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 9 Preview: Talavera de la Reina -> La Covatilla

Today’s Recap

Positioning, positioning, positioning. The key to today’s finish. Some had it, some did not.

Unfortunately for the blog, Viviani certainly did not as he was in around 30-40th wheel coming through the roundabout so was never involved. A bit annoying as Quick Step seemed keen to chase the break all day but they were swamped at the end from 5km out and never managed to get some space. Some can argue that he wouldn’t have been up there fighting for the win but given the composition of the top 10 and his current season, I still think he would have been there, but opinions are opinions and we all have them. One thing is for certain, that’s two “sprint” days now that Quick Step have been out of position; very unlike them!

Anyway, up ahead, Lotto Jumbo were pulling hard to set up Van Poppel but it was Garcia who hit out early, hoping to catch everyone by surprise. No one really hesitated though and all he ended up doing was just leading the rest of the bunch out. Sagan was the first of the big hitters to go and it looked for a while as if he was going to get the stage win, but Valverde came round him in the last 50m, rather comfortably, to take his second victory of the race.

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Van Poppel managed to hold on for third with a real smorgasbord of sprinters/puncheurs/GC riders filtered behind them. Can Valverde make it two in a row? Let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders tomorrow.

The Route

Last day of racing before the first rest day and we are treated to the first mountain top finish of the race. Yes, we’ve had some hill-top finishes so far, you could even class Sierra de la Alfaguara as a mountain, but none have been as difficult as what awaits tomorrow.

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Over 4000m of climbing throughout the day, this is our first big GC test. Combining that with the heat, then we could see several riders pop on the final climb. Don’t expect any GC action until then though.

The opening trio of climbs come too far out for any early movement and they will more than likely just be the platform for the breakaway to push on and try to gain some time before the second half of the stage.

In that second half, the road is constantly up and down, making a chase slightly more difficult than it would be otherwise. The final 24km of the day are all mainly uphill, with a 9km stretch at 3% before the riders reach the proper start of the La Covatilla climb.

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The last time the Vuelta used this finish was in 2011 when Dan Martin out-sprinted Bauke Mollema to the line, with the remaining GC riders coming in not too far behind them. As you can see on the profile above, the steepest gradients come early and if a few riders hit out here then things could blow to bits. If not, we might see a slow attritional process before gaps are made in the final 2kms as riders attack.

Rather annoyingly though, the current weather forecast projects that there will be a reasonably strong cross/headwind (15km/h) on the climb. It might just be enough to deter many attacks, which would be a shame.

Break or GC winner?

Who wants to hold this one together then?

I think Molard and Groupama will have enjoyed their past few days in red but know that their time is numbered so they are more than likely to forego expending any unnecessary energy tomorrow. Likewise, I can’t really see many of the GC squads wanting to contribute. Possibly we could see Mitchelton and Bora help a chase as both Yates and Buchmann have looked good so far.

However, the brunt of the work will once again be left to Movistar. They have a big chance of taking the red jersey tomorrow with Valverde and given the headwind, he has a good chance of winning a sprint between the GC riders.

Yet, it is a long day out in the saddle and having both Quintana and Valverde in contention for the overall at the moment, and needing a few domestiques for the climbs means that they will be running low on riders to pull. It will certainly be a tough task for Bennati, Erviti and Oliveira to keep a strong break in check!

So. Here. We. Go. Again.

TheBreakawayLottery

The Cursed Four

Dan Martin.

The Irishman has been slowly riding himself into this race, hoping to target some stage wins before he more than likely abandons for the birth of his children. Struggling on the opening days, he has said that his form has started to come around and tomorrow looks perfect for him. He’s won here before and I have a feeling that he will have this day circled.

Richie Porte.

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After an illness plagued the opening few stages of this race, Porte is well out of contention for the overall, although there is a debate around whether he was in with a shout pre-race or not. He found himself in the rather odd position of being in a three-man break on stage 6, blowing the cobwebs out. On his day, he is one of the best climbers in the world and if he makes the break there will be very few who can beat him – if he is somewhere back to full fitness. That is a big “if” though.

Bauke Mollema.

Quite unlucky to have had a mechanical when in the winning move on stage 5 as he looked strong enough to drop everyone on the climb. He’s rested the past few days with the intention of making the break tomorrow and giving it all for the stage win. Could we see a showdown between him and Dan Martin again?

Dani Moreno.

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Rolland is probably one of the designated breakaway riders for EF Education but I think Moreno will be given his chance at some point and he might be allowed to go for the move too and they will just see who gets there: someone does need to stay back and support Uran. As I mentioned the other day when nominating Moreno, he is in search of a contract for next year so needs some good performances. A stage win at the Vuelta would all but secure that. Can he roll back the years?

Prediction

No one wants to control the break on what is a long day and history repeats itself with Dan Martin winning atop La Covatilla.

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Betting

1.25pt WIN Martin @ 50/1

1pt WIN Mollema @ 33/1

0.75pt WIN Porte @ 80/1

0.5pt WIN Moreno @ 300/1

Thanks as always for reading. Who do you think wins tomorrow? Will the break fight it out for the stage win or will it be the GC riders? 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 7 Preview: Puerto Lumbreras -> Pozo Alcón

Today’s Recap

Told ya, well, kind of.

A stiff headwind for a lot of the day saw a slow pace throughout the afternoon but a combination of some poorly marshalled bollards and wind resulted in splits throughout the bunch late on. Annoyingly, those pesky sprinters made the front group along with team-mates so things were kept at a reasonable pace and the wind just wasn’t strong enough to create any more splits in the final 10km, despite the best intentions from a few teams.

I did say in yesterday’s preview that Viviani wouldn’t win and that is exactly what happened. The Italian finished ridiculously fast but he was poorly positioned coming around the final roundabout and could only manage third place.

Instead it was Bouhanni who sprinted to the victory, a result that will probably be divisive in the cycling community. I for one am happy to see him pick up the result, it is what he needed desperately. It also puts to bed the fake news/misinterpretation that was spread yesterday after the stage.

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Van Poppel got up well to finish second but just didn’t have the legs to come past the Cofidis man.

There weren’t many GC losers today but Pinot and Kelderman were the main ones, both shipping 1’44 to their rivals. Not ideal but it isn’t the end of the Vuelta for them, however, they will have to work hard to gain that time back. Will they get a chance soon? Let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders tomorrow.

The Route

Another rolling day out for the peloton, with 2500m of climbing throughout the stage.

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Only two of the rises are categorised but as you can see on the profile, there are plenty of drags and peaks elsewhere. The rolling terrain does make it a bit more awkward for the sprinters teams to control but nothing should worry them too much in the opening 160km. It is the final 15km of the day that will be crucial and we might not see many of the sprinters make the line in what is billed as another flat day and one for them. In fact, I’ll be surprised if any of them do.

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Just ignore the fact I wrote Stage 8 above, bit of a brain fart…

To kick the closing 17.5km off, the riders will face the second categorised climb of the day: Alto de Ceal (4.3km at 5.8%). It is a very steady climb with the gradient keeping regular – good for those wanting to set a tempo. Once over the top, the road descends for 4kms, albeit that is interrupted by another short rise.

The day’s intermediate bonus sprint is handily placed on top of the following climb.

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The fight for position will be intense going into the climb and not because of the double-digit gradients that await in some points, but the ridiculously narrow streets through the village of Hinojares.

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Once through the sprint point a short descent follows before the road drags all the way up to the finish line, with an average gradient of 2% for the remaining 5.5km.

How will the stage play out?

It’s too difficult for any of the sprinters so it will be a puncheur that could sprint to the line from a reduced group. The final 20km actually look perfect for Valverde and Kwiatkowski but they also look very tempting for a late attack.

Will anyone want to work all day and hold the race together?

Movistar might, as today and tomorrow are both the closest stages to Valverde’s home in Murcia and given that the route suits him perfectly, they could give it a try. However, it will take a lot of energy to control things as I’m not sure many others will want to. Sky deliberately gave away the jersey to avoid controlling on days like tomorrow so I doubt they’ll decide to chase now.

Therefore, it once again looks like we’re about to play everyone’s favourite game…

TheBreakawayLottery

Dries Devenyns.

Solid rider with a good bit of form, Quick Step will want to be present in the break after missing out the other day. Devenyns is the type of guy who can finish it off. Can’t really be bothered to repeat myself from the other day so go and read that instead!

Dylan Teuns.

BMC were close to a win with De Marchi the other day and we saw the strange sight of Porte in a three-man break on a sprinter’s stage this afternoon. Teuns on paper looks their best shot at a win tomorrow as he can handle the punchy gradients very well.

Daniel Moreno.

No WT for EF Education up until Clarke’s victory on stage 5, can they get another one quickly? Moreno is in search of a contract for next year so I expect him to see him animate a few stages this race, it is just a question of which ones. Tomorrow looks like a good opportunity as Uran won’t need much help and there is time for him to recover before Sunday’s mountain top finish.

Nelson Oliveira.

Movistar are always competitive in the Team classification so if a big group goes up the road tomorrow then expect them to have someone there. Oliveira is a strong rider who can deal with varying terrain. The steep climb before the final 5km might be on his limit, but it all of course depends on his company in the move.

Prediction

Dani Moreno to roll back the years and make it two in three days for EF Education.

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Betting

“Punts on the break picks as per, then reassess in-play”, but given the price of Valverde, I’m also backing him…

2pts WIN Valverde @ 11s

1pt WIN Teuns @ 22s

1pt WIN Devenyns @ 50s

0.5pt WIN Moreno @ 250/1

0.5pt WIN Oliveira @ 125/1

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Vuelta a España 2018 Stage 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 2 Preview: Marbella -> Caminito del Rey

Today’s Recap

Was it ever really in doubt? The Rohirrim were well and truly mustered. Dennis smashed it out the park, winning by a relatively massive 6 seconds in the grand scheme of things: taking almost one second per kilometre over his nearest rivals.

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Kwiatkowski produced a strong time to come home in second, just edging out Campenaerts. The three pre-stage favourites finishing in the predicted order. The trio were a cut above the rest with a 10 second gap between Campenaerts and 4th-place finisher Oliveira.

Will Dennis hold onto the jersey tomorrow? Let’s take a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

No messing about from the organisers here, the open road action kicks off with a real tease of a stage.

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Climbing from the gun, the Puerto de Ojén (8km at 5.6%) will offer the chance for a strong break to go clear. There are two more 3rd Cat climbs out on the route which rolls pretty much all afternoon before a climb to finish.

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They will get a look at the final climb just before the halfway point in the stage. As you can see, at an average of just under 4% for 4.7kms, it isn’t the toughest climb in the world. However, it goes up in steps and the final kilometre of it averages a slightly punchier 6.5%. As they round the final corner with only 200m to go, things flatten out somewhat and a slight drag to the line awaits.

How will the stage pan out?

Given the tough start we could see a strong break get away, something a lot of the peloton won’t want. There is a chance if that is the case though, and that the morning move fights it out at the finish. We’ve seen this before where there is a lack of organisation by the big GC teams as to who chases down the move, almost trying to call each others bluff but failing in the end.

However, I don’t think that will be the case this time around and there will be enough co-operation behind to keep things on a fairly tight leash.

Expect the likes of Movistar and Sky to control the tempo on the final climb, whittling down the group in the hope to set up their riders. It is punchy enough to see some attacks though and if the bunch becomes unorganised then someone might be able to sneak away.

Kwiatkowski v Valverde?

On paper these are the two favourites for the stage as I personally think the finish will be too tough for the likes of Viviani and co. Sagan would be up there if this was in July but it’s not and he’s not been in the best of shape recently so yeah…

Kwiatkowski was dominant in the Tour of Poland, winning two stages along with the GC title. Both of his wins came on uphill finishes, although they were different in nature compared to what we have tomorrow, which is somewhere in between the two. If anything, the finish is very similar to his win earlier in the year in the Algarve when he won up the climb of Foia.

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Valverde is of course Valverde and you would have to be living under a rock not to know his capabilities on a finish like this. We’ve seen him take numerous wins in sprints from reduced groups at the top of climbs over the past few years. His team should be strong enough to hold it all together but who knows. His form is a bit unknown though as he hasn’t raced since the Tour so he might get caught out a bit here but then again, it is Valverde and he is always on form. The Tour was his down time in form for the year…

Not Just a Two-horse Race.

There are of course plenty of others within the field who will fancy their chances via either a sprint or a late attack. Think of Dan Martin, Dylan Teuns, Bauke Mollema, the Yates’ and Pello Bilbao to name but a few.

However, I’ve had one rider in mind for this stage for a few days now and I think as an “outsider” he has a good chance of going very well…

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I’ve been very impressed by Benoot’s transition from one-day racer to potential future one-week stage race contender this year. Saying that, his biggest and only win did come in the very tough edition of Strade Bianche. On that day he was flying on the short and punchy climbs and it was one of the rides of the season. Set to ride his first Tour de France, he was unfortunately the victim of one of the opening week crashes; ultimately being forced to abandon before the start of the 5th stage. He returned to racing in the Cyclassics Hamburg recently and was one of the riders on the attack over the final climb, where he looked fairly comfortable. He’s talked up his form quite a bit in the run in to this race and I believe him! Just look at his “sprint” results in Tirreno and Dauphiné, he can pack a punch from a small group. Will he wait for the galop though, or go for a hail mary attack?

Prediction

I was going to be boring and just say Kwiatkowski here but I’ll stick my neck out and go with Benoot. It’s also a perfect excuse to share my favourite cycling related Instagram post…

View this post on Instagram

Forza Tiesj Benoot! 🎉 @tiesj #ohn

A post shared by Sporza (@sporza.be) on

Forza Tiesj!

Betting

1pt EW Benoot @ 33/1

Thanks as always for reading! Apologies for this being a little bit shorter than normal but I’ve had a few other things on this afternoon. Normal length should return tomorrow. Who do you think is going to win the stage? Will we see a surprise? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Vuelta a España 2017 Stage 21 Preview; Arroyomolinos -> Madrid

Today’s Recap

We did get a fairytale ending after all, with Contador winning the stage atop the mythical Angrilu.

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It was a classic performance from the Trek rider as he put on an aggressive climbing masterclass. He certainly will be missed as a rider, especially as his type seems to be disappearing over the past few years.

Sky put on a dominant display behind, with Poels and Froome finishing on the day’s podium. The result means that barring anything incredibly bizarre happens tomorrow, the Brit has won his first Vuelta title.

It makes him the first rider to win the modern Tour-Vuelta double, and the first since Pantani to complete a double. Quite remarkable!

I bet Froome’s parties aren’t as good though…

With the GC battle over, it is time for the sprinters to have their time in the spotlight tomorrow.

The Route

Zzzzzz.

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Featuring a zzzz circuit.

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I could go on and pretend that there is more to this stage than meets the eye but in the words of Skepta; “that’s not me”.

We could see a late attack stick if some of the sprint teams mess around with the chase duties. Modolo and Lampre (UAE) are here so a Giro cock-up could always be on the cards.

But no, it will be a processional stage followed by a sprint. Simples.

Contenders

Trentin.

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The best sprinter here so far, he also has the added incentive of trying to win the Green jersey too. However, tomorrow’s easy run in looks the least suited to the Quick Step rider who would prefer a trickier finish. Nonetheless, the form is clearly there so he most likely has to start as favourite.

Theuns.

Sprinter turned key hilly domestique for Contador over the past few weeks, the Belgian has performed his duties ably. Will the favour be returned tomorrow? Most likely! He is fast and with De Kort to guide him into position, he’ll be a threat.

Modolo.

Has been a bit meh recently but can’t be discounted in this field. He does seem to go well at the end of a GT.

Cort Nielsen.

The final sprint stage and the first day that the Dane will get a chance to go for the win. He took this day last year so I guess he has some course form. He made the break on a few of the more rolling days so his power output must be fairly solid. A dark horse?

Blythe.

Could Aqua Blue get two wins this Vuelta? Blythe isn’t the fastest sprinter in the world, but in this field and at the end of a Grand Tour then we do often get surprise results.

Van Asbroeck and Lobato will be in or around the top 10 too.

Vuelta Picks

A dangerous day for those near the top of the table but thankfully Degenkolb isn’t here to ruin anyone’s chances on the last stage.

Safe PickTrentin.

Pretty self-explanatory; has some form and will be near the head of the results.

Wongshot Pick – Cort

Not tested in the sprints at all this race but he does have the speed to contend.

Lanterne Rouge Pick – DeClerq

Should be doing some work early in the day.

Prediction

Cort to repeat last year’s success!

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Betting

No bet.

Apologies for the really short preview but the Vuelta has worn me down and my enthusiasm for stages like tomorrow is limited enough anyway! Thanks to all of you for reading every day and interacting on Twitter etc. Helps me to keep going through several break days in a row. The season is nearly over but I’ll be back previwing the World’s in no time!

If you’ve enjoyed the previews and want to thank me (cheeky of me, I know) then a beer would be more than appreciated – Buy Me A Beer. But hey, if you don’t ask, you don’t get!

Anyway,

Those have been My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

Vuelta a España 2017 Stage 20 Preview; Corvera de Asturias -> Alto de L’Angliru

Today’s Recap

A big break formed relatively early on with a second group of chasers including Bardet, joining after the first climb of the day.

Sky were happy to let them go and so were the rest of the GC teams.

Numerous moments of attacks/counters/riders dropped/regrouping happened throughout the day but we ended with a small bunch sprint that was one by De Gendt.

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It was made all the sweeter with the Lotto rider being one of the blog picks for today. That win now puts him into an esteemed club of stage winners at all three Grand Tours. Not bad!

Behind, Contador put in an attack on the final climb but was ultimately reeled in by Sky and Sunweb so no GC change.

Is it all to play for tomorrow? Probably not, but who knows.

Let’s have a look at what is in store for them, even though you probably have a very good idea!

The Route

A stage everyone seems to be waiting for, with the mythical finish up the l’Angrilu.

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3500m of climbing in less than 120km of racing; it sounds less than ideal for those hoping just to make it to Madrid!

The riders will start the day off with an uncategorised climb from the gun; 12.7km at 3.46%. Fairly simple, but given what is to come in the rest of the stage, the pace could be very fast and some riders might find themselves in difficulty early on.

From there, the riders will descend before beginning a very slow and gradual rise all the way to the bottom of the opening Cat-1 climb; Alto de la Cobertoria.

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At an average of 8.5% for 7.8km it is a stiff test and sets the mood for what is to come in the remainder of the day. The kilometre at almost 15% just sounds brutal! A bold rider will attack here, going “early” in the day. I say “early” as once they crest there are only 38km left.

The descent is fast and twisting, which could become dangerous if the roads are wet.

An important factor is the fact that the riders almost climb straight away again, so there is very little time for them to recover from any efforts that they made on the previous ascent.

Alto del Cordal is up next and is another steep Cat-1 climb.

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The organisers do love to find some gems for us spectators. That closing 1.6km at 11.7% is crazy. We might see some of those in the top 10 crack big time and if they do, I’m afraid it is not going to get much better for them…

A fast descent before the final climb of the Vuelta, which definitely won’t be tackled in a quick fashion!

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I don’t really need to say much about the Angliru.

The name itself should be enough to resonate with any cycling fan around the world but with a 6km section that averages 13.7% we could be in for some big time gaps tomorrow if things are all guns blazing from far out.

Only the best will come to the fore on this climb!

Or Chris Horner.

Weather Watch

As I alluded to above, things aren’t looking great weather wise tomorrow. Or they could be, it really depends on your preference!

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That’s the forecast for Hotel el Angliru (Source : YR)

I’m not saying we’ll get rain throughout the day, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we did!

That will make things a lot more nervous in the bunch, especially on the tricky descents. I hope we don’t see any crashes, but with riders giving it their all to try to take any advantage they can, I have an uneasy feeling that it might be somewhat inevitable.

How will the stage pan out?

Looking at recent trends in the Vuelta, 4 out of the past 5 years the penultimate stage has seen a breakaway stay away and fight out for stage honours. That includes King Kenny’s (Elissonde) win on the Angliru back in 2013.

A lot of those stages have been longer days in the saddle though, with only the Angliru stage being sub 150km.

A similar trend can be seen at the Giro, where the majority of stages have went to the break. But there, even the ridiculosuly short and tough Bonette stage in 2016 saw the move stick.

What will be the difference tomorrow?

Well, maybe that question should be changed to “who?”.

I think you know the answer…

Contenders

Contador.

It’s the Spaniard’s last Vuelta and last mountain stage as a pro and he will desperately want a stage win. The steep ramps look great for him and he is bound to cause some chaos/panic out on the road tomorrow. However, although he has looked good on the shorter climbs, I am still concerned about his ability to hold a high wattage for the longer tests. I think if he and Froome come to the line together, then the current race leader will gift him the stage. Does Alberto have a bullet left to fire one more time?

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Froome.

Looked terrible a few days ago on Los Machucos but he seemed to recover from that blip on the shorter finish of stage 18. He does have the advantage of having the strongest team here and the current race leader will rely on them a lot tomorrow. If he’s in with a chance of the win at 5km out and he sees everyone suffering then he might give it a nudge. If not, then he has the luxury of “just” being able to follow wheels as his gap is comfortable. On an off day though, and things could get sketchy!

Zakarin.

Will we see a Zak-attack tomorrow? Yes. That’s almost a guarantee! Will it be enough to distance everyone? Probably not, the rangy Russian seems to struggle on the steeper slopes at time but he has actually looked like one of the riders who has grown into this race. He could well surprise!

Nibali.

The yin to Froome’s yang. The Shark was very strong on Los Macuchos, putting a lot of time into the race leader, only to go and lose quite a bit of it the following day. A bad weather expert he will no doubt test the *ahem* water on the descents. I hope he’s recovered from the other day so that we see a good battle between him and Froome. It is the last week of a Grand Tour, so he can’t be discounted.

Lopez.

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Double stage winner so far, Superman should enjoy the amount of climbing tomorrow as that is his speciality. Not an instant threat on GC, he could be given some leeway. If he gets given too much rope, then that could be him gone for the day. He seemed in difficulty on Stage 18 so the form might be fading in the final week of his first Grand Tour. Who knows!

Kelderman.

He’s been the quiet rider of the race so far who happens to find himself very much in the podium battle. Tomorrow doesn’t suit him at all, he seems to be a rider who prefers a more traditional Alpine pass, none of this crazy Spanish stuff! He’ll do well to hold onto the podium.

Vuelta Picks

Same old stuff again!

Safe Pick – Zakarin

Should be close to the top GC guys and might be given some freedom if Froome just focusses on Nibali.

Wongshot PickLopez.

Seems to be fading but he could well turn it around.

Lanterne Rouge Pick – Dunne

Good luck Conor!

Prediction

I’ll go for none of the riders I’ve listed above though…

Instead, I think Majka wins tomorrow.

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After his stage win almost a week ago he has been conserving himself, rolling home with the grupetto most of the time. He did give it a nudge on Los Machucos and finished 6th on the stage so his form is still clearly there.

He can either win from the break, or use his fresher legs to his advantage and attack out of the peloton and I’m pretty sure no one would follow him. If he is given a 30-40 second advantage going onto the Angliru then I’m hard pressed to think of anyone who could catch him.

Betting

I did say tomorrow was likely to be a no bet but after De Gendt’s success today I’m going to have a dabble. Still sticking to the 2pts a day keeps the debt collector away rule though…

2pts WIN Majka @ 11/2 with Bet365. You’ll probably get the same price elsewhere later once the other bookmakers have copied!

 

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

Vuelta a España 2017 Stage 19 Preview; Caso. Parque Natural de Redes -> Gijón

Today’s Recap

What a Vuelta the Lotto old-boys are having!

It took a while for the break to go but once it was up the road, that was it gone for the day. Sky mobbed the front of the peloton and no-one seemed overly keen to chase.

In the end, it was a duel between Armée and Lutsenko on the final climb, with the Belgian taking his first pro win. Not bad for someone who is 31 years old. Maybe age just is a number after all?! Visconti sprinted up the final hill to round out the day’s podium.

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There were some GC gaps behind, but nothing too crazy. Lopez being the worst off out of the top 10, losing 37 seconds to Froome.

With only the Angliru left of any major danger, it does look like the Brit has the GC race sewn up.

Unless of course we see any bold attacks tomorrow. Speaking of which, let’s take a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

If today’s stage was close to 100% ideal territory for a breakaway, tomorrow’s parcours hits the full house!

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Too tough for any sprinters team to control, not really difficult enough for the GC contenders to make their mark.

The peloton will descend from the gun almost and it is most likely that we’ll see our break of the day formed on the Cat-1 Alto de la Colladona.

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A fairly hard start to the day, especially when the first kilometre of the climb is false-flat and makes the average gradient a bit shallower!

Expect only fresh riders and good climbers to make the break if it does go here. Although unlikely, I wonder if we’ll see any early GC attacks. I live in hope…

The riders will then face two Cat-3 climbs in the middle of the day; Alto de Santo Emiliana (6.8km at 4.5%) and the Alto de la Falla de los Lobos (4.3km at 8.2%).

The second of those climbs is obviously steep, but it comes awkwardly positioned in the stage and it really shouldn’t be of any major impact to the day’s events.

However, the same can’t be said for the final climb of Alto de San Martin de Huerces…

Huerces

Short and steep, this could be a flash point for both the breakaway and the GC riders. The steep gradients will be a real grind and with almost three weeks of racing in the legs, some might surprisingly struggle.

Cresting with just 15km to go, if a rider has 15-20 seconds over the top then they should make it all the way to the finish line.

The descent into Gijón does have a few tricky turns but it isn’t overly technical. The downhill turns to flat at roughly 4km to go as the riders make their way through the outskirts of the town before finishing along the beachfront.

How will the stage pan out?

It is a fairly short stage, so there is a chance that some of the GC teams might try to keep things together and cause some chaos but with Angliru looming and Froome looking solid, that is very unlikely.

So here we are, yet again, playing everyone’s favourite sweepstakes.

TheBreakawayLottery

Breakaway Candidates

I’m tempted to treat myself to 5 names today. How exciting…

To make the break, assuming it goes on the opening Cat-1, a rider will have to be fresh or a good climber. The two of those seem to go almost hand in hand at the back end of a Grand Tour but there are room for some surprises.

Thomas De Gendt.

The Belgian breakaway expert has been fairly quiet as of late in this race, not making as many moves as would be expected of him. Is fatigue setting in, or has he been saving himself for one last dig? He produced a good TT on Stage 16, finishing in the top 20 that day so there must be some form there. At the Tour he made the winning move on Stage 19, can he repeat that tomorrow? I think so.

Odd Christian Eiking.

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A new name for the list and possibly an unusual one. It took a lot for me not to use the expected pun there! Nonetheless, the young Norwegian is a talented rider who took his first pro win earlier this year. A strong climber, he finished fairly well on today’s stage after sticking with the GC group for a lot of the day, coming in just behind Lopez and ahead of Van Garderen and Chaves. Can he turn those good climbing legs into a result tomorrow? Let’s hope he makes the break and we’ll find out.

Soren Kragh Andersen.

He seems to have recovered from the illness that was hampering him a few days ago, as he was in the second group that returned to the GC favourites once the pace had slowed. It depends if the team give him the OK to go and hunt the break because there is a chance he might have to work for Kelderman. If he does make the move, he has the explosiveness to go well on the final climb of the day. I wouldn’t want to take him to a small sprint, that’s for sure.

Nicolas Roche.

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The Irishman said pre-stage today that he would try something. Unfortunately that didn’t come to fruition and he missed the break. I’m sure he’ll be gunning for it tomorrow as the finish looks ideal for him. On a 4km climb like that he should be able to follow most who are up ahead and if he descends like he did on stage 10, then he could easily get a gap on the downhill. Enough to take the win? Quite possibly!

Matvey Mamykin.

Everyone’s favourite young Russian climber. Wait, he isn’t? Just @padsbets and I it is then! Mamykin was strong today in aid of Zakarin and was one of the driving forces behind that impromptu Katusha team time trial. He might be rewarded tomorrow with the freedom of going on the attack. At this point in the race with riders form all over the place, it might be the perfect time for him to also take his first pro win. It seems to be the done thing nowadays!

Vuelta Picks

Much the same as the past few days;

Safe Pick – Kruijswijk.

Choose a random GC guy and hope they come home near the front of the bunch. I assume we’ll see some attacks on the final climb so it should be the case.

Wongshot Pick – Mamykin

He’ll be your favourite Russian climber too!

Lanterne Rouge Pick – Houle

What the Houle…

Prediction

Break to stay away and Søren Kragh Andersen to take the win!

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Betting

As it’s unlikely I’ll be backing anything on Angliru, this could be one of the last days of punting so I’m treating myself.

Roche 1.25pt WIN @ 20/1

De Gendt 1.25pt WIN @ 25/1

Eiking 1pt WIN @ 66/1

Andersen 0.75pt WIN 100/1

Mamykin 0.75pt WIN 150/1

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.