BinckBank Tour 2017 Stage 5 Preview; Sittard-Geleen -> Sittard-Geleen

Today’s Recap

A weird stage that ended with the expected sprint, but only just. The pace was high from the gun and the peloton was strung out for the first 40km or so, with the likes of GVA attacking. In the end a trio escaped including blog pick for the day, Greipel. An odd move from him but hey ho!

The peloton brought the trio back just at the start of the final lap which saw a counter attack from Dowsett and Smith with roughly 12km left. They were brought back at around 4km or so left, and Lampaert quickly countered. It looked as if he was going to hold on for the win but he was overhauled at 150m out.

Theuns delivered his first World Tour win after a great lead-out from Stuyven.

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Kump and Merlier rounded out the podium, with a lot of the “big name” sprinters missing out.

No bonus seconds for Sagan certainly makes the title fight an interesting race. Let’s have a look at what’s in store for them tomorrow.

The Route

The GC battle begins in earnest as we travel through Amstel Gold territory.

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@LasterketaBurua

There are no overly tough climbs, but the road is constantly up or down almost all day which could tire the bunch out.

It is a stage that screams out to be attacked and I think we could see some very aggressive racing, or at least I hope!

I feel I don’t need to go over the climbs in too much detail as the great guys at Lasterketa Burua have all the lengths and gradients on the profile above.

Depending on the attitude of the teams, a strong move could feasibly escape before the half-way point of the stage. However, I think we might see our first meaningful move come the first time up the Schatsberg with just over 50km to go.

From there, who really knows what will happen!

By the looks of things, the Golden Kilometre starts just after the second summit of Schatsberg. It will certainly entice some attacks and could be the catalyst for the winning move. Conversely, a strong attack after the race regroups once we’re through the km could also be very successful.

If we do get a reasonably large group come to the line it could be manic.

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Four 90-degree turns in the final kilometre is pretty dangerous and asking for trouble!

Finishing at the Tom Dumoulin bike park, I wonder if the Dutchman will manage to take the victory?

The weather forecast isn’t looking too promising for the riders either. Well, I’m sure some of them will view it as very promising, it depends who you ask I guess.

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We’re set to get most of the rain in the morning, but there are apparently some showers around in the afternoon which will no doubt be temperamental.

It will probably be a bone dry race after all!

How the race might pan out…

Normally I’m fairly bullish with my prediction as to how the race will pan out but I really have no idea as to what will happen tomorrow. As I said above, we feasibly could see a move go at any point of the race if it contains the right riders and teams.

Most likely though we’ll see a whittling down of the pack throughout the day; which will be made quicker if the conditions are poor.

It is then a case of when the favourites launch their attacks. The issue with it all though is, that Sagan should be able to follow almost all of the moves. In any kind of reduced sprint he is obviously the favourite and gifting him 10 bonus seconds isn’t the wisest manoeuvre for anyone targeting the title.

Bora have been great so far this race, but tomorrow is the acid test. If Sagan is isolated early, he’ll have a tough day chasing every move. I do expect Pöstlberger to have a big ride. Will it be enough? I don’t think so.

Everyone’s unwillingness to work with Sagan will see a small group of 6 riders from various teams escape in the final 20km and contest the stage. It might not be the end of the GC battle though!

Here’s my best attempt at guessing who might be in that move.

Belgian Tripel

Sep Vanmarcke.

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Another year, another disappointing classics season hampered by bad luck yet again for the Cannondale man. He “won” the sprint stage of the Hammer Series at the beginning of June, but it is his results since the Belgian Championships, where he finished second, that have really impressed. In the Tour of Austria he took five top 5 places, following that up with a 4th place at Ride London. This is the type of race he can win overall, but at 33 seconds back already, he’ll need to be aggressive. Tomorrow’s rolling stage looks good for the strong man and with a relatively fast kick from a small bunch, he’ll be happy to go to the line with some riders. He just needs some luck for once and the win could be there for the taking!

Jens Keukeleire.

I’m a big fan of the Orica man, so much so I’ve come up with my own Kirby-esque nickname for him; the Keukie-monster. It was great to see him finally take a couple of wins last year after being on a 3-season drought. He’s continued that this year with a second place in Gent Wevelgem and winning the Belgian Tour overall. More importantly though, he was exceptionally strong at the recent Euro Championships; driving the peloton for a lot of the day but also attacking at the end. Like Vanmarcke, he sits roughly 30 seconds down on GC so will need to attack and I think he’ll do just that. Another rider packing a fast sprint from a small group, we could be in for an exciting finale!

Jasper Stuyven.

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Super strong in the final kilometre to help reel in Lampaert at the end of today’s stage, he will be given a free role tomorrow. Almost an ever-present rider at the front of the peloton in tough races like this, he will hope to put his power to good use. Strong enough to hold off a charging peloton, see his Kuurne win last year, he also packs a tidy sprint too. A rider who can win in a variety of ways, much like the other two, he is a big danger if he gets into the move.

Prediction

I like all three of the riders, but I’ll side with my favourite, Keukeleire to win!

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Betting

0.5pt WIN on them all;

Keukeleire @ 33/1

Stuyven @ 33/1

Vanmarcke @ 50/1

 

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

Ronde van Vlaanderen 2017 Preview

Ronde van Vlaanderen 2017 Preview

It’s time for my favourite event of the year and a special race as it marks one year of this blog! To thank you all for your continued support I’ll be doing a competition tied in with my women’s preview (that will be out tomorrow), for a chance to win one of The Handmade Cyclist’s artworks. Well, more specifically their “De Ronde” one, obviously. So yeah, make sure you return tomorrow!

Right, now that those formalities are out of the road, let’s focus on this incredible race.

Last year saw an imperious Peter Sagan just ride away from Sep Vanmarcke on the Paterberg and even with a surging Fabian Cancellara the duo could not catch the Slovak.

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Will Sagan be able to double up this year? Let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders.

The Route

I’m not going to bore you with a massive route analysis (like I normally would), as I’m sure if you’re anything like me you’ll have read plenty about it already this week!

The route in general is pretty much more of the same that we had last year, apart from they have added the Muur at around 90km to go. Although iconic, it will more than likely be too far out for a race winning move to be made there. Instead, we might see some lesser riders attempt to get up the road before it all kicks off.

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It’s once we pass the Paterberg for the first time at around 70km to go that the race starts to kick into action and theoretically a race winning move could go from this point onwards. However, the second passage of the Paterberg, which swiftly follows the Oude Kwaremont, will desolate the peloton if it’s still together.

From there, we’ll have attacks go up the road; groups working; groups not working; solo moves; teams having wrong riders in the right move, etc etc. It all gets a bit hectic to say the least!

With only 17km to go the riders then tackle the Oude Kwaremont once again.

This is where Sagan dropped everyone from the group in front apart from Vanmarcke, likewise Cancellara dropped those behind as he motored ahead trying to catch up. The open highway that follows the Kwaremont can see a regrouping, before they tackle the final climb of the day; the last ascent of the Paterberg.

Sagan blew the wheels off of Vanmarcke here last year.

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Once over the top it’s a 13km TT between the leaders and any chasers, before the traditional finish in Oudenaarde.

Normally the weather will play a part in this race but it looks pretty benign just now so I’m going to completely skip that section!

How will the race pan out? Team tactics.

Flanders is arguably the race in which the winner is more often than not the strongest rider on the day who gets a bit of luck. The reason for this in my opinion is due to the relentless nature of the cobbles and climbs in the closing third of the race, and due to the severe length of the event itself! A strong rider can create a massive gap on the Kwaremont and Paterbeg combination and with only 13km left, it’s hard to get a concerted chance organised.

Last year you could say without doubt that Sagan and Cancellara were the strongest riders in the peloton. Sagan in a sense you could argue got lucky that Cancellara didn’t follow the attacks at 31km left, and it’s hard to say how the race would have panned out if those two arrived at the bottom of the Paterberg together.

A similar situation may occur this year between Van Avermaet and Sagan, who are one step ahead of everyone else in my opinion, and probably yours too!

The only thing that can stop them is the attitude of Quick-Step. The Belgian outfit need to ride as aggressively as they did in Dwars and E3 if they want to have a good chance of success. They need to be in every move that goes up the road, either by following every move or attacking themselves. But more on that later!

Contenders

As I’ve just mentioned above, there are two clear favourites going by the bookmakers and anyone who watches this sport!

Defending champion Peter Sagan has looked his usual exceptional self this year. His attack in Milan San Remo was incredible, as was his stage win in Fermo during the Tirreno Adriatico, but oddly enough there are some people who suggest he’s not going well. He has only won one one-day race this season so far, Kuurne Brussels Kuurne, which is pretty poor from him so they might be right…

Is he suffering from being Sagan? Yeah, I think so, but this is the one race a year where being Sagan doesn’t matter as much. If he’s feeling good, he can simply ride away from everyone on the final double ascent of the Kwaremont/Paterberg like we saw last year. The issue for him will be ensuring that he’s in contention going into that final 15km. Therefore, he’ll need to attack/follow the attacks from where he did last year. Re-watching last week’s Gent Wevelgem, he clawed back almost 8 bike lengths on his main rival Van Avermaet on the Kemmelberg. That’s Flanders winning form!

Talking about Van Avermaet, he was the number one performer of the week just gone by and is Sagan’s main challenger.

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Three one-day World Tour wins already this season, the Olympic champion is flying. He’s beaten Sagan in a sprint (Omloop); won against tough opposition in another sprint (E3); and outsmarted his opponents (Gent Wevelgem). Results wise, he is the rider to beat! He doesn’t seem to pack the same punch up the cobbled climbs as Sagan does, but he benefits tactically from not being Sagan. He seems not to have the same aura amongst the peloton and riders are more inclined to work with him.

However, I think that might change going into this weekend and he’ll struggle with being Van Avermaet. If you’re going to lose to Sagan in a sprint, you’re more than likely going to lose to Van Avermaet in a sprint as well. So why work with him more than the Slovak?

But hey, as you know if you’ve read this blog for a while, DS’ don’t seem to think as outside the box as I do!

Quick-Step have the best chance of beating the two favourites, due to the number of riders in their team that theoretically could have a chance of winning this race, sorry Keisse and Vermote! The rest, all on their day and given the right group could win. Gilbert will be their pre-race favourite and given his scintillating form, he certainly looks the rider best suited to challenge Sagan and GVA.

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He will be able to follow them for the majority of the race and that’s what I would have him do. Let him sit in for most of the race, marking those two out of it. It’s a defensive strategy, using their form rider to mark others, but that’s the teams best chance of winning.

Boonen hasn’t looked in tip-top shape but with only two races left in his career, you would expect him to go well. As much as he would love to win this, I think it might be all about for Roubaix with him. I would save him all-day, hoping he can get close on the Paterberg and that it comes back for a reduced sprint.

Therefore, QS should be attacking from around 70km left with the rest of their riders. Although Lampaert did great in Dwars for the blog, he’s just not strong enough yet on the cobbled climbs to compete here in my opinion. Like Boonen, he is more of a Roubaix kind of guy. I’m not saying he won’t try to get up the road, but he’s not their best option for that.

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So that leaves the triple header of Trentin, Stybar and Terpstra, the three riders who made the front group of around 16 in Gent Wevelgem. Trentin is probably the weakest on this terrain and his past results haven’t been that great. Yet, he’s looked very good this season so far and seems to have taken a step up on the cobbled climbs so he can’t be ruled out, especially if he goes in a move at around 50km to go that stays away until the end. Stybar and Terpstra are their aces in the pack though for long-range moves and I would suggest they both need to be up the road before GVA and Sagan make their attack. If they are, I would be confident enough in Gilbert nullifying them before we get to the last 17km and by then it might be too late to bring back.

The only issue with that is if another big team misses the move and has enough firepower to chase. Who will that team be working for?

Kristoff looks the best of the rest on current form. He’s been unlucky in the first few cobbled classics but his efforts in De Panne were exceptional. In particular, it was his TT that stood out for me. Not a discipline he favours, he lost only 2 seconds to Durbridge who himself is going very well just now. The Norwegian loves this race, having finished 15th/4th/5th/1st/4th in the past 5 years. He will be there or thereabouts at the end of the race!

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Trek have one of the strongest teams here so they will likely aid in a chase if they miss a move. Degenkolb has looked OK so far this season, but it pains me to say, that he is still missing that extra 5% after his crash last year. I can’t see him winning here unless he goes early, but I think he’ll be marked out of it in that situation. Theuns looked tired towards the end of De Panne and Stuyven has been struggling the past week or so with his form. Time for Felline to step up and make that crucial early move!

Naesen (AG2R) has performed exceptionally well over the past 6 months but this could be a tough ask for him, he’s bound to dip in form soon. Surely?!

Lotto have been awful but their saviour Benoot returns this weekend after missing Gent Wevelgem. He almost guarantees a top 10 result but needs to be attacking to get higher up the pecking order, which he might just do.

Sky have been awful the past week and I haven’t seen anything to think they’ll turn that around here. Which is always when they seem to go well!

Boasson Hagen and Thwaites have been going well, albeit quietly, the past few weeks. Like so many others, they’ll need to be up the road before the fireworks kick off behind.

Durbridge will hope to continue his good form but he seems more of a Roubaix man. The same goes for Demare.

I’d love to see Lutsenko get a top 10 placing which I think is a possibility. He’s been 22nd then 14th in the past two editions.

Vanmarcke still doesn’t look great after his injury and illness.

Prediction

I’m really stuck on the fence with this one because I don’t know if I can trust Quick Step to use the same tactics I would. If they do, the race is theirs for the taking, as long as they get some help from other teams to beat GVA and Sagan.

If not, the race is Sagan’s to lose. I know GVA is in great form but even he will fear what Sagan can do on the Paterberg. If there is a 3 second gap at the top, then it’s race over!

Hmmmmm.

Right…

I think the teams will take a similar approach to GVA as they do to Sagan and will not want to work with him 100%. Therefore, various teams will be keen to get numbers ahead before the final 20km. With Gilbert shadowing the Big 2, QS will get Terpstra and Stybar up the road, along with Felline and a few others, with maybe the likes of Oss there for BMC.

He and his team didn’t get it right in GW, but they won’t make that mistake here. Terpstra to win!

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Betting

Already have 1pt WIN on Terpstra from the other week at 25/1 (would take 22s)

Adding;

Stybar 1pt WIN @25/1 with various bookmakers (would take 22s)

Felline 0.5pt EW @ 80/1 with various bookmakers (would take 66s)

Kristoff to beat Degenkolb at 11/10 with PaddyPower (would take it at 4/6 elsewhere Betfair/Bet365). 6pts.

 

Thanks for reading as always and any feedback is greatly appreciated. Who do you think will win and how will they manage to do so? Remember to return tomorrow for my women’s preview and the competition! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

E3 Harelbeke 2017 Preview

E3 Harelbeke 2017 Preview

E3 Harelbeke has the illustrious history of being named after a road. Don’t let its dull naming history put you off though, as this race is often heralded as a “mini Flanders” and the action normally lives up to that billing!

Last year saw Kwitakowski and Sagan attack with 30km to go and they were not to be seen again! The Pole caught Sagan napping in the sprint, taking it up early and ended up winning with relative ease.

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The recent MSR winner is not here to defend his title, but we still have a whole host of talented riders looking to take centre stage.

First though, let’s have a look at what’s in store for the them.

The Route

A day packed with hills and cobbles. My kind of race!

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Profile once again courtesy of @LasterketaBurua.

Like Dwars, the day slowly builds to a crescendo, although we do have some difficulties earlier in the stage. The first challenge of the day is the Oude Kruisberg and from there we have an obstacle every 10 kilometres or so on average.

However, the decisive point of the race will probably be between the 45km-35km to go with the triple threat of; the Kapelberg; Paterberg; and Oude Kwaremont.

If there is no made on the first two climbs, there will certainly be an explosion on the Kwaremont.

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View the Strava segment here.

The 4% average gradient on Strava doesn’t do it justice because as you can see in the image above, it’s mainly flat or false-flat for the first 600m. It then pitches up from 0.8km to 1.5km, averaging 7.9%. Remember, this is all on cobbles as well! If you’re not on a good day here then you’ll be out the back in no time.

Once over the Kwaremont the bunch will have little time for rest as they’ll soon be on the Karnemelkbeekstraat at just over 30km to go. This is where last year’s duo made their move!

From there, we only have one more hill and cobbled section so it will be a frantic chase home and run to the line in Harelbeke.

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It’s not an overly difficult run in but the twisting nature of it does give the group up ahead the advantage of often being out of sight.

Contenders

Without the defending champion here, I guess we better start with that average cyclist who finished 2nd last year…

Peter Sagan obviously comes into this race as favourite, like he does for almost every one day race he starts! His team looks fairly poor, but Postlberger looked good in Dwars so maybe he can protect Sagan for a while. However, the World Champion is used to riding races unaided. The one problem with Sagan being Sagan, is that very few riders will want to ride with him in a group that might be chasing the leaders. Therefore he will be leant on to do a lot of the work. Yet, if he’s in a similar mood to his San Remo outing then he may well just attack himself and his opposition will have to be in exceptional form to follow!

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Quick Step will be hoping to use strength in numbers to beat the Slovak and everyone else. They bring their crack squad of classics riders with them, although Lampaert will sit this one out. In Boonen, Gilbert, Stybar, Terpstra and even Trentin they have potential winner candidates. With this type of parcours though, I would have to favour Stybar and Terpstra as their best options. They both looked very strong in Dwars to attack from the 3rd to the 2nd group on the road, halting that groups progress and helping their team-mates ahead build up a lead. Stybar looked good, but I think the Dutch rider looked even better, bridging across to his team-mate relatively comfortable even though Stybar was going full gas.

Greg Van Avermaet will be hoping to repeat his Omloop victory earlier in the season tomorrow. After looking very strong in Strade, he was a bit disappointing in Tirreno and MSR. His BMC team looks strong, but I’m still not convinced by how many of them can be there at the end and offer much support. Nonetheless, as one of the best classics riders in the peloton, he certainly can’t be discounted!

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Sky bring a solid squad but it will no doubt be up to the diamond duo of Rowe and Stannard for them. Both riders are exceptional on their day but I’m sure they would have hoped for some worse weather! They each won a stage in the Herald Sun Tour but the Welshman performed much better in the opening semi-classics. Sky have not finished off the podium in the past three editions, can they make it 4-in-a-row tomorrow?

After a disappointing Dwars, Trek bring Degenkolb and Stuyven into the team. It’s good to see the German back to near his best and he certainly can contend here. My one concern is that he struggled to follow Sagan in MSR on the Poggio, maybe Paris Roubaix is more suited to him than a Flanders style course. Stuyven has looked very impressive this season so far and is certainly living up to the hype surrounding him. Having numbers near the pointy end of the race will be important for any team, but Trek should have at least two. Felline might even turn himself into a third option.

Lotto Soudal are another team that had a disappointing Dwars. They only had Wallays up the road but he wasn’t able to follow the big move when it counted. Benoot and Gallopin were left frustrated behind, with the young Belgian sprinting to 7th place. I think he’ll go a lot better tomorrow! Could he win his first professional race?

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In the three Belgian races he’s competed in so far this season, Naesen has finished in the top 10 of them all. He was terribly unlucky in Dwars with a mechanical but showed just how strong he is right now, managing to get back to the second group and sprint for 6th. With Vandenbergh by his side, they can certainly roll over a few hills and cobbles!

There are obviously lots of other riders who could have a chance, such as Vanmarcke, Durbridge and Lutsenko but I think I’ll stop the list there as I could go on for a while.

Prediction

A very tough race where numbers will once again be important. Sagan will more than likely be forced to do a lot of the work chasing others and to be honest, I don’t think he cares for winning this race. So he might just call some riders’ bluff and sit on. Conversely, he could easily just romp away from everyone!

Nonetheless, I don’t think he wins.

Instead, it will be Niki Terpstra who this time will solo away from the opposition.

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I was impressed with the way he was riding in Tirreno, and have had him shortlisted for this race (and Flanders next weekend) since then. His tandem attack with Stybar has convinced me that his form is in the right place, and I think he can make it two from two for Quick Step, and everyone will forget about their poor opening weekend in February!

Betting

Other than Terpstra there are two riders I want on my side and after Wednesday, I’m being a bit gung-ho with the stakes. The odds are shorter than Lampaert after all!

2pts WIN Terpstra @ 16/1 with Bet365 (would take 12s)

1pt WIN Naesen @ 28/1 with B365 (would take 22s)

1pt WIN Benoot @ 25/1 with B365 (would take 20s)

Prices might be better else where but I can’t be bothered looking!

Also,

1pt WIN Terpstra for Flanders @ 25/1 with various bookmakers

Thanks as always for reading and as usual any feedback is greatly appreciated. Who do you think will win E3 and how? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Strade Bianche 2017 Preview; Siena -> Siena

Strade Bianche 2017 Preview; Siena -> Siena

One of my favourite races of the year, hands down! It has the mix of everything really; awesome parcours; great start-list; amazing scenery; and some pretty aggressive racing.

Cancellara broke the heart of Brambilla last year, and managed to out-fox Stybar into the final corner, taking a quite excellent win.

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Cancellara is obviously not here this year, so that leaves the door open for a new victor or one of the three former winners that are here to regain their crown.

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

The Route

I’m going to make this section a lot, lot shorter than normal because there are already several previews out there with this information so I don’t want to bore you with it again!

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There you go…

Basically lots of short sharp punchy hills, although there are a couple of longer ones earlier on, interspersed with gravel sections. Rolling terrain for most of the day means there is little time to rest and the action is always on.

A tough closing 20km can see someone get away solo, but there is also the possibility that it all comes down to a sprint up to the Piazza del Campo!

One thing that may have a say in that is the…

Weather

After the brutal conditions in Samyn mid-week, I’m sure the peloton would have been hoping for something less miserable here. The fans certainly want the opposite and it looks as if the weather gods are going to appease the crowds.

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Weather in Siena (Source: Wunderground)

Nothing concrete but there is a very good chance we’ll get rain at some point during the race, which would make it even more of a spectacle. I’m sure a lot of you will remember the Giro in 2010…

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It probably won’t get as torrid as that, but even a smattering of rain could cause some issues for the riders!

Anyway, who’s got a chance of taking the crown this weekend?

Contenders

Where better to start than with the current world champion, Peter Sagan. The Slovak shredded the race to bits in Omloop last Saturday and once again was in the thick of the action on Sunday, managing to win Kuurne. He clearly is in very good form at the moment and he has gone well here in the past. My one issue with him is that he always seems to struggle on the final climb up to the Piazza so he’ll need to ride everyone off of his wheel before then. Not impossible, but I can’t see it happening. Am I being too bold discounting him?

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After me playing up his chances for Omloop, Zdenek Stybar, was left bitterly disappointed at the end of the race, visibly shaking his head as he crossed the line. That to me indicates that he knew he could and should have been a key protagonist in the outcome of the race. Held up in the crash that took out Boonen, he tried attacking later on in the race to bridge across to the lead group but couldn’t manage it. I’m sure he’ll want to bounce back this weekend in a race that suits him very well, he did win it in 2015 after all! With Brambilla and Vakoc, he has a strong support team which could very well be crucial.

Picking up the win in Omloop while still not at 100% form shows what a great cyclist Greg Van Avermaet is. The Belgian has done fairly well here in the past but hasn’t managed to win this race yet, with the closest being a second place finish to Stybar in 2015. Good on short, steep climbs and rough terrain, he has all of the characteristics to win this race. Yet, like Sagan, I just have a feeling he won’t and I’m not sure why. BMC do have a very strong team with them and an in-form Hermans could be a very useful second card to play in a tactical race.

Without Cancellara, Trek will turn to Fabio Felline as their main charge for this race. After an explosive start to his season, winning Il Laigueglia, he’s followed that up with a 5th place in the TT at Andalucia and a 4th at Omloop last weekend. This race should suit him perfectly and if he can follow the best over the gravel, he certainly has a very good chance up the punchy climb to the Piazza.

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Sky arrive here with a very solid squad; Kwiatkowski, Rosa and Puccio all have a chance of going well. The Pole seems to slowly be returning to the rider he once was before he joined Sky, finishing 2nd on GC in Algarve earlier in February. However, he still didn’t seem in tip-top shape so this race might be too early for him. On the other hand, Rosa looked very strong in Andalucia and had he not been working for others (again!), could have finished higher up himself. He seems to love one-day racing in Italy and may very well go on to win here, but he’ll need to come to the line alone! Puccio is a bit of a wild-card, but this is his home race and he always manages a fairly decent result here. Well, apart from last year when I had backed him and he had 3 mechanicals while in the front group. I won’t put the #HaugheyCurse on him this year, but I shall be watching with interest.

Benoot and Wellens will lead the charge for Lotto Soudal. Both riders are capable of winning here if they get a bit of luck, but both will need a different type of race to play out. Benoot will be the one happier waiting until the finish line whereas Wellens is much more likely to go on the attack from far out. He’s certainly a danger if given too much leeway!

I’m really intrigued by the selection that Astana bring to this race, because on paper it looks a very strong, well-rounded team. They have a former winner in the shape of Moser and a podium finisher with Gatto. Not to mention Amstel Gold runner-up Valgren, solid one-day racer and climber Sanchez, and Grand Tour winner Aru. The last of those makes his second appearance at this race after finishing 20th here way back in 2013. Often slated for his one-day racing, he’s not as bad at these types of races as he’s made out to be in my opinion, and I’m hoping to be pleasantly surprised by Aru tomorrow. The race only being 175km certainly helps him.

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FDJ arrive with a solid squad and it seems to be the same riders that are following Pinot around all year. Thibaut himself has had a good start to the season, picking up a very impressive stage win in Andalucia. Anyone who managed to beat Contador there must be going well! Making his debut in this race, he might struggle with some of the surfaces but I think his form will overcome that and he is my dark horse for the win. His team-mate Reichenbach is another good outside candidate if we get a very tactical race where the “second string” riders get sent up the road and manage to end up staying away. Like Pinot, he was also impressive in Andalucia and can’t be discounted.

Roglic, Haas, Dumoulin and Vanmarcke could all go well with a bit of luck.

Prediction

Like my women’s preview (shameless plug, view it here) I’ve had this rider in mind all week for this race. Unlike that preview though, I have had my doubts about him but that’s been purely based off of his odds being shorter than I would have liked. Nonetheless, after much deliberation I still think he’ll take the victory, capitalising on some good early season form. If we get bad conditions, that makes it even better for him. Stybar to win!

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Betting

As mentioned above, I was almost backing out of this one purely because I would have hoped for something like 10/1 on Stybar. But the more I think about it, the 6-7/1 on offer in places is still good value IMO.

Stybar 2pts WIN @7/1 with PaddyPower (would take 6/1 available elsewhere)

I tweeted these two out yesterday after prices were released but they have subsequently been shortened;

Pinot 0.25pts EW @200/1 with Bet365 (would still take 125/1 with PP or the 100/1 with William Hill)

Reichenbach 0.25pts EW @ 300/1 with Bet365 (would still take the 200/1 with PP or the 150/1 widely available)

I don’t really like any of the H2H available at the moment. Might change my mind later.

 

Once again, thanks for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated. Who do you think will win this incredible race? I’ll be back again tomorrow with a Paris-Nice GC and Stage 1 preview so keep an eye out for them. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Omloop Het Nieuwsblad 2017 Preview

Omloop Het Nieuwsblad 2017 Preview

The start of the season for many fans and probably some riders to boot! The peloton makes its return to the Belgian cobbles for the beginning of the Classics season, kicking off with Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.

Last year saw a group of favourites (Van Avermaet, Rowe, Benoot and Sagan) attack on the Taaienberg with 57.4km to go and long story short, they managed to hold off the chasing bunch with some strong work and co-operation. A special mention must go to morning breakee Alexis Gougeard who drove the front of the break in the closing kilometres ensuring they didn’t get caught when the others started playing games . We then saw an ever so slight uphill sprint to the line and it was Van Avermaet who took the glory!

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The Route

The riders will tackle an almost identical route that we see back in 2016 with the only change being the traditional return of the Molenberg as the final climb.

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Credit to @RickyFilips95  for the above profile, it’s much better than the official one the organisers provide IMO.

The race will follow a normal pattern of an early break escaping up the road before the pace is slowly ramped up over the opening hills and cobbled sections.

Things really get serious on Kruisberg before we often see the first big attacks from the main contenders on the Taaienberg at roughly 55km to go.

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As you can imagine from looking at the profile, the biggest gaps are made on the steep bottom section. It’s interesting to note that Sagan always seems to “struggle” up that part, but then power his way over the flatter second half.

We then have a lot of climbs/cobbles/cobbled climbs in succession over the next 10km, five to be exact. If the lead group really put the hammer down over this section, they can really extend their lead. Likewise, it is the place where those behind may try to jump across the gap.

The final cobbled climb of the race, the Molenberg, comes at just over 40km to go.

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At only 300m long (averaging 8%), it’s not ridiculously tough but gaps can still be made here. Once over the top, the riders have to traverse 3 more cobbled sections and a fairly flat run home. There are some technical sections as they pass through towns and are on small, twisty roads, but that’s what you would expect in this region!

After the success of last year’s finish, the organisers have decided to stick with the slight up hill drag.

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Not the Mur, but it still requires the riders to have some punch left after a long day in the saddle!

So that’s the route covered, but it’s not the only variable that can have an impact on the race. The weather often plays its part here.

Weather Forecast

It doesn’t look as bad as was initially predicted which is a shame for us sitting watching from the warmth of our homes. In fact, there are probably several riders who would have wanted a lot of rain and wind!

With rain looking unlikely apart from a few scattered showers, it will be the wind that may cause some issues for the riders.

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The above forecast is taken from Zottegem, which is roughly in the middle of the route. As you can see, a 20 km/h SSW wind is expected. This could cause some echelons, particularly with the twisting nature of the route where the riders will have to change road position.

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The wind seems to be even stronger as we get closer to Gent. It will be a fast chase home!

Contenders

I’m going to do this differently than normal, structuring this more as I would on a breakaway day where I highlight some riders and talk about them in-depth. The reason for not going through the whole start list is that;

1. Plenty of others will do that so I don’t want to repeat and;

2. Most importantly, I could easily see myself write close to 3,000 words on the nuances and intricacies of favourites/half favourites/no hopers etc and…

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So apologies if I don’t name someone you were hoping for! Right, enough of me beating around the bush…

Zdenek Stybar.

You can’t have a cobbled classic without naming at least one Quick Step rider. Their team for this race is just stupidly strong and you could make arguments for at least 6 of their riders to win this race. Sorry Keisse and Vermote! That strength in-depth can be both a positive and negative as they should in theory always be represented at the front (we’ll just gloss over last year…or the year before that…). Yet, you’re never entirely sure who they’re riding for on the day! Stybar himself has often been the bridesmaid, used as the anchor on a chasing group behind.

The Czech rider is exceptional on cobbles due to his cyclo-cross background and he always seems to be at the pointy end of a race on this terrain. He’s been quiet this season so far but I have been impressed with the glimpses that we have seen of him. Particularly the Mapei-style attack that he was the main driving force behind at the Volta ao Algarve.

He clearly has some good form! Stybar isn’t a slouch either in an uphill sprint so will fancy his chances if it comes down to a select group at the line, like we saw last year. The only issue might be if Van Avermaet and Sagan are there, or my next pick…

Arnaud Démare.

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I’ve talked him up a lot on the blog the past few weeks, but that’s with good reason; he seems to be in scintillating form and has been unlucky not to have notched up a few extra wins by now.

Still only young, the Frenchman has had a very good career so far and is someone who I think is under-rated for what he has achieved. Winning some World Tour races this year will certainly help to change people’s minds!

A sprinter who’s at home on the cobbles and short climbs, he’s finished 10th here twice in the past (2014 and 2015), he just needs some luck to go his way.

Now, I’m not sure if he’ll be able to follow the very best over the likes of the Taaienberg, but he is certainly capable of being in a second group that rejoins the head of the race if those ahead stall at any point.

In an uphill sprint after a tough day he is certainly a big threat.

A repeat of the Binche result from last year wouldn’t go amiss!

Looking at a couple of riders further down the betting order, i.e. proper outsiders, there are a couple I’d like to highlight.

Dylan Van Baarle.

Cycling: 100th Tour of Flanders 2016

Finishing a very credible 6th in Flanders last year after attacking early on in the day, he will be Vanmarcke’s right-hand man here. A real powerful rider who can get over the lumps and bumps, he could well be used as a ploy, attacking off the front of the bunch while Vanmarcke follows the moves behind. Only having competed in one race so far this year on the road, he has been doing a lot of track racing so it will be interesting to see how he copes in a race like this. Will that explosiveness carry over?

Pim Ligthart.

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At a point in his career where he felt like he wanted more leadership opportunities, Lightart has taken the step down from World Tour to Pro Continental to ride for the Roompot team. This is the type of race where he should be given those leadership opportunities. Picking up a second place on a stage in Valenciana highlights his fairly good climbing form, so he should be able to cope with the hills here. Ligthart also possesses a fairly fast sprint so he could win from a small bunch gallop too. Although he will need a lot of luck to go his way!

Prediction

I’m really torn between my two main picks here but I think I’ll go with Stybar as the winner!

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We’ll get a group of around 10 riders escape on the Taainberg, but they’ll slow a little initially, allowing another 10 guys to join from behind. With some co-operation in the group they’ll build up enough of an advantage over the rest of the peloton. From here, we’ll see some attacks in the final 10km. Everyone will be looking at Terpstra as the obvious choice from QS, but instead it will be Stybar who makes the move. He gets joined by a few others (maybe 5 of them in total) and with enough representatives from the group behind involved, they stay away to the end. Stybar then powers away on the final sprint, taking an excellent win!

Betting

0.75pt EW Stybar @25/1 with various bookmakers (I’d take 22/1, even 20/1).

0.75pt EW Demare @33/1 with various bookmakers (would take 28/1)

0.125pt EW Ligthart @ 150/1 with Bet365/Betfair/PP

0.125pt EW Van Baarle @ 125/1 with Bet365.

H2H wise I like the following two;

Ligthart > Kragh Andersen at 5/6 with Bet365. 4.5pts.

I tweeted this one out yesterday when it was at evens and I still like it at the price it is just now, I’d even take it at 4/6, or 1/2 at a stretch. I’m confused as to why it is priced the way it is. Yes, Kragh Andersen took a good win in Oman, but he has no history what so all in these types of races, whereas Ligthart does. I can’t see Andersen dropping Ligthart on any of the climbs, and it should be Ligthart doing the dropping on the cobbles. I like it so much I’m increasing my stake to 4.5pts (from the 3 I initially put on).

Stybar > Boom at 1/2 with William Hill. 2pts.

I think it’s clear to see my love for Stybar with what I’ve written above. Boom has often promised so much on this type of terrain but he’s failed to deliver in the past. The Dutchman did have a good TT in Algarve but I just don’t think he has the quality to match Stybar here. Boom’s performance is still enough to put me off going crazy on this one.

 

Thanks for reading if you managed to get this far and apologies again for not doing a full breakdown of the start list; you can see how much I managed to write for just 4 guys, imagine 20! Any RTs/Shares/any type of feedback is greatly appreciated as always. Who do you think will win? I’m just looking forward to a good race! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

TDF Stage 11 Preview: Carcassonne -> Montpellier

Today’s Recap

The crossbar was hit today!

A very strong break got away that included representatives from the main sprint teams (only Jumbo, Katusha and Etixx not represented) and with a lack of co-ordination behind, it was never brought back.  I have to be honest, I have no idea what happened before the last 15km as I was away visiting my grandparents, so I can’t say why Nibali/Landa and Co weren’t there at the end.

Anyway, Orica played the numbers game brilliantly with Durbridge pulling into and up the final climb. Once Durbridge started to swing over, one of our picks and predicted break winner Impey attacked. However, Sagan was his usual imperious self and closed him down. This happened a few times. Much to my disgust!

It was probably sour grapes because Impey never got away, but I was irritated by Kirby’s calling of “The old 1-2 tactic”, because it was more of a 1-1-1, the 2 never came. I really thought Sagan would have won the sprint, but fair play to Matthews who powered home excellently. I guess that’s why I’m not a DS and Matt White is!

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Moving onto tomorrow’ stage.

The Route

After the mountain start today, the riders face a much easier start.

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We’ll probably see a 3 to 5 man break get away almost from the gun, with the sprinters teams managing the gap. There are two Cat 4 climbs out on the route to ensure we get some kind of excitement from the break as the riders go for the points (*cough* prize money *cough*).

The stage finale is relatively straight forward too.

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After the organisers throwing in a few turns/roundabouts in the last 1km in previous stages, we look set to get a drag race here.

The road itself kicks up ever so slightly, but nothing that will worry any of the sprinters.

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The main concern within the peloton tomorrow and the thing that could potentially cause havoc is the wind.

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The riders never stray too far from the coast, but the in-land roads they traverse are very exposed. It’s prime wine growing country, there is vine-cover not tree-cover out on the road.

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Wind direction/average speed/gusts (in km/h) at Albine (near the first half of the stage)
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Same statistics for Cournonterral (near the end of the stage)

As you can see above, the wind seems to be at a constant all day. Furthermore, the direction that it’s blowing in is ideal for cross-tailwinds. This is the least favoured type of wind within the peloton because it increases the speed so much and causes a lot of nervousness. This coupled with the long sections of exposed road could lead to some crazy racing.

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Section of road just after Montagnac (around 40km to go), highlighting the exposed roads.

So how will the stage pan out?

Well, that all depends on the attitudes of the sprint and GC teams.

Two big echelon creating powerhouses in the form of Lotto Soudal and Etixx don’t have as many wins as they’d like at this stage. With Lotto winless and Etixx only having Kittel’s win to their name. They will both see this as a big opportunity to try to get rid of some of the other sprinters. Unfortunately for them, a lot of the sprinters are very good at positioning themselves in the wind. Sagan, Cavendish, Kristoff and Groenewegen would all hope to be there. That is of course assuming that the peloton stays at a reasonable size. If the hammer is really put down we could end up with around 20 riders contesting the finish.

We saw on the first stage that Movistar were very keen and proactive at the front of the peloton in the crosswinds. They could try something similar here. The only issue with the GC guys putting the hammer down is that they have a very tough finish up Ventoux the following day and an ITT the next. But if they sense blood then they’ll go for it!

I’m hoping we do get some crosswind action to liven the day up, otherwise it will just be a case of tuning into the final 20km to watch the sprint.

Stage Contenders

If we get a pure bunch sprint then it has to be Cavendish v Kittel. I can’t split them and neither can the bookies, on form I’d go with the Manxman.

I’m not going to bother listing out all of the possible outsiders but there is one rider who’s progression I like during the race, Alexander Kristoff. He came into the Tour a bit undercooked and not in form but seems to be getting there. He finished an impressive 4th on Stage 6. Unfortunately, he has lost a key lead-out man in Morkov, but still has Haller and Guarnieri who can do a very good job. I’d expect him to get onto the podium soon, potentially go better. Tomorrow could be that day.

If we do get some echelon madness, then look to those who go well in Belgian classics/semi-classics where wind plays a big part.

Cancellara is the type of guy who could go well from a 20-man or so group at the end of the stage. He seems to be felling better after the rest-day, which is evident with this poorly worded tweet.

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Belgian Vanmarcke will no doubt be up there if we get some kind of split in the peloton. If his young compatriot Groenewegen hasn’t made the selection, he could well be given the go ahead. It would have to be pretty selective for him but you never know!

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The same can be said for Dylan Van Baarle. He had a solid spring campaign but hasn’t done much here. Cannondale don’t really have a proper sprinter, Navardauskas is the closest they have, so if things get dicey they could turn to Dylan.

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Prediction

It’s more out of hope than anything else, but I think we’ll see some kind of cross wind action tomorrow. Kristoff is very good in these conditions and with his upward trajectory, I think he can nab a stage win. Even if there are no echelons, he can definitely contend the sprint!

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Betting

One main, all types of situation bet plus 3 wind calamity long-shots.

Kristoff 1.1pt EW @18/1 with Skybet (I’d take the 16/1 widely available)

Cancellara 0.2pt EW @250/1 with Betfair (I’d take 200/1)

Vanmarcke 0.1pt EW @400/1 with Betfair (I’d take 300/1)

Van Baarle 0.1pt EW @500/1 with Betfair (I’d take 400/1)

 

Hope you liked the preview, do you think we’ll see echelons tomorrow? It would certainly make better viewing. Any feedback as normal is greatly appreciated. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

TDF Stage 10 Preview: Escaldes-Engordany -> Revel

Rest Day Recap

Stage 9 saw a break make it all the way to the line and we got the battle on two fronts with the GC contenders duking it out behind. It was Tom Dumoulin who took the win up ahead, attacking just before the final climb, not to be seen again. It was a bit of a weird move from his breakaway companions. All of the other moves were marked and closed down, yet the best TTer in the group was allowed to get away. His winning margin was made up on the few kilometres leading up to the climb. That’s not to take anything away from the Dutchman, it was still a great win, especially because he looked to be struggling on the previous climb!

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I’m still confused as to what happened to our pick of Diego Rosa. He looked very strong on that penultimate climb and I was feeling pretty confident going into the last ascent. I went for a drink, which maybe took a minute at most, came back through to where my tv was and he was gone. All of the other riders were there. It was very odd. Anyway, moving on!

Behind, we got a bit of a GC shake up, but nothing crazy. The two big guns came in together, along with Adam Yates. Who’s looked very impressive so far. Dan Martin and Porte trailed in just a couple of seconds behind them. With a group including Mollema and Meintjes not too far down either. The worst off were Aru and Barguil who lost a minute to Froome and Co. Leaving us with a top 20 that looks like this going into the second week.

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Onto tomorrow’s stage then!

The Route

Another tough opener for the riders, starting off with a Cat-1 climb. Anyone who’s not warmed up properly on the rollers could end up in some difficulty!

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It’s important to note that the climb isn’t overly difficult in terms of gradient, it’s just very long!

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Although saying that, the second part of the climb is much more difficult than the first. Also, with it being the Souvenir Henri Desgrange, I expect there to be quite the fight to get into the break, especially from the French riders. With there being next to no chance the GC riders will attempt to make any moves on this stage then it won’t be as crazy as Stage 9. Instead, the attention will turn to the sprinters teams to control the break.

Once over the climb it should be fairly easy for them to do so. A long gradual descent and over 100km of flat follow.

The main focal point of the stage is the Cat 3 Côte de Saint-Ferréol that’s located within the final 10km.

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A short but sharp test for the peloton to face, the climb itself is very irregular. Some steep ramps over 11% followed by false flats and even a short descent. This is a lot clearer on the Strava profile which can be viewed here. Credit goes to Arjan who sent me the link to that! You can follow the climb on Google Streetview here as well.

I’ve made a profile of the last 10km on Strava. I personally prefer using it compared to relying 100% on the Tour graphics as they sometimes are a little bit off. Check that out here! I also like being able to scroll over the map and see the altimetry at each certain point etc. Anyway, I digress.

Once over the crest, the riders face a period of “flat” before making a left turn to start the descent. The downhill itself should see a very fast pace in the bunch. There are a few technical turns but more or less it should be taken quickly. In the final 3km the route descends ever so slightly (25m going off of the Strava profile. 0.8% average.) Nothing substantial, but it should ensure that the pace is high.

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That could then be an issue with this roundabout/90° corner combo within the last kilometre. If we do get a sprint, then positioning and lead outs will be key here as the high pace will mean the race will be strung out, but also because the concertina effect could well be evident here. If you’re further down than 10-15th place then you have no chance.

So a sprint finish?

Well, before the Tour I had this marked down as a reduced bunch sprint and that is the most likely outcome on the day. It could be difficult for the pure sprinters such as Kittel and Greipel to make it over the final climb if some of the teams attack it at a fast pace. I would expect Sagan to be there along with Coquard and Matthews.

However, there are several situations that could unfold tomorrow!

Situation 1.

The first of these regards the make-up of the breakaway. I would not be surprised to see a few of the sprinters teams attempt to get a rider into that move, meaning they wouldn’t have to chase behind. I’m not sure how confident Kittel and co will be of making the finish line so I expect some of the following teams to be represented Ettix/Lotto S/Jumbo/DD. If they all make it into the break then it will be down to Orica/Tinkoff/Direct Energie to chase.

Now, Orica are usually very canny in these types of situation. We’ve seen it before at the Giro even when they’ve been in Pink they send someone up the road, so I could envisage them getting someone in the move. It’s all over to Tinkoff/Direct Energie then. Both of the teams would fancy their riders in a reduced bunch sprint but do they put someone in the break, just in case? If they do, then the break makes it all the way.

Situation 2.

Although some of these teams get riders in the breakaway, the likes of Etixx/LS/Movistar want to set an incredibly fast pace on the final climb to get rid of all the “sprinters” and set up the likes of Alaphilippe/Gallopin/Valverde for the stage win.

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Situation 3. 

The climb is taken at a controlled pace because the break has been caught and we see Kittel etc make it over. I think this is very unlikely.

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Situation 4.

The break has been caught, the climb is attacked, reducing down the peloton. However, there is a stall in pace at the top and someone makes an attack that sticks to the finish.

Tirreno Adriatico cycling race

 

I think we can discount situations 2 & 3 as they are the least likely to happen in my opinion. Situations 1 & 4, along with a reduced bunch sprint could all easily happen.

If we get a reduced sprint I’d have to say that Sagan is the favourite for the stage, Coquard to get a podium too. If some of the “heavier” sprinters get dropped, look out for Jens Debuscherre. He might get a chance to sprint if Greipel isn’t there.

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If Situation 1 comes true then it’s another case of the breakaway lottery. As I said above, look to riders from sprint teams such as; Teklehaimanot, Lindeman, Hansen. One rider I like for this situation is Orica’s Daryl Impey. He’s been climbing incredibly well this Tour and has been in the break already. He should have the explosiveness/speed to finish it off.

For a late attacker look towards the likes of Steve Cummings, Adam Hansen or LL Sanchez.

Prediction

Sprint – Sagan Wins

Break – Impey Wins

Late attack – Hansen Wins

Who’ll Revel in stage glory?

Betting

A day not to get heavily involved with. Screams out “in-play” once the Cat 1 climb is covered. Few small break picks for me and then I’ll probably back someone during the stage. If I do, I’ll say so on my Twitter!

0.1pt Outright on the following

Hansen @150/1 with Betfair (I’d take 100/1)

Debuscherre @350/1 with Bet365

Impey @125/1 with PaddyPower (I’d take 80/1)

Vanmarcke @125/1 with various bookmakers

Maté @300/1 with PP (I’d take 200/1)

 

Hope you enjoyed a more “in-depth” preview. I think we could get a few outcomes for tomorrow, what do you think? It will inevitably now be a straightforward sprint stage! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth