Vuelta a España 2017 Stage 20 Preview; Corvera de Asturias -> Alto de L’Angliru

Today’s Recap

A big break formed relatively early on with a second group of chasers including Bardet, joining after the first climb of the day.

Sky were happy to let them go and so were the rest of the GC teams.

Numerous moments of attacks/counters/riders dropped/regrouping happened throughout the day but we ended with a small bunch sprint that was one by De Gendt.

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It was made all the sweeter with the Lotto rider being one of the blog picks for today. That win now puts him into an esteemed club of stage winners at all three Grand Tours. Not bad!

Behind, Contador put in an attack on the final climb but was ultimately reeled in by Sky and Sunweb so no GC change.

Is it all to play for tomorrow? Probably not, but who knows.

Let’s have a look at what is in store for them, even though you probably have a very good idea!

The Route

A stage everyone seems to be waiting for, with the mythical finish up the l’Angrilu.

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3500m of climbing in less than 120km of racing; it sounds less than ideal for those hoping just to make it to Madrid!

The riders will start the day off with an uncategorised climb from the gun; 12.7km at 3.46%. Fairly simple, but given what is to come in the rest of the stage, the pace could be very fast and some riders might find themselves in difficulty early on.

From there, the riders will descend before beginning a very slow and gradual rise all the way to the bottom of the opening Cat-1 climb; Alto de la Cobertoria.

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At an average of 8.5% for 7.8km it is a stiff test and sets the mood for what is to come in the remainder of the day. The kilometre at almost 15% just sounds brutal! A bold rider will attack here, going “early” in the day. I say “early” as once they crest there are only 38km left.

The descent is fast and twisting, which could become dangerous if the roads are wet.

An important factor is the fact that the riders almost climb straight away again, so there is very little time for them to recover from any efforts that they made on the previous ascent.

Alto del Cordal is up next and is another steep Cat-1 climb.

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The organisers do love to find some gems for us spectators. That closing 1.6km at 11.7% is crazy. We might see some of those in the top 10 crack big time and if they do, I’m afraid it is not going to get much better for them…

A fast descent before the final climb of the Vuelta, which definitely won’t be tackled in a quick fashion!

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I don’t really need to say much about the Angliru.

The name itself should be enough to resonate with any cycling fan around the world but with a 6km section that averages 13.7% we could be in for some big time gaps tomorrow if things are all guns blazing from far out.

Only the best will come to the fore on this climb!

Or Chris Horner.

Weather Watch

As I alluded to above, things aren’t looking great weather wise tomorrow. Or they could be, it really depends on your preference!

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That’s the forecast for Hotel el Angliru (Source : YR)

I’m not saying we’ll get rain throughout the day, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we did!

That will make things a lot more nervous in the bunch, especially on the tricky descents. I hope we don’t see any crashes, but with riders giving it their all to try to take any advantage they can, I have an uneasy feeling that it might be somewhat inevitable.

How will the stage pan out?

Looking at recent trends in the Vuelta, 4 out of the past 5 years the penultimate stage has seen a breakaway stay away and fight out for stage honours. That includes King Kenny’s (Elissonde) win on the Angliru back in 2013.

A lot of those stages have been longer days in the saddle though, with only the Angliru stage being sub 150km.

A similar trend can be seen at the Giro, where the majority of stages have went to the break. But there, even the ridiculosuly short and tough Bonette stage in 2016 saw the move stick.

What will be the difference tomorrow?

Well, maybe that question should be changed to “who?”.

I think you know the answer…

Contenders

Contador.

It’s the Spaniard’s last Vuelta and last mountain stage as a pro and he will desperately want a stage win. The steep ramps look great for him and he is bound to cause some chaos/panic out on the road tomorrow. However, although he has looked good on the shorter climbs, I am still concerned about his ability to hold a high wattage for the longer tests. I think if he and Froome come to the line together, then the current race leader will gift him the stage. Does Alberto have a bullet left to fire one more time?

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Froome.

Looked terrible a few days ago on Los Machucos but he seemed to recover from that blip on the shorter finish of stage 18. He does have the advantage of having the strongest team here and the current race leader will rely on them a lot tomorrow. If he’s in with a chance of the win at 5km out and he sees everyone suffering then he might give it a nudge. If not, then he has the luxury of “just” being able to follow wheels as his gap is comfortable. On an off day though, and things could get sketchy!

Zakarin.

Will we see a Zak-attack tomorrow? Yes. That’s almost a guarantee! Will it be enough to distance everyone? Probably not, the rangy Russian seems to struggle on the steeper slopes at time but he has actually looked like one of the riders who has grown into this race. He could well surprise!

Nibali.

The yin to Froome’s yang. The Shark was very strong on Los Macuchos, putting a lot of time into the race leader, only to go and lose quite a bit of it the following day. A bad weather expert he will no doubt test the *ahem* water on the descents. I hope he’s recovered from the other day so that we see a good battle between him and Froome. It is the last week of a Grand Tour, so he can’t be discounted.

Lopez.

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Double stage winner so far, Superman should enjoy the amount of climbing tomorrow as that is his speciality. Not an instant threat on GC, he could be given some leeway. If he gets given too much rope, then that could be him gone for the day. He seemed in difficulty on Stage 18 so the form might be fading in the final week of his first Grand Tour. Who knows!

Kelderman.

He’s been the quiet rider of the race so far who happens to find himself very much in the podium battle. Tomorrow doesn’t suit him at all, he seems to be a rider who prefers a more traditional Alpine pass, none of this crazy Spanish stuff! He’ll do well to hold onto the podium.

Vuelta Picks

Same old stuff again!

Safe Pick – Zakarin

Should be close to the top GC guys and might be given some freedom if Froome just focusses on Nibali.

Wongshot PickLopez.

Seems to be fading but he could well turn it around.

Lanterne Rouge Pick – Dunne

Good luck Conor!

Prediction

I’ll go for none of the riders I’ve listed above though…

Instead, I think Majka wins tomorrow.

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After his stage win almost a week ago he has been conserving himself, rolling home with the grupetto most of the time. He did give it a nudge on Los Machucos and finished 6th on the stage so his form is still clearly there.

He can either win from the break, or use his fresher legs to his advantage and attack out of the peloton and I’m pretty sure no one would follow him. If he is given a 30-40 second advantage going onto the Angliru then I’m hard pressed to think of anyone who could catch him.

Betting

I did say tomorrow was likely to be a no bet but after De Gendt’s success today I’m going to have a dabble. Still sticking to the 2pts a day keeps the debt collector away rule though…

2pts WIN Majka @ 11/2 with Bet365. You’ll probably get the same price elsewhere later once the other bookmakers have copied!

 

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

Vuelta a España 2017 Preview – The BFOG

Vuelta a España 2017 Preview – The BFOG

In a slight change-up to previous races where I’ve rolled out separate previews for the various jerseys, this year I’m going to include GC/Sprint/KOM all in one, in a Giro Rosa style BFOG.

Last year’s Vuelta saw some very aggressive racing with Quintana beating Froome by 1’23, with Chaves finishing in 3rd.

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Most of the time Quintana had over Froome was gained on a crazy stage 15 and I hope we see some similar tactics deployed this year.

I’ll be disappointed if my favourite Grand Tour of the year is a let down.

Over the coming three weeks expect some bold tactics, super steep finishes, messy sprints, random breakaway days and some surprising results!

The Route – What You Need To Know

To some it up in a word: tough.

Again, as I’ll be doing daily stage previews then I won’t be going over the route in massive detail here, just the key stages. Although this is the Vuelta, so any stage can almost become a key stage…

The opening day sees a TTT around Nîmes (yes, we start in France) which should set the GC order for the following few days. Thankfully, at only 13km long, the time gaps between the overall contenders shouldn’t be too big at the end of the day.

It is not long before we’ll get a rough idea of who has some early climbing form as Stage 3 features two Cat-1 climbs and a Cat-2 all within 158km. With a slightly technical downhill run I don’t expect to see any of the GC favourites try to attack 100%, maybe an aggressive top 20 candidate can escape to take the spoils?

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Stage 5 offers us our first hill-top finish with the Cat-3 climb of Ermita Santa Lucía. It doesn’t sound much, but remember that this is a SPANISH Cat-3 climb; 3.7km at 8.58% with max gradients of around 15-20%. It’s a shame Reijnen isn’t here so he can get Spained…

We then have a couple of rolling days that give the sprinters or opportunists a chance at stage glory.

The weekend before the first rest day sees two stages that both have Cat-1 climbs in the closing 10kms of the race.

Stage 8 will have riders summit the brutally steep Alto Xorret de Catí. Officially 5kms at 9%, the crux of the climb is more 4km at 11%! From there, they will then face a short but steep descent into town for the finish.

vuelta-a-espana-2017-stage-9-cumbre-del-sol-1484252526Stage 9 finishes atop the Alto de Puig Llorença which is another short but steep climb, averaging 8.8% for 4.1km. It certainly seems the organisers designed a route hoping that Valverde would be here! With a rest-day to come, expect the GC contenders to be full gas here and we could see some surprising time gaps.

After the rest day we should see a break survive on Stage 10, but the following day is the most challenging one so far with back-to-back Cat-1 climbs.

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Climbing or descending from pretty much 60km out, this could be a fairly brutal day in the saddle. With the finish above 2000m, we might see a GC favourite suffer from the altitude. One thing is for sure, this Vuelta isn’t a race you can ease yourself into for week 3!

Another couple of “who knows what these stages could turn into” days follow, before we get out first Especial finish of the race on Stage 14.

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Once again the riders are pretty much climbing for the last 25km of the race with the Cat-1 before the Esp finish. However, the two can be combined to form the climb below.

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It’s not a crazy average gradient at only 5.3%, but the 23km could see some weary legs by the top. Not great then when the toughest 3kms come within the final 5km! Someone could go pop. With a “flat” finish though, a small 5 rider sprint could be likely.

Either way, it will certainly stretch the riders legs for what is to come the following day.

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This is the type of Vuelta stage I love as a spectator. Pretty sure the riders might not think the same. Pure madness!

It finishes with a Cat-1 then Especial climb, but like a few of the stages here, they can be pretty much rolled into one.

VueltaS15 finish

Ouch. Ouch indeed!

With the last rest-day to follow, expect the riders to leave everything out on the road.

After their day to recuperate and recover, the riders will be faced with a decisive 40km TT. It does climb and roll a little bit but it is certainly an effort that should suit a specialist. This stage will scare a lot of the pure climbers who will be gunning for a good GC position.

The GC days continue to come as Stage 17 finishes atop the now viral Alto de los Machucos.

Who knows what the GC composition will look like before the stage, and who knows what it will look like after! Those who lost time on the TT the day before hand will certainly be hoping to bounce back with a good performance.

Stage 18 finishes on one of those classic Vuelta Cat-3s; 2.3km at 8.3%. I wouldn’t expect any major splits between the GC guys but you just never know…It could be a day for the break, likewise is stage 19. Although a few teams might control it and hope for a sprint.

The last huzzah GC wise comes on Stage 20 where the riders will finish atop the mythical Angliru.

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Four categorised climbs in a 119km stage, including the three major ones in the last 50km. A very Vuelta-y stage to finish the Vuelta GC battle with!

Any sprinters that we have left will then fight it out for stage honours in Madrid on the final day. Although considering we don’t have many here already, could a late attack succeed?

GC Contenders and Pretenders

With the defending champion Quintana finally deciding to have a Grand Tour off after doing 4 in a row, we could well see a new winner this September. I’ll have a look at some of the contenders and outsiders for the title below, some in much more depth than others!

Chris Froome.

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This years Tour winner is gunning for a famous Tour/Vuelta double. He has tried to pull off the feat in the past but this year could be his best shot, given the 40km worth of individual time trialing. Starting as the bookies favourite, his form is massively unknown going into this race. In fact, he hasn’t made an appearance at any UCI event since the end of the Tour, instead, opting to earn a couple of extra quid with some post Tour crits. Not ideal preparation in my opinion for a race where you need to be on good form in the first week!

One of the things he does have going for him though is that he won the Tour not looking his best. In previous editions he has cruised the Tour but never had just enough left to win the Vuelta, so maybe that was in the back of his mind going into that race. Or is he on the decline in general? I thought the latter before the Tour, but I’m not so sure now. His team is strong, not as good as his TDF hit squad, but bloody close to it! He is still the rider to beat once the dust has settled.

Vincenzo Nibali.

Arguably Froome’s biggest contender for the crown, the Italian is a much more rounded Grand Tour rider than the Brit, showing consistency across all three of the races. I mean he has won them all! He finished third at this years Giro, a result I’m sure he’ll be disappointed with but it wasn’t a bad performance and he did beat some good riders. Traditionally, Nibali doesn’t show much form before a Grand Tour but that seems to have changed this season. A solid 9th place in Poland, where he looked fairly skinny, was good for him and he will no doubt be gunning for no less than the win here. The only issue is that his team is fairly weak, with the missing Izagirre a big blow. I can’t see him winning the race, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he does in the end.

Alberto Contador.

I said at the Tour last year he was past his best and his performance this year highlighted that even more. I’m sure he’ll go on a few hail mary attacks which could see him move up the standings. Will it be enough for a podium? Probably not. But a stage win and a top 10 is very much achievable.

Fabio Aru.

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Another rider who comes straight here with no other racing in his legs after La Grand Boucle. A former winner of this race, as more of a pure climber some of the very tough stages should suit him well. However, the long 40km TT could be his downfall in his overall title bid. I have no idea where his form is at, considering he was apparently struggling with bronchitis at the end of the Tour. He could be great, or he could be awful! Being near the top on GC is helpful, especially when Astana have another potential GC card to play…

Miguel Angel Lopez.

My outsider/dark-horse/whatever you want to call it for the podium and possibly even more. Which now inevitably means he is going to fall by the wayside after picking up an illness on stage 4.

The young Colombian is a super talented, all-round GC star of the future. He can climb very well, but he is also a deceptively good TTer for someone of his stature. It is a tough ask to see him compete at the pointy end of the race in what will be the first Grand Tour that he should hopefully complete. Nonetheless, I think he has the pedigree to do just so. Having been raced lightly this year after spending the first 6 months of the season sidelined due to injury, he should have plenty of juice left in the tank to go well here. He warmed up with a good showing in Burgos recently, winning the final stage. Coping well with the heat there is a promising sign for what will no doubt be a scorching Vuelta. Can Superman fly?!

Ilnur Zakarin.

After Froome, the Russian is arguably the best TT rider of the GC contenders here. He’s an attacking rider and in a race that is known for its crazy moments, he might just prosper. I’m still not 100% sold on his ability to climb with the best, especially at altitude but you just never know. He’ll be hoping for at least a top 5!

Yates / Yates / Chaves.

Thought I’d just combine Orica’s three-pronged attack into one here! Out of the Yates brothers, I imagine it would be Adam who will be going for the higher GC placing, but that doesn’t mean Simon can be discounted completely. However, Chaves should be their main charge. The only issue with that is the Colombian has struggled with injuries this season and took a big knock to his mental confidence after one of his friends tragically died back in Colombia while he was riding at the Tour. I’m sure his form will be a lot better at the Vuelta as that was the plan during the Tour anyway, to get up to race speed for this event. If he is firing on all cylinders, he could be a danger. The only issue for all three of them is the massive 40km of TT, it is by far their worst discipline and they could all lose bucketloads of time. Which should make for an exciting few mountain stages if they have to chase the race…

I feel like I have already named a load of riders but the list of quality top 10 contenders could continue for a while yet! Other guys we have here include but not limited to; Bardet, Jungels, Kruijswijk, Poels, Pozzovivo, Majka and Kelderman.

Prediction

Froome is the guy to beat but Sky are never as convincing at the Vuelta compared to their dominance at the Tour and there is a chance the Brit could be isolated on a few occasions. We saw in France that he didn’t seem to be at his best and he can’t chase everyone down when it is just the group of GC favourites. If Froome is to win, he needs a massive race from Poels.

I just can’t help shake the feeling that some of the teams will look to isolate him at some point, like the famous Stage 15 from last year. Will they succeed?

 

Hmmm, I don’t know. Surely Sky will be more alert this year…

Froome probably wins the race but you’ll read that a lot this week so I’ll go for young pretender turned young contender Miguel Angel Lopez to pull off a shock result!

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I’m really looking forward to the double act with Aru over the coming weeks.

Watch out for the Shark though, he’s lurking ready to strike.

King of the Mountains

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Unlike the Tour, the Vuelta’s KOM competition is much more traditional in the sense that climbs at the start of the stage are weighted equally compared to those at the end. None of this final climb double points nonsense!

Given the amount of summit finishes at the Vuelta you would think that a GC rider has a good chance of taking the jersey. However, there are bound to be several breakaway days during the race which makes it difficult for someone high up on the overall to challenge. In fact, you have to go back to 2007 when a proper GC guy won the jersey.

Omar Fraile has won the jersey the past two years; can he make it three in a row?

As for points distribution, it is as follows:

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Thanks to Velorooms/@Searchhhh for whom I tea leafed the table from.

Overall, there are 315 mountain points available, with 91 of those coming at the end of stages. You can therefore see how it is tough for the GC favourites to compete.

However, unlike recent years, there are no nailed on breakaway days that garner a lot of points. Instead, we have 6 stages where there are between 15-25 points available during the stage, not including the finish climb, and they are Stages 3/5/12/17/19/20.

You would expect the break to take the majority, if not all of the points on those days. However, there are a few mountain top finishes where the break could stay away until the end as well.

Stage 14 is an example of that where we finish with an Especial climb, meaning that a rider could potentially take 28 points if they win the stage.

The following days action is similar too if the break manages to stay away and take the stage/Cima Alberto Fernández, totalling 40 points if they can do that.

How will the KOM race pan out?

It is tough to name a favourite for a competition such as this given the huge amount of variables. At the Tour, Barguil lost a lot of time in some of the early stages so that he was given the freedom to hunt KOM points later in the race. Whether that was intentional or not, I’m not too sure. Equally, Landa turned to the KOM jersey once he was out of GC contention at the Giro.

However, the difference between those two races and the Vuelta is that a lot of the KOM points were back loaded towards the end of the Grand Tour. Here, they’re much more evenly spread out.

In fact, on stage 3 (25pts) and stage 5 (21 pts) a rider can put their name into the mix with a strong early lead in the competition. If you look at the past couple of seasons the highest winning points total has been 82 by Fraile in 2016.

Therefore, a rider could take 43 points (not including the Cat-3 summit finish on stage 5) and be in a very commanding position at the end of the first week. I wonder if we’ll see some riders roll home at the back of the pack on Stage 2 to get some freedom the next day….

A poor TTT could set things up nicely to allow a rider the freedom to go into those moves. It’s also important to consider that the Pro-Conti teams will be gagging to get away in breaks for TV exposure, so a rider from their roster could be the one to take up the charge.

So with all that said, I’m going to suggest three names who might be there or thereabouts in the competition. Or probably not…

Merhawi Kudus.

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I’m a big fan of the talented Eritrean rider, he’s really taken a step up this season in terms of performance. A traditional mountain goat, he should be able to cope with a lot of the steep ramps and rises that the Vuelta has to offer. Now, Fraile is the most likely candidate on the Dimension Data squad to chase the KOM jersey, but there is a chance that the Spaniard might want to go for stage wins and leave the KOM hunting to someone else in the team; Kudus might be that man.

Jetse Bol (2.0).

The new and improved climbing Jetse Bol has found his passion for racing again with Colombian Wild Card team Manzana Postobon. They are guaranteed to lose a lot of time on the opening day TTT and will no doubt be chasing the breaks from therein. Given his sublime performance at the recent Vuelta Burgos, Bol seems to be in rather good shape at the moment. A jersey win for the Pro-Conti team would be incredible and the Dutchman might just be the guy to deliver it for them.

Larry Warbasse.

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There would be something poetic about Captain America taking the KOM jersey at the Vuelta. It was at this race last year that Warbasse gained a lot of my respect, so much so that I think he was the most heavily featured rider in my previews! He couldn’t manage a breakaway win but impressed enough to gain a contract with Aqua Blue for this season. I think it is fair to say he has delivered for them, taking their first ever win. Not bad considering it was at WorldTour level! Another team who are bound to be on the attack throughout the race Warbasse is their best climber and I would be surprised not to see them go for the jersey; they’ve done so in a lot of smaller races throughout the season so why not here too.

You know what, Warbasse is my KOM winner for this race!

Points Classification

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Much like the KOM jersey, the Vuelta keeps things simple for the points classification and does away with the hassle of stage categorisations etc. Instead, riders will be given the same points for winning one of the sprint stages or the mountain top finish up the Angliru.

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Again, the table is tea leafed from the same sources as above!

Therefore, it is very rare that a sprinter wins this jersey. It will be even harder this year given the parcours and the lack of proper sprint stages. Consequently, it will be a rider who can compete on multiple types of finishes that will win the jersey.

Valverde has dominated this competition and it is clear to see why. Packing a fast sprint, he can pick up a few points on the flatter stages but his climbing ability allows him to challenge for stage wins on the tougher days.

We could see a GC winner take the crown by being consistent on all of the mountain top finishes but I think we might see a few breakaways deny them the opportunity of competing for points.

Unlike the KOM competition, I only have one rider in mind for this competition.

A guy who is very much built-in the ilk of Valverde, albeit he is not as good a GC rider. Yet.

Julian-Alaphilippe-time-trial

There are several stage finishes that seem to suit the explosive French climber down to the ground. He’s had to miss both the Ardennes and the Tour for various reasons which would have been a massive disappointment for him. Nonetheless, I’m sure that means he’ll turn up here ready to perform well. On his return to racing in Burgos he was good, not great, more promising than anything else. With the cobwebs blown out now, I think he’s in for a big race. If he is performing to his Paris Nice level, then the Points jersey is his to lose!

Vuelta Picks

After continuing on from initial success, we had the highest numbers ever play the Tour Picks game back in July and I’m hoping to entice you to join Vuelta Picks for this coming month.

The premise of the game is simple; pick a separate rider for every stage, with their position on the day counting as your points. With the lowest cumulative score at the end of the Vuelta winning the prize pool.

However, one bad day does not mean that you’re completely out of it, with a prize on offer for the most stage wins too. In fact, at the Tour there were enough participants to introduce a KOM prize (lowest accumulated score over certain stages).

It’s also a good way for you to laugh at my awful, or terribly unfortunate picks. Picking an ill Sam Bennett on stage 2 of the Giro didn’t really go well for me…

I’ll also be adding a little segment at the end of each day’s blog section to cover; a “safe” pick, a risky pick (wongshot) and a deliberate Lanterne Rouge pick. Just to add a bit of spice to the game!

Think you can beat me and take my money?!

*Hint – the answer is probably yes*

Then follow the Cycling Picks Twitter handle @cycling_picks and simply put your name into the spreadsheet if you wish to play!

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/14U89El-B7h05tRgB5Lw8ml9pkF5v0ROvxH96-dk3w7o/edit#gid=0

Spreadsheet above^^^

Betting

Not a fan of betting ante-post on GC riders normally, but I’ll gladly back Lopez as an EW bet for this race.

Outright – 2pts Lopez EW @ 25/1 with Lads/Coral. (would take 20/1 lowest)

As for the KOM competition, I’m spraying some small stakes around on the riders I’ve mentioned above. Nothing too crazy.

0.75pt EW Warbasse @ 50/1 with various (Wouldn’t take any lower)

0.5pt EW Kudus @ 150/1 with Betfred (would take 100/1 lowest)

0.25pt EW Bol @ 300/1 with Betfred (would take 250/1 lowest)

As for the Points jersey, it’s simple.

2.5pts WIN Alaphilippe @ 6/1 with Lads/Coral.

I think I’ll leave it at that for the pre-race bets.

 

Thanks as always for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated! Who do you think will win the various competitions? I hope we’re in for an exciting 3 weeks of racing and I’m optimistic that we will be! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tour de Pologne 2017 Stage 3 Preview; Jaworzno -> Szczyrk

Today’s Recap

Another day that ended up in a bunch sprint but it was the odd one that was expected. Again, for some weird reason the peloton caught the break very early, creating an opportunity for some attacks.

Oss, Haas, Jungels all tried their hand but were reeled back in. Then as I thought might happen, Vakoc launched an attack at roughly 2kms to go. He quickly had a bit of a gap which seemed to grow as the sprint trains behind stalled. However, Paterski came to the front and sprinted all the way up the drag, catching Vakoc just as they completed the turn at the roundabout.

It was a frenetic run to the line with the riders amassed all over the road. In the end, Modolo just had enough left in the tank to hold on for the win.

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A fast finishing (again) Van Poppel charged at the line but it was only enough for second, with Walscheid taking third. His second place was enough to se Van Poppel move into the GC lead ahead of Sagan, based on their stage placings so far.

Will he be able to hold onto that lead tomorrow?

No way!

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

The Route

A stage that actually resembles its official profile!

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Nonetheless, I’ll still be using my own one as the go to.

TDPS3

 

You can view the profile itself on VeloViewer here.

It’s taken me a few days but I’ve finally figured out how to rotate the profiles so that we get them at a side on angle…anyway…

The stage starts off fairly innocuous with a lot of flat roads in the opening 60km or so. However, once through the second intermediate sprint of the day the road rises all the way until the summit of the first climb; some 28km at 2.2% on average.

If I’m honest, I’m not entirely sure where the climb officially starts (I can’t be bothered to look it up again in the road book), but to me it seems to be 5km from the summit.

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As you can see, the closing 5km averages 6% with a max gradient of 13.2%. Not too difficult but not easy either, it depends on the pace of the peloton whether we’ll see any riders dropped here.

Once over the top the riders descend all the way to the foot of the following climb; Zameczek.

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Split into two parts, the climb as a whole averages 5.2% for 5.3km. Once again, not too difficult but it can be made hard. The second half of the climb is a lot more challenging than the first, averaging 8.1% for the final 2.2km.

On the first passage of the climb I can’t see there being much action here but the riders will summit for a second time with 33km left, so we might see a few probing attacks launched on the steeper slopes.

The riders will then face the penultimate climb; which is the descent off the first categorised climb they tackled. Like that first climb, I could dispute how long it actually is. You could argue the road rises from the 135km gone mark, which would make the climb 12km long at 4%. However, the opening sections most likely won’t be raced too aggressively. The same can’t be said for the latter parts though.

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This is a proper climb and with the closing 4km averaging 7%, we could see some of the early GC players come to the fore.

With 9km of descent to follow, will we see any rider(s) who has escaped on the climb stay away before the rise to the finish? Well, the start of the descent is steep and technical but that only lasts for a couple of kilometres before it then runs along the side of the valley on a much straighter road.

They will descend all the way until 1.5km to go where they will make the following left hand turn and start the climb for home.

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The climb itself averages 10.3% for 1.25km, however that doesn’t tell the whole story.

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As you can see in the profile above, the opening 479m are a rather “leisurely” 3.6%. All hell will break loose soon after though, as the final 700m averages a leg-breaking 15% and that includes a crazy 26% maximum gradient!

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I’m not even sure the streetview does it justice. Whoever wins here tomorrow will have deserved it!

How will the race pan out?

It could be a really disorganised and messy stage.

The climbs are tough enough to make it a selective day in the saddle but they aren’t difficult enough so that we only see a group of 5-6 guys come to the finish climb together.

Furthermore, there are quite a few teams here with a few GC candidates, such as Sky/BMC/Bora who might decide to play the numbers game rather than control the bunch all day.

Feasibly, we could see a winning move go away on the second ascent of Zameczek if it contains the right teams and riders.

As the descent over the top of the penultimate climb isn’t too hard and doesn’t really favour a lone rider, I would be surprised if a team really pushes it on that penultimate climb to reduce the peloton drastically.

So i present two situations;

  1. An attack goes on the last ascent of the Zameczek that includes some strong riders from the main teams. It will most likely need a Bora, Sky, BMC, Katusha and Orica rider involved if it is to succeed. Obviously, other teams might be there too or not involved, but those squads listed look the strongest to bring any break back. That group stays away and fights out the finish.
  2. A race of attrition where things get whittled down and we have a peloton of 20 riders or so approach the foot of the final climb to the line and its every man for himself on with a finish very reminiscent of Flèche Wallonne.

Hmmm.

I think Situation 1 edges it.

As I’ve already rambled a bit, I’ll not be extensive with my riders in the following section!

Contenders

For a bit of fun, this is who I think could possibly be in that near end of stage move (watch none of them be in it now);

Hermans, Haig, Anacona, Rosa, Konrad*, Oomen, Spilak, Visconti, Costa and Hirt.

*I had grand ambitions for Konrad on this stage given his climbing ability and good result at Fleche, but alas he finished 1’55 down today so that’s out the window.

I’ll highlight a couple of others I like for this stage though.

Rui Costa.

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The UAE rider has had a good season so far; picking up a GC win in Abu Dhabi and a few podium placed finishes at the Giro. He was solid at the recent Tour de Suisse, finishing 5th on GC there. Like a lot of the peloton, he hasn’t raced in over a month but he’ll surely fancy his chances here as these week-long stage races are his bread and butter. He’s faired well at FW in the past which is a good indication for this finish. If he arrives in a small group his punchy nature could see him take a great stage win.

Diego Rosa.

Not normally given the chance to lead a Sky team for GC, this race looks like the perfect opportunity for both he and his team to test out that possibility. With Poels also in the squad, they have the ability to send someone on the attack early and play the waiting game behind. Rosa has only had one race day since the Giro, his National Championships but I still think he can go well here. He’s a strong hilly classics rider, as was shown towards the end of last season, and tomorrow’s terrain has that type of feel to it. Can he succeed?

I think yes…

Prediction

Diego Rosa to win!

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Betting

1pt EW on them both (with B365)

Rosa @ 33/1

Costa @ 22/1

 

Thanks as always for reading and I hope you enjoyed the in-depth route analysis. I certainly enjoyed writing it! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

Tour de France 2017 – GC Preview

Tour de France 2017 – GC Preview

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

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

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

The Route

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GC Battle As A Whole

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

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

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

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

GC Contenders

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

Chris Froome.

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

Richie Porte.

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

Is he unbeatable? No.

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

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

Nairo Quintana.

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

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

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

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

Alberto Contador.

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

Alejandro Valverde.

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

Fabio Aru.

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

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

Romain Bardet.

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

Dan Martin.

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

Esteban Chaves.

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

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

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

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

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

Right, I think that’s everyone…

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

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

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

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

Prediction

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

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With Aru coming second and Quintana third.

Betting

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

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

 

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Tirreno Adriatico 2017 Stage 4 Preview; Montalto di Castro ->Terminillo

Today’s Recap

A hectic finish that was tough but maybe not as tough as I imagined. I have to apologise as I thought it was a slightly different finish to that of last year but it was exactly the same, doing too many previews for my own good! Or that’s my excuse anyway. 😉

Anyway, it was Peter Sagan who took a dominate sprint win, ahead of Viviani and Debuscherre.

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It was a really, really weird top 10 as a crash behind took out or at least severely hindered some of the favourites for the day.

Nonetheless, let’s have a look ahead at what the riders can expect tomorrow.

The Route

A tough GC day and an ascent of the famous Terminillo.

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The opening part of the stage really acts as a prelude, this is all about the final climb.

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It’s a very similar climb to the one we’ll see in Paris Nice but is made harder in my opinion by the irregularity of it. Most of the climb is close to 8%, but there are a few kilometres that are roughly 4% and this lowers the average gradient quite a bit. The top of the climb does “flatten out” so if riders arrive together we might see some kind of sprint, but I can’t see that happening.

Weather Watch

Oh boy, looks a bit nippy out there!

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Weather forecast for Terminillo (Source: Accuweather)

That real feel of -5°C looks like a real killer. Especially when you consider the strong winds forecast and the finish tomorrow looks horrible. The wind will more than likely be a cross-head for most of the climb so it might nullify some of the attacking we could see, which would be a real shame. Conversely though, once you lose the wheel it will be hard to get back on!

How will the stage pan out?

There is a chance we could see the breakaway go all the way. This will only happen if the riders in the peloton are fearful of what might happen on the Terminillo and they don’t want to chase all day.

However, I do think we will see some type of GC battle on the Terminillo. There in theory should be enough firepower and motivation behind to close down the break and set up the overall contenders to battle it out for bonus seconds and more!

Contenders

Nairo Quintana has to start as the clear favourite. After being marked out of the competition in Abu Dhabi he’ll be here to exact revenge. Movistar brought a crack TTT squad with them to put him in the best possible GC position going into this stage and they’ll expect him to deliver. He won a truly epic stage in the snow at this race back in 2015 and a repeat of that feat is more than on the cards!

Who can challenge him?

Honestly, no one in my opinion. Everyone else will more than likely be fighting for second place unless there is some crazy tactical battle or Nairo pops.

Geraint Thomas looked very strong on his way to the win on stage 2. This climb is a completely different beast but given his immediate lack of a GC threat he is a rider who could squirrel away from the bunch. As I said in my overall preview for this race, I think he’s going very well at the moment and is a genuine threat for a podium in the Giro. A good result tomorrow would go a long way to solidifying that thought.

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Of course, his Team Sky team-mates Landa or Rosa may also profit from the awful TTT and be given some freedom. They both have the abilities to do well here and are naturally better climbers than Thomas. If one of them manages to get a 30 second gap on Terminillo they could be tough to bring back.

Thibaut Pinot, much like his wine namesake, prefers the temperature cooler. He often seems to struggle when things get toasty, so a day in the cold, wet break of Strade Bianche will have set him up nicely for this stage. He is clearly going well in this early part of the season. Anyone who beat Contador in Valenciana is going strongly!

Vincenzo Nibali normally copes well in awful conditions but his own personal condition is a bit unknown. He’s gone better at the start of this year than he has done in the past, but does that mean that he is capable of finishing on the podium here?

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BMC will be looking to hold onto the GC lead with Tejay Van Garderen but it will be tough. The American had a difficult Abu Dhabi, struggling with illness, but has arrived here as their GC leader. He seems to struggle in poor conditions at times and I fear that may be the same outcome for him tomorrow.

The rider who finished second to Quintana in 2015 on this stage is here again. Bauke Mollema will have been disappointed with his team’s TTT but a good performance here puts him back in contention for the overall podium. He’s a real slogger, so to say, and will certainly give it his all.

Tom Dumoulin appears to have started this season in great form and I’m sure he’ll be up there again tomorrow but it’s just the length of the climb that worries me with him.

Fabio Aru has been relatively attentive at the front of the bunch in the past two finishes, not wanting to lose any time in splits. He’s started his season solidly with a third and eighth GC placings in his first two stage races. His time trial on the final stage will most certainly let him down, so he needs to make the most of his good climbing legs tomorrow, if he has them!

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Adam Yates will want to try to replicate what his brother managed today in Paris Nice. Finishing 7th in 2015, two years stronger now and a 4th place finisher at the Tour, he certainly has a chance of getting a better result this time round. His win in Industria last Sunday certainly was very impressive!

Rui Costa is the form rider of the season so far, but I think a good result here will be a step too far. Yet again though, after a poor TTT like many others, he has a chance of being gifted a bit of freedom.

Rafal Majka is another who could be gifted some freedom. The Polish rider is one of the more under-appreciated climbers in the peloton and this long slog looks as if it will suit him!

Prediction

The GC field in this edition is a lot stronger than when Quintana last won here in 2015. However, barring some kind of miracle I feel we might get the same result. Do I believe in miracles? No, but I do believe in outsiders and crazy things happening! Team Sky to profit from having three strong guys but not considered GC threats, yet. I’ll give Rosa another chance!

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Or Quintana just wins by 30 seconds…

Betting

Rosa 1pt EW @ 25/1 with Bet365.

You might get better as more places price up later on but I don’t have the time to be waiting around!

Thanks for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated! Who do you think will win? Can anyone stop Nairo? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.