Vuelta a España 2018 Stage 20 Preview: Andorra. Escaldes-Engordany › Coll de la Gallina. Santuario de Canolich

Today’s Recap

The stage was going almost identical to yesterday’s preview, with Movistar controlling things all day and a break never allowed clear. Once onto the final climb Quintana launched early and was followed by Kruijswijk. Blog pick Pinot then rode across the gap and made the duo up front a trio. However, that’s when things went a bit off-piste!

Yates attacked from the rest of the GC group and no one was able to follow. Carapaz did some work but he soon went pop and Quintana dropped back from what was now a front four to help pace Valverde. The Colombian then punctured not long later and things went really pear-shaped in that group. No one wanted to commit fully and some more attacks came from Kelderman and Gallopin. Eventually, Bilbao pulled for Lopez but the gap had went out over a minute by then.

The stage and possibly the GC were gone up the road and with Yates continuing to push full gas, Kruijswijk eventually popped in the closing kilometre. Pinot, who had done several turns to be fair, launched his sprint and took what was a “comfortable” stage win in the end, with Yates trailing home 5 seconds behind.

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Wasn’t exactly how I imagined it playing it out but it will do!

Kruijswijk finished in third place, only a further 8 seconds behind Yates, a result that moves him up onto the current GC podium.

Will things change again tomorrow? Let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

The one everyone has apparently been waiting for, but it appears Yates didn’t get the memo today!

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Over 3400m of climbing in only 98km, is it a bit overkill? Pretty much from the gun they will face the Cat-2 climb of Coll de la Comella (4.4km at 7.7%) and no doubt this will be rode at a very aggressive pace as those hoping to make the break look to escape. It wouldn’t surprise me if the break doesn’t go, unless it is a massive move, until the Coll de Beixalis (6.8km at 8.3%) which officially starts at around the 13km into the day mark.

A descent leads into some valley roads and the intermediate sprint point before yet another Cat-1 climb  of the Coll de Ordino (9.4km at 7.2%). It reaches an altitude of 1977m and it might be a place to test those who suffer at that kind of height. Then again, there are still 55kms to go and a lot of racing. Where is Froome when you need him?

Once again a long descent follows before the road rises straight away up yet another Cat-1, but this time they are repeating the Coll de Beixalis.

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Again, the climb is tough but with its distance to the finish will we see anyone go for it? A fairly long descent is followed by the most amount of valley roads the stage has to offer, albeit, they are rudely interrupted by a paltry Cat-3.

It’s then over to the big finish and the last mountain the riders will have to face this Vuelta.

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Touted as Andorra’s toughest climb, it is known for having some double-digit switchbacks near the summit. The 8.1% average gradient will be a killer after what the riders will have had to face throughout the day, but on closer inspection the final 4km are even tougher than that as they average 9.5%. After a tough day, we could see some big gaps.

The Battle for the Top 10

With Yates asserting his dominance today, he now sits with a good buffer over his nearest rivals. Furthermore, both Haig and Adam Yates looked fairly comfortable for the majority of the final climb so he should have strong domestiques with him throughout the day.

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ProCyclingStats

There is scope for movement though but I’m not too sure we’ll see a hail mary attack from the gun by any of the top 5. I would love for it to happen but it is pretty foolish. Even attacking from the second ascent of Beixalis is unwise, unless you have team-mates up the road of course, because a lot of energy can be expended on the valley roads before the summit finish. We might see someone from Uran down try to get into the morning move and it will be interesting to see how it plays out from there. If that happens, then we could see some teams come to the front and ride to protect their GC rider’s placing.

Barring any major catastrophe Yates has this race wrapped up as he was the strongest on the climb today and he has a very solid bit of mountain support too. However, I did say that coming into the final few days of the Giro so who knows…

The battle for the podium is very much on though and any of the guys from 2nd to 5th could finish on it and in any order. That should be the exciting race to watch and it will probably provide some very tactical battles!

How will the stage pan out?

No doubt we will see a big fight to get into the break and those hunting the KOM prize will most definitely feature. Given the amount of points on offer there are still several in with a chance so it will all be about race and pacing management throughout the afternoon, choosing the right move to go with etc.

Once again I think Mitchelton will be happy to let a break go up the road and take the stage win and after their collapse today, I’m not too sure Movistar will be keen to set the pace early on and instead will no doubt turn to an ambush style strategy.

So for the break to be caught it either needs Astana to go crazy, which is possible, or for there to be one of those really awkward riders in the top 15 who will sneak into the top 10 to make the move, and another team closes them down.

One thing that also lends itself to the break is that the once over the second passage of the Beixalis, the riders still have 26km to the foot slopes of the final climb. That’s probably too far out for anyone to fully commit. Furthermore, I think the race tomorrow might just be too tough and it will scare a lot of the GC riders out of trying anything early. Instead, they will wait until the final climb and by then the race might be done ahead of them.

Therefore, for one last time this race, let’s play everyone’s favourite game…

TheBreakawayLottery

Candidates

It is hard to read into today’s stage a bit. For example, there are some who finished quite strongly where it is a matter of “do they have good legs?” or “will they be cooked tomorrow?. Likewise, the opposite can be said for those who just rolled home in the grupetto: bad legs or saving themselves?

I’m going to take two from each set and see what happens. I’ll be keeping the next bit brief!

Vincenzo Nibali.

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The Shark of Messina did a lot of work on the front of the peloton during stage 15 in an effort to set up Izagirre before going in the break on stage 17. He failed to live up to expectations on that day but the super steep slopes are not really suited to him anyway. After that stage though he said he was on the up and I think he will want to give it a dig tomorrow to test where his form is at before some Italian Cup races and then the worlds.

Rudy Molard.

Back to back Groupama wins? I was impressed with how long Molard hung on with the main group today so I think his legs are there. An attacking rider, I think he will be let of the leash by Pinot to chase his own success. This season has been a bit of a breakout year for him and after wearing the red jersey already here, can he take a stage win too?

Pello Bilbao.

I was very impressed with Bilbao who hung tight and looked as strong as some of the GC candidates today. His team leader Lopez disappointed me a little because he didn’t have the legs to go earlier on the climb, otherwise he would have asked the Basque rider to do some work sooner. Possibly Astana will allow Bilbao a free role tomorrow? I pointed out before his home stage that he seems to be “doing a Poels” and timing his third week perfectly. It will be tough to beat him if he makes the break.

Michal Kwiatkowski.

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Desperate to make the break today, the Sky rider just rode home with the grupetto to save his legs for tomorrow. He seems really keen to get in a break and win a stage here. The amount of climbing throughout the afternoon could be a test for him but I think he will be fine, especially with the shorter day. He’s been saving himself the past few days for one big blow out, will it end in a win?

Prediction

Bilbao to be given freedom and fly.

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Betting

Dabble on each of the breakers.

1pt WIN on them all;

Kwiatkowski and Nibali @ 50

Bilbao @ 66

Molard @ 100

Thanks as always for reading. Who do you think will win tomorrow and why? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Vuelta a España 2018 Stage 7 Preview: Puerto Lumbreras -> Pozo Alcón

Today’s Recap

Told ya, well, kind of.

A stiff headwind for a lot of the day saw a slow pace throughout the afternoon but a combination of some poorly marshalled bollards and wind resulted in splits throughout the bunch late on. Annoyingly, those pesky sprinters made the front group along with team-mates so things were kept at a reasonable pace and the wind just wasn’t strong enough to create any more splits in the final 10km, despite the best intentions from a few teams.

I did say in yesterday’s preview that Viviani wouldn’t win and that is exactly what happened. The Italian finished ridiculously fast but he was poorly positioned coming around the final roundabout and could only manage third place.

Instead it was Bouhanni who sprinted to the victory, a result that will probably be divisive in the cycling community. I for one am happy to see him pick up the result, it is what he needed desperately. It also puts to bed the fake news/misinterpretation that was spread yesterday after the stage.

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Van Poppel got up well to finish second but just didn’t have the legs to come past the Cofidis man.

There weren’t many GC losers today but Pinot and Kelderman were the main ones, both shipping 1’44 to their rivals. Not ideal but it isn’t the end of the Vuelta for them, however, they will have to work hard to gain that time back. Will they get a chance soon? Let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders tomorrow.

The Route

Another rolling day out for the peloton, with 2500m of climbing throughout the stage.

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Only two of the rises are categorised but as you can see on the profile, there are plenty of drags and peaks elsewhere. The rolling terrain does make it a bit more awkward for the sprinters teams to control but nothing should worry them too much in the opening 160km. It is the final 15km of the day that will be crucial and we might not see many of the sprinters make the line in what is billed as another flat day and one for them. In fact, I’ll be surprised if any of them do.

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Just ignore the fact I wrote Stage 8 above, bit of a brain fart…

To kick the closing 17.5km off, the riders will face the second categorised climb of the day: Alto de Ceal (4.3km at 5.8%). It is a very steady climb with the gradient keeping regular – good for those wanting to set a tempo. Once over the top, the road descends for 4kms, albeit that is interrupted by another short rise.

The day’s intermediate bonus sprint is handily placed on top of the following climb.

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The fight for position will be intense going into the climb and not because of the double-digit gradients that await in some points, but the ridiculously narrow streets through the village of Hinojares.

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Once through the sprint point a short descent follows before the road drags all the way up to the finish line, with an average gradient of 2% for the remaining 5.5km.

How will the stage play out?

It’s too difficult for any of the sprinters so it will be a puncheur that could sprint to the line from a reduced group. The final 20km actually look perfect for Valverde and Kwiatkowski but they also look very tempting for a late attack.

Will anyone want to work all day and hold the race together?

Movistar might, as today and tomorrow are both the closest stages to Valverde’s home in Murcia and given that the route suits him perfectly, they could give it a try. However, it will take a lot of energy to control things as I’m not sure many others will want to. Sky deliberately gave away the jersey to avoid controlling on days like tomorrow so I doubt they’ll decide to chase now.

Therefore, it once again looks like we’re about to play everyone’s favourite game…

TheBreakawayLottery

Dries Devenyns.

Solid rider with a good bit of form, Quick Step will want to be present in the break after missing out the other day. Devenyns is the type of guy who can finish it off. Can’t really be bothered to repeat myself from the other day so go and read that instead!

Dylan Teuns.

BMC were close to a win with De Marchi the other day and we saw the strange sight of Porte in a three-man break on a sprinter’s stage this afternoon. Teuns on paper looks their best shot at a win tomorrow as he can handle the punchy gradients very well.

Daniel Moreno.

No WT for EF Education up until Clarke’s victory on stage 5, can they get another one quickly? Moreno is in search of a contract for next year so I expect him to see him animate a few stages this race, it is just a question of which ones. Tomorrow looks like a good opportunity as Uran won’t need much help and there is time for him to recover before Sunday’s mountain top finish.

Nelson Oliveira.

Movistar are always competitive in the Team classification so if a big group goes up the road tomorrow then expect them to have someone there. Oliveira is a strong rider who can deal with varying terrain. The steep climb before the final 5km might be on his limit, but it all of course depends on his company in the move.

Prediction

Dani Moreno to roll back the years and make it two in three days for EF Education.

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Betting

“Punts on the break picks as per, then reassess in-play”, but given the price of Valverde, I’m also backing him…

2pts WIN Valverde @ 11s

1pt WIN Teuns @ 22s

1pt WIN Devenyns @ 50s

0.5pt WIN Moreno @ 250/1

0.5pt WIN Oliveira @ 125/1

Thanks as always for reading, who do you think will win tomorrow? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Vuelta a España 2018 Stage 6 Preview: Huércal-Overa -> San Javier. Mar Menor

Today’s Recap

After a long fight this morning/early afternoon, a big break of 20-odd riders eventually escaped from what was at that time a reduced peloton. Sky let them go and with it the race lead at the end of the day, a sensible decision given they’ve struggled a bit over some of the previous stages.

Up ahead the day was pretty tactical with several attacks and counters throughout the afternoon. I’ll be honest, I didn’t really watch much of today’s action at all and only tuned in with 20km to go with a trio up ahead: Clarke, De Marchi and Mollema.

The latter two tried to play games and drop the EF Education rider but it was not to be as he was just too strong on the flat. They nearly got caught by a group of three behind, which included new race leader Molard, but the trio at the front held on for the sprint with Clarke taking what was an inevitable win.

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Mollema finished second with De Marchi.

No opportunity for the sprinters today but that looks likely to change tomorrow. Let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

A pretty benign day by Vuelta standards with only 1400m of climbing throughout the afternoon.

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There are a couple of Cat-3 climbs to deal with out on the course but they aren’t overly difficult and come too far from the finish to cause any real issues. Or at least you wouldn’t think so, anyway.

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The run in is fairly straightforward with the final 5km being pan-flat. There are a few corners and the most difficult of those typically comes inside the final 1km, where the riders will have to traverse the long way around a roundabout. It will certainly string things out and coming out of the roundabout near the front of the bunch is necessary to be competing come the end of the day.

Weather Watch

It gives me great pleasure to bring back this segment for the first time in the race and it is for everyone’s favourite reason: possible echelon action!

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Source: Windfinder

The above screenshot is the weather forecast for a town just to the north of La Unión, a.k.a the 25km to go marker for the day.

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The riders head pretty much north for twenty of those kilometres before the turn back on themselves before again heading north for the approach to the finish line. The tailwind finish means you can afford to go earlier with your sprint.

Anyway, creating echelons in a peloton needs three inputs really.

First, the road and wind direction combination needs to be perfect, and that is the case for tomorrow with the route heading north and the wind coming directly across from the riders right.

Secondly, you need areas of land that are exposed enough for the wind to have an effect. There’s no point in it being a gusty day if the road is in a valley and sheltered by hills or trees for example.

Oh, would you look at that…

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Wide open plain…

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After wide open plain…

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After wide open plain.

As you can see, even in the final few kilometres to the finish the riders are exposed to the wind coming off of the sea. The only place of real respite they have is when they travel through the towns of Los Alcázares and Los Narejos: only a 4km stretch of road, before it all starts again once they leave the cover of the buildings.

I make it therefore that out of the last 25km in tomorrow’s stage, 20km of them are prime echelon territory.

Finally, the last thing you need for echelons to happen is a couple of committed teams in the peloton. Given how close things are GC wise just now then there will be a good few squads looking at tomorrow as an opprtunity to split things up and gain time for their overall contenders. We’ve seen Movistar do this in the past and back in 2011 Liquigas pretty much did a TTT and tore things apart. We obviously have the likes of Quick Step who are masters in these conditions, remember Stage 2 last year, or stage 3 of the Giro that same year?

How will the race pan out?

I’m being bold here and I don’t think we’ll see a full bunch sprint tomorrow as things will get split up on the run in. As to who might be there, it really is tough to tell!

We will have GC teams trying to protect their main rider but we’ll also have guys trying to split things up with a hope of increasing their chances for the stage win. It’s going to be manic. One thing that you do find though is that a lot of sprinters tend to be the better riders in cross winds due to their size and raw power, so a lot of them should be near the front tomorrow. Unless it is complete chaos.

Viviani is probably still the favourite for the stage given how good he is this year and the team he rides for. But the conditions tomorrow probably don’t help him as much as they hinder him because I’m sure he would prefer his lead-out to be there in full to guide him through the finish.

Bold prediction number two: Viviani doesn’t win.

The Two Lotto Tickers

Tosh Van der Sande.

Lotto Soudal are exactly the type of team with the strength and know-how in these conditions to help split the bunch. They have no GC aspirations so can go all in to try something and hope it pays off. With their full Belgian squad, the wind will be a welcome sight to them after the heat of the past few days. Van der Sande is their fastest rider and if they can get him into a group of 10-15, then he has a very good chance of producing the win.

Victor Campenaerts.

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Another strong rider who eats wind for breakfast, the current European TT Champion is clearly in good form after his very good run in the opening effort against the clock. He looked lively on the third stage and went on the attack but unfortunately came off of his bike. However, he only sustained some “abrasions to the buttocks” so it was nothing too serious. After a couple of days at the back of the bunch, I think he’ll have recovered and want to put on a show again. He’s the type of rider who could ping off the front of a group at the end and be nigh on impossible to bring back. Come on the ‘tache!

Prediction

Tosh van der Sande wins an echelon filled finale. Don’t @ me.

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Actually you can @ me all you want, I know I’m being a bit ridiculous but this doesn’t end in a full bunch sprint so why not have some fun!

Betting

Day to be avoiding Viviani unless you’re ridiculously confident. So I’m throwing a few pennies around on the two Lotto riders.

0.5pt WIN Campenaerts @ 400/1

0.5pt EW TVDS @ 300/1

Thanks as always for reading. Who do you think will win tomorrow and why? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Vuelta a España 2018 Stage 3 Preview: Mijas -> Alhaurín de la Torre

Today’s Recap

Well I pretty much had today’s stage bang on in yesterday’s preview, if we just ignore the part where I decided to dream about a Benoot victory…The Lotto Soudal rider was with the front group but pulled off and swung left at roughly 2km to go, possibly struggling with the heat and rhythm of the bunch.

De Plus launched a very strong attack with just over 1km left and gained a reasonable gap while there was a bit of marking out behind. Valverde bit the bullet (see what I did?) and hit out to close him down, with only Kwiatkowski being able to stick to his wheel. The Pole came round Valverde at 250m to go, leading into the last corner. It worked out perfectly though for the Movistar man who was able to use Kwiatkowski’s slipstream and launch past him in the final metres to take the win.

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De Plus held on for third with a whole host of GC riders coming trailing in behind.

The result on the day means that Kwiatkowski moves into the leader’s jersey, 14 seconds ahead of Valverde and 25 ahead of Kelderman. With the parcours to come tomorrow, he should hold on to it, but who knows. Let’s have a look at what is in store for them…

The Route

A classic Vuelta “sprint day” where the riders have to traverse two categorised climbs, including the first Cat-1 of the race, and several other unclassified ascents, totalling over 3000m of altitude gain. Javier Guillén is the biggest patter merchant going!

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The Cat-1 climb of Puerto del Madroño averages 4.4% for 23.5km so it isn’t too tough gradient wise, but it is the length and heat combined that will cause some issues. If we don’t see the break form until here, then expect it to be strong again and it might be one that could go all the way.

The terrain continues to roll for pretty much the remainder of the day, taking in the Cat-3 Puerto del Viento (6.4km at 4.3%) and the uncategorised rise just after the feed zone which comes in at 4.1% for 6kms.

A long descent follows before yet more rolling terrain and some rises before the intermediate sprint point with only 25km left in the day.

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As you can see on the profile above, there are a few rises in the closing 7kms, with the most notable of them being a 1.2km drag (3.6%) average that ends with just 2.5km left in the day. From there, it is mainly flat, if not ever so slightly downhill all the way to the line.

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There are 4 roundabouts to traverse in those closing 2.5km, just a typical Vuelta finish really. The last of those comes with roughly 600m left but it is quite open so it shouldn’t be too bad.

Question Number 1: Break or no break?

The stage looks great for a breakaway to establish a good gap before the sprinters teams can start chasing properly once they are over the Cat-1 climb and normally it would be a good stage to get into the move. However, the issue lies with the fact that Kwiatkowski currently leads the overall and Sky might be keen to keep him in that position so they will keep things on a fairly tight rope, hoping to get some assistance later on. Consequently, I don’t think we’ll see the break win tomorrow despite the favourable profile, although I’ll still give it an 20% chance of it happening.

Question Number 2: Big bunch sprint or reduced bunch sprint?

We saw today that several of the sprinters bailed out early on what was an easier stage than tomorrow. It is hard to read into that though as many of them wouldn’t have rated their chances at all and just decided to save their energy.

However, we are in for a similarly hot day tomorrow and more climbing metres (roughly 400m more), then we could see several sprinters dropped early and not make it back. It will be interesting to see who pushes the pace on and given their current form, I think both Valverde and Kwiatkowski might fancy their chances in a reduced bunch gallop. Consequently, we could see Sky and Movistar form an entente cordiale at the start of the stage and drop most of the fast men on the opening climb. As looking at the stage profile, there isn’t really a lot of flat land where a team can make a concerted chance to get back if the pace is on at the head of the race. It’s not really until 40km to go that the major difficulties of the afternoon are out-of-the-way.

The slightly rolling run-in to the line as well could see some surprisingly lose contact after a tough day. If not, their zip might be gone.

It’s a tough one to call, but I think we’ll see a reduced bunch sprint of maybe 70-90 riders.

Contenders

Elia Viviani.

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Arguably the best sprinter this year, Viviani has had a truly incredible season. He recently won the Cyclassics Hamburg in rather dominant fashion but somewhat disappointed today. I would have expected him to stay with the bunch for longer but as mentioned above, he might just have decided to write the day off and focus on tomorrow. If he can manage the climbs and make it to the line, then he has to be the clear favourite.

Matteo Trentin. 

Another who disappointed me today, he finished ahead of the gruppetto but not by much, coming home almost 11 minutes down. Sensational in this race last year, will he get given the same free role now with Mitchelton? Theoretically he should be one of the fastest “climbing sprinters” here, but does he have the form…His win in Glasgow would suggest so but today’s performance doesn’t. Hmmmm.

Michal Kwiatkowski.

He just seems to be able to continue his great form, doesn’t he?! Today he got played by Valverde who let him lead into the final turn and the Pole will be desperately gutted to have missed out on the stage win, again. Being in the red leader’s jersey isn’t a bad consolation but he will want more. Sky have a strong team to put the sprinters into trouble early and if they form an alliance with other squads, we could see the current race leader sprinting for the win from a reduced bunch. He clearly has the form and speed at the moment to go well and the rises before the line will help to bring him closer to the fast men.

Alejandro Valverde.

Can El Bala make it two in a row? Much like Kwiatkowski, Valverde packs a good sprint on the flat too and he’ll no doubt want to chase some bonus seconds so he can move into the race lead. If the race is aggressive and attritional tomorrow then he has a great chance.

Tom Van Asbroeck.

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Slightly left-field pick but he impressed me a lot on the tougher finishes in the Vuelta last year and he seems to be arriving here in good shape. He was the best finishing “fast man” today, coming home only 2’15 down on Kwiatkowski. He should make it over the climbs with the main group tomorrow and if some of the properly fast guys have been dropped then he has a great chance of pulling off what is a shock result.

Nacer Bouhanni.

I still remember fondly the 2014 Vuelta and just how strong Nacer was then, it is a shame to see him a shadow of his former self, or is he? Today he came home alongside Nibali and Benoot: not exactly bad company for a sprinter on a tricky finish. To me that indicates that his climbing legs are starting to come back and I think he will be up for it tomorrow. On his day Bouhanni can climb very well and I keep harking back to his win in Catalunya last year. One to watch.

Ivan Garcia Cortina.

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The Bahrain rider really announced himself with a third place from the breakaway during last year’s Vuelta on what was a difficult day out. Like Bouhanni, he finished alongside his team-mate Nibali today so there is obviously a reasonable amount of form there at the moment. With Bahrain looking a little lacklustre GC wise already, only Ion is left, then they might turn their attention to Garcia tomorrow: he certainly could challenge for the podium in a reduced gallop.

Note I’ve left out Sagan (probably at my peril) because I still don’t think he’s 100% and isn’t fit enough to compete. Also left out Walscheid as he can barely get over a speed bump.

Prediction

Reduced sprint with some of the sprinters missing out.

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Kwiatkowski to get that win!

 

 

Betting

Backing two riders…

1pt EW Kwiatkowski @ 18/1

1pt EW Van Asbroeck @ 40/1

Should cover a few bases. Maybe not a Viviani win though!

Thanks as always for reading. Who do you think will win tomorrow? Will we see a sprint, reduced bunch sprint or even a breakaway contesting for stage honours? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Vuelta a España 2018 Stage 2 Preview: Marbella -> Caminito del Rey

Today’s Recap

Was it ever really in doubt? The Rohirrim were well and truly mustered. Dennis smashed it out the park, winning by a relatively massive 6 seconds in the grand scheme of things: taking almost one second per kilometre over his nearest rivals.

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Kwiatkowski produced a strong time to come home in second, just edging out Campenaerts. The three pre-stage favourites finishing in the predicted order. The trio were a cut above the rest with a 10 second gap between Campenaerts and 4th-place finisher Oliveira.

Will Dennis hold onto the jersey tomorrow? Let’s take a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

No messing about from the organisers here, the open road action kicks off with a real tease of a stage.

stage-2-profile

Climbing from the gun, the Puerto de Ojén (8km at 5.6%) will offer the chance for a strong break to go clear. There are two more 3rd Cat climbs out on the route which rolls pretty much all afternoon before a climb to finish.

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They will get a look at the final climb just before the halfway point in the stage. As you can see, at an average of just under 4% for 4.7kms, it isn’t the toughest climb in the world. However, it goes up in steps and the final kilometre of it averages a slightly punchier 6.5%. As they round the final corner with only 200m to go, things flatten out somewhat and a slight drag to the line awaits.

How will the stage pan out?

Given the tough start we could see a strong break get away, something a lot of the peloton won’t want. There is a chance if that is the case though, and that the morning move fights it out at the finish. We’ve seen this before where there is a lack of organisation by the big GC teams as to who chases down the move, almost trying to call each others bluff but failing in the end.

However, I don’t think that will be the case this time around and there will be enough co-operation behind to keep things on a fairly tight leash.

Expect the likes of Movistar and Sky to control the tempo on the final climb, whittling down the group in the hope to set up their riders. It is punchy enough to see some attacks though and if the bunch becomes unorganised then someone might be able to sneak away.

Kwiatkowski v Valverde?

On paper these are the two favourites for the stage as I personally think the finish will be too tough for the likes of Viviani and co. Sagan would be up there if this was in July but it’s not and he’s not been in the best of shape recently so yeah…

Kwiatkowski was dominant in the Tour of Poland, winning two stages along with the GC title. Both of his wins came on uphill finishes, although they were different in nature compared to what we have tomorrow, which is somewhere in between the two. If anything, the finish is very similar to his win earlier in the year in the Algarve when he won up the climb of Foia.

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Valverde is of course Valverde and you would have to be living under a rock not to know his capabilities on a finish like this. We’ve seen him take numerous wins in sprints from reduced groups at the top of climbs over the past few years. His team should be strong enough to hold it all together but who knows. His form is a bit unknown though as he hasn’t raced since the Tour so he might get caught out a bit here but then again, it is Valverde and he is always on form. The Tour was his down time in form for the year…

Not Just a Two-horse Race.

There are of course plenty of others within the field who will fancy their chances via either a sprint or a late attack. Think of Dan Martin, Dylan Teuns, Bauke Mollema, the Yates’ and Pello Bilbao to name but a few.

However, I’ve had one rider in mind for this stage for a few days now and I think as an “outsider” he has a good chance of going very well…

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I’ve been very impressed by Benoot’s transition from one-day racer to potential future one-week stage race contender this year. Saying that, his biggest and only win did come in the very tough edition of Strade Bianche. On that day he was flying on the short and punchy climbs and it was one of the rides of the season. Set to ride his first Tour de France, he was unfortunately the victim of one of the opening week crashes; ultimately being forced to abandon before the start of the 5th stage. He returned to racing in the Cyclassics Hamburg recently and was one of the riders on the attack over the final climb, where he looked fairly comfortable. He’s talked up his form quite a bit in the run in to this race and I believe him! Just look at his “sprint” results in Tirreno and Dauphiné, he can pack a punch from a small group. Will he wait for the galop though, or go for a hail mary attack?

Prediction

I was going to be boring and just say Kwiatkowski here but I’ll stick my neck out and go with Benoot. It’s also a perfect excuse 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

Forza Tiesj!

Betting

1pt EW Benoot @ 33/1

Thanks as always for reading! Apologies for this being a little bit shorter than normal but I’ve had a few other things on this afternoon. Normal length should return tomorrow. Who do you think is going to win the stage? Will we see a surprise? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Vuelta a España 2018 GC Preview

Vuelta a España 2018 GC Preview

It doesn’t seem that long ago that I was settling down to write about the Giro, yet here we are three and half months later and it is time to talk about the final GT of the year: the Vuelta. Or “Spain 2018”, depends what I’m allowed to say really…

Last year’s edition of the race saw a dominant Chris Froome take the red leader’s jersey on stage 3 and hold it all the way to Madrid.

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He had a couple of nervy moments but never really looked in that much trouble, ultimately beating Nibali by 2’15 with Zakarin 2’51 behind in third place. Froome isn’t here to defend his title this year but we do have three former champions in the shape of Nibali, Aru and Valverde on the start list. However, there is plenty of talent at the race looking to take their maiden Vuelta, or even Grand Tour in general, win.

As always, I’ll be doing daily stage previews I’m just going to gloss over the route completely really. There will be plenty of others who look at key stages etc so I don’t want to bore you with that again!

The Bookmaker’s Favourite

Richie Porte.

The BMC rider arrives at this race after once again failing to complete a Grand Tour without incident; crashing out of the Tour was his downfall again this year. He’s openly admitted that his form is not as good as pre-Tour so he will hope to ride himself into the race and go from there. In fact, he’s not raced since that crash so it will be very interesting to see how he copes in the opening week where there are a few summit finishes. He is the best climber in this race when on form, it is just a question if he is near that level now? I don’t think so, but I’m willing to be proved wrong. There is also then the cloud that looms over his head of Porte not being able to complete a GT without a bad day. It’s happened too many times for it to be classed as “just bad luck” and it will once again be the undoing of him this race. I think we’ll see him here to gain some miles on the clock and re-find his good condition before having a tilt at the Worlds in Innsbruck.

The Main Challengers

Simon Yates.

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Super strong in the opening two-weeks of the Giro, there was no one able to match him on the climbs. However, he cracked massively and his tumble-down the order was dramatic: losing 1 hour and 15 minutes over two stages. He’s back here to have another tilt at GC along with his brother Adam who provides another option for the team, although it has to be said, after a poor Tour from him it will be interesting to see how he bounces back. Simon is their main guy for GC and if he can repeat the form he had in those opening two weeks at the Giro over the three weeks here then he has to start as the favourite. I think both he and the team will have learnt a lot from that experience, gaining a lot both physically and mentally. Although if we see them chasing down every break in the first week – then maybe they haven’t!

Nairo Quintana.

We caught a glimpse of the old Nairo returning at the Tour when he took a rather spectacular stage win on the Col du Portet. However, that was only short-lived after a crash the following day saw him ship a lot of time over the coming stages and he slipped down the order to finish in 10th place overall. If he has recovered from that fall then he should be one of the main contenders for the race. Back in 2016 when he won the Vuelta his third week peak in the Tour was very similar to what this year’s *could* have been. I do expect him to go well this race, but it will once again be a case of him trying to avoid any silly time losses in the opening week before they even get to the mountains proper.

Miguel Angel Lopez.

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A third place finish at the Giro and the young rider’s jersey to boot, this will the Astana man’s first attempt riding, let along being competitive, at two Grand Tours in a season. Theoretically the course is good for him, with lots of summit finishes where he can show his climbing prowess. His recent performance in Burgos was a good indicator that his form is on the up, where he got a stage win but ultimately finished behind a flying Sosa on GC. The long TT isn’t ideal for him and he will definitely ship some time there. Also, he seems like a rider who suffers one bad day in a GT – so will he be able to recoup the TT and bad day losses over the rest of the climbing days? I’m not so sure but he will be there or thereabouts.

The Podium Contenders.

With such an open race, there are several guys who will rate their chances of making the GC podium come the end of the three weeks in Madrid.

Alejandro Valverde – After performing a good supporting role for his team-mates in France, this will be the Grand Tour where Valverde gets his chance to shine. He probably enters the race as co-leader with Quintana and they will see how things pan out throughout the race. There are plenty of opportunities for him to pick up bonus seconds but some of the tougher finish climbs might worry him. Nonetheless, this is Spain and we are in Valverde territory so he can’t be discounted. Will having one eye on the Worlds detract from his performance? I don’t think so.

Rigobero Uran – Disappointing in the Tour before abandoning the race, he arrives here with only San Sebastian in his legs since then. At that race though he did look fairly strong for someone who dropped out of the Tour but will he have been able to re-find that form? If he’s on or close to his 2017 Tour level then he has a very good chance of winning this race.

Fabio Aru – One of the enigmas of Grand Tour cycling, Aru only seems to ever really turn up at the for the big events and even then he’s struggled since 2015 with consistency. His implosion at the Giro was pretty dramatic but even before then he wasn’t really in the fight for the title and found himself sitting 5’33 down on Yates. He does seem to go well in Spain though and he certainly seems more “chipper” on social media which to be indicates that he is in a good place – maybe the results will follow and we’ll see 2015 Fabio again?

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David De La Cruz – Sky’s GC man for this race, it was here that he had a breakthrough performance in 2016 when he finished in 7th. At the start of the year he was in good form but he lost the opportunity to chase his own results in races such as the Giro and Tirreno. However, a recent third place in Burgos shows that he is slowly riding himself back into form for the Vuelta. Will we see an attacking Sky for once with Henao and Kwiatkowski also possible outsiders for a good result.

George Bennett – My favourite outsider for the race, I have been really impressed with the Kiwi’s development this year. He had a solid Giro where he finished 8th overall but the Vuelta on paper has the parcours that suits him a lot better. Recently in Poland he was by far the strongest on the short few kilometre climbs and it was just a shame for him that they weren’t just a little bit longer so that he could definitely drop everyone. I did question his tactics on pulling during that final day, but maybe he’ll cash in that favour from Kwiatkowski at some point here? The TT will see him lose a good bit of time but as an attacking rider I think he can gain it back elsewhere.

Ilnur Zakarin – After a successful Giro (5th) / Vuelta (3rd) attempt in 2017, this will be the Katusha riders first effort at the Tour/Vuelta combination. A little bit like Quintana, although not as evident, Zakarin seemed to grow into the Tour in the final week and find some good legs in the closing stages. The number of mountain finishes will be great news for him as it means he can avoid descending to the finish line!

The “Unknowns”

Those with questionable/unkown form or riders that have their sights elsewhere…

Wilco Kelderman – His 4th place last year was his second “breakthrough” GC performance after his 7th in the Giro back in 2014. He was strong in his comeback race in Suisse but he was meant to go to the Tour to support Dumoulin but crashed in training and missed the race. That has resulted in his preparations for here being a bit rushed so no one really has any idea of how he will go. Given what we saw last year, he has to be considered a contender if the form is there. He will love the long TT.

Vincenzo Nibali – Unjustly forced to abandon the Tour after he was taken out by a spectator, he says that his current shape is miles off where it needs to be. I kind of believe him but this is Nibali after all and if he has a chance of winning the race in the final week, he’ll turn up. However, I do think this is all just preparation for the Worlds at which he has a serious chance of winning.

Richard Carapaz – One of the standout performances at the Giro where he took a very impressive 4th place on GC. Will he be here to help Quintana and Valverde, or will he get another chance to chase glory? Who knows!

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Thibaut Pinot – Another who completely capitulated at the Giro, he looked good on his return to racing in Poland earlier in the month. I see a lot of people are touting him for success here and given the field, he is one of the riders with a solid pedigree. However, my main concern with him for this race is the heat: he notoriously struggles in the warm weather and the opening week looks like it will be typical Spanish August weather. So a with a return to an old blog favourite, take it away Simon…

its a no

Mas, Buchmann and Ion Izagirre all fall into the same category for me of “solid top 10 potential but I struggle to see them fighting for anything further up the order”. A stage win and a top 10 would be a good result for them!

I think I’ve covered everyone, there are certainly plenty of guys to cover…

Prediction

Is this the most open Grand Tour we’ve seen in recent memory? I think so. We could be in for some surprises over the coming few weeks as teams and riders battle for control. As for who will win? I’m not overly confident in choosing any of the contenders as a clear candidate so I’ll stick to tradition in this situation and go for someone slightly left-field…

George Bennett to take home the title!

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Both he and his team have looked lively over the past couple of weeks and I think they will continue that form into the Vuelta.

Betting

I’m not normally one to make many antepost bets but the odds of 50/1 on offer a few days ago were too good to pass up.

Bennett is still available at 40/1 in some places but I would even accept the 33/1 that is common.

1pt EW Bennett at 50/1 (take the 33/1).

As for other antepost markets, I made a short KOM thread on my twitter yesterday and pointed to two potential candidates for that: Nick Schultz (300/1) and Thomas de Gendt (14/1), but both of their prices have dropped dramatically – now 80/1 and 9/1 respectively, I think TDG is still back-able at that price, Schultz not so much.

Likewise, for the points jersey I fancy Kwiatkowski (33/1) to go well but that price has shortened to 16/1 with Bet365. However, he is still available at those same odds with Ladbrokes/Coral.

Thanks for reading as always. Who do you think will win the race overall and why? I shall be back with my stage 1 preview on Friday evening so hope to see you then! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Vuelta a Andalucia 2018 Stage 4 Preview; Sevilla › Alcalá de los Gazules

Today’s Recap

We did end with a sprint and Modolo took the win as expected.

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Barbero followed him home with young Colombian Soto taking his first European podium.

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

The Route

A weird stage that has a lot of flat but with a mountain in the middle of the day and a tricky finish.

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The road does roll a little from around the 60km mark but it is nothing too serious. It will be interesting to see how long it takes for the break to form as a lot of riders and teams will fancy its chances.

We should see something go by around 30km into the day but you never know. The first obstacle the peloton will have to face is the Puerto de las Palomas. It’s a long climb at 12.5km with a fairly steady 6.5% gradient throughout. It’s too far from the finish to be attacked by the GC group so I imagine they’ll ride at a steady tempo. It could split the break if someone really decides to push on but that all depends on the composition of the move.

Once over the crest they’ll face a small descent before the Puerto del Boyar. A short climb at only 2kms, it is more an interruption to the downhill more than anything else. Fifteen kilometres of proper descent follows before the road rolls in the closing 70km. Again, there is nothing too serious but it can sap the legs.

The major difficulty of the day though is the climb to the finish.

The road actually climbs for a few hundred metres before the video begins.

You should be able to see above how terrible the surface is. Well, it’s just typical for a side-street in Southern Spain. Some of the gaps between the paving stones look fairly large! I mean it does get better for a bit, but then it gets considerably worse after again.

The road is also extremely narrow and can only comfortably fit one car up it so positioning will be important coming into the bottom so expect a big battle between the GC contenders and their teams.

The average gradient of 10% for 1.4km almost makes the climb easier than it actually is. In fact, there is even a little descent around half-way up!

Andalucia S4 Fin

If people haven’t done a proper recon, then they’ll be in for a big shock. I just hope they haven’t repaired the road surface, it would just take away from the spectacle/my viewing pleasure. It is one that I’ll enjoy from the comfort of my chair. I mean, just look at the final turn…

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Some great Spanish infrastructure!

The winner here will certainly be deserving of it, that is for sure.

Break or no break?

The age-old question is back again.

One of the factors that does swing the stage into the breakaway’s hands is the fact there are no bonus seconds on the line so there is no need to catch them. Sky have their stage win and GC lead so they’ll be happy enough to just ride tempo and have a battle behind. Astana have looked the liveliest in chasing the break but their best option might be to send someone up the road themselves and let Sky do the work and hopefully tire them out.

I really can’t see anyone else pitching in to help work so with that said, I think we all know where this is going…

TheBreakawayLottery

My Tickets

The flat start to the stage makes this a really interesting day. Theoretically, it should be harder for the climbers who might fancy their chances on the closing slope to make the break as they’ll be weaker in the opening part of the day compared to the rouleurs.

Moreno Moser.

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I mean, why the heck not mention him for the third day out of 4! I’ll keep this one brief but it’s pretty much the same reasoning as in the other previews. Astana want a stage win and Moser said in an interview with the team that he would like a chance at personal glory this week. On the finish of stage 2 he buried himself on the run in and on the footslopes of the final climb. Explosive enough to go well on the steep gradients out of a break, can he finally deliver after I’m rambled on about him so much this week?

Silvan Dillier.

Active in Laigueglia and active on the opening day of racing, the Ag2R man sits third on the mountain classification but is still in with a chance of winning it if he takes maximum points on the day. The flat start gives him a good opportunity to make the break over some better climbers but he should not be discounted on the slopes himself. A punchy rider, he might just surprise.

Lluís Mas Bonet.

Cycling: 51th Tour of Turkey 2015/ Stage 8

Re-used pick number two. The current leader of the KOM competition, he might want a venture in to the break to secure that classification. Today a team-mate swept up the points for him but he’ll possibly need to go in the move himself. The flat start might make it difficult for him but he has a lot of fighting spirit. If the composition of the break is made up of mainly rouleurs, he has the climbing ability to take the win.

Sean De Bie.

An all-rounder, the Belgian can climb ok, sprint well and put in a good effort against the clock. He’s had a fairly disappointing few stages so far with only an 11th place on the opening day. He did manage to pick up a win in Etoile before finishing 8th on GC so he does have some form. The type of rider who will hope that the break is made up of heavier riders with few climbers; he could be one to look out for.

GC Battle

It will be interesting to see what gaps we get between the GC contenders. The climb is short and steep enough that team-mates aren’t a great help. Positioning will be important coming into the bottom so expect to see a big battle between Astana and Sky for control of the peloton. The Kazakh team have the advantage of having two riders in contention so I think we might see Fuglsang go hard and early in an attempt to put the others into difficulty.

Poels motored away from everyone with his accelerations on stage 2 and with the same form he could do something similar tomorrow. The climb isn’t long so it will be interesting to see how he approaches it.

Landa is of course a danger, especially when you think of his performance on the brutally steep ramps of Aia a few years ago.

Then of course we have Sanchez who is in incredible shape at the moment. He’ll fancy his chances of winning the title in the TT but he will be wary of Sky and their ability to pull some great results against the clock out. He needs to not lose any time to Poels here in my opinion.

Wellens is the dark horse but he can’t be underestimated. He’s started this season in sparkling form and his performance on stage 2 will be a massive confidence boost. The shorter distance in theory gives him even more of a chance of a good result as his weight won’t be as much of a detriment.

Given how close they all were on stage 2 it is hard to split them. I reckon we’ll see someone fall behind but I’m not so sure as to who. As to who might profit on the day and move into a more commanding GC place, that also has me stumped!

I’m just looking forward to a good race, hopefully on two fronts.

Prediction

The break to stay away and Silvan Dillier to win.

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His development last season impressed me a lot and he seems to have continued that so far this season with some good performances in his few race days so far. He can climb well enough to cope with the ascents in the middle of the day but he’s also punchy enough to be in with a chance at the finish. Of course, it all depends on who makes the break (Hint – None of my picks typically will) but I will be watching him with interest if he does.

Betting

Just can’t bring myself to back Dillier at the price he is so;

1pt WIN on both

Moser @ 50/1

Mas Bonet @ 80/1

Thanks as always for reading. Who do you think will win tomorrow? Will it be a GC rider or will the break succeed? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Vuelta a Andalucia 2018 Stage 3 Preview; Mancha Real › Herrera

Today’s Recap

Well that was an exciting finish!

It wasn’t as decisive GC wise as I had expected but it was a very tactical and enthralling finale with attacks off the front being slowly brought back for a counter move to go instantly. In the end though, Wout Poels timed his last attack at the perfect moment and sprung away to take stage victory and with it the GC lead.

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Sanchez and Wellens trailed home just 2 seconds down with Landa and Fuglsang another two behind them. It leaves the race interestingly poised going into the next few stages.

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

The Route

The only stage of the race that should be a guaranteed sprint.

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With that being said though, the riders will have to contend with a lot of uncategorised climbing throughout the day so it will be interesting to see who takes up the chase.

The two Cat-3s shouldn’t be of any major difficulty for the bunch unless some have really suffered during today’s ridiculously tough finish. We do get an intermediate sprint at Puente Genil with only 10kms left, but given there are no bonus seconds on offer then it’s interesting placement becomes somewhat less interesting.

The final 12km does roll a bit though which makes it a not so straightforward finish.

RDSS3Final12

The major rise in the closing section averages 3.6% for 2.4km that “crests” at just over 7km to go. It might just be enough for a team to stretch the bunch out if they hit it hard, but they’ll need to keep the pressure on over the last 7km if it is to be worthwhile.

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At just 500m to go, the peloton will be greeted with a very tight left-hand turn. Expect a massive fight to get here as you’ll need to be in the first ten riders through here if you want to contend for the stage.

Those last 500m actually kick up ever so slightly but it is more of a grind than anything else at an average of 1.9%. It will certainly give the sprinters something else to think about as you don’t want to open up too early and fade in the end.

How will the stage pan out?

As I said previously, this should be a sprint stage. But nothing is ever certain in cycling!

We saw on the opening day that some of the sprint teams didn’t really want to commit to the chase and the break almost and probably would have stayed away if it wasn’t for Astana. Now, that stage was a lot harder than this one but with a few more days racing in the legs, some of the riders might not be as keen to work at the front all day.

Sky will set their usual tempo but if no one up the road is a danger to them, then they’re not going to over-extended themselves by brining it back unnecessarily. That realistically just leaves the sprinters teams and none of them really strike me with confidence.

Modolo messed up the first stage and he is probably the class sprinter here but can we really trust EF Education First to organise a chase? This was the team that struggled to bring back a break in the Giro even when their whole squad was TTing on the front.

AG2R might chip in to chase but they’ve been in both of the breakaways so far which indicates that they might play that card again. So will Direct Energie or Wanty help then either?

I’m really starting to lean-to the possibility that the break might actually have a better chance tomorrow than originally thought.

In fact, I’m just going to talk about some break candidates because if we get a sprint then I don’t expect Modolo to make the same mistake again.

Lottery Contenders

I’ll keep this bit short and sweet as I’ll no doubt be massively wrong and we’ll end with the obvious bunch sprint.

Moreno Moser.

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Back again with my favourite Italian on Astana, he and the rest of his team-mates have done a lot of work over the opening two stages for the team’s leaders. In an interview on the Astana website, Moser says that he wants to work well for the team but also chase his own opportunity at some point in the race. We’re running out of stages so he might just go in the break tomorrow if there is a sense in the peloton of no-one wanting to commit to a chase.

Oliver Naesen.

As I’ve said above, Ag2r seem keen on sending people up the road during this race. Naesen fits the bill perfectly tomorrow of being far enough down the order not to be a threat but he’s strong enough to win from a group. With the classics season on the horizon, a nice hit-out here would be a good test of form.

Damien Gaudin.

He really “found himself” last year while riding for the Armee de Terre squad picking up three victories to his name. Starting his season this year in the Bongo at which he finished third overall, he’s been a solid domestique for his team-mates since then. He’s the type of rider who is dangerous in a breakaway as he seems to be strong in one-day races. With an explosive short turn of power (he’s not too bad at prologues) he could surprise in a sprint from the break.

Lluís Mas Bonet.

Cycling: 51th Tour of Turkey 2015/ Stage 8

Token Spaniard breakaway pick who also doubles as current KOM leader. Mas Bonet gets into the break to defend and secure the KOM title but with no chase behind he turns his attention to the stage. He packs a surprisingly decent kick and it could catch out a few. The slightly rolling finish would be good for him.

Prediction

Breakaway stays away as EF Education First fail to organise a piss up in a brewery and no one else wants to commit to the work. In fact, other sprinters teams send riders up the road and a 7 man group stays away until the end.

That man Oli Naesen warms up for the classics perfectly by taking a confidence boosting win here!

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Or we get a fairly dull day where the sprint teams decide to actually co-operate and then it is anyone’s guess. Modolo would be favourite but he’s not unbeatable.

Betting

2 of the guys not priced up but I’m just going to “waste” 1pt on some break picks.

0.25pt WIN on them all.

Naesen @ 50/1

Moser @ 300/1

Valgren @ 400/1

Van Hecke @ 400/1

All with Bet365.

Thanks as always for reading. Who do you think will win tomorrow? Will it end in a sprint or will we see the break surprise? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Vuelta a Andalucia 2018 Stage 2 Preview; Otura › La Guardia de Jaén

Today’s Recap

A bit of a quieter stage than what I expected, Astana decided to finally take up the pace making at around 50km to go. This was enough to thin the peloton down and catch the break, but we still had plenty of fast-men left to compete for the win.

In the end, Boudat just pipped a prematurely celebrating Modolo for the win. Although it has to be said, we’ve not yet seen the photo finish so I’m sure some might feel aggrieved! Ag2Rs Venturini finished in third.

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With the sprinters having their chance to shine on today’s stage tomorrow will give the mountain goats an opportunity.

The Route

We’re only on the second day of racing but we’re treated to the Queen Stage of the race.

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At only 141km in length, it is a fairly short day in the saddle for the riders but some of the climbs to pack a punch. The opening two-thirds of the stage will see the breakaway form and build up an advantage as although some of the climbs are reasonably long, they’re not steep enough for any crazy early attacks.

That might however change on the Puerto de Valdepeñas. At an average of 7.5% for 3.7km it is steep enough for a team to really up the pace and put some of the domestiques in opposition squads into difficulty. Cresting at 40km to go it is too far out for any serious move but I would expect to see a thinning of the bunch here.

The following 30km before we hit the final climb of Allanadas consist mainly of descent or climbing.

rdslAST30KMallanadas

The climbs that split up the descent aren’t too tough, but 3.3km at 5.5% and 5km at 4.2% will certainly disrupt the rhythm in the peloton. They’ll continue through the town of La Guardia de Jaén before starting the brutally steep final climb, although to be fair, the road even climbs through the town itself.

allanadabt07
Source: Altimetrias

5.5km at 9.6% is tough enough if it was a steady climb but the closing 3.3kms average close to 12%. This will be a sufferfest for most of the bunch!

If we get some tough racing earlier in the day then expect the time gaps to be massive come the end of the stage. The finish climb was last used in the 2015 edition of this race when Froome motored away from Contador and won by a resounding 29 seconds which was enough to lead the GC by 2 seconds. Behind riders lost a shed-load of time, with 10th place finisher Van den Broek coming home 1’38 down for example.

Contenders

Only the best climbers and those who are in form will be able to compete here. The result of this stage will go a long way as to shape the GC so a lot of the contender here will be the same as I mentioned in my GC preview. So I’m not going to waste your time with a massive speel about the candidates; I’ll keep it short and sweet!

Landa – If he’s in good form this is his stage to lose. Great on steep ramps he’ll want to gain as much of an advantage before the TT. His form is the unknown though.

LL Sanchez – His form is definitely known and he is flying. Normally a finish like this would be too tough for him but he seems to be in the shape of his life. It will still be difficult for him to win it, but coming home within 20 seconds is a good result.

Fuglsang – If LLS isn’t going well then no doubt the Dane will be up there for Astana as a ready replacement. In surprisingly good early season form by his standards he’ll be aiming for a top 3 at least.

Poels – Terribly disappointing in Valenciana, with a race in his legs will he go any better? On paper this is a good stage but we’ll just have to wait and see.

Antunes – He’s shown in the past to be explosive enough but can he compete on terrain like this? He might be the type of rider to benefit from not being too well-known and having a good awful TT.

Prediction

I’ll just stick with what I said in my GC preview; form is king at the moment so LLS to win.

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Or we see #AFreeLanda ride away from everyone on the aptly named Allanda climb. Or He Who Must Not Be Named just takes the piss.

All of which are likely possibilities.

Betting

6pts on LLS to beat Hermans at 5/6

 

Thanks as always for reading! I’m looking forward to the end of the stage, should be a great spectacle. Who do you think will win? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Vuelta a Andalucia 2018 Stage 1 Preview; Mijas › Granada

Vuelta a Andalucia 2018 Stage 1 Preview; Mijas › Granada

The Route

A very testing first day out for the peloton. According to the altimetry on LaFlammeRouge they will face 4000m of climbing.

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@LasterketaBurua

Starting with a climb almost immediately might catch some of the peloton off guard and we might see those who fancy a go in the breakaway warming up on the rollers beforehand.

I wonder if some of the GC teams will keep things together until the 32km so that their leader can go for bonus seconds. If not, then nothing much will happen until the second half of the day. Where in the closing 90km of the stage the riders will have to tackle 5 categorised climbs.

The first of those is the toughest as the Puerto de Zaafarraya averages 6.1% for 11.8km. This is long enough for riders to be dropped if a team decides to push the pace on. From there the road rolls for the following 40km with very little respite. In fact, from the 127km gone mark the riders will either be climbing or descending for the next 30km. This will hurt a lot, especially this early into the season and if a team decides to take it up. We could well see the peloton decide en masse to take it easy but I’m not so sure if that will happen.

Once over the crest of the penultimate climb (the Alto del Lucero) there will still be 40kms left and only one more ascent. The majority of the 20kms between the two climbs is shallow descent so anyone who lost time on the Lucero will have to make an effort to come back.

The final climb is the easiest of the day at only 4.8% for 2.5km. Cresting with 20km to go, could it act as a launchpad for some late attacks?

stage-1-finish

The run-in itself is fairly straight forward with the last 2kms almost all being along a straight road. They do have to traverse a roundabout in the closing kilometre but the road does go almost straight ahead so it shouldn’t be too much of an issue.

Sprint or nah?

Tomorrow’s stage really could go two ways and there is certainly a more exciting option!

We could see some teams ramp up the pace from far out, especially on the long Cat-1 climb, or blitz the 30kms of constant up and down which follows not long after. Even though there is a long way from the penultimate climb to the finish there is a chance that the group could be thinned down. By how much depends on how aggressively we race but I would expect something like 60 riders left at the head of the race. If things get crazy, then we could see 20-30 riders out front with 40km to go.

A group like that is open to counter-attacks and I’m not sure if there would be the co-operation to stay away. A 60 rider peloton is much more likely to make it all the way.

Conversely though, we could see a much more sedate pace with the break slowly reeled back in and a big bunch finish in Granada.

It is also important to not rule out the breakaway on an opening stage like this. Who is going to want to do all of the chasing? Will it fall to the sprinters teams, or will a squad of a GC favourite step up and do the work?

My more favoured option is a reduced bunch sprint of around 50 riders so I’m going to throw a few names into the hat for that option. Although with the amount of climbing to be done, I do keep swinging towards this being a more selective day than it originally seems. If that does happen, then expect chaos in the final 40km as we’ll see countless attacks go; which certainly would be exciting!

Candidates

Oliver Naesen.

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With the Classics season approaching on the horizon, these are the types of races where the strong men of the bunch come to hone their form. Tomorrow’s stage is quite like a tough one-day race where the bunch will be worn down through attrition, not steep gradients. Naesen is the type of rider who could go well here if the pace is consistent but not crazy on the climbs. He’s a strong guy and certainly could push out some watts at the end of the race; his lead-out for Venturini in the closing stage in Valenciana is testament to that. Although he put out too much there!

Sep Vanmarcke.

I’m on a similar train of thought with Vanmarcke and making the assumption that Modolo might not make the finish. The Belgian rider had a disappointing classics campaign in due to injury but the second half of his season was much better. He picked up some very solid results in tough one-day races such as Bretagne and Quebec. In a reduced group he has a surprisingly good turn of speed and a win here would give him a lot of confidence as we head towards the Classics.

Moreno Moser.

Astana have arguably the strongest team here so they will hope that most, if not all, of their riders make a front group if we have some splits on the climbs. Moser’s win in Laigueglia on Sunday was very impressive although he was against a weaker field. His attack on the climb saw him open up a gap in less than 50 metres and he managed to keep putting time into the rest of the riders over the closing 10km. He looks back to the lively rider we saw when he burst onto the scene in 2012. That year he won a 40 rider bunch sprint on the opening stage in the Tour of Poland, can he do the same here tomorrow?

Andrea Pasqualon.

2017-sabatini-pasqualon-andrea-finish

The Wanty rider had a very solid end to 2017, finishing in the top 10 in 5 out of the 6 one-day races he competed in. That set of results included a very impressive sprint victory in the Coppa Sabatini where he beat the likes of Colbrelli and Viviani. He’s the type of rider who will struggle if the pace is high on the climbs tomorrow, but he should manage to sneak his way into a group of 60 or so if he has maintained that form.

Enrico Battaglin.

Another Italian to make the list, it seems that Battaglin is always a shoe-in for a top 10 finish on stages like these. He can climb well; although he’s not hit the heady-heights of his performances in the 2016 Giro as of late, but he can also sprint to a good standard as well.

Prediction

After only somewhat including him for my Laigueglia preview, I can’t not back my season-long fantasy rider here; Moreno Moser to win!

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I still can’t get over the power of his attack on that day and I think he gives Astana their best option of stage success from a small sprint. Of course, if we see a really crazy day then he’ll hope to be there and he could make it to the line in a small group of attackers who’ve skipped clear of the bunch.

Betting

1pt EW Moser @ 66/1 with Bet365 (Would take 40s)

0.5pt EW Vanmarcke @ 100/1 with Bet365 (Would take 66s)

 

FOR GC – 2pts WIN Luis Leon Sanchez at 11/2 with Bet365.

 

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win tomorrow and how will the stage play out? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.