Tour de France 2017 Stage 15 Preview; Laissac-Sévérac l’Église -> Le Puy-en-Velay

Today’s Recap

First of all, apologies for no preview yesterday. I felt absolutely shattered and had to have another few hours sleep before work so there was no time to write anything. Feeling a bit better today but still awfully tired, I need this rest day as much as the riders just now!

Today’s stage saw a fairly strong break escape but with BMC and Sunweb not represented and working from the get go, we were always going to get one outcome. Matthews sprinted to a superb victory with van Avermaet following home in second.

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Boasson Hagen rounded out the podium with a fine third place. Rather annoyingly, one of my picks for the day McCarthy flew up the hill, only to finish in 5th. He was out of shot for most of the climb so he’s clearly going well. A case of what could have been, if he was positioned better!

While we’re talking about poor positioning, Aru managed to find himself isolated and towards the back of the peloton at the bottom of the climb and managed to ship 24 seconds to Froome. It’s good in some ways for him as Astana don’t have the team to defend the jersey, but to lose that much time isn’t ideal.

Anyway, let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders tomorrow.

The Route

A stage that looks destined to be fought out between the breakaway.

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With a fairly flat start, I wouldn’t expect the break to form until we hit the first categorised climb of the day. It’s not exactly an easy climb either, as the Montée de Naves d’Aubrac averages 6.4% for 8.9km. Only climbers and very strong all-rounders should be able to make the move here! With that being said, the gradient isn’t too tough, so there is a chance we might see some odd riders up there who are on a good day.

Once over the top, we have a short descent before an inconsequential 3rd Cat climb. From there, the riders will face a long period of flat road before the intermediate sprint and an uncategorised 11km drag at ~3%.

The action part of the stage will most likely be the penultimate climb of the day: the Col de Peyra Taillade.

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The steep ramps will no doubt see a selection made in the breakaway, with the better climbers and those feeling strong pushing on. However, with there still being almost 32km to the line over the summit, it will be interesting to see if those dropped behind get back on, or of those ahead can work together to maintain an advantage.

Either way, it will be a very tactical final 45 minutes of racing as riders will be attacking the group hoping to get a gap. Maybe the Cat-4 could act as a launchpad? Luck and good legs will both play an equal part in it for the day’s winner though!

Breakaway Candidates

I am fairly confident tomorrow will be a breakaway day. In fact, it is probably the most obvious one of the race we’ve had so far. Just waiting for a reduced bunch sprint day to happen now…

There are several usual suspects that you can expect to try to make the move but as that’s no fun (and they’re all terrible odds) I’ll be naming those more eccentric picks who are further down the order.

Tony Martin.

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He had a little hit off the front towards the end of today’s stage, stretching out the bunch so that Lammertink could launch a counter attack. During his “attack” the German looked in complete control and it seemed to be more of a tempo ride than anything else. He always seems to find himself in the breakaway on one mountain stage of a Grand Tour and he has won more testing days than tomorrow; Stage 9 in 2014 is an example of that. Now, I do think he will probably be dropped on the steeper slopes of the penultimate climb, that is unless of course he has attacked solo before. Nonetheless, he can certainly make it back in the remaining time and attack over the top. If he gets a gap, not many will be able to catch him.

Daryl Impey.

One of the riders who I backed for today’s stage (thinking a break might stay away) the South African has been very quiet so far this Tour. Considering how strong he was last year, it is a bit of a surprise to be honest! With Yates not really needing too much support tomorrow, Howson will be able to stay with him anyway, I think Impey might be given a free role. On his day, he can surprise!

Rudy Molard.

With Pinot supposedly suffering from stomach problems, Molard looks like FDJ’s best candidate for a stage like this. Strong on steep climbs, he was close to a win in the Giro but the breakaway he was in were caught 4kms from the line. I backed him then and I’m willing to do so again! He has been quiet since Démare left the race, possibly eyeing up a stage to go on the attack. With a fairly strong kick from a reduced group, he could even win the sprint!

Prediction

Impey to find his 2016 form and take a great win for Orica Scott!

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Betting

I can see Impey and Molard coming to the line for a sprint so they could place, but Martin will have to attack from afar so with that being said;

0.4pt WIN Martin @ 125/1 with Bet365 (would take 100s)

0.4pt EW Impey @ 250/1 with PP/BF who are offering 4 places (would take 150s)

0.4pt EW Molard @ 150/1 with Bet365 (would take 100s)

 

I’m refusing to take any less than 100/1 for a day such as tomorrow!

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

Tour de France 2017 Green Jersey Preview

While a lot of the cycling world bemoans the easier route for this year’s Tour, there is one group of riders who will be happy with the flatter parcours: the sprinters.

The organisers have been kind to the fast men, with there looking to be 7 sprint stages but that could be increased to 9 or even 10 depending on how the peloton attacks the race.

Having won the jersey for the last 5 years in a row, Sagan is the rider to beat.

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Can he make it 6 this season?

First though, let’s have a look at how the points system works.

Scoring Points

The stages are categorised based on their difficulty, with the easier stages awarding more points to the winner at the end of the day.

The following table comes from @searchhhh on the Velorooms forums, that I have tea-leafed because I’m too lazy to make it myself!

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As for which stages fall into each category;

  • Stages 2, 4, 6, 7, 10, 11, 19, 21 are Cat 1, i.e. score maximum points
  • Stages 3, 5 , 8, 14, 15, 16 are Cat 2
  • Stages 1, 9, 12, 13, 17, 18, 20 are Cat 3

With 8 stages that reward 50 points at the line, it is possible for a dominant sprinter to build up a strong points tally. The sprinters will have to come out firing if they want to contest green because half of the “big” sprint stages come in the opening week of racing.

Sagan normally makes his mark by winning the Cat-2 stages and being close on the Cat-1 days. However, this year 3 and 14 look like the only days where we could have a reduced bunch sprint. Stage 5 will be a GC day and so could stage 8, with stage 15 looking like a breakaway day. Furthermore, Stage 16 actually looks like a stage where most of the sprinters could make it to the line as most of the climbing comes in the first half of the day.

Another way that Sagan cements his position in Green is by going on the hunt for the intermediate sprint points during the more rolling stages as his competitors normally can’t follow in the breakaway these days.

Yet, this year the organisers have seemed to “nerf” that aspect of his attack, with having most of the intermediate sprints on flatter parts of the route and before the big obstacles on the day. It’s really only on stages 9/15/17 that they’re in places inaccessible to most sprinters!

Even Stage 9 might be a little hard for Sagan to chase the points…

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Therefore, there is certainly a lot more emphasis on placing highly at the end of stages this year and picking up some minor points at the intermediates to keep the tally ticking over.

Contenders

With all that being said though, Sagan is still the clear favourite for the jersey. He looked lightning fast at the recent Tour de Suisse and he always ups his game in the sprints at the Tour. Even if he doesn’t win any of the flat stages, he’ll no doubt podium in at least 3 of them while picking up top 5s in a lot of the others. That will give him a good base of points to go and pick up some more during Stage 3 etc and some mountain breakaways.

So a rough points total for him could be;

2 Cat-2 wins (60pts), 2 Cat-1 2nds (50pts), 2 Cat-1 3rds (40pts), Top 10s in Cat-1s (~50 – 70pts), Intermediate Sprints (~70 – 100 pts) = 270 -> 320pts as an estimate.

A tough score to beat, but not impossible.

Kittel looks like Sagan’s biggest challenger, on paper anyway. Arguably the fastest sprinter in the world, a lot of these flatter stages will suit the fantastically haired German. His Tour didn’t go to plan last year, only winning one stage in the end. Not great for a man of his abilities. He’ll be hoping to go a lot better this year and that Cavendish arrives undercooked. If so, he could feasibly win 4 of the 8 Cat-1 stages, and get close on some others.

Picking up a few podiums and top 5s on the other stages as well as some intermediate sprint points, he will be there or thereabouts with Sagan’s total. It looks promising for him to launch a proper tilt at the Green Jersey this year.

Marcel-Kittel

And what about Cavendish? He took me and almost everyone else by surprise last year with his dominant performance in the sprints after seemingly coming into the Tour not on great form and possibly past his prime. This year, he faces an even tougher battle after recovering from the Epstein Barr Virus and only returning to racing a couple of weeks ago at the Tour of Slovenia. He only managed a second place there and was OTL at the British Championships (not a great sign but only 12 riders came home in time) so it’s not looking too good for his chances this year. Yet…

Now, you can call me crazy, but I have a feeling he will turn up and will be going well. Dimension Data won’t have wasted a spot for him on their team if he was going to use the first week as training, hoping to pick up a win later on in the race. Furthermore, a telling sign is that they’ve brought a strong lead-out train with them. That train could well be for Boasson Hagen, but it seems a bit over the top if it’s just for him.

On form, Cavendish is as fast as Kittel so he could well repeat last season’s performance and win 4 stages, putting him right in contention for the Green jersey. I’m certainly not ruling him out, that’s for sure.

Greipel will pick up his regular Grand Tour stage but at the Giro he went missing a lot in the sprints so he’ll need to be a lot more consistent to challenge for the jersey and I can’t see that happening.

Arnaud Démare is France’s best hope for a long time to win the Green jersey. He has been exceptional this year and his win at the recent French Nationals was truly dominant. As close to being a tier-1 sprinter without being one, he may well move up the rankings after this Tour. I expect good things from him this race and he is the most likely of all French riders to win a stage. With a team almost 100% focussed around him, the pressure will be on. Will he thrive under that pressure or crumble?

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I can’t really see anyone else being consistent enough to challenge for the jersey.

Groenewegen is a great talent but he has the propensity to be 1st or nowhere at times. A stage win for him would be a great result and that’s certainly a possibility, but to challenge for the jersey will be too tough an ask.

Matthews (as much as I like and rate him), is a poor man’s Sagan for this competition. Not as fast as others on the flat, not a good enough climber to win mountainous breakaway days.

The same can be said for Colbrelli.

Kristoff has been poor this season and his team seems to be against him.

Bouhanni still seems to be suffering from his crash in Yorkshire, possibly a lack of confidence which is surprising for him.

Prediction

Don’t get me wrong, Sagan should win the jersey again. He is fast enough to compete on the flat stages and strong enough to be there at the end when no other sprinters are. However, I just have a feeling that Cavendish will be as electric as he was last year and dominate the flat sprints.

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I expect this to all fall flat on its face when he doesn’t contest the sprint on Stage 2…

Betting

Now, it’s obviously a gamble but hey, that’s what betting is about!

If Cavendish is on fire, his current price is massive. If he is still under the weather, it is grossly under-priced. It would kill me to see him romp away with some stages this year knowing exactly what he did last year. Therefore, I’m willing to take the “gamble” on his form and back him EW for the Green Jersey and almost accept it could be a losing bet.

1pt EW Cavendish for Green Jersey @ 18/1 with Bet365 (and others)

Make sure you get 1/4 odds for 3 places, as some bookies are going 1/3 odds for 2.

Also, as I won’t be putting out any more Tour blogs until the stage 1 preview on Friday, I’ve backed Lotto Jumbo (0.5pt on) for the Team Classification @ 80/1 with Betfair. Would take 66s availalbe elsewhere.

Bit of an outside bet but they have an AG2R of 2013 feel about them where they should have 2 guys near the front of most stages and will be looking for breakaway success too.

Thanks as always for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated. Who do you think will win the Green Jersey? Is Sagan a shoe-in? And have I really lost the plot before the Tour has even started?

I’ll have my “Big fuck off” Giro Rosa guide out tomorrow which I would greatly appreciate if you shared and have a read of! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

Tour de France 2017 – GC Preview

Tour de France 2017 – GC Preview

Well, here we are again. Just over half-way through the season and La Grand Boucle is upon us. The race that your non-cycling friends know about and are somewhat interested in. It’s also the one where you most likely have to explain why Chris Froome isn’t competing in a sprint (we’ll just gloss over stage 11 from last year) or why the peloton have let a group of riders 12 minutes up the road. Firstly though, you will have to explain what a “peloton” is!

Speaking of Froome, the Brit is here to defend his crown and looking to win his fourth title. However, he’ll have to look over his shoulder a lot more this year as there are certainly a few contenders who could knock him from his pedestal…

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Let’s have a quick look at what’s in store for the riders over the next 3 weeks.

The Route

I’m not going to mince my words here, this year’s Tour route is arguably one of the dullest in recent memory. Several long flat sprint stages and only three mountain top finishes, eugh!

However, I’m hoping (probably in vain) that the ASO have pulled a blinder and that the less challenging route will lead to some more aggressive racing. We have seen in the past that ridiculously tough stages often lead to a boring day as too many riders are scared to go too early and run out of steam by the end of the stage.

The opening day’s TT will see some time gaps between the GC favourites but they shouldn’t be too significant, although they could be around 30 seconds or so.

Stage 5 plays host to the first summit finish of the race: La Planche des Belles Filles.

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Having been a stage finish in 2012 and 2014 a lot of the riders will know what to expect. Without any major difficulties in the first two-thirds of the stage it should all come down to the final climb. At 5.9km long and averaging 8.5%, it is tough enough to create some gaps. However, I don’t expect them to be too big between the GC favourites. Will someone who’s lost time in the TT manage to sneak away?

We then have a couple of sprints stages followed by a mountainous double-header before the first rest-day. Stage 8 kind of finishes atop a mountain at Station des Rousses but with 8km from the summit of the climb to the finish line we can’t really call it that! Stage 9 has a flat finish but there are several tough climbs out on the course. Most notably the last climb of the day; the Mont du Chat.

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The toughest climb in France according to some, it played a pivotal part in the recent Dauphiné. While the climb is exceptionally hard, the descent off of it is very technical and it is also a place where riders can attack to try to make some time. They’ll have to hope for a lack of co-operation behind as the 13km to the finish line will seem to take an eternity! With a rest day to come, the riders certainly won’t be holding anything back.

Another two sprint stages will give them time to recover before the second summit finish of the race on stage 12.

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One of the longest stages in the race, it is back loaded with climbing. It could be one of the more exciting stages because depending on the composition of the GC, we could see some early attacks on the Porte de Balès as there are no flat roads for the riders to contend with from kilometre 172.

The organisers have decided to juxtapose the longest mountain stage with the shortest one the following day.

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Seemingly wanting to take a leaf out of the Giro and Vuelta with their explosive/crazy days, I don’t think they’ve managed it. On paper anyway.

First of all, the key to these stages is to finish on a mountain, not have 30km of descending/flat after the summit. Secondly, you have a climb from the gun to try to entice GC men into a very early move and catch those out who’ve not warmed up correctly. The three climbs on the stage are tough enough to cause some chaos, don’t get me wrong, but I can’t help but think if they’d made the stage start or finish on a climb it would be a whole lot better. I hope the riders make the most of it though and produce a very attacking day. For that we need Contador and the Movistar duo to be in contention still at this point.

The GC riders then have 4 days off (including a rest day)  heading into the final week of the Tour. Traditionally packed with mountains, this year’s race is a bit “meh”. Stage 17 is arguably the Queen Stage in my opinion, although it finishes with a descent.

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The Col du Télégraphe / Col du Galibier combination is crazy. Taking the climb as a whole from the foot slopes of the Télégraphe it is ~35km at 5.5%. That’s tough on its own but when you consider the Galibier crests at 2642m then it makes it a whole different ball game. If riders blow up and struggle at altitude, they really could lose a lot of time here. Once over the crest, the riders will descend almost all the way to the finish (28km at -4% avg), although the last 3km are relatively flat. It means we could see a small group come to the line, but I don’t see that happening as I expect the climb and the descent that follows to be tough enough to create gaps.

The following day plays host to the final mountain stage and a summit finish on the Col d’Izoard.

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There’s nothing much to say about this stage really, it is all about the final climb. A last huzzah for the mountain goats to move up on GC before losing time in the TT two days later. Will a rider further down the order be given leeway to take a memorable victory, or will the riders at the top of the GC standings show no mercy and further stamp their dominance on the race?

As for the final GC stage, we have a TT around Marseille on the penultimate day of racing. I’m sure the riders will love the transfer from the South of France all the way to Paris…

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Anyway, the TT is almost pan-flat apart from one short but very steep climb. I knew I recognised the climb from somewhere and it turns out it was used in the final stage of La Provence earlier in the season. However, that day they approached it from the “easier” south side. At the Tour it will be the much harder approach. Sticking out like a sore thumb on the profile, it will certainly hamper the rhythm of the pure TT specialists. Can the climbers gain enough time on those 1.2kms to negate the other 21?

Once the stage is finished we’ll know our GC winner, before we finish with the traditional lap-circuit around the Champs-Élysées on the final day.

GC Battle As A Whole

I’m intrigued to see how the race pans out given the easier parcours compared to previous editions. Fewer mountain top finishes and fewer TT kms, I think the ASO have tried to make the route as anti-Froome as possible and make it a more open race.

In theory, they’ve done that well. There should be smaller time gaps in the TTs due to their shorter nature, although both are pan-flat almost and should suit the specialists. The lack of mountain top finishes should see the climbers closer together because there are less stages where they can drop their rivals and put massive amounts of time into them.

However, the race can definitely favour those willing to take risks. Several of the stages finish with descents off of mountains and I think we’ll see those descents being of almost equal importance to the climbs themselves. Technical descents could see riders lose 20-30 seconds if they’re nervous and if we get bad weather, time gaps could be exacerbated even more. We saw Froome attempting to drop Porte at the recent Dauphiné when coming off the Mont du Chat and I think we’ll see similar moves throughout the race, from riders in or around the top 10.

In trying to make it anti-Froome though, the organisers are playing a risky game because they’ve made it very pro-Sky. If Froome performs like he has in previous seasons and takes Yellow early (on stage 5), then Sky have the strength to be able to control the race for the majority of stages.

GC Contenders

As I’ve already ranted and rambled for a long time, I’ll keep this section “relatively” short. I imagine you will already know a lot about the favourites etc anyway…

Chris Froome.

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The 3-time champion is gunning for his 4th title but he seems to have lost his way this season. Is he on the decline or playing a masterful bluff? He has looked a shadow of his former self lately and most concerningly for him: he’s failed to take a win so far this season. In his past triumphant Tour years he’s managed 5 (2016) / 5 (2015) / 9 (2013) wins (including GC titles) before the start of the race. I think he’s on the decline, but has he realised that and focussed fully on preparing for this race and only this race? Possibly. However, I think it will be hard for him to retain his title but I won’t be surprised if he did! He does have the advantage of having the strongest overall team.

Richie Porte.

Froome’s former team-mate is his biggest threat. The Australian has been on fire this season, winning or challenging for almost every race he’s entered. As I’ve said before, give him a race of 15 minute climbs and you’ll be hard pressed to find someone in the world who can beat him (maybe Dumoulin). There used to be question marks over his ability on the long climbs but he seems to have stepped up in that respect again this season with some big performances. He’ll gain time on his rivals in the TT and more than likely will do on the climbs.

Is he unbeatable? No.

We saw at the Dauphiné that his team is pretty weak and they’ll struggle to protect him in the mountains throughout the race. It’s not so much stages such as the one that finishes on the Izoard that he’ll have problems with. Drop him off at the bottom and he’ll do the rest himself. It’s the days where we have several mountains in quick succession and I am concerned for him on Stage 13.

Nonetheless though, he is the rider to beat this season and that should be no different here.

Nairo Quintana.

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After failing to win the Giro, the Colombian comes here looking for redemption. I have to admit I do have a soft spot for him, although that’s the case for a lot of Colombians, must be something to do with the coffee! I admire a rider that can have a “poor” Tour last year and finish third, while similarly have a terrible Giro this year according to some and finish second. I wish I was that good at something while simultaneously being “rubbish”.

Quintana did look under-cooked at the Giro and I think he had half an eye on the Tour at the time, but like a lot of us, he underestimated how strong Dumoulin was going to be. We could well have been talking about the possibility of him doing the Giro-Tour double.

The route isn’t great for him with a lack of summit finishes, but if he can stay in contention for the final week then he has a great chance to take time on the Galibier and Izoard.

I am concerned though about his level of fatigue though as this is set to be his 4th straight Grand Tour. Maybe he’s got some tips from Adam Hansen?

Alberto Contador.

The most succesful active Grand Tour rider in the peloton, his season has been built around winning the Tour de France. He’s had a string of second places on GC this season, cruelly missing out on Paris-Nice and Andalucia wins by a cumulative margin of 3 seconds. He will no doubt animate the race and it is good to see him enjoying his racing more than when he was at Tinkoff, but I still think he’s past his prime and I can’t see him contending for the win. The same can’t be said for the next rider…

Alejandro Valverde.

Mr Evergreen (not the Green Bullet) as I have decided to call him, has had an astonishing season for a 37-year-old. He’s picked up 3 GC wins this season so far, but they’ve all came in Spain. Finishing 9th at the recent Dauphiné after a month and a half out of racing wasn’t a bad result and he’ll be hoping to have progressed in form since then. This year’s Tour route looks ideal for him and it is crucial for Movistar’s chances to have both him and Quintana in contention going into the last week. He will be close to the podium, but I think he’ll suffer in the final week as he has one eye on the Vuelta where he’ll be outright leader of the team.

Fabio Aru.

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The newly crowned Italian champion has been flying as of late and he will be Astana’s main rider here. According to their press release Fuglsang will be co-leader but I expect he’ll eventually fall by the wayside. However, like Movistar, Astana can benefit massively from having two riders close on GC. They put on an attacking masterclass at the Dauphiné and I expect something similar here. Aru looks back to his 2015 best and after missing the Giro he’ll be wanting to make amends. A podium finish is well within his capabilities and with some luck, he could possibly go a bit better!*

* I am a bit biased though as he is in my season long fantasy team. Think I’ve been brainwashed as well by my neighbours personalised number plate that ends in ARU.

Romain Bardet.

After his spectacular second place last year, the French rider will be hoping for a repeat performance this season. He’s had a relatively quiet season but has been slowly peaking for this race. He’ll love the lack of TT kms (although he’ll still lose plenty of time) and the descents will be to his liking as well. I just don’t think he’ll be up there competing again, and the pressure of being the big French hope might get to him.

Dan Martin.

Another rider who will benefit from the fewer TT kms, he will be looking to improve on his 9th place last year. The route does suit the attacking Irishman who will no doubt squirrel off the front on some stages. His fast sprint could see him pick up some bonus seconds. A dark horse for the podium, I think he’ll fall short.

Esteban Chaves.

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The Smiling Assassin is a rider I’m sure a lot of fans have a soft spot for. Making his Tour debut this year, he returned to racing at the Dauphiné after almost 4 months out with a knee problem. Considering his performances in the Giro and Vuelta last year, if he came into this race fully fit then people would be talking up his chances for the podium Right now he has a question mark beside him, but I think he could surprise again.

If not, team-mate Simon Yates could be Orica’s GC hope. An attacking rider, he will no doubt launch himself off the front on the penultimate climb of a stage, looking to gain time before the final summit. He finished a very respectable 6th at the Vuelta last year but it was a pretty lacklustre field and I’m still not convinced he’s a fully fledged GC rider in a Grand Tour.

Rafal Majka will lead the charge for Bora who look to be trying to win every jersey possible at the race. A quality rider, don’t expect him to see him attacking out of the bunch too much, he’ll just be there in the background, almost anonymously. Free from the shackles of working for another rider, he could well find himself in the top 5 of another GT.

Louis Meintjes a.k.a the ticket collector, will no doubt be seen at the back of the mountain train every time the road goes uphill. A gutsy rider who will hang on for a top 10 at least by the end of the race, I think he might possibly sneak even further up the pecking order.

Ion Izagirre gets his first shot at riding a Grand Tour as leader. A super domestique for Valverde and Quintana in the past, he’s been solid this season but hasn’t set the scene alight. Will he perform consistently throughout the race to be there at the pointy-end come the final week?

Right, I think that’s everyone…

(Yes, I’ve missed out Uran but that’s because I don’t think he’ll be there).

As for an outsider to finish in the top 10, I like the look of Primoz Roglic.

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The Slovenian has upped his game this season and has turned himself into a fully fledged GC rider. An excellent TTer who can also climb well, the lack of mountain top finishes this year will really suit him as the really long climbs are his undoing. The guy can descend as well, rather apt considering his downhill skiing background, which will be very handy during this race.

Watching him fly down the descent during the final TT at Romandie was a thing of beauty. He managed to put 26 seconds into Porte over 11km of descending/flat, it was crazy! It is only his second Grand Tour so there is a chance he’ll be left wanting come the end, but I think he’ll be there fighting for a top 10.

Prediction

Porte will finally shake that “3-week consistency” monkey off his back and take the overall win to continue an unbelievable season!

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With Aru coming second and Quintana third.

Betting

I’m not a huge fan of betting on GC, but I am tempted with something on Aru EW, but I think I’ll wait until after he loses time in the opening TT!

As for now though, I’ve got 2pts on Roglic Top 10 @ 3/1 with Betfred (would take 11/4 that’s available elsewhere)

 

Thanks as always for reading and any feedback as usual is greatly appreciated. Who do you think will win the Tour overall? Will we see any surprises? Or will it be the usual suspects competing for victory? I’ll be back tomorrow with my look at the Green Jersey battle and I promise it will be a lot shorter! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

TDF stage 1 preview: Mont-Saint-Michel -> Utah Beach

This week seems to have dragged on for a while, but the first stage of the Tour is finally upon us! The Yellow Jersey appears to be destined for the shoulders of one of the many sprinters that are here at this race come tomorrow afternoon. But first, let’s take a look at the route the riders will have to traverse.

The Route

Not a challenging parcours in terms of climbing, the opening stage is a fairly flat affair. There are some bumps along the way but nothing overly worrying for the fast men.

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We’ll probably see a slightly tougher than normal fight to get into the morning breakaway with the two categorised climbs coming within the first 40km. The winner of these two climbs will get to pull on the Polka Dot jersey at the end of the day. Expect the usual suspects and teams to go after it.

The main obstacle that the riders will have to face on this stage is the threat of crosswinds.

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With the race never straying far from the coast-line, the action could start soon after the final KOM climb.

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Wind direction/ speed / max gusts (Granville) (All speeds km/h)

The above screenshot is taken from windfinder.com and focusses on the town of Granville which is situated roughly 51km into the stage. The wind direction and speed definitely looks strong enough to create some echelons! The same can be said later on in the stage too, with the following screenshot taken of the town of Lessay, which is 110km into the race.

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If some of the teams decide to put the hammer down then we could see some splits and time-gaps. Although there is a long way to go after this point (just over 75km), the race comes slightly more in land and should benefit from a cross-tailwind, cross-headwind and finally a tailwind coming into the finish at Utah Beach. Any reasonable-sized gaps made earlier in the stage will be very hard to bring back!

Stage Contenders

If it comes down to a fair sprint then there really are only two contenders; Marcel Kittel and Andre Greipel. They are quite evenly matched in this type of finish but I’d have to give Kittel the edge, and he is rightly the favourite for the stage. If Greipel wants to beat his countryman then he’ll have to start his sprint ahead of him. This is certainly possible as Greipel has the best lead out train in the race in my opinion!

Who will try to split the race?

Some of the GC teams (Sky, Tinkoff etc) will give it a shot, but annoyingly for some of the other sprinters Etixx and Lotto Soudal are capable of doing some damage as well. So there is a very good chance that they’ll be around at the end no matter what. More than likely, the rest of the sprinters will probably be fighting for third place.

However, with this being the first stage the usual peloton nervousness will be exacerbated by the potential tricky conditions and I think we’ll see some unfortunate crashes and possibly some GC/sprint casualties. Therefore, I don’t think we’ll get a full sprint at the end of the stage. It could very much be like stage 2 from last years Tour, where only 24 riders finished within 15 seconds of the winner on that day, Andre Greipel.

The numbers and composition of that group, who knows?!

There are two riders who if the race gets tough that I’d like to highlight. First up is Fabian Cancellara.

Challenge Mallorca - Day 3

The Swiss rider is about to start his final ever Tour de France and after missing out on wearing the Maglia Rosa at the Giro, he’ll be incredibly fired up here to make amends. He managed to sprint for third on last years wind-affected stage, pipping Mark Cavendish on the line. If the group gets whittled down to round 15 riders, he is a definite danger man.

The other rider is his team-mate and Tour debutant, Edward Theuns.

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Making the step up to World Tour level this year, the Belgian has delivered some good results this year, finally getting his first win for Trek at the Baloise Belgium Tour. A rider not afraid of wind (and rain), he’ll definitely be one of the fastest riders left in a reduced group. After all, he came 4th at Scheldeprijs (A.K.A The Sprinters World Championships) so is no slouch.

Prediction

It’s the boring and simple pick, but I can’t really see past a Marcel Kittel win here. He’s the fastest man in the world, and now riding for Etixx (arguably the best echelon creating team) they’ll be able to safeguard him in the bad conditions.

marcel-kittel-giro-ditalia-nijmegen_3462266

However, there is a slight chance that there is absolute carnage out on the road tomorrow and if that’s the case then look to Cancellara or Theuns to possibly sneak on the podium or even better.

Betting

This really should be a no bet stage. I personally have money on Kittel at 9/4 from pre-Giro, however those odds are long gone and I can’t recommend him at the price he is just now (around evens) in a race that could be wild.

Just because I’ve mentioned them as possibilities if things do get crazy, I’m going to put a little fun stake (0.1pt EW) on Cancellara and Theuns.

Cancellara @ 300/1 (Betfred or Totesport) or 250/1 with Skybet.

Theuns @ 400/1 (Paddy Power).

 

Hopefully we do get some crosswind action to make the stage more exciting, otherwise it will be a dull and long day until the final 20km. Enjoy the race wherever you’re watching it from! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

Tour de France – KOM Preview

Tour de France – KOM Preview

Much like the sprinters and their Green jersey competition, the King of the Mountains classifications offers the climbers who aren’t going for GC a chance to win a jersey.*

*Although, Chris Froome did win it last year.

How does it work?

Like the stages being classified going on the difficulty of them, climbs are categorised in a similar fashion.

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Table showing the points break-down over each summit

The harder the climb, the more points available. Simple!

It’s also important to note that points on a summit finished are doubled. For example, the winner of stage 12 up Mont Ventoux will score 50 points.

What type of rider will win it?

Like I said above, it is traditionally a climber a who goes in breakaways and is no real threat on GC that wins the jersey. For example, Mikel Nieve started to mount a serious charge for the KOM jersey at the Giro after being in the break of the day on stage 13. This kind of highlights the weird nature of the KOM jersey as any real tilt at the title isn’t made until the second half of the race.

In the table below I’ve highlighted the maximum amount of points available out on the road.

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After Froome winning last year, the organisers seem to have reduced the number of summit finishes. Hoping to favour the non-GC guys.

Stages 8 and 9 offer a lot of points out on the road, but for any half-decent climber to make the break on these stages they’ll have had to lose time in the previous days. How will that happen? Well, there might be splits due to echelons in the first few stages, an unfortunate crash, or they might just lose time deliberately to hunt for stages/the KOM later in the race.

Similarly, some of the stages in the final week offer a lot of points out on the road. These will be crucial in shaping the KOM jersey. You probably need to make the break on stage 15 and 19 to be in with a chance.

One of the major deciding factors for where the jersey will end up are those 76 points that can be won in the final 20km of stages. It really depends on how the GC guys ride these stages. For example, stages 7, 8 and 15 all have a Cat-1 climb before a descent to the finish. Will the GC guys try to put their rivals in trouble here, or be happy to let the break go. The honest answer is I don’t know. It’s too far ahead to predict how the race will be poised at that stage. I would think at least two of those stages will go to the break, the same can be said for stage 20. Therefore, I do think this years KOM jersey will be won by a non-GC rider.

But who you say?

Let me just have a look…

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Firstly, I think we can discount any Team Sky rider. They’ll be all in for Froome.

Secondly, you have to be a good climber to win the jersey, but also be relatively attacking and opportunistic. This gets rid of a large chunk of the peloton.

However, from the outset we’re probably left with around 40 riders who could feasibly win the jersey if circumstances went their way. So like stage picks for breakaway days. I’ll narrow it down to three riders (of varying odds) who could give it a crack.

Ruben Plaza. 

Tour de France - Stage 16

The veteran Spaniard (who now rides for Orica) has become a bit famous for his long-range solo attacks on mountain stages. He won a stage at both the Tour (picture above) and the Vuelta last year. Supporting Chaves at the Giro in May, he rode very strongly when called upon and impressed me. Here at the Tour, Orica don’t really come with any GC aspirations so their climbers will be given free roles. I would not be surprised to see Plaza lose time during the first week to be given freedom later in the race. I’m sure we’ll see him in a few breakaways! If he gets near the lead of the jersey then he’s the type of rider to keep fighting for it.

Arnold Jeannesson.

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He had a very good start to the year with 11th on GC at Paris Nice and 4th on GC at Critérium International, highlighting that he can climb with the best. Since then, he’s been a bit off the boil. Cofidis’ main GC rider will be Navarro so I expect Jeannesson to be given free rein in the mountains to hunt stages or the KOM jersey. It would be great for the Pro Conti team to end up with a jersey at the end of the Tour.

Tanel Kangert.

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A very solid and reliable rider, Kangert seems to have re-found his form this year, finishing 2nd at the Giro del Trentino. He put in a solid bit of team-work for Nibali at the Giro but hasn’t raced since. He’s one of those riders at Astana who could be given a bit of a Carte Blanche in this race. He’ll be tough to beat if he makes the right break.

Prediction

As I’ve said earlier in this preview, this jersey is incredibly tough to make a pre-race prediction for. However, it would be dull if I didn’t stick my neck on the line and make a prediction.

I do lean towards it being a non-GC rider and I’ll go with someone who I guarantee will make the beak on a few occasions this Tour. Ruben Plaza will be the King of the Mountains.

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Betting

One of the more fun markets to have a bet on. I’m going to back the three of my selections here to keep me interested over the three weeks.

Plaza 0.3pt EW @ 50/1 available with various bookmakers, Ladbrokes/PaddyPower etc

Jeannesson 0.1pt EW @ 200/1 with various bookmakers, Paddy Power/Betfair etc.

Kangert 0.1pt EW @ 300/1 with various bookmakers, Bet365/PaddyPower etc.

 

Hope you enjoyed my interpretation of how the KOM jersey will pan out this year. What are your thoughts? I should have a Young Rider (and other) preview out tomorrow. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Tour de France – Green Jersey Preview

Tour de France – Green Jersey Preview

With the GC candidates getting to fight it out for the Maillot Jaune, the sprinters get to challenge for the Maillot Vert. Points are awarded to the winner of the stage, along with the top 15 on that day. The person with the most points at the end of the Tour is the winner. Simple!

How are points awarded?

The stages are classified into the following categories;

  • Class 1 (“No particular difficulty”)
  • Class 2 (“Hilly stage”)
  • Class 3 (“Very hilly stage”)
  • Class 4 (“Mountain stage”)
  • Class 5 (“Toughest mountain stages”)
  • Class 6 (ITT)
  • Class 7 (MTT)
Screen Shot 2016-06-27 at 20.19.01
Stage classifications (Screenshot from the Race Regulations)

As you can see above there are a lot of Class 1 stages, 9 to be exact. These stages garner the most points for the Green jersey, with 50 points available to the winner of the stage.

Class 2&3 give out a mid-range amount of points, with the remaining classes giving out the lowest.

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Table highlighting the amount of points available.

Intermediate sprint points also contribute to the Green jersey competition, using the same points system as the lowest stage classification. Therefore, theoretically the maximum amount of points a rider can get on one stage is 70.

Seems pretty straight forward, doesn’t it?

Well, not all of the Class 1 stages are what I’d call proper, flat sprints. That’s either because they have a tough climb close to the end (i.e. stage 2), or there is a drag up to the finish. This will reduce the winner candidates on those stages and in my opinion reduce the chances of one fantastically haired German for the Jersey.

Without giving too much away for my more detailed stage previews that will follow, I only make stages 1/6/11/14/21 traditional flat or flat-ish sprints. The others all have some kind of kink or difficulty. Anyway, enough about the points system and stages, onto the contenders!

Five in a row for the defending champion? 

In short, most likely!

Sagan has been dominant in this competition over the past few years and I expect more of the same this year. Barring any accident or illness he should retain his crown. However, there will be others keen to impress and I think this could be one of the closest green jersey competitions for a while. When I say close, someone might get within 50 points of him!

Let’s start with the two German powerhouses.

Marcel Kittel. 

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Arguably the fastest man in the world right now, he’ll be targeting several stage wins during the Tour. Especially book-ending it with wins on the opening and closing stages. It’s important to note that whatever sprinter wins stage 1 will wear the Maillot Jaune. An extra incentive if it was ever needed! Kittel will hope for a repeat of the Giro where he was unbeatable over the first few sprint stages. I think he’ll come away with 2 or 3 stage wins at most, but that won’t be enough for him to win the jersey. Furthermore, he was dealt a confidence blow at the German National Championships, losing to Greipel in a sprint.

Andre Greipel.

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The Gorilla had an incredible Tour last year, winning 4 stages. He might not be as dominant but he should definitely win at least 2. He’s the only guy who can really challenge Kittel for out and out power, but he can also cope well on drags up to the line. As was proven with his incredible win on Stage 5 at this years Giro. I think he is more likely to challenge for the Green jersey over Kittel and would have him second favourite. His lead-out here looks very solid!

Away from those two, Bouhanni, Cavendish and Kristoff will hope to get involved in the mix. The Frenchman is the most likely out the trio to go well, but he’s flattered to deceive this year, going well at some races but being incredibly inconsistent.

Youngsters Theuns, Bennett and Groenewegen will hope to podium during one of the stages, anything better would be a dream. The young Dutchman looks the most likely.

It would be nice to see John Degenkolb get involved, but unfortunately he still hasn’t recovered fully from the horrible accident earlier in the year.

Aside from “pure” sprinters, there are those who can handle a hilly parcours fairly well.

Michael Matthews is one of those. The Australian has been touted as one of the rider’s of his generation and it’s not hard to see why. He seems to be able to do almost anything. He’ll hope to get a stage win, possibly on stage 2 and take the yellow jersey. However, I don’t really think he’ll be as interested on the flat stages to go for the Green Jersey.

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One rider who I think will get involved on the flat stages and really go for the green jersey is Bryan Coquard. The mercurial Frenchman has had his best season so far, winning 12 races (if you include a GC win)! Admittedly they have been in lower tiered races but as they say, you can only beat who’s in front of you.

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Some will suggest that he doesn’t have the top end speed required to challenge the big boys. If you’re one of those people, I suggest re-watching the final sprint of last years Tour. At this years edition he’ll be accompanied by his trusted lead-out man: Adrien Petit. They’ve made a great pairing this year and Petit seems to know the exact moment when to deliver Coquard to the front. Furthermore, he’ll enjoy some of the aforementioned “sprint” stages where there is a drag up to the line. These efforts really are his forte.

Prediction

It will be incredibly difficult to topple Sagan from his pedestal and he is the most likely winner of the competition.

However, professional cycling can throw up a few surprises and I think his two most likely challengers will be Greipel and Coquard. The German has the best lead-out train at the race and should dominate the flat/power sprints. Coquard on the other hand will hope for top 5s on the really flat stages and pick up points on those Class 1 stages that head upwards in the final Km. For the fun of it, I’ll say the Coq will come first and win the jersey!

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(Although I really think Sagan will retain his crown, I do expect those three riders to make up the podium).

Betting

I think there’s some value in backing my two outsiders EW for the title. You can get;

Greipel @ 9/1 with Betway. 1pt EW. (I’d take the 8/1 available with other bookmakers)

and

Coquard @ 20/1 with William Hill. 0.5pt EW.

 

Hope you enjoyed this Green jersey preview, I will be back tomorrow with a look at the KOM competition! As usual, any feedback is greatly appreciated 🙂 Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

Tour de France – GC Preview

Tour de France – GC Preview

I find it quite hard to believe that cycling’s flagship event has snuck up like it has, but here we are at the end of June with the Tour starting this coming weekend. It’s been a fast year!

Like with the Giro, I intend on doing daily previews for each stage along with a Green Jersey preview so I won’t be going into details about the stages here, with this preview focussing solely on the GC candidates.

Who’ll wear the Maillot Jaune on the Champs-Élysses?

⭐️⭐️⭐️

Chris Froome.

Tour_de_France_2015,_groep_gele_trui_(20036329866)_(cropped)

Where best to start than with the reigning champion?  He’s taken a different approach with slightly less race days this year, looking fairly average in the first part of the season. However, he won the Dauphiné and looked back to his strong best only a few weeks ago. The past two times he’s won that race, he’s went on to win the Tour, will history repeat itself? He most definitely has to start as one of the favourites, if not the favourite and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Froome standing on the top step of the podium again. So who’s going to be able to challenge him?

Nairo Quintana.

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Froome’s most likely challenger, the Colombian has impressed me every time he’s raced this season. The reason he came second in the Tour last year to Froome was due to the time he lost in the first week. A couple of the opening stages might be plagued by crosswinds this year, but Quintana was unlucky to lose out in 2015. I don’t expect him to make the same mistake this year. In the final week of the Tour I don’t think Froome will be able to stay with him, it’s just a matter whether he’s chasing time or defending.

⭐️⭐️🌛 (No half star so a moon will do!)

Alberto Contador.

Tirreno Adriatico - Day Four

Years gone by El Pistolero would be up there with Quintana and Froome, but I think they just have a bit more in the bag than him. Saying that, he’s not a rider that they’ll want to give much leeway to. He’s a fighter with a never say die attitude and will keep going until the end. I’m looking forward to one of his trademark long-range attacks on a mountain stage. He’s had a very good season so far but was off the boil a bit at the Dauphiné, but then again, he never goes well there!

⭐️⭐️

Thibaut Pinot.

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The Frenchman has had his best season so far and it really has been a coming of age year. I expect the Tour to be the same for him. On his day he can climb with the best in the world and his TT abilities have progressed greatly this year! He is a definite podium contender if the others slip up.

Fabio Aru.

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Not the best of seasons for the Italian who has failed to impress so far this year, with his best GC result being 6th at Valencia way back in February. However, he should not be discounted and has been gearing up for this race all season, with it being his primary objective. It’s his first Tour appearance and he supposedly comes in as sole-leader of the team (I’m not so sure about that). If he’s back to his best, a top 5 is achievable, possibly a podium. Maybe he’s learnt something from the Nibali school of peaking for the main event? Speaking of which…

Vincenzo Nibali.

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Former winner of this race and reigning Giro champion, the Shark is here to “support” Aru but is more than capable of doing his own GC race if his team-mate falters. He’s not raced since his Giro win, instead he’s been away training and recovering for this race. Meaning he should come into this race fresh. The only concern is his lack of race-legs, but he should find them in the first week! Can he pull off a famous and almost unexpected Giro-Tour double? Probably not, but I’ve been wrong before!

Richie Porte.

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The Aussie pushed Froome all the way at the Dauphiné and really should have finished on the podium there. He looks as skinny as ever and is climbing very impressively. The only concern with him is that he has never managed a Grand Tour without having one bad day or bad luck. I’m not sure if I can see that changing here.

⭐️

Below these guys we have a whole host of riders who could challenge but it would take varying and unlikely circumstances for them to do so.

Romain Bardet – 2nd on GC at the Dauphine but lacks a TT. Not convinced he’ll go without a bad day as well.

Tejay van Garderen – Going to Tour de Suisse highlights that he’s 2nd choice for BMC. Showed some solid form in Switzerland but I can’t see him finishing on the podium.

Any of Sky’s plan B/C/D – In theory, Thomas/Landa/Henao could all deliver a GC result but they’re all in for Froome and will only get to shine if Froome retires. By then 2 out of 3 of them will have lost time/saved energy so won’t be able to contend anyway.

Apart from those guys I can’t really see anyone else get close. No doubt Carlton Kirby will get excited about Alaphilippe and the Irish fans will be talking up Martin’s chances but the Tour really is a two-horse race. With the rest of the guys fighting for 3rd.

Prediction

I think this year Nairo Quintana wins. As I’ve mentioned above, the only reason he lost the Tour in 2015 to Froome was due to his time loss in the first week. He was much better in the second half of the race. I expect the same this year but without the time loss in Week 1. No one can match him on the mountains and he has a very strong support team here with him. Not as strong as Team Sky, but they’ll definitely be able to support him deep into the climbs. Another factor that makes me lean towards Quintana is his TTing ability. This used to be one of his poorest qualities as a rider but he’s really improved over the last year or so. Consequently, this negates one of the advantages Froome had over him and in fact, I think the Colombian is the better against the clock now. It all seems fairly elementary to me and I’ll be shouting “QUINTANA! QUINTANA! QUINTANA!” at my TV screen come mid July.

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For what it’s worth I think it goes;

  1. Quintana
  2. Froome
  3. Pinot

Betting

As I said in my Giro preview, I don’t bet on GC until after the first week. Too many things can go wrong and it’s not worth the risk!

Hope you all enjoyed my take on the GC guys, I should have a preview of the Green jersey competition out soon. Any feedback is greatly appreciated as usual! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.