Vuelta a España 2017 Stage 21 Preview; Arroyomolinos -> Madrid

Today’s Recap

We did get a fairytale ending after all, with Contador winning the stage atop the mythical Angrilu.

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It was a classic performance from the Trek rider as he put on an aggressive climbing masterclass. He certainly will be missed as a rider, especially as his type seems to be disappearing over the past few years.

Sky put on a dominant display behind, with Poels and Froome finishing on the day’s podium. The result means that barring anything incredibly bizarre happens tomorrow, the Brit has won his first Vuelta title.

It makes him the first rider to win the modern Tour-Vuelta double, and the first since Pantani to complete a double. Quite remarkable!

I bet Froome’s parties aren’t as good though…

With the GC battle over, it is time for the sprinters to have their time in the spotlight tomorrow.

The Route

Zzzzzz.

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Featuring a zzzz circuit.

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I could go on and pretend that there is more to this stage than meets the eye but in the words of Skepta; “that’s not me”.

We could see a late attack stick if some of the sprint teams mess around with the chase duties. Modolo and Lampre (UAE) are here so a Giro cock-up could always be on the cards.

But no, it will be a processional stage followed by a sprint. Simples.

Contenders

Trentin.

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The best sprinter here so far, he also has the added incentive of trying to win the Green jersey too. However, tomorrow’s easy run in looks the least suited to the Quick Step rider who would prefer a trickier finish. Nonetheless, the form is clearly there so he most likely has to start as favourite.

Theuns.

Sprinter turned key hilly domestique for Contador over the past few weeks, the Belgian has performed his duties ably. Will the favour be returned tomorrow? Most likely! He is fast and with De Kort to guide him into position, he’ll be a threat.

Modolo.

Has been a bit meh recently but can’t be discounted in this field. He does seem to go well at the end of a GT.

Cort Nielsen.

The final sprint stage and the first day that the Dane will get a chance to go for the win. He took this day last year so I guess he has some course form. He made the break on a few of the more rolling days so his power output must be fairly solid. A dark horse?

Blythe.

Could Aqua Blue get two wins this Vuelta? Blythe isn’t the fastest sprinter in the world, but in this field and at the end of a Grand Tour then we do often get surprise results.

Van Asbroeck and Lobato will be in or around the top 10 too.

Vuelta Picks

A dangerous day for those near the top of the table but thankfully Degenkolb isn’t here to ruin anyone’s chances on the last stage.

Safe PickTrentin.

Pretty self-explanatory; has some form and will be near the head of the results.

Wongshot Pick – Cort

Not tested in the sprints at all this race but he does have the speed to contend.

Lanterne Rouge Pick – DeClerq

Should be doing some work early in the day.

Prediction

Cort to repeat last year’s success!

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Betting

No bet.

Apologies for the really short preview but the Vuelta has worn me down and my enthusiasm for stages like tomorrow is limited enough anyway! Thanks to all of you for reading every day and interacting on Twitter etc. Helps me to keep going through several break days in a row. The season is nearly over but I’ll be back previwing the World’s in no time!

If you’ve enjoyed the previews and want to thank me (cheeky of me, I know) then a beer would be more than appreciated – Buy Me A Beer. But hey, if you don’t ask, you don’t get!

Anyway,

Those have been My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

Vuelta a España 2017 Stage 13 Preview; Coín -> Tomares

Today’s Recap

A boring breakaway day they said…

Ahead Marczynksi took his second stage win, with Fraile and Rojas rounding out the podium behind.

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However, the majority of the action and excitement came from the GC group. Contador attacked with Roche on the last climb of the day, but the Irishman couldn’t live with the sprightly Spaniard’s pace. He then linked up with Theuns who had been in the break earlier in the day, and the two forged on, working well together. Maybe they were getting some practise in for Duo Normand?

Sky seemed fairly content to set the pace on the front of the peloton, but Froome then had a mechanical and a fall. Although the first mechanical may have been caused by a fall, I’m not too sure! Poels and Nieve dropped back to help him, but it was a tough chase.

Astana, Katusha and Bahrain shared the pace at the front of the peloton, but they became a bit disorganised in the closing few kilometres and allowed the race leader to close somewhat.

With all that said and done at the end of the stage, Contador gained 22 seconds on the “peloton” which itself gained 20 on Froome.

Will we see anything crazy happen tomorrow?

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

The Route

By Vuelta standards we have a sprinters stage on the cards!

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We do have some drags and falls in the opening 90km of the day but with over half the stage remaining the riders will be over the worst of it.

It is all about the finish tomorrow.

Of course, this is the Vuelta so we have approximately 9234323 roundabouts in the closing 5kms.

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The road is particularly narrow in parts so being positioned near the front will be crucial.

The many roundabouts will help to string the bunch out but so will the elevation gain in the closing kilometres.

As per, I’ve made a profile of the end of the stage that you can view fully/interactively here.

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According to VeloViewer/Strava, that opening rise we see is 1.14km at an average of 6.1% with the steepest gradient apparently touching 13%. Although if I’m honest, I do think that is a tad generous.

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It does look fairly steep and on the narrow road it could cause some issues for the riders moving up, while also being a great launchpad for someone to go on the offensive.

That section of climbing then crests with 2.5km left of the day.

The final kilometre of the stage averages 2.6%, with the peloton tackling two roundabouts in that time!

Things could get messy but the uphill drag should make the speeds slower and safer. Hopefully.

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We’ll see the peloton tackle the above roundabout at ~450m to go, before the final dash to the line.

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That dash to the line averages 4% for 350m apparently so the “sprinters” that we have here might find it difficult and there could be a few surprises at the line.

How will the stage pan out?

Given the lack of sprinters here and the amount of moves that have made it to the line over the past week, there is a good chance we might not actually see a sprint at the end of the day.

Instead, the break might be left to fight out stage honours.

Although, with it not being a pure sprint. Then a few teams with punchier riders might fancy their chances at bringing the break back to let their guys off the leash in the closing kilometres.

I think it comes down to the attitude of two teams though; Quick Step and Lotto Jumbo.

The former have a couple of options for a finish like this with Trentin and Alaphilippe both good candidates. If they don’t get anyone in the morning move, then I would expect to see them pull in the hope to bring the break back.

Likewise, Jumbo have a great candidate for stage victory with JJ Lobato. The Spaniard is from a town 100km from the finish so he is fairly “local” in that sense. Tomorrow’s stage looks tailor-made for him and he certainly won’t want to pass up the opportunity.

If these teams don’t get riders in the move and begin to chase, then another couple of teams might chip in with the workload.

With tomorrow being the only chance for a “sprint” until Madrid, I think we’ll see the peloton come to the finish together. Teams will work for their faster guys in the hope that they repay the favour over the coming week.

There is of course the chance that a late attack sticks tomorrow, as things could get very hectic. Lampaert round 2?!

“Sprinters”

Lobato.

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Loves an uphill finish and he should be able to cope with tomorrow no problem. He picked up a win in the Tour de l’Ain before the Vuelta and he followed that up with a second place to Trentin on Stage 4. Arguably one of the best riders in the world on his day on a ramp like this, if he’s in form then he could be tough to beat.

Trentin.

Speaking of in form, the Italian seems to be in great shape at the moment. His stage win from the breakaway was truly remarkable and he should be up there fighting for the honours again tomorrow.

Theuns.

Chicken-smuggling extraordinaire, the finish tomorrow is right on the Belgian’s limit I think. He is climbing better than ever but after a tough day up ahead today, he might be missing something in the finale tomorrow.

Molano.

Struck down by the Haughey Curse on Stage 4, this steeper run to the line is much more up his street so to say. This is his best chance of a good stage result all race and I have a feeling that he has been saving himself for it. Could we see yet another Colombian make his mark at the Vuelta?

Cort.

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With Chaves the only remaining Orica rider anywhere close in contention for GC, will the team use up some resources to help their sprinter? A strong rider, like Theuns, the rise to the line could be on his limit. Nonetheless, if he is there, then he has a great chance given his speed!

Modolo.

Not the first name you would think of for a finish like this but the Italian can climb well when needed. Back in the Tour of Croatia he took a superb win on the closing stage on a tricky finish, somewhat similar to this. He has been a bit “meh” in form as of late but you can’t discount him.

Andersen.

A wildcard rider for a finish like this, the rise in gradient brings him into play. He was 8th on Stage 4 and he’ll be Sunweb’s go to rider here. Both of his pro wins have come on stages that are very similar to this one, with some steady climbing at the end of the day. Can he continue on Sunweb’s great season?

Lutsenko.

Even more of a wildcard, the Kazakh has an under-rated sprint and like Andersen, the rise to the line levels the playing field for him. Who knows what he’ll produce!

Moscon.

Do Sky give one of their strongest rider some freedom to chase stage glory? No one has been given any leeway so far but tomorrow looks like an opportunity where they can do something for little effort. Climbing with some of the best in the race, if Moscon lays down the Watts, not many will be able to follow!

Vuelta Picks

Another tough day where there is a chance we could see a break make it all the way.

Safe Pick – GC rider – Meintjes.

Should finish close to the front of the bunch to avoid any splits.

Wongshot Pick – Sprinter – Andersen

I really rate his chances for tomorrow! Take your pick though…

Lanterne Rouge Pick – De Vreese

Crashed today and rolled home near the back. Will probably come home safely tomorrow as well.

Prediction

The sprinters to be surprised by the difficulty of the finish and a punchier rider to prevail. Soren Kragh Andersen to take the win!

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Betting

Definitely some value out there by not going for the proper “sprinters” so I’m going to up the ante pts wise today…

Andersen 1pt EW @ 66/1

Molano 1pt EW @ 66/1

Moscon 0.5pt EW @ 250/1

Watch it be a break now…

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Vuelta a España 2017 Stage 4 Preview; Escaldes-Engordany -> Tarragona

Today’s Recap

If you don’t like the Vuelta, we can’t be friends!

Quick Step decided they wanted to honour the jersey and try to keep it in the team so they controlled the break for the first 2/3rds of the day, never letting the gap grow much bigger than 5 minutes. Which in some ways was good, as neither of the lottery tickets made the move! So I decided to tweet out some thoughts and back Chaves in-play…

Once onto the penultimate climb Sky took over the pace making duties and just about caught the break at the summit. Although we did see some weird UAE tactics with Costa and Atapuma dangling 10 seconds ahead of the peloton for the last few kilometres of the climb. The break was absorbed on the descent with Atapuma now doing the chasing before all hell lot loose on the last climb.

Rosa sprinted into it before peeling off almost instantly. However, some of the GC guys were already distanced due to the difference in speed at the middle of the peloton compared to the front. Some clawed their way back to the Sky train but others didn’t.

Froome launched a vicious attack that only Chaves could follow and the two built up a 10-second or so advantage. Bardet eventually sent off in pursuit, with Aru quickly following. The Froome/Chaves duo crested the climb with roughly a 5 second gap over Bardet/Aru and a further 15 over a group of chasers.

Bardet and Aru caught up with the lead pair on the descent and the pace dropped ever so slightly; allowing the chasers to return at roughly 1km to go.

Roche put in a half-hearted dig but was closed by Chaves. However, Nibali then made a more serious effort with roughly 300m left and no one seemed bothered about chasing him initially and that was it. The Shark had his stage win!

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What a finish line photo as well!

De la Cruz sprinted to second, with Froome in third. The bonus seconds on the line see the Brit into the leader’s jersey with a trio of riders only 2 seconds behind him.

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

The Route

A much easier day in the saddle, I’m sure they’ll be glad to know!

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There’s not really much of note apart from a Cat-3 climb to break up the very slow descent to the finish line.

Well, it doesn’t descend all the way to the finish line…

The road does rise in the closing kilometres and it is quite a tricky finale that could catch a few out.

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Having to traverse 6 roundabouts in just under 3.5km will certainly make things messy! The “climb” that you see above is more of a drag, but it averages 1.7%% for a 1.2kms, flattening out at the Flamme Rouge.

At 900m to go the riders will take the long way around this roundabout, exiting it on the left hand side.

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Almost as soon as they leave the roundabout they’ll have to make another time. This time it will be a 90-degree turn, that is made even sharper by the fact the riders are funnelled left once exiting the roundabout.

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The road then snakes for the following 200m before it takes “snaking” to the extreme at just under 500m to go.

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Possibly having to knock off their speed, if the bunch is not stretched out by now, it certainly will be after.

We then have a ridiculously narrow roundabout at 250m to go.

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Which is then duly followed up by an equally narrow exit.

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Let’s just hope the local council have done some road works or at least completed paving the finish since the google maps image was taken in 2015!

How will the stage pan out?

It should be a sprint, but given the lack of top-tier sprinters here a few of the teams might decide to have an early rest day and not pull.

I would not be surprised to see a “shock” break stay all the way to the line.

However, the one thing that is massively against the break is the constant 15km/h headwind that they’ll be cycling into all day. That definitely swings things in favour of the sprinters and because of that I’m sure we’ll see a few of the teams come to an agreement to keep the break in check.

We could be in for a long watch though!

Sprinters

Picking a sprinter for this Vuelta seems to be a minefield. We don’t really have much to go off of from stage 2, given how the race was split apart in all of 2kms. The slight uphill drag before the line also makes it more interesting but all of the sprinters here should manage it easily so it doesn’t affect things too much.

With all that said, I’ll be keeping this relatively short and sweet.

Theuns – Made a massive effort to close the gap on Stage 2 and still managed to get up for 4th. He’s clearly in great form and with Contador struggling today, he might get a few more resources at his disposal tomorrow. That is of course unless his team-mate sprints.

Degenkolb – Admitted he was struggling on the first few days but he might have rode into some form after three stages? I still think it is too early for him but this finish does look ideal for the Degenkolb of 2015.

Trentin – Another rider who is in great form at the moment and with the best lead-out he should be up there. QS seem a team full of confidence and that could just make the difference.

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Molano – The Colombian is a rider that I’ve been looking to forward to watching this Vuelta. He’s a very talented sprinter who excels on tough finishes, winning two stages in Portugal earlier this year. This is a big step up for him but the fact he was close to the front on Stage 2 is promising.

Modolo – Looks to be on good form as he was another rider who made the front split on S2. Arguably the fastest sprinter based on his wins in the past, he has a good chance tomorrow if he’s in the right position. He’ll certainly take the risks to get there.

Blythe – Not a bad start to Aqua Blue’s first ever Grand Tour with the Brit delivering a podium result on the opening stage. Can he go better? Possibly!

Cort – Might get dragged into helping his GT leaders again. So could be nowhere again.

Schwarzmann – Good lead out rider, but I don’t rate him too highly as an actual sprinter.

Van Asbroeck – Solid rider who top 10’d on stage 2 and he’ll be there or thereabouts again.

Lobato – Finish looks good for him but his positioning often lets him down. Could be great, could be awful!

Prediction

A chaotic finish that could lead to a surprise result and possibly a few nasty crashes. Consequently it might be a lottery in regards as to where everyone is positioned on the lead in to the final turn.

However, I’ve been looking forward to this stage for a while as the day that Molano really makes his mark on the pro peloton!

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Vuelta Picks

A tricky day…

Safe Pick – Trentin

Wongshot – LL Sanchez (late attack in the chaotic run in)

Lanterne Rouge – Belkov (he’s been consistently near the back every day!)

Betting

1pt EW on Molano @ 33/1 with B365

 

Thanks as always for reading, hope you enjoyed the detailed finale by pictures! Who do you think will win the chaotic sprint? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Vuelta a España 2017 Stage 2 Preview; Nîmes -> Gruissan

Today’s Recap

I should never have doubted them, should I?!

BMC win yet another TTT, being the only team to best the 16 minute mark.

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Dennis was the first man across the line so he is the first rider in the leader’s jersey of the race.

With a sprint finish likely tomorrow, there is a good chance he will hold onto it for a few days.

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

The Route

A flat jaunt along the Mediterranean coastline, with a little change of direction inland before turning back towards the sea for the finish in Gruissan.

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In terms of altimetry, there is nothing much to talk about at all. The highest peak of the day is just over 40m above sea level…

It could be a fairly benign day, but the finish could cause a surprise or two.

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They will tackle a roundabout at 2.5km to go, taking the sharp left.

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Said sweeping roundabout. The riders will have to knock a little bit of speed through it and it will certainly stretch out the peloton.

Will a team then have enough firepower to keep the pace high over the next 2 kilometres? If not, there could be a lot of jostling for position with things getting scrappy.

Especially when the road narrows at ~1km to go as the riders head off the main road and towards the town.

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The slip-road only lasts for 150m or so but it will certainly be a point some of the teams will be racing for. It is much more realistic for a team to control it from there to the finish with a few riders.

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It wouldn’t be the Vuelta without some type of “challenge” in the final kilometre. Tomorrow’s is a roundabout with roughly 350m to go. It’s not too tight, but the riders won’t be able to smooth out the corner completely.

Having one man peeling off just out of the roundabout and leaving the “pilot fish” with the sprinter is the ideal tactic here. Can anyone pull it off?

Weather Watch

We spend a lot of the day travelling parallel to the coast line so of course I have to mention the prospect of crosswinds.

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Although oddly enough, the wind isn’t coming from the sea. Instead, it comes from in-land and pushing towards the coast.

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That makes it less likely for echelons early on in the day but not improbable. There are some exposed sections as we head in land though, such as this part of the D-37 as we head towards Sérignan.

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At around 80km to go, is it too early for a team to try to split it?

They will turn more into a cross-head-wind afterwards so a lot of the riders might not fancy it. But the wind direction is pretty organic, much like the teams attitudes towards crosswinds. If they sense a chance to push it, I’m sure some will try!

If we do see splits then those dropped will hope that the wind direction becomes more of a headwind to deter the teams pushing on. It will be a race to the 30km to go banner in that case as once the riders turn to home, they’ll have a stonkingly big tailwind for the remainder of the day. Anyone gapped will find it difficult to get back.

So do I think we’ll see echelons? I’m hopeful, but not overly confident.

Sprinters

We don’t exactly have a long list of guys here and a the majority of them don’t have much help. Things could be messy…

Degenkolb.

On paper he is the most experienced/best sprinter here but he hasn’t raced since the Tour. Rolling home today makes me think that he still might be finding his legs and tomorrow’s long stage could be a struggle for him this early on. Of course, he could have been conserving energy after giving his all in the first part of the TTT but the signs aren’t good.

Theuns.

If Degenkolb isn’t sprinting then Theuns will be Trek’s main man. Full of confidence after his first World Tour win at the BinckBank Tour, he looked lightning quick then. He is off to a new team so there could be some tension within his current squad but as professionals I wouldn’t expect that to play too big a part. With a lot of helpers for Contador, whoever sprints for Trek will most likely only be able to rely on De Koert and possibly Pantano. A late charge to the front à la Lampre of old?!

Cort Nielsen.

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A double stage winner last year, he certainly enjoyed his first Grand Tour. Fast after a tough, long day, tomorrow’s stage looks good for him and I’m sure he’ll be hoping for crosswinds to reduce the bunch. Although maybe he won’t, as he is supposedly on team help duty before getting his own opportunity if the Orica GC riders are safe within the last 10km. It will be interesting to see how it plays out for him with no lead-out.

Modolo – Won a sprint in Poland but DNF’d that race. He is a really hit or miss rider so who knows how he’ll go tomorrow!

Trentin – He’ll more than likely be QS rider of choice for tomorrow. If they dedicate a lead-out to him then they have a fairly strong team with several strong rouleurs to push things on for him. Looking strong lately, I think he has a good chance of a result.

Blythe – The Brit will be hoping for echelons tomorrow to reduce his opposition. A good classics rider, he should make the first split if he’s being attentive and will fancy his chances in a reduced bunch. He could struggle in a big bunch gallop though, but with it being messy he could seize the opportunity.

Lobato – Seems to be finding form again but this pure flat sprint isn’t great for him. Almost guaranteed to be dropped if the wind picks up.

Van Genechten – Just a bit of a “meh” sprinter and typifies this field we have here. Will struggle to repeat his win from last season.

Debuscherre – Will be praying for echelons as he seems to have lost his way as a big bunch sprinter this year. That lack of confidence won’t help in the slightly sketchy finish.

Schwarzmann – Arguably has one of the strongest sprint lead-outs here in terms of pure power. Often a lead-out man himself, will he grasp his opportunity to shine?

Vuelta Picks

Safe Pick – Cort.

It’s tough to choose a “safe” pick for this stage as anything could happen out on the road with possible echelons and a messy sprint. Not knowing which of the Trek riders will be sprinting, it is wise to avoid them, although I would lean towards Theuns. Cort should be sprinting and as one of the fastest here he should guarantee a top 5.

Wongshot Pick – Theuns.

On form he is arguably the fastest rider here, it just depends if he sprints or not. Hence why he is the wongshot.

Lanterne Rouge Pick – Zurlo.

Fell today so he might be tasked with doing some work early on for Modolo and roll home at the end of the day.

Prediction

Trek to take advantage of Theuns is great form just now, letting him sprint, with the Belgian duly delivering!

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Betting

1pt EW Theuns @ 22/1 with Bet365 (would take 14/1 lowest – others might actually price up higher later on)

Also for a bit of fun I’ve doubled that up Sam Bennett for the Cyclassics at 528/1…

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

 

 

 

BinckBank Tour 2017 Stage 4 Preview; Lanaken -> Lanaken

Today’s Recap

A sprint but a messy one, thanks to some rain and a crash in the closing kilometre. There was a big fight for control of the bunch in the final 5kms but no-one really managed to dominate but Trek and Bora definitely came out the best, keeping their sprinter in the top 20 riders at all time.

This paid dividends with the crash at the chicane which splintered the peloton. Drucker from BMC attacked, but he was eventually brought back and it was Sagan who launched his sprint first. The Slovak was strong enough to hold on until the line, beating a fast finishing Theuns and Barbier by a wheel.

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Some of the big names were nowhere; see both of the Sky sprinters, Kittel and Démare. Others were there but just didn’t have the room to sprint fully, or started from too far back. Will they turn it around tomorrow? Let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders.

The Route

The last of the full bunch sprint days.

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Another fairly innocuous day for the bunch though, with no major difficulties out on the route. The wind is low as well so no chance of cross winds, but we might see a few showers by the time we reach the finish which could make things more interesting/dangerous.

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As you can see, there are a lot of technical and tight turns on the run in, with the riders almost doubling back on themselves at a roundabout with 1.5km to go. If the weather is sketchy then the bunch will be stretched out during those sections and being at the front will be the safest. Everyone will know that, which in turn will make it even more dangerous.

Fortunately, there are no major difficulties once the riders have passed the final roundabout at 1.5km to go.

The final kilometre of the race is fairly simple, along a straight road. It does rise ever so slightly at a close to 1% average.

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Not much, but it does make the timing of the sprint more important as you don’t want to go too early.

Contenders

Sagan.

Can he go 3 from 3 in the sprints and really cement his GC title charge? He and Bora were exceptional today in the final 5 kilometres; always in the top 15-20 guys, but not necessarily on the front. Tomorrow’s slight drag to the line is ideal for him as well and he should be once again fighting for the win. My only concern is that on both stages he’s won, he has seemed to open up his sprint just a bit too early, being closed down right at the end when he tires. He’s got away with it both times, but it might not be third time lucky if he does the same tomorrow on the slight drag.

Groenewegen.

His team was strong today and he was another who was up there well positioned in the final 5km. However, he seemed to get a bit boxed in at the end and when he did get a run he didn’t have the power left to challenge. Maybe it was an off day and he’ll bounce back tomorrow?

Theuns.

Close today, but he started his sprint from too far back which ultimately cost him. He was arguably the fastest guy at the finish but it wasn’t enough. Trek did a great job in the finale, controlling things well in the last 5km and if they do the same tomorrow then he has a good chance. The slight drag to the line certainly benefits the Belgian, he’ll just need to be closer to the front this time!

Kittel.

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Pretty awful again today, he seems to be blaming his mental attitude after DNF’ing at the Tour. It is understandable in some ways but as a top-level sprinter you would expect more from him. At least he is honest though! Nonetheless, will that change tomorrow? Nope, I don’t think so.

Démare.

The rider who Kittel seems to be throwing under the bus with him in his tweets. Or at least that’s who I make it out to be anyway. Equally as awful today as the big German, he was way out of contention in the final 2km. His team did show some intent to move him up and he was near the front at 3km to go so I have no idea how he went backwards so quickly. It is hard to write him off (like Kittel) but after what I watched today, it is also very hard to support him for tomorrow’s stage too!

Greipel.

Another rider who Kittel could be talking about, at least the Gorilla was somewhat in contention today. He was actually in a great position coming out of the chicane, sitting in 5th wheel, but as the pace at the head of the group dropped that became his downfall. Swamped on the outside as they rounded the corner at 200m to go, he was boxed in and had nowhere to go, deciding to sit up. Tomorrow’s straight run in should be good for him and Lotto Soudal have looked like one of the more organised teams here. He should be positioned well, it just needs for him to find his killer instinct again if he wants to take the win.

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Cort Nielsen.

He was there or thereabouts again today. Orica weren’t as organised as I expected which was disappointing. They seemed to make a move up towards the front at 3km to go but some road furniture split them up and Cort Nielsen was left to go solo in the end. I maintain that they have the best lead-out train here, and if they get it right tomorrow, he has a great chance.

Bauhaus.

The Sunweb rider was right in the mix again today but he opened up his final sprint way too early. You can see in the image above that he’s pretty much full gas before the final bend in the road. He then died a thousand deaths and finished 10th. Nonetheless, his form

Others of course may get involved such as Van Poppel, Viviani, Barbier, Zabel and so on but I think it’s a fairly extensive in-depth list!

Prediction

Greipel to shake the proverbial monkey off his back and take a stage win tomorrow. Lotto have looked strong so far and I was surprised to see the German so well positioned on the technical run in. If he can stay in the top 15 riders going into the last 1km then he has a great chance on a finish that suits him perfectly.

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Betting

1.25pts EW Greipel @ 9/1 with Bet365.

 

Thanks as always for reading. Who do you think will win tomorrow? Will Sagan make it three wins? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

Ride London-Surrey Classic 2017 Preview

After spending a few years at .HC level, the race makes the step up to WT status for 2017. A decision that I’m not so sure about as with two WT races already going on at the weekend; team’s resources will be stretched to the limit and we could see some weaker teams sent here because of it. Furthermore, it takes away the opportunity for the UK Continental teams to shine. Oh well, it is what it is!

Last year saw the race come back for a relatively large bunch sprint which Tom Boonen won.

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The Aussie duo of Renshaw and Matthews followed the Belgian home to round out the podium.

Will we see a similar outcome this year? Let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders.

The Route

The organisers have slightly shortened the route for this edition, removing one of the climbs that we normally have during the middle of the race.

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Rolling out from London, the riders will face fairly flat roads with only a few minor lumps before reaching the first KOM of the day; Staple Lane.

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Uncategorised in last years race, it’s not an overly tough climb mainly due to the amount of false flat that it has. However, there are a few steep ramps and some longer sections at +5%. I wouldn’t expect it to do any damage to the peloton though.

Staple Hill does kick off the “serious” section of the race where the riders will be facing climbs every 15km or so.

Next on the agenda is Leith Hill.

LeithHill KOM

A more challenging climb than Staple Hill, we could see some of the stronger climbing teams push the pace on here to try to put the sprinters into difficulty early on.

Once over the top they’ll face a long shallow descent before the first passage of Ranmore Common.

Ranmore KOM

Another short climb, the peloton will no doubt fly up it. The gradient does get steepest near the top, peaking at 16%, which does offer a great opportunity to attack. Even more so because there are a few kilometres of false-flat to continue to apply the pressure on once you’re over the summit. The riders will then complete a loop back through Dorking and complete the Ranmore climb for a second time.

With roughly 50km remaining, the riders will face the last KOM of the day; Box Hill.

BoxHill KOM

For the professional peloton it shouldn’t be too much of a challenge, but it depends how aggressive the race has been up to that point. If we’ve had some very fast racing over the previous 60km then the 3.9% average gradient might seem a little harder than it is on paper!

When off the descent, the riders will have just over 40km until the finish in London. A lot of the route is flat in general, but the road does roll quite a lot. One thing British roads are known for is being “heavy” and energy sapping. This could really be of the detriment to any group up the road if they’ve already expended a lot of energy and the peloton is chasing keenly behind. Conversely though, narrow roads make it hard for a team to organise a chase.

The finish in London itself is the same we’ve had the past few years with the sprint along the Mall.

Weather Watch

As with most races in the UK, you never know what type of weather you’ll get on the day of the event.

Looking just now, the forecast for Kingston-upon-Thames has some possible localised thunderstorms mid-afternoon.

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Source: Met Office

That could certainly make the run in for home interesting; especially with a strong tailwind helping those staying away.

However, in Dorking (where most of the climbs are near) there is no rain forecast with fairly clear skies promised for the majority of the day!

All of this can change in an instant though and I wouldn’t be surprised if the forecast is different later on this evening compared to what it is when I’m looking at it now (10:30 am).

How will the race pan out?

The past 4 editions of the race have seen a small group stay away two times, with a reduced bunch sprint deciding the winner on the other occasions.

With the race now stepped up to WT level, we could see a race where teams are more happy to control the day hoping for a sprint and to gain some crucial WT points.

The step up also means that teams are able to bring an extra rider; 7 compared to 6 the past few years. Consequently, the bigger teams have another “disposable” rider to try to control the breakaway up ahead.

Conversely though, quite a few teams bring squads where they have riders who can cover both options.

I think I’m hoping more than anything else that we’ll get an exciting, attacking race, but I fear that it could end up being a relatively dull and controlled day.

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The majority of you seem to think the same way!

Sprinters

Matthews.

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Off the back of a great Tour de France, the Aussie will arrive here looking to keep the momentum going. As one of the best climbing sprinters in the world, he might actually get his team to apply some pressure on the KOMs during the middle of the race. He’s not the fastest on a pure flat sprint like the one we have tomorrow so he needs to take advantage elsewhere. He has a solid lead-out but it’s made up of mostly sprinters so they might be a bit disorganised. His team doesn’t really have anyone that will ride tempo on the front of the peloton all day so I’m intrigued to see if they try to get someone into the break.

Greipel.

Bitterly disappointed with his performance at the Tour, he’ll be here hoping to make amends tomorrow. In this type of field he should be making it over the climbs if they’re not rode aggressively and he should be there at the finish. Is he getting past his prime and starting to decline in prowess? Unfortunately, I think so. He just doesn’t seem as fast as he used to be and that’s shown at the Giro and Tour. I wouldn’t be placing my house on him to win tomorrow!

Bennett.

After picking up a handful of podiums at the Giro but just missing out on that elusive Grand Tour win, he bounced back with two wins in Slovenia. However, he’s not raced since the Irish Road Champs over a month ago so it will be interesting to see where his form is at. A rider I rate highly, he should be able to get over the climbs in fairly good shape and will be one of the fastest guys at the finish. If he’s on form…

Viviani.

According to an interview with Doull, Team Sky are backing Viviani 100% and that the Italian is in good form. Are they that confident in him or is that a bluff? Because to be honest, I wouldn’t be confident in Viviani winning! Sky have a few cards to play if the race does become attacking, such as Kennaugh or Stannard, so maybe they’re trying to play mind games with everyone. To be fair to Viviani, he did win a couple of stages in Austria recently but the field was hardly stacked with sprinting talent; Vanmarcke came home behind him in 2nd and 3rd on those two days.

Kristoff.

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Another rider who was poor at the Tour, he did seem to grow into the race as it progressed. However, he was then involved in a crash and that put a halt to things for him. If this was Kristoff of 2014 or 2015 vintage, there would be no point in having anyone else turn up as he would have this race in the bag. Can he roll back the years tomorrow? I’m sure he’ll be doing a rain dance tonight anyway!

Aside from those guys, there are plenty of riders who could get involved in a sprint including;

Drucker – Former winner, would need some of the faster guys to be distanced. In good form at the moment, picking up a win in Wallonie.

Theuns – I’m a big fan of his and without Degenkolb here he’ll now be designated sprinter. With De Kort and Stuyven he has a strong short lead-out. Does he have the legs to compete?

Cort Nielsen – After promising so much towards the end of last year he’s been a bit “meh” so far this season. A good climbing sprinter, he’ll probably want a tough race. If he’s not there, Orica might turn to Impey.

There are others, but I don’t want to list 20% of the start list!

Breakers/Late Attackers?

There are a few names I want to throw into the proverbial hat for this section.

Naesen.

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The Belgian Champion was one of the MVPs of the Tour, working selflessly for Bardet every day. Due to how well his team-mate was going, Naesen never got a chance to shine himself but tomorrow could be that day. AG2R arrive with an attacking team, as let’s be honest, Barbier isn’t going to win the sprint. A super strong rider on the short climbs and on the flat, he should be good enough to get into the moves.

Bauer.

A rider who earned a lot of my respect during the Tour, he often found himself last man standing as support for Dan Martin. Climbing better than ever before, he tried to get into the winning break on the penultimate road stage but just missed out. Quick Step don’t bring a proper sprinter as such, although that is doing Trentin a little bit of a disservice, so they’ll be trying to animate the race as much as possible. Bauer could be the man who makes it two in a row for them!

Van Baarle.

Another rider just out of the Tour, he was also climbing well on a few of the mountain stages, helping his team-leader Uran. Much more of a classics rider, tomorrow’s route suits him quite well and he is certainly a guy who can attack in the middle part of the race. Cannondale have an aggressive team and I expect to see Van Baarle on the move at some time. Will Tour legs benefit him?

Prediction

I really hope we see an attacking and exciting race but I think there will be enough motivation behind to bring things back for a sprint.

In that situation, I’ll go for a Bennett win.

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I’ll be waiting (possibly with bated breath) for a Bauer / Naesen / Van Baarle attack though…

Betting

No real value at the top of the order and if you’re to back a sprinter it is definitely an in-play day but I might avoid that completely.

Happy to have a gamble on two of my outsiders though;

0.5pt WIN on them both at B365;

Bauer @ 200/1

Van Baarle @ 100/1

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

 

Scheldeprijs 2017 Preview

The “festival of sprinting” returns again this year and once again we have a whole host of fast men on the start line.

Last year the race saw Marcel Kittel just edge out Mark Cavendish, with Andre Greipel coming home third.

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We had horrible conditions last year, with rain pounding the peloton almost all afternoon. Nonetheless, the sprinters weren’t deterred and we ended with the traditional bunch sprint, although only 28 riders finished within 10 seconds of Kittel.

More of the same this year?

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

The Route

The organisers have decided to honour Tom Boonen in his last Belgian race of his career, changing the traditional route, and starting the day in his hometown of Mol. They’ll do a local lap there before heading west towards Antwerp (Schoten).

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Parcours wise the race is pretty much pan-flat, but what else would you expect in a race that’s often dubbed as the unofficial sprinter’s world championship.

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Once we reach Schoten, the riders will complete laps of the same closing circuit that we’ve had for the past few years. This does feature 1.7km of cobbles but compared to what we’ll witness on Sunday in Roubaix, they should be of no real influence in the race unless they cause an untimely puncture.

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Positioning at the end of the race will be important due to the two 90-degree turns at 1.1km and 700m to go. We saw last year Quick Step lead through this part of the course with two riders in front of Kittel and he was dropped off perfectly at around 200-150m to go.

It’s also important to be at the head of the peloton so that you can take the shorter inside line through the sweeping bend at the finish line, rather than have to go around the rider in front.

Weather

The wind didn’t have much of an impact on the race last year but it was the rain which turned the day into one of attrition.

I’m sure the riders will be happy to know that it looks to be a dry edition this year. However, I’m intrigued to see if the wind has a bigger part to play with the changed route. I say this as the riders will be travelling in mainly the same direction (west) for the majority of the day before they reach Schoten.

 

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Forecast for Retie (78km done) Source: Windfinder

The constant 20km/h NW wind looks ideal to split the race up on some of the more exposed sections, as it will be a cross or cross-head wind for the peloton. Unfortunately for us the viewers, the riders won’t be traversing anything like De Moeren, and the road isn’t as exposed as I was hoping for! Nonetheless, there are some sections where there is no tree cover and open fields so fingers crossed for some splits. It all comes down to how aggressively the teams ride the course though, they can make it tough enough for echelons or ride at a more conservative pace and keep everything together.

Sprinters

Ultimately though, the race should come down to a sprint, barring something crazy happening, it’s just a case of how big the peloton will be. Most of the sprinters tend to be good in windy conditions so they should make the splits if we do get any echelon action!

Marcel Kittel will start as the big favourite. Last year’s winner and most successful rider in the history of the race, the German looked very good at the back-end of De Panne. His win in the sprint (stage 3A) after coming from far back was truly exceptional, and the performance in the TT wasn’t bad either. He’s the rider to beat! (Unless of course they decide to work for Boonen but that is very, very unlikely.)

Aside from the fantastically haired German, there are a lot of sprinters here looking to take his crown if he falters. Although notable in his absence is Mark Cavendish.

Andre Greipel, on paper at least, looks best of the rest. The Gorilla as he is affectionately known, was just putting in the training miles in Flanders on Sunday…He made his usual daredevil attack but was eventually brought back to heel. Nonetheless he managed to bag a top 20 and arrives here in good form. More importantly for him, he arrives with an almost full strength lead-out train that can challenge the likes of Quick Step.

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Smarting after his crash in Flanders, Peter Sagan may well want to have a hit out here before going on to Roubaix this Sunday. If he does, then he is fast enough to challenge after a tough day. Yet, he sometimes goes missing in this type of race, so Bora may turn to Matteo Pelucchi instead. Although, if Sagan sometimes goes missing, Pelucchi never turns up to start off with! A team to avoid backing with any sort of confidence.

One rider who is always confident in his abilities is Nacer Bouhanni. The Frenchman had a disappointing Paris Nice and had to drop out due to illness, but since then he’s looked good. People seem to forget how fast he is at times and is certainly a rider not to give an inch to because he will certainly take a mile!

Edward Theuns has performed consistently well here on his first two appearances, placing 2nd and 4th. He arrives with the full backing of his team and they have a strong lead-out train to support him. On stage 2 of De Panne he looked fast, but appeared to struggle in stage 3A when he looked to be very well positioned. Maybe it was a case of hesitancy? Or he just didn’t have the legs and is tired after his classics campaign? We’ll have to wait and see but I’ll certainly be watching with interest. A top 3 result would not surprise me!

Dwars door Vlaanderen

Dylan Groenwegen arrives after a fairly poor race in Limburg and he’ll be hoping to go much better tomorrow. He started the year off very strongly but is without a win yet this season which might dent his confidence a bit. Nonetheless, he is very talented in a tough race and if the wind blows you would expect him to make the split. In a tired peloton, he is a danger for the win. Like Bouhanni, he is fearless and will go for any gap if you give him half a chance!

Demare has a chance but he’s went off the boil since his barnstorming start to the year.

Bonifazio goes well when you least expect it, and I expect him to go poorly tomorrow. Top 5 result incoming!

Viviani is similar, he has been poor this year but might pop up with a top 5 if he follows the right wheel.

Planckaert, Jans and McLay will be in or around the top 10.

Prediction

I expect there to be a small-ish peloton fighting it out for the win again come tomorrow afternoon. Whether that be through the race breaking up due to the wind out on course, or just becoming disengaged and disinterested in the final lap of the race.

Kittel is the favourite and should win, but keep an eye out for a flying Frenchman too!

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Betting

No value in Kittel and almost tempted with the odds on Sagan, but…;

Bouhanni 1pt EW @8/1 with Bet365. (Wouldn’t take much lower, but you might get a better price from elsewhere later on, I’m just in a rush to get this published.)

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win? Will the wind play any part in the race? My Pais Vasco stage 3 preview will be out soon as well so keep an eye out for that. 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!

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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.