Innsbruck 2018 World Championships – Women’s ITT Preview

Last year saw clear favourite for the day Annemiek van Vleuten take home the rainbow jersey for the first time in her career with a strong performance but one that might not have been as dominant as some expected. Nonetheless, she got the job done and returns this year once again as the rider to beat.

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Compatriot Anna van der Breggen won the silver medal while Australia’s Katrin Garfoot took home bronze in her last World Championships. Both came home within 20 seconds of Van Vleuten and van der Breggen will be desperate to finally get one over her this year. First though, let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders throughout the afternoon.

The Route

A rolling course but how much it “rolls” depends on what resource you consult. According to the organisers there are 262m of total ascent over the 27.8km whereas with the Strava/Veloviewer profile I made has it at 396m. Bit of a discrepancy there!

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Given how much Strava over exaggerates some of the tiny little changes in altitude, I would have to agree that it will be closer to the official profile – maybe around 300m at most.

Either way, you can view the interactive VV profile here.

The route can really be split into two parts with the first 15km very straight forward aside from a couple of small bumps and rises before the more challenging second half.

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As witnessed in the men’s U23 this afternoon though, it isn’t that challenging compared to what it could have been, with the riders able to hold a lot of speed coming off of the descents. In fact, some riders hit 100km/h in sections so you can effectively nullify some of the rises by carrying enough speed. Therefore, having the right gearing will be important and it will be interesting to see what approaches the riders take.

Weather conditions look set to be similar-ish all day, although the wind might get slightly stronger later on, albeit by only 1km/h or so. That means over 3km of headwind before the crossing the river and turning left, with the majority of the rest of the course being aided by a slight cross/tail wind.

You can view the start list/times here.

Can anyone stop van Vleuten?

The reigning champion skipped the trade team event on Sunday so that she could be fully focussed and rested for tomorrow, and given her results in the individual events this year, who can blame her. In 2018 she has taken to the start for 4 TTs (not counting prologues or epilogues, see the TDU), with the Dutch woman winning 3 of them. In fact, the only race she didn’t win was her national championship where she finished 4th and behind the other three compatriots that are going to be here competing too.

In an interview with CyclingNews van Vleuten explains that she came into the season with three intended peaks. One smaller peak during the Spring Classics before a bigger peak for the Giro and then the Worlds. It is safe to say that the peak for the Giro was certainly “bigger”! She blew away the competition in that race and followed it up with my favourite finish to a race of the year, when she pipped van der Breggen in the closing 100m of La Course. I don’t think it is possible for her to be in even better shape than she was at the Giro, but if she arrives here in a similar vein of form then she is rightly the favourite.

The course tomorrow isn’t bad for her, but I think she would have preferred the climbs to be more challenging than they are, so she can really make a difference compared to some of the more traditional power TT riders.

Nonetheless, she has a big say in the outcome of the day and it will require her to be at less than 100% and for one of the other riders to be flying for her to lose.

It was all…Oranje?

We could feasibly see an all Dutch top 4 tomorrow.

Ellen van Dijk.

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The current and back-to-back European Champion will arrive here wanting to redeem herself after what was a disappointing 5th place in last year’s edition. The Sunweb rider is one of the most powerful in the women’s peloton and the mix of flat and rolling hills looks very good for her. She actually goes out quite early on in the day in what is a strong group of riders around that time. Guess that’s what happens when numerous nations have more than one person here!

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Said group of strong riders

Lucinda Brand.

The first Dutch rider down the ramp has the luxury of being the 5th rider out on the course. 2018 has been her best season to date and she has really developed as a rider, moving away from being just a strong one-day contender, into a much better climber. Her form doesn’t seem to be great at the moment though and I think she might struggle for a good result here: a top 10 would be solid.

Anna van der Breggen.

Arguably one of my favourite female cyclists so I am a bit biased but a lot has been made of her “poor season” in 2018. It says a lot that then considering she has won 5 races this year and numerous podium places. In the Spring she was untouchable and the only thing that stopped another Ardennes Triple happening was team tactics at Amstel. She has failed to win since Durango in May though and I think that has effected her a little bit. In TTs this season she has won 1 out of 4, finishing 2nd twice and third the other time. The course here looks great for her and she’s been slowly riding herself into form at the Boels Ladies Tour. If there is one rider who I think has a chance of beating van Vleuten, it is her.

Fight for the podium

If we’re to make the assumption that at least one, if not two of the podium spots will be secured by the Dutch, heck, even all three could as I’ve alluded to above, who is going to be the nearest challengers?

Amber Neben.

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A surprise winner of the 2016 edition, she was pretty atrocious by her lofty standards in 2017. A wax on wax off kind of rider though, she appears to be smashing it so far this year having won all 4 of the time trials she has entered. Maybe this is a wax on year?

Lisa Brennauer.

Disappointing in the European Championships, some of that can be attributed to her going deep on the track at the same competition. During the TTT event she looked to be the main driving force behind Wiggle’s strong time so there is definitely some form there. A bit hit or miss on road TTs, the 2014-champion can’t be ruled out on a rolling course.

Trixi Worrack.

Like her German compatriot, she seemed to be one of the main driving forces behind her teams sensational TTT win on Sunday. I’d have to say the course isn’t ideal for her but she did surprise and come third at the Euros so we could see something similar tomorrow.

Some outsiders to keep an eye on for finishing in or around the top 5 include; Thomas, Uttrup Ludwig and Cordon.

Prediction

For the TTTs I thought they were both two-horse races and in the end it was the third favourite who ended up winning. Tomorrow looks like a one-horse race but with a few riders who are ready to pounce. It will be incredibly tough to beat van Vleuten but I think it might actually happen and we’ll see van der Breggen take the win!

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I think she has timed her peak perfectly for this week and if she is at a similar level to her Spring campaign where she just rode away from everyone – the course will be a piece of cake for her.

Van Vleuten to come second with Neben rounding out the podium in third.

Betting

Another race that I can lose some money on!

Win only markets for the race and given that AVV is still the favourite, I don’t want to go wild with them.

1.5pt WIN AVDB @ 5/1 (Bet365/Ladbrokes)

Some H2H do entice me though.

4pts WIN van der Breggen to beat Van Dijk @ 3/4 (Unibet)

2pts WIN Neben to beat Van Dijk @ 7/2 (B365) – the price is just too big for a wax on year

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

La Course 2018 Preview

La Course 2018 Preview

After the great racing we saw on the slopes of the Izoard last year, I’m completely ignoring the shambles that was the second day of racing, La Course once again returns to the mountains this year.

In 2017 we saw Annemiek van Vleuten take a dominant win after putting three-quarters of a minute into second-placed finisher Lizzie Deignan on the ascent, with Elisa Longo Borghini rounding out the podium.

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It was a case of what might have been for the Brit though as she did the majority of the pace setting early on, hoping to set up team-mate Guarnier. However, she turned out to be the strongest in the Boels camp. Would she have beaten van Vleuten had she sat in the wheels? Probably not, but it would have been a lot closer!

The reigning champion is here to defend her title and after just smashing the Giro Rosa to bits, she will be very confident of doing the double. First though, let’s have a look at what awaits the riders tomorrow.

The Route

With 2500m of climbing in only 112.5km of racing, this is going to be a tough day in the saddle for the peloton. Especially when you consider that the majority of the climbing comes in the last 40kms.

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The two early climbs of Col de Bluffy and Côte de Saint-Jean-de-Sixt won’t be decisive in the outcome of the race but they might see some early attrition take place. Although I think this would be unlikely given they know what lies ahead. Instead, they might be a good place for the break to form and teams to send riders up the road so that they can work for their team leader on the two monster climbs to come.

Col de Romme and Col de la Colombière are two tough Cat-1 climbs when taken alone but given that they come back to back with only 5km of descent in between then they are going to be hellish – close to 1400m of elevation gain over 22kms.

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Taking away the 5km of descent then it is really 1400m of gain over 17km, which makes the average gradient of the climbs roughly 8.2%.

Expect to see some big gaps tomorrow!

Once over the top of the Colombière the riders will have close to 12km of descent and 2kms of mainly flat roads between them and the finish line.

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The descent itself will be fast as the average gradient for the 12km is close to -6%, with it being on a standard two-lane mountain road the riders should have plenty of room to judge their lines. There are quite a few hairpins littered throughout the descent and they mainly seem to come grouped together.

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A sharp turn with 1.5km to go could see some mishaps as the riders will be carrying a lot of speed into it but they should be able to smooth out the corner by taking it wide. Nonetheless, we saw what happened in the men’s race when the peloton had to turn back on itself. Thankfully, I don’t think we’ll see a big group of riders arrive at this point together!

The final kilometre averages 1.2% but the final 200m of the day features an 8% ramp. A nice little finish for a sprint showdown, if we get a small group of riders arriving together.

Giro Legs vs Fresh Legs

In the male side of the sport we often see the benefit of riders who have been at the Tour de France with their results in San Sebastian the following weekend after the Tour is finished. Will those from the Giro Rosa see a similar trend in results?

I’m not sure and given that there has only been today in between the Giro finishing and La Course starting, I think some might struggle. Today can almost be viewed as a traditional Grand Tour rest day apart from some of them will have to travel the almost 700km from their bases in Italy to Annecy by car. Doesn’t sound like a great rest day to me! Some will have bitten the bullet and travelled straight away after yesterday’s Giro stage in the hope of a more chilled day today. Other teams with better budgets might even have flown their riders to Geneva and got a transfer from there.

Ultimately I’m not sure how the one-day turnaround will affect the riders and I don’t think many of them will know either. It could make for some unexpected results!

I say that but there are only a handful of riders who can actually win this race.

Contenders – Giro Rosa Riders

Annemiek van Vleuten.

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A dominant display in the Giro Rosa saw her take home pink by over 4 minutes to her nearest rival, collecting 3 stage wins along the way. She comes into La Course as the red-hot favourite and you would be hard pressed to find many people thinking that this is not her race to lose. The mix of tough climbing and fast descent plays perfectly into her abilities as a rider. I would not be surprised to see her drop everyone on the Colombière and solo to the line. Have the past 10 days exertions taken a lot out of her legs though? That is the important question that we won’t find the answer to until during the stage.

Amanda Spratt.

If van Vleuten isn’t at the pointy end of the race then Mitchelton have a great second option in Spratt. The Aussie exceeded my expectations at the Giro where she finished the race third overall and managed to win a stage too. A versatile rider, the diminutive Spratt will relish the back to back climbs. If we see a tactical race unfold then she is the perfect rider to send on the attack while van Vleuten sits behind and marks everyone out of the race. Give her 30 seconds on the Colombière and she will be very hard to bring back.

Ashleigh Moolman Pasio.

Forever the bridesmaid it seems, the Cervelo rider was unfortunate to just come up against a very strong Mitchelton Scott team at the Giro. However, I think she will ultimately be happy with a second place finish overall. On the two summit finishes in the race she was the only rider able to keep remotely close to the Mitchelton riders and she suffered on Zoncolan from having to make the pace. In a race where she can draft the wheels a bit more, then she has a good chance of sticking close to them. If she takes a few risks on the descent I would fancy her chances in a small sprint finish to the line. I think that is her best chance of winning – sounds easy, right?

Brand, Guarnier, Ludwig, Merino and Santesteban are all names to throw into the hat but I think they will fall short. They are top 5/10 candidates though.

Contender – The Fresh Rider

Anna van der Breggen.

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The elephant in the room for this race, the Boels rider is one of only a few riders coming here who wasn’t at the Giro Rosa, the other notable rider being Ferrand Prevot. Van der Breggen has had another ridiculously strong season, winning 4 WWT events: Strade, Flanders, Liege and Fleche. Not a bad record! She arrives in France after taking a few weeks off of her road bike, competitively anyway, while she was instead taking part in the mountain bike world cup event in Val di Sole. That didn’t go spectacularly well for her as she finished over 8 minutes down on the winner. Nonetheless, back on the road she should be in her preferred terrain again. Her form is unknown but that hasn’t stopped her smashing it before, she won in Flanders for example after a few weeks away from racing. She is van Vleuten’s biggest challenger here.

Prediction

I’m looking forward to seeing a very intense Dutch battle on the roads tomorrow with two of the biggest names in the sport going head to head. Giro legs vs fresh legs, who will come out on top?

I’ll go Giro legs and Van Vleuten to double up!

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I think with van der Breggen not targeting the Giro, she thoroughly has her sights set on the latter part of the season so will be slightly undercooked here. I might be wrong, but she won’t be close to where van Vleuten is at the moment.

Coverage

Despite ASO’s best intentions of not really giving us any information at all for the race, aside from some barebones stuff, the race is actually going to be shown live.

It is scheduled to be shown on Eurosport 1 (here in the UK) from 9:15 to 12 (BST). Not sure what the plans are for the rest of Europe but I assume it will be the same. If you can’t watch it at that time of day then I’ll be tweeting intermittently about it as it conveniently falls on my day off from work.

Thanks as always for reading and any RTs etc are much appreciated. Who do you think will win tomorrow and why? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Giro Rosa 2018 Preview: The BFOG

Giro Rosa 2018 Preview: The BFOG

After a little time away from blog writing I’m back with a bang to preview the toughest women’s race on the calendar, the Giro d’Italia Internazionale Femminile a.k.a The Giro Rosa. With last year’s success of the BFOG I thought I would do something similar for this season so here is your one stop for all of the coming 10 days of action!

In 2017 we saw what was really a three-horse race established after only the second day of racing when van Vleuten, van der Breggen and Longo Borghini stole a march on the rest of the GC favourites, coming home almost 2 minutes ahead of the next group.

Van Vleuten would lose almost 2 minutes on the rather innocuous stage 4 when Boels split the bunch in the crosswinds and it would be that day that consequently cost her the chance of winning the race overall, although she would get some consolation with a second stage win in the TT. In fact, the gaps after that TT on the 5th day pretty much remained the same throughout the remaining 5 stages so it was van der Breggen who ultimately took home the crown ahead of Longo Borghini and van Vleuten rounding out the podium in third.

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With van der Breggen not here this year to defend the title, it opens up the race for a potential new winner. Can van Vleuten step up, or will we see a surprise rider take the crown?

First though, let’s look at what the riders will face over the 10 stages. Get comfortable though as this could be a long one!

The Route and Stage Contenders

The majority, if not all, of the profiles used will be from LaFlammeRouge so go and give them a follow. Otherwise, they’ll be ones that I’ve made on Strava etc.

Stage 1: Verbania -> Verbania (TTT)

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Seemingly now a tradition, the race once again starts with a team time trial, this time around the streets and suburbs of Verbania. Pretty much pan flat with only 70m of elevation gain throughout the 16km course, there is no need for a profile here! It will be a course that suits the power teams but as you can see on the map there are a few tighter corners where organisation will be key. With the women getting little chance to do a full TTT in races, we could see a couple of surprise results.

Boels smashed the opposition over a similar course in the Healthy Ageing Tour where they took 52 seconds out of second place team Virtu. They will be up against much stronger opposition here and they certainly won’t have it all their own way but they do start out as favourites. We of course have current TTT World Champions Sunweb at the race and they will no doubt want to go out and show that result was not a one-off and looking at their team, they have plenty of power houses in there to challenge Boels again. Those two outfits should finish 1-2 but there are another couple of teams who I have my eye on for a strong result.

Cervelo Bigla were my team to upset the apple cart last year but they had a disaster with them losing two riders early on due to a crash. I think they’ll return this year even stronger and their squad looks strong for this discipline, with them putting three riders inside the top 10 in their most recent TT at Bira.

Mitchelton Scott have come on leaps and bounds in the TT discipline this year and like Cervelo, they also had three riders in the top 10 of that Bira effort. They haven’t actually competed in a team-version this year so it will be interesting to see how they gel together but given they spent a day on their TT bikes together at training camp, I would be surprised if they didn’t sneak in some practice. I genuinely think they could contend for the win, the top 4 will be covered by only 15 seconds or so.

Stage 2: Ovada -> Ovada 

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One of those typical Italian rolling stages so the outcome of the day will all depend on how aggressively they opening 80km as the closing 30km are fairly easy. It should end in a sprint but again that all relies on teams having numbers to control things. The finish is a bit deceiving on the profile (shock), but the road rises ever so slightly before flattening out to the line.

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The rise is only 600m at 3.4% but it might take the sting out of the sprinters kick and open it up for some of the puncheurs to go for the stage win. Not to mention that with around 300m to go the riders have to face this roundabout.

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It will be a sketchy finish but at least the slight rise will have slowed them down to not make the roundabout too dangerous.

Three riders who to keep an eye out for here include Bastianelli, Ryan and Pieters, all of whom can cope with the short rise and pack a very fast sprint. I’ll go with the Ale rider to take the stage, the finish screams Bastianelli to me.

Stage 3: Corbetta -> Corbetta.

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There seems to be a recurring theme here in these opening few stages where the same town is hosting the start and finish, with stage 3 a roughly 30km circuit around Corbetta. With a pan-flat route, this is definitely one for the fast women of the peloton and those who missed out the previous day will want to make amends.

Wild, Hosking, Lepistö and d’Hoore are the big names here in terms of pure, flat sprinting talent so it would be a surprise not to see one of them take home the win. There are plenty of others to watch out for though including Pieters, Buurman, Bronzini, Fournier and Vos to name a few.

Nonetheless, the last turn comes with around one kilometre to go and the straight road finish will see the strongest sprinter here win – steep up the Belgian Bullet a.k.a Jolien d’Hoore.

Stage 4: Piacenza -> Piacenza

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The pattern continues onto stage 4 and we should see another sprint come the end of the day. There is a Cat-3 climb in the middle of the route to spice things up and tempt some teams to up the pace so we could see some sprinters dropped – women’s cycling is very unpredictable after all. However, I do think we’ll see a bunch sprint come the end of the day.

It is one tricky finish though, and it seems to be roundabout central: there are 6 of them in the last in closing 3km! Not entirely sure which genius thought this up and decided it was a great idea, but I guess that it is stereotypical Italian race design.

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The last roundabout comes at roughly 200m to go, so whoever comes out of that in second wheel will probably win the day. I like the look of d’Hoore‘s lead out so I’ll go for her to double up.

Stage 5: Omegna -> Omegna

Another day, another same start and finish town!

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With an uncategorised drag from the gun, we could see some riders in for a long day. The Cat-2 climb of Lesa – Fine Salita will see the first GC selection of the race. The climb can really be split into two parts with an “easier” opening section before they face the Muro di Comnago.

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The opening 3.6km average roughly 6.4% but it is the steep ramps of Comnago that will really split things up as through the town a 730m section averages 12.5%. It is going to hurt!

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It will also be spectacular though as the riders race through the narrow streets. Once over the top of the climb then there is a little plateau followed by a descent. That then leads into an uncategorised ascent which averages 4% for almost 6kms – classic Giro! A long but not very steep descent sees the riders to the final 9km of flat where a tactical battle might result in a surprise winner.

We had a similar finish to this on stage 2 last year and I thought it would be too early for a GC shake up and that we’d most likely see 12-16 riders come to the line together, or a late attack from a very reduced group. That didn’t happen though and the top 3 on GC just rode everyone off their wheels and worked well to get to the finish together. The one difference to this route is that it is that the main climb comes further out but given the follow-up climb, I think we’ll see a selective GC day. That might be a surprise to some.

It won’t be as selective as what we saw on Stage 2 in 2017 but I think there will only be a group of 8 riders who make it over the climb together – van Vleuten, Spratt, Kennedy (Mitchelton Scott), Guarnier (Boels), Niewiadoma (Canyon), Moolman Pasio (Cervelo), Stultiens (Waowdeals) and Longo Borghini (Wiggle).

Everyone will expect Mitchelton Scott to do all of the work given their numbers but instead of being shouldered with it, they will constantly attack and Spratt will eventually slip away, taking the day.

Stage 6: Sovico -> Gerola Alta.

We finally get the first point to point stage!

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Any GC gaps that were made yesterday will pale into significance after this stage. Nothing to see, aside from a more than likely hectic and fast run in to the first summit finish of the race. This day is all about that finish climb of Gerola Alta.

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A very consistent climb, riders who can maintain a steady rhythm will go well here. The race isn’t finished at the end of the strava segment above, as the riders still have another two kilometres of rolling terrain to contend with. Will we see a 2/3 rider sprint? It is hard to tell exactly what will happen as we don’t have a lot to go from in recent years, with only some of the finishes in the US and last year’s La Course to go by. I think we’ll once again see Mitchelton assert their dominance and put pressure on the other teams, hoping to crack another couple of riders and decrease their opposition.

This is Van Vleuten’s day.

Stage 7: Lanzada -> Alpe Gera di Campo Moro.

Mountain TT day!

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1122m of altitude gain in only 15.36km, meaning the climb averages 7.3% for its entirety. It is not the worst the riders will face this Giro but given it is a completely solo effort, some might find it more challenging than it is on paper. Expect some sizeable GC gaps between the favourites.

Can new climbing sensation Kennedy take her first World Tour win here?

Stage 8: San Giorgio di Perlena – Fara Vicentino -> Breganze.

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After the previous tough stages the riders have had to endure then most will be looking forward to a “rest-day” here. That means this is arguably the only stage in the whole race suited to a breakaway. Unfortunately for some, there will consequently be a big fight to get into the move and I fear quite a few riders will be dropped on the early climbs. It’s a long way to the finish but a group of them should make it home within the time limit.

The last climb of the day will be a decisive one and it is a little muro, averaging roughly 10% for a shade over a kilometre. Expect the break to be torn apart here and we’ll more than likely see a solo winner arrive into Breganze. Some of the GC contenders might even sense an opportunity to attack if one of their rivals looks to be on an off day.

As for the stage winner, names in a hat time, so I’ll go with Cecchini, Beggin and Rowe.

Stage 9: Tricesimo -> Ovaro (Monte Zoncolan).

The one everyone has been waiting for.

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Much like stage 6, there is nothing much to report until the famous last climb.

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I don’t need to describe the climb, it is just brutal, end of. Expect some big gaps here and the GC winner should be crowned.

Stage 10: Cividale del Friuli -> Cividale del Friuli

What better way to round out the race than with yet another same town start/finish. No processional stage here though!

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With a rather nasty sting in the tail, some things could still be up for grabs so the GC riders will need to be attentive and still fighting fit on the final climb of the race: San Leonardo.

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5km at 8.1% is tough enough for a shake up, especially with the steeper opening 3km that the riders will have to contend with. A descent all the way to the finish means that whoever crests the climb in first (if they’re alone) will most likely win.

Well, a few thousand words later that’s the route analysis finished, just the GC contenders to discuss, although I’ll be keeping this bit short and to the point as there are only a few riders who can win this race.

Contenders

I named 8 riders before: van Vleuten, Spratt, Kennedy (Mitchelton Scott), Guarnier (Boels), Niewiadoma (Canyon), Moolman Pasio (Cervelo), Stultiens (Waowdeals) and Longo Borghini (Wiggle) as a potential group who might escape on stage 5 and they are the riders who I will ultimately finish in the top 8 of the race.

However, I don’t think all of them have a chance of winning so unfortunately for Niewiadoma and Stultiens, their journey ends here. Likewise, even though Mitchelton have named van Vleuten and Spratt as their leaders, I think that Kennedy is the stronger climber compared to Spratt. Consequently, she also falls by the wayside.

That leaves a top 5 of van Vleuten, Kennedy, Guarnier, Moolman Pasio and Longo Borghini.

Van Vleuten.

Last year’s third placed finished, the Dutchwoman really should have won the race but it was a lapse of concentration and poor positioning that cost her on a rather innocuous stage as she lost time due to splits in the peloton caused by the wind and formation of echelons. Mitchelton bring a stupidly stacked squad with them that covers all terrain very well and van Vleuten will have a lot of support to go for a title bid this year. In 2017 we saw on the Izoard at La Course just how good she is on these mountains and I expect no different from her at this Giro.

Lucy Kennedy.

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A revelation since turning pro with Mitchelton at the start of the year, the Aussie has seriously impressed in her opening World Tour races. Unfortunately she crashed out of Amstel Gold Race while being in good shape so she hasn’t raced since then, instead focussing on recovering and getting some tough training and boy has she done that. She’s been on altitude camp with a few team-mates and has been setting some blistering times on the climbs around Livigno. Seemingly a naturally very strong climber, I am slightly concerned about her confidence after the crash. Her bike handling isn’t as great as some of the Europeans but that’s what you would expect when the majority of the bunch has grown up with aggressive and fast paced action in a peloton whereas Kennedy hasn’t. Thankfully for her, most of the mountains are at the end of the stages! I am intrigued to see how she copes in what is her first Giro but I haven’t seen any signs when she has been racing that suggest to me she will struggle. She could be the perfect 1-2 for Van Vleuten.

Elisa Longo Borghini.

Forever the bridesmaid it seems, ELB has struggled to this season a little and has failed to finish on the top step in 2018. However, this race is one of her big goals for the year and as a former winner of La Route de France she can never be discounted. Amazingly still only 26, the Wiggle rider has been already been around for a while and she should now be moving into her peak physical years. In 2017 she managed to follow van der Breggen and van Vleuten on the climbs, only losing time in the TT and TTT. Better efforts against the clock this year could see her be a real challenger for the title.

Megan Guarnier.

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With no van der Breggen in their line-up, the 2016 winner of this race arrives as Boels’ main charge for the title. Since that victory in 2016 (which was an incredible year for her overall), Guarnier has struggled to get as many wins under her belt. However, she was exceptionally consistent in 2017 and acted as a great second in command for her leaders, even finishing 4th at this event herself. It will be interesting to see how she copes with the pressure of being the only leader but her palmares at the Giro would suggest she will be perfectly fine, having came home 4th (2017), 1st (2016) and 3rd (2015) in the past three editions. I think she’ll be ready.

Ashleigh Moolman Pasio.

The Cervelo Bigla rider has been one of the most consistent this year, with her lowest finishing position in her 20 race days being 24th on stage 3 of the Bira. A truly remarkable stat. In fact, she’s only finished outside the top 10 on 4 occasions. A crash hampered her race here last season so she will no doubt be back with a hunger to succeed. I mentioned her team as dark horses for the TTT so she shouldn’t lose too much time, if any, in that discipline so it will be down to her ability on the climbs. Luckily for her, she is one of the best in the world and I think we’ll see a great race from her.

Prediction

Having numbers at the head of the race will be crucial and will play a massive part in the outcome of the race.

After last year’s disappointment I think we’ll see van Vleuten take the step up and win the title. This is the race she has been preparing for all season and she’s not here to play any games!

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Moolman and Guarnier to round out the podium.

Coverage

There were hushed mumblings that we were going to get some live coverage of the race this year but it seems that has unfortunately fallen through. Instead, there will be daily highlights on the PMG Sport facebook and Youtube page at roughly 5pm. If they are like their Italian Cup highlights then they will be well worth a watch and we should get to see most of the action with pretty much the last 20km of each day shown “live”.

As for during the race, the best way to follow it is via the #GiroRosa hashtag.

 

Thanks as always for reading, I hope you come back to this daily to see how wrong I was! If you could do me a massive favour and RT this on Twitter or share elsewhere then that would mean a great deal to me, this race deserves a lot more coverage. Who do you think is going to win overall? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Women’s Herald Sun Tour 2018 Preview

Women’s Herald Sun Tour 2018 Preview

Originally I wasn’t intending on writing a preview for this race, but then I thought it would be rude not to cap off the Aussie summer of racing with another blog piece. Plus, it keeps me on track with my new years resolution of writing more about women’s racing.

2018 will be the first year of the Herald Sun Tour in the women’s peloton. Calling it a “Tour” might be a bit farfetched though, as we only have two days worth of racing, but at least it is something I guess!

Anyway, let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders over the next two days.

The Route

Stage 1.

On paper the more decisive of the two days; the peloton will tackle the longest and arguably toughest climbs that they will have faced over their fortnight of racing in Australia.

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@LasterketaBurua

The opening 50km or so will see the riders attack some fairly flat terrain, with a few sparing rises in the road. It is possible that we’ll see a conventional breakaway form on this stage, which is something that doesn’t often happen in women’s racing, but the parcours is certainly suited to it.

Old Warburton Road (4.4km at 4.5%) marks the first test for the riders, but given it only crests halfway through the stage, I can’t see anything crazy happen here.

Instead, the real racing will start once they pass through the finish line in Healesville for the first time, with the pace ramping up and riders jockeying for road position. Why?

Well, the climb of Myers Creek Road starts not long after the passage of the line.

MyersCreek

It is not the steepest of climbs, but given its length, it is probably as close to Alpine as you’re going to get in the region. The average of 5.8% will wear down the peloton and I’m sure we’ll start to see gaps appear, possibly just after the 2km mark where the road pitches up to 9-10% for a few hundred metres.

I’m really intrigued to see how the teams approach this climb. Will we see some early attacks, forcing other riders to chase?

This exact route was used in the first stage of the men’s race back in 2016; which saw Froome and Kennaugh attack on the climb, opening up a 20 second or so gap.

Once over the top, they managed to hold off the pursuing bunch as the road descends almost all the way back into Healesville.

Will we see something similar tomorrow?

Stage 2.

If there aren’t significant gaps on the opening day, then it will all come down to the short, pan-flat TT the following day.

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At only 1.6km in length it is more of a prologue than a normal TT, in fact, the same course will be used as the men’s prologue later in the day. Does that make it an epilogue for the women then? I’m calling it an epilogue.

It will all be over in a flash, but some technical corners will create gaps, along with the pure power sections.

Will the leader from the previous day have enough of a lead to hold on?

Contenders

The list of contenders all depends on how aggressively the opening day is raced. We should see the race blown to bits on Myers Creek but there is the slight chance that things stay more compact than expected, especially if we have a headwind on the climb.

Furthermore, if there is a lack of co-operation up the road, then riders who have been dropped on the climb can make it back on the long run in back to Healesville. If that is the case, then look out for the podium to look very similar to what we saw in Cadel’s Race, with Hosking, Elvin and Bronzini all looking very sharp at the moment.

Nonetheless, it looks set to be a race for the climbers.

Katrin Garfoot.

Garfoot

Arguably the strongest rider on the climbs in both of the races so far (TDU and Cadel’s  Race), Garfoot will love the look of Mylers Creek. The average gradient should suit her characteristics very well, allowing her to set a solid tempo, trying to ride everyone off her wheel. Given her TT prowess, she has the potential to maintain a gap of 20 seconds once over the top if there are only a few riders behind her. The same can be said for the “epilogue” the following day where you would expect the veteran rider to shine. Ably supported by a strong Aussie selection, she has to start the race as favourite.

Annemiek van Vleuten.

Along with getting to show her climbing legs, this race will be the first time the newly crown TT world champion will get to wear her rainbow stripes. I am intrigued to see how she goes on the longer, shallow climb of Mylers Creek as she seemed to struggle on the steep slopes of Challambra on Saturday. Packing a good sprint from a reduced group, she has a good chance if 5 riders come to the line. Bonus seconds could be crucial in shaping the GC. Well, at least I think there are bonus seconds?!

Lucy Kennedy.

This race is possibly the reason as to why the Mitchelton rider was left out of Cadel’s Race on Saturday, which kind of makes my dismay in the previous preview look a bit stupid now! The climb of Mylers Creek is well suited to the rangy Australian and it will be interesting to see how she goes against Garfoot on this type of ascent. Admitting she can’t sprint, then she’ll more than likely have to arrive alone to win. But if Mitchelton play the numbers game well, then there is every chance she can do so.

Sabrina Stultiens.

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One of the stand-out performers on Saturday, much to the surprise of Phil Liggett. However, any knowledgeable cycling fan would know that Stultiens has a lot of class and showed great promise back in 2014/15 when breaking onto the scene. 2016 was a write off for her due to a long-term knee injury that plagued her, which meant 2017 was a year where she had to re-find her feet but I think she’ll come good this year. Marianne Vos wanted her on WaowDeals which speaks a lot about the type of rider Stultiens is! She is a rider to watch out for and one that shouldn’t be given a lot of leeway.

Audrey Cordon.

The French rider is known as a good time trial rider but she can also climb well too. The fairly shallow gradients of Myers will suit her style and rhythm and she’ll hope to be near the front of the bunch when things start to split up. Sprinting to 4th on Saturday, she has a good turn of speed from a small group and might surprise a few people if we get a 5-8 rider gallop to the line.

McIlroy, Brown and Malseed are other names to look out for if we get some chaotic and fast paced racing on Myers.

Prediction

I’m still really torn as to how this one will play out. Myers is long enough to create some gaps but the fairly shallow gradient does allow for some of the “less-climby” types to hold on.

Nonetheless, I think we’ll see the Korda-Mentha team and Mitchelton Scott attempt to rip it up from the bottom, dropping the likes of Hosking etc.

We’ll be left with a select group including the 5 main contenders I’ve mentioned above. Team tactics will play a part with Mitchelton Scott constantly attacking and counter-attacking, trying to get away.

Kennedy will get away, but she’ll be followed by Cordon and Stultiens, as van Vleuten and Garfoot mark each other out behind.

The trio work together well, but Cordon eventually rolls them in the sprint taking home the opening stage. The bonus seconds (if there are any) and her strong TT, will be good enough to see her take home the overall crown.

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Allez Audrey!

Coverage

There is no live coverage of the race but there will be highlights on SBS which I’m sure will be available at some point.

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win? Will Mylers be as explosive and decisive as I think, or will some of the sprinters hold on? Anyway,

Those have been My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

Women’s Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race 2018 Preview

2018 marks the third edition of the Women’s Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race (CEGORR) as a UCI event, with the riders set to face the famous Challambra Crescent climb for the first time.

Both of the races have been won by Mitchelton Scott (formerly Orica), with Amanda Spratt taking home the spoils in the inaugural race in 2016 and team-mate Annemiek van Vleuten winning last year. Will the Australian outfit manage to make it a three-peat, or will we see someone else assert their dominance?

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First, let’s take a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

At only 113km long, it isn’t exactly the longest race the women will face all season but given the Australian heat, some of the Europeans will be very happy about that. The obvious main change from last year is the addition of the famous local ascent; the Challambra Crescent climb.

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@LasterketaBurua

The opening 80km will act as almost a warm-up for the riders, but it will be the final 35km where we could see a potential race winning move go.

The first place we might see shakeout is at 30km to go where the riders will be greeted by a small drag in the road. Fairly innocuous, averaging only 3.1% for 2.1km, it will be interesting to see how the riders attack it. Furthermore, as it is placed on a fairly open stretch of road, the wind direction and strength will also add another factor that has to be considered.

Once over the top of that climb, the riders will have to contend with almost 10km of flat/slightly descending roads before the quick double climb into Ceres.

Climb to Ceres

The first ramp is only 500m long but it averages 4.6%. A stinging attack here could certainly line out the bunch before a fast descent and the second, longer part of the climb begins. At 1.8km in distance and averaging 4.4%, it is tough enough for some of the stronger riders in the race to create some gaps. Who will be brave enough to go all in 16km from the finish?

If gaps are made, then they should be held or even extended with the short flat section before the road plummets all the way down for the next 4kms as they approach Challambra.

There is a little 300m kicker (6%) which will disrupt their rhythm 600m or so before the start of Challambra itself.

Challambra

Not an easy climb as you can see, with it going up in various ramps. Not ideal for those who like to keep a steady pace. If a few riders attack this hard then we will no doubt see some fairly large time gaps at the top of it. We saw the 6.8% gradient of Mengler’s Hill do some damage in the Tour Down Under and although Challambra is shorter, I think we’ll see a similar outcome due to the steepness.

From there, the road mainly heads downwards for the remaining 9km, albeit there is one last kick up and a chance for a climber to try to distance someone. That comes just after they cross the small bridge with the 800m section averaging 4%.

If we don’t have a solo rider in the lead by then, it will all come down to team tactics and a potential reduced bunch sprint along the Geelong harbour.

How will the race pan out?

With the tricky final 35km, I expect to see a very tactical race with lots of attacks and counter-attacks throughout the closing hour of racing.

We could feasibly see the winning move go at any time, but the likelihood is that it will come on the climb to Ceres or the ascent of Challambra Crescent.

As stated above, the weather conditions will play a part in the outcome of the race. Thankfully, the initial heat wave that was predicted won’t be as prominent, with a “cool” 30 degrees forecast.

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Source: Bureau of Meteorology

The direction of the wind is important, and a southeasterly wind means cross-tail for the majority of the run in to Geelong. Consequently the racing will be fast but also dangerous, as a cross-tailwind tends to cause some mild panic in the bunch as they are pushed along. It might not be “cross” enough for some echelons, but who knows!

One thing is for certain, it should increase the willingness of attackers compared to if it was a headwind.

Garfoot vs Mitchelton Scott – Part 2

After their great battle during the women’s Tour Down Under, Katrin Garfoot will hope to get one over her old team this time round.

She was arguably the strongest rider in that race, but got worked over by the numbers that Mitchelton Scott had close to her on GC. That is less likely to happen here due to it being a one-day race, but the same principles do still apply, apart from there is one thing missing; Kennedy.

Mitchelton arrive with Spratt and van Vleuten as leaders, but they don’t have the third prong that they had in the TDU, and that will make it harder for them here. I’m confused as to why Kennedy isn’t racing, her results at this race over the past few years have been solid and with the introduction of Challambra, the course should suit her even more. At the TDU, she was the only rider who managed to hold onto Garfoot’s wheel on the summit finish and that will be missed massively here. Illness is the only reason I can think of as to why she is not starting!

The change to Challambra suits a flying Garfoot, who climbed impeccably during the TDU. Others will know this and will need to go beforehand. However, I think they’ll find it hard to shake her off, but it can be done.

Spratt lost 8 seconds to Garfoot on Mengler’s Hill, with van Vleuten losing 15. I am intrigued to see what they’ll do during the race to wear down their former team-mate.

Can anyone else compete against those three? On paper no, but races aren’t won on paper! We could see a tactical stalemate between Garfoot and Mitchelton, which allows for some others to take a somewhat surprise victory.

Other Riders to Watch

Lauren Stephens – The Cylance rider was runner-up in the TDU and is evidently on some good form. She’s probably not the best climber here but her strength lies against the clock. If she is able to get a gap while others sit up and argue behind as to whom is going to chase, then she might be very difficult to bring back!

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Grace Brown –  After a strong showing at the nationals where she picked up a third place, the Holden Gusto rider continued that on with a solid 5th place overall in the TDU. A bit of an unkown quantity, she might benefit from the bigger riders looking at each other. Another top 10 is on the cards, but she might just go a bit better…

Linda Villumsen – You would get short odds on the New Zealand rider launching a solo attack at some point during this race! She is a good climber, but not great, so will struggle up Challambra against the pure mountain goats. However, she does have a big engine so if she gets a gap she will be hard to chase down, especially with a disorganised effort. Can the former world TT champion outsmart 2017’s winner?

A few more names to keep an eye out for are Cordon, McIlroy and Anderson.

Prediction

I just can’t see anyone other than Garfoot winning this!

Garfoot

The Uni-SA team is strong enough to keep the race together until we get to the final few climbs. From there, Garfoot should be able to track any moves from the Mitchelton pairing or any of the other contenders. Once onto Challambra, she’ll fly, and leave everyone in her wake!

Consequently leaving Mitchelton ruing not letting Kennedy race as she is the only one who could possibly follow on Challambra. (I’m not bitter at all given she’s in my season long fantasy team, although I can’t imagine you can tell…)

Coverage

The race will be streamed live on 7plus here  from 10am local time (11pm UK time on Friday/tonight). The feed itself might be geo-restricted, but I’m sure some helpful people will sort it out and there will be other streams available online no doubt.

Thanks as always for reading though! Who do you think will win? Can anyone stop the flying Garfoot? Will we see a surprise winner this year? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth

 

Women’s Road Race World Championships Preview – Bergen 2017

After some strong performances in the individual time trial on Tuesday, the rider’s focus now switches to the road race on Saturday afternoon.

Last year in Doha we had a large bunch sprint that was won rather surprisingly by Denmark’s Amalie Dideriksen.

Cycling: 89th Road World Championships 2016 / Women Elite

Pre-race favourite Wild could only manage second, with Finland’s Lepistö getting up for third. Two of those three are here this year, with Wild as a reserve for the Dutch team, will they be up at the pointy end come the finish tomorrow?

First, let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

The women will face 8 laps of the circuit around Bergen, totalling 152.8km; which makes it one of the longer races the peloton will face all year.

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As for the circuit itself, it can be described as rolling with very little flat all day. Taken in isolation it is not too difficult but it can be made hard by some aggressive racing.

BergenRR Circuit

You can view my interactive profile for the circuit here.

The most challenging part of the route is of course “Salmon Hill”; I guess the sponsors wanted to get something out of the week! However, the road does ramp upwards before then and the climb can be taken as a 3.7km test.

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It’s not steep like the climb we had in the time trial, but it is long enough to cause some splits in the bunch. Will a rider try to take advantage of some of the sharp ramps to get an advantage?

With 10km to go from the crest, it could be tough for someone to stay away though. A small group definitely has a better chance.

Conversely, those final 10km allow for a chase to get organised and reel it in. “Organised” is the key word there though! In both the road races today, the chase was not coherent enough and the escapees held on for victory. Will something similar happen tomorrow? I’ll guess we’ll have to wait and see…

How will the race pan out – Dominant Dutch?

As is often the case when we arrive at World Championship’s the Dutch bring a formidable team. We saw this last year when they had a superstar squad in support of Kirsten Wild, but one that would be allowed to chase an opportunity if it arose. Unfortunately it didn’t work out last year so they’ll be hoping to bring another World title home this time.

I could feasibly make an argument for all of their starting 8 riders to win the race, although some would be more farfetched than others. Nonetheless, it just highlights their immense strength in-depth. I’m not sure they go into the race with an out-and-out leader; possibly Vos might be kept back for a bunch sprint. But then again, Blaak or Pieters could fill that role if the 3x-former champion is allowed to do what she wants. Van Vleuten and van der Breggen were exceptional in the time trial and both clearly are in great form. I imagine they will be the prime attackers, hoping to split the race up on Salmon Hill. Can anyone follow?

I think if we see a group escape in the closing laps that has 2 Dutch riders within it then that will be game over and the winner will come from there.

The one reason I say this is because no other team has an Ellen van Dijk. She is incredible and can bring back strong breakaways herself by setting a strong tempo at the head of the peloton.

There are a few teams who might hope for a 40-50 rider sprint, such as Denmark, USA and maybe Australia, but I don’t think anyone has the firepower to bring back a strong move on their own. They’ll need a lack of cohesion up ahead, and a lot of co-operation behind for that to happen.

The next to consider is that if the smaller group will come to the line and sprint it out, or if it will fragment and split again. That of course all depends on numbers and team representatives, but I think it will split into a smaller group which will battle it out for the win.

Possible Contenders

Aside from the Dutch team, there are plenty of riders who will love the route tomorrow but the following list won’t be excessive, so apologies if I have missed someone you were looking/hoping for.

Coryn Rivera.

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The US pocket rocket has had a great first year racing for a European team. She’s proven that she is much more than a fast sprinter though as her climbing has developed a lot. In the Ardennes she was able to follow the best until the very final stages of the race. I don’t think the US team will be banking on it coming back for a big bunch sprint tomorrow so both Rivera and Guarnier will be given license to attack. If the Sunweb rider does come to the line in a small group, she has to be the favourite.

Hannah Barnes.

The British team have one of the favourites in the shape of Deignan but her form is unknown just now after having her appendix removed. I think they’ll ride an aggressive race and hope to get two riders into any strong move that goes off the front. With everyone marking Deignan, then Barnes could make the final selection. She performed above expectations in the TT so she is in good shape. Not as strong a climber as some of the others, she won’t be too far off the pace but will hope that the final selection will have gone before Salmon Hill. With a fast sprint after a tough day, she is an outsider to keep an eye on!

Pauline Ferrand Prevot.

Former World Champion and arguably the rider with one of the best season’s of all time back in 2014/2015 when she held 3 separate World titles, the Frenchwoman has a good chance of going well again here. A pretty uneventful season due injury and illness; she’s only managed 8 race days so far; picked up again at Plouay where she finished second to Deignan. Since then she has went on to podium at the mountain bike Worlds and could really have challenged Neff for gold if it had not been for an untimely puncture. She can climb and with a fast sprint from a small group, she won’t be afraid to bring it to the line.

Shara Gillow.

A rider who I have grown fond of over this season (it has absolutely nothing to do with her being in my season long fantasy team, I promise), the Aussie can climb with some of the best in the world on her day. I expect their squad to be attacking all day and Gillow is certainly someone who can follow attacks on the climbs. She lacks any kind of sprint really, but she makes up for that by being a strong time trial rider. Something I’m sure Carlton will remind you of tomorrow! If we get a group out front and she times her attack perfectly, it might just stick. Look out for her and her now standard snood off the front!

Leah Kirchmann.

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Another one of those riders who is a solid climber but also packs a good sprint. She recorded a top 15 back at Liege in the Spring which highlights her ability on the short climbs. However, she might find it difficult to follow some of the strong climbers if they go crazy on Salmon Hill. Nonetheless, if she can remain close to the front and there is some type of regrouping then she is a danger in the sprint.

As I mentioned above, of course there are several riders who could contest but I’ve only cherry-picked a handful for the preview. It should be an open race but I don’t think the winner will be a “surprise”.

Prediction

The Dutch to have ‘too many cooks’ and with everyone expecting them to chase down every move as the strongest team; Pauline Ferrand Prevot to take advantage and win her second road title, signalling that her career is back on track!

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Van der Breggen to pick up her second second of the week, with Barnes coming home just behind them in third.

Betting

Three selections from me to cover a few options; PFP as my favourite, Barnes as an outsider, then Gillow as a solo arrival. I’ve already backed Barnes at 300/1 but that price is long gone. I think the 66/1 available is still worth a punt though.

1.5pt EW PFP @ 20/1 with Ladbrokes/Coral (would take 16s)

0.75pt EW Barnes @ 66/1 with SkyBet/PP/BF (would take 50s)

0.5pt WIN Gillow @ 150/1 with Bet365 (would take 100s)

 

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Can anyone outsmart the Dutch team? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Women’s Individual Time Trial World Championships Preview – Bergen 2017

After the somewhat of a shock win from Sunweb on Sunday in the team effort, our focus now turns to the individual race against the clock and riders are back to riding for their country, not trade teams!

The power course in 2016 saw Amber Neben of the USA take a surprise win, beating Van Dijk and Garfoot into the silver and bronze medal positions respectively.

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The 42 year-old is here to defend her title but there are plenty of others looking to take it from her. First though, let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

The women will complete just one “long lap” around Bergen, which is quite disappointing if I’m honest. Especially when you consider that the U23 men completed a “long” and “short” lap for their event today!

Anyway, as per usual I’ve made a Strava/Veloviewer profile of the route that you can view here.

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A fairly flat and not overly technical opening 5.6km will allow the power riders in the peloton to open up the taps and hopefully get into a rhythm. However, after that they will then face the toughest part of the course where that “rhythm” might get thrown out of the window!

Rolling Section Women's TT

Lots of small drags and fast descents for the riders to tackle, the term “rollercoaster route” describes this section perfectly. Averaging 2.7% for the 4.4km it isn’t too tough and the more traditional TTers would hope not to lose too much. Well, that is until we get to the climb that has put to bed some of the contenders chances over the past few days of action.

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A short but very sharp climb, it is important to pace it and not go too deep. The lighter riders will hope to make up some time here but given its length, they won’t be able to make up much. If only the women finish on Mount Floyen too!

The reason pacing is important, is because the riders still have more than half of their ride to complete.

That closing 11kms actually average -1% so it can be a place for riders to gain a lot of time if they nail the descents and put the power down on the flat. We saw this in the women’s TTT with Sunweb gaining roughly 15 seconds on Boels over that section. Can Van Dijk do it again?!

Weather Watch

Over the past few days it has hardly rained. We had a smattering during the women’s junior TT earlier but in the city that is apparently one of the wettest in the world it has been a lot less than expected.

However, that might change tomorrow.

Saying that different forecasts have different outlooks. You can’t trust meteorologists these days!

So I’ll go off of Yr.no (A Norwegian site) which hopefully should be the most accurate*…

*famous last words.

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Source : YR.no

It seems that we’re in for another sprinkling of rain in the afternoon, which in theory should affect those late on in the order.

Speaking of which, Lauren Stephens is first down the ramp at 15:35 local time, with defending champion Neben off last at 16:54.

You can view the full start list and times here.

Contenders

I’m really not sure what to make of this race tomorrow. We have a whole host of riders who in theory could compete on this course, but it all depends on their form!

Lauren Stephens.

First down the ramp, the American will no doubt set the fastest time early on but it could be one that might stand a while. She’s been very impressive so far this season, taking 3 wins to her name, including two-time trials. Possibly benefiting from better weather, can the strong all-rounder shock the peloton?

Anna van der Breggen.

World Championships - Womens TT

The rider who could potentially knock Stephens off that early hot-seat, the Dutchwoman has had a great season; winning a famous Ardennes Triple. Her efforts against the clock have been solid, but she’s failed to win a TT. The course tomorrow suits her as a strong all-rounder but I think she might prefer a few more hills.

We’ll then have to wait a bit for riders to challenge the times of the two above. There will be some who might come close but I can’t see anyone beating them for almost another hour…

Annemiek van Vleuten.

The bookmaker’s favourite for this race “Vleuty” has been incredibly strong this season, bouncing back form her horror crash in Rio last year. Everything she’s touched recently has turned to gold pretty much, it has been a truly remarkable effort. She will arrive her full of confidence after beating Van Dijk in the recent Boels Rental Tour and she has every chance to do that again. My one doubt about her is that as she has been so strong for a large percentage of the year, is she starting to tire now, while others have managed their peaks a lot better?

Ellen Van Dijk.

The third Dutch rider/potential winner on the start list, she was instrumental in helping Sunweb to the TTT title on Sunday. A powerhouse on the bike, the course looks almost ideal for her. She is one of the last riders down the start ramp so she’ll be hoping any rain holds off until after she has finished, but she will be up there fighting either way. I imagine she will be satisfied with nothing less than Rainbow at the end of the day.

Amber Neben.

Last year’s somewhat of a shock winner, we could well be in for another surprise again. I personally don’t know much about her as I only started following the women’s side of the sport a few years ago, but she apparently can put out some serious watts. At 42 years old though, surely this is a step too far? Then again, winning your first Worlds at 41 kind of negates that a bit…

Olga Zabelinskaya.

10-08-2016 Giochi Olimpici Cronometro Elite Donne; 2016, Russia; Zabelinskaia, Olga; Rio De Janeiro;

A strong TT rider with a “dubious” racing history, she always seems to go fairly well at the big events. Her form this season has been poor though and she disappointed at the Euro Champs. However, given her ability to surprise then who knows what we’ll get from her tomorrow!

Katrin Garfoot.

Not too far off the pace last year, where she somewhat avoided the Haughey Curse and managed to take third; she will obviously be hoping to go better this time round. Like Van Dijk, this course looks great for the naturalised Aussie who can manage on the climbs but also put the power down on the flat. She has been slowly building some form and a third place during the Tour of Norway is promising. Watch out for her!

Others to look out for to be in and around the top 10 include Villumsen, Brennauer, and Duyck.

Prediction

Hmmm, I’m still really torn on this one.

The course suits a rider who can climb fairly well but is strong enough on the flat to put the power down. Before the Championships started I had this down as van Vleuten’s to win, but after watching the opening few days of racing I’m not so sure. In fact, I’ve changed my mind and I think Van Dijk has the best chance for the Dutch team.

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The European Champion to add a World title to her collection!

Watch out for Garfoot though, I think she could sneak a podium place and possibly even better…

Betting

The 7/2 available for Van Dijk to win is very tempting but I’m still not overly convinced. So to take out any “shocks” we might see, I think that the 2/1 to beat Van Vleuten offers some value.

I’m also tempted to back the Garfoot to beat Villumsen H2H at 5/4 as on this course I would have the Aussie as favourite.

I also think Garfoot is way overpriced as an outside podium contender at 22/1. As a rider who turned pro late (back in 2014) she’s since gone on and finished 11th/4th/3rd over the past three World TT competitions. Not bad. I think she’ll be close again tomorrow and has to be backed at the price.

So with all that said (including some of me talking through my logic) my punts are as follows –

3pts Van Dijk to beat van Vleuten @ 2/1 (would take 13/8)

5pts Garfoot to beat Villumsen @ 5/4 (would take at 10/11)

1pt EW Garfoot to win @ 22/1 (would back down to 14/1)

 

Thanks as always for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated. Who do you think will win tomorrow? I think we’ll be in for an exciting and close afternoon of TT action. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

La Course 2017 Preview

This edition of La Course is a special one for me as  it marks a year of writing women’s previews! Last year saw a sprint finish in Paris, with Hosking taking the win, somehow managing to avoid the now famous #HaugheyCurse. Maybe it was beginners luck?!

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After 3 years with a glorified criterium on the Champs-Élysées, the ASO have decided to mix things up this year with a move away from Paris, instead heading into the mountains with a change of format.

I’m pleased to see things get mixed up and for the race to provide an opportunity for different riders to shine on “the biggest stage in World cycling”. Yet, I can’t help but feel somewhat let down.

Obviously, I don’t know the intricacies of the financial aspect surrounding organising the race but given the infrastructure will be there for the men, how difficult is it for the women to have at least a 5-day stage race that coincides with the Tour? Heck, if organisers are worried about difference in speeds and the potential issues that might cause then let the women do 75% of the stage for example, and start them earlier. With the limit on the length of stages by the UCI (155km I think) we would still be treated to some very exciting racing throughout the final week and it would be a much better showcase for the sport than what we’re getting.

I also feel that the new format is a bit “gimmicky” and trivialises the women’s side of the sport a bit. If it is for only one year then that’s OK, but if it becomes a regular occurrence then I think it is more of a step sideways rather than a step forwards.

Let’s have a look at what’s getting me all worked up anyway!

The Format

La Course this year will be split into two “stages” with the first being a mountain top finish on the mythical Col d’Izoard. I say “stages” as it is not a stage race in the traditional sense, and it’s important to point that out but I’ll get into that in more detail later on.

Stage 1.

CARTE

The riders will head south from the start in Briançon, following the same opening 30km of the men’s race, before they cut across the valley and head towards Izoard.

PROFIL (1)

From the halfway point in the race (it is a paltry 67.5km long stage after all which is pretty insulting), the road rises ever so slightly almost all the way home. For example, the section between La Chapelue and Ariveux is 7.5km at just over 4%.

The categorised climb of the Col d’Izoard itself starts a couple of kilometres before Ariveux.

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At 14.1km with an average gradient of 7.3% it is a brute, but is also fair to say that the first half of the climb starts off relatively “easy”. Well, when you look at the rest of it the climb that is!

The opening 7km average only 5.6%, whereas the second half is a much more painful sounding 9%. You better hold something back for the end of the day, that’s for sure.

Whoever wins on the day will certainly have deserved it!

Now, this is where things get weird / ever so slightly confusing / gimmicky.

The opening stage is the only one that counts towards UCI standings, with the winner being awarded 120 points, the same amount as they would in any other UCI World Tour race. So for the riders, the opening day is the only one that really matters to them in that sense.

Except, the racing doesn’t end after the first day though…

Stage 2.

The first oddity is that there is essentially a rest day between the finish on Izoard and the following race day in Marseille.

PROFIL (2)

The top 20 finishers on the previous stage (although this can apparently change depending on time gaps) will roll out on the same TT course that the men will be going around later that day.

However, instead of it being like a normal TT where the riders go out in reverse order GC wise, it will be whoever finishes at the head of the race on Izoard that leaves the start ramp first. The following 19 riders will then set off, chasing the leader, at the same time gap that they finished behind them on the mountain stage during the previous day of racing.

The “gimmicky” idea continues as the riders will all be on normal road-bikes (no TT machines allowed) and they will be allowed to draft and work with opposition riders or any team-mates that they may have.

This presents a conundrum for the riders going out early. Do they go full gas and replicate a TT effort, knowing they have a big enough gap to hold off any chasers. Or if their lead is minimal, do they sit up and wait?

We could end up seeing a bunch sprint in the velodrome if things get really tactical!

How will the “race” pan out?

Getting my poor prediction disclaimer in early but we hardly ever see the women compete on mountains such as the Izoard so I don’t think anyone has a real idea as to how well the riders will go.

At the recent Giro Rosa the defining GC climb of the race was 5.3km long at 7.6%. I guess the closest we’ve had to the Izoard is the climb of Daggett Summit in the Tour of California which was 12.6km at 6.1%.

With the day only being 67km long, I think the break will find it hard to get away but I’m sure there will be a lot of teams who will try. If they get riders up the road then they’ll be a great help to their team-mates later on.

However, I think we’ll see a race of attrition where riders go out of the back, rather than off the front.

The on the “TT” I have no idea! Will all depend on the gaps after Izoard but I think we could see the winner of that day hold on for the title too.

Contenders

Van Vleuten.

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After her stellar performance at the Giro Rosa, a race which she could really have won, the Orica Scott rider will be coming here full of confidence. Arguably the in-form rider in the peloton she will certainly be hard to drop. Not the purest of climbers, more of a great all-rounder, I’m intrigued to see how she copes on a really long ascent. At the Giro she was the rider pushing the pace during the GC-day I mentioned above so it will be interesting to see how she approaches tomorrow. With a strong Spratt in her team, she will be able to rely on having someone for a long way up the climb which could be crucial.

Guarnier.

Having had a quiet season by her standards, especially when considering her barnstroming 2016, the American showed signs of promise at the recent Giro. Working well for her team-leader she managed to finish 4th on GC, winning the final stage along the way. Possibly now riding into form, she is Boels best candidate for a race like this and having the help of Canuel and Deignan could be crucial.

Longo Borghini.

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The Italian champion finished second on GC at the Giro behind van der Breggen but never really looked like beating the Dutchwoman all race. However, with VDB not here, the race is certainly open for other riders to step up. Not a pure climber, she could struggle on the long climb but as one of the best riders in the women’s peloton then she will certainly be close to the head of the bunch. Lichtenberg will also be at the head of the race for Wiggle, with the German pure-climber really liking this type of ascent. Can they form a strong attacking duo?

Moolman.

Withdrawing from the Giro due illness wasn’t ideal for the Cervélo rider, especially considering she was flying before the race and could have been a proper GC player. A very strong climber, her mind will be fully focussed on this race and proving what could have been at the Giro. With Uttrup Ludwig on her team, she is another rider who could take advantage of a strong team-mate. I think she has a big chance!

Niewiadoma.

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One of the riders of the season, she has top-10’d in pretty much every race that she’s entered so far. At only 22 years old, it is scary to think what she’ll be able to do in the future. I’m not sure how she’ll cope on a long climb like this as the punchier 3-4km climbs seem to be her speciality but you never know!

Some outsiders to keep an eye on to possibly break into the top 10 are;

Gillow (FDJ), Nosková (Bepink), Ensing (Alé) and Nilsson (BTC).

I think the Izoard stage will become a Moolman v Van Vleuten show-down. With the Giro in her legs, VV will tire and leave the “fresher” Moolman to take victory!

DA1P4D0W0AIam9m

As for who wins the TT/chase malarkey, then that depends on time gaps from the Izoard. Van Vleuten was flying in the TT at the Giro so I reckon she could catch Moolman and then win in a 2-up sprint!

So Moolman and Van Vleuten both win something, but who wins “La Course”? That depends on your interpretation whether you’re the UCI or the ASO!

Coverage

All of the racing should be shown live by broadcasters throughout so check with your local provider. I’m pretty sure it is being shown pan-Europe on the Eurosport Player.

Hopefully the racing lives up to the billing tomorrow. I’m not too fussed about what we’ll see on Saturday though, but that’s just my opinion.

Who do you think will win? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

Giro Rosa 2017 Preview – The BFOG

Giro Rosa 2017 Preview – The BFOG

The only “Grand Tour” in the women’s peloton the Giro Rosa starts again this Friday for its 28th edition with a stacked peloton looking to make their mark on the race.

Last year’s GC was won by Boels’ Megan Guarnier, with team-mate Stevens coming home second and van der Breggen in third.

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Will we see a similar sort of dominance from the Dutch-team, who now of course have van der Breggen on board as well, or will some other riders be fighting for the overall victory?

First though, let’s have a look at what the riders will faced with over the coming 10 days.

The Route

All of the profiles used here are courtesy of @LasterketaBurua, so go and give them a follow on Twitter!

The questionable, poor quality route maps will be from the organisers website that I’ve screen shot. To be fair, the race is run on a shoe-string budget. Anyway…

Stage 1.

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A pan-flat late afternoon team time trial over 11km will set the early GC order. A discipline that is rarely practiced in the women’s peloton we could see some surprising time gaps.

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With there being little in the way of technical difficulties, this TTT will all be about pure power. Although it is important to note that they pass over a causeway and the wind might play a part in the outcome depending on their start times. Looking at early forecasts it’s supposed to be a 16kmph cross headwind when the first team starts at 16:45, but it is meant to increase to around 18kmph by the time the final team leaves the start house. Furthermore, there is a higher chance of rain for the later starters. It could be a dicey opening day.

As far as stage contenders go though, Boels will no doubt start as the favourites. The current TTT World Champions are bringing a very strong team to the race and they’ve won the only TTT of the year so far at the Healthy Ageing Tour. However, they won’t have it all their own way with Canyon, Cervélo and possibly even Orica challenging for the win.

I particularly like the look of the Cérvelo team. They have a lot of strong time trial riders and will wan to put Moolman at an early advantage on GC over their opposition. I expect them to be Boels’ closest rivals.

Stage 2.

Screen Shot 2017-06-28 at 19.52.17

A tease of a stage, it’s a relatively straight forward day until we get to the one categorised climb of the day. The road rises very gradually from around 30kms in all the way until the foot slopes of the Forcella di pala Barzana at 93km. At 5.3km long and averaging 7.6% it is a tough climb and I’ll be interested to see how the peloton approaches it. There are still 24km to go from the summit, of which 12km are descent.

I think we’ll see a selection on the climb. How select? That I’m unsure of. It looks tough enough for the best climbers to properly drop everyone, but will they feel confident going solo to the line with ~10km to the line left once they reach the bottom?

Therefore, I think we’ll get a group of 10 riders or so crest the climb together. From there, it will be a case of numbers/luck/timing as to if we see a small bunch sprint or a successful late attack stick. Van Vleuten and van der Breggen are two ideal candidates to win from this situation, both are great climbers and they both have fast sprints.

A lesser known rider to watch out for though is Arlenis Sierra. I have to admit, before this season I didn’t know much about he Cuban rider, but she has impressed me a lot so far this year. Second at Trofeo Binda and third on GC in California, she packs a great sprint and might just pick up her first World Tour win this week!

Stages 3 & 4.

Both are days for the sprinters so I thought I’d club them together.

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Stage 3 is the more rolling of the two, with some short and steep climbs out on course. However, there is enough time for the sprint teams to bring everything back together after the Poggio.

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Stage 4 is about as pan-flat as you can get – a definite sprint!

So who will contend on these days?

The Belgian Bullet (Jolien d’Hoore) will arrive here confident after her victory on the final day of the Women’s Tour. I think she’s one of the fastest pure sprinters in the peloton and with Bronzini as lead-out rider, they will form a formidable pairing. The latter might even sprint on a few of the days.

Kirsten Wild might have something to say about the above statement though. The Dutch powerhouse is ever-present at the pointy end of sprint stages finishing on the podium 7 times so far this season, winning 3 times.

Canyon have the choice between Barnes and Guarischi. The former obviously had an, ahem, barnstorming Women’s Tour and she’ll probably be their go to on the tougher days like stage 3. Whereas, Guarischi, a former winner at the Giro Rosa prefers things a lot flatter so she might be given the nod for stage 4. Either way, the team will be disappointed not to make the podium.

Chloe Hosking will be hoping to take a couple of wins for her Italian trade team Alé Cipollini who she has just signed a new contract for. After a great 2016, she’s really continued her upwards trajectory and is now much more than a good flat stage sprinter. She can manage the climbs well too, as was highlighted by her win in the Women’s Tour when she came home first in a peloton of only 45 riders.

DB5Anq2XsAAIlq_

Coryn Rivera was the sensation of the Spring, winning Binda and Flanders. Although that’s probably unfair as since the start of March she hasn’t finished outside the top 10 in any race/stage she’s competed in. A truly remarkable record! She hasn’t raced much such California but recently came second at the US National Championships. I expect her to get a few top 3s this week and possibly win a stage. Even the difficult stage 2 could be on her radar.

Lotta Lepistö made her return to racing at the Finnish national championships recently, managing to secure both the road and TT title. Having won Gent-Wevelgem in a sprint against the likes of d’Hoore and Rivera earlier in the year, she is no slouch either! Like a few others, I think she might be targeting a few of the harder days in the saddle.

Boels have a number of sprint options; newly crowned Dutch Champion Chantal Blaak, newly crowned UK Champion Lizzie Deignan, or current World Champion Amelie Dideriksen. Not a bad list that! I’m not sure based on pure speed if any of them are the best sprinter here but they will certainly benefit from the strongest lead-out.

As for others who could be in the top 10 on sprint stages, look out for Moberg (Hitec), Confalonieri (Lesnworld), Fidanza (Astana), Huang (Servetto) and Scandolara (WM3).

Stage 5.

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After a few days unlikely to cause a GC shake-up, stage 5 certainly will.

Out of interest and in TT tradition, I’ve actually made a Strava profile of the TT that you can view here.

A tough ITT of 13km, with the routes main focal points being two climbs. It is one of those typical Giro stages that doesn’t look too bad on the profile until you delve a little deeper.

The first climb of Santa Lucia is 1.2km long and averages 10%. Ouch! The road then continues to rise at 4% for the next kilometre or so before we get a flattening out and a descent.

Once the riders pass the 10km to go mark the road rises almost all the way to the finish with a notable 300m section at 20%! The preceding 1.8kms averages around 5.5% which will make the seep ramp even tougher.

Screen Shot 2017-06-29 at 07.23.17
The image the riders will be faced with. Notice the 20% ramp sign at the side of the road.

It does turn into false flat for the final few hundred metres so the riders will need to keep something in reserve for one final push, and not blow up too early.

I’m intrigued to see if riders will use their TT bikes at all or just stick to road bikes with bars on. I would certainly be looking to take the latter option!

As for who could win this stage, newly crowned Italian TT Champ Longo Borghini has a great chance. She was 4 seconds off the win in last year’s TT and this route seems to suit her even more. A strong showing here will cement her GC challenge.

She won’t have it all her own way as usual suspects van Vleuten, Moolman and van der Breggen.

Stage 6.

roseto-degli-abruzzi-roseto-degli-abruzzi-tappa-6-giro-rosa-2017-profilo

A lap circuit without any real difficulties. There is one 1.4km climb (averaging 3.7%) that the riders will tackle once on each of their four laps. Normally this would be a day for the sprinters but with the summit of the last climb coming 4km from the top, it will certainly entice late attacks from the bunch. The sprinters really shouldn’t be dropped from the peloton, it is more a case of people escaping off the front. A technical descent could see a small group maintain their lead and fight it out for the win.

If that’s the case, look for opportunists such as Cecchini, Spratt and Brand.

However, if we do get a sprint win I’ll go for Hosking. She should be able to cope with the climb easily and her team is capable of monitoring attacks etc.

Stage 7.

isernia-baronissi-tappa-7-giro-rosa-2017-profilo

A classic breakaway day, with the race starting on a climb it will ensure only strong riders get into the move. Will anyone close on GC try to sneak away? I doubt it, but there is a chance they might throw a spanner into the works.

There is a possibility that sprint teams might try to bring it back but it is another one of the stages where there is a lot of uncategorised climbs out on the course. Therefore, I think they’ll be happy to keep their powder dry.

It’s hard to tell who’ll be far enough back to be given some freedom but I’ll go for young Italian talent Sofia Beggin to take the win. A rider to look out for the future, she’s already produced some good performances this season with a 12th place in Strade and a 5th at the recent Italian Road Nats so there is clearly some form there. Furthermore, she’s the Madcon mash-up inspired pun (Beggin, Beggin you) team-name for my Velogames squad, so I have to include her in this at some point!

Another name that could be there though is Sheyla Gutiérrez. In her second season with Cylance the newly crowned Spanish champion will want to show her stripes off in an aggressive manner this Giro. Having won Le Samyn from a break earlier in the year, she is also a good candidate for a stage like this.

Stage 8.

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The Queen Stage of the race? Yes, in terms of climbing. However, the gradients of the climbs aren’t too hard, with them barely touching over 5%. Therefore it will be difficult for the pure climbers to make their mark on the stage.

However, with that being said, I still think we’ll see a selection on the day with the overall contenders going clear. I say this because of how long the climbs are, if a tough pace is set at the bottom then riders will be slowly churned out of the back of the peloton. We might see a group of 10-20 riders crest the Cuccaro Vetere together. From there it will be a mix of being strong and lucky to make the winning counter-move that is bound to follow. Can Niewiadoma repeat her win in the Women’s Tour?

Stage 9.

centola-palinuro-polla-tappa-9-giro-rosa-2017

A fairly tough opening half to the stage, the riders will do a lot of climbing which could allow the break to get a large gap. However, as this is the last chance for the sprinters I expect co-operation from all the teams to bring back the escape and we’ll have a bunch sprint in Polla.

With a straightforward closing circuit, I’ll go for a d’Hoore win here.

Stage 10.

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The final stage of the Giro sees the riders take on a circuit around Torre del Greco with a little trip (around a third) up Mount Vesuvius. The lap circuit isn’t too difficult, there are a few short climbs but nothing too serious. However, one of the major difficulties they’ll face is this ridiculously narrow street…

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Hopefully they’re well strung out as they enter it, if not, I fear we could see some crashes.

The stage will be decided on Vesuvius and it could well go to a breakaway or one of the GC contenders. The climb itself averages roughly 6% for 5.2km but the closing 1.2km average 9.5%. It is certainly steep enough for the best climbers to create gaps.

The riders will then face a fast and technical descent (passing through that narrow street at ~3km to go) all the way to the finish line.

Will the rider who wins the stage win the overall title too?

GC Contenders

I guess I better start with the defending champion Megan Guarnier. She’s been a shadow of the rider she was last season and given recent form, it is hard to say she will be competing here. However, this may have been her main target all season and she is potentially quietly peaking to go well here. Yet, I can’t see it happening for her unfortunately.

Waiting in the wings though will be team-mate van der Breggen. After a slow start to the year, she went on to win a famous Ardennes triple with some truly incredible performances. Following on from that she was instrumental in helping Deignan win the Tour of Yorkshire, before going on to win the GC in California. This route suits the Olympic Champion down to the ground and given her achievements she has to start as the favourite. However, her results haven’t been that great recently so maybe she is on a mid-season lull before peaking again for the end of the year?

Cycling: 4th Amstel Gold Race 2017 / Women

Moolman will no doubt be challenging for the overall win this year. After struggling with an injury that hampered her early Spring season, she shook that off by the time the Ardennes classics came around. Finishing in the top 10 in each race was a sign she was returning to her spectacular best. Since then she’s been in great form, notching up three victories. Has she managed to keep that form up?

Longo Borghini comes to this race in a confident mood having won both national championship events. Suffering from illness earlier in the year, she missed some events and form for some of the key races in the calendar. However, he lighter schedule in theory should see her come here fresher than her opposition. Still only relatively young at 25 years old, she’s improving each and every year and I think she has a great chance of overall victory here.

Speaking of young riders, recent Women’s Tour winner Niewiadoma will be here looking to continue her incredible 2017. The WWT leader has been anything but exceptional this year, finishing in the top 10 in almost every race she’s entered! She only seems to race the big events and no doubt she’ll be looking to make it back-to-back GC wins at WT level. The TTT and ITT could hinder her chances but she can more than make up for it on her own on the climbs. I’ll be watching with interest!

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Van Vleuten is another rider in stellar form. The Orica star has a strong team here to support her, with Garfoot and Spratt expected to last the distance on a lot of the climbs. Maybe not as strong as some of the other women on the long climbs, she’ll be looking to attack at the end of stages where there are short ramps that act as launchpads. The Dutch TT champ will be looking to put in a good time in the individual effort and sees where that leaves her for the rest of the week.

I can’t really see anyone else challenging for the win but there are some outsiders who will be fighting for a top 5/10 and with a bit of luck, even better!

Sierra is an unkown quantity for this type of race. She really stepped up at the Tour of California finishing third on GC there. I’m not sure how she’ll cope with a longer stage race but a good performance here isn’t unlikely. If she manages another top 10, a move to a “bigger” WT team for next year could be on the cards.

Gillow comes here with a good chance of a top 10. A very consistent rider, the Aussie will be at the pointy end in most stages. If you watched any of the Women’s Tour, you’ll know she was off the front attacking in the final two stages, honing some form for this race.

Prediction

I think not being on form for some of the Spring will be a blessing in disguise for Longo Borghini and she’ll take the crown here. She will lose some time in the opening TTT, but I think she has enough quality both on the climbs and the ITT to over-turn that.

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Niewiadoma and Moolman to round out the podium, with the Boels riders shockingly falling by the wayside!

Coverage

Unfortunately there is no live tv coverage of the race, but there will be daily highlights on RAI.

You should be able to access them via VPN I think but give Pam (@motorcycleMTNS) a follow on Twitter as she will no doubt have all the links or will record them and upload them to her Youtube channel.

Futhermore, we should expect highlights on the UCI Youtube Channel and the Giro Rosa has a YT Channel itself so we might see stuff there too.

During the stages themselves it will be a case of following on Twitter via the #GiroRosa hashtag. I would recommend following @richiesteege though (the Boels mechanic) who is one of the best sources for information during the race.

Velogames

As the betting industry is in the dark ages and never offers odds on the races, I guess they’re just copying the coverage we get (I’ll stop before I get myself in trouble)…

I’ve set up a Velogames league for you all to join so that you can have an interest following the race.

Use the code “27002603” to join. I look forward to you all beating me 😳.

 

Thanks as always for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated like normal! I don’t usually beg for RTs etc on Twitter but if you can do to raise awareness of this exciting race that’s run on a shoe-string, then that would be fantastic. Also, from a selfish point of view too, I’d like this to reach as many people as possible. I’ve not wrote 3200 words for nothing! It is after all the most comprehensive Giro Rosa guide on the internet 😉.

I shall be back tomorrow for the Tour with my stage 1 preview. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

Liège-Bastonge-Liège Femmes 2017 Preview

 

To end the Ardennes classic week, we are treated to the first ever women’s edition of the oldest Monument; La Doyenne.

A very welcome addition to the women’s calendar and the decision to run the race was greeted with great fanfare from both the spectators but also the peloton itself!

After two exciting, although fairly predictably dominant Boels’ displays at Amstel and Fleche, will we see a new winner at Liege?

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Or will van der Breggen secure the win and consequently take a famous Ardennes triple?!

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

The Route

At 135km in length, it’s not the longest route the riders will tackle this year but it is roughly 15km longer than both Amstel and Fleche.

Having only four categorised climbs does not paint a full picture of how attritional the race is going to be, because the route is constantly up and down, twisting and turning on narrow roads.

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The first 75km of the day will serve as a warm-up for the second half of the race, and we should see a break established up the road.

The action will start in earnest though, beginning with the longest climb of the day! The Côte de la Vecquée is longer than anything we see in the men’s race and could see a shake up if a couple of teams put the pressure on.

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Not overly steep, it does contain a kilometre at 7% though and I would not be surprised to see some probing attacks in the peloton here.

The race then follows a similar pattern of climb -> false flat -> descent -> climb from hereon in.

Next up on the schedule is the explosive La Redoute.

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We then have a relatively long period of 14km where the riders aren’t climbing but the descending is fairly shallow. This will be an equally as important part of the race because the best riders often attack on the flatter sections when those around them are tired from the previous climbs. Van der Breggen’s two wins this week are testament to that!

Within 20km to the line the riders will face the Roche-aux-Faucons before the Sant-Nicolas, cresting at only 5.5km to go.

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Short, but explosive, it could well be a launchpad for an attack if we have a group of riders left together at this moment.

From there it’s the traditional run in to the finish line.

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The rise through the Flamme Rouge and all the way to the line averages 5.3% for the 1.5km, offering one final place to attack before the false-flat sprint.

Contenders

It’s really hard to look past another Boels win this week. They’ve timed their early season peak to perfection and in van der Breggen and Deignan they have two of the best riders in the peloton on current form. I set my stall out a week ago with this tweet and it’s not looking too bad just now…

She has the power to attack from distance but also the speed to win from a small sprint. Who can beat her? Well, Deignan certainly can! The Brit has played a superb team role over the past two races and could well be rewarded with team-leadership here. Her sprint win for second place in Amstel was incredible, considering she took it up into the headwind that famously curtailed Kwiatkowski in the men’s race. Will Boels try their hardest for the triple for van der Breggen, or will the Ardenne’s triple for the team be enough? I guess we’ll have to wait and see tomorrow afternoon as to how they attack the race.

Who can stop them?

On form, it looks as if Kasia Niewiadoma is the strongest challenger.

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She was instrumental in splitting the race up on the penultimate climb at Fleche, with only the two Boels riders able to follow. However, that ended up being to her detriment as they ended up playing the 1-2 and she couldn’t follow every attack. Contrary to what you would normally expect, her best (and every one else who’s not on Boels) best chance of winning is that the race is easier than normal. Therefore there will be more riders in the peloton and the opportunity to form cross-team alliances to isolate one Boels rider. Although I have a feeling that scenario is very unlikely to be carried out! Nonetheless, Niewiadoma still has a very good chance of winning the race, it will just be tough trying to out-ride the two strongest women who happen to be on the same team!

The other rider who on form has a chance of beating the Boels pairing is Annemiek van Vleuten.

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The Dutch rider has 3rd and 4th in the first two races this week and certainly has the abilities to repeat, if not better those results. She’s been incredibly consistent in the WWT this year so far, notching up 6 top 10s out of the 7 races we’ve had. With the final rise to the line not being too difficult and suiting her well, I think she might fancy her chances in a reduced sprint against some of the other favourites.

Aside from those four, no one really looks on a level to challenge for the title. Yet, this is cycling and sometimes the strongest rider doesn’t always win!

Elisa Longo Borghini would definitely be included in the list above if she didn’t skip Fleche due to illness and breathing difficulties. She did manage to finish 5th in Amstel so the form was there beforehand. But you would expect it to be too soon for her to be competing for the title.

This season’s revelation, Coryn Rivera, will hope to hang on the coattails of the better climbers and challenge for a sprint. She’s proven so far this year that she is one of the fastest riders in the world after a tough day.

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I gave her an honourable mention for Fleche and she managed to sneak into the top 5 and I think Shara Gillow could do something similar tomorrow. A criminally under-rated climber, she prefers the steep ramps so the closing climbs should suit her. Another top 5 is on the cards!

Prediction

It would make for a great race if someone could stop Boels, but I just can’t see it happening. It’s only a question of wether I choose Deignan or van der Breggen?! This route actually suits the Brit ever so slightly more in my opinion but as I’m a big fan of fairytale stories, I would love to see the Dutchwoman complete a famous Ardennes triple!

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I’ll be rooting for a Shara Gillow podium spot as she’s part of my season long fantasy team!

Unfortunately I don’t think we’ll be getting any live coverage of the race so the best place to follow it is on Twitter via the #LBLWomen hashtag.

Thanks as always for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated like normal. Who do you think will win and how? Can anyone stop Boels’ domination? Next on the blog from will be Tour of Romandie previews, but I’ll be back with the Women’s World Tour for Chongming Island. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.