Tour de Romandie 2017 Prologue Preview; Aigle -> Aigle

Tour de Romandie 2017 Prologue Preview; Aigle -> Aigle

GC Overview

Short of time again so there’s no full GC preview from me but here are a few quick thoughts.

The weather forecast for the week looks grim, so that certainly suits some riders more than others and wet roads could make some of the descents very treacherous. Nonetheless, it looks to be a two-horse race this between Porte and Froome.

Porte hasn’t raced in over a month since Paris Nice, where he was left bitterly disappointed after losing time in the crosswinds on the opening stages. However, he was sublime and put 21 seconds into a flying Contador on the Queen Stage. It’s the best I think I’ve seen the Australian climb and he’ll want to show well here again to gain a psychological advantage over his old team-mate.

Likewise, Froome also hasn’t raced for close to a month, with his last outing being in Catalunya where he once again was caught out in splits near the start of a stage. None of that matters though to Froome and his season starts here. Without a win this year, he’ll want to change that here and look to seal the title before going to the Dauphiné. Thomas was flying when he came back from South Africa and I expect the same from Froome this time too.

Can anyone stop them? Not really, no! However, Izagirre, Roglic, Spilak, Yates and Pantano will hope to go close and take 3rd place on the podium.

I’ll go for a Porte win. That climbing display in Paris Nice was truly impressive and he’ll just edge Froome, before the tables are turned at the Dauphiné.

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Right, let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders on the opening day.

The Route

Short, but sharp opening prologue for the riders to tackle.

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@LasterketaBurua

You can view an interactive profile of the route here.

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With a few technical turns this prologue isn’t all about raw power, with good bike handling skills also being essential if you want to set a very fast time.

There’s not much to the terrain with it mostly being flat, but we do get a kilometre long drag of roughly 2% from 1.8km -> 2.8km. From there, the riders descend quickly before another few hundred metres at 2% before the flat run to the line.

And that’s that for the route, short and sweet like the effort!

Weather

As is often the case in Romandie, bad weather looks set to play a part in the race.

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Source: MeteoCentrale

It doesn’t look like it will be too bad tomorrow, with most of the rain supposedly falling in the evening. However, there is a chance for a few showers as we get later into the afternoon. Will some of the GC riders go out earlier hoping to avoid them?!

Contenders

A prologue like this is incredibly wide open. Getting my excuses in early! TT specialists will fancy their chances but so will sprinters and strong all rounders.

This list could be very long if I wanted it to, but since I’m in a bit of a rush and I’m not a fan of naming 20 riders, I’ll pick a select few and try to give reasons as to why they can win the stage. Several favourites will be left out but what else would you expect?!

Ion Izagirre.

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Once of the riders blessed by going out in better conditions last year, he avoided the rain which made the descent treacherous, taking the win on the opening day. There isn’t as much climbing in the prologue this year but I would argue that he’s going in much better shape than this time last year. After a very successful Ardennes week (12th was his worst finish) he seems to be bang in form and will be looking to equal last year’s performance.

Michael Albasini.

Another man who has been plagued by the Haughey Curse, I had picked him for the prologue last year at 200/1.

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He was going well too, until he came to grief on the rainy descent. This year he seems to be in equally impressive form with no worse than a 7th place in the Ardennes this week. Known as Mr Romandie, he has 6 stage wins to his name here and he should make it seven at some point this week. Will that be tomorrow?

Stefan Küng.

The second Swiss rider to make the list and a former trackie, the BMC man won the Individual Pursuit World title in 2015. This type of short course should suit him perfectly and he’ll be fired up for his home race. Not having raced since Roubaix, it will be interesting to see what his form will be like, but he has every chance when the winning margin should be small!

Fabio Felline.

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Not a known TT rider, Felline has improved at the discipline over the past year and he finished a very respectable 5th in the TT in Andalucia back at the start of the season. An explosive rider who seems to be going reasonably well, he has a good chance of upsetting the applecart.

Of course there are many others who could get involved and we might even see Porte and Froome feature at the head of the field.

Prediction

Mr Romandie to take his seventh stage win, smashing the TT and hopefully staying up-right this time!

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I think we might see the two big GC favourites get close to the podium as well.

Betting

I wouldn’t normally bet on the GC but because of the price I will;

2pts EW Porte at 9/2 with Bet365. 

He has a good chance of winning, but should podium barring any disaster. Safe in the sense that stakes are returned if he does.

Prologue picks, all with B365 as well;

Albasini 1pt EW @ 28/1

Froome 0.25pt EW @40/1

Porte 0.25pt EW @50/1

 

Thanks for reading as always, I should have a longer preview out for the first road stage. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Pais Vasco 2017 Stage 6 Preview; Eibar -> Eibar (ITT)

Today’s Recap

The break was kept on a tight leash all day and was brought back before the 50km to go mark. Orica were the team taking on the brunt of the pace making duties, but when we got to the final climb Yates looked a bit flat. Instead, for a while it looked as if Meintjes and Woods were going to surprise the favourites, but they were brought back just before the summit.

That left a couple of kilometres of false flat/descent which saw Sanchez spectacularly fall off while no-one was around him. According to reports apparently he hit a stone! He looked pretty bashed up when crossing the line.

Reducing the front group by two (the crash distanced Contador by a few seconds), Valverde used his knowledge of the finale (he won on this finish in the 2012 Vuelta), beating Uran and Bardet to the line.

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Too easy in the end for him!

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

The Route

Climb -> Descent -> Flat. A real mixed bag of a TT!

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@LasterketaBurua

No Strava profile from me today as I’m short of time.

As you can see above, the opening climb isn’t exactly easy; 5.2Km long at 7.3%. The riders will be fairly happy that the gradients are relatively consistent. Saying that, the first 3.5km of the climb averages closer to 9%, with the remainder of it tapering out.

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The Strava profile of the climb can be viewed here.

There are a few twists and turns on the descent but there is nothing too crazy.

The second half of the stage is mainly flat, but there are a few short kick-ups, with 700m at 9.7% looking to be the toughest. We finish with a couple of kilometres of false-flat to the finish line.

Thankfully for the riders, the conditions appear to be similar all day so there’s no need to worry about that!

I’m intrigued to see how many riders start on a road bike and switch to a TT bike later on, the latter part of the stage is certainly long enough for the aerodynamics of the TT bike to have an effect. Or if we’ll just see them ride a road bike with bars? Who knows!

Contenders

After his stage win the other day, Roglic has to start as one of the main contenders for tomorrow’s TT. After all, it is the discipline he shot to prominence in at the Giro last year, taking a great stage win! He has the climbing ability and flat power to contend on a course like this. Yet, I’m concerned with how far he finished today. The last climb isn’t properly suited to his abilities but to lose over a minute isn’t great. He can’t be ruled out though!

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Ion Izagirre is arguably the favourite though. Losing only 15 seconds today, he is within distance of stealing the overall title. A great all round, one-week stage racer, he should be close to the times of the better climbers on the mountain and hope that his good descending and rouleur skills will be enough to take victory.

Valverde will be high on confidence after his win today, looking exceptionally strong on the climb. The inclusion of a long climb suits him tomorrow, likewise does the descent. The question is, can he hold onto any lead on the flat? He looks powerful at the moment and seemingly in the form of his life, so I would be surprised if he didn’t.

After several bits of bad luck in this race, Contador can count his blessings to be only 3 seconds behind the leaders at this moment in time. Like the rest of that front group today, he looked good on the climb, trading blows with Valverde as if it was the Vuelta. He’s re-found his TT form again this season and is certainly in with a chance of the win tomorrow. Let’s just hope he doesn’t get impeded by a dog this time!

Sky have a few options tomorrow but I fear Henao might struggle on the flat and Kwiatkowski seemed to be struggling today. Will they let Kiryienka have a go? I would image so because Sky will want one of their earlier guys to give feedback to the later starters. The length of the course is more to his liking than recent TTs and he’ll hope to be within touching distance after the climb and eat up the flat final 2/3rds of the route!

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Apart from those guys I can’t really see anyone competing!

Uran has looked great this race so far but hasn’t put in a decent TT time in donkey’s years!

Bardet will love the climb but struggle on the flat.

One outsider who might break the mould tomorrow is Spilak. After a truly awful 2016, he seems to be returning to form. He was the eternal second place in tough TTs in 2015 and he may surprise again tomorrow.

Predicition

You can never trust Kiryienka being let off the leash so it looks set to be a toss-up between Izagirre v Contador v Valverde.

I think the former will lose too much time on the climb and struggle to regain it back on the flat. Which means we are left with the age-old Contador/Valverde battle.

Without much to seperate them on the flat, I think the longer climb will play a part and it will be Contador who will take the win!

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Watch out for a certain Solvenian though, and not the one you are thinking about!

Betting

Sitting on 3pts profit for the race so far, so just going to play up that here.

2pts WIN Contador @ 5/2

0.5pt EW Spilak @ 25/1

 

It’s early but I’m adding a couple of Roubaix long shots before tomorrow’s preview;

0.25pt EW Groenewegen @ 250/1 with Bet365 (would take 150/1)

0.25pt EW Theuns @200/1 with Bet365/Coral (would take 150/1)

 

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win the stage, and with it possibly the GC too? I’ll be back again tomorrow with my Paris Roubaix preview for stay tuned 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.

 

Volta ao Algarve Stage 2 Preview; Lagao -> Alto a Fóia

Today’s Recap

What a sprint from Gaviria, the boy is fast! (Not that we didn’t know that already!)

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He managed to hold off Bouhanni and Greipel with the German being his main challenger. Greipel got close to him but never looked as if he had the speed and power to get round the Colombian, who now moves into the leader’s jersey. Unfortunately for him, there’s no chance he’ll be able to hold onto it tomorrow as we head uphill. Let’s take a look at what’s in store for the riders.

The Route

A stage that is all about the closing 20km.

Print

At 3.7km in length and averaging a tad over 8%, the Alto da Pomba will weaken the legs and probably see the sprinters unhitch from the peloton. From there, we have some valley roads before the summit finish.

Fóia isn’t an overly challenging climb. Going off what I can see on Strava (not on the profile above), it is 7.7km long averaging 5.9%. There are some ramps above 10% but conversely we get a couple of false flats and shallow descents. In fact, the toughest section is probably the final 200m where it averages close to 9%.

Last year saw the top 21 coming home in under 25 seconds behind the winner on that day: Luis Leon Sanchez. With the likes of Stybar and Tony Martin being in that front selection you get the idea of who can make it to the top at the head of the race.

With there being bonus seconds on offer, there will be no chance for the break tomorrow and it will be over to the climbers and strongmen to fight it out.

Contenders

Guess we better start with last year’s winner; Luis Leon Sanchez. The Spaniard already has some racing in his legs this season already, finishing a solid 16th on GC at the Tour Down Under. Before his great win last year however, he did have even more racing than he has this time, taking part in Valenciana. He could well go on to repeat the victory tomorrow but I don’t fancy his chances as much this time round! Astana have a handful of options (Scarponi, Moser and Bilbao) and I imagine it will be down to form as to who gets leadership.

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I do think that the rider who came third that day has a good chance though. Primoz Roglic was very impressive in Valenciana after a poor first day, managing a 3rd and 5th place on the two tougher stages. He can climb well and in seemingly better form than he was last year, he has to start as one of the favourites for the win tomorrow.

Dan Martin has to do something on this stage if he wants to have any chance of overall glory. He certainly won’t get dropped on the climb and his punchy finish should be of an advantage to him. However, his favourite status may see him have to follow a lot of attacks which could tire him out. Nonetheless he probably is the favourite on paper!

Lotto have their two-pronged attack in the shape of Benoot and Gallopin. They both finished around 15 seconds back on Sanchez last year but seem to be climbing better this year in comparison. If we get a sprint from 5 riders or so then they’ll be tough to get rid of!

The rest of the GC guys I mentioned will be there or thereabouts too, i.e. the likes of Tony Martin, Kwiatkowski, Guerreiro and Spilak.

There are a couple of riders who won’t have a chance on GC that may fancy their chances here too though…

As I’ve mentioned in the route analysis above, the final climb isn’t overly difficult and there is a chance a strong rider will hold on.

Edvald Boasson Hagen had a cracking start to the season last year; winning a stage in Qatar (should have been the overall too if it were not for a mechanical) and two stages in Oman, plus a 10th place on the Green Mountain. The climb is possibly on his limits but the less severe gradient will be great news for him. With Cav seemingly working for him today on the sprint stage, I think the team must have a lot of confidence in where is form is just now. Certainly a dark horse!

Carlos Barbero may not be a household name yet but the 25-year old Movistar certainly has some talent. With a lot of racing in his legs already this season he should be coping well with the pace in the peloton. He’s a bit of an unusual rider to place as he can climb quite well, winning the tough Philly Classic for example, but he also has a decent turn of speed – Very much a poor man’s Valverde. If he turns out to be half as good as El Bala, then he should have a good career at Movistar. This climb tomorrow, like Boasson Hagen, will be on his limits but from a small 5-10 man sprint he has a chance!

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Regular readers of the blog during the Vuelta will know of a certain Portuguese rider who I have a slight soft spot; Jose Goncalves. He may be here as a support rider for Tony Martin but this type of finish looks perfect for him and I would love to see him get given the opportunity to play his own cards in the finale.

Prediction

I can’t see the top 20 being split by more than 30 seconds and it could come down to a small sprint to the line from some of the better climbers. I’ll go with a man who’s in form and will enjoy the shallower gradients…

Tony Gallopin to take the stage win!

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Betting

Skybet priced up today’s stage this morning, so it might be the same case with them tomorrow morning. Keep an eye out though!

 

Thanks for reading as usual, any feedback is greatly appreciated! Who do you think will win? Fancy an outsider? I should have my Andalucia preview out by 9pm GMT at the latest. See you all then! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Volta ao Algarve 2017 – GC Preview

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

Cycling: 42nd Volta Algarve 2016 / Stage 5

 

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

The Route

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

Print

Stage 2 and a summit finish at Alto da Fóia.

Print

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

Stage 3 see an individual effort against the clock.

Print

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

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

Print

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

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

GC Contenders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction

Roglic wins his first ever GC title!

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Gallopin to finish somewhere on the podium too.

Betting

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

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

 

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.