Tour Down Under 2019 Stage 4 Preview: Unley -> Campbelltown

Today’s Recap

A proper damp squib of a stage in the end. I think it might have been a combination of the heat and the riders being concerned about just how difficult the stage could have been that things got a bit conservative. CCC did a great job for Bevin but he was isolated coming into the final two laps so it was surprising to see everyone ride quite conservatively after that – most were happy with a reduced bunch sprint.

So obviously after me thinking the stage would have been a lot more aggressive and completely discounting Sagan, it was the Slovak who took the stage win in an almost carbon copy of last year’s performance.

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A fast finishing Luis Leon Sanchez almost came close to pipping him but the line came too soon for the Astana man, while Impey picked up some handy bonus seconds in third.

Bevin still leads the race though going into tomorrow’s stage that features the famous Corkscrew climb. Let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders…

The Route

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There’s no point me beating about the bush here, the stage is all about the climb up Corkscrew Road and the subsequent descent off of it.

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Before the ascent starts properly, the road gradually rises for 1.2km at a lowly gradient of 1.6%, which will be enough to see some of the entry pace knocked off.

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A 2.5km climb that averages 8.9% is pretty tough at this point in the season but it is just border line enough for some of the puncheurs to hope to be able to hold on to the coat tails of the climbers. We saw that back in 2014 when Evans managed to gap the duo of Porte and Gerrans, who themselves put a bit of time into another group of riders.

The descent is incredibly fast, especially near the top, and riders can be expected to hit speeds of 80km/h. However, it does flatten out so you will need to keep pressure on the pedals to keep the momentum going as groups normally join up on the latter half. At 600m to go the riders take one final sharp turn and enter the finish straight, which is ever so slightly downhill to the line.

Another point of note is that the wind looks to be blowing from the west or south-west so the riders should have either a tail/cross-tail/cross wind, which means we should hopefully get some attacking racing. Bad news for those looking to just hold on to the bunch and wait for things to come to a sprint.

Our current race leader Paddy Bevin holds the KOM for Corkscrew Road on Strava, having completed the climb in 6’30 back in 2015. Interestingly, Mike Woods attack in 2016 that saw him and Henao reach the summit first was one second slower at 6’31.

Plenty of riders have been out to have a look at the climb in the weeks leading up to the race, with a couple of them having a go at it race pace…

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I think we might see the 6’30 mark broken this year, possibly someone going close to 6’20.

How will the race pan out?

The real question that has to be asked here is will a couple of guys, or someone, be able to drop the other riders on the Corkscrew and then hold them off to the finish? If so, then simple, the fight for the stage win will be between them and the race is over at the top of the climb.

If not, then we have the possibility of a small group sprint, or someone launching a counter attack in the closing kilometres if there is no control and cohesion at the head of the race.

I’m not too sure either way, although I’ll give a 60/40 split for those that make it over first not being seen again.

Contenders

Michael Woods.

The EF Education First rider put in quite a strong dig near the finale of stage 3 but the climb was not long enough for him to create any serious gaps and the punchy riders were able to bring him back. However, he did look lively and as a rider with previous on this climb he knows exactly what it’s about. Moreover, Woods had a great 2018 season and seems to only be getting better as a rider, especially on the steeper slopes.

Richie Porte.

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He wasn’t able to follow Woods’ attack back in 2016 and he also got dropped by a flying Evans in 2014. This isn’t Willunga and Porte doesn’t have the same amount of success here, which is weird, because it is a pretty similar climb in terms of time taken. It is slightly shorter and steeper but for someone of Porte’s short-climb prowess you would expect him to go well. He showed his face a little on stage 3 but we have no idea what his form is actually like just now. Will he try to put on a show before Willunga or is he confident of sealing the victory there?

Luis Leon Sanchez.

Clearly in some pretty good shape at the moment, Sanchez is Sagan’s tip for stage success tomorrow. The Astana man was flying at the beginning of last year and he should be able to cope with the speed on Corkscrew. He might not make it right at the head of the race, but he’ll be able to use his descending ability to catch up easily if there is no pressure on at the front. Sanchez is a master of timing a late attack but as we’ve seen on the past few stages, he isn’t too scared of getting involved in a sprint either.

Tadej Pogacar.

A little bit of a wild card here but the 2018 Tour de l’Avenir winner is the real deal – will he show that on stage 4? He was attentive and always near the front on today’s stage and he might just benefit from being a less well known rider. Furthermore, he holds a pretty competitive Strava time on the hill so it will be interesting to see if he can replicate that in the race. He’s my dark horse for the stage.

Wout Poels.

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Didn’t put his nose in the wind all of yesterday despite his team doing some of the work in the closing laps, with it instead being Elissonde who launched an attack. Poels is a climber who packs quite a fast sprint so he’d be happy to arrive in a small group. His form is a bit unknown though and he is an enigmatic rider so who knows which Wout will turn up. He could easily blow everyone away on the Corkscrew, or he could be dropped!

Then we have a group of riders in a similar mould; Bevin, Impey, Devenyns, McCarthy and Ulissi. In fact there are even a few more as well, who probably won’t drop everyone on the climb but they’ll hope to make it over close enough to get back on during the descent and fight for the win.

Prediction

An elite trio of Woods, Porte and Pogacar escape on the Corkscrew, with the Canadian winning the sprint.

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The others will trail in not too far behind but they’ll then need to come up with something inventive to win the race on Willunga.

Betting

Going a little wild here as tomorrow will more than likely be a no bet and I really like the Woods pick. Plus, a little value punt on Pogacar too.

3pts WIN Woods @ 6/1 with Betway (Would take 4/1 elsewhere)

1pt EW Pogacar @ 100/1 with Bet365 (Would take down to 40s)

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

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Tour Down Under 2019 Stage 3 Preview: Lobethal -> Uraidla

Today’s Recap

It turned out to be yet another long and slow day in the saddle for the riders, but what can you expect in 40 degree heat. The original morning breakaway was brought back with 50km to go, and it took for a brave but ultimately fruitless move by Ladagnous to give the peloton at least a carrot to chase.

Like on the opening day the bunch kick was a messy affair, with a crash on the left hand side of the road taking out about 80% of the bunch. Only a few riders fell and none of them were seriously hurt, but everyone elses chance of competing at the finish was ruined. The majority of the sprinters made it through the split though, and it was Luis Leon Sanchez who launched an early move, hoping to catch some riders off guard. However, everyone was fairly astute to it and a powerful Bevin came from quite far back to take a convincing win.

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No one was beating him.

Ewan came close to getting on his wheel but he couldn’t match the CCC rider and resigned himself for second, with Sagan rounding out the podium.

The result now moves Bevin into the GC lead, 15 seconds ahead of the majority of his rivals. Not a bad opening two days for him but the hard work is only just beginning and he and his team will have a fight on their hands on Stage 3. Let’s take a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

A stage that I’ve been looking forward to since the route was announced, the peloton will be taking on a new finish circuit around Uraidla, with an apparent elevation gain of 3300m throughout the afternoon. Pretty tough for a hot race at the start of the year!

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Before they get to the circuit there are a rolling 60kms to contend with, including two very early intermediate sprint points. It will be interesting to see how it is played out but I suspect we’ll see some of the GC teams try to keep things together so that their main contenders can go for bonus seconds. Do you want to burn too many matches with what is to come though?

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The first thing that strikes me about the Uraidla circuit is it seems to be quite twisty and although a few of the turns will be able to be taken at a high-speed, there are some others that riders will have to slow down quite heavily for. This will make the climbs that follow feel just that tad bit harder but of course, the opposite effect happens when they can just roll down a hill and carry some speed onto the next rise.

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None of the climbs on the circuit are crazily hard; 1.1km at 5.2%, 400m at 5%, 1.3km at 6.5%, 500m at 8.2% and 650m at 7%. Instead, they’re more reminiscent of the hills you’ll find in Belgium and the Netherlands – short and punchy.

The two most difficult looking climbs to me are the 3rd and 4th on the circuit.

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The third is the longest climb, but it also starts with the trickiest and most dangerous entrance, as the riders will fly down a descent before having to reduce their speed rapidly to take the more than 90-degree right hand turn, shown on the image above. They’re then greeted by the steepest part of the climb right from the bottom, a 500m section at 10%. It does flatten off after that but those that are put into the red at the bottom will suffer coming over the top.

From there a descent follows which is interrupted by a short kicker before the 4th proper climb on the circuit.

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Only a short one at 500m, it once again comes off quite a tight turn but you can definitely carry some speed through the corner and propel yourself someway up the steeper opening part. Therefore, the battle for position will be crucial at this stage, especially as there is only 700m of flat/descent before the final rise and the 1.8km descent to the finish.

How will the stage pan out?

Pffft, beats me. It all depends on the mood and approach of the riders.

We could well see the day be controlled by a couple of teams and get a sprint like we normally see on the Stirling stage. However, I think that will be unlikely, I’ll eat my hat if any group sprint is over 40 riders big.

The two early intermediate sprints will set the tone of the day and we’ll probably see some fast racing from the gun – the riders have had two “easy” days before now after all. It’s what happens after the intermediate sprints and let’s say 50km to go that might shape the outcome of the day; who has someone up the road?; who is willing to chase behind?

There’s a lot of talk in the bunch about how decisive this stage could be in the GC – if they make it hard, don’t expect many to be in contact at the end of the day. Of course, if there is only a group of 30-40 riders starting the final lap together, it will be very difficult for anyone to control the race from there and we could see a splinter group or handful of riders slip away.

The weather is another factor to consider because it is still meant to be pretty hot, albeit about 5 or 6 degrees cooler than stage 2. If it is too hot, then it could make the stage a damp squib.

Hmmm, this is a tough one.

I think we’ll see a pretty aggressive race and a group slip away to fight out the finish. As to who is going to be in that group? Who knows, but having numbers in the peloton will certainly help teams. Time to throw a few darts I think!

Riders to Watch

Jay McCarthy

With all eyes on Sagan, who I think is not in peak form and might struggle here, McCarthy will be able to play a free role and go on the hunt for bonus seconds. If Sagan is going slightly better, then it gives Bora a great option to send McCarthy on the attack in the closing laps as the Aussie will beat most from a small group. This is the stage in my GC overview that I think he’ll have to take some time on the better climbers and I hope to see him active at the front.

Chris Hamilton.

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Targeting a good result here GC wise, this is a stage that Hamilton has been wary of for a little while. In an interview with @CyclingMole he suggested this could be the key stage of the race and certainly somewhere that you could take time on others, or conversely, possibly lose the Tour Down Under. Still a relatively unknown rider on the WT stage, Hamilton always performs pretty well in his home race. One year older and stronger now, I think he could surprise tomorrow. Expect an attacking race from the young Sunweb Aussie trident of Hamilton, Hindley and Storer.

Ruben Guerreiro.

The TDU last year was a breakthrough performance for the young Portuguese rider who managed to finish 10th overall while riding for Trek. In 2019 he’s switched over to Katusha and will be acting as second in command behind Nathan Haas at this race. A punchy rider, Guerreiro offers a good attacking option for the team and I would be surprised not to see him put in a dig at some point. He packs a pretty decent sprint too so he won’t be overly concerned at arriving at the line in a group of 6 or so.

Cameron Meyer.

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A lot of the peloton will be looking towards Mitchelton Scott as one of the main teams looking to keep things somewhat together for a sprint into Uraidla. They might end up doing that, but they have plenty of hitters in their team who can go on the offensive if they decide to ride an attacking race. Meyer was distraught at missing out at the Aussie Road Nats so a good result here will take his mind off that a little. He clearly has good legs though to finish on both the podium at the road race and time trial. Mitchelton say they’re all in for Impey, but will that change out on the road?

Prediction

I’m expecting a really unusual race this evening and we’ll probably see lots of different “acts” so to speak. The heat might see it become a bit of a damp squib but with what is at stake, I think we’ll see some exciting and aggressive racing in the closing 50kms – like an Ardennes classic.

Jay McCarthy to win.

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Betting

1pt EW McCarthy @ 14/1

0.25pt EW on the rest

Hamilton @ 200/1

Meyer @ 125/1

Guerreiro @ 200/1

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

Tour Down Under 2019 Stage 2 Preview: Norwood -> Angaston

Today’s Recap

We got the expected sprint finish into Adelaide and without any cross wind action, it was a pretty benign, but hot, day in the saddle for most. The break of the day formed pretty early on with 4 riders getting up the road; Lea, Zakharov, Bevin and Storer. With the first two fighting for the only KOM of the day, it was the Aussie Lea who got to pull on the jersey come the end of the stage. Zakharov swiftly left the break after that and fell back to the peloton, while there seemed to be a gentleman’s agreement between the remaining three that Bevin and Storer would both take 5 bonus seconds, with Lea grabbing 2. A very tactical move from both Bevin and Storer who might not be hot favourites to take the title, but they have certainly propelled themselves into the reckoning a bit more with those bonuses now.

Everything was back together with 30km to go and given the slight headwind, the pace in the bunch was a bit lower than expected. Consequently, it resulted in a nervous and twitchy last 5km as everyone felt fresh and wanted to be at the front – thankfully no one went down.

The sprint itself was incredibly messy, with riders and lead-outs all over the road. However, one man reigned supreme and that was Viviani. The Italian looked to be out of position with around 500m to go but he snaked his way through a gap that looked impossible to fit through and won by what was a country mile in the end.

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The early hit out from Walscheid saw the Sunweb rider hold on for second, with Mareczko producing an equally threaded sprint to somehow finish in third.

You can watch the helicopter shot of the finish above and pick out something different of note every time!

With another sprint stage looking likely tomorrow, will we see Viviani double up? Let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

Altered ever so slightly due to the searing, hot conditions expected, the day has been shortened to only 122km.

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Although the day is reasonably rolling, they avoid the tough Mengler’s Hill nearby so it should end in a full bunch sprint. The finish was last used in 2014 and that day a reduced group fought out for the win thanks to the passage of Mengler’s Hill. That being said, they approach the finish from a slightly different direction this year and the line is earlier than it was in 2014, I think, as that day it continued further into Angaston whereas this year it comes a little before that.

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As you can see, the run in itself is pretty straight forward with there only being one turn to note, albeit a tricky one, at around 4km to go. The main issue for the riders is that the road slowly drags uphill for those final 4km.

 

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The closing 650m averages a shade over 3%, with some 4.5% kick ups at points. Nothing crazy, but it certainly will entice some puncheurs into thinking they have a chance on a finish like this. Conversely, the majority of the sprinters will be confident enough of making it to the line.

Looking at the current weather forecast, it is set to be a slight cross-head wind for the finish, so once again, the timing of the sprint will be very important. Double that with the uphill rise and we could definitely see some guys get it completely wrong.

Sprinters

Elia Viviani.

It’s only fair to start with the Ochre jersey for tomorrow. After missing out on a chance to sprint at the People’s Choice Classic on Sunday, he more than made up for that on the opening day. Viviani should cope with the uphill finish perfectly well but his positioning might need improving as he might not be so lucky to be able to squeeze himself through some gaps this time if he’s boxed in. Nonetheless, he should start the day as favourite.

Caleb Ewan.

Oh dear, what happened to his Lotto sprint train? It was looking good for Ewan until the turn with around 1.2km to go when he just went backwards. You can see on the video above that he attempts to get up and sprint before sitting back down knowing that any good result is gone, ultimately finishing in a lowly 22nd. He won the tougher stage into Stirling last year so tomorrow does present an opportunity for him to bounce back with a good result.

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Peter Sagan.

The Bora rider never really got going on the opening day, after finding himself boxed in. Once he got a little bit of space it was too late, but his kick didn’t look overly convincing. The uphill drag should suit his capabilities well so he theoretically should be challenging for the win. I’m intrigued to see if Bora try to sprint with McCarthy though, as the bonus seconds could be crucial come the end of the race. Is it difficult enough for that though?

Max Walscheid.

The German risked it by starting his sprint early and it nearly paid off for him, had it not been for the flying Viviani he might just have won the stage. Walscheid is quite a tall and heavy rider for a pro cyclist, so I’ll be watching with interest to see how he copes on the drag to the line. It might just take too much out of him compared to his lighter competitors.

Jakub Mareczko.

A rider with 40 career wins to his name by the age of 24, yet only one of them has come in Europe, he is on the cusp of taking a step up this year with his new-found WT team. However, he is notoriously not great on any type of incline so he could possibly struggle tomorrow. Will CCC decide to go with Bevin?

Danny Van Poppel.

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Simply put, he just didn’t have the legs on the opening day, Van Poppel will hope for a better outcome on stage 2 with a finish that suits him well. Last year he absolutely blew everyone away on the tricky uphill kick in Binche and while tomorrow is nowhere near as difficult as that, the ramp does bring him closer to the pure sprinters.

Jasper Philipsen – Tried to follow Viviani through the gap but was impeded against the barriers. Although young, he seems to be quite a good “climbing sprinter” so I think he might surprise tomorrow.

Phil Bauhaus – Notoriously can’t climb a ladder. He did look quite powerful today but I think he’ll struggle to be up there at the finish.

Daryl Impey – A first chance to take some bonus seconds? Impey will relish this type of finish and like a few others, it brings him closer to the pure sprinters. He’ll be there or thereabouts.

Again, Halvorsen, McLay, Gibbons, Ballerini etc will all be fighting for the top 15 positions, and hoping to go better.

Two outsiders to watch

Patrick Bevin.

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The Kiwi showed he wasn’t here to just see what happens in the GC battle, going into the break for the day and taking some valuable bonus seconds. With Mareczko’s struggle on uphill finishes, it is possible that CCC turn their attention to Bevin who can mix it on this type of terrain. In the Tour of Britain last year he was incredibly consistent on both the tricky finishes but also the bunch kicks. The level of opposition here is a bit better but he seems to be in great shape just now so he will fancy his chances. Even snagging a podium could put him in a good spot for the rest of the week.

Heinrich Haussler.

Like Bevin, Haussler might get the nod to sprint if Bauhaus thinks he might struggle on the rise to the line. The Aussie is apparently flying just now so an uphill sprint he could get in the mix. However, he was involved in that tumble at the People’s Choice Classic and felt a little stiff after it so he might not be back to 100% yet. He is one to watch though if things get spicy.

Prediction

It’s got to be Viviani to double up, hasn’t it?

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I do think we might see a surprise rider get onto the podium though, it is just deciding who that is the issue!

Betting

Playing a couple of outsiders here and going for some EW value…

0.5pt EW Bevin @ 66/1 (With Betway – would take 40s lowest)

0.5pt EW Philipsen @ 50/1 with Bet365 and Betway.

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Tour Down Under 2019 Stage 1 Preview: North Adelaide -> Port Adelaide

Welcome back everyone and a happy 2019! I hope you had a good off-season and are ready for the cycling calendar to kick off in earnest with an Aussie summer of racing. Last year saw Daryl Impey take the overall crown on count back after picking up an impressive number of bonus seconds throughout the race, edging Richie Porte into second place, with Tom-Jelte Slagter rounding out the GC podium.

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All three of those riders return this year and they will no doubt be hoping for repeat, if not better, performances.

GC Overview

Could this be the most open TDU in history?

The move of the Willunga stage to the final day means that everyone knows they need to try to take some time back before then, as no doubt Porte will take his traditional stage win there. The reintroduction of the Corkscrew climb on Stage 4 will be very important in shaping the outcome of the race and you can’t afford to have a bad day there. However, I think one of the most important stages could actually be the day before that, with the new circuit finish in Uraidla. On paper it isn’t a particularly tough parcours, with no real long climbs, but the road is pretty much up and down all day and given the forecasted temperatures – that will take a massive toll on the riders. I think that day lends itself to some very attacking riding and it gives some a good chance to take time before the two tougher finishes on Stage 4 and 6. However, there is also the chance…

Could this be the most dull TDU in history?

If Stage 3 turns out to be a controlled affair with a few teams controlling it for a reduced bunch sprint, or if we see some shortened stages due to the heat – then the race might only be decided by the gaps on Willunga or bonus seconds. Of course, you could argue that is exciting due to how close it could be but personally I’d rather see some attacking racing.

As for who might win the race? It of course depends on a few things but Impey will fancy his chances of retaining the crown if he can pick up some bonus seconds and repeat that Willunga performance. Porte on the other hand will look at the Corkscrew day as another chance to distance everyone and possibly hold off a chasing group to the line. McCarthy is another in the mould of Impey who can pick up some bonus seconds here and there, but he’ll need to be wiser on Willunga this year round and not blindly follow Porte. It was a bold move for him last year but one that didn’t pay off.

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Woods might be one to watch this week, with the Canadian having a proper breakthrough last year – he is a serious contender if climbing well and arguably the only rider who on his day I can see sticking with Porte up Willunga. Poels is similar to Woods, but who knows what condition he arrives here in. Another few to keep an eye on are Hamilton, Valgren and Bevin who I all think will feature at some point throughout this week.

I think we’ll see Jay McCarthy take home the ochre jersey come the end of the week though. He seems to be in great form at the moment with a third at the Aussie Crit championships – not exactly an event you would expect him to shine at. At the road race he unfortunately suffered from being the only Bora rider and dropped out after any chance of the win was gone. On stage 3 we’ll see him and Sagan in the front group and with the former World Champion marking moves behind, McCarthy will be able to escape in a group and fight out for the win. A result which will be enough to see him take the title later in the week!

I may as well kick off the season with a somewhat of an out there suggestion…

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Anyway, onto the opening day of racing.

The Route

A bit of a rolling day through the Adelaide hills but nothing too extreme for the riders with the afternoon most likely ending in a sprint, unless of course something crazy happens such as Bobridge’s breakaway win in 2015.

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The finish in Port Adelaide is a new one for the peloton but it is pretty straight forward and should be a simple run-in.

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With the last turn coming 1km from the line, it will be a drag race from there. It is possible for a team to control the front of the race from through that corner and not allow anyone back, but I think that will be pretty difficult as there is plenty of room for others to come by.

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Saying that, there is quite a lot of street furniture (see above) on the closing circuit which could be quite dangerous. They possibly might just barrier off one side of the road for the whole kilometre because there is a concrete verge in the middle that divides it up anyway with around 200m to go.

Often these “simple” finishes are the most dangerous because everyone is able to jostle for position so hopefully things stay upwards.

*The race organisers/jury have decided to remove the full lap around the closing circuit so they will join it at the ‘zig-zag’ part on the route profile, coming from the east. It shouldn’t really change much as the same rules will apply for the finishing straight and the bits of street furniture there.*

Weather Watch

The reason given by the organisers for not including the finish circuit tomorrow is that they expect it to be pretty windy, and the race could potentially be split up by the time the race arrives back into Adelaide. That could cause some issues, as those just joining the circuit might get in the way with those at the head of the race – it is a sensible decision to make in my opinion.

It also means that I get to talk about the potential of my favourite thing in the opening blog post of the year…

 

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However, I don’t seem to share the same outlook for strong winds that the organisers do. Although to be fair, looking at various sources Australian Bureau of Meteorology, Windfinder and WillyWeather no one has a real idea as to the severity of the wind. There does seem to be the general consensus that it picks up a little later on in the afternoon but the stronger winds seem to be coming in after the race has finished. However, the time of them has gotten earlier since I looked the other day so who really knows!

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The final 16km is the perfect terrain for cross winds though, with a 3km stretch of road past Parafield runway completely exposed and flat terrain.

Likewise, after a couple of kilometres coming through town, the riders will once again be on an exposed dual carriageway.

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That only really stops with around 3km to go when the road is sheltered by more trees and buildings. Now, I’m not saying that we will see echelons, but if they were to happen, it would be in those closing 16kms.

Either way, it is going to be a very nervy finish so hopefully everyone just stays upright!

Contenders – A Three Horse Race?

Caleb Ewan.

The Aussie got off to a blistering start with his new Lotto Soudal team, picking up the win at the People’s Choice Classic on Sunday. His squad was strong, controlling the action all afternoon, before setting him up excellently. Having brought Roger Kluge with him from Mitchelton will certainly have helped him gel into his train a lot quicker, and the German was a perfect pilot fish on Sunday. However, there is a big difference between a one hour-long crit around a course that you’re familiar with and a new finish on open roads. He is clearly in form and starts the man to beat but he’s not been properly tested yet, given the crashes that took out almost all of his competitors the other day.

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Peter Sagan.

A solid second place for Sagan on Sunday. He was typically the last rider to escape from the crash, narrowly avoiding his falling team-mate and holding on to the back of Ewan’s wheel. With Daniel Oss attacking out the front amidst the chaos, Sagan had to be content with just sitting in and not launching his sprint early. Consequently, he only really opened the taps with around 100m to go which was way too late to contest with Ewan. The gap did close a little so I do think Sagan will show some good legs this week. Furthermore, if there are cross winds and echelons in the closing kilometres, it is almost a guarantee that he will make the split.

Elia Viviani.

Unlucky to have been taken out by his own team-mate Morkov in the crash, but at least the Italian managed to get away relatively unscathed – with only a slightly sore foot being a little bit of an issue. Arriving with a strong team, Viviani will be able to rely on trusted lead-out men such as Morkov and Sabatini which will be a massive help for him. Interestingly, I don’t think they will try to control the final 5 kilometres, instead they will try to time their run to the front of the peloton perfectly so that no one else is able to come around them before the line. They don’t have some of their big name classics experts so it will be interesting to see how they cope if there are echelons – but hey, this is Deucenink-Quick Step so they should be fine.

Best of the rest.

Max Walscheid – Has a young lead-out with him so not entirely sure how well they’ll perform as a unit. Might go missing.

Phil Bauhaus – Joins a team that has quite a bit of firepower and a last man in Haussler who is going well at the moment. Could be the surprise.

Danny Van Poppel – Arrives with little support so will have to mainly go solo. He’ll be hoping for wind to make the finish more difficult.

Halvorsen, Mareczko, Philipsen and McLay are all there or thereabouts kind of riders but I think they’ll struggle to make the podium.

Prediction

Possible echelons and a swirling wind that will make timing the sprint difficult, you will need to either be a rider confident in those conditions or with a team strong enough to guide you through them. Furthermore, with the GC riders no doubt twitchy and nervous about possible splits, I think we’ll see a very messy sprint on the opening day.

So I’m going with the master of race craft and position, Peter Sagan, to find himself in the right place at the right time again, taking the win.

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Zweeler

This year the kind people at Zweeler have been nice enough to partner up with the blog, so if you want to play some fantasy games for cash (not just cycling – they have plenty of other sports to offer) then sign up using this link here.

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Doing so and playing a few games will help the blog out greatly – so thanks in advance if you do!

Betting

Was tempted to make it a no bet day but I’m going to have a little dabble on Sagan, nothing wild.

1pt WIN Sagan @ 4/1 various.

Thanks as always for reading! Hope you enjoyed the first preview of the year? Who do you think will win on the opening day and the race overall? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

La Classica delle foglie morte: Il Lombardia 2018 Preview

La Classica delle foglie morte: Il Lombardia 2018 Preview

The last monument of the year is upon us and the now almost year-round cycling season is winding down, albeit there are still some races left after tomorrow’s affair. However, il Lombaria marks the traditional end of the season and so this will be the last preview of the year. Before starting it properly though, I’ll get the soppy stuff out the road first…

Thank you for returning continuously throughout the year to read the posts and interacting with me on Twitter etc, it really helps to keep me motivated through the months where I’m churning out a preview a day or more! I’m proud to see the blog grow even more this year and thanks for being a part of that – I hope I’ve been able to deliver good and entertaining content, well, at least for most of the time.*

*We’ll just ignore the processional final GT stages…

I’m not sure what the off-season will bring, maybe some rider interviews but let’s be honest, who is really wanting to be interviewed here rather than one of the bigger sites so that is probably a no go. I’ll try to get some opinion pieces out or rider profiles for “ones to watch” or anything really. We’ll see how bored I get during the cold and dark winter months in Scotland!

I never thought at the start of the year I’d manage to get two pieces published in Cycling Weekly and once again that is down to you for sharing and engaging with the content on here/Twitter. Not bad for someone who is a “clueless” cycling blogger – shout out Mr Wong.

But yeah, cheers and enjoy the off-season.

Here goes nothing for one last time this year…


 

In 2017 we were treated to a tough and tactical race but it was a day that was really ever going to be won by one rider – Vincenzo Nibali.

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The Italian was one of the strongest riders on the climbs and only Pinot could match him, but it was on the descents where he proved his worth. He delivered a trademark masterclass and took 15 seconds off of the Frenchman on the penultimate climb’s descent before skipping up the final climb and riding solo to the finish. Behind, Pinot was caught by a group and thanks to some more dare-devil descending, Alaphilippe took second place – a sign of things to come for this year. The Pinot group then sprinted for the final podium spot and it was Moscon who took the spoils.

Will we see a similar outcome this year? Let’s take a look at what awaits the riders.

The Route

An almost carbon copy of the 2017 route, the only major difference is that the San Fermo climb has been removed due to a threat of landslides.

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At 241km and with almost 4000m of elevation gain, it is no easy day out in the saddle. It is even more difficult though when you consider the majority of the climbing comes in the closing 70kms. First up is the famous Madonna del Ghisallo climb (9.1km at 5.2%) and we can expect to see a thinning out process here and possibly some early probing attacks by second and third tier riders from the top teams.

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

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

If a team really pushes on in the bunch, not many will be left in with a chance once the peloton is over the top. Back in 2015 we had around 20 riders who made it over together, with a few more getting back on in the descent and flat roads as they headed towards Civilgio. Those 15kms are pretty important because it is yet another place where teams with numbers can launch an attack and if there is only a group of 20 up ahead, a counter attack of 5-6 riders could easily gain a minute or so quickly before Civiglio.

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

It is not only the climb that you can attack on but the technical descent provides a good place to distance rivals – as we saw last year with Nibali v Pinot. Thankfully it looks as if it will be dry tomorrow but the descent is still tricky nonetheless.

They descend all the way, albeit the gradients are less severe as they enter Como, before hitting the “new” climb of Monte Olimpino.

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Ignore the sudden rise at the start of the profile above as they go under the bridge and the contours on the map happen to be right beside there so it messes with it a bit. The climb is a lot more gradual but the 5.2% for 1.7km is enough for someone to launch a late attack – especially with what has come before. The route down the other side is almost a mirror image before a final 1.5km of flat sees the riders to the finish.

Will someone arrive solo or will we see a small group sprint?

How will the race pan out?

Last year saw a thinning of the peloton over the Ghisallo and Sormano climbs before the pace was really upped on the Civiglio by FDJ. I would expect something similar this year but with Olimpino being considerably easier than the San Fermo, we could have action earlier because it will be harder to create a gap on that last climb.

If that is the case, then it will be tougher to control those 15kms of flat between Sormano and Civiglio because few riders will have many, if any, domestiques left. Consequently, that could open it up for a cluster of “second string” riders to get away and if the majority of the main favourites have a team-mate there, then it could be the move of the day.

However, this is the last monument of the year and a big goal for many in this part of the season so I can’t really see it happening. It should be fought out between the favourites, it is just a case of who makes the move and when. Proceedings will be extremely thinned out on Civiglio and we could see some attack on either the climb or the descent – those without a good sprint will certainly want to shake their rivals off there.

If not, things will get very tactical in the closing 6 kilometres and we might get a bit of a surprise victor, albeit, from a group of favourites.

The Great Eight

There are only eight guys who I think can win this race.

Alejandro Valverde.

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The evergreen World Champion arrives at this race as main favourite because he can do pretty much everything but the main reason is that if things come together for a reduced bunch sprint, it will be very difficult for anyone to beat him. After doing a lot of media duty post-Innsbruck, he’s used Emilia and Milano Torino as good training and to get the race speed back in the legs with the main goal always being Sunday. He looked very comfortable in MT before cracking a little on the final climb and finishing third. Was it a real crack though? Or was it more a case of him being happy with his training for the day and riding home? Knowing Valverde, I think the latter.

Michael Woods.

After taking a great win at the Vuelta, the Canadian was a bit of a surprise package at the Worlds where he ultimately took the bronze medal. Arguably, he looked one of the strongest on the climb but cramped up at the finish. Since then he looked comfortable in Emilia with a 4th place finish but then disappointed with the same result in Tre Valli after his team-mate Uran did all the work for him. Woods has really developed this season in the tougher one-day races – can he take that big win?

Rigoberto Uran.

Like Woods, he skipped Milano Torino as he was more than happy enough with his form in the other two races. The way he skipped away from the bunch on both of those days was quite remarkable and I think he will have a big say in the outcome of the day tomorrow. He’s finished 3rd three times here before and will desperately want to go better. One of the few guys who might actually fancy his chances against Valverde in a sprint.

Thibaut Pinot.

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A spectacular climbing display in Milano Torino saw him take the title of a one-day race, something he has been desperately chasing this Autumn. He’s arguably been the most consistent rider of this final third of the season and has certainly looked a different beast compared to the early part of the year. Being able to rely on Gaudu and Reichenbach deep into the race will be important but I’m not sure either will be there when it really gets going so Pinot will have to do it on his own.

Romain Bardet.

Apparently working for Alaphilippe at the Worlds, finishing second to Valverde in the end wasn’t a bad result. Like most on this list, he was up there in Emilia and came home with the main group in Tre Valli. One of the better descenders in the peloton, Bardet may opt to attack on the downhill of Civiglio and hope to get a gap. A gutsy rider, expect to see him on the move at some point. A big ride from Gallopin tomorrow could be a great help.

Vincenzo Nibali.

Winner on this route two times before, can he make it three? After an unfortunate incident at the Tour forced him to abandon, he has been trying to chase a good level of form ever since. Content with his performances in Emilia and TVV, I think that form is coming. Nibali is known to pull one out of the bag and there won’t be anyone in the peloton who knows this finale better than him. Having a strong team around him should help and I’d expect to see Pozzovivo and Izagirre with him for most of the day.

Primoz Roglic.

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Is it possible to have two “breakthrough” years in a row? Because Roglic has certainly done that in my opinion. On paper this a route and race that is perfect for him: some tough climbs and gnarly descents. However, the Slovenian has still yet to prove himself as a one-day racer, although he has won plenty of stages that are reminiscent of tomorrow. His result at the Worlds will have been a disappointment but there is nothing he could do about the crash and the consequent chase/energy loss because of it. Since then his performances in the two Italian one-day races have been good and I think he’ll be there or thereabouts tomorrow.

Egan Bernal.

The wild card for tomorrow given his recent return after injury but you can never discount a talent like Bernal. Aged just 20 he finished in 17th place here which was a truly stunning result so he does have previous on this parcours. He’s been involved in a lot of the Italian races just so that he can regain the racing rhythm back into his legs and a 10th place in Milano Torino suggests he’s heading in the right direction. Is it too little too late though?

Prediction

Team mates will be incredibly important at the end and there are two guys on the list above from the same time. I think this is Rigoberto Uran’s time to finally get further up that podium. Vamos!

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Betting

I don’t just want to cover Uran though and I’m backing another two of the eight. End of the season so let’s have some fun:

2pts WIN Uran @ 12/1 (would take 10s)

2pts WIN Nibali @ 16/1 (would take 14s available with most)

2pts WIN Roglic @ 20/1 (would take 16s)

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Anyway, for the last time this season,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

Milano-Torino 2018 Preview

Another day, another Italian race and this time it is the oldest one-day event in the country: Milano Torino.

Last season saw a barnstorming Rigoberto Uran take the win after attacking quite early on the final climb of the day and holding on to the finish.

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A fast finishing Adam Yates could only manage second with Aru, who attacked even earlier than Uran, rounding out the podium. Will the Colombian manage to make it two in a row this year and three for his nation? Let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders tomorrow.

The Route

Fans of the old adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, the organisers have once again came up with a pretty similar route this year. There is a slight change in the middle of the day with a few more hills and an extra 14kms of riding to boot.

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Nonetheless, it should all come down to the final 30kms and the two ascents of Superga.

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

That’s about it for the route, nothing too exciting but the riders do make the race.

How will the day pan out?

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

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

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

In 2016, we saw Kennaugh hold on from the original break until the flat 5km section that bridges the descent and the climb. Once he was caught, the impetus went from the peloton and a splinter group made it off of the front. As the majority of teams were represented, there was very little cohesion behind (although there was little up ahead too to be fair), the front group managed to gain a reasonable time gap. Our top two on the day ended up being from that selection and there is a possibility something like that happens again this year; where the “second in command” riders get up the road while the favourites stay behind and mark each other out.

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

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Similarly, it is the same option/race outcome that we had last year when Uran won.

So how will it pan out this year?

I’m not entirely sure, both the splinter group getting away or a main contender showdown are almost equally likely in my opinion. What is interesting is that we have a few of the big names for Saturday deciding to skip this race; Nibali, Uran, Woods, Bardet and Roglic to name a few. Will that make their teams ride more aggressively? Will other squads try to seize the opportunity and hold things together knowing some of the better guys aren’t here. We saw today that Pinot is in great form at the moment and Valverde was there where he needed to be too. A win for either of them would be great but I’m sure they’ll be confident enough of there form and might just have one eye on Saturday. Consequently, that tips it ever so slightly in favour of a splinter group getting away and fighting it out for the win so that’s the option I’ll go with.

Four to Watch

Like with my preview for Tre Valli Varesine, I’m just going to highlight some guys to keep an eye out for throughout the day and who will hopefully be active, even if they don’t win.

Tiesj Benoot.

After what seems like an injury plagued second half to the season, Benoot has performed well in the two one-day races he has completed since the Vuelta. He had a poor day at the Worlds but showed that there is still form there with a good 6th place in Paris Tours. A possible “what could have been day” had he not punctured and have to chase back on. Arriving at this race as co-leader with Wellens, I would expect them to animate the race on the first ascent of Superga. Despite his original career trajectory as a one-day Classics rider, Benoot has shown so far this season that he can more than handle his own on the climbs too. Will this be another “breakthrough” ride in that sense?

Diego Rosa.

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A former winner of this race and with his fan club no doubt at the 2.6km to go mark (see above), the Sky rider will be motivated for this one tomorrow. However, the issue lies with the fact his form hasn’t exactly been sparkling as of late. He looked a bit lacklustre in Tre Valli and struggled to close a gap to the head of the race but he seems fairly positive in his latest Instagram post so who knows. One thing he has going for him is before that great win in 2015, his form was arguably equally as uninspiring so who knows. I’d expect him to go on that attack at some point but will he have enough to take the win? Probably not.

Gianluca Brambilla.

Oh so close to a great result in Emilia before he fell foul of the #HaugheyCurse and punctured at the bottom of the San Luca climb. Brambilla was so enraged at that he didn’t even bother to finish the race and if I’m honest, I don’t blame him – the win was his for the taking. Returning to racing today in TVV, he looked solid and finished in the chase group behind our winner, sprinting to 10th place. I would like to see him go on the attack early because I don’t think he has the legs to win it from the peloton, unless there is some looking around, but he seems in great shape just now and I wouldn’t underestimate him.

Jan Hirt.

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Now where did I put my overused “Hirt locker” joke? Astana arrive here with a strong squad that on paper has several options, with Fuglsang and Lopez as the arguable leaders. However, Hirt is a very good card to play and the Czech rider came out of the Vuelta with some decent shape; finishing a very respectable 17th at the Worlds. He’s not had many chances to chase his own results in what is his first year with the world tour outfit but he showed in 2017 just what he can do on the steep slopes. I think he is a danger man. Just waiting for that inevitable DNF now…

Prediction

A tactical race where a lot of the main players want to keep their powder dry for Saturday, allowing for a group to escape clear before the final ascent and fight out for the win. I’ll go with a lively Brambilla to make it two from two for Trek.

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Tre Valli Varesine 2018 Preview: Saronno -> Varese

After the back-to-back Italian races at the weekend, a lot of the same riders who featured in those events will have had one or two days of rest before they take to the start line tomorrow for the 98th edition of Tre Valli Varesine.

In 2017 we had a pretty selective finish once Bahrain attacked the final rise to the line, with Geniez taking a rather surprising win after beating Pinot and Nibali in the sprint.

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Will we see a similarly close finish tomorrow? Let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

After sticking with the same circuit around Varese for recent editions, the organisers have decided to mix things up a bit this year and alter it somewhat.

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After leaving Saronno the riders will tackle 80kms of rolling terrain, before they enter Varese and start the traditional circuit.

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Just tea-leafing the above image from last year’s preview but shout out to @LasterketaBurua for making the original. As you can see, the circuit is almost constantly up and down with very little flat roads which makes it hard to control at times. The climbs on the traditional circuit aren’t too tough but it is the repetitive nature and very little respite that makes it a deceivingly hard day out.

The riders will complete the above circuit 6 times before they start the new “long circuit” which makes up a shade over 40km given the 2 laps.

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The opening climb that they face on the circuit is the same Via Montello climb that has been tackled throughout the day. Depending on which way you look at the ascent, it can either be taken as 1.6km at 5.5% or 1km at 7%. Either way, it is clear that the second half of the ascent is the toughest part and some riders could find themselves in difficulty here.

A quick descent is interrupted by a small plateau before the road continues to head down towards the Lake. Roughly 2kms of flat land awaits the riders and it could well be a place where a lot of looking around happens before things start to kick back up again.

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The next 4.94kms average 4.1% but as you can see on the image above, the road is very narrow for the most part and will be difficult to control, especially with how winding it is.

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That average of 4.1% for almost 5kms doesn’t sound too bad but looking at the profile for it, you can see it can be split into three parts.

An opening 1.7km at 7.2% which contains several steep ramps of above 15%. Ignore that slightly downhill bit near the top of the climb because after viewing it on Street view, I can rest assure you that there is no downhill!

Next on the list is 1.1km of flat/ever so slight descent. Nothing too exciting but it could be a place to launch an attack with everyone on the limit from the previous steep ramps.

Finally, the road then goes up in steps for the following 2kms (4.9% average), with a handful of few hundred metre drags at 7/8% which are quickly back-ended with a few hundred metres of flat before another drag. Rinse and repeat.

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There is a ridiculously narrow street (see above) that leads onto a 15% kicker with around 400m of the climb to go.

Once over the top it is 4.5km of a mainly flat, albeit ever so slightly downhill, run to the line. With that run in taking place on a mostly straight main road, will any would be attackers be able to resist a potential chase from behind?

Team Tactics

Tre Valli is often a very tactical race where teams have numerous options to play and it looks as if tomorrow will be no different, despite the change in course. In theory, the easy final 4.5km does make a reduced bunch sprint at the end of the day a more favourable outcome than it was when they used the “traditional circuit” only. However, the almost 5km climb at 4.1% which has parts that are much harder than those figures suggest will split things up no doubt. It is more likely to split things up in my opinion than the finish climb in previous editions. Yet of course, we could see some teams hold back and commit fully to a sprint finish and save their riders to chase back in the final 4.5km. I don’t think that will happen though and it is wise to try to get riders up the road.

When do you attack though?

Leaving it until the final lap and that last climb will ensure that it is more of the traditional GC riders and strong puncheurs that are competing for the win. However, teams can play the numbers game and send people up the road earlier in the lap, or even on the penultimate circuit.

There are plenty of opportunities to create a gap and if enough of the “right teams” are represented then it could stay away until the finish.

Riders to Watch

As always for a pretty unpredictable race I could have around 20 guys down here and still not name the winner so I’ll do what I normally do and just name a handful for you to keep an eye on over the course of the afternoon. They might not necessarily win the day, but hopefully they put on a show.

Peter Kennaugh.

Criterium du Dauphine 2018

After having a tough first half of his season due to various reasons, it was nice to see him take a win in the GP Cerami back in the tail end of July. However, it was his performance in the recent World Championships that really impressed me. On that day he delivered a solid team job, working on the front of the bunch hoping to set up Yates but the Mitchelton man didn’t have the legs. After recovering a little, Kennaugh then launched his own attack but because of the work done earlier, he couldn’t stick with the flying Valgren. Arriving here with more confidence because of that, the testing course should suit him and given its unpredictable nature, it just teases an attack from the former British champion.

Davide Villella.

Having rode two Grand Tours this year working for others, the Italian on the Astana team now arrives at “his time” in the season. Last year he produced a very strong string of results in the Italian Autumn one day races and I expect that to be no different this season. He started it off with a 12th in Emilia but the parcours here looks much more suited to his characteristics and I would expect him to feature at the pointy end. As someone who is possibly under rated by some of his opposition, he might just benefit from that and solo away in the closing kilometres.

Mattia Cattaneo.

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After an incredibly consistent 2017, the former Baby Giro winner has failed to live up to that potential this year. However, some solid results over the past few Italian races suggest that his form is on the up. He was on the attack in Emilia which was ultimately fruitless but at least the intentions were good. A lively rider, he could just be one to surprise.

Giovanni Visconti.

Arriving here as Bahrain’s second option isn’t exactly a bad thing for the veteran Italian. He always seems to come good at this time of year and a tricky course like this will no doubt see him on the attack at some point. Possibly lacking the punch he used to have in previous years, it would still be unwise to underestimate him. One good thing about being on the attack with Visconti is that he will work and it means that a strong Bahrain team will be staying put behind. Is it even a “surprise” result if he wins?

Prediction

A very cagey race gets blown apart on the first passage of the “long circuit” and we see a strong group get clear with the majority of the big teams represented. With all of the main favourites looking at each other behind the group stays away and Villella takes a landmark win.

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Thanks as always for reading. Who do you think will win tomorrow? Will we see a tactical race? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.