Tour de France 2018 Stage 18 Preview: Trie-sur-Baïse -> Pau

Today’s Recap

Shock horror, the grid start was terrible. Nothing exciting really happened from it and nothing great really happened until the final climb. A group of attackers had got away on the opening ascent and it was Tanel Kangert who was the last man standing out of them. However, he was swallowed up and past on the climb by a flying Nairo Quintana. The Colombian followed an initial attack by Dan Martin and dropped the Irishman not long after that move. However, Martin dug in deep and stayed almost consistently 20 seconds behind the Movistar man. With a lot of small attacks followed by looking around and Sky tempo in the Yellow Jersey group, the duo stayed ahead to finish 1-2 on the day.

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Thomas came home in third place after following Roglic’s late attack, before going on to drop the Slovenian and Dumoulin. One of the big shocks of the afternoon was Froome struggling with the reigning champion losing 45 seconds on his team-mate. Bardet also had a “jour sans” and dropped three places in the GC.

It should be a rest day for the overall candidates tomorrow though as a flat day in the saddle awaits.

The Route

Pretty dull day for the viewers with only two Cat-4 climbs on the route.

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I mean there’s not really much to talk about here at all. The final categorised climb that crests with just under 19km to go could be a springboard for an attack but that’s about it!

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There are a few roundabouts to contend with in the closing five kilometres, including one as they just pass under the Flamme Rouge.

As you can see on the video above though, that given the wide roads the roundabouts aren’t really a massive issue. That is assuming we even get a sprint though…

How will the stage pan out?

With Sagan taking a tumble today there is a chance that he will just want an easier day tomorrow, especially when you consider he already has three stage wins under his belt and the green jersey sewn up: if he makes it to Paris. Démare has really struggled these past few days and no doubt will be knackered so will FDJ pull all day for a sprint that he might not win? Ironically with the two better sprinters on paper not in tip-top shape it might actually encourage a few other teams to try to control the break in an effort to set up their man. Maybe Kristoff can nab that win he so desires?

However, I think the likelihood is that we will see a break make it all the way to the line tomorrow as no one will have the energy to chase them down. I’m not too sure if it will be one of those massive breaks that gets let go and the group might be surprisingly small, but you never know. I think it might be 10-12 riders who sneak away.

Time to play everyone’s favourite game again…

TheBreakawayLottery

Break Candidates

It will be interesting to see who gives it a nudge to go in the break tomorrow as the flat route could bring some new names to the fore as the puncheurs take a back seat and wait for Friday. So here goes nothing…

Maciej Bodnar.

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Strong the other day to help pull the break along for his team-mates, the easier terrain should suit him down to the ground. A powerful rider who is often seen at the front of the bunch pacing the peloton, will we see him ahead of the bunch tomorrow? I imagine Bora will be in an attacking mood if Sagan is feeling sore.

 

Thomas De Gendt.

Mr Breakaway, this morning De Gendt talked about having a quieter day  before having a tilt at tomorrows stage as he thinks the sprint teams will be too tired to control the race. He was on the fruitless attempt when Sagan won his last stage but any move that he makes is dangerous. With Stage 19 possibly too difficult for him, tomorrow is his last chance for a win and he’ll go all in.

Oliver Naesen.

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With Bardet struggling today, Naesen might be given a free role in a stage that suits him as one of the strongest barodeurs in the peloton. He’s barely had a chance to show what he is capable of so far in this race and as a result he might want to put on a good performance. If it comes down to a 5 rider sprint he will take his chances.

Julien Vermote.

Dimension Data have had a terrible race so far with no real result to speak of. They could possibly look to a sprint with Boasson Hagen tomorrow but going on the offensive is their best chance. Vermote is another one of the peloton’s strong men so getting into the flat break should suit him well. When he gets into situations like this he is quite tenacious so expect him to ride in an attacking manner.

Prediction

No firepower left to set up the sprint and the breakaway maestro takes another Tour stage win. Step up Thomas De Gendt!

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Betting

0.75pt WN De Gendt @ 100/1

0.75pt WIN Naesen @ 100/1

0.25pt WIN Bodnar @ 300/1

0.25pt WIN Vermote @ 500/1

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think has a chance tomorrow? Will the sprinters come to the fore or will the break succeed? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

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Tour de France 2018 Stage 11 Preview: Albertville -> La Rosière Espace San Bernardo

Today’s Recap

Damp squib GC wise with no-one really testing the water, it was more a case of them all looking at it from the picnic blanket. Nonetheless, we did see some guys lose time already which is not great.

As for the stage win there was no-one stopping Alaphilippe today, he was truly sensational. He was one of the main riders driving the early attempts to get into the break and he didn’t stop all day. Eventually going solo on the foot slopes of the Colombière after bridging to and dropping Taaramaë, he continued to increase his lead over the rest of the breakaway and had plenty of time to celebrate by the time he reached the line.

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Ion Izagirre won the two-up sprint with Taaramaë for second place on the day. A special hat-tip must go to Van Avermaet who went on the attack today just like he did back in 2016 and he managed to extend his lead in the yellow jersey. Can he hold on to it after tomorrow’s stage? Let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

Second day in the Alps and we have the shortest stage of the three and a carbon copy of Dauphiné stage 6.

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The organisers have managed to pack four categorised climbs into 108.5km of racing, including two HC-Cat efforts, totalling a tad over 4000m of elevation. That’s an awful lot, maybe too much. It is a bit of a weird day but in terms of average gradient the climbs are almost inverted with the toughest ascents coming at the start of the day.

Facing an uncategorised drag from the gun it isn’t long until the riders start climbing proper and they face the Montée de Bisanne.

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At an average of 8.2% for 12.4km it is pretty tough to say the least but the second half of the ascent is the toughest. Several kilometres where the gradient is above 9% might see plenty in the peloton struggle.

A long descent follows before they start climbing again.

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The Col du Pré and Cormet de Roseland can pretty much be rolled into one. The Pré is another long climb which averages 7.7% but it is again the latter two-thirds of it that are more difficult with an average of roughly 9%. A short descent and plateau follows before they hit the easier Roseland. Given what they have covered already, the 6.5% average will seem easy!

A long 20km or so descent then sees the riders hit the final climb of the day.

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The hardest part of the climb comes in the middle third but with an easy 4.5km at roughly 4.7% at the end of the stage, will we see any GC riders try to go early? If not, then it will be hard to drop anyone later on.

How will the stage pan out?

A short stage could mean some GC attacking from the gun but as we saw today, everyone was being very cagey and defensive on the climbs. Not that they could do much as Sky set a strong tempo to try to deter attacks. We’re really none the wiser as to the bigger GC picture from today aside that the guys dropped this afternoon came out of the rest day a little shaky.

Sky looked ominously strong this afternoon and took a stranglehold on the race. If they wanted to bring back the break then they could have but they played a good tactical hand by letting Van Avermaet increase his lead, hoping that he can stay in Yellow for at least another day. This doesn’t put as much pressure onto the British outfit to chase but they theoretically have Thomas in yellow who sits close to 50 seconds ahead of his nearest rival. They’re sitting very pretty at the moment.

A lot of people will have hope that the shorter stage tomorrow will entice crazy GC attacks but we saw today no-one was willing to risk anything, it is too early in the Tour for that. I think it will be a similar scenario tomorrow with the GC riders waiting until the final climb to give it a go.

Therefore it is up to Sky to chase the break down if they want the stage win. They are very good at utilising their resources well and we have seen a shift in their mindset over the past season and they don’t necessarily want to go for every stage. I think they let the break go tomorrow with all eyes on Alpe d’Huez on Thursday.

So time to play everyone’s favourite game…

TheBreakawayLottery

Damiano Caruso.

It was a solid effort from the BMC rider as he stuck with the GC favourites group up until the very end of the Colombière when he was dropped along with the likes of Majka and Mollema. With Porte no longer in the race then BMC are hunting stages and Caruso looks like one of their best options for tomorrow. He sits 11 minutes down on GC so is not an immediate threat and will be given some leeway. Furthermore, he has the advantage of racing this stage in the Dauphiné so should know what to expect out on the road. Can he seize the opportunity now that he has the chance or his own goals?

Gorka Izagirre.

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Having his best ever season, the newly crowned Spanish champion watched his brother up the road today and will possibly want in on some of the action tomorrow. Nibali clearly isn’t afraid of sending some of his stronger domestiques up the road and I think we will see something similar with Gorka. If he is on a similar level to those Spanish championships then the final climb is perfect for him as the Bahrain rider packs a very good sprint from a reduced group and he would fancy himself from the break.

Daniel Martinez.

With Uran losing time toady I expect EF Education to go on the attack tomorrow and they have two potential stage winning candidates. The first of those is the youngster Martinez who transferred from Willier in the winter. A strong climber and great talent he might use his slight anonymity to his advantage if up ahead. Although I don’t know how anyone is able to keep a low-profile in a bright pink jersey! He’s showed some strong GC results this year already but can he take that elusive win?

Pierre Rolland. 

The experienced Frenchman is bound to find himself in the breakaway over the coming few weeks so why not start with tomorrow?! He has arrived at this race in good form with a solid 8th place showing overall in the Dauphiné. Now with the opportunity for more freedom, he will hope to replicate that level of performance on stage 11. He broke his several season GT winning duck last year when he won a stage during the Giro and that will certainly have given him a lot of confidence. I’m sure the French public would love back to back winners.

Prediction

Another GC stale-mate, at least for the stage anyway, as everyone waits for Alpe d’Huez. Instead, we will see Damiano Caruso winning the day, after taking advantage of some new-found freedom in this race.

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It wouldn’t be a bad place to pick up your first WT level stage win!

Betting

I don’t fancy some of the guys I’ve listed at their current odds so at the moment I’m just going to go with…

0.5pt EW Gorka Izagirre @ 200/1.

Will post anything else up on Twitter later if I fancy some other riders not listed here etc.

 

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Tour de France 2018 Stage 10 Preview: Annecy -> Le Grand-Bornand

Rest-day Recap

Despite the chaos of many mechanicals and several crashes, the majority of the GC riders got through the cobbles unscathed. It was only Porte who abandoned and Uran that lost a reasonable amount of time. I’m sure most would have been happy with the outcome!

As for the stage win, a trio of riders escaped in the closing kilometres and went on to contest the finish. Degenkolb was left to open up the sprint from the front but he proved too strong for Van Avermaet and Lampaert, taking his first Grand Tour stage win since the 2015 Vuelta.

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It was nice to see him on the top step again after it looked for a while that he would never return to his best after the crash.

With several mostly flat stages behind them, the riders attention turns to the mountains tomorrow as we enter the Alps. Let’s have a look at what awaits them.

The Route

No case of easing yourself into it here as we have 4200m of climbing in only 158km worth of racing.

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The day features five categorised climbs but the lowly Col de Bluffy pales into insignificance compared with what is to come. I would expect a big fight to get into the breakaway and we might not see the move go until the Col de la Croix Fry (11.3km at 7.1%). From there it is a long descent before the road kicks up rather nastily with the very tough looking Montée du plateau des Glières. Averaging a painful 9.7% for 6.8km, the main crux of the climb is actually 11% for 6km!

A little plateau follows before a descent to the uncategorised Col des Fleuries (5.5km at 4.7%) which starts with 74km to go. Don’t expect much to happen over the next 30kms or so as riders and teams will regroup before the fireworks in the final 40km of the day.

Romme : Colombiere

Taken alone the Romme and Colombière are difficult climbs but when they are combined together with only a 5km descent in between then they become very difficult. In the space of 22kms the riders will climb a total of 1400m. The descent will only offer a very limited time to recover, especially if you are already on the limit and someone decides to push on. Taking both the climbs together and removing the descent then it is 17kms at 8.2%. With the steeper gradients coming near the top of the Colombière it is a perfect place for some GC riders to launch attacks and distance some rivals.

Once over the top 12kms of descent await the riders before a flat-ish run to the line.

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The descent will be fast with the average gradient being roughly -6% for the duration of the 12kms. There are some tight hairpin turns but they seem coupled together.

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The final 2kms are mainly flat and the riders will have to be very wary of this turn that comes with just 1.5km to go. It is tight and as we saw earlier during the race those corners are never ideal. Thankfully, we shouldn’t see a massive group arrive here together. The last 1km drags up ever so slightly at 1.2% but the final 200m are at almost 8%. A nice little kicker to settle the day!

How will the stage pan out?

The first real mountain test of the Tour and it comes after the first rest-day. We’ll no doubt see some riders perform above expectations and some perform worst. Who will suffer the infamous jitters?

The age-old question of “break or no break?” for the stage win once again arises. It really is in the balance.

I tried to do some research on mountain stages after the first proper rest day of GTs. There were 6 definite mountain days, with one of them (Vuelta 2017) borderline but probably not given it only had a couple of climbs at the end of the day. Four of the six stages finished with a GC rider winning and it was only Giro 2016 (Ciccone) and Vuelta 2015 (Landa) that saw a break stay out. Even then, the latter was the only surviving member of the break with GC riders filling out the rest of the top 10.

That means Giro 2013, Tour 2014/2015 and Vuelta 2016 were all GC days when there was a mountain stage after the rest day.

Something to think about: a 66:33 split in favour of the GC contenders winning.

Given the current GC standings relative to Thomas, almost everyone will still think of themselves in contention for the title or podium come Paris at this moment in time. Only Van Garderen is really out of it. It could in theory lead to some defensive and tactical racing if everyone just wants to mark each other out, especially with the tough two days to come.

However, I think we will see some aggressive racing tomorrow between the GC guys as they will want to test the waters as to who is going well and who might have come out of the rest day not feeling in tip-top shape.

The Romme/Colombière double ascent should be tough enough to cause some splits if a team or two decides to push the pace on. Although Sky aren’t actually in the yellow jersey, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them ride tomorrow as if they were; taking control of the bunch and not letting the break have much leeway. As much as I want other teams to take control early, it will be Sky that decides if the break makes it or not because no one else has the firepower to keep a lid on things until the final two climbs, unless of course we have an alliance between a few squads.

Sky are notorious for going well on the first mountain stage of the Tour; in 2012 Froome won on Belle Filles with Wiggins third; in 2013 Froome and Porte finished 1/2 on Ax 3 Domaines; in 2015 Froome and Porte once again finished 1/2, this time on La-Pierre Saint-Martin.

They’ve actually not been as great recently with them allowing the breakaway win in 2016 (although Froome won a tougher mountain stage the next day) and Aru winning on Belles Filles last year. Have they changed their approach? Possibly, but I think Froome will want to lay down a marker to everyone else in the race but more importantly to his team-mate Thomas, and show him that there is only one leader in the team.

We also then have the Movistar trident to consider. Is it too early for them to go on the attack? Absolutely not. They need to be as aggressive as possible to wear down the Sky train so I fully expect them to go for it tomorrow.

Right, I’m nailing my colours to the mast and going for it to be a GC day and as I’ve rambled on for a while now I’m only going to name two guys who I think might be involved in the finish tomorrow.

MyTwoPicksWorth

Rigoberto Uran.

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An incredible second last year, Uran has been a bit off the pace this season but he has been slowly riding himself into form for this Tour. In 2017 he won a mountain stage that had a sprint to the line and will no doubt back himself for tomorrow if he arrives in a small group. He was the unfortunate GC rider who crashed at the wrong time on Sunday and it meant that the pace was on and he lost over a minute and a half to his rivals. That will have hurt him as the team rode fantastically in the TTT to put him in a very good position overall. Uran is a competent bike handler who is also attacking when he needs to and I think we’ll se him give it a nudge tomorrow.

Dan Martin.

 

Already a winner at this race on stage 6, the Irishman finds himself the furthest back of the GC contenders mainly due to a crash on stage 8 that saw him lose 1’16 to the rest of the peloton. A very attacking rider, Martin was flying in last year’s Tour until he was involved in Porte’s crash that ultimately put him out of contention due to riding with injury for the following 2 weeks. He still managed to finish 6th overall then, not a bad result! This year he has struggled but from the limited bits that we have seen from him since then he seems to have found his mojo again and looks the lively Martin that we all know. He won’t want to wait a few days to test the waters and given that he is quite far back from the rest of the contenders, he might just be given the freedom by them to go on the attack. There won’t be many who can match his kick up the small ramp to the finish.

Prediction

Dan Martin to take his second stage win with a perfectly timed late attack. Some GC riders will falter tomorrow but I have no idea who, it should be a great watch!

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Betting

One of those stages where it is probably best to back something in-play but for the sake of the blog and the spreadsheet:

1pt WIN Martin @ 14/1 (can get 20/1 on the exchange – would recommend)

1pt WIN Uran @ 33/1 (can get 44/1 on the exchange – would recommend)

Both of those prices are with 365 but they are pretty similar elsewhere. I would obviously recommend going on the exchanges if you can as the odds are much better there!

Thanks as always for reading. Who do you think is going to win tomorrow and how? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

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

Today’s Recap

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

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

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

Onto tomorrow!

The Route

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Team Tactics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Belgian Cobble-trotters

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

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

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

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

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

The Two Cobbled Kings

Van Avermaet.

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

Peter Sagan.

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

The Outisde Picks

Yves Lampaert.

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

Edvald Boasson Hagen.

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

Prediction

I’m going for a Jasper Stuyven win though!

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

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

Betting

1pt EW Stuyven @ 28/1 

0.25pt EW EBH @ 33/1

0.5pt WIN Lampaert @ 18/1

All with Bet365

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

Buy Me A Beer

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

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Tour de France 2018 Stage 2 Preview: Mouilleron-Saint-Germain -> La Roche-sur-Yon

Today’s Recap

The Tour is the Tour.

I thought it would be hectic and we might see few spills but that was even crazier than I imagined. Démare was one of the first involved in a crash which also saw Yates and Porte held up but that was the end of the French sprinters chance to take yellow and he rolled home in almost last place. Another rider cruelly struck down by the now infamous #HaugheyCurse. Bernal went sideways when the road narrowed, then Froome took a tumble into a field and joined the chasing group of Porte/Yates. Meanwhile, Quintana suffered a double mechanical just outside the 3km to go mark, awful timing, and he was swiftly passed on by that group as he waited for assistance.

All while that was going on behind Quick Step were tearing things up at the front of the peloton and their young sprint sensation Fernando Gaviria took home the win on his very first Tour stage, not a bad record that.

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It really was a special lead out and gallop to the line. Sagan was second with a fast finishing Kittel showing a glimpse of his old self with third.

Behind the majority of the GC contenders made it home together aside from Porte/Yates/Froome who lost 51 seconds, Quintana/Bernal who lost 1’15 and Latour who lost 2’11.

Will we see any more spills tomorrow or will all of the sprinters get a fair run at it? Let’s look at what lies ahead.

The Route

A slightly more rolling day but another nailed on sprint finish.

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Nothing overly exciting until we get to the final 5km again.

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The road twists and turns through the streets of La Roche-sur-Yon with several sharp turns and roundabouts to negotiate. Once again there is a good smattering of road furniture so the riders will have to be wary at all times. Things could once again get messy.

You can see a Streetview fly through of the final 5km on the video above and I would recommend watching it at 0.5x speed to get a better idea of the nature of the run in.

The trickiest turn in my opinion is the one at just after 2km to go when the riders take a sharp right and almost tun back on themselves a bit.

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Said tricky, blind right turn.

From that point they will be going downhill until the final 800m when the road rises all the way to the line. It is only at an average of 1.8% but it will certainly have an impact on how the sprint is played out. Timing will be very important.

What Can We Learn From Today?

#1 – QuickStep have a very strong lead out, although that was almost expected, and they have utmost confidence in Gaviria who himself is incredibly strong.

#2 – Sagan is Mr Consistent and even without a train he still manages to get into the right position. He matched Gaviria in the sprint but didn’t have enough to come around him.

#3 – Kittel looked somewhat back to his old self as that finish sprint was very impressive to get up for third from how far back he was. Maybe if he’d shown that earlier in the year then he would have more riders to help him?

#4 – Jumbo’s late lead-out was decimated and Groenewegen did a Kittel. He finished strongly too, but he was not mentioned about as much.

#5 – Cavendish and Greipel got lost through some roundabouts.

#6 – Colbrelli and Cort were on leader protection duties.

#7 – The #HaugheyCurse still lives on with Demare, all riders beware.

The Outside Picks for Tomorow.

As I talked at great lengths in yesterday’s preview about the sprinters, today I’m just going to focus on two outside candidates who the finish should suit.

Sonny Colbrelli.

The Italian has had a very consistent season so far with several top 10s in the bigger bunch sprints. His two wins though have come on trickier finishes where there is some climbing at the end of the stage. One was on the Hatta Dam which shows how explosive he can be on the incline while his more recent win against the likes of Sagan in Gaviria in Suisse highlights how he can grind it out on these slight drags. Colbrelli always seems to be a feature in a sprint when there is a steady gradient for a few hundred metres and after helping the team today, he says he wants to go better and show what he can do tomorrow. I’ll be watching with interest.

Michael Matthews.

Cycling: 104th Tour de France 2017 / Stage 14

Surprisingly with only one win to his name this year, he has been lightly raced, Matthews will be looking to double that tally tomorrow. The slight uphill drag to the line suits his characteristics well and brings him level with the “purer” sprinters. After today’s stage he said that his legs felt surprisingly good and that he was looking forward to the coming days. Sunweb are apparently all in for Dumoulin’s GC hopes, but Matthews has been given the chance to go for the sprints. It will be interesting to see how much support he gets tomorrow and if he has Arndt and Theuns leading him out, that’s a very short but explosive train. Will we see the super confident 2017 version of Matthews? If so, he might just blow everyone away.

Prediction

Slightly left field but I really rate Colbrelli’s chances for tomorrow, I just have that feeling.

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In before his inevitable 12th.

Betting

0.5pt EW Matthews @ 80/1 (Various)

0.5pt EW Colbrelli @ 80/1 (Various)

Thanks as always for reading, who do you think will win tomorrow? Could we see an upset? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Tour de France 2018 Stage 1 Preview: Noirmoutier-en-l’Île -> Fontenay-le-Comte

Tour de France 2018 Stage 1 Preview: Noirmoutier-en-l’Île -> Fontenay-le-Comte

After much hype and build up, the Tour finally starts tomorrow. So no messing about here, let’s get straight into what the riders have to look forward to on the opening day.

The Route

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An almost pan-flat jaunt along the cause before the road heads inland and towards the finish town.

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With the race travelling along the coast I was really hoping that the wind would play ball and offer some potential opening day echelons. Unfortunately it doesn’t look strong enough and it turns into a headwind as they head towards the finish. Which will demotivate anyone wanting to split it.

The Cat-4 climb will offer someone in the early break a chance of stepping onto the podium at the end of the day and claim the KOM jersey. Although with it coming 28km from the finish line, will they still be away by then?

At 13.5km to go, the riders will have the opportunity to chase some bonus seconds in the GC battle at the brand new sprint points that have been added to the race. They offer no points in the Green Jersey classification but they do offer time bonuses. I think the thinking behind it is to entice some of the GC riders to go for them but I’m not entirely sure how they will play out.

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As you can see on the image above, the major issues on the run in come at 3km to 1km to go with three roundabouts and a “sharp turn” to be covered. This will string the bunch out and we’ll no doubt see a lot of fighting to get into the first roundabout so that a team can take the head of the bunch and control the pace.

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Once through the “sharp turn” which is actually another roundabout, the riders will have just over a kilometre left to go. It will be a fast final kilometre as the road dips down ever so slightly, meaning we will no doubt see some crazy top speeds but it does make it a bit more dangerous.

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The final 100m or so do rise up to the line but given the speed that the riders will be carrying then it shouldn’t be an issue. You can see a mock finish line banner in the distance!

Who will be competing for the win though?

The Old Guard vs the New Wave

Are we seeing a shift in power between the sprinters with some of the older riders passing the baton onto the newer generation coming through? Let’s start off by looking at some of the old guard.

Mark Cavendish.

What Cav will turn up this year? In 2016 everyone wrote him off (including myself) but he arrived at the race absolutely flying and racked up 4 stage wins to his name. Last year he seemed pretty lively but we never got to see where he was at after he was involved in a crash, partly or mainly caused by himself – that depends on who you ask. Since then he has had pretty terrible luck with illness and crashes hampering the end of 2017 and the majority of this year. Seemingly lacking confidence at the moment, he only has one win to his name in 2018 but with a team almost fully dedicated to him, there will be pressure on him to deliver. On form he doesn’t really have a chance but you can never rule out a guy with 148 wins in his career that includes 30 stage wins at the Tour, can you?

Andre Greipel.

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The Gorilla started off this year with a bang by taking two strong stage wins Down Under but back in Europe he has struggled to find his feet in the WT bunch sprints with two podium places the only results to shout home about. He fell (twice) in Milan SanRemo, that #HaugheyCurse striking again, which was a shame as he was climbing as well as I have seen from him in a long time. After his lay off he returned he bullied his way to two stage wins in both Dunkerque and the Belgium Tour. His recent run in Suisse wasn’t great but I think he was using that more for training rather than anything else. With a quite powerful lead-out train, NewLottoSoudal will hope to be one of the teams controlling the run in. The slight kick up to the line is good news for the powerful Greipel and with a potential headwind sprint, he has a chance. Remember the rule?

Alexander Kristoff.

The second part of that rule, Kristoff unfortunately seems a little past his heyday in the big bunch sprints, he needs a slightly reduced group to shine against the very best. He has no real lead-out to speak of and I just can’t see him winning or finishing on the podium tomorrow. I am ready to eat my hat.

Marcel Kittel.

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Devoid of confidence, he looks a shell of the man he was at Quick Step last year. With only two wins to his name this year, both at Tirreno Adriatico, his team seem to have lost faith in him too as they only bring a reduced lead-out train with him. Not ideal. There is no doubt he has the talent but he seems to be missing a few watts due to his lack of confidence. For his sake, I hope he bags a result at some point this race and it is not great from a fan’s perspective to see one of the best sprinters struggle.

John Degenkolb.

He’s just never been the same since that crash and he doesn’t have the speed to compete on this type of finish.

Now onto the new guard…

Fernando Gaviria.

The Colombian sprint sensation arrives here with seven wins to his name so far this season, including a dominant display in California. In his recent outing in Switzerland he was the bridesmaid on three occasions but that won’t have knocked his confidence, it will only make him hungrier. The lack of Keisse is a big loss but Quick Step still bring a strong and powerful lead out and no doubt we’ll see them come to the front in the closing stages. With his trusted pilot fish Richeze, Gaviria should be positioned well in the final kilometre – he just needs to get his timing right.

Dylan Groenewegen.

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The most successful sprinter so far this season with 8 wins, the Lotto NL Jumbo man comes into the race full of confidence. Some of his victories this season have seen him almost bully his sprint opposition and he will no doubt be expecting similar results this time. His team have stuck with the short and late lead-out approach this season which has worked in the majority of races but if they get the timing wrong, then it is very difficult for him to make up ground. On a run in like tomorrow expect them to sit a little back until they hit near they come around the final turn and go full gas from there. Sitting further back though does run the risk of being detached from the lead out or getting caught up in a crash. He does start as the favourite given the season he is having though.

Arnaud Demare.

 

Technically Demare is the form sprinter as he has won the most recent bunch sprint and if you read my GC preview yesterday, you will know that I have backed him for the green jersey. I was really impressed with his train in that Suisse stage and they could very easily pull off something similar here and boss the final couple of kilometres Last year at the Tour he was in the Green Jersey for a few stages and well in the running before unfortunately falling ill and having to withdraw. No longer wearing the French champions jersey, I’m sure he won’t mind if he pulls on Yellow tomorrow.

The I couldn’t fit them into a category-ers…

Peter Sagan.

What can the World Champ not do? Win a full bunch sprint at the Tour, that’s what. Well, maybe until this year. Despite having won 8 stages at this event, they have all came in reduced sprint days where some of the fast men have been left behind. Does he have the speed to compete? Most certainly but he will have to ride solo, not that that has stopped him before. He’s very consistently on or around the podium in WT sprints and he might benefit tomorrow from others having some first stage nerves as he will no doubt manage to keep his cool.

Sonny Colbrelli & Michael Matthews.

Very similar riders who will find it difficult on a finish like this, they would prefer a slightly tougher day. Both have little help from their teams so a podium on the stage would be a wonderful result. I would think that Colbrelli would have more of a chance.

I’ve probably missed someone but time is marching on so apologies!

Prediction

A tough one to call in what will no doubt be a frantic and messy sprint but I think Demare’s lead out will prevail and the Frenchman will kick off the big race with a win.

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Groenewegen to come fast and late but just miss out and come second with wily old Greipel coming home in third.

Betting

1pt WIN Demare at 8/1 (with Skybet although you can get better odds on BF Exchange)

0.5pt EW Greipel at 18/1 (with Bet365 and others)

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.