Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana 2018 Stage 4 Preview; Orihuela › Cocentaina

Today’s Recap

Well that was a bit shit, wasn’t it?

The organisers decided to neutralise the race GC wise in today’s TTT, with only the stage victory up for grabs at the end of the day. Rider safety is paramount, but in hindsight it was possibly a poor decision as the bad weather had abated by the time the teams had started.

In the end, most of the squads went out for a leisurely training spin, but BMC being BMC, went out and smashed it, winning the stage.

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Astana came home second with TTT powerhouses AG2R rounding out the podium…

As a result of the neutralisation, the time gaps in the overall stay the same with Valverde still in the lead going in to tomorrow’s decisive GC stage. Let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

A very climbing heavy day!

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@LasterketaBurua

The road is up or down for almost all of the final 150km, so we could see some interesting tactics and aggressive racing throughout the stage. The only issue for those looking to dethrone Valverde is that the climbs are quite long, but they are too shallow for any major splits to be caused. That is of course unless we see a crazy pace set by Sky on La Carrasqueta for example, hoping to drop some of the Movistar domestiques. Even then though, I can still see Valverde having Roson and Rojas at his disposal for a long time.

We could see an attack go on Les Trilles as the second passage is located close enough to the finish that there won’t be much time to organise a chase. However, it is more than likely to come down to he summit finish.

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The Alto Cocentaina is a tough climb, especially for this time of year. Averaging 7.8% for 5kms, it is the final 3.2km that are really difficult as they average a leg-breaking 10.3%. The steep ramps combined with the amount of climbing earlier in the stage could see a lot of time gaps come the end of the day.

Yet, one thing to be wary of is the weather forecast. It looks as if there will be a fairly strong 15km/h headwind on the climb, which could deter attacks. I think our race leader will be happy with that.

Tactics

With the non-event today, there are many more riders in contention for the GC win than would have been if the TTT counted. This certainly adds a different dynamic to the stage and I hope it means we’ll see aggressive racing.

The squads with a few guys inside the top 25 will look to send one of their riders up the road; forcing Movistar to chase. They need to, otherwise taking it easy and waiting for the final climb plays perfectly into the hands of Valverde, especially with the headwind. He’ll be able to sit in and follow the wheels before inevitably beating everyone to the line. In fact, he looked effortless on the Garbi and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him go on the attack at some point if the peloton is together, just to stretch his legs.

Sky and Astana are the two teams that will be central as to how the stage develops though.

Astana obviously have Luis Leon Sanchez and Fuglsang within striking distance. Given their abilities, I would personally have LLS as the distance attacker, possibly on the second passage of Les Trilles. While Fuglsang sits in and counters if he’s caught. It will be tough, as Valverde looked better than them both on stage 2 but if they form an alliance with some other riders, they might just have a chance.

Sky will be bitterly disappointed with how stage 2 ended but also the lack of a timed effort today. Given their squad, it is pretty unfathomable how they just let the trio escape and build their gap. I was sure we were going to see a counter-attack from one of their riders, but I guess the tempo riding didn’t work for once! They would have been confident in gaining back some time in the TTT today but that didn’t go to plan either. Nonetheless, they still have Rosa, Poels, De La Cruz and Moscon ominously placed in the group that is 29 seconds down on our leader. This is a Sky team that is not at the Tour de France, so I fully expect them to set off some fireworks tomorrow, with all four of those riders giving it a dig at some point.

Prediction

Everyone will try their best, but given the less severe gradients on the opening climbs, Movistar  will be able to keep things under control. Once we hit the final climb, we all know what is going to happen…

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He’s climbing better than everyone else here and the headwind on the finish climb is perfect for him; Valverde to take a second stage win and secure the GC title.

Thanks as always for reading. Who do you think will win tomorrow? Will we see early attacks from teams, or will it be a mundane day until the final climb? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana 2018 Stage 3 Preview; Benitatxell › Calpe

Today’s Recap

Did we honestly expect anything else?

As night follows day, Valverde wins a stage in an early Spanish race.

It was a well-timed move from the Movistar man who caught onto the coat tails of a strong Fuglsang at roughly 34km to go. The duo held off the Sky-led “peloton” over the summit of the climb, at which point Luis Leon Sanchez attacked and made the duo into a trio.

They worked well together and managed to extend the lead up to 30 seconds as Sky were leant on behind to do all the chasing. Other teams eventually chipped in but it was all in vain.

The trio held on to a 19 second advantage, battling it out in a sprint finish with El Bala taking the spoils, LLS second and Fuglsang third.

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The result means that Valverde now holds a 29 second lead over the majority of the main contenders (aside from LLS and Fuglsang, obviously) thanks to the time bonuses he received for winning.

Can Movistar put in a strong performance in the TTT tomorrow to keep him in contention?

The Route

A fast and dangerous blast along the coastline to the popular training camp location of Calpe.

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I would be very surprised if every team has not had at least one look at this course before their morning recon tomorrow.

It does feature some rolling hills which can upset the rhythm of the TTT, but there are also many downhill sections where speed can be maintained. That being said though, it is a very technical route for a TTT and a well-drilled squad can make all the difference.

TTT Route

As you can see, there are plenty of turns on the route so there might be some surprises at the end of the day. Will the traditional TTT outfits be able to put the power down?

Weather

Another factor tomorrow are the weather conditions; they are set forecast to be horrendous!

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Source: Windfinder

With a lot of rain predicted overnight and early morning, it is set to dry up in the afternoon. However, the roads will still be slick and not ideal for this type of effort. The rain combined with the twisting nature of the route make this quite a dangerous day in the saddle.

When you factor in the wind though, then we could see some carnage…

40km/h cross, cross-tail and tail winds will see the riders pushed all over the road and it will make the TTT incredibly difficult. After all, this is a discipline where the guys are so close together; requiring movements that are in sync with each other. It will make the timing of change-overs incredibly important because if you get that wrong, then your squad could be split due to the wind.

I’m personally looking forward to watching it but I’m sure the riders won’t be saying the same.

Contenders

BMC.

The best TTT team in the World (although Sunweb would argue with that given their 2017 title), the Swiss outfit come into this as favourites. They don’t have their crack squad with them but nonetheless, they have some very handy TTT riders in Valenciana. With plenty of power among their midst, I’d be very surprised not to see them on the podium come the end of the day. Stranger things have happened though.

Team Sky.

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Sky have a stupidly strong team here with them and they will expect nothing less than the win. They have engines throughout the roster and there theoretically should be no weak links. However, they are not the dominant force that they used to be in this discipline so I’m intrigued to see if they’ve got their act together over the winter. Let’s just hope the wheels don’t come off their title charge this time…

Sorry, that one was just too easy!

Movistar.

We’re in Spain and it’s a TTT, with Movistar always going well here. That could be through some good local knowledge, or it might be from some overly helpful camera motors, but who’s to judge! Valverde is back to his best already it seems and I’m sure he’ll be happy of the buffer he has. A loss of 30 seconds on the stage would be a solid result for him in the GC picture, but I imagine he’ll want to be a lot closer than that. One thing that concerns me is the bad weather and that might cause him to ease off a bit due to the nasty fall in the Tour last year. I hope it doesn’t ruin his overall chances.

Lotto Jumbo.

They have an under-rated squad for this discipline here with them in my opinion. Obviously they have a few stand-out TTers but the rest of the squad is very solid. I was impressed with how they rode on the opening day and if they perform anything like that tomorrow, they are dark horses for the stage. I just hope they’ve changed their tyre supplier from what they used in the rainy TT at the Tour last year.

Astana.

I wouldn’t normally include Astana in this, but given how aggressive they rode today, then why not! They have a mixed bag of riders here and will rely heavy on the likes of Sanchez, Fuglsang and Grivko, but they do have the power to compete. A top 5 and a 40 second loss at most would be a good return for them.

Prediction

It’s a TTT so the easy option would be to go with BMC but I just have a funny feeling Jumbo are going to surprise everyone. Don’t ask me why!

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I hope it’s more a Viviani “feeling” than an Alex Edmondson one.

Thanks as always for reading, who do you think will win tomorrow? Will we see some big time gaps? Can Valverde hold onto the race lead? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana 2018 Stage 2 Preview; Bétera › Albuixech

Today’s Recap

We got the expected sprint finish into Peñiscola with the lead-out trains battling it out on the run-in.

It was Lotto Jumbo who came out on top, delivering Van Poppel excellently into the home straight. He did have to start his sprint ever so slightly earlier than he would have liked, but the Dutchman showed enough power to hold on for the victory.

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Mezgec looked as if he was going to come round him at some point but he just couldn’t manage it, nonetheless, he held on strongly for 2nd. Roelandts came home third, pipping a few other riders in an almost blanket finish for the minor places.

Will Van Poppel be able to hold onto his lead tomorrow?

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

The Route

A really interesting stage that could cause a GC shake-up.

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@LasterketaBurua

Five categorised climbs jammed into only 155km of racing makes this stage a stern test for the riders given how early into the season we are.

I can’t see the opening 4 climbs have any major impact on the outcome of the stage, but they will definitely wear down the riders legs for the second half of the day.

The focal point of the stage though is the climb of El Garbi.

Alto Garbi

This was the climb that Alberto Contador used to decimate the peloton on stage 6 of last year’s Vuelta, with only a select group of riders making it over the crest with him.

Unfortunately he’s not here so it will be interesting to see if we have the same aggressive racing.

The climb as a whole averages only 5.6% for 9.2km, which in the grand scheme of things isn’t too difficult. However, it is the almost 3km section at pretty much 10% where the real damage can be done.

Riders will be all over the road if someone attacks this one aggressively. The key word being if.

Once over the crest, the riders will descend for almost all of the remaining 30km into the finish town of Albuixech. It is not a descent where you can free-wheel on though, as the percentages only max out at around -5% or so. A strong and organised group could gain time on others here.

How will the stage pan out?

I’m really hoping for some fireworks on the Garbi. I have a feeling we might see Valverde try to light it up to reduce the group down significantly to 8 riders or so. However, the issue with that plan for him is he might be left with very few team mates and that then leaves the door open for Sky Harlem Globetrotters to attack him from all angles.

The stage is similar to the opener in Andalucia last year that Valverde won from a group of 7, although the final descent that day was 10km shorter.

Instead, we might see a slightly easier pace, where a group of 25 riders crest the climb together.

Same rules still apply though and attacks will go off the front and we could then see a splinter group make it to the line. As to who makes that group, your guess is as good as mine but one thing is for sure, they have to climb well!

As I’m short on time, I’m just going to throw a few names into the hat so the list isn’t going to be exhaustive.

Contenders or Pretenders?

Any Team Sky Rider.

Well, maybe not all of them. Seriously though, everyone on their team apart from Kiryienka and Stannard could win this stage given the right situation. I think they’ll try to make the pace hard to reduce the peloton as much as possible, isolating other riders. The old 1-2, will be turned into the old 1-2-3-4-5 as they constantly send riders up the road on the run-in. Take your pick for them, I’ll go with a lively Diego Rosa.

Alexis Vuillermoz.

The AG2R man had a great end to 2017 with a very respectable 4th place in Il Lombardia. He copes well on the steep gradients and if the pace is not pushed too hard, then he’ll hope to make it over with the main group. If the race splits up from there, he won’t be marked too much as Ag2R won’t be massive threats in the TTT so he could slip away. Furthermore, he packs a solid sprint from a reduced group so he could challenge that way.

Pello Bilbao.

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I’m a big fan of the Spanish rider and it was great to see him really take a step up in level towards the end of the Vuelta last year. This season he’ll no doubt be working for his leaders at some point, but this is the type of race where he might get leadership in. If he’s climbing like he did in the Vuelta, he should be able to follow the front group. Packing a punch, he could be a threat from a reduced sprint.

Jaime Roson.

I’m intrigued to see what the new Movistar man does this season and I think he’ll have a lot of expectation on his shoulders at this race to help Valverde. He’s a strong climber but is still a bit raw so to speak. Anyway, while everyone has their eyes firmly on El Bala, Roson manages to slip away in the closing few kilometres. He has a bit of kick to his sprint but I’m not entirely sure the flat run-in will be ideal for him, nonetheless he has a chance in a very tactical finish. Or he just works tirelessly to keep everything together.

Prediction

A climbing selection to be made on El Garbi and it all to kick off from there. I think we’ll see a counter move go and a small sprint to the line of about 5 riders, with a group of 20 or so coming in not so long after.

Vuillermoz to take the day!

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There is absolutely no season long fantasy league bias here at all. Ok. Maybe there is a bit…

Thanks as always for reading and apologies for the slightly truncated preview. I’m looking forward to what should be an interesting, tactical finale tomorrow. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.