Men’s Road Race World Championships Preview – Bergen 2017

After finding success on the rolling course in Richmond back in 2015, Peter Sagan went on defend his title a year later in Doha; winning a reduced bunch sprint.

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Can the Solvakian make it an unprecedented three wins on the trot tomorrow? Let’s take a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

Long, at a total of 276.5km! But that is what you would expect for the World Championships.

The riders don’t actually start in Bergen, instead, they’ll start in the town of Rong before heading south along a 40km stretch of exposed road and reaching the finish town. Thankfully or not, depending on what way you look at it, the wind forecast is for it to be very low so we won’t see any echelon action. Much to my disgust!

BergenRR Circuit

 

You can view the interactive version of my profile here.

If you’ve watched any of the action over the past few days then you’ll be familiar with the circuit above.

11 laps will certainly wear down the riders legs, with the total elevation gain for the day being roughly 3500m.

The key focal point for attacks over the past few races has been Salmon Hill and the small climb that comes just before it.

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Taken as a whole it is 3.7km at 4% which doesn’t sound much, but after 200km+ of racing then it certainly can cause some splits. The stronger climbers will be looking to put in their stinging attacks on the steeper ramps; either just before the “top” of the uncategorised climb, or halfway through Salmon Hill. This is where big gaps can be made.

The issue though is that after the summit there are still 10.4km of the course remaining. Any riders that make it away need to work well to ensure that they stay away from the chasers, especially with the final few kilometres being into a head wind.

I’m not going to bore you with any more route analysis though, as we’ve had plenty of that this week already. Instead, I’m going to jump straight into trying to figure this race out and what possible scenario we might see unfold tomorrow afternoon.

How do you stop Sagan?

A question many teams and riders ask themselves throughout the season but it is once again the case here.

Option 1 – Outsprint Him.

With a lot of nations bringing a rider who get involved in a reduced sprint at the end of the day, then there is a chance we might see it held all together to the line. Sagan is obviously fast in these types of situations, especially after a tough days racing. However, he has shown at MSR this year that he is certainly beatable.

Option 2 – Drop Him.

A tough task but some squads will certainly try it. If strong teams such as the Dutch, Belgians and French make constant attacks on Salmon Hill in the closing 80kms, then Sagan might get tired out trying to cover everything. That is of course assuming that he won’t have any team support left to work for him. The pace needs to be high from far out for that to happen though.

Option 3 – Refuse to work, hope your rider gets lucky.

We saw this recently in Quebec where no one wanted to co-operate with Sagan after he attacked in the closing stages. If they did, then there was a good chance they would have caught the group ahead, consequently fighting it for the win. They didn’t though and Sagan just shrugged and moved on. Although this is less likely to happen tomorrow as the Slovak will try to chase everything, it still might just do so. It is a very Sagan thing after all!

Option 4Illness

Bilogical warfare is probably a step too far, but there are rumours flying around on Twitter that he is currently suffering from illness and hasn’t been on the bike in a few days. I’m sure this was the case last year and has been for a few of his other races that he has went on to win. All mind games? We’ll just have to wait and see tomorrow.

Option 4 – Accept defeat.

He can follow almost any rider on the climb and he can match any rider here in a sprint after 200+km. Is there any point in trying?

Of course, and I think we won’t see him take a third title!

Definitely.

Maybe.

Possibly.

Ah who am I kidding, he probably will.

Contenders or Pretenders? The infamous Five

Like with my women’s preview, I’m only going to name a handful of riders here who I think could go well in a variety of situations. So once again apologies if I have not named someone you were hoping for; repeating the names you’ll no doubt have heard of a lot over the week such as Kwiatkowski, Matthews and Gaviria doesn’t appeal to me much!

Alex(bae)ey Lutsenko.

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The first punt I had committed to for this race and it was always going to happen, it was just a matter of time. If you’ve followed the blog over the past year and a half since its inception then you’ll know I have a lot of admiration for the talented Kazakh. He was strong at the start of the year; finishing a very respectable third in Dwars. Yet, it is his recent form at the Vuelta that impressed me most. He was super strong there to get a stage win and a second place finish on two tough breakaway days. The climb tomorrow is probably on his limit if the likes of Dumoulin go crazy in the final lap, but he has the quality to be close and he might infiltrate an earlier move. Will the former U23 champion take the step up?

Petr Vakoc.

My second punt for the race and another rider that was always going to be backed. A brute of a rider, he hasn’t taken as big a step forward in 2016 as I was expecting and hoping for but his performances have been solid. To win he’ll most likely have to go early and hope to be there if the strong climbers attack from behind. Packing a solid sprint from a very reduced group, he might fancy his chances in an 8 rider gallop.

Now that the two “long-term” selections are out of the road, it is time to move on to some other riders who I think could do well. Some are certainly more obscure than others.

Danny Van Poppel.

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Yup, you read that right. The Dutch have been on fire at these Championships so far and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them get a medal again tomorrow. Dumoulin is obviously one of their stronger guys and will be attacking early but if it all comes back for a 40 rider sprint then Van Poppel has a good outside chance. He’s impressed me a lot this season and certainly seems to becoming a more versatile rider. On the short bergs he can follow some of the stronger one-day riders, as was highlighted at BinckBank, but it will be interesting to see how it goes tomorrow. Given the instruction to not waste any energy at all and wait for a sprint, will he get his chance to shine?

Tony Gallopin.

A strong one-day racer, he arrives here in good form after taking two top-10s in Canada which were swiftly followed up by a second place in Wallonie. In terms of career he should be hitting his peak soon and given how strong he looked at San Sebastian in July, I think he’s in for a good couple of years; he just needs some luck. His last two appearances at the World’s have seen him finish 7th in 2015 and 6th in 2014. This course tomorrow in theory suits him very well, and packing a fast sprint he could fancy a small group of favourites battling it out at the line. It will be interesting to see how France approach tomorrow in general, with no “proper sprinter” they will no doubt be attacking throughout the day and making the race tough. Something that will help Gallopin a lot!

Daryl Impey.

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Last man on the list, Impey has had a fairly solid season in support of other riders at Orica. However, when presented with his own chances he has taken them, including a reduced bunch sprint in Catalunya earlier this year. A rider who’s climbing is very hit or miss, he showed some great form in the final week of the Tour, supporting Simon Yates deep into some of the stages. If he has those kind of legs tomorrow then he could be a real dark horse!

Prediction

We’ll see some fairly serious attacks around 50km out as teams try to make the race tough and ensure we don’t see a sprint. This will thin the bunch out going into the final 30km and the penultimate climb of Salmon Hill. Much like the women’s race, a smaller group will get away here but will be brought back due to a lack of cohesion ahead. This will then allow some riders to escape on the run-in before we hear the bell. A lot of the strong teams will be represented and with no impetus from behind, they stay away to the line.

Tony Gallopin to, erm, gallop home and take the win from a 7 rider sprint!

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#SuperGallopinFantastic

Betting

Certainly a day to spread some punts around!

0.25pt EW Lutsenko @ 100/1 (would take 80s)

0.25pt EW Vakoc @ 200/1 (would take 150s)

0.25pt EW Impey @ 200/1 (would take 150s)

0.5pt EW Van Poppel @ 80/1 (would take 66s)

1pt EW Gallopin @ 66/1 (would take 50s)

 

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Could we see an upset on the cards, or will it be the cream rising to the top? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

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

Today’s Recap

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

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

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

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Van Poppel finished fast for Sky to take home third.

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

The Route

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

TDP Stage 2 Profile

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

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

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

Final 2km Stage 2 Poland

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

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

A tale of two sprinters – again?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Late Attack

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

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

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

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

Prediction

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

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

Betting

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

0.9pt EW Minali @ 16/1 with Bet365

0.2pt WIN Vakoc @ 200/1 with Bet365

 

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

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.

 

La Flèche Wallonne 2017 Preview

The second of the Ardennes classics this week and we’re finally in the Ardennes! A race dominated by the famous Mur de Huy ascent and the sprint up it, the day is often won by some of the best climbers in the world.

Last year an imperious Valverde won it for the third time in a row (his 4th in total), beating Alaphilippe and Dan Martin.

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I’m not going to beat about the bush here though, this is one of my least favourite races of the year. A long afternoon waiting for one short effort up the final climb, not my idea of fun. Maybe that will change this year though after all the attacking racing we’ve had so far this Spring?

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

The Route

A shade over 200km, with most of the challenges packed into the latter half of the race.

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The road is up and down for the last 80km but more than likely it will be the final 30km that will settle the day.

With the second passage of the Huy, some teams might look to increase the pace and shed some domestiques of the main favourites, or even send attackers up the road.

It’s then around 12km until they hit the Côte d’Ereffe, cresting with only 15km remaining. At 2.1km in length and averaging only 5%, it’s not a hard climb, but I expect the pace to be high and a few riders might get dropped from the peloton.

Once over the peak, we have a quick descent and an unclassified rise before a gradual drop to the penultimate climb of the day.

The Côte de Cherave is an easier Mur, averaging just over 8% for 1.3km. Last year saw Izagirre, Jungels and Wellens attack on the climb and we could well see some similar moves this year. With its proximity to the finish, if the peloton behind is not co-operating then there is a chance that riders make it all the way to the Mur with a gap. However, they’ll need to have something left in the tank before tackling the famous climb.

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The 9.6% average gradient is a bit deceitful because we have a kilometre that averages closer to 11%, with much shallower slopes at the bottom and right at the end of the climb.

It will be a strong rider who wins tomorrow!

Weather Watch

It looks like a nice day out in the saddle for the riders, but it also looks to be a relatively windy day.

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Source; Windfinder

The above image is the forecast for a town called Maillen which is just north of the route near Yvoir (at the 63km gone mark).

It’s a similar story for the rest of the region tomorrow, with a brisk North-Easterly wind which means that it will be a head or cross-head wind for most of the day until we reach the closing circuit around Huy.

Combining the wind direction, speed and road direction then echelons are certainly a possibility but I fear there is a greater chance of it just being a block head-wind instead.

There are some exposed roads in the area though, so if the wind would turn ever so slightly, then that would be great!

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I’m just thinking wishfully again though.

How will the race pan out?

I’m really hoping that the attacking racing of the Spring continues here. The route has a lot of potential, especially the closing 15km, it just requires some teams to be risky for once. Otherwise, we’ll end up with another damp squib of a race again.

The onus is really on Movistar to do most of the work as Valverde is the man to beat on this climb, going for his 5th win and considering his form, no one else will win if the bunch comes to the foot slopes together. Barring any mechanical or other incident of course.

Therefore it’s up to other teams to make the race hard and wear down Movistar as the Spanish team here is solid, but not great. Potential race winning attacks will need to come further out than 15km to go though because they should still be able to cope with them then.

In theory, no one should help them and that’s how I would certainly play it if I was a DS of a team. Yet as we know, some teams don’t seem to think that way and I fear that Sky/QuickStep will crack and help do some work.

However, if Sky sent someone like Rosa up the road on the penultimate passage of the Huy then that would set alarm bells ringing in the Movistar camp and soften them up for the last trio of climbs. Joined by some allies from other teams, then we could have a race on our hands. It would need to be a meaningful attack though because the route isn’t tough enough to cause any damage if it’s a half-hearted effort.

With all that said though, I fear it may come down to a sprint up the Mur.

Contender(s)

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Anyone else?

Team Sky duo of Henao and Kwiatkowski should be up there. Both have finished well in the past at this race and they were strong in Amstel which will give them a lot of confidence going into tomorrow. A 1-2 punch might see them beat Valverde but Quick Step tried that last year and failed, so we could see a similar outcome again.

No Gilbert is a blow for Quick Step but they still have Dan Martin who will be in contention. He wasn’t great in Catalunya but that could turn around here, he won’t win though.

Albasini will top 10 again, possibly top 5.

Uran has looked good this season and should be up there again. His team-mate Woods should like this type of finish but his tactical ineptness lets him down at times. I guess there aren’t many tactics to a 1.3km uphill effort!

Several other GC riders/climbers will feature in and around the top 10, such as Bardet, Pantano and Costa.

As for outsiders;

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My logic still stands with Matthews for tomorrow, or at least it does in my head anyway! He seems to be going exceptionally well this year and he’s survived some steep climbs when I’ve not expected it. With the race only being 200km he should be fresh at the finish so in a 3-minute effort, why can’t he compete with the best GC riders in the World?

I’m also intrigued to see how Kudus goes. The Eritrean will benefit from the shorter race distance and I keep thinking back to how impressive he was in February on the climb to Llucena. The issue is that, that result was February and we’re now in April when riders are almost in peak condition and Kudus hasn’t shown so much recently. Nonetheless, as a proper outsider, he’s one to keep an eye on!

If we get a late attack succeed or a group of riders get away then Vakoc is my man for that situation.

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As QS’ join second best option IMO (along with Brambilla), he could be a good foil to send up the road in an attacking race. He looked incredibly strong in Brabantse, bridging the gap to Wellens and then to the leaders fairly comfortably. Peaking for this part of the season, I don’t think we’ve seen everything from him yet this week…

Prediction

An exciting/attacking race? Hopefully! But…

Cycling is a sport where 180 guys ride around on their bikes for 5 hours and in the end, Valverde wins.

Betting

I fear #HaugheyWednesdays will be coming to an end tomorrow. Some really small punts for interest but they are already a hiding to nothing and almost being marked down as a loss before the start…

0.125pt EW Matthews @ 300/1 (As I tweeted this I’m counting it, and I would maybe take the 200s still available. The 150 is a push)

0.125pt EW Kudus @ 500/1 with Betfair/PP (would take 300s lowest)

0.125pt EW Vakoc @ 250/1 with Bet365 (150/1 lowest but again, that’s at a push).

 

Thanks as always for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated. Who do you think will win? Will it be a walk in the park for Valverde? This is the first of three previews I’ll have out today, with Women’s Fleche out next then Tour of the Alps out later, so do return for those! Although the latter may be cancelled due to the weather. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

De Brabantse Pijl 2017 Preview

De Brabantse Pijl 2017 Preview

With the cobbled classics now finished, the peloton’s attention now turns to the Ardennes with the “warm-up” event of De Brabantse Pijl.

However, it’s offensive to just call it a warm-up race as it is an exciting race in its own right!

Last year after some probing and strong attacks throughout the day, it all came down to a charge up the final climb from an elite group of five. Vakoc stormed up it, dropping everyone, and holding on to the line to take what was his third win of the season.

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It was a good day for me as I had Vakoc at 33/1. I’m not sure we’ll see those type of prices on him again though, but I may be wrong. You’ll just have to find out at the end of this!

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

The Route

More of the same as we saw in the 2016 edition with a route that remains mainly unchanged, although this year the race is 6km shorter.

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A relatively tough day out in the saddle with 26 climbs, some of which are cobbled. Although there is more often than not space to avoid the cobbles themselves and go up the paved section at the side!

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The climbs on the day aren’t too tough, but if they are ridden aggressively gaps certainly can be made. Almost as important is the flat section just after the summit, because riders will be on the limit. Last year the winning move was made at the 4km to go mark, right at the top of the penultimate climb.

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The Bora rider was unable to follow the five out ahead once they rounded the corner and that was race over.

I’m not going to run through all of the climbs individually, but there is a nifty website that lists all 26 of them that you can view here!

The final climb of the day, Schavei, is 500m long and averages roughly 6%.

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There is time for a regrouping once over the top, but on the contrary, riders can maintain a gap all the way to the finish line.

Will it be a reduced sprint or solo winner this year?

Well, there is one factor that could have an influence…

Weather Watch

Yep, you guessed it; more racing in Belgium and more windy conditions!

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Source: Windfinder

With a constant and fairly strong Westerly wind, the riders will face a variety of wind directions as they go through the race.  Starting mainly with a cross-headwind, before some cross winds, then a cross-tail on the run in to the closing circuit.

As a viewer this has amped up my excitement for this race even more, not so much as a preview writer though because it adds another element of unpredictability to it all. I’m sure the peloton will have a similar view with some wind-natives licking their lips at the prospect.

How will the race pan out?

Before I had looked at the forecast I thought the race would be an attacking one this year, with the peloton continuing their aggressive racing from the cobbles classics onto the lumpier events.

The wind should ensure that it is aggressive and there will be plenty of teams looking to take advantage and I think we’ll see some large splits out on the road before we reach our final circuit.

Which in turn should make the last 60km of the race even more attacking because there in theory should be less team-mates to control things.

Or at least I’m hoping so!

Contenders

Quick Step come here with two big favourites in the form of Vakoc and Gilbert. The reigning champion looked good in Catalunya, building some nice form for his assault on the Ardennes. A brute of a rider, he really comes into his own on this type of terrain and certainly has a chance to double up tomorrow. Of course in Gilbert they have a rider who is on exceptional form. He’s won this race twice in the past (2011/2014/2017?) so knows what is required here! They have some strong domestiques and I expect them to be one of the main teams to try to split things up in the wind, hoping to drop the “sprinters”.

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QS aren’t the only strong Belgian team here, Lotto Soudal also have a stacked team with them! I imagine Wellens and Benoot will be team leaders and they are a duo that can certainly challenge for the race win. The former has had a quieter part in his season recently but he looked good following the moves on the stage into San Sebastian in Pais Vasco, and I think he’ll go well this coming week. His lack of explosivity is a downfall, but he is sure to go on the attack at some point. If no one follows quickly, then he could be tough to bring back!

I was disappointed to see Benoot not picked for Paris Roubaix after he has had a terrible cobbled classics campaign due to bad luck. This type of course suits him though and he is much more explosive than his team-mate and I think he’s a dark horse for this race.

Matthews has a great chance to finally win this race after being close on several occasions. In cracking form, his 6th on the TT in Pais Vasco was incredible, he might approach this race differently than in previous years. Normally would hold off for the sprint, but this year he might have to attack as his team doesn’t look that great. However, I fear for him in the wind!

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His old team Orica have a few good options to play tomorrow. In Gerrans and Impey they have two strong riders who can follow attacks but also pack a fast sprint after a tough day. I can’t see them chasing everyone down like they did last year!

BMC have a team packed full of young talent who will be looking to impress, lead by a relative veteran compared to his team-mates; Ben Hermans. After a barnstorming start to the season, he’s went off the boil recently but will be hoping to go well in the Ardennes so he should be getting back to his best shape here. If not, keep an eye out for Vliegen as a Kirby inspired, “cheeky side bet”.

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Bahrain bring with them a team to support Gasparotto and Colbrelli. Well, when I say support they might be there for the first 100km. The two Italians can mix it up in the sprint after a tough day and both finished in the top 6 last year. Gasparotto has been disappointing this year and has recently returned from a training camp so it will be interesting to see how he goes. Conversely, Colbrelli has been going well for most of the year so you would expect him to decline in form soon, but that probably won’t happen until after Amstel. Like Matthews, I fear for both of them in the windy conditions!

I don’t think Coquard will have a chance this year.

A few other, some less well-known, names to conjure with are Haas and Sbaragli (Dimension Data), Meurisse (Wanty), Bouet (Fortuneo) and Tusveld (Roompot).

Prediction

We’ll get a hectic first half of the race before we get to the circuit and the peloton will be split in the wind. That will then make the closing laps even more aggressive than normal and luck will be as important as form, and so will having strong team-mates.

I’ll go for a rider who’s been down on luck recently, but that will change here. He’s a great punchy classics man and this route suits him perfectly, but will just have to hope Gilbert isn’t the QuickStep representative up front…

Benoot to win his first pro race!

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It also gives me a good opportunity to share my favourite cycling related Instagram post…

View this post on Instagram

Forza Tiesj Benoot! 🎉 @tiesj #ohn

A post shared by Sporza (@sporza.be) on

Betting

Hoping #WinningWednesdays can continue…

1pt EW Benoot @40/1 with Bet365

0.5pt EW Vliegen @28/1 with Bet365

 

Thanks for reading as always and any feedback is greatly appreciated. Who do you think will win the race and how will they do it?! Amstel men’s and women’s previews will be next for me this weekend. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

Volta Catalunya Stage 4 Preview; Llívia -> Igualada

Today’s Recap

If I’m being honest, I didn’t catch much of today’s stage. Only the last 600m in fact, I was too busy watching Dwars! From what I saw, it seemed a fairly benign day and we got a sprint to the finish line between the two pre-stage favourites. It was Valverde who came out on top over Martin, exacting some revenge for Movistar who felt hard done by with the reversal of the commissaire’s decision this morning!

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Yates came home in third to pick up some bonus seconds, with the blog pick of Bardet coming 4th. Van Garderen holds a 41 second lead on the GC over team-mate Sanchez, but there are a whole host of riders queuing up behind the BMC duo if they were to falter.

Will we see any GC changes tomorrow? Let’s have a look at the route.

The Route

A weird route that starts with almost 100km of very shallow descending!

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Source: @LasterketaBurua

There is a sprint point on top of a small hill after only 6.2km so I expect the GC teams to keep the bunch together for that. It looks ideal for the likes of Valverde to nab a few bonus seconds.

We then have the long, gradual descent before the next main obstacle of the day; the cat 3 Alt del Pubill. Only 2.9km long and averaging 6%, it’s not overly difficult and I imagine the peloton will roll over it.

The course then rolls for the next 70km before we reach the main challenge of the day; the Cat 2 Turó del Puig. At 5.3km and only averaging 5.4% the GC riders won’t be troubled here, but due to its proximity to the finish line it should be tackled at a fair pace. This should see the end of the sprinters chances for the day.

Apologies for the poor quality image below, the road book doesn’t offer much to play with!

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They’ll then descend all the way until 2km to go where we have a fairly technical finale. Two 90-degree turns and a roundabout feature in the last kilometre. It’s a typical Spanish end to the day and will no doubt be suitably manic!

That is of course if we end up with some type of sprint.

How will the stage pan out?

With the peloton very much spread out on GC already there is a good chance we could get a breakaway stay away tomorrow.

The position of the last climb will make it too hard for Bouhanni and Greipel to make it over with the peloton but it’s not hard enough to cause some GC gaps. We could quite well see the type of sprint I thought we might get on Stage 1, where there’s a peloton of around 50 guys who come to the finish together.

Valverde might fancy his chances of winning the sprint and taking some more bonus seconds along with it. However, that will mean another day of work for Movistar when they don’t have to and I’m sure they’d rather save their efforts for the brutal finish on Stage 5.

So I’ll go for a break, and give it a 70/30 chance that it makes it.

Breakaway Contenders

There are many, many riders who will be given plenty of freedom tomorrow so it’s just a case of me once again trying to give some (hopefully) well-reasoned logic behind my picks and of course a bit of luck for them to make it.

It’s not helped when there’s a bout of illness going around the peloton just now and we’re none the wiser as to who is actually fighting fit. Oh well, here goes nothing!

Nathan Haas.

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The Aussie is here building form for his next goals in the season (Amstel) and what better way to do that then out in the break?! He admitted that he was suffering on the first day but sounded hopefully that it blew the cobwebs away. Tomorrow’s stage looks ideally suited to his characteristics, with the climbs not being too difficult. Packing a fast sprint, you wouldn’t want to bring him to the line.

Petr Vakoc.

Like Haas, the Czech rider is here building form for his classics campaign. An 8th place finish on stage 1 where the run in to the line didn’t really suit him highlights to me that he’s going fairly well at the moment. A proper brute of a rider, the Cat-2 at the end of tomorrow’s stage will be on his limit but if the right riders are up the road, he certainly has a chance.

Jordi Simon.

One of only 4 Funvic riders left in the race, the Catalan native will have pressure from his team to perform here. Not only that, but I’m sure he will want to perform too as tomorrow’s stage passes his hometown. An explosive climber, he isn’t the most well-known rider in the peloton and doesn’t have too many results to his name. A third place at nationals last year was his best finish, but hey, stranger things have happened!

Damien Howson.

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The Orica man took a much deserved GC win in the Herald Sun Tour earlier in the season. A great reward for being a super domestique for Chaves last year! On his return to European racing he finished a respectable 19th in Industrio, helping Yates to victory. Far enough down not to be a GC threat, he would be one of the favourites if he made the break due to his climbing and TT prowess.

Prediction

Break wins and I’ll go for Quick Step to continue that feel good factor within their team and Petr Vakoc to take the win!

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He’ll use his explosive kick to attack away from his breakaway companions on the steady gradients of the final climb and not be seen again until they cross the finish line!

Betting

Crapshoot of a stage and not one I want to get massively involved with; 0.25pt WIN on all the selections.

Vakoc @ 28/1 with B365

Haas @ 33/1 with B365

Simon @ 200/1 with B365

Howson @  Not quoted, so I’ll go with…

Clement @ 300/1 with Bet365 (similar build to Howson, decent climber but strong TTer).

 

Thanks again for reading! How do you think tomorrow will play out? Will we see a break make it, or will it come down to a reduced bunch kick, or even a late attack? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

Strade Bianche 2017 Preview; Siena -> Siena

Strade Bianche 2017 Preview; Siena -> Siena

One of my favourite races of the year, hands down! It has the mix of everything really; awesome parcours; great start-list; amazing scenery; and some pretty aggressive racing.

Cancellara broke the heart of Brambilla last year, and managed to out-fox Stybar into the final corner, taking a quite excellent win.

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Cancellara is obviously not here this year, so that leaves the door open for a new victor or one of the three former winners that are here to regain their crown.

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

The Route

I’m going to make this section a lot, lot shorter than normal because there are already several previews out there with this information so I don’t want to bore you with it again!

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There you go…

Basically lots of short sharp punchy hills, although there are a couple of longer ones earlier on, interspersed with gravel sections. Rolling terrain for most of the day means there is little time to rest and the action is always on.

A tough closing 20km can see someone get away solo, but there is also the possibility that it all comes down to a sprint up to the Piazza del Campo!

One thing that may have a say in that is the…

Weather

After the brutal conditions in Samyn mid-week, I’m sure the peloton would have been hoping for something less miserable here. The fans certainly want the opposite and it looks as if the weather gods are going to appease the crowds.

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Weather in Siena (Source: Wunderground)

Nothing concrete but there is a very good chance we’ll get rain at some point during the race, which would make it even more of a spectacle. I’m sure a lot of you will remember the Giro in 2010…

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It probably won’t get as torrid as that, but even a smattering of rain could cause some issues for the riders!

Anyway, who’s got a chance of taking the crown this weekend?

Contenders

Where better to start than with the current world champion, Peter Sagan. The Slovak shredded the race to bits in Omloop last Saturday and once again was in the thick of the action on Sunday, managing to win Kuurne. He clearly is in very good form at the moment and he has gone well here in the past. My one issue with him is that he always seems to struggle on the final climb up to the Piazza so he’ll need to ride everyone off of his wheel before then. Not impossible, but I can’t see it happening. Am I being too bold discounting him?

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After me playing up his chances for Omloop, Zdenek Stybar, was left bitterly disappointed at the end of the race, visibly shaking his head as he crossed the line. That to me indicates that he knew he could and should have been a key protagonist in the outcome of the race. Held up in the crash that took out Boonen, he tried attacking later on in the race to bridge across to the lead group but couldn’t manage it. I’m sure he’ll want to bounce back this weekend in a race that suits him very well, he did win it in 2015 after all! With Brambilla and Vakoc, he has a strong support team which could very well be crucial.

Picking up the win in Omloop while still not at 100% form shows what a great cyclist Greg Van Avermaet is. The Belgian has done fairly well here in the past but hasn’t managed to win this race yet, with the closest being a second place finish to Stybar in 2015. Good on short, steep climbs and rough terrain, he has all of the characteristics to win this race. Yet, like Sagan, I just have a feeling he won’t and I’m not sure why. BMC do have a very strong team with them and an in-form Hermans could be a very useful second card to play in a tactical race.

Without Cancellara, Trek will turn to Fabio Felline as their main charge for this race. After an explosive start to his season, winning Il Laigueglia, he’s followed that up with a 5th place in the TT at Andalucia and a 4th at Omloop last weekend. This race should suit him perfectly and if he can follow the best over the gravel, he certainly has a very good chance up the punchy climb to the Piazza.

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Sky arrive here with a very solid squad; Kwiatkowski, Rosa and Puccio all have a chance of going well. The Pole seems to slowly be returning to the rider he once was before he joined Sky, finishing 2nd on GC in Algarve earlier in February. However, he still didn’t seem in tip-top shape so this race might be too early for him. On the other hand, Rosa looked very strong in Andalucia and had he not been working for others (again!), could have finished higher up himself. He seems to love one-day racing in Italy and may very well go on to win here, but he’ll need to come to the line alone! Puccio is a bit of a wild-card, but this is his home race and he always manages a fairly decent result here. Well, apart from last year when I had backed him and he had 3 mechanicals while in the front group. I won’t put the #HaugheyCurse on him this year, but I shall be watching with interest.

Benoot and Wellens will lead the charge for Lotto Soudal. Both riders are capable of winning here if they get a bit of luck, but both will need a different type of race to play out. Benoot will be the one happier waiting until the finish line whereas Wellens is much more likely to go on the attack from far out. He’s certainly a danger if given too much leeway!

I’m really intrigued by the selection that Astana bring to this race, because on paper it looks a very strong, well-rounded team. They have a former winner in the shape of Moser and a podium finisher with Gatto. Not to mention Amstel Gold runner-up Valgren, solid one-day racer and climber Sanchez, and Grand Tour winner Aru. The last of those makes his second appearance at this race after finishing 20th here way back in 2013. Often slated for his one-day racing, he’s not as bad at these types of races as he’s made out to be in my opinion, and I’m hoping to be pleasantly surprised by Aru tomorrow. The race only being 175km certainly helps him.

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FDJ arrive with a solid squad and it seems to be the same riders that are following Pinot around all year. Thibaut himself has had a good start to the season, picking up a very impressive stage win in Andalucia. Anyone who managed to beat Contador there must be going well! Making his debut in this race, he might struggle with some of the surfaces but I think his form will overcome that and he is my dark horse for the win. His team-mate Reichenbach is another good outside candidate if we get a very tactical race where the “second string” riders get sent up the road and manage to end up staying away. Like Pinot, he was also impressive in Andalucia and can’t be discounted.

Roglic, Haas, Dumoulin and Vanmarcke could all go well with a bit of luck.

Prediction

Like my women’s preview (shameless plug, view it here) I’ve had this rider in mind all week for this race. Unlike that preview though, I have had my doubts about him but that’s been purely based off of his odds being shorter than I would have liked. Nonetheless, after much deliberation I still think he’ll take the victory, capitalising on some good early season form. If we get bad conditions, that makes it even better for him. Stybar to win!

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Betting

As mentioned above, I was almost backing out of this one purely because I would have hoped for something like 10/1 on Stybar. But the more I think about it, the 6-7/1 on offer in places is still good value IMO.

Stybar 2pts WIN @7/1 with PaddyPower (would take 6/1 available elsewhere)

I tweeted these two out yesterday after prices were released but they have subsequently been shortened;

Pinot 0.25pts EW @200/1 with Bet365 (would still take 125/1 with PP or the 100/1 with William Hill)

Reichenbach 0.25pts EW @ 300/1 with Bet365 (would still take the 200/1 with PP or the 150/1 widely available)

I don’t really like any of the H2H available at the moment. Might change my mind later.

 

Once again, thanks for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated. Who do you think will win this incredible race? I’ll be back again tomorrow with a Paris-Nice GC and Stage 1 preview so keep an eye out for them. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.