Innsbruck 2018 World Championships – Women’s Road Race Preview

Innsbruck 2018 World Championships – Women’s Road Race Preview

On a tricky course in Bergen last year we saw a tactical and exciting race throughout the afternoon. Going into the last lap a trio of Blaak, Cordon Ragot and Barnes were up the road and ahead of the peloton. They had quite a comfortable lead but Blaak did not fancy her sprint against the Brit if they came to the line together, quite annoying as I actually had money on Hannah, so she started to skip turns. A strong quartet of van Vleuten, van der Breggen, Garfoot and Niewiadoma managed to break clear of the peloton on the final ascent of Salmon Hill, bridging to the trio ahead. With three now at the head of the race, the Dutch decided to take turns and attacking to try to break away once the steepest part of the descent was over. Well, I say “take turns” but after van Vleuten was reeled in, Blaak managed to escape almost straight away. With no co-operation behind the race was over, with the Dutch rider coming home solo for a great win!

NORWAY WORLDS CYCLING WOMEN ELITE

Behind there was so much looking around that the group was caught be the peloton as they rounded the final corner. Garfoot was able to hold on and sprint for second while an impressive Dideriksen claimed a podium at the event for the second year in a row, having previously won it in Doha. I doubt she’ll make it three here though! Let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders throughout the afternoon.

The Route

A demanding day in the saddle that sees the riders take on three ascents of the Igls climb.

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They have to get there first though and the opening 60kms rolls before it flattens out. However, just after that marker the riders will face the Gnadenwald climb, the one that has been used in the men’s TT and the road races since. With its steep average gradient of over 9% for almost 3kms, it is tough enough that some riders can be dropped. In fact, throughout the races we have seen so far this is where an initial selection is made.

A plateau and a fast descent follows before the riders enter Innsbruck and begin the laps of the finish circuit.

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As you can see, the focal point of the course is the climb.

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A fairly consistent effort, albeit with some gradient changes between 4-7% at  times, the slope is less severe than the Gnadenwald climb the riders tackle earlier in the day. However, it is the length of the ascent and the three ascents of it that they have to do which will take its toll.

If you’ve watched any of the races so far, the descent off of the climb is arguably almost as important as the ascent.

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It is possible for a rider to lose a bit of time here if they are not as confident as their rivals. As you can see on the image above, it isn’t too technical of a descent but there are plenty of sweeping turns: it certainly is fast though. Saying that, there are some sharper turns through the town of Igls but nothing crazy. Nonetheless, being a good descender will be important.

Once the descent is finished there are just over 7kms of mostly flat roads through the streets of Innsbruck. There is a small kicker of around 500m at 5.5% that crests with just over 3.5km to go and it is the last launchpad for a rider to make a solo move. Well, unless of course they time an attack perfectly in those closing kilometres on the flat too!

Can anyone beat the Dutch?

I posed this question before the Euro road race and the answer to that question was: the Dutch.

On that day they rode strongly and in the closing 30kms always had riders on the attack off the front of the bunch, ultimately having one of their star riders, van der Breggen, in a small group. That group extended their advantage and looked like they would contend for the win but the Dutch team started to work on the front of the peloton. At the same time van der Breggen attacked from the break and only Longo Borghini could follow. The duo worked well together for a bit and still had a strong advantage but the Dutch rider eventually sat on in the closing kilometres, only for her team-mates not to win the bunch sprint behind. It was truly one of the weirdest races I’ve seen in terms of team tactics. Did the lack of race radios make a difference? AVDB wasn’t confident of sprinting to beat Rowe but surely she would have fancied her chances in a two-up gallop against Longo Borghini.

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Either way, the squad will hope for a much better result at this event. They arrive with the two pre-race favourites in van Vleuten and van der Breggen. Both were very strong in the TT on Tuesday and both will fancy their chances on this course. We saw at La Course that they are arguably the two strongest climbers in the women’s peloton, although arguments can be made for others and that riders were at different peak points. The team to support them is strong but not as strong as it could be. How long with they last into the day if the pace is on during the climbs? Theoretically it should be Brand and Ensing that are last support riders but the latter hasn’t been great this year – I think they will really miss Stultiens. It means that it will be hard for them to control the race late on, so I think they’ll adopt the old cliché: “attack is the best form of defense”

I would be very surprised to see both of the riders sit in the peloton until the final ascent, I think one will have to be used in a counter move before then. Who that is? No idea! Tactics will then be interesting in that front group, will those ahead want to work with either van der Breggen or van Vleuten knowing their pedigree? It really is a delicately poised race.

How do you beat the Dutch?

Step one is kind of laid out above, you need to isolate their leaders and hope to still have numbers in the front group. With that said, which nations can I see having numbers in a reduced/very reduced peloton going into the final few laps?

Dutch – van der Breggen, van Vleuten, Brand, van Dijk.

Australia – Spratt, Kennedy, Gillow.

Italy – Longo Borghini, Magnaldi.

USA – Hall, Guarnier, Winder, Wiles.

Spain – Merino, Garcia, Santesteban.

Canada – Kirchmann, Poidevin.

There might be a few other nations who have a couple of riders in there but those are teams that I think have the best chance of having most. Then of course there are the riders who will no doubt be there but will possibly be lacking any team support by that point such as Niewiadoma, Moolman and Uttrup.

So with step one complete and a reduced peloton, step two then involves you sending riders on the attack and forcing the Dutch to chase it down and tire out Brand/van Dijk. Of course this step can be countered by the Dutch getting involved in the attacks themselves.

Step 3 is then all about good race craft and luck. Let’s say a group of 6 get away with the majority of the “big” nations represented and with no organisation behind, they are set to stay out for the remainder of the race. The likelihood in that situation is that either van Vleuten or van der Breggen or both are there, meaning they are still in that race favourites position but now with less opposition. Maybe this plan isn’t going so well after all?

Anyway, this is where you have to be willing to lose the race.

Both willing to lose in terms of putting in an audacious attack to get rid/drop everyone before the climb, or on the foot slopes of it. Or, by sitting in and letting the Dutch rider(s) do all the work to chase any of those attacks down before you counter. Because let’s be honest, no one here is going to drop the “vans” any other way.

A Dangerous Duo

I’ve went through the two main favourites and how to possibly beat them, but who are those that have a chance? I’ll be keeping this sweet as I’ve already rambled enough so I’m limiting myself to two riders to watch. No jokers and super jokers here.

Ruth Winder.

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As alluded to above, the US have one of the best teams here in terms of strength in depths with several riders who could play a part in the day. I’ve been very impressed with Winder this season and her move across to race in Europe full-time with Sunweb. She’s picked up a win at the Giro Rosa and two stages in the recent Tour de l’Ardeche. A solid climber who might not be able to match the very best, if she is in a group of “lesser” riders, then she is a big threat. Packing a fast kick to the line, she will be happy to arrive with a group.

Amanda Spratt.

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Arguably one of the riders of the year, Spratt has been sensational this season as part of Mitchelton Scott’s climbing unit. Often working in the service of van Vleuten, she has still managed to take 5 wins this season, including a stage at the Giro Rosa where she came third overall. Now though she has to race against her team-mate so if there is anyone in the peloton who might know van Vleuten’s weaknesses, it will be Spratt. Like the US, Australia have a pretty solid climbing unit with them and I would expect Gillow and Kennedy to go deep into the race. A special shout out to the latter who after an incredibly up and down season as a first year pro arrives with something to prove. I hope we get to see Lucy set free on a climb for once this year!

The season-long prediction

Some of you may remember that back at the start of the year in my Strade Bianche blog I said one rider was going to win the Worlds this year. Who?

Katarzyna Niewiadoma

I still think she has a great chance and after her recent run of form she starts as the fourth favourite for the race according to the bookmakers. However the issue for her, and Moolman likewise, is that their team support coming into the final couple of laps will be minimal, if there is anyway. That will make it difficult for her to make the right move at the right time etc so she will need to get a little lucky. I’m not back tracking and discrediting her completely but it is harder than it would be if she was Dutch!

Prediction

I’ve led you on a merry dance only to say it has to be one of the Dutch superstars, doesn’t it? After the Euros debacle there is no way that they are losing this unless they completely mess it up again, it is just a case of choosing which “van”.

Van der Breggen proved her worth in the one-day spring classics this year and at La Course had the edge on the climbs. Whereas, van Vleuten has had an incredibly stellar season winning the Giro Rosa with ease and you could argue fatigue played a part in that slight crack in La Course.

Hmmmmmm.

I’ll go with van der Breggen.

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The Olympic champion to finally become World Champion.

Betting

Going wild, why not…

4pts WIN AVDB @ 11/4

1pt EW Spratt @ 14/1

1pt EW Winder @ 33/1

5pts Kirchmann to beat Sierra @ 6/4

I think the Canadian is in great form at the moment after the TT. She finished 17th on GC in the Giro this year so has shown to go okay on the climbs. I think Sierra is a little overrated for this race and isn’t suited to the longer ascents.

Thanks as always for reading, I hope we’re in for a great tactical race. Who do you think will win and why? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

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Vuelta a España 2018 Stage 16 Preview: Santillana del Mar -> Torrelavega (ITT)

Rest Day Recap

Amazingly, we had the GC teams fight out for the stage win for the second day in a row. Something must be up…

On Lagos de Covadonga it followed a similar pattern for a few kilometres after Astana had done all the pace work and it was identical almost to Stage 14: Lopez attacks, Quintana chases; Quintana attacks, Lopez chases. This happened a good few times before a decrease in pace saw the GC group almost crawling their way up the mountain. Pinot took advantage of the looking around and with his not-immediate threat to GC, he was let go. Phony attacks kept happening but now Yates and Mas were getting involved too. The on-screen graphics/timing were way off as Pinot had a much more comfortable margin than it appeared and he ended up taking the stage win by almost 30 seconds.

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Lopez eventually managed to get a bit of a gap but with Yates’ sprint for third place behind, he only gained a few seconds on his rivals in the end.

A lot has been made of Quintana, his lack of an offensive mindset and wheel sucking escapades, but to me he did nothing wrong. He put in a couple of attacks himself and closed down Lopez a few times before being on the limit. It is hard to attack when you’re on the limit and everyone else is climbing at 6.2w/Kg.  Yates then berated him for not working but I just don’t think Nairo had the legs, if so, he still wouldn’t have been hanging around then. Furthermore, Valverde did enough pulling for Quintana to sit back and rest up once he was in the red. Just sticking up for my little Colombian, that’s all!

Anyway, yesterday’s result still leaves things very much up in the air going into the final week with the top 5 on GC only separated by less than 1’30. Will we see a big change after the important TT tomorrow? Let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

Billed by PezCycling before the race as “fast and flat”, I would like to know what they’ve been smoking! Have they not been paying attention to the Vuelta in the past few years and know that Javier Guillén is the biggest patter merchant around?

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As with all TTs, I’ve made the whole route (as you can see above, obv) and you can view it directly on VeloViewer here.

I’m somehow missing a kilometre from the route (no idea how that has happened as I’ve followed the map perfectly) but anyway, according to the Strava/VV profile there is 547m of elevation gain and LaFlammeRouge suggest 425. Call it evens and go for 480ish? Either way, the TT is certainly not “flat”!

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The riders will be aware of this almost as soon as they leave the start ramp because they face a one kilometre climb that averages 6% pretty much straight away. A nice one to get the legs opened up on…

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After the short descent, the terrain then constantly rolls for the following 10kms, including an 800m (6% average) climb on what looks to be a very narrow road.

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Once over that climb the riders rejoin the main road and slowly start to head South. Yet, it is only 2kms later until they start to head upwards again with the following test.

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Taking place on a twisty road, the 2.1km at 5.3% will be tough on a TT bike and it will be tough for some to settle into a rhythm despite the fairly consistent gradients.

All of the above happens in just the opening 14kms. Again, I would like to remind you that some have said this is flat, ha! To be fair, the remaining 17kms of the day are much easier and will be a lot faster for the riders as it is mostly descents and flat they will have to contend with.

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That doesn’t mean there is no climb though because as soon as the riders turn onto a two-lane road and head East towards the finish they have to face a 2.2km drag that averages 3%.

With 10kms to go I can say that all the main climbs of the day are over with and they will have a descent and flat-ish run to the line because as of course given this is Spain, there are still a couple of small drags here and there.

Can anyone stop Dennis?

I asked the same question before the opening day against the clock and the answer was no. I think it is most likely the same for tomorrow. However, there are question marks over his ability to cope with the distance but a few of those poor performances have been down to bad luck; whether that be a crash or numerous mechanicals. Yet, those will still linger over him a bit.

He did reverse things a bit at the Giro when he won the 34km long TT there in the final week of the race but that was his first pro TT win in a distance that was over 20km. It was a convincing performance though and a sign that things might be changing and that his endurance has picked up.

Furthermore, it all depends on where his form is at just now. Obviously he is building towards having a good tilt at the Worlds but we haven’t seen him at the front all race. It really is an unknown.

Nonetheless, he does start as the clear favourite and it will be hard to beat him.

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But not impossible. I don’t call him the best short TT rider in the World for nothing, he has yet to show consistency over the longer distances.

Two Main Challengers?

After Kwiatkowski’s fall the other day, it looks as if the two who can challenge Dennis’ potential domination are Campenaerts and Castroviejo.

The former showed some good form when in the break last week and he is the type of TT rider who can deal with some hills so the course is good for him. Likewise the same can be said for Castroviejo who will certainly get an advantage of riding in front of his home crowd. However, he is much like Dennis in that we haven’t really seen him do anything all race so far. I think he’s been resting up and will be fine tomorrow.

Rule Of Thumb #1

For the opening TT I mentioned a rule that you have to back either a BMC, Sky, Jumbo or Sunweb rider for a time trial as they always seem to produce the best results. On that day 7 out of the top 10 were from those teams and I think we might see a similar-ish spread tomorrow. Although the longer course does give opportunities for stronger riders in other teams to shine.

Rule of Thumb #2

We’re in Spain.

Spanish riders always go well in Spain and so do Spanish teams. It is just the way it is. They just need to be a little less obvious about the moto drafting than the Italians and Aru/Ulissi at the Giro.

Rule of Thumb #3

We’re now into a third week of a Grand Tour so the GC riders often throw up some surprise results in the TT. Have a look back at the TT result last year in the Vuelta, the top 5 on that day were the top 5 riders on GC. Albeit before the start Dennis had to pull out in the morning so there wasn’t a proper TT test, aside from Froome himself being one.

Rule of Thumb #3.5

It’s after a rest day and some riders perform better after a rest day. As to why that is, well, we’ll leave that for now.

Any outsiders to go watch?

Oliveira has a good chance of delivering another solid result. He is always a consistent performer in these types of TTs.

Gallopin is riding as well as I have seen him all year and he is in my opinion one of the better GC TT riders. He has lost time over the past couple of mountain stages but he should have the power to go well in this TT and he might surprise.

Zakarin’s GC chances were ruined by a fall early into this race but he is the type of guy who can pull out a very good effort against the clock when needed.

How will the Top 5 GC riders fare?

Yates – His TT has got better and he *only* shipped 1’37 to Dennis in the Giro. Tomorrow’s slightly more rolling terrain does suit him better than that day and we have seen over the previous stages that he is the form rider here. He can have really bad days on the TT bike so you never really know with him. He will still hope to be in red after the stage.

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Valverde – The man who is most likely to overhaul Yates, Valverde has been strong throughout this race, only losing a handful of seconds on the summit finishes. Arguably a stronger rouleur than Yates, he is theoretically a better TT rider. Plus, when you account for Rules 2 through 3.5 above, then he has a good chance of getting into red. He’s finished in the Top 5 a total of 22 times in TTs throughout his career (not including nationals) and 18 of those were in Spain.

Quintana – Really needs a big turnaround as to me he just didn’t seem to have the legs the last two days, which is somewhat odd, as he looked very comfortable on La Camperona. He’s done well in TTs in Spain before but he has also struggled an awful lot in TTs. The times he has gone strongly have been when he has been climbing well. Unfortunately, I think he’ll lose a chunk of time.

Lopez – Everyone seems to think Lopez is a great GC TT rider but hot take: he’s not! Don’t worry though, I too have fallen for the 2016 Tour de Suisse performance before. I think he was helped massively that day by the rolling course and that the TT was at quite a high altitude. His performance in the Giro was dire, even though he looked like one of the stronger climbers. Will that be the same tomorrow? I think so.

Kruijswijk – Arguably the most consistent of the GC riders in an effort against the clock, the Jumbo rider should deliver a solid time that will more than likely vault him very close to Lopez and Quintana but I think it will be difficult for him to overtake them with his current deficit.

Special mention goes to Kelderman who I would be ranting and raving about had he not massively gone pop yesterday. Likewise Ion Izagirre who has lost some time too.

Prediction

I think it will be tough for anyone to topple Dennis but I’m going to put my neck on the line and say that someone will, just for the fun of it…

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The stars will align for the current Spanish champion who I think has been saving himself for this day since the start of the race almost. He might also get the advantage of some friendly motos…

Fun fact, since 2015 he currently holds a 3:1 lead over Dennis in TTs that they’ve both competed in which have been over 20km. Food for thought!

Betting

A sensible decision would be a no bet but when playing for fun, then why not…

1pt WIN Castroviejo @ 12/1 (various bookmakers)

4pts Castroviejo to beat Campenaerts @ 5/4 (WillHill)

Then it wouldn’t be a GT TT without a stupid acca…

0.5pt on this 5-fold

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Thanks as always for reading, hope you enjoyed the preview! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Can anyone stop Dennis? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Vuelta a España 2018 Stage 15 Preview: Ribera de Arriba -> Lagos de Covadonga

Today’s Recap

We finally got a GC fight for the stage win!

A break of 6 went away quite early on in the day without much hassle. With Kwiatkowski there, it was kept on a fairly tight leash and they never gained more than 4 minutes of an advantage. The Pole held on until the foot slopes of the final climb but there was nothing he could do about the GC riders behind.

Kruijswijk hit out early but he acted more as a proverbial dangling carrot than anything else, albeit it meant he was always up there when those from behind caught up. Quintana and Lopez looked like they were going to go wheel-to-wheel for the stage win, but with the Astana man not wanting to come to the front, Quintana eased off the pace. This happened on at least three occasions on the climb and each time it allowed those behind to come back.

It was then Yates who attacked with just over 700m to go and he never looked back. The Brit had been cannily riding the whole climb and chose to go at the perfect moment when the road had narrowed and his rivals were on their limit.

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It was enough to take the stage win despite a late charge from Lopez, who arguably looked the strongest today but was too concerned with Movistar, and the evergreen Valverde who came home in third.

Yates moves back into the red jersey after loaning it to Herrada for a couple of days. With another summit finish on the cards tomorrow will he be on the defensive or will he look to gain more time before the rest day?

The Route

Another rolling stage with only three categorised climbs before the summit finish of Lagos de Covadonga but there are plenty of uncategorised tests along the way too, so much so, that the total elevation for the stage is over 4500m.

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It’s still too early for anyone near the top of the GC to try an audacious attack from 40km out so I think the Cat-1 climb (that they do twice) of Mirador del Fito will be inconsequential despite its steep gradients.

For the GC contenders, the battle will come down to the final climb of the day: the famous Lagos de Covadonga.

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Long and pretty steep, the final 4kms are actually the easiest of the whole climb aside from the gentle opening ramp. That makes it tactically a very interesting one because if you can hold on over the very steep 7kms then you shouldn’t lose too much time. However, if things kick off early then we could see some very big time gaps.

How will the stage pan out?

It was nice to see the GC teams take control of things today but I do wonder if they were partly spurred on by Kwiatkowski ahead. Would it have been different if there was no overall “threat” up the road?

Although Mitchelton now have the race lead again, I think they will be happy to just sit back a bit and not chase too much throughout the afternoon unless it is absolutely necessary. Yates is clearly on good form but he and the team have shown a lot more maturity and tactical nous compared to the Giro earlier in the year so I think they’ll be happy to let the break go and let it come back naturally, or if other teams chase.

Who will those teams be?

Movistar and Astana are the only two I can see contributing. The former have been the major pace setters of the GC teams but given that Quintana looked a bit shaky today they might take more of a back seat. Lopez will have been kicking himself after the finish this afternoon as he certainly looked like the stage win was a possibility. Astana are the type of team who can set their minds to it and chase down the breaks, but do they want to?

Bahrain were the ones to put a lot of pace into the back-end of the stage but Izagirre fell short so I think they will look elsewhere tomorrow. You have to applaud them for trying this afternoon though!

With it being another fairly big day for the KOM competition, expect those near the top of the standings to try to make the move. De Gendt was on the attack today but I expect him to be there tomorrow, likewise Rolland, Mollema and King. As harsh it is, they need to strike now that Maté is apparently suffering from bronchitis.

I think it will be another big fight to get into the break and if the right riders are represented then it won’t come back: there just has to be no-one in it that is closer 7 or so minutes as that might concern some near the top of the order.

Time to play that game again…

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Break Candidates

Once again, I’ll try to keep this short and sweet as no one wants to hear the same thing for about the 7th time this Vuelta. Unfortunately for you, that is exactly what is happening!

Vincenzo Nibali – A nice training ride for him this afternoon as he drilled the front of the bunch in aid of Ion Izagirre. That didn’t work out for the team and I expect Nibali to be allowed a free role from now on. He looked super strong today and if he makes the break he has got to be a danger.

Richard Carapaz – Movistar love a team classification win and today they closed the gap to Bahrain thanks to it being a GC day. However, if things are to go to those up the road tomorrow then they might try to sneak someone into the attack. Carapaz has been growing steadily into this race and we all saw at the Giro just how strong he can be in the mountains.

Sepp Kuss – With Jumbo only having Kruijswijk in GC contention now, they might decide to let some of their riders up the road. Kuss has performed brilliantly on select days, keeping the pace very high on the front of the bunch before peeling off. It is his first Grand Tour so energy management will be important but if he has recovered for tomorrow, then he could be an outsider for the day.

Tiesj Benoot – I expected big things of Benoot coming into this race, namely with a possible stage win somewhere. However, he has been unfortunate with a crash and an injury to the knee but that seems to have healed a bit more over the past few days. His form was on the up before the crash so it is yet to be seen how he can go on a finish like this at the head of the race. I’m willing to be pleasantly surprised.

Prediction

Rinse and repeat prediction from yesterday: Nibali.

Milano-Sanremo 2018 - edizione 109 - da Milano a Sanremo (294 km)

Buy Me A Beer (Coffee)

Forgot to plug this going into last Sunday so here we are this time around. If you’ve enjoyed the previews over the past two weeks of racing and you’re feeling really generous then you can aid the blog writing process by buying me a coffee through the following link: https://www.paypal.me/jamiehaughey/3.50

Thank you in advance if you do!

Betting

1.75pt WIN Nibali @ 40/1

0.75pt WIN on the rest…

Carapaz @ 66/1

Benoot @ 80/1

Kuss @ 66/1

Thanks as always for reading. Who do you think wins tomorrow and in what manner? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Vuelta a España 2018 Stage 13 Preview: Candás. Carreño -> Valle de Sabero. La Camperona

Today’s Recap

A big break went as I expected and with both Bora and Quick Step represented, it showed that Sagan and Viviani weren’t overly keen with another hard day on a finish they might not have made. I did question the possible success of the break early on though as Jesus Herrada made the split and he was only 5’45 down on GC before the start of the day. However, it seems Mitchelton have learnt from their Giro mistakes and they were more than happy to let the Cofidis rider take the jersey at the end of the day: an opportunity he gladly took. He wasn’t competing for the stage win though, as the large break splintered into two groups in the final 20km.

Instead it was a group of 8 out ahead who fought for the win. Attacks flew but no one was able to escape and after some riders were dropped it came down to a 5 rider sprint to the line. Geniez took a bit of a risk and went early at 300m out but given the narrow road and slight downhill, it turned out to be a perfect point to launch the sprint. Van Baarle came close but he ran out of road both in front of him and at the side as the barriers closed off any chance he had of getting round the Ag2R rider. Youngster Padun trailed home in third, not a bad result for his first Grand Tour.

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Kind of an annoying day for the blog as Campenaerts was in that group but finished fifth. However, I am very pleased of how accurate my “How will the race pan out?” predictions have been this whole race, even if the right riders aren’t represented. Watch me get it massively wrong for tomorrow now…

The Route

Only a shade more climbing than today but the profile looks completely different as we have a tough mountain top finish.

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The stage is pretty easy in some sense due to the lack of actual hills, the road drags than anything else for the opening 90km, albeit, there is a 3rd-Cat climb early on in the day. Just through the feed zone the peloton will tackle the Cat-1 climb of Puerto de Tama (11.7km at 6.1%). Given it’s position in the day and what comes after it, I expect it to be taken at a very casual pace indeed.

Following on from the summit, almost 60km of flat-ish roads await the riders and the cheekily placed intermediate sprint before the road starts climbing for the mountain finish of La Camperona.

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A 7.7km climb at 7.6% sounds fairly tough on its own but La Camperona is all about its ridiculously steep gradients within the closing 2kms. It isn’t also nicknamed the Wall of Camperona for nothing!

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A final 2.6km at 14.4% is just brutal. You don’t want to be giddy and go too early as if you fade late on then you can crack massively and lose a lot of time. Back in 2016 Quintana attacked at only 1km to go but still managed to gain 25 seconds on Contador and 33 seconds on Froome respectively. Will we see something similar from him tomorrow?

How will the stage pan out?

A day that is easy to control for the GC teams given the large amount of flat roads that break up the two main climbs. However, will anyone want to control it? Mitchelton showed today they were content enough to let the jersey go so I can’t imagine they will chip in now. None of the other GC teams have really turned a pedal in anger at the head of the bunch to chase anything down; they’ve only put the pressure on at the end of stages, i.e. EF Education First yesterday.

So the buck will lie with our race leader and his Cofidis team, and Movistar. The former don’t really have the horsepower to control things fully in my opinion but they would be a more than helpful ally to Movistar. The men in blue have taken control of most days even though they are not in the race lead – clearly confident of Quintana for the race. Yet, with two even harder stages this weekend, I think they might be happy to let Cofidis to the brunt of the work so that they can rest up.

Therefore, another day and another chance to play our favourite game…

TheBreakawayLottery

Breakaway Candidates

It’s a really weird stage to choose possible breakaway riders as the flatter opening 90kms are not ideal for the mountain goats to make the split. We could see a scenario very similar to what we had back in 2014, a day when the only climb was La Camperona, on which a break made up mainly of rouleurs fought out for the win. Of course, if one or two climbers to make the split then don’t expect everyone just to ride to the bottom of the climb with them.

Hmmmm. These guys will be outsiders but why not!

Jan Hirt.

I was very impressed with the Astana man on Stage 9 during the La Covatilla summit finish as he pushed the pace on for his leader Lopez. Despite having the Colombian fighting for the GC lead, Astana have been active in the break so far this race but they missed out today. Tomorrow they possibly might send someone up the road to work for Lopez later on but if the gap is too big then they could go for the stage themself. Hirt is a rider who likes the steep gradients so he will be a big fan of tomorrow’s finish climb. Can he rekindle that Giro 2017 form?

Franco Pellizotti.

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Now leading the Team Classification, Bahrain will be keen to get someone in the breakaway tomorrow. Nibali and Padun will be tired after their efforts today so that really leaves Gorka, Pernsteiner and the aforementioned Pellizotti. I was impressed with the veteran’s finish to the stage De Marchi won and if he had made the right move before he could have had a chance. He often turns up for one or two good stages in a Grand Tour where he is climbing with the best – is that tomorrow?

Merhawi Kudus.

It was the turn of the younger Eritrean climber in the Dimension Data team, albeit by only a few months, so I think we might see Kudus on the attack tomorrow. The steep ramps should suit his dimunitive figure. Does anyone else remember how strong he was back in 2017 on the steep slopes of Llucena in Valenciana? He will be a real threat if he makes the break but making the break will be his biggest challenge.

Tao Geoghegan Hart.

Sky have shown a different side to their armada over the past few days where they have actually had a rider up the road in the breakaway. Shocking, I know. Geoghegan Hart made one of the earlier splits that was unsuccessful the other day so he has clearly been given some freedom to chase a result now and again. One of the best performers at the Dauphiné earlier in the year, if he has the same legs tomorrow then he is one to watch.

Prediction

Dimension Data to continue their incredible Vuelta with Kudus winning the stage from a rather weird breakaway!

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Betting

0.5pt WIN on each of the breakers;

Hirt @ 300/1

Pellizotti @ 150/1

Kudus @ 100/1

TGH @ 150/1

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Vuelta a España 2018 Stage 11 Preview: Mombuey -> Ribeira Sacra. Luintra

Today’s Recap

Viviani won.

Moving on…

Just kidding, it was a pretty dull day so it all came down to the expected big bunch sprint. Quick Step delivered one of the best lead-outs I’ve seen all season, dropping the Italian champion off in the perfect position at just over 150m to go. No one was coming round him after that.

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Sagan came home second and Nizzolo rounded out the podium in third. I think the rest of the sprinters and their teams got scared to take it up too early in case they ended up in a poor position. However, with everyone riding a phony tempo on the front of the bunch it just worked into Quick Step’s hands as they could save themselves and hit it fully from 2.5km out. If there was some disorganisation then some of the other sprinters might have had a chance. That’s a big might though…

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

The Route

The longest stage of the race at a tad under 208km, it is no easy day in the saddle for the riders though with 3700m of climbing throughout the afternoon.

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As you can see on the profile there are no real mountains as such, just several long hills with shallow 4-5% average gradients. To add to that, there are also numerous uncategorised kickers and drags throughout the afternoon: the road is barely ever flat!

We might see a Ruben Plaza 2015-style solo 114km attack from the break but considering I think that is unlikely, tomorrow will be decided by a tactical final 50km.

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The road rises through the intermediate sprint point before the road descends into an uncategorised 2.9km at 5.8%. We will then see the peloton tackle the last categorised climb of the day.

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As you can see, it isn’t an overly difficult climb and stays very consistent. It definitely suits the all-rounders better than the pure climbers so to speak. The road then descends for almost 12km, although it is very shallow in some parts with that 12km only averaging -2%.

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At around 5.6km to go, the riders will face the above uncategorised climb. It is steep and long enough for the puncheurs to try to make a difference but those hoping to grind their way up it will think the opposite. It really is a perfect climb for its position in the day. Given the almost 2kms at 7.8% though, I think it tips it in favour of the puncheurs.

With it cresting with just over 3km to go, will a rider be able to solo to the line, or will we see a slight regroupment?

Breakaway Day

No beating around the bush here, tomorrow is most definitely a day for a break in my opinion. With the constant rolling terrain throughout the afternoon, it will be nigh on impossible for a team to control a strong group ahead. Furthermore, it will take a lot of energy expenditure to even try that – not exactly what anyone wants to do with the more important GC days to come. Unless of course Mitchelton Scott haven’t learnt anything from the Giro and decide to close everything down just for the sake of it. I wouldn’t count that out actually now I think about it a little more…

Nonetheless, time to play everyone’s favourite game. Again.

TheBreakawayLottery

The Fruitless Four

Steve Cummings.

Yep, it’s finally that day. I’ve had this day marked down as possible Cummings territory from before this race and since he has done absolutely nothing so far in this race, then I’m equally both more and less confident in the pick at the same time. He has been pretty rubbish this season, even he has admitted that, but he would have had a stage win in Austria had it not been for a mechanical in the closing kilometres. The rolling terrain of tomorrow suits Cummings well and I would expect to see him attack the breakaway around the final categorised climb and try to hold on to the finish.

Victor Campenaerts.

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After the tricky finish on stage 7 I promised I’d back Campenaerts on a rolling breakaway and tomorrow is that. Obviously a strong rider on the flat, the Belgian can actually go well on the hills too due to his quite slight nature. Lotto Soudal have had a pretty poor Vuelta so far, marred by crashes, but a good result tomorrow would set them up nicely for the final week.

Tao Geoghegan Hart.

When was the last time Team Sky had a rider in the breakaway at a Grand Tour? It certainly seems a while ago, that’s for sure. However, with De La Cruz and Kwiatkowski not looking convincing in their GC tilt at the moment, Sky might change their approach. Geoghegan Hart has had an exceptional season so far, proving to be one of the stronger climbing domestiques in the peloton at races like Dauphine. If he’s at that same level again in the break, then there won’t be many there stronger than him.

Vincenzo Nibali.

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Nibali might just be that guy who is stronger than Geoghegan Hart. He tried to escape with Trentin earlier on in the race but was still deemed too close on GC to be given any leeway, that’s how much his competitors respect him. The Shark of Messina has been struggling with form since crashing out of the Tour but he looked a lot more sprightly after his rest day this afternoon and I think he’ll be eyeing up one of the stages over the coming days. Does he have the legs to deliver?

Prediction

Yup, I’m going there.

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Steve Cummings to win and save his season, continuing Dimension Data’s great Vuelta.

 

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Will we see a break survive all the way to the end? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Vuelta a España 2018 Stage 10 Preview: Salamanca -> Fermoselle. Bermillo de Sayago

Rest-day recap

Return of the King? Is that the title we’re going with?

On stage 9 an okay break, not super strong but not bad, escaped early on and they were kept on a fairly tight leash by Groupama. However, the elastic eventually snapped with around 70km to go and they were given enough room to fight it out for the stage.

It then became tactical in the break before the final climb, with a duo of King and Mas escaping. King dropped Mas and his gap grew north of 1’30 before the start of the summit finish. Mollema tried his best to bridge across, getting the gap down to only 18 seconds at one point but he had spent too much and King was just too strong.

King held on for a rather remarkable second stage win of this Vuelta, which is definitely a surprise to most. Can he go better than Marczynski last year and take a third?

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Mollema trailed home for second with other early morning breakee Teuns just managing to take third ahead of some rampaging GC riders.

With over a third of the race complete, the battle for the overall is still wide open and the top 10 is covered by just 48 seconds. Plenty in with chances over the coming two weeks, it’s just about managing your form and timing that peak perfectly.

Anyway enough about that, let’s see what is in store for the riders tomorrow.

The Route

A very odd-looking profile as the stage is pretty much as flat as you can get in Spain but because they descend before climbing again, it looks like there is a chunk out of the profile.

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Nothing much to talk about really aside from the Cat-3 that crests at 28km to go. However, the road continues to rise afterwards for 7.2km but it only averages a shade over 2%, so nothing too serious.

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I think we’ll see a sprint: so what is the run in like?

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Easy, really easy!

A slight meander at around 600m to go with is all they have to deal with pretty much: no roundabouts which is a bit surprising. That being said, there is a kink in the road with only 150m or so to go.

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Nothing serious but it is something to note. Coming around the short side will save you a fraction of the second and that could be all that matters. Also, the final few hundred metres rise at an average of 2% to the line, again, nothing crazy, but it means timing is more important.

If I’m honest, I’m not 100% sure that the above is the exact finish as in typical Vuelta fashion there are two different places in the road book. However, given that LaFlammeRouge and Erecce have the same finish point as above, I’ll go with that.

You can see a video of the run in above.

Sprinters

Do I really need to go through all of them again?

Viviani – Very strong when taking his win on stage 3 and he finished fast on the crosswind struck stage 6. However, both on that day and the uphill day where he *might* have had a chance, he was poorly positioned. Very unlike Quick Step that. They’ll need to sort that for tomorrow.

Sagan – Seems to be finding his form again but I think he is still not at 90%. If he was, then there was no way he was losing on Stage 8: he is getting there though. A master at positioning, expect to see him surf wheels given his short lead-out.

Bouhanni – Great to see him take the win earlier in the race. His team performed really well in that stage and that will give him more confidence in them. On his day Bouhanni can be really fast, it is just judging if it is his day or not!

Van Poppel – I was very impressed with his effort on stage 8, I didn’t expect him to finish third that day. What almost impressed me more though was just how well Lotto Jumbo bossed the closing few kilometres. If they can do that again tomorrow, then Van Poppel has a great chance.

Nizzolo – Another who got close on stage 8, he seems to be a nearly man so often. I would like to see him win a stage at a Grand Tour, it is what he deserves after being consistent over the years. I just can’t see it happening tomorrow though.

Consonni, Trentin, Sarreau and Garcia will be in or around the top 10. I wonder if Max “speed bump” Walscheid makes the finish?

Prediction

A simple finish can often be a chaotic and messy finish as everyone thinks they have a chance. We’ll see a big fight for position as riders surge forward and then back again as they run out of steam so luck will somewhat play a factor. A team will want to time their effort perfectly so that they can drop their sprinter off at just the right moment.

I’ll go with Lotto Jumbo to repeat their lead-out feat from stage 8 and put Van Poppel into an unbeatable position.

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Betting

Normally wouldn’t go EW on short sprint odds but given how close things have been so far between them all, I’ll take the “safety net” of a podium.

2pts EW Van Poppel @ 10/1 with William Hill who are actually paying 1/3 odds for 3 places. Would take the 9s or 8s available elsewhere though.

Thanks as always for reading, who do you think is going to win tomorrow? Apologies for this not being as in-depth as normal but there isn’t really much to talk about! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Vuelta a España 2018 Stage 8 Preview: Linares -> Almadén

Today’s Recap

An OK break made it up the road but Bora were more than happy to help Groupama FDJ keep tabs on it so they were never really given north of 3 minutes. Things spiced up on the penultimate climb with plenty of riders dropped, but it was the descent off of that climb that was the undoing of Kwiatkowski who went down along with two team-mates. With the pace on up ahead and the tough climb to come, he would never make it back on despite his and a few others best efforts.

In the peloton we saw numerous attacks from solo riders and groups, but it was Gallopin who went at the perfect moment. A small lull as the decision as to who would cahse was made ended up being enough for the Frenchman to get a big enough gap to take the stage win.

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It is a result that is nice to see given how much he has suffered from illness or injury this year.

Behind, Sagan sprinted to second place after keeping himself nicely hidden from the tv motorbikes in the final 10km. Seems he is building some form again as he definitely wouldn’t have made this finish a few weeks ago. Pre-stage favourite Valverde trailed home in third place.

Will tomorrow see a similarly aggressive and attacking finish to the day? Let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

I’m branding it as Stage 7 Lite.

The riders will face only 2100m of climbing compared to today’s 2500m.

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The ascents themselves are less intense too, with the only categorised rise of the day averaging a lowly 3.5% for almost 9km: that’s not the Vuelta I know! Even the finale is a bit of a rip-off of today’s finish.

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Admittedly, the ramps involved in those closing 6.5km are tougher than the steadier 2% drag to the line we had this afternoon but it still equates to pretty much the same finish: a 6km, just over 2% run to the line.

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The final kilometre averages 3%, but it does feature a few switchbacks on a narrow road so positioning will be vital. Expect a big fight for the penultimate turn off the main highway. Also, ignore the poor surface on the image above, that is taken from a 2008 Street View trip (if that’s the right word) but the road has since been done up with some swanky new asphalt.

How will the stage pan out?

With a big day ahead of them on Sunday, I think most will want to keep their powder dry. Despite the rolling hills at the start, it is fairly easy terrain therein for the peloton to control the breakaway. I think we’ll once again see Bora help with the chase and possibly a few of the other sprint teams so I don’t think the break has a very good chance at all tomorrow if I’m honest. It is the Vuelta though so you can never fully discount it.

The only way that it does have a chance is if we see a surprisingly large group of 8 or 9 go clear and everyone else decides not to work with Bora given that Sagan is looking strong again.

I think that is unlikely though, so an uphill sprint it is!

Can anyone stop Sagan?

I didn’t expect to be writing that a few days ago but given his performance today then I think it is a fair question. The run to the line tomorrow will be no issue for the World Champion if he continues to recover and he has to start as the out-and-out favourite for the day. His kick today was impressive and caught a few by surprise, let alone Valverde, who didn’t even realise he was in the main group.

Viviani – Can he make the finish? I think he will and he is the main threat to Sagan. It was only poor positioning that cost him a second stage win on Wednesday. He is punchy enough to deal with the drag and if he shows the same closing speed as he did the other day, then I think he has the beating of the World Champion.

Bouhanni – Now with a stage win, the Frenchman will be full of confidence. I mentioned in one of my earlier previews that Bouhanni is traditionally one of the better climbing sprints in the peloton, having won tough stages in Catalunya in the past. Tomorrow is different, easier in fact, but I can’t help but cast my mind back to the 2014 Vuelta and Stage 13 when Bouhanni finished 5th amongst GC contenders and puncheurs on a tough uphill finish.

Trentin – Just doesn’t seem to be at 100% at the moment. He’s another the finish looks great for but I don’t think he has the speed to beat Sagan if it is more selective and the same goes if it is less selective.

Nizzolo – Has managed okay on these dragging uphill finishes in the past but I’m not certain he has fully returned to his former level yet, therefore, I don’t think he’ll feature.

Outsiders to watch

Simone Consonni.

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I’ve been impressed by the Italian’s development this year in what is his second season in the pro peloton. He’s a solid sprinter but can also hang quite well on the short climbs. It will be tough for him to win but a top 10 on a tough-ish finish like this would be a good result.

Eduard Prades.

Not as much of an outsider as he would have been had he not come 4th today. The Euskadi Murias rider has had a string of very good results this year, particularly in races with tricky finishes. The rise to the finish certainly helps him but against the quality of opposition here then I think another top 10 would be good.

Mike Teunissen.

Given Max “speed bump” Walscheid won’t be competing come the finish, I would expect Sunweb to give Teunnisen the chance to go for a result as they will have plenty of others to help guide Kelderman. We’ve seen so far this year that Teunissen is competent on the short climbs so tomorrow’s drag to the finish should be okay for him. Is he capable of going better than his fifth place result on the opening day of Paris Nice?

Prediction

This is a tough one. I think it comes down to a sprint, the question is who? Sagan is the obvious choice but I do feel both Bouhanni and Viviani have the abilities to challenge him.

Hmmmmm.

Given his season so far, I’ll go with Viviani to win again.

 

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Betting

2pts WIN Viviani @ 8/1

0.5pt EW Teunissen @ 200/1

3pts H2H Double (Consonni > DVP and Bouhanni > Nizzolo) @ 3.2/1

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.