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

Today’s Recap

Viviani won.

Moving on…

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

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

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

The Route

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Breakaway Day

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

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

TheBreakawayLottery

The Fruitless Four

Steve Cummings.

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

Victor Campenaerts.

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

Tao Geoghegan Hart.

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

Vincenzo Nibali.

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

Prediction

Yup, I’m going there.

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

 

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

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

Rest-day recap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Route

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

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

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

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Easy, really easy!

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

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

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

You can see a video of the run in above.

Sprinters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction

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

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

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Betting

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

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

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

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

Today’s Recap

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

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

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

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

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

The Route

I’m branding it as Stage 7 Lite.

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

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

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

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

How will the stage pan out?

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

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

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

Can anyone stop Sagan?

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

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

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

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

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

Outsiders to watch

Simone Consonni.

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

Eduard Prades.

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

Mike Teunissen.

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

Prediction

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

Hmmmmm.

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

 

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Betting

2pts WIN Viviani @ 8/1

0.5pt EW Teunissen @ 200/1

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

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

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

Today’s Recap

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

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

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

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

The Route

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

stage-3-profile

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

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

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

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

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

Question Number 1: Break or no break?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contenders

Elia Viviani.

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

Matteo Trentin. 

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

Michal Kwiatkowski.

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

Alejandro Valverde.

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

Tom Van Asbroeck.

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

Nacer Bouhanni.

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

Ivan Garcia Cortina.

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

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

Prediction

Reduced sprint with some of the sprinters missing out.

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Kwiatkowski to get that win!

 

 

Betting

Backing two riders…

1pt EW Kwiatkowski @ 18/1

1pt EW Van Asbroeck @ 40/1

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

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

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.

stage-2-profile

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 2018 GC Preview

Vuelta a España 2018 GC Preview

It doesn’t seem that long ago that I was settling down to write about the Giro, yet here we are three and half months later and it is time to talk about the final GT of the year: the Vuelta. Or “Spain 2018”, depends what I’m allowed to say really…

Last year’s edition of the race saw a dominant Chris Froome take the red leader’s jersey on stage 3 and hold it all the way to Madrid.

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He had a couple of nervy moments but never really looked in that much trouble, ultimately beating Nibali by 2’15 with Zakarin 2’51 behind in third place. Froome isn’t here to defend his title this year but we do have three former champions in the shape of Nibali, Aru and Valverde on the start list. However, there is plenty of talent at the race looking to take their maiden Vuelta, or even Grand Tour in general, win.

As always, I’ll be doing daily stage previews I’m just going to gloss over the route completely really. There will be plenty of others who look at key stages etc so I don’t want to bore you with that again!

The Bookmaker’s Favourite

Richie Porte.

The BMC rider arrives at this race after once again failing to complete a Grand Tour without incident; crashing out of the Tour was his downfall again this year. He’s openly admitted that his form is not as good as pre-Tour so he will hope to ride himself into the race and go from there. In fact, he’s not raced since that crash so it will be very interesting to see how he copes in the opening week where there are a few summit finishes. He is the best climber in this race when on form, it is just a question if he is near that level now? I don’t think so, but I’m willing to be proved wrong. There is also then the cloud that looms over his head of Porte not being able to complete a GT without a bad day. It’s happened too many times for it to be classed as “just bad luck” and it will once again be the undoing of him this race. I think we’ll see him here to gain some miles on the clock and re-find his good condition before having a tilt at the Worlds in Innsbruck.

The Main Challengers

Simon Yates.

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Super strong in the opening two-weeks of the Giro, there was no one able to match him on the climbs. However, he cracked massively and his tumble-down the order was dramatic: losing 1 hour and 15 minutes over two stages. He’s back here to have another tilt at GC along with his brother Adam who provides another option for the team, although it has to be said, after a poor Tour from him it will be interesting to see how he bounces back. Simon is their main guy for GC and if he can repeat the form he had in those opening two weeks at the Giro over the three weeks here then he has to start as the favourite. I think both he and the team will have learnt a lot from that experience, gaining a lot both physically and mentally. Although if we see them chasing down every break in the first week – then maybe they haven’t!

Nairo Quintana.

We caught a glimpse of the old Nairo returning at the Tour when he took a rather spectacular stage win on the Col du Portet. However, that was only short-lived after a crash the following day saw him ship a lot of time over the coming stages and he slipped down the order to finish in 10th place overall. If he has recovered from that fall then he should be one of the main contenders for the race. Back in 2016 when he won the Vuelta his third week peak in the Tour was very similar to what this year’s *could* have been. I do expect him to go well this race, but it will once again be a case of him trying to avoid any silly time losses in the opening week before they even get to the mountains proper.

Miguel Angel Lopez.

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A third place finish at the Giro and the young rider’s jersey to boot, this will the Astana man’s first attempt riding, let along being competitive, at two Grand Tours in a season. Theoretically the course is good for him, with lots of summit finishes where he can show his climbing prowess. His recent performance in Burgos was a good indicator that his form is on the up, where he got a stage win but ultimately finished behind a flying Sosa on GC. The long TT isn’t ideal for him and he will definitely ship some time there. Also, he seems like a rider who suffers one bad day in a GT – so will he be able to recoup the TT and bad day losses over the rest of the climbing days? I’m not so sure but he will be there or thereabouts.

The Podium Contenders.

With such an open race, there are several guys who will rate their chances of making the GC podium come the end of the three weeks in Madrid.

Alejandro Valverde – After performing a good supporting role for his team-mates in France, this will be the Grand Tour where Valverde gets his chance to shine. He probably enters the race as co-leader with Quintana and they will see how things pan out throughout the race. There are plenty of opportunities for him to pick up bonus seconds but some of the tougher finish climbs might worry him. Nonetheless, this is Spain and we are in Valverde territory so he can’t be discounted. Will having one eye on the Worlds detract from his performance? I don’t think so.

Rigobero Uran – Disappointing in the Tour before abandoning the race, he arrives here with only San Sebastian in his legs since then. At that race though he did look fairly strong for someone who dropped out of the Tour but will he have been able to re-find that form? If he’s on or close to his 2017 Tour level then he has a very good chance of winning this race.

Fabio Aru – One of the enigmas of Grand Tour cycling, Aru only seems to ever really turn up at the for the big events and even then he’s struggled since 2015 with consistency. His implosion at the Giro was pretty dramatic but even before then he wasn’t really in the fight for the title and found himself sitting 5’33 down on Yates. He does seem to go well in Spain though and he certainly seems more “chipper” on social media which to be indicates that he is in a good place – maybe the results will follow and we’ll see 2015 Fabio again?

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David De La Cruz – Sky’s GC man for this race, it was here that he had a breakthrough performance in 2016 when he finished in 7th. At the start of the year he was in good form but he lost the opportunity to chase his own results in races such as the Giro and Tirreno. However, a recent third place in Burgos shows that he is slowly riding himself back into form for the Vuelta. Will we see an attacking Sky for once with Henao and Kwiatkowski also possible outsiders for a good result.

George Bennett – My favourite outsider for the race, I have been really impressed with the Kiwi’s development this year. He had a solid Giro where he finished 8th overall but the Vuelta on paper has the parcours that suits him a lot better. Recently in Poland he was by far the strongest on the short few kilometre climbs and it was just a shame for him that they weren’t just a little bit longer so that he could definitely drop everyone. I did question his tactics on pulling during that final day, but maybe he’ll cash in that favour from Kwiatkowski at some point here? The TT will see him lose a good bit of time but as an attacking rider I think he can gain it back elsewhere.

Ilnur Zakarin – After a successful Giro (5th) / Vuelta (3rd) attempt in 2017, this will be the Katusha riders first effort at the Tour/Vuelta combination. A little bit like Quintana, although not as evident, Zakarin seemed to grow into the Tour in the final week and find some good legs in the closing stages. The number of mountain finishes will be great news for him as it means he can avoid descending to the finish line!

The “Unknowns”

Those with questionable/unkown form or riders that have their sights elsewhere…

Wilco Kelderman – His 4th place last year was his second “breakthrough” GC performance after his 7th in the Giro back in 2014. He was strong in his comeback race in Suisse but he was meant to go to the Tour to support Dumoulin but crashed in training and missed the race. That has resulted in his preparations for here being a bit rushed so no one really has any idea of how he will go. Given what we saw last year, he has to be considered a contender if the form is there. He will love the long TT.

Vincenzo Nibali – Unjustly forced to abandon the Tour after he was taken out by a spectator, he says that his current shape is miles off where it needs to be. I kind of believe him but this is Nibali after all and if he has a chance of winning the race in the final week, he’ll turn up. However, I do think this is all just preparation for the Worlds at which he has a serious chance of winning.

Richard Carapaz – One of the standout performances at the Giro where he took a very impressive 4th place on GC. Will he be here to help Quintana and Valverde, or will he get another chance to chase glory? Who knows!

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Thibaut Pinot – Another who completely capitulated at the Giro, he looked good on his return to racing in Poland earlier in the month. I see a lot of people are touting him for success here and given the field, he is one of the riders with a solid pedigree. However, my main concern with him for this race is the heat: he notoriously struggles in the warm weather and the opening week looks like it will be typical Spanish August weather. So a with a return to an old blog favourite, take it away Simon…

its a no

Mas, Buchmann and Ion Izagirre all fall into the same category for me of “solid top 10 potential but I struggle to see them fighting for anything further up the order”. A stage win and a top 10 would be a good result for them!

I think I’ve covered everyone, there are certainly plenty of guys to cover…

Prediction

Is this the most open Grand Tour we’ve seen in recent memory? I think so. We could be in for some surprises over the coming few weeks as teams and riders battle for control. As for who will win? I’m not overly confident in choosing any of the contenders as a clear candidate so I’ll stick to tradition in this situation and go for someone slightly left-field…

George Bennett to take home the title!

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Both he and his team have looked lively over the past couple of weeks and I think they will continue that form into the Vuelta.

Betting

I’m not normally one to make many antepost bets but the odds of 50/1 on offer a few days ago were too good to pass up.

Bennett is still available at 40/1 in some places but I would even accept the 33/1 that is common.

1pt EW Bennett at 50/1 (take the 33/1).

As for other antepost markets, I made a short KOM thread on my twitter yesterday and pointed to two potential candidates for that: Nick Schultz (300/1) and Thomas de Gendt (14/1), but both of their prices have dropped dramatically – now 80/1 and 9/1 respectively, I think TDG is still back-able at that price, Schultz not so much.

Likewise, for the points jersey I fancy Kwiatkowski (33/1) to go well but that price has shortened to 16/1 with Bet365. However, he is still available at those same odds with Ladbrokes/Coral.

Thanks for reading as always. Who do you think will win the race overall and why? I shall be back with my stage 1 preview on Friday evening so hope to see you then! 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.

Corbeew

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.