Milano-Sanremo 2017 Preview

Milano-Sanremo 2017 Preview

The first monument of the year and the longest race in the calendar returns this weekend; Milan -> Sanremo!

Like most MSR’s, last year’s edition built slowly to a climax, with the closing kilometre being exceptionally exciting.

We had Gaviria crashing, almost taking out Sagan and Cancellara if it was not for some incredible bike handling, but what else would you expect from that pair! That left the door open for some other riders and Roelandts opened up the sprint early which caught everyone off guard. Swift followed (finishing 2nd in the end), Bouhanni looked strong but had a mechanical and came home 4th. Instead, it was a rather dubious win for Arnaud Démare in the end after there were accusations he got a tow from the team car back to the peloton after a crash. Nonetheless, it was an impressive sprint from the Frenchman and with the way he is riding this season so far, he could well make it back to back wins!

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

The Route

A carbon copy of what we’ve had the past few years pretty much.

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A real race of attrition, the peloton doesn’t get close to this distance in any other race. The extra 50km compared to some other monuments and almost 100km on normal stage-race stages really adds another element. The climbs of the Cipressa and the Poggio if taken alone aren’t difficult at all.

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Yet, with them being the only place for the climbers and puncheurs to make a move they are always attacked at a ferocious pace. Plus, with 260km already in the legs, riders will be nervous as to how their body reacts.

We might see some long-range attacks on the Cipressa before the puncheurs try to break the hearts of the sprinters on the Poggio. It’s often a battle between attacking classics riders and the sprinter’s team-mates for control of the race. Once over the crest of the Poggio, it’s time for a daredevil descent into Sanremo itself.

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Once off the descent we have roughly 2km of flat to the finish. There will no doubt be more attacks here as the riders regroup. Will the sprinters have enough team-mates left to chase and control the race? Or will we even see non-sprinters chase down other non-sprinters? Inadvertently helping the sprinters who are with them!

The famous finish along the via Roma awaits.

How will the race pan out?

Going off of recent trends, the race certainly seems to live up to its nickname of “The Sprinter’s Monument”.

In the last 5 years, the number of riders in the leading group at the finish has swelled; 2012 (3); 2013 (7); 2014 (25); 2015 (26); 2016 (31). Why is that?

Well, the removal of the “Le Manie” climb in 2014 swung the race back towards bunch gallops. Although it came around 100km from the finish, it sapped away at the sprinters legs a lot earlier and ensured that they tackled the climbs at the end of the race with a bit more fatigue. You could also argue that sprinters in general seem to have got better at climbing over the past few years, but I’m not sure the likes of Kittel will agree!

Oddly enough though, I do still think we’ll see one of the more attacking MSRs for a while. I’m not saying it won’t come down to a sprint in the end, but with so many puncheurs in great form coming into the race, I’m sure they won’t want to wait until the sprint to end up 6th-10th place. There will be a slight headwind when the riders turn onto the Poggio, but the majority of the climb will be a tailwind. Will this inspire the attackers?

If a select group can make it over the top of the Poggio and work well together then they can make it to the finish. However, the issue is that they have to co-operate, if not, then they have no chance.

I actually think someone like Sagan might attack on the Poggio.

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The World Champion is clearly in scintillating form but I’m sure even he will be concerned with the quality of sprinters that can make it over the final climb if the pace isn’t too high. He is the one of the fastest men in the World after a tough day and I’m sure he’ll do everything in his powers to ensure that he has the best chance at winning the race. Being beaten by Gaviria in Tirreno this week gone by won’t have done his confidence much use, but I guess Sagan being Sagan, he doesn’t need any more confidence!

Another reason I think Sagan might not wait around for a sprint is that Bora also have the handy second card to play of Sam Bennett. The Irishman took a breakthrough and much deserved win in Paris-Nice, beating some of the fastest pure sprinters in the World. That impressed me, but what impressed me more was his intermediate sprint win the next day. “Eh?!” I can imagine you say, thinking I’ve clearly lost the plot. Well, that intermediate sprint came after the stage started with a Cat-1 climb and the peloton was only 60-riders strong over the top, with the likes of Demare being dropped. Not Bennett though, he was up there beating Matthews and Gilbert. He certainly seems to have found his climbing legs and the Poggio shouldn’t be a challenge for him! Which leads me on to the other sprinters here…

Sprinters

We have plenty of them here, with only Kittel, Greipel and Groenewegen being the notable absentees.

I’m not going to bore you with a little bit on each sprint option (plenty of others will cover them more succinctly and concisely), as I’m already close to the 1000 word mark and I have a few other scenarios/riders I want to cover. So like I’ve been doing quite a bit recently, I’m going to focus on one rider and he’s a selection that might surprise you!

Mark Cavendish.

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The 2009 winner has had a relatively uninspiring but solid start to his 2017 season, picking up only one victory so far in Abu Dhabi. He wasn’t competitive at this race last year due to his Olympics build up, but will be hoping for better this year. Nonetheless, he looks like a tough rider to argue for, yet I’ll give it my best shot.

It’s his slow burning season that’s actually making me believe in his chances here. Before the Tour last year I had written him off as he didn’t seem to be having a great year and seemed past it. He went on to win 4 stages. Before the World Champs I ruled him out as he said he was ill in the week leading up to the event and had gone a bit off the boil post TDF, with only a 6th at Paris-Tours being a notable result. He went on to finish second. Really though, he should have won! He just chose the wrong wheel and got a bit boxed in. There is a recurring theme here; just when he seems to be out of it, he bags a result. The Manxman certainly knows how to peak for key targets. His recent performance in Tirreno fits the above agenda quite nicely and reminds me of a certain Irishman.

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The above screenshot is from an interview in Rouleur magazine with Sean Kelly (view it here). Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Write off Cavendish at your peril this weekend!

Outsiders

There are plenty of puncheurs and classics riders I could highlight but I’m returning to Dimension Data for my second rider.

Edvald Boasson Hagen has long been a favourite of mine. The guy oozed class and talent on a bike and it’s a shame for him he’s around in the same era as the likes of Sagan and GVA as I feel he gets overlooked at times.

The Norwegian was on the attack here in the final kilometres last year and only a few managed to follow him. I expect something similar this year, even if Cavendish makes it over the top of the Poggio in the main group. He’s without a win this season but he has looked strong in Strade, bridging across to the front group on his own. Likewise, his two top 10 TT results indicate to me that he’s peaking a lot more slowly this year compared to his blistering start last season. He can win solo by attacking, or could take out a sprint win from a small group and I don’t think there would be many cycling fans out there who would begrudge a Boasson Hagen win!

My final rider is a proper outsider and one that I have mentioned a lot over the past week in Paris Nice; Alexey Lutsenko.

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The Astana man has had a strong but fruitless start to the season. He was never outside the top 30 in Oman and finished a very respectable 11th in the tough TT during Paris Nice. The Kazakh outfit are without a top quality sprinter in their squad, but Lutsenko can certainly fill the void. Like EBH, he is capable of attacking late on in the race or challenging for the win in a very reduced sprint. He did win the U23 World’s in a very similar fashion! A talented rider who I think is going to have a very good season, a win here would certainly shock a few but not me. He will still need some luck to go his way, but who doesn’t here!

Prediction

A sprint is the most likely option but I think we’ll see a more attacking race this year and a move within the final 2km could well stick. He tried it last year and was unlucky to be marked out of it, but I think this year he might just make it with everyone else marking Sagan. Boasson Hagen to take a memorable victory!

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Betting

Cavendish 1pt EW @18/1 with Bet365 (Would take down to 14s available elsewhere)

Boasson Hagen 0.75pts EW @80/1 with Bet365 (Would take down to 50s)

Lutsenko 0.25pts EW @300/1 with PP/Bet365 (Would take down to 200s).

 

Thanks very much for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated as always. Who do you think is going to win La Classicissima? Will we see a sprint or a late attack stick? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

Kuurne – Bruxelles – Kuurne 2017 Preview

Kuurne – Bruxelles – Kuurne 2017 Preview

This will be short and sweet today as I need to get two previews ready before work. Apologies!

The second part of our opening weekend double header is Kuurne – Bruxelles – Kuurne, or KBK for short!

With Omloop traditionally being the harder race, where those hoping to feature in the likes of Flanders and Roubaix later in the year want to test their legs, KBK tends to be more of a race for the sprinters.

However, Jasper Stuyven upset the applecart last year, taking a magnificent solo victory after a tough race.

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Will we get another surpise this year, or will the sprinters come out to play? Let’s have a look at the route first of all.

The Route

Rolling parcours to start off with but a flat run-in to the line.

Once again credit must go to @LasterketaBurua who made the following profile.

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We do make the iconic ascent of the Oude Kwaremont but there is a good chance that it will be too early to make a difference.

It does twist and turn before the finish on the local laps, like almost everywhere in this part of the world, but it’s nothing crazy! There is a sharp turn with around 650m to go and this will see a fight for position in the bunch but the riders should traverse it ok.

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Overall, the parcours of the race isn’t too tough, but that all depends on the attitude of the peloton and the weather…

Weather Forecast

Similar conditions to today, but there is ever so slightly more chance of rain.

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Like today, it looks as if we could get some crosswind sections out on the course with a SSW wind.

It is possible to make the going tough!

How will the race pan out?

Aside from last year, this race is traditionally a sprinters race. Yet, with the change of the UCI Calendar this year, there are a lot of sprinters away in Abu Dhabi just now; so are we going to see the same impetus to keep this together for a bunch sprint?

Today in Omloop we had a lot of crashes with the likes of Boonen and Kristoff involved. As I’m writing this, it’s not been confirmed how serious these crashes were but if those two aren’t in tip-top shape then the sprint field is lacking some strong contenders.

If Quick Step lose their main guy for a sprint, and with them being relatively poor today, I’m sure they’ll be attacking tomorrow. They won’t want to have a quiet opening weekend in the Belgian classics so I expect them to be aggressive. Likewise, this could possibly be said for the likes of Sky and Trek who would have been disappointed with the outcome from today. They will both have sprint options, but would also be welcome to the possibility of a reduced group of strongmen getting away.

I still think it will end in a sprint, I weigh it about 60:40.

Nonetheless, like for my Omloop preview I’ll throw a few names into the hat for a breakaway win and this list certainly won’t be exhaustive.

Would be attackers…

Ian Stannard.

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Sky will be kicking themselves after today. They looked in a fantastic position, having 3 riders in the front bunch of about 20 that had regrouped after the Taaienberg. After that they fell asleep as our podium from today just rode of the front, along with a few others and that was that. They do have Van Poppel who certainly could be up there in a sprint but I imagine we’ll see some aggressive action at the front from them. Stannard looks the ideal candidate after a relatively quiet finish to his race today so he should be fairly fresh. An ox of a rider who seems in good form, his diesel engine will be of great advantage to any escape!

Yves Lampaert.

The very talented, often overlooked, young Belgian might get a bit of leeway tomorrow if Boonen isn’t feeling 100%. In fact, Lampaert in his junior days was often compared to Boonen himself! As I’ve said above, I think QuickStep play this very aggressively tomorrow and Lampaert might just be given the nod in a “lesser” race. A strong time trialist, cobbled rider and packing a good punch after a tough day, Yves is certainly not one to be discounted if he makes the selection!

See, not exhaustive at all 😉

 

Sprinters

I’m not going to run through all of the riders for this situation either, but there are two that I like.

Arnaud Demare. (Again)

I liked him for today and he finished reasonably high up, he just lost too much time on the Taaienberg and that was it for the day. Whether the time was lost because he was held behind the crash or not, I’m not sure! My reasons for liking him for tomorrow’s race are similar to that of today; he’s fast, on great form and loves the cobbles. He has previous form too at this race!

Magnus Cort.

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The Orica rider is fast becoming a very good semi-classics rider. He was up there today in the second group on the road for a lot of the race, eventually finishing in 16th place. No slouch either, he would probably prefer a hard race to knock the stuffing out of some of his opposition’s legs. Clearly on good early season form, picking up two wins already, he is a force to be reckoned with!

Prediction

I think this will come back together for some type of sprint at the end. How big though? I’m not sure, but Demare will be there anyway to take the win!

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If we do get some kind of attacker, I’ll go for Lampaert as my cheeky side-bet. (As Kirby would say).

Betting

My H2H confidence has been shook after today, so I’ll be avoiding them tomorrow.

0.75pt EW Demare @ 16/1 (Bet365)

0.5pt EW Cort @ 25/1 (Sky)

0.3pt WIN Stannard @66/1 (Bet365)

0.2pt WIN Lampaert @100 (Various)

 

Thanks for reading like always! How do you think tomorrow’s race will pan out? Hoping for some exciting action again. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth

 

 

 

 

Omloop Het Nieuwsblad 2017 Preview

Omloop Het Nieuwsblad 2017 Preview

The start of the season for many fans and probably some riders to boot! The peloton makes its return to the Belgian cobbles for the beginning of the Classics season, kicking off with Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.

Last year saw a group of favourites (Van Avermaet, Rowe, Benoot and Sagan) attack on the Taaienberg with 57.4km to go and long story short, they managed to hold off the chasing bunch with some strong work and co-operation. A special mention must go to morning breakee Alexis Gougeard who drove the front of the break in the closing kilometres ensuring they didn’t get caught when the others started playing games . We then saw an ever so slight uphill sprint to the line and it was Van Avermaet who took the glory!

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The Route

The riders will tackle an almost identical route that we see back in 2016 with the only change being the traditional return of the Molenberg as the final climb.

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Credit to @RickyFilips95  for the above profile, it’s much better than the official one the organisers provide IMO.

The race will follow a normal pattern of an early break escaping up the road before the pace is slowly ramped up over the opening hills and cobbled sections.

Things really get serious on Kruisberg before we often see the first big attacks from the main contenders on the Taaienberg at roughly 55km to go.

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As you can imagine from looking at the profile, the biggest gaps are made on the steep bottom section. It’s interesting to note that Sagan always seems to “struggle” up that part, but then power his way over the flatter second half.

We then have a lot of climbs/cobbles/cobbled climbs in succession over the next 10km, five to be exact. If the lead group really put the hammer down over this section, they can really extend their lead. Likewise, it is the place where those behind may try to jump across the gap.

The final cobbled climb of the race, the Molenberg, comes at just over 40km to go.

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At only 300m long (averaging 8%), it’s not ridiculously tough but gaps can still be made here. Once over the top, the riders have to traverse 3 more cobbled sections and a fairly flat run home. There are some technical sections as they pass through towns and are on small, twisty roads, but that’s what you would expect in this region!

After the success of last year’s finish, the organisers have decided to stick with the slight up hill drag.

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Not the Mur, but it still requires the riders to have some punch left after a long day in the saddle!

So that’s the route covered, but it’s not the only variable that can have an impact on the race. The weather often plays its part here.

Weather Forecast

It doesn’t look as bad as was initially predicted which is a shame for us sitting watching from the warmth of our homes. In fact, there are probably several riders who would have wanted a lot of rain and wind!

With rain looking unlikely apart from a few scattered showers, it will be the wind that may cause some issues for the riders.

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The above forecast is taken from Zottegem, which is roughly in the middle of the route. As you can see, a 20 km/h SSW wind is expected. This could cause some echelons, particularly with the twisting nature of the route where the riders will have to change road position.

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The wind seems to be even stronger as we get closer to Gent. It will be a fast chase home!

Contenders

I’m going to do this differently than normal, structuring this more as I would on a breakaway day where I highlight some riders and talk about them in-depth. The reason for not going through the whole start list is that;

1. Plenty of others will do that so I don’t want to repeat and;

2. Most importantly, I could easily see myself write close to 3,000 words on the nuances and intricacies of favourites/half favourites/no hopers etc and…

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So apologies if I don’t name someone you were hoping for! Right, enough of me beating around the bush…

Zdenek Stybar.

You can’t have a cobbled classic without naming at least one Quick Step rider. Their team for this race is just stupidly strong and you could make arguments for at least 6 of their riders to win this race. Sorry Keisse and Vermote! That strength in-depth can be both a positive and negative as they should in theory always be represented at the front (we’ll just gloss over last year…or the year before that…). Yet, you’re never entirely sure who they’re riding for on the day! Stybar himself has often been the bridesmaid, used as the anchor on a chasing group behind.

The Czech rider is exceptional on cobbles due to his cyclo-cross background and he always seems to be at the pointy end of a race on this terrain. He’s been quiet this season so far but I have been impressed with the glimpses that we have seen of him. Particularly the Mapei-style attack that he was the main driving force behind at the Volta ao Algarve.

He clearly has some good form! Stybar isn’t a slouch either in an uphill sprint so will fancy his chances if it comes down to a select group at the line, like we saw last year. The only issue might be if Van Avermaet and Sagan are there, or my next pick…

Arnaud Démare.

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I’ve talked him up a lot on the blog the past few weeks, but that’s with good reason; he seems to be in scintillating form and has been unlucky not to have notched up a few extra wins by now.

Still only young, the Frenchman has had a very good career so far and is someone who I think is under-rated for what he has achieved. Winning some World Tour races this year will certainly help to change people’s minds!

A sprinter who’s at home on the cobbles and short climbs, he’s finished 10th here twice in the past (2014 and 2015), he just needs some luck to go his way.

Now, I’m not sure if he’ll be able to follow the very best over the likes of the Taaienberg, but he is certainly capable of being in a second group that rejoins the head of the race if those ahead stall at any point.

In an uphill sprint after a tough day he is certainly a big threat.

A repeat of the Binche result from last year wouldn’t go amiss!

Looking at a couple of riders further down the betting order, i.e. proper outsiders, there are a couple I’d like to highlight.

Dylan Van Baarle.

Cycling: 100th Tour of Flanders 2016

Finishing a very credible 6th in Flanders last year after attacking early on in the day, he will be Vanmarcke’s right-hand man here. A real powerful rider who can get over the lumps and bumps, he could well be used as a ploy, attacking off the front of the bunch while Vanmarcke follows the moves behind. Only having competed in one race so far this year on the road, he has been doing a lot of track racing so it will be interesting to see how he copes in a race like this. Will that explosiveness carry over?

Pim Ligthart.

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At a point in his career where he felt like he wanted more leadership opportunities, Lightart has taken the step down from World Tour to Pro Continental to ride for the Roompot team. This is the type of race where he should be given those leadership opportunities. Picking up a second place on a stage in Valenciana highlights his fairly good climbing form, so he should be able to cope with the hills here. Ligthart also possesses a fairly fast sprint so he could win from a small bunch gallop too. Although he will need a lot of luck to go his way!

Prediction

I’m really torn between my two main picks here but I think I’ll go with Stybar as the winner!

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We’ll get a group of around 10 riders escape on the Taainberg, but they’ll slow a little initially, allowing another 10 guys to join from behind. With some co-operation in the group they’ll build up enough of an advantage over the rest of the peloton. From here, we’ll see some attacks in the final 10km. Everyone will be looking at Terpstra as the obvious choice from QS, but instead it will be Stybar who makes the move. He gets joined by a few others (maybe 5 of them in total) and with enough representatives from the group behind involved, they stay away to the end. Stybar then powers away on the final sprint, taking an excellent win!

Betting

0.75pt EW Stybar @25/1 with various bookmakers (I’d take 22/1, even 20/1).

0.75pt EW Demare @33/1 with various bookmakers (would take 28/1)

0.125pt EW Ligthart @ 150/1 with Bet365/Betfair/PP

0.125pt EW Van Baarle @ 125/1 with Bet365.

H2H wise I like the following two;

Ligthart > Kragh Andersen at 5/6 with Bet365. 4.5pts.

I tweeted this one out yesterday when it was at evens and I still like it at the price it is just now, I’d even take it at 4/6, or 1/2 at a stretch. I’m confused as to why it is priced the way it is. Yes, Kragh Andersen took a good win in Oman, but he has no history what so all in these types of races, whereas Ligthart does. I can’t see Andersen dropping Ligthart on any of the climbs, and it should be Ligthart doing the dropping on the cobbles. I like it so much I’m increasing my stake to 4.5pts (from the 3 I initially put on).

Stybar > Boom at 1/2 with William Hill. 2pts.

I think it’s clear to see my love for Stybar with what I’ve written above. Boom has often promised so much on this type of terrain but he’s failed to deliver in the past. The Dutchman did have a good TT in Algarve but I just don’t think he has the quality to match Stybar here. Boom’s performance is still enough to put me off going crazy on this one.

 

Thanks for reading if you managed to get this far and apologies again for not doing a full breakdown of the start list; you can see how much I managed to write for just 4 guys, imagine 20! Any RTs/Shares/any type of feedback is greatly appreciated as always. Who do you think will win? I’m just looking forward to a good race! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.