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

Today’s Recap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Route

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or Chris Horner.

Weather Watch

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

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

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

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

How will the stage pan out?

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

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

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

What will be the difference tomorrow?

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

I think you know the answer…

Contenders

Contador.

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

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Froome.

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

Zakarin.

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

Nibali.

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

Lopez.

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

Kelderman.

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

Vuelta Picks

Same old stuff again!

Safe Pick – Zakarin

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

Wongshot PickLopez.

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

Lanterne Rouge Pick – Dunne

Good luck Conor!

Prediction

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

Instead, I think Majka wins tomorrow.

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

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

Betting

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

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

 

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

Vuelta a España 2017 Stage 16 Preview; Circuito de Navarra -> Logroño

Rest-day Recap

Stage 15 turned into more of a damp squib than I was expecting with the majority of GC riders coming home together. Well, apart from Superman Lopez who forged ahead to take another stage win. I told you pre-Vuelta to keep an eye on him!

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Froome though is still in control of the race with closest rival Nibali just over a minute behind and third placed Zakarin 2’08 in arrears.

There is still a lot to play for going into the final week and the battle for the podium should be a great one, even if the GC win might be out of reach.

Will that be the case after tomorrow’s TT? Let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders.

The Route

A 40km individual effort against the clock that could (will) have a big say on the outcome of this race overall.

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In terms of the route itself, it is book-ended by two fairly technical sections. The stage starts on the motor racing “Circuito de Navarra” which has a lot of tight turns that will mean the riders can’t get up to full speed. Saying that, it is a fairly wide track so it is not like a street circuit where they would have to go really slow!

Once out and through Los Arcos they will power along mainly straight roads but with a few sharp turns littered throughout the itinerary. Nonetheless, it should be mainly full gas until they enter Logroño.

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The riders will have several roundabouts to traverse (classic Vuelta) and a very tricky closing kilometre. A good bit of time could be gained or lost here!

As for the parcours itself I’ve made a VeloViewer/Strava profile of the stage, as is tradition. You can view that here.

 

It is by no means a completely flat TT, as the official profile somewhat suggests, but it isn’t crazily difficult.

Vuelta TT Updated

We have a couple 1-2km drags at roughly 2.5-3% in the first 15km of the stage, before we reach the “hillier” part of the route.

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The above image is from 15.5 -> 19.9km into the route.

As you can see it is not leg-breaking, especially by Vuelta standards, but it will still require riders to manage their effort well. Quite a bit of it is false flat mixed in with some more standard climbing metres at 5% etc, but there are a few steep 10% ramps thrown in for good measure too!

From there, the riders will be onto the easier part of the course.

Vuelta Last 20kms TT

The second half of the TT dos have a few kick ups as you can see, which will knock some of the speed off from the descent, but the majority of it is mainly downhill.

Will riders keep enough in the tank to tackle the more rolling final 3kms?!

Weather Watch

As is often the case in time trials, the weather can play a big part in the outcome of the day due to the long time period between the first and last rider setting off.

Dunne will be the first rider down the ramp, starting at 13’34 local time, with Froome beginning his effort over 3 hours later at 16’52.

A full start list can be viewed here.

Fortunately for everyone they should all face the same road conditions, with no rain forecast for the area at all.

However, they will have different wind conditions…

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Source: Windfinder

Those starting later will have a lower wind speed, but a much more favourable direction, with a tailwind for the majority of the course. Whereas those who’re off at the start will have a less desirable cross-tail wind.

It might not play a massive part, but it is something to consider.

Unless of course that massive change in wind speed comes in a bit earlier then Froome might fly along the course!

Winner

With Dennis now gone, it does open up the stage for some riders. Well, I had originally wrote that I thought Froome would run the Australian close due to the latter’s not so great form on longer TTs recently. So with that said…

Froome.

Has to start as the overwhelming favourite. His past results in second week Grand Tour TTs are rather impeccable; 3/1/1 in the Tour/Vuelta/Tour. It is that win at the Vuelta last year that really stands out for me. In my preview for that day I wrote that I thought Froome looked tired after the previous stages and didn’t seem to be at his best fitness anymore. Sound familiar? He went on to crush that day and secure his second place. I think he’ll crush it tomorrow and secure his first place on GC.

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Podium Contenders

There are a whole host of riders who’ll be lining up to hopefully take the win if Froome misfires, but they have a more realistic chance of taking the podium behind the Sky rider.

Oliveira.

The Portuguese rider has been targeting this stage all race and he should be close to the front by the end of tomorrow. He started off the Vuelta very strongly but has faded recently. Whether that was due to him getting ill, or saving energy, we’ll only really find out tomorrow through his performance.

Lampaert.

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Winner on the opening road stage, the Belgian TT champ has ridden well in service of his team-mates over the past couple of weeks. Tomorrow is his chance to shine as an individual again though and he’ll certainly be up there. He finished 4th at last year’s TT and will hope to go better this time round!

Kelderman.

Seems to have avoided the illness that has plagued his team as of late, but he was slow to respond to his podium challenger Zakarin on the last stage. Was that a sign of weakness? He used to be considered a fairly strong TT rider while at Jumbo, but he seems to have regressed since his move to Sunweb. I don’t think we’ll see him on the podium tomorrow.

Luis Leon Sanchez.

The experienced hand at Astana always seems to go fairly well in long TTs at Grand Tours. He’s looked good in this race, picking days to attack but also willing to sacrifice himself for Aru and Lopez. On stage 14 he did a lot of the driving work to help pull the break back somewhat so I think his form is there. He took it a bit easier the following day and with Astana leading the Team Classification, I think he’ll go full gas tomorrow.

Ludvigsson.

I could not mention Big T, now could I?! Third on the final TT last year, the FDJ man has looked comfortable this race, but he’s not been as prominent and attacking as I had hoped for. Nonetheless, he will give it a good bash tomorrow and will certainly be in contention for another top 5 result.

Jungels.

Another rider who falls into the “strong team-mate who might be eyeing up this stage” category. The former Luxembourg champion should have the power to match the best over this type of distance, it just depends if he goes 100% or not. He was third on the similar TT during the Giro this year. Can he repeat that here?

As for some others, I’m quietly hopeful for a good time from Superman! He produced a very good time in the Tour de Suisse last year. That TdS result did come at altitude which could have helped him a bit. Nonetheless, with his current form, he should be closer to others than expected.

Vuelta Picks

Safe – Froome.

This is the day I have been saving the Brit for!

Wongshot – LLS.

A Spanish rider who’s going well and has a proven track record over the distance.

Lanterne Rouge – Blythe

The Brits to book-end the day.

Prediction

You haven’t been paying attention, have you? I told you above – Froome to win!

Luis Leon to sneak onto the podium somewhere and Superman Lopez to remain in the GC podium hunt going into the last few stages.

Betting

The good prices on Froome are gone now after Dennis’ withdrawal. Some bookmakers might Rule 4 any previous bets that you’ve made but I still think his current odds of 4/5 in some places offer value. He’s 10/11 on the exchanges if you can get there.

I genuinely can’t see past anyone else and although I don’t like advising odds on for stages;

5pts WIN on Froome @ 4/5 

2pts LLS to finish Top 3 (with B365)

Then 1pt on this H2H treble…

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Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Will it be Froome domination, or can someone upset the apple cart? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

Vuelta a España 2017 Stage 15 Preview; Alcala La Real -> Sierra Nevada

Today’s Recap

For so long it looked as if all of the break  was going to finish ahead of the main GC guys. However, Bahrain/Astana/Trek all had a different idea for how the day was going to pan out and they started to chase.

The gap tumbled but Majka forged on at the bottom of the climb and the talented Polish climber held on for the stage win.

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It is going to be interesting to watch him over the coming week, now that he is back to his best. Another stage win or two are certainly possible!

Behind after a lot of to-ing and fro-ing, the GC gaps weren’t overly significant. Lopez once again confirmed that his form is on the way up, nabbing a few seconds ahead of a chase group which was led home by Nibali.

Saying that, some riders did lose over 20 seconds and we seem to have a strong 6 that are a bit better than everyone else at the moment.

Will there be more significant gaps tomorrow?

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

The Route

What a stage!

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Two Cat-1s and an Especial climb all rolled into 129km of racing. This is going to be hectic!

The race starts off somewhat benignly, with a couple of uncategorised 3% rises in the first 20km of racing before the race plummets down to the 30km mark and Pinos Puente. From there, the riders will face 27km of false flat (0.8%), hitting the official start of the opening climb with 71.7kms remaining.

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I would say that those remaining kilometres certainly fall into the “tough” section.

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The Cat-1 climb of Alto de Hazallanas averages a fairly low 5.8% for 15.1km. However, when taking out the 3km of descent and false flat, that gradient shoots up to 7.2%. That sounds a bit harder!

The second part of the climb is the hardest though, with the final 7.6km averaging a very sore 9%. It is the perfect launchpad for riders to take some risks with an early move.

Once over the top the riders get some respite on 18km of descent, before some valley roads and the double ascent to finish the day.

I’m not even going to bother to distinguish between the Cat-1 and the Especial climb, just lumping it all together!

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That looks like great fun…

27.7km at 5.9%, some riders are going to suffer tomorrow. Thankfully, or not, depending on who you ask, the opening 6km of the climb are the toughest (the Cat-1), averaging close to 10%.

From there things get “easier” and the closing 14km are great for riders who like to ride tempo, with the gradient only edging just over 5.5%. However, those ramps will feel a lot tougher considering the inevitable fast pace throughout the day and because of the duration of the climb itself.

We then also have the small factor of altitude to consider too.

Roughly the last 8km of the climb are at over 2000m. With the air being thinner, the riders who come from flatter lands could struggle and find themselves not as comfortable as they would hope.

How will the race pan out?

I’m hoping for chaos.

This is one of the stages I’ve been looking forward to all Vuelta and I hope that with all the hype it doesn’t become a damp squib.

We’ll see a big fight to get into the break as the GC contenders try to get some of their team-mates up the road. The battle to get into the move could easily take until the sprint point at 45km into the day.

Astana, Bahrain and Trek were lively today in their efforts to chase down the break today and I’ll be looking to them to bring the fireworks tomorrow.

We could well see a GC rider attack on the opening climb of the day; all eyes on Contador for that now typical banzai attack. From there, all hell will break loose if that is the case. Especially if someone like Nibali follows the Spaniard.

I would be interested to see what would happen if Lopez and Contador went. They aren’t immediate dangers to Froome’s lead, but they aren’t exactly the type of riders who you want to give a few minutes to either.

One thing that the opposition teams will take from today’s stage is that although Froome looked strong, his team was the weakest they have been so far. Nieve cracked a lot earlier than was expected and it was only Poels who was left at the business end. Froome needs a big day from the Dutchman tomorrow. If not, our race leader could be tired out by chasing a lot of attacks. Even though he is clearly in stellar form, he can’t mark everyone by himself. Unless of course he just rides away from everyone!

Contenders

Froome.

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He’s been tested so far this race but the Sky rider hasn’t looked as if he is going to falter anytime soon. However, he will be very worried about tomorrow, especially after his team looked tired today. Nonetheless, Froome is a great climber and he should be there fighting for victory at the end of the stage. He’s never won a stage that has finished with a +2000m summit, so it will be interesting to see how he copes.

Nibali.

Froome’s immediate rival and main concern tomorrow, the Shark has looked ominous recently. He was strong today and when Contador didn’t want to work with him, he seemed to knock things back a bit. However, he produced a fast finishing to take third on the day and pick up some vital bonus seconds. Unlike Froome, he has had previous for performing well on days where the altitude has really kicked up and he’ll be hoping to go well tomorrow.

Lopez.

My guy! It is great to see the Colombian grow into the race after being lumped with the Haughey Curse at the start of the race. Not an immediate threat to the podium he could once again be given a bit of leeway like we have witnessed the past two summit finishes. If Bilbao makes the break, they could form a deadly duo on the last climbs. Oh yeah, Lopez’s home town is situated at 2800m so tomorrow should be a walk in the park for him!

Contador.

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The rider that everyone will look to, to animate the stage. He wouldn’t disappoint now, would he?! After his mishap in the first mountain test, El Pistolero has followed almost every move and forged on himself at times. I reckon he’ll light the stage up, but he just won’t have enough to finish it off. Nonetheless, he’ll vault up the GC.

Kelderman and Zakarin.

I’m taking these two as a duo as they seem to be just below the level of the four above. It will need some attacking racing from them if they want to escape the clutches of the better climbers, but that could well happen if there is some looking around. Yet, I think they’ll fall a bit behind tomorrow.

Chaves.

I almost feel like I have to put him in here due to his Colombian background and Bogota residence. However, the Smiling Assassin has been just off the pace the past few stages and it will take a lot for that to be turned around tomorrow.

Vuelta Picks

Safe Pick – Lopez

Should top 5 at least barring any misfortune!

Wongshot Pick – Bilbao

Sky call everyone’s bluff and the break gets a big advantage. Bilbao gets the nod to go for the stage win.

Lanterne Rouge Pick – Haga

There’s an illness floating about the Sunweb camp.

Prediction

It should be a Froome v Lopez v Nibali battle.

Lopez has the advantage of being further back on GC and an altitude native. So yup, you guessed it, I’m going with Nibali.

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He really impressed me on the final climb and I get the feeling that he could have followed Lopez today if he had wanted to. His history in big altitude stages is great and that should help him out tomorrow as well.

Betting

In what should be a three-horse race, I’m going to play a bit of a safety net and go EW on Nibali as he should surely podium…

2.5pts EW Nibali @ 8/1

 

Thanks as always for reading, and any feedback is appreciated. Who do you think will win tomorrow? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

Vuelta a España 2017 Preview – The BFOG

Vuelta a España 2017 Preview – The BFOG

In a slight change-up to previous races where I’ve rolled out separate previews for the various jerseys, this year I’m going to include GC/Sprint/KOM all in one, in a Giro Rosa style BFOG.

Last year’s Vuelta saw some very aggressive racing with Quintana beating Froome by 1’23, with Chaves finishing in 3rd.

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Most of the time Quintana had over Froome was gained on a crazy stage 15 and I hope we see some similar tactics deployed this year.

I’ll be disappointed if my favourite Grand Tour of the year is a let down.

Over the coming three weeks expect some bold tactics, super steep finishes, messy sprints, random breakaway days and some surprising results!

The Route – What You Need To Know

To some it up in a word: tough.

Again, as I’ll be doing daily stage previews then I won’t be going over the route in massive detail here, just the key stages. Although this is the Vuelta, so any stage can almost become a key stage…

The opening day sees a TTT around Nîmes (yes, we start in France) which should set the GC order for the following few days. Thankfully, at only 13km long, the time gaps between the overall contenders shouldn’t be too big at the end of the day.

It is not long before we’ll get a rough idea of who has some early climbing form as Stage 3 features two Cat-1 climbs and a Cat-2 all within 158km. With a slightly technical downhill run I don’t expect to see any of the GC favourites try to attack 100%, maybe an aggressive top 20 candidate can escape to take the spoils?

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Stage 5 offers us our first hill-top finish with the Cat-3 climb of Ermita Santa Lucía. It doesn’t sound much, but remember that this is a SPANISH Cat-3 climb; 3.7km at 8.58% with max gradients of around 15-20%. It’s a shame Reijnen isn’t here so he can get Spained…

We then have a couple of rolling days that give the sprinters or opportunists a chance at stage glory.

The weekend before the first rest day sees two stages that both have Cat-1 climbs in the closing 10kms of the race.

Stage 8 will have riders summit the brutally steep Alto Xorret de Catí. Officially 5kms at 9%, the crux of the climb is more 4km at 11%! From there, they will then face a short but steep descent into town for the finish.

vuelta-a-espana-2017-stage-9-cumbre-del-sol-1484252526Stage 9 finishes atop the Alto de Puig Llorença which is another short but steep climb, averaging 8.8% for 4.1km. It certainly seems the organisers designed a route hoping that Valverde would be here! With a rest-day to come, expect the GC contenders to be full gas here and we could see some surprising time gaps.

After the rest day we should see a break survive on Stage 10, but the following day is the most challenging one so far with back-to-back Cat-1 climbs.

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Climbing or descending from pretty much 60km out, this could be a fairly brutal day in the saddle. With the finish above 2000m, we might see a GC favourite suffer from the altitude. One thing is for sure, this Vuelta isn’t a race you can ease yourself into for week 3!

Another couple of “who knows what these stages could turn into” days follow, before we get out first Especial finish of the race on Stage 14.

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Once again the riders are pretty much climbing for the last 25km of the race with the Cat-1 before the Esp finish. However, the two can be combined to form the climb below.

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It’s not a crazy average gradient at only 5.3%, but the 23km could see some weary legs by the top. Not great then when the toughest 3kms come within the final 5km! Someone could go pop. With a “flat” finish though, a small 5 rider sprint could be likely.

Either way, it will certainly stretch the riders legs for what is to come the following day.

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This is the type of Vuelta stage I love as a spectator. Pretty sure the riders might not think the same. Pure madness!

It finishes with a Cat-1 then Especial climb, but like a few of the stages here, they can be pretty much rolled into one.

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Ouch. Ouch indeed!

With the last rest-day to follow, expect the riders to leave everything out on the road.

After their day to recuperate and recover, the riders will be faced with a decisive 40km TT. It does climb and roll a little bit but it is certainly an effort that should suit a specialist. This stage will scare a lot of the pure climbers who will be gunning for a good GC position.

The GC days continue to come as Stage 17 finishes atop the now viral Alto de los Machucos.

Who knows what the GC composition will look like before the stage, and who knows what it will look like after! Those who lost time on the TT the day before hand will certainly be hoping to bounce back with a good performance.

Stage 18 finishes on one of those classic Vuelta Cat-3s; 2.3km at 8.3%. I wouldn’t expect any major splits between the GC guys but you just never know…It could be a day for the break, likewise is stage 19. Although a few teams might control it and hope for a sprint.

The last huzzah GC wise comes on Stage 20 where the riders will finish atop the mythical Angliru.

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Four categorised climbs in a 119km stage, including the three major ones in the last 50km. A very Vuelta-y stage to finish the Vuelta GC battle with!

Any sprinters that we have left will then fight it out for stage honours in Madrid on the final day. Although considering we don’t have many here already, could a late attack succeed?

GC Contenders and Pretenders

With the defending champion Quintana finally deciding to have a Grand Tour off after doing 4 in a row, we could well see a new winner this September. I’ll have a look at some of the contenders and outsiders for the title below, some in much more depth than others!

Chris Froome.

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This years Tour winner is gunning for a famous Tour/Vuelta double. He has tried to pull off the feat in the past but this year could be his best shot, given the 40km worth of individual time trialing. Starting as the bookies favourite, his form is massively unknown going into this race. In fact, he hasn’t made an appearance at any UCI event since the end of the Tour, instead, opting to earn a couple of extra quid with some post Tour crits. Not ideal preparation in my opinion for a race where you need to be on good form in the first week!

One of the things he does have going for him though is that he won the Tour not looking his best. In previous editions he has cruised the Tour but never had just enough left to win the Vuelta, so maybe that was in the back of his mind going into that race. Or is he on the decline in general? I thought the latter before the Tour, but I’m not so sure now. His team is strong, not as good as his TDF hit squad, but bloody close to it! He is still the rider to beat once the dust has settled.

Vincenzo Nibali.

Arguably Froome’s biggest contender for the crown, the Italian is a much more rounded Grand Tour rider than the Brit, showing consistency across all three of the races. I mean he has won them all! He finished third at this years Giro, a result I’m sure he’ll be disappointed with but it wasn’t a bad performance and he did beat some good riders. Traditionally, Nibali doesn’t show much form before a Grand Tour but that seems to have changed this season. A solid 9th place in Poland, where he looked fairly skinny, was good for him and he will no doubt be gunning for no less than the win here. The only issue is that his team is fairly weak, with the missing Izagirre a big blow. I can’t see him winning the race, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he does in the end.

Alberto Contador.

I said at the Tour last year he was past his best and his performance this year highlighted that even more. I’m sure he’ll go on a few hail mary attacks which could see him move up the standings. Will it be enough for a podium? Probably not. But a stage win and a top 10 is very much achievable.

Fabio Aru.

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Another rider who comes straight here with no other racing in his legs after La Grand Boucle. A former winner of this race, as more of a pure climber some of the very tough stages should suit him well. However, the long 40km TT could be his downfall in his overall title bid. I have no idea where his form is at, considering he was apparently struggling with bronchitis at the end of the Tour. He could be great, or he could be awful! Being near the top on GC is helpful, especially when Astana have another potential GC card to play…

Miguel Angel Lopez.

My outsider/dark-horse/whatever you want to call it for the podium and possibly even more. Which now inevitably means he is going to fall by the wayside after picking up an illness on stage 4.

The young Colombian is a super talented, all-round GC star of the future. He can climb very well, but he is also a deceptively good TTer for someone of his stature. It is a tough ask to see him compete at the pointy end of the race in what will be the first Grand Tour that he should hopefully complete. Nonetheless, I think he has the pedigree to do just so. Having been raced lightly this year after spending the first 6 months of the season sidelined due to injury, he should have plenty of juice left in the tank to go well here. He warmed up with a good showing in Burgos recently, winning the final stage. Coping well with the heat there is a promising sign for what will no doubt be a scorching Vuelta. Can Superman fly?!

Ilnur Zakarin.

After Froome, the Russian is arguably the best TT rider of the GC contenders here. He’s an attacking rider and in a race that is known for its crazy moments, he might just prosper. I’m still not 100% sold on his ability to climb with the best, especially at altitude but you just never know. He’ll be hoping for at least a top 5!

Yates / Yates / Chaves.

Thought I’d just combine Orica’s three-pronged attack into one here! Out of the Yates brothers, I imagine it would be Adam who will be going for the higher GC placing, but that doesn’t mean Simon can be discounted completely. However, Chaves should be their main charge. The only issue with that is the Colombian has struggled with injuries this season and took a big knock to his mental confidence after one of his friends tragically died back in Colombia while he was riding at the Tour. I’m sure his form will be a lot better at the Vuelta as that was the plan during the Tour anyway, to get up to race speed for this event. If he is firing on all cylinders, he could be a danger. The only issue for all three of them is the massive 40km of TT, it is by far their worst discipline and they could all lose bucketloads of time. Which should make for an exciting few mountain stages if they have to chase the race…

I feel like I have already named a load of riders but the list of quality top 10 contenders could continue for a while yet! Other guys we have here include but not limited to; Bardet, Jungels, Kruijswijk, Poels, Pozzovivo, Majka and Kelderman.

Prediction

Froome is the guy to beat but Sky are never as convincing at the Vuelta compared to their dominance at the Tour and there is a chance the Brit could be isolated on a few occasions. We saw in France that he didn’t seem to be at his best and he can’t chase everyone down when it is just the group of GC favourites. If Froome is to win, he needs a massive race from Poels.

I just can’t help shake the feeling that some of the teams will look to isolate him at some point, like the famous Stage 15 from last year. Will they succeed?

 

Hmmm, I don’t know. Surely Sky will be more alert this year…

Froome probably wins the race but you’ll read that a lot this week so I’ll go for young pretender turned young contender Miguel Angel Lopez to pull off a shock result!

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I’m really looking forward to the double act with Aru over the coming weeks.

Watch out for the Shark though, he’s lurking ready to strike.

King of the Mountains

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Unlike the Tour, the Vuelta’s KOM competition is much more traditional in the sense that climbs at the start of the stage are weighted equally compared to those at the end. None of this final climb double points nonsense!

Given the amount of summit finishes at the Vuelta you would think that a GC rider has a good chance of taking the jersey. However, there are bound to be several breakaway days during the race which makes it difficult for someone high up on the overall to challenge. In fact, you have to go back to 2007 when a proper GC guy won the jersey.

Omar Fraile has won the jersey the past two years; can he make it three in a row?

As for points distribution, it is as follows:

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Thanks to Velorooms/@Searchhhh for whom I tea leafed the table from.

Overall, there are 315 mountain points available, with 91 of those coming at the end of stages. You can therefore see how it is tough for the GC favourites to compete.

However, unlike recent years, there are no nailed on breakaway days that garner a lot of points. Instead, we have 6 stages where there are between 15-25 points available during the stage, not including the finish climb, and they are Stages 3/5/12/17/19/20.

You would expect the break to take the majority, if not all of the points on those days. However, there are a few mountain top finishes where the break could stay away until the end as well.

Stage 14 is an example of that where we finish with an Especial climb, meaning that a rider could potentially take 28 points if they win the stage.

The following days action is similar too if the break manages to stay away and take the stage/Cima Alberto Fernández, totalling 40 points if they can do that.

How will the KOM race pan out?

It is tough to name a favourite for a competition such as this given the huge amount of variables. At the Tour, Barguil lost a lot of time in some of the early stages so that he was given the freedom to hunt KOM points later in the race. Whether that was intentional or not, I’m not too sure. Equally, Landa turned to the KOM jersey once he was out of GC contention at the Giro.

However, the difference between those two races and the Vuelta is that a lot of the KOM points were back loaded towards the end of the Grand Tour. Here, they’re much more evenly spread out.

In fact, on stage 3 (25pts) and stage 5 (21 pts) a rider can put their name into the mix with a strong early lead in the competition. If you look at the past couple of seasons the highest winning points total has been 82 by Fraile in 2016.

Therefore, a rider could take 43 points (not including the Cat-3 summit finish on stage 5) and be in a very commanding position at the end of the first week. I wonder if we’ll see some riders roll home at the back of the pack on Stage 2 to get some freedom the next day….

A poor TTT could set things up nicely to allow a rider the freedom to go into those moves. It’s also important to consider that the Pro-Conti teams will be gagging to get away in breaks for TV exposure, so a rider from their roster could be the one to take up the charge.

So with all that said, I’m going to suggest three names who might be there or thereabouts in the competition. Or probably not…

Merhawi Kudus.

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I’m a big fan of the talented Eritrean rider, he’s really taken a step up this season in terms of performance. A traditional mountain goat, he should be able to cope with a lot of the steep ramps and rises that the Vuelta has to offer. Now, Fraile is the most likely candidate on the Dimension Data squad to chase the KOM jersey, but there is a chance that the Spaniard might want to go for stage wins and leave the KOM hunting to someone else in the team; Kudus might be that man.

Jetse Bol (2.0).

The new and improved climbing Jetse Bol has found his passion for racing again with Colombian Wild Card team Manzana Postobon. They are guaranteed to lose a lot of time on the opening day TTT and will no doubt be chasing the breaks from therein. Given his sublime performance at the recent Vuelta Burgos, Bol seems to be in rather good shape at the moment. A jersey win for the Pro-Conti team would be incredible and the Dutchman might just be the guy to deliver it for them.

Larry Warbasse.

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There would be something poetic about Captain America taking the KOM jersey at the Vuelta. It was at this race last year that Warbasse gained a lot of my respect, so much so that I think he was the most heavily featured rider in my previews! He couldn’t manage a breakaway win but impressed enough to gain a contract with Aqua Blue for this season. I think it is fair to say he has delivered for them, taking their first ever win. Not bad considering it was at WorldTour level! Another team who are bound to be on the attack throughout the race Warbasse is their best climber and I would be surprised not to see them go for the jersey; they’ve done so in a lot of smaller races throughout the season so why not here too.

You know what, Warbasse is my KOM winner for this race!

Points Classification

Vuelta a Espana - Stage 21

Much like the KOM jersey, the Vuelta keeps things simple for the points classification and does away with the hassle of stage categorisations etc. Instead, riders will be given the same points for winning one of the sprint stages or the mountain top finish up the Angliru.

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Again, the table is tea leafed from the same sources as above!

Therefore, it is very rare that a sprinter wins this jersey. It will be even harder this year given the parcours and the lack of proper sprint stages. Consequently, it will be a rider who can compete on multiple types of finishes that will win the jersey.

Valverde has dominated this competition and it is clear to see why. Packing a fast sprint, he can pick up a few points on the flatter stages but his climbing ability allows him to challenge for stage wins on the tougher days.

We could see a GC winner take the crown by being consistent on all of the mountain top finishes but I think we might see a few breakaways deny them the opportunity of competing for points.

Unlike the KOM competition, I only have one rider in mind for this competition.

A guy who is very much built-in the ilk of Valverde, albeit he is not as good a GC rider. Yet.

Julian-Alaphilippe-time-trial

There are several stage finishes that seem to suit the explosive French climber down to the ground. He’s had to miss both the Ardennes and the Tour for various reasons which would have been a massive disappointment for him. Nonetheless, I’m sure that means he’ll turn up here ready to perform well. On his return to racing in Burgos he was good, not great, more promising than anything else. With the cobwebs blown out now, I think he’s in for a big race. If he is performing to his Paris Nice level, then the Points jersey is his to lose!

Vuelta Picks

After continuing on from initial success, we had the highest numbers ever play the Tour Picks game back in July and I’m hoping to entice you to join Vuelta Picks for this coming month.

The premise of the game is simple; pick a separate rider for every stage, with their position on the day counting as your points. With the lowest cumulative score at the end of the Vuelta winning the prize pool.

However, one bad day does not mean that you’re completely out of it, with a prize on offer for the most stage wins too. In fact, at the Tour there were enough participants to introduce a KOM prize (lowest accumulated score over certain stages).

It’s also a good way for you to laugh at my awful, or terribly unfortunate picks. Picking an ill Sam Bennett on stage 2 of the Giro didn’t really go well for me…

I’ll also be adding a little segment at the end of each day’s blog section to cover; a “safe” pick, a risky pick (wongshot) and a deliberate Lanterne Rouge pick. Just to add a bit of spice to the game!

Think you can beat me and take my money?!

*Hint – the answer is probably yes*

Then follow the Cycling Picks Twitter handle @cycling_picks and simply put your name into the spreadsheet if you wish to play!

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/14U89El-B7h05tRgB5Lw8ml9pkF5v0ROvxH96-dk3w7o/edit#gid=0

Spreadsheet above^^^

Betting

Not a fan of betting ante-post on GC riders normally, but I’ll gladly back Lopez as an EW bet for this race.

Outright – 2pts Lopez EW @ 25/1 with Lads/Coral. (would take 20/1 lowest)

As for the KOM competition, I’m spraying some small stakes around on the riders I’ve mentioned above. Nothing too crazy.

0.75pt EW Warbasse @ 50/1 with various (Wouldn’t take any lower)

0.5pt EW Kudus @ 150/1 with Betfred (would take 100/1 lowest)

0.25pt EW Bol @ 300/1 with Betfred (would take 250/1 lowest)

As for the Points jersey, it’s simple.

2.5pts WIN Alaphilippe @ 6/1 with Lads/Coral.

I think I’ll leave it at that for the pre-race bets.

 

Thanks as always for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated! Who do you think will win the various competitions? I hope we’re in for an exciting 3 weeks of racing and I’m optimistic that we will be! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tour de Pologne 2017 Stage 7 Preview; Bukowina Tatrzanska -> Bukowina Tatrzanska

Today’s Recap

A fairly selective day that saw Sagan lose his leader’s jersey.

Jack Haig attacked early, reminiscent of his dig on stage 2, but this time he was given some more leeway. In the end his winning margin was a comfortable 50 seconds, a very impressive performance from the young Aussie! He’s surely going to the Vuelta again this year.

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Behind a select group of GC contenders sprinted for bonus seconds with Poels besting Jungels.

It leaves 12 riders within 45 seconds of leader Teuns going into the final day of racing tomorrow. Let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

A short but fairly sharp stage to finish the race off.

TDPS7Prof

You can view the interactive profile here.

The route is focussed around 4/5 (depending on how you break it down) climbs that are situated near the finish village of Bukowina Tatrzanska. However, as I’m short of time, I’ll only really be looking at the ones we tackle on the run in to the line, i.e. the last 30km.

TDPS7Final30km

Another reason that I’m doing this is because I think it is highly unlikely that we’ll see any serious attacks before this point. It would be suicidal to launch an attack at 60km to go given all of the flat land before the climbing starts again.

Sierockie will be the climb to kick things off.

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As you can see, the majority of the altitude gain comes in the first part of the climb before some false flat and a little rise to the summit. The 5.3% average for 5.7km is fairly tough, but it is that opening section which is brutal; 2.7km at 8.7%. That includes almost a kilometre at 13.4%! We could see some riders blow up here if they have to go too deep and if not, the rolling section afterwards could be the thing that breaks them.

Once over the summit, they’ll plunge down the valley and start climbing straight away.

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Almost the opposite of the previous climb, the riders will start off with some gradual gradients before things get really steep at the end. With the steepest gradients coming near the summit, it is the perfect place to launch an attack!

A very quick descent follows before they quickly start climbing again.

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Short and not too much of struggle for the riders here, they’ll be happy for the more consistent gradients! However, if they were on the limit last climb then even this little climb could be of issue as they will have had no time to recover.

Once over the top they’ll have roughly 9km to the finish, of which 5km is descent.

TDPSTFin

It will be hard for anyone to create some gaps here if we do have a group come to the line together. However, Henao proved in 2015 that it is possible!

How will the stage pan out?

A strong break in theory should form due to the climbs right at the start of the stage and they could build up a large gap.

However, with the GC battle so close I imagine that they won’t be given much leeway at all and that they’ll be brought to heel with 30km left.

As to how it will play out from there? Who knows.

It looked as if Poels / Majka / Zakarin / Kelderman and Yates were the most explosive on the climbs today in the GC group. Although Jungels did well grinding his way back to them and the same can be said to anyone else dropped just over the top of the final summit.

We could again see a situation where numbers prevail in the front group but compared to yesterday, there are only two teams who have two riders in contention; Sunweb and Orica.

Could Haig manage to do the double? Possibly!

However, I’m taking a different approach…

Sublime Sunweb

The team have been on scintillating form this year and that seems to have continued here. Kelderman looked very good today on the final climb, following the moves with what looked like relative ease. He tried something on the flat roads just before the rise to the line but that was quickly brought to heel by Jungels. It would be extremely surprising to see him dropped tomorrow and with a fast sprint, he has a chance to win a small bunch kick.

What about his team-mate Oomen?

Amgen Tour of California 2017 - 2

Arguably one of the most talented young climbers in the peloton, the young Dutchman did a lot of work for his team-mate today. Normally an attacking rider, I would love to see him let off the leash to go for it tomorrow. Similar to Haig, he might be allowed to slip off the front in the closing kilometres as he won’t be instantly recognised as a real threat for the overall. At only 24 seconds back they’d be wrong!

Prediction

Oomen attacks early, softening up the group behind. Kelderman then attacks at the perfect moment to take the stage win and continue Sunweb’s great season!

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Betting

Aplogies for yesterday/today’s atrocious picks, I was really surprised to see Izagirre dropped! Hopefully the Sunweb boys turn it around for us tomorrow.

1.5pt WIN Kelderman @ 7/1

0.5pt WIN Oomen @ 33/1

 

Thanks as always for reading and sorry this is shorter than usual but I am short of time myself! Who do you think will win and how?

Next on the blog will be daily stage previews of the BinckBank Tour!

Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Tour de Romandie 2017 Stage 4 Preview; Domdidier -> Leysin

I apologise in advance…

Today’s Recap

We ended up with a sprint in the end despite Dowsett’s valiant efforts.

Viviani won after a Froome lead-out, beating Colbrelli and Schwarzmann.

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

The Route

The Queen stage of the race, with three cat-1 climbs in the second half of the day.

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However, they aren’t the most difficult of climbs and the toughest is actually the first one, Jaunpass, that crests with 70km to go.

From there, it is a case of descents followed by climbs all the way to the finish, with very little flat road.

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The penultimate climb of the day is fairly easy, but it does have a three kilometre stretch that averages close to 7%. I would expect some teams to attempt and put the hurt on here.

A long descent follows before the short climb to the finish.

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Officially only 4km long, the road does rise before we get the “start” of the climb.

Attacks should come from the bottom because it’s not long enough to delay until 2km to go etc, or so I hope!

Thankfully the weather seems to be clearing up for the weekend and we should go over all of the climbs that are listed, with the route hopefully remaining unchanged. But you never seem to know in this part of the world!

How will the stage pan out?

As alluded to above, I expect the racing to be on early tomorrow. Most of the climbs aren’t difficult so the day will have to be attacked if the likes of Porte and Froome want to put the others in trouble.

Sky don’t have a great team with them, so the Brit will have to rely heavily on the likes of Kiryienka and Kennaugh. Nonetheless, they have enough firepower to cause some issues.

It is BMC though who have a strong team and in Schar, Wyss and Roche they have three very solid climbing domestiques. Not to mention that Porte and Van Garderen are both high up on the overall and can pull the ol’ 1-2!

So splits early in the day after some teams try to attack the climbs, leaving an elite group of 25 or so riders at the bottom of the final climb.

A flurry of attacks at the bottom of that climb will see the strongest riders get away; Porte, Froome, Izagirre, Roglic and Kelderman.

The first two struggle to gap the other trio as the gradients ease, allowing for an attack…

Prediction

Izagirre and Roglic are considered too big a threat due to the TT, but Kelderman takes advantage of this and takes the win. This is one of the only races this year the Dutchman has leadership at and I’m sure he’d love to take a win before going to the Giro in support of Dumoulin. He packs a fairly decent sprint for a GC rider so also has a chance if a small group comes to the line!

Wilco-Kelderman-Team-Sunweb-2017-pic-Sirotti

Betting

 

NO BET.

Apologies again for how ridiculously short this is but I have hit the proverbial preview writing wall and I’ve started to lose interest in Romandie if I’m honest. I’ll try and have something more substantial out for the TT tomorrow as it looks like an interesting day. In the meantime, check out @InsidePeloton96‘s preview   as a way to get another insight of tomorrow’s stage in comparison to what I’ve wrote. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Tour de Romandie 2017 Stage 1 Preview; Aigle -> Champéry

Today’s Recap

A wet and miserable TT rewarded the risk takers of the peloton. In the end it was Fabio Felline who took a great win. He was putting down a serious amount of power in the closing straight, with the back wheel sliding all over the road. Possible flat tyre? Impressive either way!

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Alex Dowsett was the last rider down the ramp but kept things interesting, only losing by 2 seconds to the Italian, with an impressive ride from youngster Alexander Edmondson to take third.

As for Albasini, he looked to be going okay on the first part of the course, but seemed to lack the confidence in the second half. Probably didn’t want to fall after knowing I had put the curse on him. Oh well!

The GC guys took as few risks as possible, trying to keep themselves upright going into the rest of the week. Let’s have a look at what’s in store for them tomorrow.

The Route

We get the first open road stage of the race on day two and we are already treated to what is arguably the Queen Stage. Although I do think that is still going to be stage 4!

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@LasterketaBurua

An interactive profile can be viewed here.

With only 2700m of elevation gain, it’s certainly not the most wearing day, but the vast majority of the climbing does come in two big sections.

First, we have the Cat-2 climb of Vex that starts around the halfway point in the stage. Averaging a solid 6.3% for 8.9km it will tire the peloton for what’s to come later but I can’t really see it having any impact on the race. If anything, the descent might have a bigger say in the outcome if it is wet and dangerous.

Following the descent there is a long 40km period of flat before a little 2.1km long, 9.1% average kicker. This could see some of the deadwood dropped from the peloton if a team turns the pace on here. If not, the bunch will be grouped together as they start the final climb of the day.

According to the guys @LasterketaBurua the climb is 14.5km long and averages 4.2%, but that’s it topping out with just over 1km to the finish line.

As we get nothing in the road book at all about the climb I’ve made a Strava profile for the whole thing. View that here.

Interestingly, the rider who holds the Strava record for the climb is Adrien Costa (30 minutes) who set that back in the junior race of Pays Vaud back in 2015. I’m sure that will fall tomorrow!

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You can split the climb into three parts, with some false flat and shallow descending in between.

The first section is 5.5km at 5.4% but this does include some double figure ramps. Three km of said false flat/descending follows before the second section; 3.2km at 5.8%. We then have almost a kilometre of descending before the final kick up which is 1.3km at 7.7%. A flat-ish run to the line then follows.

Will we see a solo winner, or a group of GC favourites come to the line?

Weather Watch

Looks set to be another grim day for the peloton, a recurring theme this week!

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Source; Wunderground.

Thankfully it’s supposedly only raining at the finish line tomorrow in Champéry (above forecast), but the riders will certainly be cold and wet either way. Hopefully the organisers won’t need to change the route!

The same can’t be said for the climb of Vex as there is a good chance we’ll have sleet on it and that could make the descent dangerous. I don’t think it will have a massive impact on the day if it is included or not.

How will the stage pan out?

It will all come down to the final climb and how aggressively the riders approach it. With only one other mountain top finish, I’m sure the better climbers will want to put as much time into their competitors with a long TT looming.

The weather will play as big a part as any with some riders feeling the cold more than others, and potentially underperforming.

However, I just don’t think the final climb is hard enough to create some serious time gaps. The toughest section is the 1.3km (@7.7%) segment that comes near the end of the climb. We could see some strong attacks here from the likes of Porte and Froome but will they really distance everyone on it? I’m not so sure.

The flat run in to the line could scarper any moves that were made on the slopes, but of course it could work conversely where those behind don’t work together.

Ultimately though, I think the stage will be won either from a late attack on the flat closing 1.5km or in a sprint between GC favourites.

So I’ll throw some names into the proverbial hat.

Proverbial Hat of Contenders (Outsiders)

Jarlinson Pantano.

A5yzkMw

A man ahead of the times in bad weather…

But no, in all seriousness Pantano has all the credentials and abilities to go well tomorrow. He’s been climbing strongly in support of Contador all season but now has his own chance to chase a result. Or does he? There is a chance of him riding for race leader Felline, but I think Trek are best to keep their options open. Packing a fast sprint, he can certainly win the stage from a reduced group.

Diego Ulissi.

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The climb is possibly just on the limit for the Italian, considering the length of it, but with its relatively shallow gradients he could hang on. Not afraid to attack or hold out for the sprint in that situation, it will be interesting to see how he plays it if he’s still there!

Wilco Kelderman.

Going to the Giro in support of Dumoulin, Kelderman hasn’t had many race days so far this year, only 11 in fact! Two of those were at the Ardennes and he’s slowly regained his race speed and form. He put in a fairly solid TT today and will want to test himself at some point in the mountains. Tomorrow could be as good a day as any!

Prediction

I’ll go for Mary Poppins himself, Jarlinson Pantano to take the win! We’ll see an attack on the final ramp by some of the favourites and Pantano will mark it out, with Felline behind. The Colombian will then win the ensuing sprint. Valverde’s not here to beat him this time!

Tour de France stage 15

Betting

1.5pt EW Pantano @10/1 with Bet365

0.25pt EW Bilbao @80/1

Thanks as always for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated. I hope we get an unaltered stage and an exciting days worth of racing! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.