Vuelta a Andalucia 2018 Stage 5 Preview; Barbate › Barbate

Today’s Recap

Well that was an excellent finish!

The race all came together again just at the bottom of the final climb into Alcalá de los Gazules and Landa swiftly made an explosive attack. Only Wellens was able to follow the Movistar man and the two went back and forth for the closing kilometre. However, it was Wellens who took charge in the closing few hundred metres, rounding Landa in the penultimate turn and holding on for a spectacular win.

DWQLFr7VQAMHZDt

Fuglsang trailed home 12 seconds down in third place with former GC leader Poels a further second behind.

The result consequently leaves Wellens in the lead going into the final day of racing. Let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

TT day!

Screen Shot 2018-02-13 at 14.49.16
@LasterketaBurua

A fairly straightforward TT aside from the 5.5km of gravel roads the riders will face. Those kilometres on the dirt road have an average gradient of 1.6% which adds a little extra spice to the day. Not a steep climb, it is certainly one for the rouleurs and typical TT riders in the peloton.

stage-5-route

Once over the halfway point it will be a fast second part to the effort with the route being mainly downhill back in to town. One thing the riders might have to consider is the weather conditions.

Screen Shot 2018-02-17 at 17.27.16

We should have similar conditions throughout the day which is good, but being beside the sea the wind can swirl and change around without much notice. The riders will need to save something so they don’t struggle into the headwind on the way back home!

Contenders

We have a pretty weak TT field here if I’m honest and makes the day wide open.

Chris Froome (a.k.a He Who Must Not Be Named).

On paper he is the class rider here against the clock but given everything over his head at the moment, will he go full gas? He certainly gave it a nudge on the opening mountain stage of the race so I wouldn’t be surprised to see him do the same tomorrow. Then again, I equally wouldn’t be surprised if he did nothing of note given his GC chances are out of the window.

Tim Wellens.

Given his sensational form at the moment, the current GC leader has a good chance of a good result against the clock. He’s not known for his time trial capabilities but he isn’t exactly bad in the discipline either, with a good few top 10s to his name. Riding with confidence, he’s certainly one to watch.

Luis Leon Sanchez.

news_idnews520_photo_1487357099

In spectacular form so far this season, he will have been bitterly disappointed to lose so much time today. That result throws his GC title tilt into jeopardy but he has a glimmer of hope with a good performance tomorrow. On his day he can produce very good times against the clock but those have been few and far between as of late; although it is hard to judge as he often doesn’t have to go full gas.

Stef Clement.

The Dutch rider is a very solid TT rider and in a field like this he can be classed as a specialist. The flat course should suit him well and he’ll hope to find similar form to what he had during the national championships last season which he only just lost out to a flying Dumoulin. Jumbo have massively improved in this discipline so I’m intrigued to see if they’ve made any more advances during the winter.

Moreno Moser.

It would be rude not to mention the Italian for what seems like the 7000th preview in a row. As you can probably tell, I’m scraping the barrel for any TT talent that we have here and a new Moser could possibly go well. He was third in the European Championships in 2016 and he’s been good against the clock in the past. Astana will want an early rider to go well to give their two GC guys race-pace info about the course so we might see Moser in full flight. Maybe.

Prediction

Piss weak TT field should make for an exciting and open day. I’ll go for Stef Clement to take the win!

Stef Clement N Lotto-Jumbo rode a strong tt finishes 4th on the stage

Betting

1pt EW Clement @66/1 (would take 33/1)

Thanks as always for reading and apologies for a slightly shorter than normal preview but I am shattered and there’s not much more to say really! The next race I’ll be previewing will be the Abu Dhabi Tour so I’ll see you all then. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Vuelta a Andalucia 2018 Stage 4 Preview; Sevilla › Alcalá de los Gazules

Today’s Recap

We did end with a sprint and Modolo took the win as expected.

DWKvfi6U8AUaL4u

Barbero followed him home with young Colombian Soto taking his first European podium.

Let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders tomorrow.

The Route

A weird stage that has a lot of flat but with a mountain in the middle of the day and a tricky finish.

Screen Shot 2018-02-13 at 14.46.50

The road does roll a little from around the 60km mark but it is nothing too serious. It will be interesting to see how long it takes for the break to form as a lot of riders and teams will fancy its chances.

We should see something go by around 30km into the day but you never know. The first obstacle the peloton will have to face is the Puerto de las Palomas. It’s a long climb at 12.5km with a fairly steady 6.5% gradient throughout. It’s too far from the finish to be attacked by the GC group so I imagine they’ll ride at a steady tempo. It could split the break if someone really decides to push on but that all depends on the composition of the move.

Once over the crest they’ll face a small descent before the Puerto del Boyar. A short climb at only 2kms, it is more an interruption to the downhill more than anything else. Fifteen kilometres of proper descent follows before the road rolls in the closing 70km. Again, there is nothing too serious but it can sap the legs.

The major difficulty of the day though is the climb to the finish.

The road actually climbs for a few hundred metres before the video begins.

You should be able to see above how terrible the surface is. Well, it’s just typical for a side-street in Southern Spain. Some of the gaps between the paving stones look fairly large! I mean it does get better for a bit, but then it gets considerably worse after again.

The road is also extremely narrow and can only comfortably fit one car up it so positioning will be important coming into the bottom so expect a big battle between the GC contenders and their teams.

The average gradient of 10% for 1.4km almost makes the climb easier than it actually is. In fact, there is even a little descent around half-way up!

Andalucia S4 Fin

If people haven’t done a proper recon, then they’ll be in for a big shock. I just hope they haven’t repaired the road surface, it would just take away from the spectacle/my viewing pleasure. It is one that I’ll enjoy from the comfort of my chair. I mean, just look at the final turn…

Screen Shot 2018-02-16 at 16.54.51

Some great Spanish infrastructure!

The winner here will certainly be deserving of it, that is for sure.

Break or no break?

The age-old question is back again.

One of the factors that does swing the stage into the breakaway’s hands is the fact there are no bonus seconds on the line so there is no need to catch them. Sky have their stage win and GC lead so they’ll be happy enough to just ride tempo and have a battle behind. Astana have looked the liveliest in chasing the break but their best option might be to send someone up the road themselves and let Sky do the work and hopefully tire them out.

I really can’t see anyone else pitching in to help work so with that said, I think we all know where this is going…

TheBreakawayLottery

My Tickets

The flat start to the stage makes this a really interesting day. Theoretically, it should be harder for the climbers who might fancy their chances on the closing slope to make the break as they’ll be weaker in the opening part of the day compared to the rouleurs.

Moreno Moser.

arrivo_laigueglia_2018_670

I mean, why the heck not mention him for the third day out of 4! I’ll keep this one brief but it’s pretty much the same reasoning as in the other previews. Astana want a stage win and Moser said in an interview with the team that he would like a chance at personal glory this week. On the finish of stage 2 he buried himself on the run in and on the footslopes of the final climb. Explosive enough to go well on the steep gradients out of a break, can he finally deliver after I’m rambled on about him so much this week?

Silvan Dillier.

Active in Laigueglia and active on the opening day of racing, the Ag2R man sits third on the mountain classification but is still in with a chance of winning it if he takes maximum points on the day. The flat start gives him a good opportunity to make the break over some better climbers but he should not be discounted on the slopes himself. A punchy rider, he might just surprise.

Lluís Mas Bonet.

Cycling: 51th Tour of Turkey 2015/ Stage 8

Re-used pick number two. The current leader of the KOM competition, he might want a venture in to the break to secure that classification. Today a team-mate swept up the points for him but he’ll possibly need to go in the move himself. The flat start might make it difficult for him but he has a lot of fighting spirit. If the composition of the break is made up of mainly rouleurs, he has the climbing ability to take the win.

Sean De Bie.

An all-rounder, the Belgian can climb ok, sprint well and put in a good effort against the clock. He’s had a fairly disappointing few stages so far with only an 11th place on the opening day. He did manage to pick up a win in Etoile before finishing 8th on GC so he does have some form. The type of rider who will hope that the break is made up of heavier riders with few climbers; he could be one to look out for.

GC Battle

It will be interesting to see what gaps we get between the GC contenders. The climb is short and steep enough that team-mates aren’t a great help. Positioning will be important coming into the bottom so expect to see a big battle between Astana and Sky for control of the peloton. The Kazakh team have the advantage of having two riders in contention so I think we might see Fuglsang go hard and early in an attempt to put the others into difficulty.

Poels motored away from everyone with his accelerations on stage 2 and with the same form he could do something similar tomorrow. The climb isn’t long so it will be interesting to see how he approaches it.

Landa is of course a danger, especially when you think of his performance on the brutally steep ramps of Aia a few years ago.

Then of course we have Sanchez who is in incredible shape at the moment. He’ll fancy his chances of winning the title in the TT but he will be wary of Sky and their ability to pull some great results against the clock out. He needs to not lose any time to Poels here in my opinion.

Wellens is the dark horse but he can’t be underestimated. He’s started this season in sparkling form and his performance on stage 2 will be a massive confidence boost. The shorter distance in theory gives him even more of a chance of a good result as his weight won’t be as much of a detriment.

Given how close they all were on stage 2 it is hard to split them. I reckon we’ll see someone fall behind but I’m not so sure as to who. As to who might profit on the day and move into a more commanding GC place, that also has me stumped!

I’m just looking forward to a good race, hopefully on two fronts.

Prediction

The break to stay away and Silvan Dillier to win.

27750675_1919684811427962_808362095349090860_n

His development last season impressed me a lot and he seems to have continued that so far this season with some good performances in his few race days so far. He can climb well enough to cope with the ascents in the middle of the day but he’s also punchy enough to be in with a chance at the finish. Of course, it all depends on who makes the break (Hint – None of my picks typically will) but I will be watching him with interest if he does.

Betting

Just can’t bring myself to back Dillier at the price he is so;

1pt WIN on both

Moser @ 50/1

Mas Bonet @ 80/1

Thanks as always for reading. Who do you think will win tomorrow? Will it be a GC rider or will the break succeed? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Vuelta a Andalucia 2018 Stage 3 Preview; Mancha Real › Herrera

Today’s Recap

Well that was an exciting finish!

It wasn’t as decisive GC wise as I had expected but it was a very tactical and enthralling finale with attacks off the front being slowly brought back for a counter move to go instantly. In the end though, Wout Poels timed his last attack at the perfect moment and sprung away to take stage victory and with it the GC lead.

DWF6IO3WsAUzLY9

Sanchez and Wellens trailed home just 2 seconds down with Landa and Fuglsang another two behind them. It leaves the race interestingly poised going into the next few stages.

Let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders tomorrow.

The Route

The only stage of the race that should be a guaranteed sprint.

Screen Shot 2018-02-13 at 14.34.20

With that being said though, the riders will have to contend with a lot of uncategorised climbing throughout the day so it will be interesting to see who takes up the chase.

The two Cat-3s shouldn’t be of any major difficulty for the bunch unless some have really suffered during today’s ridiculously tough finish. We do get an intermediate sprint at Puente Genil with only 10kms left, but given there are no bonus seconds on offer then it’s interesting placement becomes somewhat less interesting.

The final 12km does roll a bit though which makes it a not so straightforward finish.

RDSS3Final12

The major rise in the closing section averages 3.6% for 2.4km that “crests” at just over 7km to go. It might just be enough for a team to stretch the bunch out if they hit it hard, but they’ll need to keep the pressure on over the last 7km if it is to be worthwhile.

Screen Shot 2018-02-15 at 15.04.51

At just 500m to go, the peloton will be greeted with a very tight left-hand turn. Expect a massive fight to get here as you’ll need to be in the first ten riders through here if you want to contend for the stage.

Those last 500m actually kick up ever so slightly but it is more of a grind than anything else at an average of 1.9%. It will certainly give the sprinters something else to think about as you don’t want to open up too early and fade in the end.

How will the stage pan out?

As I said previously, this should be a sprint stage. But nothing is ever certain in cycling!

We saw on the opening day that some of the sprint teams didn’t really want to commit to the chase and the break almost and probably would have stayed away if it wasn’t for Astana. Now, that stage was a lot harder than this one but with a few more days racing in the legs, some of the riders might not be as keen to work at the front all day.

Sky will set their usual tempo but if no one up the road is a danger to them, then they’re not going to over-extended themselves by brining it back unnecessarily. That realistically just leaves the sprinters teams and none of them really strike me with confidence.

Modolo messed up the first stage and he is probably the class sprinter here but can we really trust EF Education First to organise a chase? This was the team that struggled to bring back a break in the Giro even when their whole squad was TTing on the front.

AG2R might chip in to chase but they’ve been in both of the breakaways so far which indicates that they might play that card again. So will Direct Energie or Wanty help then either?

I’m really starting to lean-to the possibility that the break might actually have a better chance tomorrow than originally thought.

In fact, I’m just going to talk about some break candidates because if we get a sprint then I don’t expect Modolo to make the same mistake again.

Lottery Contenders

I’ll keep this bit short and sweet as I’ll no doubt be massively wrong and we’ll end with the obvious bunch sprint.

Moreno Moser.

arrivo_laigueglia_2018_670

Back again with my favourite Italian on Astana, he and the rest of his team-mates have done a lot of work over the opening two stages for the team’s leaders. In an interview on the Astana website, Moser says that he wants to work well for the team but also chase his own opportunity at some point in the race. We’re running out of stages so he might just go in the break tomorrow if there is a sense in the peloton of no-one wanting to commit to a chase.

Oliver Naesen.

As I’ve said above, Ag2r seem keen on sending people up the road during this race. Naesen fits the bill perfectly tomorrow of being far enough down the order not to be a threat but he’s strong enough to win from a group. With the classics season on the horizon, a nice hit-out here would be a good test of form.

Damien Gaudin.

He really “found himself” last year while riding for the Armee de Terre squad picking up three victories to his name. Starting his season this year in the Bongo at which he finished third overall, he’s been a solid domestique for his team-mates since then. He’s the type of rider who is dangerous in a breakaway as he seems to be strong in one-day races. With an explosive short turn of power (he’s not too bad at prologues) he could surprise in a sprint from the break.

Lluís Mas Bonet.

Cycling: 51th Tour of Turkey 2015/ Stage 8

Token Spaniard breakaway pick who also doubles as current KOM leader. Mas Bonet gets into the break to defend and secure the KOM title but with no chase behind he turns his attention to the stage. He packs a surprisingly decent kick and it could catch out a few. The slightly rolling finish would be good for him.

Prediction

Breakaway stays away as EF Education First fail to organise a piss up in a brewery and no one else wants to commit to the work. In fact, other sprinters teams send riders up the road and a 7 man group stays away until the end.

That man Oli Naesen warms up for the classics perfectly by taking a confidence boosting win here!

b5349638-5d7e-11e7-aab3-014964ad3466_web_scale_0.0359195_0.0359195__

Or we get a fairly dull day where the sprint teams decide to actually co-operate and then it is anyone’s guess. Modolo would be favourite but he’s not unbeatable.

Betting

2 of the guys not priced up but I’m just going to “waste” 1pt on some break picks.

0.25pt WIN on them all.

Naesen @ 50/1

Moser @ 300/1

Valgren @ 400/1

Van Hecke @ 400/1

All with Bet365.

Thanks as always for reading. Who do you think will win tomorrow? Will it end in a sprint or will we see the break surprise? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Vuelta a Andalucia 2018 Stage 1 Preview; Mijas › Granada

Vuelta a Andalucia 2018 Stage 1 Preview; Mijas › Granada

The Route

A very testing first day out for the peloton. According to the altimetry on LaFlammeRouge they will face 4000m of climbing.

Screen Shot 2018-02-13 at 13.39.46
@LasterketaBurua

Starting with a climb almost immediately might catch some of the peloton off guard and we might see those who fancy a go in the breakaway warming up on the rollers beforehand.

I wonder if some of the GC teams will keep things together until the 32km so that their leader can go for bonus seconds. If not, then nothing much will happen until the second half of the day. Where in the closing 90km of the stage the riders will have to tackle 5 categorised climbs.

The first of those is the toughest as the Puerto de Zaafarraya averages 6.1% for 11.8km. This is long enough for riders to be dropped if a team decides to push the pace on. From there the road rolls for the following 40km with very little respite. In fact, from the 127km gone mark the riders will either be climbing or descending for the next 30km. This will hurt a lot, especially this early into the season and if a team decides to take it up. We could well see the peloton decide en masse to take it easy but I’m not so sure if that will happen.

Once over the crest of the penultimate climb (the Alto del Lucero) there will still be 40kms left and only one more ascent. The majority of the 20kms between the two climbs is shallow descent so anyone who lost time on the Lucero will have to make an effort to come back.

The final climb is the easiest of the day at only 4.8% for 2.5km. Cresting with 20km to go, could it act as a launchpad for some late attacks?

stage-1-finish

The run-in itself is fairly straight forward with the last 2kms almost all being along a straight road. They do have to traverse a roundabout in the closing kilometre but the road does go almost straight ahead so it shouldn’t be too much of an issue.

Sprint or nah?

Tomorrow’s stage really could go two ways and there is certainly a more exciting option!

We could see some teams ramp up the pace from far out, especially on the long Cat-1 climb, or blitz the 30kms of constant up and down which follows not long after. Even though there is a long way from the penultimate climb to the finish there is a chance that the group could be thinned down. By how much depends on how aggressively we race but I would expect something like 60 riders left at the head of the race. If things get crazy, then we could see 20-30 riders out front with 40km to go.

A group like that is open to counter-attacks and I’m not sure if there would be the co-operation to stay away. A 60 rider peloton is much more likely to make it all the way.

Conversely though, we could see a much more sedate pace with the break slowly reeled back in and a big bunch finish in Granada.

It is also important to not rule out the breakaway on an opening stage like this. Who is going to want to do all of the chasing? Will it fall to the sprinters teams, or will a squad of a GC favourite step up and do the work?

My more favoured option is a reduced bunch sprint of around 50 riders so I’m going to throw a few names into the hat for that option. Although with the amount of climbing to be done, I do keep swinging towards this being a more selective day than it originally seems. If that does happen, then expect chaos in the final 40km as we’ll see countless attacks go; which certainly would be exciting!

Candidates

Oliver Naesen.

b5349638-5d7e-11e7-aab3-014964ad3466_web_scale_0.0359195_0.0359195__

With the Classics season approaching on the horizon, these are the types of races where the strong men of the bunch come to hone their form. Tomorrow’s stage is quite like a tough one-day race where the bunch will be worn down through attrition, not steep gradients. Naesen is the type of rider who could go well here if the pace is consistent but not crazy on the climbs. He’s a strong guy and certainly could push out some watts at the end of the race; his lead-out for Venturini in the closing stage in Valenciana is testament to that. Although he put out too much there!

Sep Vanmarcke.

I’m on a similar train of thought with Vanmarcke and making the assumption that Modolo might not make the finish. The Belgian rider had a disappointing classics campaign in due to injury but the second half of his season was much better. He picked up some very solid results in tough one-day races such as Bretagne and Quebec. In a reduced group he has a surprisingly good turn of speed and a win here would give him a lot of confidence as we head towards the Classics.

Moreno Moser.

Astana have arguably the strongest team here so they will hope that most, if not all, of their riders make a front group if we have some splits on the climbs. Moser’s win in Laigueglia on Sunday was very impressive although he was against a weaker field. His attack on the climb saw him open up a gap in less than 50 metres and he managed to keep putting time into the rest of the riders over the closing 10km. He looks back to the lively rider we saw when he burst onto the scene in 2012. That year he won a 40 rider bunch sprint on the opening stage in the Tour of Poland, can he do the same here tomorrow?

Andrea Pasqualon.

2017-sabatini-pasqualon-andrea-finish

The Wanty rider had a very solid end to 2017, finishing in the top 10 in 5 out of the 6 one-day races he competed in. That set of results included a very impressive sprint victory in the Coppa Sabatini where he beat the likes of Colbrelli and Viviani. He’s the type of rider who will struggle if the pace is high on the climbs tomorrow, but he should manage to sneak his way into a group of 60 or so if he has maintained that form.

Enrico Battaglin.

Another Italian to make the list, it seems that Battaglin is always a shoe-in for a top 10 finish on stages like these. He can climb well; although he’s not hit the heady-heights of his performances in the 2016 Giro as of late, but he can also sprint to a good standard as well.

Prediction

After only somewhat including him for my Laigueglia preview, I can’t not back my season-long fantasy rider here; Moreno Moser to win!

arrivo_laigueglia_2018_670

I still can’t get over the power of his attack on that day and I think he gives Astana their best option of stage success from a small sprint. Of course, if we see a really crazy day then he’ll hope to be there and he could make it to the line in a small group of attackers who’ve skipped clear of the bunch.

Betting

1pt EW Moser @ 66/1 with Bet365 (Would take 40s)

0.5pt EW Vanmarcke @ 100/1 with Bet365 (Would take 66s)

 

FOR GC – 2pts WIN Luis Leon Sanchez at 11/2 with Bet365.

 

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win tomorrow and how will the stage play out? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Vuelta a Andalucia 2018 GC Preview

A race that has been dominated by Alejandro Valverde in the past, he’s won 5 out of the last 6 editions, it was the same last year where he just pipped Alberto Contador to the title by one second.

bettiniphoto_0272249_1_originali_670

 

Thibaut Pinot was third at only 6 seconds back but with none of those riders here this week, we have a chance for a new winner.

First though, let’s look at what is in store for the riders over the week.

The Route

As I’ll be doing in-depth daily stage previews, this section will be a little truncated. All of the following profiles are thanks to @LasterketaBurua.

Stage 1.

Screen Shot 2018-02-13 at 13.39.46

An interesting opening stage with a lot of climbing in the third quarter of the day. This could turn into a GC day but the likely outcome will be a reduced sprint of some kind.

Stage 2.

Screen Shot 2018-02-13 at 13.42.04

Only the second day but we have the Queen stage of the race. At only 141km of racing the stage is short but it is filled with climbs. The finish up to Alto de Las Allandas could see some massive gaps. Those with a poor TT will have to go full gas here, it should be a great watch!

Stage 3.

Screen Shot 2018-02-13 at 14.34.20

The only stage the should see a full bunch sprint but we do have a lack of quick-men here. Who will control the day?

Stage 4.

Screen Shot 2018-02-13 at 14.46.50

A long day in the saddle but it is all about the final 1.5km; a short but steep ramp. Both the climbers and puncheurs will fancy it.

Stage 5.

Screen Shot 2018-02-13 at 14.49.16

A TT to finish that has a 5km section of gravel that averages just over 2%. It should be one for the more traditional TT riders, but it is short enough for some surprise names to get in the mix. Will the GC title be decided on the final day?

With the stages briefly covered, let’s have a look at who might be challenging for the win at the end of the week.

But first…

The Elephant in the Room

This is Froome’s first race after his AAF was announced/leaked. Now, the decision to have him race is one that divides opinion amongst cycling fans but I’m fairly certain you will all know what side of the argument I am on. It will be interesting to see how he and Sky approach the race. Will they take it easy and hope to slip under the radar (well, as much as they can) or will they continue on as if nothing has happened?

Either way, there is no way that they can come out of this one, ahem, cleanly.

If Froome takes it easy then the accusations will fly suggesting that he needed medication to go well etc. Whereas if he goes full gas and features at the head of the race then a lot of people will take offence as to the audacity of the team considering all that is going on at the moment. They are stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place.

It will also be interesting to see how the riders in the peloton treat him. Will he be given the same respect as before?

No doubt the Brit will still have his fans that will cheer him on. In fact, I would suggest that they’ve become even more fanatical since the AAF finding so we can expect them to be vocal no matter what.

The voices of dissent will be as vocal as the cheers this week but I just hope no-one does anything stupid out on the road to take the situation into their own hands. Cycling’s image is already being made a mockery of, we don’t need stories of piss being thrown at him etc.

Personally I don’t think Froome will feature here. He’s essentially completed an extra Grand Tour while in South Africa as they attempt to recreate the situation and find a scientific reason as to why his salbutamol levels were so high. Surely he is spent after it all? Plus, I don’t think Sky can risk the outrage if he does win until the case/investigation is over. If he does, then it is a big “fuck you” to the sport.

So with that said, I’m going to discount him for this race. Let’s have a look at who else might compete though!

(Again though, this all opinion and shouldn’t be taken as fact. Plz don’t sue. I’m poor. 😐)

Contenders

Mikel Landa.

article-Landa-debut-Movistar-Mallorca-5a6761684d3ed

Starting his first race for Movistar he’ll want to get his season up and running with a good result. On paper this looks ideal for the Spanish climber. He’ll love the steep and relentless finish on Stage 2 and he should be able to put in a solid time in the time trial. In fact, he should be the class act of the race but with his form being so unknown he could well win it or come home in 20th.

Jakob Fuglsang.

A rider that we do know the form of, the Astana man has started the season well with a 3rd place on GC in Valenciana. He followed that up with a solid 6th place in Murcia at the weekend. Astana have a very strong team here and they’ll hope to have a few guys near the head of the race in the important stages. Numbers could be crucial.

Luis Leon Sanchez.

The second Astana candidate for the race win, the Spaniard has started the European season in sensational form. After returning from the Tour Down Under where he finished a respectable 8th on GC, he’s since went on to finish second behind Valverde in Valenciana and then beat him in Murcia at the weekend. A strong TTer, he should have an advantage over some competitors in that stage and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him go well on some of the steep ramps, he did well in Valenciana on similar terrain.

De La Cruz / Poels.

With Froome taking this one easy (see my reasoning above) then Sky will turn to other riders for success. I’m not sure how either of them will go here though as their crack squad in Valenciana was extremely disappointing. Was it just a slow start to the season or is no-one in form yet as they all secretly want to lead at the Tour…I think it is too tough for De La Cruz to win GC, but if Poels has upped his game since a poor Valenciana then he of course is a contender for the win. We’ll find out on stage 2 where he is at!

Steven Kruijswijk.

sptdw1018_670

After pulling out of the Giro last year the Dutchman finished the season with a 9th place in the Vuelta. A rider who never really starts the season well I am intrigued to see if that changes this season given he is hoping to go to the Tour. On his day he can climb with the best and he can produce a good time against the clock. Yet, I don’t think he’ll be up and running yet so a top 10 would be a solid result.

Ben Hermans.

With three top 10s already in 2018, the Israel Academy rider will hope for a similar, if not better, result here. Juxtaposed to Kruijswijk, Hermans is a rider who normally does start his season well. I wouldn’t have him down as one of the best climbers here but given form is important at the start of the year he could surprise just like he did on the Green Mountain last season.

Amaro Antunes.

One of my favourite riders from 2017, it was great to see his season rewarded with a step up in level to ProConti with CCC. An explosive climber he’ll like the steep ramps that we have on a couple of the stages. In this field, he will fancy his chances to go well on those days. His TT definitely needs some work but his team have improved in the discipline over the past half a year, so I’m intrigued to see if it has had a positive effect on Antunes over the winter. Another top 10 on GC like Valenciana is certainly a possibility.

Prediction

Form is King early in the year so I have to go with Luis Leon Sanchez as the winner here.

DVs5J98X4AYPcFJ

Part of the strongest team, he and Fuglsang should be at the head of the race on the toughest stages and that will be of massive benefit to them. Sanchez has looked the strongest on the climbs in the previous races so it will take a lot for someone to drop him. Furthermore, he possesses a strong TT which could see him seal the win on the closing day.

No odds are out as of yet but I might back him depending on the price.

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win the GC? I’ll be back later this evening with my stage 1 preview. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Ruta del Sol Stage 3 Preview; Lucena -> Córdoba

Today’s Recap

My, oh, my! I did not expect that outcome at the end of the day.

Contador turned the heat on but just couldn’t see the result out. Thibaut Pinot made an excellent come-back in the final kilometre, out sprinting Contador; eventually winning by 2 seconds.

c4zmkwcuoaez8tv

It leaves the GC very interestingly poised going into tomorrow’s time trial. Let’s have a look at what’s in store for them!

The Route

A short 12km TT awaits.

vuelta-a-andalucia-ruta-ciclista-del-sol-2017-stage-3-1485552303

Not a very descriptive official profile, so as is the norm with TTs, I have made my own Strava profile. You can view that here.

screen-shot-2017-02-16-at-16-40-58

Once the riders “descend” from the start ramp they almost instantly going in the opposite direction, with only 200m of relatively flat roads. It’s then a 1.9km climb that averages 4.95% but does ramp up over 10% in some places.

A 4km long descent follows, which involves a few technical turns before a slight kick up and another kilometre of downhill. The road rises again for 1.6km, averaging 2.8%, before the riders plunge through the suburbs of Lucena.

The riders will have to keep something in reserve as they have a 500m long kicker to end the day.

What type of rider can win this TT?

I have to admit, I really like the parcours for this TT. With a third of the stage being uphill, the TT specialists won’t have it all their own way. Yet, the climbs aren’t overly challenging to completely discount them from the reckoning either.

Stage Contenders

Ion Izagirre probably starts as the favourite for this TT. He’s a rider who will be able to cope with the climbs but also is very strong on the flat. His TT has improved massively over the past few years and he’s put in some big performances over these short efforts. The one concern with him is that he can be a bit hit or miss at times in these events, so I’m not 100% confident in him to deliver.

Former World Champ Kiryienka is here but I think this TT is too short and twisting for him.

gir-41

Alberto Contador used to be a very solid TTer but lost his way in the past few years. He seems to do best when it’s the third week of a Grand Tour so I fear he will ship too much time and lose the leader’s jersey.

Thibaut Pinot on the other hand is a rider who’s made great improvements to his time trial in recent years. He took a great win at the Tour de Romandie last year and will certainly like the look of this course. He seems to be back in good form and will fancy his own chances of taking GC leadership.

Time for everyone’s favourite Swede, Tobias Ludvigsson, to step up to the plate. He’s showed great promise in the past in this discipline, but he hasn’t been performing as well on the road as I would have expected. Maybe he’s just saving himself for this? He certainly has a chance!

Alejandro Valverde did well to only concede 7 seconds today after what was a poor start to the climb from him. He dug in deep and is still in with a shot of the GC crown. Not often thought of a strong time trialist, Valverde is actually fairly solid in the discipline. Particularly in short events, but also particularly in Spain. I’m expecting to be pleasantly surprised by him tomorrow.

I’m also expecting to be surprised by Fabio Felline tomorrow. The Italian was exceptional on the lower slopes of today’s final climb, setting up his team leader. He’s capable of a top 10!

I don’t expect much from the likes of Campenaerts, Vorobyev, Le Bon, Poels and Landa.

Particularly Poels in fact. He won’t top 5.

Prediction

Underestimate Valverde at your peril…

I won’t be.

El Bala to win!

article-alejandro-valverde-no-correra-tres-grandes-2017-57ff846d9cc05

Maybe I’m clinging on to that GC treble just a bit too much?

Betting

1pt WIN Pinot at 14/1 with Bet365 (would take 10/1 and the EW if you want to play it safe)

1pt WIN Valverde at 18/1 with Bet365 (would take 12/1 and the EW if you want to play it safe)

1pt on this 10.18/1 H2H Treble;

screen-shot-2017-02-16-at-19-28-57

Other bookmakers might price up more favourably later on, I just want to get this published!

Thanks again for reading, as usual any feedback is greatly appreciated. I hope we get an exciting TT that is close right up until the end. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Ruta del Sol Stage 2 Preview; Torredonjimeno -> Alto Peña del Águila

Today’s Recap

I told you that was going to be the stage of the week, it’s all downhill from here!

We had attacks from almost all of the GC favourites; some classic Spanish stop start racing; groups reforming and breaking up more often than Take That; Reichenbach impersonating a HGV in the final few kilometres; and after all of that, Valverde still won. Easily!

c4uefibwqaaarde

Nonetheless, the stop start racing has meant the GC is still nicely poised going into the next couple of days, with 10 riders only 5 seconds down at most. Let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders tomorrow.

The Route

An even tougher day of climbing.

vuelta-a-andalucia-ruta-ciclista-del-sol-2017-stage-2-1485552244

The road does undulate a lot in the final 50km, but I would expect this stage to come down to the final climb, the earlier ones will just sap the legs.

The climb itself is typical of what we get in this region, fairly short but steep! 5.2km long, averaging 9.8%, there is certainly chance for big time-gaps here.

I’ve managed to locate the strava profile of the climb, which can be viewed here.

screen-shot-2017-02-15-at-19-15-54

The hardest section is 2km->4km, averaging a stiff 11.25%! This is where the proper climbers will hope to make some gaps as it gets easier in the final kilometre with the gradient dropping to around 3% by the time they reach the finish line.

How will the stage pan out?

With there already being significant time gaps and no bonus seconds on offer, there is a chance that we might get a breakaway. However, with this being the first mountain top finish and early season bragging rights to play for, I’m fairly confident this will be another GC affair.

Contenders

This will be brief, as you only really need to look at the top performers from today and there are clearly two riders who are a level above the rest in my opinion.

Valverde was in admirable control of the stage today. He followed Contador relatively easily after he was surprised by his countryman’s early attack and from there he never looked in trouble. He gave it a nudge on the descent to see if he could get away but played it cool once he realised that wasn’t going to happen. Really, if it wasn’t for him being such a wiley old fox and refusing to properly work with Contador they could have distanced the rest by the top of the climb. He’ll enjoy the steep stuff tomorrow and the climb looks like the perfect length for him, plus his finishing sprint should see off any challenge if there’s a little gallop to the line.

Contador looked great for his first race back and will be pleased with where his form is at just now. He had everyone else in trouble on the climb apart from Valverde which is bound to please him, well, maybe not! He won’t like the look of the end of tomorrow’s stage and the thoughts of a TT so I can imagine he’ll hit out early again like he did today. With the stage finish at the top of the mountain this time round, can everyone hold his wheel as he dances on the pedals?

c4uue6ixuaar7bq

As for the rest, Rosa was the guy that looked the strongest on the climb but I can’t see him beating the two Spaniards.

The only way that Contador/Valverde will lose if they start messing about like they did today and that leaves an opportunity for someone to attack. But I can’t really see that happening here. There is a completely different dynamic when the stage finishes on top of a climb rather than at the bottom and they’ll be full gas all the way to the top. Plus, with the TT to come, I think they’ll be sensible and work reasonably well to extend their time gap over the likes of Izagirre, before possibly attacking each other in the final 1km or so.

Prediction

After writing him in italics, and delaying the inevitable yesterday, he’s going to be in bold today.

Valverde wins.

article-alejandro-valverde-no-correra-tres-grandes-2017-57ff846d9cc05

Betting

Absolutely no value in the stage markets so I’m going to go for this H2H treble at 6.1/1 with Bet365. 2pts on.

screen-shot-2017-02-15-at-19-47-15

Thanks as per for reading! Apologies for this being so short but after today I don’t see the point on rambling on about any outsiders for this stage. Normal service shall resume for the TT tomorrow! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.