La Classica delle foglie morte: Il Lombardia 2018 Preview

La Classica delle foglie morte: Il Lombardia 2018 Preview

The last monument of the year is upon us and the now almost year-round cycling season is winding down, albeit there are still some races left after tomorrow’s affair. However, il Lombaria marks the traditional end of the season and so this will be the last preview of the year. Before starting it properly though, I’ll get the soppy stuff out the road first…

Thank you for returning continuously throughout the year to read the posts and interacting with me on Twitter etc, it really helps to keep me motivated through the months where I’m churning out a preview a day or more! I’m proud to see the blog grow even more this year and thanks for being a part of that – I hope I’ve been able to deliver good and entertaining content, well, at least for most of the time.*

*We’ll just ignore the processional final GT stages…

I’m not sure what the off-season will bring, maybe some rider interviews but let’s be honest, who is really wanting to be interviewed here rather than one of the bigger sites so that is probably a no go. I’ll try to get some opinion pieces out or rider profiles for “ones to watch” or anything really. We’ll see how bored I get during the cold and dark winter months in Scotland!

I never thought at the start of the year I’d manage to get two pieces published in Cycling Weekly and once again that is down to you for sharing and engaging with the content on here/Twitter. Not bad for someone who is a “clueless” cycling blogger – shout out Mr Wong.

But yeah, cheers and enjoy the off-season.

Here goes nothing for one last time this year…


 

In 2017 we were treated to a tough and tactical race but it was a day that was really ever going to be won by one rider – Vincenzo Nibali.

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The Italian was one of the strongest riders on the climbs and only Pinot could match him, but it was on the descents where he proved his worth. He delivered a trademark masterclass and took 15 seconds off of the Frenchman on the penultimate climb’s descent before skipping up the final climb and riding solo to the finish. Behind, Pinot was caught by a group and thanks to some more dare-devil descending, Alaphilippe took second place – a sign of things to come for this year. The Pinot group then sprinted for the final podium spot and it was Moscon who took the spoils.

Will we see a similar outcome this year? Let’s take a look at what awaits the riders.

The Route

An almost carbon copy of the 2017 route, the only major difference is that the San Fermo climb has been removed due to a threat of landslides.

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At 241km and with almost 4000m of elevation gain, it is no easy day out in the saddle. It is even more difficult though when you consider the majority of the climbing comes in the closing 70kms. First up is the famous Madonna del Ghisallo climb (9.1km at 5.2%) and we can expect to see a thinning out process here and possibly some early probing attacks by second and third tier riders from the top teams.

Any rider who is in difficulty this early on won’t have much time to rest though as they will soon face the toughest climb of the day; the Colma di Sormano.

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At 7kms in length it averages a leg breaking 8.9% in gradient. That is hard either way you look at it, but it is the final 1.9km of the climb that averages close to 16% which is the real killer.

If a team really pushes on in the bunch, not many will be left in with a chance once the peloton is over the top. Back in 2015 we had around 20 riders who made it over together, with a few more getting back on in the descent and flat roads as they headed towards Civilgio. Those 15kms are pretty important because it is yet another place where teams with numbers can launch an attack and if there is only a group of 20 up ahead, a counter attack of 5-6 riders could easily gain a minute or so quickly before Civiglio.

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Anyone that went out the back door on the Sormano but managed to get back to the peloton, will unfortunately meet their maker for the second time in the race here. Steep and persistent is the best way to describe it, the climb will wear the riders down and only the strongest will be left at the head of the race. As a tough penultimate climb, it acts as the perfect launchpad. Will anyone manage to break free?

It is not only the climb that you can attack on but the technical descent provides a good place to distance rivals – as we saw last year with Nibali v Pinot. Thankfully it looks as if it will be dry tomorrow but the descent is still tricky nonetheless.

They descend all the way, albeit the gradients are less severe as they enter Como, before hitting the “new” climb of Monte Olimpino.

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Ignore the sudden rise at the start of the profile above as they go under the bridge and the contours on the map happen to be right beside there so it messes with it a bit. The climb is a lot more gradual but the 5.2% for 1.7km is enough for someone to launch a late attack – especially with what has come before. The route down the other side is almost a mirror image before a final 1.5km of flat sees the riders to the finish.

Will someone arrive solo or will we see a small group sprint?

How will the race pan out?

Last year saw a thinning of the peloton over the Ghisallo and Sormano climbs before the pace was really upped on the Civiglio by FDJ. I would expect something similar this year but with Olimpino being considerably easier than the San Fermo, we could have action earlier because it will be harder to create a gap on that last climb.

If that is the case, then it will be tougher to control those 15kms of flat between Sormano and Civiglio because few riders will have many, if any, domestiques left. Consequently, that could open it up for a cluster of “second string” riders to get away and if the majority of the main favourites have a team-mate there, then it could be the move of the day.

However, this is the last monument of the year and a big goal for many in this part of the season so I can’t really see it happening. It should be fought out between the favourites, it is just a case of who makes the move and when. Proceedings will be extremely thinned out on Civiglio and we could see some attack on either the climb or the descent – those without a good sprint will certainly want to shake their rivals off there.

If not, things will get very tactical in the closing 6 kilometres and we might get a bit of a surprise victor, albeit, from a group of favourites.

The Great Eight

There are only eight guys who I think can win this race.

Alejandro Valverde.

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The evergreen World Champion arrives at this race as main favourite because he can do pretty much everything but the main reason is that if things come together for a reduced bunch sprint, it will be very difficult for anyone to beat him. After doing a lot of media duty post-Innsbruck, he’s used Emilia and Milano Torino as good training and to get the race speed back in the legs with the main goal always being Sunday. He looked very comfortable in MT before cracking a little on the final climb and finishing third. Was it a real crack though? Or was it more a case of him being happy with his training for the day and riding home? Knowing Valverde, I think the latter.

Michael Woods.

After taking a great win at the Vuelta, the Canadian was a bit of a surprise package at the Worlds where he ultimately took the bronze medal. Arguably, he looked one of the strongest on the climb but cramped up at the finish. Since then he looked comfortable in Emilia with a 4th place finish but then disappointed with the same result in Tre Valli after his team-mate Uran did all the work for him. Woods has really developed this season in the tougher one-day races – can he take that big win?

Rigoberto Uran.

Like Woods, he skipped Milano Torino as he was more than happy enough with his form in the other two races. The way he skipped away from the bunch on both of those days was quite remarkable and I think he will have a big say in the outcome of the day tomorrow. He’s finished 3rd three times here before and will desperately want to go better. One of the few guys who might actually fancy his chances against Valverde in a sprint.

Thibaut Pinot.

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A spectacular climbing display in Milano Torino saw him take the title of a one-day race, something he has been desperately chasing this Autumn. He’s arguably been the most consistent rider of this final third of the season and has certainly looked a different beast compared to the early part of the year. Being able to rely on Gaudu and Reichenbach deep into the race will be important but I’m not sure either will be there when it really gets going so Pinot will have to do it on his own.

Romain Bardet.

Apparently working for Alaphilippe at the Worlds, finishing second to Valverde in the end wasn’t a bad result. Like most on this list, he was up there in Emilia and came home with the main group in Tre Valli. One of the better descenders in the peloton, Bardet may opt to attack on the downhill of Civiglio and hope to get a gap. A gutsy rider, expect to see him on the move at some point. A big ride from Gallopin tomorrow could be a great help.

Vincenzo Nibali.

Winner on this route two times before, can he make it three? After an unfortunate incident at the Tour forced him to abandon, he has been trying to chase a good level of form ever since. Content with his performances in Emilia and TVV, I think that form is coming. Nibali is known to pull one out of the bag and there won’t be anyone in the peloton who knows this finale better than him. Having a strong team around him should help and I’d expect to see Pozzovivo and Izagirre with him for most of the day.

Primoz Roglic.

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Is it possible to have two “breakthrough” years in a row? Because Roglic has certainly done that in my opinion. On paper this a route and race that is perfect for him: some tough climbs and gnarly descents. However, the Slovenian has still yet to prove himself as a one-day racer, although he has won plenty of stages that are reminiscent of tomorrow. His result at the Worlds will have been a disappointment but there is nothing he could do about the crash and the consequent chase/energy loss because of it. Since then his performances in the two Italian one-day races have been good and I think he’ll be there or thereabouts tomorrow.

Egan Bernal.

The wild card for tomorrow given his recent return after injury but you can never discount a talent like Bernal. Aged just 20 he finished in 17th place here which was a truly stunning result so he does have previous on this parcours. He’s been involved in a lot of the Italian races just so that he can regain the racing rhythm back into his legs and a 10th place in Milano Torino suggests he’s heading in the right direction. Is it too little too late though?

Prediction

Team mates will be incredibly important at the end and there are two guys on the list above from the same time. I think this is Rigoberto Uran’s time to finally get further up that podium. Vamos!

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Betting

I don’t just want to cover Uran though and I’m backing another two of the eight. End of the season so let’s have some fun:

2pts WIN Uran @ 12/1 (would take 10s)

2pts WIN Nibali @ 16/1 (would take 14s available with most)

2pts WIN Roglic @ 20/1 (would take 16s)

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Anyway, for the last time this season,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

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Vuelta a España 2018 Stage 3 Preview: Mijas -> Alhaurín de la Torre

Today’s Recap

Well I pretty much had today’s stage bang on in yesterday’s preview, if we just ignore the part where I decided to dream about a Benoot victory…The Lotto Soudal rider was with the front group but pulled off and swung left at roughly 2km to go, possibly struggling with the heat and rhythm of the bunch.

De Plus launched a very strong attack with just over 1km left and gained a reasonable gap while there was a bit of marking out behind. Valverde bit the bullet (see what I did?) and hit out to close him down, with only Kwiatkowski being able to stick to his wheel. The Pole came round Valverde at 250m to go, leading into the last corner. It worked out perfectly though for the Movistar man who was able to use Kwiatkowski’s slipstream and launch past him in the final metres to take the win.

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De Plus held on for third with a whole host of GC riders coming trailing in behind.

The result on the day means that Kwiatkowski moves into the leader’s jersey, 14 seconds ahead of Valverde and 25 ahead of Kelderman. With the parcours to come tomorrow, he should hold on to it, but who knows. Let’s have a look at what is in store for them…

The Route

A classic Vuelta “sprint day” where the riders have to traverse two categorised climbs, including the first Cat-1 of the race, and several other unclassified ascents, totalling over 3000m of altitude gain. Javier Guillén is the biggest patter merchant going!

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The Cat-1 climb of Puerto del Madroño averages 4.4% for 23.5km so it isn’t too tough gradient wise, but it is the length and heat combined that will cause some issues. If we don’t see the break form until here, then expect it to be strong again and it might be one that could go all the way.

The terrain continues to roll for pretty much the remainder of the day, taking in the Cat-3 Puerto del Viento (6.4km at 4.3%) and the uncategorised rise just after the feed zone which comes in at 4.1% for 6kms.

A long descent follows before yet more rolling terrain and some rises before the intermediate sprint point with only 25km left in the day.

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As you can see on the profile above, there are a few rises in the closing 7kms, with the most notable of them being a 1.2km drag (3.6%) average that ends with just 2.5km left in the day. From there, it is mainly flat, if not ever so slightly downhill all the way to the line.

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There are 4 roundabouts to traverse in those closing 2.5km, just a typical Vuelta finish really. The last of those comes with roughly 600m left but it is quite open so it shouldn’t be too bad.

Question Number 1: Break or no break?

The stage looks great for a breakaway to establish a good gap before the sprinters teams can start chasing properly once they are over the Cat-1 climb and normally it would be a good stage to get into the move. However, the issue lies with the fact that Kwiatkowski currently leads the overall and Sky might be keen to keep him in that position so they will keep things on a fairly tight rope, hoping to get some assistance later on. Consequently, I don’t think we’ll see the break win tomorrow despite the favourable profile, although I’ll still give it an 20% chance of it happening.

Question Number 2: Big bunch sprint or reduced bunch sprint?

We saw today that several of the sprinters bailed out early on what was an easier stage than tomorrow. It is hard to read into that though as many of them wouldn’t have rated their chances at all and just decided to save their energy.

However, we are in for a similarly hot day tomorrow and more climbing metres (roughly 400m more), then we could see several sprinters dropped early and not make it back. It will be interesting to see who pushes the pace on and given their current form, I think both Valverde and Kwiatkowski might fancy their chances in a reduced bunch gallop. Consequently, we could see Sky and Movistar form an entente cordiale at the start of the stage and drop most of the fast men on the opening climb. As looking at the stage profile, there isn’t really a lot of flat land where a team can make a concerted chance to get back if the pace is on at the head of the race. It’s not really until 40km to go that the major difficulties of the afternoon are out-of-the-way.

The slightly rolling run-in to the line as well could see some surprisingly lose contact after a tough day. If not, their zip might be gone.

It’s a tough one to call, but I think we’ll see a reduced bunch sprint of maybe 70-90 riders.

Contenders

Elia Viviani.

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Arguably the best sprinter this year, Viviani has had a truly incredible season. He recently won the Cyclassics Hamburg in rather dominant fashion but somewhat disappointed today. I would have expected him to stay with the bunch for longer but as mentioned above, he might just have decided to write the day off and focus on tomorrow. If he can manage the climbs and make it to the line, then he has to be the clear favourite.

Matteo Trentin. 

Another who disappointed me today, he finished ahead of the gruppetto but not by much, coming home almost 11 minutes down. Sensational in this race last year, will he get given the same free role now with Mitchelton? Theoretically he should be one of the fastest “climbing sprinters” here, but does he have the form…His win in Glasgow would suggest so but today’s performance doesn’t. Hmmmm.

Michal Kwiatkowski.

He just seems to be able to continue his great form, doesn’t he?! Today he got played by Valverde who let him lead into the final turn and the Pole will be desperately gutted to have missed out on the stage win, again. Being in the red leader’s jersey isn’t a bad consolation but he will want more. Sky have a strong team to put the sprinters into trouble early and if they form an alliance with other squads, we could see the current race leader sprinting for the win from a reduced bunch. He clearly has the form and speed at the moment to go well and the rises before the line will help to bring him closer to the fast men.

Alejandro Valverde.

Can El Bala make it two in a row? Much like Kwiatkowski, Valverde packs a good sprint on the flat too and he’ll no doubt want to chase some bonus seconds so he can move into the race lead. If the race is aggressive and attritional tomorrow then he has a great chance.

Tom Van Asbroeck.

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Slightly left-field pick but he impressed me a lot on the tougher finishes in the Vuelta last year and he seems to be arriving here in good shape. He was the best finishing “fast man” today, coming home only 2’15 down on Kwiatkowski. He should make it over the climbs with the main group tomorrow and if some of the properly fast guys have been dropped then he has a great chance of pulling off what is a shock result.

Nacer Bouhanni.

I still remember fondly the 2014 Vuelta and just how strong Nacer was then, it is a shame to see him a shadow of his former self, or is he? Today he came home alongside Nibali and Benoot: not exactly bad company for a sprinter on a tricky finish. To me that indicates that his climbing legs are starting to come back and I think he will be up for it tomorrow. On his day Bouhanni can climb very well and I keep harking back to his win in Catalunya last year. One to watch.

Ivan Garcia Cortina.

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The Bahrain rider really announced himself with a third place from the breakaway during last year’s Vuelta on what was a difficult day out. Like Bouhanni, he finished alongside his team-mate Nibali today so there is obviously a reasonable amount of form there at the moment. With Bahrain looking a little lacklustre GC wise already, only Ion is left, then they might turn their attention to Garcia tomorrow: he certainly could challenge for the podium in a reduced gallop.

Note I’ve left out Sagan (probably at my peril) because I still don’t think he’s 100% and isn’t fit enough to compete. Also left out Walscheid as he can barely get over a speed bump.

Prediction

Reduced sprint with some of the sprinters missing out.

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Kwiatkowski to get that win!

 

 

Betting

Backing two riders…

1pt EW Kwiatkowski @ 18/1

1pt EW Van Asbroeck @ 40/1

Should cover a few bases. Maybe not a Viviani win though!

Thanks as always for reading. Who do you think will win tomorrow? Will we see a sprint, reduced bunch sprint or even a breakaway contesting for stage honours? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Tour de France 2018 GC Preview

Tour de France 2018 GC Preview

In 2017 we saw a rather dominant Chris Froome win by ‘only’ 54 seconds ahead of Rigoberto Uran with Romain Bardet edging Landa by one second to round out the GC podium.

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I say ‘only’ above as it was actually Froome’s smallest winning margin in all 4 of his victories so far, but he never looked in that much trouble throughout the three weeks. Obviously it was a measured effort so that he could go on to win the Vuelta later in the year, then the Giro this year. Can he make it an incredible 5th Tour win and 4th GT win in a row?

No fancy business here because as I’ll be doing daily stage previews I’m just ducking any route analysis here and just jumping straight into the favourites. I would recommend this preview from Road.cc though as they cover each stage in concise paragraphs. Much better than my ramblings!

I’m also going to be blunt with some riders as I don’t really rate their overall chances. Also you’ll have read many previews by now and if I’m honest, I can’t really bothered to rehash what others have said.

Anyway, onto the contenders and pretenders…

The Favourite 

Chris Froome.

Despite what your opinion is (I’m sure you all know mine by now) on the whole salbutamol case, the bottom line is that Froome is cleared and is here to race. Nothing like a bit of pre-Tour drama though with ASO apparently going to ban him before UCI/WADA announcing the following day that his case was dropped. More drama than Love Island!

At the Giro Froome was seemingly way off the pace but two remarkable days on the bike, Zoncolan and Stage 19, saw him claw back an almost 3 minute deficit to Dumoulin with some more left in the bag. With an extra week between the Giro and Tour, he should have recovered reasonably well. His team is super strong, as you would expect, and he will have a lot of support on the flat and in the mountains. It will be interesting to see how he can handle the cobbled stage – it will certainly bring back bad memories from crashing out in 2014. No doubt he starts as the favourite and will gain time in the efforts against the clock but can we really expect a rider to win four Grand Tours in a row? I hope not, for the sake of the sport.

The Waiting for Froome to falter-ers

Richie Porte.

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Can Richie survive a Grand Tour without a bad day? That is the million dollar question. If he does, then he will play a massive role in the outcome of this race. Arguably the best rider on a 15 minute climb in the World, he will hope to display some of that trademark out of the saddle “sprint-climbing” in this race. At the Tour de Suisse he was strong and took home that race but I get the sense that he still wasn’t at 100%, there is still room for improvement from him. Compared to what he has been used to in the past couple of seasons this looks like his strongest BMC support team. They have all terrain covered to shepherd Porte around France and he should be able to rely on Van Garderen and Caruso deep into many of the mountain days. I started off this season thinking that Porte would win the race and although my mind has been slightly changed, he still starts as one to beat if he stays on his bike.

Romain Bardet. 

The AG2R man has finished on the podium the past two years and will be hoping for a similar result this year, if not better. A third in the recent Dauphiné was a good and highlights that his form is heading in the right direction but that he has not peaked too soon. In last year’s edition of the race I loved the way AG2R attacked Sky in the mountains and they bring an even stronger squad with them this time out. He shouldn’t lose a crazy amount of time in the TTT as a result but I do have a slight worry for him on the cobbled stage. Then again, who of the GC contenders will truly be comfortable then? A big day is needed from Naesen! In the mountains he (alongside Porte) is one of the few riders I am confident can actually challenge Froome. With a few stages ending in descents from climbs, he will be in his element and certainly put pressure on the other GC contenders.

Nairo Quintana.

Is the Colombian back to his climbing best? It looks like it after his strong showing in the Tour de Suisse and he was particularly impressive holding off the group of GC contenders on the shallow drag before the final steeper ramps of Arosa. He forms a very strong attacking trident with Valverde and Landa and I’m really looking forward to see how they approach the race. I just hope that at least two of them are in contention after the cobbled stage. We saw in 2015 just how strong Nairo can be in the final week of the race in the high mountains and the rest of his challengers will be concerned if he is within 2 minutes going into the closing stages. No doubt we’ll certainly see some enthusiastic Colombian fans at the side of the road!

The Podium Outsiders

Right, shorter musings from now on.

Vincenzo Nibali.

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Winner of the Tour when the race last visited the cobbles, the Bahrain rider has had a pretty average year so far. However, he knows how to peak for a race and he can never be discounted. With a strong team to support him, we will probably see him on the attack as he will no doubt have to claw some time back after the TTT.

Rigoberto Uran.

A surprising second place last year, I think it will be hard for the Colombian to repeat the feat this time around. He found some race sharpness in Slovenia recently but I just don’t think he has enough to do it. Then again, no one really mentioned him last year and look what happened.

Alejandro Valverde.

Mr Evergreen, Valverde has been incredibly strong this season so far, having won the GC of every stage race he has competed in. It was scary how easy things were for him in the recent La Route d’Occitanie, using the attacks of Elissonde and Navarro as training – deliberately letting gaps grow so he could close them down. He’s another that will probably be chasing time after the TTT but I look forward to his venture onto the cobbles – he didn’t do too badly in Dwars this year.

Adam Yates. 

Have Mitchelton learnt from his brother’s epic collapse at the Giro? In strong form after his second in the Dauphine (the gap to Porte would have only be a handful of seconds if it was not for the TTT), he will be able to rely on a well-rounded squad focussed solely on him. Can he handle the pressure?

Jakob Fuglsang.

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If there was ever a year when Fuglsang could seriously challenge for a podium spot then this would be it. He has a solid team built around him that should be able to support him on most terrain. Back in 2014 he was the one doing the majority of the work when Nibali gained a load of time on the cobbles so no doubt he’ll be licking his lips at that stage. We saw in the Tour de Suisse that he was stronger than Porte on the last day of climbing and he followed that up with a blistering TT. Has he managed to hold form?

Top 10 Fillers

Ilnur Zakarin.

The Katusha man is one of those riders that could really fall into a couple of categories in this preview. I fear he’ll lose some time in the TT and given his poor bike handling the cobbles will be an issue too. However, we saw in the Vuelta last year that he was one of the best climbers in the last week. It all depends on the opening 9 days though.

Geraint Thomas.

Team Sky Plan B but when has a Team Sky Plan B ever actually won a race? I certainly can’t recall a time. Needs Froome to drop out within the opening 9 days for him to get a dedicated team around him. Will he wait for his captain on the cobbles as theoretically he should be one of the strongest GC riders. It will be interesting to see how it plays out within the team.

Bob Jungels.

I rate him as a rider but I feel he’s just going to be a “he’s there” kind of rider this Tour. Top 10 would be a good result.

Daniel Martin.

Terrible team means he will lose a lot of time in the TTT and he will lose a lot of time on the cobbles too. Stage hunting later in the race would be a good idea if he just doesn’t want to ride for a top 10.

Steven Kruijswijk.

See Jungels.

Bauke Mollema.

See Kruijswijk.

The Pretenders

Riders that won’t top 10 despite a lot of people thinking they will. Ready to eat my hat here.

Primoz Roglic.

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He seems to be everyone’s favourite wildcard for the race but I just can’t see it. Having won both Itzulia and Romandie he then returned to racing recently and took the crown at his home tour. Unproven and untested, I think he will once again go for stage wins and focus on contending for the GC in a GT next year.

Tom Dumoulin.

The Sunweb rider has never done two GTs back to back while going for GC. After the brutally tough Giro I think he will fall short here and instead focus on going for some stage wins. The way that Sunweb approached this race to me seemed that Kelderman was going to be their GC candidate with Dumoulin acting as a decoy to deflect attention but unfortunately Kelderman crashed and can’t take the start.

Mikel Landa.

The boldest of the three riders listed here, I just can’t get behind the Landa train. I think something will go wrong for him on one of the days and with the two more established Movistar riders possibly getting a little extra support, Landa will lose his hopes on the cobbles. If he is in contact though I would love to see Rogue Landa again.

Egan Bernal.

Exceptional talent but he’ll fall into line, a.k.a behind Thomas and Poels. We might see something similar to Moscon at the Vuelta where he is exceptional for a while but due to his age he won’t be consistent.

Prediction

Probably Froome, innit.

But after resigning myself to that fate at the Giro I’m going to predict a more fairytale result here and go with Bardet to take home the first French win in a long time.

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Allez Romain!

Betting

Three pre-Tour bets for me, all that I’ve tweeted out over the past couple of weeks.

2pts EW Bardet @ 18/1 for GC (he’s actually out to 20/1 with Betfair Sportsbook but I would take the 16/1 widely available elswhere)

1.5pt Valverde Top 3 at 7/1 (available at Bet365 and Will Hill)

1pt EW Demare Points Classification at 20/1 (with Coral/Lads)

I had set aside 10pts for outright market bets but this is not the year to bet on KOM pre race but I might fancy something during the race.

Let’s just hope for a better Tour than Giro punting wise, I’ll be sticking to my favourite rule: 2pts a day keeps the debt collector away!

Thanks for reading as always and hope you enjoyed the preview. Who do you think will go on to win the race overall? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Volta Ciclista a Catalunya 2018 Stage 2 Preview; Mataró – Valls

After missing a preview for today’s stage I’ll be back with daily blogs for the rest of the week, apologies!

Today’s Recap

Almost disappointingly we didn’t see anyone try a bold attack on the climb or the run in but they had no real chance to with Movistar setting a fierce tempo into the closing 2kms. From there Quick Step took over, absolutely drilling it at the front of the peloton to set up their man for the day and boy did Hodeg deliver. Once he was released by his lead-out man then no-one could live with him as he galloped home by about 4 bike lengths.

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Not a bad few days for the Colombian as he quickly followed up his first pro win with the World-Tour level win today! Interestingly, he says his surname as “Hodge”; I wonder if it is too late to try to get him to ride for Scotland…

Behind, Bora rounded out the podium with Bennett coming second and McCarthy trailing in just behind. The former still looks to be finding some form as his first part of the season has been plagued with illness but his team-mate will certainly be happy with where he is and will fancy his chances tomorrow.

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

The Route

A rolling day with a reasonable amount of altitude gain, it is a stage that will be decided by the final climb.

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@LasterketaBurua

The climb is long enough that it should be too tough for the proper sprinters, although we don’t really have many of them here. It will be interesting to see if any GC team decides to light it up and given what we saw today, I imagine Movistar will be keen to set a tempo on the slopes.

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It’s a good climb to set a tempo on too as the gradients are very regular. With the gradients not being overly steep and the climb not being really long, then some of the punchier guys might fancy their chances at holding on. It all just depends on the approach of the GC teams.

However, anyone wanting to be in with a chance of winning the stage will need to be in the bunch once it crests with 10km to go as it is mainly downhill from there.

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The descent will be fast but the riders should have plenty of room as to manoeuvre as it is on a main road. It is possible to pedal on the descent so I’m intrigued to see what gear ratios riders select for tomorrow.

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There are a few roundabouts in the closing kilometres which could make things a bit dangerous if we get a bunch finish.

How will the stage pan out?

The climb of Lilla was last used back in 2016 on Stage 5 when we had the exact same closing 20kms as we do tomorrow. On that day there were already plenty of time gaps due to it being the 5th stage so everyone wanted to go into the break. In fact, it took until only 50km to go for it to form. Poels attacked from the move on the climb and managed to hold on, winning ahead of 4 of his break companions who fought it out for the minor podium places with the peloton coming in behind them.

The break does have a chance, as always, but I can’t see that happening. Movistar made their intentions pretty clear today with their show at the front of the peloton and I would expect them to set a fierce pace on the climb to try to distance that fast men. Consequently, the question is then how many riders will be left at the front? In 2016 it was a peloton of roughly 60 that were left. If the Spaniards go crazy tomorrow then I could see maybe a group of 30-40 riders together over the top. If they go really crazy then it might only be 20.

Co-operation in the lead group will then be a factor as to who continues to drive the pace on the descent or if a splinter group might squirrel off the front. The smaller the group of riders, the more likely people will successfully get away.

We saw what happened recently in Paris Nice when Sanchez, Hivert and Di Gregorio were able to get away after a fairly innocuous looking climb.

Contenders

Alejandro Valverde.

The Movistar man has to start as the big favourite for tomorrow’s stage. In fine form, as always, he’ll be drooling at the prospect of a reduced bunch sprint and some possible bonus seconds on the line. He got involved today and the majority of the guys who finished ahead of him won’t make it tomorrow. Movistar have a strong team to control proceedings but they might be leant on heavily by others.

Jay McCarthy.

Valverde’s big rival for the stage, he was an impressive 3rd today. Arguably as fast if not faster than El Bala on a finish like this he’ll have his whole team to support him. This is his first stage-race back in Europe after a good showing during the opening season events Down Under.

Daryl Impey.

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Won a stage at this race last year, he’ll enjoy the thought of a reduced bunch gallop as he should be one of the faster guys left. He was on his own in the final today as the first port of call for him this race is to look after his GC leaders. If that’s the same tomorrow then he might struggle to find the right wheel but with a bit of luck he could take the win. If his form is similar to that when he was in Australia then others will be worried about him!

Those three are the favourites for the stage in my opinion and I would be surprised if one of them didn’t win. However, others might still get involved.

Matej Mohoric.

I’m a big fan of the former Junior/U-23 World Champion and it is good to see him get more responsibility and leadership roles at Bahrain this season, although he is more than happy to do his job for the team, i.e. helping Nibali at Sanremo. In today’s sprint he tried to lead-out Bonifazio but the Italian was somewhat blocked in, while Mohoric held on for 9th. Tomorrow should all be about Matej though as I can’t see Bonifazio making it over with the lead group. We might see a show from him on the descent or he might try his hand at a sprint but Bahrain will be near the front as Visconti also could deliver a strong result too.

Pello Bilbao.

Another rider I’m a fan of (there seems to be a recurring theme here), the Astana rider packs a good sprint from a small group. He was flying towards the end of last season and started the year off in good form with a strong result in Valenciana. He pulled out of Abu Dhabi though and this is his first race back since then so his form is a bit unknown. If they don’t go for him, Chernetckii could be Astana’s guy.

Arthur Vichot.

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The former French Champion has been lightly raced this season so far with today’s stage only the 3rd race day he has completed therefore it is hard to tell if he will be competitive or not. On paper though, tomorrow’s stage looks ideally suited to his characteristics. He’s a classy rider and can’t be discounted full but I just think that there will be others who will be faster than him left at the end. Also, he only ever wins in France. Watch him change that tomorrow…

Prediction

Easy…

Jay McCarthy wins.

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Valverde has met his match in reduced bunch sprint finishes! Movistar will need to set a crazy tempo on the climb to distance him and turn it into a fully fledged GC day if that happens.

Betting

2pts WIN on McCarthy @ 7/1. (would take down to 5/1).

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Strade Bianche 2018 Preview

A modern-day classic that this year only celebrates its 11th edition, Strade Bianche is a race that has won the hearts of many, myself included. The mix of rolling terrain, punchy climbs, gravel roads and a finish amongst the picturesque Piazza del Campo make this a great day to sit in front of the television and watch the race unfold. Given the wide-variety of parcours to be tackled, a range of riders have found themselves in contention coming into Siena at the end of the race.

Last year saw poor conditions with rain throughout the day which made the race one of attrition, especially as crashes splintered the peloton on crucial sections of Strade. An elite group of riders forged ahead but it was Michal Kwiatkowski who was rewarded for an incredibly attacking display by taking the victory.

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Behind, a trio of Van Avermaet, Wellens and Stybar fought it out for the minor podium places with a sprint up to the Piazza. They came home in that order with the Czech rider losing out.

This year we could be set for another great edition of the race due to an exciting start list but also some incredibly challenging conditions. First though, let’s have a look at the parcours the riders will face.

The Route

At 184km it certainly isn’t the longest race the riders will face all year, heck, there will even be plenty of stages in Grand Tours that are longer, but with 63km of dirt roads in total then it isn’t easy-going in the slightest.

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Sectors 5-8 are where the bulk of the “Strade” are, with the last being the most difficult. At 11.5km long big gaps can be made, especially when the rolling nature of the sector is considered. This is where Cancellara used to make his mark and after his third victory in 2016, the sector is nicknamed after the Swiss rider.

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Once through Monte Sante Marie there are just over 40kms and only 3 gravel sectors remaining but that doesn’t mean the action is over. With the continual rolling nature of the road there are many potential locations to attack and those at the head of the race need to be attentive for the final hour.

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There are two gravel sections in the closing 20kms, both of which involve uphill sections that are steep enough for stinging attacks. However, the flatter sections of road also provide a good launchpad for a move if there is no co-operation in a group. Really, all the riders need to be attentive throughout the closing stages of the day or the race could be lost in a few moments.

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The climb up to the Piazza in Siena is sharp but it is short enough that the puncheurs and climbers both have an equal chance to go well on it. Once over the crest, you really want to be at the head of the group as the run-in is very narrow and technical. Leading through the final 200m almost guarantees the win!

Weather Watch

Conditions are looking much better for the race than they were at the start of the week but they will still certainly be grim.

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Source: Windfinder

It looks as if it will be wet, wet, wet! The gravel roads will turn to mud and this will certainly make the racing more interesting to watch. It will also test the riders bike handling skills as they make their way down some tricky muddy descents. The winner will definitely deserve it come the end of the day!

Contenders

A wide-open race that has many potential winners amongst the start list, it all depends on how the race is played out. I’m going to go through the “big 5” according to the bookmakers then name three others who I think might have a good chance of the title, so apologies if the list is not as exhaustive as you were hoping for!

Michal Kwiatkowski.

The defending champion returns here in great form having just won the Volta ao Algarve. This is a race that he seems to love and it would not surprise me to see him go and win again, matching Cancellara’s record of three wins. The punchy climbs are great for him but he is also strong enough on the flatter sections to make a difference. Will he get as much freedom as last year? Probably not but given we have both GVA and Sagan here, then he might just profit from their rivalry.

Peter Sagan.

Back for his first race on European soil he’s spent a lot of time recently at altitude camp. It will be interesting to see how that transfers into his performances during races; it might take a little bit for him to get back into the swing of things. Sagan really wants to win San Remo so given the tricky conditions here he might just go 90% with a focus on what is to come. Then again, he is a racer and given his incredible talent, he is in with a great chance of taking a title that is missing from his palmarès.

Zdenek Stybar.

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Winner of the 2015 edition the former cyclo-cross star will love the terrible conditions that are forecast. Results wise the start of his season has been so-so but it is his performances that have impressed. He looked strong out on the attack in the final day of the Algarve, forcing those behind to do a lot of work to catch him. He then followed that up with an attacking display in Omloop that ultimately was fruitless in the end. Nonetheless, I’m sure he’ll be happy with his current condition. Last year I picked Stybar as my winner only for him to finish 4th and I’m not sure if I’ve seen anything that much different from him this season to see him finish any higher. He can’t be truly discounted though, especially when the weather is considered and with super-domestique Gilbert to help.

Greg Van Avermaet.

Incredibly consistent at this event he didn’t seem to pack the same punch at Omloop that he normally would. Now, that is probably not a good thing in terms of his chances of winning this race, but it is good for him being on track for the bigger goals slightly further along in the season. Nonetheless, GVA is a classy bike rider and with parcours like this he can’t be discounted. The short punchy climbs and challenging gravel sections are right up his street or should I say “Strade”. Sorry, I’ll let myself out…Saying all that, compared to the rest of the big 5, I just can’t see a situation where he wins.

Alejandro Valverde.

The evergreen rider from Movistar was originally on the start list for this race but it looked as if his participation was in jeopardy after having some stomach issues. He’s over that now and is here to race, I think it might all be a smokescreen anyway. In stupendous form as always, he’s somewhat disappointed at this race in the past only managing to come third on two occasions. That could well change this year!

One interesting thing to note from the “Big 5” is that they are all excellent bike-handlers, something that will be very important tomorrow. Now onto my three picks for the race, all of whom are Italian…

Moreno Moser.

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If you’ve kept up with this blog since the start of the season then you would know that this pick was pretty much inevitable! Astana have been flying this year with Moser picking up a great win in Laigueglia, breaking a duck that lasted for a few seasons. It was the way in which he won that race that really impressed me, his attack on the final climb can only be described as brutal. Admittedly the competition was at a lower level than it is here, but he made almost a 50m gap in roughly 200m. Following on from that he then went and worked selflessly for the team in Andalucia, often being the last rider in front of the two Astana leaders going onto the climbs. He arrives here with a strong team and I expect them to play a big part in the race, possibly splitting it early just like Lotto Soudal did last year. If they have numbers in the front group like they did in Omloop, then expect them to repeatedly attack until one gets away. Moreno has a great chance in a situation like that.

Gianni Moscon.

Who needs a snow plough when you can just get a Tractor instead?! Insanely talented, 2017 was not just a normal breakthrough year for the Sky man, I would describe it more as an explosion!

It started off rather innocuously until a very impressive 5th place at Roubaix got things rolling. Solid showings in Route du Sud were then followed with a win in the Italian TT champs and a 5th place in the road race. A second place on Stage 4 of Burgos was a microcosm of what we were going to see in the coming Vuelta; Moscon absolutely blitzing it on the short 2kms climbs and putting everyone into difficulty. A respectable 6th place in the Worlds TT came not long after before a very unrespectable disqualification in the road race. Two more top 10s in the end of season Italian one-day races before a big third place in Lombardia. All in all, not bad!

This year started off with some good outings in the pre-season style races in Spain before actually being the best Sky finisher GC-wise in Valenciana. Since then he’s been at training camps, honing his form. Strade on paper looks like a race that should suit him perfectly. He’s more than likely going to be the last Sky rider with Kwiatkowski and if things are getting cagey he will be the first to attack. If he’s anywhere close to that 5 minute power he showed during the Vuelta, then he is a dark-horse for this race.

Vincenzo Nibali.

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Predicting a Nibali peak outside of a Grand Tour is arguably one of the hardest bits of cycling punditry; the guy is an enigma. This is a race he’s attempted in the past but has fallen flat on almost every occasion. Last year was a quite literal example as he crashed before later suffering a flat tyre as well. His start to 2018 has been quiet, using the races in the middle east as training miles before his bigger goals later in the season. I have a feeling though that he really wants to give MSR a proper dig this year so his form will be on the up here. Conditions on Saturday also remind me a lot of that famous Tour de France stage back in 2014 when Nibali went on the attack on the cobbles. He’s not afraid of bad conditions and as an excellent bike handler, he might put some into difficulty on the descents. It will be hard for him to out-punch anyone on the final climb to the Piazza so he more than likely needs to arrive alone, but like with everyone else I’ve mentioned above, it is possible.

Prediction

Moscon to take the win!

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Like others, I think we’ll see a fairly tactical race with a lot of looking around at each other by the “Big 5”. Consequently, we’ll see a smaller group with some of the “second tier” riders get away to fight out for the win. If Moscon is at 90% of what he was like in the Vuelta last year, no one will be able to match him up the climb to Piazza del Campo. He’ll take a spectacular but very divisive win!

Betting

Backing the three picks;

1pt EW on them all…

Moscon @ 18/1 (Would take 14)

Nibali @ 80/1 (Would take 50s)

Moser @ 80/1 (Would take 50s)

I’ll take a little longer and have a look at some H2H later. If I find anything I’ll fancy then I’ll post them on Twitter.

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win tomorrow? I’m certainly looking forward to an exciting race! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

Vuelta a Andalucia 2018 GC Preview

A race that has been dominated by Alejandro Valverde in the past, he’s won 5 out of the last 6 editions, it was the same last year where he just pipped Alberto Contador to the title by one second.

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Thibaut Pinot was third at only 6 seconds back but with none of those riders here this week, we have a chance for a new winner.

First though, let’s look at what is in store for the riders over the week.

The Route

As I’ll be doing in-depth daily stage previews, this section will be a little truncated. All of the following profiles are thanks to @LasterketaBurua.

Stage 1.

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An interesting opening stage with a lot of climbing in the third quarter of the day. This could turn into a GC day but the likely outcome will be a reduced sprint of some kind.

Stage 2.

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Only the second day but we have the Queen stage of the race. At only 141km of racing the stage is short but it is filled with climbs. The finish up to Alto de Las Allandas could see some massive gaps. Those with a poor TT will have to go full gas here, it should be a great watch!

Stage 3.

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The only stage the should see a full bunch sprint but we do have a lack of quick-men here. Who will control the day?

Stage 4.

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A long day in the saddle but it is all about the final 1.5km; a short but steep ramp. Both the climbers and puncheurs will fancy it.

Stage 5.

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A TT to finish that has a 5km section of gravel that averages just over 2%. It should be one for the more traditional TT riders, but it is short enough for some surprise names to get in the mix. Will the GC title be decided on the final day?

With the stages briefly covered, let’s have a look at who might be challenging for the win at the end of the week.

But first…

The Elephant in the Room

This is Froome’s first race after his AAF was announced/leaked. Now, the decision to have him race is one that divides opinion amongst cycling fans but I’m fairly certain you will all know what side of the argument I am on. It will be interesting to see how he and Sky approach the race. Will they take it easy and hope to slip under the radar (well, as much as they can) or will they continue on as if nothing has happened?

Either way, there is no way that they can come out of this one, ahem, cleanly.

If Froome takes it easy then the accusations will fly suggesting that he needed medication to go well etc. Whereas if he goes full gas and features at the head of the race then a lot of people will take offence as to the audacity of the team considering all that is going on at the moment. They are stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place.

It will also be interesting to see how the riders in the peloton treat him. Will he be given the same respect as before?

No doubt the Brit will still have his fans that will cheer him on. In fact, I would suggest that they’ve become even more fanatical since the AAF finding so we can expect them to be vocal no matter what.

The voices of dissent will be as vocal as the cheers this week but I just hope no-one does anything stupid out on the road to take the situation into their own hands. Cycling’s image is already being made a mockery of, we don’t need stories of piss being thrown at him etc.

Personally I don’t think Froome will feature here. He’s essentially completed an extra Grand Tour while in South Africa as they attempt to recreate the situation and find a scientific reason as to why his salbutamol levels were so high. Surely he is spent after it all? Plus, I don’t think Sky can risk the outrage if he does win until the case/investigation is over. If he does, then it is a big “fuck you” to the sport.

So with that said, I’m going to discount him for this race. Let’s have a look at who else might compete though!

(Again though, this all opinion and shouldn’t be taken as fact. Plz don’t sue. I’m poor. 😐)

Contenders

Mikel Landa.

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Starting his first race for Movistar he’ll want to get his season up and running with a good result. On paper this looks ideal for the Spanish climber. He’ll love the steep and relentless finish on Stage 2 and he should be able to put in a solid time in the time trial. In fact, he should be the class act of the race but with his form being so unknown he could well win it or come home in 20th.

Jakob Fuglsang.

A rider that we do know the form of, the Astana man has started the season well with a 3rd place on GC in Valenciana. He followed that up with a solid 6th place in Murcia at the weekend. Astana have a very strong team here and they’ll hope to have a few guys near the head of the race in the important stages. Numbers could be crucial.

Luis Leon Sanchez.

The second Astana candidate for the race win, the Spaniard has started the European season in sensational form. After returning from the Tour Down Under where he finished a respectable 8th on GC, he’s since went on to finish second behind Valverde in Valenciana and then beat him in Murcia at the weekend. A strong TTer, he should have an advantage over some competitors in that stage and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him go well on some of the steep ramps, he did well in Valenciana on similar terrain.

De La Cruz / Poels.

With Froome taking this one easy (see my reasoning above) then Sky will turn to other riders for success. I’m not sure how either of them will go here though as their crack squad in Valenciana was extremely disappointing. Was it just a slow start to the season or is no-one in form yet as they all secretly want to lead at the Tour…I think it is too tough for De La Cruz to win GC, but if Poels has upped his game since a poor Valenciana then he of course is a contender for the win. We’ll find out on stage 2 where he is at!

Steven Kruijswijk.

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After pulling out of the Giro last year the Dutchman finished the season with a 9th place in the Vuelta. A rider who never really starts the season well I am intrigued to see if that changes this season given he is hoping to go to the Tour. On his day he can climb with the best and he can produce a good time against the clock. Yet, I don’t think he’ll be up and running yet so a top 10 would be a solid result.

Ben Hermans.

With three top 10s already in 2018, the Israel Academy rider will hope for a similar, if not better, result here. Juxtaposed to Kruijswijk, Hermans is a rider who normally does start his season well. I wouldn’t have him down as one of the best climbers here but given form is important at the start of the year he could surprise just like he did on the Green Mountain last season.

Amaro Antunes.

One of my favourite riders from 2017, it was great to see his season rewarded with a step up in level to ProConti with CCC. An explosive climber he’ll like the steep ramps that we have on a couple of the stages. In this field, he will fancy his chances to go well on those days. His TT definitely needs some work but his team have improved in the discipline over the past half a year, so I’m intrigued to see if it has had a positive effect on Antunes over the winter. Another top 10 on GC like Valenciana is certainly a possibility.

Prediction

Form is King early in the year so I have to go with Luis Leon Sanchez as the winner here.

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Part of the strongest team, he and Fuglsang should be at the head of the race on the toughest stages and that will be of massive benefit to them. Sanchez has looked the strongest on the climbs in the previous races so it will take a lot for someone to drop him. Furthermore, he possesses a strong TT which could see him seal the win on the closing day.

No odds are out as of yet but I might back him depending on the price.

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win the GC? I’ll be back later this evening with my stage 1 preview. 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.

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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.