Tour de France 2018 Stage 9 Preview: Arras Citadelle -> Roubaix

Today’s Recap

Nothing much happened all day until a crash with roughly 17km to go saw several riders go down. Dan Martin was the biggest GC name to go down and he looked battered and bruised when he got back on his bike. Despite a furious chase from his team who got a helping hand from Cofidis, he would ultimately lose 1’16 to his GC rivals.

In the sprint it was Groenewegen who doubled up, making his effort to the line look very easy – he time it perfectly!

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Greipel produced a solid effort to come second with Gaviria rounding out the podium in third. The less said about Kittel the better, he was awful, no cohesion with his team-mates in the finale.

Onto tomorrow!

The Route

The day every spectator has been waiting for since the route was announced and seemingly the peloton have had the same idea given the lack of action over the past couple of stages.

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It’s cobbles time and the riders will face the largest amount of pavé that has been included in the Tour for a long time: at 21.7km of the stuff.

 

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The majority of the cobbles come in the second half of the stage and they will no doubt lead to nervous racing within the bunch. Some of the sections will be familiar if you’re a regular watcher of Paris-Roubaix (who isn’t?!), such as Mons-en-Pévèle. I could try to decipher which sectors are going to be the most important but given previous history of cobbles in this race, it could be any of them!

Expect some gaps to form at just under the half-way mark as the riders face 4.4km of cobbles in roughly 6kms. From there it will be action throughout the day with the last sector finishing only 6.5km from the line.

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Given the technical run-in from the last section, I definitely don’t think the organisers intend on a large group coming to the line together. Disappointingly the riders don’t finish inside the Velodrome but instead the finish on the road that is parallel to it. I guess something has to be kept special for Paris Roubaix.

The cobbles and route aren’t crazy compared to the Hell of the North but given the large number of GC riders we have here, they don’t have to be. Some of the overall contenders will no longer be in contention after tomorrow, whether that be through crashes or unfortunately timed mechanicals.

Team Tactics

There are plenty of classics specialists in the peloton who could theoretically win the stage tomorrow but their main role throughout the day might be shepherding their GC man/men. We then have guys without GC men who will definitely be trying to go for the win, then riders who have GC riders but are given a free card. It is just about trying to figure who falls into each category. So below I’m going to try to split some of the contenders into the three categories…

Riders with no GC guy at all: Boasson Hagen, DémareGreipel, Politt.

Riders with a GC guy who might be given freedom: Sagan, GVA, Thomas*, Any QS rider, Kristoff, Stuyven, Degenkolb.**

*Included Thomas here even though he is a GC rider as given his history on the cobbles he should go well. Doubt he gets asked to work for Froome too.

**I think only one of Stuyven/Degenkolb will be given freedom with the other working for Mollema.

Riders with a GC guy who are apparently working for them: Vanmarcke, Phinney, Valgren, Naesen, Rowe, Theuns, Colbrelli, Dubridge, Hayman, +more that I’ve probably missed.

So I’m only going to consider riders from the first two categories for the win.

The Belgian Cobble-trotters

Quick Step arrive with a team that might not be as stacked as their spring campaign but it is not far off of it! They have Jungels for GC, who himself won the junior Paris Roubaix, so it will be interesting to see how many riders they dedicate to his cause. No doubt Declerq, Gaviria, Richeze and Alaphilippe will offer their help but he will probably need the guidance and support of one of the following…

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Niki Terpstra – Winner of this year’s Tour of Flanders, it is hard to deny that the Dutchman is a class act on cobbles. He’s a bit of a divisive character in the peloton but there aren’t many guys who you would rather on your team for this stage. With his success in the Spring, will he be asked to stay behind and work for his GC man? Or will it be the opposite and he’ll get given the go ahead?

Yves Lampaert – As you probably know, I’m a big fan of Yves and it was great to see him win the Belgian championships recently. It is good to see him stepping up and showing the quality that people saw when he was a junior – touted as a half Boonen/Museeuw combo. Often the workhorse, he might be rewarded with a free card to play tomorrow. The Belgian champion winning a cobbled stage at the Tour would be a sight to behold.

Philippe Gilbert – The rider with the most to gain, he could move into the Yellow jersey with a stage win. His quest to win five didn’t exactly go to plan in the Spring and he often ended up playing the good team-mate role, sandbagging the back of groups while his squad rode away up ahead. There’s no doubt in my mind that he will be allowed to do as best as he can tomorrow but will it be enough?

So Gilbert will definitely be given a free card and I think the fact Lampaert is now Belgian Champion helps him massively in the QS pecking order. Therefore, I think Terpstra will be the designated guardian for Jungels. Maybe. It could, and most likely will, just be decided out on the road.

The Two Cobbled Kings

Van Avermaet.

Currently in yellow, the Belgian has made it very clear that he is going for the stage tomorrow and will be allowed to do what he sees fit. Porte even confirmed that after today’s proceedings with the rest of the BMC squad to help him. Van Avermaet didn’t have a great spring campaign and often found himself marked out of races when he wasn’t able to drop everyone. He looks stronger here and I would be surprised not to see him at the head of affairs. Will he be able to beat his nemesis?

Peter Sagan.

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Already a winner in Roubaix this year, Sagan could have the Green Jersey all but sewn up if he takes the stage tomorrow. Not many will be able to match his brute power over the cobbles so it will need to be a tactical race for him to not be in a winning position. Unfortunately for him, I can see that happening.

The Outisde Picks

Yves Lampaert.

Following on from above, I think tomorrow will get very tactical near the end of the day and having numbers at the head of the race will be of a massive benefit for a team. No doubt Quick Step will be in that position. Lampaert will be the least marked of their trident and he might just be able to slip away and take the stage. We’ve seen in the past that if he gets a 20 second gap then it will be very difficult for anyone to bring him back.

Edvald Boasson Hagen.

Slowly building himself into the race, the Dimension Data did a monster turn on the front of the bunch for Cavendish this afternoon. Tomorrow should be all about him and the team will be behind him 100%. After struggling a bit at the start of the year his form has picked up, nabbing a few top 10s here and there. He still hasn’t shown similar form to what he had at this race last year but that could change tomorrow, the route looks perfect for his attributes. If he arrives in a small group of 3 or 4 then he would be a big favourite in the sprint.

Prediction

I’m going for a Jasper Stuyven win though!

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I’ve had this day circled down for him after surprisingly seeing him finish in the front group on stage 5, a day that wasn’t ideal for him so the form must be there. Other than that he has been keeping quiet and I think with one eye on tomorrow. During the spring campaign he was the most consistent rider, managing to finish in the top 10 of E3, Gent Wevelgem, Dwars, Flanders and Roubaix. Not bad! Stuyven is one of those special riders who can power away from people and hold his own in a solo tt, see his win in Kuurne as an example of that. However, he also possesses a fast sprint from a reduced group and he would fancy his chances of a result in a 4-5 rider gallop.

As for the GC riders, who knows how it will go. I wish them all the best of luck!

Betting

1pt EW Stuyven @ 28/1 

0.25pt EW EBH @ 33/1

0.5pt WIN Lampaert @ 18/1

All with Bet365

Using that saved Kittel 1pt on a more sensible bet.

Buy Me A Beer

Back with the shameless self promotion but if you have enjoyed the opening 9 days worth of previews then you can kindly donate the price of a beer/coffee to me through this link. Helps keep me topped up through stages like the past two days. Thanks in advance if you do decide to do so.

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

BinckBank Tour 2017 Stage 5 Preview; Sittard-Geleen -> Sittard-Geleen

Today’s Recap

A weird stage that ended with the expected sprint, but only just. The pace was high from the gun and the peloton was strung out for the first 40km or so, with the likes of GVA attacking. In the end a trio escaped including blog pick for the day, Greipel. An odd move from him but hey ho!

The peloton brought the trio back just at the start of the final lap which saw a counter attack from Dowsett and Smith with roughly 12km left. They were brought back at around 4km or so left, and Lampaert quickly countered. It looked as if he was going to hold on for the win but he was overhauled at 150m out.

Theuns delivered his first World Tour win after a great lead-out from Stuyven.

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Kump and Merlier rounded out the podium, with a lot of the “big name” sprinters missing out.

No bonus seconds for Sagan certainly makes the title fight an interesting race. Let’s have a look at what’s in store for them tomorrow.

The Route

The GC battle begins in earnest as we travel through Amstel Gold territory.

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@LasterketaBurua

There are no overly tough climbs, but the road is constantly up or down almost all day which could tire the bunch out.

It is a stage that screams out to be attacked and I think we could see some very aggressive racing, or at least I hope!

I feel I don’t need to go over the climbs in too much detail as the great guys at Lasterketa Burua have all the lengths and gradients on the profile above.

Depending on the attitude of the teams, a strong move could feasibly escape before the half-way point of the stage. However, I think we might see our first meaningful move come the first time up the Schatsberg with just over 50km to go.

From there, who really knows what will happen!

By the looks of things, the Golden Kilometre starts just after the second summit of Schatsberg. It will certainly entice some attacks and could be the catalyst for the winning move. Conversely, a strong attack after the race regroups once we’re through the km could also be very successful.

If we do get a reasonably large group come to the line it could be manic.

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Four 90-degree turns in the final kilometre is pretty dangerous and asking for trouble!

Finishing at the Tom Dumoulin bike park, I wonder if the Dutchman will manage to take the victory?

The weather forecast isn’t looking too promising for the riders either. Well, I’m sure some of them will view it as very promising, it depends who you ask I guess.

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We’re set to get most of the rain in the morning, but there are apparently some showers around in the afternoon which will no doubt be temperamental.

It will probably be a bone dry race after all!

How the race might pan out…

Normally I’m fairly bullish with my prediction as to how the race will pan out but I really have no idea as to what will happen tomorrow. As I said above, we feasibly could see a move go at any point of the race if it contains the right riders and teams.

Most likely though we’ll see a whittling down of the pack throughout the day; which will be made quicker if the conditions are poor.

It is then a case of when the favourites launch their attacks. The issue with it all though is, that Sagan should be able to follow almost all of the moves. In any kind of reduced sprint he is obviously the favourite and gifting him 10 bonus seconds isn’t the wisest manoeuvre for anyone targeting the title.

Bora have been great so far this race, but tomorrow is the acid test. If Sagan is isolated early, he’ll have a tough day chasing every move. I do expect Pöstlberger to have a big ride. Will it be enough? I don’t think so.

Everyone’s unwillingness to work with Sagan will see a small group of 6 riders from various teams escape in the final 20km and contest the stage. It might not be the end of the GC battle though!

Here’s my best attempt at guessing who might be in that move.

Belgian Tripel

Sep Vanmarcke.

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Another year, another disappointing classics season hampered by bad luck yet again for the Cannondale man. He “won” the sprint stage of the Hammer Series at the beginning of June, but it is his results since the Belgian Championships, where he finished second, that have really impressed. In the Tour of Austria he took five top 5 places, following that up with a 4th place at Ride London. This is the type of race he can win overall, but at 33 seconds back already, he’ll need to be aggressive. Tomorrow’s rolling stage looks good for the strong man and with a relatively fast kick from a small bunch, he’ll be happy to go to the line with some riders. He just needs some luck for once and the win could be there for the taking!

Jens Keukeleire.

I’m a big fan of the Orica man, so much so I’ve come up with my own Kirby-esque nickname for him; the Keukie-monster. It was great to see him finally take a couple of wins last year after being on a 3-season drought. He’s continued that this year with a second place in Gent Wevelgem and winning the Belgian Tour overall. More importantly though, he was exceptionally strong at the recent Euro Championships; driving the peloton for a lot of the day but also attacking at the end. Like Vanmarcke, he sits roughly 30 seconds down on GC so will need to attack and I think he’ll do just that. Another rider packing a fast sprint from a small group, we could be in for an exciting finale!

Jasper Stuyven.

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Super strong in the final kilometre to help reel in Lampaert at the end of today’s stage, he will be given a free role tomorrow. Almost an ever-present rider at the front of the peloton in tough races like this, he will hope to put his power to good use. Strong enough to hold off a charging peloton, see his Kuurne win last year, he also packs a tidy sprint too. A rider who can win in a variety of ways, much like the other two, he is a big danger if he gets into the move.

Prediction

I like all three of the riders, but I’ll side with my favourite, Keukeleire to win!

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Betting

0.5pt WIN on them all;

Keukeleire @ 33/1

Stuyven @ 33/1

Vanmarcke @ 50/1

 

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

Giro d’Italia 2017 Stage 17 Preview; Tirano -> Canazei

Today’s Recap

Well, that didn’t disappoint!

The stage had everything, although for a while it did look as if it was turning into a damp squib. That was until chaos ensued when Dumoulin had some bowel pressure just before the start of the final climb.

Should the peloton have waited?

In my opinion, I would say no but I think that for most situations during a race.

There needs to be a larger consensus amongst the peloton about what to do in these types of situations. For one, I would in fact not be bothered if they stopped, but they would have to stop every time something like this happened to a rider. There would need to be consistency as unwritten, morally based rules don’t provide any clear guidance at all.

Just to play devil’s advocate here as well; why do people have a different view towards the GC leader, compared to lets say the Sprint leader if they are held up before the end of a stage? Both leading a classification, both with a chance of retaining the jersey but one is viewed as poor sportsmanship while the other is just racing…

While I’m being controversial, the peloton didn’t really push on much at the start of the climb, it looked as if they were just riding tempo. Quintana even radioed to the team car and it looked as if he was struggling to figure out what to do. It was then Zakarin’s attack that forced the other GC riders to close and Bahrain started riding more aggressively on the front.

But ya know, everyone’s entitled to their own opinion as to what happened and how it should have been dealt with. I’m sure some of you will agree with me, some of you will disagree and that’s OK, debate is good!


Back to the stage, and week-three Nibali reared his head to drive the group on near the top of the Umbrailpass, before dropping them all on the descent and in the meantime catching Landa. Those two forged on, with the Shark outsmarting/out-sprinting the Sky rider to the line.

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Quintana came home not long after in third place.

Dumoulin still keeps the leader’s jersey though and he will be looking to recover (that is if he is actually ill and it was not a freak occurrence) during tomorrow’s stage. Let’s have a look at what is in store for them.

The Route

Another long stage with a lot of climbing coming in the first half of the day.

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We have a double header of Cat-2 climbs with the Aprica (12.3km at 6.3%) and the Passo del Tonale (11km at 5.7%), in the first 60km of the stage. Whoever makes the morning move will certainly have to be a solid climber!

From there, the stage is up and down for the rest of the day but nothing too severe. The stage profile makes it look tougher than it actually is and the last 70km averages just over 1% in gradient. After today’s stage though, that will/could certainly feel like more!

As for the run in to Canazei itself, the road snakes its way through the valley towards the finish line.

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Rising ever so slightly through the Flamme Rouge before descending to the finish line. Well, when I say descending, it’s -0.8% for 750m so pretty much flat!

How will the stage pan out?

After today’s monster of a stage you would expect it to be a breakaway day and that is the most likely outcome. There will be a lot of tired legs in the peloton and I’m sure a lot of riders will be happy to see a large group of 15 guys go up the road and for that to be that.

However, I do wonder if some of the sprinters who are left might fancy their chances. As I mentioned above, the profile makes the stage look deceptively hard, but I definitely think someone like Gaviria could manage the end of the day. If not him, Stuyven certainly would have a chance in this type of company. Even Modolo, can climb well enough to make the end of the day.

It is just a question of whether their respective teams want to put the resources into a chase or instead play the famous…

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Breakaway Candidates

Of course, we might even see some of those sprinters try to make the morning move but it will be tough considering the start of the stage we have. Like usual, I’ll throw a couple of names into the hat.

I’ve been waiting for this day for a while, and those of you who have been reading this blog since last year will no exactly where I’m going with this…

Daniel Teklehaimanot.

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Yup, it’s Eritrean Independence Day! After my ill-fated backing of Kudus last year, this Giro I’m turning my attention to the affectionately known “Tickler”. I’m deciding to ignore his team-mate and fellow countryman Berhane because he was in the break today. Teklehaimanot is an all round solid bike rider, who is good on the climbs but also on the flat. He isn’t known for his fast kick, but he did look strong earlier in the rest sprinting for mountain points. It will take some Steve Cummings cunning to win tomorrow, but he has a good a chance as anyone else!

Cesare Benedetti.

The first KOM leader of the race is from the region of Trentino, hailing from the town of Rovereto. Although the stage doesn’t go through his home town, I imagine the Italian will have plenty of local support and I would not be surprised to see his friends and family out on the roadside cheering him on. He’s been relatively anonymous recently so I think he might have been saving himself, with one eye on this stage. Another all-rounder, he’ll need a bit of luck to win but you can’t count him out!

Prediction

It really is a tough stage to call, and it all depends on who makes the break/doesn’t. As I’ve mentioned above, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a few of the faster riders to make the move, such as a Stuyven or Gaviria.

However, being flamboyant and all of that, I’ll go for the Tickler to take a memorable stage win on a national holiday for his country! He’ll attack solo in the final 10km à la Cummings, and while everyone bickers behind as to who should start chasing, he builds up an insurmountable gap.

Here’s some music for you to listen to tonight… 😉

Betting

Small stakes plays again to have an interest in the day;

All with Bet365

0.5pt WIN Teklehaimanot @ 100/1

0.5pt WIN Benedetti @ 200/1

1pt WIN Gaviria @ 40/1

Thanks as always for reading, any feedback is greatly appreciated as normal. Who do you think will win? Will we see a break make it all the way to the line or will the sprinters spring a surprise? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

Giro d’Italia 2017 Stage 12 Preview; Forlì -> Reggio Emilia

Today’s Recap

An exciting stage that saw a very fast start to the day!

However, things did eventually calm down and a large breakaway group established itself. We did have two attackers ahead of them though, in the form of Landa and Fraile, but they were eventually brought to heel on the lower slopes of the last climb.

A lot of to-ing and fro-ing then occurred towards the top of the summit, on the descent and the run to the line but we were treated to a reduced sprint from the breakaway riders.

After being in front for most of the day taking KOM points, Fraile still had enough left in the tank for a very impressive sprint, beating Costa and Rolland into the lower podium placings.

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Behind, there were a few probing GC attacks but nothing too serious. Although Thomas and Kruijswijk did lose almost 50 seconds to the rest of the contenders.

It was slightly disappointing not to see more GC action, especially after the crazy start to the stage, nonetheless, it was a good day’s worth of racing. Will we see a good day of racing tomorrow? Let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

Longest stage of the race and another “transitional” day.

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A fairly innocuous stage with two categorised climbs that come too far out from the finish to be of any danger GC wise. 110km of shallow descending/flat from the final peak do offer a chance for the sprint teams to get organised and chase down the breakaway.

The run in is pan-flat and not overly technical.

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There are a few sweeping turns in the closing 2kms but nothing too serious as the road is quite wide. Unless of course the organisers decide to put some barriers in place!

How will the stage pan out?

You would expect it to be a sprint. There are still a reasonable amount of teams left with fast-men and with most probably leaving the race after Stage 13, they’ll want to make the most of the opportunities they have left.

The good news for sprinters is the distance from the last climb to the line, there is plenty of opportunity for their team-mates to close the gap. It all depends on how many riders and what teams, make the breakaway.

This is the Giro after all and when you consider how tough today was, a few riders might want an extra rest day tomorrow. It would be useful to know how the sprinters and their teams have recovered but I guess we’ll not find out until we start the stage!

So on a day where it should be a sprint, there is an ever so slight chance that we get a breakaway but even then it’s only a 10% (at most) chance I would say.

Sprinters

Looks to be a 4-horse race.

Gaviria – Already has two stage wins to his name and was electric when nearly beating Ewan to the line on Stage 7. The flatter finish isn’t ideal for him but he will be full of confidence. In Richeze he has a great lead-out rider who will deliver him perfectly. Will it be enough to take a third win?

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Ewan – Finally got his stage win but the young Aussie was one of the last riders to finish today, struggling on the tough climbs. He is the rider I fear today may have taken the most out of and with a long stage tomorrow, his sprint might just be lacking at the end of it.

Greipel – Almost a definite for leaving in a few days time the German will be hoping to go home with more than the one win he has so far. His lead-out hasn’t clicked yet on the technical finishes, but with tomorrow’s stage being more straight-forward they can possibly get it right?!

Bennett – The nearly man so far, with two podium places to his name. After being placed under the Haughey curse (and being ill) he has seemed to re-find his sprinting legs and is now on the mend. Grand Tours aren’t exactly the best way to recover but I’m sure all of his competitors will be too. With a strong lead-out, he has another good shot at a podium.

Aside from those 4 it will be tough for others to win but I’m sure Stuyven, Modolo (if he sprints) and Sbaragli will all be up there vying for a possible podium or better.

Maybe even Mareczko can repay his team-mates after being dragged over the final climbs!

Prediction

A dull day that is all about the last 5km and I’ll go for the most experienced sprinter to take the win after conserving energy today. Greipel to seal victory!

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Unless of course the sprinters and their teams can’t be arsed and we get a breakaway stay away.

Betting

No bet.

Tempted to throw a few pennies on some 1000/1 escapees on the exchanges later but that’s that.

Thanks again for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated. Sorry that this preview is shorter than normal, there’s just nothing extra to say, a pretty dull stage. The same can be said for the following day as well! Maybe we can get a large breakaway that gets a lot of time to make it an exciting watch?! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

Giro d’Italia 2017 Stage 3 Preview; Tortolì -> Cagliari

Today’s Recap

A long dull stage that ended in a bunch sprint with Greipel taking his standard Giro stage win!

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Ferrari of all people finished second, with Stuyven coming home third.

Annoyingly, Bennett fell ill last night and was struggling all day. A shame, but it’s one of those things about this sport that you never find out until you see them dangling off the back!

Oh well, moving on swiftly and onto tomorrow’s much shorter stage. Let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders.

The Route

The last day on the island of Sardinia and the easiest stage so far with barely any altitude gain at all!

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The profile makes it look the day look more rolling than it actually is, instead it is pretty much pan flat all day. At 148km long, it could be a short and explosive stage as the riders travel down the coast towards Cagliari.

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Like today, the run in tomorrow is fairly simple with only a few roundabouts and turns to contend with.

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There is a bit of pavé at the 350m to go mark all the way to the finish, but it really shouldn’t have an effect on the sprint at all.

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Definitely a case of “paved stone” rather than cobbles!

Weather

The big talking point regarding tomorrow’s stage is the strong winds that are forecast. Travelling almost directly south for almost 100km, there is a chance that if we get a constant East or Westerly wind we may get, ahem, crosswinds…

 

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Source: Wunderground

The above image is the forecast for Tertenia which is near the start of the stage but as you can see, it looks windy! As I highlighted in the preview for stage 2 though, a lot of the island is covered with trees etc so the riders have been protected from the wind thus far. God damn Sardinia for its beautiful scenery!

Tomorrow though, there are some areas exposed areas at the start of the stage.

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Location: North of Tertenia

Will it be full gas from the start like we have seen in the past at the Vuelta? After the two very slow days I think it could be…

How will the stage pan out?

I think we will see some of the GC teams try and split the race in the crosswinds. After the relatively quiet opening stages they’ll have a lot left in the tank and with a rest day to follow, it could be manic.

There are still sheltered areas where things won’t be affected by the wind as much, and although the route is pan-flat some of the surrounding area is hilly which will surely have an impact on the prevailing conditions.

Nonetheless, I expect there to be some echelon action.

Most of the route southbound looks like the following…

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They go closer to the hills at times but then skirt away from them again into more open areas like the one above.

Sky and Bahrain certainly look like the most eager GC teams to try something and I think that could be the case tomorrow. Although the British team have started to gain a reputation recently of being caught out on day’s like this. As I said above, with a rest day coming up I’m sure they’ll be more willing to try something riskier as they can recover the following day.

It’s a bit of a lottery trying to figure out who would be on the wrong side of a split GC-wise, because everyone will know that there is the potential for echelons so will be trying to position their overall candidates high up the bunch. This in itself could cause some issues and splits.

As for the stage, if it really does get manic then it will be a bit of a lottery, however, sprinters tend to go well in tough conditions so a good few of them should be there. Then again, some will probably miss out too just by being poorly positioned or through some bad luck (i.e. a badly timed mechanical).

We could end up seeing a similar top 10 to what we had on Stage 2 of the Tour in 2015 with a mix of GC riders and sprinters.

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Although with all that said, there is a chance I’m just wishfully thinking after the relatively dull opening stages we’ve had and it may all end in a big bunch sprint.

Prediction

It’s clear that Ewan and Greipel are the fastest riders here going off of the first two stages. Gaviria isn’t too far behind but he doesn’t seem to be 100% yet. Will having two days of racing in his legs change that?

The German is the best out of the sprinters in bad conditions so factoring that in, I think he wins tomorrow, doubling up after only three days!

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As to how many guys end up there for the sprint, who knows, it all depends on how aggressively the GC teams ride due to the wind and more importantly, if the wind is strong enough to do some damage! Anyone know what teams are sharing hotels?! 😏

I think we could see a small group come to the line and in that case it might be hard to control, therefore look out for strong all-round GC guys who should be there no matter what. Someone along the lines of Thomas or Jungels who are both powerful enough to get close in a very, very reduced sprint or attack and solo to the line. The former has been really attentive so far this race and I think he might order his Sky team to try and instigate something, especially with a rest day coming up.

Betting

No value in Greipel as his price is too short with the unpredictability of tomorrow and it’s too early in the race for me to go gung-ho with him and place a sizeable bet of 5pts etc. The sensible decision would be a no bet. But I’m not sensible!

So instead, I’m going to throw (waste) some money on the two GC guys I’ve listed in the chance that we get a crazy day. I would normally go WIN only, but if we get a small group of guys like that 2015 Tour stage, I’ll be gutted if one of them podiums so EW it is.

0.25pt EW Thomas @ 250/1 with SkyBet

0.25pt EW Jungels @ 200/1 with various

 

Thanks as always for reading. Who do you think will win tomorrow? Will it be a Greipel, Thomas, Jungels podium?! Will we have a race that’s faster than a club run? 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.

 

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.