Tour de Pologne 2017 Stage 5 Preview; Olimp Nagawczyna -> Rzeszów

Today’s Recap

Long, hot day for the riders.

A breakaway escaped early on but was never given too much leeway and was brought back for the inevitable bunch sprint.

Sky were the team that was keen to hit the front early and they controlled the final few kilometres up until around 600m to go. Mezgec flew past them on the outside with Ewan in tow, dropping the Aussie off at roughly 175m left. He didn’t have it all his own way as Sagan challenged him early, and Van Poppel had a good run at him late, but it was not enough to stop the Orica man taking the stage.

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

The Route

A short and sharp stage at only 130km in length, we should hopefully see some fast and aggressive racing.

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You can view the whole profile on VeloViewer here.

The reason I’m not using the style of image that I have used over the past few stages is that due to the short nature of the stage, it almost seems to oversimplify things.

The day starts off with a climb for the riders, with the road almost rising from the gun.

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Averaging 3% for 5.5km it should entice some of the strong riders in the peloton to try to get into the breakaway. It does average almost 7% for roughly 1.5kms which makes up the brunt of the elevation gain but the false flat afterwards will be of equal importance for the formation of the break.

From there, the stage is fairly easy with only a few one to two kilometre long climbs breaking up the flat roads. However, from 70kms in, the road starts to become more rolling.

First up is a 2.2km climb at 5%, followed not long after by a 2.7km climb at 5.5%. Straight off the descent that follows the riders will climb once again; although a lot more gradually with 3km at 2.8%.

The riders will then tackle the final climb of the day for the first time, although from a different direction than they will later. If you take into account some of the false flat afterwards then it’s 3.4km at 4.2% but that includes an opening 1.2km at 8.5%.

Second time round it is arguably even easier. The road does rise gently in the preceding 4kms but the main climbing takes place over 1.3km.

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Not overly tough, it is still steep enough to be a launchpad for an attack. With only 11.6km to the finish will we see someone take a risk and go for it?

As for the finish itself, it is incredibly straightforward with wide roads and no real sharp turns.

How will the stage pan out?

Break or reduced bunch sprint, that is the question? Maybe with a slim chance of a late attack going.

With plenty of riders far down on GC, there is a good chance for some strong riders to make the break early in the day. The starting climb is an opportunity for them to get away but I have a feeling it might be after the climb and on the flat-lands where the elastic finally snaps.

It is a day for the breakaway specialists in the sense that the climbs aren’t too hard so that they suit a climber but instead seem more tailor-made to a powerful rider and classics specialist.

The key to how the stage plays out is Bora.

If they really fancy Sagan’s chances for the overall then tomorrow’s stage looks ideal for him and he would pretty much be a shoe-in for 10 bonus seconds. It will require them to control the stage all day, but at 130km they might just do that.

I wouldn’t expect other teams to help as;

  1. I don’t think many other sprinters would make the finish as if Bora do control the day, they’ll set a fast pace on the climbs to distance them.
  2. No GC team will help Sagan to gain time.

I’m really split on this but I think the break just edges it, purely because it relies on Bora to control all day on their own. 55/45.

Time to play that game again…

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Breakaway Candidates

You know the score by now; proverbial hat and names.

I’ll throw a couple of candidates into the mix, nothing extensive as always!

Niki Terpstra.

I’m a big fan of the Dutchman as some of you may know if you read some of my cobbled classics previews. He’s a bit of an arsehole apparently, but a talented one nonetheless. Quick Step have Jungels and De Plus for their GC challenge but the team has also been very attacking throughout the Tour so far. One guy who has kept relatively quiet is Terpstra. This is his first race back after pulling out of Ster ZLM so his form is a bit unknown, however, he always goes well in this part of the season. With one eye on defending his Eneco (now BinckBank) Tour title next week, I get the feeling he might stretch his legs tomorrow. A man who’s strong on short hills, the climbs tomorrow should be of no difficulty. Give him a gap, and he’ll be tough to bring back!

Matteo Montaguti.

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The Italian veteran has a penchant for finding himself in good breakaways but is always beaten by a better man. However, he is also good in the hilly (not mountainous) Italian classics and tomorrow’s stage reminds me of that type of racing; a few climbs in a tactical position but a finish that could also end in a sprint. Back in April at the Tour of the Alps he took his first victory in 7 years, winning a reduced bunch sprint of 49 guys. It doesn’t exactly instil the most confidence, but what it does highlight is that he can sprint well after a tough day. If a breakaway group makes it to the line he has every chance of winning the gallop!

Prediction

Terpstra to warm up nicely for his title defense next week with a win here.

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Or Sagan wins a reduced bunch sprint to extend his GC lead.

Betting

0.5pt WIN on Terpstra @ 150/1

0.5pt WIN on Montaguti @ 150/1

Would take 66s lowest for them both, and that’s at a push.

Thanks as always for reading and apologies for this being out later than normal; thought I’d go out on the bike myself! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Will the break make it, or will Sagan romp home in the sprint? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Tour de Pologne 2017 Stage 2 Preview; Tarnowskie Góry -> Katowice

Today’s Recap

Orica and Bora controlled the break for most of the day and they had them within touching distance at 40km to go. Not wanting to catch them too early, they let the gap extend again, eventually reeling them in just before the start of the final circuits.

There were a few attacks off the front from Oss and Marczynski, followed by Martinelli in the closing kilometre.

However, they were all in vain as it was brought back for a big bunch sprint. Sagan launched relatively early but his acceleration was immense and he quickly got a gap. Ewan tried to close, and he did, but the finish line came too soon, the World Champion took the win!

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Van Poppel finished fast for Sky to take home third.

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

The Route

Another day that if you looked at the official profile, you might be confused for thinking this is a day for the puncheurs. Alas, it is another sprint.

TDP Stage 2 Profile

We finish with the same circuit that we’ve had in Katowice the past few years and it has thrown up a few surprising results.

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The circuit itself undulates a little bit but the climbs aren’t too difficult. However, taken at increasing pace they will wear down the legs a little bit for the sprint. That is if we get a sprint…

It’s almost a guarantee that someone will try to attack before the finish. Just after the 2km to go mark the road does rise all the way until the roundabout where the riders will make a “180-degree” turn. The rise itself averages 2.8% for 750m. Enough to cause a bit of panic in the sprinters teams if there is a bit of a stall in chasing.

Final 2km Stage 2 Poland

The downhill run to the line makes it a very odd sprint where riders stay seated most of the time. It is a sight to behold!

It sometimes produces an odd result where a rider can sit in the slipstream and pop out in the final 50m to seize the day. Van Genechten’s win in 2014, video above, is a great example of that.

A tale of two sprinters – again?

It was clear today that Sagan and Ewan are just a cut above the rest of the riders here.

The World Champion in theory suits tomorrow’s finish even more. A stronger rider, he should in theory be able to put a lot more power into the pedals while seated. We saw this at the Tour de Suisse where he trounced everyone in a slightly downhill effort on the final day of racing. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him double up tomorrow. There is always a concern with Sagan though that he gives a chance for a team-mate to go for glory, especially now that he has his own stage win. Maybe Baška?

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However, Ewan can’t be counted out. He finished very fast today, indicating that he is in good form. With Mezgec as his lead-out man he should be put into a good position, but will he be able to finish it off?

They won’t have it all their own way on a finish like this.

Van Poppel – Looked strong today, finishing very fast. If he’s in a good position tomorrow he could finish higher than 3rd.

Minali – Likewise, I was impressed with the Italian. He was the first to launch his sprint and held on strongly for 4th. He looks like a powerful rider so a seated effort might suit him.

Bonifazio – Fast but poorly positioned. The ultimate hot and cold sprinter. He seemed to glide through the peloton when I had backed him on the opening road stage of the Tour de Suisse, but it was too late as Gilbert already had the stage won. Can he make amends tomorrow?

Late Attack

We saw today that the finish was very chaotic with riders coming up in dribs and drabs to try to control the peloton. With Sagan and Ewan seemingly the strongest here, a few of the other sprint teams might not co-operate and it leaves a gap open for a strong rider to attack.

Vakoc tried his hand two years ago but was swiftly brought to heel. A few years stronger, I think he has the power to get a gap and maintain it if there is some hesitation behind. He’s one to watch out for as Quick Step don’t have a sprinter here. The Czech rider did provide 10 seconds worth of excitement back in 2015 when I had backed him at 400/1…

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If not him, maybe Terpstra will give it a go?

Dennis is another rider who could squirrel away. BMC like QS have no designated sprinter and they were interested in trying something today. Tomorrow’s stage is a lot more suited for a late attack. Could anyone stop the best short TTer in the world if he gets a gap?

Prediction

Most likely we’ll get a sprint and most likely it will be Sagan who’ll take the win again!

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I think Minali can sneak onto the podium if he times his effort better, he looks good just now!

Betting

Not taking a risk on Sagan at his price but I do think Minali is a good EW play, plus a bit on Vakoc, for old times sake;

0.9pt EW Minali @ 16/1 with Bet365

0.2pt WIN Vakoc @ 200/1 with Bet365

 

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Will it be a bunch sprint or will a late attacker prevail? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

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.

 

Ronde van Vlaanderen 2017 Preview

Ronde van Vlaanderen 2017 Preview

It’s time for my favourite event of the year and a special race as it marks one year of this blog! To thank you all for your continued support I’ll be doing a competition tied in with my women’s preview (that will be out tomorrow), for a chance to win one of The Handmade Cyclist’s artworks. Well, more specifically their “De Ronde” one, obviously. So yeah, make sure you return tomorrow!

Right, now that those formalities are out of the road, let’s focus on this incredible race.

Last year saw an imperious Peter Sagan just ride away from Sep Vanmarcke on the Paterberg and even with a surging Fabian Cancellara the duo could not catch the Slovak.

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Will Sagan be able to double up this year? Let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders.

The Route

I’m not going to bore you with a massive route analysis (like I normally would), as I’m sure if you’re anything like me you’ll have read plenty about it already this week!

The route in general is pretty much more of the same that we had last year, apart from they have added the Muur at around 90km to go. Although iconic, it will more than likely be too far out for a race winning move to be made there. Instead, we might see some lesser riders attempt to get up the road before it all kicks off.

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It’s once we pass the Paterberg for the first time at around 70km to go that the race starts to kick into action and theoretically a race winning move could go from this point onwards. However, the second passage of the Paterberg, which swiftly follows the Oude Kwaremont, will desolate the peloton if it’s still together.

From there, we’ll have attacks go up the road; groups working; groups not working; solo moves; teams having wrong riders in the right move, etc etc. It all gets a bit hectic to say the least!

With only 17km to go the riders then tackle the Oude Kwaremont once again.

This is where Sagan dropped everyone from the group in front apart from Vanmarcke, likewise Cancellara dropped those behind as he motored ahead trying to catch up. The open highway that follows the Kwaremont can see a regrouping, before they tackle the final climb of the day; the last ascent of the Paterberg.

Sagan blew the wheels off of Vanmarcke here last year.

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Once over the top it’s a 13km TT between the leaders and any chasers, before the traditional finish in Oudenaarde.

Normally the weather will play a part in this race but it looks pretty benign just now so I’m going to completely skip that section!

How will the race pan out? Team tactics.

Flanders is arguably the race in which the winner is more often than not the strongest rider on the day who gets a bit of luck. The reason for this in my opinion is due to the relentless nature of the cobbles and climbs in the closing third of the race, and due to the severe length of the event itself! A strong rider can create a massive gap on the Kwaremont and Paterbeg combination and with only 13km left, it’s hard to get a concerted chance organised.

Last year you could say without doubt that Sagan and Cancellara were the strongest riders in the peloton. Sagan in a sense you could argue got lucky that Cancellara didn’t follow the attacks at 31km left, and it’s hard to say how the race would have panned out if those two arrived at the bottom of the Paterberg together.

A similar situation may occur this year between Van Avermaet and Sagan, who are one step ahead of everyone else in my opinion, and probably yours too!

The only thing that can stop them is the attitude of Quick-Step. The Belgian outfit need to ride as aggressively as they did in Dwars and E3 if they want to have a good chance of success. They need to be in every move that goes up the road, either by following every move or attacking themselves. But more on that later!

Contenders

As I’ve just mentioned above, there are two clear favourites going by the bookmakers and anyone who watches this sport!

Defending champion Peter Sagan has looked his usual exceptional self this year. His attack in Milan San Remo was incredible, as was his stage win in Fermo during the Tirreno Adriatico, but oddly enough there are some people who suggest he’s not going well. He has only won one one-day race this season so far, Kuurne Brussels Kuurne, which is pretty poor from him so they might be right…

Is he suffering from being Sagan? Yeah, I think so, but this is the one race a year where being Sagan doesn’t matter as much. If he’s feeling good, he can simply ride away from everyone on the final double ascent of the Kwaremont/Paterberg like we saw last year. The issue for him will be ensuring that he’s in contention going into that final 15km. Therefore, he’ll need to attack/follow the attacks from where he did last year. Re-watching last week’s Gent Wevelgem, he clawed back almost 8 bike lengths on his main rival Van Avermaet on the Kemmelberg. That’s Flanders winning form!

Talking about Van Avermaet, he was the number one performer of the week just gone by and is Sagan’s main challenger.

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Three one-day World Tour wins already this season, the Olympic champion is flying. He’s beaten Sagan in a sprint (Omloop); won against tough opposition in another sprint (E3); and outsmarted his opponents (Gent Wevelgem). Results wise, he is the rider to beat! He doesn’t seem to pack the same punch up the cobbled climbs as Sagan does, but he benefits tactically from not being Sagan. He seems not to have the same aura amongst the peloton and riders are more inclined to work with him.

However, I think that might change going into this weekend and he’ll struggle with being Van Avermaet. If you’re going to lose to Sagan in a sprint, you’re more than likely going to lose to Van Avermaet in a sprint as well. So why work with him more than the Slovak?

But hey, as you know if you’ve read this blog for a while, DS’ don’t seem to think as outside the box as I do!

Quick-Step have the best chance of beating the two favourites, due to the number of riders in their team that theoretically could have a chance of winning this race, sorry Keisse and Vermote! The rest, all on their day and given the right group could win. Gilbert will be their pre-race favourite and given his scintillating form, he certainly looks the rider best suited to challenge Sagan and GVA.

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He will be able to follow them for the majority of the race and that’s what I would have him do. Let him sit in for most of the race, marking those two out of it. It’s a defensive strategy, using their form rider to mark others, but that’s the teams best chance of winning.

Boonen hasn’t looked in tip-top shape but with only two races left in his career, you would expect him to go well. As much as he would love to win this, I think it might be all about for Roubaix with him. I would save him all-day, hoping he can get close on the Paterberg and that it comes back for a reduced sprint.

Therefore, QS should be attacking from around 70km left with the rest of their riders. Although Lampaert did great in Dwars for the blog, he’s just not strong enough yet on the cobbled climbs to compete here in my opinion. Like Boonen, he is more of a Roubaix kind of guy. I’m not saying he won’t try to get up the road, but he’s not their best option for that.

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So that leaves the triple header of Trentin, Stybar and Terpstra, the three riders who made the front group of around 16 in Gent Wevelgem. Trentin is probably the weakest on this terrain and his past results haven’t been that great. Yet, he’s looked very good this season so far and seems to have taken a step up on the cobbled climbs so he can’t be ruled out, especially if he goes in a move at around 50km to go that stays away until the end. Stybar and Terpstra are their aces in the pack though for long-range moves and I would suggest they both need to be up the road before GVA and Sagan make their attack. If they are, I would be confident enough in Gilbert nullifying them before we get to the last 17km and by then it might be too late to bring back.

The only issue with that is if another big team misses the move and has enough firepower to chase. Who will that team be working for?

Kristoff looks the best of the rest on current form. He’s been unlucky in the first few cobbled classics but his efforts in De Panne were exceptional. In particular, it was his TT that stood out for me. Not a discipline he favours, he lost only 2 seconds to Durbridge who himself is going very well just now. The Norwegian loves this race, having finished 15th/4th/5th/1st/4th in the past 5 years. He will be there or thereabouts at the end of the race!

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Trek have one of the strongest teams here so they will likely aid in a chase if they miss a move. Degenkolb has looked OK so far this season, but it pains me to say, that he is still missing that extra 5% after his crash last year. I can’t see him winning here unless he goes early, but I think he’ll be marked out of it in that situation. Theuns looked tired towards the end of De Panne and Stuyven has been struggling the past week or so with his form. Time for Felline to step up and make that crucial early move!

Naesen (AG2R) has performed exceptionally well over the past 6 months but this could be a tough ask for him, he’s bound to dip in form soon. Surely?!

Lotto have been awful but their saviour Benoot returns this weekend after missing Gent Wevelgem. He almost guarantees a top 10 result but needs to be attacking to get higher up the pecking order, which he might just do.

Sky have been awful the past week and I haven’t seen anything to think they’ll turn that around here. Which is always when they seem to go well!

Boasson Hagen and Thwaites have been going well, albeit quietly, the past few weeks. Like so many others, they’ll need to be up the road before the fireworks kick off behind.

Durbridge will hope to continue his good form but he seems more of a Roubaix man. The same goes for Demare.

I’d love to see Lutsenko get a top 10 placing which I think is a possibility. He’s been 22nd then 14th in the past two editions.

Vanmarcke still doesn’t look great after his injury and illness.

Prediction

I’m really stuck on the fence with this one because I don’t know if I can trust Quick Step to use the same tactics I would. If they do, the race is theirs for the taking, as long as they get some help from other teams to beat GVA and Sagan.

If not, the race is Sagan’s to lose. I know GVA is in great form but even he will fear what Sagan can do on the Paterberg. If there is a 3 second gap at the top, then it’s race over!

Hmmmmm.

Right…

I think the teams will take a similar approach to GVA as they do to Sagan and will not want to work with him 100%. Therefore, various teams will be keen to get numbers ahead before the final 20km. With Gilbert shadowing the Big 2, QS will get Terpstra and Stybar up the road, along with Felline and a few others, with maybe the likes of Oss there for BMC.

He and his team didn’t get it right in GW, but they won’t make that mistake here. Terpstra to win!

BELGIUM CYCLING DWARS DOOR HET HAGELAND 2016

Betting

Already have 1pt WIN on Terpstra from the other week at 25/1 (would take 22s)

Adding;

Stybar 1pt WIN @25/1 with various bookmakers (would take 22s)

Felline 0.5pt EW @ 80/1 with various bookmakers (would take 66s)

Kristoff to beat Degenkolb at 11/10 with PaddyPower (would take it at 4/6 elsewhere Betfair/Bet365). 6pts.

 

Thanks for reading as always and any feedback is greatly appreciated. Who do you think will win and how will they manage to do so? Remember to return tomorrow for my women’s preview and the competition! 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.

 

Dwars Door Vlaanderen 2017 Preview

Dwars Door Vlaanderen 2017 Preview

The 72nd edition of this race returns tomorrow and marks the start of the run up to the Tour of Flanders a week on Sunday. Dwars Door often provides exciting racing and the route is finely balanced between a small bunch sprint or a group of strong men making it to the line. Plus it’s midweek Belgian cobbled racing! Who doesn’t like midweek Belgian cobbled racing?!

Last year saw a prematurely celebrating Coquard beaten to the line by Debuscherre, with Theuns rounding out the podium.

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That was one of the larger bunch sprints for a while but still only 34 riders crossed the line in that front group. It gives you an idea of how tough and attritional this race can be!

Let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders in 2017.

The Route

Much the same as the route we’ve had the past few years, apart from an 800m cobbled section has been added around 7km from the finish line.

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Profile once again by @LasterketaBurua.

An easy start to the day, the second half of the route is pretty challenging. There is either a hill or some cobbles to traverse roughly every 10 kilometres from 90km to go until the finish. This makes it a battle of attrition at times, and is why we often don’t see a bunch sprint into Waregem.

Several of the famous cobbled climbs are raced over here, such as; the Taiienberg; the Oude Kwaremont; and the Paterberg. It is these famous stretches of road that can tear the peloton in to bits and help a group of strong riders escape.

Once through the Varent cobbled section at roughly 23km to go, the chase could well be on from the remnants of the peloton but only if there are enough teams interested in bringing a break back and if they cooperate together.

The run in to the line is fairly simple with only a few roundabouts to negotiate.

One factor that often can play a massive part on this race is the…

Weather

The riders I’m sure, well apart from the Belgians, will be happy to know it looks as if it won’t rain during the day. Even if it does, it should only be a sprinkling! Much to the viewers disappointment.

However, it does look as if we will get reasonably strong winds. Now that’s more promising and what I like to hear!

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Forecast for Wevelgem. Source: Wunderground.

25km/h crosswinds aren’t crazily strong, but they are enough to cause splits and echelons in the peloton if the pressure is on. Here’s hoping!

 How will the race pan out?

I think we’ll see a more attacking race than we got last year and the day won’t come down to a 40 rider sprint.

The reason I say this is similar to my reasoning for an attacking MSR; so many of the puncheurs and cobbled riders seem to be in form at the moment and going very strongly. Most teams arrive with sprint and attacking options, so I think it’s very unlikely that we’ll just see them settle for a nice-group ride and a sprint to the line.

However, this all depends on the composition of the group that makes it up the road and the strong teams will need to be there. I imagine that the attack will need to contain riders from at least the following teams; Lotto Soudal, Quick Step and Trek. You can probably add Orica, FDJ and BMC to that list too!

So for the contenders I won’t be including sprinters.

Contenders

Defending champions Lotto Soudal have a strong team with them but I imagine Benoot and Roelandts will be their co-leaders. The former was unlucky with a crash earlier in the season but he is exceptionally talented and I’m sure will be looking to bounce back before the Ronde and Paris Roubaix. With a solid sprint after a tough day he has a chance of taking his first pro win, but he will need some luck. Like his younger counterpart, Roelandts’ packs a good kick and he’ll be counting on experience to pull through for him!

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Quick Step have a ridiculously strong squad with them and the race itself probably hinges on their attitude. Looking down the start list I could quite feasibly argue for most of their squad making any split in the race. From there, it’s just a case of how they play it. In the past they’ve been quite defensive (the 3 on 1 against Stannard springs to mind) but they should in my opinion approach this aggressively. Or at least I would, which probably means they won’t! Terpstra is the obvious choice to send up the road, but Gilbert and Lampaert offer good options as well. I think Stybar will be saving himself for later in the week.

Theuns will be Trek’s main card to play here, but he’ll be ably supported by Felline. Both of the riders are similar in style, but the Belgian is better on the cobbles with Felline being the better climber. Theuns has finished 2nd and 3rd here the past two years and will be hoping to go one spot higher this time round. I sure would love that as he’s in my season long fantasy team! A very capable rider, he should make the splits on the cobbled climbs and from there it’s a case of making the right moves and getting a bit lucky.

Dwars door Vlaanderen

Orica have a few riders who could challenge here if their on a good day, and in particular Durbridge and Keukeleire. I always think Durbridge is older than he is, I’m amazed he’s only 25, he’s been around for what seems an eternity! Once just a TT specialist, he has really transformed in to a great all round rider, his 6th place in Strade is testament to that. Certainly not a guy that should be given much leeway off the front of the bunch. As for Keukeleire, it was good to see him back challenging at the pointy end of a race in the Vuelta last year, after a few seasons of underperforming. With a fast sprint after a tough day, he could certainly take victory if a small group comes to the line!

A few other riders to keep an eye out on who could well go on the attack and be up there at the finish are Naesen (AG2R), Lutsenko (Astana), Backaert (Wanty), Ligthart (Roompot) and Petit (Direct Energie).

Prediction

As I’ve stated above, I think with the wind conditions we’ll get this edition, the race will be harder than last year and we won’t see a reduced bunch sprint of around 40 riders. Instead, there will be a couple of selections throughout the day and having numbers near the end of the race will be important. I can guarantee Quick Step will have numbers and if Gaviria is not in the group they won’t be waiting around for a sprint. Conversely, they may also even attack if he is in the group as they will be leant on by the other teams!

So I’m going to go for a Quick Step rider who can time trial and sprint from a very reduced group to cover both options of a late attack or sprint. Yep, that’s right, local hero Yves Lampaert to win!

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The rider from Izegem is one that I rate highly and mentioned during the earlier cobbled semi-classics. Heralded as the next big Belgian cobbled talent, he has failed to live up to the mark so far, but that might just well change tomorrow!

Betting

Difficult race to predict and one I don’t want to overly get involved with so a few bets for interest;

1pt WIN Lampaert @ 66/1 with various (would take 50s)

0.5pt EW Keukeleire @ 66/1 with various (would take 50s)

 

Thanks for reading! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Will we get a big bunch sprint, reduced sprint or a sol attack?! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

Tirreno Adriatico Stage 6 Preview

Today’s Recap

An incredibly exciting stage, and I only managed to catch the final 40km. We had attacks from GC guys and one-day specialists but the peloton arrived at the finish climb together, well, what remained of it.

Much like Gary Lineker’s quote about football being “a simple game where 22 men-chase a ball for 90 minutes and in the end, the Germans win.”

Cycling is a simple sport where 180 riders cycle for 5 hours and in the end, Sagan wins!

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The World Champion clawed his way back to a group of GC favourites as they sat up and played games. Not exactly the best move by them! It was then academic as we got to the slight uphill sprint finish. Pinot and Roglic rounded out the podium.

What’s in store for the riders tomorrow? Let’s have a look.

The Route

A shorter day in the saddle, which I’m sure will please some tired riders.

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We have a lot of undulating roads in the first three quarters of the stage but there is nothing too serious for the bunch to be concerned with.

A long period of flat with around 30km to go could see the end of the breakaway, and we then have one little test before the finish.

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1.7km at 4.7% average could be challenging for the sprinters if they’re on a bad day, but you would expect them to hold on. However, the little descent then 500m section at 7.4% could be a great launchpad for an attack before we have a tricky and technical descent.

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The pan-flat and almost dead straight finish may spell the end of any would be attackers though if the pack is organised behind.

How will the stage pan out?

Just like Natalie Imbruglia, I’m torn.

So this will be a split preview of sorts.

On paper, this should be a sprint with it being only the second opportunity all race for a bunch gallop to the line. With the sprinters close to peak condition for Milan San Remo, they should manage the final climb as it’s very similar to the Poggio. It does come a lot closer to the finish so the battle back to the front will be a lot more difficult if you slip to the back of the pack.

Yet, after a very tough two days the peloton might want to have an easier day in the saddle. Although saying that, with it being the last road stage of the race I’m sure we’ll see an attacking day. We only have four proper sprinters here that could contend at the finish in my opinion (Sagan, Cavendish, Gaviria, Viviani) so other teams may look to the breakaway as their best option for the day. Will the teams of the sprinters be willing to work on the front all day? That’s the million pound question. In his preview with @Cyclingmole (starts around 18:10 mark) Jay Thomson sounded fairly confident in a sprint, but will that have changed after the past two days?

I think if we get representation from at least two of the sprinters teams; Bora, Dimension Data, QuickStep and Sky, then the break will stay away.

Sprinters

As mentioned earlier, the 4 riders listed are a class above in a field like this and you would expect them to populate the top of the standings.

In a flat sprint you would have to favour Cavendish or Gaviria. The Dimension Data rider has a very strong team with him here, capable of delivering a very strong lead-out. His favourite pilot fish Mark Renshaw is here and they form a formidable duo. If the Manxman has recovered from his illness, he has a very good chance of winning this.

We don’t really know how well Gaviria may have gone on the opening sprint after he was held up in the crash. Like DD, Quickstep have a very good lead-out train here and no doubt they’ll be the two teams fighting for space at the head of the peloton. Having Boonen as a lead-out man isn’t that bad either! Gaviria has beaten Cavendish before and I’m sure he’d love to make a big statement before Milan San Remo.

You can never discount Sagan and the little hill close to the finish puts him more on terms with the other two. He clearly is motoring right now and a third stage win is not as unlikely as it seemed at the start of the race.

I’m still not convinced by Viviani this year. He did well to get up for second on stage 3 but he’s still without a win this year and I can’t see that changing here.

Breakaway Contenders

I’m going to pick two guys that were in the move today, plus another. All three are similar in style but ever so slightly different.

Steve Cummings.

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He’s been relatively quiet this season so far, but the Brit presents the best opportunity for Dimension Data in the break. He’s exceptionally strong on the flat and short climbs and he is capable of time trialling his way to the line if he gets a gap. Of course, he’s also a good ploy later on in the race to attack if Cavendish isn’t feeling up for it. Cummings won a similar stage here last year, although the final climb was slightly tougher then.

Niki Terpstra.

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I was pleasantly surprised to see Terpstra finish so far up the standings on stage 2. He is clearly building some nice form ahead of the cobbled classics. A rider in a similar mould to Cummings, although the Dutchman is probably better on the flat, he could find himself attacking the breakaway group near the end of the stage. Managing to hold on for the win.

Tim Wellens.

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You can’t ignore a rider like Wellens for this stage. He is in scintillating form in this early part of the season, already picking up 3 wins. His third place in Strade highlights how versatile of a rider he is. After being involved in the crash on stage 3, he’s since lost a lot of time on GC but has been resting up at the back of the peloton, apart from a probing attack on today’s stage.  With eyes on this stage maybe?

Prediction

If we get a sprint, I’ll go for Cavendish.

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He has the best train here and will be hungry to prove that he is a danger for MSR!

If we get a break, I’ll go for Wellens.

Betting

Cavendish 1.3pts WIN @ 11/2 with Bet365

Terpstra 0.25pts WIN @

Cummings 0.35pts WIN @ 40/1 with Bet365

Wellens 0.35pts WIN @ 66/1 with Bet365

 

Thanks as always for reading! How do you think the stage will pan out? Could be a finely balanced day, but the teams never seem to be thinking along the same lines as I am. 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.

 

 

Men’s Road Race World Championships Preview – Doha 2016

Men’s Road Race World Championships Preview – Doha 2016

*Apologies, this preview is not up to my usual standards as I am terribly hungover and only have an hour to write it before a family meal. Should have written in advance, my bad!*

Last year saw an incredibly exciting race and Sagan showed his strength with a devastating attack out the peloton on the final lap. He wasn’t to be seen again!

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Can he make it back to back wins? Let’s have a look at what’s in store for them.

The Route

A jaunt around the desert followed by 7 laps of the Pearl Circuit.

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Don’t expect any great scenery out on the course as they travel through the desert. We might see a few camels running beside the peloton!

There’s not really much more to say about the route, it is very dull to be honest. The only way this race doesn’t become a snoozefest if things get a spicy out in the desert. Speaking of which…

Weather Watch

Fingers crossed for wind!

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Forecast for Al Khor Airport

It looks like we will get some wind, but annoyingly just now it’s too much off a headwind (going out) to make a difference. Opposite direction on the way back. However, as we’ve seen over this past week, the wind can change direction and speed at will. With the barren landscape on offer, there will be nothing to protect the riders from the wind so they will have to be vigilant at all times. Even the smallest of changes in direction could split things up, and I’m sure there will be a few teams interested in doing so.

How will the race pan out?

No wind = snoozefest = sprint.

Wind = anything could happen.

I think (maybe wishfully) that the race will be split up in the desert, so I’ll be writing from that angle. Plus there will be plenty of other previews out there that will discuss the pure sprinters anyway!

So in my multiverse the wind reaps havoc on the peloton out in the Qatari desert. How much damage will it do? Well, that depends on how hard the teams with numbers go and the composition of the front group. It could be possible that the peloton maybe halves in size relatively early on into the race. However, that group is still far too big and it fractures again with 30 riders or so off the front. These riders then power on and those behind have no chance of returning. Depending who’s made it into that group, it could well go all the way to the line once we reach the circuit but this is unlikely. Instead, I would expect more attacks with either a solo rider getting away or a small group of 12-15 riders contesting the finish.

There will be enough teams and riders who won’t want to drag the best sprinters in the world to the line, so look to the Classics specialists.

Sagan is a safe option for both scenarios but he will probably want a harder race to get rid of some of the faster sprinters. Saying that, there are few who can match Sagan in a sprint after 250km so he will be confident of his chances either way!

Belgium will turn to Boonen as their all-weather guy, although they have a very strong team for this type of race, especially if the wind does pick up. Van Avermaet & Naesen provide great back options and should offer strength in numbers if there are echelons.

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The Dutch have Groenewegen who has shown he can handle crosswinds and echelons, but they also could turn to the likes of Terpstra to make a late attack from a reduced bunch. Along with the Belgians, they are the most likely team to try to cause some havoc.

Another sprinter who enjoys riding in the crosswinds is Norwegian Alexander Kristoff, like Sagan, he should be there in both situations. He’s been a bit off the boil this year but that could be a good thing, saving himself for this race and going under the radar. He’ll want to get rid of the likes of Cavendish and Kittel, making his job a lot easier. Importantly for him, the Norwegian team is very strong for this type of parcours with a lot of big engines for flat riding.

Other sprinters who will enjoy tough conditions include Démare, Gaviria and one of the favourites, Greipel. It will be hard for these guys to win in the situation of a blown to bits peloton, as no one will want to drag them to the line.

For a potential late attacker, look to Tony Martin. He’s been in great form in Doha winning the TTT and the TT, why not add the road race title to that collection too? There will be very few riders capable of bringing him back if he does escape with around 20km to and those chasing will have to be going full gas to get close.

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Not as strong as Martin, but someone who is also on good form is Stybar. He looked very strong in Binche and has the capabilities to win a small group sprint or attack with a kilometre to go.

Prediciton

However, I’m going for none of the above. I mean it wouldn’t be right if in my final preview of the year I didn’t stick to tradition and go with an outsider?!

Instead, I think Matteo Trentin will be the new World Champion. Left-field I know, but hear me out. He rides for Etixx as his trade team and is very good in tough, windy conditions but more often than not he has to work as a domestique. However, here I think he will be given more of a free role and the chance to look after himself if things do get wild. Finishing 4th in his last two races (both this month) show that he has some good form. He has the speed to win from a very reduced bunch but also the bravery to attack from that group too if there are faster riders. Forza Matteo!

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And after saying all of that, Sagan will probably win.

Betting

It’s not a race I want to get heavily involved in and if we don’t get crosswinds, I won’t be watching until the last 10km. So a few outside shots to keep me interested

0.2pt WIN Trentin @ 150/1 with Coral (I’d take 100/1 that’s widely available)

0.1pt WIN Naesen @ 250/1 with Coral and Betfred

0.1pt WIN Stybar @ 200/1 with Bet365/Ladbrokes/Betvictor

0.1pt WIN Martin @ 250/1 with PaddyPower/Betfair/Coral

 

This is most likely my last preview of the year so a final thanks for reading and apologies again if this isn’t as succinct as normal, my brain isn’t functioning at 100%. I may have something for the Abu Dhabi Tour but I’m not promising anything. Working on a few ideas to keep this going through winter, any suggestions will be taken on board! As usual any feedback is greatly appreciated. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.