Volta a la Comuntiat Valenciana 2019 Stage 4 Preview: Vila-Real -> Alcala-Alcossebre

Today’s Recap

An exciting final 20 km that saw quite a few teams interested in pushing the pace on at the front of the peloton once the break was caught. There were attacks from the likes of Hermans, De Marchi and Oliveira but everything was brought back coming in to the last 2 km.  With the pace being drilled at the front by Haig and Mohoric, there was no chance for a lull in the action and a counter-attack like I thought might happen and instead we got a sprint to the line from a bunch of 40 riders.

With it strung out through the tricky chicane at 200m to go, it was Luis Leon Sanchez who opened up the sprint first, but Greg van Avermaet came almost immediately off of his wheel and around the Astana man. Matteo Trentin tried to do the same to Van Avermaet but he just didn’t have the legs to match the Olympic champion, with CCC taking their first win of the season.

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Yesterday’s stage winner did come home in second place with Sanchez rounding out the podium. There were no gaps between the first 29 riders so no cheap time gained/lost by the favourites for the race overall, so let’s have a look at what is in store for them tomorrow.

The Route

The stage that will decide the GC, the riders will face over 3200m of climbing throughout the day, with a very tricky summit finish.

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Although there are plenty of climbs early on, there is nothing that will worry the GC contenders. Once again, this will be a stage that comes down to the closing ascent, there’s no chance of anything exciting happening before then.

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Compared to this afternoon’s very consistent final climbs, the final ascent tomorrow is horribly inconsistent as you can see. It always seems to be up or down, with the gradients changing throughout. Consequently, it definitely suits a more punchy climber rather than one who prefers to sit in the saddle and ride tempo.

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The ominous warning for the steep gradients that are to come!

Oddly enough, it took until I started going through the climb on street view until I properly recognised it from a poorly paved bit of road (sad, I know), but it is the same finish that was used on Stage 5 of the 2017 Vuelta.

That day was taken by the break, but in the fight between the GC riders a group of 4 managed to distance themselves from the other contenders. Time gaps weren’t massive but it is important to remember that was at the Vuelta where almost everyone as at 100% form and fitness, whereas, there certainly won’t be that same level tomorrow.

Whether that means we’ll see bigger time gaps or the opposite, I’m unsure and we’ll only find out during the race.

How will the race pan out?

It could very well be a day for the breakaway. We saw today that Dimension Data were happy to keep the race under check, but they didn’t extend themselves too much, hoping to get some help from the other teams. Tomorrow they will know that it is unlikely Boasson Hagen will be able to keep the jersey come the end of the stage, so they might be a little less keen to chase all day. Therefore, the onus will fall on the stronger GC teams who are confident of trying to set up their rider.

Astana no doubt will take up the mantle again and they’ve certainly been the most active team on the front of the peloton this race. Movistar will more than likely chip in too, but they have been quite coy with their willingness to work so far; they might try to bluff it. UAE and Bahrain are two teams that could work as they have contenders for the stage win but again, it just depends on their approach. If a group of 6 or so riders get away who are no threat for the GC, then there is a chance that they stay away all day because with the lack of bonus seconds, there is not as much impetus to bring them back.

However, I think we’ll see plenty teams co-operate to shut things down as the incentive of getting an early season win under the belt is enough of a carrot. Peloton takes the stage 80% of the time.

Contenders

Alejandro Valverde.

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With no bonus seconds on the line, Valverde will need to distance Ion Izagirre by 9 seconds which will be no easy feat. Everyone will be looking at the world champion as this short climb is perfectly suited to his characteristics, but he’ll need to attack somewhat early as just winning the stage alone might not be enough to take the GC. A cool character, don’t expect Valverde to crack under pressure and if he is being forced to chase down attacks by his competitors then he’ll just sit up; he’s won plenty of races and will no doubt win plenty more, to not be overly bothered by missing out here. Starts as the big favourite on paper but it will be difficult for him to win because of that.

Dan Martin.

Like Valverde, Martin will be looking forward to this climb. He flew up the ascent in the TT and has been lively since then, today sticking to the world champion’s wheel like glue. A genuine contender and one that will worry Valverde, Martin packs the short climb speed and kick to seriously challenge for the stage win. A lot of his wins in the past have come on climbs similar to this and with the way UAE have started the year, they could well go on to make it a 4th victory already.

Dylan Teuns.

Rinse and repeat for the above two, Teuns will be licking his lips at this finish. Last season he built on his strong 2017 and we’re now seeing a rider who seems to be living up to that original hype when he broke onto the scene. A master on steep ascents, the constant changing nature of the climb will suit his punchy and attacking nature. Sitting only 3 seconds behind Izagirre on GC, he’ll be incredibly motivated to get a result.

Ion Izagirre.

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The “virtual” race leader in essence, I was very impressed with his opening TT – clearly he is going well. Not traditionally known for his punchy ability on the short climbs like we have tomorrow, it will be interesting to see how he copes. The one advantage for him as that Astana have a very strong team with them and they should be able to control the race. I am intrigued to see what role Bilbao takes on; whether he attacks and forces others to follow, or if he just sets a tempo that means no one can attack. I think it will be hard for Izagirre to win the stage as there will be a lot of pressure on him as the GC leader in waiting, and everyone will look to him and his team do close anything down on the climb.

Sergio Higuita.

A real outsider, but I fully expect to see an attack from the young Colombian tomorrow. With his build of a traditional mountain goat, he should be able to float up the steeper parts of the climb and given that he is over a minute down on GC; he might just be able to slip away unmarked. I’ve not seen him race much before but his results in the Trofeo’s followed up by his 6th place have been enough to warrant my attention. He’s certainly one to watch.

Prediction

No breakaway win and we get a GC battle on the final slope. I think this is the time for Dylan Teuns to take another step up in his career by taking the stage win against the strong opposition we have here, and with it the GC title.

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Betting

1.5pt WIN Teuns @ 12/1

0.5pt WIN Higuita @ 33/1

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

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Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana 2019 Stage 3 Preview: Quart de Poblet -> Chera

Today’s Recap

The early break was caught on the final climb of the day, with Astana and Mitchelton Scott drilling the pace at the front of the bunch in the hope to distance some sprinters. Their plan worked with Groenewegen dropping off the back of the peloton, trailing them by roughly 30 seconds at the summit. His whole Jumbo Visma team dropped back to help pace him back to the bunch and things calmed down a little with around 15 km to go. However, that only lasted for a little while and things quickly sped up going into the last 5 km of the day. There was a big fight for position and it looked like Team Sky had got their timing perfect going into the final and decisive roundabout with 300m to go, but a burst of speed from Sondre Holst Enger saw Bouhanni and Trentin follow the Israel Academy rider, beating the Sky train into the corner. Trentin elbowed his way past Bouhanni so that he led coming out of it, and that would be our 1-2 on the day, with the Frenchman running out of road in his attempt to come around the current European Champion.

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Swift recovered his sprint a little and rewarded his team’s efforts by rounding out the podium in third.

With a punchy route on the cards tomorrow, it will be unlikely we’ll see any of the guys who were in the top 10 today up there again until the final stage. So let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders on stage 3.

The Route

A saw-toothed profile with 3200m of climbing throughout the day, the organisers have managed to find the fairly challenging day in the saddle without having the riders traverse any mountains.

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Despite the categorised and uncategorised climbs early on, the stage will more than likely be decided by the last 20km.

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The opening climb isn’t too tough, averaging a very consistent 5.7% gradient for 4.16 km. Without any steep ramps it will be hard for anyone to make gaps here, instead, we’ll more than likely see a battle of attrition with riders going out the back and not the front.

A quick descent follows before the longer but more shallow, last climb of the day.

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Again, it is not an overly difficult climb so the proper mountain goats will find it difficult to make much of a difference, while the puncheurs will be licking their lips in the hope of hanging on. Once over the summit, there are still a tricky 2.5km to navigate before the finish line.

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As you can see, those final 2.5 km are along quite a twisty and narrow single-track road. It is possible that if someone or a small group of people get a gap then they could be difficult to bring back because it will be difficult to organise a chase on that road and in the short time frame they will have.

The final 500m are uphill at an average gradient of 6%, which should make it ideal for the puncheurs. Also in typical Spanish fashion, like today, the finish isn’t exactly easy either…

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Having to make a quick left then right, I’m sure the riders will be glad that it is somewhat uphill as this would be complete chaos otherwise. Once again, given that there is 100m or less coming out of the final turn, it is imperative to be at the head of the race coming into that chicane. In fact, I’ll say whoever leads into the chicane will win the stage. Take note any pros/teams who happen to be reading this…

How will the stage pan out?

If this stage was after what we’re getting on Saturday, this could well have been a day for the breakaway but given the minimal gaps on GC, aside from a few riders, things should be kept together. Looking at the design of the stage, it seems as if the Spanish organisers had their new World Champion in mind as they’ve built a course that is tailor-made for him. I think that everyone else in the peloton will know that too so there will be a lot of pressure on the Movistar team to keep it together.

The selectiveness of the race all depends on how aggressive the closing 20kms of the race are ridden. If we see a couple of strong teams come and set a relentless pace on the two climbs, then we might have a group of 30-40 riders reaching that 2.5km to go banner within relative contact with each other. We could even see a smaller group but I don’t think the gradients are tough enough for it to be incredibly selective, then again, it is early season so who knows.

Do the puncheurs make it? If the climbs are taken at a steadier pace then there is a good chance that the likes of Boasson Hagen, Van Avermaet and even Trentin could make the finale.

With no bonus seconds on offer at the line, a GC rider will need to create a gap here to gain some time on their rivals. It will be difficult for one of the main contenders to get away but a team having options will certainly help, and maybe their “second tier” rider might manage to slip under the radar on the tough to control finish.

In fact, that’s exactly what I expect to happen: a late attack in those closing 2.5 kms from one or a group of riders, that then sticks to the finish. So who could we see try to slip away?

A trio to watch

Rui Costa.

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Often one to start his season strongly, the former World Champion produced a good TT result by his standards on the opening day of racing here. With a lot of eyes on his team-mate Martin, Costa has the ability to fly under the radar and attack in the closing kilometres. An aggressive racer when he senses an opportunity, I expect UAE to give him free rein tomorrow to go for the stage win and see what happens. He failed to take a win last year which is unlike him, so can he capitalise on some good early season form?

Pello Bilbao.

Astana have both the blessing and the curse of having a number of riders who this finish could suit, given different scenarios. It will be interesting to see who they work for but I assume they will want to give their two highest placed GC riders the best chance of winning the race overall going into the decisive stage 4. With Izagirre effectively in the race lead (as EBH won’t last on stage 4), Astana could play the card of just following some attacks tomorrow with Bilbao and see if they stick. The Basque rider has a good punchy finish on him and is clearly in decent shape at the moment with his strong opening TT.

Jesus Herrada.

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Having already tasted victory this season so far with his win at the Trofeo Ses Salines, Herrada will be hoping to double up tomorrow. The Spaniard certainly seems to enjoy the opening part of the season as he was absolutely flying at this stage last year and appears to be in similar shape this time round. As a rider from Cofidis, there is a bit of a stigma that he won’t be an immediate threat so he might not be chased down immediately. Not an ideal thing to do when he’s in good form as he will be very difficult to bring back on a punchy finish.

Prediction

Small group escape in the closing 2.5 km and we see Pello Bilbao (a classic blog favourite) take the win. Potentially setting up a good tilt at the overall title.

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Betting

No odds out yet but will tweet anything that tickles my fancy once we get them.

Thanks as always for reading. Who do you think will win tomorrow and why? 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.