Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana 2019 Stage 1 Preview: Orihuela -> Orihuela (ITT)

European stage racing starts this Wednesday with the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana in Spain and the Etoile de Bessèges in France. Both races attract a solid line up of teams but given that it is early in the year, form is often difficult to figure out so we could see a surprise result. Or of course, Valverde just wins like he did last year.

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GC Overview

With a route tailor-made for him and a bonus second system in place, it does look hard for anyone to topple the reigning champion. The opening day TT will see some time gaps but they shouldn’t be too significant given the short nature of the race against the clock. Saying that, a climber who has started the season a little slowly could see the race already slip away from them if they don’t hit the ground running. Stage 2 could be a surprise GC day but it is more than likely going to be a reduced bunch sprint, with stage 3 the first day we should see some kind of selection and an uphill sprint finish that looks perfect for Valverde. The overall will be decided on the penultimate day of racing though with a tricky climb out of the town of Alcossebre where the better climbers will hope to come to the fore and steal the race title.

Valverde starts as the obvious favourite but there are certainly some strong teams here with multiple options that could put the World Champion under pressure. Firstly, we have an Astana trio of Izagirre, Sanchez and Bilbao who all should be there or thereabouts with the tough to control stage 3 a day where they will hope to utilise those numbers with aggressive racing. Likewise, UAE (Martin and Costa), Mitchelton (Yates and Haig) and Sky (Thomas and De La Cruz) have a couple of options to ensure that this isn’t a walk in the park for Valverde.

However, like night follows day, Valverde wins his “home” stage race again.

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Let’s take a look at what is in store for the riders on the opening day of racing.

The Route

An almost pan flat 10.2km individual time trial awaits the riders but they need to be wary as it does have a sting in the tail.

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The route can really be split into three sections. First, we have the largest section which comprises of the opening 7.8km and is a pure test of power.

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There are a few roundabouts on course through that section but they are few and far between, with the majority of the corners being able to be taken at full speed. This is where the stronger and more traditional TT riders will hope to build up an advantage.

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Next is a shorter section which has quite a few roundabouts and tight corners to traverse, so good technique and line choice here will be important. As the cliché goes, you probably can’t win the stage here but you can certainly lose it.

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Finally we have the closing 700m and a climb to the line. The strava/veloviewer profile that I made for the whole stage above is quite deceptive as there is no “descent” in the final climb. Instead, it is more of a false flat than anything else, so this Strava segment is a much better indicator of what it actually looks like.

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The riders will face some “cobbles” as they leave the town and onto the hill but it would be offensive to the Spring Classics to call them anything serious, more like slightly bumpy paved stones.

The steep gradients will be a bit awkward on a TT rig but nothing the riders haven’t dealt with before. At 600m it is short enough for the traditional TT riders to fancy their chances of powering up it, but it is also at a length where the climbers/puncheurs will hope to gain back some time.

I really like this TT course because there will be quite a few in the bunch that will fancy their chances due to the varied parcours.

Contenders

Tony Martin.

After a pretty disappointing two years at Katusha, by his normal standards, the German made a switch of teams in the off-season to Jumbo Visma. I for one am really looking forward to seeing what he can do this year on the Bianchi bike, as Jumbo have their TT rigs properly dialled in. A 10km TT that is mostly about pure power with a short climb at the end would be perfect for Martin of 2014/2015 but have his legs waned in recent years? We’ll just have to wait and see.

Geraint Thomas.

Last year’s Tour winner arrives here early in the season but with his main goal to try to retain his crown in France this summer, will he be at a high enough level to challenge? On paper this course is ideal for him and Team Sky are one of the top TT teams around so no doubt he’ll put in a pretty solid time but I think this will be more of a training race for him. He had a festive off-season by the looks of it with some photos of him appearing a little podgy compared to the skeletal standards of most GT contenders. Since then he has seemed to lose a some weight so he could well hit the ground running but I just can’t see it.

David De La Cruz.

Conversely, I think it will be Sky’s Spaniard that will be the best finisher for their team tomorrow. A solid debut season for the outfit last year saw De La Cruz take home the TT win in Andalucia as well as the final stage in Paris Nice. Going to the Vuelta as co-leader for the team, he will have been disappointed with the final outcome and hope to hit the ground running. His results in efforts against the clock last year were fairly consistent with him being in or around the top 15 for the majority of them. Tactically for Sky it will be useful for them to have two riders near the head of the race before we head to the more mountainous stages so I expect a good result.

Alejandro Valverde.

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Although the race isn’t technically a “home” race for the current World road champion, the opening stage in Orihuela is only a 20km cycle from his home in Murcia, so the Movistar man will want to do well here. In fact, on a training ride recently he did some reconnaissance of the final ramp so he is most definitely preparing well and taking it seriously. Normally you wouldn’t consider Valverde for a traditional TT but given the short nature, he always starts the season well, that kicker at the end, plus some friendly Spanish motos: he has a very good chance of taking the stage and holding the GC jersey throughout the race.

Nelson Oliveira.

Likewise, his Movistar team-mate will no doubt be looking forward to this hit out as well, with Oliveira starting the season well over in Mallorca; doing some good work for his squad and managing to bag a 6th place in Trofeo de Tramuntana. Still only 29, he’s very consistent in efforts against the clock with a 15th place finish being his worst result in 2018. My one concern about him is that he doesn’t win too much and he’s never tasted victory in a TT aside from his national championships. Is this the year he finally breaks that duck?

Ion Izagirre.

From one dud of a TT bike to another, Izagirre will hope that his legs can do the talking rather than the bike. Astana arrive here with a very strong squad to challenge for the overall so they need as many of them as possible to be near the top of the standings after tomorrow. Izagirre looks the most likely to challenge for the stage as he has the best TT out of the lot of them. Saying that, he wasn’t as strong last year as he had been in previous seasons so it will be interesting to see what he can pull off tomorrow.

There are a couple of Katusha riders who I’m looking forward to seeing how they fare: Tanfield and Goncalves. The former will get his first chance to show his mettle in a TT for his new WT team, while the latter on occasion has produced a great TT and the short but punchy climb should suit his characteristics. I don’t think either of them will win, but they should turn in decent performances. Van Emden is also another one who should do well but given that his climbing ability is pretty abysmal, he might lose quite a bit of time on that final rise. Tratnik steps up to the WT this year as well but how will he fare on that Merida bike? He’s one to watch for a top 10 anyway. Finally, I have my eyes on the young Portuguese rider João Rodrigues who rides for W52 and their new-found Pro Conti license. If this was La Grandissima he would be a shoe-in for a good result but it’s not, so we’ll see how he goes.

Prediction

Tony to roll back the clock? Sky to keep up that great TT record? Valverde to smash his “local” 10km? Nope, I’ll go with the Oliveira to get his first pro TT win narrative!

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After a good hit out in Mallorca, I think he’s ready to start his season proper with a bang. I’ll go for De La Cruz to finish second with Valverde in an ominous third.

Zweeler

Once again I’ll plug the blog sponsor Zweeler and their fantasy sports games. For Valenciana they have a competition open for the race, with the top 23 finishers (there are 200 teams entered already) guaranteeing themselves a return on their entrance fee. You can sign up to play it via this link here (which helps the blog out a little).

If you fancy yourself as more of a long-term prospector of cycling talent, their “1st period” game starts with Valenciana too. For that you have to pick a total of 30 riders from 6 different categories, with points being scored right through from Valenciana to the Tour of California. Due to the amount of entrants for the game so far the total prize pool has increased from €1500 to €1900, with the overall winner guaranteed a cool €350 from their €7 entry fee. If that tickles your particulars, then you can sign up to that via this link!

Betting

As for tomorrow’s stage, I’m going to keep it simple-ish as TTs early in the season can often be a bit tricky.

2pts WIN Oliveira @ 6/1 (With Betway)

1pt WIN De La Cruz @ 16/1 (With SkyBet)

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

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Tour de France 2018 Stage 20 Preview: Saint-Pée-sur-Nivelle -> Espelette

Today’s Recap

Guess they were saving the best until last?

Really enjoyable stage to watch that had a bit of everything. Both of the nominated riders (Jungels and Nieve) made the early break but because Jungels was there, Katusha decided to chase and keep it close before launching Zakarin on the Tourmalet. Landa, Bardet and Majka followed and they eventually bridged to the original break of the day. Attacks flew from both the break and the peloton on the trio of climbs but things would ultimately end up with a group of 10 cresting the last ascent together.

Roglic really piled on the pressure on the descent and the elastic eventually snapped, with the Slovenian taking the stage win and leap-frogging Froome onto the podium.

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Thomas came home in second to take even more time on Dumoulin with Bardet rounding out the podium for the day. Let’s have a look at what is in store for the rider’s tomorrow.

The Route

TT day and the last chance for a GC shake-up.

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A quick glance at the official profile would make you think that the TT has some mountains in it but the climbs are exaggerated a little. However, it is a very rolling day in the saddle and certainly not one for the typical TT powerhouse riders, well, the non-GC TT powerhouses.

As is tradition, I’ve made my own Strava/Veloviewer profile that you can view here.

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As you can see, it can certainly be described as rolling but almost more importantly the road seems to be constantly twisting. It might make it more difficult for some to maintain their tempo.

Facing a 1.2km climb that averages 6% only a few hundred metres into the day will set the tone for the riders. There are several more drags of 4-6% throughout the route but they only last for a few hundred metres. The biggest challenge they will face is the Col de Pinodiéta.

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On narrow roads the steep climb is followed by a quick descent and only a shade over 1km of flat to the line, although it does drag from around 400m to go.

Contenders

Has anyone in the peloton been saving themself for this effort? Possibly, but given the course and the way that the GC men are flying then I don’t think anyone else has a chance. Look at the final TT in the Vuelta last year for example. It was fairly easy with nowhere near as rolling a parcours as we have tomorrow and the top 5 on that day were the current top 5 on GC. I think we will see something similar here.

Tom Dumoulin.

Current TT World Champion, he is a class act when it comes to the time trial bike. He’s looked strong throughout this whole race which is a surprise to me as I thought his Giro exploits would have taken something out of him. Still, he finds himself too far back to win the title so the big battle will be with Roglic and Froome for the podium positions and potential order. He was a little disappointing in the Giro TT and I think he might disappoint a little tomorrow too. His words after the stage made him sound like he was a rider right on the limit and with the way others were going today, I don’t see him winning the stage. At least we’ll get to see his very nice aero position!

Primoz Roglic.

The silver medalist at those TT Worlds last year, he produced a blinder of a descent to take the stage today. It wasn’t just on the descent that he looked strong though as he put attack after attack on the climbs today. He wasn’t explosive enough to fully distance everyone but his good legs were clear for all to see. One of the best in the World at this discipline combined with his scintillating form, he starts the stage as favourite in my opinion.

Chris Froome.

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He’s looked even more ragged than normal over the past couple of days but he is still within touching distance of the podium. If there is anyone who can turn around their form in the peloton, it is him. Given what I have seen from him in recent stages I think he will fall short and not finish on the podium. However, I have been wrong about him in the past when I thought he was dead and buried, the TT at the 2016 Vuelta springs to mind.

Geraint Thomas.

Barring accident or any major (probably need several) mechanicals tomorrow, the Welshman has the GC wrapped up. The strongest rider in the race by far, he has fully taken advantage of his early GC position, just having to follow most of the attacks. However, he has shown with his two stage wins that he certainly has more in his locker than just the ability to attack. Will he want to push it and go for a third stage win in yellow? I think so.

Sky could quite easily put 5 riders in the top 10 with Castroviejo, Kwiatkowski and Bernal all potential challengers. Then look to the likes of Küng, Bodnar and Latour to make up the rest of the spots at the top of the order but I can’t see any of them winning it.

Prediction

The freshest rider in the race wins, Geraint Thomas crowns his Tour victory with a third stage.

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Roglic surpasses Dumoulin for second place on GC with the Dutchman just holding onto third.

Betting

2pts WIN Thomas @ 5/1

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

Tour de France 2018 GC Preview

Tour de France 2018 GC Preview

In 2017 we saw a rather dominant Chris Froome win by ‘only’ 54 seconds ahead of Rigoberto Uran with Romain Bardet edging Landa by one second to round out the GC podium.

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I say ‘only’ above as it was actually Froome’s smallest winning margin in all 4 of his victories so far, but he never looked in that much trouble throughout the three weeks. Obviously it was a measured effort so that he could go on to win the Vuelta later in the year, then the Giro this year. Can he make it an incredible 5th Tour win and 4th GT win in a row?

No fancy business here because as I’ll be doing daily stage previews I’m just ducking any route analysis here and just jumping straight into the favourites. I would recommend this preview from Road.cc though as they cover each stage in concise paragraphs. Much better than my ramblings!

I’m also going to be blunt with some riders as I don’t really rate their overall chances. Also you’ll have read many previews by now and if I’m honest, I can’t really bothered to rehash what others have said.

Anyway, onto the contenders and pretenders…

The Favourite 

Chris Froome.

Despite what your opinion is (I’m sure you all know mine by now) on the whole salbutamol case, the bottom line is that Froome is cleared and is here to race. Nothing like a bit of pre-Tour drama though with ASO apparently going to ban him before UCI/WADA announcing the following day that his case was dropped. More drama than Love Island!

At the Giro Froome was seemingly way off the pace but two remarkable days on the bike, Zoncolan and Stage 19, saw him claw back an almost 3 minute deficit to Dumoulin with some more left in the bag. With an extra week between the Giro and Tour, he should have recovered reasonably well. His team is super strong, as you would expect, and he will have a lot of support on the flat and in the mountains. It will be interesting to see how he can handle the cobbled stage – it will certainly bring back bad memories from crashing out in 2014. No doubt he starts as the favourite and will gain time in the efforts against the clock but can we really expect a rider to win four Grand Tours in a row? I hope not, for the sake of the sport.

The Waiting for Froome to falter-ers

Richie Porte.

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Can Richie survive a Grand Tour without a bad day? That is the million dollar question. If he does, then he will play a massive role in the outcome of this race. Arguably the best rider on a 15 minute climb in the World, he will hope to display some of that trademark out of the saddle “sprint-climbing” in this race. At the Tour de Suisse he was strong and took home that race but I get the sense that he still wasn’t at 100%, there is still room for improvement from him. Compared to what he has been used to in the past couple of seasons this looks like his strongest BMC support team. They have all terrain covered to shepherd Porte around France and he should be able to rely on Van Garderen and Caruso deep into many of the mountain days. I started off this season thinking that Porte would win the race and although my mind has been slightly changed, he still starts as one to beat if he stays on his bike.

Romain Bardet. 

The AG2R man has finished on the podium the past two years and will be hoping for a similar result this year, if not better. A third in the recent Dauphiné was a good and highlights that his form is heading in the right direction but that he has not peaked too soon. In last year’s edition of the race I loved the way AG2R attacked Sky in the mountains and they bring an even stronger squad with them this time out. He shouldn’t lose a crazy amount of time in the TTT as a result but I do have a slight worry for him on the cobbled stage. Then again, who of the GC contenders will truly be comfortable then? A big day is needed from Naesen! In the mountains he (alongside Porte) is one of the few riders I am confident can actually challenge Froome. With a few stages ending in descents from climbs, he will be in his element and certainly put pressure on the other GC contenders.

Nairo Quintana.

Is the Colombian back to his climbing best? It looks like it after his strong showing in the Tour de Suisse and he was particularly impressive holding off the group of GC contenders on the shallow drag before the final steeper ramps of Arosa. He forms a very strong attacking trident with Valverde and Landa and I’m really looking forward to see how they approach the race. I just hope that at least two of them are in contention after the cobbled stage. We saw in 2015 just how strong Nairo can be in the final week of the race in the high mountains and the rest of his challengers will be concerned if he is within 2 minutes going into the closing stages. No doubt we’ll certainly see some enthusiastic Colombian fans at the side of the road!

The Podium Outsiders

Right, shorter musings from now on.

Vincenzo Nibali.

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Winner of the Tour when the race last visited the cobbles, the Bahrain rider has had a pretty average year so far. However, he knows how to peak for a race and he can never be discounted. With a strong team to support him, we will probably see him on the attack as he will no doubt have to claw some time back after the TTT.

Rigoberto Uran.

A surprising second place last year, I think it will be hard for the Colombian to repeat the feat this time around. He found some race sharpness in Slovenia recently but I just don’t think he has enough to do it. Then again, no one really mentioned him last year and look what happened.

Alejandro Valverde.

Mr Evergreen, Valverde has been incredibly strong this season so far, having won the GC of every stage race he has competed in. It was scary how easy things were for him in the recent La Route d’Occitanie, using the attacks of Elissonde and Navarro as training – deliberately letting gaps grow so he could close them down. He’s another that will probably be chasing time after the TTT but I look forward to his venture onto the cobbles – he didn’t do too badly in Dwars this year.

Adam Yates. 

Have Mitchelton learnt from his brother’s epic collapse at the Giro? In strong form after his second in the Dauphine (the gap to Porte would have only be a handful of seconds if it was not for the TTT), he will be able to rely on a well-rounded squad focussed solely on him. Can he handle the pressure?

Jakob Fuglsang.

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If there was ever a year when Fuglsang could seriously challenge for a podium spot then this would be it. He has a solid team built around him that should be able to support him on most terrain. Back in 2014 he was the one doing the majority of the work when Nibali gained a load of time on the cobbles so no doubt he’ll be licking his lips at that stage. We saw in the Tour de Suisse that he was stronger than Porte on the last day of climbing and he followed that up with a blistering TT. Has he managed to hold form?

Top 10 Fillers

Ilnur Zakarin.

The Katusha man is one of those riders that could really fall into a couple of categories in this preview. I fear he’ll lose some time in the TT and given his poor bike handling the cobbles will be an issue too. However, we saw in the Vuelta last year that he was one of the best climbers in the last week. It all depends on the opening 9 days though.

Geraint Thomas.

Team Sky Plan B but when has a Team Sky Plan B ever actually won a race? I certainly can’t recall a time. Needs Froome to drop out within the opening 9 days for him to get a dedicated team around him. Will he wait for his captain on the cobbles as theoretically he should be one of the strongest GC riders. It will be interesting to see how it plays out within the team.

Bob Jungels.

I rate him as a rider but I feel he’s just going to be a “he’s there” kind of rider this Tour. Top 10 would be a good result.

Daniel Martin.

Terrible team means he will lose a lot of time in the TTT and he will lose a lot of time on the cobbles too. Stage hunting later in the race would be a good idea if he just doesn’t want to ride for a top 10.

Steven Kruijswijk.

See Jungels.

Bauke Mollema.

See Kruijswijk.

The Pretenders

Riders that won’t top 10 despite a lot of people thinking they will. Ready to eat my hat here.

Primoz Roglic.

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He seems to be everyone’s favourite wildcard for the race but I just can’t see it. Having won both Itzulia and Romandie he then returned to racing recently and took the crown at his home tour. Unproven and untested, I think he will once again go for stage wins and focus on contending for the GC in a GT next year.

Tom Dumoulin.

The Sunweb rider has never done two GTs back to back while going for GC. After the brutally tough Giro I think he will fall short here and instead focus on going for some stage wins. The way that Sunweb approached this race to me seemed that Kelderman was going to be their GC candidate with Dumoulin acting as a decoy to deflect attention but unfortunately Kelderman crashed and can’t take the start.

Mikel Landa.

The boldest of the three riders listed here, I just can’t get behind the Landa train. I think something will go wrong for him on one of the days and with the two more established Movistar riders possibly getting a little extra support, Landa will lose his hopes on the cobbles. If he is in contact though I would love to see Rogue Landa again.

Egan Bernal.

Exceptional talent but he’ll fall into line, a.k.a behind Thomas and Poels. We might see something similar to Moscon at the Vuelta where he is exceptional for a while but due to his age he won’t be consistent.

Prediction

Probably Froome, innit.

But after resigning myself to that fate at the Giro I’m going to predict a more fairytale result here and go with Bardet to take home the first French win in a long time.

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Allez Romain!

Betting

Three pre-Tour bets for me, all that I’ve tweeted out over the past couple of weeks.

2pts EW Bardet @ 18/1 for GC (he’s actually out to 20/1 with Betfair Sportsbook but I would take the 16/1 widely available elswhere)

1.5pt Valverde Top 3 at 7/1 (available at Bet365 and Will Hill)

1pt EW Demare Points Classification at 20/1 (with Coral/Lads)

I had set aside 10pts for outright market bets but this is not the year to bet on KOM pre race but I might fancy something during the race.

Let’s just hope for a better Tour than Giro punting wise, I’ll be sticking to my favourite rule: 2pts a day keeps the debt collector away!

Thanks for reading as always and hope you enjoyed the preview. Who do you think will go on to win the race overall? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Tour de France 2017 Stage 2 Preview; Düsseldorf -> Liège

Today’s Recap

Luck, bravery and a stonkingly strong effort from Thomas saw him take Yellow at the end of a very tricky and tough day.

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Don’t think many people would have predicted that!

Küng and Kiryienka rounded out the podium, with Froome being the best GC rider (not including Thomas of course), beating his closest rivals by around 25 seconds.

It was a course fraught with danger due to the wet and greasy surface which unfortunately meant several riders crash. The #HaugheyCurse already managed to rear its head on stage one with Roglic going down and ruling him out of stage contention. However, more disappointingly we’ve had two abandons in the form of Valverde and Izagirre, both of whom were top 10 contenders for the overall at the very least.

The organisers will be looking for a much more mundane day out tomorrow. Let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders.

The Route

A fairly flat day out where the sprinters should get their first chance to go for stage glory.

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We should see a fairly exciting start to the day as several riders will no doubt be gunning for the early KOM. After that though it should be a fairly benign day as they travel through Germany until the terrain starts to get more rolling once they enter Belgium and the province of Liège.

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We do have some uncategorised rises and a Cat-4 climb that crests with 20km to go but they should be of no difficulty to the fast men.

The run is a sprinters delight and I’m sure the GC riders will be happy with it too, no first road stage nervousness!

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Facing a few technical turns, the biggest difficulty is a right-handed turn at 3km to go. After that, it will be a drag race between the lead-out trains with the final kilometre being dead straight.

Weather Watch

One thing that could upset the apple cart though is the weather. We might have a few showers throughout the day and there are some consistent winds forecast throughout the day.

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Weather forecast for Aachen (Source: Windfinder)

Strong enough to create some echelons when the route is heading South/South-West (so most of the stage), I will be intrigued to see if any team tries to split it in the wind.

It’s quite hard to tell how exposed some of the course is due to the strange reason that Google Streetview hasn’t covered any of the area south of Mönchengladbach. Can anyone tell me why?!

Looking at the satellite images, it appears like flat German farmland that could be fairly exposed to the wind.

As for when the riders enter Belgium, we have typical small Belgian towns, some exposed roads but some fairly well sheltered.

I think it’s unlikely we’ll see any splits but you never know. Some teams/riders are already facing an uphill battle on GC so if they sense any opportunity they’ll go for it.

Sprint Contenders 

The first sprint of a Tour is always an interesting one as riders/teams aren’t sure of what to expect. Everyone will fancy their chances so it often leads to a rather chaotic finale. It will also be a cross-headwind finish so timing your effort will be important.

Marcel Kittel starts as the favourite for the day. The German has a team built to support him and it is arguably one of the longest proper sprint trains that we’ve seen in a Grand Tour since the HTC days. Quick Step will be able to put the power down in the closing few kilometres and with Sabatini (Kittel’s trusted lead-out man) dropping him off at 150m to go, will anyone be able to beat him?

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Arnaud Démare on current form looks like his main challenger, with the Frenchman dominant in his last few races. The reason I said “arguably” for Kittel’s lead-out is that Deémare will have everyone in his team apart from Pinot working for him. The signings of Cimolai and Guarnieri have really brought some high-end speed into the top end of the order. He might not beat Kittel when the German is up to full race speed but since he’s not raced in a while, Démare has every chance. I’m sure he’ll be doing his rain dance too!

Peter Sagan will be close to the top of the order, like always! He really seems to up his game in the sprints at the Tour and is one of the fastest riders here. Sagan doesn’t really have a lead-out train to the same extent as Kittel and Demare do but he still has some fire power. Selig will be his last man and he’s a rider who I’ve really rated this season, he’s done great work for Bennett etc, so he’ll be expected to continue that for Sagan here. Can the World Champion make an early claim for Green with a win?

Andre Greipel is a bit of a hit or miss character in the sprints recently and I think it is clear he’s sorely missing Henderson. Lotto Soudal shortened their lead-out train on the final day of the Tour last year and it seemed to work for them then so they’ve taken a similar approach this year. He’ll more than likely have to latch onto the back of someone elses lead-out and I think it will be tough for him to take the win, but he is certainly strong enough on his day to do so.

Mark Cavendish is the unknown quantity. He says he doesn’t know where his form is, although he most definitely will, and I’m intrigued to see how he copes. With a strong lead-out, he is almost capable of anything tomorrow. I would not be surprised with a win or if he was nowhere.

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Dylan Groenewegen has the speed and fearlessness to get himself a podium position. He recently beat Kittel and Greipel at Ster ZLM so will be full of confidence, although he did struggle at the Nationals recently. I think he would prefer the finish to be a bit more technical. He has a chance but it will be tough!

As for the rest, they should be there or thereabouts but I think it will be hard for them to win.

Prediction

Arnaud Démare to take advantage of his fine form while he can and take the win, sending the French public/media into disarray!

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Betting

As I said yesterday, today was most likely to be a no bet and it will remain that way. Almost tempted with a couple of loose change punts on Naesen and Lutsenko at crazy prices and do my wind dance. I think I’ll save my money though to waste on future stages!

Thanks as always for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated. Who do you think will win tomorrow? Can anyone beat Kittel? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

Giro d’Italia 2017 Stage 11 Preview; Firenze -> Bagno di Romagna

Today’s Recap

Wow!

I wrote Dumoulin off, thinking that with his improved climbing and poor recent TTs he might struggle a bit more here. I guess that was me just over thinking things and being even more eccentric than normal and in hindsight, I don’t really know why I did it!? I’m blaming being tired from work…

Nonetheless, it was a phenomenal performance from the Dutchman, he absolutely crushed the competition today!

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Only Thomas and Jungels could get within a minute of him.

It leaves Dumoulin with a commanding 2’23 lead over his nearest competitor, Quintana, on GC. Will that mean fireworks for the rest of the race?

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

The Route

A demanding stage with 4 categorised climbs over only 161km.

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Once the flag drops the riders have 15km of flat before they start climbing the Passo Della Consuma: 16.7km at 5.8%. Not the toughest start to a stage but not exactly easy, there are some steeper ramps involved within the climb itself.

Over the summit, the riders will the be descending or climbing for the rest of the day!

Next on the menu is the Cat-2 Passo Della Calla. Another long climb at 17.6km (if you take it from the TV where the road starts to rise), averaging 4.8%. Again, the first few kilometres lessen the average gradient and the final 2/3rds of the ascent is closer to a 6% gradient.

A long descent follows before the penultimate climb of the day, the Passo del Carnaio.

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11.5km long and averaging only 4.5% in gradient, it again doesn’t appear too difficult on paper. However, irregular climbs seem to be popular in this part of Italy and this one is no different, featuring 4km at 8.2%. Will any team try to split the race up on these steeper sections?

A sharp descent follows before the long climb of Monte Fumailo.

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A 23km long drag that averaging 3.7%, that gets steeper towards the top. The last 3kms before the summit clock in at 8.6%, with a peak gradient of 12% at the very last. A perfect launchpad before the descent that follows?

Aside from another short rise in the road half-way down the descent, the road falls all the way until 2.5km to go.

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Those final few kilometres are false flat all the way to the finish, but will we see a solo rider come to the line or will a small group contest the win?

How will the stage pan out?

Before today’s TT if I had to say what would happen then I’d say that it is a breakaway stage, no surprises there then!

However, with the massive gap Dumoulin already has, and with the prospect of him gaining another minute and a half on Quintana and co in the final time trial, meaning he has a theoretical 4 minute buffer, surely teams can’t wait until the last week? If they do leave it until those stages there is a chance they might run out of time and Dumoulin won’t crack. Plus, who knows what is going to happen with the weather and we might get an alteration to a stage etc!

Losing Kelderman is huge for Dumoulin and he will have to rely heavily on Haga and Ten Dam now. Are they good enough to control the peloton on a relatively tough day? I’m not so sure.

Some of the teams will need to go crazy on the opening climb of the day to try and isolate Dumoulin as much as possible, and continue on from there for the rest of the stage. If they do, then there is a chance that he could be left on his own on the final climb.

I wonder if there will be a few Directeur Sportifs on the phone to each other this evening?

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Contenders

I’m going to go with the assumption that we do get some aggressive riding from the outset and that there are only really GC guys left at the end of the stage. I’m also not going to name everyone as we could be here a while otherwise! So I’ll just throw a few names into the proverbial hat.

Geraint Thomas – I just can’t leave the Welshman out after his performance today, he was exceptional. Bouncing back from the horrible crash on Stage 9, he looked in fine form and now sits just outside the top 10 on GC. In a post stage interview he still put off the idea of him finishing on the podium, instead insisting on just attempting to win a stage. However, I think that was more to deflect attention away from himself and I’m sure those at Sky will still believe on him ending in the top 3. He should be able to cope with the climbs tomorrow given how good he has looked all season and is far enough down to not be immediately marked by those at the top of the order.

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Adam Yates – Another rider who was taken out on Stage 9, he produced a fairly good time trial today by his standards. The form is clearly there and like Thomas he could benefit from not being an immediate threat for the overall. In the past we have seen Orica try audacious tactics in Grand Tours and I’m hoping they try something again tomorrow. A fearless descender he has the ability to attack over the top and hold on to the finish. Furthermore, he’s not exactly slow for a GC rider so could feature in a very reduced sprint to the line!

Rui Costa – I’m progressively making my way down the GC standings here, with the Portuguese rider finding himself over 8 minutes behind Dumoulin. Supposedly he was never here for GC anyway, but his position will now give him more freedom. An attacking rider who likes to target a stage, tomorrow’s finish reminds me a lot of the stage into Gap he won at the Tour in 2013. Will we see a repeat of that performance?

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The #Wongshot

After many requests, the Wongshot returns for tomorrow’s stage. As it is a fairly unpredictable stage and anything could really happen, it is an ideal day to give it another go. Clement won’t be included in the list today, because you only get “Wongshot” after all…

So today’s rider is…

Dylan Teuns.

Not a bad breakaway candidate if things go that way tomorrow. With Van Garderen struggling on the overall and it looking as if he’ll only go backwards, BMC will now probably turn their attention to chasing stages. Teuns is a solid climber, his third place at Fleche is testament to that, and if he makes the right move he has ever chance. A punchy rider, he could win a small group sprint to the line from the break!

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Prediction

GC teams to go wild in an attempt to isolate Dumoulin, but it will be hard to drop him. Nonetheless, it will create opportunities for someone to attack and I think Yates will prosper out of the situation. Let’s just hope no inflatable Flamme Rouge sign gets in the road again!

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Betting

1pt WIN on;

Yates @ 33/1

Thomas @ 33/1 

Both with Bet365 and I’d take 25/1 lowest.

 

Thanks as always for reading and as usual any feedback is greatly appreciated. How do you think the stage will pan out tomorrow? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

Giro d’Italia 2017 Stage 10 Preview; Foligno -> Montefalco

Rest-Day Recap

Quintana won the stage on Blockhaus after a very impressive display, but almost equally impressive were Pinot and Dumoulin who only shipped 24 seconds to him on the day. I’m sure the Colombian won’t be as pleased with that outcome as he is in the picture below!

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As for the motorbike incident that has been a talking point for the last day here are, erm, My Two Spokes Worth.

The bike should obviously have never been pulled over in that place, heck, even if it was pulled over further ahead to give the riders time to adjust, considering it was pulled up roughly 100m after a bend. It seems to be far too regular occurrence in cycling nowadays but as Brian Smith said on Eurosport, organisers and governing bodies can’t keep saying, “something needs to be done”, they need to actually take action. I’m sure the motorbike driver will be well aware of the outcome and will no doubt feel pretty shit but this whole trial by social media isn’t going to help anything.

As for those saying Movistar should have waited: the race was on and they had been pulling for the past 30km. It wasn’t as if they suddenly came to the front when it happened to take advantage. If a majority of the field had come to grief then they might have stopped, but I see no issue with what they did. Should we see sprint trains stop as they approach the end of the race due to crashes caused by barriers that protrude onto the road?

Thankfully none of the riders were seriously injured, although Kelderman and Rosa were unfortunately DNFs because of it. Nonetheless, I’m sure it won’t be the last we’ll see of Thomas, Yates and company this race as they’ll possibly animate later stages.

Right, now that’s out the road, let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders tomorrow.

The Route

A rolling 39.8km TT, but certainly not the most difficult in terms of climbing.

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As is TT tradition, I’ve made the route on Strava that you can view here, for those of you that prefer a more interactive profile.

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Interestingly, the organisers have tweaked the route ever so slightly since it was originally announced; making the first climb easier and removing a tricky second climb.

The riders will start with over 12km of flat as they leave Foligno before tackling the first climb on the route. Averaging 3.2% for 5.2kms, it should be a seated effort for most of the riders. However, it does go up in sections and there are some ramps of 6-7% so the change of gradient might catch a few riders out.

From there, the riders will continue along a plateau before another small kick up (900m at 4%) before a quick descent. The road then undulates for the following 10km with a few shallow rises but nothing too severe, before the riders start the drag to the line.

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According to the official profile it is a 5.75km rise averaging 2.17%, whereas my Strava profile indicates that it’s 4.8km long at 3%. Not a massive discrepancy but nonetheless there is a slight difference. Either way, it is a climb for the strongmen of the peloton who are able to put a lot of power down in the shallower gradients, especially when you consider it will be into a headwind!

The weather in Foligno has been a talking point today with there being severe thunderstorms…

However, it is supposed to be dry tomorrow and we should get even conditions for most of the riders. Will the roads have cleared up by then?

Contenders

With this type of course being suited to a more powerful rider, I think a few of the GC contenders (pure climbers), could lose a lot of time. Will that be to anyone else who’s in contention for the title though?

Well, Tom Dumoulin starts as the bookmakers favourite and it is understandable why. He looked exceptionally strong on Blockhaus and is clearly flying on the climbs right now. Will that translate to a good TT though? I’m not so sure. He’s been struggling recently with his time trial, and hasn’t looked great in them since his silver medal at the Olympics last year. Having lost a lot of weight to stay closer to the best on the climbs I think he might struggle on the flatter parcours tomorrow, which is reassuring actually! I am looking forward to seeing him in action though, he does look effortless on a TT bike.

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Bob Jungels will hope to recover some of the time he lost on Blockhaus tomorrow with a good performance. At last year’s Giro, he was comfortably the best GC rider in the atrocious conditions in Chianti, putting over a minute into Dumoulin. This type of route suits him very well as one of the more “heavy-set” GC riders. Exceptionally strong on the flat, windy stage 3 into Cagliari, I think he’ll podium tomorrow.

Vasil Kiryienka loves a long TT although he hasn’t really been able to show his strength since winning the World Championships in 2015. With Team Sky’s GC hopes looking less likely, I think they’ll give Kiryienka the nod to go full gas. He’ll eat up the flat and the climbs. Plus, his experience will be very valuable so that he paces himself well and doesn’t blow up on the final drag to the line.

Thibaut Pinot is a solid TTer and he will hope to take time over his GC rivals on this course, especially Quintana. He was up there on a similar style of course in Andalucia at the start of the year, although that stage was a 3rd of the distance. That is where my issue lies with him, he’s unproven over longer TTs. He won’t lose much time I don’t think, but he certainly won’t gain any over the likes of Jungels etc.

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Geraint Thomas will be hoping to bounce back with a good time tomorrow. One of the reasons I had backed him pre-race for the podium is because of the amount of TT kilometres in the race. This type of strong-mans course should suit him well, but will he suffer the same issues with weight that Dumoulin might?

Other GC names to throw into the hat are Amador and Zakarin who can both pull off a good TT on their day.

Away from the GC guys watch out for Lotto Jumbo pairing of Campenaerts and Van Emden, who will no doubt be going full gas to give Kruijswijk the best possible reference times. The same can be said for blog favourite Ludvigsson!

Prediction

Bold as ever, but I genuinely don’t think Dumoulin wins. He’s struggled in TTs since losing weight and I think there are riders here better equipped for this type of course, Jungels to name one.

However, I’m not going for him, instead I think Kiryienka will be let off the leash to have a proper go tomorrow.

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It would be a great way for Sky to bounce back after what happened on Stage 9. The Belarusian is a brute of a rider and he’ll eat up any terrain that is in front of him. He is truly exceptional on the longer individual efforts!

Betting

Now the question is whether to play it “safe” and take him EW or just go for win only. Playing it safe means doubling the stake and doubling the potential loss if he just doesn’t bother trying at all. So from that perspective, I think I’ll just take him straight up with what I would put on as an EW bet but just put that stake on outright.

3pts WIN Kiryienka at 8/1 with Coral (would take down 7/1 available elsewhere)

Thanks as always for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated. Who do you think will win tomorrow? Will there be large time gaps between the GC riders? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Giro d’Italia 2017 Stage 9 Preview; Montenero di Bisaccia -> Blockhaus

Today’s Recap

The break just managed to hold on and Izagirre took his first World Tour win after a battle between his fellow escapees saw Conti crash in the closing kilometre. Visconti got close to finish second, with Luis Leon Sanchez coming home in third.

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Will the breakaway riders have their fun tomorrow, or will the GC riders come out to play properly? Let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders.

The Route

A slightly hilly but mainly flat start to the day. The stage is all about the final climb and the approach to it.

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The road starts rising at 25.9km to go and if you take it from that point, then it averages a shade under 6% for the duration; that’s tough!

However, the “official” start of the climb is with 13.6km left.

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Averaging close to 8.4% it is a killer of a climb. Even more so when you consider that for 8.5km it averages 9.4%! You would expect the middle section to be the more decisive part of the climb as it features the steepest ramps of the day at 14%. The closing kilometre does level out a bit so if we get a couple of riders come in together then there is a chance of an uphill sprint.

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Unlike on Etna, it looks as if we will get a West/South-West wind tomorrow which means that it will be a tail or cross tail for most of the climb. Hopefully this will make for some attacking riding!

How will the stage pan out?

It’s really hard to tell and if anyone confidently tells you how it will pan out, they’re lying.

With there being a rest day on Monday followed by the TT on Tuesday, you would expect that the GC guys will go crazy, knowing that their team won’t have to put in any extra work until Wednesday.

Yet, we’ve already witnessed a lack of willingness to chase from the bunch.

They should have been able to claw back Polanc on Etna but there was a lot of stop-starting and I fear we might see the same tomorrow. Not to the same extent, but they might let the break drift up the road before going crazy behind. Therefore we could well see a race on two fronts.

Breakaway Candidates

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To win the rider will obviously have to be a good climber, but with the rolling terrain at the start it might be hard for some of the really light guys to make it.

Nonetheless, I’ll throw a few names into the mix, nothing extensive.

Cristian Rodriguez – I’ll give the Wilier rider another chance on a stage that should suit him more. He was climbing with the best on Etna and as he is no threat for the overall he could be given the leeway in the break.

Matvey Mamykin – Katusha were obviously annoyed to have missed the break today and I’m sure they won’t make the same mistake again. The young Russian is surprisingly good at finding himself in the right move, but he’s failed to take advantage yet. Can he turn it around tomorrow? A big win is on the horizon for him.

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Kenny Elissonde – It would be very unlike Sky to send someone up the road on a stage like this at the Tour, but it is the Giro so they might have a change of plan? With someone up the road, they can play the “we’re not going to chase” card, conserving energy behind. Elissonde is sprightly enough to win from a break, but he’s way down on GC so he is no concern for the other teams.

Natnael Berhane – Dimension Data have been ever-present in breakaways throughout the Giro, only missing out on a few stages. Berhane has been relatively anonymous so far but he wasn’t too far off the GC guys on Etna. Maybe he’s been saving himself for this stage?

GC Riders

The GC battle is hard to figure out, there’s been a lot of poker playing going on so far.

I’m still unsure whether they’ll chase hard behind to set up the stage win. Nonetheless, if for stage glory or not, you would have to expect the weaker TT riders to have a go to try to gain some time before they inevitably lose it again.

Yates is one that springs to mind, he’s been looking good so far. Will Quintana turn on the afterburners and just blitz everyone? What about the Sky 1-2? Landa made a probing dig today, will we see a similar situation, with Thomas sitting in behind ready to counter. FDJ did a lot of pace making in the closing part of today’s stage so they must confident in Pinot’s current form.

Of course, anyone else from the list of favourites could go well, or they could crumble. It really is an open day of racing. I’m just hoping that makes it exciting and open, not a dull and defensive day in the saddle.

Prediction

As you can probably gather by now, I’m not really sure what to make of this stage! I’ll go for a race on two fronts, with the breakaway holding out for the win after getting an insurmountable lead.

Berhane to seize the day!

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Betting

Another day I don’t want to get overly involved with so small 0.25pts WIN punts on each of the break candidates;

(All with B365)

Elissonde @ 250/1

Rodriguez @ 200/1

Mamykin @ 300/1

Berhane @ 250/1

 

Apologies this is a bit shorter than usual, there’s not much to talk about Route-wise and I’m in a rush to get this finished. Normal service shall resume for the TT! Who do you think will win tomorrow, will it be the break or a GC rider? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.