Liège-Bastogne-Liège 2017 Preview

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

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

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

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

The Route

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

 

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

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

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Credit: Velorooms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How will the race pan out?

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

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

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

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

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

Contenders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction

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

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Betting

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

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

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

0.5pt EW Vakoc @ 200/1

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

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

 

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Vuelta al Pais Vasco 2017 Stage 1 Preview; Iruñea -> Eguesibar-Sarriguren

GC Overview

No time for a full length preview so here are a few thoughts.

The race in general seems easier than previous editions, but the riders can always make it tougher through aggressive racing. The most decisive stages are the last two, stages 5 & 6. With the steep gradients of Arrate, the more lightweight, explosive climbers will look to maker their mark. Whereas the more all-round GC contenders will hope to gain time back on the TT the following today. It should be a close race!

Contador won the race last year and is clearly going well just now. He’ll fancy his chances to make it back to back wins overall!

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His main rival looks to be the flying Valverde. He was exceptional in Catalunya and has to start the race as favourite in my opinion.

Behind those two there are several riders who will be hoping to make the podium. Alaphilippe, Henao, Roglic, Yates and Spilak are just a few names to conjure with. Out of that selection, I would fancy Alaphilippe. There are no big mountain days and long 16km climbs which he hates, instead, he’ll find the short 6-7km climbs to his liking. As we saw in Paris-Nice, he packs a fairly good TT as well! Spilak is a dark horse, especially if he is on the level that he was climbing in Tirreno and if it rains, of course!

No bonus seconds for the stage winner etc tilts the importance of attacking racing to drop opponents, but also the TT is even more key.

Right, now that’s out the way, let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders on Stage 1.

The Route

A fairly dull stage to start the race off.

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Profile once again courtesy of @LasterketaBurua

We do have a few Cat-2 climbs but they come too far from the finish to be of any consequence. The little rise of 1.4km at 3.4% which crests at just over 4km to go is interesting, but I can’t see it having a huge effect on the race. It may be the launchpad for a probing attack, though even I think it will be hard for one of them to stick! Yet, with no real sprinters in the race, it might just do…

The run in to the line is quite technical, and we have two sharp turns in the closing 2km.

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The 90-degree turn with 300m to go will ensure for a manic end to the day. You need to be in the first 5 riders out of it to have any chance of winning.

“Sprinters”

We have barely any of the top-level sprinters here this week so expect a few surprise results and things not going to plan!

Matthews probably starts as the favourite. The Aussie looked good in Paris Nice, and rode very well on the unfamiliar cobbles of Gent Wevelgem recently. Like most of the “sprinters”, he doesn’t have a great lead-out with him and will be relying on Geschke to deliver him into position.

Bennett arrives as the other sprinter who’s a cut above the rest. The Irishman took a great stage win in Paris Nice, beating some of the fastest riders in the world. He pulled out of De Panne so it will be interesting to see if he’s recovered from whatever it was that caused that. If he has, then he is certainly a big favourite for the win!

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It says a lot when you have Swift and Lobato as the next best sprinters in the peloton. Both have looked a bit “meh” as of late but if there was ever a chance for them to take a win and get some confidence back, this is it. I just wouldn’t have any confidence in them at the moment!

Then we have normal lead-out men who will be sprinters at this race, such as Van der Sande and Richeze. I would favour Richeze out of those two and he seems to have a fairly good sprint train (by this races standards) to support him. Delivering two wins in San Juan earlier in the year can he win in Spain a few months later?

Orica have a few options and they could go with either Albasini or Gerrans both of whom could contest, especially with the other rider leading out.

Heck, Valverde and Alaphilippe (if Richeze isn’t up for it) might fancy a sprint!

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Bole will fancy his chances but he’s been poor so far this year.

I’m intrigued to see what card Astana play. They obviously have blog favourite Lutsenko, who’s clearly going well just now and in a sprint like this he certainly has a chance. Although it remains to be seen how he has recovered from his crash in Gent Wevelgem and how finishing Flanders today will have affected his legs. Instead they might turn to Basque rider, and another favourite of mine, Bilbao. He’s had a quiet start to the year but he’ll want to go well in his home race. Packing a fast sprint, he might surprise!

Prediction

A real crapshoot of a stage where a late attack might stick as controlling the bunch will be tough, or we’ll get one of the craziest sprints of the season.

I think we will get a sprint, but having a good lead-out will be important and there aren’t many of them here! Orica have the best contingent of riders for that in my opinion. With Power and Plaza they have two riders who can take it up from a few kms out, letting Gerrans/Albasini sit in behind. Choosing between those two is tough, but after his second place today in La Rioja, Albasini is clearly going well. Gerrans won’t mind doing the work for him if he’s rewarded with his own chances later in the week. If the Aussie leads Albasini into the last turn, very few riders will have the strength to come past him!

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Betting

Nothing for me on GC, odds are too short on the favourites for my opinion. With stage 1 being so difficult to predict I’m having a relatively conservative, 2pt kinda day…

Albasini 1pt WIN @50/1 with Betfair/PaddyPower (would take the 33s with Bet365)

Bilbao 0.25pt EW @200/1 with Bet365 (would take 125s)

Lutsenko 0.25pt EW @125/1 with Bet365. (would take 80s)

 

Thanks for reading as always. Apologies that this is on the shorter side but there’s not that much to talk about for this stage! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Paris Nice 2017 Stage 7 Preview; Nice -> Col de la Couillole

Today’s Recap

A rather exciting stage and we saw a GC showdown up to the finish in Fayence. It was Simon Yates who took advantage of his lower overall position, attacking over the top of the penultimate climb of the day, managing to hold on to the finish.

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Behind, Henao attacked and cracked Alaphilippe, with Porte returning to some form to take third place behind the Colombian. It leaves the GC nicely poised and we should be in for an exciting stage tomorrow. Let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders.

The Route

The penultimate day and the Queen stage of the race!

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Two big climbs in the final 50km will be the main focal point of the day as the first two ascents of the day come way too far from the finish to be a launchpad.

The Col Saint-Martin will start off the GC proceedings.

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Officially 7.5km at 7.2% in gradient, the climb is long enough to stretch things out. Well, that is when you consider that the road actually rises for a long time before we get to the official start of the climb.

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Instead, the full length of the climb is 20.4km long and averages a very solid 4.2% gradient. You can view the Strava segment here. If a couple of teams co-operate here, they really could put the hurt on Alaphilippe and try to isolate him.

Once over the summit we have a long descent followed by some valley roads before we start the final climb of the day; the Col de la Couillole.

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A long and steady climb, it barely goes below 6.5% or above 7.5% in gradient. If the pace has been injected on the previous climb, it is very possible for a GC rider to pop here and lose a lot of time.

How will the stage pan out?

I thought today may have been a breakaway stage, with the finish potentially suiting Alaphilippe I wasn’t confident of other teams bringing the escapees back. I’ve had tomorrow marked down as a GC day for the majority of the week and today’s showing makes me think we’ll see a GC rider win  the stage tomorrow too.

Watch it be a breakaway win now…

Contenders

Sergio Henao certainly looked one of the strongest today and Team Sky seem up for a fight for the GC title. My suspicions about the Colombian building some form at home over the past few weeks seem to be correct and he is now Alaphilippe’s main GC rival. The long climbs up to altitude will certainly suit him and with a very strong support team they are dangerous. I expect them to keep the break in check all day, then really ramp the pace up on the Col Saint-Martin. Henao’s point of attack will be interesting. Will he go early on the Saint-Martin, hoping to find some allies, or will he wait and leave it all for the final climb? The way he seemed to open up a gap today over Alaphilippe on a finish that suited the Frenchman more, I think Henao might just be confident enough to wait until that final climb.

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One man who is sure to take it up early is Alberto Contador. The Spaniard tried something today along with Henao but was quickly marked by Dan Martin. He struggled on the final slopes today but it was not a climb that really suited him whereas tomorrow’s long, steadier ascents do. He looked sprightly on the lower slopes of Mont Brouilly where we get similar gradients to that we’ll get tomorrow. You can’t forget how well he was climbing in Valenciana and following Quintana for fun in Abu Dhabi. Not being an immediate threat on the GC, he may just be given some leeway.

If Contador is not an immediate threat on GC, then Richie Porte is not an immediate threat on next year’s GC! The Aussie finds himself way down on the overall but seemed bullish and up for the fight today. Again, like Contador, Porte is not suited to the short punchy climbs and tomorrow’s 7% stuff looks great for him. If he’s climbing anywhere close to his form in the Tour Down Under he certainly has a chance of a stage win, which will certainly boost his morale!

After his stage win today, Simon Yates could well go on to bag another tomorrow. He’s in a similar GC position to Contador and those two may form a very exciting, attacking duo. Will he have enough left in the tank for another assault tomorrow?

I’m intrigued to see how Ilnur Zakarin does on this stage. The Russian has slowly plodded along this race after disappointingly losing time on the opening day. He did an OK time-trial but not as good as some were expecting. Yet, he seemed to be coping alright on the climbs today so maybe that was just a blip. He looked very impressive in Abu Dhabi, chasing down Rui Costa and will be looking for a similar performance on stage 7!

Izagirre and Barguil might try to utilise their lowly GC positions to their advantage but they haven’t looked great so far in this race.

Prediction

We’ll get a crazy final half to the stage with a few long-range probing attacks. Alaphilippe will only initially need to follow Henao and Gallopin and that will benefit those further down on GC. Henao may well bridge up to others, but I fancy Alberto Contador to take the stage. He will have been very disappointed after a poor first stage, considering this was his first main goal of the season. The way he climbed in Valenciana and the effortless nature he followed Quintana was incredibly impressive. El Pistolero will fire a warning shot that he’s not dead and buried yet!

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Although I do think it will be very close between him and Henao, with the Colombian moving into the GC lead after the stage.

Betting

Normally I wouldn’t back GC riders for a stage like this but…

2pts WIN on Contador @ 9/2 with BEt365.

Also,

4pts WIN on Henao for GC at 9/4 with PaddyPower

Thanks again for reading, who do you think will win tomorrow? Will someone further down on GC benefit or will Henao make his mark? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

Paris – Nice 2017 GC Preview

Paris – Nice 2017 GC Preview

The rather aptly nicknamed, The Race to the Sun, stage race starts again this Sunday. Often attracting a good mix of Tour de France hopefuls, wanting to test their legs, and some Ardennes specialists doing similar, we’re regularly treated to some exciting racing with a fairly stacked start-list.

Last year saw Geraint Thomas just edge out Alberto Contador for the title by the small margin of 4 seconds.

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Luck may have been on the Welshman’s side though as the steep finish up Mont Brouilly, which most definitely would have favoured Contador, was cancelled due to snow. That finish is back this year, speaking of which…

The Route

Like normal, as I’ll be doing daily previews for the stages this segment will be fairly short.

Stage 1.

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Fairly flat day with an interesting 5% rise from 2km -> 1km to go. Will we still see a sprint or will a late attack prevail?

Stage 2.

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Another flat day, this one is definitely a sprint!

Stage 3.

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Slightly more of a rolling day but this one should also be another sprint.

Stage 4.

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Our first GC day and a 14.5km TT with a finish up Mont Brouilly. Is this one for the specialists or will the GC guys prevail?

Stage 5. 

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Another likely sprint day but with more rolling terrain a break could well make it.

Stage 6.

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Brutal start to the stage, boring middle, followed by a tough finale with a double passage of the Col de Bourigaille. There’s a nice little kicker to the finish in Fayence too.

Stage 7.

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The Queen stage of the race in terms of its finale, with a Cat 1 climb of the Col de la Couillole to finish. Will the GC be decided here?

Stage 8.

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A short and sharp stage to finish the race! Could be action packed if the GC is still close, if not, definite break stage.

GC Contenders

In theory, the TT and mountain top finish are the two main GC days but as we’ve seen in the past at this race, Stages 6 & 8 could also have an impact. Will the winner be someone who puts in a strong TT and finishes in the first 3 on stage 7, or will someone be rewarded for some aggressive racing on the other two days?

Richie Porte should start as the favourite for this race: he absolutely creamed everyone at the Tour Down Under. Since then he’s a bit of rest, followed by slowly ramping up the intensity in training and his team say that he’s in great shape for this race. A two-time winner of this event, he certainly knows what it takes to go well here. One of the best GC TT-ers, I would expect him to gain a bit of time there and I can’t really see him losing much time on the mountain top finish. The only concern with him would be the two unpredictable stages as Porte seems to have a habit of being unlucky, or making a mistake and crashing himself.

Alberto Contador has to be his main rival for this title. Without a win this season, yet, he’s still looked very good and this is his first major target of the season. He seems to have re-found his TT form and is clearly climbing well. I hope he’s within 20 seconds of Porte going into the final day as I’m sure we’ll see an attacking race like always from him!

Behind those two clear favourites, there are another two riders who can TT and climb well but maybe just not to the same caliber.

Ilnur Zakarin looked strong in Abu Dhabi, bridging the gap to Rui Costa fairly comfortably. He was very consistent last season and was set for a top 5 at the Giro before his unfortunate crash on stage 19. He returned to the action later in the year and managed to pick up a great stage win at the Tour. If Porte and Contador start to play games, the Russian may just be the one to profit from it.

Ion Izagirre was having a very solid Andalucia before a bizarre crash in the time trial forced him to abandon. With the resulting injuries being nothing serious, he’s back here and wants to be at the pointy end of the race. These types of climbs suit him well and as we saw at the Tour, he’s a handy descender in bad conditions. A definite danger-man!

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One rider I am keen to keep an eye on this week is Sergio Henao. Recently winning the Colombian National Championships, he seems to have been building some nice form while over there. Wout Poels was meant to be leading the team but he’s had to pull out with injury so Henao becomes de facto leader. Not a great TTer normally, a hilly finale to the course will suit him, he did come 3rd in the TT at Pais Vasco last year. If he can minimise his losses to less than 30 seconds this time round then he has a great chance at the podium.

Julian Alaphilippe is fast becoming a very dangerous one-week stage racer, particularly in this type of parcours. He seems to struggle in big mountain days so stage 7 could be an issue. However, he’ll love the look of the finish in Fayence and could gain some bonus seconds there. Likewise, as a fearless rider I’m sure he’ll be on the attack on stage 8, especially if we get some bad weather.

There are others who could feature but their missing something at the moment in my opinion, whether that be a poor TT or they just don’t seem to have the form.

Prediction

I’m being boring, but this is Porte’s to lose.

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I would be wary if the weather turns for the worse though. I think Henao is a good outside shot for the podium and could profit in an attacking, aggressive race.

Betting

Personally, I have something on Henao at 33/1 which is a good EW price, but I wouldn’t advise backing him at the 18/1 he is just now. Instead, keep your money in your pocket until after the TT and see what his price is then!

NO BET.

Thanks as always for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated. Do you think it’s a two-horse race between Porte and Contador? I’ll be back later this afternoon/evening (depending on when more bookmakers price up/I wake up from my nap) with a stage 1 preview. In the meantime, I’ll be watching both the women’s and men’s Strade! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

Tour Down Under Stage 5 Preview; McLaren Vale -> Willunga Hill

Today’s Recap

Jack Bauer almost made it all the way but was caught within the final 5km and we did end up with a bunch gallop to the line after all. Like GroundHog Day, it was once again Ewan who took out a great sprint victory, beating Sagan and Van Poppel to the line.

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Is he unbeatable on current form? Pretty much yeah, but we’ll have to wait until Sunday to find out as tomorrow is the classic TDU GC finish up Willunga Hill.

The Route

Link to the Strava stage profile

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There’s not really much to talk about the route for this stage. The laps around McLaren Vale are very straightforward, so like every year, this day comes down to the double passage of Willunga Hill.

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A fairly steady climb, it averages 7.6% for the 2.9km with it’s steepest sections coming in the first half and it “flattening out” in the final kilometre.

On the first ascent we normally see some thinning out of the peloton and are maybe left with 30-40 riders or so coming into the final run up Willunga. The past few years has seen the leading GC teams control the climb until roughly 1km left where we normally see a full-out sprint from Porte all the way to the top.

He did the same thing in 2016 too…

Both attacks are made at 1.2km to go and amazingly he fully drops Dennis/Henao at the exact same S-bend. More of the same this year?!

How will the stage pan out?

With the commanding lead he has, Porte will be able to ride a more defensive race here than he’s used to. But will he want to? The King of Willunga could potentially make it three in a row here and with the way he soared up Paracombe on Stage 2 I wouldn’t put it past him. He’s not really giving any hints as to how he’ll race it, suggesting he can ride conservatively but if the option is there to go for the win he will. Hmmm.

You never know, he might be happy to let a break take the win and bonus seconds, but that’s very unlikely! Or at least the other teams will chase the break down to fight out for the win if BMC don’t play ball.

With the 20″ gap over his nearest rivals, Porte could just mark Chaves/Izagirre/McCarthy out of the race. Therefore, I think there is a good chance he might give a bit of leeway to those who are further behind, i.e. 30 seconds plus.

Henao was very unlucky on stage 2 with a double puncture and did remarkably well to still get up for 12th on the stage. So he clearly has very good form at the moment. Second here last year to Porte he definitely has a good chance to go one better this year!

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Woods was third here last year and like Henao currently sits 33″ behind Porte on GC. I can imagine there will be a lot of people who fancy his chances but he wasn’t overly impressive on Paracombe in my opinion. Especially in comparison to his explosive nature that he showed last year at this race. So it’s a no from me, but I am willing to be surprised and proven wrong (again)!

Ulissi sprinted to 4th on this finish in 2016 and came home in the main group on Stage 2 so clearly has some decent form. Probably not a rider who will win solo, he could win a 2 or 3 man sprint of lesser riders.

Haas seems to be riding better than ever here but this climb is on his limit so he’ll have to pull a remarkable performance out the bag to podium. As we have him for GC I’m quite happy to just leave him be for this stage.

There are a lot of other riders who could potentially pull off an early attack that goes unmarked and stays away to the end but I won’t name the entire top 20 on GC. Nobody’s got time for that! So a usual here are a couple of outsiders to keep an eye on during the coverage.

If Izagirre is struggling look to another Movistar rider, Jesus Herrada, as their man for the day. A very solid climber with a good sprint he will need to catch the others napping as he probably won’t be able to ride the likes of Chaves/Porte etc off of his wheel. Nonetheless he does have the class to finish a race off as was shown at the Dauphiné last year.

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One outside Aussie who I do like for this kind of surprise, un-marked attack is Nathan Earle. Finishing 11th on Paracombe was a great result and he certainly is flying right now. A rider who may not be as respected in terms of his climbing ability by the rest of the peloton, he is a danger if he gets an easy 15 seconds. I do expect the Uni-SA team to go a bit berserk this stage!

Prediction

I’ll go for a Sergio Henao win. He was terribly unlucky on stage 2 and will want to justify his good form with victory! Coming back from a double puncture to finish in the main bunch is no mean feat and being 33 seconds down on Porte will only be to his advantage. If he gets a 5 second gap he’ll win. Vamos!

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Or Porte decides to go for the win and creams everyone…

Betting

2.3pts WIN Sergio Henao @9/2 with Boylesports (would take 4/1)

0.1pt WIN Jesus Herrada @80/1 with Betfair (would take 66s)

0.1pt WIN Nathan Earle @150/1 with various bookmakers

Plus this “fun” H2H treble with Bet365. 0.5pt

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Thanks again for reading! Who do you think will win up Willunga? Will Richie still be the King? As usual any feedback is greatly appreciated! Anyway,

Those are My Two Spokes Worth

 

 

 

 

 

Tour Down Under 2017 – GC Preview

Tour Down Under 2017 – GC Preview

The curtain raiser for this year’s cycling calendar will once again be the Tour Down Under, a race which I’ve grown fond over the past few years. I’m not sure if that’s because we’ve been starved of action over the winter break or if it is becoming one of the more exciting races of the season. Probably a mixture of both, if not slightly more the former!

Nonetheless, the organisers have made a few tweaks to the normal parcours and we have what is arguably the toughest TdU route in history. So let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders over the coming week.

The Route

Stage 1 sees the riders tackle 145km from Unley to Lyndoch.

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Three laps around a large finishing circuit with a few hills could create a surprise. However, with the gradients being so small on these climbs and only 1,600m of elevation gain, then this should be one for the sprinters. With a very simple-run in, this should be a fast finish to the opening road stage!

Stage 2 is the Queen stage of this years TDU in terms of climbing metres, seeing the riders return to the finish in Paracombe that Rohan Dennis won back in 2015.

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The laps around Stirling will certainly sap the legs before the tough finale. Unlike 2015, the riders approach the climb differently and the road actually heads upwards for around 10kms, with the main section before the climb to Paracombe itself coming in at 3.9km averaging  4%. Could this make all the difference? I guess we’ll just have to wait and see, but expect some fireworks!

Stage 3 sees the peloton head south from Adelaide towards Victor Harbor.

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Potential cross-winds and a committed team could see a GC shake up. A tired peloton could be put under stress on the closing circuit’s climbs (1.7km at 2.5% and 1.3km at 3.7%) but it should end in some type of bunch sprint.

Stage 4 is an up and down day and actually has the second largest amount of elevation gain at the TdU.

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Nonetheless it should be a sprint at the end of the stage, but it could be the only breakaway day we get if no one wants to work behind. Interestingly, the finish kicks up at around 2.1% average for the final kilometre.

Stage 5 and the traditional stage finish up Willunga Hill.

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Nothing else to say really, this stage is all about that 6-7 minute effort at the end.

Stage 6 once again sees the race close with a 90km criterium around Adelaidescreen-shot-2017-01-14-at-15-46-43

I can’t wait for the couple of sheer walls that the riders face 😉. Also, this is just one lap as I have neither the time nor patience to repeat the route 20 times! We might see some GC riders go for time bonuses if the race is that close but this stage is all about the sprinters as you’d expect. Who’ll close the race with a win?

So overall it is a tougher race than previous years but it’s still very much in the balance between the proper climbers and the puncheurs. Willunga is tough, but ultimately it is only a 7 minute effort and the same goes for Paracombe. There are no 30 minute climbs here on which the really light guys can make a massive difference, this race will once again come down to seconds and I expect the top 10 to be separated by no more than a minute. Who’s going to be in contention for the title then?

GC Contenders

Richie Porte (a.k.a The King of Willunga) is the favourite and rightly so.

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He’s untouchable on that climb when in good form and he will find the extra climbing before Paracombe to his liking. The problem with Richie is that he doesn’t have the ability to pick up bonus seconds elsewhere and that the steeper gradients of Paracombe aren’t his cup of tea. Nonetheless, if he is in form then he should win on Willunga and possibly podium up to Paracombe which should be enough to win the race. However, we don’t know where his form is at due to him skipping Nationals. If he really wants to challenge at the Tour de France, is it not too early to be at 90% here? Hmmm, it could go either way with him! Supporting him will be Rohan Dennis who is capable of taking up the leadership role if Porte isn’t at the top-level.

Orica come in with two leaders; Esteban Chaves and Simon Gerrans. This will be the Colombian’s first time racing in Australia and he’ll be competing at the Herald Sun Tour later in the month. This route would be ideal for him if he was in top form but I get the feeling that this could be more of a PR stunt from him and the team. Instead, it will be Gerrans who will lead the main charge for Orica as he looks to pick up his 5th Overall victory here. This will be the last chance to do so as he finally appears to be dwindling as a rider going by his form last year. I’m not convinced he can manage it but he’s sure to leave everything on the road! Plus it is January and we are in Australia so you never know!

Sky also come into the race with a two-pronged attack of Geraint Thomas and Sergio Henao. The latter was 3rd overall here last year and I’d expect him to be their main rider again, although Thomas may stretch is legs at some point. Henao is the main challenger to Porte in my opinion.

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The other rider in the above photo is also a contender for this race, Michael Woods. After coming to the sport late, he took a breakthrough 3rd place on Willunga last year. If he’s improved from then he can certainly contend once again this year, plus he’s been putting in some impressive rides on Strava. Will that translate to results? I’m not so sure as he still seems to be lacking the tactical awareness needed for bike racing, but hey, if he can ride everyone off his wheel then he doesn’t need to!

I can’t see Sagan doing anything GC wise here, instead his teammate McCarthy looked very strong and more importantly lean at the Bay Crits and Road Nats and certainly could contend.

Aside from these guys, it is a fairly open field and I do think there is a chance that an outsider could sneak onto the podium so in MyTwoSpokesWorth tradition I’ll highlight 3 to watch out for.

(There is a slight bias as 2 of them are in my Fantasy Team for this season. This may be a recurring theme and I can only apologise 😜)

Nathan Haas.

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Another who was testing his legs at the Bay Crits and took 3rd place at the Road Nats. He seems really fired up for this and it’s his main goal early on in the year before taking a break and going to the Giro. A bit of a stop start season in 2016, his performances in Canada looked a return to form and he seems to have continued that over the Australian summer. Not the best natural climber in the field, he’ll need a bit of luck to go his way but I wouldn’t write him off! His fast kick could be crucial to pick up bonus seconds.

Petr Vakoc is the second of my fantasy riders and there’s good reason for that; he’s an incredible talent!

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After an OK TdU last year, his opening to the European season was amazing. Having been out in Australia since before New Year he seems fired up to lead Etixx at the first race of the season. A proper brute of a rider, his strength should see him be able to match some of the lighter climbers and with a Tour de France now in his legs he should be even better this year. I’m intrigued more than anything to see what he can do.

My final rider is one had a solid year and I was very impressed with on several occasions but his results didn’t quite show it; Jan Bakelants. Top 20 in the Vuelta followed some good showings in the Tour he just didn’t take any big wins. Like Vakoc, he was very strong at the start of the European cycling calendar and I’m hoping that will translate to something here!

Prediction

A toss-up between Porte and Henao for the win I think and it’s quite tough to call. Porte could well be peaking for the Tour but will want to make a statement here and Henao hasn’t raced since the Olympics so both of their form really is unknown. I’ll go for the King of Willunga himself to take the win, with Haas rounding out the podium!

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I just hope the racing is exciting and unpredictable as it could potentially be! Although saying that, easy stages make my job easier. 😏

Betting

I distanced myself from GC betting towards the end of last year and it’s something I’ll probably be doing this year too. Nonetheless, I think there is a bit of value in small stake punts on my 3 outsiders.

0.1pt EW Vakoc @80/1 with various bookmakers (would go to 66/1)

0.1pt EW Haas @ 66/1 with Bet365 (would go to 50/1)

0.1pt EW Bakelants @ 80/1 with Bet365 (would go to 66/1).

 

Thanks everyone for reading, it’s good to be back! Any shares/RTs would be much appreciated as usual and any feedback via Twitter is always more than welcome. Who do you think will win? Does an outsider have a chance of sneaking onto the podium? I shall be doing daily previews of the stages, aside from the People’s Choice Crit as I have no time for that! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.