Vuelta a España 2017 Stage 2 Preview; Nîmes -> Gruissan

Today’s Recap

I should never have doubted them, should I?!

BMC win yet another TTT, being the only team to best the 16 minute mark.

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Dennis was the first man across the line so he is the first rider in the leader’s jersey of the race.

With a sprint finish likely tomorrow, there is a good chance he will hold onto it for a few days.

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

The Route

A flat jaunt along the Mediterranean coastline, with a little change of direction inland before turning back towards the sea for the finish in Gruissan.

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In terms of altimetry, there is nothing much to talk about at all. The highest peak of the day is just over 40m above sea level…

It could be a fairly benign day, but the finish could cause a surprise or two.

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They will tackle a roundabout at 2.5km to go, taking the sharp left.

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Said sweeping roundabout. The riders will have to knock a little bit of speed through it and it will certainly stretch out the peloton.

Will a team then have enough firepower to keep the pace high over the next 2 kilometres? If not, there could be a lot of jostling for position with things getting scrappy.

Especially when the road narrows at ~1km to go as the riders head off the main road and towards the town.

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The slip-road only lasts for 150m or so but it will certainly be a point some of the teams will be racing for. It is much more realistic for a team to control it from there to the finish with a few riders.

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It wouldn’t be the Vuelta without some type of “challenge” in the final kilometre. Tomorrow’s is a roundabout with roughly 350m to go. It’s not too tight, but the riders won’t be able to smooth out the corner completely.

Having one man peeling off just out of the roundabout and leaving the “pilot fish” with the sprinter is the ideal tactic here. Can anyone pull it off?

Weather Watch

We spend a lot of the day travelling parallel to the coast line so of course I have to mention the prospect of crosswinds.

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Although oddly enough, the wind isn’t coming from the sea. Instead, it comes from in-land and pushing towards the coast.

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That makes it less likely for echelons early on in the day but not improbable. There are some exposed sections as we head in land though, such as this part of the D-37 as we head towards Sérignan.

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At around 80km to go, is it too early for a team to try to split it?

They will turn more into a cross-head-wind afterwards so a lot of the riders might not fancy it. But the wind direction is pretty organic, much like the teams attitudes towards crosswinds. If they sense a chance to push it, I’m sure some will try!

If we do see splits then those dropped will hope that the wind direction becomes more of a headwind to deter the teams pushing on. It will be a race to the 30km to go banner in that case as once the riders turn to home, they’ll have a stonkingly big tailwind for the remainder of the day. Anyone gapped will find it difficult to get back.

So do I think we’ll see echelons? I’m hopeful, but not overly confident.

Sprinters

We don’t exactly have a long list of guys here and a the majority of them don’t have much help. Things could be messy…

Degenkolb.

On paper he is the most experienced/best sprinter here but he hasn’t raced since the Tour. Rolling home today makes me think that he still might be finding his legs and tomorrow’s long stage could be a struggle for him this early on. Of course, he could have been conserving energy after giving his all in the first part of the TTT but the signs aren’t good.

Theuns.

If Degenkolb isn’t sprinting then Theuns will be Trek’s main man. Full of confidence after his first World Tour win at the BinckBank Tour, he looked lightning quick then. He is off to a new team so there could be some tension within his current squad but as professionals I wouldn’t expect that to play too big a part. With a lot of helpers for Contador, whoever sprints for Trek will most likely only be able to rely on De Koert and possibly Pantano. A late charge to the front à la Lampre of old?!

Cort Nielsen.

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A double stage winner last year, he certainly enjoyed his first Grand Tour. Fast after a tough, long day, tomorrow’s stage looks good for him and I’m sure he’ll be hoping for crosswinds to reduce the bunch. Although maybe he won’t, as he is supposedly on team help duty before getting his own opportunity if the Orica GC riders are safe within the last 10km. It will be interesting to see how it plays out for him with no lead-out.

Modolo – Won a sprint in Poland but DNF’d that race. He is a really hit or miss rider so who knows how he’ll go tomorrow!

Trentin – He’ll more than likely be QS rider of choice for tomorrow. If they dedicate a lead-out to him then they have a fairly strong team with several strong rouleurs to push things on for him. Looking strong lately, I think he has a good chance of a result.

Blythe – The Brit will be hoping for echelons tomorrow to reduce his opposition. A good classics rider, he should make the first split if he’s being attentive and will fancy his chances in a reduced bunch. He could struggle in a big bunch gallop though, but with it being messy he could seize the opportunity.

Lobato – Seems to be finding form again but this pure flat sprint isn’t great for him. Almost guaranteed to be dropped if the wind picks up.

Van Genechten – Just a bit of a “meh” sprinter and typifies this field we have here. Will struggle to repeat his win from last season.

Debuscherre – Will be praying for echelons as he seems to have lost his way as a big bunch sprinter this year. That lack of confidence won’t help in the slightly sketchy finish.

Schwarzmann – Arguably has one of the strongest sprint lead-outs here in terms of pure power. Often a lead-out man himself, will he grasp his opportunity to shine?

Vuelta Picks

Safe Pick – Cort.

It’s tough to choose a “safe” pick for this stage as anything could happen out on the road with possible echelons and a messy sprint. Not knowing which of the Trek riders will be sprinting, it is wise to avoid them, although I would lean towards Theuns. Cort should be sprinting and as one of the fastest here he should guarantee a top 5.

Wongshot Pick – Theuns.

On form he is arguably the fastest rider here, it just depends if he sprints or not. Hence why he is the wongshot.

Lanterne Rouge Pick – Zurlo.

Fell today so he might be tasked with doing some work early on for Modolo and roll home at the end of the day.

Prediction

Trek to take advantage of Theuns is great form just now, letting him sprint, with the Belgian duly delivering!

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Betting

1pt EW Theuns @ 22/1 with Bet365 (would take 14/1 lowest – others might actually price up higher later on)

Also for a bit of fun I’ve doubled that up Sam Bennett for the Cyclassics at 528/1…

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Giro d’Italia 2017 Stage 3 Preview; Tortolì -> Cagliari

Today’s Recap

A long dull stage that ended in a bunch sprint with Greipel taking his standard Giro stage win!

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Ferrari of all people finished second, with Stuyven coming home third.

Annoyingly, Bennett fell ill last night and was struggling all day. A shame, but it’s one of those things about this sport that you never find out until you see them dangling off the back!

Oh well, moving on swiftly and onto tomorrow’s much shorter stage. Let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders.

The Route

The last day on the island of Sardinia and the easiest stage so far with barely any altitude gain at all!

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The profile makes it look the day look more rolling than it actually is, instead it is pretty much pan flat all day. At 148km long, it could be a short and explosive stage as the riders travel down the coast towards Cagliari.

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Like today, the run in tomorrow is fairly simple with only a few roundabouts and turns to contend with.

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There is a bit of pavé at the 350m to go mark all the way to the finish, but it really shouldn’t have an effect on the sprint at all.

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Definitely a case of “paved stone” rather than cobbles!

Weather

The big talking point regarding tomorrow’s stage is the strong winds that are forecast. Travelling almost directly south for almost 100km, there is a chance that if we get a constant East or Westerly wind we may get, ahem, crosswinds…

 

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Source: Wunderground

The above image is the forecast for Tertenia which is near the start of the stage but as you can see, it looks windy! As I highlighted in the preview for stage 2 though, a lot of the island is covered with trees etc so the riders have been protected from the wind thus far. God damn Sardinia for its beautiful scenery!

Tomorrow though, there are some areas exposed areas at the start of the stage.

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Location: North of Tertenia

Will it be full gas from the start like we have seen in the past at the Vuelta? After the two very slow days I think it could be…

How will the stage pan out?

I think we will see some of the GC teams try and split the race in the crosswinds. After the relatively quiet opening stages they’ll have a lot left in the tank and with a rest day to follow, it could be manic.

There are still sheltered areas where things won’t be affected by the wind as much, and although the route is pan-flat some of the surrounding area is hilly which will surely have an impact on the prevailing conditions.

Nonetheless, I expect there to be some echelon action.

Most of the route southbound looks like the following…

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They go closer to the hills at times but then skirt away from them again into more open areas like the one above.

Sky and Bahrain certainly look like the most eager GC teams to try something and I think that could be the case tomorrow. Although the British team have started to gain a reputation recently of being caught out on day’s like this. As I said above, with a rest day coming up I’m sure they’ll be more willing to try something riskier as they can recover the following day.

It’s a bit of a lottery trying to figure out who would be on the wrong side of a split GC-wise, because everyone will know that there is the potential for echelons so will be trying to position their overall candidates high up the bunch. This in itself could cause some issues and splits.

As for the stage, if it really does get manic then it will be a bit of a lottery, however, sprinters tend to go well in tough conditions so a good few of them should be there. Then again, some will probably miss out too just by being poorly positioned or through some bad luck (i.e. a badly timed mechanical).

We could end up seeing a similar top 10 to what we had on Stage 2 of the Tour in 2015 with a mix of GC riders and sprinters.

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Although with all that said, there is a chance I’m just wishfully thinking after the relatively dull opening stages we’ve had and it may all end in a big bunch sprint.

Prediction

It’s clear that Ewan and Greipel are the fastest riders here going off of the first two stages. Gaviria isn’t too far behind but he doesn’t seem to be 100% yet. Will having two days of racing in his legs change that?

The German is the best out of the sprinters in bad conditions so factoring that in, I think he wins tomorrow, doubling up after only three days!

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As to how many guys end up there for the sprint, who knows, it all depends on how aggressively the GC teams ride due to the wind and more importantly, if the wind is strong enough to do some damage! Anyone know what teams are sharing hotels?! 😏

I think we could see a small group come to the line and in that case it might be hard to control, therefore look out for strong all-round GC guys who should be there no matter what. Someone along the lines of Thomas or Jungels who are both powerful enough to get close in a very, very reduced sprint or attack and solo to the line. The former has been really attentive so far this race and I think he might order his Sky team to try and instigate something, especially with a rest day coming up.

Betting

No value in Greipel as his price is too short with the unpredictability of tomorrow and it’s too early in the race for me to go gung-ho with him and place a sizeable bet of 5pts etc. The sensible decision would be a no bet. But I’m not sensible!

So instead, I’m going to throw (waste) some money on the two GC guys I’ve listed in the chance that we get a crazy day. I would normally go WIN only, but if we get a small group of guys like that 2015 Tour stage, I’ll be gutted if one of them podiums so EW it is.

0.25pt EW Thomas @ 250/1 with SkyBet

0.25pt EW Jungels @ 200/1 with various

 

Thanks as always for reading. Who do you think will win tomorrow? Will it be a Greipel, Thomas, Jungels podium?! Will we have a race that’s faster than a club run? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paris Nice 2017 Stage 2 Preview; Rochefort-en-Yvelines -> Amilly

Today’s Recap

Sprint stage they said?! Madness ensued.

Rain and wind tore the peloton apart and we had several groups all over the road. In the end, it was Arnaud Démare who won a two-up sprint against Alaphilippe, after the latter attacked on the final climb of the day, with only Démare able to follow.

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A slightly annoying day as I had the race pretty much perfectly planned out; with it being split up in the wind; GC gaps; and a late attack succeeding. Just a shame I didn’t have the correct riders! Although I guess 2 out of the top 3 were sprinters so it would have taken something special to have the winner.

GC wise, there are some fairly large gaps now but nothing too drastic and the race is still very much on. It should certainly ensure some attacking racing for the rest of the week.

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

The Route

The dullest stage of the week parcours wise and one that in theory should be a nailed on sprint.

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The run in to the line is fairly simple with no real obstacles to deal with in the final kilometres, just a few seeping bends.

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It’s practically pan-flat too, so once again the only thing that may stop a bunch sprint is some inclement weather.

Weather

Another miserable day in store for the peloton and it could be a long day in the saddle for them too. The reason I say that is because it looks as if we’ll get a cross-headwind for the first half of the day.

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Weather in Boiscommon (Source: Wundeground)

However, as the day progresses the wind swirls around and there is a good chance we’ll get some strong crosswinds at points. Will the bunch split in them? Quite possibly. As we saw today, a nervous bunch means crashes and splits.

The section from Châtillon-Coligny to the final circuit looks particularly exposed and the road travels in the correct direction for some echelon action.

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If a team really wants to split it here I think they can. Everyone will know that so the fight for position itself will be incredibly intense which in turn will cause nervousness and the possibility of crashes that I mentioned above. It only takes one person who’s on the limit to pop for a gap to be formed.

We will get a sprint of some sort in Amilly. Heck, even the peloton might regroup on the final circuit but there will certainly be some tired bodies out there!

Sprinters

You could argue that those who made the front selection today are the strongest sprinters here, and to be honest, you would pretty much be correct.

Today’s winner Démare looks in splendid form, something that I’ve said for a few weeks now but he typically goes on to win when I’ve not backed him. He’s an excellent rider in bad conditions and should make any split we have tomorrow. His lead-out train is good, not great, but good and in Guarnieri he has a very capable last man. Full of confidence, he’ll fancy his chances of doubling up.

Kittel went pop on the final climb today but that was expected. He did well to make it into the front group and will be hoping for more of the same tomorrow. Easily the fastest flat-sprinter in the world right now, he’ll relish the easier run in. Can he put on another dominant display?

DUBAI TOUR: ARRIVES FIRST STAGE

I was very impressed with the selfless work that Greipel did today at the front of the bunch. He put in a great shift and some massive turns for Gallopin and will hope that the favour will be returned tomorrow. Not with his normal lead-out, the Gorilla will have to surf some wheels but he certainly seems in good shape at the moment and I rate his chances.

Kristoff won the bunch gallop for 3rd today. Would he have beaten Démare? Who knows! Personally, I don’t think he would have as although he has 4 wins to his names so far this year; 3 of them have been against second-rate sprint opposition in Oman. He’s yet to test himself fully against the proper fast men of the peloton. I’m not fully discounting him as he is a classy bike rider, but I don’t think he’ll win tomorrow.

One rider who will be bitterly disappointed after today’s performance will be Nacer Bouhanni. The Frenchman was one of the first riders dropped in the crosswinds and that was his day well and truly over. He’ll need to turn that around drastically tomorrow if he wants to be in contention.

Groenewegen had such a non-existent day that I completely forgot about him until having a quick look at the odds for tomorrow. He’s another who could get involved tomorrow but not for me.

Away from the “bigger” names of the sprinting peloton there are two riders I would like to highlight.

Magnus Cort Nielsen is fast becoming one of the most promising tough sprinters in the peloton. The Orica rider was in the second group on the road today, doing a lot of work for the team’s GC leader. With Yates having lost a reasonable amount of time, I think the Dane will be given the opportunity to ride for himself tomorrow, even if Yates does get caught behind in a split. A very fast finisher after a tough day in the saddle, he is one to keep an eye on.

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The other is Sam Bennett. Like Cort, the Irishman was in the second group for the majority of the day but with a lack of team support his options were limited. Normally a very good rider in bad conditions, he’ll be hoping to make the first split tomorrow. Certainly not a rider to be discounted, he is criminally underrated from a reduced bunch sprint in my opinion.

Prediction

I was impressed by not only the work he did today, but also his closing speed in the final stage of Abu Dhabi. I think Greipel is on superb form but is masking it quite well just now. He should make any split and without there being any GC springboard at the end of the race he should be sprinting out for the win!

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Betting

2pts WIN Greipel @9/2  widely available (would take 4s)

0.5pt EW Bennett @ 40/1 with Betfair/PP (would take down to 33s)

0.5pt EW Cort @ 50/1  with Betfair/PP (would take down to 33s)

 

Thanks for reading as always! Do you think the race will be blown to bits again tomorrow? Or will we see a full peloton sprinting it out? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

GP Le Samyn 2017 Preview; Quaregnon -> Dour

GP Le Samyn 2017 Preview; Quaregnon -> Dour

The racing in Belgium continues this Wednesday with GP Le Samyn. Unlike the Ardennes races we’ll see in this area later in the year, Samyn is much more like its Flandrien counterparts, with tough cobbles and testing conditions.

Last year’s edition was one of the most brutal yet (highly recommend you watching it if you missed it), with only 28 riders finishing! Strong winds and rain battered the peloton into submission from the off and only the toughest survived. It was bad weather expert Niki Terpstra who came away with the win, attacking the small group left at the front with around 14km to go.

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Scott Thwaites was the only rider who could follow Terpstra initially but he was dropped when the Dutchman attacked again. Nonetheless, he held on for a spirited second place and it was Florian Sénéchal who won a three-up sprint to complete the podium.

Will we see a similarly selective race this year? Let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders.

The Route

A race split into two parts with the first section featuring some hills before the cobbles start in the second part of the race.

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The closing circuit is a tough one, featuring no less than 16 cobbled sections; 4 per lap of the circuit.

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Credit again to @LasterketaBurua for the profile.

This is where the race normally starts to shell riders out the back as the pace increases; 12km of cobbles in 100km of racing isn’t ideal for some!

Depending on how the race is unfolding, the final section of cobbles “Rue de Belle Vue” at roughly 2km from the finish could be decisive for one last shake-up. The finish itself isn’t overly technical but does drag up to the line so not opening up the sprint too early is very important.

However, the race may not come down to a sprint at all and it all really depends on one factor…

The Weather

After last years mud-bath the riders will be hoping for something a bit calmer this year, well, maybe some Belgians won’t be! And it looks as if the Belgians will be happy, as the finish town of Dour seems to be living up to its name.

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Dour weather forecast (Source: Wunderground)

So it looks as if we’re going to get some wet cobbles and relatively horrible conditions. Not as bad as last year but still pretty grim.

Looking at the wind speed and direction (source – Windfinder) for just north of Dour in a town called Hornu it looks as if we’re going to get a constant 25km/h wind all day with some strong gusts.

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The direction differs slightly from the first forecast source, but the point remains the same, it looks good for echelons!

Combining the strong winds, rain and cold conditions, I for one am going to be happy watching the riders battle it out from the comfort of my living room.

Who’s going to be at the head of the race though?

Contenders

With the change of the calendar this year, we only have 3 World Tour teams competing compared to 7 last season. However, that should not diminish the excitement as the Pro Conti and Continental teams will more than make up for it with some attacking racing and we’ll get to watch some unfamiliar names duke it out. Nonetheless, I’ll start my run through with the WT guys.

Quick Step don’t bring the defending champion with them but they do have a relatively strong line-up but there’s no superstar name. Bauer, Keisse or Devenyns may be their best bet at achieving back to back wins. The New Zealander was incredibly strong at the start of the year and I’m intrigued to see if he can carry that on here. He did some great domestique work in Abu Dhabi and that may be a downfall for him here; the fact that he was there and has to travel back. Therefore, Keisse and Devenyns look their most likely options. On this type of relatively flat, rouleurs terrain, I would have to favour Keisse out of the two. He has a good sprint from a small bunch and certainly has the abilities to hold off a chase if he gets a gap out in front!

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Lotto Soudal arrive with former winner Boeckmans, but he still seems to be struggling to return to the rider he once was before his crash in the 2015 Vuelta. Instead, I imagine they’ll turn to De Buyst and Van Der Sande as their protected riders for the race. Both are fast sprinters after a tough day so if the race comes down to a reduced bunch sprint they have a chance. Van Der Sande is also an attacking rider so I imagine he’ll be present whatever race situation we get.

*Debuscherre has been added to their squad typically now that I’ve just finished writing this. On paper he should be there at the end, but he had crashed in Omloop and failed to start Kuurne. I don’t think he’ll be going full gas here.

Without their star-rider Boom, Lotto Jumbo come here with quite a weak team. I would guess that Van Emden and Wynants will be their leaders but I can’t really see them doing much. Well, saying that, Van Emden does have the TT prowess to be able to make his way to the finish solo but that will be tough for him to do considering he doesn’t seem in great form at the moment. Maybe new signing Van Hoecke can do something?!

Cofidis actually look like they are sending one of the strongest teams here. They have two very good options in Claeys and Sénéchal. The former had a breakthrough 2016, picking up a stage in Wallonie and finishing a very impressive 9th at Flanders. If he is in a similar vein of form then he is one to watch. Likewise, Sénéchal could well have won this race last year. He was exceptionally strong on the day, closing down almost every attack single handedly. It was those efforts that cost him in the end, as he didn’t have enough left in the tank to close down Terpstra when he made his move. With a bit more guile about him this time round, he has the class to beat this field. He is a Junior Roubaix winner after all!

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Florian Vachon will most likely be Fortuneo’s best hope here. Third at Tro Bro Leon last year highlights that he doesn’t mind the rough stuff, although he hasn’t really got going so far this year.

After a disappointing Omloop, he was held up in the big crash, Pim Ligthart will be hoping to go better at this race. The Roompot rider must fancy his chances in this quality of field and he certainly won’t mind the bad weather. A strong cobbles rider with a fast sprint from a reduced bunch, I’m hoping to see him turn his week around here. Roompot also have Asselman as another potential candidate if the race is tough, or Kreder if we get a big bunch sprint. Although I can’t see that happening!

Dupont and Kruopis are the bigger names on the Verandas team. However, they’ve been poor so far this season and I can’t see them competing here, instead, Duijn is their best bet to finish top 10.

Sport Vlaanderen have a good outside candidate in the form of Van Lerberghe. The Belgian rider is a great talent and like most of his compatriots he’s at home on this type of surface. A similar rider to Edward Theuns, Van Lerberghe is capable of sprinting fast but is also comfortable attacking in tough conditions. With team-mate Sprengers, they’ll form a tough duo!

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In-form Frederik Backaert arrives here as Wanty’s leader for this race. Fresh off the back of an 11th place finish at Omloop, he’ll be brimming with confidence! I think he would have preferred some climbs closer to the finish but he certainly can’t be discounted. I really like the look of Wanty’s team as a whole and they really should feature at the pointy end of race tomorrow. Van Keirsbulk is a rider I’ll be watching with interest. The former QuickStep man was for a while touted as the next big cobbles rider, but he failed to live up to the hype. There were stories floating about that he got too happy in his surroundings at QS so this transfer to Wanty looks like a move to reinvigorate his career. Finishing 21st in Omloop hints at a return to a career that might have been!

The final Pro-Conti team here, WB Veranclassic, have a former winner (2014) in their midst; Maximme Vantomme. However, I think they’ll look to Ista as their man here but I don’t expect too much from him. A top 10 would be a good result! They do have a favourite of mine, Roy Jans, but he normally struggles in tough conditions.

Considering I’ve already wrote a short novella for this preview, I’m just going to highlight some names to look out for from a few of the Continental teams, rather than doing anything in-depth.

Armée de Terre: Gaudin and Tronet.

Roubaix: Pouilly.

AGO: Arimont.

Pauwels: Van Dingenen.

Tarteletto: Ruijgh.

Prediction

I think we’ll see a tough and fairly selective race tomorrow. Maybe not as tough as last year’s edition but the race will still be blown to bits. Therefore I fancy a rider who can handle bad conditions very well but also has the abilities to solo to the line. I alluded to him in the section above, but I think Van Keirsbulk is on the road to redemption so to speak and a win here will kickstart that!

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Betting

No UK odds as of yet which is disappointing. I’m sure we got something last year! Belgian bookmaker Bingoal has some up.

I’d be tempted with Van Keirsbulk Win at 25, and top 3 at 7.

Also Keisse win at 80 and top 3 at 16.

*UPDATE – SkyBet have Prices; 0.25pt EW on both of them at 50/1*

Hopefully the UK bookies get their act together and there’s something out later or tomorrow morning.
Nonetheless thanks for reading and as always, any feedback is greatly appreciated! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Will it be a selective race? My next blog post will be the Women’s Strade Bianche which I’m very much looking forward to! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

Omloop Het Nieuwsblad 2017 Preview

Omloop Het Nieuwsblad 2017 Preview

The start of the season for many fans and probably some riders to boot! The peloton makes its return to the Belgian cobbles for the beginning of the Classics season, kicking off with Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.

Last year saw a group of favourites (Van Avermaet, Rowe, Benoot and Sagan) attack on the Taaienberg with 57.4km to go and long story short, they managed to hold off the chasing bunch with some strong work and co-operation. A special mention must go to morning breakee Alexis Gougeard who drove the front of the break in the closing kilometres ensuring they didn’t get caught when the others started playing games . We then saw an ever so slight uphill sprint to the line and it was Van Avermaet who took the glory!

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The Route

The riders will tackle an almost identical route that we see back in 2016 with the only change being the traditional return of the Molenberg as the final climb.

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Credit to @RickyFilips95  for the above profile, it’s much better than the official one the organisers provide IMO.

The race will follow a normal pattern of an early break escaping up the road before the pace is slowly ramped up over the opening hills and cobbled sections.

Things really get serious on Kruisberg before we often see the first big attacks from the main contenders on the Taaienberg at roughly 55km to go.

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As you can imagine from looking at the profile, the biggest gaps are made on the steep bottom section. It’s interesting to note that Sagan always seems to “struggle” up that part, but then power his way over the flatter second half.

We then have a lot of climbs/cobbles/cobbled climbs in succession over the next 10km, five to be exact. If the lead group really put the hammer down over this section, they can really extend their lead. Likewise, it is the place where those behind may try to jump across the gap.

The final cobbled climb of the race, the Molenberg, comes at just over 40km to go.

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At only 300m long (averaging 8%), it’s not ridiculously tough but gaps can still be made here. Once over the top, the riders have to traverse 3 more cobbled sections and a fairly flat run home. There are some technical sections as they pass through towns and are on small, twisty roads, but that’s what you would expect in this region!

After the success of last year’s finish, the organisers have decided to stick with the slight up hill drag.

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Not the Mur, but it still requires the riders to have some punch left after a long day in the saddle!

So that’s the route covered, but it’s not the only variable that can have an impact on the race. The weather often plays its part here.

Weather Forecast

It doesn’t look as bad as was initially predicted which is a shame for us sitting watching from the warmth of our homes. In fact, there are probably several riders who would have wanted a lot of rain and wind!

With rain looking unlikely apart from a few scattered showers, it will be the wind that may cause some issues for the riders.

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The above forecast is taken from Zottegem, which is roughly in the middle of the route. As you can see, a 20 km/h SSW wind is expected. This could cause some echelons, particularly with the twisting nature of the route where the riders will have to change road position.

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The wind seems to be even stronger as we get closer to Gent. It will be a fast chase home!

Contenders

I’m going to do this differently than normal, structuring this more as I would on a breakaway day where I highlight some riders and talk about them in-depth. The reason for not going through the whole start list is that;

1. Plenty of others will do that so I don’t want to repeat and;

2. Most importantly, I could easily see myself write close to 3,000 words on the nuances and intricacies of favourites/half favourites/no hopers etc and…

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So apologies if I don’t name someone you were hoping for! Right, enough of me beating around the bush…

Zdenek Stybar.

You can’t have a cobbled classic without naming at least one Quick Step rider. Their team for this race is just stupidly strong and you could make arguments for at least 6 of their riders to win this race. Sorry Keisse and Vermote! That strength in-depth can be both a positive and negative as they should in theory always be represented at the front (we’ll just gloss over last year…or the year before that…). Yet, you’re never entirely sure who they’re riding for on the day! Stybar himself has often been the bridesmaid, used as the anchor on a chasing group behind.

The Czech rider is exceptional on cobbles due to his cyclo-cross background and he always seems to be at the pointy end of a race on this terrain. He’s been quiet this season so far but I have been impressed with the glimpses that we have seen of him. Particularly the Mapei-style attack that he was the main driving force behind at the Volta ao Algarve.

He clearly has some good form! Stybar isn’t a slouch either in an uphill sprint so will fancy his chances if it comes down to a select group at the line, like we saw last year. The only issue might be if Van Avermaet and Sagan are there, or my next pick…

Arnaud Démare.

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I’ve talked him up a lot on the blog the past few weeks, but that’s with good reason; he seems to be in scintillating form and has been unlucky not to have notched up a few extra wins by now.

Still only young, the Frenchman has had a very good career so far and is someone who I think is under-rated for what he has achieved. Winning some World Tour races this year will certainly help to change people’s minds!

A sprinter who’s at home on the cobbles and short climbs, he’s finished 10th here twice in the past (2014 and 2015), he just needs some luck to go his way.

Now, I’m not sure if he’ll be able to follow the very best over the likes of the Taaienberg, but he is certainly capable of being in a second group that rejoins the head of the race if those ahead stall at any point.

In an uphill sprint after a tough day he is certainly a big threat.

A repeat of the Binche result from last year wouldn’t go amiss!

Looking at a couple of riders further down the betting order, i.e. proper outsiders, there are a couple I’d like to highlight.

Dylan Van Baarle.

Cycling: 100th Tour of Flanders 2016

Finishing a very credible 6th in Flanders last year after attacking early on in the day, he will be Vanmarcke’s right-hand man here. A real powerful rider who can get over the lumps and bumps, he could well be used as a ploy, attacking off the front of the bunch while Vanmarcke follows the moves behind. Only having competed in one race so far this year on the road, he has been doing a lot of track racing so it will be interesting to see how he copes in a race like this. Will that explosiveness carry over?

Pim Ligthart.

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At a point in his career where he felt like he wanted more leadership opportunities, Lightart has taken the step down from World Tour to Pro Continental to ride for the Roompot team. This is the type of race where he should be given those leadership opportunities. Picking up a second place on a stage in Valenciana highlights his fairly good climbing form, so he should be able to cope with the hills here. Ligthart also possesses a fairly fast sprint so he could win from a small bunch gallop too. Although he will need a lot of luck to go his way!

Prediction

I’m really torn between my two main picks here but I think I’ll go with Stybar as the winner!

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We’ll get a group of around 10 riders escape on the Taainberg, but they’ll slow a little initially, allowing another 10 guys to join from behind. With some co-operation in the group they’ll build up enough of an advantage over the rest of the peloton. From here, we’ll see some attacks in the final 10km. Everyone will be looking at Terpstra as the obvious choice from QS, but instead it will be Stybar who makes the move. He gets joined by a few others (maybe 5 of them in total) and with enough representatives from the group behind involved, they stay away to the end. Stybar then powers away on the final sprint, taking an excellent win!

Betting

0.75pt EW Stybar @25/1 with various bookmakers (I’d take 22/1, even 20/1).

0.75pt EW Demare @33/1 with various bookmakers (would take 28/1)

0.125pt EW Ligthart @ 150/1 with Bet365/Betfair/PP

0.125pt EW Van Baarle @ 125/1 with Bet365.

H2H wise I like the following two;

Ligthart > Kragh Andersen at 5/6 with Bet365. 4.5pts.

I tweeted this one out yesterday when it was at evens and I still like it at the price it is just now, I’d even take it at 4/6, or 1/2 at a stretch. I’m confused as to why it is priced the way it is. Yes, Kragh Andersen took a good win in Oman, but he has no history what so all in these types of races, whereas Ligthart does. I can’t see Andersen dropping Ligthart on any of the climbs, and it should be Ligthart doing the dropping on the cobbles. I like it so much I’m increasing my stake to 4.5pts (from the 3 I initially put on).

Stybar > Boom at 1/2 with William Hill. 2pts.

I think it’s clear to see my love for Stybar with what I’ve written above. Boom has often promised so much on this type of terrain but he’s failed to deliver in the past. The Dutchman did have a good TT in Algarve but I just don’t think he has the quality to match Stybar here. Boom’s performance is still enough to put me off going crazy on this one.

 

Thanks for reading if you managed to get this far and apologies again for not doing a full breakdown of the start list; you can see how much I managed to write for just 4 guys, imagine 20! Any RTs/Shares/any type of feedback is greatly appreciated as always. Who do you think will win? I’m just looking forward to a good race! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

Dubai Tour Stage 4 Preview; Dubai -> Hatta Dam

*So I’ve just woken up from a nap after writing this out before the route-change. There is an amended section (in italics) at the bottom which takes into consideration the new route very briefly. However, unfortunately or hilariously, depending on how you look at it, I placed my bets just there before checking Twitter to see said route change.  Erm, so yeah… 😂  The parts of the original preview that no longer apply are still in this, just with a strikethrough.*

Today’s Recap

A really weird stage that was both incredibly exciting and dull in equal measures. The “two-halves” cliché springs to mind! It ended with Degenkolb taking a very messy sprint ahead of Van Rensburg and Colbrelli.

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The first half of the day saw the peloton shredded to bits out in the desert as the winds swirled up a Sandstorm.

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Someone in the front group even got a bit Darude to Kittel in the ensuing chaos and an elbow connected to the Germans head. That rider, Grivko, has now been disqualified from the race! There seemed to be a rider-led neutralisation of the stage for a while to sort out the kerfuffle and this allowed the group behind to rejoin the front of the race and we once again had a full peloton. This happened to be when the international feed for Eurosport went live and from then it was another classic, boring Dubai sprint day. A real shame as it was a stage the promised a lot.

As for the blog punts, the neutralisation put an end to any surprise winner. Vliegen was up the road in the days breakaway, with Trentin and Moscon making the front split. So who knows how it could have played out! In the end, the regrouping did allow Fenn back in who beat De Kort in the matchbet, but with Vliegen being out in front all day he rolled home in 40th, whereas his team-mate Gerts finished 17 places ahead of him. Swings and roundabouts!

Oh well, moving onto tomorrow and the day that will shape the GC!

The Route

Facing the riders is the now classic finish up the Hatta Dam Wall.

dubai-tour-2017_s04_plan

In a carbon copy of last year’s stage, the riders will traverse the desert, then a few testing ramps before the Dam Wall itself.

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The finale tomorrow is as much about positioning as anything else. You need to really be within the first 5 riders as you make the turn to start the climb if you want any chance of winning.

Silvan Dillier holds the Strava effort for the climb at 32s which he attained during last years race. However, it is safe to assume that the winner on that day, Lobato, managed the effort in under 30 seconds given that he finished 4 seconds ahead of Dillier and they started in roughly the same position.

Lobato launched his sprint at the perfect time, getting out of the saddle just as the gradient kicked up, managing to maintain some of his approach speed. He’ll be hoping for similar this year!

With it being such a short effort, it is very possible for the “proper” sprinters to get involved, with Nizzolo and Kittel testament to that last year.

Unlike last year however, there might be a bit more action out on the road beforehand…

Wind Watch

The winds tomorrow are forecast to be even stronger than they were today.

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Forecast at Jebel Fayah

This means that the similar exposed desert region could again be the scene of echelons. With a West -> East wind the riders could face cross-tail and crosswinds out on course in the middle third of the race.

If we do get some crazy sandstorm again, I don’t think there will be any form of truce this time round. I expect it to be carnage out there again tomorrow with no favours being handed out! A combination of echelons followed by some draining climbs will see us consequently reach the bottom of Hatta with the smallest peloton ever, maybe around 20 riders at most. Of course, if things really split up out on course then a small group of 5, or even a solo rider may arrive at the bottom of the climb. But even I think that’s a stretch too far!

What can we take from today’s stage looking ahead to tomorrow?

Well, Cavendish and his team never miss a beat as he and practically the whole Dimension Data team made it into the first split of the peloton. They certainly will be hoping for more of the same tomorrow and I don’t see why it can’t happen for them. Except this time round I don’t think they’ll pander to the needs of the leader’s jersey as much and will look to exploit Kittel if he’s in trouble. Leading on to the next point…

Kittel looked weak-ish in the wind. It never has been a strong point of his. Disappointingly for him, his team wasn’t great either; with a lot of them being caught in that second group too. Unless of course they were 100% on protecting duty with him. The same can be said for Degenkolb and Groenewegen. But in Groenewegen’s case it looked like he was the only one day dreaming as a lot of his team made the front.

Nonetheless, they were all there or thereabouts and I imagine that some, if not most, of them will make up the front split tomorrow. All it takes is for a couple of them to make the front with the majority of their team-mates then their group will be very tough to bring back.

So…

Prediction

Echelon chaos, with only 14 riders arriving at the bottom of Hatta together. Resulting in a surprise winner. I’ll go for a guy who’s already put in a few long sprints this week and hasn’t been outside the top 10 so far. Dylan Groenewegen to take a shock win.

dylan-groenewegen-tour-of-britain-stage-four_3781374

The sprinters have proven in the past that they can get up and compete on this terrain. The weather beforehand only levels the playing field even more in my opinion!

Am I behind stupid? Probably, but hey it’s only fun!

Betting

Happy to have a few fun punts on the 3 main sprinters as I certainly wouldn’t be backing the top 3 in the market with the conditions we might get;

Groenewegen 0.2pt EW @200/1 with Various (would take 150/1)

Kittel 0.15pt EW @ 100/1 with Betfair/PaddyPower (wouldn’t take less)

Cavendish 0.15pt EW @ 200/1 with Various (would take 150/1)

Kittel > Drucker @1/1 with Bet365 2pts.

 

*AMENDED SECTION *

New Route;

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New profile;

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Wind forecast for Hatta (not sure how much the local landscape will affect this);

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It looks like the road does climb up and down a lot more. However, it only seems to change by 100m in elevation at most at one time, so I’m not entirely sure how tough the climbs will be. Might open it up to a Vliegen style rider. Who knows! The wind might still rip the race to shreds or the hills may protect them. Groenewegen to pull out a masterful display either way! 😉

With myself not being 100% confident in what the route is actually like, the blog changes from a few fun bets to keep you entertained, to a no bet. I’ll be sitting with my Kittel/Cav/Groenewegen tickets hoping for wind to split things up and the climbs not being so severe!

Thanks again for reading! I imagine you won’t agree with me on this one, so who do you think will win? As usual, any feedback is greatly appreciated. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dubai Tour Stage 3 Preview; Dubai -> Al Aqah

Today’s Recap

Another stage and another win for Kittel!

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Although it wasn’t all plain sailing for the German as he seemed to lose the wheel of his lead-out at around 1.4km to go. However, he was brought back up expertly by one of his team-mates (not sure who!), heading into the closing 500m. He still had a lot do, but proved his power with a very strong late surge, winning relatively comfortably in the end by around a bike-length. Groenewegen held on for 2nd with a fast, and very low Mareczko pipping Degenkolb to the line in third place.

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Mareczko trying his best Ewan impression

Will Kittel make it a hat-trick tomorrow? Let’s have a look…

The Route

Another pan flat day, but we travel from coast to coast, west to east and to a new finishing town of Al Aqah.

dubai-tour-2017_s03_plan

I’ll touch on the desert and the coast in a moment, but the finish itself will be similar today with a sweeping final couple of kilometres. It appears that the race finishes just before a roundabout so it won’t be as messy as it could be, however, it will be fast as the last km is mainly a shallow descent before a slight rise up to the finish again.

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Last 2km profile

Now onto the slightly more exciting bit…

Wind Watch

The section across the desert is an open and exposed highway, the perfect playground for some teams to split the race up in the wind. Taking the average estimated speed from the race itinerary the riders will be in the area at roughly 13:00 local time.

The forecast for Al Malahia (near Jebel Fayah) at that time (source Windfinder) looks like the following.

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A strong tail-wind is all but guaranteed. However, there is a good chance it may turn into a cross-tailwind and that could be dangerous for the peloton. It will mean extremely fast and nervous racing which in turn could increase the likelihood of splits as riders jockey for position or there are an unfortunate touch of wheels. The section just after Al Malahia and before they turn off that road to go through the hills, looks one particular area where echelons can be formed.

Along the coast, we are also set to get strong winds. Now, it could be argued that the hills nearby will weaken the winds but I would imagine that the forecasts for these areas consider that already!

Khor Fakkan is roughly half-way between Fujairah, where the start going up the coast, to the finish. They’re expected to reach the town at roughly 15:00 local time, with the forecast set to look like the following.

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I will be very surprised if we don’t see some type of echelons along the coast tomorrow.

How will the race pan out?

As a viewing spectacle I most certainly hope we get some crosswind action and I am fairly confident it will happen. The riders have enjoyed a couple of relaxing days so far but are fully aware that things are about to get grippy…

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In what way will this affect the race? I’m not so sure. As I alluded to in my GC preview, the sprinters tend to be the riders who cope well in tough conditions. So it will be tough to drop them. Not impossible, but tough! Quickstep and Kittel have looked very strong so is the obvious pick if the bunch does stick together.

Nonetheless I think it will be a messy stage tomorrow so can’t confidently pick a sprinter. Back to my usual self, I will name a few outsiders who might be there if things get wild.

Gianni Moscon.

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The Italian is Sky’s GC man for this race but for him to contend the overall then they need to gain time on Kittel somewhere other than on the Hatta stage. Tomorrow could be that opportunity. They lack their proper classics talent, but Knees and Golas are two very strong riders in tough conditions so will be able to look after Moscon well and attempt to force some echelons. Moscon himself is an incredible talent and a great all-rounder. If there are no sprinters left in the front group he could win from a sprint or put in a stinging attack.

Andy Fenn.

Former Sky rider, the Scot has spent the past few years in the shadows, happily putting in great work for his team-mates in the Classics. He’s a very strong rider, and his move to Aqua Blue sees him step out of those shadows and into more leadership roles. Blythe will be their number one go to guy here, but Fenn is a solid sprinter himself after a tough day. If he manages to infiltrate the front group then he has every chance in the dash to the line.

Loic Vliegen.

vliegen-soffre-la-derniere-etape-delfosse-le-general

BMC have been very active this race so far, sending riders in the break to get bonus seconds. I think they know that it will be tough to beat Kittel on GC if things stick to the status quo and they make the race easy for him. Therefore, I think they’ll be one of the first teams to try to animate things tomorrow in the wind. Vliegen is another great young talent but his speciality seems to lie in one-day racing. He was 4th in the ridiculously windy Le Samyn last year but can also climb relatively well too – 9th at Amstel highlights that. If the conditions are right, he could spring a surprise and become a real GC wildcard going into Hatta.

I really wanted to include Jungels in this, he’s been incredibly strong on the front the past few days. However, considering he rolled home 42 seconds down today, he’ll definitely be on team work duty tomorrow. The long-shot GC dream is over for him 😢

Prediction

Kittel will probably win again, but as I said picked yesterday I’ll go for one of my outsiders.

Oan yersel Andy!

Trofeo Mallorca - Stage Two

Betting

Good luck if you’re backing Marcel! I’ll be taking small punts on my 3 outsiders and a few H2H;

0.1pt EW Fenn @ 300/1 with Betfair or PP (would take 200/1 lowest)

0.1pt EW Moscon @ 250/1 with Bet365 (would take 150/1)

0.1pt EW Vliegen @ 300/1 with Betfair/PP (would take 200/1)

H2H bets;

Vliegen > Gerts @6/5 with Bet365. 1.2pts

Both have finished ahead of each other once so far, in and around the top 20. Would think Vliegen has more of a chance tomorrow.

Fenn > De Kort @ 8/11 with Bet365. 1.5pts

Both on lead-out duties, 1-1 so far. Like above, I think Fenn will suit the conditions better.

Vliegen and Fenn double at 9/5 with Bet365. 0.7pts

*UPDATE – Wanted another QuickStep rider before but the one I wanted was too short odds. However, it’s been pointed out that he’s available at 150/1 with Coral; 0.25pt EW Trentin.*

 

Thanks again for reading, bit longer today! How do you think tomorrow will play out? Any chance of crosswinds or will we get another sprint? As usual, any feedback is greatly appreciated. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth

 

 

Men’s Road Race World Championships Preview – Doha 2016

Men’s Road Race World Championships Preview – Doha 2016

*Apologies, this preview is not up to my usual standards as I am terribly hungover and only have an hour to write it before a family meal. Should have written in advance, my bad!*

Last year saw an incredibly exciting race and Sagan showed his strength with a devastating attack out the peloton on the final lap. He wasn’t to be seen again!

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Can he make it back to back wins? Let’s have a look at what’s in store for them.

The Route

A jaunt around the desert followed by 7 laps of the Pearl Circuit.

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Don’t expect any great scenery out on the course as they travel through the desert. We might see a few camels running beside the peloton!

There’s not really much more to say about the route, it is very dull to be honest. The only way this race doesn’t become a snoozefest if things get a spicy out in the desert. Speaking of which…

Weather Watch

Fingers crossed for wind!

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Forecast for Al Khor Airport

It looks like we will get some wind, but annoyingly just now it’s too much off a headwind (going out) to make a difference. Opposite direction on the way back. However, as we’ve seen over this past week, the wind can change direction and speed at will. With the barren landscape on offer, there will be nothing to protect the riders from the wind so they will have to be vigilant at all times. Even the smallest of changes in direction could split things up, and I’m sure there will be a few teams interested in doing so.

How will the race pan out?

No wind = snoozefest = sprint.

Wind = anything could happen.

I think (maybe wishfully) that the race will be split up in the desert, so I’ll be writing from that angle. Plus there will be plenty of other previews out there that will discuss the pure sprinters anyway!

So in my multiverse the wind reaps havoc on the peloton out in the Qatari desert. How much damage will it do? Well, that depends on how hard the teams with numbers go and the composition of the front group. It could be possible that the peloton maybe halves in size relatively early on into the race. However, that group is still far too big and it fractures again with 30 riders or so off the front. These riders then power on and those behind have no chance of returning. Depending who’s made it into that group, it could well go all the way to the line once we reach the circuit but this is unlikely. Instead, I would expect more attacks with either a solo rider getting away or a small group of 12-15 riders contesting the finish.

There will be enough teams and riders who won’t want to drag the best sprinters in the world to the line, so look to the Classics specialists.

Sagan is a safe option for both scenarios but he will probably want a harder race to get rid of some of the faster sprinters. Saying that, there are few who can match Sagan in a sprint after 250km so he will be confident of his chances either way!

Belgium will turn to Boonen as their all-weather guy, although they have a very strong team for this type of race, especially if the wind does pick up. Van Avermaet & Naesen provide great back options and should offer strength in numbers if there are echelons.

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The Dutch have Groenewegen who has shown he can handle crosswinds and echelons, but they also could turn to the likes of Terpstra to make a late attack from a reduced bunch. Along with the Belgians, they are the most likely team to try to cause some havoc.

Another sprinter who enjoys riding in the crosswinds is Norwegian Alexander Kristoff, like Sagan, he should be there in both situations. He’s been a bit off the boil this year but that could be a good thing, saving himself for this race and going under the radar. He’ll want to get rid of the likes of Cavendish and Kittel, making his job a lot easier. Importantly for him, the Norwegian team is very strong for this type of parcours with a lot of big engines for flat riding.

Other sprinters who will enjoy tough conditions include Démare, Gaviria and one of the favourites, Greipel. It will be hard for these guys to win in the situation of a blown to bits peloton, as no one will want to drag them to the line.

For a potential late attacker, look to Tony Martin. He’s been in great form in Doha winning the TTT and the TT, why not add the road race title to that collection too? There will be very few riders capable of bringing him back if he does escape with around 20km to and those chasing will have to be going full gas to get close.

Campionati del Mondo Doha 2016

Not as strong as Martin, but someone who is also on good form is Stybar. He looked very strong in Binche and has the capabilities to win a small group sprint or attack with a kilometre to go.

Prediciton

However, I’m going for none of the above. I mean it wouldn’t be right if in my final preview of the year I didn’t stick to tradition and go with an outsider?!

Instead, I think Matteo Trentin will be the new World Champion. Left-field I know, but hear me out. He rides for Etixx as his trade team and is very good in tough, windy conditions but more often than not he has to work as a domestique. However, here I think he will be given more of a free role and the chance to look after himself if things do get wild. Finishing 4th in his last two races (both this month) show that he has some good form. He has the speed to win from a very reduced bunch but also the bravery to attack from that group too if there are faster riders. Forza Matteo!

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And after saying all of that, Sagan will probably win.

Betting

It’s not a race I want to get heavily involved in and if we don’t get crosswinds, I won’t be watching until the last 10km. So a few outside shots to keep me interested

0.2pt WIN Trentin @ 150/1 with Coral (I’d take 100/1 that’s widely available)

0.1pt WIN Naesen @ 250/1 with Coral and Betfred

0.1pt WIN Stybar @ 200/1 with Bet365/Ladbrokes/Betvictor

0.1pt WIN Martin @ 250/1 with PaddyPower/Betfair/Coral

 

This is most likely my last preview of the year so a final thanks for reading and apologies again if this isn’t as succinct as normal, my brain isn’t functioning at 100%. I may have something for the Abu Dhabi Tour but I’m not promising anything. Working on a few ideas to keep this going through winter, any suggestions will be taken on board! As usual any feedback is greatly appreciated. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.