Paris Roubaix 2017 Preview

Paris Roubaix 2017 Preview

The “Hell in the North” and self-titled “Queen of the Classics” (I’d like to argue about that – it’s no Flanders!) returns this weekend for its 115th edition this weekend. I mean it’s still a cobbled monument, so I’m not going to complain!

Last year’s race saw Mat Hayman take a rather incredible, fairytale victory which I’m sure you’ve already read a lot about this week.

Paris-Roubaix

Can he upset all odds and repeat the feat, or will we get another fairytale with a Boonen win?

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

The Route

You know the score by now; 257km including 29 sectors (55km) of pave. Again, I’m not going to bore you with a massive route analysis (like normal), there are plenty of those floating around this week anyway!

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The first 150km will sap the legs and I wouldn’t expect too much attacking early on, but you never know after the past few cobbles races we’ve had.

It will be interesting to see who makes the “early” break. I say early, as last year it took over 70km for something to finally go!

The Arenberg will more than likely kick off the action in the peloton and from there anything and everything could happen throughout the afternoon.

A race of attrition and team tactics follows with the notable Carrefour de l’Arbre coming only 15km from the finish line. Will things all still be together then? Will a rider have gone solo? Or will we see a small group?

After that, they have 3 more sections but nothing too tricky on the run in to the famous Roubaix velodrome.

How will the race pan out?

Your guess is as good as mine!

The riders will be happy that the weather is good and there seems to be no wind, but that normally leads to a very fast race from the gun. That coincides with the approach we’ve seen teams take in the cobbled races this year; attacking from further out and trying to split the race up early.

Having a number of strong riders in a squad is important so that someone is always up front, following the moves, meaning that team-mates behind can rest-up.

I think we’ll once again see an attacking race here and it might not be the favourites for the race who come away with the victory.

Contenders

All the pre-race coverage is about Boonen, with this being the last professional race of his career. He hopes to bow out with a win and become the most successful rider at Paris Roubaix of all time!

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I’m going to be very controversial here and say that I don’t care for a Boonen win that much, indifferent is what I would call it. I’m not sure if that’s because I only started following the sport in 2008 and properly started paying attention to all the races in 2010 or so. I can understand the hype around him; he’s going well just now and looked strong in Flanders and Schelderprijs. But I think people are getting too emotional with how much they are hyping him up. He’s been talked up so much that he is now pretty much joint favourite and if I’m honest, I’ve not seen enough from him this year for that to be justified. Benefiting from being on the strongest team, he may well go on to win, which would certainly make for a great story. However, in the words of Simon Cowell…

its a no

Quick Step do have several other riders who can win this race, such as Terpstra, Stybar and Lampaert. The former I have banged on for pretty much all of this month and if it wasn’t for QS supposedly working for Boonen 100%, I’d be all over Terpstra like a rash again. If there is one rider who won’t follow team-orders though, it is the Dutchman. He clawed back the gap on the Paterberg to a fallen GVA convincingly in Flanders, taking around 30 seconds out of Gilbert on that climb. He is clearly going exceptionally well. A former winner of the race, I would not be surprised to see him attacking at some point, and he might solo to victory again!

Sagan was left bitterly disappointed after Flanders, but that’s the risk you take for riding close to the barriers. He looked bashed up at the time but seemed to be going OK in his Scheldeprijs training ride. Often underperforming in this race (his best result is 6th in 2014), I think he finds the easier parcours harder to create gaps on. Furthermore, there is a good chance he will once again be marked out of the race and unlike Flanders, he doesn’t have the tough cobbled climbs to just ride away from everyone. It’s hard to write off the World Champion, but I’m putting my neck on the line and doing just that!

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Greg Van Avermaet starts as my favourite for this race. He’s the form rider of the year so far and if not for the crash in Flanders, he had a great chance of winning that too. Even with that unfortunate moment, he managed to get himself up quickly and still sprint for second place. A rider who can win a small sprint but also isn’t afraid to attack, he has a great chance of winning. I wonder if teams will now show him the same type of respect/fear as they do Sagan? They should, if not, it could be game over for them!

Oliver Naesen has carried on his incredible trajectory to the top of cobbled classic racing. Following on from a strong season last year, he has been even better this year! He seemed to be able to cope with Sagan and GVA in Flanders but unfortunately was taken down in that crash. Sustaining an injury to his knee, he worked hard in Scheldeprijs to test it out and things seem to be OK. Like his training partner Van Avermaet, the Belgian isn’t afraid to attack and I think he will benefit from still be underrated within the peloton.

Aside from those guys, some other names to conjure with are Kristoff, Stannard and Demare, who have all shown good form at points throughout the year. They won’t be the favourites, but can’t be discounted.

There are two proper outsiders (triple figures with the bookmakers) that I’d like to mention.

First up is Edward Theuns. I imagine he’ll be one of the riders given the role of following early attacks, allowing his team-leader Degenkolb to rest behind. Yet, as I said in my Flanders preview, I still think the German is missing that 5% and doesn’t look as good as he did when he won here in 2015. Theuns is capable enough to step-up and with a bit of luck he has a chance, packing a fast sprint after a tough day. I really do hope he is given free rein tomorrow and the Trek DS doesn’t put all their eggs in a Degenkolb shaped basket!

Dwars door Vlaanderen

The other is Dylan Groenewegen. Possibly not the first name to spring to the forefront of your thoughts, this will be the youngster’s first Paris Roubaix. He is someone who I think can go really well in this type of race in the future! Much more than a fast sprinter, he can cope with a hard day in the saddle and with the route being flat, it should suit his characteristics. Like Theuns, with a bit of luck and being in the right move, he could be up there at the end of the day.

Prediction

As I’ve said above, Greg Van Avermaet is my favourite on paper, but this race isn’t won on paper and I think teams will finally approach him the same way that they do with Sagan. That will leave it open to a “lesser” rider, although it’s offensive to call him that after the season he’s had. Oliver Naesen will complete his classics transformation and take an incredible victory!

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Betting

1pt EW Naesen @25/1 with PP/Betfair (paying 4 places – would take down to 20s)

1pt WIN Terpstra @16/1 with various (wouldn’t take less)

The two bets I mentioned yesterday;

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

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

One H2H;

5pts Arndt to beat Laporte at 1/1 with Bet365. (Would take 4/6 lowest)

The German is a very solid one-day racer and finished reasonably well in Flanders. Not so sure about the Frenchman’s credentials on this terrain.

 

Thanks for reading as always and any feedback is greatly appreciated (especially some RTs on Twitter 😉). Who do you think will win the race and how will they do it?! I’m looking forward to what should be a good day’s racing. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Gent – Wevelgem 2017 Preview

Gent – Wevelgem 2017 Preview

The final race of our Belgian triple-header this week is upon us, and we finish with the longest outing yet; the 249km long Gent Wevelgem. Shame, as this is my favourite week of cycling in the whole calendar year!

Last year saw Peter Sagan get revenge for being bested in E3, taking a superb win ahead of Vanmarcke, Kurznetsov (who survived from the morning break) and Cancellara.

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Will we see another exciting day of racing? Let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders.

The Route

Long day in the saddle that like most of the cobbled races, builds slowly for an eventful final 100km.

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Profile once again courtesy of @LasterketaBurua.

This is both the easiest and hardest of the 3 races. There are barely any cobbled sections in comparison to the other races, but the sheer length of the race and repeated nature of hills in the final third take their toll.

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We might see some action up the Kemmelberg first time round, but if not, the plugstreets could cause some damage.

They are pretty much loose gravel roads (for the uninitiated amongst you 😉).

There is often a lot of wind and open landscape around that area which can often lead to splits when the pressure is on.

The Kemmelberg will be the last major obstacle for the riders to tackle and its second ascent comes at around 35km to go. In fact, they approach the climb from the steeper side the second time round. The organisers decided to change it from the “easier” ascent which they tackle earlier in the race, to this tougher approach (max 23%) to make the race more open and exciting. You can see how difficult it is from the highlights of last year’s edition.

From the summit, it’s a TT effort between those who make it over ahead and the chase from behind.

Weather

The weather can often play a massive part in how the race pans out here but it certainly won’t be as bad as it was in the 2015 edition…

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Nonetheless we look to have a consistent 20km/h Easterly wind for most of the day, with some stronger gusts blowing up.

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Source: Windfinder

Now that doesn’t mean that we’re guaranteed to get crosswinds but on the open and exposed areas of road they are certainly a possibility. It may also affect the end of the race as we could have cross-head winds for most of the run in. Which will tire out both those riders ahead and the chase!

How will the race pan out?

I think once again we’ll see an attacking race and there won’t be many teams wanting to hold it together for a sprint.

As we have witnessed in the first two race this week, it is much better to have at least one rider up the road so that you can just follow the moves behind. Therefore there is a chance an early move makes it, but I think instead we’ll see one selection on the plugsteets, followed by a further selection on the final ascent of the Kemmelberg. From there, it will be a case of who’s made the front group and who’s left to chase behind.

I fancy there to be enough fire-power up the road for it not to be brought back for a sprint. Or sorry, I’ll rephrase that, there won’t be enough power and willing workers behind to bring it back for a sprint!

Contenders

Peter Sagan missed out in E3 due to being held up by a crash, but as I said in that preview, I don’t think he really cares that much for that race. Instead, he’ll do something similar to last year where he’ll now want to test his legs here, and test his legs I’m sure he will. He was the rider who put in the killer attack on the Kemmelberg last year and he will no doubt do the same this time round. He will make the front selection and he will more than likely win this race! Sagan also will have the benefit of knowing Bennett will be in the group behind to sprint, so the Slovak can leave it all out on the road up ahead.

So who can beat him?

Quick Step probably have the best chance. In Boonen and Gaviria they have two riders who will fancy their chances of beating Sagan in a sprint, but I just can’t see that happening. Instead if I was DS, I would do my upmost to try to get Stybar and Terpstra in a move with Sagan and try to work him over. Those two riders are the only one’s who can follow him on the Kemmelberg (I’m assuming Gilbert will be tired after his first two races). They can co-operate for a while with Sagan, but then take turns attacking the group at the end. Because if they hold things together for a sprint, they won’t win. Even though he didn’t win, I was still incredibly impressed with Terpstra in E3. There were a few  times he missed the front split due to crashes etc, but soon after he was up front again and looking content. He is going very, very well but is without a result yet. That could come here!

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Fresh from his victory in E3, Greg Van Avermaet will be hoping to repeat that feat here. He was exceptionally strong on Friday and there is no reason to believe that won’t continue at this race. One of the only guys who can follow Sagan and has a proven track record of beating him. Van Avermaet certainly won’t be scared to take the Slovak on in a sprint from a reduced group.

After a terrible first two races, Trek bring their A-squad to this one. Stuyven, Degenkolb, Theuns and Felline are all potential winners if they play their cards right and get a bit of luck on the day. I imagine they’ll keep either Degenkolb or Theuns as a designated sprinter, but the remaining three will be used to attack throughout the day. Stuyven popped in E3 but Felline looked strong all day and was left frustrated in the group behind. He’s my dark horse for this race.

Another rider left frustrated behind in the second group in E3 was Tony Martin. The German comes here as Katusha’s main protagonist for this race and he certainly can go well. It will be tough for him to follow the best on the Kemmelberg, but if a selection is made before that then he certainly has a chance to TT away from everyone.

Sky have their duo of Rowe and Stannard here but they were a bit disappointing in E3. Rowe looked the better of the two but he looked a far cry from his attacking self that we saw in Omloop and Kuurne earlier in the year.

Prediction

I’m being boring here, but Sagan wins. I had similar thoughts last year to this race and Sagan went on to win after a “poor” E3. Now this year’s E3 was actually poor results wise, but that was due to him being held up by a crash. If he can be bothered, no one here can beat him!

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There are a few riders though who do have a chance if things get tactical and they’ll be covered below.

Betting

Big day to end an exciting week and I’m playing up some of the Lampaert winnings before I return to a more conservative approach in the next few weeks!

Sagan 4.5pts WIN @11/4 with Betfred (Would take the widely available 5/2 though)

Terpstra 1.25pt EW @ 50/1 with Bet365/PP/BF (Would take 40s)

Felline 1.25pt EW @ 50/1 with Bet365 (Would take 40s)

Martin 1pt WIN @ 100/1 with various (Would take 80s)

 

Thanks for reading as always! Who do you think will win? Can anyone stop Sagan? Check out my women’s preview if you haven’t already. 2 out of 3 previews done for today…Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

E3 Harelbeke 2017 Preview

E3 Harelbeke 2017 Preview

E3 Harelbeke has the illustrious history of being named after a road. Don’t let its dull naming history put you off though, as this race is often heralded as a “mini Flanders” and the action normally lives up to that billing!

Last year saw Kwitakowski and Sagan attack with 30km to go and they were not to be seen again! The Pole caught Sagan napping in the sprint, taking it up early and ended up winning with relative ease.

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The recent MSR winner is not here to defend his title, but we still have a whole host of talented riders looking to take centre stage.

First though, let’s have a look at what’s in store for the them.

The Route

A day packed with hills and cobbles. My kind of race!

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Profile once again courtesy of @LasterketaBurua.

Like Dwars, the day slowly builds to a crescendo, although we do have some difficulties earlier in the stage. The first challenge of the day is the Oude Kruisberg and from there we have an obstacle every 10 kilometres or so on average.

However, the decisive point of the race will probably be between the 45km-35km to go with the triple threat of; the Kapelberg; Paterberg; and Oude Kwaremont.

If there is no made on the first two climbs, there will certainly be an explosion on the Kwaremont.

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View the Strava segment here.

The 4% average gradient on Strava doesn’t do it justice because as you can see in the image above, it’s mainly flat or false-flat for the first 600m. It then pitches up from 0.8km to 1.5km, averaging 7.9%. Remember, this is all on cobbles as well! If you’re not on a good day here then you’ll be out the back in no time.

Once over the Kwaremont the bunch will have little time for rest as they’ll soon be on the Karnemelkbeekstraat at just over 30km to go. This is where last year’s duo made their move!

From there, we only have one more hill and cobbled section so it will be a frantic chase home and run to the line in Harelbeke.

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It’s not an overly difficult run in but the twisting nature of it does give the group up ahead the advantage of often being out of sight.

Contenders

Without the defending champion here, I guess we better start with that average cyclist who finished 2nd last year…

Peter Sagan obviously comes into this race as favourite, like he does for almost every one day race he starts! His team looks fairly poor, but Postlberger looked good in Dwars so maybe he can protect Sagan for a while. However, the World Champion is used to riding races unaided. The one problem with Sagan being Sagan, is that very few riders will want to ride with him in a group that might be chasing the leaders. Therefore he will be leant on to do a lot of the work. Yet, if he’s in a similar mood to his San Remo outing then he may well just attack himself and his opposition will have to be in exceptional form to follow!

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Quick Step will be hoping to use strength in numbers to beat the Slovak and everyone else. They bring their crack squad of classics riders with them, although Lampaert will sit this one out. In Boonen, Gilbert, Stybar, Terpstra and even Trentin they have potential winner candidates. With this type of parcours though, I would have to favour Stybar and Terpstra as their best options. They both looked very strong in Dwars to attack from the 3rd to the 2nd group on the road, halting that groups progress and helping their team-mates ahead build up a lead. Stybar looked good, but I think the Dutch rider looked even better, bridging across to his team-mate relatively comfortable even though Stybar was going full gas.

Greg Van Avermaet will be hoping to repeat his Omloop victory earlier in the season tomorrow. After looking very strong in Strade, he was a bit disappointing in Tirreno and MSR. His BMC team looks strong, but I’m still not convinced by how many of them can be there at the end and offer much support. Nonetheless, as one of the best classics riders in the peloton, he certainly can’t be discounted!

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Sky bring a solid squad but it will no doubt be up to the diamond duo of Rowe and Stannard for them. Both riders are exceptional on their day but I’m sure they would have hoped for some worse weather! They each won a stage in the Herald Sun Tour but the Welshman performed much better in the opening semi-classics. Sky have not finished off the podium in the past three editions, can they make it 4-in-a-row tomorrow?

After a disappointing Dwars, Trek bring Degenkolb and Stuyven into the team. It’s good to see the German back to near his best and he certainly can contend here. My one concern is that he struggled to follow Sagan in MSR on the Poggio, maybe Paris Roubaix is more suited to him than a Flanders style course. Stuyven has looked very impressive this season so far and is certainly living up to the hype surrounding him. Having numbers near the pointy end of the race will be important for any team, but Trek should have at least two. Felline might even turn himself into a third option.

Lotto Soudal are another team that had a disappointing Dwars. They only had Wallays up the road but he wasn’t able to follow the big move when it counted. Benoot and Gallopin were left frustrated behind, with the young Belgian sprinting to 7th place. I think he’ll go a lot better tomorrow! Could he win his first professional race?

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In the three Belgian races he’s competed in so far this season, Naesen has finished in the top 10 of them all. He was terribly unlucky in Dwars with a mechanical but showed just how strong he is right now, managing to get back to the second group and sprint for 6th. With Vandenbergh by his side, they can certainly roll over a few hills and cobbles!

There are obviously lots of other riders who could have a chance, such as Vanmarcke, Durbridge and Lutsenko but I think I’ll stop the list there as I could go on for a while.

Prediction

A very tough race where numbers will once again be important. Sagan will more than likely be forced to do a lot of the work chasing others and to be honest, I don’t think he cares for winning this race. So he might just call some riders’ bluff and sit on. Conversely, he could easily just romp away from everyone!

Nonetheless, I don’t think he wins.

Instead, it will be Niki Terpstra who this time will solo away from the opposition.

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I was impressed with the way he was riding in Tirreno, and have had him shortlisted for this race (and Flanders next weekend) since then. His tandem attack with Stybar has convinced me that his form is in the right place, and I think he can make it two from two for Quick Step, and everyone will forget about their poor opening weekend in February!

Betting

Other than Terpstra there are two riders I want on my side and after Wednesday, I’m being a bit gung-ho with the stakes. The odds are shorter than Lampaert after all!

2pts WIN Terpstra @ 16/1 with Bet365 (would take 12s)

1pt WIN Naesen @ 28/1 with B365 (would take 22s)

1pt WIN Benoot @ 25/1 with B365 (would take 20s)

Prices might be better else where but I can’t be bothered looking!

Also,

1pt WIN Terpstra for Flanders @ 25/1 with various bookmakers

Thanks as always for reading and as usual any feedback is greatly appreciated. Who do you think will win E3 and how? 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.

 

 

Rio Olympics 2016 – Men’s Road Race

Rio Olympics 2016 – Men’s Road Race

*Apologies again, as I’m holiday this will be “shorter” than normal, with more focus on candidates and potential winning outcomes*

The Route

A long day in the office, featuring a tough climb that they go over 3 times. It’s not the hardest climb in the world but it’s place in the race makes it more difficult.

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Again, there will be others who go over the route in more depth. If you want an interactive profile check out this one here.

How will the race pan out?

This race could well end up being a tactical mess and in some ways is a very tough race to call.

Due to the way that the numbers of riders are allocated, teams come here with varying squad sizes. The “big” nations of Belgium, Colombia, Great Britain, Italy & Spain all come here with 5 riders. The numbers then decrease depending on the nations UCI coefficient.

Having only 5 riders makes the race very tough to control, especially considering some teams have 2 leaders. Getting a rider into the break will mean that the rest of the team doesn’t work, but is it worth burning riders out early on?

Conversely, saving riders until the final 100km could well see your chance go if none of the opposition teams want to work with you.

It really comes down to the big teams to control the early moves;

  • Belgium have De Plus and possibly Pauwels as domestique.
  • Colombia don’t really have any domestiques as such. Maybe they’ll send Lopez into the break.
  • GB have Stannard and possibly Cummings.
  • Italy have Caruso an De Marchi for early on. With Rosa probably working later on.
  • Spain have Erviti and Castroviejo for early in the day, with Izagirre being the go-to rider late on.

The Italians and Spaniards like usual have teams perfectly set up for these types of races that mimic the World Championships. Out of all the teams, they’ll probably be the key to controlling the break and setting up the “expected” GC-style blow-out on the final climbs.

The rest of the teams will probably hedge their chances by trying to send a rider into the early break, leaving their strongest climbers with the peloton, i.e. Portugal might choose to have Nelson Oliveira up the road with Costa left behind.

It’s also important to consider the length of the course, so look to long stages in the Grand Tours/Classics/World Champs for riders who can last the distance.

The Potential winners

Like the San Sebastian preview, I’m going to go through in team order.

Belgium have two potential winners in their squad. GVA has shown at the Tour that he is climbing very well, he should be able to cope with the climbs if the pace isn’t too high. The flat run in is great for him, as it could bring the race back together.

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Philippe Gilbert will be hopeful here, but I can’t see him recording a win here. I think GVA is better in every possible outcome where Gilbert could potentially win. Instead, Tim Wellens will add another dimension to the Belgian squad. He will be used as the long-range attacker and could well manage to steal the day. Furthermore, if he makes it over the final climb in the front group, he could attack then to draw out the other nations.

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TW interview with the Lotto Soudal team.

Reading between the lines, Wellens seems to think that the route is manageable for riders like him, possibly the Ardennes types. Again though, I can imagine this is dependant on the pace and attitude of the peloton!

Colombia’s whole squad could potentially win this in the right situation. They have to be very aggressive and force some kind of selection and I can see them being very attacking throughout the day. It will be an all or nothing approach for them. I would love to see Esteban Chaves go well here (I have a soft-spot for the Smiling Assassin). He’s been away in Colombia preparing for the Vuelta so is a bit of an unknown quantity, but like others, I think he’ll be going well.

Team GB come here with the Tour winner, Froome in their ranks. The Brit has never been great in one-day classics. In fact, he’s notoriously a DNF merchant. However, if there was ever a race and a year that he could complete and go well in, it would be this one. If he’s on the same form that he was at the Tour, he could ride away from everyone on the climb and TT his way to the finish.

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Thomas is probably the next best option for the squad, as Yates seems to be tired after his efforts at the Tour.

Italy will turn to Nibali and Aru. I’m not sure I can see Nibali winning this. He won’t rider away from everyone on the climb and his sprint isn’t the best from a group. I think Aru actually has more of a chance in theory, mainly because he won’t be considered as much of a threat compared to Nibali. The question is if he’s recovered from his implosion at the end of the Tour? Rosa will be the rider to mark attacks and potentially profit from it himself.

Spain come with their ever-present conundrum over the past few years; Valverde or Rodriguez? There is a lot of bad blood between those two and that could be the cause of their demise. Izagirre will be the key for them (Valverde). With 4 Movistar riders in the squad, I think it’s clear who they’ll be backing, with Rodriguez maybe having to fly solo. I can’t really back either of them with great confidence.

Away from the big teams there are several other GC riders who can compete; Poels & Mollema (NED), Bardet (FRA), Costa (POR), Martin (IRE). Any of these riders on their day could win here. I’d fancy Poels and Bardet over the rest of them, I really rate both of their chances and a podium is a very achievable target!

Some of the riders from smaller nations could play a big part in the outcome here. Looking at those who can last the distance (WCs from previous years), there are three riders who I like as big, big outsiders.

First up is Andrey Amador.

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The Costa Rican had a great Giro, wearing the Maglia Rosa. He should be able to cope with the climbs (especially if it’s not as tough as expected), but as the only representative from his nation, he’ll more than likely have to attack to win. At the Giro he put a show on with his great descending skills, they could be invaluable here!

TanelKangert could well pull off a wonderful victory here.

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The Estonian had a very solid Tour in support of Aru, after being a key domestique for Nibali at the Giro. This will more than likely be his last big race for a while before a period of rest, so he’ll be giving it his all. He has the speed to win from a small group, but won’t be afraid to attack and catch the favourites off guard. The distance won’t be a problem to him.

The final rider is one that I have already mentioned; Nelson Oliveira.

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He’ll be used as a ploy from Costa to draw others to chase, but the move might just stick. A rider who can cope with the distance, he can use his TTing ability to distance the field on the descent and final run in. If he has a gap of 20 seconds going into the flat section the race is over!

 

Prediction

A race with several potential outcomes, I hope it lives up to its potential! As for who can win it? We may well see a surprise winner, but I really like the chances of Romain Bardet. He’s just came off his best ever Tour finish and will be brimming with confidence. He can manage the distance well and will hope to attack on the final climb and grow the gap on the descent, and hope for a lack of cohesion behind. If not, he’ll try a late-attack (he’s a fearless rider) or will rely on a solid sprint.

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Betting

I have a few small ante-post bets from a while back (Chaves, Aru, Bardet and Poels).

However, I’m going to re-back Bardet more heavily. I really liked what I saw at the Tour. Along with my 3 long, long shots!

Bardet 0.7pt EW at 33/1 with Coral or Betfred (I’d take down to 25/1, 22 at the lowest).

Amador 0.1pt EW at 200/1 (widely available)

Kangert 0.1pt EW at 250/1 with Ladbrokes (paying 4 places), I’d take the 200/1 with Coral.

Oliveira 0.1pt EW 300/1 with Bet365 or SkyBet

 

Hope you all enjoyed this “shorter” but long preview! Who do you think will win? Any feedback is appreciated as normal! I should hopefully have a women’s RR preview out tomorrow, if I can find the time to do it. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

Ride London Classic

Ride London Classic

*Apologies in advance, this will be a more truncated preview than normal, I’m away on a family holiday tomorrow so don’t have much time to write this.  I’ll be focussing more on contenders than route etc*

The Route

 

There are plenty previews out there that focus on the route more. Check out CyclingQuotes or CyclingHub.

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Basically, it’s a mix of shortish climbs in the mid portion of the race, followed by a mainly flat finish into London with a couple of bumps along the way.

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How will the race pan out?

The profile suggests bunch sprint, previous editions suggest otherwise.

Ride London is normally dominated by fast and aggressive racing, as the teams without top sprinters attempt to split the race up over the climbs. Having smaller teams (6 riders per squad) is also conducive to more aggressive racing as there are less team-mates to control the breakaways and attacks.

This is one of the toughest races to predict the outcome of.

We could well see a sprint of 70-80 riders, a sprint of around 40, a small group of 10 or less make it to the line, or even a solo winner.

All of the above are all very plausible outcomes.

Contenders

The team with the strongest candidate here has to be Orica BikeExchange who have Michael Matthews. The Aussie rider will be able to deal with all of the climbs easily and he isn’t afraid to go onto the attack. He has a very fast sprint after a tough day, as was shown on Stage 10 at the Tour. He has to start as favourite. The only concern is that Orica don’t like to chase all day, so he might have to force/follow the attacks himself and could be outnumbered late in the race. Howson will be the key for him.

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Etixx have a strong squad here, if not the strongest, with two great candidates in the shape of Boonen and Trentin. I would say the Italian has the greater all round abilities to win this race compared to his veteran team-mate. It will be interesting to see how they play it. In Terpstra, Vandenbergh and Martinelli they have strong riders to chase moves or to force the opposition to work. Although Marintelli won’t win himself, because Gaviria isn’t here to be led out.

Last year’s winner Drucker returns for BMC. Their team is not as strong as in previous editions, and they don’t have a proper sprinter. They will have to force the race and split it up which is possible, with the likes of Oss and Gerts.

Sky come here with the Tour winner, but I can’t see him doing anything here. Their hopes will be Swift or DVP in some kind of sprint, but their main card could well be Stannard. The powerhouse of a rider did a great deal of work at the Tour and this type of race will suit him down to a tee. He should be able to manage the climbs and his big diesel engine will get better as the race goes. I can imagine he’ll be given the go ahead to mark attacks/go himself, while the others wait for a sprint.

Lotto come here without a big-name sprinter so will most likely turn to Roelandts as their main hope. A great classics rider, he’ll deal with Box Hill etc easily and he packs a fast kick too from a reduced group! Jelle Wallays might also have an impact on the days outcome.

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The other big name Brits: Cummings, Blythe and Dowsett could all pull something off here. With Blythe winning here before, he is very capable of winning a sprint. The other two will have to come home alone.

Away from the bigger teams and well-known riders there are a few guys from Pro-Conti and Continental teams that I’d like to highlight. It will be tough for these riders to win, but I hope we get a good showing from them!

First up is Karol Domagalski from One Pro Cycling. The Polish rider is a fairly solid climber and isn’t afraid of attacking. Earlier in June he won a stage in Korea with a great attack in the final 5km. Furthermore, he’s shown recent form, after winning the “bunch” sprint at the Ordiziako Klasika, so has a good turn of speed from a small group.

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Xandro Meurisse has recently just switched team from Crelan to Wanty as a stagiaire and gets his first race here. He finished 7th on GC at the Tour de Wallonie earlier this week so clearly has good legs. Another fast finisher from a small group he out-sprinted Coquard in Dunkerque after a tough end to the stage that involved some short, steep climbs. If he makes a small selection here, I’d keep an eye on him!

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I can’t go through these three riders without selecting a Brit, so Thomas Stewart gets the nod. The Madison Genesis rider has had a very consistent, picking up a win in Wales not so long ago, but also managing an 11th place on GC at the Tour de Yorkshire. He’ll hope to make it over the climbs with the favourites, and he should not be underestimated!

Tom-Stewart

Prediction

I think we’ll see another selective race tomorrow. I’d love to see one of the 3 “lesser” riders I’ve named steal a win, even a podium would be great! However, I fancy Ian Stannard to put in a killer attack somewhere near the finish and with the others marking each other out/not co-operating, he’ll storm away to victory. After all, he has Tour legs!

Ian Stannard

Betting

No odds up as of writing. 

I’ll be backing Stannard for the win, most likely EW, odds dependant. If he’s 20/1 or under I’ll just go straight up. 

If there are somehow odds for my 3 outside riders, then I might have a small fun play on them. If not, it’ll just be Yogi.

Stannard 33/1 at B365 1pt EW

0.125pt EW on Meurrise (80/1) & Domagalski (200/1)

Thanks again for reading, any feedback is always appreciated. Do you think we’ll see a selective race? Unfortunately, I doubt I’ll be able to watch it as I’ll be travelling most of the day 😦 I’m taking my laptop with me so the next preview should be for the Olympics RR, but I’m not promising anything. Enjoy the race wherever you’re watching it from! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.