Tour de Pologne 2017 Stage 1 Preview; Kraków -> Kraków

GC Thoughts

As I don’t have enough time to do a full GC preview I thought I’d include them at the start of this preview.

Last year we saw Tim Wellens secure the overall title in absolutely horrendous conditions on Stage 5.

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He won that stage by almost 4 minutes and it highlights how bad the weather can get in the region. There is some rain forecast for this week but it changes severity and when/where it will fall every day so there is no point looking too far ahead.

As for the stages themselves, it will be stages 3, 6 and 7 that decide GC. Although it will mainly be 6 and 7. Stage 6 is almost a carbon copy of the stage Wellens won last year, with Stage 7 very similar to the day that was cancelled last year due to the weather.

The bookmakers have made Sagan their favourite, which is hilarious. I know that we will most likely see Tour Sagan here,  meaning that he can climb better than Spring Sagan, but the final two days will be too tough for him, even with the bonus seconds he should get. They’re proper GC days.

However, calling an actual winner of the race will be tough. Riders arrive all over the place in terms of form and looking towards the end of the season. We have no real dominant teams with stand-out riders so to speak, and most squads have a couple of guys who could theoretically challenge. Therefore, I’m hoping that we see some aggressive and unpredictable racing over the coming week!

As for a name to throw into the hat, I think Jan Hirt could go well here. With a breakthrough performance at the Tour of Croatia, swiftly followed up by an even more outstanding 12th on GC at the Giro, he really is having the best season of his career so far. Riding for Polish Pro-conti team CCC Sprandi Polkowice, I imagine they’ll have targeted this race to go well at. Looking at their squad, Hirt looks like the rider best suited for a GC push and if he picks up where he left off at the Giro, he is a dark horse here.

Enough of me throwing about wild outsiders for the overall, let’s have a look at what’s in store for the opening day of racing

The Route

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You might be tricked into thinking that tomorrow is a day that wouldn’t look out-of-place in the Ardennes. However, once you realise that they Y-axis is completely messed up then you’ll realise it is a straight forward sprinters stage!

TDP Stage 1

Like I have done for throughout the Tour of Poland, I have made a profile of the opening stage. (The one you see above).

It is almost pan-flat throughout the day with very little to worry the sprinters. The only thing that might cause them some concern is the little 6.7% kicker in the closing circuit, but I mean that is really stretching things as it only lasts for 135m!

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The closing circuit itself is very straightforward with only a few tight turns. Once the riders pass under the Flamme Rouge it is a straight run in to the line. There is one traffic island that splits the road briefly at ~800m to go but that is all there is by means of difficulties for the riders.

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We should see a really fast sprint and a big fight for position between the lead-outs. Unfortunately, this could lead to a crash as it often seems to be on the most simple run-ins that riders come into difficulty.

Sprint Contenders – A Two Horse Race?

Ewan.

The Aussie pocket rocket starts as the bookmakers favourite and I can understand why. A flat stage with a criterium style finish sounds right up the Orica riders street. He’s proven himself to be one of the fastest sprinters in the world on these types of finishes and in a lacklustre field he will fancy his chances. Having Mezgec as last man for him could be crucial.

Sagan.

Bitterly disappointed to be kicked out of the Tour, he will no doubt be here with a point to prove. With his season’s goals now shifted ever so slightly; I wouldn’t be surprised if we see him go to the Vuelta. This race will be ideal for him to keep his legs ticking over. He was flying in the pure sprints at the Tour de Suisse and I see no reason for that to be any different here. He’ll be Ewan’s biggest rival.

Away from those two we have several riders who will be hoping to challenge for the podium and with a bit of luck, possibly sneak the win. I won’t talk much about them as I don’t really know what to expect after most of them not having raced for a while.

Modolo.

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Has shown a lot of promise this year, including a fairly strong cobbled campaign. God-awful at the Giro (I’ll blame myself for that one), he bounced back fairly strongly to win d’Argovie, yet he was trounced by Sagan in Suisse. I think the latter might happen again.

Bonifazio – A hot and cold sprinter. Sometimes seems like he could be the next big thing, but more often than not is out of position and finishes fast.

Van Poppel – Hasn’t really had an opportunity to shine at Sky this season but on his day he has a good turn of speed.

Walscheid – Has taken 5 pro sprint wins in his career, all of which were at Hainan last year. Can he make the step up at World Tour level? In this field he has a chance.

Sbaragli – Would prefer something tougher but the Dimension Data rider has one of the best lead-outs here. Will that be enough to see him onto the podium?

Debuscherre – Not really taken the step forwards that I had hoped this season. A fast rider on his day, he doesn’t have much support so will have to freewheel.

Minali – Fast young Italian sprinter who should enjoy the pan-flat nature of the route. Could surprise like he did at the start of the season.

Prediction

Two horse race and going purely off of form, I have to give this one to Sagan!

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He was on another level in Suisse and who knows what he could have done at the Tour. After losing out to Ewan in January, he’ll want to remind him and everyone that’s watching of how fast he is!

Betting

GC wise I’m going to have a small one on;

Hirt 0.25pt EW @ 150/1 with various.

Stage 1;

2.5pts WIN Sagan @ 3/1 with SkyBet. (Would take 11/4 with others)

 

Thanks as always for reading. Who do you think will win tomorrow and the race overall? If you haven’t already, please do check out my Ride London Classique and San Sebastian previews that are on the site already. Thanks! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Giro d’Italia 2017 Stage 12 Preview; Forlì -> Reggio Emilia

Today’s Recap

An exciting stage that saw a very fast start to the day!

However, things did eventually calm down and a large breakaway group established itself. We did have two attackers ahead of them though, in the form of Landa and Fraile, but they were eventually brought to heel on the lower slopes of the last climb.

A lot of to-ing and fro-ing then occurred towards the top of the summit, on the descent and the run to the line but we were treated to a reduced sprint from the breakaway riders.

After being in front for most of the day taking KOM points, Fraile still had enough left in the tank for a very impressive sprint, beating Costa and Rolland into the lower podium placings.

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Behind, there were a few probing GC attacks but nothing too serious. Although Thomas and Kruijswijk did lose almost 50 seconds to the rest of the contenders.

It was slightly disappointing not to see more GC action, especially after the crazy start to the stage, nonetheless, it was a good day’s worth of racing. Will we see a good day of racing tomorrow? Let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

Longest stage of the race and another “transitional” day.

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A fairly innocuous stage with two categorised climbs that come too far out from the finish to be of any danger GC wise. 110km of shallow descending/flat from the final peak do offer a chance for the sprint teams to get organised and chase down the breakaway.

The run in is pan-flat and not overly technical.

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There are a few sweeping turns in the closing 2kms but nothing too serious as the road is quite wide. Unless of course the organisers decide to put some barriers in place!

How will the stage pan out?

You would expect it to be a sprint. There are still a reasonable amount of teams left with fast-men and with most probably leaving the race after Stage 13, they’ll want to make the most of the opportunities they have left.

The good news for sprinters is the distance from the last climb to the line, there is plenty of opportunity for their team-mates to close the gap. It all depends on how many riders and what teams, make the breakaway.

This is the Giro after all and when you consider how tough today was, a few riders might want an extra rest day tomorrow. It would be useful to know how the sprinters and their teams have recovered but I guess we’ll not find out until we start the stage!

So on a day where it should be a sprint, there is an ever so slight chance that we get a breakaway but even then it’s only a 10% (at most) chance I would say.

Sprinters

Looks to be a 4-horse race.

Gaviria – Already has two stage wins to his name and was electric when nearly beating Ewan to the line on Stage 7. The flatter finish isn’t ideal for him but he will be full of confidence. In Richeze he has a great lead-out rider who will deliver him perfectly. Will it be enough to take a third win?

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Ewan – Finally got his stage win but the young Aussie was one of the last riders to finish today, struggling on the tough climbs. He is the rider I fear today may have taken the most out of and with a long stage tomorrow, his sprint might just be lacking at the end of it.

Greipel – Almost a definite for leaving in a few days time the German will be hoping to go home with more than the one win he has so far. His lead-out hasn’t clicked yet on the technical finishes, but with tomorrow’s stage being more straight-forward they can possibly get it right?!

Bennett – The nearly man so far, with two podium places to his name. After being placed under the Haughey curse (and being ill) he has seemed to re-find his sprinting legs and is now on the mend. Grand Tours aren’t exactly the best way to recover but I’m sure all of his competitors will be too. With a strong lead-out, he has another good shot at a podium.

Aside from those 4 it will be tough for others to win but I’m sure Stuyven, Modolo (if he sprints) and Sbaragli will all be up there vying for a possible podium or better.

Maybe even Mareczko can repay his team-mates after being dragged over the final climbs!

Prediction

A dull day that is all about the last 5km and I’ll go for the most experienced sprinter to take the win after conserving energy today. Greipel to seal victory!

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Unless of course the sprinters and their teams can’t be arsed and we get a breakaway stay away.

Betting

No bet.

Tempted to throw a few pennies on some 1000/1 escapees on the exchanges later but that’s that.

Thanks again for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated. Sorry that this preview is shorter than normal, there’s just nothing extra to say, a pretty dull stage. The same can be said for the following day as well! Maybe we can get a large breakaway that gets a lot of time to make it an exciting watch?! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

Giro d’Italia 2017 Stage 2 Preview; Olbia -> Tortolì

Today’ Recap

I love the Giro!

A stage that should have ended with a sprint winner, Lukas Pöstlberger decided that wouldn’t be the case and attacked from the head of the peloton in a chaotic finale. With the bunch hesitating he seized his opportunity and didn’t look back until 100m to go where he sat up to salute the crowd.

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Behind Ewan was very fast and took second comfortably, beating Greipel into third. Modolo blew his load too quickly and was the first sprinter to jump when they were all looking at each other, eventually fading to 5th. Nonetheless, it means a small profit on the day which after that stage result, I’ll happily take!

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

The Route

A much hillier affair than today’s opening stage, the riders head down the east side of the island to the finish town of Tortolì. At 221km in length, it’s not exactly a short stage either!

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There’s a lot of rolling, uncategorised climbing in the opening half of the day so the breakaway in theory should be relatively strong but we have seen it in the past where teams are quite happy to sit up early and just let the first move go.

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There’s a chance we will see a new leader in the KOM jersey after the stage and that will most likely go to whoever crests the final climb of the day first.

Speaking of which there is no official profile of the climb itself so as is tradition, I have made a Strava profile of the final 75km.

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You can view it here.

Going off of the official profile, the Cat 2 climb averages 3.63% for a very long 26.6km! However, as you can see it does go up in steps and there are some steeper sections involved in the climb; with 2km at 6.7% and 1km at 8.1% for example.

Nonetheless, the official route profile for the stage as a whole seems to be pretty bang on, which is surprising for the Giro!

The descent is a lot grippier than some of the riders would have hoped for, with a few pitches back uphill before they get down to sea-level with only 10km remaining.

From there it will be a flat-out run to the line and a battle between any escapees and those pulling for a sprint behind.

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The finish itself is very simple and should see a drag race to the line over the last 2km.

Who will be there to contest it though? Which leads us nicely onto…

How will the stage pan out?

I’m intrigued to see how some of the teams approach the last climb; gradient wise it’s not tough, but it is very long and grippy.

This could obviously put some of the sprinters into trouble if some puncheurs get their teams to set a fast pace which I can see happen. Yet, I can almost equally see the break kept on a tight leash by the sprinters teams from early in the stage so that they don’t have to go too deep on the climb to control it.

Ultimately though, I think we’ll see some sort of middle ground, where a few of the fast guys will be dropped but there will be those that make it over. It’s just trying to figure out who makes it that’s the tricky part!

Will the weather have any influence in that?

In short, no.

It looks set to be another glorious day and although the wind is blowing strongly from the West, most of the route is protected from it. But, I’ll live in hope once again!

Sprinters

I think the day will be too tough for someone like Greipel, you can never count him out but I just can’t see him making it. Likewise with Ewan, I’m on the fence. He looks great just now and is a small guy so that will benefit him, but I’m unsure if he has the climbing pedigree to contend.

I don’t really know why I think that those two might not make it but the following guys will?! Anyway…

One sprinter that you would expect to make it over the climb is Gaviria.

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He’s an exceptionally talented rider and although he is a bit unknown on a long steady climb like this then I think he has the talent to make it with the front group. Will it take too much out of him for the sprint in the end? Possibly, but after being bitterly disappointed with today’s result he’ll want to make amends.

Modolo – Looking back to last year’s Giro and more specifically stage 11 to Asolo; Modolo was one of two “sprinters” who are at this Giro to make the finish with the GC favourites that day. That was a tough stage with a very steep climb coming near the end of the race, but will the Italian be able to cope with the longer drag tomorrow? We’ll just have to wait and see but I think he’ll be up there again.

Nizzolo – The other rider who featured on that stage last year, I was surprised with his 4th place finish today. He is a rider I rate highly and I’m looking forward to seeing him back in full flight later in the year but I fear this stage could be too tough, too early! Nonetheless, he is certainly a danger. If he doesn’t make it, Trek might turn to Stuyven who won a similar stage at the Vuelta in 2015.

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Bennett – After their incredible first day, Bora will more than likely turn to the Irishman tomorrow. Pelucchi got dropped on the little bump today so has no chance tomorrow. Of course, there is a chance they will defend the jersey but in his post race interview Bennett said he was hopeful of a sprint tomorrow and getting his own opportunity. He’s under-rated as a climbing sprinter in my opinion. One thing that is prominent in my mind while writing this is that he won the intermediate sprint point after the Cat-1 Col de l’Espigoulier on Stage 6 of this year’s Paris Nice. What was most impressive about it all, was the peloton was climbing from the gun and that was the first summit of the race, plenty of other sprinters were dropped but Bennett made it over. With confidence flowing through the team just now, he’s one to watch tomorrow.

Sbaragli, Montaguti and co will all be fighting for another top 10 placing. I am intrigued to see if Dimension Data try to pace the climb because they’ll be confident in Sbaragli’s climbing ability.

Late Attack?

It is possible that we see a late attack make it but the pan-flat final 10km aren’t great news for any would be escapees.

Nonetheless, I’m sure there will be some who will give it a go. Look to Sanchez, Campenaerts and Pozzato for example!

After all that though, I think it will come down to a reasonably large sprint of maybe 80-100 riders.

Prediction

Bora to continue their race and Bennett to take the win.

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He’ll make it over the climb no bother and power home to victory, with the Maglia Rosa on lead-out duties! The best way to defend the jersey is to win again 😉.

Betting

1pt EW Bennett @ 18/1 with Bet365 (would take down to 12/1)

That’s all for now but if I see anything I like later, H2H wise, then I’ll put them up on my Twitter.

Thanks again for reading and as always any feedback is greatly appreciated. Who do you think will win tomorrow? Will it be a “sprinter” as such, or will some of the puncheurs make the pace hard? Should be an interesting closing 60km either way! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

Giro d’Italia 2017 Stage 1 Preview; Alghero -> Olbia

The first day of racing is upon as and a stage that should end in a sprint but could throw up a surprise or two! Who will get to wear the famous Maglia Rosa at the end of the day? Let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders.

The Route

A long day to start of the Giro, the riders travel 206km from Alghero to Olbia along the Sardinian coast-line.

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The route is fairly flat, by Giro standards at least, with a few rolling hills and some Cat-4 climbs so that the organisers can award the KOM jersey at the end of the stage.

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The stage is all about the final 25km and the climb of San Pantaleo that crests with just under 21km to go.

At 3.2km long and averaging 5.6%, it is certainly tough enough to put some of the poor climbing sprinters in difficulty.

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The gradients of the climb itself are fairly irregular and it does have a 500m metre section at 9.6%, with a maximum pitch of 12%.

It is a possible attack point for some of the bolder riders in the peloton but I don’t think they’ll get that far. Unless of course the chase is left solely to UAE (formerly Lampre), who couldn’t organise a piss up in a brewery at times!

Nonetheless, I do think we’ll get a bunch sprint into Olbia with only maybe a couple of riders dropped (I’m looking at you Pelucchi).

The run in itself altimetry wise is easy after the climb but the actual route layout is a lot more difficult and technical.

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With several sweeping bends and 90-degree turns in the final 4km the finish will certainly reward those with a strong lead-out but also those who are willing to take some risks.

On paper the final kilometre doesn’t look too bad, but the riders do have to traverse a roundabout. Thankfully they should be funnelled into the middle lane so there will be no last-minute choice as to how to take the roundabout which could cause some issues/crashes.

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However, the road obviously does narrow quite drastically from the three-lane wide road to just the one which in itself may cause some problems. Positioning will be important!

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The roundabout itself might cause some difficulties as again the approach road narrows even further.

Once they exit along the sea-front then there are roughly 400m left until the finish line.

Weather Watch

It looks set to be a sunny and dry day out in the saddle for the riders, if not a bit overcast at times.

However, like a lot of the time it seems, it is the wind that I am more concerned with!

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Source: Windfinder

The above image is the forecast for near Isola Rossa which is roughly half-way into the stage.

It looks as if for the majority of the day as the cyclists head North-East, they will be riding into a block head-wind. However, the road does twist and turn a bit which could present the opportunity for echelons if they are in an exposed crosswind section for long enough.

When they turn at the head of the island and travel southwards, the wind on the East coast seems to come from an ever so slightly different direction.

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Source: Windfinder

The second image is from Palau (roughly 45km to go) and as you can see, it becomes more of a crosswind at that point.

I’m sure the riders will be thankful to know that most of the route is protected by trees that weaken and block the wind, while they’re a few hundred metres from the coast itself. However, there are some parts of the stage where they are right next to the coast line…

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Just North of Cannigione (~30km to go)

Will any team try to take advantage of these stretches and dare I say it, create…

Echelons?!

I live in hope more than anything!

Sprint Contenders

Analysing sprint trains isn’t my forte so I’ll try to keep this as concise and succinct as possible!

Gaviria – He should get over the climb at the end easily but he’s not completed a race since the end of March so it will be interesting to see where his form is. He has a solid lead-out train and in Richeze he has a great pilot fish. Those two seem to form a great pairing and they’ve proven in the past that they work well together. Gaviria probably starts as the justifiable favourite.

Greipel – A proven Giro stage winner, the Gorilla has taken a victory in every edition of the race he has competed at so far. Lotto Soudal have quite an inexperienced lead-out with them and it will be interesting to see how Hofland works as a last man. Nonetheless, Greipel is experienced enough to be able to surf wheels, although that isn’t exactly his strong point. He’ll need a bit of luck in that respect to win, but I certainly wouldn’t put it past him!

Andre Greipel Giro d'Italia

Ewan – The young Aussie was unfortunate not to take a stage win in Yorkshire last week after being boxed in on both occasions. He’s missing Kluge but in Mezgec he has an experienced replacement who should deliver him well, not to mention Edmondson who is flying just now and he will probably be third man. Orica are normally very good at timing their efforts on these technical finishes which will certainly give Ewan a great chance of winning.

Those three riders head the betting markets but there are another trio of riders waiting in the wings.

Bennett – As I think Pelucchi may get dropped, Bennett will be Bora’s man for stage 1. He’s not had an outstanding season, often finding himself working for Sagan or withdrawing from races. However, his win in Paris Nice was incredible and if he is 100% fit for this race then he will be confident of pulling off something similar.

Modolo – If you follow me on Twitter then you’ll know over the past few days I’ve been bombarding my timeline with various Modolo based punts. For what it’s worth, I think he wins the points classification this year as the three “big” sprinters will drop out. His win on the last stage in Croatia was amazing and I expect him to have carried on that form here. With the technical finish, he has a good chance of a podium spot tomorrow.

Nizzolo – Returning from an injury that plagued the start of his season, the Italian Champion arrives at the Giro lightly raced, having only taken part in Croatia. He might struggle with the pace on the opening few days but he is a rider that I rate highly so I’m not discounting him. Can he take that elusive Giro stage win tomorrow? Probably not.

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Can anyone else contend?

Bauhaus, Sbaragli and Mareczko will all be fighting for the top 10 but it will take something special to go any better.

Prediction

I’ll go for a rider who tore it up at the start of the season to do the same again tomorrow, Ewan wins!

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I like the look of his lead-out, short but very explosive, just like the Aussie himself. He was solid in Yorkshire and compared to some of the other guys he has shown good recent form. The same can be said for Modolo who I think will be on the podium and run Ewan close!

Betting

I already have;

1pt EW Modolo @ 20/1 with PaddyPower that I tweeted out the other day. I would still take the 12/1 that is available as I think that’s still value.

I’m just deliberating whether to take Ewan for the stage, or in a slightly “safer” H2H against Greipel…Hmmm…

3pts Ewan to beat Greipel at 4/5 with WilliamHill (Would take 4/6).

 

Thanks as always for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated. Who do you think will win tomorrow? Will there be echelons? Will many sprinters if any, get dropped on the climb? I’m just hoping for an exciting opening stage. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth!

De Brabantse Pijl 2017 Preview

De Brabantse Pijl 2017 Preview

With the cobbled classics now finished, the peloton’s attention now turns to the Ardennes with the “warm-up” event of De Brabantse Pijl.

However, it’s offensive to just call it a warm-up race as it is an exciting race in its own right!

Last year after some probing and strong attacks throughout the day, it all came down to a charge up the final climb from an elite group of five. Vakoc stormed up it, dropping everyone, and holding on to the line to take what was his third win of the season.

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It was a good day for me as I had Vakoc at 33/1. I’m not sure we’ll see those type of prices on him again though, but I may be wrong. You’ll just have to find out at the end of this!

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

The Route

More of the same as we saw in the 2016 edition with a route that remains mainly unchanged, although this year the race is 6km shorter.

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A relatively tough day out in the saddle with 26 climbs, some of which are cobbled. Although there is more often than not space to avoid the cobbles themselves and go up the paved section at the side!

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The climbs on the day aren’t too tough, but if they are ridden aggressively gaps certainly can be made. Almost as important is the flat section just after the summit, because riders will be on the limit. Last year the winning move was made at the 4km to go mark, right at the top of the penultimate climb.

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The Bora rider was unable to follow the five out ahead once they rounded the corner and that was race over.

I’m not going to run through all of the climbs individually, but there is a nifty website that lists all 26 of them that you can view here!

The final climb of the day, Schavei, is 500m long and averages roughly 6%.

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There is time for a regrouping once over the top, but on the contrary, riders can maintain a gap all the way to the finish line.

Will it be a reduced sprint or solo winner this year?

Well, there is one factor that could have an influence…

Weather Watch

Yep, you guessed it; more racing in Belgium and more windy conditions!

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Source: Windfinder

With a constant and fairly strong Westerly wind, the riders will face a variety of wind directions as they go through the race.  Starting mainly with a cross-headwind, before some cross winds, then a cross-tail on the run in to the closing circuit.

As a viewer this has amped up my excitement for this race even more, not so much as a preview writer though because it adds another element of unpredictability to it all. I’m sure the peloton will have a similar view with some wind-natives licking their lips at the prospect.

How will the race pan out?

Before I had looked at the forecast I thought the race would be an attacking one this year, with the peloton continuing their aggressive racing from the cobbles classics onto the lumpier events.

The wind should ensure that it is aggressive and there will be plenty of teams looking to take advantage and I think we’ll see some large splits out on the road before we reach our final circuit.

Which in turn should make the last 60km of the race even more attacking because there in theory should be less team-mates to control things.

Or at least I’m hoping so!

Contenders

Quick Step come here with two big favourites in the form of Vakoc and Gilbert. The reigning champion looked good in Catalunya, building some nice form for his assault on the Ardennes. A brute of a rider, he really comes into his own on this type of terrain and certainly has a chance to double up tomorrow. Of course in Gilbert they have a rider who is on exceptional form. He’s won this race twice in the past (2011/2014/2017?) so knows what is required here! They have some strong domestiques and I expect them to be one of the main teams to try to split things up in the wind, hoping to drop the “sprinters”.

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QS aren’t the only strong Belgian team here, Lotto Soudal also have a stacked team with them! I imagine Wellens and Benoot will be team leaders and they are a duo that can certainly challenge for the race win. The former has had a quieter part in his season recently but he looked good following the moves on the stage into San Sebastian in Pais Vasco, and I think he’ll go well this coming week. His lack of explosivity is a downfall, but he is sure to go on the attack at some point. If no one follows quickly, then he could be tough to bring back!

I was disappointed to see Benoot not picked for Paris Roubaix after he has had a terrible cobbled classics campaign due to bad luck. This type of course suits him though and he is much more explosive than his team-mate and I think he’s a dark horse for this race.

Matthews has a great chance to finally win this race after being close on several occasions. In cracking form, his 6th on the TT in Pais Vasco was incredible, he might approach this race differently than in previous years. Normally would hold off for the sprint, but this year he might have to attack as his team doesn’t look that great. However, I fear for him in the wind!

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His old team Orica have a few good options to play tomorrow. In Gerrans and Impey they have two strong riders who can follow attacks but also pack a fast sprint after a tough day. I can’t see them chasing everyone down like they did last year!

BMC have a team packed full of young talent who will be looking to impress, lead by a relative veteran compared to his team-mates; Ben Hermans. After a barnstorming start to the season, he’s went off the boil recently but will be hoping to go well in the Ardennes so he should be getting back to his best shape here. If not, keep an eye out for Vliegen as a Kirby inspired, “cheeky side bet”.

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Bahrain bring with them a team to support Gasparotto and Colbrelli. Well, when I say support they might be there for the first 100km. The two Italians can mix it up in the sprint after a tough day and both finished in the top 6 last year. Gasparotto has been disappointing this year and has recently returned from a training camp so it will be interesting to see how he goes. Conversely, Colbrelli has been going well for most of the year so you would expect him to decline in form soon, but that probably won’t happen until after Amstel. Like Matthews, I fear for both of them in the windy conditions!

I don’t think Coquard will have a chance this year.

A few other, some less well-known, names to conjure with are Haas and Sbaragli (Dimension Data), Meurisse (Wanty), Bouet (Fortuneo) and Tusveld (Roompot).

Prediction

We’ll get a hectic first half of the race before we get to the circuit and the peloton will be split in the wind. That will then make the closing laps even more aggressive than normal and luck will be as important as form, and so will having strong team-mates.

I’ll go for a rider who’s been down on luck recently, but that will change here. He’s a great punchy classics man and this route suits him perfectly, but will just have to hope Gilbert isn’t the QuickStep representative up front…

Benoot to win his first pro race!

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It also gives me a good opportunity to share my favourite cycling related Instagram post…

View this post on Instagram

Forza Tiesj Benoot! 🎉 @tiesj #ohn

A post shared by Sporza (@sporza.be) on

Betting

Hoping #WinningWednesdays can continue…

1pt EW Benoot @40/1 with Bet365

0.5pt EW Vliegen @28/1 with Bet365

 

Thanks for reading as always and any feedback is greatly appreciated. Who do you think will win the race and how will they do it?! Amstel men’s and women’s previews will be next for me this weekend. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

Paris Nice 2017 Stage 5 Preview; Quincié-en-Beaujolais -> Bourg-de-Péage

*This will be short and sweet!*

Today’s Recap

Ahahaha, I should stop with the bold statements. It was the rider who I completely gave no chance to that ended up going on to win the stage. Julian Alaphilippe took a remarkable victory, he was flying!

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That result now puts QuickStep in a very good position for the overall and should ensure some attacking racing for the rest of the week.

As for Tony Martin, he seemed to be struggling on the bike and it was not a good sign when he didn’t set the fastest time at the intermediate check point. Oh well, onto the next stage!

The Route

A pretty uninspiring day compared to what we have in Tirreno.

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A lumpy start to the day will certainly inspire the breakaway and give them a good opporunity to build up a lead, but the latter half certainly lends itself to a bunch sprint.

The finish is technical. Well, from 3km to 1.5km to go is very technical!

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The three roundabouts will certainly string out the bunch, but thankfully for the riders they go round the same side of them all. We then get a sweeping road in the final kilometre, which will keep things strung out. Positioning and a good lead out will be key!

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It will be fast too as the riders descend ever so slightly before the road kicks up in the last 300m.

Could very well be another chaotic day!

Contenders

As much as I would like to try and argue that a break makes it, this is a sprint stage 100% and the last one we’ll see this race.

Kittel could potentially get involved but with his team now fully focussed on GC he more than likely will have to surf wheels and he’s not the best at that. So…

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Greipel has been poor in the sprints so far but he is capable of turning it around at any time. He just seems a bit tired at the moment, maybe an easy day today will have helped him?

Kristoff looked strong on stage 3 but just went too early and faded away at the end. If he can get the timing of his sprint right then he has a great chance on a finish that suits him.

Bennett was the one who benefitted from Kristoff’s early sprint on stage 3. The Irishman looked strong then but his lack of a lead-out may hinder him here.

Groenewegen was left reeling after crashing on stage 3. He looked in a great position and said his legs felt good. He’ll want to make ammends tomorrow.

McLay saw his Fortuneo team do a great deal of work on the front of the bunch but just got blocked on the wrong side. With a podium finish at a Tour stage, the Brit is not one to be underestimated here!

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Démare will want to taste stage glory again after losing his yellow jersey lead. He looks good, his team looks good; can they get it right again tomorrow?

Colbrelli will also be gunning for a second stage victory. The Italian should appreciate the ever so slight up-hill drag but his positioning sometimes lets him down and that again could be his downfall tomorrow.

Matthews was going strongly in the TT today until a crash on the uphill. He’s been up there on the sprints so far but not really involved. (If that makes any sense).

Degenkolb will have a good lead-out at his disposal and this finish suits him down to the ground. A second and a third so far, can he get onto that top step?

Cort, Sbaragli, Coquard and Minali could all be up there equally too on a crazy day.

Prediction

He was left bitterly disappointed today in the time trial as he was on for a good placing. Clearly on form and getting better as the race goes on, Michael Matthews has a real chance here. He has a very solid lead-out train and should be one of the best positioned going into the final kilometre. If he’s near the front for the final 300m he should have the power to take the win!

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Betting

Matthews 1pt EW @28/1 with Bet365 (Would take down to 18s)

 

Thanks for reading and aplogies for this being slightly shorter than normal! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

Vuelta Stage 21 Preview: Las Rozas -> Madrid

*Apologies again, this preview will be very short as I’m away out for a family dinner this evening*

Today’s Recap

An insane stage that had a bit of everything!

As I predicted it was the break that fought it out for the stage win. Throughout the final climb there were several riders who looked as if they had the stage victory in their grasps. Sanchez looked good on the early slopes, then Conti looked as if he was the winner elect. However, neither of them made the top 10! Instead, it was Latour and Atapuma who entered a dog-fight and it was the Frenchman who just had enough at the end of the stage. One of the best finales to a Grand Tour stage I’ve seen in a while, everyone in every group was on their limit!

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Behind, Chaves repeated Orica’s tactics from Stage 14, attacking on the penultimate climb and bridging to team-mates. Doing so has saw him creep onto the GC podium, 13 seconds ahead of Contador. Another tactical masterclass from the Aussie outfit.

Froome tested Quintana but the Colombian always had the measure of him. The biggest loser on the day has to be Scarponi who dropped out of the top 10.

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Anyway, let’s look ahead at the processional stage into Madrid.

The Route

Nothing overly exciting.

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An expected flat bunch sprint and no real focal points to talk about.

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A straightforward and fast circuit within Madrid to end the day and the Vuelta. There are a few sharp hairpin turns that will stretch the bunch out. Positioning into that final hairpin just before 1km to go will be key. If you’re too far back then you have no chance.

Sprinters

The few sprints we’ve had so far this Vuelta have been fairly messy which makes tomorrow even more unpredictable.

Saying that, I do expect a few teams to take control tomorrow.

Etixx will control it for Meersman, Orica now devoid of GC duties will possibly control it for Cort and Giant will work hard for Arndt.

I can’t really see anyone else competing with those three. Possibly Drucker, Felline, Sbaragli & Van Genechten could get in the mix but it’s very unlikely.

Looking at the teams three lead-outs, Etixx and Giant are a cut above Orica.

On a stage like this, Orica will probably adopt the Lampre tactic where Gerrans-Keukeleire-Cort try and ambush the front of the race within the last 1.5km. In a messy sprint, this could be very effective!

Both Etixx and Giant so far have shown a willingness to control the race from far out and command the final 5km. Therefore there is no chance that a break makes this, it’s not the Giro! 😉

I was very impressed with the lead-out from Giant on Stage 18, they are finally getting things together. They were just unlucky it didn’t go their way in the end.

On a flat sprint, I would say that Arndt is faster than Meersman. Cort has shown if he’s in the right position he can go well too.

Prediction

Arndt finally gets his stage win! I mean, they surely have to get it right, don’t they?!

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Betting

2.6pts WIN Arndt @ 4/1 with Bet365

0.2pt EW De Koert @ 400/1 with Bet365.  Only doing this as Arndt came dead last today, might not be 100%. De Koert would be the go to sprint option.

Massive thanks to everyone who has read and shared the blog throughout the Vuelta! I know my predictions haven’t been the best, but thanks for sticking with me. I’m not sure what other races I’ll be doing this year but I’ll definitely be doing the Worlds, both men and women. 

Apologies again for this being shorter than normal! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

Vuelta Stage 12 Preview: Los Corrales de Buelna -> Bilbao

Today’s Recap

For once the break didn’t make it and we got back-to-back GC stage winners. This time round it was Froome who pipped Quintana in a sprint to the line. The Brit always goes well after a rest-day as I highlighted in yesterday’s preview!

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The gaps were not big to the rest of the GC contenders but if it wasn’t a two-horse race before today, it definitely is now, and boy do we have a race on our hands!

GC action should be put on pause tomorrow and we’re set for a really interesting stage.

The Route

An up and down day with a flat finish.

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An un-categorised climb to start the day will be a bit of rude awakening for some. If it’s anything like today’s stage then the break may not go until the Cat-1 climb.

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Not the toughest cat-1 climb, it probably is given that categorisation due to it’s length. The average gradient of 6% should be manageable for the riders, unless of course the pace is still on and the break hasn’t formed. If it does form here, it will be awfully strong.

The stage though is defined by the double ascension of the Cat-2; Alto El Vivero.

The road book is back to it’s best today, with no graphic for the final climb. The directions and diagrams are also a bit vague, but I’m sure I have the right approach…

After a few days off, the Strava profile makes a return. View it here.

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Profile of the final 20km.

The final climb itself is 4.2km long at 8.4% average gradient. Like a lot of the climbs in this area, it is very irregular. The toughest section comes almost right at the start, with a kilometre (0.3 -> 1.3km) averaging 11.8%. There are a couple of false flats along the way for the riders to recompose themselves and push hard again.

The same finale was used in the opening stage of the Vuelta al Pais Vasco in 2015:

That day saw Michael Matthews take a reduced bunch sprint finish.

How will tomorrow’s stage pan out?

The stage itself is a nightmare to predict, with a few options that are very feasible.

We could well see the morning break stick and fight out for stage glory as there is a reasonable amount of climbing and the sprint teams won’t be confident of their riders making it over. Saying that, it’s not impossible for a team to control the race and go for a sprint (as we saw in 2015). Felline, Sbaragli, Van der Sande, Valverde & Gilbert will all probably fancy their chances in that situation. However, it is a lot more difficult to control the finale of a grand tour and if the break is brought back, we could well see a late attack stick.

See, it’s not easy!

The sprinters above that I’ve mentioned are the only ones I can really see make it over the final climb. Out of them, I’d probably say that Felline has the fastest flat sprint after a tough day, so he should be the guy to look out for in that situation.

As for late attackers, Luis Leon Sanchez would be the perfect candidate. He looks incredibly strong just now and has the TT engine to hold off the bunch. So could Tobias Ludvigsson who’s climbing better than ever and should make it over the climb if we’re getting set for a reduced sprint.

Breakaway Candidates

There’s a template of rider who I’m going with here. Someone who can climb, but also packs a decent sprint!

JJ Rojas.

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The Movistar road captain may be told to get in the breakaway to defend their lead in the Team classification. Sky (who looked strong today) and Cannondale (who will have at least two men in the move) are both less than 10 minutes behind. The Spanish team do love to win that competition, so will start defending it soon. It could start tomorrow. Rojas has turned himself in to a jack of all trades and should be able to cope with the final climb. He has a good turn of speed and would probably be the favourite if a small group of escapees came to the line together.

Pello Bilbao.

The Caja rider, like a lot of them, is local to the area. He’s been a bit lost in this race so far, having a few crashes etc. However, he does seem to be slowly re-finding himself and building some form. A guy who on his day can climb with the best, he really should have won the GC in Turkey this year but had to withdraw due to illness. This type of profile suits him very well.

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Nathan Haas.

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I’ve already highlighted him for a stage earlier in this Vuelta but he didn’t make the move that day. The climb will be on his limit but considering his performance on stage 4, then he has a chance of being in contact with the lead riders as they summit. Like Rojas, he has a very solid sprint after a tough days racing. You don’t want to be leading him out in the finale!

Prediction

I’m unsure how the stage will go, but I lean towards a breakaway. That of course all depends if there are a few of the “sprint” teams who co-operate and bring the break back. Nonetheless, I’ll stick my neck out on the line and say that the break will win.

I think you know where I’m going with this one. Especially considering my fondness with suggesting riders for whimsical reasons…

Bilbao to win in Bilbao. Simple and poetic.

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I can’t pass up a rider who has the same surname as the finish town and is from the region!

Betting

Small punts on the three breakaway guys

0.3pt Bilbao at 40/1 (Various)

0.1pt Haas at 100/1 (Various)

0.1pt Rojas at 200/1 (Bet365 & BF)

After today’s successful H2H I’m hoping to find one for tomorrow, but nothing has caught my eye/I’ve not done enough research. If I do find something, I’ll update it on my Twitter!

Hope you enjoyed the read, apologies for it being shorter than normal! How do you think the stage will play out? As usual, any feedback is greatly appreciated. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

 

Vuelta Stage 7 Preview; Maceda -> Puebla de Sanabria

Today’s Recap

What a stage, it was full gas from the start! Omar Fraile represented us very well out the front bringing that attacking gusto that I was looking forward to seeing. However, it was not to be for him, or any of the original break in fact. Instead, Simon Yates made a fantastically timed move to follow Dani Moreno on the final climb, going on to pass him before the summit and then finishing solo!

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Let’s have a look at tomorrow’s stage.

The Route

Surprise surprise, another stage with a fair bit of climbing. Especially considering this is supposedly a sprinter-friendly day!

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* No Strava profile today from me as I’m in more of a rush than usual. So climbs & %s made up from the road book*

The climbing tomorrow is spread out a lot more evenly throughout the stage, with the three Cat-3s almost equidistant from each other. Depending how the riders are approaching the stage, the break may not have gone until the first climb; Puerto de Allariz (6.3km at 4.7%). If it does go here, it will certainly be a strong one.

The second categorised climb is a longer affair, 11.2km at 4.4%. The road here-in rises and falls all the way to the start of the final official climb of the day. Alto de Padornelo averages 3.3% for it’s 7km. The sprinters will hope to make it over this.

A long descent comes next, followed by a flat run to the line.

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The run in itself is fairly technical, with a few sweeping bends mixed in with sharp turns within the final few kilometres. Positioning and lead-outs will be key.

How will the stage pan out?

This another stage marked down as a sprint, but after today’s very hot and tough day there might be a few teams feeling the effects. There is more of a chance than normal that a break makes it.

Felline was angry after crossing the line today and is clearly going well at the moment. He’s one of the riders who will get his team to work and will want this stage to end in a sprint. Likewise, so will Etixx who will be hoping that Meersman can complete a hat-trick of victories. Others may well join in, such as Orica and Giant. The latter took the day easy after missing the break, targeting tomorrow’s stage.

Conversely, the classic tactic of sending a man up the road so you don’t have to work behind could well be used tomorrow by a few teams. If 3 out of the 4 sprint teams I’ve mentioned above have a rider up the road, the break makes it.

It’s very much 50/50 if that happens. If today wasn’t so tough and teams weren’t slightly weakened/tired, then tomorrow would be a definite sprint.  Then again, tomorrow is the last chance the sprinters have for several stages so they will not want to miss another opportunity!

Contenders

In-form Meersman looks like the rider to beat, he’s been very impressive so far this race. It’s good to see, because for a while he was a bit off the boil.

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Felline going off of the last sprint seems to be the rider who will challenge him. He’s climbing very well and is very fired up! Cort Nielsen will hope to go better than his third on stage 2. I’m sure he’s capable of that! While Arndt and Giant will be looking to finally getting to compete in the sprint.

Other’s to look for include Prades, Reza, SbaragliVan der SandeRestrepo and Drucker.

A proper sprinting outsider would be Romain Hardy. The Frenchman made it over the climbs today with the GC group and if the bunch gets whittled down tomorrow he may sneak onto the podium.

Breakaway riders? If we’re taking part in the Spanish lottery again, then look to strong all-rounders. Guys like Hansen, Terpstra and Haas all have the capabilities of winning from the break. Their team as said above then has the added bonus of not chasing.

#RandomRider

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Patrick Bevin is the chosen man for tomorrow. Going into this Vuelta I would have assumed that he  would be Cannondale’s sprinter of choice, but he’s failed to break into the top 100 on a stage yet. Potentially ill at the start of the race, he may have been taking it easy until now? He has a good turn of speed from a reduced group and could well podium tomorrow if it comes down to a sprint. If not, he’ll have to try his luck in the break. In either situation, there is more than likely to be someone better than him, but the Vuelta is full of surprises!

Prediction

As you all know by now, I do love to suggest that a break makes it and I’m very much on the fence for tomorrow’s stage. So I’m going to cop-out and give two predictions. If the break makes it, Nathan Haas wins. The Aussie did well in the break on stage 5 on a finish that didn’t particularly suit him. Tomorrow’s stage is more his cup of tea and he would expect to go well in a sprint from a breakaway group.

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If we do get the (probably more likely) bunch sprint, then I think Giant and Nikias Arndt will turn it around. He didn’t seem to badly hurt in his crash the other day, and they’ve highlighted how they saved their legs today for a sprint tomorrow. They have the best lead-out train here and in tomorrow’s tricky finale that will be the crucial factor.

Betting

Going against my rule and backing both a sprinter and a breakaway.

Arndt 0.5pt EW 33/1  (Bet365)

Haas 0.2pt WIN  80/1 (PP)

Hansen 0.15pt WIN 80/1 (PP)

Terpstra 0.15pt WIN 150/1 (PP)

 

Thanks for reading! Do you think we get a sprint? As usual, any feedback is greatly appreciated. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

 

Vuelta Stage 2 Preview: Ourense -> Baiona

Today’s Recap

Well, the crossbar was well and truly hit today as Sky pipped Movistar by less than a second! I did think that the British team would be in contention, but that was very close. Both teams rode great negative splits, leaving almost a full complement of riders for the testing final climb. They obviously had read the preview 😉

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The biggest loser on the day has to be Contador who shipped 52 seconds to Froome and Quintana; 46 to Yates and Chaves; and 45 to TVG/Sanchez/Atapuma. Not catastrophic, but not exactly ideal for the pre-race favourite!

Anyway, moving onto tomorrow’s stage.

The Route

A typical sprinters stage in the Vuelta, where they have to negotiate a tricky Cat 3 climb mid stage. They don’t do pan-flat here!

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The profiles of the race make writing the blog more interesting, that’s for sure. I was initially intrigued at that little “bump” that crests around 10km from the finish, hoping that we would have another typical Vuelta, non-categorised climb at 5% etc. However, according to the little segment I made on Strava, it’s more a case of 6km at 2% average. Even going off of the Vuelta road book, it’s 4.2km at just over 3% average. This shouldn’t be a problem for the sprinters, especially the one’s we have here!

The riders will also be happy to see that it’s a flat run in, with no real turns at all within the final kilometre.

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It looks to be set up perfectly for a pure and “proper” sprint where lead-outs, timing and raw speed will be important. Let’s have a look at the potential stage winners!

The “Sprinters”

Due to the incredibly tough parcours this year, we don’t have any of the big name sprinters here. Instead, we have a lot of younger riders who will get a chance to show what they have on the big stage. All of the guys that are here can climb fairly well so the little bump aforementioned shouldn’t be a serious challenge for them.

The team with the best lead-out here is Giant-Alpecin, and they’ll be supporting young German sprinter, Nikias Arndt. They did a pretty poor TTT but oddly enough, one of the riders seemed to be smiling (looked like big T Ludvigsson) as they crossed the finish line. Maybe keeping something in the tank for tomorrow? De Koert & Waeytens will look to pilot Arndt in the final 500m, with the rest of the team doing work beforehand. He’ll probably start as favourite.

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Arguably the fastest rider here, Niccolo Bonifazio has had a fairly poor season since his move to Trek, picking up only one win. However, he does have the raw talent and speed to go well if he’s on form. I just don’t think he’s there yet, he was a bit “meh” in Norway and I’m not convinced he’ll go well this early in the race. He’ll need to build in to it. In fact, Trek may turn to his team-mate Felline who as I pointed out in my San Sebastian preview will be one to watch this race. The flat finish doesn’t really suit him though!

A veteran in this field, Gianni Meersman will be Etixx’s chosen man. A rider with so much promise, he’s flattered to deceive as of late and I can’t see that changing here. Although in saying that, he will have a great powerhouse of a lead-out. Maybe he can hold on for a podium.

Magnus Cort Nielsen will get a rare chance to sprint for Orica in a Grand Tour. The young Dane was excellent towards the end of last month, but has had a few weeks off getting ready for this race. He’ll be able to count on a solid lead-out, including Tuft, Gerrans & Keukeleire. Orica are great at positioning their sprinters. I expect him to go well, but again, he maybe would have preferred a tougher finish.

Kristian Sbaragli will be Dimension Data’s option for the sprints. His one and only pro win so far came at this race last year. He’ll have an OK lead-out, not great, and might have to surf the wheels. My worry is that he’s too much of a “top 10” sprinter, and not a winner!

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BMC will have to face the decision if it’s Gilbert or Drucker that they’ll work for, potentially even Dillier. Too many chefs? It will more likely be the latter on the flat sprints. However, like a few others, I think he flatters to deceive and goes well in the smaller races, going missing on the big stage. I could well be proved wrong here, but I doubt it 😉

Who else is left? Van der Sande, Van Genechten and Bennati will all be in or around the top 10. I look forward to seeing Goncalves (#GoOnCalves) have a go in the sprint, he should also be in the mix but isn’t fast enough on the proper flat stages. A top 10 would be a good result for him!

Prediction

The opening sprint stage of a Grand Tour is often a chaotic affair, so I’m turning to a team who are great at timing the run to the line perfectly and are capable of positioning their rider well inside the final 200m. Therefore, I think Magnus Cort of Orica BikeExchange will win tomorrow’s stage. He looked incredibly strong in Denmark, and if he’s maintained his form he will be a real threat. I wouldn’t expect the OBE train to hit the front until the final 2/1.5km, guided by the experienced Sven Tuft. Then Gerrans and Keukeleire will take over, dropping Cort off perfectly with 150m to go and he won’t be caught! By doing so he’ll take the race lead as well.

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Confidence is key, but all of the sprinters will fancy their chances so it could end up being a messy one. Just making an early excuse for myself…

Betting

Cort 0.5pt EW widely available at 12/1.

 

Hope you enjoyed the preview! Who do you think will win the sprint? As usual, any feedback and discussion is greatly appreciated. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.