Vuelta a Andalucia 2019 Stage 1 Preview: Sanlúcar de Barramed -> lcalá de los Gazules

Vuelta a Andalucia 2019 Stage 1 Preview: Sanlúcar de Barramed -> lcalá de los Gazules

As I’m doing both Andalucia and Algarve previews this afternoon, no GC funny business here – straight into the opening day it is!

The Route

With no real mountains the stage looks quite simple on paper, but given the constant rolling nature of the parcours and the sting in the tail that awaits the riders: it certainly isn’t the easiest start they could have had.

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We’ll no doubt see a fight between some of the Pro Continental teams to get into the break and try to take the KOM jersey but in terms of other action for the stage, don’t expect much until the closing 10kms, with everything building to a crescendo.

Some of you may recognise the finish climb from last year’s edition of the race, with it being the finale of Stage 4, which saw Tim Wellens power away from everyone. However, the approach into the town itself this year is a little different.

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Last year it was mostly all a steady downhill until the foot slopes of the climb but as you can see on the profile above, there are a few short rolling kickers to contend with first. Nothing to worry about for the peloton as they’re all roughly 500m long and average about 5-6% but they will be taken at race pace and probably sap the legs a little as the fight for position begins.

With around 2.6km to go it is the exact same finish that we had last year so it is worthwhile to watch that again. You can find a video of the finish here, just skip along to around the 42 minute mark for those closing kilometres.

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The fight to get to the right hand turn with 1.3km to go will be very important, as the climb starts in earnest as soon as you leave the main road with immediate double-digit ramps. Consequently, being at the front of the bunch allows you to carry more speed through turn and saving you a vital bit of energy.

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The climb can really be split into three parts; with an opening 700m at 16%; before a 300m shallow descent; and the final 250m at 13% kick to the line.

Having team-mates in the opening few hundred metres is helpful and we saw Lotto Soudal utilise that tactic well last year but with it being Wellens and Landa at the head of the race with 1km still to go – this is a stage about pure power and climbing legs.

The road surface on some parts of the climb is pretty terrible too with riders having to use storm drains for a smoother ride. This again highlights that being at the front of the peloton is a pretty good idea for this climb!

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One crucial point of the climb that I picked up on last year was this slight turn off of the shallow descent. Landa led Wellens through here, but the latter carried a lot more speed and was in a better gear to power himself past the Spaniard as the road started to rise again. It looked as if Landa had to alter his pedal stroke to change gear and that ultimately cost him the stage as he couldn’t get back onto Wellens’ wheel again.

I really enjoyed the finish last year and I’m more than happy to see it return this year! Let’s have a look at who might be competing for the win and the first leader’s jersey of the race.

Contenders

Tim Wellens.

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It’s only fair to start with last year’s winner with the Lotto rider hoping to double up this time round. As seems to be tradition now, Wellens started his 2019 very strongly in the Spanish Trofeo races winning one of them, with the other two results being 2nd and 5th. He was meant to ride Etoile des Besseges but had to skip it due to a viral infection and consequently missed almost a week off the bike. However, his coach seems to think that it shouldn’t be an issue and that he’ll be ready to contest for stage wins and a good GC placing this year. We’ll have to wait and see but a fit Wellens would be a favourite for the stage once again.

Adam Yates.

With a win already under his belt this year in Valenciana, taking the day at the very tough and steep finish in Alcossebre, Yates will be relishing another opportunity on a short but steep climb here tomorrow. He normally is good on these shorter steep ramps and after a slightly disappointing 2018 where he was in his brother’s shadow, he’ll want to step up again this year. The finish tomorrow provides a great opportunity for him to get an early second win under the belt this season.

Simon Yates.

Would it be fair to say he was the breakthrough rider of the year in 2018? Although he was a strong rider before that with good GC places in the Tour and Vuelta, it was last season that he really upped his level. With the well documented cracking at the Giro, Yates bounced back with a very mature and strong ride to win the Vuelta. Like his brother, he can fly up the steep slopes when he wants to but given this is his first race of the season, I’m not sure where his form is at. On the team’s website, he says to get some racing in his legs and support Haig and his brother. Just a bluff or is he being truthful? We’ll find out tomorrow.

4/7ths of the Astana team.

One of the early form teams, the Kazakh outfit are flying at the moment and I don’t see that changing here. They have an incredibly strong group with them at this race and on their day I could feasibly see any of Sanchez, Bilbao, Izagirre or Fuglsang win tomorrow. Honestly, trying to pick who out of them will go the best is tough but I would possibly argue Bilbao as he looked the strongest on the steepest finish in Alcossebre. I imagine they will all be given a free role tomorrow in the hope that they can be near the top of the order to put the pressure on the other teams later in the week.

Dylan Teuns.

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He was my pick to surprise everyone with an attack on Alcossebre but after apparently suffering a puncture with just less than 10km to go he had wasted too much energy fighting back and couldn’t follow the best. As a rider who has contending for the win and finished on the podium at Fleche Wallonne, a 1.2km steep climb tomorrow looks perfect for him and I fully expect him to be in the mix. With Colbrelli taking the team’s first win in Oman today, the pressure is somewhat off them a little tomorrow. Will that help Teuns out?

Sergio Higuita.

I named the young Colombian as my wildcard for Alcossebre and he certainly continued to impress there. His diminutive stature and low weight should theoretically help on the steep slopes compared to those more gravitationally challenged but with the dodgy road surface tomorrow, he might actually struggle to get the power down if he’s dancing on the pedals. Nonetheless, I expect another top 10 from him with another strong performance.

Eduard Prades.

It’s weird to see Movistar with such an underwhelming GC team for a race in Spain but they do have a possible outsider for the opening stage. Prades had a breakthrough year in 2018 winning the GC in Norway and Turkey, while picking up some good stage results throughout. Already this year he’s taken his first victory with a stage win in Provence, on a day that featured a brutally steep climb before the finish. Obviously that’s different from a race actually finishing up a steep climb but he’ll be hoping to improve on his 12th place here last year.

Prediction

I think it will be a Wellens vs A Yates vs Teuns vs Astana battle, but I think the former might still be a little flat after his illness. Hmmmm, it’s got to be Adam Yates, doesn’t it?

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Teuns to come home second with Bilbao third.

Betting

2pts Win Adam Yates @ 7/2 with Bet365.

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Critérium du Dauphiné 2017 Stage 1 Preview; Saint-Étienne -> Saint-Étienne

GC Overview

No stand-alone GC preview from me but it looks set to be a showdown between Porte and Froome. The former won their battle in Romandie, looking imperious. However, the Dauphinè is Froome (and Sky’s) race. They’ve taken the title in 5 out of the last 6 editions and I’m sure the Brit will be here to put down a marker before the Tour.

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The TT should suit both of those guys and with the amount of climbing on offer, then they both should end up on the podium.

However, there is the potential that they could be caught out on the tough stages at the end of the race, particularly the explosive 115km Stage 8 test. We saw that in 2014 when Talansky went on a raid to win the overall. The Cannondale rider looked good in California, is a repeat performance on the cards?

Of course, we have several other contenders such as Valverde, Contador, Bardet, YatesMartin and Chaves (if he’s recovered from his injury) who might spring a surprise and catch the big-two napping on that last day.

Nonetheless, I’ll be boring/safe (delete as appropriate), this is Froome’s Duaphiné to lose. The parcours suits him very well and he seems to go better on the longer climbs in comparison to his former team-mate.

He needs a commanding performance, otherwise the Australian will go into the Tour buoyant and as a very, very serious title contender, if not the favourite!

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

The Route

A tough, tricky and very interesting route to start the race off.

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Lots of small climbs throughout the day but particularly in the circuit on the outskirts of Saint-Étienne which will no doubt shape the race.

I don’t envisage any of the early climbs being attacked aggressively enough for the sprinters to lose contact, so I’ll just skip them! However, they will no doubt stretch the legs of the riders for what is to come.

Instead, I’ll focus on the final 44km and the “interesting” finale.

According to the roadbook, the Côte de Rochetaillée is 3.4km at 5.4%. However, that doesn’t really tell the whole story, so out of interest I made a Strava profile of the final circuit that you can view here.

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They make the climb to be 3.8km at 5.8%. Either way, it’s not what I would call short and not what I would call extremely easy!

Moreover, the little lump/prelude of a climb is roughly 2.5km at 3.5%. It means for the final 44kms the peloton will be climbing for approximately 18km of them, totalling 1350m of elevation gain (~450 per lap according to Strava).

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The majority of the descent towards the line is fairly straightforward and the riders will be thankful to get a few looks at it. However, there is a pair of tight 90-degree right-hand turns just after the Flamme Rouge which could cause some issues.

Positioning will be very important.

The road even rises ever so slightly to the line, but it’s minimal!

How will the stage pan out?

This is a really exciting stage on paper because it is so tough to call.

Will the sprinters make it? Will the punchier riders fight it out? Will we see a late attack stick? Or none of the above?

I’ll stick my neck on the line and suggest that it will actually be a relatively selective bunch that comes to the line, maybe 30-40 riders. A few of the GC teams with fast riders who aren’t as strong in a TT might want to gain a few bonus seconds tomorrow!

My reasoning for this is that tomorrow’s stage reminds me an awful lot of the Barcelona circuit (Stage 7) we had at the Volta Catalunya earlier in the year. On that day they admittedly did many more laps (8 compared to 3), but the climb was actually easier (only 2.2km at 5.1%).

That stage ended with a front group of only 16 riders, but I imagine tomorrow might be just over double in size.

Therefore, that means I’m ruling out the majority of the sprinters, with possibly only Boasson Hagen and Colbrelli making it. Even then though I’m not too sure!

Contenders

Valverde is obviously the first name to spring to mind for a finish like this. He won the stage in Catalunya and has been his usual imperious self this season! Having not raced for a while his form is a bit unknown, but the Spaniard always turns up at the big races. Taking a few bonus seconds here could set him in good stead for an assault on the GC title.

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Kwiatkowski could be the Spaniards biggest challenger. Another rider who has not raced for a while, the former World Champion seems to have returned to his glory days this season having already won Strade Bianche and Milan San Remo. In Pais Vasco he was competing in the flatter reduced sprints and he certainly packs the speed to go well tomorrow.

Ulissi is a rider who on paper would relish this type of finish. Yet, with so many others, it is tough to know where his form currently is! I would not be surprised to see him in the top 5.

Gallopin should like the punchy circuit and with his fast kick he could be another rider challenging for a podium place.

There is one outsider who I would like to mention.

Dan Martin.

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He’s no slouch in a sprint from GC contenders and if we do get a properly reduced group like I think we will then he could sneak a podium place. Will he be given the chance if some of his team-mates make it? Hopefully!

Prediction

A tougher day than some might predict, but Valverde will continue his incredible 2017 with another win!

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With Dan Martin not too far behind him!

Betting

I think the 25/1 on Valverde looks massive value at the moment, it is a shame that I’ve just realised that Bet365 are offering win only ;

SkyBet are offering EW places though so bet with them if you can. I’m not too fussed with having to take Valverde straight up as I’m not allowed more than 0.5pt on with them Sky, so 365 it is for Valverde.

As for Martin, he is “EW value” so only bet if you can get him EW!

2pts WIN Valverde @ 25/1 with Bet365 (same price with SkyBet)

0.5pt EW Dan Martin @ 150/1 with SkyBet.

 

Thanks as always for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated! Who do you think will win tomorrow and by what means? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

Giro d’Italia 2017 Stage 1 Preview; Alghero -> Olbia

The first day of racing is upon as and a stage that should end in a sprint but could throw up a surprise or two! Who will get to wear the famous Maglia Rosa at the end of the day? Let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders.

The Route

A long day to start of the Giro, the riders travel 206km from Alghero to Olbia along the Sardinian coast-line.

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The route is fairly flat, by Giro standards at least, with a few rolling hills and some Cat-4 climbs so that the organisers can award the KOM jersey at the end of the stage.

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The stage is all about the final 25km and the climb of San Pantaleo that crests with just under 21km to go.

At 3.2km long and averaging 5.6%, it is certainly tough enough to put some of the poor climbing sprinters in difficulty.

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The gradients of the climb itself are fairly irregular and it does have a 500m metre section at 9.6%, with a maximum pitch of 12%.

It is a possible attack point for some of the bolder riders in the peloton but I don’t think they’ll get that far. Unless of course the chase is left solely to UAE (formerly Lampre), who couldn’t organise a piss up in a brewery at times!

Nonetheless, I do think we’ll get a bunch sprint into Olbia with only maybe a couple of riders dropped (I’m looking at you Pelucchi).

The run in itself altimetry wise is easy after the climb but the actual route layout is a lot more difficult and technical.

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With several sweeping bends and 90-degree turns in the final 4km the finish will certainly reward those with a strong lead-out but also those who are willing to take some risks.

On paper the final kilometre doesn’t look too bad, but the riders do have to traverse a roundabout. Thankfully they should be funnelled into the middle lane so there will be no last-minute choice as to how to take the roundabout which could cause some issues/crashes.

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However, the road obviously does narrow quite drastically from the three-lane wide road to just the one which in itself may cause some problems. Positioning will be important!

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The roundabout itself might cause some difficulties as again the approach road narrows even further.

Once they exit along the sea-front then there are roughly 400m left until the finish line.

Weather Watch

It looks set to be a sunny and dry day out in the saddle for the riders, if not a bit overcast at times.

However, like a lot of the time it seems, it is the wind that I am more concerned with!

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Source: Windfinder

The above image is the forecast for near Isola Rossa which is roughly half-way into the stage.

It looks as if for the majority of the day as the cyclists head North-East, they will be riding into a block head-wind. However, the road does twist and turn a bit which could present the opportunity for echelons if they are in an exposed crosswind section for long enough.

When they turn at the head of the island and travel southwards, the wind on the East coast seems to come from an ever so slightly different direction.

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Source: Windfinder

The second image is from Palau (roughly 45km to go) and as you can see, it becomes more of a crosswind at that point.

I’m sure the riders will be thankful to know that most of the route is protected by trees that weaken and block the wind, while they’re a few hundred metres from the coast itself. However, there are some parts of the stage where they are right next to the coast line…

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Just North of Cannigione (~30km to go)

Will any team try to take advantage of these stretches and dare I say it, create…

Echelons?!

I live in hope more than anything!

Sprint Contenders

Analysing sprint trains isn’t my forte so I’ll try to keep this as concise and succinct as possible!

Gaviria – He should get over the climb at the end easily but he’s not completed a race since the end of March so it will be interesting to see where his form is. He has a solid lead-out train and in Richeze he has a great pilot fish. Those two seem to form a great pairing and they’ve proven in the past that they work well together. Gaviria probably starts as the justifiable favourite.

Greipel – A proven Giro stage winner, the Gorilla has taken a victory in every edition of the race he has competed at so far. Lotto Soudal have quite an inexperienced lead-out with them and it will be interesting to see how Hofland works as a last man. Nonetheless, Greipel is experienced enough to be able to surf wheels, although that isn’t exactly his strong point. He’ll need a bit of luck in that respect to win, but I certainly wouldn’t put it past him!

Andre Greipel Giro d'Italia

Ewan – The young Aussie was unfortunate not to take a stage win in Yorkshire last week after being boxed in on both occasions. He’s missing Kluge but in Mezgec he has an experienced replacement who should deliver him well, not to mention Edmondson who is flying just now and he will probably be third man. Orica are normally very good at timing their efforts on these technical finishes which will certainly give Ewan a great chance of winning.

Those three riders head the betting markets but there are another trio of riders waiting in the wings.

Bennett – As I think Pelucchi may get dropped, Bennett will be Bora’s man for stage 1. He’s not had an outstanding season, often finding himself working for Sagan or withdrawing from races. However, his win in Paris Nice was incredible and if he is 100% fit for this race then he will be confident of pulling off something similar.

Modolo – If you follow me on Twitter then you’ll know over the past few days I’ve been bombarding my timeline with various Modolo based punts. For what it’s worth, I think he wins the points classification this year as the three “big” sprinters will drop out. His win on the last stage in Croatia was amazing and I expect him to have carried on that form here. With the technical finish, he has a good chance of a podium spot tomorrow.

Nizzolo – Returning from an injury that plagued the start of his season, the Italian Champion arrives at the Giro lightly raced, having only taken part in Croatia. He might struggle with the pace on the opening few days but he is a rider that I rate highly so I’m not discounting him. Can he take that elusive Giro stage win tomorrow? Probably not.

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Can anyone else contend?

Bauhaus, Sbaragli and Mareczko will all be fighting for the top 10 but it will take something special to go any better.

Prediction

I’ll go for a rider who tore it up at the start of the season to do the same again tomorrow, Ewan wins!

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I like the look of his lead-out, short but very explosive, just like the Aussie himself. He was solid in Yorkshire and compared to some of the other guys he has shown good recent form. The same can be said for Modolo who I think will be on the podium and run Ewan close!

Betting

I already have;

1pt EW Modolo @ 20/1 with PaddyPower that I tweeted out the other day. I would still take the 12/1 that is available as I think that’s still value.

I’m just deliberating whether to take Ewan for the stage, or in a slightly “safer” H2H against Greipel…Hmmm…

3pts Ewan to beat Greipel at 4/5 with WilliamHill (Would take 4/6).

 

Thanks as always for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated. Who do you think will win tomorrow? Will there be echelons? Will many sprinters if any, get dropped on the climb? I’m just hoping for an exciting opening stage. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth!

Tour de Romandie 2017 Stage 1 Preview; Aigle -> Champéry

Today’s Recap

A wet and miserable TT rewarded the risk takers of the peloton. In the end it was Fabio Felline who took a great win. He was putting down a serious amount of power in the closing straight, with the back wheel sliding all over the road. Possible flat tyre? Impressive either way!

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Alex Dowsett was the last rider down the ramp but kept things interesting, only losing by 2 seconds to the Italian, with an impressive ride from youngster Alexander Edmondson to take third.

As for Albasini, he looked to be going okay on the first part of the course, but seemed to lack the confidence in the second half. Probably didn’t want to fall after knowing I had put the curse on him. Oh well!

The GC guys took as few risks as possible, trying to keep themselves upright going into the rest of the week. Let’s have a look at what’s in store for them tomorrow.

The Route

We get the first open road stage of the race on day two and we are already treated to what is arguably the Queen Stage. Although I do think that is still going to be stage 4!

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@LasterketaBurua

An interactive profile can be viewed here.

With only 2700m of elevation gain, it’s certainly not the most wearing day, but the vast majority of the climbing does come in two big sections.

First, we have the Cat-2 climb of Vex that starts around the halfway point in the stage. Averaging a solid 6.3% for 8.9km it will tire the peloton for what’s to come later but I can’t really see it having any impact on the race. If anything, the descent might have a bigger say in the outcome if it is wet and dangerous.

Following the descent there is a long 40km period of flat before a little 2.1km long, 9.1% average kicker. This could see some of the deadwood dropped from the peloton if a team turns the pace on here. If not, the bunch will be grouped together as they start the final climb of the day.

According to the guys @LasterketaBurua the climb is 14.5km long and averages 4.2%, but that’s it topping out with just over 1km to the finish line.

As we get nothing in the road book at all about the climb I’ve made a Strava profile for the whole thing. View that here.

Interestingly, the rider who holds the Strava record for the climb is Adrien Costa (30 minutes) who set that back in the junior race of Pays Vaud back in 2015. I’m sure that will fall tomorrow!

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You can split the climb into three parts, with some false flat and shallow descending in between.

The first section is 5.5km at 5.4% but this does include some double figure ramps. Three km of said false flat/descending follows before the second section; 3.2km at 5.8%. We then have almost a kilometre of descending before the final kick up which is 1.3km at 7.7%. A flat-ish run to the line then follows.

Will we see a solo winner, or a group of GC favourites come to the line?

Weather Watch

Looks set to be another grim day for the peloton, a recurring theme this week!

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Source; Wunderground.

Thankfully it’s supposedly only raining at the finish line tomorrow in Champéry (above forecast), but the riders will certainly be cold and wet either way. Hopefully the organisers won’t need to change the route!

The same can’t be said for the climb of Vex as there is a good chance we’ll have sleet on it and that could make the descent dangerous. I don’t think it will have a massive impact on the day if it is included or not.

How will the stage pan out?

It will all come down to the final climb and how aggressively the riders approach it. With only one other mountain top finish, I’m sure the better climbers will want to put as much time into their competitors with a long TT looming.

The weather will play as big a part as any with some riders feeling the cold more than others, and potentially underperforming.

However, I just don’t think the final climb is hard enough to create some serious time gaps. The toughest section is the 1.3km (@7.7%) segment that comes near the end of the climb. We could see some strong attacks here from the likes of Porte and Froome but will they really distance everyone on it? I’m not so sure.

The flat run in to the line could scarper any moves that were made on the slopes, but of course it could work conversely where those behind don’t work together.

Ultimately though, I think the stage will be won either from a late attack on the flat closing 1.5km or in a sprint between GC favourites.

So I’ll throw some names into the proverbial hat.

Proverbial Hat of Contenders (Outsiders)

Jarlinson Pantano.

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A man ahead of the times in bad weather…

But no, in all seriousness Pantano has all the credentials and abilities to go well tomorrow. He’s been climbing strongly in support of Contador all season but now has his own chance to chase a result. Or does he? There is a chance of him riding for race leader Felline, but I think Trek are best to keep their options open. Packing a fast sprint, he can certainly win the stage from a reduced group.

Diego Ulissi.

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The climb is possibly just on the limit for the Italian, considering the length of it, but with its relatively shallow gradients he could hang on. Not afraid to attack or hold out for the sprint in that situation, it will be interesting to see how he plays it if he’s still there!

Wilco Kelderman.

Going to the Giro in support of Dumoulin, Kelderman hasn’t had many race days so far this year, only 11 in fact! Two of those were at the Ardennes and he’s slowly regained his race speed and form. He put in a fairly solid TT today and will want to test himself at some point in the mountains. Tomorrow could be as good a day as any!

Prediction

I’ll go for Mary Poppins himself, Jarlinson Pantano to take the win! We’ll see an attack on the final ramp by some of the favourites and Pantano will mark it out, with Felline behind. The Colombian will then win the ensuing sprint. Valverde’s not here to beat him this time!

Tour de France stage 15

Betting

1.5pt EW Pantano @10/1 with Bet365

0.25pt EW Bilbao @80/1

Thanks as always for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated. I hope we get an unaltered stage and an exciting days worth of racing! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

Tour of the Alps 2017 Stage 1 Preview; Kufstein -> Innsbruck

GC Overview

I don’t have enough time to do a proper GC preview but here are a quick few words! Tough course with several stages that end in tricky climbs. Some short and steep but we do have longer, ahem, Alps here too!

So the winner of the race needs to be a very good climber and with a lack of TT, the proper mountain goats will be licking their lips. Sky have the luxury of two contenders with last years winner Landa and Giro contender Thomas. The Spaniard is supposed to be co-leader at the Giro but he’s not offered much this season so will need a big performance here and I think we’ll see just that.

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Pinot has a good chance for FDJ, along with Scarponi who will be Astana’s main hope of picking up a result and I’m also intrigued to see Formolo go for GC in a race without a TT! As for outside top 10 hopefuls I think Busato might sneak into that category. He was 11th last year and although the climbs are a lot tougher in this edition, he seems to be going well at the moment. An 8th place in Appeninno after crashing relatively hard during the race is testament to that. Likewise, Firsanov also crashed hard in that race while in the leading group. After a slow start to the year, the Russian is getting back to the shape he was in here last season, when he managed to finish 4th on GC. The longer climbs will be tough for him, but you never know! I would expect to see Torres up there fighting for a top 5 as well.

I’ll go for a Landa win though.

Right, onto stage 1 now…

The Route

Not exactly an easy day to start the race off with!

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@LasterketaBurua

Rolling terrain mixed in with some steep climbs. The stage is all about the final 25km though.

We have a tough ascent of Schlögelsbach, 3km long and averaging 9.1%, and it’s not even categorised. Tricky enough to put some riders in trouble, it will be interesting to see if any teams decide to take up pace-making duties there.

A technical descent then follows before some more rolling terrain as the riders reach Innsbruck and the final climb up to Hungerburg.

At only 3.6km long there shouldn’t be too many time gaps, but with an average gradient of 7.3% we might see some probing attacks from GC riders. The finish reminds me of the final climb we had at the end of stage 2 last year, although this year it is not as steep!

Contenders

GC rider or a punchy climber? That’s the conundrum I’m dealing with just now. I guess with the start-list we have, there is a lot of crossover between the two!

Thomas and Landa probably start as favourites. Both exceptional climbers, they have the added advantage of being able to pull off a 1-2 punch. With Thomas returning from altitude, it will be interesting to see how he fares on his first day back in the peloton. However, with some tougher stages to come, will they keep their powder dry? Probably not, expect an attacking closing climb from them!

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The finish isn’t ideal for Pinot, yet again, he was 2nd on the stage into Fermo in Tirreno last month. With no Sagan here, he has a much better chance of the win this time round! However, he hasn’t raced since Tirreno so it is yet to be seen where his form is.

Dennis might give it a nudge and in this quality of field, he certainly has a chance of stealing the victory, but I’m not overly convinced. Instead, I think BMC should also let Caruso have the chance to lead the team. The Italian is a criminally underrated domestique who climbs well and has a fast finish. He could well win a sprint to the line from the climbers.

I can’t really see anyone from Astana winning the stage. Scarponi isn’t explosive enough and the climb is probably just too long for Moser. Maybe Luis Leon Sanchez might have a go?!

Formolo definitely offers Cannondale their best chance on this type of terrain. Like many here, the young Italian is building towards the Giro and will want to put in a good performance. He’s been a bit off the boil so far this season but has shown glimpses of what he can do in races like Catalunya. Maybe Villella can even hang on?

This type of finish though does open it up to some riders from the ProConti teams and there are a few I’d like to highlight.

Busato has still to take a professional victory but he was flying in Appennino until the crash. This type of finish looks good for him, although on his limit, and I think he could surprise a few people!

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Firsanov was the first to cross the line behind Landa on Stage 2 of this race last, which had a very similar finish compared to tomorrow’s climb. As I mentioned above, he’s been poor this year so far, but his form seems to be heading in the right direction. Not someone to be properly marked, he has a good shot at taking the stage win.

Finally, relatively unknown rider Danilo Celano is worth a mention. He was the eventual winner of Appennino, flying up the final climb. Riding here for the Italian national team, if he’s retained any of that form then he is a proper dark horse for the win. Keep an eye on him!

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Prediction

I’ll go for none of the above though and instead opt for young Colombian sensation Egan Bernal to take the victory.

After making his breakthrough performance at this race last year, winning the young riders classification, he’s continued his development with some great results this year. The explosive, steep gradients of the finish climb suit him well and he has a handy sprint after a tough climb, if a group of 3 or so arrive at the summit together.

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Betting

No GC bet, so just stage 1 picks all with Bet365;

4pts Bernal to beat Pozzovivo  @5/4 (he was 11/8 but I was waiting for stage odds, would take down to 10/11 lowest)

 

 

Thanks as always for reading as always! Who do you think will win the opening stage? Will we see a lesser known rider take the spoils? I hope to see an attacking/exciting finale. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

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

GC Overview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Route

A fairly dull stage to start the race off.

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Profile once again courtesy of @LasterketaBurua

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

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

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

“Sprinters”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction

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

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

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Betting

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

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

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

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

 

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Paris-Nice 2017 Stage 1 Preview; Bois-d’Arcy -> Bois-d’Arcy

*Apologies, this will be short and sweet as I’m busy with work/got pre-occupied watching Strade*

Stage one and a day that should on paper end in a sprint but might entice the risk-takers of the peloton.

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A fairly simple day terrain wise, this stage is all about the closing few kilometres, it’s very technical.

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This means that the peloton will be very stretched out , with several roundabouts and turns to negotiate. Not to mention there is a 1km-long climb to be traversed at 2km left in the stage.

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It looks to average roughly 5% for that kilometre so appears to a great launchpad for a late attack from someone in my opinion. The road then descends until 500m to go where we have a 90-degree turn, before it rises ever so slightly to the line again. This finish is going to be chaotic and certainly not for the faint hearted!

Another thing that will make this a challenging day is the…

Weather

Looking at the forecast for the region, it is set to be wet and windy for the majority of the day.

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Bois-d’Arcy forecast (Source: Wunderground)

Those strong winds could cause carnage out on the course and there is a very good chance that we might see some crosswinds, depending on how aggressively the teams approach the day. With there only being a couple of clear GC days, I do think a few squads will be looking to cause some havoc tomorrow and the race will get split up out on course.

Sprinters

We do have some of the best sprinters in the world here with the two main Germans heading the field.

I don’t think Kittel will fancy a finish like this and in poor weather, he backed out of one in Abu Dhabi like this. To give Greipel his credit, he proved me wrong in that same sprint in the Middle East so he could have a chance here. The climb will be on his limits but I think he could be there!

Behind them, there are a whole host of guys who will fancy their chances, such as Bouhanni (who will LOVE this finish), Kristoff and Démare to name a few.

Yet, as I said above, I’m not entirely sure we’ll see a sprint and since we’ll more than likely see a bunch gallop on Stage 2 I’m going to leave it at that for today with them.

Instead…

Late Attackers

I really think this finale is conducive to a late attack sticking, especially if the conditions whittle down the peloton before we reach the finish town. I have three riders in mind to keep an eye out for who all kind of fit the same mould, but are ever so slightly different;

Oliver Naesen.

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The AG2R man has had a very solid start to the season, picking up a 7th and 8th in Omloop and Kuurne respectively last weekend. An attacking rider, this short climb looks perfect f0r him to try to spring a surprise, hoping to put his good cobbles form to use. He’s not a slouch in a reduced sprint too so if a group of 5 or so get clear then he has a chance in that situation too.

AlexeyLutsenko.

The best Kazakh rider since Vinokourov, Lutsenko picked up a truly impressive stage win at this race last year holding off a charging peloton on Stage 5. He’s started this year well too without picking up a proper result, not finishing outside of the top 30 on any stage in Oman. Most recently he was part of the Kazakh team that won the Asian Cycling Championships TTT, but I’m not really sure what to take from that. Either way, he’s the type of guy not afraid to give it a go!

Mauro Finetto.

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Unlike the other two he already has a win to his name this season, taking home the Classic Sud Ardeche from a small bunch sprint. A proper journeyman of a rider, he might finally have found a place to showcase his talents with Delko. He’s without a World Tour win in his career but that might all change tomorrow!

Prediction

A late attack prevails after the race has been battered by wind and rain. A man who has no issues in those conditions will be victorious, Lutsenko to win! The guy oozes class on a bike and is an U23 World Champion let’s not forget. I think he’s in for a big year and this may well be the start of it.

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Betting

I did tweet the selection out previously and their price did stay like that for a while so that’s what they’re being noted down as! 0.25pt WIN on them all;

Lutsenko @ 100/1 with Bet365

Naesen @ 100/1 with Bet365

Finetto @ 100/1 with Betfair

I would take 66/1 lowest price with them all. Others may price up favourably later on so keep an eye out!

 

Thanks as always for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated. Apologies again for this being shorter than normal. Who do you think will win tomorrow?  My GC preview is up on the site too if you missed that earlier. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

Abu Dhabi Tour Stage 1 Preview; Madinat Zayed -> Madinat Zayed

The opening stage of the race and one that should be decided by the sprinters.

The Route

An “out and back” style course through the desert.

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As you can see, it’s almost as flat as pancake with very little elevation change at all! The wind may be a factor out in the open desert.

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However, looking at the forecasts for Madinat Zayed and Mezairaa it doesn’t look promising for echelon action. We may get consistent 14 hm/h winds which may have caused some issue if they were coming from the correct direction, but that’s not the case. Instead it will be a headwind when they leave Madinat Zayed, that turns into a tail wind for a bit out on the course, then back to a head wind as they return to the starting town.

Maybe we still might get something? I mean, that tail -> head wind doesn’t happen instantly! No? I think I’m clinging onto too much hope here. So instead, this stage will all be about the closing kilometres.

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It’s the exact same finish that was used last year and I expect a similar dash to the final left hand turn at roughly 1km to go.

The peloton will be fairly strung out through it but the pace will ramp up even more as they approach a roundabout with 700m to go. Once through the roundabout, the riders will possibly be in single file and it will take a lot of extra energy to come from 20 places back and win the stage.

Last year it was a messy sprint as riders lost their lead-out men and it was in fact Mark Renshaw who did the perfect lead-out for Giacommo Nizzolo (not Cavendish), with the Italian going on to take the win.

Therefore it’s safe to say timing in the sprint is very important. You either want to have 2 riders left in front of the sprinter when leading out of the roundabout and power home from there. Or use the slight lull in action as sprint trains look for their sprinter, to then bring your rider forward in the final 300m.

Who’ll be competing for stage honours then?

Sprint Contenders

The perfectly-haired German, Marcel Kittel, has to start as the clear favourite for this stage. He started the season off in scintilating form, picking up 3 stage wins and the GC in Dubai. Not arriving with his normal lead-out may hinder him a bit. However, he does arrive with his favourite lead-out man Sabatini. Possibly not as dominant as in other races, he will still be the rider to beat!

Cavendish comes here after a very weird start to the year. Mechanicals and bad luck hampered him in Dubai, before he seemed to be on lead out duty for Boasson Hagen in the Algarve. As an ambassador for this race, he’ll be hoping for a much better showing than those previous starts. I’m not entirely sure that will happen on stage 1 as he has had a hectic schedule over the past few days. Nonetheless, with Renshaw by his side, he is a rider who can turn it on at anytime so can’t be discounted!

Off the back of a very good stage win in Algarve, Greipel will be in a buyouant mood ahead of this week. Another rider who is arriving here without his normal lead-out, he will probably be relying on De Bie to drop him off in a good position in the closing kilometres. It will then be over to Andre to follow the correct wheel, can he?

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Caleb Ewan arrives with a short, but rather strong lead-out; relying on Mezgec and Kluge to get him in position. They are the type of guys who could perfectly execute the old “move up in the final kilometre” tactic that I mentioned earlier. Ewan was unbeatable in Australia a month ago, has he managed to sustain that form?

Hot or cold sprinter Viviani will be hoping to profit in a messy run in here. One of the best riders in the world at positioning himself without a lead-out, this race he can at least rely on Doull and Dibben to pilot fish him a bit further up the bunch before he has to ride solo. I don’t know why, but I think he’ll go well here!

Aside from the riders listed above, Pelucchi, Bonifazio, Guardini and Ruffoni will be hoping to get in the mix.

One other rider I am intrigued to see perform this week is young Astana sprinter Riccardo Minali. He made very steady, but impressive improvements throughout the week in Dubai, ultimately finishing 3rd on the final stage. Can he repeat that peformance here, or go even better? I’ll be watching with interest, that’s for sure!

Prediction

Kittel probably wins this, doesn’t he? But I can’t be releasing two previews in a day that both have the favourite as the winner, so to mix things up a bit and I’ll go with Viviani.

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He’s the one sprinter out of them all who benefits most from a finish like this, and if he manages to come out of the right slipstream then he will be hard to beat. After all, he is no slouch!

Betting

0.75pt EW Viviani at 18/1 with Betfair (Paddy Power). Would take down to 14/1.

5pts on Minali to beat Bauhaus at 1/2 with Bet365

Thanks for reading. Can you see anyone beating Kittel? I’ll be back again tomorrow with a stage 2 preview. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Volta ao Algarve Stage 1 Preview; Albufeira -> Lagos

The Route

Fairly straight forward day that should end in a bunch gallop.

Print

With a lot of the big sprinters here, there should be no problem in maintaining the breakaway all day, so this stage will all come down to the closing kilometres.

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Positioning within the final 2kms as the riders have a couple of roundabouts to traverse.

The first they come to at roughly 1.4km to go isn’t too bad, it’s more of a sweeping left hand turn.

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However, there is some potentially dangerous road furniture just through the bend.

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Hopefully they have the road dividers down (if they can) or at the very least well marked and marshalled. Either way, the riders will went to switch from the left hand side of the road to the right for the next roundabout.

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As you can see above, going left takes a lot longer and will severely ruin any chances that team has.

They then pass under the flamme rouge when going over the bridge, before taking one final left at a roundabout. screen-shot-2017-02-14-at-18-07-52

Again, it’s a fairly tight turn so positioning into it will be key!

From there, it’s a straight final 800m but with a little kick up to the line to make things interesting.

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That final 200m averages 3% which doesn’t properly change the dynamic of the sprint as the riders will still be approaching it at very high speeds. However, once again, positioning and timing is made more key because of it. You don’t want to be left on the front at 200 to go as that’s probably just too far in a sprint like that. Coming out of the wheels at 150-100m left would be ideal!

Sprint Contenders

We’re treated with a start studded sprinting line-up here in Algarve this year so instead of rambling on like normal, I’m going to try and keep this brief(ish).

Degenkolb arrives confident after picking up a stage win in Dubai and sprinting solidly on the properly flat stages. He has a very strong lead-out, but I’m more intrigued than anything to see what order they ride in. The slight up-hill kick to the line suits him perfectly.

Cavendish arrives here disappointed after a poor Dubai Tour. A disappointed and angry Cav normally means a fast one! This finish isn’t ideal for him though.

Groenewegen will have been disappointed not to have taken a win in Dubai after performing very well. A real all-round sprinter, he’ll like the look of this finish!

Démare comes here in a  buoyant mood after a good showing in Bessèges. I really like the look of his sprint train, which is odd for an FDJ line-up. He’s definitely a danger man

Greipel took his seemingly annual start of the season win in Spain and will want to test his legs against better opposition here. He’ll want his team to boss the closing couple of kilometres as I can see him going missing otherwise in what is potentially a chaotic finale.

Bouhanni on the other hand will relish the chaos. His lead-out train looks a bit lacklustre so he’ll have to fight for wheels. But hey, when has that ever stopped him before!

Barbero, Wippert and Planckaert may all get in or around the top 10 but aren’t good enough to challenge for the win.

Prediction

I think this rider is going to have a very good year and taking some big scalps here will be a good way to start that. Allez Arnaud!

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Thanks again for reading! Apologies that this is slightly shorter than normal, my time management was a bit off for this one and there isn’t much to discuss really either. If you’ve not already seen it, then my Andalucia preview is up on the site too. I’ll be back again tomorrow with another double preview, although it will probably be Algarve out first. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

Ruta del Sol Stage 1 Preview; Rincón de la Victoria -> Granada

Opening stage of the race and it looks like it could be a cracker!

The Route

A rolling, hilly day that is a real mixed bag and not what you might expect. At 155km, it will be short and sharp!

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If you were to just take a quick glance at the profile you might assume that the final climb will reduce the bunch somewhat but we should end up in some kind of sprint. Yeah, I don’t think that’s going to happen…

Typical of Spanish races, the organisers have made the scale on the Y-axis almost twice as large as it really needs to be and this makes the climbing on the stage look a lot easier than it actually is.

We climb from sea-level early in the stage up to 1000m by the 50km mark. From there it’s up and down for 30kms before a long, shallow descent and the final test of the day, the El Purche.

As per usual, I have made a Strava profile of the climb itself and the run into it, that can be viewed here.

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The road rises ever so slightly for 9km before the start of the ascent. The climb itself can be viewed as either 6.2km at 9.2% or 8.3km at 7.9%, depending on what peak you take the summit to be! Either way, there are sections of the climb that go well into the double figures gradient wise, it’s sure to be a shock to the system for the bunch.

Once over the top we have around 14km of proper descending , then a flat-ish run in. The road twists and turns a bit in the final 3km but it shouldn’t be of too much difficulty for the small group that we should have. It might just help a solo escapee though!

How will the stage pan out?

The beauty of this stage is that no one really knows and can say with any real confidence how many riders will crest the summit of the final climb together/how many will make it back on the descent/what happens if there is a regrouping.

That hasn’t stopped me before though!

Valverde has to start as favourite for the stage purely because he can win in any situation. He has the form to possibly ride away from everyone on the climb and come home solo, or he definitely has the speed to win from a small group of 5-15 riders.

Nonetheless, I like the idea that the stage will be won solo, so to avoid just repeating everyone from my GC preview, I’m going to highlight a couple of riders who could have a chance.

The Late Attackers

First up is a rider with two wins to his name already this year, Tim Wellens.

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Not afraid to attack, the Belgian so often used to ride with his heart over his head. However, he has more recently toned down his ridiculously timed attacks and taken a more considered approach but still managing to hold onto some panache. If he times the move perfectly tomorrow then he will be hard to bring back!

Remember when I talked briefly about this next rider in my GC preview and I said I would be mentioning him again several times throughout the year? Well, it’s that time already; step up Tobias Ludvigsson. Now, the climb is on his limit and if they absolutely fly up it then he might struggle but if we get a slowing of the pace then he can make it over at the head of the peloton. He was climbing very well at the end of last year and that form seems to have continued into the start of this season, with a very impressive 15th on the Llucena stage that did not suit him at all. He’ll hope to utilise his TT ability on the run in.

I was trying to think of a third but no one else on the start list really fits the same criteria as the above two so I’ll just leave it at that!

Prediction

I think you all know where this is going, on yoursel’ Big T!

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Or Valverde wins which is much more likely. 😉

Betting

No value in Wellens, so a wild punt on Ludvigsson for the fun of it!

0.25pt WIN @ 300/1 with Bet365 (would take down to 150/1)

*Adding another 0.25pt WIN on Reichenbach at 250/1 with Bet365 (would also take down to 150/1)

I might add some H2Hs later once I’ve had a proper look at them, you’ll find them on my Twitter!

Thanks as always for reading, any feedback is greatly appreciated! How do you think the stage will play out? Anyway,

That was My Two Spokes Worth.