Tour Down Under 2018 – GC Preview

Tour Down Under 2018 – GC Preview

So with the women’s race now finished, it is time for the men to take centre stage over the coming week with the riders battling it out to take home Ochre. A race that has been dominated by the Australians in recent years, with the last 4 GC titles going to the home riders; expect to see some fast racing coupled with sweltering temperatures.

It might not have the best race route in the grand scheme of the cycling season but given its position as the season opener, I think most of us will take it!

Richie Porte - Willunga Hill 2017

After finally getting his hands on the GC win last year the King of Willunga (a.k.a Richie Porte) is back here to defend his crown along with a strong BMC team. In fact, the last 3 winners of the race are all riding for that outfit this year, which is very ominous for the rest of the field. However, they won’t have it all their own way and there are certainly some other riders out there who could challenge their dominance.

First, let’s have a quick look at what is in store for the riders over the six days of action.

The Route

I won’t bore you here though, as I’ll have plenty of time over the coming week to drain you with an in-depth route analysis of each stage. This will simply be more of an overview!

There are three stages that are most likely to have the biggest impact on GC, although that could change if the wind blows strongly on some of the more exposed days. We saw the women’s peloton battered by cross winds through the Barossa Valley.

Stage 2 is the first important day with the traditional finish in Stirling.

Santos Tour Down Under 2018 - Stage 2
@LaFlammeRouge16

A rolling circuit that will see the peloton whittled down, some of the stronger sprinters will be happy to see that the organisers have reduced the number of laps that they will complete. Back in 2016 when Jay McCarthy won this stage, the riders had to contest with 6 laps, but this time it will just be 4. In theory, this should make it easier and see the stage switch from a puncheurs finish to more of a strong sprinters day. However, this of course all depends on how aggressively the teams race. If the fast men of the peloton are eliminated from the group then it is a great chance for the likes of Haas and McCarthy to pick up some valuable bonus seconds in their fight for GC.

Stage 4 will see the peloton tackle a new finish here at the Tour Down Under, featuring a climb that is well-known by the local Aussies.

Santos Tour Down Under 2018 - Stage 4

Norton Summit is not a new climb for the Tour though, with it being used right at the start of Stage 4 in 2016. It took the riders roughly 11’30 to complete the climb that day but I imagine that time will be faster this year round given it’s position on the course. Once over the “summit” the riders will have 7.5km left but instead of a drop straight down, they’ll instead face a kilometre or so of false flat before an uncategorised ramp up Woods Hill Road. Could this be a launchpad for a late attack? With only 3.5km of shallow descending all the way to the line, it certainly could be.

Stage 5 will once again play host to the summit finish of Willunga Hill.

Santos Tour Down Under 2018 - Stage 5

If the GC is still close at this stage, then it will all come down to the final ascent of Willunga. Porte has owned this climb for the past four years and he’ll hope to make it five in a row this time. Will it be enough for the overall title though? From a tactics point of view, it is much easier to ride a defensive race on Willunga than attacking one, as it is a difficult climb to make massive gains on. Although lil’ Richie might have something to say about that…

GC Contenders

Given the recent form of the Australians at this race, they’ve won 6 out of the last 7 years, then it is really hard to back against them on their own turf.

Porte comes into the race as the bookmakers favourite and rightly so given his performances on Willunga the past few years. If everything is kept together on stages 2 & 4, with his opponents not gaining any bonus seconds, the race is his to lose. However, this is the least suited route to Porte for a while and I think he’ll desperately miss the Paracombe finish that we had last year. He might well win on Willunga again, but I don’t think it will be by as big a margin as he has done in previous years.

McCarthy will be waiting in the wings, hoping to capitalise on the new stage and sprint for some bonus seconds on days 2 and 4, feasibly giving himself a 20 second buffer going into Willunga. He’s a rider that I have grown fond over and one that I had backed when he took out the stage in Stirling in 2016. At the Aussie Nationals recently, he looked incredibly strong, sprinting away from the chase group in the closing few hundred metres. His trajectory in this race has been on the up as well, with a 4th in 2016 and a 3rd last year. Will he go one or two steps higher this time around?

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Haas is a rider similar to McCarthy and he too will be looking to nab some bonus seconds on stages 2 & 4. With a winter move to Katusha, the former Dimension Data rider comes here in some good form with a 5th place finish in both the road race and time trial at the Aussie Champs. An attacking rider, he will no doubt give it a go on Stage 4 in an attempt to get clear. However, I sometimes think that he is too attacking; using up a lot of his resources before it is necessary. Will that be his downfall again?

Can a non-Aussie win?

Probably not.

Some might suggest Sagan has a chance, especially after his strong showing in today’s criterium. However, he will be here for training more than anything, possibly getting involved in a few sprints but nothing more than that.

Ulissi is a very solid finisher and will no doubt again be in or around the top 5 but I can’t see him having enough form early in the year to take the win. Yet, he is the type of rider who could well prove me wrong! His team-mate Rui Costa might be another to watch, he was flying at the start of last year.

Bernal arrives here as Team Sky’s best chance on paper, the young rider is truly exceptional. His form will be unkown but as we’ve seen with Henao in the past, Colombians seem to go well here. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him go with the best on Willunga, but his lack of a sprint might let him down for the overall.

Prediction

I’ll go for none of the above to win though.

Instead, I’ll suggest that Rohan Dennis will take home another Tour Down Under title.

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The current Aussie TT champion blitzed away his opposition recently, putting over a minute into a very lean Luke Durbridge and almost two minutes into team-mate Porte, regaining his title with ease. He DNF’d the road race, but I think he was using that race as training more than anything else.

Almost have way through his “4-year GC plan”, this should be the year where he takes another step forward in that quest. He certainly looks very fit going by some of the pictures I’ve seen floating around social media over the past week. There has also been a lot of to-ing and fro-ing between himself and Porte as to who the leader of BMC will be for the week, both downplaying their own chances and talking up their team-mate. First race mind-games!

With the introduction of the interesting finish on stage 4 this year I think it is very beneficial for a team to have two possible winners in their squad and I’m sure BMC will use that to their advantage. Norton Summit looks ideal for the powerhouse and Dennis certainly has the TT engine to attack and hold a gap, especially with Porte and possibly Gerrans behind marking out any efforts to close him down.

Being in Ochre going into Willunga means BMC will be able to ride a defensive race, and who wouldn’t want the King of Willunga himself to act as a super-domsetique for you that day?! Porte should be able to keep things together and Dennis won’t lose enough time to be toppled, with Porte even nabbing the bonus seconds away from his competitors on the line.

Simple!

Betting

First race of the season so it would be rude not to have a flutter on the GC market. I tweeted it out a few days ago but…

1pt EW Dennis @ 20/1 with Coral/Ladbrokes.

Thanks as always for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated. I hope you enjoyed my first men’s preview of the season. I’ll be back with daily stage previews of the Tour Down Under starting from tomorrow. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

Tour de France 2017 Stage 12 Preview; Pau -> Peyragudes

Today’s Recap

Zzzzzzzzzz.

I’m all for having sprints in the Tour as every rider needs some type of terrain to showcase their talents, but I’m definitely glad we don’t have another one tomorrow.

With regards to what the other sprint teams were doing today, I’m not angry, I’m just disappointed. No guts or courage to try something different. Instead Katusha and Lotto Soudal were happy to help pull all day and they were duly rewarded with 12th and 7th place finishes respectively.

Of course Kittel won again, he’s just too good at this moment!

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Groenewegen finished fast to come home second, with Boasson Hagen rewarding his strong lead-out with a third place. A good day in one sense as I tweeted out to back EBH in-play as I thought the technical run in might suit his team and it did, but I would loved to have seen something more gutsy from the sprint teams.

A big “fair-play” though must go to Bodnar who held off the bunch for oh so long, only to be caught within sight of the finish line.

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

The Route

After three rest-days, we finally have a stage that might entice some action.

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A long day out in the saddle, the riders will have to contend with some rolling roads for the first 55km of the day before they hit the first categorised climb. However, it won’t really be until after 120km that things get serious. The Col de Menté averages a very steep 8.1% for 6.9km. This is where we could see some of the GC teams come to the fore, maybe hoping to apply some early pressure but I think that’s unlikely. Instead, it is more likely to be where the break splits up, especially if we have a larger group.

Once over the summit the riders will tackle 10km of descent, along with 10km of valley roads before the road starts rising again up the Port de Balès. Officially 11.7km at 7.7%, the riders will actually be climbing for ~20km at 5.7%.

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Considering the riders descend almost all the way from the summit, there are only a few flat sections, to the foot slopes of the Col de Peyreseurde, it will be interesting to see if any riders attack early.

The Peyreseurde itself is shorter than Balès and is a lot more consistent, making it more suited for riders who are able to get themselves into a steady pace. Will we see some attacks? I sure hope so and I think we will, it’s just a case of when?!

The descent from the Peyreseurde is very straight forward, I’m sure the riders will be glad to know that, and they’ll hope to carry as much speed as possible into the tough final 3kms. A final kilometre at 13% is a brutal way to end the stage and with all the climbing that comes before riders can blow up massively here and lose a lot of time.

How will the stage pan out?

A classic 50/50 stage where the breakaway could stay away, but there is also a chance that the GC teams control it for the final few climbs and hope to get some bonus seconds.

There are faults with both plans though.

Firstly for the break, it will no doubt be a massive fight to get into the move and I wouldn’t be surprised if we only see the elastic snap after an hour of racing. The issue that lies here is that it will more than likely be strong rouleurs who make the move, with the flatter start being difficult for climbers to get in. No doubt there will be a few who sneak their way into it but it will certainly be tough. The steep gradients of the climbs make it hard for a rouleur to win so in a cruel twist of fate, while the break might be easier for them to make it into, it will be harder for them to win!

There are obviously riders in the peloton who can do both and they’ll be eyeing up this stage.

As for the GC riders going for stage victory; it depends on Sky’s attitude. If they are in their usual controlling mood then there is a good chance we’ll see a GC winner. Froome looks strong just now and is growing into the race but will he feel ready enough to attack the stage? I’m not sure. It is an easy day for Sky to control if they want to, with the tough climbs coming in the second half of the stage.

The crashes of Bardet and Fuglsang today might have a negative impact on the GC riders willingness to go for the win.

Furthermore, with a crazy stage coming the following day, I think we’ll see the break take it tomorrow. So time to play everyone’s favourite game again…

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Candidates

Names in hat time, so I’ll highlight a few possible contenders like always.

Andrew Talansky.

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One of those riders who might not be allowed away if he is to protect team-leader Uran, but on the other hand he could be sent up the road to help later on. If the break gets a big lead then Talansky is a strong enough climber to take the win.

Diego Ulissi.

The UAE rider has been very quiet so far this race, maybe saving his energy to attack on a stage? The steep gradients tomorrow should suit the punchy Italian and he is in relatively good form, finishing 2nd at the recent Italian National Championships. Although the length of the climbs might be tough, but he has went well in hard stages at the Giro in the past. Meintjes has struggled a bit on GC so far, and I think UAE will allow Ulissi to go on the offensive tomorrow, will he take his chance?

Fabio Felline.

Another rider who hasn’t been able to take his own chances so far due to having to help team-leader Contador. Yet, the Spaniard hasn’t been great this Tour (as was almost expected) and I think we’ll see Trek adopt an aggressive approach to the rest of the race. Felline isn’t known for his mountain climbing, but like Ulissi he is good on the punchy stuff. He’s a strong rider who’s having a great season and a good result tomorrow would take that even further.

Philippe Gilbert.

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Talking about riders who’ve had great seasons…Gilbert has had an incredible 2017 so far and he is surely targeting a Tour stage win at some point. He was active in the break on Planche des Belles Filles and was actually the last man standing, putting in a very impressive display of climbing. Tomorrow is a whole different ballgame but he is certainly not a rider to be discounted. Like many others, it all depends if he’s given the freedom and doesn’t have to work for his team leader. He did a lot of work today pulling at the front of the bunch, stretching his legs for a good hit-out tomorrow! Or that’s what I’m making of it anyway. 😜 A wild card given the climbing talent here but you never know.

Prediction

Break stays away by around a minute and Diego Ulissi takes a memorable victory.

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Betting

0.4pt EW Ulissi @ 100/1 (Boyles – 4 places)

0.25pt EW Talansky @ 150/1 (Ladbrokes/Coral/PP/Betfair)

0.25pt EW Felline @ 150/1 (Boyles – 4 places)

0.1pt EW Gilbert @ 300/1 (PP/BF)

 

Thanks as always for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated. Who do you think will win tomorrow? Will the break survive all the way or will we see a GC battle for the stage win? I’m just hoping for a good day’s racing! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Critérium du Dauphiné 2017 Stage 1 Preview; Saint-Étienne -> Saint-Étienne

GC Overview

No stand-alone GC preview from me but it looks set to be a showdown between Porte and Froome. The former won their battle in Romandie, looking imperious. However, the Dauphinè is Froome (and Sky’s) race. They’ve taken the title in 5 out of the last 6 editions and I’m sure the Brit will be here to put down a marker before the Tour.

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The TT should suit both of those guys and with the amount of climbing on offer, then they both should end up on the podium.

However, there is the potential that they could be caught out on the tough stages at the end of the race, particularly the explosive 115km Stage 8 test. We saw that in 2014 when Talansky went on a raid to win the overall. The Cannondale rider looked good in California, is a repeat performance on the cards?

Of course, we have several other contenders such as Valverde, Contador, Bardet, YatesMartin and Chaves (if he’s recovered from his injury) who might spring a surprise and catch the big-two napping on that last day.

Nonetheless, I’ll be boring/safe (delete as appropriate), this is Froome’s Duaphiné to lose. The parcours suits him very well and he seems to go better on the longer climbs in comparison to his former team-mate.

He needs a commanding performance, otherwise the Australian will go into the Tour buoyant and as a very, very serious title contender, if not the favourite!

Right, now let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders on the opening day.

The Route

A tough, tricky and very interesting route to start the race off.

Duaphinest1

Lots of small climbs throughout the day but particularly in the circuit on the outskirts of Saint-Étienne which will no doubt shape the race.

I don’t envisage any of the early climbs being attacked aggressively enough for the sprinters to lose contact, so I’ll just skip them! However, they will no doubt stretch the legs of the riders for what is to come.

Instead, I’ll focus on the final 44km and the “interesting” finale.

According to the roadbook, the Côte de Rochetaillée is 3.4km at 5.4%. However, that doesn’t really tell the whole story, so out of interest I made a Strava profile of the final circuit that you can view here.

Screen Shot 2017-06-03 at 07.08.58

They make the climb to be 3.8km at 5.8%. Either way, it’s not what I would call short and not what I would call extremely easy!

Moreover, the little lump/prelude of a climb is roughly 2.5km at 3.5%. It means for the final 44kms the peloton will be climbing for approximately 18km of them, totalling 1350m of elevation gain (~450 per lap according to Strava).

dauphinest14km

The majority of the descent towards the line is fairly straightforward and the riders will be thankful to get a few looks at it. However, there is a pair of tight 90-degree right-hand turns just after the Flamme Rouge which could cause some issues.

Positioning will be very important.

The road even rises ever so slightly to the line, but it’s minimal!

How will the stage pan out?

This is a really exciting stage on paper because it is so tough to call.

Will the sprinters make it? Will the punchier riders fight it out? Will we see a late attack stick? Or none of the above?

I’ll stick my neck on the line and suggest that it will actually be a relatively selective bunch that comes to the line, maybe 30-40 riders. A few of the GC teams with fast riders who aren’t as strong in a TT might want to gain a few bonus seconds tomorrow!

My reasoning for this is that tomorrow’s stage reminds me an awful lot of the Barcelona circuit (Stage 7) we had at the Volta Catalunya earlier in the year. On that day they admittedly did many more laps (8 compared to 3), but the climb was actually easier (only 2.2km at 5.1%).

That stage ended with a front group of only 16 riders, but I imagine tomorrow might be just over double in size.

Therefore, that means I’m ruling out the majority of the sprinters, with possibly only Boasson Hagen and Colbrelli making it. Even then though I’m not too sure!

Contenders

Valverde is obviously the first name to spring to mind for a finish like this. He won the stage in Catalunya and has been his usual imperious self this season! Having not raced for a while his form is a bit unknown, but the Spaniard always turns up at the big races. Taking a few bonus seconds here could set him in good stead for an assault on the GC title.

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Kwiatkowski could be the Spaniards biggest challenger. Another rider who has not raced for a while, the former World Champion seems to have returned to his glory days this season having already won Strade Bianche and Milan San Remo. In Pais Vasco he was competing in the flatter reduced sprints and he certainly packs the speed to go well tomorrow.

Ulissi is a rider who on paper would relish this type of finish. Yet, with so many others, it is tough to know where his form currently is! I would not be surprised to see him in the top 5.

Gallopin should like the punchy circuit and with his fast kick he could be another rider challenging for a podium place.

There is one outsider who I would like to mention.

Dan Martin.

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He’s no slouch in a sprint from GC contenders and if we do get a properly reduced group like I think we will then he could sneak a podium place. Will he be given the chance if some of his team-mates make it? Hopefully!

Prediction

A tougher day than some might predict, but Valverde will continue his incredible 2017 with another win!

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With Dan Martin not too far behind him!

Betting

I think the 25/1 on Valverde looks massive value at the moment, it is a shame that I’ve just realised that Bet365 are offering win only ;

SkyBet are offering EW places though so bet with them if you can. I’m not too fussed with having to take Valverde straight up as I’m not allowed more than 0.5pt on with them Sky, so 365 it is for Valverde.

As for Martin, he is “EW value” so only bet if you can get him EW!

2pts WIN Valverde @ 25/1 with Bet365 (same price with SkyBet)

0.5pt EW Dan Martin @ 150/1 with SkyBet.

 

Thanks as always for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated! Who do you think will win tomorrow and by what means? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

Tour de Romandie 2017 Stage 1 Preview; Aigle -> Champéry

Today’s Recap

A wet and miserable TT rewarded the risk takers of the peloton. In the end it was Fabio Felline who took a great win. He was putting down a serious amount of power in the closing straight, with the back wheel sliding all over the road. Possible flat tyre? Impressive either way!

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Alex Dowsett was the last rider down the ramp but kept things interesting, only losing by 2 seconds to the Italian, with an impressive ride from youngster Alexander Edmondson to take third.

As for Albasini, he looked to be going okay on the first part of the course, but seemed to lack the confidence in the second half. Probably didn’t want to fall after knowing I had put the curse on him. Oh well!

The GC guys took as few risks as possible, trying to keep themselves upright going into the rest of the week. Let’s have a look at what’s in store for them tomorrow.

The Route

We get the first open road stage of the race on day two and we are already treated to what is arguably the Queen Stage. Although I do think that is still going to be stage 4!

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@LasterketaBurua

An interactive profile can be viewed here.

With only 2700m of elevation gain, it’s certainly not the most wearing day, but the vast majority of the climbing does come in two big sections.

First, we have the Cat-2 climb of Vex that starts around the halfway point in the stage. Averaging a solid 6.3% for 8.9km it will tire the peloton for what’s to come later but I can’t really see it having any impact on the race. If anything, the descent might have a bigger say in the outcome if it is wet and dangerous.

Following the descent there is a long 40km period of flat before a little 2.1km long, 9.1% average kicker. This could see some of the deadwood dropped from the peloton if a team turns the pace on here. If not, the bunch will be grouped together as they start the final climb of the day.

According to the guys @LasterketaBurua the climb is 14.5km long and averages 4.2%, but that’s it topping out with just over 1km to the finish line.

As we get nothing in the road book at all about the climb I’ve made a Strava profile for the whole thing. View that here.

Interestingly, the rider who holds the Strava record for the climb is Adrien Costa (30 minutes) who set that back in the junior race of Pays Vaud back in 2015. I’m sure that will fall tomorrow!

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You can split the climb into three parts, with some false flat and shallow descending in between.

The first section is 5.5km at 5.4% but this does include some double figure ramps. Three km of said false flat/descending follows before the second section; 3.2km at 5.8%. We then have almost a kilometre of descending before the final kick up which is 1.3km at 7.7%. A flat-ish run to the line then follows.

Will we see a solo winner, or a group of GC favourites come to the line?

Weather Watch

Looks set to be another grim day for the peloton, a recurring theme this week!

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Source; Wunderground.

Thankfully it’s supposedly only raining at the finish line tomorrow in Champéry (above forecast), but the riders will certainly be cold and wet either way. Hopefully the organisers won’t need to change the route!

The same can’t be said for the climb of Vex as there is a good chance we’ll have sleet on it and that could make the descent dangerous. I don’t think it will have a massive impact on the day if it is included or not.

How will the stage pan out?

It will all come down to the final climb and how aggressively the riders approach it. With only one other mountain top finish, I’m sure the better climbers will want to put as much time into their competitors with a long TT looming.

The weather will play as big a part as any with some riders feeling the cold more than others, and potentially underperforming.

However, I just don’t think the final climb is hard enough to create some serious time gaps. The toughest section is the 1.3km (@7.7%) segment that comes near the end of the climb. We could see some strong attacks here from the likes of Porte and Froome but will they really distance everyone on it? I’m not so sure.

The flat run in to the line could scarper any moves that were made on the slopes, but of course it could work conversely where those behind don’t work together.

Ultimately though, I think the stage will be won either from a late attack on the flat closing 1.5km or in a sprint between GC favourites.

So I’ll throw some names into the proverbial hat.

Proverbial Hat of Contenders (Outsiders)

Jarlinson Pantano.

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A man ahead of the times in bad weather…

But no, in all seriousness Pantano has all the credentials and abilities to go well tomorrow. He’s been climbing strongly in support of Contador all season but now has his own chance to chase a result. Or does he? There is a chance of him riding for race leader Felline, but I think Trek are best to keep their options open. Packing a fast sprint, he can certainly win the stage from a reduced group.

Diego Ulissi.

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The climb is possibly just on the limit for the Italian, considering the length of it, but with its relatively shallow gradients he could hang on. Not afraid to attack or hold out for the sprint in that situation, it will be interesting to see how he plays it if he’s still there!

Wilco Kelderman.

Going to the Giro in support of Dumoulin, Kelderman hasn’t had many race days so far this year, only 11 in fact! Two of those were at the Ardennes and he’s slowly regained his race speed and form. He put in a fairly solid TT today and will want to test himself at some point in the mountains. Tomorrow could be as good a day as any!

Prediction

I’ll go for Mary Poppins himself, Jarlinson Pantano to take the win! We’ll see an attack on the final ramp by some of the favourites and Pantano will mark it out, with Felline behind. The Colombian will then win the ensuing sprint. Valverde’s not here to beat him this time!

Tour de France stage 15

Betting

1.5pt EW Pantano @10/1 with Bet365

0.25pt EW Bilbao @80/1

Thanks as always for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated. I hope we get an unaltered stage and an exciting days worth of racing! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

Liège-Bastogne-Liège 2017 Preview

La Doyenne or “the Old Lady” for the Anglicised among you, returns on Sunday for its 103rd edition!

Normally a very attritional race in its own right, last year’s race had the added dimension of truly awful weather with snow and rain throughout the day. In the end it was Wout Poels who took the victory from a small group that had escaped on the penultimate climb and stayed away until the end, sealing Sky’s first Monument win. Albasini and Rui Costa rounded out the podium.

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Poels isn’t here this year to defend his crown so it opens the door for a new winner, or one of the previous champions to step up to the mantle again.

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

The Route

258km of rolling road through the Ardennes awaits the peloton.

 

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Don’t let the fact that there are only 10 categorised climbs on course fool you, this is a tough and attritional race where the road is up and down a lot throughout the day.

The first 160km will serve as a warm-up for the riders and we’ll see our usual relatively large break go composed mainly of the Pro-Conti teams with a handful of World Tour representatives in their for good measure.

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Credit: Velorooms

Once we get to 90km to go, the climbs start in earnest, beginning with the Côte de Pont. But it’s the Col du Rosier which could be the site of the first potentially race winning attack I think. At 4.4km in length it is the longest ascent of the race and averaging 5.9% it is steep enough to gain some distance with a strong attack.

From there they tackle a descent before the Maquisard. However, it is probably the final three climbs that this race is famous for.

The Côte de la Redoute comes at roughly 40km to go.

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Short and steep, it’s one that might entice the punchy riders into a move depending on the race situation.

Next up after that is the Roche-aux-Faucons, with the Côte de Saint-Nicolas coming at under 10km to the finish line.

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There’s little time for the race to regroup once over the summit as they descend before starting the approach into Ans.

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The closing climb up to the finish line averages 5.3% for the 1.5km so isn’t overly difficult but at the end of a tough day riders will still need something left in the tank to cope with it.

How will the race pan out?

I think our aggressive Spring racing will continue here and we’ll see a similar race to Amstel. Plenty of teams have several options in their ranks and I would be very surprised to see them all happily wait for the final climb like they do in Fleche.

So we could well see some relatively serious attacks come on the Rosier. Who makes it and what teams are represented will then shape the rest of the race.

If we get strong enough riders from Movistar/Sky/BMC/Orica/Quick Step then it stays away in my opinion. Well, that is of course if they continue to work hard while out in front and everyone co-operates. Although we did see that the front group managed to stay ahead at Amstel even with JJ Rojas sandbagging them.

From there it’s just about being not only one of the strongest riders but one of the most tactically astute.

Or of course, it could all come back together and we get an aggressive final couple of climbs like we had in last year’s edition.

Contenders

With it being such an open race there is no clear favourite in my opinion, but Valverde is most definitely the closest to one that we have. Imperious on the Huy midweek, he seems to get better with age which is ridiculous when you consider his already illustrious career. In Amstel his Movistar team was caught out and probably would have preferred a different rider up the road. I’m sure they won’t make the same mistake twice but their team still doesn’t look that great. Having already won this race 3 times, he knows what it takes and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him on the top step of the podium again come Sunday afternoon!

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Team Sky in theory pose the biggest threat to the Spaniard as they have the great 1-2 punch of Kwiatkowski and Henao (Sergio), heck, you could even through Rosa into that mix too. This race looks best suited to the former world champion though. He’s really regained his footing as one of the best one-day racers in the world this year. With a monument win already under his belt this season he could well go on to make it two!

Dan Martin is QuickSteps leader for this race and rightly so. A former winner here, this is one of his favourite races in the calendar and he always seems to find himself at the pointy end of the day. Finishing 2nd to Valverde (again) on Wednesday, he’ll be hoping to go one better this Sunday. Yet, I have my eye on one of his team-mates and there is certainly some fantasy-league bias to this one; Petr Vakoc. With no Gilbert or Alaphilippe the Czech rider is co-leader elect and has all the abilities to go well on Sunday in my opinion. The way he easily bridged across to Wellens in Brabantse shows how well he is going because Wellens isn’t exactly short of form at the moment. He was unlucky to have suffered a mechanical at a bad time in Amstel and I get the feeling that we haven’t seen the last of him over this past week…

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BMC will have two leaders in this race who aren’t clear favourites according to the bookmakers, although I’m unsure as to why one of them isn’t. Those two riders are of course Teuns and Van Avermaet! The former was excellent in La Fleche, taking a great third place. It’s nice to see him living up to the lofty expectations that were put on him after his breakthrough performance in the 2014 Tour of Britain. He certainly has a good opportunity on Sunday to repeat that result. However, it’s his team-mate GVA that interests me more. According to the bookmakers he’s a relative outsider and I just can’t get my head around why! Yes, he was only 12th place in Amstel and looked jaded chasing the front group, but that’s because he was the rider shouldered with most of the workload. The climbs here aren’t too tough and the Olympic Champion has a very, very good chance of taking his second monument of the year.

I expect an attacking race from Orica as they have plenty of good climbers in their team. Likewise the same can be said for Cannondale and Astana. Yet, I just don’t see any of their riders winning this race.

I would love to see Haas go better than his 4th in Amstel for Dimension Data, but he was struggling with illness in Fleche. Maybe it was just a small bug and he’s managed to turn it around?

Izagirre is dangerous for Bahrain, so too are the UAE duo of Costa and Ulissi. I think the Italian will have a really good race here as he prepares for the Giro.

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He impressed me a lot in Pais Vasco, especially his 8th place in the TT. Since then he was in the second group in Amstel and finished in 10th place in Fleche. Not bad form!

Bardet and Barguil will hope to top 10, but this is me just filling up some words and naming some more names as I’ve already suggested my winner…

Prediction

Greg Van Avermaet to show that Amstel was just a blip and he rounds out one of the best spring classics seasons of all time with a fine victory in Liege!

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Betting

Set my stalls out with this tweet earlier this week and again this morning;

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I’ll be marking him down as 200/1 with 0.5pt EW on. He’s into 150/1 now with most places and I still think there’s value to be had with that, especially if you can get the 4 places available.

I went a bit heavy-handed on Vakoc thinking I’d only have two picks and that would be it, but I’m going to have three now so the stakes have risen. It is the last monument for a while though so YOLO as the kids these days say…

0.5pt EW Vakoc @ 200/1

1pt EW Ulissi @ 66/1 with Bet365 (take the 50/1 and 4 places available elsewhere)

2pts EW GVA @ 22/1 with Coral who’re paying 4 places. (would take 20s)

 

Thanks as always for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated like normal. Who do you think will win La Doyenne? Will we see an attacking race or will it come down to a relatively large group heading towards Liege? I’ll be back again with my Liege Femmes preview so please return for that! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Abu Dhabi Tour 2017 – GC Preview

Abu Dhabi Tour 2017 – GC Preview

Started back in 2015, the Abu Dhabi Tour in its first two editions was an end of season filler. Typically consisting of 3 sprint stages and one mountain top finish that decided the GC, it was a race for those winding down at the end of the year; trying to get one final result.

However, that changes ever so slightly this year with its move to the start of the season in February as riders look to build form for their up and coming objectives. Its swanky new World Tour status means that teams will be hunting those elusive WT points so I expect the race to be a little more intense than it has been in the past.

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The defending champion, Tanel Kangert, is back here to defend his crown but it may be hard for him to do so considering some of the climbing talent that we have here for this edition.

First however, let’s have a look at what the riders will face over the coming week.

The Route

Stage 1 features an “out and back” course through the desert, starting and finishing in Madinat Zayed.

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A day that will end in a sprint and the fight for the first leader’s jersey. There is a roundabout at roughly 700m to go that will cause the bunch to be very spread out so positioning will be important. Can the wind have any impact on the stage?

Stage 2 and yep, another sprint.

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This time the riders travel around the outskirts and suburbs of Abu Dhabi itself, before finishing along the marina. A right-hand turn at 300m to go can shake things up.

Stage 3 sees the day that will decide the GC battle with the finish up Jebel Hafeet.

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10.8km long and averaging 6.6%, it is a a fairly challenging climb; especially when you consider that the middle 7km average 8%. This is the section where proper time gaps can be made! Who will be the rider to take the stage and GC glory?

Stage 4 and what is in my opinion, one of the worst stages in the calendar year. 26 laps of the Yas Marina motor racing circuit.

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If you watch more than 10 minutes of this on Sunday instead of Kuurne, we can’t be friends! It does have some technical turns going for it in the final kilometre which may liven things up. But yeah, I despise this stage with a passion.

GC Battle

As I’ve mentioned above, the GC battle for this race all comes down to the climb up Jebel Hafeet. With there being no time-trial or rolling stage to contend with, it is possible for a pure climber to be involved in the shakedown too. The step up to World Tour level has increased the number of contenders here and we should have an exciting battle on our hands! I’ll just run through the start list in order.

Starting with the defending champion Kangert and his Astana team. Unfortunately for the Estonian I can’t see him repeating last year’s performance this season. Instead, the Kazakh outfit will turn to Fabio Aru as their main charge here. Off the back of a solid performance at Oman, Aru will be looking to continue his preparation for the Giro with another good outing here. He many not be at his best to win the race, but he should at least be aiming for a top 5 finish. (Or at least I’m hoping so for my fantasy team!)

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Bardet comes here after a disappointing race in Oman. He was positioned relatively well going into the Green Mountain stage but was one of those riders involved in the crash that day, which really hampered his end result. Making an attack on the final day shows to me that he was frustrated and that his form is good. Certainly don’t discount him after one performance.

Nibali makes his first World Tour outing with new team Bahrain Merida after finishing 8th in San Juan back in January. Always a hard one to judge form wise, I would not be surprised if the Shark wins here, or if he finishes down in 23rd!

After their success in Oman, BMC will be hoping that Tejay Van Garderen can continue the winning streak in the Middle East. Going off of recent history, the American does seem to start of the season very well; finishing 2nd on GC at his opening stage race of the year for 4 seasons in a row. Can he make it 5 here or even finish one place higher?

Rafał Majka will get his first taste of GC leadership with Bora at this race. Another who starts off the year fairly well, he’s only had two race days so far in Spain so it is tough to gauge where he is at. However, with it being only a mountain top finish and no time trial, he certainly has a chance of a podium.

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Quintana obviously starts as the big favourite here after blowing everyone away in Valenciana. The Colombian doesn’t just race to come 7th, he races to win and very rarely misses out on at least a podium at a stage race. If he’s continued that from from Spain, it should be no different here!

Quickstep will turn to Alaphilippe or Brambilla as their GC prospects here. Unfortunately though, they’ll either need to be in excellent form or get a massive dose of luck to challenge for the title here. A top 10 is manageable though!

Kudus will hope to go better than he did in Oman. A great talent, he really needs to develop the race management and tactical nous to his riding. Often he seems to attack too early which costs him in the closing kilometres. If he finally gets that right here then he could sneak onto the podium with a bit of luck!

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Kruijswijk and Gesink will lead a two-pronged attack for Jumbo. On a climb like this, I’d almost say Gesink is better than his counterpart. Can they compete with Quintana and co this early in the season? Meh, probably not. Or maybe they will. I don’t know!

Another rider making his season debut is Tom Dumoulin. The Dutchman had a disappointing end to last year and I’m intrigued to see if he’s recovered mentally from that. It’s once again guesswork as to where his form is. Do you have any idea?! I think he’ll go OK, but not great, maybe 6th or something similar.

Trek come here with two great GC candidates; Contador and Mollema. They’ve both shown good early season form with Contador coming second in Ruta del Sol, and Mollema winning the GC in San Juan. The former says that he is going to work for the latter here, focussing more on Paris Nice which starts in just under two weeks time. An elaborate ruse, or is he telling the truth? Contador does seem like a team player so it is certainly plausible, but I’m more intrigued to see the logistics behind it. Will he attack to force others to follow, with Mollema sitting on? Or will he be the guy chasing attacks down? Either way, I’ll be very surprised if one of them is not on the podium by the end of the week!

Finally, “local” team, UAE Fly Emirates have two riders who can challenge the top 10, in Costa and Ulissi. But I can’t see them doing any better than that.

There are some teams/riders that I’ve missed out, but I don’t want to keep you here all day!

Prediction

Quintana more than likely wins. Boring I know, but I’m hardly ever like this so I’m allowed to do it at least once or twice a season, right?

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Bardet and Mollema to round out the podium!

Betting

Think there is a bit of value away from the top of the order and with my 2 podium shouts. The debate I’m having with myself is if it’s worthwhile backing them for GC, or just waiting until Stage 3?!

Will Bardet start as a 10/1 shot on Stage 3, likewise, will Mollema start at 18/1 (current GC prices with Betfair)?

Hmmmm. I think I’ll just leave it until Saturday: unless of course odds elsewhere are much better! If Bardet is 14s anywhere I’ll take that, the same with Mollema at 22/1.

So a no bet, for now.

 

Thanks for reading and as per usual, any feedback is greatly appreciated. Who do oyu think will win? Can anyone beat Quintana? I will have a Stage 1 preview out later today, most likely evening some point when we get more odds available. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trofeo Laigueglia 2017 Preview

Trofeo Laigueglia 2017 Preview

After the GP Etruschi last weekend, Italian Cup action returns this Sunday with the 54th edition of the Trofeo Laigueglia.

Last year’s race was won by a late attack from Andrea Fedi in the final kilometres, holding off a small group behind that had escaped on the closing circuits around Laigueglia. With Colbrelli edging out Bole in the sprint for second place.

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The Route

After changing the route almost every other year, the organisers have this year stuck with the parcours that has been used in the past two editions.

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Big loop -> Medium sized loop -> Circuits of a small loop!

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The first GPM in Paravenna at 60km is 6.8km long, averaging 5.6% in gradient. Not overly tough for the peloton, but certainly a leg opener for later in the race.

We then have a descent and long flat section before the highest peak of the race at erm, ahem, Testico.

Now this climb was a real ball-ache to try to find figures for so I reverted back to what works best and made a Strava profile.

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Now, including that long false flat drag, the climb is 13.9km at 3% in gradient. However, starting at the 7km mark, the remaining 6.9km averages 4.6% with some sections over 9%.

Again, it’s not really challenging for the pros but it will sap the legs for the closing circuit. Speaking of which…

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As per, I’ve also made a strava profile that you can view here.

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The first climb on the circuit is 2km long, averaging 7.8% with ramps of 15% around some of the hairpin turns. Climbing this 3 times with the pace on will certainly hurt and it is a great place for a group to go clear; like we saw last year!

We then get a fast descent, that starts off technical, before reaching the flat roads through Andora and back to the coast line. The road then climbs again for 1.5km, averaging roughly 9.5%. Crest the climb with a good advantage and you have a good chance of making it to the line as there is 2km of a shallow descent followed by a flat finish to home!

How will the race pan out?

It’s only fair really to take into account the last two editions of the race as the course varied so much in the past.

Back in 2015, it was Lampre sprinter Davide Cimolai who managed to take the win. Beating Gavazzi and Tsatevich in a reduced 24-rider bunch sprint. Last year’s event, as mentioned earlier, was won by an attack from Andrea Fedi in the closing kilometres on the final downhill. He managed to hold off a pursuing group of 9 who sprinted for the remaining top 10 places.

I think we’ll see an aggressive race again this year, with maybe 15 riders at most coming home within 30 seconds of the winner.

Contenders

Diego Ulissi has to start as the favourite for this race.

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Off the back of a solid showing at the Tour Down Under, he went on to win GP Etruschi last weekend in miserable conditions. Attacking on the footslopes of the last climb, he quickly built up a good lead and was never seen again by the peloton. Making his move right at the bottom of the climb highlights to me the confidence he has in his condition just now and going off of that performance, he has every right to be confident!

However, the quality of climbers at Etruschi was not as strong as it is here this weekend so Ulissi won’t have it all his own way.

Etoile de Bessèges winner, Lillian Calmejane, arrives with a strong Direct Energie team. The young Frechman has the climbing ability to be able to match Ulissi here and will also be confident after last weeks showing. Having the likes of Chavanel and Voeckler to rely on will be a big aid for him. Being able to send riders on the attack and not have to follow everything, like Ulissi might have to do, should mean Calmejane is well rested for the final circuits. He is certainly capable of winning again this weekend!

Following on from his 3rd place in Etruschi, Francesco Gavazzi will be aiming further up the podium here. Not the best naturalised climber in the peloton, he will be hoping for a coming together in the closing kilometres and a reduced bunch sprint to the line.

Winning the only race he’s finished this year so far, Arthur Vichot will be hoping to continue his 100% record.

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A rider who has promised a lot in one-day races in the past, he certainly has the solid climbing abilities and good kick to contend here. Has he recovered from his flu that saw him pull out of Bessèges?

Delko Marseille will have a couple of cards to play in the form of El Fares and Finetto. The former finished 4th in Marseillaise at the start of the year so seems to be in good form. Likewise, Finetto finished a respectable 7th in that race, before coming home 3rd in a stage at Bessèges; beating Samuel Dumoulin in a sprint. Finetto normally goes well in these types of races and I’ll be very surprised if he doesn’t manage a top 5 placing here!

Astana arrive here with an interesting squad, but I imagine it will be Moreno Moser who will be leading the team. The 2012 winner of this race has struggled in the past after his incredible neo-pro season. However, last year he seemed to return to form with good showings in the Giro and Vuelta and I expect big things from him this year again. With a return from altitude camp on the cards and no racing in his legs, it will be very interesting to see how he performs here.

The team with my favourite hashtag in the peloton, Willier Triestina, will be looking towards Pozzato to either roll the clock back or for Matteo Busato to continue the good progression he showed last year. Although he’s not taken a professional victory yet, Busato took a number of Top 10s last season, including a very impressive 2nd place on the final stage at the Giro del Trentino. Following a pretty much non-existant Dubai Tour, I’m sure he’ll want to impress back on home soil. #LoveMyWillier.

The Italian National team has three candidates to go well here; Felline, Trentin and Bettiol. All on their day have the credentials to take a podium place here but I’m unsure of what their current form will be like.

Other names to keep an eye on are; Andreetta, Bouet and Torres.

Prediction

Ulissi is the clear favourite but I have a sneaking suspicion that Moser will be fired up for this race. He won’t get many chances to lead Astana this year so will want to make his mark nice and early!

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There is absolutely no PFCL fantasy team bias in this preview at all…none…ok…maybe a little.

 

Thanks for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated as always! How do you think the race will play out? Will it be a solo winner, or a reduced bunch sprint? I shall have an Oman GC preview out tomorrow evening sometime. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tour Down Under Stage 5 Preview; McLaren Vale -> Willunga Hill

Today’s Recap

Jack Bauer almost made it all the way but was caught within the final 5km and we did end up with a bunch gallop to the line after all. Like GroundHog Day, it was once again Ewan who took out a great sprint victory, beating Sagan and Van Poppel to the line.

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Is he unbeatable on current form? Pretty much yeah, but we’ll have to wait until Sunday to find out as tomorrow is the classic TDU GC finish up Willunga Hill.

The Route

Link to the Strava stage profile

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There’s not really much to talk about the route for this stage. The laps around McLaren Vale are very straightforward, so like every year, this day comes down to the double passage of Willunga Hill.

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A fairly steady climb, it averages 7.6% for the 2.9km with it’s steepest sections coming in the first half and it “flattening out” in the final kilometre.

On the first ascent we normally see some thinning out of the peloton and are maybe left with 30-40 riders or so coming into the final run up Willunga. The past few years has seen the leading GC teams control the climb until roughly 1km left where we normally see a full-out sprint from Porte all the way to the top.

He did the same thing in 2016 too…

Both attacks are made at 1.2km to go and amazingly he fully drops Dennis/Henao at the exact same S-bend. More of the same this year?!

How will the stage pan out?

With the commanding lead he has, Porte will be able to ride a more defensive race here than he’s used to. But will he want to? The King of Willunga could potentially make it three in a row here and with the way he soared up Paracombe on Stage 2 I wouldn’t put it past him. He’s not really giving any hints as to how he’ll race it, suggesting he can ride conservatively but if the option is there to go for the win he will. Hmmm.

You never know, he might be happy to let a break take the win and bonus seconds, but that’s very unlikely! Or at least the other teams will chase the break down to fight out for the win if BMC don’t play ball.

With the 20″ gap over his nearest rivals, Porte could just mark Chaves/Izagirre/McCarthy out of the race. Therefore, I think there is a good chance he might give a bit of leeway to those who are further behind, i.e. 30 seconds plus.

Henao was very unlucky on stage 2 with a double puncture and did remarkably well to still get up for 12th on the stage. So he clearly has very good form at the moment. Second here last year to Porte he definitely has a good chance to go one better this year!

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Woods was third here last year and like Henao currently sits 33″ behind Porte on GC. I can imagine there will be a lot of people who fancy his chances but he wasn’t overly impressive on Paracombe in my opinion. Especially in comparison to his explosive nature that he showed last year at this race. So it’s a no from me, but I am willing to be surprised and proven wrong (again)!

Ulissi sprinted to 4th on this finish in 2016 and came home in the main group on Stage 2 so clearly has some decent form. Probably not a rider who will win solo, he could win a 2 or 3 man sprint of lesser riders.

Haas seems to be riding better than ever here but this climb is on his limit so he’ll have to pull a remarkable performance out the bag to podium. As we have him for GC I’m quite happy to just leave him be for this stage.

There are a lot of other riders who could potentially pull off an early attack that goes unmarked and stays away to the end but I won’t name the entire top 20 on GC. Nobody’s got time for that! So a usual here are a couple of outsiders to keep an eye on during the coverage.

If Izagirre is struggling look to another Movistar rider, Jesus Herrada, as their man for the day. A very solid climber with a good sprint he will need to catch the others napping as he probably won’t be able to ride the likes of Chaves/Porte etc off of his wheel. Nonetheless he does have the class to finish a race off as was shown at the Dauphiné last year.

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One outside Aussie who I do like for this kind of surprise, un-marked attack is Nathan Earle. Finishing 11th on Paracombe was a great result and he certainly is flying right now. A rider who may not be as respected in terms of his climbing ability by the rest of the peloton, he is a danger if he gets an easy 15 seconds. I do expect the Uni-SA team to go a bit berserk this stage!

Prediction

I’ll go for a Sergio Henao win. He was terribly unlucky on stage 2 and will want to justify his good form with victory! Coming back from a double puncture to finish in the main bunch is no mean feat and being 33 seconds down on Porte will only be to his advantage. If he gets a 5 second gap he’ll win. Vamos!

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Or Porte decides to go for the win and creams everyone…

Betting

2.3pts WIN Sergio Henao @9/2 with Boylesports (would take 4/1)

0.1pt WIN Jesus Herrada @80/1 with Betfair (would take 66s)

0.1pt WIN Nathan Earle @150/1 with various bookmakers

Plus this “fun” H2H treble with Bet365. 0.5pt

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Thanks again for reading! Who do you think will win up Willunga? Will Richie still be the King? As usual any feedback is greatly appreciated! Anyway,

Those are My Two Spokes Worth

 

 

 

 

 

Il Lombardia 2016 Preview

Il Lombardia 2016 Preview

The race with the pretty name, the “Classica delle foglie morte”, is the final Monument of the year. Traditionally a race for the climbers and very strong Ardennes riders, the 2015 edition was won by a commanding Vincenzo Nibali, who attacked on the penultimate descent and managed to hold on to take the win.

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This year the organisers have taken the amount of climbing to a whole new level…

The Route

Ouch!

lombardiasp Just look at that profile, particularly the second half, it wouldn’t look out-of-place as a Grand Tour Queen stage. Saying that, they wouldn’t have a stage at 240km long!

The first real challenge the riders come to is the Valico di Valcava. I’m disregarding the iconic Madonna del Ghisalo purely because it comes too close to the start.valico-di-valcava

The Valcava as you can see is a real brute of a climb. If this was a GT, it would probably be defined as a Cat1/HC depending on what classification you use. The 3km section at 11.6% could rip the peloton to shreds if a team decides to take it up early.

Once the riders have reached the summit, I’m sure they’ll be glad to know that there is just under 100km and 5 climbs left!

Next is the Berbenno; 6.5km in length and at only 5.1% it doesn’t warrant a profile from the organisers. The riders will tackle a fast descent before they go climbing again up the Sant’Antonia Abbandonato.

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Another very steep climb, the average gradient of 8.9% is deceiving because the opening and closing kilometres are significantly easier than the  rest of the climb which averages over 10%. Another plunge into the valley follows before the Miragolo San Salvatore.

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A much steadier and not as harsh climb at only 7% for it’s 8.7km. With it topping out at 40km to go, I can’t see this climb being taken at a leisurely pace. The strong climbers will hope to distance any stragglers here!

A short 5km descent follows before they tackle the penultimate climb of the day.

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With the climb being relatively shallow, it will be tough for the riders to make any real inroads here. A strong group however, would be able to take back/ gain a good bit of time here if there was enough cohesion.

Once crested, the riders face a long 11km descent before roughly 10km of flat-ish road.

5km

The last place the climbers can hope to make a difference is the short 1.2km long drag that comes just over 4km to the finish line. With some steep ramps, if they distance those behind and have around 5 seconds at the top then they should hold on for the win.

It’s the exact same run in that was used in 2014, although the rest of that race was a lot easier!

Weather Watch

Initially, it looked as if the riders were going to miss the bad weather. However, inclement weather seems to be arriving in the area a day early!

As you know by now, meteorologists steal a living so you can’t trust everything completely. Therefore, I’ve tried to use a few sites to get a better idea.

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Good chance of rain in the afternoon at Lake Como (MetOffice).

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Weather.com has a similar outlook for Como.

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Possible thunderstorms a few hours after the race has finished in Bergamo (AccuWeather)

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The MetOffice also think there’s a good chance of rain in Bergamo, more likely in the evening.

Obviously these forecasts could change again by this evening but it’s definitely something to consider.

How will the race pan out?

With the final two climbs not being too difficult, the climbers without a sprint and those who are on an exceptional day will want the pace to be on early.

Looking at the teams, I would expect Astana to set a hard pace up the Valcava, shelling any deadwood and some opposition teammates. Movistar, Orica & AG2R may even lend a hand, and I would not be surprised if we only had around 60 riders left in the peloton after that climb.

A similar pattern will unfold on the Abbandonato. By this time, the bad weather and rain may have close in, which will make this race even more amazing!

A peloton of around 25-30 riders will then reach the Salvatore. With an average gradient of 7%, it is possible to make a difference here and the pace will be incredibly high. Cresting at 40km to go, there is a chance for those dropped to make it back in. The composition of the main group will then shape the rest of the race.

It is possible we get an escape of “lesser” riders forming at this point, while the main favourites mark each other behind. The group will have to include a rider from Astana/Movistar/AG2R/Orica/Sky if it hopes to survive to the end. Look to the likes of Kangert and Izagirre!

Favourites

My number one favourite for this race has to be Chaves. He was up here last year until cramps and a hunger knock took him out of contention. One of the best climbers in the race and not to mention he’s on good form, I’ll be shocked if he doesn’t make the top 3!

Uran arrives off the back of a very good series of races in September and has been unlucky not to take a win. That could well change here! He’s a danger-man.

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Aru is Astana’s main man for this. They’ll be hoping for a performance similar to Nibali from him. However, he’s not been anywhere near to that high standard this Autumn. I’m just not convinced by his ability to compete in a race like this.

Movistar’s main men will be Moreno and Valverde. Both performed very well here last year and Moreno looks in good form just now. Having Valverde in the final group changes the dynamic as no one will want to come to a sprint with him. His form/fatigue is also unknown as he’s done a lot of racing this year. I’d have Moreno as team leader!

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Alaphilippe is 3rd favourite with the bookies, but there is too much climbing for him in my opinion! He won’t be there at the end.

Bardet should be in the mix for AG2R and is a podium contender. On form, Ulissi and Costa will be in or around the top 10. The Italian was climbing exceptionally well in the Giro and will hope to do the same tomorrow.

There are some riders others will mention as potential favourites but their form hasn’t been good enough for me to fancy their chances; Martin, Mollema, Poels, Brambilla and Landa namely.

Outsiders?

There is always the opportunity for those further down the pecking order. I like the look of Majka for this. Completely contradictory to what I said above re-Martin and co, I just think this course suits the Pole very well. He normally goes well at the end of the year and can handle the distance.

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Majka’s reaction when he hears that the #HaugheyCurse has been set upon him

Others I like the look of are Reichenbach and Kelderman. The Swiss rider is going very well at the moment and has been attacking in his recent races. He’s a very good climber on his day, but probably isn’t the quality of the big favourites. This could work to his advantage as the others just watch each other. The same can be said for Kelderman, who seemed to be going nicely in the Eneco Tour and in Canada. Another danger man if given too much leeway! I do like the back-up Astana rider option and Kangert would be my man for that situation.

Prediction

Chaves should win, he’s arguably the best climber here, a good descender and in very good form!

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But we do get a surprise every so often, especially if the weather is bad. Keep an eye out for my 4 outsiders!

Betting

1pt WIN Chaves @ 6/1 with PaddyPower or Betfair

0.2pt EW Majka @ 80/1 with Bet365

0.15pt EW Reichenbach @100/1 with Bet365/PP/Betfair (or take 80/1 with Ladbrokes but 4 places)

0.1pt EW Kelderman @ 150/1 with Bet365/PP/Betfair

0.1pt EW Kangert @250/1 with Ladbrokes (4 places)

 

Hope you all enjoyed the preview and thanks for reading! How do you think the race will pan out? As usual, any feedback is greatly appreciated. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Clásica de San Sebastián

Clásica de San Sebastián

A great semi-classic style race positioned the weekend after the Tour, San Sebastián often provides very exciting racing.

2015’s edition was won by Adam Yates, after a strong attack on the final climb. He crested it with a slender margin of around 3 seconds, and due to a combination of strength from the Brit and a disorganised chase behind, he increased his lead and managed to win by 15 seconds at the finish.

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Adam looking puzzled crossing the line.

Yates himself looked confused as he crossed the line. Which resulted in us the viewers being confused/humoured at his bemusement. This was partly due to a fault with the aeroplane that was meant to be transmitting the pictures, so the live feed only returned as Yates powered away near the top of the climb. What wasn’t captured on TV but last year’s race is now infamous for, is Greg Van Avermaet’s collision with a motorcycle.

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Yates didn’t know it at the time that GVA had been taken out, hence the reason for his disbelief at the end hearing that he’d won!

Let’s look at this years edition.

The Route

The profile of the race is very similar to that of previous editions. In fact, it’s almost identical to last year’s profile but with one slight difference.

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The route profile is correct, just the last climb has been misnamed

Instead of going up the Tontorra, the riders climb up Murgil Bidea instead. This change in final climb doesn’t really affect the race, it just increases its length ever so slightly because of the change in route.

The climbs of the Jaizkibel and Arkale will sap the legs within the peloton early on, but the race really is all about the final climb, as this is where most successful moves are made.

The final climb is still incredibly tough. As usual, I’ve made a profile on Strava for it that you can view directly here.

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Profile of Murgil Bidea.

Including part of the run-in and false flat after the official summit, smooths out the climb ever so slightly, making it 2.2km long with an average gradient of 8.9%. Taking out these sections makes the climb 1.5km at 10.4%, with ramps of around 20%. Steep and difficult either way!

Previous Winners – Is there a pattern?

Over the past 10 editions (2006-2015) only one of the winners has not raced at the Tour. That man was Xavier Florencio way back in 2006. All the rest have been on a merry jaunt around France.

Interestingly enough, all the winners from 2007 onwards have finished the TDF, all in the top 75 on GC too.

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Average GC position is 28.4 – Shame Wout Poels isn’t here!

Going off of recent history, it seems that to be a winner at San Sebastian, you must have performed well in France. Therefore, it is paramount to consider those who’ve just came from the Tour.

Non-Tour riders?

There is obviously always a chance that the pattern from the last nine years can be broken this time round. There are a few riders coming in from other races or blocks of training who have the abilities and credentials to challenge here. It all just depends if they are back to race condition yet or not.

Candidates

In a slight change from the normal lay-out, I’m going to go through the teams/riders who have a chance of going well here. Naming more riders than I would usually! Still, some teams won’t be mentioned, because let’s be honest, no-one from Cofidis is winning here…

(those who’ve been at the Tour are in bold and I’ll be going through in Startlist order, max 2 riders per team)

Orica – Adam Yates & Simon Yates. The defending champion was in great form at the Tour and has every chance of winning again. He floats up hills and the gradients here are to his liking. Meanwhile, his brother returned from his doping suspension with a win on Monday and will want to remind everyone what he can do on the big stage.

Cycling: 35th Clasica Ciclista San Sebastian 2015

Tinkoff – Kreuziger. Had a good Tour but it will be tough for him to win here. He’s not a good enough climber to escape alone on the final climb and doesn’t have the required sprint from a bunch. The only way he can win is if a group crests together, and he attacks on the descent and hopes that the chase behind is disorganised.

Movistar – Valverde. They’ll be all in for Alejandro. There’s a chance one of the Izagirre’s might be used as a ploy to get the other teams to chase but AV is their main option. Mr Consistent can win from about any situation. He’s rightly the favourite.

BMC- GVA & Gilbert. The could have been winner from last year will be here to right the wrongs. Van Avermaet was climbing exceptionally at the Tour and is in great shape just now, he’ll be disappointed if he doesn’t win. Phil Gil had a poor classics campaign due to injury. He’s not been his best this year but has shown glimpses of form. You can never rule out the former winner and World Champ.

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Sky – Landa & Nieve. I’m being rather controversial here, but I think the two Basque riders will be the team’s leaders over Kwiatkowski and Roche. Landa slowly re-found himself during the Tour and he seemed to be in good shape by the end of it. Earlier in the year he excelled on a steep finish at Trentino, very similar to the final climb we have here. Don’t forget he finished 6th here back in 2013. Nieve has finished 4th here on two occasions, can he make the step onto the podium? Quite possibly! He rode very well in support of Froome over the past month. After doing the Giro and Tour, does he have anything left in reserve? I think so.

Etixx – Martin. It’s all about Panda Power for Etixx. The Irishman achieved his best ever Tour GC result this year. An always attacking rider, you can be sure that he’ll try to make a move off the front at some point. Furthermore, as was shown in Lombardia (2014), he is great at timing a move from a small group and he packs a good sprint. With all that being said, I can’t see him finishing on the podium. Brambilla may be let off the hook but he’s not raced enough recently for me to like his chances.

Katusha – JRod. Another team with one clear leader, Rodriguez really got his season back on track at the Tour after having a poor start to the year. With the announcement that he’s retiring at the end of the year, he’ll give it his all here and potentially take a few more risks than normal.

Lampre – Ulissi. He was climbing exceptionally at the Giro but has been a bit off the boil since then. With the explosive kick required and fast sprint from a group he will be a serious danger-man. Can he be the non-Tour rider to break that 9 year duck?

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Trek – Mollema & Felline. The Dutchman has a great record, finishing in the Top 10 in all of the previous 4 editions. However, he looked spent by the end of the Tour. I’m not sure if he’ll have recovered fully but he can’t be ruled out. Felline finished the recent Tour de Pologne 2nd on GC, a great result. He is a rider for a while who has promised so much in these type of races. I think this is too early for him (look out for him at the Vuelta) and the final climb is on his limit. I’m ready to be surprised though!

Lotto Soudal – Gallopin & Wellens. Another former winner lining up here, Gallopin had a poor TDF by his standards. Especially after a good showing at the French national championships. I’m not sure why that was, but if he’s back to his best then he can definitely challenge here. Wellens on the other hand seems to be on great form just now, storming to the overall victory in Poland just over a week ago. We’re sure to see an attack (probably poorly timed) from him at some point.

AG2R – Vuillermoz. Was building form nicely at the Tour and is a rider I like a lot. He can handle the steep inclines but will probably need to come to the finish alone as he doesn’t have a great flat sprint.

IAM – Pantano. Arguably the revelation of this years TDF, Pantano has all the attributes to go well here. His weakness is probably actually his climbing and I’m not too sure how he goes on very steep gradients. However, he will still be better than most in that respect! He’ll be able to fly down the hill and he has a fast sprint on him too so he can challenge from a group.

Aside from these riders, I can’t see anyone else winning. In fact, I’d narrow it down to A Yates, Valverde, GVA, JRod, Landa, Nieve & Pantano as the most likely candidates. All riders who have been at the Tour!

Prediction

In tradition of the blog I’ll go for one of the outsiders.

I think Sky’s numerical advantage will play a massive part in the finale, whether that’s marking moves on the climb/descent or doing the “old 1-2” themselves. I favour Landa out of the two in that situation. We’ve seen him cope well with steep inclines (Trentino this year and Aia last year) and as a potential Grand Tour winner he has the pedigree and capabilities to win here. Unlike some of the others (Yates & Valverde) he didn’t have to go deep on every stage in France, so will have saved some energy because of that. The team will be on a high after the Tour and want to continue that good run. Therefore, I think we get the poetic Basque region winner that the fans and locals will adore!

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Betting

Just backing Landa for this, the majority of the favourites are too short to back convincingly and I think Landa offers some value. The bookies seem to have the race priced well.

0.5pt EW @ 50/1 with Betfair. (I’d take 40/1 if you can’t get 50/1)

If I see any H2Hs that I like I’ll add them on my Twitter.

 

Thanks for reading and making it this far on this longer than normal preview! Any feedback is very much appreciated as usual. I should have a preview out for Ride London too so keep an eye out for that. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.