he was quoted saying “unlucky for Carlos I’ve already won a stage”. Love it. Although he maybe was a bit over amorous in his attempts to drop Betancur on the descent.

Bennett didn’t know that those two were going to sit up though and he launched an audacious sprint from 350m to go after them, catching all the other sprinters sleeping behind. He opened up a gap quickly and it was enough to see him hold on for a second stage win!

DdaNmunW4AAzaFZ

Van Poppel was best of the rest with Bonifazio rounding out the podium. More of the same tomorrow?

The Route

Yes, parcours wise anyway.

T13_NervesaDB_alt

Except it is easier than it was today, with the only categorised climb of the day cresting at just under 20kms to go.

stage-13-montello

An easy ascent, it would be a shock to see any sprinters dropped here but you never know. We don’t have Mareczko or Guardini at this race anymore so it is doubtful!

The finish itself is straight forward too with there being no major turns or obstacles in the closing 4km, just a few roundabouts and sweeping bends to negotiate.

Expect to see a big battle between the sprint trains. If it is anything like the “simple” run in on stage 7 then it will be very messy.

Sprinters

Sam Bennett 

Imperious today, his winning move was one that brimmed with confidence and I wonder would he have pulled it off if he hadn’t won stage 7 already? He’s clearly in stupendous form at the moment and there is a big chance of him going back-to-back tomorrow. There will be more pressure on his team’s shoulders to chase down the break which might leave him a little short in the sprint, so he’ll need to be shrewd with what wheel he chooses to follow. He’s not unbeatable but given his performance today, he will be tough to beat!

Elia Viviani.

He looks a shadow of the rider that dominated in Israel. These past few stages he has been dropped on climbs that he shouldn’t have been and today he was one of the guys caught behind when the peloton split. He should have been there are is regrouped but for some reason he missed out again, ultimately rolling home 9 minutes down in 145th place. What is odd is that he went for the intermediate sprint points behind the breakaway and “won” both of them during the stage. Is he ill and trying to score as many points at the intermediate sprints knowing he won’t compete at the finish, hoping his illness will pass? Something doesn’t seem right with him either way. Tomorrow is the acid test.

Danny Van Poppel.

20186437_409896_670

The Jumbo rider looked strong in today’s sprint but the group just left it too late. He’s been slowly riding his way into this race and on his day I think he can match Viviani and Bennett for speed. His lead-out is a bit inexperienced but they have a group of strong guys who can string things out in the finale. Will they get the timing right tomorrow?

Sacha Modolo.

His team did a lot of work for him today but he ran out of steam in the end and finished in 13th place. Not ideal. On the previous sprint days he has shown some potential though and with a good placing on the tough stage 11 finish I think he’s just had a bad day today. He’ll be back to prove something tomorrow.

Niccolo Bonifazio.

The most reckless sprinter I have seen in a long time, he just squeezes through gaps that really aren’t there. I somewhat admire him for it, but sometimes he pushes the limits to the extreme. His bike was swinging all over the road today but he still got up for third. Maybe if he went straight he could have a better chance! He was one of the fastest finishers today and I’m intrigued to see what he can do when put into a good position.

The rest will probably be fighting for minor honours again but if Viviani is ill, then we might see a surprise rider make it onto the podium.

Prediction

The man on form makes it three wins, Bennett goes back to back!

Dc7V_6yW4AAZcEc

Betting

Chasing some EW value here.

I’ve seen enough from Modolo on the other sprint stages to hope that he can get on the podium tomorrow. Especially if Viviani is unwell.

Modolo 1pt EW at 12/1 with Bet365

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

Strade Bianche 2018 Preview

A modern-day classic that this year only celebrates its 11th edition, Strade Bianche is a race that has won the hearts of many, myself included. The mix of rolling terrain, punchy climbs, gravel roads and a finish amongst the picturesque Piazza del Campo make this a great day to sit in front of the television and watch the race unfold. Given the wide-variety of parcours to be tackled, a range of riders have found themselves in contention coming into Siena at the end of the race.

Last year saw poor conditions with rain throughout the day which made the race one of attrition, especially as crashes splintered the peloton on crucial sections of Strade. An elite group of riders forged ahead but it was Michal Kwiatkowski who was rewarded for an incredibly attacking display by taking the victory.

strade-bianche2-750x480

Behind, a trio of Van Avermaet, Wellens and Stybar fought it out for the minor podium places with a sprint up to the Piazza. They came home in that order with the Czech rider losing out.

This year we could be set for another great edition of the race due to an exciting start list but also some incredibly challenging conditions. First though, let’s have a look at the parcours the riders will face.

The Route

At 184km it certainly isn’t the longest race the riders will face all year, heck, there will even be plenty of stages in Grand Tours that are longer, but with 63km of dirt roads in total then it isn’t easy-going in the slightest.

strade-bianchi-2018-profile-575ae0ea60

Sectors 5-8 are where the bulk of the “Strade” are, with the last being the most difficult. At 11.5km long big gaps can be made, especially when the rolling nature of the sector is considered. This is where Cancellara used to make his mark and after his third victory in 2016, the sector is nicknamed after the Swiss rider.

StradeSector8

Once through Monte Sante Marie there are just over 40kms and only 3 gravel sectors remaining but that doesn’t mean the action is over. With the continual rolling nature of the road there are many potential locations to attack and those at the head of the race need to be attentive for the final hour.

strade-bianchi-2018-result-finish-e549c08722

There are two gravel sections in the closing 20kms, both of which involve uphill sections that are steep enough for stinging attacks. However, the flatter sections of road also provide a good launchpad for a move if there is no co-operation in a group. Really, all the riders need to be attentive throughout the closing stages of the day or the race could be lost in a few moments.

strade-bianche-we-2018-result-finish-n2-4090d0db39

The climb up to the Piazza in Siena is sharp but it is short enough that the puncheurs and climbers both have an equal chance to go well on it. Once over the crest, you really want to be at the head of the group as the run-in is very narrow and technical. Leading through the final 200m almost guarantees the win!

Weather Watch

Conditions are looking much better for the race than they were at the start of the week but they will still certainly be grim.

Screen Shot 2018-03-01 at 11.06.14
Source: Windfinder

It looks as if it will be wet, wet, wet! The gravel roads will turn to mud and this will certainly make the racing more interesting to watch. It will also test the riders bike handling skills as they make their way down some tricky muddy descents. The winner will definitely deserve it come the end of the day!

Contenders

A wide-open race that has many potential winners amongst the start list, it all depends on how the race is played out. I’m going to go through the “big 5” according to the bookmakers then name three others who I think might have a good chance of the title, so apologies if the list is not as exhaustive as you were hoping for!

Michal Kwiatkowski.

The defending champion returns here in great form having just won the Volta ao Algarve. This is a race that he seems to love and it would not surprise me to see him go and win again, matching Cancellara’s record of three wins. The punchy climbs are great for him but he is also strong enough on the flatter sections to make a difference. Will he get as much freedom as last year? Probably not but given we have both GVA and Sagan here, then he might just profit from their rivalry.

Peter Sagan.

Back for his first race on European soil he’s spent a lot of time recently at altitude camp. It will be interesting to see how that transfers into his performances during races; it might take a little bit for him to get back into the swing of things. Sagan really wants to win San Remo so given the tricky conditions here he might just go 90% with a focus on what is to come. Then again, he is a racer and given his incredible talent, he is in with a great chance of taking a title that is missing from his palmarès.

Zdenek Stybar.

Zdenek+Stybar+Strade+Bianche+nzRBwa3KPcLl

Winner of the 2015 edition the former cyclo-cross star will love the terrible conditions that are forecast. Results wise the start of his season has been so-so but it is his performances that have impressed. He looked strong out on the attack in the final day of the Algarve, forcing those behind to do a lot of work to catch him. He then followed that up with an attacking display in Omloop that ultimately was fruitless in the end. Nonetheless, I’m sure he’ll be happy with his current condition. Last year I picked Stybar as my winner only for him to finish 4th and I’m not sure if I’ve seen anything that much different from him this season to see him finish any higher. He can’t be truly discounted though, especially when the weather is considered and with super-domestique Gilbert to help.

Greg Van Avermaet.

Incredibly consistent at this event he didn’t seem to pack the same punch at Omloop that he normally would. Now, that is probably not a good thing in terms of his chances of winning this race, but it is good for him being on track for the bigger goals slightly further along in the season. Nonetheless, GVA is a classy bike rider and with parcours like this he can’t be discounted. The short punchy climbs and challenging gravel sections are right up his street or should I say “Strade”. Sorry, I’ll let myself out…Saying all that, compared to the rest of the big 5, I just can’t see a situation where he wins.

Alejandro Valverde.

The evergreen rider from Movistar was originally on the start list for this race but it looked as if his participation was in jeopardy after having some stomach issues. He’s over that now and is here to race, I think it might all be a smokescreen anyway. In stupendous form as always, he’s somewhat disappointed at this race in the past only managing to come third on two occasions. That could well change this year!

One interesting thing to note from the “Big 5” is that they are all excellent bike-handlers, something that will be very important tomorrow. Now onto my three picks for the race, all of whom are Italian…

Moreno Moser.

arrivo_laigueglia_2018_670

If you’ve kept up with this blog since the start of the season then you would know that this pick was pretty much inevitable! Astana have been flying this year with Moser picking up a great win in Laigueglia, breaking a duck that lasted for a few seasons. It was the way in which he won that race that really impressed me, his attack on the final climb can only be described as brutal. Admittedly the competition was at a lower level than it is here, but he made almost a 50m gap in roughly 200m. Following on from that he then went and worked selflessly for the team in Andalucia, often being the last rider in front of the two Astana leaders going onto the climbs. He arrives here with a strong team and I expect them to play a big part in the race, possibly splitting it early just like Lotto Soudal did last year. If they have numbers in the front group like they did in Omloop, then expect them to repeatedly attack until one gets away. Moreno has a great chance in a situation like that.

Gianni Moscon.

Who needs a snow plough when you can just get a Tractor instead?! Insanely talented, 2017 was not just a normal breakthrough year for the Sky man, I would describe it more as an explosion!

It started off rather innocuously until a very impressive 5th place at Roubaix got things rolling. Solid showings in Route du Sud were then followed with a win in the Italian TT champs and a 5th place in the road race. A second place on Stage 4 of Burgos was a microcosm of what we were going to see in the coming Vuelta; Moscon absolutely blitzing it on the short 2kms climbs and putting everyone into difficulty. A respectable 6th place in the Worlds TT came not long after before a very unrespectable disqualification in the road race. Two more top 10s in the end of season Italian one-day races before a big third place in Lombardia. All in all, not bad!

This year started off with some good outings in the pre-season style races in Spain before actually being the best Sky finisher GC-wise in Valenciana. Since then he’s been at training camps, honing his form. Strade on paper looks like a race that should suit him perfectly. He’s more than likely going to be the last Sky rider with Kwiatkowski and if things are getting cagey he will be the first to attack. If he’s anywhere close to that 5 minute power he showed during the Vuelta, then he is a dark-horse for this race.

Vincenzo Nibali.

FFF9986-800x533-n8yk2mr9fgkjeazck8ya04yymed77303s5gw7q08ao

Predicting a Nibali peak outside of a Grand Tour is arguably one of the hardest bits of cycling punditry; the guy is an enigma. This is a race he’s attempted in the past but has fallen flat on almost every occasion. Last year was a quite literal example as he crashed before later suffering a flat tyre as well. His start to 2018 has been quiet, using the races in the middle east as training miles before his bigger goals later in the season. I have a feeling though that he really wants to give MSR a proper dig this year so his form will be on the up here. Conditions on Saturday also remind me a lot of that famous Tour de France stage back in 2014 when Nibali went on the attack on the cobbles. He’s not afraid of bad conditions and as an excellent bike handler, he might put some into difficulty on the descents. It will be hard for him to out-punch anyone on the final climb to the Piazza so he more than likely needs to arrive alone, but like with everyone else I’ve mentioned above, it is possible.

Prediction

Moscon to take the win!

arctic2016-moscon-03-620x400

Like others, I think we’ll see a fairly tactical race with a lot of looking around at each other by the “Big 5”. Consequently, we’ll see a smaller group with some of the “second tier” riders get away to fight out for the win. If Moscon is at 90% of what he was like in the Vuelta last year, no one will be able to match him up the climb to Piazza del Campo. He’ll take a spectacular but very divisive win!

Betting

Backing the three picks;

1pt EW on them all…

Moscon @ 18/1 (Would take 14)

Nibali @ 80/1 (Would take 50s)

Moser @ 80/1 (Would take 50s)

I’ll take a little longer and have a look at some H2H later. If I find anything I’ll fancy then I’ll post them on Twitter.

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win tomorrow? I’m certainly looking forward to an exciting race! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

Women’s Strade Bianche 2018 Preview

The first round of the Women’s World Tour is upon is and we’re set for a cracking race. Now in its 4th edition, we’ve had some brutal races in the past and I expect that to be no different this year.

2017 saw home-favourite Elisa Longo Borghini take a stunning victory as she outmanoeuvred Kasia Niewiadoma coming into the Piazza del Campo, with Lizzie Deignan taking third.

GettyImages_647775826.0

It wasn’t easy for the trio even though they were the strongest on the day as their refusal to co-operate saw Brand and Gillow launch audacious late counter attacks. They were caught on the climb up to the Piazza in what was a gripping end to a great race and allowed for the spectacular picture above!

Will we see more of the same this year? Let’s take a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

Longer than 2017, the riders will face just over 30kms worth of gravel along the 136km route.

strade-bianche-we-2018-profile-e0a6d34906

The longest section they will traverse comes at around the half-way point in the race and this will be the place where the field starts to split up. I would imagine one or two teams will come to the front and push the pace on, reducing the group down to 50 or so riders.

From there it will be tough to control and we might see a counter attack and a new breakaway form but things will be brought to heel once we enter the closing stages.

 

strade-bianche-we-2018-result-finish-41ff644173

The two gravel sections in the closing 20km are where ELB and co did the damage last year. After the first segment we did get a bit of a regrouping but it was just before the final Strade and once again the stronger riders made a difference there. As I mentioned above, it was only due to their lack of co-operation on the rolling 12kms that remained which resulted in Brand and Gillow coming from behind and straight over the top. If they had worked together then those dropped would have had no chance of getting back.

strade-bianche-we-2018-result-finish-n2-4090d0db39

The climb into Siena is brutally steep but at only 500m the puncheurs can hang on with the proper climbers. It is important to be near the front at the crest though because positioning is vital thereafter.

As we saw last year leading through the narrow streets combined with good bike positioning means you can effectively block off anyone from passing, thus securing the win. It’s a tactically shrewd move but one that everyone should be aware of by now. Therefore the “real” finish line is with 200m to go!

Weather Watch

Given the surprising amount of snow that Italy has received over the past week, I’m sure the riders will be glad to know that it will be “just” rain on Saturday.

Screen Shot 2018-03-01 at 11.06.14
Source: Windfinder

Although the women look set to have the slightly better conditions with more rainfall expected later on in the day, they are more likely to be on the brunt of stronger winds. Making it six or half a dozen really!

Either way, whoever wins come the end of the race will certainly deserve it.

Contenders

Elisa Longo Borghini.

sptdw6017_670 (1)

The defending champion arrives here after a solid outing in Omloop where she was on the attack. A great climber and one-day racer, she is one of the many women who seem to have been around for a while but she is still only 26. Those years of experience started to shine through last year with the win in Strade and good performances elsewhere such as a second at the Giro Rosa. I think she’ll find it difficult to double up but given her consistency here (3rd, 4th, 1st) then I would struggle to argue against her going close. With Audrey Cordon-Ragot as a team-mate she has a someone who can go deep into the race with her and even act as an attacker to force other teams to chase.

Katarzyna Niewiadoma.

With a stage-race already under her belt, the Canyon SRAM rider should be a little bit ahead of her rivals here in terms of racing miles. At that race she finished a fairly modest 7th but it was her performances on the climbs that impressed most, with only Moolman (who’s also here) being able to stick with her. Niewiadoma is another rider who is incredibly consistent at this race having finished 6th/2nd/2nd, she will be looking to finally get one-step higher this year. One massive advantage she will have compared to previous attempts is the strength of her team. Canyon should have both Cecchini and Ferrand Prevot in or around the top 10 at this race which means that they should be able to control it due to the numbers they have. Then again, this is Strade and it will be absolutely horrendous out on the roads so “control” might not be the word! I wonder how essential PFP’s cyclocross and mountain bike experience will be.

Megan Guarnier.

The winner of the inaugural edition back in 2015, the American lines up here for her first race of the season. After an exceptional 2016 last year seemed like somewhat of a step back in terms of results, with only two wins to her name. She was exceptionally consistent but given the fighter she is I imagine that she will want to return to those previous levels this season. A strong climber with a fast sprint she has every chance of a win if she has the form. Boels also have the very luxury second option of the Queen of the Ardennes; Anna van der Breggen. She’s finished 5th on both occasions that she has raced here, but with the aim of peaking for the Ardennes again, will she have enough in the locker for a good result this year? Deignan is on one of the start lists that I have looked at but she is not in the official preview on the Boels website so she may or may not be here too! It certainly adds another dynamic if she is.

Ashleigh Moolman.

DWodDqpX4AAwtxx

As already mentioned above, Moolman has some good racing in her legs at Setmana last week. Interestingly, she never finished outside the top 10 on any of the stages and managed to take home second on GC. There is clearly some form there! This is a race she has done in the past with a 4th place in 2015 but she was only capable of 18th last year. It should suit her punchy characteristics and given she has been involved in a few sprints, her power figures must be good for the short and sharp efforts. Such a classy rider, could she be described as a dark horse for this race?

Amanda Spratt.

With Garfoot no longer on the team and Van Vleuten competing in Apeldoorn the mantle of leading Mitchelton Scott is left with “Spratty”. Having won the Women’s Tour Down Under she has returned to racing in Europe in an attacking mood, having been off the front of both the Belgian races last weekend. Just missing out on the key move last year she finished strongly to come home in 8th place. She’s certainly capable of improving on that this season and a top 5 is possible. I’m intrigued to see how team-mate Kennedy goes in these conditions.

Janneke Ensing.

Full of confidence after winning Le Samyn des Dames on Tuesday the Ale Cipollini rider will be hoping to improve on a 13th place last year. She’s a solid climber although she isn’t up there with the best in the discipline. However, theoretically she should love the grim conditions that are forecast for Saturday given her background in speed skating. With an attacking attitude, she might be able to sneak away from the “major contenders” and just surprise everyone by holding on.

Shara Gillow.

The second Australian in the list, she had to unfortunately cut short her racing time Down Under due to a crash. However, she returned at Setmana and finished a very respectable 8th on GC. Apparently attacking to bridge the gap to the leaders on the opening stage, she was closed down by their team-mates. Her form must be good and she is always a consistent performer in the hilly one-day races. I expect a top 10 and anything near the top of the order wouldn’t surprise me too much but it would be difficult to win as she is not the punchiest!

One other name that I want to throw out there (mainly because she is in my season-long fantasy team) is Pauliena Rooijakers.

Pauliena

I can’t imagine many of you will have heard of the WaowDeals rider but she is the former Dutch and European Beachrace champion. After competing in that discipline full time in past few years this season her focus will be more on the road. A capable climber on her day she won the Queen Stage of the Tour Cycliste Féminin International de l’Ardèche last year, along with a few notable top 10’s in hilly one-day races. Her background in beach racing should see her at home on the Strade and I’m quietly hoping for a good result; a top 10 would be an incredible achievement.

Prediction

Form, team, parcours and race history all point to one rider; Katarzyna Niewiadoma.

DXDxylkXkAAaf1H

She is a truly incredible bike rider with a string of great results and it is amazing to think she is still only 23! Punchy enough to cope with the accelerations on the climbs, I have a feeling we didn’t see her go 100% in Setmana and she was holding something back for this race. The one big advantage she has compared to last year is the strength of her team which will be a big help; she shouldn’t have to chase every attack herself. On the sprint up to the Piazza no one will be able to follow her and she’ll take a great win.

I’m not someone to make outlandish, season-long claims…wait, no, I am, but I think she will be World Champion this year. No pressure Kasia!

Coverage

Much like last year, I think we’re going to be able to watch the final 45 minutes of the race live on Eurosport player. I’m not 100% sure at the moment as it doesn’t specify on the schedule but that seems to be the case. It will more than likely be without commentary though so I’ll pester your Twitter timelines with updates instead!

Thanks as always for reading! I’m certainly looking forward to the Women’s World Tour starting again with this incredible race. Who do you think will win on Saturday? Will we see an upset? I don’t normally beg for anything but if you could please retweet the preview to share it around then that would be greatly appreciated; my women’s previews unfortunately don’t seem to get the same coverage as the men’s do. 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.

20165746-335868-800x534

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?!

il-lombardia-2017-1504864199

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.

Colma-e-Muro-di-Sormano_Maglio_profile

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.

CPqDduRUsAAQtdL

 

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.

URAN-Rigoberto048pp-copy-630x420

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.

20176131_377668_670

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.

 

Milano-Torino 2017 Preview

After an exciting finale in Varese on Tuesday, the riders will turn their attention to Milano-Torino tomorrow as they make their final preparations before Lombardia on Sunday.

In 2016 we saw a great battle between Woods and Lopez on the final climb after they broke free from a group that had attacked on the flat run in to said ascent. They traded blows but ultimately it was the Astana rider who came out on top after Woods went too early and mistimed his effort.

Milan - Turin

Uran bolted from the peloton behind to finish third, leaving Lopez in a Cannondale sandwich on the podium.

With the defending champion not returning to defend his crown, will we see a new winner? Let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

It seems as if the organisers have adopted the “if it is not broke, why fix it?” adage, as we have the exact same route as the past few years.

MI-TO_2017_alt_web-1024x585

Flaaaaaaaaat then two tough ascents up to the Basilica de Superga to decide the day.

Screen Shot 2017-10-03 at 16.34.52

On the first effort the riders will complete only 4.29km of the climb, making it ever so slightly steeper than when the climb is taken as a whole. Well, when I say that, the average gradient is 9.137% for that part of the climb. Compared to the 9.081% for the ascent as a whole then there isn’t much difference, I’m just being pedantic!

And that’s pretty much it really, there’s nothing else to know about the route.

How will the race pan out?

The race tends to be very formulaic until we get to the first ascent of the Superga. A breakaway makes it up the road and is then controlled by the teams of the favourites and of those without a rider in it. Fairly standard procedure!

However, we then have a few potential outcomes as to what could happen from there.

Given that the first passage crests with just under 20km to go, then it is very feasible that a counter attack launched here could make it all the way to the line. Of course, for it to succeed then many of the favourites’ teams would need to be represented. If not, there will probably be enough firepower behind to bring it back, but it will have a lasting impact as to how the race is controlled from there.

Last year we saw Kennaugh hold on from the original break until the flat 5km section that bridges the descent and the climb. Once he was caught, the impetus went from the peloton and a splinter group made it off of the front. As the majority of teams were represented, there was very little cohesion behind (although there was little up ahead too to be fair), the front group managed to gain a reasonable time gap. Our top two on the day ended up being from that selection and there is a possibility something like that happens again this year; where the “second in command” riders get up the road while the favourites stay behind and mark each other out.

Of course, the final option is that everything is held together until the final climb and that the best rider on the day wins. That’s what happened back in 2015 when Diego Rosa took off at 2.6km to go and was never seen again. To make that win even better, he managed to make the move in front of his own fan club!

Screen Shot 2017-10-04 at 15.36.49

So, what will we see happen this year?

With no Nibali here, then quite a few teams might be happier to take it all the way to the final climb. However, we witnessed in Tre Valli that teams are keen to race aggressively and try not to lean heavily on their star-cards.

Therefore I think we could see a similar outcome to last season; where a smaller group escapes either over the top of the climb or on the flat section. They will then stay away as the majority of the strong teams will be represented.

Contenders

Due to my logic above, I’m not going to go through the “favourites” as I think they might be fighting for lower places as 3-4 riders from the group ahead will stay away until the end. Maybe!

Once again though, this list won’t be extensive, just a few outsiders to keep an eye on!

David Gaudu.

davidgaudu-winning-withthibautpinot-stage3-tourdelain2017

A rider who produced an incredible result earlier in the year that has barely been talked about since; when he finished 9th at Fleche aged just 20 years old. He is a talent, that’s for sure! After that performance he’s continued to feature in races here and there, including his first pro win in the Tour de l’Ain. A natural climber by body-type, he is incredibly light, tomorrow’s summit finish looks good for him and given the right company he can contend. After Pinot’s very strong showing in Tre Valli, I think teams will be wary of bringing him to the final climb with the bunch together, so FDJ will have to go on the counter. Can the former Tour de l’Avenir winner cap off a good first season as a pro?

Diego Rosa.

The local hero will no doubt have his fan club cheering him on roadside, but will it once again be the catalyst to spur him on to victory? In his recent races he’s done a lot of work for his team-mates so it is hard to tell where his form truly is at the moment, but it is normally at this time of year where he comes good. Really good. With this being his local race, I think Sky might have him as a co-leader, in the hope that he will be more willing to help Poels/Landa/Kwiat in Lombardia on Sunday. He is one to watch.

Primoz Roglic.

He’s certainly not a one-day specialist, but given the way he flew up the climb at the TT in the World’s then I think he has recovered from his illness that thwarted his late season. On his day, he can climb with the best as we saw at the Tour de France when he took a great win. I’m intrigued to see how he goes tomorrow, but I think he can surprise.

Pello Bilbao.

news_idnews864_photo_1497634630

It is basically a rule of thumb that an Astana rider has to go well here, they’ve won it the past two years! Both the riders that have won on those occasions have been the rider who is not the clear leader of the team, so sorry Aru it is not going to be you. Bilbao finished well here last year, taking a fine 7th place for Caja Rural. He is a rider I like a lot and it is good to see him take a step up this year now that he’s riding at World Tour level. At the Vuelta he was climbing as well as I have ever seen from him so it will be interesting to see if he can repeat that here. If so, he is a big danger!

Sam Oomen.

A case of which Sunweb rider to go for, they have brought an embarrassment of riches to this race. I thought Oomen would be tired after his first Grand Tour but he certainly proved me wrong and was part of the very impressive TTT winning outfit. In Tre Valli he followed that up with a very commendable sixth place so he’s clearly doing something right! Like Gaudu, he is a small rider who packs a mean punch and he could dance his way up Superga tomorrow.

Prediction

The local hero to take another victory though, with Rosa to make it two wins at this race in three years!

bettiniphoto_0226222_1_full_670

As I’ve said above, I think we’ll see a similar outcome to the previous edition where a smaller group will breakaway on the flat run in to fight out the race.

The real question for the day though is; where will the Diego Rosa fan club be positioned out on course?

Betting

As of yet, only the likes of Unibet are offering odds for the race. Tempted with something on Rosa for the win and top 3, and then also “Any other rider” as this covers Bilbao and Gaudu too. Nothing wild with the stakes though!

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Could we be in for an upset? I’ll be back on Friday with my Lombardia preview. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.