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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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 15 Preview: Ribera de Arriba -> Lagos de Covadonga

Today’s Recap

We finally got a GC fight for the stage win!

A break of 6 went away quite early on in the day without much hassle. With Kwiatkowski there, it was kept on a fairly tight leash and they never gained more than 4 minutes of an advantage. The Pole held on until the foot slopes of the final climb but there was nothing he could do about the GC riders behind.

Kruijswijk hit out early but he acted more as a proverbial dangling carrot than anything else, albeit it meant he was always up there when those from behind caught up. Quintana and Lopez looked like they were going to go wheel-to-wheel for the stage win, but with the Astana man not wanting to come to the front, Quintana eased off the pace. This happened on at least three occasions on the climb and each time it allowed those behind to come back.

It was then Yates who attacked with just over 700m to go and he never looked back. The Brit had been cannily riding the whole climb and chose to go at the perfect moment when the road had narrowed and his rivals were on their limit.

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It was enough to take the stage win despite a late charge from Lopez, who arguably looked the strongest today but was too concerned with Movistar, and the evergreen Valverde who came home in third.

Yates moves back into the red jersey after loaning it to Herrada for a couple of days. With another summit finish on the cards tomorrow will he be on the defensive or will he look to gain more time before the rest day?

The Route

Another rolling stage with only three categorised climbs before the summit finish of Lagos de Covadonga but there are plenty of uncategorised tests along the way too, so much so, that the total elevation for the stage is over 4500m.

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It’s still too early for anyone near the top of the GC to try an audacious attack from 40km out so I think the Cat-1 climb (that they do twice) of Mirador del Fito will be inconsequential despite its steep gradients.

For the GC contenders, the battle will come down to the final climb of the day: the famous Lagos de Covadonga.

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Long and pretty steep, the final 4kms are actually the easiest of the whole climb aside from the gentle opening ramp. That makes it tactically a very interesting one because if you can hold on over the very steep 7kms then you shouldn’t lose too much time. However, if things kick off early then we could see some very big time gaps.

How will the stage pan out?

It was nice to see the GC teams take control of things today but I do wonder if they were partly spurred on by Kwiatkowski ahead. Would it have been different if there was no overall “threat” up the road?

Although Mitchelton now have the race lead again, I think they will be happy to just sit back a bit and not chase too much throughout the afternoon unless it is absolutely necessary. Yates is clearly on good form but he and the team have shown a lot more maturity and tactical nous compared to the Giro earlier in the year so I think they’ll be happy to let the break go and let it come back naturally, or if other teams chase.

Who will those teams be?

Movistar and Astana are the only two I can see contributing. The former have been the major pace setters of the GC teams but given that Quintana looked a bit shaky today they might take more of a back seat. Lopez will have been kicking himself after the finish this afternoon as he certainly looked like the stage win was a possibility. Astana are the type of team who can set their minds to it and chase down the breaks, but do they want to?

Bahrain were the ones to put a lot of pace into the back-end of the stage but Izagirre fell short so I think they will look elsewhere tomorrow. You have to applaud them for trying this afternoon though!

With it being another fairly big day for the KOM competition, expect those near the top of the standings to try to make the move. De Gendt was on the attack today but I expect him to be there tomorrow, likewise Rolland, Mollema and King. As harsh it is, they need to strike now that Maté is apparently suffering from bronchitis.

I think it will be another big fight to get into the break and if the right riders are represented then it won’t come back: there just has to be no-one in it that is closer 7 or so minutes as that might concern some near the top of the order.

Time to play that game again…

TheBreakawayLottery

Break Candidates

Once again, I’ll try to keep this short and sweet as no one wants to hear the same thing for about the 7th time this Vuelta. Unfortunately for you, that is exactly what is happening!

Vincenzo Nibali – A nice training ride for him this afternoon as he drilled the front of the bunch in aid of Ion Izagirre. That didn’t work out for the team and I expect Nibali to be allowed a free role from now on. He looked super strong today and if he makes the break he has got to be a danger.

Richard Carapaz – Movistar love a team classification win and today they closed the gap to Bahrain thanks to it being a GC day. However, if things are to go to those up the road tomorrow then they might try to sneak someone into the attack. Carapaz has been growing steadily into this race and we all saw at the Giro just how strong he can be in the mountains.

Sepp Kuss – With Jumbo only having Kruijswijk in GC contention now, they might decide to let some of their riders up the road. Kuss has performed brilliantly on select days, keeping the pace very high on the front of the bunch before peeling off. It is his first Grand Tour so energy management will be important but if he has recovered for tomorrow, then he could be an outsider for the day.

Tiesj Benoot – I expected big things of Benoot coming into this race, namely with a possible stage win somewhere. However, he has been unfortunate with a crash and an injury to the knee but that seems to have healed a bit more over the past few days. His form was on the up before the crash so it is yet to be seen how he can go on a finish like this at the head of the race. I’m willing to be pleasantly surprised.

Prediction

Rinse and repeat prediction from yesterday: Nibali.

Milano-Sanremo 2018 - edizione 109 - da Milano a Sanremo (294 km)

Buy Me A Beer (Coffee)

Forgot to plug this going into last Sunday so here we are this time around. If you’ve enjoyed the previews over the past two weeks of racing and you’re feeling really generous then you can aid the blog writing process by buying me a coffee through the following link: https://www.paypal.me/jamiehaughey/3.50

Thank you in advance if you do!

Betting

1.75pt WIN Nibali @ 40/1

0.75pt WIN on the rest…

Carapaz @ 66/1

Benoot @ 80/1

Kuss @ 66/1

Thanks as always for reading. Who do you think wins tomorrow and in what manner? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Vuelta a España 2018 Stage 14 Preview: Cistierna -> Les Praeres. Nava

Today’s Recap

“Who?” every reporter asks as they rush onto ProCyclingStats to find out a tidbit of information about today’s winner, Óscar Rodríguez.

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Turns out he has done okay in a few Portuguese races this season, finishing 20th overall at La Grandissima, meaning a second placed finish in the young rider’s classification. Aside from that, nothing much. Today definitely marks a breakthrough performance! It was so impressive that he was only 27 seconds slower on the La Camperona climb than best GC rider Quintana.

Favourite from the break Majka came home second on the day and gave a bemused interview post-stage, while Teuns held on to third, denying a late charging Lambrecht.

As mentioned above, Quintana was comfortable and took some time out of his rivals but Yates matched him pedal stroke for pedal stroke until the final 150m. Lopez did well to recover from a mechanical, not losing too much time and gaining some on others. Mas and De La Cruz seem to be timing their peak well and riding into the race. The biggest GC loser on the day was George Bennett who lost 1’46 to Quintana.

However, Herrada held on finishing just behind Bennett so he still leads the race going into another summit finish tomorrow. Let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

More of a sawtooth profile than today’s affair, we are also treated to a brand new finish climb.

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We could see the break form on the early unclassified ascent that peaks after only 8km, if not, there will be a tough fight for the following 40kms, possibly more. An easy Cat-3 climb leads the riders into a long descent through the feedzone before the steep Alto de la Colladona (5.4km at 7.5%) awaits.

The Alto de la Mozqueta (10km at 6.3%) and the Alto de la Falla los Lobos (7.1km at 5.2%) follow in the next 60kms but given the 10kms of valley roads between the penultimate and last climb, I can’t see any GC action happening before the summit finish.

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Not much to say about the climb really, you just need to look at the gradients to see how tough it is – no kilometre drops under 10%!

How will the stage pan out?

We saw how keen many teams were to get in the break today and just how difficult the stage was to control for those behind. Tomorrow is another day that isn’t too bad to keep check of things in theory but the Vuelta often doesn’t go by the book. I think it is clear after today that the only teams who might chase down the break are Movistar, Astana and Mitchelton. Well, and Cofidis I suppose but they don’t have the firepower to do anything on their own here.

Mitchelton provided a little help today but as they were so keen to get rid of the jersey the other day, I think they will prefer to let the other two teams tire themselves out. Both Astana and Movistar were the most active in chasing the break back today but they left it too late if they were hoping for a stage win. Will they make the same mistake tomorrow or will they just let the break go and save their energy?

Possibly the latter, again, for like what seems the umpteenth day in a row!

TheBreakawayLottery

Break Candidates

Not going to bore you here because I myself am getting pretty bored of trying to come up with some new names but not straying too far from my set group. Names in a hat time.

Vincenzo Nibali – Getting back somewhere near where he should be, he’s been active and managed to get into the break the other day. Took it easy this afternoon, possibly saving himself for one of the coming stages.

Tao Geoghegan Hart – Same reasons as yesterday’s preview pretty much! Sky appear to be trying to get riders into the breaks and TGH is one of the nominated few. He’s made some that have been brought back but can he make one that sticks?

Mikel Bizkarra – Two in two for Euskadi Murias? The Spaniard climbed well today beating some strong climbers such as Bennett, Woods and Herrada. He could spring a surprise.

Igor Anton – Dimension Data now find themselves in second place in the team classification so I expect them to have numerous riders in the breaks over the coming stages. Anton was strong in Burgos but has been quiet this whole race. Is he saving himself?

Prediction

Breakaway wins again and I’ll go for Nibali.

Milano-Sanremo 2018 - edizione 109 - da Milano a Sanremo (294 km)

Betting

0.5pt WIN on them all

Nibali 50s, the rest are 80s.

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 13 Preview: Candás. Carreño -> Valle de Sabero. La Camperona

Today’s Recap

A big break went as I expected and with both Bora and Quick Step represented, it showed that Sagan and Viviani weren’t overly keen with another hard day on a finish they might not have made. I did question the possible success of the break early on though as Jesus Herrada made the split and he was only 5’45 down on GC before the start of the day. However, it seems Mitchelton have learnt from their Giro mistakes and they were more than happy to let the Cofidis rider take the jersey at the end of the day: an opportunity he gladly took. He wasn’t competing for the stage win though, as the large break splintered into two groups in the final 20km.

Instead it was a group of 8 out ahead who fought for the win. Attacks flew but no one was able to escape and after some riders were dropped it came down to a 5 rider sprint to the line. Geniez took a bit of a risk and went early at 300m out but given the narrow road and slight downhill, it turned out to be a perfect point to launch the sprint. Van Baarle came close but he ran out of road both in front of him and at the side as the barriers closed off any chance he had of getting round the Ag2R rider. Youngster Padun trailed home in third, not a bad result for his first Grand Tour.

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Kind of an annoying day for the blog as Campenaerts was in that group but finished fifth. However, I am very pleased of how accurate my “How will the race pan out?” predictions have been this whole race, even if the right riders aren’t represented. Watch me get it massively wrong for tomorrow now…

The Route

Only a shade more climbing than today but the profile looks completely different as we have a tough mountain top finish.

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The stage is pretty easy in some sense due to the lack of actual hills, the road drags than anything else for the opening 90km, albeit, there is a 3rd-Cat climb early on in the day. Just through the feed zone the peloton will tackle the Cat-1 climb of Puerto de Tama (11.7km at 6.1%). Given it’s position in the day and what comes after it, I expect it to be taken at a very casual pace indeed.

Following on from the summit, almost 60km of flat-ish roads await the riders and the cheekily placed intermediate sprint before the road starts climbing for the mountain finish of La Camperona.

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A 7.7km climb at 7.6% sounds fairly tough on its own but La Camperona is all about its ridiculously steep gradients within the closing 2kms. It isn’t also nicknamed the Wall of Camperona for nothing!

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A final 2.6km at 14.4% is just brutal. You don’t want to be giddy and go too early as if you fade late on then you can crack massively and lose a lot of time. Back in 2016 Quintana attacked at only 1km to go but still managed to gain 25 seconds on Contador and 33 seconds on Froome respectively. Will we see something similar from him tomorrow?

How will the stage pan out?

A day that is easy to control for the GC teams given the large amount of flat roads that break up the two main climbs. However, will anyone want to control it? Mitchelton showed today they were content enough to let the jersey go so I can’t imagine they will chip in now. None of the other GC teams have really turned a pedal in anger at the head of the bunch to chase anything down; they’ve only put the pressure on at the end of stages, i.e. EF Education First yesterday.

So the buck will lie with our race leader and his Cofidis team, and Movistar. The former don’t really have the horsepower to control things fully in my opinion but they would be a more than helpful ally to Movistar. The men in blue have taken control of most days even though they are not in the race lead – clearly confident of Quintana for the race. Yet, with two even harder stages this weekend, I think they might be happy to let Cofidis to the brunt of the work so that they can rest up.

Therefore, another day and another chance to play our favourite game…

TheBreakawayLottery

Breakaway Candidates

It’s a really weird stage to choose possible breakaway riders as the flatter opening 90kms are not ideal for the mountain goats to make the split. We could see a scenario very similar to what we had back in 2014, a day when the only climb was La Camperona, on which a break made up mainly of rouleurs fought out for the win. Of course, if one or two climbers to make the split then don’t expect everyone just to ride to the bottom of the climb with them.

Hmmmm. These guys will be outsiders but why not!

Jan Hirt.

I was very impressed with the Astana man on Stage 9 during the La Covatilla summit finish as he pushed the pace on for his leader Lopez. Despite having the Colombian fighting for the GC lead, Astana have been active in the break so far this race but they missed out today. Tomorrow they possibly might send someone up the road to work for Lopez later on but if the gap is too big then they could go for the stage themself. Hirt is a rider who likes the steep gradients so he will be a big fan of tomorrow’s finish climb. Can he rekindle that Giro 2017 form?

Franco Pellizotti.

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Now leading the Team Classification, Bahrain will be keen to get someone in the breakaway tomorrow. Nibali and Padun will be tired after their efforts today so that really leaves Gorka, Pernsteiner and the aforementioned Pellizotti. I was impressed with the veteran’s finish to the stage De Marchi won and if he had made the right move before he could have had a chance. He often turns up for one or two good stages in a Grand Tour where he is climbing with the best – is that tomorrow?

Merhawi Kudus.

It was the turn of the younger Eritrean climber in the Dimension Data team, albeit by only a few months, so I think we might see Kudus on the attack tomorrow. The steep ramps should suit his dimunitive figure. Does anyone else remember how strong he was back in 2017 on the steep slopes of Llucena in Valenciana? He will be a real threat if he makes the break but making the break will be his biggest challenge.

Tao Geoghegan Hart.

Sky have shown a different side to their armada over the past few days where they have actually had a rider up the road in the breakaway. Shocking, I know. Geoghegan Hart made one of the earlier splits that was unsuccessful the other day so he has clearly been given some freedom to chase a result now and again. One of the best performers at the Dauphiné earlier in the year, if he has the same legs tomorrow then he is one to watch.

Prediction

Dimension Data to continue their incredible Vuelta with Kudus winning the stage from a rather weird breakaway!

Merhawi-Stage-5-Tour-of-the-Alps-Stiehl-1

Betting

0.5pt WIN on each of the breakers;

Hirt @ 300/1

Pellizotti @ 150/1

Kudus @ 100/1

TGH @ 150/1

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Vuelta a España 2018 Stage 12 Preview: Mondoñedo -> Faro de Estaca de Bares. Mañón

Today’s Recap

A manic day in the saddle where the race was 3km/h ahead of the fastest expected schedule. It took for over 80km for the break to form and when it did Pinot found himself up there along with 18 others. They were never given a lot of time with the gap hovering around the 3:30 mark for most of the day but they did have enough to fight out for the stage win.

It became a very tactical finish but a duo of De Marchi and Restrepo escaped with around 20km to go, and it was the BMC man who dropped his companion on the final unclassified climb, managing to ride solo to the line.

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Restrepo held on for second place while Pellizotti rounded out the podium.

Behind, the GC riders dropped pretty much everyone else on that final rise thanks to a strong pace from EF Education. However, they all arrived at the line together so no time loss. Well, apart from De La Cruz (7 seconds), Buchmann (8 seconds) and Aru (41 seconds) who all shipped a bit of time.

With today’s stupidly fast pace, I’m sure there will be several in the bunch hoping for an easier day tomorrow, so let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

Another day out with 3000m of climbing: that might not be music to the ears of plenty in the peloton after all.

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It doesn’t appear as difficult a stage because there aren’t as many big climbs, but the road is constantly up and down and will be very draining.

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Once the riders pass through the 50km to go banner there are no more categorised climbs, but that doesn’t mean the ascending stops. According to the Strava profile I’ve made, there is a total of 948m of elevation gain but that does seem a little on the heavy-handed side in my opinion. Something like 750m might be a bit more realistic.

The first of the small drags to contend with in that closing 50km is 2kms at 5.5% and starts with 40km to go. Some flat land then leads onto a 2.9km (6%) climb which has a just over a kilometre at 10%. A fast descent and more flat sees the riders into the last 20km of the day which can certainly be described as rolling.

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It is pretty much up or down all the way to the finish.

The three main rises can be classed as 2.4km at 4.5%, 2.7km at 5.5% and 4.1km at 2.3%. Throughout the first two of those climbs, there are several sections with steeper gradients and the hurt can be put on within the peloton. Once over the last drag, there are only 2.5km left in the day, all of which are pretty much downhill.

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A fast finish to the day and given the potential showers throughout the afternoon, it might be a sketchy run in. It is meant to be very windy throughout the stage too but it shouldn’t be an issue at the end of the day because of how sheltered the roads are. However, it might cause another frantic start to the stage with the riders travelling along the coast.

How will the stage pan out?

One of those days where we could feasibly see several outcomes, making it a tricky one to predict.

The finish looks good for Sagan and if the rumours are true, he might be heading home after tomorrow’s stage so going out on a win would be great. However, the stage could also be good for someone like Valverde if the climbs are rode aggressively in the last 20km in an attempt to detach the faster sprinters.

Tomorrow will either end up with the break winning, a reduced bunch sprint, or a late solo attack.

The climb at the start of the stage is a good opportunity for a strong group to go but the “easy” roads up to the half-way point of the afternoon could see them controlled. Yet, the second part of the stage is much more difficult for teams to keep a lid on things so they might just be happy to let some riders go. Another factor that lends itself to the break staying away is just how fast and crazy today was. There are plenty riders in the peloton who will have suffered and the GC teams will want to keep their domestiques fresh for the coming mountain days so they won’t chase. Instead, it will probably be up to the likes of Bora to try to hold things together if they want a Sagan stage win.

A reduced bunch sprint has a good chance of happening if we get one of this piss-poor breaks where three guys just roll off the front in the opening 2kms and everyone sits up. The peloton will easily be able to control them and bring them back slowly over the second half of the stage. However, it will then depend how aggressively things are raced as to just how reduced a bunch we get at the finish. I think a lot of the sprinters will struggle.

The late attack option can only happen if the break has been brought back, obviously. If we see a fast pace that gets rid of the sprinters, then it helps those wanting to attack as there will be fewer teams wanting to hold things together.

We might even see some crazy early echelon action if some teams want to push the pace on.

Hmmmmmm. I don’t really know, this is tough.

Break. I’ll go with the break so I guess it is that time again…

TheBreakawayLottery

I’ll keep this brief as I’m pretty much pulling names out of a hat.

Victor Campenaerts – Same reason as yesterday’s preview. He seems strong this race but hasn’t had the chance to shine for himself. Will want a hit out at some point over the coming stages before the TT.

Rohan Dennis – Think he is the only BMC not to be in the breakaway so far this Vuelta: will that change tomorrow? Like Campenaerts, I think he will want to open the taps up fully a few days before the TT. The rolling stage looks good for him tomorrow and he can certainly hold off a strong chase behind.

Steve Cummings – Meh, why not?*

*Please don’t actually tell me the numerous reasons why.

Laurens De Plus – One of the teams who might try to hold things together are Quick Step as they possibly might fancy Viviani’s chances of making the line. To counter the expected work they will have to do though then they could send someone up the road. De Plus was very active at the start of the day but paid for it at the end of the stage by losing time. Can he recover and go again? He has looked in great shape so far this race.

Lukas Pöstlberger – Like Quick Step, a lot of the workload will be left with Bora tomorrow. Sagan was dropped a few times today so maybe he was feeling the effects. If so, then attacking could be their best option for the stage. Pöstlberger made a few of the earlier moves but missed the ones later on but he could be the type of rider to attack tomorrow.

Prediction

Peloton will want another rest day so they will go easy, allowing the break to win. Dennis to take the stage!

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Betting

Small stakes on the break picks as I’m really unsure of how tomorrow pans out.

0.5pt WIN on

Postlberger @ 56/1

Campenaerts @ 50/1

Cummings @ 100/1

0.25pt WIN On

Dennis @ 300/1

De Plus @ 300/1

1.25pt EW On Valverde @ 25/1

Backing the latter in case of the reduced bunch sprint and Valverde going for the stage to take the red jersey.