Trofeo Laigueglia 2019 Preview

Now a yearly staple for my blog, the Italian Cup starts this weekend with the 56th edition of Trofeo Laigueglia on Sunday. A tricky race for this early in the season given the punchy climb on the closing circuit, it is often a race decided by a reduced bunch sprint or a solo rider escaping over one of the climbs and arriving at the finish ahead of the rest. In 2018 we saw a rather electric attack from Moreno Moser on the penultimate climb, which completely blew everyone else away. By the end the Astana man, riding for the Italian national team on the day, finished with a 43 second buffer over the remnants of the peloton: the biggest winning margin in recent years.

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Moser arrives here to defend his title and looking to complete a hat-trick of wins at this race. First though, let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

Identical to 2018’s parcours, the organisers obviously liked the one extra lap around the closing circuit that they added last year.

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The early climbs of the Paravenna (6.6km at 5.9%) and Testico (8.47km at 3.7%) won’t be decisive but they’ll certainly sap the legs of the peloton. I’m thankful for the figures on the profile above as trying to find the length/gradients of the latter climb was a real ball-ache last year…

Moving swiftly on, the crux of the race is the circuit that we have around Laigueglia itself.

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The toughest part on the course is the climb of Colla Micheri and that is the point at which Moser launched his winning attack last year, with Felline doing the exact same before going on to win in 2017.

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Averaging almost 8% for 2kms it will be attacked at a ferocious speed. Not long enough for a pure climber to make a difference, it certainly suits a puncheur that can hold a good amount of power for the 5 minutes it takes to get up it. Last year showed that the differences can be much greater on the final time up the ascent because of the extra lap and the more tired legs because of it. With the final 500m being the most important part and the area where the most hurt can be put on.

A fast descent follows before a few kilometres of flat and a final little kick up Capo Mele. It’s not a tough climb averaging only 3.5% for 1.9km but there are a few steeper ramps that can act as a launchpad if riders are stalling and looking at each other; just like Andrea Fedi did in 2016 before going on to win the race.

Once over the crest of Mele, the riders only have 2kms left of shallow descent and a flat run in to the finish.

Contenders

Despite the race being .HC in category, we only have two World Tour teams at the start of the race. Although to be fair, that is an improvement on last year’s one! Consequently, it could potentially be an open race that is difficult to control but I think we’ll see things kept in relative check until the closing couple of laps as some of the Italian Pro Conti teams will more than happily share the pace making.

Marco Canola.

On the team of the defending champion, I think Canola offers Nippo their best chance of taking the race. A consistent rider after his return to the European peloton, his 2018 failed to live up to the incredible 2017 he had, although several top 10s and podium places to his name so it wasn’t too bad a year; it was just a win that eluded him. He can climb well on the short slopes and with his fast sprint, he is a good candidate for this type of parcours. Having already got some racing in his legs over in Valenciana, he’ll be wanting to put that to good use tomorrow.

Anthony Roux.

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The current French champion will most likely be Groupama’s man for the day but without any racing for him so far this year, it is hard to know where his form is at. Last season was re-breakthrough (if I can call it that) year for the 31-year-old with him managing to take three victories and some other strong results including an impressive 3rd place in San Sebastian. If he is close to a similar level like he was on that day, then he should be in the mix here. I’m just not too sure if he will be.

Benoît Cosnefroy.

The 2017 U23 World Champion had a solid neo-pro year with AG2R in 2018, with the highlight being a 3rd place in his last race of the season at Paris Tours. Spending the opening part of the season in Australia saw the Frenchman get some racing in his legs, where he picked up an 11th place finish in Cadel’s race. A bit of a punchy all-rounder, he theoretically should be able to go well here and I imagine he’ll lead the AG2R squad.

Fabio Felline and his Trek buddies.

Winner in 2017, the Italian will once again ride for the national team and as a “squad” they are looking for their third win in a row at this race. With a mix of youth and experience in the team to help him, Felline will be confident of being at the pointy end of things come the finale. His 2018 wasn’t as strong as his 2017, but he did seem to finish the year off well and pick up a few good results. This season he’s already been racing in Spain and France, with a 9th place finish overall in Bessèges. One of the massive advantages that Felline has is the strength of his team, with both Ciccone and Brambilla potential winners of this race as well. With all three of them riding for trade-team Trek Segafredo, they should be able to communicate and work well together on the day. Whether that admitting your legs aren’t good, or bouncing attacks off of each other. I would be very surprised if we didn’t see one of them on the podium.

The whole of Androni, basically.

Looking at the teams, Androni have the most amount of riders who I think could win this race with Gavazzi, Cattaneo, Busato and Montaguti all potential candidates. Without any real fast climbing-sprinters at the race, I think Gavazzi would be the team’s best shot at winning in a reduced gallop to the line. However, I do expect them to be one of the teams to animate the race so they might try to avoid that outcome if possible, with maybe Cattaneo or Montaguti riding solo to the line.

Giovanni Visconti.

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In the twilight of his career, Visconti switched teams in the winter and returned to his former PCT outfit now known as Neri Sottoli, in the search for some more personal success and to help the younger Italian riders. On paper, this is a parcours that is made for the Italian with the short punchy climbs suiting his characteristics. He made a slow start in Argentina but now back on home soil he is a threat and one that most of his opposition will have an eye on.

Given the large amount of Continental teams here, there are a few riders who could pull out a surprise performance. Others to watch include Paolo Totò of Sangemini who was second here last year; Marco Tizza of Amore & Vita; plus youngster Andrea Bagioli (Team Colpack) who I think will be a star of the future.

Prediction

Looking at the strength of their team, I would be surprised not to see the Italian Trek conglomeration make it three wins in a row and I’ll go with Felline to be that man.

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

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Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana 2019 Stage 3 Preview: Quart de Poblet -> Chera

Today’s Recap

The early break was caught on the final climb of the day, with Astana and Mitchelton Scott drilling the pace at the front of the bunch in the hope to distance some sprinters. Their plan worked with Groenewegen dropping off the back of the peloton, trailing them by roughly 30 seconds at the summit. His whole Jumbo Visma team dropped back to help pace him back to the bunch and things calmed down a little with around 15 km to go. However, that only lasted for a little while and things quickly sped up going into the last 5 km of the day. There was a big fight for position and it looked like Team Sky had got their timing perfect going into the final and decisive roundabout with 300m to go, but a burst of speed from Sondre Holst Enger saw Bouhanni and Trentin follow the Israel Academy rider, beating the Sky train into the corner. Trentin elbowed his way past Bouhanni so that he led coming out of it, and that would be our 1-2 on the day, with the Frenchman running out of road in his attempt to come around the current European Champion.

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Swift recovered his sprint a little and rewarded his team’s efforts by rounding out the podium in third.

With a punchy route on the cards tomorrow, it will be unlikely we’ll see any of the guys who were in the top 10 today up there again until the final stage. So let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders on stage 3.

The Route

A saw-toothed profile with 3200m of climbing throughout the day, the organisers have managed to find the fairly challenging day in the saddle without having the riders traverse any mountains.

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Despite the categorised and uncategorised climbs early on, the stage will more than likely be decided by the last 20km.

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The opening climb isn’t too tough, averaging a very consistent 5.7% gradient for 4.16 km. Without any steep ramps it will be hard for anyone to make gaps here, instead, we’ll more than likely see a battle of attrition with riders going out the back and not the front.

A quick descent follows before the longer but more shallow, last climb of the day.

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Again, it is not an overly difficult climb so the proper mountain goats will find it difficult to make much of a difference, while the puncheurs will be licking their lips in the hope of hanging on. Once over the summit, there are still a tricky 2.5km to navigate before the finish line.

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As you can see, those final 2.5 km are along quite a twisty and narrow single-track road. It is possible that if someone or a small group of people get a gap then they could be difficult to bring back because it will be difficult to organise a chase on that road and in the short time frame they will have.

The final 500m are uphill at an average gradient of 6%, which should make it ideal for the puncheurs. Also in typical Spanish fashion, like today, the finish isn’t exactly easy either…

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Having to make a quick left then right, I’m sure the riders will be glad that it is somewhat uphill as this would be complete chaos otherwise. Once again, given that there is 100m or less coming out of the final turn, it is imperative to be at the head of the race coming into that chicane. In fact, I’ll say whoever leads into the chicane will win the stage. Take note any pros/teams who happen to be reading this…

How will the stage pan out?

If this stage was after what we’re getting on Saturday, this could well have been a day for the breakaway but given the minimal gaps on GC, aside from a few riders, things should be kept together. Looking at the design of the stage, it seems as if the Spanish organisers had their new World Champion in mind as they’ve built a course that is tailor-made for him. I think that everyone else in the peloton will know that too so there will be a lot of pressure on the Movistar team to keep it together.

The selectiveness of the race all depends on how aggressive the closing 20kms of the race are ridden. If we see a couple of strong teams come and set a relentless pace on the two climbs, then we might have a group of 30-40 riders reaching that 2.5km to go banner within relative contact with each other. We could even see a smaller group but I don’t think the gradients are tough enough for it to be incredibly selective, then again, it is early season so who knows.

Do the puncheurs make it? If the climbs are taken at a steadier pace then there is a good chance that the likes of Boasson Hagen, Van Avermaet and even Trentin could make the finale.

With no bonus seconds on offer at the line, a GC rider will need to create a gap here to gain some time on their rivals. It will be difficult for one of the main contenders to get away but a team having options will certainly help, and maybe their “second tier” rider might manage to slip under the radar on the tough to control finish.

In fact, that’s exactly what I expect to happen: a late attack in those closing 2.5 kms from one or a group of riders, that then sticks to the finish. So who could we see try to slip away?

A trio to watch

Rui Costa.

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Often one to start his season strongly, the former World Champion produced a good TT result by his standards on the opening day of racing here. With a lot of eyes on his team-mate Martin, Costa has the ability to fly under the radar and attack in the closing kilometres. An aggressive racer when he senses an opportunity, I expect UAE to give him free rein tomorrow to go for the stage win and see what happens. He failed to take a win last year which is unlike him, so can he capitalise on some good early season form?

Pello Bilbao.

Astana have both the blessing and the curse of having a number of riders who this finish could suit, given different scenarios. It will be interesting to see who they work for but I assume they will want to give their two highest placed GC riders the best chance of winning the race overall going into the decisive stage 4. With Izagirre effectively in the race lead (as EBH won’t last on stage 4), Astana could play the card of just following some attacks tomorrow with Bilbao and see if they stick. The Basque rider has a good punchy finish on him and is clearly in decent shape at the moment with his strong opening TT.

Jesus Herrada.

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Having already tasted victory this season so far with his win at the Trofeo Ses Salines, Herrada will be hoping to double up tomorrow. The Spaniard certainly seems to enjoy the opening part of the season as he was absolutely flying at this stage last year and appears to be in similar shape this time round. As a rider from Cofidis, there is a bit of a stigma that he won’t be an immediate threat so he might not be chased down immediately. Not an ideal thing to do when he’s in good form as he will be very difficult to bring back on a punchy finish.

Prediction

Small group escape in the closing 2.5 km and we see Pello Bilbao (a classic blog favourite) take the win. Potentially setting up a good tilt at the overall title.

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Betting

No odds out yet but will tweet anything that tickles my fancy once we get them.

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana 2019 Stage 2 Preview: Alicante -> Alicante

Today’s Recap

Well that was an enjoyable TT course to watch, with a whole mix of riders involved at the top of the order. It was Edvald Boasson Hagen who took  home the win though, with Dimension Data making most of their new BMC TT bikes and the Norwegian’s solid block of winter training.

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Izagirre caused a little bit of an upset with a second place, showing that maybe the Astana bikes aren’t that bad in the right hands. While former TT World Champion Tony Martin rounded out the podium for his new team Jumbo Visma.

There was quite the mix of traditional TT riders, puncheurs and GC riders in the top 20 so we’re all set up for an exciting race over the coming week. First though, let’s look at what the riders will face on the road tomorrow.

The Route

A rolling day in the saddle awaits the riders as they face just over 2400m of elevation gain throughout the stage.

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None of the climbs on the route are particularly difficult but given the constant up and down nature of the terrain, teams will have to be alert at all times. The final climb of the day is a fairly consistent drag, with the percentages staying at roughly 5% throughout.

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With it cresting at 42km to go, things should come down to a sprint to the line, albeit with a possibly reduced group. Last year we saw Valverde, Fuglsang and LL Sanchez attack on the final climb, on a stage similar to tomorrow, but with longer to go to the finish and a less severe final ascent to tackle, I can’t see that happening this time.

So the stage should be decided in the final 5km and in typical Spanish racing fashion, it isn’t 100% straight forward…

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From 4.5 km to 3.5 km to go, the riders face a kilometre long drag that averages 3.4% before a descent that almost mimics the length and gradient of the climb. A short 500m (3.4% again) rise follows that sees the riders taken to the 1.5 km to go banner and another dip down. One final kicker (300m at 2.6%) takes them to about 400m to go, where you would expect a straight run to the line. Well…

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The riders will carry a lot of speed from the previous downhill onto the slight drag because it is straightforward and down a wide boulevard, so that rise will be negated somewhat. I expect a big fight to get into this roundabout first, as coming out of it there are only 200m left, almost enough for your sprinter to go full gas from; they only need a little turn coming out of the roundabout.

Sprinters

Will they all make it to the line? That all depends on how aggressively they early part of the race is attacked by the peloton and if there are a few teams that want to try to drop some of the more traditional sprinters, namely Dylan Groenewegen. It is possible, but it will take a lot of effort so I think they should more than likely all make it.

Dylan Groenewegen.

One of the best sprinters in the world last year, Groenewegen will look to hit the ground running this season. Jumbo Visma bring a strong squad to support him, with new recruit Teunissen most likely slotting in as the last man in the train. We saw today in the TT that Van Emden and Martin are strong at the moment so they should be able to try to line things out in the closing kilometres. There will be a lot of pressure on them to do so and I think we’ll see plenty of teams try to come over the top of them late on, hoping to get to the roundabout first. Saying that, Jumbo honed their skills and became one of the best “late lead-outs” in the business, only appearing at the front in the last 2km so it will be interesting to see their approach tomorrow. Groenewegen is the man to beat, but he’s certainly not unbeatable.

Alexander Kristoff.

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With Fernando Gaviria having already taken two wins to his name in Argentina, the pressure is both on and off Krisotff here. The Norwegian is said to want to shift his focus towards the classics a little bit more, but still be involved in the bunch sprints when he can. Tomorrow is a good test for him against a solid field and the slightly rolling finale should suit his strengths. For a while I didn’t think he had the top-end speed that he used to but on the final stage of the Tour last year he showed he can still mix it with the best in a flat stage.

Nacer Bouhanni.

Contract year for the fighting Frenchman and I’m expecting a good year from him. In 2018 we saw a tough teething phase for him with new management at Cofidis but by the end of the season he seemed to be coming around to their approach more, taking a much-needed win at the Vuelta. Traditionally one of the better climbing sprinters, Bouhanni should be there at the finish. His Cofidis lead-out isn’t incredible but with Claeys and Vanbilsen as the two in front of him, they could arrive late and time it right. He’s definitely one to watch.

Giacomo Nizzolo.

Can Dimension Data make it two from two? The mood in the team camp will be buoyant so there will be a lot less pressure on Nizzolo for tomorrow. The Italian had an OK 2018 but nothing extraordinary, it was good to see him just competing at the pointy end of races after his injury plagued 2017. A rider capable of a very fast sprint on his day, he’ll be able to rely on the current race leader in the lead-out, unless of course the plan is for EBH to go and double up, but I can’t see that happening as it should be for Nizzolo.

Sonny Colbrelli.

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One of the sprinters that should happily make it over the climbs, Colbrelli delivered a very strong TT this afternoon by his standards, coming home in 19th. Although the team will want to do well in the overall with Teuns, they have a squad here that can help out Colbrelli massively tomorrow and I think they are the one team that can challenge Jumbo with their sprint train speed. With Tratnik, Mohoric and Garcia they certainly have some firepower to put the Italian into position. Does he have the sprint speed to take the win?

Matteo Trentin.

The current European Champion had a pretty poor debut year with Mitchelton Scott in 2018 but that was mainly due to an injury (caused by the #HaugheyCurse) that saw him miss a lot of the season. He obviously came back to take a well fought win in Glasgow and going by his solid TT result today, his form seems to be there too. Not a team with a lot of sprint support, he will have to rely heavily on Mezgec and his own positioning but he could well surprise.

Of course there are others that could well be in the mix and we have a good field here of solid sprinters: Cort, Boudat, Lobato, Roelandts, Enger, Noppe and Lawless will all hope to try to make the top 10.

Prediction

All the pressure will be on Groenewegen and on that tricky run in I think we’ll see some chaos due to the big fight for position. One man in this field loves those types of finish so I’ll go with Nacer Bouhanni to get his season started in the best way possible.

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There might be a slight bit of #PFCL5 bias coming in to this as he’s in my season long fantasy team…

Betting

Nothing wild as it is quite a tricky stage…

1pt WIN Bouhanni @ 13/2 with Betway

Should hopefully get odds elsewhere later as SkyBet and Ladbrokes/Coral eventually had the race priced yesterday too.

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

Women’s Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race 2019 Preview

In 2018 we saw the 3rd running of this event for the women and the first time it was a 1.1 level race, meaning a slightly more international field. An unpredictable race to call, in the three editions we’ve had a different race outcome every time; with 2016 being a solo win, 2017 a 5 rider sprint and 2018 a 20-strong bunch gallop.

It was Chloe Hosking who surprised many last year by making it over the Challambra Crescent climb with what remained of the peloton, before taking the win with relative ease after a dominant sprint.

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Gracie Elvin came away with second after her Mitchelton Scott team had done a lot to control things in those final 5 kilometres, while the now retired Giorgia Bronzini rounded out the podium in third.

Will Hosking be able to double up this year? First, let’s take a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

It seems the organisers are a fan of the “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it” analogy as we have the exact same route as last year.

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At just over 113km long, it isn’t exactly the longest race the women will face all season but given the Australian heat, some of the Europeans will be very happy about that. Saying that, it is meant to be slightly cooler over the weekend at only 27℃.

The opening 80km will act as almost a warm-up for the riders, but it will be the final 35km where we could see a potential race winning move go. The first place we might see shakeout is at 30km to go where the riders will be greeted by a small drag in the road. Fairly innocuous, averaging only 3.1% for 2.1km, it will be interesting to see how the riders attack it. Furthermore, as it is placed on a fairly open stretch of road, the wind direction and strength will also add another factor that has to be considered. Once over the top of that climb, the riders will have to contend with almost 10km of flat/slightly descending roads before the quick double climb into Ceres.

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Waste not want not, reusing last year’s images!

The first ramp is only 500m long but it averages 4.6%. A stinging attack here could certainly line out the bunch before a fast descent and the second, longer part of the climb begins. At 1.8km in distance and averaging 4.4%, it is tough enough for some of the stronger riders in the race to create some gaps. Who will be brave enough to go all in 16km from the finish?

If gaps are made, then they should be held or even extended with the short flat section before the road plummets all the way down for the next 4 kms as they approach Challambra.

There is a little 300m kicker (6%) which will disrupt their rhythm 600m or so before the start of Challambra itself.

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Not an easy climb as you can see, with it going up in various ramps. Not ideal for those who like to keep a steady pace and if a few riders attack this hard then we will no doubt see some fairly large time gaps at the top of it. From there, the road mainly heads downwards for the remaining 9km, albeit there is one last kick up and a chance for a climber to try to distance someone. That comes just after they cross the small bridge with the 800m section averaging 4%, but they do carry a lot of speed onto the rise from the descent so its impact is negated a little.

It is then a final few kilometres along the Geelong waterside before the dash to the line.

How will the race pan out?

As I’ve mentioned above, this is a very unpredictable race with three different outcomes since the first running of it. Was the sprint last year indicative of it what is to come with the upping of the races’ level, or was it more of an anomaly? I think more of the latter because if Stultiens, van Vleuten and Garfoot co-operated together there was a very good chance that they would have stayed away to the finish line. In fact, there was no chance they would have been caught.

Mitchelton Scott arrive here as the team to beat and they will want to make the race aggressive because they know from last year that Hosking can make the finish and they won’t want to risk bringing it down to a bunch gallop if they don’t have to. Obviously, everyone will be looking at them to make the race but they have a strong enough squad to put the other teams into difficulty. I think we’ll see them try to string things out and reduce the size of the group before they get to Challambra, but some of that will depend on if the wind is in their face or not – there’s no point going full gas into a block head wind. Looking at the forecast just now, it appears that there will be a slight tail wind on the run in past Ceres and into Geelong, so I’m expecting some attacks on the earlier rises and the race to be split there.

Having several riders in the front group will be important so the stronger teams will be at an advantage. If we do see splits before Challambra, this is who I expect to be up there in numbers:

Mitchelton – Spratt, Kennedy, Brown and Williams

Trek – Winder, Wiles and Longo Borghini

Tibco – Jackson and Stephens

I can’t see many other teams having a lot of riders at the head of the race and consequently it will be more difficult for them to win, especially if the teams with numerous riders are constantly pinging attacks off the front of the bunch. For the likes of Neylan, Moolman and Doebel-Hicock, it will be all about timing your effort and going with the right move.

Of course, there is a chance the race hasn’t fully split up by Challambra but it most definitely will by the top of that climb.

Prediction

There’s no point me even prolonging this much longer, I saw enough at the TDU to know who wins this – Amanda Spratt.

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Her level on Mengler’s Hill was just phenomenal and no one will be able to match her on Challambra, with team-mate Kennedy possibly her biggest rival. I think we’ll see Spratt cross the top of the climb with a 15 second gap on her competitors which will only be extended by them all being completely in the red on the flat few hundred metre section before the descent starts. With a couple of team-mates behind sand-bagging any attempted chase, she won’t be seen again until the finish.

Things will regroup behind though and we’ll see another 20 or so rider sprint to the line, with Hosking beating Lepistö for the final podium spots.

Coverage

We’ll get to see the race live and in full I think, with Channel 7 in Australia showing it on free to air television. I’m not too sure if it will be streamed online anywhere (Facebook etc, like the Crit was) or if you will need a VPN to access it. However, there will no doubt be a slightly less than legal stream of it somewhere so I’ll tweet it out when I find it.

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think is going to win and in what manner? Will it be a return to winning ways here for Mitchelton Scott or will someone upset the party? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

Tour Down Under 2019 Stage 6 Preview: McLaren Vale -> Willunga Hill

Today’s Recap

A nervous stage throughout saw Mitchelton Scott control the early break of the day so that Impey could sprint for some bonus seconds. The plan worked well with the South African picking up 5 bonus seconds but it also meant the current race leader Bevin picked up 5 too. Things died down a little after that but with the constant threat of wind and echelons, it wasn’t quiet for too long. There were a couple of splits but nothing serious and everything re-grouped, but a crash at around 9km to go saw Bevin go down hard. Mitchelton tried to slow down the group but that only lasted for a kilometre so as the pace was already high and the sprint teams were already in full swing. The Ochre jersey did manage to make it back to the peloton and finish on the same time as everyone else and with nothing broken, he’ll only know how sore he’ll be on the bike tomorrow.

In the sprint Ewan crossed the line first but he was ultimately relegated by the commissaires for using excessive force with his head to nudge Philipsen off of Sagan’s wheel. To my non-expert sprinting perspective, it did look a little bit harsh but we’ve seen people relegated for similar things in the past so I guess it is fair.

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Philipsen consequently won the stage after Ewan’s relegation, with Sagan and Van Poppel rounding out the podium.

With the sprinter’s having had their last day to play today, everyone will be turning their attention to the last stage and GC battle that will occur tomorrow.

The Route

Nothing overly exciting to see here, it is pretty much just a carbon copy of the recent Willunga Hill stages.

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Expect to see the peloton thinned out a little on the first ascent of Willunga but I would be very surprised to see a Hail Mary attack from anyone near the top of the GC. Once over the plateau and descent, the riders will need to be wary of potential cross winds on the flat section of road before they head into the town of Willunga again. We’ve seen in the past things split up a bit here but the wind doesn’t look strong enough for that, however, you never know.

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A fairly consistent climb, the steeper slopes of Willunga come in the opening third before the gradient drops ever so slightly in the final two-thirds. At close to an 8 minute effort, the gaps aren’t normally too big but given how close the GC normally is here, they can often be decisive.

Can anyone stop the King of Willunga?

One thing to note for this year is that the wind will be blowing directly in their face for the climb, which will certainly make it more difficult for those looking to go on the attack. Although conversely, once you are out of the slip stream from the rider in front then it will be harder to make an effort.

I do think this will hinder the better climbers though, i.e. the quartet that escaped on the Corkscrew, as there will be a definite advantage of sitting in the wheels. Porte, Bennett and Woods all looked pretty solid on the Corkscrew and Poels managed to hang with them despite pulling some faces. Therefore, it would make sense if they were the main quartet contesting for the stage win come the end of the day.

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Porte always manages to ride everyone off of his wheel on this climb, he has his attack point dialled down to a fine art: a little S-bend with 1km to go. However, I don’t think that will happen this year due to the head wind, I just can’t see him dropping Woods. The other two possibly, but not Woods. The EF Education rider has a better kick than Porte and I would fancy him to beat the Aussie to the line.

I am intrigued to see what Chris Hamilton can do, he was a bit too slow to react to the accelerations on the Corkscrew but he wasn’t too far behind. A top 5 is definitely a possibility.

Does the break have a chance?

A little, but not really. Mitchelton and CCC will be more than happy to see a move get up the road to take away the bonus seconds for the day, ensuring that Impey and Bevin have a great chance to take the overall win. However, I would expect there to be enough impetus from Trek, EF, Sky and Lotto Visma to ensure that they don’t stay away – after all, if their leader is going to win the race then they need the bonus seconds.

Speaking of which…

How will the GC play out?

Things look as follows heading into the final stage:

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@ProCyclingStats

All of the riders there are within touching distance but it will take a spectacular effort for the majority of them to win. If there was no headwind on the climb, then I would say that the race was between Bevin, Impey, Porte and Woods for the GC, with Bennett and Poels also possible contenders. However, given the headwind, it will be hard for those 26 seconds behind to gain the 16 on course seconds needed to overhaul Bevin, assuming they also get the stage win.

It might be slightly more likely, if one of them is on a flyer that they can take the 9 seconds out of Impey that they would need to win, assuming that Bevin cracks because of his fall yesterday. Which would be a real shame but it is a possibility and no one will know how he copes until later on in the stage.

If Bevin hadn’t fallen this was his race to win/lose, depending on how you looked at it. He’s in sensational form at the moment and he would have been able to maintain that gap to Impey, as I think the big bonus seconds will go to a few of the more traditional climbers.

So if Bevin is well and recovered with only some flesh wounds, then he wins GC. However, if he has struggled to sleep last night and cracks later on, then Impey will double up.

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Stage Prediction

Porte is the one to beat on this climb and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him just ride away from everyone, like he normally does. However, I think the wind will hinder him and that Woods will be able to stick with him and out sprint him to the line!

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The King is dead, long live the King!

Betting

In a good position after this week so happy to have a little flutter on Woods for the stage win.

2pts WIN Woods @ 11/4 with Betway (would take 5/2 elsewhere)

3pts Hamilton to beat Pozzovivo @ 8/11 with Bet365

Thanks as always for reading! I hope you’ve enjoyed the opening week of World Tour racing? I’ll be back again for the Cadel race next weekend. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Tour Down Under 2019 Stage 5 Preview: Glenelg -> Strathalbyn

Today’s Recap

Well that was a much more exciting finish than what we had on stage 3! The pace was high in the bunch on the Corkscrew but Porte, Poels, Woods and Bennett managed to gain a little advantage over the top of around 5 seconds. However, despite their best efforts, things were brought back on the descent and we had quite a large group of riders coming in for a sprint.

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Impey got his stage win, besting Bevin and Luis Leon Sanchez, with the three of them now occupying the top spots on GC. Bevin holds a 7 second lead over Impey, with LLS a further 4 behind and a group of 15 riders at 21 seconds back. All to play for on Willunga, although I think the GC battle might be between just a few, but first let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders on Saturday.

The Route

After two “GC days” the sprinters get their last chance to go for a stage win here.

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The road does roll but without any major climbs in the last 100km, it should really come down to a bunch gallop.

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Once past the 5km to go sign, the riders will head ever so slightly downhill all the way until 1.5km left – expect the speeds to be very high. Once at 1.5km to go, they’ll take quite a sharp left hand turn through a roundabout.

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Good positioning will be important but it is not essential through the turn, as the following 750m are arrow-straight so a team can fight for position and move up then. However, it will be of more importance to be leading through the following two right hand turns that come in quick succession.

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It’ll then be a 600m drag race to the finish line.

Can anything stop the inevitable bunch sprint?

One thing possibly, and is one thing that the team’s have been wary of since the start of the race when discussing this stage – the wind.

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The route travels through a few exposed areas early on in the stage, but it is once they pass through the Feed Zone in Victor Harbor that things could get interesting…

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The forecast above is for Middleton Beach and it is a similar outlook for the rest of the stage from there on in. There are some houses which will provide shelter through Victor Harbor to Goolwa, but there are also plenty of areas where there are no houses for a kilometre or so and the wind will be coming straight from the rider’s right side.

The last 36km from Goolwa to Strathalbyn will be majority tailwind, but there are some areas which will see the riders travel east more directly, with a particularly nice and exposed 5.5km section from 22km -> 16.5km to go.

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Said 5.5km exposed section

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Even closer to the line is Strathalbyn (on the image just above) is in an area completely open to the elements. Although it might not be a pure cross wind at the point, the cross tail wind could be enough to see some more splits. Either way, it is going to be a very fast and nervous final 35kms, even if it hasn’t split up by that point. The GC riders will need to be on their toes!

Interestingly, the direction of the finish straight means that the finish straight should be into a headwind – so timing of the jump and sprint becomes even more important.

Who will try to force a split?

The sprint teams will be more than happy for things to stick together and for their fast men to just fight it out at the finish so I don’t think they will be the ones driving any splits. However, given that the majority of sprinters are strong in the wind, they will probably be involved if they sense the pace increasing.

Instead, it will be the GC teams who decide if it is the right moment to try to upset the apple cart. As much as I’d like to see someone try and go early on the first passage of Willunga on Sunday, that is very unlikely to happen so instead Stage 5 presents the only opportunity for a GC shake-up before the second time up Willunga.

As for the exact teams who will try something I’m not entirely sure, but I reckon we’ll see Mitchelton have a go. Impey is in an okay position to win this race overall again but given that I think he and Bevin are on similar climbing levels just now, he needs to pick up another time bonus before Sunday. If Mitchelton are able to split it in the wind and get rid of the pure some sprinters then there is a chance Impey might be able to sneak a podium spot on the day and reduce the gap to Bevin. Even better for them, would be if they could drop some of their GC rivals completely.

Sprinters: If we get a normal bunch sprint it should be a Ewan v Viviani battle as they’ve looked the most consistent but in a headwind effort the more powerful guys like Walscheid, Bauhaus, Sagan and Van Poppel can’t be discounted.

Prediction

Race to split in the cross winds thanks to Mitchelton and a hectic finish will see some GC riders lose time. However, the Aussie team’s plan will backfire with Bevin sprinting for the victory and taking more valuable bonus seconds, putting one arm into Ochre for the end of the race.

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First properly out there preview of the year and we’re only 5 in, hey ho!

Betting

5pts on Gibbons to beat Hoelgaard @1/2 with Bet365.

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win the stage? Anyway,

Those were MyTwoSpokesWorth.

Tour Down Under 2019 Stage 4 Preview: Unley -> Campbelltown

Today’s Recap

A proper damp squib of a stage in the end. I think it might have been a combination of the heat and the riders being concerned about just how difficult the stage could have been that things got a bit conservative. CCC did a great job for Bevin but he was isolated coming into the final two laps so it was surprising to see everyone ride quite conservatively after that – most were happy with a reduced bunch sprint.

So obviously after me thinking the stage would have been a lot more aggressive and completely discounting Sagan, it was the Slovak who took the stage win in an almost carbon copy of last year’s performance.

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A fast finishing Luis Leon Sanchez almost came close to pipping him but the line came too soon for the Astana man, while Impey picked up some handy bonus seconds in third.

Bevin still leads the race though going into tomorrow’s stage that features the famous Corkscrew climb. Let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders…

The Route

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There’s no point me beating about the bush here, the stage is all about the climb up Corkscrew Road and the subsequent descent off of it.

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Before the ascent starts properly, the road gradually rises for 1.2km at a lowly gradient of 1.6%, which will be enough to see some of the entry pace knocked off.

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A 2.5km climb that averages 8.9% is pretty tough at this point in the season but it is just border line enough for some of the puncheurs to hope to be able to hold on to the coat tails of the climbers. We saw that back in 2014 when Evans managed to gap the duo of Porte and Gerrans, who themselves put a bit of time into another group of riders.

The descent is incredibly fast, especially near the top, and riders can be expected to hit speeds of 80km/h. However, it does flatten out so you will need to keep pressure on the pedals to keep the momentum going as groups normally join up on the latter half. At 600m to go the riders take one final sharp turn and enter the finish straight, which is ever so slightly downhill to the line.

Another point of note is that the wind looks to be blowing from the west or south-west so the riders should have either a tail/cross-tail/cross wind, which means we should hopefully get some attacking racing. Bad news for those looking to just hold on to the bunch and wait for things to come to a sprint.

Our current race leader Paddy Bevin holds the KOM for Corkscrew Road on Strava, having completed the climb in 6’30 back in 2015. Interestingly, Mike Woods attack in 2016 that saw him and Henao reach the summit first was one second slower at 6’31.

Plenty of riders have been out to have a look at the climb in the weeks leading up to the race, with a couple of them having a go at it race pace…

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I think we might see the 6’30 mark broken this year, possibly someone going close to 6’20.

How will the race pan out?

The real question that has to be asked here is will a couple of guys, or someone, be able to drop the other riders on the Corkscrew and then hold them off to the finish? If so, then simple, the fight for the stage win will be between them and the race is over at the top of the climb.

If not, then we have the possibility of a small group sprint, or someone launching a counter attack in the closing kilometres if there is no control and cohesion at the head of the race.

I’m not too sure either way, although I’ll give a 60/40 split for those that make it over first not being seen again.

Contenders

Michael Woods.

The EF Education First rider put in quite a strong dig near the finale of stage 3 but the climb was not long enough for him to create any serious gaps and the punchy riders were able to bring him back. However, he did look lively and as a rider with previous on this climb he knows exactly what it’s about. Moreover, Woods had a great 2018 season and seems to only be getting better as a rider, especially on the steeper slopes.

Richie Porte.

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He wasn’t able to follow Woods’ attack back in 2016 and he also got dropped by a flying Evans in 2014. This isn’t Willunga and Porte doesn’t have the same amount of success here, which is weird, because it is a pretty similar climb in terms of time taken. It is slightly shorter and steeper but for someone of Porte’s short-climb prowess you would expect him to go well. He showed his face a little on stage 3 but we have no idea what his form is actually like just now. Will he try to put on a show before Willunga or is he confident of sealing the victory there?

Luis Leon Sanchez.

Clearly in some pretty good shape at the moment, Sanchez is Sagan’s tip for stage success tomorrow. The Astana man was flying at the beginning of last year and he should be able to cope with the speed on Corkscrew. He might not make it right at the head of the race, but he’ll be able to use his descending ability to catch up easily if there is no pressure on at the front. Sanchez is a master of timing a late attack but as we’ve seen on the past few stages, he isn’t too scared of getting involved in a sprint either.

Tadej Pogacar.

A little bit of a wild card here but the 2018 Tour de l’Avenir winner is the real deal – will he show that on stage 4? He was attentive and always near the front on today’s stage and he might just benefit from being a less well known rider. Furthermore, he holds a pretty competitive Strava time on the hill so it will be interesting to see if he can replicate that in the race. He’s my dark horse for the stage.

Wout Poels.

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Didn’t put his nose in the wind all of yesterday despite his team doing some of the work in the closing laps, with it instead being Elissonde who launched an attack. Poels is a climber who packs quite a fast sprint so he’d be happy to arrive in a small group. His form is a bit unknown though and he is an enigmatic rider so who knows which Wout will turn up. He could easily blow everyone away on the Corkscrew, or he could be dropped!

Then we have a group of riders in a similar mould; Bevin, Impey, Devenyns, McCarthy and Ulissi. In fact there are even a few more as well, who probably won’t drop everyone on the climb but they’ll hope to make it over close enough to get back on during the descent and fight for the win.

Prediction

An elite trio of Woods, Porte and Pogacar escape on the Corkscrew, with the Canadian winning the sprint.

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The others will trail in not too far behind but they’ll then need to come up with something inventive to win the race on Willunga.

Betting

Going a little wild here as tomorrow will more than likely be a no bet and I really like the Woods pick. Plus, a little value punt on Pogacar too.

3pts WIN Woods @ 6/1 with Betway (Would take 4/1 elsewhere)

1pt EW Pogacar @ 100/1 with Bet365 (Would take down to 40s)

Thanks as always for reading. Who do you think will win and in what manner? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.