Vuelta a España 2018 Stage 19 Preview: Lleida -> Andorra. Naturlandia

Today’s Recap

Nailed on sprint day huh? The peloton severely underestimated the strength of the trio of riders up the road and what a tailwind on the run to the line can do. After becoming a duo in the final 5km, Wallays and Bystrom pushed on and co-operated well all the way until the Flamme Rouge. Things got a little bit cagey but they just had enough of an advantage for the Lotto Soudal rider to bide his time and go for the sprint, taking a famous victory.

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A super strong rider and hard-working domestique, it was nice to see him take another pro win. Bystrom got a second place out of the day while Sagan followed just on his wheels, “winning” the bunch sprint for third. I did say in yesterday’s preview that I thought Sagan might have it today so him coming home first of the group reaffirmed to me that his form is nearly there now.

So the sprinters were denied their fun today but it was mostly their own doing to be fair, will we see the GC men slip up tomorrow? Let’s have a look at what is in store for them.

The Route

A pretty easy day out, although the terrain is deceptively rolling at times, but with one big sting in the tail.

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No beating around the bush, tomorrow is all about the final climb.

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It is a long climb and is in fact one of the peaks with the most amount of ascending in this race. As you can see, the toughest ramps come in the opening 7km before it “flattens out” for the final 10km. The easier gradients to the line could see some kind of sprint between riders but that is of course assuming it is not split up earlier on.

One important aspect to note is that the finish is above 2000m and this might have an effect on the breathing of the riders. Some perform better than others at high altitude. Thankfully for those who suffer, they aren’t above 2000m for long so it shouldn’t be too much of an issue.

How will the stage pan out?

Looks as if it will be much the same pattern as previous days; where Mitchelton will be happy to let the break get up the road and take the stage win. However, unlike previous days, there will be an incentive for both Movistar and Quick Step to chase, as Valverde and Mas were on superb form the other day. Throw in Astana and Lopez to the mix and we might just see an alliance to keep a tight leash on things.

Furthermore, it is an easy stage to control tomorrow and the squads can use their rouleurs without fear of them cracking on the climbs because there aren’t really any before the summit finish.

We could see them all take the approach of just let Mitchelton do the work and tire them out but the prospect of a controllable day and bonus seconds on the line should be too much.

We’ll see a GC winner tomorrow.

Tactics

Does someone go early on the climb in a bid to regain some valuable time, hoping that there is looking around by others? We could see some inside the latter half of the top 10 go on the offensive and as they are not an immediate threat, the might be given some leeway, just like Pinot’s win earlier in the race.

Quintana and Kruijsiwjk are in the position of where they could probably attack and get away without being latched onto straight away by Yates and his team. However, if the gap starts to grow to them then some panic might set in.

Movistar are at a clear tactical advantage with having both Quintana and Valverde in the top 6 of GC but the Colombian has lacked the legs the past few week. If he has managed to turn it around then I would expect a hail mary attack from home, while Valverde can just sit in and let the race leader do the work.

Contenders

Yates.

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Up until Wednesday’s summit finish most would have said Yates has been the strongest climber in this race and I was one of them. The question we now have to ask, and so does the rest of the peloton, is: was that 8 second loss just a blip or a crack starting to appear? Tomorrow might not give a lot more away either but it could quite easily be another Prato Nevoso situation. The Brit currently lives in Andorra so no doubt he knows the roads better than most and that could be a big advantage, as is having his brother up to support him who seems to have “done a Poels” and timed his third-week peak to perfection.

Valverde.

If Valverde can get over the steeper sections earlier on in the climb then he will love the look of the profile near the finish, rating his chances of nabbing some bonus seconds highly. The Movistar man is one of those riders I mentioned above who will be thankful the climb just tips the 2000m mark as he has never been one to go too well at altitude. He looks as strong as ever though and I would be surprised to see him crack tomorrow.

Mas.

Will the young pretender prove his worth as a fully fledged contender? I think the answer to that is already “yes”, despite whatever may happen over the coming days. Touted as Contador 2.0, he has some lofty heights to live up to but Quick Step seem to be managing him very well. Like Yates, he currently resides in Andorra and says he knows the perfect place to attack. The issue for him is that he is now a marked man, unlike earlier in the race.

Lopez.

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The rider whom the higher altitude should suit the best, he will hope to go better than his slightly disappointing performance on Stage 17 after his team did a lot of the work. Nonetheless, he only lost 2 seconds to Yates and 10 to Valverde/Mas so it wasn’t too bad a result. The Colombian now sits on the tipping point of not being immediately marked so he could slip away in the closing kilometre or so. However, he is still close enough to have a watchful eye kept on. I’m sure Yates won’t want to give him 30 seconds and let him right back into it.

Kruijswijk.

The Dutchman has had a really up and down race so far but still finds himself somewhat in contention for the overall title. He’s said in the press that it will be all or nothing from him so I expect either a crazy early attack from him tomorrow or he will save all of that for Saturday. It is hard to read what type of day he will be on but if he is on a good day, then he could be tough to beat.

Pinot.

The one rider who no longer has a real chance of winning the race overall but that I fancy to go well tomorrow, the Frenchman had his jour-sans on Stage 17, now finding himself 5’31 down on GC. Yet, we saw with his exceptional performance on Lagos de Covadonga that he is more than capable of hanging with the big boys. As one of the GC riders with a fast kick, I think he has a very good chance.

Prediction

A Movistar, Astana and Quick Step alliance keeps the break in check before the climb. Quintana goes early but unfortunately for him he just doesn’t have the legs anymore this race and he is reeled back in by Adam Yates. A little bit of stalling in the main group sees Pinot attack and in a déjà vu scenario, he manages to steal a march and take the stage in an idental manner to Covadonga.

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Behind, Yates cracks a little again and Valverde gains the second place bonuses, but the Mitchelton man remains in the lead – only by a margin of 16 seconds going into the final mountain day.

Betting

No bet for now

Thanks as always for reading. Who do you think will win tomorrow? Will the break be allowed any freedom? Or will the GC teams control it? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vuelta a España 2018 Stage 17 Preview: Getxo -> Balcón de Bizkaia

Today’s Recap

Was it ever really in doubt? Dennis crushed the opposition to take his second stage win of the race and promptly announced he was heading home!

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His team-mate and US Champion, Rosskopf, produced his best ever performance at this level to finish with Spanish TT champion Castroviejo rounding out the podium.

As for the GC contenders, Kruijswijk (4th) and Mas (6th) produced stunning times to tame some ground back on the overall leader Yates, who himself gained on most of his rivals. Still, it leaves 6 riders within 1’34 of the Mitchelton man going into the final 4 days of racing, if we’re not counting the procession in Madrid. Yates has looked the strongest on the climbs so far but will he manage to avoid the last week crack like he suffered in the Giro? Tomorrow’s finish might certainly expose any weaknesses.

The Route

We’re in the Basque country so that means twisting, rolling roads and incredibly passionate fans!

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3500m of elevation gain throughout the day but with only one Cat-1 climb, you can get an idea of how up and down the terrain must be.

The opening Cat-3 climb of Alto de Arboleta (6.7km at 5.5%) will probably see a big fight to make the morning break but it will also start things off in the battle for the KOM jersey. Things are still very much up for grabs in that competition so it will be one to watch for over the coming days!

The route does flatten out a bit from then but a series of uncategorised hills follows the intermediate sprint point and we reach the second Cat-3 just after the feed zone. More flat follows before the final 45km of the day are constantly up and down.

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The first of the climbs in those closing 45kms the riders have to face is the Alto del Balcon de Bizkia which is 9km at 3.9%. Probably the easiest Cat-2 climb the riders will see all Vuelta but there are some steeper sections in it with a few kilometres at 7% etc, however, the closing 2.5km are at a shade over 2% in gradient.

A long descent, some of which the riders will have to make an effort on, follows and that leads pretty much into the next climb. The Alto de Santa Eufemia is a short and sharp affair that averages 6.8% for almost 3.9kms. It is a very consistent climb so should be good for those who like to ride tempo. A fast descent then brings the riders to the penultimate climb of the day: the Alto de Gontzegaraine. Officially 3.3km at 5.8%, the road actually rises gradually before then making it 7kms at 3.7%, either way, it is steepest near the end but nothing too bad for the riders to worry about. Well, not compared to what awaits them…

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The final climb can be split into two parts and they are pretty obvious what they are! The opening 3kms of it comes along the main road (that they actually descended down before) which averages roughly 6.3%.

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They then turn off the main road, onto a very narrow track and that is when the fun begins…

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My legs hurt just looking at that profile. Any words I have won’t really do it any justice and the severity of the gradients will only be made worse by the poor concrete surface the riders will have to traverse. We could see some big GC gaps here if someone isn’t feeling good.

How will the stage pan out?

Mitchelton will be happy to let a break go so it is up to the others to bring it back. The parcours is rolling and hilly but it isn’t mountainous enough to try to send your GC candidate on the attack. All of those moves should be left until Saturday in my opinion. Therefore, it is going to have to be a traditional chase of the break and set it up for the GC riders to battle for the stage. Again though, if teams want to weaken Yates’ team, why would they want to do that? Furthermore, with how strong Yates has looked on the climbs, will we really see Movistar or Astana pull all day and diminish their resources only for their leaders to lose even more time? I don’t think so. I think they will all save themselves for Saturday and try to tire Mitchelton out by letting them do the work until then.

Here we are again then…

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The Cursed “Cinco”

Pello Bilbao.

Basque rider number one, the Astana man seems to be slowly riding himself into form at this race and he was with the GC group for quite a while on the last summit finish. We saw at the Giro how strong he can be and the local will certainly be getting an extra boost from his home fans. With Lopez slipping down the order a little, I think we will see a change of approach from Astana and they will allow their Basque men free…

Omar Fraile.

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Astana’s second Basque rider, Fraile is now a winner at both the Giro and the Tour. Can he add the Vuelta to his palmares? I would be surprised if we don’t see either him or Bilbao up the road tomorrow and they both have the potential to finish it off. On his day, Fraile can deliver some stunning performances on the steep slopes.

Dylan Teuns.

After finding himself in the break for three days in a row last week, where he finished inside the top 5 on every occasion, the Belgian had a couple of days off after that. He did come home in 11th place today in the TT which suggests that he has recovered well. Desperately wanting a stage win, the steep slopes of the finish climb tomorrow look suited to his characteristics. No doubt we’ll see a few BMC riders up the road, they have nothing else to do!

Richard Carapaz.

#FreeRickie. Once again on the finish of Covadonga it was Carapaz who was the last standing domestique for the GC riders. Like Bilbao, he seems to be riding himself into the race after a tough Giro. He’s proven to be one of the better climbers in the peloton and I hope Movistar give him a chance to shine tomorrow before he returns to domestique duties in the coming days after that.

Michal Kwiatkowski.

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His 5th place in the TT today would suggest that he has recovered from his crash the other day. Desperately wanting a stage win, the Pole now finds himself far enough down the order to not be a threat so he should actually be able to get into a breakaway that will be given some leeway. Can he deliver?

I think I might be being bold here by not including an Euskadi Murias rider as they will probably try to get their whole team up the road. Oh well!

Prediction

Break to stay away and a Basque rider to claim victory…

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On a side note, I’m really looking forward to the KOM battle over the coming days. Tomorrow will be crucial and could give some a few extra points they want and need. On paper Saturday is the most important day but if we are expecting a big GC showdown from the gun, the main crux of points could be gained tomorrow. Come on Tommy lad!

Betting

1pt on each of the break picks.

Kwiatkwoski at 66/1

Fraile and Teuns at 80/1

Carapaz and Bilbao at 100/1

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Vuelta a España 2018 Stage 16 Preview: Santillana del Mar -> Torrelavega (ITT)

Rest Day Recap

Amazingly, we had the GC teams fight out for the stage win for the second day in a row. Something must be up…

On Lagos de Covadonga it followed a similar pattern for a few kilometres after Astana had done all the pace work and it was identical almost to Stage 14: Lopez attacks, Quintana chases; Quintana attacks, Lopez chases. This happened a good few times before a decrease in pace saw the GC group almost crawling their way up the mountain. Pinot took advantage of the looking around and with his not-immediate threat to GC, he was let go. Phony attacks kept happening but now Yates and Mas were getting involved too. The on-screen graphics/timing were way off as Pinot had a much more comfortable margin than it appeared and he ended up taking the stage win by almost 30 seconds.

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Lopez eventually managed to get a bit of a gap but with Yates’ sprint for third place behind, he only gained a few seconds on his rivals in the end.

A lot has been made of Quintana, his lack of an offensive mindset and wheel sucking escapades, but to me he did nothing wrong. He put in a couple of attacks himself and closed down Lopez a few times before being on the limit. It is hard to attack when you’re on the limit and everyone else is climbing at 6.2w/Kg.  Yates then berated him for not working but I just don’t think Nairo had the legs, if so, he still wouldn’t have been hanging around then. Furthermore, Valverde did enough pulling for Quintana to sit back and rest up once he was in the red. Just sticking up for my little Colombian, that’s all!

Anyway, yesterday’s result still leaves things very much up in the air going into the final week with the top 5 on GC only separated by less than 1’30. Will we see a big change after the important TT tomorrow? Let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

Billed by PezCycling before the race as “fast and flat”, I would like to know what they’ve been smoking! Have they not been paying attention to the Vuelta in the past few years and know that Javier Guillén is the biggest patter merchant around?

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As with all TTs, I’ve made the whole route (as you can see above, obv) and you can view it directly on VeloViewer here.

I’m somehow missing a kilometre from the route (no idea how that has happened as I’ve followed the map perfectly) but anyway, according to the Strava/VV profile there is 547m of elevation gain and LaFlammeRouge suggest 425. Call it evens and go for 480ish? Either way, the TT is certainly not “flat”!

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The riders will be aware of this almost as soon as they leave the start ramp because they face a one kilometre climb that averages 6% pretty much straight away. A nice one to get the legs opened up on…

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After the short descent, the terrain then constantly rolls for the following 10kms, including an 800m (6% average) climb on what looks to be a very narrow road.

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Once over that climb the riders rejoin the main road and slowly start to head South. Yet, it is only 2kms later until they start to head upwards again with the following test.

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Taking place on a twisty road, the 2.1km at 5.3% will be tough on a TT bike and it will be tough for some to settle into a rhythm despite the fairly consistent gradients.

All of the above happens in just the opening 14kms. Again, I would like to remind you that some have said this is flat, ha! To be fair, the remaining 17kms of the day are much easier and will be a lot faster for the riders as it is mostly descents and flat they will have to contend with.

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That doesn’t mean there is no climb though because as soon as the riders turn onto a two-lane road and head East towards the finish they have to face a 2.2km drag that averages 3%.

With 10kms to go I can say that all the main climbs of the day are over with and they will have a descent and flat-ish run to the line because as of course given this is Spain, there are still a couple of small drags here and there.

Can anyone stop Dennis?

I asked the same question before the opening day against the clock and the answer was no. I think it is most likely the same for tomorrow. However, there are question marks over his ability to cope with the distance but a few of those poor performances have been down to bad luck; whether that be a crash or numerous mechanicals. Yet, those will still linger over him a bit.

He did reverse things a bit at the Giro when he won the 34km long TT there in the final week of the race but that was his first pro TT win in a distance that was over 20km. It was a convincing performance though and a sign that things might be changing and that his endurance has picked up.

Furthermore, it all depends on where his form is at just now. Obviously he is building towards having a good tilt at the Worlds but we haven’t seen him at the front all race. It really is an unknown.

Nonetheless, he does start as the clear favourite and it will be hard to beat him.

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But not impossible. I don’t call him the best short TT rider in the World for nothing, he has yet to show consistency over the longer distances.

Two Main Challengers?

After Kwiatkowski’s fall the other day, it looks as if the two who can challenge Dennis’ potential domination are Campenaerts and Castroviejo.

The former showed some good form when in the break last week and he is the type of TT rider who can deal with some hills so the course is good for him. Likewise the same can be said for Castroviejo who will certainly get an advantage of riding in front of his home crowd. However, he is much like Dennis in that we haven’t really seen him do anything all race so far. I think he’s been resting up and will be fine tomorrow.

Rule Of Thumb #1

For the opening TT I mentioned a rule that you have to back either a BMC, Sky, Jumbo or Sunweb rider for a time trial as they always seem to produce the best results. On that day 7 out of the top 10 were from those teams and I think we might see a similar-ish spread tomorrow. Although the longer course does give opportunities for stronger riders in other teams to shine.

Rule of Thumb #2

We’re in Spain.

Spanish riders always go well in Spain and so do Spanish teams. It is just the way it is. They just need to be a little less obvious about the moto drafting than the Italians and Aru/Ulissi at the Giro.

Rule of Thumb #3

We’re now into a third week of a Grand Tour so the GC riders often throw up some surprise results in the TT. Have a look back at the TT result last year in the Vuelta, the top 5 on that day were the top 5 riders on GC. Albeit before the start Dennis had to pull out in the morning so there wasn’t a proper TT test, aside from Froome himself being one.

Rule of Thumb #3.5

It’s after a rest day and some riders perform better after a rest day. As to why that is, well, we’ll leave that for now.

Any outsiders to go watch?

Oliveira has a good chance of delivering another solid result. He is always a consistent performer in these types of TTs.

Gallopin is riding as well as I have seen him all year and he is in my opinion one of the better GC TT riders. He has lost time over the past couple of mountain stages but he should have the power to go well in this TT and he might surprise.

Zakarin’s GC chances were ruined by a fall early into this race but he is the type of guy who can pull out a very good effort against the clock when needed.

How will the Top 5 GC riders fare?

Yates – His TT has got better and he *only* shipped 1’37 to Dennis in the Giro. Tomorrow’s slightly more rolling terrain does suit him better than that day and we have seen over the previous stages that he is the form rider here. He can have really bad days on the TT bike so you never really know with him. He will still hope to be in red after the stage.

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Valverde – The man who is most likely to overhaul Yates, Valverde has been strong throughout this race, only losing a handful of seconds on the summit finishes. Arguably a stronger rouleur than Yates, he is theoretically a better TT rider. Plus, when you account for Rules 2 through 3.5 above, then he has a good chance of getting into red. He’s finished in the Top 5 a total of 22 times in TTs throughout his career (not including nationals) and 18 of those were in Spain.

Quintana – Really needs a big turnaround as to me he just didn’t seem to have the legs the last two days, which is somewhat odd, as he looked very comfortable on La Camperona. He’s done well in TTs in Spain before but he has also struggled an awful lot in TTs. The times he has gone strongly have been when he has been climbing well. Unfortunately, I think he’ll lose a chunk of time.

Lopez – Everyone seems to think Lopez is a great GC TT rider but hot take: he’s not! Don’t worry though, I too have fallen for the 2016 Tour de Suisse performance before. I think he was helped massively that day by the rolling course and that the TT was at quite a high altitude. His performance in the Giro was dire, even though he looked like one of the stronger climbers. Will that be the same tomorrow? I think so.

Kruijswijk – Arguably the most consistent of the GC riders in an effort against the clock, the Jumbo rider should deliver a solid time that will more than likely vault him very close to Lopez and Quintana but I think it will be difficult for him to overtake them with his current deficit.

Special mention goes to Kelderman who I would be ranting and raving about had he not massively gone pop yesterday. Likewise Ion Izagirre who has lost some time too.

Prediction

I think it will be tough for anyone to topple Dennis but I’m going to put my neck on the line and say that someone will, just for the fun of it…

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The stars will align for the current Spanish champion who I think has been saving himself for this day since the start of the race almost. He might also get the advantage of some friendly motos…

Fun fact, since 2015 he currently holds a 3:1 lead over Dennis in TTs that they’ve both competed in which have been over 20km. Food for thought!

Betting

A sensible decision would be a no bet but when playing for fun, then why not…

1pt WIN Castroviejo @ 12/1 (various bookmakers)

4pts Castroviejo to beat Campenaerts @ 5/4 (WillHill)

Then it wouldn’t be a GT TT without a stupid acca…

0.5pt on this 5-fold

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Thanks as always for reading, hope you enjoyed the preview! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Can anyone stop Dennis? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Vuelta a España 2018 Stage 11 Preview: Mombuey -> Ribeira Sacra. Luintra

Today’s Recap

Viviani won.

Moving on…

Just kidding, it was a pretty dull day so it all came down to the expected big bunch sprint. Quick Step delivered one of the best lead-outs I’ve seen all season, dropping the Italian champion off in the perfect position at just over 150m to go. No one was coming round him after that.

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Sagan came home second and Nizzolo rounded out the podium in third. I think the rest of the sprinters and their teams got scared to take it up too early in case they ended up in a poor position. However, with everyone riding a phony tempo on the front of the bunch it just worked into Quick Step’s hands as they could save themselves and hit it fully from 2.5km out. If there was some disorganisation then some of the other sprinters might have had a chance. That’s a big might though…

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

The Route

The longest stage of the race at a tad under 208km, it is no easy day in the saddle for the riders though with 3700m of climbing throughout the afternoon.

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As you can see on the profile there are no real mountains as such, just several long hills with shallow 4-5% average gradients. To add to that, there are also numerous uncategorised kickers and drags throughout the afternoon: the road is barely ever flat!

We might see a Ruben Plaza 2015-style solo 114km attack from the break but considering I think that is unlikely, tomorrow will be decided by a tactical final 50km.

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The road rises through the intermediate sprint point before the road descends into an uncategorised 2.9km at 5.8%. We will then see the peloton tackle the last categorised climb of the day.

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As you can see, it isn’t an overly difficult climb and stays very consistent. It definitely suits the all-rounders better than the pure climbers so to speak. The road then descends for almost 12km, although it is very shallow in some parts with that 12km only averaging -2%.

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At around 5.6km to go, the riders will face the above uncategorised climb. It is steep and long enough for the puncheurs to try to make a difference but those hoping to grind their way up it will think the opposite. It really is a perfect climb for its position in the day. Given the almost 2kms at 7.8% though, I think it tips it in favour of the puncheurs.

With it cresting with just over 3km to go, will a rider be able to solo to the line, or will we see a slight regroupment?

Breakaway Day

No beating around the bush here, tomorrow is most definitely a day for a break in my opinion. With the constant rolling terrain throughout the afternoon, it will be nigh on impossible for a team to control a strong group ahead. Furthermore, it will take a lot of energy expenditure to even try that – not exactly what anyone wants to do with the more important GC days to come. Unless of course Mitchelton Scott haven’t learnt anything from the Giro and decide to close everything down just for the sake of it. I wouldn’t count that out actually now I think about it a little more…

Nonetheless, time to play everyone’s favourite game. Again.

TheBreakawayLottery

The Fruitless Four

Steve Cummings.

Yep, it’s finally that day. I’ve had this day marked down as possible Cummings territory from before this race and since he has done absolutely nothing so far in this race, then I’m equally both more and less confident in the pick at the same time. He has been pretty rubbish this season, even he has admitted that, but he would have had a stage win in Austria had it not been for a mechanical in the closing kilometres. The rolling terrain of tomorrow suits Cummings well and I would expect to see him attack the breakaway around the final categorised climb and try to hold on to the finish.

Victor Campenaerts.

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After the tricky finish on stage 7 I promised I’d back Campenaerts on a rolling breakaway and tomorrow is that. Obviously a strong rider on the flat, the Belgian can actually go well on the hills too due to his quite slight nature. Lotto Soudal have had a pretty poor Vuelta so far, marred by crashes, but a good result tomorrow would set them up nicely for the final week.

Tao Geoghegan Hart.

When was the last time Team Sky had a rider in the breakaway at a Grand Tour? It certainly seems a while ago, that’s for sure. However, with De La Cruz and Kwiatkowski not looking convincing in their GC tilt at the moment, Sky might change their approach. Geoghegan Hart has had an exceptional season so far, proving to be one of the stronger climbing domestiques in the peloton at races like Dauphine. If he’s at that same level again in the break, then there won’t be many there stronger than him.

Vincenzo Nibali.

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Nibali might just be that guy who is stronger than Geoghegan Hart. He tried to escape with Trentin earlier on in the race but was still deemed too close on GC to be given any leeway, that’s how much his competitors respect him. The Shark of Messina has been struggling with form since crashing out of the Tour but he looked a lot more sprightly after his rest day this afternoon and I think he’ll be eyeing up one of the stages over the coming days. Does he have the legs to deliver?

Prediction

Yup, I’m going there.

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Steve Cummings to win and save his season, continuing Dimension Data’s great Vuelta.

 

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Will we see a break survive all the way to the end? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Vuelta a España 2018 Stage 10 Preview: Salamanca -> Fermoselle. Bermillo de Sayago

Rest-day recap

Return of the King? Is that the title we’re going with?

On stage 9 an okay break, not super strong but not bad, escaped early on and they were kept on a fairly tight leash by Groupama. However, the elastic eventually snapped with around 70km to go and they were given enough room to fight it out for the stage.

It then became tactical in the break before the final climb, with a duo of King and Mas escaping. King dropped Mas and his gap grew north of 1’30 before the start of the summit finish. Mollema tried his best to bridge across, getting the gap down to only 18 seconds at one point but he had spent too much and King was just too strong.

King held on for a rather remarkable second stage win of this Vuelta, which is definitely a surprise to most. Can he go better than Marczynski last year and take a third?

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Mollema trailed home for second with other early morning breakee Teuns just managing to take third ahead of some rampaging GC riders.

With over a third of the race complete, the battle for the overall is still wide open and the top 10 is covered by just 48 seconds. Plenty in with chances over the coming two weeks, it’s just about managing your form and timing that peak perfectly.

Anyway enough about that, let’s see what is in store for the riders tomorrow.

The Route

A very odd-looking profile as the stage is pretty much as flat as you can get in Spain but because they descend before climbing again, it looks like there is a chunk out of the profile.

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Nothing much to talk about really aside from the Cat-3 that crests at 28km to go. However, the road continues to rise afterwards for 7.2km but it only averages a shade over 2%, so nothing too serious.

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I think we’ll see a sprint: so what is the run in like?

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Easy, really easy!

A slight meander at around 600m to go with is all they have to deal with pretty much: no roundabouts which is a bit surprising. That being said, there is a kink in the road with only 150m or so to go.

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Nothing serious but it is something to note. Coming around the short side will save you a fraction of the second and that could be all that matters. Also, the final few hundred metres rise at an average of 2% to the line, again, nothing crazy, but it means timing is more important.

If I’m honest, I’m not 100% sure that the above is the exact finish as in typical Vuelta fashion there are two different places in the road book. However, given that LaFlammeRouge and Erecce have the same finish point as above, I’ll go with that.

You can see a video of the run in above.

Sprinters

Do I really need to go through all of them again?

Viviani – Very strong when taking his win on stage 3 and he finished fast on the crosswind struck stage 6. However, both on that day and the uphill day where he *might* have had a chance, he was poorly positioned. Very unlike Quick Step that. They’ll need to sort that for tomorrow.

Sagan – Seems to be finding his form again but I think he is still not at 90%. If he was, then there was no way he was losing on Stage 8: he is getting there though. A master at positioning, expect to see him surf wheels given his short lead-out.

Bouhanni – Great to see him take the win earlier in the race. His team performed really well in that stage and that will give him more confidence in them. On his day Bouhanni can be really fast, it is just judging if it is his day or not!

Van Poppel – I was very impressed with his effort on stage 8, I didn’t expect him to finish third that day. What almost impressed me more though was just how well Lotto Jumbo bossed the closing few kilometres. If they can do that again tomorrow, then Van Poppel has a great chance.

Nizzolo – Another who got close on stage 8, he seems to be a nearly man so often. I would like to see him win a stage at a Grand Tour, it is what he deserves after being consistent over the years. I just can’t see it happening tomorrow though.

Consonni, Trentin, Sarreau and Garcia will be in or around the top 10. I wonder if Max “speed bump” Walscheid makes the finish?

Prediction

A simple finish can often be a chaotic and messy finish as everyone thinks they have a chance. We’ll see a big fight for position as riders surge forward and then back again as they run out of steam so luck will somewhat play a factor. A team will want to time their effort perfectly so that they can drop their sprinter off at just the right moment.

I’ll go with Lotto Jumbo to repeat their lead-out feat from stage 8 and put Van Poppel into an unbeatable position.

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Betting

Normally wouldn’t go EW on short sprint odds but given how close things have been so far between them all, I’ll take the “safety net” of a podium.

2pts EW Van Poppel @ 10/1 with William Hill who are actually paying 1/3 odds for 3 places. Would take the 9s or 8s available elsewhere though.

Thanks as always for reading, who do you think is going to win tomorrow? Apologies for this not being as in-depth as normal but there isn’t really much to talk about! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Vuelta a España 2018 Stage 8 Preview: Linares -> Almadén

Today’s Recap

An OK break made it up the road but Bora were more than happy to help Groupama FDJ keep tabs on it so they were never really given north of 3 minutes. Things spiced up on the penultimate climb with plenty of riders dropped, but it was the descent off of that climb that was the undoing of Kwiatkowski who went down along with two team-mates. With the pace on up ahead and the tough climb to come, he would never make it back on despite his and a few others best efforts.

In the peloton we saw numerous attacks from solo riders and groups, but it was Gallopin who went at the perfect moment. A small lull as the decision as to who would cahse was made ended up being enough for the Frenchman to get a big enough gap to take the stage win.

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It is a result that is nice to see given how much he has suffered from illness or injury this year.

Behind, Sagan sprinted to second place after keeping himself nicely hidden from the tv motorbikes in the final 10km. Seems he is building some form again as he definitely wouldn’t have made this finish a few weeks ago. Pre-stage favourite Valverde trailed home in third place.

Will tomorrow see a similarly aggressive and attacking finish to the day? Let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

I’m branding it as Stage 7 Lite.

The riders will face only 2100m of climbing compared to today’s 2500m.

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The ascents themselves are less intense too, with the only categorised rise of the day averaging a lowly 3.5% for almost 9km: that’s not the Vuelta I know! Even the finale is a bit of a rip-off of today’s finish.

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Admittedly, the ramps involved in those closing 6.5km are tougher than the steadier 2% drag to the line we had this afternoon but it still equates to pretty much the same finish: a 6km, just over 2% run to the line.

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The final kilometre averages 3%, but it does feature a few switchbacks on a narrow road so positioning will be vital. Expect a big fight for the penultimate turn off the main highway. Also, ignore the poor surface on the image above, that is taken from a 2008 Street View trip (if that’s the right word) but the road has since been done up with some swanky new asphalt.

How will the stage pan out?

With a big day ahead of them on Sunday, I think most will want to keep their powder dry. Despite the rolling hills at the start, it is fairly easy terrain therein for the peloton to control the breakaway. I think we’ll once again see Bora help with the chase and possibly a few of the other sprint teams so I don’t think the break has a very good chance at all tomorrow if I’m honest. It is the Vuelta though so you can never fully discount it.

The only way that it does have a chance is if we see a surprisingly large group of 8 or 9 go clear and everyone else decides not to work with Bora given that Sagan is looking strong again.

I think that is unlikely though, so an uphill sprint it is!

Can anyone stop Sagan?

I didn’t expect to be writing that a few days ago but given his performance today then I think it is a fair question. The run to the line tomorrow will be no issue for the World Champion if he continues to recover and he has to start as the out-and-out favourite for the day. His kick today was impressive and caught a few by surprise, let alone Valverde, who didn’t even realise he was in the main group.

Viviani – Can he make the finish? I think he will and he is the main threat to Sagan. It was only poor positioning that cost him a second stage win on Wednesday. He is punchy enough to deal with the drag and if he shows the same closing speed as he did the other day, then I think he has the beating of the World Champion.

Bouhanni – Now with a stage win, the Frenchman will be full of confidence. I mentioned in one of my earlier previews that Bouhanni is traditionally one of the better climbing sprints in the peloton, having won tough stages in Catalunya in the past. Tomorrow is different, easier in fact, but I can’t help but cast my mind back to the 2014 Vuelta and Stage 13 when Bouhanni finished 5th amongst GC contenders and puncheurs on a tough uphill finish.

Trentin – Just doesn’t seem to be at 100% at the moment. He’s another the finish looks great for but I don’t think he has the speed to beat Sagan if it is more selective and the same goes if it is less selective.

Nizzolo – Has managed okay on these dragging uphill finishes in the past but I’m not certain he has fully returned to his former level yet, therefore, I don’t think he’ll feature.

Outsiders to watch

Simone Consonni.

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I’ve been impressed by the Italian’s development this year in what is his second season in the pro peloton. He’s a solid sprinter but can also hang quite well on the short climbs. It will be tough for him to win but a top 10 on a tough-ish finish like this would be a good result.

Eduard Prades.

Not as much of an outsider as he would have been had he not come 4th today. The Euskadi Murias rider has had a string of very good results this year, particularly in races with tricky finishes. The rise to the finish certainly helps him but against the quality of opposition here then I think another top 10 would be good.

Mike Teunissen.

Given Max “speed bump” Walscheid won’t be competing come the finish, I would expect Sunweb to give Teunnisen the chance to go for a result as they will have plenty of others to help guide Kelderman. We’ve seen so far this year that Teunissen is competent on the short climbs so tomorrow’s drag to the finish should be okay for him. Is he capable of going better than his fifth place result on the opening day of Paris Nice?

Prediction

This is a tough one. I think it comes down to a sprint, the question is who? Sagan is the obvious choice but I do feel both Bouhanni and Viviani have the abilities to challenge him.

Hmmmmm.

Given his season so far, I’ll go with Viviani to win again.

 

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Betting

2pts WIN Viviani @ 8/1

0.5pt EW Teunissen @ 200/1

3pts H2H Double (Consonni > DVP and Bouhanni > Nizzolo) @ 3.2/1

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Vuelta a España 2018 Stage 6 Preview: Huércal-Overa -> San Javier. Mar Menor

Today’s Recap

After a long fight this morning/early afternoon, a big break of 20-odd riders eventually escaped from what was at that time a reduced peloton. Sky let them go and with it the race lead at the end of the day, a sensible decision given they’ve struggled a bit over some of the previous stages.

Up ahead the day was pretty tactical with several attacks and counters throughout the afternoon. I’ll be honest, I didn’t really watch much of today’s action at all and only tuned in with 20km to go with a trio up ahead: Clarke, De Marchi and Mollema.

The latter two tried to play games and drop the EF Education rider but it was not to be as he was just too strong on the flat. They nearly got caught by a group of three behind, which included new race leader Molard, but the trio at the front held on for the sprint with Clarke taking what was an inevitable win.

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Mollema finished second with De Marchi.

No opportunity for the sprinters today but that looks likely to change tomorrow. Let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

A pretty benign day by Vuelta standards with only 1400m of climbing throughout the afternoon.

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There are a couple of Cat-3 climbs to deal with out on the course but they aren’t overly difficult and come too far from the finish to cause any real issues. Or at least you wouldn’t think so, anyway.

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The run in is fairly straightforward with the final 5km being pan-flat. There are a few corners and the most difficult of those typically comes inside the final 1km, where the riders will have to traverse the long way around a roundabout. It will certainly string things out and coming out of the roundabout near the front of the bunch is necessary to be competing come the end of the day.

Weather Watch

It gives me great pleasure to bring back this segment for the first time in the race and it is for everyone’s favourite reason: possible echelon action!

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Source: Windfinder

The above screenshot is the weather forecast for a town just to the north of La Unión, a.k.a the 25km to go marker for the day.

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The riders head pretty much north for twenty of those kilometres before the turn back on themselves before again heading north for the approach to the finish line. The tailwind finish means you can afford to go earlier with your sprint.

Anyway, creating echelons in a peloton needs three inputs really.

First, the road and wind direction combination needs to be perfect, and that is the case for tomorrow with the route heading north and the wind coming directly across from the riders right.

Secondly, you need areas of land that are exposed enough for the wind to have an effect. There’s no point in it being a gusty day if the road is in a valley and sheltered by hills or trees for example.

Oh, would you look at that…

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Wide open plain…

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After wide open plain…

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After wide open plain.

As you can see, even in the final few kilometres to the finish the riders are exposed to the wind coming off of the sea. The only place of real respite they have is when they travel through the towns of Los Alcázares and Los Narejos: only a 4km stretch of road, before it all starts again once they leave the cover of the buildings.

I make it therefore that out of the last 25km in tomorrow’s stage, 20km of them are prime echelon territory.

Finally, the last thing you need for echelons to happen is a couple of committed teams in the peloton. Given how close things are GC wise just now then there will be a good few squads looking at tomorrow as an opprtunity to split things up and gain time for their overall contenders. We’ve seen Movistar do this in the past and back in 2011 Liquigas pretty much did a TTT and tore things apart. We obviously have the likes of Quick Step who are masters in these conditions, remember Stage 2 last year, or stage 3 of the Giro that same year?

How will the race pan out?

I’m being bold here and I don’t think we’ll see a full bunch sprint tomorrow as things will get split up on the run in. As to who might be there, it really is tough to tell!

We will have GC teams trying to protect their main rider but we’ll also have guys trying to split things up with a hope of increasing their chances for the stage win. It’s going to be manic. One thing that you do find though is that a lot of sprinters tend to be the better riders in cross winds due to their size and raw power, so a lot of them should be near the front tomorrow. Unless it is complete chaos.

Viviani is probably still the favourite for the stage given how good he is this year and the team he rides for. But the conditions tomorrow probably don’t help him as much as they hinder him because I’m sure he would prefer his lead-out to be there in full to guide him through the finish.

Bold prediction number two: Viviani doesn’t win.

The Two Lotto Tickers

Tosh Van der Sande.

Lotto Soudal are exactly the type of team with the strength and know-how in these conditions to help split the bunch. They have no GC aspirations so can go all in to try something and hope it pays off. With their full Belgian squad, the wind will be a welcome sight to them after the heat of the past few days. Van der Sande is their fastest rider and if they can get him into a group of 10-15, then he has a very good chance of producing the win.

Victor Campenaerts.

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Another strong rider who eats wind for breakfast, the current European TT Champion is clearly in good form after his very good run in the opening effort against the clock. He looked lively on the third stage and went on the attack but unfortunately came off of his bike. However, he only sustained some “abrasions to the buttocks” so it was nothing too serious. After a couple of days at the back of the bunch, I think he’ll have recovered and want to put on a show again. He’s the type of rider who could ping off the front of a group at the end and be nigh on impossible to bring back. Come on the ‘tache!

Prediction

Tosh van der Sande wins an echelon filled finale. Don’t @ me.

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Actually you can @ me all you want, I know I’m being a bit ridiculous but this doesn’t end in a full bunch sprint so why not have some fun!

Betting

Day to be avoiding Viviani unless you’re ridiculously confident. So I’m throwing a few pennies around on the two Lotto riders.

0.5pt WIN Campenaerts @ 400/1

0.5pt EW TVDS @ 300/1

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Vuelta a España 2018 Stage 5 Preview: Granada -> Roquetas de Mar

Today’s Recap

It was one of those days where a “weird” break went that lacked many of the expected big names. However, they proved strong enough to stay away all day thanks to good co-operation and a lack of willingness to chase them down from Sky behind.

A little split occurred in the group before the penultimate climb where King, Stalnov and Wallays gained 40 odd seconds over the rest of the break. As the road ramped up, the latter was detached and we saw an attack from Rolland behind. The remaining two continued to work well, keeping the stronger Frenchman at bay. They did start to mess around in the closing kilometre and Rolland got tantalisingly close to catching them but it wasn’t to be.

King ended up king on the day, producing a very explosive sprint to the line to win comfortably with Stalnov trailing home second and Rolland in third.

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Behind, we did get a bit of GC action with Yates and Buchmann the main two winners on the day. There were no real drastic changes though so let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders tomorrow.

The Route

Another classic Vuelta “sprint stage” that includes 3000m of climbing and a Cat-2 climb cresting only 27km from the finish.

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Rolling roads are pretty much how you would describe the whole day. The first categorised ascent comes after 50km but there will have already been three more gradual rises before then.

Alto de Orgiva is arguably the sharpest ascent of the day, averaging 7% for 4.4kms. Yet more rolling road follows with several more climbs as we pass through the feed zone and then the intermediate sprint.

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All of this happens before the main test of the day, the Alto el Marchal.

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The road actually gradually rises for around 3km before the climb officially starts, with much the same gradients of the ascent itself. The 4.1% average makes it sound easy and to be fair it kind of is, but there are several flat sections on the climb which lowers the average gradient. Still, with it never really going above 7%, it should see a group ride it together unless if someone tries something crazy/stupid.

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The descent off of the climb is long and sinuous, with several technical sections. It will be a fast one though as the inverted gradient is -6% for 16.5kms. Somewhere that the pressure can be put on? Possibly.

Nine kilometres of flat will see the riders arrive at the finish.

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A roundabout and a left hand turn in the closing kilometre could cause some issues if we see a big bunch arrive together.

How will the stage pan out?

Once again it is a day where we have to decide between four options for the win: break, big sprint, or reduced bunch sprint, really reduced bunch sprint/surprise GC day.

I don’t think many, if any, of the main sprinters will get over the final climb with the peloton so a big sprint is the least likely option. It would take a dud of a breakaway, maybe 3 riders or so, and a slow steady pace in the peloton for that to happen. 5%.

Surprise GC day would require Sky to keep things under control and as we saw today their team just isn’t that strong so they’re happy to let things go. In fact, it would be over to the other teams to create a surprise GC day but I think they will want to keep their powder dry and let Sky work in the heat. So again, this is very unlikely. 5%.

A reduced sprint could happen but it require teams to control the tempo all day but who would do it? Movistar could if they fancied Valverde to arrive in a group that he could beat. If Sagan was in form then he would make the finish but Bora have GC riders to look after now, unless of course they work for them? Same goes for Mitchelton and their Trentin/Yates combo? Make it tough enough for Yates or try to hold things together for Trentin? Likelier than the other two options above, but I just think the terrain is too difficult and sapping for someone to bother to waste resources to hold things together all afternoon. 25%.

So for the second day in a row, time to play everyone’s favourite game…

TheBreakawayLottery

I give the break a 65% chance of making it.

Break Candidates

As we saw today it might not be a break with some “big hitters” that makes it to the line and a move could go at any time. However, the more rolling course tomorrow would lend itself more to the stronger/more traditional break riders making the move. So here goes nothing…

As honorable mentions I’ll say De Marchi and De Gendt again but given it is so early into a GT, I like to mix the names up a bit before repeating the tried and tested riders later on.

Alexandre Geniez.

A two-time stage winner at the Vuelta before, we should see an attacking Ag2r outfit throughout this race as they have no-one with real GC aspirations – as much as Gallopin’s great start would suggest otherwise. Geniez is a good climber but also strong on the flat land too so he is the perfect mix to make the break on tomorrow’s terrain. He also packs a pretty fast sprint so could be a contender if the morning move makes it all the way to the line together.

Rohan Dennis.

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Flying on the opening day, since then he has been his Aussie team-mate’s minder pretty much, shepherding home Porte every day. Roche was up for them on GC before today’s stage where he lost two minutes to the main group. Like Ag2R, I expect BMC to put on an attacking display throughout this Vuelta and it was a surprise to see them not make the move today: they’ll duly rectify that tomorrow I think. Dennis is obviously strong on the flat but as we saw in the Giro he can handle himself well on the climbs too and the “easy” gradient of the final climb tomorrow suits him. His breakees can’t get him 20m on the run in to the line or he will be very tough to bring back.

Dries Devenyns.

The man with arguably the best Twitter handle in the peloton, Devenyns has been in lively form this year, albeit mainly at the start of the season. He picked up strong results Down Under and in Oman before returning to Europe. Since then he has been in a domestique role but once again seemed to be in good shape in Poland where he was on the attack. Clearly someone who can cope with the heat, see his results Down Under, the weather shouldn’t be an issue for him tomorrow. I am intrigued to see how QuickStep play it as they of course have Mas to look after for the overall, but Devenyns has been given freedom to chase stages at some point throughout the race. Is tomorrow one of those days?

Nick Schultz.

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Caja Rural have been surprisingly absent from the attacks over the past few days and I would expect that to change soon. Schultz has taken it easy on the first stages, maybe because his signing for Mitchelton is official now…I think he’s been saving himself and riding his way into his second GT, he’ll have learnt a lot from his Vuelta experience last year. Tomorrow doesn’t feature any massive climbs so the rolling terrain suits the young Aussie. We saw with his third place in GP Indurain that he can climb well but also descend too, both characteristics that will come in handy tomorrow.

Prediction

Break stays away and Geniez continues his Vuelta winning streak!

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Betting

1pt WIN Devenyns @ 33/1

1pt WIN Geniez @ 66/1

0.5pt WIN Schultz @ 200/1

0.5pt WIN Dennis @ 300/1

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Vuelta a España 2018 Stage 4 Preview: Vélez-Málaga -> Alfacar. Sierra de la Alfaguara

Today’s Recap

Misread the intensity of the riders today as most decided they fancied a day off, so I’ll hold my hands up for that one! Pretty dull afternoon for us spectators with things only getting exciting inside the last 20km. Considering there was no real pace early on, all of the sprinters made it to the finish and the stage favourite won.

Viviani only needed Morkov in the final kilometre to lead him out, with the Dane dropping him in a perfect position. From there, it was over the Italian Champion who duly delivered. He is having his best season ever and has been the sprinter of the year, no doubt about it!

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Nizzolo continued his recovery with a good second place and Sagan survived the heat to come third. However, the latter still didn’t look as good as normal, with him mainly getting that podium due to his great positioning in the finale.

With the slow pace today, I reckon many have been looking to save energy for tomorrow: let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

It may only be the 4th stage but we have the first proper summit finish of the race.

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50km of flat lands will lead the peloton to the bottom of the opening climb of the day. The Puerto de la Cabra is a fairly steady climb, averaging 5.7% for 16.4km, with its steepest section coming in the middle. Too early for anything wild to happen, just expect a solid tempo in the bunch to tire the legs ever so slightly and that’s it.

The road plateaus and then actually rises after the official KOM point, before the riders reach the feed zone half-way into the day.

A descent and an uncategorised hill leads into an elongated U-shaped valley, before the final climb to the line starts properly.

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As first mountain top finishes of a race go, it is pretty much what you want. Not too difficult that loads of guys will struggle, but it is just tough enough that if a few teams put the hurt on (Movistar and Sky namely), then we could actually see a couple of surprise GC casualties. The opening 4km and closing 2km are the easier parts of the climb, with the middle 6km averaging 7.25% and that is the key section of the day. If you want to drop some rivals, it has to be done there.

How will the stage pan out?

Once again we’re left with the age-old question of break or no break?

Given what we have seen so far, the stage once again looks great for both Valverde and Kwiatkowski, although the former is traditionally better on these types of climbs. However, if the current race leader can make it through the steeper section in the middle then he should be there to compete for the finish at the end of the day. There are of course other GC guys who will fancy their chances on a finish like this but they won’t commit their team to chasing the break, therefore, it is down to Sky and/or Movistar to control things.

Sky will be happy to let the break take the day if there is no danger to the overall or their current race lead in the move so a lot of the onus will be on Movistar and their approach. Valverde said in an interview the other day that he was targeting this stage so I think we will know Movistar’s plan then! Unless of course they decide to play a game with Sky and just let them expend some extra energy controlling things all day.

So what about the break then?

With the 45km+ of “flat” roads before the first climb then it will be difficult for any mountain goats to get into the move, unless if they manage it by luck/good timing – it depends on who you ask as to what the answer is to that. A group of strong rouleurs will be able to keep a chasing peloton at bay behind if it is just Sky or Movistar who are doing the work on their own. There are plenty of strong riders far enough down on GC not to worry Sky so I do think it will be down to two factors for if the break makes it:

  1. Any threat to Kwiatkowski’s lead in the move
  2. How much Movistar put into the day/Sky don’t

We could of course just have one of those days where a rubbish break of 4 escapes after the flag drop and that’s it, easy GC day. Who knows.

In the words of Natalie Imbruglia: “I’m torn”.

I think the sensible play is to go with the break then reassess in-play, so it’s time to play everyone’s favourite game again…

TheBreakawayLottery

Just two juggernauts of the breakaway game being named here from me.

Allesandro De Marchi.

A very impressive 6th place on the opening TT, De Marchi is a rider who seems to produce his best performances at the Vuelta, where he has taken two stage wins in the past. BMC currently have Roche in “GC contention” but I don’t believe he’ll be competing all the way to Madrid so no doubt we’ll see them ride aggressively over the coming weeks. Key to get some practice in before the name change for next year and no real GC leader for the Grand Tours anymore, well, none named so far. De Marchi is a powerful enough rouleur to make the break early on and a solid enough climber to deal with the finishing climb. If he makes the move, it has every chance, just like the next rider.

Thomas De Gendt.

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Mr Breakaway, De Gendt was on the move on stage 2 but decided to drift back to the peloton after they realised they weren’t going to get any success come the end of the stage. Either that or he cramped up but I’ll believe the former! Tomorrow is the type of early GT mountain stage that De Gendt can go exceptionally well in. The rolling but mainly flat terrain in between the climbs are good for him while the low average gradients of the ascents themselves are also favourable. I think he’ll have tomorrow circled in his road book. Can he deliver?

GC Contenders

Aside from Kwiatkowski and Valverde, a GC rider will need a good sprint to finish off tomorrow’s stage given the “flatter” final 2kms. Look towards the likes of Pinot, Kelderman and Lopez to pack a punch.

Prediction

The break to stay away after Sky and Movistar play games behind, and De Marchi to take his third Vuelta stage of his career. I really liked the way he looked on the attack in Poland plus his powerful TT on the opening day!

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Betting

As I said above, a day to throw some pennies onto breakaway picks then reassess in play what’s happening.

1pt WIN De Marchi @ 25/1

1pt WIN De Gent @ 50/1

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

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

Today’s Recap

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

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

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

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

The Route

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

stage-3-profile

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

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

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

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

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

Question Number 1: Break or no break?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contenders

Elia Viviani.

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

Matteo Trentin. 

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

Michal Kwiatkowski.

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

Alejandro Valverde.

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

Tom Van Asbroeck.

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

Nacer Bouhanni.

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

Ivan Garcia Cortina.

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

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

Prediction

Reduced sprint with some of the sprinters missing out.

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Kwiatkowski to get that win!

 

 

Betting

Backing two riders…

1pt EW Kwiatkowski @ 18/1

1pt EW Van Asbroeck @ 40/1

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

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.