Tour of the Alps 2017 Stage 5 Preview; Smarano -> Trento

Today’s Recap

A mad, mad stage but it was a great watch!

For a while it looked as if the break was going to be caught just after the final climb of the day, but then the gap went back out again and we were left with Pirazzi and Frankiny up the road. Dupont attacked from the reduced peloton and spent a good 20km chasing the front two, finally making the bridge at around 6km left. However, not much later did the impetus go from the move and the peloton reeled them in at just over 1km from home.

A bunch sprint ensued and it was Montaguti who took the win, edging out Pinot, with a charging Dennis coming home third.

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That result means Pinot is only 13 seconds behind Thomas going in to tomorrow’s stage. Let’s take a look at what’s in store for them.

The Route

A tough stage to end the Tour that’s been given a 4-star rating by the organisers.

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It will be a fast start as the peloton descends from the gun, dropping down to the valley roads below, before tackling the uncategorised climb of Andalo. At a shade under 9km in length and averaging 5.5%, it’s not exactly an easy opening ramp for the bunch, but it only sets the tone for what’s to come later on in the day.

We then have a long period of shallow descent before the next proper climb on the day and it’s our first classified one; the Passo Durone.

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As you can see, the toughest part of the climb comes in the middle few kilometres, where it averages close to 9.8% for 3kms. It’s definitely too far out from the finish to be the scene of any action, but it will certainly wear the bunch down for the remainder of the stage.

There’s nothing overly exciting in the parcours for the next 40km or so but we then start the main part of the day with just over 75km left.

First of all the Passo Sant Udalrico which is a 7.1km unclassified ascent that averages 6.2%! There’s then a quick descent across the valley before continuing to head upwards and on to the ridiculously long Monte Bondone.

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19km at an average of 6%, ouch!

With several kilometres above 8%, if a team puts the hammer down at the front of the peloton then there could be some serious time gaps.

If you consider the road rises all the way once the peloton travels through Dro then you could say that the climb as a whole is 34.1km at 4.46%…

Yeah, that’s not my idea of fun!

What could almost be decisive as the climb though is the descent that follows, it’s incredibly technical with a lot of hairpin turns. A quick count and I got 30 in total! Clichés of asphalt spaghetti spring to mind.

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If someone is on the limit after the climb and isn’t confident in their descending abilities then they might have an issue here. Luckily for the peloton, it looks to be dry and sunny tomorrow otherwise the descent would be very treacherous and potentially dangerous.

With only 20km left when reaching the bottom of the descent, the riders I’m sure would hope that all the challenges for the day would be over. Well, they’re 90% right, but there is a 2km climb that summits with 7km left. It averages 9% for those 2km so is the perfect springboard for a late attack from the bunch.

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A group won’t have long to organise a chase as they descend all the way until 2km to go, before the run to the line.

How will the stage pan out/Contenders?

I expect fireworks!

Team Sky have been excellent this race so far and have done well to control it considering they only have 6 riders in total. Handily though, they do have two of the strongest riders at this event, in the form of Thomas and Landa. We saw in today’s stage however, that those two were left relatively isolated half-way up the final climb after the rest of the squad had been dropped. Deignan and Elissonde managed to get back on during the descent, but other teams will be looking at that and see it as a positive going in to tomorrow’s stage.

I think we’ll see some riders who aren’t their teams’ main protected rider, but a good second GC option/threat, attempt to get into the morning break on the opening climb of Andalo, i.e. a Cataldo or Bookwalter.  The Astana rider has been very active so far this race.

Consequently, it will force Sky to chase relatively hard from the outset and it will be a long day for their relatively small squad.

Of course, if those type of riders attempt to get into the break then there might not be a break at all for a while and several riders will be dropped from the peloton early. However, I think we will see something go and that will put the onus on Sky.

Nothing much will happen over the next 70km of racing as things settle down but the break will be kept on a tight leash and once we hit the foot slopes of Sant Udalrico we could see only 4 Sky riders at the front of the race. I would imagine that it would be Deignan, Elissonde, Landa and Thomas, and with the latter two being GC options, it’s going to be a tough ask for them to hold things together for the rest of the day.

Maybe the old cliché of “the best form of defence is attack” will come into play?

The Bondone is going to be crazy, expect attacks early and hard!

Cannondale have numbers in the top 10 and they’ll be one of the main protagonists of the stage. Carthy, Formolo and Rolland should be there, alternating attacks and forcing Landa to chase for Thomas.

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The problem is what I mentioned before; that Landa and Thomas look two of the strongest riders in the race and it will be hard to drop them. However, a relentless barrage of moves off the front of the peloton could see them put into difficulty.

They will need to be dropped before the final few kilometres of the climb as that is where it flattens out and Thomas should really be able to put the power down.

 

Oddly enough, after all that is said and done I think the race might still be together at the summit. Well, kind of. We’ll have no more than 12 riders at the head of the race!

From there, attacks or natural gaps on the descent might occur and that will continue onto the final 20km, with Landa and Thomas having to shadow everything.

The elastic will snap eventually with everyone on the limit and one or two riders will manage to get away. Thomas will hope that they aren’t as much of a threat on GC but that will be tough considering the quality that will be at the head of the race.

There are two relative outsiders I want to keep onside for tomorrow though and they’re both from the same team and nation…

Egan Bernal.

The young Colombian has been good so far this week and there is a lot of news circulating about a potential move to a World Tour team next season. Now, this may have a negative effect on him but I imagine it will be the opposite. He was one of the riders who made the original selection today on the final climb and the long ascent tomorrow should suit his diminutive nature. As a former mountain biker, he won’t be afraid of the descent tomorrow, that’s for sure. Considering he’s not as an immediate GC threat as other riders, he might just sneak away and take a momentous win!

Rodolfo Torres. 

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Likewise, Torres also made the front selection today of around 12 riders over the last climb of the day; he was the rider who narrowly avoided Scarponi when the Italian crashed on the descent! Another lightweight climber, he’ll be hoping to use that to his advantage over his more gravitationally challenged competitors. Certainly not a rider to be discounted.

Prediction

It will be a tough race, but the strength of Thomas and Landa will shine through and they’ll be able to mark the likes of Pozzovivo, Pinot etc out of the race. Instead, it will create an opportunity for a “lesser” rider to win the day and I’ll go for the precociously talented Bernal to seal the day!

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Betting

Both with Bet365;

0.5pt EW Bernal @ 66/1 (would take 40s)

0.5pt EW Torres @ 80/1 (would take 50s)

 

Thanks as always for reading and I hope you enjoyed the much longer blog today! Who do you think will win? Next on the blog will be Liege previews for men and women with one of them possibly coming out tomorrow, if not they’ll both be on Saturday. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

Tour of the Alps 2017 Stage 3 Preview; Villabassa -> Funes

Another brief preview as this is the third of the day and even though I love cycling, I’m slowly losing the will to live writing this one. Plus, with one route change already, who knows if there might be another tomorrow!

Today’s Recap

Heavy snow fall meant the race was shortened by 60km which may have had an impact on the outcome of the stage at the end of the day. Either way, I was hopelessly wrong again which isn’t good. I haven’t got to grips with this race yet and I don’t like it!

Dennis powered his way home ahead of Pinot and a very impressive ride from Ballerini who got up for third.

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A total of 67 riders finished on the same time as our Aussie winner, which is definitely a lot less selective than I thought it would be.

Swiftly moving on to tomorrow!

The Route

The original route has already been changed once due to snow and that might happen again tomorrow morning!

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They’ve taken out the big climb at the start of the day but we still have the long and steep Alpe Rodengo Zumis to tackle, which crests at just under 40km to go.

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A very tough climb and it will be freezing at the top of it! I wonder if any teams will risk taking up the pace this early?

Once over the summit, we have a long descent followed by around 25km of valley roads before reaching the foot slopes of the final climb of the day.

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Another tough climb, although easier than the previous Alp in the day, the gradients are severe enough for some big time gaps. Especially when you consider the conditions look set to be pretty grim, with a good chance of rain/snow throughout the afternoon.

Contenders

GC day so only the best can compete here;

Scarponi v Pinot v Thomas v Pozzovivo v Dennis v Formolo.

The last rider on that list, Formolo, seems to be the weakest going by form at the moment so I’ll discount him.

Dennis was good today but I’m still not convinced by him on long climbs and the 8.7km test to finish tomorrow is right on his limit. So…

its a no

That leaves us with 4.

I had discounted Pozzovivo at the start of the race, because if I’m honest, I think he’s past his big performances and has never really looked the same after his horror crash in the Giro. However, he looked good on stage 1 but there is a difference between a 3km climb and an almost 9km effort. So he’s out as well!

A fine trio remain.

Scarponi surprised everyone on Stage 1 taking a great sprint win. On that climb he looked composed and relatively comfortable on a stage that really shouldn’t have suited him. The longer efforts are more his forte and he should appreciate tomorrow’s slog to the line.

Pinot was a bit out of position at the start of the climb on stage 1 but slowly made his way back to the attackers, eventually finishing. He then went and improved on that today with a good second place and that trajectory could well continue tomorrow! On a finish like this and in this field, he is probably the rider with the best pedigree.

Thomas will be hoping to change that over the coming weeks though. He has been incredible so far this year and I’m convinced he can podium at the Giro. Strong on stage 1, he just didn’t have enough in the tank to drop everyone. A longer climb may help him fatigue the others before putting in a stinging attack.

Prediction

I’ll go for a Pinot win.

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Just like his namesake wine, the Frenchman is much better when chilled.

Betting

No bet. Odds too tight and the risk of another route change is too high.

Apologies again for this being short, but with the two other previews today, this one was always going to take a hit. Nonetheless, who do you think will win tomorrow’s stage? We might even see another route change in the morning. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Tour of the Alps 2017 Stage 2 Preview; Innsbruck -> Innervillgraten

This will be short and sweet as I need to get this done quickly so I can get ahead with my writing for tomorrow’s triple header of previews, so apologies!

Today’s Recap

Safe to say I got that one wrong! Bernal looked quite comfortable sitting second or third wheel until he went pop massively at roughly 1km to go. We were left with a reduced group of favourites sprinting to the line and it was wily old fox Scarponi who took the win, beating Thomas and Pinot, with a handful of other riders coming home on the same time.

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A much needed win for Scarponi and Astana as it is their first win of the year!

Will they double up tomorrow? Let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders.

The Route

An easier day out for the riders but we once again end with an uphill finish.

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@LasterketaBurua

Like stage 1, tomorrow’s stage is about the closing 30kms or so. Averaging 8.4% for 4.5km, or 8.2% for 4.8km (depending on your source), the St Justina climb is tough either way! If a team wants to take up the pace here they could really do some damage to the peloton, and drastically reduced the numbers in the bunch before the final climb.

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However, with the steepest ramps coming near the start, I can’t see that happening too drastically.

We then have a fast descent and travel through some valley roads before climbing to the finish line.

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Again, gradients and lengths vary for the climb but it’s a long steady false flat drag, with a 5% ramp or so in the closing couple of hundred metres. Not an overly difficult end to the day!

Weather Watch

It looks set to be another miserable day for the peloton…

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Source; Tyrol.com

With potential of it snowing at the end of the day, I wonder if we’ll see any route changes?!

Hopefully not and the rest of this preview will be wrote assuming that the route will stay the same.

How will the stage pan out?

Who will be contesting the finish all depends on how the peloton races the penultimate climb. Considering the rise to the finish line is relatively easy, there is no point in a team making a devastating pace to reduce the peloton because the GC favourites shouldn’t be distanced in the finale. Therefore, I think we could see a relatively large group, of maybe around 20 riders or so coming into the last few kilometres.

It’s then a question of late attack, or a sprint to the line?

There are several riders who lost a reasonable amount of time today so won’t be as heavily marked if they make a move, but with the easy gradients, a quickly organised chase should be able to bring them to heel. The key word there being organised! It’s a finely balanced stage and one that could go either way.

Contenders

As I mentioned above, I’m short for time so this list won’t be exhaustive, that’s for sure! Instead, I’ll throw a few names into the hat.

Danilo Celano.

 

The Italian was close to the head of the race today and managed to follow some of the attacks but just didn’t have enough juice in the tank and ultimately finished 17 seconds down. Tomorrow’s less steep finish should suit the relatively unknown Italian as he seems to have a great turn of pace. He should benefit from his anonymity!

Davide Villella.

The Cannondale rider showed some good legs in today’s stage, finishing inside the top 20 on a climb that didn’t really suit his characteristics. Tomorrow’s finale is better for him and he should be able to power over the easier gradients. I expect Cannondale to have numbers near the front which is always useful in a reduced group and packing a solid sprint, he certainly has a chance.

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Matteo Busato.

I harked on about him for today’s stage, but the closing climb was too tough. Like many others though, tomorrow’s false-flat style drag to the line should be more attractive to him. Another rider with a solid sprint, he has a good opportunity in that scenario, but having lost 42 seconds today, he also has enough breathing space to launch an attack.

Brent Bookwalter.

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Probably not the first rider to spring to mind, the American is another rider like Villella who should benefit from being the “lesser” threat compared to his team-mates. An attack or sprint from a reduced group, Bookwalter can do both and he he’s a dark horse for the stage if tactics play into his hands.

Prediction

I was going to go for Busato and continue my season long fantasy bias, but I can’t ignore the shape Celano is in. He seems to be flying just now, his attack in Appennino the other week was unbelievable! I think he got a bit giddy today in terms of the illustrious company he was keeping but will have learnt from his mistakes and take advantage of his good form tomorrow by taking the biggest win of his career.

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Betting

Tempted to cover the 4 names above, but I think that would be too far, so I’ll just stick with Celano instead;

0.75pt EW Celano @  33/1 with Bet365 (would take 25/1 lowest)

 

Thanks as always for reading and apologies for how brief this was but I won’t have time tomorrow to write all three previews so need to get another finished this evening. Nonetheless, who do you think tomorrow? Will we see a shock victor like Celano, or will the more established names come to the fore? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

Tour of the Alps 2017 Stage 1 Preview; Kufstein -> Innsbruck

GC Overview

I don’t have enough time to do a proper GC preview but here are a quick few words! Tough course with several stages that end in tricky climbs. Some short and steep but we do have longer, ahem, Alps here too!

So the winner of the race needs to be a very good climber and with a lack of TT, the proper mountain goats will be licking their lips. Sky have the luxury of two contenders with last years winner Landa and Giro contender Thomas. The Spaniard is supposed to be co-leader at the Giro but he’s not offered much this season so will need a big performance here and I think we’ll see just that.

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Pinot has a good chance for FDJ, along with Scarponi who will be Astana’s main hope of picking up a result and I’m also intrigued to see Formolo go for GC in a race without a TT! As for outside top 10 hopefuls I think Busato might sneak into that category. He was 11th last year and although the climbs are a lot tougher in this edition, he seems to be going well at the moment. An 8th place in Appeninno after crashing relatively hard during the race is testament to that. Likewise, Firsanov also crashed hard in that race while in the leading group. After a slow start to the year, the Russian is getting back to the shape he was in here last season, when he managed to finish 4th on GC. The longer climbs will be tough for him, but you never know! I would expect to see Torres up there fighting for a top 5 as well.

I’ll go for a Landa win though.

Right, onto stage 1 now…

The Route

Not exactly an easy day to start the race off with!

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@LasterketaBurua

Rolling terrain mixed in with some steep climbs. The stage is all about the final 25km though.

We have a tough ascent of Schlögelsbach, 3km long and averaging 9.1%, and it’s not even categorised. Tricky enough to put some riders in trouble, it will be interesting to see if any teams decide to take up pace-making duties there.

A technical descent then follows before some more rolling terrain as the riders reach Innsbruck and the final climb up to Hungerburg.

At only 3.6km long there shouldn’t be too many time gaps, but with an average gradient of 7.3% we might see some probing attacks from GC riders. The finish reminds me of the final climb we had at the end of stage 2 last year, although this year it is not as steep!

Contenders

GC rider or a punchy climber? That’s the conundrum I’m dealing with just now. I guess with the start-list we have, there is a lot of crossover between the two!

Thomas and Landa probably start as favourites. Both exceptional climbers, they have the added advantage of being able to pull off a 1-2 punch. With Thomas returning from altitude, it will be interesting to see how he fares on his first day back in the peloton. However, with some tougher stages to come, will they keep their powder dry? Probably not, expect an attacking closing climb from them!

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The finish isn’t ideal for Pinot, yet again, he was 2nd on the stage into Fermo in Tirreno last month. With no Sagan here, he has a much better chance of the win this time round! However, he hasn’t raced since Tirreno so it is yet to be seen where his form is.

Dennis might give it a nudge and in this quality of field, he certainly has a chance of stealing the victory, but I’m not overly convinced. Instead, I think BMC should also let Caruso have the chance to lead the team. The Italian is a criminally underrated domestique who climbs well and has a fast finish. He could well win a sprint to the line from the climbers.

I can’t really see anyone from Astana winning the stage. Scarponi isn’t explosive enough and the climb is probably just too long for Moser. Maybe Luis Leon Sanchez might have a go?!

Formolo definitely offers Cannondale their best chance on this type of terrain. Like many here, the young Italian is building towards the Giro and will want to put in a good performance. He’s been a bit off the boil so far this season but has shown glimpses of what he can do in races like Catalunya. Maybe Villella can even hang on?

This type of finish though does open it up to some riders from the ProConti teams and there are a few I’d like to highlight.

Busato has still to take a professional victory but he was flying in Appennino until the crash. This type of finish looks good for him, although on his limit, and I think he could surprise a few people!

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Firsanov was the first to cross the line behind Landa on Stage 2 of this race last, which had a very similar finish compared to tomorrow’s climb. As I mentioned above, he’s been poor this year so far, but his form seems to be heading in the right direction. Not someone to be properly marked, he has a good shot at taking the stage win.

Finally, relatively unknown rider Danilo Celano is worth a mention. He was the eventual winner of Appennino, flying up the final climb. Riding here for the Italian national team, if he’s retained any of that form then he is a proper dark horse for the win. Keep an eye on him!

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Prediction

I’ll go for none of the above though and instead opt for young Colombian sensation Egan Bernal to take the victory.

After making his breakthrough performance at this race last year, winning the young riders classification, he’s continued his development with some great results this year. The explosive, steep gradients of the finish climb suit him well and he has a handy sprint after a tough climb, if a group of 3 or so arrive at the summit together.

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Betting

No GC bet, so just stage 1 picks all with Bet365;

4pts Bernal to beat Pozzovivo  @5/4 (he was 11/8 but I was waiting for stage odds, would take down to 10/11 lowest)

 

 

Thanks as always for reading as always! Who do you think will win the opening stage? Will we see a lesser known rider take the spoils? I hope to see an attacking/exciting finale. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Volta ao Algarve 2017 – GC Preview

The riders are certainly spoilt for choice at this time of year for stage races to compete at! This year is the 43rd edition of the Volta ao Algarve, but this is the first time the race has been given 2.HC status. Much like it’s competitor in Spain, Algarve has a varied profile with a couple of sprint stages, 2 summit finishes and an individual time trial.

Cycling: 42nd Volta Algarve 2016 / Stage 5

 

For the past two years Geraint Thomas has won the overall, however, he won’t be returning this year to defend his title. That doesn’t mean the race is lacking in talent though and we still should see a good fight for the overall GC. First though, let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

Stage 1 should see an opportunity for the sprinters to fight it out for the win and the first leader’s jersey.

Print

Stage 2 and a summit finish at Alto da Fóia.

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This is the same finish that we had last year, on which Luis Leon Sanchez won the day. It’s not an overly difficult climb, with the steepest section coming right at the start. Don’t expect the time gaps to be too big here!

Stage 3 see an individual effort against the clock.

Print

Another copy of a stage from last year, this is a very flat TT and suits the power riders. Climbers can lose a reasonable amount of time if they’re not in good condition.

Stage 4 will give the sprinters who missed out on stage 1 another opportunity to go for the win.

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Stage 5 presents one last chance to shake up the GC.

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Contador danced away from everyone here last year but it wasn’t enough to take the title away from Thomas. Will the stage winner manage to take overall glory this time round?

GC Contenders

It would be harsh to call this a second-rate GC field compared to the likes of Oman and Andalucia but that’s close to what it is. Don’t get me wrong, we still have some great talent here and some riders who can spring a surprise but there are no Grand Tour winners on the start line.

Dan Martin arrives here as arguably the best one week stage racer. He’ll like the look of the two mountain-top finishes, especially the steeper/irregular gradients of Malhão. However, the TT could be of detriment to him but he’ll be thankful that it’s only 18km long. With some racing already in his legs, he has to start as one of the favourites for this race!

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Astana come here with two potential leaders in the shape of Luis Leon Sanchez and Scarponi. The former won the opening mountain stage here last year but struggled for the rest of the race. He is capable of a top 5 in good form, and the TT should be of advantage to him. As for Scarponi, on his day he is arguably one of the best climbers in the world. However, those days seem to only come during the Giro! Nonetheless he still may surprise and get a top 5 on one of the stages.

I expect Andrey Amador to be Movistar’s GC contender here and on paper he has a decent chance. A very solid all round rider this will be one of the few times he gets leadership duties this year. My only concern is that he’s an always “kind of there” guy and not a winner, he does only have one pro win to his name after all. Could that change this week?

A rider yet to pick up their first professional victory is Tiesj Benoot. It might be a bit odd to name him as a GC contender but he did climb exceptionally well here last year and with the sparsity of the field he has a chance of a top 10. He would need a lot of luck to get a lot higher up than that. His team-mate Gallopin is also in with a chance of a good result here. Finishing 2nd on GC at Bessegès recently, he took his first ever pro TT win along the way. This indicates to me that he is in rather good shape and a top 3 is firmly within his grasp.

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After arriving late to the sport, Primož Roglič certainly had a very good first year in the World Tour ranks, managing to notch up a stage win at the Giro and a 5th place on GC at this very race. This year he’ll have his sights set further up the pecking order! A disastrous opening day in Valenciana ruined any chances of a good GC there, but he recovered to pick up a 3rd place and 5th on the Queen Stage so the form clearly is there. He should gain time in the TT and it will be hard for his competitors to gain it back!

Kwiatkowski would once be the clear favourite for a race like this, in fact he won here back in 2014, but he has since gone off the boil in these types of races after joining Sky. However, he did seem in OK shape in Valenciana and due to his sheer quality you can’t rule him out going well if he’s fired up for this one.

Tony Martin could go well here like he has done in the past. There is the possiblity that he beats everyone by 30 seconds in the TT and holds on on the final stage, but I just can’t see that happening.

As for others who might get involved in the mix, I’m intrigued to see how Spilak, Guerreiro and Antunes go.

Prediction

Roglic wins his first ever GC title!

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Gallopin to finish somewhere on the podium too.

Betting

Looks as if Algarve isn’t going to be priced up anywhere aside from SkyBet and they might not even to stage bets. Going with what I wrote in my RdS preview;

0.5pt EW Treble on Valverde/Roglic/Costa @54/1 with SkyBet.

 

Once again, thanks for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated! Who do you think will win here? I’ll be back again tomorrow with another double header of previews, with both the first stages of the European races. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Vuelta Stage 14 Preview: Urdatx-Dantxarinea -> Aubisque

Today’s Recap

As I said yesterday, I’m away out all day so there’s a good chance I haven’t been able to catch any of today’s stage. Hopefully it was an exciting one and at least one of the three break candidates made it in!

*Update – Just gone 12 here and none of them in the break, oh well!*

Anyway, what’s in store for the riders the day after the longest stage of the Vuelta? I’m sure the organisers wouldn’t be so cruel as to make it really tough…

The Route

Oh. Wait.

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Ouch!

My legs and lungs hurt just looking at this profile. Three Cat-1s followed by the Especial Aubisque. The organisers are definitely getting their moneys worth out of their jaunt into France.

It’s weird to say but in a stage like this, the first two climbs are almost irrelevant in the outcome of the stage so I’m only going to slightly go over them. The only way they could be decisive is if the break hasn’t formed by then and as we saw on stage 12, if it forms on a climb then it is a very strong group.

Nonetheless, the Col d’Inharpu is 11.5km long with an average gradient of 7.1% (13.75% max), and the Col du Soudet is 24km long, averaging 5.2% with a 15% maximum gradient. A nice first half of the stage and a good warm up for the riders!

The real action will commence with the Col de Marie-Blanque which starts with just under 50km to go.

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A real brute of a climb. It almost lulls the riders into a false sense of security as it starts off relatively easily. With the first 4km or so being only around 5% in gradient. Then it hits the riders, the hardest part is yet to come. The second half of the climb, particularly the final 3kms is incredibly tough. Averaging over 10%! The break will lose its weak riders here and depending on the pace of the GC guys, we may see a few attacks or those on a bad day dropped. Say goodbye to your Vuelta if that’s the case.

Once over the summit they have an 11km descent, before a 10km false flat drag before the final test of the day starts: the Col d’Aubisque.

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I don’t really need to say much, the figures speak for themselves! It doesn’t have incredibly steep ramps in it. Instead, it’s the length coupled with the relatively high average gradient that does the damage. Only the strongest will win here.

How will the stage pan out?

We’ll probably have another fast start to the day as riders look to try and get in the break. I hope for the sake of those struggling that it goes relatively quickly and before the first climb. Otherwise we could have a lot of DNF/OTLs!

The success of the break will depend on who’s in it and what teams are represented. Realistically on the final climb if it comes down to a GC battle, then it’s between Froome and Quintana. Movistar may sneak a rider in the move to defend the team competition and as we saw on stage 11, Sky are becoming more aggressive so might send someone up the road. I almost guess Tinkoff might try something, but Contador doesn’t seem to have the legs.

If neither of those teams are represented and their captains really fancy their chances of taking the win, the break could well be brought back on the Aubisque. On a climb like that, the break would need 4mins+ at the bottom of the final climb for them to feel confident of winning the stage.

There are now plenty of quality riders (climbers) far enough down on GC so that the break can be let go. I make it 60/40 that the break takes the win.

Breakaway Contenders

George Bennett.

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A rider who has had a very solid, if not quiet Vuelta so far, plodding along in a respectable 18th on GC, almost 8 minutes down (remember this is being wrote a day early, so that may all change today, but I doubt it). His attack on stage 12 was the first real glimpse that we saw of him out the front of the peloton. I was impressed, his form seems to be on the up. One of those riders who Movistar will give a bit more time to, he won’t be too much of a hinderance to the break in that sense. He will be a hinderance if he’s going well though!

Tejay Van Garderen.

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The American rider has had a very poor Vuelta so far, with Stage 12 being the first time he finished inside the top 50. On that stage he was part of two of the early moves, showing some good intent. His form slowly seems to be getting better and he’s smart enough to be saving himself for one good crack at a stage, no better stage than the Queen stage to give it a go! If he is back to his best, then he should be a class above the rest of the breakaway. That is the big IF.

Kenny Elissonde.

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King Kenny returns to the blog. Another who was attacking on stage 12, he looked very strong on the first passage of the climb outside of Bilbao. However, once the break was caught, he sat up and rolled home. Now sitting over 20 minutes down on GC he poses no threat to the leaders and is most definitely targeting stage wins. Could he get a win on the famous Aubisque to go with the Angliru?!

GC Battle

As I’ve said above, this will more than likely come down to Froome v Quintana. This type of final climb suits the Brit better than some of the steep stuff that we’re used to at the Vuelta as he’s able to climb at a solid rhythm. He’ll hope to put Quintana under pressure with a hard pace. However, Quintana is the best climber here, going on form, and I can’t see Froome dropping him unless he cracks majorly. Instead, I can see the Colombian putting a big marker down and gaining another 30 seconds or so!

The battle behind is equally as interesting. Valverde is clinging on for dear life to that third place. Chaves is being attacking but getting nowhere, same with Contador. Yates seems to be getting stronger. Konig is a great wildcard for Froome and creeping towards the top 4 and possibly the podium. As is Scarponi who’s grinding away and eating up the climbs!

Prediction

If the break makes it, I’ll go with Bennett.

If we get the GC guys fighting out for the stage, Quintana takes it!

Betting

I probably won’t be updating this with odds but my staking structure is below. The preview will only be out when somewhere has priced up (most likely B365), so you’ll have to hunt around for prices.

0.5pt Bennett

0.3pt Elissonde

0.2pt TVG

 

Hope you all enjoyed the preview?! How do you think the stage will go? As usual, any feedback is greatly appreciated. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

La Vuelta a España 2016 GC Preview

La Vuelta a España 2016 GC Preview

Jeez, this year has went fast and the third and final Grand Tour is upon us! Arguably the most exciting of the Grand Tours, the Vuelta always offers exciting and unexpected racing, throwing up a few surprises here and there.

Last year saw Tom Dumoulin take centre stage as a GC prospect and it looked for a while that he was going to take the leaders jersey all the way to Madrid. However, his well-documented and massive capitulation on the penultimate stage saw him slip from first to 6th on GC. Fabio Aru took a well-planned win, with Rodriguez and Majka rounding out the podium.

As I’m doing daily previews for the stages, I won’t focus on the route here at all. You just need to know that it’s a typical Vuelta route: tough!

Previous Winner Patterns?

The Vuelta start-list is always full of riders who are at different parts of their own personal seasons. Some will be coming here from the Tour, hoping to continue the good form that they had then or if they were misfiring there, try to prove the doubters wrong here. Others come to Spain after a block of training, or doing some of the smaller preparation races, having possibly done the Giro earlier in the year.

Traditionally the Vuelta is the key preparation race for the Worlds. But considering the very tough nature of the race this year, and the sprinter friendly World Champs course most have decided against it.

It’s therefore hard to gauge just where everyone is at. Which is great from a viewing perspective, not from a preview/prediction perspective!

Is there are a clear pattern from previous winners or those in the top 10? Hmmm, let’s have a look.

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The table above shows the top 10 on GC at the Vuelta, and if they completed another GT in the same year. In brackets is the finishing position at that Grand Tour.

A quick glance and it seems obvious that the winner will be someone who hasn’t completed a GT in that year, with 2015 being a bit of an irregularity. Everything seems to point towards an Alberto Contador win here. However, a more in depth analysis shows that the other years results are actually a bit more odd.

In 2014, both Froome and Contador crashed out of the Tour and used the good legs that they would have had to smash the opposition here. Especially El Pistolero who won by over a minute. Would they have done as well if they’d finished the Tour? It’s hard to say.

2013 and Horner. One of those surprises that I mentioned earlier!

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Swiftly moving on…

2012 saw Contador win after his return from his back-dated drugs ban that saw him miss the Tour that year. Would he have been competing for the win here even if he was at the Tour? Quite possibly, he always seems to go well in Spain, but again, it’s hard to know!

Finally, 2011 had the another unexpected winner Juan Jose Cobo, followed by Tour DNF Wiggins in second. This was the race where Froome came to the fore as a potential GC candidate, with a real mix bag of a top 10.

What can we take from this? There’s an equal split (15 each) for those finishing the Giro or Tour getting a top 10 at the Vuelta. With those not completing a GT earlier in the year taking up the remaining 20 spaces.

If you narrow it down to the top 5 the split is; Giro (7), Tour (11), Neither (7). So when it comes to the business end, it seems that doing the Tour is the best route into the Vuelta. Although looking at the finishing positions of the riders, doing well at the Tour isn’t always the best. Interestingly, those who finish around 20-30th go equally as well, if not better than those on the podium at the Tour. In fact, making the top-3 at the Giro seems to be a more consistent path to the top of the pile at the Vuelta.

All of this of course, is discredited if you are a certain Alejandro Valverde, who’s done both this year!

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Who are the riders to watch then?

As you can probably guess from my yabbering on above, I’m finding this one particularly hard to nail down. There are so many variables regarding riders form etc, that makes this the toughest Grand Tour to predict!

And with almost 750 words wrote up to this point, I really don’t want to keep you here for the same again so I’ll keep this next part short(ish) and maybe sweet. With a sentence or so for each challenger.

Splitting the riders into the categories above (Giro/Tour/Neither) here are those who could make a mark at this years Vuelta.

Giro

Chaves – The runner up at the Giro is a favourite rider of mine and he made his “breakthrough” performance here last year. He’ll be aiming for a podium spot that looks possible.

Kruisjwijk – For so long it looked like he was set to win the Giro before his crash. He’ll be back to prove that wasn’t a one off. If he climbs like he did at the Giro, the others will be worried.

Atapuma – 9th at the Giro, he will probably be 3rd choice for BMC but can’t be discounted. Another top 10 is possible.

Scarponi – arguably the best climber at the Giro this year, he will probably be working for Lopez but the veteran will be up there on all of the mountain top finishes.

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Brambilla – Bit of an outsider but he rode excellently at the Giro. A top 10 would be a great result!

Tour

Froome – The Tour winner will look to do the double here. If he’s performing like he was in France then it is very possible. A downside for him is his weaker team.

Quintana – Third for him ended up being a good result, he seemed to be struggling through the whole race. If he’s got over his illness/whatever was wrong then he will be a force to be reckoned with.

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Valverde – Mr Consistent has done both GTs so far, winning this well be a step too far for him. A top 10 would be a fantastic achievement for him!

Meintjes – The peloton ticket-collector, I really like his style of riding. However, I think it will be too much for him to go well here, he’s too young to do back-to-back GTs.

Barguil – Never really got going at the Tour. His two professional wins came at the 2013 Vuelta. Another stage win here would be good.

Van Garderen – Struggled in France and BMC are supposedly working for Sanchez. He’ll still be protected and has the pedigree to compete if he’s refound his form.

Neither

Contador – The favourite for the race, he comes here after winning in Burgos. He isn’t as good as he used to be, but he always goes well in Spain. His team is weak, a big hinderance to him.

Yates – Someone I’ve not seen mentioned much, if Adam can, then so can Simon! Might be supporting Chaves, but it’s more beneficial having two riders in contention than just one.

Sanchez – Supposedly leading BMC, I don’t know why. I guess a top 10 is good enough for them.

Lopez – The young Astana rider is the real deal, winner of the Tour de Suisse. However, this is his first GT and I think it will be too much for him. A stage win or the KOM jersey should be his goal in my opinion.

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Carthy – A great talent, but he’s fully aware that his first Grand Tour is a learning experience. Not sure what to expect from him, a stage win would be great!

There are others too that I haven’t mentioned, such as Talanksy and Gesink, but I don’t think they’ll be up to much. I would like to see Dombrowski go well.

Prediction

Did I mention already that this is a tough race to predict and that I’m struggling? 😉

So here goes…

Despite suggesting that those who podium at the Tour don’t always go well here, and that those coming from the Giro and no GTs have a much better chance.

Quintana will put his “poor” Tour behind him and take the win here. It’s amazing to think that he struggled all the way around France, yet still had enough quality to finish on the podium. He is one of the most naturally talented Grand Tour riders! I hope for him more than anything, that he has recovered to go well and prove any doubters wrong. He has the strongest team here to support him, which as we saw with Froome at the Tour, is vital. I hope to be shouting “QUINTANA, QUINTANA, QUINTANA!” several times this month!

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Sorry Nairo, I’ve just put the #HaugheyCurse on you 😦

Betting

I don’t do GC betting week 1 of a GT. Almost tempted by an EW play on Yates at 100/1 but I’m sticking to my rules!

 

Thanks again for reading! Hope you enjoyed the preview, who do you think wins the most unpredictable race of the year? We should be in for some exciting racing over the next 3 weeks, I can’t wait! Any feedback as usual is greatly appreciated.

I was intending on doing a points & KOM preview but I don’t think I’ll have the time. Instead, I’ll share any thoughts on Twitter so give me a follow on there @JamieHaughey. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.