Liège-Bastogne-Liège 2017 Preview

La Doyenne or “the Old Lady” for the Anglicised among you, returns on Sunday for its 103rd edition!

Normally a very attritional race in its own right, last year’s race had the added dimension of truly awful weather with snow and rain throughout the day. In the end it was Wout Poels who took the victory from a small group that had escaped on the penultimate climb and stayed away until the end, sealing Sky’s first Monument win. Albasini and Rui Costa rounded out the podium.

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Poels isn’t here this year to defend his crown so it opens the door for a new winner, or one of the previous champions to step up to the mantle again.

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

The Route

258km of rolling road through the Ardennes awaits the peloton.

 

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Don’t let the fact that there are only 10 categorised climbs on course fool you, this is a tough and attritional race where the road is up and down a lot throughout the day.

The first 160km will serve as a warm-up for the riders and we’ll see our usual relatively large break go composed mainly of the Pro-Conti teams with a handful of World Tour representatives in their for good measure.

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Credit: Velorooms

Once we get to 90km to go, the climbs start in earnest, beginning with the Côte de Pont. But it’s the Col du Rosier which could be the site of the first potentially race winning attack I think. At 4.4km in length it is the longest ascent of the race and averaging 5.9% it is steep enough to gain some distance with a strong attack.

From there they tackle a descent before the Maquisard. However, it is probably the final three climbs that this race is famous for.

The Côte de la Redoute comes at roughly 40km to go.

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Short and steep, it’s one that might entice the punchy riders into a move depending on the race situation.

Next up after that is the Roche-aux-Faucons, with the Côte de Saint-Nicolas coming at under 10km to the finish line.

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There’s little time for the race to regroup once over the summit as they descend before starting the approach into Ans.

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The closing climb up to the finish line averages 5.3% for the 1.5km so isn’t overly difficult but at the end of a tough day riders will still need something left in the tank to cope with it.

How will the race pan out?

I think our aggressive Spring racing will continue here and we’ll see a similar race to Amstel. Plenty of teams have several options in their ranks and I would be very surprised to see them all happily wait for the final climb like they do in Fleche.

So we could well see some relatively serious attacks come on the Rosier. Who makes it and what teams are represented will then shape the rest of the race.

If we get strong enough riders from Movistar/Sky/BMC/Orica/Quick Step then it stays away in my opinion. Well, that is of course if they continue to work hard while out in front and everyone co-operates. Although we did see that the front group managed to stay ahead at Amstel even with JJ Rojas sandbagging them.

From there it’s just about being not only one of the strongest riders but one of the most tactically astute.

Or of course, it could all come back together and we get an aggressive final couple of climbs like we had in last year’s edition.

Contenders

With it being such an open race there is no clear favourite in my opinion, but Valverde is most definitely the closest to one that we have. Imperious on the Huy midweek, he seems to get better with age which is ridiculous when you consider his already illustrious career. In Amstel his Movistar team was caught out and probably would have preferred a different rider up the road. I’m sure they won’t make the same mistake twice but their team still doesn’t look that great. Having already won this race 3 times, he knows what it takes and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him on the top step of the podium again come Sunday afternoon!

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Team Sky in theory pose the biggest threat to the Spaniard as they have the great 1-2 punch of Kwiatkowski and Henao (Sergio), heck, you could even through Rosa into that mix too. This race looks best suited to the former world champion though. He’s really regained his footing as one of the best one-day racers in the world this year. With a monument win already under his belt this season he could well go on to make it two!

Dan Martin is QuickSteps leader for this race and rightly so. A former winner here, this is one of his favourite races in the calendar and he always seems to find himself at the pointy end of the day. Finishing 2nd to Valverde (again) on Wednesday, he’ll be hoping to go one better this Sunday. Yet, I have my eye on one of his team-mates and there is certainly some fantasy-league bias to this one; Petr Vakoc. With no Gilbert or Alaphilippe the Czech rider is co-leader elect and has all the abilities to go well on Sunday in my opinion. The way he easily bridged across to Wellens in Brabantse shows how well he is going because Wellens isn’t exactly short of form at the moment. He was unlucky to have suffered a mechanical at a bad time in Amstel and I get the feeling that we haven’t seen the last of him over this past week…

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BMC will have two leaders in this race who aren’t clear favourites according to the bookmakers, although I’m unsure as to why one of them isn’t. Those two riders are of course Teuns and Van Avermaet! The former was excellent in La Fleche, taking a great third place. It’s nice to see him living up to the lofty expectations that were put on him after his breakthrough performance in the 2014 Tour of Britain. He certainly has a good opportunity on Sunday to repeat that result. However, it’s his team-mate GVA that interests me more. According to the bookmakers he’s a relative outsider and I just can’t get my head around why! Yes, he was only 12th place in Amstel and looked jaded chasing the front group, but that’s because he was the rider shouldered with most of the workload. The climbs here aren’t too tough and the Olympic Champion has a very, very good chance of taking his second monument of the year.

I expect an attacking race from Orica as they have plenty of good climbers in their team. Likewise the same can be said for Cannondale and Astana. Yet, I just don’t see any of their riders winning this race.

I would love to see Haas go better than his 4th in Amstel for Dimension Data, but he was struggling with illness in Fleche. Maybe it was just a small bug and he’s managed to turn it around?

Izagirre is dangerous for Bahrain, so too are the UAE duo of Costa and Ulissi. I think the Italian will have a really good race here as he prepares for the Giro.

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He impressed me a lot in Pais Vasco, especially his 8th place in the TT. Since then he was in the second group in Amstel and finished in 10th place in Fleche. Not bad form!

Bardet and Barguil will hope to top 10, but this is me just filling up some words and naming some more names as I’ve already suggested my winner…

Prediction

Greg Van Avermaet to show that Amstel was just a blip and he rounds out one of the best spring classics seasons of all time with a fine victory in Liege!

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Betting

Set my stalls out with this tweet earlier this week and again this morning;

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I’ll be marking him down as 200/1 with 0.5pt EW on. He’s into 150/1 now with most places and I still think there’s value to be had with that, especially if you can get the 4 places available.

I went a bit heavy-handed on Vakoc thinking I’d only have two picks and that would be it, but I’m going to have three now so the stakes have risen. It is the last monument for a while though so YOLO as the kids these days say…

0.5pt EW Vakoc @ 200/1

1pt EW Ulissi @ 66/1 with Bet365 (take the 50/1 and 4 places available elsewhere)

2pts EW GVA @ 22/1 with Coral who’re paying 4 places. (would take 20s)

 

Thanks as always for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated like normal. Who do you think will win La Doyenne? Will we see an attacking race or will it come down to a relatively large group heading towards Liege? I’ll be back again with my Liege Femmes preview so please return for that! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

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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.

 

 

Tirreno Adriatico 2017 Stage 2 Preview; Camaiore -> Pomarance

Today’s Recap

Easy win for BMC in the end!

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I did say Team Sky were my outsiders if something crazy happened, but I did not expect a wheel explosion! It was an awful TT for them, with Landa and Rosa also suffering punctures, resulting in them losing 1 minute 42 seconds on the day. They’ll have to have an attacking race to salvage something now.

Could tomorrow offer an opportunity? Let’s take a look.

The Route

A long, long day in the saddle for the riders at 228km. Good practice for Milan – San Remo I guess though?!

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Nothing really happens in the first 120km of the stage but once they’re into the final 100km the road is up and down all day.

The longest climb of the day is up to Volterra.

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9.85km in length, it averages 4.45% in gradient so not overly difficult. It will be interesting to see if any team comes to the front and increases the pace.

After that, we have a descent followed by some valley roads before we reach our penultimate climb of the day. There’s no official information in the road book about it, but I’ve managed to locate the Strava segment (I think!). View it here.

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It’s 4.4km long, averaging 5.2% in gradient. However, as you can see, the climb itself is very irregular with some ramps above 15%. Cresting at just over 20km to go, will it be a launchpad for an attack?

Another fast descent follows as we head to our uphill finish in Pomarance.

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A punchy finish is what I’d certainly call it; a few steep ramps separated by a lot of false flat. It’s the same finishing town that we had last year, with Stybar winning, but it’s a slightly different finale this time round.

How will the race pan out?

This stage in theory could suit a multitude of riders, with the likes of Sagan and EBH potentially fancying their chances at the line. However, I think after the events that we saw today, tomorrow will be a much more explosive and attacking day than initially thought.

Late attack? Reduced sprint? Group of 5 or so get away? They’re all possibilities!

Sky will be really bitter and embarrassed after today and with almost being out of the race already they will have to change their approach to a more aggressive one. Not something they’re used to! I reckon they’ll get Kiryienka to set a fairly tough pace on the penultimate two climbs to try and get rid of the fast finishers such as Sagan and co. Or at least some of their squad mates.

So in my scenario we might have a peloton of 75 riders or so approaching the run in to Pomarance and then we get some fireworks.

I’m going to do my usual in this situation where the stage outcome is tough to call and name a few riders and how they can win it…

Mattia Cattaneo.

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The Italian has started the season very well with his new team, picking up the win in the final stage of La Provence. He was on the attack again in Industria mid-week, but could only manage 4th there. Nonetheless, he still seems to be on good shape! As part of the Androni squad, no doubt Giani Savio will be demanding that his riders are attacking throughout the stage. They’ll put someone in the break but save Cattaneo and Gavazzi for the end of the day. It would be bad for the peloton to underestimate him when he makes his move in the final 5km!

Rohan Dennis.

The rider who finished second on the stage Cattaneo won in La Provence, Dennis managed to hold on for the overall title. He seemed in scintillating form today in the TTT so he should manage this climb easily. Apparently he wants to be a legitimate second GC option here for them, so a win and some bonus seconds would help his cause! With his TT prowess, if he gets a 10 second gap then he will be tough to reel back in. Also, if the race is made too tough for GVA (will need to be ridiculously fast paced), then he will be the teams sprint option.

Diego Rosa.

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As I mentioned above, Sky will not be very happy after today and will want an immediate response. With 4 potential options on a stage like this, I imagine Rosa will actually be the one least marked. He is a brute of a rider and is capable of riding away from everyone behind on the tougher lower slopes of the climb. With a lack of co-ordination behind he could manage to hold on!

Prediction

I’ll go for an outsider from a favourites team, Rohan Dennis to win!

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Betting

After today’s big stakes, I don’t want to get overly involved in tomorrow’s stage. Swithered about going EW but have decided against it!

Dennis 0.6pt WIN @ 100/1 with Betfair/PP (Would take 80s)

Rosa 0.6pt WIN @ 50/1 with Bet365 (Would take 33s)

Cattaneo 0.3pt WIN @ 66/1 with Betfair/PP

 

Thanks for reading like always! How do you think tomorrow is going to play out? I’m hoping for an exciting last 100km. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

Tirreno-Adriatico 2017 GC Preview

Tirreno-Adriatico 2017 GC Preview

The second stage race of the week and before the madness of the first few days in Paris Nice, it was the one I was looking forward to more!

Last year we saw the bad weather really hit this race hard and the mountain top finish on stage 5 was cancelled. This meant we had a really weird-looking top 10 for a week-long stage race and it was Greg van Avermaet who took the overall win, one second ahead of Peter Sagan.

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I can’t imagine we’ll get the same controversial outcome this year as the weather seems to be much better this time round.

Let’s see what’s in store for the riders over the coming week.

The Route

Like always, this will be a brief run through as I’ll be doing daily stage previews!

Stage 1.

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A pan flat 22.7km team time trial should open up some GC gaps and set the racing up nicely for the coming week.

Stage 2.

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A long day in the saddle for the riders with a tough finale. Looks to be one for the strong puncheurs!

Stage 3.

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A rolling day that should end in a sprint. The last 1.5km does average 3.5% though!

Stage 4.

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With the TTT setting the GC order, this stage will shake things up, that’s for sure with the very tough finish up Terminillo. On a bad day here and you can lose a lot of time.

Stage 5.

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Arguably a tougher day due to the relentless up and down nature of the second half of the stage. Will we see a team go crazy, à la Giro 2015 – Astana vintage?

Stage 6.

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Another rolling day with a little kicker near the finish. Will it be a bunch sprint, or will we see a morning break or late attack succeed?

Stage 7.

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Another pan flat time trial, this time of the individual variety. Will the GC be close enough for movement in the overall standings?

GC Contenders

Where else to start than with the best climber in the peloton, Nairo Quintana. The Colombian looked insanely strong in Valenciana but was marked out of the race brilliantly by Contador in Abu Dhabi. The Movistar squad looks geared towards giving him the best possible start in the TTT and with Moreno and Amador he should have some good support in the mountains. The Terminillo stage is perfect for him, but like others, I think his lack of one-day racing might let him down on Stage 5. He’ll really need his team to be strong then. It could well come down to the final day TT!

Thibaut Pinot will be hoping to build on his good showings in Andalucia and Strade with a real tilt at the GC here. His team produced one of the surprises of the season last year in the opening TTT, highlighting the change in attitude from the squad towards the time trialling discipline. They should perform well once again there and Pinot should be near the front in the mountain stages. Does he have enough to win?

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Tom Dumoulin will relish the pan-flat individual time trial and his Sunweb team looks OK for the TTT. The Dutchman has been in good shape at the start of this season, performing well on Saturday in Strade Bianche. He did well to finish 5th, considering the great form that those in front of him are in. The length and steepness of Terminillo could be a struggle for him, it’s right on his limits, but he will enjoy the climb being fairly regular in gradient. With a solid sprint on him too, we could see him challenging for bonus seconds on a couple of the punchy stages. If he’s within 30 seconds on the final day he’ll fancy his chances!

Last year Vincenzo Nibali was left bitterly disappointed after the cancellation of the Queen stage. He’s back again this year, looking for vindication possibly? Starting the year much better than he normally would, I’m intrigued to see how well he goes here in respect to his Giro preparation. A solid TTT will set him nicely for the week.

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Team Sky arrive with a ridiculously stacked team but I imagine Landa and Thomas will be co-leaders, on paper at least. The Spaniard looked strong in Andalucia, doing a lot of work for the team but still managing to finish off stages relatively high up in the standings. Whereas Thomas has not raced since the Tour Down Under, but has instead been away training with Froome in South Africa. It’s yet to be seen how that will have affected him, but wanting to be co-leader with real ambitions at the Giro, he will need a good performance soon. If not here, then possibly in Trentino. On a slight side note, I think he’ll go very well in the Giro! A third rider may well be up on GC for Sky too – Rosa. Like Landa, the Italian did a lot of the donkey work in Andalucia but still finished the race in a high GC position. Having three riders close on GC during stages 4 and 5 will give Sky a massive tactical advantage and he could well be the one benefiting from it. His TT is weak, but with the stage being short he shouldn’t lose more than 45 seconds.

Rui Costa has been the form rider in this early part of the season and he certainly can’t be discounted because of it. However, the finish to Terminillo isn’t his cup of tea at all, the climb is far too long for him in my opinion. He’s also bound to lose time in both of the TTs, so I can’t see him taking another victory here, or even a podium. I am prepared to eat my words though.

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Van Garderen was ill in Abu Dhabi so failed to produce anything noteworthy there. He’s bound to have a good performance in the TTT but can he hold onto that for the rest of the race. No. I don’t think so.

Aru has had a good start to the season by his standards. The Astana team are worried about the TTT so they’ve drafted in some strong riders to support him and I think they’ll put in a fairly good effort and not lose as much time as might be expected. He will enjoy the stage to Terminillo but the ITT will be a struggle. A podium result would be good.

A winner this weekend just gone, Yates will be hoping of putting in a solid performance here at this race. Orica bring a strong team of flat riders, mainly in support of Ewan so they should put in a decent TTT effort. The Brit will enjoy the stage to Fermo but the ITT could be where he ships a lot of time.

Mollema is a dangerous outsider for this race. He’s another who’s started the season very well and will hope to get some leeway as the favourites mark each other. Trek are going well in the TTs this year so he’ll hope to be put in a good position. He’s not one to be discounted.

Majka, Roglic and Uran could all surprise but it will take that, a surprise, for them to win this race in my opinion.

Prediction 

The GC here really comes down to how much time Quintana can take on Terminillo. There is a chance he might get marked out of the race, as he did in Abu Dhabi, but is anyone in good enough form to be able to follow him as easily as Contador did?

As I’m really struggling to nail this one down, I’m going to revert to type and go with a bit of an outsider, with some hopefully sound logic!

I really think having numbers up on GC  will be very important for a team, especially considering how manic the stage to Fermo could be. We don’t have the Astana of 2015 here, but we do have two of their riders in one squad; Team Sky. The Terminillo stage should see them have three riders within a minute of the lead and I expect them to go wild the following day. Diego Rosa looks like the ideal candidate to benefit from this, as Landa and Thomas mark those behind. The Italian loves one day racing and the type of terrain we get in this race seems to suit him perfectly. He’ll just need a good margin before the final stage!

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Betting

0.5pt EW Rosa @66/1 with Ladbrokes. (Would take down to 50/1)

 

Thanks for reading as per! This will be the first of three previews out tonight so keep an eye out for the others. I intend to have Tirreno Stage 1 out next but like always, that will depend on what gets priced up/and when by the bookmakers. They both might be out at the same time. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Strade Bianche 2017 Preview; Siena -> Siena

Strade Bianche 2017 Preview; Siena -> Siena

One of my favourite races of the year, hands down! It has the mix of everything really; awesome parcours; great start-list; amazing scenery; and some pretty aggressive racing.

Cancellara broke the heart of Brambilla last year, and managed to out-fox Stybar into the final corner, taking a quite excellent win.

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Cancellara is obviously not here this year, so that leaves the door open for a new victor or one of the three former winners that are here to regain their crown.

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

The Route

I’m going to make this section a lot, lot shorter than normal because there are already several previews out there with this information so I don’t want to bore you with it again!

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There you go…

Basically lots of short sharp punchy hills, although there are a couple of longer ones earlier on, interspersed with gravel sections. Rolling terrain for most of the day means there is little time to rest and the action is always on.

A tough closing 20km can see someone get away solo, but there is also the possibility that it all comes down to a sprint up to the Piazza del Campo!

One thing that may have a say in that is the…

Weather

After the brutal conditions in Samyn mid-week, I’m sure the peloton would have been hoping for something less miserable here. The fans certainly want the opposite and it looks as if the weather gods are going to appease the crowds.

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Weather in Siena (Source: Wunderground)

Nothing concrete but there is a very good chance we’ll get rain at some point during the race, which would make it even more of a spectacle. I’m sure a lot of you will remember the Giro in 2010…

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It probably won’t get as torrid as that, but even a smattering of rain could cause some issues for the riders!

Anyway, who’s got a chance of taking the crown this weekend?

Contenders

Where better to start than with the current world champion, Peter Sagan. The Slovak shredded the race to bits in Omloop last Saturday and once again was in the thick of the action on Sunday, managing to win Kuurne. He clearly is in very good form at the moment and he has gone well here in the past. My one issue with him is that he always seems to struggle on the final climb up to the Piazza so he’ll need to ride everyone off of his wheel before then. Not impossible, but I can’t see it happening. Am I being too bold discounting him?

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After me playing up his chances for Omloop, Zdenek Stybar, was left bitterly disappointed at the end of the race, visibly shaking his head as he crossed the line. That to me indicates that he knew he could and should have been a key protagonist in the outcome of the race. Held up in the crash that took out Boonen, he tried attacking later on in the race to bridge across to the lead group but couldn’t manage it. I’m sure he’ll want to bounce back this weekend in a race that suits him very well, he did win it in 2015 after all! With Brambilla and Vakoc, he has a strong support team which could very well be crucial.

Picking up the win in Omloop while still not at 100% form shows what a great cyclist Greg Van Avermaet is. The Belgian has done fairly well here in the past but hasn’t managed to win this race yet, with the closest being a second place finish to Stybar in 2015. Good on short, steep climbs and rough terrain, he has all of the characteristics to win this race. Yet, like Sagan, I just have a feeling he won’t and I’m not sure why. BMC do have a very strong team with them and an in-form Hermans could be a very useful second card to play in a tactical race.

Without Cancellara, Trek will turn to Fabio Felline as their main charge for this race. After an explosive start to his season, winning Il Laigueglia, he’s followed that up with a 5th place in the TT at Andalucia and a 4th at Omloop last weekend. This race should suit him perfectly and if he can follow the best over the gravel, he certainly has a very good chance up the punchy climb to the Piazza.

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Sky arrive here with a very solid squad; Kwiatkowski, Rosa and Puccio all have a chance of going well. The Pole seems to slowly be returning to the rider he once was before he joined Sky, finishing 2nd on GC in Algarve earlier in February. However, he still didn’t seem in tip-top shape so this race might be too early for him. On the other hand, Rosa looked very strong in Andalucia and had he not been working for others (again!), could have finished higher up himself. He seems to love one-day racing in Italy and may very well go on to win here, but he’ll need to come to the line alone! Puccio is a bit of a wild-card, but this is his home race and he always manages a fairly decent result here. Well, apart from last year when I had backed him and he had 3 mechanicals while in the front group. I won’t put the #HaugheyCurse on him this year, but I shall be watching with interest.

Benoot and Wellens will lead the charge for Lotto Soudal. Both riders are capable of winning here if they get a bit of luck, but both will need a different type of race to play out. Benoot will be the one happier waiting until the finish line whereas Wellens is much more likely to go on the attack from far out. He’s certainly a danger if given too much leeway!

I’m really intrigued by the selection that Astana bring to this race, because on paper it looks a very strong, well-rounded team. They have a former winner in the shape of Moser and a podium finisher with Gatto. Not to mention Amstel Gold runner-up Valgren, solid one-day racer and climber Sanchez, and Grand Tour winner Aru. The last of those makes his second appearance at this race after finishing 20th here way back in 2013. Often slated for his one-day racing, he’s not as bad at these types of races as he’s made out to be in my opinion, and I’m hoping to be pleasantly surprised by Aru tomorrow. The race only being 175km certainly helps him.

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FDJ arrive with a solid squad and it seems to be the same riders that are following Pinot around all year. Thibaut himself has had a good start to the season, picking up a very impressive stage win in Andalucia. Anyone who managed to beat Contador there must be going well! Making his debut in this race, he might struggle with some of the surfaces but I think his form will overcome that and he is my dark horse for the win. His team-mate Reichenbach is another good outside candidate if we get a very tactical race where the “second string” riders get sent up the road and manage to end up staying away. Like Pinot, he was also impressive in Andalucia and can’t be discounted.

Roglic, Haas, Dumoulin and Vanmarcke could all go well with a bit of luck.

Prediction

Like my women’s preview (shameless plug, view it here) I’ve had this rider in mind all week for this race. Unlike that preview though, I have had my doubts about him but that’s been purely based off of his odds being shorter than I would have liked. Nonetheless, after much deliberation I still think he’ll take the victory, capitalising on some good early season form. If we get bad conditions, that makes it even better for him. Stybar to win!

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Betting

As mentioned above, I was almost backing out of this one purely because I would have hoped for something like 10/1 on Stybar. But the more I think about it, the 6-7/1 on offer in places is still good value IMO.

Stybar 2pts WIN @7/1 with PaddyPower (would take 6/1 available elsewhere)

I tweeted these two out yesterday after prices were released but they have subsequently been shortened;

Pinot 0.25pts EW @200/1 with Bet365 (would still take 125/1 with PP or the 100/1 with William Hill)

Reichenbach 0.25pts EW @ 300/1 with Bet365 (would still take the 200/1 with PP or the 150/1 widely available)

I don’t really like any of the H2H available at the moment. Might change my mind later.

 

Once again, thanks for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated. Who do you think will win this incredible race? I’ll be back again tomorrow with a Paris-Nice GC and Stage 1 preview so keep an eye out for them. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Ruta del Sol Stage 2 Preview; Torredonjimeno -> Alto Peña del Águila

Today’s Recap

I told you that was going to be the stage of the week, it’s all downhill from here!

We had attacks from almost all of the GC favourites; some classic Spanish stop start racing; groups reforming and breaking up more often than Take That; Reichenbach impersonating a HGV in the final few kilometres; and after all of that, Valverde still won. Easily!

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Nonetheless, the stop start racing has meant the GC is still nicely poised going into the next couple of days, with 10 riders only 5 seconds down at most. Let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders tomorrow.

The Route

An even tougher day of climbing.

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The road does undulate a lot in the final 50km, but I would expect this stage to come down to the final climb, the earlier ones will just sap the legs.

The climb itself is typical of what we get in this region, fairly short but steep! 5.2km long, averaging 9.8%, there is certainly chance for big time-gaps here.

I’ve managed to locate the strava profile of the climb, which can be viewed here.

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The hardest section is 2km->4km, averaging a stiff 11.25%! This is where the proper climbers will hope to make some gaps as it gets easier in the final kilometre with the gradient dropping to around 3% by the time they reach the finish line.

How will the stage pan out?

With there already being significant time gaps and no bonus seconds on offer, there is a chance that we might get a breakaway. However, with this being the first mountain top finish and early season bragging rights to play for, I’m fairly confident this will be another GC affair.

Contenders

This will be brief, as you only really need to look at the top performers from today and there are clearly two riders who are a level above the rest in my opinion.

Valverde was in admirable control of the stage today. He followed Contador relatively easily after he was surprised by his countryman’s early attack and from there he never looked in trouble. He gave it a nudge on the descent to see if he could get away but played it cool once he realised that wasn’t going to happen. Really, if it wasn’t for him being such a wiley old fox and refusing to properly work with Contador they could have distanced the rest by the top of the climb. He’ll enjoy the steep stuff tomorrow and the climb looks like the perfect length for him, plus his finishing sprint should see off any challenge if there’s a little gallop to the line.

Contador looked great for his first race back and will be pleased with where his form is at just now. He had everyone else in trouble on the climb apart from Valverde which is bound to please him, well, maybe not! He won’t like the look of the end of tomorrow’s stage and the thoughts of a TT so I can imagine he’ll hit out early again like he did today. With the stage finish at the top of the mountain this time round, can everyone hold his wheel as he dances on the pedals?

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As for the rest, Rosa was the guy that looked the strongest on the climb but I can’t see him beating the two Spaniards.

The only way that Contador/Valverde will lose if they start messing about like they did today and that leaves an opportunity for someone to attack. But I can’t really see that happening here. There is a completely different dynamic when the stage finishes on top of a climb rather than at the bottom and they’ll be full gas all the way to the top. Plus, with the TT to come, I think they’ll be sensible and work reasonably well to extend their time gap over the likes of Izagirre, before possibly attacking each other in the final 1km or so.

Prediction

After writing him in italics, and delaying the inevitable yesterday, he’s going to be in bold today.

Valverde wins.

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Betting

Absolutely no value in the stage markets so I’m going to go for this H2H treble at 6.1/1 with Bet365. 2pts on.

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Thanks as per for reading! Apologies for this being so short but after today I don’t see the point on rambling on about any outsiders for this stage. Normal service shall resume for the TT tomorrow! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

Vuelta Ciclista a Andalucia (Ruta del Sol) 2017 – GC Preview

Last year we saw an exciting race where it looked as if Tejay Van Garderen was going to win his first European Stage race and break that duck. However, Valverde absolutely blew everyone away on the final day of racing and won the GC title by almost 30 seconds! With Van Garderen and Mollema rounding out the podium.

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Valverde is back again this year: looking to make it 5 wins in 6 years, but can he do it? Let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

Stage 1 and the organisers have decided to start off with a nice “rolling” day.

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Tough start to the race, with an interesting climb at the end of the day. Should be a great watch, with a lot of potential outcomes!

Stage 2 and another rolling day, but this time with a mountain top finish.

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A tough 5km climb with some steep sections in it and a kilometre or so of false-flat at the end. Solo winner or a sprint between the climbers?

Stage 3 and a short individual TT.

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An interesting profile once again, we are in Spain after all! A nice climb for the riders to open their legs before a long shallow descent, another slight rise, followed with a steeper descent and a kick up to the line. Will the specialists or GC riders prevail here?

Stage 4.

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Finally a stage for the sprinters or will the breakaway have their say? Word of warning, it is a very technical finish!

Stage 5.

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Another day for the fast men? No doubt we’ll get a strong breakaway with that tough start!

GC Contenders

The greatest GT rider of his generation is here, Alberto Contador, and this race marks his first outing for new team Trek Segafredo. He had a fairly solid season last year, winning Pais Vasco and Burgos GC but solid is all I can really say about it. In comparison to his lofty expectations and performances in the past, it was almost a disappointment! Will the change of team and a new (possibly better) working environment revitalise him? With only one mountain top finish he’ll have to be on good form to get a race winning gap as I imagine he’ll lose a bit of time on the TT.

Team Sky arrive with a very strong squad with Poels, Landa and Rosa all potentially being leaders of the team. The latter pair haven’t done any racing so far this year so their form is a bit unknown but Poels finished 4th on GC at Valenciana. He had an off day on stage 2, but was fairly strong on stage 4. He was flying at the start of last year and this could be his only GC chance this season. I expect a good performance from him!

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The man with the secret to eternal youth, Alejandro Valverde, is back to defend the title he won last year. A commanding win in Almeria on Saturday he clearly is in great shape already at the start of the season. He’ll hope to be close on the time trial and smoke everyone up the mountain top finish. Certainly not out of the question!

Former Movistar rider Ion Izaggire will be looking to beat his old suitors here. Over the past couple of seasons he has grown into a great one-week stage racer and will hope to be in or around the podium places here. His strong TT abilities will be key to that. Sixth place on his first race back, he seems to be going ok but there is a big difference between a 5-stage race and a one-day effort.

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FDJ are another team with a couple of options here. Pinot was way off the pace in Valenciana but that was due to him being ill. We saw last year just how good he can be in these types of week-long stage races, so he can’t be discounted if back in reasonable nick. With him, he has two lieutenants who both could achieve a top 10 on GC if luck goes their way, in the form of Reichenbach and Ludvigsson. I do have a soft spot for the Swede and it won’t be the last time I’ll be mentioning him this year!

Uran, Barguil and even Wellens are others to keep an eye out for.

Prediction

In the form that he’s in just now, El Bala wins the race comfortably and another race/number is added to his already incredibly tally!

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Betting

Only SkyBet have the race priced up so far and have Valverde just ahead of Contador. Bet365 will be offering odds for the race, but only tomorrow…

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I doubt they’ll be offering anything spectacularly different price wise though. So that being said

0.5pt EW on a Valverde/Costa/Roglic (giving away my Algarve preview here) treble at 54.45/1 with  Skybet. I wouldn’t normally go EW on this but I think they should all podium so it covers the stake in that case.

 

Thanks for reading, as usual any feedback is greatly appreciated. How do you think the race will pan out; can anyone beat Valverde and Contador? Anyway,

Thos were My Two Spokes Worth.