GP de Plouay 2018 Preview

The last “hilly” one-day race of the year returns tomorrow, as the women’s peloton gears up towards the World Championships in Innsbruck which start in just under a month. GP de Plouay is often one of the most hotly contested races of the year, always providing some tense and tactical action. In 2017 we saw Deignan and Ferrand Prevot escape late on in the day, working together until the final few hundred metres where the strength of the Boels rider would ultimately shine through, as she took a comfortable win in the end.

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Ferrand Prevot held on for second, with Mitchelton’s Sarah Roy taking home the reduced bunch sprint for third place.

With Deignan not here this year, for obvious reasons, there is a chance we could see a new winner tomorrow. However, with Marianne Vos in her current form then we might not! Or of course Eugenia Bujak could repeat that fairly surprising 2016 win but that is a little less likely…

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

The Route

A carbon copy of last year’s route pretty much. No excuses for not knowing it!

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The riders will take on a circuit around Plouay with the focal point of the course being two climbs. The first of which, the Côte de Bois de Kerlucas, comes pretty much from the gun and will kick the action off straight away. It’s not an overly difficulty climb at an average of 5.1% for a kilometre, but expect it to be raced almost full gas every lap.

An important thing to note too is that the road is never really “flat” with it either gradually descending or rising throughout the route. Combining that with the narrow and quite often twisting roads, it is a tough race to keep control of.

The most decisive part of the route though is the final climb: the Côte de Ty Marrec.

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Again, it is not an overly difficult climb but its place on the course means that is raced very fast. With only 3.5km from the summit to the finish line, it means that if a strong group of riders escapes here and co-operates well, then there is no chance to bring them back.

That closing 3.5km is mainly made up of very gradual descent before the final couple hundred metres where the road kicks up ever so slightly to the line. If a group comes to the finish together, that slight rise makes the timing of the sprint more important.

How do you stop Vos?

The question on everyone’s lips going into this race. The Waowdeals rider is on sublime form at the moment, having won in Vargarda and followed that up by just casually winning every stage in Norway, along with the GC, obviously. It wasn’t like she struggled to win the stages too, just scraping by. Nope, quite the opposite really! On the final day of racing in Norway she closed down at least 20 small attacks by my reckoning and she still had enough of a kick to win the bunch sprint. If anyone takes her to the line tomorrow, I don’t care who it is, they lose.

It could be argued that her team is her weakness, but I expect Rowe and Rooijakkers to last quite a while into the race with their leader, especially the former. However, it is possible to isolate her with some aggressive racing. The only issue then is that any aggressive racing will most likely isolate some of the other riders.

Vos has countered this isolation in the past few races by just going on the attack herself, because why not? Whittling down a group to a much more manageable size means that she can follow almost every attack and play the numbers game better. Pulling the old “you have more chance to win now there are less of us” to her fellow escapees when really that isn’t the case.

The only way to beat her in this race is to isolate her and have numbers of your own in the front group. If that is the case, send off repeated attacks until she can’t follow or decides not to follow a group – while the other riders sit on behind her. As strong as she is, she isn’t the best TT rider over a longer distance so it would be hard for her to bring back a group of 3 or so out ahead.

The issue with this plan is that there aren’t many teams here that I could envisage having numerous riders in a front group where Vos doesn’t have a team-mate with her.

Anyway, here goes nothing (probably) and a list of three riders to keep your eye on throughout the day…

Cecilie Ludwig.

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Fast becoming a fan-favourite, the young Danish rider put in a very aggressive and impressive performance at La Course where she went solo on the penultimate climb but was ultimately caught near the top of the last ascent of the day. Equally impressive was her colourful outburst at the end of the stage which was one of the moments of the year: true passion and pride for her sport. Following on from La Course, she was one of the more attacking riders in the recent Crescent Vargarda, where she stuck to Vos’ wheel like glue. Cervélo do have Lepistö for a potential sprint but I think we’ll see Ludwig and Moolman on the attack throughout the afternoon and they arguably form one of the stronger duos to take the race to Vos.

Emilia Fahlin. 

In a little bit of a purple patch at the moment, she finished on the podium on every stage in Norway recently. Having only done this race once before back in 2017 where she finished a lowly 47th over 6 minutes down, it will take a much better performance from her this time to compete. However, like I said, she seems to be going well and it is the type of course that should in theory suit her as a strong rider. With Brennauer, Longo Borghini and Cordon-Ragot, it will be interesting to see how Wiggle play it. I would expect them to be attacking and after last week’s results, Fahlin would fancy her chances in a sprint of escapees.

Amy Pieters.

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Having her best season to date, Pieters arrives here as part of a strong Boels squad, standard. Another who has not done this event many times before (2010 and 2014 were her only participations), it will be interesting to see how she copes with the parcours. I think she’ll be perfectly fine as she has shown more than enough in the past to suggest that she can deal with 1km climbs at the gradients we have here. Moreover, I expect Boels to be incredibly attacking tomorrow afternoon and I don’t expect them to wait for a sprint. Pieters possibly could be that sprint option for them but I think they would rather put on a show and try to split things up before that. As we’ve seen in the past, Pieters is one of the best in a sprint from a small group, but will she be there?

Prediction

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Was it ever really going to be anyone else?

Coverage

You’ll be able to follow the race via some hashtags before the live coverage starts. As to what hashtags those will be, your guess is as good as mine as several teams have used different ones. It looks like “#GPPlouay” and “#Plouay” are the most used options.

Live tv coverage starts at 15’15 local time and will be available on the following channels.

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Hopefully you’ll be able to tune in at some point throughout the afternoon.

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Can anyone stop Vos? As always, any Retweets or shares etc are greatly appreciated. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Women’s European Road Race Championships Preview – Glasgow 2018

Now in its third edition as an event for the elite peloton, as it was formerly just an under 23 and junior event. Last year saw an attacking race that was mainly led by the Dutch, shock, and a strong group of three managed to escape and contest the win on what was a course really suited for a bunch sprint.

Vos proved to be the fastest, beating Bronzini to the line with a failed late attack from Zabelinskaya seeing the Russian round out the podium in third.

 

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Will we see a similarly aggressive race this year? First though, let’s take a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

Very similar, if not exactly the same (I can’t remember) to the circuit that used for the Commonwealth Games back in 2014. The women will complete 9 laps for a total of ~130km.

I’ve made a profile of the circuit that you can view here. The organisation’s one is pretty useless if I’m honest.

Glasgow RR Circuit

It’s quite a surprisingly rolling course with there also being a lot of turns given the nature and layout of Glasgow streets.

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There are several small hills and drags, more notably in the middle of the course. The first one goes past the University buildings, averaging 5% for 500m before a quick descent and a 300m kicker at 8% up Great George Street.

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That’s arguably the toughest climb on the course and will be one of the places where the puncheurs will hope to put some pressure on. There are another couple of few hundred metre drags at roughly 3% or 4%.

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Last on the agenda in terms of climbing is the 400m drag (4.8% average) up Montrose St, which crests with just 3.5km left in the day. Given there is 1.5km of descent, it is really only a 2km effort on the flat that someone needs to make to stay away.

Easier said than done!

The Flying Dutchwomen

Can anyone stop the cycling powerhouse?

As I mentioned above, we witnessed the Dutch tear it apart in what was a flat course in Denmark so what can they manage to do here? I expect them to be constantly on the attack throughout the afternoon and their whole squad could realistically win. It will be interesting to see what the hierarchy will be; if they even have one at all.

Any dangerous attack that goes will have at least one Dutch rider in it but more likely there will be two or three there. This will put them at a massive tactical advantage compared to the other nations. We witnessed this at the Worlds last year when Blaak was able to attack and van der Breggen and van Vleuten marked the chase behind. I think we’ll see something very similar tomorrow and it won’t be a big sprint finish. Instead, it will either be a small group that fights it out or a solo rider will get the jump on everyone and come home alone.

What move do you follow?

This will be the question that the majority of the peloton will be asking themselves tomorrow morning. There are plenty of good sprinters here but they arrive with weak/small teams so it will be very difficult for them to control things all day. Take for example Lepistö, she is the type of rider who in form could make a reduced bunch sprint but with only two team-mates the likelihood is that she will have to attack to make the selection, rather than rely on others bringing it back. It is a mixture of good race reading ability but also a bit of luck to get yourself into that right attack. Then it is just up to your legs to finish it off!

I think we’ll see things whittled down almost immediately and the first 4 or 5 laps will see a race of attrition before the second half of the race. From that point onwards a winning move could go at any time.

The one team who has several cards to play that can almost match the Dutch are the Italians. With Bastianelli, Cecchini, Longo Borghini and Bronzini they have four riders capable of following a lot of attacks from those in orange. It will be interesting to see if they are equally as attacking as their counterparts.

A Trio to Watch

As I expect the race to be very dynamic and unpredictable I’m just going to name three riders who I think have a good chance of producing a strong result tomorrow. So apologies if you were looking for a long list here!

Elisa Longo Borghini.

Strade Bianche - Elite Women 2018

A very aggressive rider, the former Italian Champion has had a consistently solid season but has just missed out on that big win. She did win the Mediterranean Games road race, however, the opposition there wasn’t as strong as it will be tomorrow. One of the punchier riders in the peloton who seems to cope well on rolling courses, it is amazing she hasn’t won more. Maybe a change of team will do wonders for her next year? Here she gets to ride in the Italian tricolore though and they always come to these events fired up to do well. No doubt they will have a plan to either sprint with Bronzini or Bastianelli, but I think Longo Borghini will be given a free card to mark attacks and follow any move she deems dangerous. Will she finally get some luck?

Lucinda Brand.

I can’t exactly not include a Dutch rider here, can I? Brand is the hipstery pick but I really rate her chances for tomorrow. We saw in both the Giro Rosa and La Course that her climbing has improved massively on the longer ascents but it is the short punchy climbs that we tomorrow which should suit her more. If she has maintained her level of form from the start of July then she will be a big threat and a good wild card for the Dutch team to play.

Dani Rowe.

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A “home” championships will certainly motivate Rowe, who has had a very good season so far. Her change of team to WaowDeals has seen her gain some freedom at times, mainly in the UK races. Tomorrow she will probably be Team GBs leader, although Barnes will be hoping for a sprint. Rowe has shown in the past that she is capable of following the best in the World when on small climbs; her performance in Yorkshire is testament to that. An attacking rider, I would be very surprised if we didn’t see her off the front of the bunch at some point. In the right group she has every chance.

Prediction

It is nigh on impossible to stop the Dutch if they play the race right so I’ll go with Lucinda Brand to take the win, something she has deserved over the past month of racing!

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Coverage

The race will be shown live on Eurosport Player from start to finish, with the pre-race coverage starting at 12:20 UK time. I’m not too sure if it will be on elsewhere but I imagine so!

Betting

I kindly asked B365 if they would price this up before and they delivered, truly remarkable. Probably be the only time outside of Worlds I get a chance to lose some money on the women’s races so I’m going in and backing the three to watch.

No EW available though which is a shame so 1pt WIN on the following…

Brand @ 20/1

ELB @ 22/1

Rowe @ 50/1

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Giro Rosa 2018 Preview: The BFOG

Giro Rosa 2018 Preview: The BFOG

After a little time away from blog writing I’m back with a bang to preview the toughest women’s race on the calendar, the Giro d’Italia Internazionale Femminile a.k.a The Giro Rosa. With last year’s success of the BFOG I thought I would do something similar for this season so here is your one stop for all of the coming 10 days of action!

In 2017 we saw what was really a three-horse race established after only the second day of racing when van Vleuten, van der Breggen and Longo Borghini stole a march on the rest of the GC favourites, coming home almost 2 minutes ahead of the next group.

Van Vleuten would lose almost 2 minutes on the rather innocuous stage 4 when Boels split the bunch in the crosswinds and it would be that day that consequently cost her the chance of winning the race overall, although she would get some consolation with a second stage win in the TT. In fact, the gaps after that TT on the 5th day pretty much remained the same throughout the remaining 5 stages so it was van der Breggen who ultimately took home the crown ahead of Longo Borghini and van Vleuten rounding out the podium in third.

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With van der Breggen not here this year to defend the title, it opens up the race for a potential new winner. Can van Vleuten step up, or will we see a surprise rider take the crown?

First though, let’s look at what the riders will face over the 10 stages. Get comfortable though as this could be a long one!

The Route and Stage Contenders

The majority, if not all, of the profiles used will be from LaFlammeRouge so go and give them a follow. Otherwise, they’ll be ones that I’ve made on Strava etc.

Stage 1: Verbania -> Verbania (TTT)

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Seemingly now a tradition, the race once again starts with a team time trial, this time around the streets and suburbs of Verbania. Pretty much pan flat with only 70m of elevation gain throughout the 16km course, there is no need for a profile here! It will be a course that suits the power teams but as you can see on the map there are a few tighter corners where organisation will be key. With the women getting little chance to do a full TTT in races, we could see a couple of surprise results.

Boels smashed the opposition over a similar course in the Healthy Ageing Tour where they took 52 seconds out of second place team Virtu. They will be up against much stronger opposition here and they certainly won’t have it all their own way but they do start out as favourites. We of course have current TTT World Champions Sunweb at the race and they will no doubt want to go out and show that result was not a one-off and looking at their team, they have plenty of power houses in there to challenge Boels again. Those two outfits should finish 1-2 but there are another couple of teams who I have my eye on for a strong result.

Cervelo Bigla were my team to upset the apple cart last year but they had a disaster with them losing two riders early on due to a crash. I think they’ll return this year even stronger and their squad looks strong for this discipline, with them putting three riders inside the top 10 in their most recent TT at Bira.

Mitchelton Scott have come on leaps and bounds in the TT discipline this year and like Cervelo, they also had three riders in the top 10 of that Bira effort. They haven’t actually competed in a team-version this year so it will be interesting to see how they gel together but given they spent a day on their TT bikes together at training camp, I would be surprised if they didn’t sneak in some practice. I genuinely think they could contend for the win, the top 4 will be covered by only 15 seconds or so.

Stage 2: Ovada -> Ovada 

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One of those typical Italian rolling stages so the outcome of the day will all depend on how aggressively they opening 80km as the closing 30km are fairly easy. It should end in a sprint but again that all relies on teams having numbers to control things. The finish is a bit deceiving on the profile (shock), but the road rises ever so slightly before flattening out to the line.

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The rise is only 600m at 3.4% but it might take the sting out of the sprinters kick and open it up for some of the puncheurs to go for the stage win. Not to mention that with around 300m to go the riders have to face this roundabout.

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It will be a sketchy finish but at least the slight rise will have slowed them down to not make the roundabout too dangerous.

Three riders who to keep an eye out for here include Bastianelli, Ryan and Pieters, all of whom can cope with the short rise and pack a very fast sprint. I’ll go with the Ale rider to take the stage, the finish screams Bastianelli to me.

Stage 3: Corbetta -> Corbetta.

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There seems to be a recurring theme here in these opening few stages where the same town is hosting the start and finish, with stage 3 a roughly 30km circuit around Corbetta. With a pan-flat route, this is definitely one for the fast women of the peloton and those who missed out the previous day will want to make amends.

Wild, Hosking, Lepistö and d’Hoore are the big names here in terms of pure, flat sprinting talent so it would be a surprise not to see one of them take home the win. There are plenty of others to watch out for though including Pieters, Buurman, Bronzini, Fournier and Vos to name a few.

Nonetheless, the last turn comes with around one kilometre to go and the straight road finish will see the strongest sprinter here win – steep up the Belgian Bullet a.k.a Jolien d’Hoore.

Stage 4: Piacenza -> Piacenza

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The pattern continues onto stage 4 and we should see another sprint come the end of the day. There is a Cat-3 climb in the middle of the route to spice things up and tempt some teams to up the pace so we could see some sprinters dropped – women’s cycling is very unpredictable after all. However, I do think we’ll see a bunch sprint come the end of the day.

It is one tricky finish though, and it seems to be roundabout central: there are 6 of them in the last in closing 3km! Not entirely sure which genius thought this up and decided it was a great idea, but I guess that it is stereotypical Italian race design.

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The last roundabout comes at roughly 200m to go, so whoever comes out of that in second wheel will probably win the day. I like the look of d’Hoore‘s lead out so I’ll go for her to double up.

Stage 5: Omegna -> Omegna

Another day, another same start and finish town!

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With an uncategorised drag from the gun, we could see some riders in for a long day. The Cat-2 climb of Lesa – Fine Salita will see the first GC selection of the race. The climb can really be split into two parts with an “easier” opening section before they face the Muro di Comnago.

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The opening 3.6km average roughly 6.4% but it is the steep ramps of Comnago that will really split things up as through the town a 730m section averages 12.5%. It is going to hurt!

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It will also be spectacular though as the riders race through the narrow streets. Once over the top of the climb then there is a little plateau followed by a descent. That then leads into an uncategorised ascent which averages 4% for almost 6kms – classic Giro! A long but not very steep descent sees the riders to the final 9km of flat where a tactical battle might result in a surprise winner.

We had a similar finish to this on stage 2 last year and I thought it would be too early for a GC shake up and that we’d most likely see 12-16 riders come to the line together, or a late attack from a very reduced group. That didn’t happen though and the top 3 on GC just rode everyone off their wheels and worked well to get to the finish together. The one difference to this route is that it is that the main climb comes further out but given the follow-up climb, I think we’ll see a selective GC day. That might be a surprise to some.

It won’t be as selective as what we saw on Stage 2 in 2017 but I think there will only be a group of 8 riders who make it over the climb together – van Vleuten, Spratt, Kennedy (Mitchelton Scott), Guarnier (Boels), Niewiadoma (Canyon), Moolman Pasio (Cervelo), Stultiens (Waowdeals) and Longo Borghini (Wiggle).

Everyone will expect Mitchelton Scott to do all of the work given their numbers but instead of being shouldered with it, they will constantly attack and Spratt will eventually slip away, taking the day.

Stage 6: Sovico -> Gerola Alta.

We finally get the first point to point stage!

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Any GC gaps that were made yesterday will pale into significance after this stage. Nothing to see, aside from a more than likely hectic and fast run in to the first summit finish of the race. This day is all about that finish climb of Gerola Alta.

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A very consistent climb, riders who can maintain a steady rhythm will go well here. The race isn’t finished at the end of the strava segment above, as the riders still have another two kilometres of rolling terrain to contend with. Will we see a 2/3 rider sprint? It is hard to tell exactly what will happen as we don’t have a lot to go from in recent years, with only some of the finishes in the US and last year’s La Course to go by. I think we’ll once again see Mitchelton assert their dominance and put pressure on the other teams, hoping to crack another couple of riders and decrease their opposition.

This is Van Vleuten’s day.

Stage 7: Lanzada -> Alpe Gera di Campo Moro.

Mountain TT day!

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1122m of altitude gain in only 15.36km, meaning the climb averages 7.3% for its entirety. It is not the worst the riders will face this Giro but given it is a completely solo effort, some might find it more challenging than it is on paper. Expect some sizeable GC gaps between the favourites.

Can new climbing sensation Kennedy take her first World Tour win here?

Stage 8: San Giorgio di Perlena – Fara Vicentino -> Breganze.

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After the previous tough stages the riders have had to endure then most will be looking forward to a “rest-day” here. That means this is arguably the only stage in the whole race suited to a breakaway. Unfortunately for some, there will consequently be a big fight to get into the move and I fear quite a few riders will be dropped on the early climbs. It’s a long way to the finish but a group of them should make it home within the time limit.

The last climb of the day will be a decisive one and it is a little muro, averaging roughly 10% for a shade over a kilometre. Expect the break to be torn apart here and we’ll more than likely see a solo winner arrive into Breganze. Some of the GC contenders might even sense an opportunity to attack if one of their rivals looks to be on an off day.

As for the stage winner, names in a hat time, so I’ll go with Cecchini, Beggin and Rowe.

Stage 9: Tricesimo -> Ovaro (Monte Zoncolan).

The one everyone has been waiting for.

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Much like stage 6, there is nothing much to report until the famous last climb.

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I don’t need to describe the climb, it is just brutal, end of. Expect some big gaps here and the GC winner should be crowned.

Stage 10: Cividale del Friuli -> Cividale del Friuli

What better way to round out the race than with yet another same town start/finish. No processional stage here though!

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With a rather nasty sting in the tail, some things could still be up for grabs so the GC riders will need to be attentive and still fighting fit on the final climb of the race: San Leonardo.

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5km at 8.1% is tough enough for a shake up, especially with the steeper opening 3km that the riders will have to contend with. A descent all the way to the finish means that whoever crests the climb in first (if they’re alone) will most likely win.

Well, a few thousand words later that’s the route analysis finished, just the GC contenders to discuss, although I’ll be keeping this bit short and to the point as there are only a few riders who can win this race.

Contenders

I named 8 riders before: van Vleuten, Spratt, Kennedy (Mitchelton Scott), Guarnier (Boels), Niewiadoma (Canyon), Moolman Pasio (Cervelo), Stultiens (Waowdeals) and Longo Borghini (Wiggle) as a potential group who might escape on stage 5 and they are the riders who I will ultimately finish in the top 8 of the race.

However, I don’t think all of them have a chance of winning so unfortunately for Niewiadoma and Stultiens, their journey ends here. Likewise, even though Mitchelton have named van Vleuten and Spratt as their leaders, I think that Kennedy is the stronger climber compared to Spratt. Consequently, she also falls by the wayside.

That leaves a top 5 of van Vleuten, Kennedy, Guarnier, Moolman Pasio and Longo Borghini.

Van Vleuten.

Last year’s third placed finished, the Dutchwoman really should have won the race but it was a lapse of concentration and poor positioning that cost her on a rather innocuous stage as she lost time due to splits in the peloton caused by the wind and formation of echelons. Mitchelton bring a stupidly stacked squad with them that covers all terrain very well and van Vleuten will have a lot of support to go for a title bid this year. In 2017 we saw on the Izoard at La Course just how good she is on these mountains and I expect no different from her at this Giro.

Lucy Kennedy.

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A revelation since turning pro with Mitchelton at the start of the year, the Aussie has seriously impressed in her opening World Tour races. Unfortunately she crashed out of Amstel Gold Race while being in good shape so she hasn’t raced since then, instead focussing on recovering and getting some tough training and boy has she done that. She’s been on altitude camp with a few team-mates and has been setting some blistering times on the climbs around Livigno. Seemingly a naturally very strong climber, I am slightly concerned about her confidence after the crash. Her bike handling isn’t as great as some of the Europeans but that’s what you would expect when the majority of the bunch has grown up with aggressive and fast paced action in a peloton whereas Kennedy hasn’t. Thankfully for her, most of the mountains are at the end of the stages! I am intrigued to see how she copes in what is her first Giro but I haven’t seen any signs when she has been racing that suggest to me she will struggle. She could be the perfect 1-2 for Van Vleuten.

Elisa Longo Borghini.

Forever the bridesmaid it seems, ELB has struggled to this season a little and has failed to finish on the top step in 2018. However, this race is one of her big goals for the year and as a former winner of La Route de France she can never be discounted. Amazingly still only 26, the Wiggle rider has been already been around for a while and she should now be moving into her peak physical years. In 2017 she managed to follow van der Breggen and van Vleuten on the climbs, only losing time in the TT and TTT. Better efforts against the clock this year could see her be a real challenger for the title.

Megan Guarnier.

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With no van der Breggen in their line-up, the 2016 winner of this race arrives as Boels’ main charge for the title. Since that victory in 2016 (which was an incredible year for her overall), Guarnier has struggled to get as many wins under her belt. However, she was exceptionally consistent in 2017 and acted as a great second in command for her leaders, even finishing 4th at this event herself. It will be interesting to see how she copes with the pressure of being the only leader but her palmares at the Giro would suggest she will be perfectly fine, having came home 4th (2017), 1st (2016) and 3rd (2015) in the past three editions. I think she’ll be ready.

Ashleigh Moolman Pasio.

The Cervelo Bigla rider has been one of the most consistent this year, with her lowest finishing position in her 20 race days being 24th on stage 3 of the Bira. A truly remarkable stat. In fact, she’s only finished outside the top 10 on 4 occasions. A crash hampered her race here last season so she will no doubt be back with a hunger to succeed. I mentioned her team as dark horses for the TTT so she shouldn’t lose too much time, if any, in that discipline so it will be down to her ability on the climbs. Luckily for her, she is one of the best in the world and I think we’ll see a great race from her.

Prediction

Having numbers at the head of the race will be crucial and will play a massive part in the outcome of the race.

After last year’s disappointment I think we’ll see van Vleuten take the step up and win the title. This is the race she has been preparing for all season and she’s not here to play any games!

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Moolman and Guarnier to round out the podium.

Coverage

There were hushed mumblings that we were going to get some live coverage of the race this year but it seems that has unfortunately fallen through. Instead, there will be daily highlights on the PMG Sport facebook and Youtube page at roughly 5pm. If they are like their Italian Cup highlights then they will be well worth a watch and we should get to see most of the action with pretty much the last 20km of each day shown “live”.

As for during the race, the best way to follow it is via the #GiroRosa hashtag.

 

Thanks as always for reading, I hope you come back to this daily to see how wrong I was! If you could do me a massive favour and RT this on Twitter or share elsewhere then that would mean a great deal to me, this race deserves a lot more coverage. Who do you think is going to win overall? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Women’s Tour 2018 Stage 2 Preview: Rushden -> Daventry

Today’s Recap

It was one of those days in women’s cycling where we don’t see a break throughout the day, with the teams constantly closing down the moves. Andersen of Hitec did manage to get a 20 second gap at one point when in the final 20km but even then she was quickly reeled back in before the inevitable bunch sprint.

After winning the closing sprint in last year’s race, it was once again d’Hoore who took home the victory after a strong gallop to the line in what was quite a hectic finale.

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@thewomenstour / Sweetspot

Bastianelli finished a close second with Rivera rounding out the podium in third place.

Will we see something similar tomorrow? Let’s take a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

A much more rolling day out with the road constantly up or down, even if it is just ever so slightly.

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We could see some early attacks, but the likelihood is that the day will be decided by its main focal point – the last climb of Newnham hill.

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The climb itself averages 6.4% for 1.31km according to the Strava profile I’ve made, but with the steepest ramps coming near the top (a 200m section at 13%), then it is the perfect launchpad for riders to put in some stinging late attacks.

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Once over the top, the road descends pretty steeply on narrow roads for around 800m before levelling out. At this point the riders will only have 1.7km left to a chase will have to be organised quickly for things to be brought back together for a reduced bunch sprint.

We could see a lot of cat and mousing on the run in as riders constantly attack off the front.

In the closing 400m the road bends around gently while gradually climbing uphill at around 2-3% for around half of that distance.

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There is quite a tight right hand turn with just over 100m to go, at which point the road narrows down to one lane. Positioning through the turn will be vital.

How will the stage pan out?

This could be one of the more decisive GC days because of the proximity of the final climb to the finish. If we see some strong attacks from the puncheurs then they could create fairly significant gaps over the sprinters, and I think we’ll see exactly that.

The race will be held together and the constantly undulating and heavy roads will make it a day of attrition more than anything else before that final climb.

From there it will be a springboard for plentiful attacks but given that it is only 1.3km in length, some of the sprinters will fancy their chances of holding on. However, I think a select group of maybe 20-30 riders (at most) will get over it together, just because of how fast the pace will be.

It is then a case of who controls things for a reduced bunch sprint, or will a splinter group/lone attacker manage to get away on what is left of the day?

Contenders

There are some obvious names to look out for, including Vos, Rivera, Bastianelli and Van Dijk in a reduced bunch sprint to the line but I think a splinter group will form so I’m going to name some candidates who might be there.

Lisa Brennauer.

An unfortunately timed mechanical today saw her chances of a good stage and possibly GC result ruined as she finished 38 seconds behind the main group. This however, will give her some more freedom to attack and chase a stage win. We saw in Thüringen just how strong she is at the moment and the short, punchy climb suits her perfectly tomorrow. Packing a fast finish, I think she’ll bounce back strongly.

Pauline Ferrand Prevot.

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She’s not had the best of road seasons so far but juggling a season of cyclocross and mountain bike alongside the WWT peloton then this was always going to happen as it would be impossible to be in peak form all the time. However, a recent win in the Sea Otter mountain bike race will have given her confidence and after that race she said the sensations were excellent. Tomorrow’s climb and finish would be ideal for 2014 vintage PFP, but can she find that spark on the road again?

Chantal Blaak.

The World Champion mastered the Cauberg so tomorrow’s climb will be no issue for her. Boels have a strong squad with them so it will be interesting to see who they go with tomorrow as it is really hard to read their approach after today’s stage. They should have numbers in the front group and that will be to their advantage massively. Blaak has a great sprint on her so from even a group of 20 she will fancy her chances.

Prediction

None of them will win though, instead it will be local rider Hannah Barnes who takes victory.

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The Barnes sisters hail from nearby Towcester so will be incredibly motivated for a good result and will no doubt know tomorrow’s roads like the back of their hand. Hannah has really impressed me so far this year and has taken a step up, especially with her ability on the short climbs. Given the field here, she should stay in touch with the head of the race over the ascent and there won’t be many faster than her in a tough sprint.

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Women’s Gent – Wevelgem 2018 Preview

Women’s Gent – Wevelgem 2018 Preview

Now into its third year as a feature of the Women’s World Tour, Gent Wevelgem returns this Sunday for its 5th edition overall. Last year saw a tough battle but a race which ultimately ended in a reduced bunch sprint.

Lepistö just won the sprint, pipping D’Hoore and Rivera in a very tight photo finish.

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Will we see the same riders come to the fore this year? Let’s have a look at what is in store for them over the day’s racing.

The Route

An almost identical parcours to last year except this season’s edition will be 3kms shorter.

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@LasterketaBurua

The riders will face a fairly flat 50kms to start off with as they roll out of Ypres and I imagine there will be a bit of  a fight to get into the morning breakaway. No team will want a repeat of De Panne where they missed the move and had to chase all day. If a reasonably large break goes expect most teams to make it, however, I think we’ll only see 5 riders or so let up the road this time.

After the 50km the riders will soon hit the Baneberg. The road does rise before the climb officially begins but the majority of the climbing takes place over 300m where the gradient averages 10%. Short but sweet!

There won’t be much time to rest as the peloton’s attention will be on getting in a good position on the narrow roads before the climb of the Kemmelberg.

Kemmel

The road rises gradually as the riders leave the town of Kemmel but it really starts to ramp as they make a right turn, coincidentally just as the cobbles begin! We didn’t see any major attacks here, it was more just an increase of pace that saw those ahead grind away from the opposition.

Once over the top a fast and technical descent follows before they climb almost straight away again.

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The Monteberg is the last place for the climbers to make a difference on the circuit with the slope’s 7.3% average gradient for a kilometre. It is short enough though that the stronger puncheurs and rouleurs in the peloton will be able to grind their way up it near the front of the bunch.

From there it will be 30kms before the riders face the same trio of climbs again but during that time they’ll have to traverse 4kms worth of Ploegstreet. It’s not somewhere you can win the race but as the old cliché goes, you can certainly lose it here.

The Baneberg, Kemmelberg and Monteberg combination are once again faced; with 33kms from the top of the last climb to the finish.

Weather Watch

A race that is often either split by strong winds or testing conditions that wear down the riders, it looks as if it might be a fairly benign day in the saddle tomorrow.

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Source: Windfinder

With a bit of a breeze coming from the north the run home from Ypres to Wevelgem will mean that there is a slight cross-wind but nothing too substantial.

Given the conditions, it looks as if a reduced bunch sprint will be the most likely outcome, unless we see a strong group escape on the Kemmelberg with the majority of the teams represented.

Sprinters

Jolien D’Hoore.

The Belgian Bullet won De Panne with a very strong sprint and she seems to be settling into her new team well. Mitchelton bring a quality selection with them to this race which is Van Vleuten’s first after her foray onto the track. The majority of their team are strong enough to make it over the Kemmelberg in contact, or close to the peloton and they’ll be able to help pull things back at the end. With Elvin as a lead-out rider, she has a very capable sprinter in that role but will the new duo manage to work well?

Chloe Hosking.

She’s been so close throughout this season so far but has failed to take a win again. It looked as if that duck was going to end in De Panne but she got blocked in ever so slightly which cost her. Ale worked excellently in that race to support her and bring the race back for a sprint and I think we’ll see them do the same tomorrow. The win is coming, it is just a matter of when.

Coryn Rivera.

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Sunweb’s pocket rocket has struggled to match her barnstorming start to the year last season but that’s almost understandable! Another rider that arrives with a strong team around her, she’ll want to go better than her 14th in De Panne. Caught out in the wind that day, the easier conditions should suit and I expect a better performance.

Lotta Lepistö.

Didn’t race De Panne as she was still recovering from a crash earlier in the year but she returns for this race wanting to repeat last season’s feat. Both 2016 and 2017 have been breakthrough years in a sense as she started to win a lot more races and featuring in more finishes. However, I’m unsure where she will be tomorrow in terms of fitness. Wouldn’t be surprised to see her win as she is one of the best sprinters in the world after a tough day but I just can’t see it happening.

Marianne Vos.

The current European Champion didn’t start De Panne either but she comes to this race in good form still, with a 3rd place in Alfredo Binda. That performance particularly impressed me as I thought it would be too soon after the cyclocross season for her to be competing over hillier terrain. The climbs tomorrow shouldn’t be a problem and we all know how strong she is after a long day in the saddle.

Chantal Blaak.

It’s amazing what having the Rainbow Jersey can do for a rider! Blaak had a great 2017, obviously winning the World Champs, but she has started 2018 meaning business. Winning the sprint for second in Binda highlights her current form level and she should be at the front of the race no matter what tomorrow. With PietersDideriksen and Majerus her lead-out sounds exceptionally strong. Is she going to get rid of the rainbow curse early in the year?

Alexis Ryan.

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This year’s early season revelation, she took her first win in Westerveld and quickly followed that up with her first World Tour podium. In De Panne she was caught up in a crash and had to fight back hard to rejoin the peloton which meant her sprint was lacking. If she stays on her bike here then she will be a threat as she has a properly strong kick.

Kirsten Wild.

I nearly didn’t mention the Dutch rider as I forgot she had moved to Wiggle in the Winter! She’s just come off a very successful period on the track and has only managed one road race so far this year. Therefore I think she might miss a bit of sharpness, but as a quality bike rider she can’t be discounted.

Others to look out for include Bronzini (Cylance), Siggaard (Virtu), Confalonieri (Valcar), Andersen (Hitec) and Fournier (FDJ).

Prediction

We’ll see a lot of action on the climbs but it will ultimately come back together for a sprint. After being so close this year already, Chloe Hosking will finally cross the line first. She just needs to ensure she can actually manage a clean and full sprint!

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Coverage

Another World Tour race and we get more TV coverage, something must be up as this is highly unusual. It’s a good unusual though! It will be available on lots of different providers, such as Eurosport or VRT, from 12:45pm GMT.

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Will it come down to a sprint or will we see a strong group get away? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

Women’s Herald Sun Tour 2018 Preview

Women’s Herald Sun Tour 2018 Preview

Originally I wasn’t intending on writing a preview for this race, but then I thought it would be rude not to cap off the Aussie summer of racing with another blog piece. Plus, it keeps me on track with my new years resolution of writing more about women’s racing.

2018 will be the first year of the Herald Sun Tour in the women’s peloton. Calling it a “Tour” might be a bit farfetched though, as we only have two days worth of racing, but at least it is something I guess!

Anyway, let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders over the next two days.

The Route

Stage 1.

On paper the more decisive of the two days; the peloton will tackle the longest and arguably toughest climbs that they will have faced over their fortnight of racing in Australia.

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@LasterketaBurua

The opening 50km or so will see the riders attack some fairly flat terrain, with a few sparing rises in the road. It is possible that we’ll see a conventional breakaway form on this stage, which is something that doesn’t often happen in women’s racing, but the parcours is certainly suited to it.

Old Warburton Road (4.4km at 4.5%) marks the first test for the riders, but given it only crests halfway through the stage, I can’t see anything crazy happen here.

Instead, the real racing will start once they pass through the finish line in Healesville for the first time, with the pace ramping up and riders jockeying for road position. Why?

Well, the climb of Myers Creek Road starts not long after the passage of the line.

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It is not the steepest of climbs, but given its length, it is probably as close to Alpine as you’re going to get in the region. The average of 5.8% will wear down the peloton and I’m sure we’ll start to see gaps appear, possibly just after the 2km mark where the road pitches up to 9-10% for a few hundred metres.

I’m really intrigued to see how the teams approach this climb. Will we see some early attacks, forcing other riders to chase?

This exact route was used in the first stage of the men’s race back in 2016; which saw Froome and Kennaugh attack on the climb, opening up a 20 second or so gap.

Once over the top, they managed to hold off the pursuing bunch as the road descends almost all the way back into Healesville.

Will we see something similar tomorrow?

Stage 2.

If there aren’t significant gaps on the opening day, then it will all come down to the short, pan-flat TT the following day.

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At only 1.6km in length it is more of a prologue than a normal TT, in fact, the same course will be used as the men’s prologue later in the day. Does that make it an epilogue for the women then? I’m calling it an epilogue.

It will all be over in a flash, but some technical corners will create gaps, along with the pure power sections.

Will the leader from the previous day have enough of a lead to hold on?

Contenders

The list of contenders all depends on how aggressively the opening day is raced. We should see the race blown to bits on Myers Creek but there is the slight chance that things stay more compact than expected, especially if we have a headwind on the climb.

Furthermore, if there is a lack of co-operation up the road, then riders who have been dropped on the climb can make it back on the long run in back to Healesville. If that is the case, then look out for the podium to look very similar to what we saw in Cadel’s Race, with Hosking, Elvin and Bronzini all looking very sharp at the moment.

Nonetheless, it looks set to be a race for the climbers.

Katrin Garfoot.

Garfoot

Arguably the strongest rider on the climbs in both of the races so far (TDU and Cadel’s  Race), Garfoot will love the look of Mylers Creek. The average gradient should suit her characteristics very well, allowing her to set a solid tempo, trying to ride everyone off her wheel. Given her TT prowess, she has the potential to maintain a gap of 20 seconds once over the top if there are only a few riders behind her. The same can be said for the “epilogue” the following day where you would expect the veteran rider to shine. Ably supported by a strong Aussie selection, she has to start the race as favourite.

Annemiek van Vleuten.

Along with getting to show her climbing legs, this race will be the first time the newly crown TT world champion will get to wear her rainbow stripes. I am intrigued to see how she goes on the longer, shallow climb of Mylers Creek as she seemed to struggle on the steep slopes of Challambra on Saturday. Packing a good sprint from a reduced group, she has a good chance if 5 riders come to the line. Bonus seconds could be crucial in shaping the GC. Well, at least I think there are bonus seconds?!

Lucy Kennedy.

This race is possibly the reason as to why the Mitchelton rider was left out of Cadel’s Race on Saturday, which kind of makes my dismay in the previous preview look a bit stupid now! The climb of Mylers Creek is well suited to the rangy Australian and it will be interesting to see how she goes against Garfoot on this type of ascent. Admitting she can’t sprint, then she’ll more than likely have to arrive alone to win. But if Mitchelton play the numbers game well, then there is every chance she can do so.

Sabrina Stultiens.

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One of the stand-out performers on Saturday, much to the surprise of Phil Liggett. However, any knowledgeable cycling fan would know that Stultiens has a lot of class and showed great promise back in 2014/15 when breaking onto the scene. 2016 was a write off for her due to a long-term knee injury that plagued her, which meant 2017 was a year where she had to re-find her feet but I think she’ll come good this year. Marianne Vos wanted her on WaowDeals which speaks a lot about the type of rider Stultiens is! She is a rider to watch out for and one that shouldn’t be given a lot of leeway.

Audrey Cordon.

The French rider is known as a good time trial rider but she can also climb well too. The fairly shallow gradients of Myers will suit her style and rhythm and she’ll hope to be near the front of the bunch when things start to split up. Sprinting to 4th on Saturday, she has a good turn of speed from a small group and might surprise a few people if we get a 5-8 rider gallop to the line.

McIlroy, Brown and Malseed are other names to look out for if we get some chaotic and fast paced racing on Myers.

Prediction

I’m still really torn as to how this one will play out. Myers is long enough to create some gaps but the fairly shallow gradient does allow for some of the “less-climby” types to hold on.

Nonetheless, I think we’ll see the Korda-Mentha team and Mitchelton Scott attempt to rip it up from the bottom, dropping the likes of Hosking etc.

We’ll be left with a select group including the 5 main contenders I’ve mentioned above. Team tactics will play a part with Mitchelton Scott constantly attacking and counter-attacking, trying to get away.

Kennedy will get away, but she’ll be followed by Cordon and Stultiens, as van Vleuten and Garfoot mark each other out behind.

The trio work together well, but Cordon eventually rolls them in the sprint taking home the opening stage. The bonus seconds (if there are any) and her strong TT, will be good enough to see her take home the overall crown.

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Allez Audrey!

Coverage

There is no live coverage of the race but there will be highlights on SBS which I’m sure will be available at some point.

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win? Will Mylers be as explosive and decisive as I think, or will some of the sprinters hold on? Anyway,

Those have been My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

Santos Women’s Tour Down Under 2018 Preview

Santos Women’s Tour Down Under 2018 Preview

It’s been a while but it is nice to be back! I hope you enjoyed your off-season and are as ready for the 2018 racing calendar to begin as I am. This year I’ve set myself the resolution to write more women’s previews so what better way to start than with the first race of the season; the Santos Women’s Tour Down Under?!

Now into its third year I am pleased to say that the race has stepped up to 2.1 level and will have the most challenging parcours to date in this edition. Which is good, as the past two years have seen a few criteriums thrown into the mix. This time we only have one!

With both of the previous winners; Garfoot (2016) and Spratt (2017) here, will we see a familiar face atop the podium come the end of the race or will there be a new champion?

First though, let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders over the coming 4 stages.

The Route

New year but not a new me, so I once again want to shout-out @LasterketaBurua who made the profiles that I’ll be using here. Go give them a follow on Twitter!

Stage 1.

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The riders will complete a rolling circuit that starts and finishes in the town of Gumeracha. It’s not an incredibly difficult route, but it does include the steep climb of Mount Torrens that averages 7.6% for 700m. Furthermore, it does include a few uncategorised ramps just before and after Lobethal so keeping with tradition I’ve made a Strava/Veloviewer profile of that segment.

WTDU S1

On paper it is not too difficult but given that it will be the first race-day in the past few months for a lot of the Northern Hemisphere riders then I think we could actually see some splits if it is ridden at a fast pace. We could see some of the drags used as a launchpad for a late attack from a group of riders before the descent all the way to the finish line.

If we get a sprint, this should be Hosking’s for the taking. For a late attacker, I’ll go with Spratt.

Stage 2.

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If Hosking did win stage 1, then it is very unlikely she’ll be holding onto the jersey after stage 2 unless something crazy happens.

With the Whispering Wall (1.1km at 5.9%) being climbed twice earlier in the day it will sap the riders legs a little before their attention turns to the main challenge of the stage with the ascent of Mengler’s Hill.

Menglers Hill

At roughly 7% for 2km this is what is classed as a “proper climb” in the area. Due to it only being 2km, the gaps won’t be massive but I expect it to be attacked at a crazy pace. This is the stage that will most likely decide the GC.

I have my eyes on Lucy Kennedy for this stage. She was climbing well in the national champs road race and the pure uphill finish could suit her well. Watch this space.

Stage 3.

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If the GC battle is still close after Stage 2 then the final few kilometres of the longest will decide it. The road undulates a lot in the second half of the day but it all comes down to the quick back-to-back climbs of Comet Mine and Hahndorf.

WTDU S3 Fin

The finish is a tougher version of what we saw on day 1, but this time there is also a climb to contend with at the end again.

I imagine we’ll see some big digs from the ladies close on GC between the 1-2.25km mark on the profile above as it averages 5.8% over that period with ramps over 10%. This is where they will hope to make their mark and put others into difficulty before the 1.75km of descent and the final 450m of uphill.

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Once over the top the riders will carry some speed down the descent and bike handling will be key as they make this awkward left-turn to start the final climb. Will the winner on the day win the race as a whole?!

If Van Vleuten is in good shape then this stage looks ideal for her.

Stage 4.

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The race concludes with the traditional criterium around Adelaide. Not much else to say here, but expect a fast race and a sprint at the end.

Hosking to once again show her strength but she won’t have it easy with Bronzini and Edmondson sure to offer some stiff opposition.

The GC Battle

One of the things that I like about this race is how dynamic it can be and we often see aggressive racing rewarded. With two, possibly three, stages to shape the GC this year there is a chance things could become more structured. However I don’t think that will be the case and well once again see an attacking start to the season.

There are two teams that are head and shoulders above the rest in terms of strength and depth in regards to their selection; Mitchelton-Scott and the UniSA team.

The Mitchelton-Scott team have three possible GC candidates in their midst with Spratt, Van Vleuten and Kennedy.

Spratt obviously won this race in 2017 and will be hoping to make it back-to-back victories this year round. She was impressive in the National Champs, doing a lot of the work on the front of the pack and eventually picking up 4th place. She’s an attacking rider who can certainly climb well. However, she is much more of a one-day racer than a pure climber, so I’m intrigued to see how she copes on Mengler’s.

Van Vleuten bounced back from an injury fraught 2016 to have her best-ever season last year. On paper, she is by far the strongest rider here and the course looks ideal for her. I’m not sure where her form will be at the moment, but considering that she has been in the Southern hemisphere since the middle of November, I’m going to take a stab in the dark and say she is acclimatised and will be going well.

That just leaves my dark-horse for the race; Kennedy. The 29-year-old Australian is technically a neo-pro with this being her first full season in the professional ranks. In 2017 she had a breakthrough year with some good results in the National Champs before securing a spot on the High5DreamTeam through a scholarship. This allowed her to have a taste of European racing and she didn’t disappoint, taking a maiden victory in the Tour de l’Ardeche while on her way to securing the GC title. Clearly a very talented latecomer to the sport, I’m intrigued to see what she can do this year. Climbing well in the nationals this year, she eventually faded to 9th but I think she’ll be there or thereabouts come the end of this race. Keep an eye out for her!

Kennedy

The Uni-SA team resembles something similar to that of World’s team selection, but their main two contenders for this race will most likely be Garfoot and Gillow.

Garfoot won the first version of this race back in 2016 and will hope to get one over her former team-mates at Mitchelton. Deciding to leave the team at the end of last season to focus more on her family but also the Commonwealth Games, she absolutely crushed the field in the TT last week. Clearly in excellent shape, she has a great chance of winning this race again.

Gillow performed below her expectations in the TT but was much better in the road race, helping team-mate Kitchen to a strong second place. Another good climber, she and Garfoot will have to alternate attacks, hoping to break the will of Michelton. Although saying that, Gillow isn’t the most explosive rider in the pack so she’ll need to churn a massive gear to put everyone else into difficulty.

Other contenders to look out for during the race are Cordon (WiggleHigh5), Stephens (Cylance), Stultiens (WaowDeals), Wiles (TrekDrops) and the retiring Taylor who is riding one of her last races as a professional for domestic team Holden.

Prediction

Michelton-Scott to play the numbers game well and it will be one of last season’s best cyclists Annemiek van Vleuten who will take the win.

Annemiek-van-Vleuten-Orica-Scott-2017-La-Course-by-Le-Tour-de-France-Col-dIzoard-pic-ASO

Having been out training in New Zealand from the start of December I think she’ll be firing on all cylinders here. No-one will be able to match her on the climb of Mengler’s Hill and she’ll be able to follow on the other tricky stages. She has said on Twitter that she is here to work hard for the team but I’m not buying it!

Garfoot will come second with Kennedy rounding out the podium.

Thanks as always for reading and any feedback is appreciated as usual, I might be a bit rusty after all! Who do you think will win the race? Will Michelton win it for a third year in a row or will we get a surprise? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.