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.

Dy5cFPUW0AAeEwB

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.

volta-a-la-comunitat-valenciana-2019-stage-4

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.

download (59)

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.

Screenshot 2019-02-08 at 14.14.30

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.

db6a8faa03fcdd0aa9faf70cac0ccdf2-U2020734014709KI-U25028660254gZC-620x349@Gazzetta-Web_articolo

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.

news_idnews2368_photo_1549468564

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.

dylan-teuns

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.

 

Advertisements

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.

Dy0CgVbX4AcwaK3

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.

volta-a-la-comunitat-valenciana-2019-stage-3

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

download (57)

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.

download (58)

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.

Screenshot 2019-02-07 at 17.16.10

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…

Screenshot 2019-02-07 at 17.19.07

Screenshot 2019-02-07 at 17.20.01

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.

sptdw7001_670 (3)

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.

gettyimages_1091891036_670

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.

Te4Xy9WHjggWyNfm

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 2019 Stage 2 Preview: Alicante -> Alicante

Today’s Recap

Well that was an enjoyable TT course to watch, with a whole mix of riders involved at the top of the order. It was Edvald Boasson Hagen who took  home the win though, with Dimension Data making most of their new BMC TT bikes and the Norwegian’s solid block of winter training.

Dyuoi_TWkAA5tAP

Izagirre caused a little bit of an upset with a second place, showing that maybe the Astana bikes aren’t that bad in the right hands. While former TT World Champion Tony Martin rounded out the podium for his new team Jumbo Visma.

There was quite the mix of traditional TT riders, puncheurs and GC riders in the top 20 so we’re all set up for an exciting race over the coming week. First though, let’s look at what the riders will face on the road tomorrow.

The Route

A rolling day in the saddle awaits the riders as they face just over 2400m of elevation gain throughout the stage.

volta-a-la-comunitat-valenciana-2019-stage-2

None of the climbs on the route are particularly difficult but given the constant up and down nature of the terrain, teams will have to be alert at all times. The final climb of the day is a fairly consistent drag, with the percentages staying at roughly 5% throughout.

download (55)

With it cresting at 42km to go, things should come down to a sprint to the line, albeit with a possibly reduced group. Last year we saw Valverde, Fuglsang and LL Sanchez attack on the final climb, on a stage similar to tomorrow, but with longer to go to the finish and a less severe final ascent to tackle, I can’t see that happening this time.

So the stage should be decided in the final 5km and in typical Spanish racing fashion, it isn’t 100% straight forward…

download (56)

From 4.5 km to 3.5 km to go, the riders face a kilometre long drag that averages 3.4% before a descent that almost mimics the length and gradient of the climb. A short 500m (3.4% again) rise follows that sees the riders taken to the 1.5 km to go banner and another dip down. One final kicker (300m at 2.6%) takes them to about 400m to go, where you would expect a straight run to the line. Well…

Screenshot 2019-02-06 at 12.34.30

The riders will carry a lot of speed from the previous downhill onto the slight drag because it is straightforward and down a wide boulevard, so that rise will be negated somewhat. I expect a big fight to get into this roundabout first, as coming out of it there are only 200m left, almost enough for your sprinter to go full gas from; they only need a little turn coming out of the roundabout.

Sprinters

Will they all make it to the line? That all depends on how aggressively they early part of the race is attacked by the peloton and if there are a few teams that want to try to drop some of the more traditional sprinters, namely Dylan Groenewegen. It is possible, but it will take a lot of effort so I think they should more than likely all make it.

Dylan Groenewegen.

One of the best sprinters in the world last year, Groenewegen will look to hit the ground running this season. Jumbo Visma bring a strong squad to support him, with new recruit Teunissen most likely slotting in as the last man in the train. We saw today in the TT that Van Emden and Martin are strong at the moment so they should be able to try to line things out in the closing kilometres. There will be a lot of pressure on them to do so and I think we’ll see plenty of teams try to come over the top of them late on, hoping to get to the roundabout first. Saying that, Jumbo honed their skills and became one of the best “late lead-outs” in the business, only appearing at the front in the last 2km so it will be interesting to see their approach tomorrow. Groenewegen is the man to beat, but he’s certainly not unbeatable.

Alexander Kristoff.

DjSiIFAWwAMECwO

With Fernando Gaviria having already taken two wins to his name in Argentina, the pressure is both on and off Krisotff here. The Norwegian is said to want to shift his focus towards the classics a little bit more, but still be involved in the bunch sprints when he can. Tomorrow is a good test for him against a solid field and the slightly rolling finale should suit his strengths. For a while I didn’t think he had the top-end speed that he used to but on the final stage of the Tour last year he showed he can still mix it with the best in a flat stage.

Nacer Bouhanni.

Contract year for the fighting Frenchman and I’m expecting a good year from him. In 2018 we saw a tough teething phase for him with new management at Cofidis but by the end of the season he seemed to be coming around to their approach more, taking a much-needed win at the Vuelta. Traditionally one of the better climbing sprinters, Bouhanni should be there at the finish. His Cofidis lead-out isn’t incredible but with Claeys and Vanbilsen as the two in front of him, they could arrive late and time it right. He’s definitely one to watch.

Giacomo Nizzolo.

Can Dimension Data make it two from two? The mood in the team camp will be buoyant so there will be a lot less pressure on Nizzolo for tomorrow. The Italian had an OK 2018 but nothing extraordinary, it was good to see him just competing at the pointy end of races after his injury plagued 2017. A rider capable of a very fast sprint on his day, he’ll be able to rely on the current race leader in the lead-out, unless of course the plan is for EBH to go and double up, but I can’t see that happening as it should be for Nizzolo.

Sonny Colbrelli.

Gran Piemonte 2018

One of the sprinters that should happily make it over the climbs, Colbrelli delivered a very strong TT this afternoon by his standards, coming home in 19th. Although the team will want to do well in the overall with Teuns, they have a squad here that can help out Colbrelli massively tomorrow and I think they are the one team that can challenge Jumbo with their sprint train speed. With Tratnik, Mohoric and Garcia they certainly have some firepower to put the Italian into position. Does he have the sprint speed to take the win?

Matteo Trentin.

The current European Champion had a pretty poor debut year with Mitchelton Scott in 2018 but that was mainly due to an injury (caused by the #HaugheyCurse) that saw him miss a lot of the season. He obviously came back to take a well fought win in Glasgow and going by his solid TT result today, his form seems to be there too. Not a team with a lot of sprint support, he will have to rely heavily on Mezgec and his own positioning but he could well surprise.

Of course there are others that could well be in the mix and we have a good field here of solid sprinters: Cort, Boudat, Lobato, Roelandts, Enger, Noppe and Lawless will all hope to try to make the top 10.

Prediction

All the pressure will be on Groenewegen and on that tricky run in I think we’ll see some chaos due to the big fight for position. One man in this field loves those types of finish so I’ll go with Nacer Bouhanni to get his season started in the best way possible.

BOUHANNI-Nacer069p-630x420

There might be a slight bit of #PFCL5 bias coming in to this as he’s in my season long fantasy team…

Betting

Nothing wild as it is quite a tricky stage…

1pt WIN Bouhanni @ 13/2 with Betway

Should hopefully get odds elsewhere later as SkyBet and Ladbrokes/Coral eventually had the race priced yesterday too.

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 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.

DVCvCIaVQAIfFUk

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!

Screen Shot 2018-02-02 at 16.33.59
@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.

59d88e7a9c30dc533b0117da8587eb30o

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…

DU-ZUN2W4AECHXM

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.

DU9iefzWkAA4dif

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.

Screen Shot 2018-02-01 at 19.08.34

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!

Screen Shot 2018-02-01 at 19.24.31
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.

633459768_670

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!

TEAM-LOTTO-NL---JUMBO_-UCI-Road-Cycling-World-Championships-2017-–-TTT-Men

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.

DU4TZaQWsAAUp8r

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.

Screen Shot 2018-01-31 at 16.49.23
@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.

pellobilbao-illustr-machucos-vuelta2017-660x330

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!

sptdw4011_670

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.

 

 

 

 

Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana 2018 Stage 1 Preview; Oropesa El Mar › Peñiscola

Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana 2018 Stage 1 Preview; Oropesa El Mar › Peñiscola

GC Overview

I was originally intending on writing a full GC preview for the race but that won’t be happening now so instead, here’s a short overview.

The GC battle will come down to 2, possibly 3 stages.

Stage 2 has the potential to cause some big splits in the peloton, given how tough the final 3kms of Garbi are. However, with 30km to go from the summit to the finish, will riders want to put in a big effort?

Stage 3 sees the return of the TTT, with a 23km route to Calpe. Fast and dangerous, teams will need to take some risks if they want to stay close to the favourite on the day. BMC and Sky look like the teams to beat.

All will be decided on stage 4 with the Queen stage of the race. The riders will face a total of 7 categorised climbs throughout the day but it is the finishing 4.6km of Canteras de Cocentina that averages 8.4% that will make the difference. Depending on how aggressively the day has been raced before that point, we could see some very big gaps here. Can a rider overcome the deficit from the TTT, or will a rider hold on to their advantage?

It looks set to be a battle between Sky and Valverde, as they will inevitably have to close down any gains BMC made in the TT. Having numbers should help Sky and I expect them to try something on Stage 2 once over the climb. It also will help them on stage 4 and they could possibly send some riders on long-range attacks.

But we’re in Spain, Valverde seems lively on his return to racing and he’s in my fantasy team, so I think we’ll see El Bala on the top step come the end of the race. Hopefully!

gettyimages_657348612_670

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

The Route

Right, get the sniggers out of your system straight away, as the opening stage finishes in the town of Peñiscola.

Now that the immaturity is out-of-the-way, what can we expect on stage 1?

Screen Shot 2018-01-30 at 12.15.34
@LasterketaBurua

A fairly straightforward stage with one climb in the middle to reward a breakaway rider with the KOM jersey.

There isn’t really much to this stage but it will be interesting to see if the wind plays a part as the riders head through Vinaroz and along the coast towards the finish. At the moment it looks as if it will be a cross-head wind, but at only 15km/h or so, it isn’t strong enough to create echelons. Teams will be wary though if the forecast changes and it does kick up tomorrow.

As for the final 5km, they are pan-flat but do involve a few turns and roundabouts.

Screen Shot 2018-01-30 at 12.48.21

Incoming Preview by Pictures™…

The most important part of the run in will be the double-header of two 90-degree turns the riders will face in the final 2km.

Screen Shot 2018-01-30 at 12.55.22

Turn #1 at roughly 1.9km to go.

Screen Shot 2018-01-30 at 12.55.50

Turn #2 at roughly 1.6km to go.

Screen Shot 2018-01-30 at 12.58.10

Turn #3 at roughly 1.1km to go.

Screen Shot 2018-01-30 at 12.59.25

Turn #4 at roughly 1km to go.

What can we take from this then?

Well, the road after turn 1 is very narrow and the bunch will be strung out through that section. Turn 2 is slightly more forgiving and the road does open up after that for the following kilometre. This gives those behind a chance to move up if there is some hesitation at the front of the pack.

The second pair of turns are less sharp, but it is important to note that the road narrows a lot once through the final turn. It goes from 2 lanes wide, with plenty of space for parked cars on either side, to only two lanes wide and that’s it.

That continues for the following few hundred metres but the road does open up into the 2 lanes with space either side in the closing 500m.

Therefore positioning coming into the final 2km will be very important as I think it will be hard for teams to move up once through that point.

Sprinters

We don’t exactly have a plethora of sprinting talent here but that means that a couple of riders can get a confidence boosting win over this coming week.

Danny Van Poppel.

After his switch from Sky to Jumbo in the winter, the Dutch rider will be looking to impress for his new outfit. Arguably one of the fastest riders here, he’ll be able to rely on the engines of Van Emden and Van Hoecke to get him into a good position, but from there he will most likely have to follow the wheels of the better sprint trains. If he chooses correctly, then he has a good chance to take the win.

Luka Mezgec.

Mitchelton Scott could go with three options but I fancy them to go with the Slovenian over Albasini and Trentin; with that pair on lead-out duties. Kreuziger -> Bewley -> Albasini -> Trentin is arguably one of the best trains we have their and they pack a lot of power in the final two. That could be crucial in seeing Mezgec through the twisty and tight final few kilometres. Does he have the top end speed to deliver?

Sacha Modolo.

Whisper it quietly but EF Education might have the strongest sprint train here. Their whole squad will most likely get involved in the effort, apart from Rolland maybe, it will just be a case of if they go for Modolo or McLay. Both of them are fast enough in their own right, and it might just be decided on the day as to who is feeling best. I think it will be Modolo on the opening day though. The Italian had an up and down year in 2017, but he will hope his new move means he has more ups than downs this season. In theory, he should be in the best place going into the final few hundred metres, but does he have the top end speed to win?

Those are probably the fastest three guys here/have the best teams around them, but we certainly could see a surprise from some others.

Hugo Hofstetter – More of a lead-out rider, the Cofidis man will be given the go-ahead in the sprints here. Fairly fast, a second place behind Kristoff in Norway last year is testament to that, will he be able to up his game here though. We’ll see!

Alexander-Kristoff-660x330

Clément Venturini – Nippy little AG2R rider that reminds me a lot of Sammy Dumoulin. He’ll have the trusty services of Oli Naesen to lead him out. Could surprise.

Baptiste Planckaert – An incredible 2016 saw him make the jump from CT up to WT and he did struggle a bit last season. However, he started to find his feet towards the end of the year. Would prefer a harder route though.

Adrien Petit – Another lead-out man who gets his chance to shine. With some racing already under his belt in the Bongo, he should theoretically come here in better shape than some of his rivals. He’s not a slouch and he’ll be aiming for a top 5. Would probably prefer a harder course as well though.

Enrique Sanz – A 4th place in Palma shows there is a reasonable bit of form there for the Euskadi rider. I’m not sure about his top speed on a finish like this however.

Albert Torres – I’m a fan of the track star who occasionally rides road races for the Inteja team. His winter of track riding served him will in the Trofeo’s with two top 10 places. He has a very fast finish and he’s one I’m keeping my eye on.

Marko Kump – The Slovenian has taken a step down to PCT in a hope for more leadership opportunities. He is a weird rider in the sense that sometimes he seems incredibly fast, while other times, he’s a bit “meh”. Given this field, if he is on a strong day then at least a podium is a good possibility.

I think that’s everyone covered, although to be fair, I could almost start naming the likes of Valverde and Van Avermaet to be in the mix at this point.

One thing to consider about tomorrow’s stage though is that given the lack of a clear sprint favourite, then we might see a bit of bluffing and refusing to chase the break. There is a much better chance than normal for an opening stage that the break stays away due to no one wanting to work behind. The race really needs a GC team like Sky or Movistar to help with the pace making, otherwise we could well see the break stick.

So it is not a bad day for the pro conti and conti teams to make the move!

Prediction

We will end with a sprint and it will be Luka Mezgec who is victorious.

posloveniji2017_etapa1_5031_170616_vp_670.jpg

Mitchelton have a very strong final 4 that should be able to take control in the closing two kilometres when it matters most. They could conceivably go for Albasini or Trentin as well, but I think Mezgec will be their chosen rider. He worked exceptionally hard for the team last year but showed he had the speed to take his own chances when given them. As an integral part of Ewan’s train, he once again might be allowed to chase personal glory before working hard for others later on in the year!

Betting

I can’t remember if we had odds last year or not so I’m just publishing this preview now anyway. There are odds available with Kirolbet in Spain, but nowhere else unfortunately. Hopefully this might change, but I’m not entirely sure if I’ll back anything anyway. Keep an eye out on my twitter if there are odds published as I’ll post any fancies there.

Thanks for reading as always though! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Will there be enough urgency in the peloton to bring it all back for a sprint, or will we see a breakaway surprise everyone and hold out? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.