Tour de France 2018 GC Preview

Tour de France 2018 GC Preview

In 2017 we saw a rather dominant Chris Froome win by ‘only’ 54 seconds ahead of Rigoberto Uran with Romain Bardet edging Landa by one second to round out the GC podium.

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I say ‘only’ above as it was actually Froome’s smallest winning margin in all 4 of his victories so far, but he never looked in that much trouble throughout the three weeks. Obviously it was a measured effort so that he could go on to win the Vuelta later in the year, then the Giro this year. Can he make it an incredible 5th Tour win and 4th GT win in a row?

No fancy business here because as I’ll be doing daily stage previews I’m just ducking any route analysis here and just jumping straight into the favourites. I would recommend this preview from Road.cc though as they cover each stage in concise paragraphs. Much better than my ramblings!

I’m also going to be blunt with some riders as I don’t really rate their overall chances. Also you’ll have read many previews by now and if I’m honest, I can’t really bothered to rehash what others have said.

Anyway, onto the contenders and pretenders…

The Favourite 

Chris Froome.

Despite what your opinion is (I’m sure you all know mine by now) on the whole salbutamol case, the bottom line is that Froome is cleared and is here to race. Nothing like a bit of pre-Tour drama though with ASO apparently going to ban him before UCI/WADA announcing the following day that his case was dropped. More drama than Love Island!

At the Giro Froome was seemingly way off the pace but two remarkable days on the bike, Zoncolan and Stage 19, saw him claw back an almost 3 minute deficit to Dumoulin with some more left in the bag. With an extra week between the Giro and Tour, he should have recovered reasonably well. His team is super strong, as you would expect, and he will have a lot of support on the flat and in the mountains. It will be interesting to see how he can handle the cobbled stage – it will certainly bring back bad memories from crashing out in 2014. No doubt he starts as the favourite and will gain time in the efforts against the clock but can we really expect a rider to win four Grand Tours in a row? I hope not, for the sake of the sport.

The Waiting for Froome to falter-ers

Richie Porte.

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Can Richie survive a Grand Tour without a bad day? That is the million dollar question. If he does, then he will play a massive role in the outcome of this race. Arguably the best rider on a 15 minute climb in the World, he will hope to display some of that trademark out of the saddle “sprint-climbing” in this race. At the Tour de Suisse he was strong and took home that race but I get the sense that he still wasn’t at 100%, there is still room for improvement from him. Compared to what he has been used to in the past couple of seasons this looks like his strongest BMC support team. They have all terrain covered to shepherd Porte around France and he should be able to rely on Van Garderen and Caruso deep into many of the mountain days. I started off this season thinking that Porte would win the race and although my mind has been slightly changed, he still starts as one to beat if he stays on his bike.

Romain Bardet. 

The AG2R man has finished on the podium the past two years and will be hoping for a similar result this year, if not better. A third in the recent Dauphiné was a good and highlights that his form is heading in the right direction but that he has not peaked too soon. In last year’s edition of the race I loved the way AG2R attacked Sky in the mountains and they bring an even stronger squad with them this time out. He shouldn’t lose a crazy amount of time in the TTT as a result but I do have a slight worry for him on the cobbled stage. Then again, who of the GC contenders will truly be comfortable then? A big day is needed from Naesen! In the mountains he (alongside Porte) is one of the few riders I am confident can actually challenge Froome. With a few stages ending in descents from climbs, he will be in his element and certainly put pressure on the other GC contenders.

Nairo Quintana.

Is the Colombian back to his climbing best? It looks like it after his strong showing in the Tour de Suisse and he was particularly impressive holding off the group of GC contenders on the shallow drag before the final steeper ramps of Arosa. He forms a very strong attacking trident with Valverde and Landa and I’m really looking forward to see how they approach the race. I just hope that at least two of them are in contention after the cobbled stage. We saw in 2015 just how strong Nairo can be in the final week of the race in the high mountains and the rest of his challengers will be concerned if he is within 2 minutes going into the closing stages. No doubt we’ll certainly see some enthusiastic Colombian fans at the side of the road!

The Podium Outsiders

Right, shorter musings from now on.

Vincenzo Nibali.

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Winner of the Tour when the race last visited the cobbles, the Bahrain rider has had a pretty average year so far. However, he knows how to peak for a race and he can never be discounted. With a strong team to support him, we will probably see him on the attack as he will no doubt have to claw some time back after the TTT.

Rigoberto Uran.

A surprising second place last year, I think it will be hard for the Colombian to repeat the feat this time around. He found some race sharpness in Slovenia recently but I just don’t think he has enough to do it. Then again, no one really mentioned him last year and look what happened.

Alejandro Valverde.

Mr Evergreen, Valverde has been incredibly strong this season so far, having won the GC of every stage race he has competed in. It was scary how easy things were for him in the recent La Route d’Occitanie, using the attacks of Elissonde and Navarro as training – deliberately letting gaps grow so he could close them down. He’s another that will probably be chasing time after the TTT but I look forward to his venture onto the cobbles – he didn’t do too badly in Dwars this year.

Adam Yates. 

Have Mitchelton learnt from his brother’s epic collapse at the Giro? In strong form after his second in the Dauphine (the gap to Porte would have only be a handful of seconds if it was not for the TTT), he will be able to rely on a well-rounded squad focussed solely on him. Can he handle the pressure?

Jakob Fuglsang.

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If there was ever a year when Fuglsang could seriously challenge for a podium spot then this would be it. He has a solid team built around him that should be able to support him on most terrain. Back in 2014 he was the one doing the majority of the work when Nibali gained a load of time on the cobbles so no doubt he’ll be licking his lips at that stage. We saw in the Tour de Suisse that he was stronger than Porte on the last day of climbing and he followed that up with a blistering TT. Has he managed to hold form?

Top 10 Fillers

Ilnur Zakarin.

The Katusha man is one of those riders that could really fall into a couple of categories in this preview. I fear he’ll lose some time in the TT and given his poor bike handling the cobbles will be an issue too. However, we saw in the Vuelta last year that he was one of the best climbers in the last week. It all depends on the opening 9 days though.

Geraint Thomas.

Team Sky Plan B but when has a Team Sky Plan B ever actually won a race? I certainly can’t recall a time. Needs Froome to drop out within the opening 9 days for him to get a dedicated team around him. Will he wait for his captain on the cobbles as theoretically he should be one of the strongest GC riders. It will be interesting to see how it plays out within the team.

Bob Jungels.

I rate him as a rider but I feel he’s just going to be a “he’s there” kind of rider this Tour. Top 10 would be a good result.

Daniel Martin.

Terrible team means he will lose a lot of time in the TTT and he will lose a lot of time on the cobbles too. Stage hunting later in the race would be a good idea if he just doesn’t want to ride for a top 10.

Steven Kruijswijk.

See Jungels.

Bauke Mollema.

See Kruijswijk.

The Pretenders

Riders that won’t top 10 despite a lot of people thinking they will. Ready to eat my hat here.

Primoz Roglic.

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He seems to be everyone’s favourite wildcard for the race but I just can’t see it. Having won both Itzulia and Romandie he then returned to racing recently and took the crown at his home tour. Unproven and untested, I think he will once again go for stage wins and focus on contending for the GC in a GT next year.

Tom Dumoulin.

The Sunweb rider has never done two GTs back to back while going for GC. After the brutally tough Giro I think he will fall short here and instead focus on going for some stage wins. The way that Sunweb approached this race to me seemed that Kelderman was going to be their GC candidate with Dumoulin acting as a decoy to deflect attention but unfortunately Kelderman crashed and can’t take the start.

Mikel Landa.

The boldest of the three riders listed here, I just can’t get behind the Landa train. I think something will go wrong for him on one of the days and with the two more established Movistar riders possibly getting a little extra support, Landa will lose his hopes on the cobbles. If he is in contact though I would love to see Rogue Landa again.

Egan Bernal.

Exceptional talent but he’ll fall into line, a.k.a behind Thomas and Poels. We might see something similar to Moscon at the Vuelta where he is exceptional for a while but due to his age he won’t be consistent.

Prediction

Probably Froome, innit.

But after resigning myself to that fate at the Giro I’m going to predict a more fairytale result here and go with Bardet to take home the first French win in a long time.

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Allez Romain!

Betting

Three pre-Tour bets for me, all that I’ve tweeted out over the past couple of weeks.

2pts EW Bardet @ 18/1 for GC (he’s actually out to 20/1 with Betfair Sportsbook but I would take the 16/1 widely available elswhere)

1.5pt Valverde Top 3 at 7/1 (available at Bet365 and Will Hill)

1pt EW Demare Points Classification at 20/1 (with Coral/Lads)

I had set aside 10pts for outright market bets but this is not the year to bet on KOM pre race but I might fancy something during the race.

Let’s just hope for a better Tour than Giro punting wise, I’ll be sticking to my favourite rule: 2pts a day keeps the debt collector away!

Thanks for reading as always and hope you enjoyed the preview. Who do you think will go on to win the race overall? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Tour de France 2017 Stage 5 Preview; Vittel -> La Planche des Belles Filles

Today’s Recap

I thought the Tour was supposed to be the more mundane and less drama packed of the three Grand Tours…

A quiet day quickly turned into a manic one in the final 10km as the fight for position was crazy. Riders were swerving all over the road and the peloton should have taken heed when the Astana rider (I think it was Grivko) came up to the front to berate Dimension Data for sweeping across the road and causing a concertina effect on the bunch. Somewhat of an irony in the way they sweeped across the road considering what happened later.

Once onto the technical run in we had a fairly large pile up at just over 1km to go. Oddly enough though, it was on a straight-ish bit of road. Then, we had the well documented crash between the remaining sprinters that saw Cavendish go down and take out Swift and Degenkolb.

The result of it all is that Sagan has now been DQ’d from the race for causing danger to his colleagues. While he did act dangerously and has previous (just ask Vantomme), I think it is a bit absurd that he is thrown out from the whole thing. Disqualified from the stage would possibly have been a “fair” punishment, but Cavendish knew the risk of trying to come up the inside. The whole thing is just a mess really!

#TourdeFarce

Démare ended up taking a strong victory but he himself swerved in front of Bouhanni a bit, so that could even be disputed as an infringement.

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Kristoff and Greipel rounded out the podium.

With that now over with, let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders tomorrow.

The Route

An easy-ish stage that gets tougher as the day progresses.

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The riders will face some small uncategorised rises in the first half of the stage but nothing too substantial. However, not long after the intermediate sprint the road begins to rise and we have the first categorised climb of the day. Officially 2.3km at 8%, the road actually continues to climb once the riders pass the “summit” of the Côte d’Esmoulières. With no figures to go by on the profile it’s hard to judge but it looks as if there is roughly another 10km at ~2%.*

* Disclaimer – I’m just guessing the figures going by the profile so they aren’t 100% accurate! Looks to me that the climb crests at ~780m.

From there we have a long descent and travel through some valley roads before the road kicks up again. Again, the uncategorised climb isn’t tough, averaging roughly 2% for 11kms.

Therefore, the stage will inevitably come down to who is the strongest on La Planche des Belles Filles.

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A tough climb with some steep gradients we could see some reasonable time gaps if a few riders struggle to find their mountain-goat legs.

The past two finishes here have seen roughly a minute separate the top 10 but both of those days had much harder stages preceding them and on the day itself they were tougher.

So with that being said, we should in theory see a more tightly bunched up finishing order, but who knows!

How will the stage pan out?

Well, there is a chance that the break might stay away like we saw with the first mountain top finish at the Giro this year. However, I think that’s unlikely here as Sky will be willing to chase but so other teams will more than likely offer assistance as well, hoping their team leader can take some bonus seconds at the end of the day.

Contenders

There are really only a few riders I can see winning this.

Chris Froome.

It’s the first mountain top finish of the race, one of only three, so a big performance here from the Brit will really demoralise his opposition. He normally goes incredibly well on the first GC stage of the race and that could well be the case tomorrow. Having won on this exact finish before, his first ever Tour win in fact, he’ll know every inch of the road and will be looking to set his stall out as clear favourite for this race. Climbing poorly by his standards in the Dauphiné it will be intriguing to see how he does. Maybe we should take heed of his new contract with Sky, and assume that they know he’ll be firing on all cylinders tomorrow.

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Richie Porte.

 

The obvious challenger to Froome and Sky, the Australian has been unbelievable on the climbs this year; his Watts have been insane! Tomorrow is the type of day where he could do a Dumoulin on Oropa and just ride away from everyone due to simply being the most powerful rider. I have said it many times this year, these 15-20 minute climbs are his bread and butter and I would not be surprised to see him ride everyone off of his wheel!

Fabio Aru on form looks like the only other rider who could possibly get close to the two mentioned above. Simply stunning in his win at the Italian Championships, he is capable of putting in a very explosive attack that few can follow. Seemingly back to his best, can he take advantage of Froome/Porte marking each other out of it and take his first Tour stage win?

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Dan Martin could be close to the podium as well. He was strong on stage 3 and the steep gradients certainly suit the Irishman. The shorter the climb, the better for him, so he’ll have his mind-set on trying to take some time in the opening week before we get to the really long climbs later in the race.

What about Quintana? No one knows what the Colombian can do just now. If in good form, he can ride away from everyone, even Porte. The question is if is on form. I’ll guess we’ll know come half 4 tomorrow.

I’m not too sure that anyone else is capable of the win tomorrow, maybe only Thomas. He does seem to be going very well at the moment.

Prediction

First mountain stage of the Tour and we’ll see the best climber from this year take the stage. Porte to win!

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Aru to sneak onto the podium, with Froome most likely taking the other spot.

Betting

Tempted with something on Porte outright for the stage but I’ve went for the longer odds rider/better EW value in;

1pt EW Aru @ 14/1 (would take 10s lowest)

Considering a few H2H but I’ll post them on my Twitter later if I do take them on.

Who do you think will win tomorrow? Will we see a break stay away, or will the GC guys fight it out? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

 

Tour de France 2017 – GC Preview

Tour de France 2017 – GC Preview

Well, here we are again. Just over half-way through the season and La Grand Boucle is upon us. The race that your non-cycling friends know about and are somewhat interested in. It’s also the one where you most likely have to explain why Chris Froome isn’t competing in a sprint (we’ll just gloss over stage 11 from last year) or why the peloton have let a group of riders 12 minutes up the road. Firstly though, you will have to explain what a “peloton” is!

Speaking of Froome, the Brit is here to defend his crown and looking to win his fourth title. However, he’ll have to look over his shoulder a lot more this year as there are certainly a few contenders who could knock him from his pedestal…

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Let’s have a quick look at what’s in store for the riders over the next 3 weeks.

The Route

I’m not going to mince my words here, this year’s Tour route is arguably one of the dullest in recent memory. Several long flat sprint stages and only three mountain top finishes, eugh!

However, I’m hoping (probably in vain) that the ASO have pulled a blinder and that the less challenging route will lead to some more aggressive racing. We have seen in the past that ridiculously tough stages often lead to a boring day as too many riders are scared to go too early and run out of steam by the end of the stage.

The opening day’s TT will see some time gaps between the GC favourites but they shouldn’t be too significant, although they could be around 30 seconds or so.

Stage 5 plays host to the first summit finish of the race: La Planche des Belles Filles.

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Having been a stage finish in 2012 and 2014 a lot of the riders will know what to expect. Without any major difficulties in the first two-thirds of the stage it should all come down to the final climb. At 5.9km long and averaging 8.5%, it is tough enough to create some gaps. However, I don’t expect them to be too big between the GC favourites. Will someone who’s lost time in the TT manage to sneak away?

We then have a couple of sprints stages followed by a mountainous double-header before the first rest-day. Stage 8 kind of finishes atop a mountain at Station des Rousses but with 8km from the summit of the climb to the finish line we can’t really call it that! Stage 9 has a flat finish but there are several tough climbs out on the course. Most notably the last climb of the day; the Mont du Chat.

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The toughest climb in France according to some, it played a pivotal part in the recent Dauphiné. While the climb is exceptionally hard, the descent off of it is very technical and it is also a place where riders can attack to try to make some time. They’ll have to hope for a lack of co-operation behind as the 13km to the finish line will seem to take an eternity! With a rest day to come, the riders certainly won’t be holding anything back.

Another two sprint stages will give them time to recover before the second summit finish of the race on stage 12.

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One of the longest stages in the race, it is back loaded with climbing. It could be one of the more exciting stages because depending on the composition of the GC, we could see some early attacks on the Porte de Balès as there are no flat roads for the riders to contend with from kilometre 172.

The organisers have decided to juxtapose the longest mountain stage with the shortest one the following day.

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Seemingly wanting to take a leaf out of the Giro and Vuelta with their explosive/crazy days, I don’t think they’ve managed it. On paper anyway.

First of all, the key to these stages is to finish on a mountain, not have 30km of descending/flat after the summit. Secondly, you have a climb from the gun to try to entice GC men into a very early move and catch those out who’ve not warmed up correctly. The three climbs on the stage are tough enough to cause some chaos, don’t get me wrong, but I can’t help but think if they’d made the stage start or finish on a climb it would be a whole lot better. I hope the riders make the most of it though and produce a very attacking day. For that we need Contador and the Movistar duo to be in contention still at this point.

The GC riders then have 4 days off (including a rest day)  heading into the final week of the Tour. Traditionally packed with mountains, this year’s race is a bit “meh”. Stage 17 is arguably the Queen Stage in my opinion, although it finishes with a descent.

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The Col du Télégraphe / Col du Galibier combination is crazy. Taking the climb as a whole from the foot slopes of the Télégraphe it is ~35km at 5.5%. That’s tough on its own but when you consider the Galibier crests at 2642m then it makes it a whole different ball game. If riders blow up and struggle at altitude, they really could lose a lot of time here. Once over the crest, the riders will descend almost all the way to the finish (28km at -4% avg), although the last 3km are relatively flat. It means we could see a small group come to the line, but I don’t see that happening as I expect the climb and the descent that follows to be tough enough to create gaps.

The following day plays host to the final mountain stage and a summit finish on the Col d’Izoard.

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There’s nothing much to say about this stage really, it is all about the final climb. A last huzzah for the mountain goats to move up on GC before losing time in the TT two days later. Will a rider further down the order be given leeway to take a memorable victory, or will the riders at the top of the GC standings show no mercy and further stamp their dominance on the race?

As for the final GC stage, we have a TT around Marseille on the penultimate day of racing. I’m sure the riders will love the transfer from the South of France all the way to Paris…

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Anyway, the TT is almost pan-flat apart from one short but very steep climb. I knew I recognised the climb from somewhere and it turns out it was used in the final stage of La Provence earlier in the season. However, that day they approached it from the “easier” south side. At the Tour it will be the much harder approach. Sticking out like a sore thumb on the profile, it will certainly hamper the rhythm of the pure TT specialists. Can the climbers gain enough time on those 1.2kms to negate the other 21?

Once the stage is finished we’ll know our GC winner, before we finish with the traditional lap-circuit around the Champs-Élysées on the final day.

GC Battle As A Whole

I’m intrigued to see how the race pans out given the easier parcours compared to previous editions. Fewer mountain top finishes and fewer TT kms, I think the ASO have tried to make the route as anti-Froome as possible and make it a more open race.

In theory, they’ve done that well. There should be smaller time gaps in the TTs due to their shorter nature, although both are pan-flat almost and should suit the specialists. The lack of mountain top finishes should see the climbers closer together because there are less stages where they can drop their rivals and put massive amounts of time into them.

However, the race can definitely favour those willing to take risks. Several of the stages finish with descents off of mountains and I think we’ll see those descents being of almost equal importance to the climbs themselves. Technical descents could see riders lose 20-30 seconds if they’re nervous and if we get bad weather, time gaps could be exacerbated even more. We saw Froome attempting to drop Porte at the recent Dauphiné when coming off the Mont du Chat and I think we’ll see similar moves throughout the race, from riders in or around the top 10.

In trying to make it anti-Froome though, the organisers are playing a risky game because they’ve made it very pro-Sky. If Froome performs like he has in previous seasons and takes Yellow early (on stage 5), then Sky have the strength to be able to control the race for the majority of stages.

GC Contenders

As I’ve already ranted and rambled for a long time, I’ll keep this section “relatively” short. I imagine you will already know a lot about the favourites etc anyway…

Chris Froome.

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The 3-time champion is gunning for his 4th title but he seems to have lost his way this season. Is he on the decline or playing a masterful bluff? He has looked a shadow of his former self lately and most concerningly for him: he’s failed to take a win so far this season. In his past triumphant Tour years he’s managed 5 (2016) / 5 (2015) / 9 (2013) wins (including GC titles) before the start of the race. I think he’s on the decline, but has he realised that and focussed fully on preparing for this race and only this race? Possibly. However, I think it will be hard for him to retain his title but I won’t be surprised if he did! He does have the advantage of having the strongest overall team.

Richie Porte.

Froome’s former team-mate is his biggest threat. The Australian has been on fire this season, winning or challenging for almost every race he’s entered. As I’ve said before, give him a race of 15 minute climbs and you’ll be hard pressed to find someone in the world who can beat him (maybe Dumoulin). There used to be question marks over his ability on the long climbs but he seems to have stepped up in that respect again this season with some big performances. He’ll gain time on his rivals in the TT and more than likely will do on the climbs.

Is he unbeatable? No.

We saw at the Dauphiné that his team is pretty weak and they’ll struggle to protect him in the mountains throughout the race. It’s not so much stages such as the one that finishes on the Izoard that he’ll have problems with. Drop him off at the bottom and he’ll do the rest himself. It’s the days where we have several mountains in quick succession and I am concerned for him on Stage 13.

Nonetheless though, he is the rider to beat this season and that should be no different here.

Nairo Quintana.

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After failing to win the Giro, the Colombian comes here looking for redemption. I have to admit I do have a soft spot for him, although that’s the case for a lot of Colombians, must be something to do with the coffee! I admire a rider that can have a “poor” Tour last year and finish third, while similarly have a terrible Giro this year according to some and finish second. I wish I was that good at something while simultaneously being “rubbish”.

Quintana did look under-cooked at the Giro and I think he had half an eye on the Tour at the time, but like a lot of us, he underestimated how strong Dumoulin was going to be. We could well have been talking about the possibility of him doing the Giro-Tour double.

The route isn’t great for him with a lack of summit finishes, but if he can stay in contention for the final week then he has a great chance to take time on the Galibier and Izoard.

I am concerned though about his level of fatigue though as this is set to be his 4th straight Grand Tour. Maybe he’s got some tips from Adam Hansen?

Alberto Contador.

The most succesful active Grand Tour rider in the peloton, his season has been built around winning the Tour de France. He’s had a string of second places on GC this season, cruelly missing out on Paris-Nice and Andalucia wins by a cumulative margin of 3 seconds. He will no doubt animate the race and it is good to see him enjoying his racing more than when he was at Tinkoff, but I still think he’s past his prime and I can’t see him contending for the win. The same can’t be said for the next rider…

Alejandro Valverde.

Mr Evergreen (not the Green Bullet) as I have decided to call him, has had an astonishing season for a 37-year-old. He’s picked up 3 GC wins this season so far, but they’ve all came in Spain. Finishing 9th at the recent Dauphiné after a month and a half out of racing wasn’t a bad result and he’ll be hoping to have progressed in form since then. This year’s Tour route looks ideal for him and it is crucial for Movistar’s chances to have both him and Quintana in contention going into the last week. He will be close to the podium, but I think he’ll suffer in the final week as he has one eye on the Vuelta where he’ll be outright leader of the team.

Fabio Aru.

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The newly crowned Italian champion has been flying as of late and he will be Astana’s main rider here. According to their press release Fuglsang will be co-leader but I expect he’ll eventually fall by the wayside. However, like Movistar, Astana can benefit massively from having two riders close on GC. They put on an attacking masterclass at the Dauphiné and I expect something similar here. Aru looks back to his 2015 best and after missing the Giro he’ll be wanting to make amends. A podium finish is well within his capabilities and with some luck, he could possibly go a bit better!*

* I am a bit biased though as he is in my season long fantasy team. Think I’ve been brainwashed as well by my neighbours personalised number plate that ends in ARU.

Romain Bardet.

After his spectacular second place last year, the French rider will be hoping for a repeat performance this season. He’s had a relatively quiet season but has been slowly peaking for this race. He’ll love the lack of TT kms (although he’ll still lose plenty of time) and the descents will be to his liking as well. I just don’t think he’ll be up there competing again, and the pressure of being the big French hope might get to him.

Dan Martin.

Another rider who will benefit from the fewer TT kms, he will be looking to improve on his 9th place last year. The route does suit the attacking Irishman who will no doubt squirrel off the front on some stages. His fast sprint could see him pick up some bonus seconds. A dark horse for the podium, I think he’ll fall short.

Esteban Chaves.

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The Smiling Assassin is a rider I’m sure a lot of fans have a soft spot for. Making his Tour debut this year, he returned to racing at the Dauphiné after almost 4 months out with a knee problem. Considering his performances in the Giro and Vuelta last year, if he came into this race fully fit then people would be talking up his chances for the podium Right now he has a question mark beside him, but I think he could surprise again.

If not, team-mate Simon Yates could be Orica’s GC hope. An attacking rider, he will no doubt launch himself off the front on the penultimate climb of a stage, looking to gain time before the final summit. He finished a very respectable 6th at the Vuelta last year but it was a pretty lacklustre field and I’m still not convinced he’s a fully fledged GC rider in a Grand Tour.

Rafal Majka will lead the charge for Bora who look to be trying to win every jersey possible at the race. A quality rider, don’t expect him to see him attacking out of the bunch too much, he’ll just be there in the background, almost anonymously. Free from the shackles of working for another rider, he could well find himself in the top 5 of another GT.

Louis Meintjes a.k.a the ticket collector, will no doubt be seen at the back of the mountain train every time the road goes uphill. A gutsy rider who will hang on for a top 10 at least by the end of the race, I think he might possibly sneak even further up the pecking order.

Ion Izagirre gets his first shot at riding a Grand Tour as leader. A super domestique for Valverde and Quintana in the past, he’s been solid this season but hasn’t set the scene alight. Will he perform consistently throughout the race to be there at the pointy-end come the final week?

Right, I think that’s everyone…

(Yes, I’ve missed out Uran but that’s because I don’t think he’ll be there).

As for an outsider to finish in the top 10, I like the look of Primoz Roglic.

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The Slovenian has upped his game this season and has turned himself into a fully fledged GC rider. An excellent TTer who can also climb well, the lack of mountain top finishes this year will really suit him as the really long climbs are his undoing. The guy can descend as well, rather apt considering his downhill skiing background, which will be very handy during this race.

Watching him fly down the descent during the final TT at Romandie was a thing of beauty. He managed to put 26 seconds into Porte over 11km of descending/flat, it was crazy! It is only his second Grand Tour so there is a chance he’ll be left wanting come the end, but I think he’ll be there fighting for a top 10.

Prediction

Porte will finally shake that “3-week consistency” monkey off his back and take the overall win to continue an unbelievable season!

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With Aru coming second and Quintana third.

Betting

I’m not a huge fan of betting on GC, but I am tempted with something on Aru EW, but I think I’ll wait until after he loses time in the opening TT!

As for now though, I’ve got 2pts on Roglic Top 10 @ 3/1 with Betfred (would take 11/4 that’s available elsewhere)

 

Thanks as always for reading and any feedback as usual is greatly appreciated. Who do you think will win the Tour overall? Will we see any surprises? Or will it be the usual suspects competing for victory? I’ll be back tomorrow with my look at the Green Jersey battle and I promise it will be a lot shorter! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Giro d’Italia 2017 Stage 20 Preview; Pordenone -> Asiago

Today’s Recap

So apparently I missed a lot while sleeping this morning after work!

I woke up to see the riders on the final climb and Dumoulin slowly losing contact, but a quick scroll down Twitter also suggested that something else happened earlier in the stage. Either Dumoulin lost time and was gapped on a descent or the others attacked him while he was stopping for a nature break. Reading what the Sunweb director said, I think it was the former.

Up the road, Landa finally took a deserved stage win while simultaneously securing his KOM jersey.

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With Costa and Rolland following him home.

We did get some GC gaps and Quintana moves into Rosa after Dumoulin suffered on the final climb. Pinot has handily moved himself up to within a minute of Quintana and his certainly not out of it either. We should be in for an interesting final two days.

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

The Route

A tough day out but certainly not the hardest that the riders have faced.

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We have almost 100km of flat before we get the start of the climb to Monte Grappa.

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At 24.1km it’s long but only averages 5.3%. However, that doesn’t tell the whole story as the first 8.5km of the climb averages 7.8%, which is certainly difficult enough to shed some riders out the back of the group.

The only issue with that is once we get to the summit of the climb, there is just under 70km to go to the line. With no Contador here, I think it’s unlikely we’ll see any kamikaze GC attacks on Grappa but you never know. I would love it if there was!

The riders will have to tackle a descent that is as long as the climb they’ve just been up, before traversing some valley roads to reach the foot slopes of Foza.

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A more regular climb than Grappa, Foza averages 6.7% for 14km. It is long/steep/close enough to the finish to put some riders into difficulty.

The only issue for some riders is that we have a 15km section of undulating road after the peak, with the last 5km being downhill.

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I’m sure a few riders will be happy to know that the downhill isn’t too technical aside from the last kilometre where it starts to flatten out anyway.

How will the stage pan out?

Another day where we have the conundrum of break or no break?

The first 100km of the stage in theory are easy to control for a team but who will take up the mantle? The onus will obviously be on Movistar to set tempo for the stage but Quintana has looked underwhelming so far this race, although he has managed to get into Pink!

Nibali today didn’t look great either, shipping a couple of seconds on the line. In fact, the two riders who looked the strongest were Pinot and Zakarin, both of whom are very much in podium contention now.

Are any of these teams dedicated/strong enough to set tempo all day to keep the break within touching distance?

I’m not so sure.

I think they’ll see how the race unfolds on the day and if the break is within touching distance over Monte Grappa, they might start pulling. If not, I think it will be another day to play…

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Contenders

The flat start makes it a difficult stage for the climbers to get into the break so we might get a mixed bag.

As I’m losing the will to live in terms of recycling names for this, I’ll come up with a couple of new names;

Diego Rosa.

The Italian was very strong in helping Landa on Stage 18, driving the break for the majority of the first three climbs. With the Spaniard now having a stage win and the KOM secured, Sky will now most likely turn to their other riders and give them a few opportunities. Rosa is strong enough on the flat to make the break, but he is an exceptional enough climber to win from a group as well.

Omar Fraile.

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With a stage win already in the bag, Fraile can go into this stage without any pressure. Brutishly strong on the stage he won, the Spaniard has the engine to join the break on the flat, but also the climbing ability to win. An attacking rider, he certainly won’t give up if he makes the move, taking the approach of finishing last is the same as 2nd.

GC Contenders

I think it will be hard to drop a lot of the GC favourites, but as I said above, Zakarin and Pinot look the strongest just now. In theory, the “flat” final 15km should suit those two and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them attacking over the top of Foza when the lighter climbers are isolated and weak.

If we do get a GC battle, I’ll go for a Zakarin win.

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Prediction

However, I think we’ll once again see a race on two fronts and the break will stay away. Sky will take back to back wins, with Diego Rosa coming out on top.

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Betting

The usual 2pts spread across the break duo as odds on Zakarin won’t change much when they go in-play.

1pt WIN Rosa @ 33/1

1pt WIN Fraile @ 40/1

Thanks for reading as always. Apologies that this is shorter than normal but I’m suffering from preview burnout! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

Giro d’Italia 2017 Stage 19 Preview; San Candido -> Piancavallo

Today’s Recap

A hectic stage that was perfectly poised all the way to the finish line. In the end, the breakaway managed to just stay away, with Tejay Van Garderen taking his first ever Grand Tour win, pipping Landa who finished second yet again after being forced to lead-out.

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It was great to see TVG win, and much like Rolland yesterday, it is almost like a redemption ride/performance from them.

Behind, Pinot came home third to claw some time back on his GC rivals and move within touching distance of the podium.

As for Dumoulin, he looked effortless today even giving it a little nudge himself. However, unfortunately for the punting side, he ended up just riding a relatively defensive race in the closing couple of kilometres. I would really have liked to see him go full gas after his attack with about 5km left, but it was not to be!

Quintana and Nibali looked cooked/not strong enough. I noted that it was the first time I’ve seen the Colombian with his jersey unzipped so he must not be feeling 100%. They both just rode to mark Dumoulin in the end and both are now under threat from Pinot/Zakarin.

Dumoulin himself said in a post race interview that he would be happy if they lost their podium slots because of that. Nibali fired back by saying that there is karma and that Dumoulin will pay for what he said on the road.

The Giro is simultaneously hotting up while also cooling down, as I think the Dutchman has it in the bag barring any major misfortune.

Anyway, let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders tomorrow.

The Route

A long day in the saddle at nearly 191km. However, compared to some of the previous stages, it’s a relatively benign day out for the peloton.

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We start off with a Cat-3 climb. Although, the riders will be climbing from the gun and taking it as a whole the climb is 13.9km at 3.2%, with the categorised segment coming in at 7.9km at 4.3%, but that does include some steeper ramps.

We then have a long descent that is interrupted with the rise for the intermediate sprint point, before the road once again continues downwards to the foot slopes of the second categorised climb of the day.

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A relatively long climb, the average gradients are quite deceptive due to the several sections at less than 5% and there’s even a bit of downhill thrown in. A lot of the actual climb is closer to 7%.

Will we see any movement in the breakaway here? It is certainly too early for any of the GC guys to come out and play.

From the summit, it is another 70km before we start the final climb of the day.

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At 15.4km long and averaging 7.3%, the Piancavallo is a brute of a climb. The steepest sections come in the first 6km so it will be interesting to see if a team really drills it from the bottom. It does start to ease ever so slightly within the final 5km but there are still some steep enough gradients (7%+) to launch an attack.

With the “flat” (1.4km at 1.4%) run in, will we see a solo rider make it to the line or a very reduced and very tired sprint?

How will the stage pan out?

After today, I think a few of the GC favourites will be demoralised, namely Quintana, knowing that Dumoulin will be tough to crack and instead they might change their focus to stage wins.

Nibali might want to get involved in a dick-measuring contest with Dumoulin after the comments that they both made but I think Nibali knows he only has a very slim chance of dropping Dumoulin.

It will take a lot of effort from a team to control the stage all day to set it up for the final climb so once again, I think we’ll see a breakaway rider take the win.

How big will the break be? Well that depends on where it goes and it once again could be another 20+ rider day.

Like normal though, I’ll throw a few names into the hat to watch out for (or not, as they inevitably won’t make the move).

Breakaway Candidates

Anacona – For what I think is the third time in the space of a week, I’ll name the Colombian as a contender for the stage. He’s made the break on at least two of those occasions but has been called back to work for his leader. However, after today’s stage and Quintana underperforming, I think he will FINALLY be given the freedom to actually chase the win. Clearly one of the top 15 climbers in the race at the moment, he has a very good chance if he makes the break.

Carthy – We’ve not seen much of the Brit so far this race, his best finish position being 21st on Etna way back in week one. However, I think that’s probably due to him attempting to save himself for the final week. Cannondale have been very active in the breakaways the past few stages and I would not be surprised to see a few of them up the road again tomorrow.

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Woods – The other Cannondale rider to make my list, he was instrumental in Rolland’s win on stage 17, marking all of the other contenders to help his team-mate grow his advantage. Like Carthy, Woods took it relatively easy today, coming home over half an hour down on eventual stage winner Van Garderen. The punchy Canadian should enjoy the steep ramps of the final climb but does he have the endurance to match?

Rodriguez – Another rider to make his return on this list. I was very impressed with the Wilier rider at the start of the race, but he has been a bit anonymous recently. Fatigue or saving himself? I’ll hope for the later! A talented bike rider, he was 10th at the Tour de l’Avenir last year but seems to have taken a step up this season. Is a big win on the cards?

Prediction

Just as I’ve finished writing this I see that there are rumours circulating on Twitter that Quintana and Nibali will form a pact to try and beat Dumoulin.

Hmmm, I still can’t see that happening/ending well for them and I’m not convinced that both teams will work on the front all day, draining their resources. Especially when you consider that Dumoulin really just needs to follow them and ride defensively.

So with that said, I still think it will be a breakaway win and I’ll go for arguably the strongest Colombian to take the win…

Anacona to take stage glory.

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I mean, I can’t not use that picture of him again!

Behind, we might see some GC fireworks but Dumoulin won’t lose the jersey.

Betting

Small stakes again for interest on the breakers (All 365);

0.7pt WIN Anacona @ 125/1

0.5pt WIN Carthy @ 200/1

0.5pt WIN Woods @ 150/1

0.3pt WIN Rodriguez @ 300/1

Thanks as always for reading. Who do you think will win and how? 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 16 Preview; Rovett -> Bormio

Recap

My hopes were raised when I woke up to see Molard in the break, but they were quickly diminished when I saw Orica chasing and the small gap that they had!

Things were eventually brought to heel just as the peloton entered the final 3km and we were treated to a small flurry of attacks from the GC favourites. However, it came down to a very fast sprint and Jungels came out victorious.

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I wonder if he had that massive chain-ring on again?!

Quintana of all people got up for second, with Pinot third.

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

The Route

I imagine some riders wish they could have the rest of the week off looking at the profiles and the action all kicks off tomorrow.

Not exactly an easy day for the riders to ease themselves back into racing after the rest day, with 222km ahead of them and three massive mountains that all go above 1800m.

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The riders start with a nice bit of descending before the road gradually rises for the next 60km before they start the climb of the Mortirolo officially.

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12.6km at 7.6% average, the climb will certainly be a leg opener for the peloton. It *probably* comes too early in the stage to be of any real significance for the day, but you just never know! Expect those who are after KOM points to be battling it out here.

Once over the top, the riders will face a 14km descent before they start the approach towards the Stelvio. Again, the road rises for those 30km but the climb officially begins with just over 100km to go.

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21.7km at 7.1%, the passage also acts as the Cima Coppi for the race. A brutally tough and draining climb, the steep pitches in the final few kilometres look great for an attack from the bunch.

A long descent follows before the peloton re-climbs the Stelvio but this time from the Swiss side. The first time this has ever been done in the Giro!

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13.4km at 8.4%, the organisers have cruelly left the toughest climb of the day until the end. With very little respite, a rider on the limit can lose a massive amount of time here if they go too far into the red and pop.

The race then ends with a descent into Bormio.

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Almost as important as the climb, a rider can lose a lot of time here if they aren’t fully switched on because they’re tired from their previous efforts. With how technical the closing few kilometres are, let’s just hope a rider arrives solo or a group of three at most!

Weather Watch

Many of you will have memories of that stage back in 2014 when the Stelvio was covered in snow and Quintana didn’t see that the race was being neutralised…

Thankfully, the weather doesn’t look that bad this year.

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Source: Wunderground

The forecast for Bormio suggests that it will be a relatively pleasant day in the saddle with only a small chance of rain. However, as we know, this can change pretty quickly, especially in the mountains!

With the wind coming from the North, it will be a slight headwind for the traditional passage of the Stelvio, before being a tailwind for the Swiss ascent.

How will the stage pan out?

This is a tough one to predict on the best of days but it is made even more difficult after the rest day. Some riders might come out firing, whereas others might take a few climbs to get going!

It really depends on the composition of the morning break as to the size of an advantage the move can get. There are lots of riders way down on GC who will be given plenty of freedom. Even someone like Rui Costa who is 16 minutes behind in 17th place might get some leeway. However, if a rider such as Ben Hermans infiltrates the move, then a few other teams might start riding defensively to protect their top 10 position.

I imagine teams will be very keen to get riders up the road for later in the day so we could see a large breakaway of 20 guys or so. The issue is the amount of flat at the start of the stage which makes it more difficult for climbers to be there.

Ultimately though, it depends on Movistar’s attitude to the stage. They need to take a few minutes out of Dumoulin and I’m very intrigued to see how they approach that job. No doubt they’ll get someone ahead of the peloton to work for Quintana later, but when will the Colombian attack? Most likely near the top of the Stelvio I think.

Will the gap to the break be too big for the Colombian to win the stage after then, quite possibly and like always, I’m leaning towards that being the case.

What Sunweb need to do in my opinion is completely sit up when the break goes so that it gets a huge advantage of 10mins plus so that it becomes nigh on impossible for Quintana to attack and bridge to his team-mates, or any other GC rider for that matter. Play their contenders at their own game, and just trust Dumoulin to be able to follow his competitors’ wheels.

So once again, I think we’ll see a race on two fronts with the breakaway taking stage honours and a massive GC battle behind.

Breakaway Candidates

There will obviously be riders chasing the KOM jersey who try to get into the move, such as Fraile, Rolland and Landa, but I’m going to take a slightly different approach.

With the GC teams wanting to get riders up the road, we should see a few strong climbers from the big teams represented. If Sunweb are then ballsy enough to not properly chase, then a few of those riders might be given the chance to go for stage honours rather than be told to sit up and help their leader.

Winner Anacona.

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The Colombian seems to be in better form than Amador at the moment and I think would be more of an aid to Quintana than the Costa Rican. However, if the gap is too big for Quintana to bridge, then Anacona could be given the green light to go for the stage. He is in exceptional form at the moment and I think that there won’t be many riders capable of beating him.

Sebastien Reichenbach.

Another left-hand man for a GC contender, the Swiss rider has had a very solid race so far in aid of Pinot, often being one of the last domestiques standing amongst the GC guys. He seems to be slowly finding some form this race, building for a big last week. With the stage crossing into his home country, I’m sure he’d like to put on a show!

Carlos Verona.

The Spaniard has been mostly anonymous so far this Giro, but he showed on the front on the previous stage, doing a lot of work for Yates. He’s another rider who seems to building some form nicely. A very strong climber, he should like tomorrow’s terrain and could well take the day. With Yates not too close to the head of the GC order, I think Orica will be happy to let Verona or Plaza go for the stage with the Brit doing what he can behind.

Joe Dombrowski.

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Third week of a Grand Tour so time to start backing the American again! One of the strongest riders in the peloton going by numbers, he still has to master some racing craft. Nonetheless, if he gets into the break it will be tough for a lot of riders to follow him on the climbs.

GC Contenders

It is hard to see past Quintana for this. Although I am bitterly aware I said that on the finish to Oropa! Nonetheless, when considering the altitude the riders will be over, it really does benefit the Colombian over the likes of Dumoulin.

The Dutchman has been strong so far but this is his acid test. If he comes through the day relatively unscathed, losing roughly a minute, he will be very confident of taking the Giro overall.

As for the other contenders, who knows! Nibali always goes well in the final week and after his bad day on Oropa, you would expect Pinot to hopefully bounce back here on a stage with a lot more climbing that is suited to him. Zakarin is also looking strong and will hope to cement his podium charge.

Prediction

I think the break will build up a big enough gap to take the stage honours, it is a 222km long day after all so the GC teams won’t want to go too crazy early on.

I say hesitantly before we get a full gas stage from the start and half the peloton OTL.

Nonetheless, with a few strong climbers up the road and a couple of GC riders cracking behind, I think we’ll see a good climbing domestique take the win. Reichenbach to take the day after the stage goes through his home country!

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Betting

Small stakes on the breakaway punts as it’s too risky to be backing Quintana for the stage.

0.5pt WIN on them, all with Bet365 as well (although also available with PP/BF);

Reichenbach @ 125/1

Anacona @ 125/1

Dombrowski @ 150/1

Verona @ 250/1

Thanks as always for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated as normal! Who do you think will win? Will we see a breakaway make it all the way to the line, or will a GC rider take the stage? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

Giro d’Italia 2017 Stage 14 Preview; Castellania -> Oropa

Today’s Recap

A day where all the action was in the final few kilometres and that once again saw Gaviria win the sprint. He didn’t have it all his own way this time though, as he had to come from 20m back, delivering a truly impressive turn of speed to pip Bennett before the line.

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Stuyven came home in a very respectable third place.

As for Ewan, I thought he had the win in the bag with roughly 300m to go. Richeze was giving him the perfect lead-out but the Aussie rider seemed to hesitate and got boxed in by both Richeze and the Bora lead-out rider (I’m assuming Selig). It looks to me as he’s lost some confidence over the past week as the Ewan we saw at the start of the year would have squeezed his way out of that one or committed to going around the other side.

With the chances for the sprints over for the rest of the race, most will now leave this evening, with our attention focussing on the stage hunters and GC riders for the rest of the race.

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

The Route

The third stage in a row that is all about the closing 20km. Not exactly prime viewing for a Saturday afternoon!

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Thankfully it’s the shortest stage of the race so it shouldn’t be too long until we get to the main event of the day which is the climb to Oropa.

The road actually rises for around 15km before the climb properly starts once the peloton passes through the town of Biella.

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11.75km long averaging 6.2%, it is a fairly tough climb but it is the second half that is the most difficult. After the opening 5km, the gradient barely dips below 7% for the rest of the climb, although there are a few false flats and shallower sections involved.

With these steep ramps near the top, you would expect the climb to suit a more diminutive rider/mountain goat who can manage a more explosive kick on the tougher stuff. However, with the easy run in to the climb, everyone should arrive fresh and I wouldn’t expect the gaps to be too big at the end of the day.

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The climb was last used in the 2014 edition and that saw a break stay away after a much harder run in to the foot slopes. Quintana managed to take a few seconds over his GC rivals but the gaps were not massive. Will we see something similar this year or will Movistar close down any breakaway in the hope to set up Quintana to take some bonus seconds?

How will the stage pan out?

It is one of those 50/50 days where it could go to either the break or the GC guys.

In favour of the GC guys, it is a short stage with a lot of flat which should in theory make it easy for them to control.

However, a lot of the riders will know Quintana will fancy it so I’m not sure if their teams will want to assist with any work to help chase down the breakaway.

I imagine Sunweb will be quite happy to ride it defensively and let the break get up the road to take the stage win. Dumoulin himself said in his post-race interview that tomorrow will be a relatively easy day with a 20-minute climb at the end. He sounds confident in his abilities to follow everyone else and to be honest, I am too.

Originally I was 100% behind this being a definite GC day, but the more I think about it (which is never a good thing) the more I am leaning towards the break staying away. It all depends on the number of riders to make the break and the teams represented, but also on Movistar’s attitude. They tried something on stage 11 but that didn’t really work out for them so they might keep their powder dry for later in the race and just hope to tire Sunweb out by allowing them to control the pace.

So with that being said, it’s time to play everyone’s favourite game…

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Candidates

The issue now is that for a rider to win then they need to be a good climber, but to get into the break they also need to be strong on the flat as well. A good slice of luck is important too! Nonetheless, I shall throw a few names into the proverbial hat. With the stage starting in the Coppi’s hometown I’m sure the Italians will want to feature in the move…

Valerio Conti – Bitterly disappointed to have crashed when in with a chance of the win on stage 8, he’s bound to have another go over the next week or so. He looked great on the climbs that day, although a little too lively at times, but with it being only one big effort so to say he should be in with a chance.

Manuel Senni – The Italian was struggling at the start of the race but he seems to have recovered from that. With Van Garderen struggling, BMC will be attacking for the rest of the race and the young Italian climber might salvage something for the American outfit.

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Michael Woods – After Cannondale overcame their World Tour drought in California, they could well go on to pick up another win here. The Canadian is far enough down on GC not to be a threat and the steep gradients look great for him. He also has the possibility of maybe contending for the stage from the bunch as well if he’s given freedom that way.

Vasil Kiryienka – Sky are most definitely chasing stages now so I’ll be very surprised not to see them in the move tomorrow. Kiryienka is a strong enough on the flat to make the move but he will need to attack solo before the steep parts of the climb if he wants to have a chance of winning.

No #Wongshot from me today as I don’t have enough time!

If it comes down to the GC contenders, it is hard to see past Quintana.

Prediction

I’ll go for a surprise breakaway victory and Woods to continue Cannondale’s World Tour dominance…

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Betting

As I’m not convinced either way how it will play out tomorrow then I’ll have a few small punts on the breakers;

(All with Bet365)

0.75pt WIN Woods @ 80/1

0.6pt WIN Conti @ 80/1

0.4pt WIN Kiryienka @ 150/1 

0.25pt WIN Senni @ 300/1

Quintana at 2/1 is a great price if you think it is a definite GC day but because of the nagging doubt in my head, I can’t be backing that!

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Will a break make it or will Quintana be victorious? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

Giro d’Italia 2017 Stage 9 Preview; Montenero di Bisaccia -> Blockhaus

Today’s Recap

The break just managed to hold on and Izagirre took his first World Tour win after a battle between his fellow escapees saw Conti crash in the closing kilometre. Visconti got close to finish second, with Luis Leon Sanchez coming home in third.

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Will the breakaway riders have their fun tomorrow, or will the GC riders come out to play properly? Let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders.

The Route

A slightly hilly but mainly flat start to the day. The stage is all about the final climb and the approach to it.

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The road starts rising at 25.9km to go and if you take it from that point, then it averages a shade under 6% for the duration; that’s tough!

However, the “official” start of the climb is with 13.6km left.

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Averaging close to 8.4% it is a killer of a climb. Even more so when you consider that for 8.5km it averages 9.4%! You would expect the middle section to be the more decisive part of the climb as it features the steepest ramps of the day at 14%. The closing kilometre does level out a bit so if we get a couple of riders come in together then there is a chance of an uphill sprint.

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Unlike on Etna, it looks as if we will get a West/South-West wind tomorrow which means that it will be a tail or cross tail for most of the climb. Hopefully this will make for some attacking riding!

How will the stage pan out?

It’s really hard to tell and if anyone confidently tells you how it will pan out, they’re lying.

With there being a rest day on Monday followed by the TT on Tuesday, you would expect that the GC guys will go crazy, knowing that their team won’t have to put in any extra work until Wednesday.

Yet, we’ve already witnessed a lack of willingness to chase from the bunch.

They should have been able to claw back Polanc on Etna but there was a lot of stop-starting and I fear we might see the same tomorrow. Not to the same extent, but they might let the break drift up the road before going crazy behind. Therefore we could well see a race on two fronts.

Breakaway Candidates

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To win the rider will obviously have to be a good climber, but with the rolling terrain at the start it might be hard for some of the really light guys to make it.

Nonetheless, I’ll throw a few names into the mix, nothing extensive.

Cristian Rodriguez – I’ll give the Wilier rider another chance on a stage that should suit him more. He was climbing with the best on Etna and as he is no threat for the overall he could be given the leeway in the break.

Matvey Mamykin – Katusha were obviously annoyed to have missed the break today and I’m sure they won’t make the same mistake again. The young Russian is surprisingly good at finding himself in the right move, but he’s failed to take advantage yet. Can he turn it around tomorrow? A big win is on the horizon for him.

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Kenny Elissonde – It would be very unlike Sky to send someone up the road on a stage like this at the Tour, but it is the Giro so they might have a change of plan? With someone up the road, they can play the “we’re not going to chase” card, conserving energy behind. Elissonde is sprightly enough to win from a break, but he’s way down on GC so he is no concern for the other teams.

Natnael Berhane – Dimension Data have been ever-present in breakaways throughout the Giro, only missing out on a few stages. Berhane has been relatively anonymous so far but he wasn’t too far off the GC guys on Etna. Maybe he’s been saving himself for this stage?

GC Riders

The GC battle is hard to figure out, there’s been a lot of poker playing going on so far.

I’m still unsure whether they’ll chase hard behind to set up the stage win. Nonetheless, if for stage glory or not, you would have to expect the weaker TT riders to have a go to try to gain some time before they inevitably lose it again.

Yates is one that springs to mind, he’s been looking good so far. Will Quintana turn on the afterburners and just blitz everyone? What about the Sky 1-2? Landa made a probing dig today, will we see a similar situation, with Thomas sitting in behind ready to counter. FDJ did a lot of pace making in the closing part of today’s stage so they must confident in Pinot’s current form.

Of course, anyone else from the list of favourites could go well, or they could crumble. It really is an open day of racing. I’m just hoping that makes it exciting and open, not a dull and defensive day in the saddle.

Prediction

As you can probably gather by now, I’m not really sure what to make of this stage! I’ll go for a race on two fronts, with the breakaway holding out for the win after getting an insurmountable lead.

Berhane to seize the day!

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Betting

Another day I don’t want to get overly involved with so small 0.25pts WIN punts on each of the break candidates;

(All with B365)

Elissonde @ 250/1

Rodriguez @ 200/1

Mamykin @ 300/1

Berhane @ 250/1

 

Apologies this is a bit shorter than usual, there’s not much to talk about Route-wise and I’m in a rush to get this finished. Normal service shall resume for the TT! Who do you think will win tomorrow, will it be the break or a GC rider? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Fight for the Maglia Rosa – Giro d’Italia 2017 GC Preview

Fight for the Maglia Rosa – Giro d’Italia 2017 GC Preview

With the Spring Classics now finished the peloton moves into the next phase of the season, starting with the Giro d’Italia. Arguably my favourite Grand Tour out of the three, the race celebrates its 100th edition this year with a spectacular route.

Last year’s race saw a dogged Nibali win the overall on the penultimate stage, with Chaves in second and ever-green Valverde rounding out the podium.

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Would he have won if Kruijswijk hadn’t famously crashed? I guess we’ll never know, but no doubt the Dutchman will want to make amends this year.

The Route

As I’ll be doing daily stage previews, this section won’t be that extensive at all!

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Stage 1 will should see a sprinter take the leaders jersey, but they will be hard fought to hold onto it the following day where an opportunist might seize his chance.

Stage 4 could see an early GC shake up before we get a few more sprint/opportunist stages. We’re then treated to the big mountain top finish at Blockhaus on stage 9.

A rest day follows, but so does the first TT of the race and no doubt Dumoulin will be hoping to take over the leader’s jersey here. Over the next few days there are more rolling, testing routes before the final rest day.

It all kicks off in the final week though with one of the wackiest routes I’ve seen; the amount of climbing is crazy!

However, it may all even come down to the final TT into Milan as it is certainly long enough for there to be large time gaps.

So…

Contenders

Nairo Quintana.

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Where else to start than with the clear favourite? The Colombian had a “poor” Tour last year but still managed to finish on the podium and he followed that up by winning the Vuelta at the end of the year. So far this season he has shown impeccable form in the stage races he has taken part in, we’ll just not mention the shadow boxing at Abu Dhabi. In his last build-up race (Vuelta Asturias) and his first since a long period in Colombia, he managed to take a stage win but couldn’t take the overall title. In fact, on the two main climbing days he was unable to drop the eventual winner Raul Alarcon. I guess he doesn’t want to peak too early if he’s going to do the Giro-Tour double!

Thibaut Pinot.

After talking him up for Tour success last season, he failed miserably after falling ill and losing all form. Dare I say that he looks as good as he did before that Tour? So far this season he’s beaten Contador on a mountain top finish and he was never outside the top 5 on any stage at the recent Tour of the Alps. An improved time trial rider the Frenchman really has a great chance at the podium and without the pressure of a home crowd we might see him thrive.

Tom Dumoulin.

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The Sunweb rider has had a fairly light race schedule so far and has spent a lot of time recently at altitude camp with some of his team-mates. He made his return to racing at Liege and finished a respectable 22nd place. The Giro is his main focus this year and with the number of TT kilometres he has a very good chance of going well. Yet, his TT ability is regressing as he becomes more of a Grand Tour contender, which is quite refreshing to see actually. I still have reservations about his abilities to cope in the high mountains and the final week might be a step too far for him I think.

Steven Kruijswijk.

Would he have won last year’s race if he had not crashed? I guess we’ll never know, but he certainly looked comfortable up until that moment. Another rider who’s season is based around this race, the Jumbo rider got a scare in Yorkshire last week after being involved in the crash on stage 1. Luckily, it seems to be nothing serious but withdraw before the final stage just to make sure. He’s a solid TT rider and will hope to use that to his advantage.

Geraint Thomas.

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The first of two Sky riders on the list, Thomas has really taken another step forward this season in his quest for Grand Tour success. Forever the loyal second in command to Froome at the Tour, he will have his own chance to go for glory at the Giro. Fifth on GC at Tirreno after the mess that was Sky’s TTT was a hint at what was to come and he looked imperious in the recent Tour of the Alps, taking overall victory. I have said for a while (at least since my Trentino preview) that he will go well at this race and I have seen nothing to make me think otherwise! A podium finish is on the cards.

Mikel Landa.

Thomas’ biggest threat could come from within his own team, but the two riders have shown that they have a good working relationship and compliment each other well. Landa for a while has failed to live up to his lofty expectations but he looked ominously strong in the Alps, doing a massive amount of work in support of Thomas. Could Sky get two riders on the podium in Milan?!

Vincenzo Nibali.

The defending champion has had a fairly good early season by his standards but arrives at the Giro as a relative outsider in my opinion. His team is a lot weaker now at Bahrain than compared to when he was at Astana last season, although Pellizotti and Siutsou did look strong in Croatia but that was against lesser opposition. Nibali will want to be in Pink after the Etna stage so that he is in the race lead going into his hometown. Can he hold that peak for the remaining two weeks of the race? I doubt it, but he does always seem to surge again after the last rest day!

Adam Yates.

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Another rider who’s had a relatively light race schedule this year, I have been impressed with his form whenever he has been active. Without an overly strong team, he’ll have to do a lot of the work himself but with a 4th place at the Tour already on his palmarès there’s no reason why he can’t replicate that result here.

Ilnur Zakarin.

Fighting for podium honours last year until he crashed out on Stage 19, Zakarin has been a bit “hit or miss” so far this season. He looked strong on the Queen Stage in Abu Dhabi but was lacklustre in Romandie. A top 10 is certainly on the cards, but I can’t see him breaking the top 5 this time round.

Bauke Mollema.

An ever-present rider in the top 10 at the Tour, this will be his first time riding the Giro as leader. He was in scintillating form at the start of the season but he has went off the boil a bit since. Nonetheless, you can’t write the dogged Dutchman off due to his consistency in the big races and he should be in contention going into the final week.

Tejay van Garderen.

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The final rider on the list, I’m not sure I would have included him if he didn’t look somewhat promising in Romandie. He managed the second fastest time up the Leysin climb on the penultimate stage of that race behind his team-mate Porte. The following day he produced a very solid time trial which will give him a lot of hope considering the amount of TT miles in this Giro. However, he still seems to always have one bad day and I can’t help but think that will happen again to him this year.

As for the likes of Jungels, Formolo and Dennis, they’ll be in or around the top 10 but nothing higher.

Prediction

It’s got to be Nairo, doesn’t it?!

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However, I do think he will susceptible to losing time in the opening couple of weeks and this is where his rivals will need to make ground before the Colombian smashes the last week.

I’ll go with Pinot and Thomas to round out the podium.

Betting

No bet.

I personally have Thomas at 25/1 EW but he’s no longer value at the price available.

 

Thanks as always for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated. Who do you think will win? Can anyone stop Quintana? I shall be back again tomorrow with my stage 1 preview! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.