Volta Ciclista a Catalunya 2018 Stage 7 Preview; Barcelona -> Barcelona

Today’s Recap

Well, well, well.

That didn’t go exactly to plan but who cares as Schachmann managed to out-sprint his breakaway companion Rubio for victory. A combination of many different factors saw the two rider break manage to stay away on the reduced stage when it seemed as if everything was against them.

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Behind Bennett sprinted comfortably to third but it was too late. Bora’s lack of work in the last 15km certainly didn’t help the Irishman’s cause!

Could we see a similarly tense stage tomorrow? Let’s have a look at what is in store for them.

The Route

We end the race with the traditional Barcelona stage and it’s Montjuïc climb.

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The day starts off with some rolling roads and a few climbs in the first 50km before another 50km of pretty much transitional roads before we hit the circuit.

BarcaCircuit

The circuit can be split into two parts with a longer opening climb before a shorter, punchier effort in the second half.

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It’s not an overly tough climb but given the pace that they tackle it the gradients will seem a lot more difficult than they appear on paper. Combine that with the fact they do the ascent 8 times in 55kms and you end up with a good amount of climbing metres at the end of the day and a stage that somewhat represents the rolling terrain of the Spring classics.

Once over the top, the riders plunge down a wide, main road at high speeds before the road ramps back up for another 500m or so.

Second Kicker Barca

The riders do make a right hand turn onto the hill so they do lose a bit of their speed but the first 100m or so should be taken with relative ease. However, in the final 400m a rider can bury themselves and use the steeper gradients as a springboard for an attack. We saw this last year where Dan Martin put in a stinging acceleration that only Valverde was able to match.

With only 2.5km of mainly descent to go once they reach the peak of the hill, will anyone be able to bring an attacker back if they have 5 or more seconds?

How will the stage pan out?

Movistar and Valverde have to be very attentive as it is still possible for the likes of Bernal or possibly even Latour to spring a surprise if things get hectic. However, this stage is our current race leader’s bread and butter so it would be a shock to see him lose the race. In fact, he is the favourite for the stage!

Yet, I think there is a chance some further down the order escape in the last lap to take the win.

Again like the past few days, I don’t have a load of time to write this so I’m just going to focus on two riders who I think might have a chance in slightly different situations.

Two’s A Crowd

Marc Soler.

I can see tomorrow being a very attacking and fastly ridden stage just like it was last year. That means we’ll have a lot of tired bodies in the finale, including some of the Movistar riders. Everyone will expect them to work for Valverde and the stage win but attack is the best form of defence, right? Soler has already proven this year how strong he is and with Quintana and Valverde marking any move behind, he might manage to sneak away and take the stage as a reward for his hard work this week.

Bob Jungels.

Since his probing attack on the final climb of stage 5 I’ve had him on my short list for the stage. At the start of the week I think he was still recovering from the illness that plagued his Tirreno. Consequently he finds himself 2’46 down on GC and no real threat. On this stage last year Quick Step were very attacking and I think we’ll see Jungels give it a go at some point. There is no need for Movistar to chase him and if he produces a strong attack, he might just hold on like his team-mate did today. They’ll certainly be full of confidence although that’s not something that QuickStep lack anyway!

Prediction

Jungels to sneak off the front and take the win.

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Or he just puts it in the big chain ring and powers to victory like he did in the Giro!

Betting

1pt EW Jungels @ 50/1

0.5pt WIN Soler @ 80/1

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

Volta Ciclista a Catalunya 2018 Stage 6 Preview; Vielha Val d’Aran -> Torrefarrera

Today’s Recap

The break managed to stay away in the end, but only just. Pantano won the day in a similar vein to the way he won his Tour stage back in 2016, out-sprinting Laengen to the line.

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A fast finishing Mohoric did his best Pibernik impression celebrating as he crossed the line, only to realise that it was just for third place. Oh dear! Valverde came home comfortably in the group to retain his GC lead with only two stages remaining. Let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders tomorrow.

The Route

The riders might be forgiven to think they’re suffering déjà-vu tomorrow as the opening 77kms of the stage are today’s finale but in reverse.

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@LasterketaBurua

With the stage starting off on a climb, expect plenty of riders to be on the rollers beforehand and we could see an explosive early part of the day. Once they hit the peak of the climb the following 30km are all pretty much descent, although the first half is a lot steeper.

At around the 42km mark they’ll start climbing the Coll de Perves.

PervesW

A fairly easy climb it does go up in steps and there are a few kilometres above 6%. It’s too far out for any real drama though. The same can even be said for the Port d’Ager which is the final climb and crests with 70km to go.

A long descent follows with the final 42kms taking place over mostly flat but ever so slightly rolling terrain.

The finish is fairly easy aside from two roundabouts in the closing kilometre. So maybe not that easy after all…

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The road properly narrows down into one lane for the last roundabout so if we get a sprint positioning will be key; once through the turn it will be a straight 300m run for home.

Break or no break? That is the question.

A tough start means that the sprinters will be on the back foot from the gun and their teams really won’t be able to start a chase properly until we finish the categorised climbs for the day. We don’t have many sprinters left here anyway with Bouhanni, Hodeg and Walscheid having already packed up their bags and gone home. Some teams are also lacking in team-mates to control the bunch for their fast men with Bora for example already down to 5 and that includes Bennett.

In my opinion the outcome of tomorrow all comes down to the attitude of one team; Mitchelton Scott.

They’ve shown a keen interest in either chasing down breaks, setting the pace at the front of the bunch on the climbs. In their midst they have Impey who will fancy his chances at getting involved now with the aforementioned riders gone. However, Mitchelton might still think that there will be other riders who are faster than the South African and they won’t want to use up their resources with a tricky final stage on Sunday.

So once again I think we’ll see the breakaway fight it out for stage glory, as long as there is no one dangerous on GC up ahead, although I would be fairly confident in Movistar managing to control the break and keep Valverde in the lead come the end of the day.

Time to play everyone’s favourite game…

TheBreakawayLottery

Lottery Tickets

Tomorrow is a really weird one as given the stage starts on a climb, the break will more than likely be filled with those who are capable when the road goes uphill. Yet, the final 70kms will be less than ideal for a mountain goat so we could see some surprising results. Nonetheless, I think it will be a big move of roughly 18 riders that go so we should see all shapes and sizes up ahead!

Max Schachmann.

With Hodeg no longer in the race Quickstep will most likely be in an attacking mood. Schachmann has shown earlier in the season at the Classic de l’Ardeche and the Drome Classic that he is not afraid of a rolling day in the saddle. A strong rider against the clock, he’s slowly developing into one of the better young rouleurs in the peloton. We saw on Stage 3 that he got involved in the sprint for minor places so he has a reasonable turn of speed.

Rob Power.

Cycling: 12th Strade Bianche 2018 / Men

I’ll give the Mitchelton Scott rider another chance for tomorrow, if they get a rider in the break, the move definitely sticks. Far enough down on GC not to be a threat, he is their most viable option for the break. Power is a strong climber who should be able to follow most on the opening ascents. Will he have the, ahem, power to make an attack in the finale or will he trust his sprint?

Toms Skujins.

Can Trek make it two in a row? With no rider in the top 40 on GC they need to attack like today if they want to get anything out of the race. Skujins has shown already this year that he is not afraid to go on the offensive with a solo win in Trofeo Lloseta Andratx back in January. He’s been near the front on a couple of the stage so far but he is most at home at the head of the race in a break. Like a lot of pro riders this is his “home” race, will that be an advantage?

Nick Schultz.

The ambitious Aussie was ever-present in the breakaways during the Tour of Oman and it’s surprising not to have seen him up the road here so far. A former Tour de l’Avenir stage winner, the Caja rider is hoping to take a step up in level with this season being his second in the pro peloton but also because he completed his first Grand Tour (the Vuelta) in 2017. If he makes the break, he could benefit from the rest of his companions not knowing much about him!

Prediction

Most teams to get a rider in the break and it stays away.

I’ll go with Schachmann to time trial his way to the line!

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Betting

0.5pt WIN Schachmann @ 80/1

0.5pt WIN Skujins @ 40/1

0.25pt WIN Power @ 200/1

0.25pt WIN Schultz @ 200/1

 

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Will the break make it or will we see a bunch gallop to the line? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

Volta Ciclista a Catalunya 2018 Stage 5 Preview; Llívia -> Vielha Val d’Aran

Today’s Recap

Cycling is a sport where 180 guys ride their bikes for 5 hours and in the end, Valverde wins.

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After they messed it up a bit yesterday, Movistar were going to make sure that wasn’t the case today and they rode the final climb of the stage to perfection. We had a flurry out attacks early on but by the time the riders reached the short descent three-quarters up only Quintana, Valverde and Bernal remained. The former acted as one of the best super domestiques in the peloton, setting a strong tempo so that no one could make it back from behind. Bernal attacked around the Flamme Rouge but he only managed to succeed in dropping Quintana and the outcome was inevitable. The Colombians rounded out the podium with Nairo finishing 6 seconds behind the duo; meaning that Valverde holds the GC lead by 19 seconds.

That should be the race wrapped up for him barring any misfortune. Will we see a team try something crazy tomorrow? Let’s have a look at what is in store for them.

The Route

A day that is focussed around three climbs but none of which should cause any major difficulties for the GC riders.

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@LasterketaBurua

Given the slightly downhill start and the high chance that a break will make it all the way tomorrow it might not be until the opening climb that a breakaway manages to escape.

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If so, expect some strong climbers to make the moves on the steeper early slopes. Things to get easier after the first 5km and it becomes more of a power climb from there. Once over the summit, a long 20km descent follows before some valley roads and another climb.

Col de Perves is the sharpest climb of the stage in terms of gradient and with it topping out at 60km to go we might see the breakaway reduced in size at this point. However, it is probably just too far for anyone to try an attack and go on their own so everything will come down to the last climb of the day.

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Averaging 4.5% for 12.2km it is a fairly easy climb in terms of gradient and it only hits 8% as a maximum. Like many of the ascents the peloton has faced in Catalunya this week, the steepest gradients come near the bottom so that is where the stronger climbers will need to make their move. If they leave it too late then a more powerful rider should be able to cope with the less than 4% gradients.

Over the top the riders will have just under 14km of descent until they reach the finish line. It isn’t overly technical to begin with but as we approach our finish town, hairpin binds become more of a regularity.

So who will we see come home at the head of the race? Given Movistar and Valverde’s domination today and his prowess on the downhills, I can’t really see any GC action tomorrow. Instead the breakaway will have the chance to make it all the way to the finish. Looks like we’re playing everyone’s favourite game again…

TheBreakawayLottery

The Breakaway Tickets

Like normal on a stage like this I’ll suggest a few riders who given they actually make the break, might have a chance.

Robert Power.

It was great to see him competing at a high level again during Strade after he’s had a series of setbacks that have hindered his first few years at pro level. One of the best climbers in his age group, he seems to be slowly realising his potential and he has done a lot of work for his team this week, drilling the pace on the climbs. Given that it’s unlikely Yates will try anything tomorrow, it would be nice to see Mitchelton allow Power some freedom.

Jhonatan Narvaez.

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Was on the attack earlier today but his move was ultimately brought back. He then turned his attention to help Jungels and Mas, but still managed to finish strongly. The young Ecuador rider has already had a fairly successful start to his time in the pro peloton with good results in a variety of races. Clearly a capable climber, he’ll hope to be one of the best up ahead.

Floris De Tier.

After a strong start to the year, De Tier will be disappointed to find himself so far back here. He had a good showing in Strade and finished an excellent 5th on the steep cobbled finish in Andalucia. That result in Strade shows that he is more than just a good climber and cope fairly well with a difficult day in the saddle. Why not tomorrow?!

Sergei Chernetckii.

Astana have been fairly disappointing at this race so far with no real meaningful result yet. I imagine they’ll be very keen and active to get in the break tomorrow and Chernetckii is far enough down to be given some freedom by the GC teams. He’s a very hot or cold rider but his performances in the likes of Lombardia highlight he can cope with a profile such as tomorrow’s. He packs a reasonable sprint from a breakaway group too so no one will want to bring him to the line.

Prediction

Breakaway to stick and Rob to Power home…

Cycling: 12th Strade Bianche 2018 / Men

Betting

0.25pt WIN on them all;

Narvaez @ 125/1

Chernetckii @ 200/1

Power @ 200/1 

De Tier @ 300/1

Thanks as always for reading, who do you think will win tomorrow? Will we see the break make it or will it turn into a surprising GC day? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

Volta Ciclista a Catalunya 2018 Stage 4 Preview; Llanars -> La Molina

Today’s Recap

De Gendt does a De Gendt!

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The Belgian breakaway expert attacked from the morning move on the final climb of the day and managed to hold off the chasing pack behind. A counter-attack from some GC riders was caught by the peloton just on the line but Simon Yates and Pinot sprinted from that group to podium places.

The result means that De Gendt is the new race leader as the race heads towards the mountains tomorrow.

The Route

We have the now traditional finish atop La Molina.

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@LasterketaBurua

A stage that is very back-heavy with climbing, it becomes the new Queen stage in that sense after today’s re-routing.

The Coll de Creueta is a long, long climb and is the first HC test of the race. It really depends where you start the official categorisation but the road rises from the feed zone.

Coll_de_la_Creueta_Pobla_de_Lillet_profile
ClimbByBike

According to the profile above, the climb is 20.5km at 5.2% in length and it climbs all the way to 1925m of altitude. It’s actually quite an irregular climb with a kilometre at 9% followed by a kilometre at 3% for example. The steepest 3kms to come at the top and given there are just over 30kms to the finish from the summit, will it entice some attacks?

A long descent is briefly interrupted with a kilometre or so of climbing before the riders once again take the plunge down the valley and head towards the last challenge of the day.

The La Molina climb can be split into two parts; the longer first two-thirds before a short descent and kick up to the finish.

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As a whole it averages 4.5% for 12.2kms but the opening 8.6km average a tougher sounding 6.5%. Nonetheless, it isn’t the most difficult climb when taken in isolation so if teams want to make it difficult for Valverde, then they’ll need to be aggressive on the penultimate climb of the day.

There will be a slight headwind for part of the penultimate climb but fortunately for us the viewers it will be mostly crosswind. Then once we get onto La Molina it will be a cross-tail wind which I’m hoping will make things more exciting!

How will the stage pan out?

It has to be raced aggressively, otherwise Valverde will probably win on La Molina or at the very least podium (gaining more bonus seconds) and he’ll more than likely do the same on Stages 5 and 7 if they make them GC days as well.

The unfortunate thing is that most teams don’t have several GC cards to play but more importantly, Movistar have three themselves!

If an attack does go on the penultimate climb, expect either Valverde, Quintana or Soler to follow. Ideally if you were on another team you would want Quintana as you might fancy your chances in a sprint against him, but then again, it does come after a lot of climbing and the Colombian did look sprightly today.

I think we’ll see an attack go on the penultimate climb and with a rider from each of the big teams (FDJ, Sky, Movistar and Mitchelton) then the move might just well stick. If only two of those teams are represented then I think it will be brought back on the footslopes of La Molina but otherwise it will stay the whole distance.

Team Options

Given how open the race still is, a lot of teams have quite a few guys who are still in contention for the overall.

Movistar: Valverde / Quintana / Soler

Mitchelton: Simon Yates / Haig

FDJ: Pinot / Gaudu / Reichenbach

Sky: Sergio Henao / Bernal

Astana: Bilbao / Hirt

QuickStep: Jungels / Mas

EF Education: Woods / Carthy

UAE: Aru / Martin

Then we have teams where there is only one guy who really will be able to challenge such as Kirby’s favourite buzzword at the moment “Latour”.

In hindsight, taking away Vallter today has made tomorrow a lot more interesting. Or at least in my head it is going to be interesting which inevitably means we’re going to get a dull day of racing where everyone waits for La Molina!

Prediction

An attack goes on the climb of Creueta that destroys the GC group leaving a group of 9 up ahead that includes all three Movistar riders. Once onto the descent and the footslopes of La Molina the gap continues to grow to those behind as the majority of the other teams have riders represented.

We see more constant attacks on La Molina as no one wants to tow Valverde to the sprint but every move is followed by a Movistar rider. Eventually the elastic snaps and we see Quintana, Gaudu, Woods and Valverde escape the group; they are kept on a fairly tight leash but those behind can never close it down fully.

Quintana buries himself in an effort to drive the group and help Valverde take the win but he is caught napping by a flying Canadian who shows that same explosive kick he had in the Vuelta last year, attacking early in the final 500m to take the win. Valverde nearly catches him on the line but it is too late, however, the bonus seconds are enough to see him move back into the GC lead!

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  1. Woods
  2. Valverde
  3. Gaudu

Heard it here first…

Betting

1pt EW Woods at 22/1 (Would take down to 14/1)

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Will we see an exciting and explosive stage or will it all come down to La Molina? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

Volta Ciclista a Catalunya 2018 Stage 3 Preview; Sant Cugat -> Camprodon

Today’s Recap

Not as an explosive day as it could have been as the wind decided to not play ball. Instead, it was a long afternoon in the saddle for the riders as they headed towards Valls. A combination of Movistar and Mitchelton Scott pulling the front of the race on the final climb saw a fair amount of riders distance with only 90 or so guys heading to the sprint together.

For a while it looked as if blog pick McCarthy was going to take it but he was out of position with 600m to go and working to regain those lost positions eventually cost him when he opened up the sprint. Impey looked like he then had it but as night follows day, it was Valverde who took home the win!

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The result puts him in the GC lead ahead of tomorrow’s stage so let’s have a look at what is in store for them.

The Route

Well, it was nice of the organisers to change the route at just after 6pm UK time. Bit annoying as I had the majority of this wrote for the original stage route but oh well, at least it is better than them cancelling/changing the stage in the morning.

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@LasterketaBurua

 

So apologies if this preview is a bit more blunt than normal but I don’t really have the time to re-write everything in massive detail and at the time of writing now I’m going off of limited info.

Bracons500

The Cat-1 climb of Bracons is fairly tough, especially in the closing 5kms but it comes too far from the end of stage to be of any real impact.

Port de Collabos is pretty much just an extended version of what we had at the end of today’s stage with a manageable average gradient of 5.3%. However, it is the 7.3km in length that might see the end of more riders than today.

Once over the crest though the road continually rises though, although it is pretty much false flat, all the way to the finish line. There is a bit of confusion as to where the exact finish line is and I’m really struggling to see anything on a very grainy picture that is floating around on Twitter. I trust the judgement of Ricky and Raffele though from LasterketaBurua who say the following…

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Which would then make the final 1.5km look something like this on the road…

Screen Shot 2018-03-20 at 19.30.31

download (3)

700m at 6.6% to act as a launchpad before a very quick final kilometre and fast sprint to the finish.

Contenders.

Valverde.

Well, that’s that done…

In all seriousness though Movistar have the firepower to try to keep control of the race in the closing stages and we all know what Valverde is like on these types of finishes. However, there is a chance for other teams but they need to be bold and go early. If they can get rid of as many Movistar domestiques as possible on the Collabos climb then attacks have to fly over the remaining 13km to try and wear the strong Spanish outfit down even more. The unfortunate outcome with that situation is that Movistar can just counter it by sending Valverde/Quintana/Soler into any dangerous move that tries to go.

I’ll throw a few names into the hat here to look out for.

Visconti.

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Was climbing well in Strade and he won’t be seen as a massive threat for the overall. He does pack a bit of a punch in a small finish so he might fancy his chances in a splinter group that forms at the head of the race.

Mühlberger.

McCarthy will hope to hold on for Bora but they do have another option in the shape of the strong Austrian. He’s raced sparingly so far this season but he has impressed on almost every occasion. An attacking rider, we might see the Austrian champions stripes at the head of the race in the finale.

Bilbao.

Why not make it two previews in a row that I mention the Astana rider?! The longer climb beforehand should see more of the fast men distanced and in theory that makes it easier for him in the sprint. Astana should have Chernetckii, Hirt and Bilbao at least in the front group so I can see them being aggressive in their tactics. I’ve stated numerous times before that the little Spaniard packs a good kick, time for him to deliver?

We could also see a breakaway make it all the way to the line but given the easier stage I think a few teams will fancy their chances in a sprint. Movistar will no doubt want to keep things close for Valverde to try to gain more bonus seconds.

Prediction

I really should say Valverde here but I think we’ll see some attacking racing on that plateau after the final categorised climb and a small group will escape as long as it features at least one Movistar and Mitchelton rider.

In the end we’ll see a surprise victory from Mühlberger!

Gregor-Muhlberger

Or Valverde wins as usual. That’s what is going to happen, isn’t it?

Betting

0.5pt EW on;

Muhlberger @ 125/1

Bilbao @ 66/1

Thanks as always for reading and once again apologies for the slightly shorter preview but I’m lacking the time to re-write everything fully. Who do you think will win? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

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

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

Today’s Recap

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

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

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

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

The Route

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

Screen Shot 2018-03-19 at 17.13.07
@LasterketaBurua

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

Illa

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

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

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

stage-2-finish (2)

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

How will the stage pan out?

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

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

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

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

Contenders

Alejandro Valverde.

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

Jay McCarthy.

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

Daryl Impey.

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

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

Matej Mohoric.

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

Pello Bilbao.

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

Arthur Vichot.

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

Prediction

Easy…

Jay McCarthy wins.

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

Betting

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

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Volta Catalunya 2017 Stage 7 Preview; Barcelona -> Barcelona

*Apologies in advance, this preview has taken the brunt of me trying to do 3 in a day so it’s fairly short and sweet!*

Today’s Recap

Can I claim that it was kind of a breakaway day? Even I think I would be pushing my luck with that one!

We had a really exciting day of which the exciting part was not televised. The peloton splintered after around 40km of racing with a group of 50 riders ahead, but second placed Froome in the group behind. The gap hovered at around a minute for a long time but the elastic eventually snapped and the Froome group rolled in 26 minutes down!

It was Daryl Impey who won the stage in a reduced bunch sprint, ahead of Valverde and Vichot.

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Will this have an impact on tomorrow? Let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders.

The Route

We finish the race with the traditional circuit around Barcelona.

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@LasterketaBurua

This stage is all about the circuit, the opening Cat 2 climb is inconsequential!

The Alt de Montjuic on its own isn’t too difficult, but when it’s repeated 8 times over 50km then it certainly takes its toll.

I’ve made a Strava profile of the final circuit that you can view here.

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Like always with Strava profiles, you can smooth out the sudden peaks, but you get a good idea from it anyway!

The riders will mainly be either climbing or descending for the majority of the circuit so it’s a route that really favours the puncheurs. The second little kick on the course averages roughly 5.9% for 700m. So a split can be made here before the down-hill run to the line.

Last year’s race was very attacking, but that was due to the time gaps between the favourites being minimal. This year we have larger gaps but that still doesn’t mean it won’t be an attacking race!

Saying that though, Valverde is the best one-day racer out of the GC riders and he’s in the lead so it will be very hard for any one to beat him.

Contenders

I think we’ll see something similar to last year where some strong one-day racers take the stage, while the GC riders mark each other behind. So I’ll through two names into the hat for that situation.

*Thankfully I didn’t start this section before today’s coverage as there were a few riders I wanted to include who were too close on GC, but now they’re not!*

Jarlinson Pantano.

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The Colombian has been a great domestique for Contador this race but was caught up behind the split today. He’s now way out of contention and with his team-leader more than likely settling for 2nd on GC (after today’s failed probing attack), Pantano may be given the nod to chase the stage. Currently in exceptional form, he has a good chance of going better than the third place last year!

Geraint Thomas.

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After their truly disastrous stage today, Sky will approach tomorrow in a typically bullish way. They’re a bit short in numbers but Thomas  is a great candidate for the stage. He is clearly in great form just now, although admitted he felt poor on the stage to Lo Port. If he has recovered from that blip, then the final circuit should be suited to his abilities. With a gap, he could be tough to bring back!

A few other outsiders I think could go well are Davide Villella and Ondrej Cink, but it will be tough to beat the other two!

Prediction

If you’ve followed this blog for a while, you will know I love a tenuous reason to help my selections…

Pantano to win in front of his mum who’s following the race, and go better than he did last year!

Betting

(All B365)

0.6pt WIN Pantano @ 20/1

0.6pt WIN Thomas @ 15/1

0.15pt WIN Villella @ 66/1

0.15pt WIN Cink @ 150/1

 

Thanks for reading and apologies again for this being shorter than normal. As much as I enjoy writing about the sport; trying to combine writing 3 normal length previews on a Saturday and have some time to socialise is too much!

I might have something out for De Panne or Limburg, but if not it will be Flanders that I’ll be back for next weekend! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

Volta Catalunya Stage 6 Preview; Tortosa -> Reus

Today’s Recap

I should never have doubted him for a minute!

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Valverde won the stage easily, ahead of Froome and Contador. With the stage win and his 21 second gap back to the Brit, the GC battle is well and truly over for the week. Let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders tomorrow.

The Route

Another rolling day in the saddle. What else can do the riders expect in this region though?!

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@LasterketaBurua

After a few kilometres of flat right from the gun, the riders will then face the long and gradual Cat3 ascent of the Alt de Bot. This certainly looks a good place for a breakaway to be let go, but considering that everyone knows that it typically won’t be! Instead, it might be the rolling terrain afterwards and around the 4okm at Gandesa where the correct group of riders are finally let go.

More, you guessed it, rolling terrain follows. Before we have three categorised climbs in quick succession. None is tough enough to cause splits in the peloton, but they could do some damage to the break. Especially if there are some riders up the road who don’t want to have a sprint at the end of the day.

We have a descent almost all the way to the line once they have traversed the plateau after of the final climb, although admittedly, some of the descending is more false flat than downhill.

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The road does rise up in the final few kilometres but it averages over just 1% for the last 2km so nothing too serious. We do have a roundabout at 500m to go which could be used as a ploy for a late attack from the break.

How will the stage pan out?

I think you’ve guessed it by now…

Nestle Breakaway Milk Chocolate Biscuit 8 Pack 152G

Contenders

Names in a hat? As long as they are no threat on GC Movistar will be happy to let them go. That pretty much means anyone outside the top 20 so we have a lot of riders to choose from! Once again, I’ll suggest a few names that might give it a go.

Xandro Meurisse. 

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The Wanty rider seems to be plodding along quite nicely in this race and is climbing as well as I have seen for a while. Traditionally more of a puncheur, he only finished 15 seconds behind Van Garderen on today’s summit finish. If he gets in the break and can cope with any attacks on the final climb, he has a good chance of winning a sprint!

Peter Kennaugh.

I highlighted him on stage 1 and he did the preview justice on a day I was completely wrong, by giving it a little nudge off the front. He lost 5 minutes today, but considering he was one of the last Sky riders in the front group on Stage 3 I doubt that those losses will be due to bad form. Saving himself for tomorrow?

Gianluca Brambilla.

The Italian was suffering from illness not that long ago, but he’s still racing here which makes me think that he’s now over his bug. He made the break on stage 3 but dropped back to the peloton, but I think that was because teams were still unsure if he was a threat on GC. Or, maybe he is still ill! Nonetheless, he is way out of contention now and the final climb and finish suit him perfectly if he’s back to full fitness. That’s a big if, but it’s a risk I’m willing to take!

Lachlan Morton.

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Morton has had a quiet time of it so far this race, but he has been industrious at the front of the peloton when needed. Namely, doing work for Sbaragli on stages 1 and 4. The Aussie is a very solid climber, finishing 7th on the Green Mountain earlier this year in Oman. With no GC hopes, Dimension Data will be chasing stages and Morton may well be that man!

Prediction

He looked good on Stage 3 and should survive the climb if he’s in the break. If he’s not and we for some reason get a reduced peloton fighting out the stage win, he could well attack once again in the closing kilometres.

Peter “what’s the women’s Giro” Kennaugh to win!

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Betting

Another day I don’t want to get overly involved with but I am most confident in Kennaugh so he gets the majority of the backing!

All B365.

0.7pt WIN Kennaugh @ 25/1

0.3pt WIN Brambilla @ 18/1 

0.25pt WIN Morton @ 250/1

0.25pt WIN Meurisse @ 80/1

 

Thanks for reading as always! Who do you think will win? Tomorrow will be a big day of previews with my final stage preview for this race, but also previews for the men’s and women’s Gent-Wevelgem. I hope you’ll be able to read them all! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Volta Catalunya 2017 Stage 5 Preview; Valls -> Lo Port (Tortosa)

Today’s Recap

The opening 50km was chalked off due to bad weather so we had a shortened stage. There were some probing attacks on the final climb but it did end up coming down to a sprint. Nacer Bouhanni managed to haul himself over the rise and duly won the stage with ease!

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Stage one winner Cimolai finished second this time, with Impey rounding out the podium. Let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders tomorrow.

The Route

Flat -> hill -> smaller hill -> BIG hill.

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Source: @LasterketaBurua

A relatively easy day out in the saddle apart from the final 20km. Even the Cat-2 climb is simple in comparison to some of the other climbs we get in this region. The only reason it’s probably categorised so highly is due to its length, with an average gradient of 2.8% it is certainly not steep!

Tomorrow is all about the final climb.

If you take into account the build up to the official start of the ascent it is actually 13.3km long at 7%. However, the official profile would lead you to believe that the climb is only 8.4km at 8.8% average.

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A very tough end to the day and we could and more than likely will see some large gaps between some of the GC riders. Although we could see a case of riders marking each other out of it, but I fully expect some of the teams to attack it hard from the bottom (Sky, Movistar & Trek) leaving a select group of favourites near the front. From there, not only who’s the strongest on the day, but team tactics will also be important.

Will they be fighting for the win though?

How will the stage pan out?

Normally this would be a GC day 100% of the time but last year we saw a break make it all the way to the line. Could that happen again?

Probably not.

There will be enough interest behind to chase for bonus seconds that any break will be nullified. Or at least you would imagine so!

I’m intrigued to see if having team-mates will be of any benefit to the riders here. The finishing climb is a lot like Terminillo (that we saw in Tirreno recently) so it could be a case of strongest on the day wins. However, if a team has a few good climbers they can always send one up the road and sit back to mark attacks from behind, a la Contador and Mollema in Abu Dhabi. Equally, we could easily just see a big battle between the favourites, which is what I think is most likely to happen.

Contenders

If we do get a massive GC blowout, there are only 4 riders who can win this stage in my opinion.

Alberto Contador.

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El Pistolero was incredibly unlucky in Paris Nice, giving it his all but falling short once again. On the final stage he looked very strong but that was on climbs where the average gradient was around 6%, not the 8% we’ll see here. Contador does sometimes struggle on the steeper stuff, but if he’s still going as he did in PN, it will be hard to beat him!

Alejandro Valverde.

Returning from his illness that caused him to miss PN, he returned with a bang to win stage 3 on Wednesday. That day suited him ideally but tomorrow might be a little long for him. Yet, I keep thinking of his ridiculous long rang attack up Penas Blanacas in Ruta del Sol last year, and that something similar might be on the cards here. He’ll be hoping to emulate what Quintana did on Terminillo and take the GC lead, if not, get very close to it before the next few stages.

Speaking of the Terminillo…

Geraint Thomas.

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The Welshman was able to match Quintana almost blow for blow up the final climb, but the Colombian was just too good for him in the end. That result will have given Thomas the confidence that he can climb with the best in the world. As I said in my Tirreno GC preview, I think he’ll podium or get very close to in the Giro, so another big result here will set him in good stead. Froome may feature but he still doesn’t seem up to speed.

Adam Yates.

He was a very credible third on the Terminillo stage behind Quintana and Thomas. Even more credible when you think he DNF’d the next day after withdrawing due to illness. On the climb to La Molina he looked comfortable and should go well tomorrow on the steep stuff he seems to love. I wouldn’t discount him!

Prediction

I think we’ll see the four I’ve listed get a gap but there will be the usual unwillingness to work, particularly between Contador and Valverde. This will leave it open for the two Brits to attack and due to Thomas being the closest rider on GC, he’ll be left to do the majority of the work. Yates will then attack him in the final 500m, using his more explosive nature to take the stage victory!

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Will it go to plan?

Betting

1pt EW Yates @ 12/1 with B365 (would take 10s)

 

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

Volta Catalunya Stage 4 Preview; Llívia -> Igualada

Today’s Recap

If I’m being honest, I didn’t catch much of today’s stage. Only the last 600m in fact, I was too busy watching Dwars! From what I saw, it seemed a fairly benign day and we got a sprint to the finish line between the two pre-stage favourites. It was Valverde who came out on top over Martin, exacting some revenge for Movistar who felt hard done by with the reversal of the commissaire’s decision this morning!

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Yates came home in third to pick up some bonus seconds, with the blog pick of Bardet coming 4th. Van Garderen holds a 41 second lead on the GC over team-mate Sanchez, but there are a whole host of riders queuing up behind the BMC duo if they were to falter.

Will we see any GC changes tomorrow? Let’s have a look at the route.

The Route

A weird route that starts with almost 100km of very shallow descending!

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Source: @LasterketaBurua

There is a sprint point on top of a small hill after only 6.2km so I expect the GC teams to keep the bunch together for that. It looks ideal for the likes of Valverde to nab a few bonus seconds.

We then have the long, gradual descent before the next main obstacle of the day; the cat 3 Alt del Pubill. Only 2.9km long and averaging 6%, it’s not overly difficult and I imagine the peloton will roll over it.

The course then rolls for the next 70km before we reach the main challenge of the day; the Cat 2 Turó del Puig. At 5.3km and only averaging 5.4% the GC riders won’t be troubled here, but due to its proximity to the finish line it should be tackled at a fair pace. This should see the end of the sprinters chances for the day.

Apologies for the poor quality image below, the road book doesn’t offer much to play with!

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They’ll then descend all the way until 2km to go where we have a fairly technical finale. Two 90-degree turns and a roundabout feature in the last kilometre. It’s a typical Spanish end to the day and will no doubt be suitably manic!

That is of course if we end up with some type of sprint.

How will the stage pan out?

With the peloton very much spread out on GC already there is a good chance we could get a breakaway stay away tomorrow.

The position of the last climb will make it too hard for Bouhanni and Greipel to make it over with the peloton but it’s not hard enough to cause some GC gaps. We could quite well see the type of sprint I thought we might get on Stage 1, where there’s a peloton of around 50 guys who come to the finish together.

Valverde might fancy his chances of winning the sprint and taking some more bonus seconds along with it. However, that will mean another day of work for Movistar when they don’t have to and I’m sure they’d rather save their efforts for the brutal finish on Stage 5.

So I’ll go for a break, and give it a 70/30 chance that it makes it.

Breakaway Contenders

There are many, many riders who will be given plenty of freedom tomorrow so it’s just a case of me once again trying to give some (hopefully) well-reasoned logic behind my picks and of course a bit of luck for them to make it.

It’s not helped when there’s a bout of illness going around the peloton just now and we’re none the wiser as to who is actually fighting fit. Oh well, here goes nothing!

Nathan Haas.

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The Aussie is here building form for his next goals in the season (Amstel) and what better way to do that then out in the break?! He admitted that he was suffering on the first day but sounded hopefully that it blew the cobwebs away. Tomorrow’s stage looks ideally suited to his characteristics, with the climbs not being too difficult. Packing a fast sprint, you wouldn’t want to bring him to the line.

Petr Vakoc.

Like Haas, the Czech rider is here building form for his classics campaign. An 8th place finish on stage 1 where the run in to the line didn’t really suit him highlights to me that he’s going fairly well at the moment. A proper brute of a rider, the Cat-2 at the end of tomorrow’s stage will be on his limit but if the right riders are up the road, he certainly has a chance.

Jordi Simon.

One of only 4 Funvic riders left in the race, the Catalan native will have pressure from his team to perform here. Not only that, but I’m sure he will want to perform too as tomorrow’s stage passes his hometown. An explosive climber, he isn’t the most well-known rider in the peloton and doesn’t have too many results to his name. A third place at nationals last year was his best finish, but hey, stranger things have happened!

Damien Howson.

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The Orica man took a much deserved GC win in the Herald Sun Tour earlier in the season. A great reward for being a super domestique for Chaves last year! On his return to European racing he finished a respectable 19th in Industrio, helping Yates to victory. Far enough down not to be a GC threat, he would be one of the favourites if he made the break due to his climbing and TT prowess.

Prediction

Break wins and I’ll go for Quick Step to continue that feel good factor within their team and Petr Vakoc to take the win!

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He’ll use his explosive kick to attack away from his breakaway companions on the steady gradients of the final climb and not be seen again until they cross the finish line!

Betting

Crapshoot of a stage and not one I want to get massively involved with; 0.25pt WIN on all the selections.

Vakoc @ 28/1 with B365

Haas @ 33/1 with B365

Simon @ 200/1 with B365

Howson @  Not quoted, so I’ll go with…

Clement @ 300/1 with Bet365 (similar build to Howson, decent climber but strong TTer).

 

Thanks again for reading! How do you think tomorrow will play out? Will we see a break make it, or will it come down to a reduced bunch kick, or even a late attack? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.