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.

 

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 Tour 2018 Stage 1 Preview: Framlingham › Southwold

Women’s Tour 2018 Stage 1 Preview: Framlingham › Southwold

GC Overview

The OVO Energy Women’s Tour returns this year for what is expected to be a week of fast-paced and action-packed racing, which will take place over the toughest parcours this event has had to offer to date. The crucial stage appears to be on day 2 where the riders will face a short but steep climb only a few kilometres from the finish but there are plenty of days left to mix things up from there and we should hopefully see some agressive racing.

Looking at the qualities needed to win this race, a rider has to be able to get up and over the short climbs but also pack a fast sprint as gathering bonus seconds will be important come the end of the week. Unless of course someone mimics what Niewiadoma did last year and take one of the days solo and secures the title that way. Although I’m sure the peloton will be a lot more attentive this time around!

Some names to conjure with this week include Brennauer (Wiggle High5), Vos (Waowdeals) and Van Dijk (Sunweb). Ultimately though, I think it will Blaak who will come away with victory. The World Champion has had a great 2018 so far and she has the perfect combination of sprint speed but also the ability to get over the short ramps – anyone who can go well on the Cauberg can go well here!

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

The Route

Arguably the easiest day of the race, I’m sure plenty in the peloton will be thankful of a fairly benign day in the saddle to ride themselves into the event. The peloton will take on mostly flat roads from the town of Framlingham to Southwold.

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There is only roughly 650m of elevation gain throughout the day but as you can see on the profile, there are no real hills but just some constantly rolling roads. I don’t know what the road conditions are like but if they’re anything like up here, then they will feel very heavy and the 650m might feel like a little bit more!

One Cat-3 QOM point will reward an early attacker with a jersey but given how unformulaic women’s racing seems to be at times, it could well be a rider who jumps out of a compact peloton that takes the points. If that is the case, then expect things to be kept together for the first intermediate sprint of the day and the consequent bonus seconds that are awarded with it.

A break might finally be let go after that but they won’t be given too much leeway as the sprint teams look to set things up for a bunch gallop into Southwold.

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The final 3km are fairly straight forward aside from two turns within the closing kilometre which will stretch things out a bit. They aren’t too tight but the second turn onto the home straight is quite tight so being near the front here will be crucial.

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Something else that will be crucial though is the wind. It looks as if it will be coming from the south-west throughout the day, blowing between 15km/h and 22km/h throughout the afternoon, with gusts up to 30km/h. A lot of the route is well covered but it will be interesting to see if some of the teams try to split things in the more exposed areas. It will need for the conditions to be perfect though.

More importantly though, it is something for the riders to consider in the sprint as it will pretty much be a block head wind for them so ideally you want to launch your effort later and come from further back to take advantage of the slipstream.

Sprinters

Jolien d’Hoore.

The Belgian rider arrives here without any racing since breaking her collarbone so it will be interesting to see where her for currently is. The Mitchelton Scott team that surrounds her is very strong and I’d argue that they have one of the best lead-out trains here, with Williams, Roy and Elvin able to put out a lot of power in the closing kilometres. D’Hoore has proven in the past just how fast a sprinter she is, but so far this year she has struggled to be dominant. A win here would go a long way in restoring some confidence.

Chloe Hosking.

One of the most consistent sprinters this year, Hosking has managed to take home 7 podium finishes which included 3 wins. She joked during the Spring campaign that she was the “Sagan of women’s cycling” always coming close but not taking home the result. I’m sure none of that mattered to her though when she won the Commonwealth Games in front of a home crowd. Like d’Hoore, this is her first race back since Chongming so it might take a bit to get her racing legs back but she can’t be ruled out.

Kirsten Wild.

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Having missed out on a lot of the spring campaign to focus on the track, a wise move as she won the Omnium, Scratch race and Points race at the Worlds, Wild returned to the road properly at the end of March. Since then she has gone on to win three times in only 14 race days, not a bad feat, with her most recent success being the opening day of the Tour de Yorkshire. One of the most experienced sprinters in the peloton she’ll hope to use that to her advantage, especially with the tricky conditions in mind.

Coryn Rivera.

It was always going to be hard for the American to live up to her fantastic 2017 season and it looked for a while as if her season was really struggling to get going. However, two recent stage wins in Thüringen will have lifted her confidence greatly and she will be buoyed coming into this event. Having Van Dijk to guide her in the closing kilometres will be great as the Dutchwoman is one of the best in windy conditions so Rivera will no doubt be in the perfect position. Can she deliver and keep her streak going?

Those four are arguably the stand out sprinters for me at this race but there are plenty of other good sprinters hoping to upset the apple cart…

Both the Barnes sisters might give it a go for Canyon and will be intriguing to see who the team backs on the opening day. The experience of Vos (Waowdeals) and Bronzini (Cylance) can never be discounted. Boels have a couple of options they could go for but they might try to get Blaak bonus seconds, if not then Dideriksen and Pieters are viable podium candidates. Buurman (Trek Drops), Fournier (FDJ) and Andersen (Hitec) will all be fighting for that top 10 as well.

It really is a pretty open field!

Prediction

I’ll go with Hosking to take the win, she always seems to bring her A-game here.

Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race

Coverage

We unfortunately don’t have any live pictures so it will be a case of following along on Twitter via the #OVOWT hashtag. How have I managed to make it this far without my now yearly Drake joke? Oh well, I’m sure the riders will take care of that tomorrow when they write their own headlines…Whoops.

We will get an hour-long highlights package that will be shown on ITV4 here in the UK and I’m sure a good VPN will sort anyone else watching abroad out. The highlights will be on at the following times.

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Rather oddly though, I’ll have my stage preview out for the next day out by then so just somehow skip past the header image and “today’s recap” if you want it to be kept a secret.

Velogames

For a bit of fun throughout the race I’ve made a Velogames league which you can join with this code “680890716”. No prizes on offer, just pride in beating me. Which really isn’t much of a hard task anyway.

Thanks as always for reading and I would really appreciate a RT on the timeline to spread the previews around a lot more as unfortunately, they just don’t get as much readership as the men’s previews do so any extra you can to do help would be great! Who do you think will win tomorrow, could we see an upset? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Women’s Ronde van Vlaanderen 2018 Preview

Women’s Ronde van Vlaanderen 2018 Preview

Celebrating its 15th edition this year, the Ronde returns this weekend and we’re set for some great racing. In 2017 we saw one of the biggest group finishes for a long time at the race with Coryn Rivera winning the sprint, narrowly pipping Gracie Elvin and Chantal Blaak.

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For a while it seemed as if that wasn’t going to be the outcome though as a strong group of 4 escaped that included Longo Borghini, Van Vleuten, Niewiadoma and Van der Breggen. However, the latter was told by team management not to take a turn as they wanted to set up Blaak. A move that potentially cost them the win! Will we see something similar this year? First though, let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders over the course of the day.

The Route

Shorter than in 2017, the riders will have to face 11 climbs and 5 cobbled sections over the 151km.

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@LasterketaBurua

As you can see it is a fairly intensive route with a lot of obstacles spread throughout the day. They are somewhat spread out but the majority are bulked between either 60km-90km or 110km – 140km. Expect a thinning out of the peloton, especially as we hit the first grouping of obstacles. This is where we could see some early attacks from squads where they send riders up the road so they don’t have to work in the pack behind. That section finishes with the famous Muur.

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Not overly steep at only 6.8% for 1km, it is the fact that the steepest section near the top is on the roughest cobblestones. The riders will really have to grind their way up it and we could see some surprising gaps in the field if the pace is on at the head of affairs.

The riders will then have almost 20kms to “catch their breath” (I use that term loosely as I imagine the racing will be on) before they hit the final 5 climbs of the day. The Pottelberg (1.3km at 6.5%) and Kanarieberg (1.05km at 9%) are both asphalt and give the more traditional climbers a chance to get rid of some of the classics specialists.

At just under 30km to go the riders will face the Kruisberg-Hotond. It averages 5% for 2.5kms but it is the opening cobbled section that is the steepest before it eases out on asphalt afterwards. Considering the length of the climb and what has come before, some might find themselves in difficulty.

Finally, the riders will hit one of the most famous 1-2s in region, with the Oude Kwaremont swiftly followed by the Paterberg.

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Similar to the Kruisberg, it is the length (2.2km at 4.2%) that can be the downfall of riders on the Kwaremont. Not to mention, the steepest section comes on cobble in the opening half, and this is where we normally see an acceleration from the strongest riders. They have to continue the momentum though as the road continues to drag all the way to the top. Once over the summit, a fast descent on twisting, narrow roads means no time for recovery before the final climb of the day.

Paterberg_profile

Short but incredibly steep (13.7% for 380m), big gaps can be made here in a very short space of time. If a selection hasn’t been made on the Kwaremont, it certainly will here!

12kms of mainly flat roads then await the riders before they finish on the outskirts of Oudenaarde.

Team Tactics

With so many strong teams here this year, it is a really difficult race to figure out. Here’s an extensive list as to who might feature in different situations;

Sunweb – Rivera / Van Dijk / Mackaij

Boels – Blaak / Van der Breggen / Majerus

Mitchelton – D’Hoore / Van Vleuten / Elvin

Cervelo – Lepistö / Moolman

Canyon – Barnes / Niewiadoma / Ferrand Prevot / Cecchini

Wiggle – Cordon Ragot / Wild / Brennauer

Ale – Bastianelli / Hosking / Ensing

Waowdeals – Vos / Koster

Just to name a few…

No doubt we’ll see some early action as teams try to get their riders up the road and a group containing the majority of stronger squads could feasibly stay away after the Muur. Or, we see a race of attrition that only leaves the strongest at the head of the race after the Kwaremont/Paterberg combination and they fight it out at the end of proceedings.

Personally, I don’t think we’ll see a sprint as big as last year.

So if I was a DS, I’d make sure I had a rider in every threatening group that went up the road; easier said than done!

From whatever group (early or late attack) comes to the line we could see a small sprint, or an attack might see a solo rider take the spoils.

Contenders

Given I’ve named about half the peloton above, I’ll only pick a handful here to talk about!

Chantal Blaak.

The World Champion has started her season on stellar form with a 4th in Strade and a second in Binda. In Gent Wevelgem she worked for team-mate Pieters so I imagine that the roles will be reversed at this race. Tough enough to get over the climbs in a good position, she will be a danger in a sprint so not many will want to bring her to the line. I don’t think she could make it with the head of the race so her best chance is to attack early and wait for people to come from behind.

Anna van der Breggen.

Had her chance at going for the title taken away by team orders last year but given her seriously impressive performance in Strade, she surely will be given free rein this season. Much more than just an exceptional climber, the Boels rider is a master on almost all terrain. With the Ardennes classics just around the corner, she’ll be getting close to her peak again so a good hit out on Sunday to blow the cobwebs away will do a world of good!

Ellen Van Dijk.

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I was one race out from predicting a Van Dijk solo win but she did what she does best on Wednesday, taking out a great win in Dwars. Able to keep up with the best on the climbs that day, the Kwaremont/Paterberg combination might be a bit of a stretch for her. Nonetheless, she will be full of confidence and will race with nothing to lose. That makes her a danger! With their team, I expect to see Sunweb attacking throughout the day and we might just see Van Dijk slip away again.

Gracie Elvin.

The Australian has no qualms about it, this is the race she wants to win. Slowly building up her form throughout the classics with the aim of going well here, she will desperately want to go one better than last season. A bit like Blaak, Elvin can climb well but she won’t be able to follow the more traditional names on the slopes, albeit she is a power climber. However, if she manages to pre-empt any moves from behind by being up the road then I would fancy her to cling on over the Kwaremont and Paterberg, even if she starts with only a 10 second advantage. With a good sprint after a hard day, the smaller the group the better for the Mitchelton rider.

Pauline Ferrand Prevot.

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Canyon arrive here with a stupidly strong team. Niewiadoma is apparently the leader but with their strength in depth, I imagine they’ll see how things develop out on the road. Ferrand Prevot was strong in Binda and played a good team-mates role, disrupting the chase behind to let Niewiadoma extend her lead. Given her punchy nature and abilities on all types of terrain, this should be an event that suits. We didn’t see the best of her in 2017, but she is coming in to her own again this year. A good result here will go a long way to restoring her confidence even more!

Ashleigh Moolman.

The slight South African climber has had a good start to the year, in fact it’s been rather exceptional as she has managed to finish in the top 10 in every race/stage so far! Last year she missed the orignal move and tried to bridge on the Kwaremont but she just didn’t make it and burnt a few of her matches. However, this year she looks stronger already and I think she could make a similar split. In a group of climbers coming to the line, I’d back her in a sprint.

Marianne Vos.

A steady return to racing by her standards with only a 3rd/5th/12th so far…It is a race she has done well at in the past, winning the event back in 2013, but she has not competed here since then. However, given who she is and what she can do on a bike, Vos can never be discounted. It was her performance in Binda that will worry her rivals for this race because if she can match them on the climbs there, she should be able to do similar here. With more riders on her level now, will they fear her any less?

Prediction

Pffft, it is a tough one!

I don’t think Boels will make the same mistake they made last year and Anna van der Breggen will manage to take home the spoils with an attack on the Kwaremont/Paterberg that will drop everyone before she rides solo to the finish. Very similar to her win in Strade!

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Coverage 

The race is being shown live on the ES Player from roughly 12:30 UK time. It should be shown via other channels as well so check with your regions broadcaster!

Before then you’ll be able to use #RVVWomen to follow all the action on Twitter.

Competition

Flanders weekend marks the “blogs birthday” so to thank you all for your continued support I’m going to give away a copy of The Handmade Cyclist’s Ronde print. To be in with a chance of winning it just leave a comment on this post with who you think is going to win the race, along with your Twitter handle, e.g. “Anna van der Breggen @JamieHaughey”. If we get multiple correct entries then they’ll enter the sorting hat (random.org) and someone will be granted as the winner. If no one gets the prediction correct, then it will go to second place and so on. Good luck!

Thanks as always for reading! 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 Driedaagse De Panne-Koksijde 2018 Preview

Women’s Driedaagse De Panne-Koksijde 2018 Preview

The 3-day race that is now a one-day race gets a women’s edition. De Panne arrives in the Women’s World Tour calendar for the first time and on paper it should give the sprinters a good chance at success.

Let’s have a look at what is exactly in store for them tomorrow.

The Route

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A day by the coast awaits the riders along a pretty much pan-flat course.

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@LasterketaBurua

It’s a shame that there is only one section of cobbles for the riders to tackle and given that they come pretty early, I can’t see them playing any major part in the outcome of the day.

At just over 15km long the final circuit takes in both the towns of De Panne and Koksijde along with some of the other surrounding areas.

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There’s not much else of note about the route!

So a sprint finish then? Well…

Weather Watch

It just so happens that De Panne passes through one of my favourite areas in cycling; De Moeren. An area famed for flat land, open fields and strong winds. That can only mean one thing; echelons!

Of course though, that requires the wind to play ball and going by the forecast it certainly seems like it will tomorrow.

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Source: Windfinder

A strong and consistent wind throughout the day coming from the West, the riders will have to be alert on their way from Brugge to De Panne as the road constantly twists and turns. Being unattentive at the wrong moment could see you suddenly spat out the back as the race gets battered by a strong crosswind and you’re too far down the pack to deal with it.

Just before we reach the circuit for the first time, the riders will cycle through one of my favourite regions in cycling; De Moeren.

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Almost 3km of dead-straight, wide-open Belgian farmland. Given the wind conditions it is not a case of if the race will split here, it is by how badly will it split? Some riders will see their chances of a good result on the day gone here.

Once onto the circuit the wind will come at the riders from different directions depending on where they are on the course and they do get some protection from buildings etc. However, there are still two locations that are fairly open that can cause splits in the wind.

The 1km section of Noordhoekstraat that heads South (which ends with roughly 6.8km to go) is one possible place. However, once they turn right and continue West they will face a strong headwind which might cause things to slow down. Nonetheless, if everyone is on their last reserves by then it will only be the strongest riders at the head of the race so chasing it down will be tough.

The second section is also 1km long (Langgeleedstraat) but more importantly, it ends with only 3kms of the day left and the riders will have almost another kilometre of tailwind to gather their breath afterwards.

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Narrow and exposed roads can only mean one thing, right?

There will be a bit of a cross-head wind as they enter the final 2kms but by then I expect the damage to be done.

I’ll be shocked if we see a big bunch sprint tomorrow, I’m expecting 20 riders or less and to be honest, it will be closer to 10 I think. Which then means a late attack from a strong rider might stick too, it just depends on who is represented at the head of the race in the closing sections!

Contenders

As is always the case with women’s cycling, the organisers can’t seem to keep an up-to-date start list so I might miss some riders out here that actually are racing, or I might mention someone who isn’t here!

Amy Pieters.

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Fresh off the back of a win in Ronde van Drenthe, she’ll arrive here as Boels’ leader for the race. As a Dutch rider, it goes without saying that she is strong in tricky conditions like this and she’ll hope to make any split that goes. A good sprinter after a tough day, many people will not want to take her to the line. Majerus will no doubt be in an attacking mood as well and she’s another to keep an eye on.

Gracie Elvin.

The Australian is maturing into one of the better classics riders in the peloton and she forms part of a strong Mitchelton Scott team at this event. In Ronde van Drenthe she worked tirelessly to try to set up her team-mates but also managed to spend some time attacking off the head of the bunch. With her form on the up, she will want a good result here. Mitchelton have the luxury of also having D’Hoore among their ranks who is also an incredible one-day Belgian racer, not to mention they’ll both have the help of Allen, Crooks, Williams and Spratt; a strong outfit! I’d be surprised not to see them featured at the pointy end tomorrow.

Floortje Mackaij.

Like Mitchelton, Sunweb have an embarrassment of riches here at this race and it’s hard to know who their leader might be and I imagine they’ll just play it as it comes tomorrow. Mackaij has had a strong start to the year finishing in the top 10 of her last four races, including a win in Westhoek. She’s a tenacious Dutch rider who is at home in bad conditions but she also packs a good sprint from a reduced group. Of course Sunweb also have Rivera who will be their go-to if she’s there in the finale and then they also have Brand and Van Dijk too. The latter normally goes very well in this type of race and she recently won Hageland solo; will we see something similar tomorrow?

Lotta Lepistö.

A name that would be at the front of this race more often or not, it is hard to know where her form is at the moment due to a DNF in Drenthe. She started the season off slowly in Setmana, only picking up a 2nd place on one of the stages. She could win it or could come 80th!

Janneke Ensing.

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I have to include the winner of Le Samyn in this list! Ensing was super strong that day in some tough conditions and no doubt she will be looking forward to something similar tomorrow. Alé bring a fairly solid outfit and I would expect the likes of Hosking, Knetemann and Bastianelli to go deep into the race with the former obviously hoping to take a sprint victory after being so close so far this season.

Other names to conjure with include Cordon (Wiggle), Cromwell (Canyon), Andersen (Hitec), Koster (Waowdeals), De Jong (Experza).

Prediction

The race will be blown to bits, quite literally, in the wind tomorrow and there is no way that I can see the predicted bunch sprint that you would assume just if you had looked at the profile.

Mitchelton and Sunweb have the strongest teams here and they’ll hope to use numbers to their advantage and I would be surprised not to see them actively near the front. Given the windy conditions that are forecast, it will be very difficult to hold things together in the final laps of the circuit around De Panne.

It just screams Van Dijk solo attack/win to me!

Spar Omloop van het Hageland 2018 women

Coverage

The latter part of the race will be shown on Belgian TV and on the Eurosport Player which is great news! You’ll able to follow on twitter via #UCIWWT and #Driedaagse before then.

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Will we see a sprint in the end or will the weather wreak havoc over the peloton? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

Women’s Strade Bianche 2018 Preview

The first round of the Women’s World Tour is upon is and we’re set for a cracking race. Now in its 4th edition, we’ve had some brutal races in the past and I expect that to be no different this year.

2017 saw home-favourite Elisa Longo Borghini take a stunning victory as she outmanoeuvred Kasia Niewiadoma coming into the Piazza del Campo, with Lizzie Deignan taking third.

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It wasn’t easy for the trio even though they were the strongest on the day as their refusal to co-operate saw Brand and Gillow launch audacious late counter attacks. They were caught on the climb up to the Piazza in what was a gripping end to a great race and allowed for the spectacular picture above!

Will we see more of the same this year? Let’s take a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

Longer than 2017, the riders will face just over 30kms worth of gravel along the 136km route.

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The longest section they will traverse comes at around the half-way point in the race and this will be the place where the field starts to split up. I would imagine one or two teams will come to the front and push the pace on, reducing the group down to 50 or so riders.

From there it will be tough to control and we might see a counter attack and a new breakaway form but things will be brought to heel once we enter the closing stages.

 

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The two gravel sections in the closing 20km are where ELB and co did the damage last year. After the first segment we did get a bit of a regrouping but it was just before the final Strade and once again the stronger riders made a difference there. As I mentioned above, it was only due to their lack of co-operation on the rolling 12kms that remained which resulted in Brand and Gillow coming from behind and straight over the top. If they had worked together then those dropped would have had no chance of getting back.

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The climb into Siena is brutally steep but at only 500m the puncheurs can hang on with the proper climbers. It is important to be near the front at the crest though because positioning is vital thereafter.

As we saw last year leading through the narrow streets combined with good bike positioning means you can effectively block off anyone from passing, thus securing the win. It’s a tactically shrewd move but one that everyone should be aware of by now. Therefore the “real” finish line is with 200m to go!

Weather Watch

Given the surprising amount of snow that Italy has received over the past week, I’m sure the riders will be glad to know that it will be “just” rain on Saturday.

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Source: Windfinder

Although the women look set to have the slightly better conditions with more rainfall expected later on in the day, they are more likely to be on the brunt of stronger winds. Making it six or half a dozen really!

Either way, whoever wins come the end of the race will certainly deserve it.

Contenders

Elisa Longo Borghini.

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The defending champion arrives here after a solid outing in Omloop where she was on the attack. A great climber and one-day racer, she is one of the many women who seem to have been around for a while but she is still only 26. Those years of experience started to shine through last year with the win in Strade and good performances elsewhere such as a second at the Giro Rosa. I think she’ll find it difficult to double up but given her consistency here (3rd, 4th, 1st) then I would struggle to argue against her going close. With Audrey Cordon-Ragot as a team-mate she has a someone who can go deep into the race with her and even act as an attacker to force other teams to chase.

Katarzyna Niewiadoma.

With a stage-race already under her belt, the Canyon SRAM rider should be a little bit ahead of her rivals here in terms of racing miles. At that race she finished a fairly modest 7th but it was her performances on the climbs that impressed most, with only Moolman (who’s also here) being able to stick with her. Niewiadoma is another rider who is incredibly consistent at this race having finished 6th/2nd/2nd, she will be looking to finally get one-step higher this year. One massive advantage she will have compared to previous attempts is the strength of her team. Canyon should have both Cecchini and Ferrand Prevot in or around the top 10 at this race which means that they should be able to control it due to the numbers they have. Then again, this is Strade and it will be absolutely horrendous out on the roads so “control” might not be the word! I wonder how essential PFP’s cyclocross and mountain bike experience will be.

Megan Guarnier.

The winner of the inaugural edition back in 2015, the American lines up here for her first race of the season. After an exceptional 2016 last year seemed like somewhat of a step back in terms of results, with only two wins to her name. She was exceptionally consistent but given the fighter she is I imagine that she will want to return to those previous levels this season. A strong climber with a fast sprint she has every chance of a win if she has the form. Boels also have the very luxury second option of the Queen of the Ardennes; Anna van der Breggen. She’s finished 5th on both occasions that she has raced here, but with the aim of peaking for the Ardennes again, will she have enough in the locker for a good result this year? Deignan is on one of the start lists that I have looked at but she is not in the official preview on the Boels website so she may or may not be here too! It certainly adds another dynamic if she is.

Ashleigh Moolman.

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As already mentioned above, Moolman has some good racing in her legs at Setmana last week. Interestingly, she never finished outside the top 10 on any of the stages and managed to take home second on GC. There is clearly some form there! This is a race she has done in the past with a 4th place in 2015 but she was only capable of 18th last year. It should suit her punchy characteristics and given she has been involved in a few sprints, her power figures must be good for the short and sharp efforts. Such a classy rider, could she be described as a dark horse for this race?

Amanda Spratt.

With Garfoot no longer on the team and Van Vleuten competing in Apeldoorn the mantle of leading Mitchelton Scott is left with “Spratty”. Having won the Women’s Tour Down Under she has returned to racing in Europe in an attacking mood, having been off the front of both the Belgian races last weekend. Just missing out on the key move last year she finished strongly to come home in 8th place. She’s certainly capable of improving on that this season and a top 5 is possible. I’m intrigued to see how team-mate Kennedy goes in these conditions.

Janneke Ensing.

Full of confidence after winning Le Samyn des Dames on Tuesday the Ale Cipollini rider will be hoping to improve on a 13th place last year. She’s a solid climber although she isn’t up there with the best in the discipline. However, theoretically she should love the grim conditions that are forecast for Saturday given her background in speed skating. With an attacking attitude, she might be able to sneak away from the “major contenders” and just surprise everyone by holding on.

Shara Gillow.

The second Australian in the list, she had to unfortunately cut short her racing time Down Under due to a crash. However, she returned at Setmana and finished a very respectable 8th on GC. Apparently attacking to bridge the gap to the leaders on the opening stage, she was closed down by their team-mates. Her form must be good and she is always a consistent performer in the hilly one-day races. I expect a top 10 and anything near the top of the order wouldn’t surprise me too much but it would be difficult to win as she is not the punchiest!

One other name that I want to throw out there (mainly because she is in my season-long fantasy team) is Pauliena Rooijakers.

Pauliena

I can’t imagine many of you will have heard of the WaowDeals rider but she is the former Dutch and European Beachrace champion. After competing in that discipline full time in past few years this season her focus will be more on the road. A capable climber on her day she won the Queen Stage of the Tour Cycliste Féminin International de l’Ardèche last year, along with a few notable top 10’s in hilly one-day races. Her background in beach racing should see her at home on the Strade and I’m quietly hoping for a good result; a top 10 would be an incredible achievement.

Prediction

Form, team, parcours and race history all point to one rider; Katarzyna Niewiadoma.

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She is a truly incredible bike rider with a string of great results and it is amazing to think she is still only 23! Punchy enough to cope with the accelerations on the climbs, I have a feeling we didn’t see her go 100% in Setmana and she was holding something back for this race. The one big advantage she has compared to last year is the strength of her team which will be a big help; she shouldn’t have to chase every attack herself. On the sprint up to the Piazza no one will be able to follow her and she’ll take a great win.

I’m not someone to make outlandish, season-long claims…wait, no, I am, but I think she will be World Champion this year. No pressure Kasia!

Coverage

Much like last year, I think we’re going to be able to watch the final 45 minutes of the race live on Eurosport player. I’m not 100% sure at the moment as it doesn’t specify on the schedule but that seems to be the case. It will more than likely be without commentary though so I’ll pester your Twitter timelines with updates instead!

Thanks as always for reading! I’m certainly looking forward to the Women’s World Tour starting again with this incredible race. Who do you think will win on Saturday? Will we see an upset? I don’t normally beg for anything but if you could please retweet the preview to share it around then that would be greatly appreciated; my women’s previews unfortunately don’t seem to get the same coverage as the men’s do. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Women’s Road Race World Championships Preview – Bergen 2017

After some strong performances in the individual time trial on Tuesday, the rider’s focus now switches to the road race on Saturday afternoon.

Last year in Doha we had a large bunch sprint that was won rather surprisingly by Denmark’s Amalie Dideriksen.

Cycling: 89th Road World Championships 2016 / Women Elite

Pre-race favourite Wild could only manage second, with Finland’s Lepistö getting up for third. Two of those three are here this year, with Wild as a reserve for the Dutch team, will they be up at the pointy end come the finish tomorrow?

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

The Route

The women will face 8 laps of the circuit around Bergen, totalling 152.8km; which makes it one of the longer races the peloton will face all year.

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As for the circuit itself, it can be described as rolling with very little flat all day. Taken in isolation it is not too difficult but it can be made hard by some aggressive racing.

BergenRR Circuit

You can view my interactive profile for the circuit here.

The most challenging part of the route is of course “Salmon Hill”; I guess the sponsors wanted to get something out of the week! However, the road does ramp upwards before then and the climb can be taken as a 3.7km test.

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It’s not steep like the climb we had in the time trial, but it is long enough to cause some splits in the bunch. Will a rider try to take advantage of some of the sharp ramps to get an advantage?

With 10km to go from the crest, it could be tough for someone to stay away though. A small group definitely has a better chance.

Conversely, those final 10km allow for a chase to get organised and reel it in. “Organised” is the key word there though! In both the road races today, the chase was not coherent enough and the escapees held on for victory. Will something similar happen tomorrow? I’ll guess we’ll have to wait and see…

How will the race pan out – Dominant Dutch?

As is often the case when we arrive at World Championship’s the Dutch bring a formidable team. We saw this last year when they had a superstar squad in support of Kirsten Wild, but one that would be allowed to chase an opportunity if it arose. Unfortunately it didn’t work out last year so they’ll be hoping to bring another World title home this time.

I could feasibly make an argument for all of their starting 8 riders to win the race, although some would be more farfetched than others. Nonetheless, it just highlights their immense strength in-depth. I’m not sure they go into the race with an out-and-out leader; possibly Vos might be kept back for a bunch sprint. But then again, Blaak or Pieters could fill that role if the 3x-former champion is allowed to do what she wants. Van Vleuten and van der Breggen were exceptional in the time trial and both clearly are in great form. I imagine they will be the prime attackers, hoping to split the race up on Salmon Hill. Can anyone follow?

I think if we see a group escape in the closing laps that has 2 Dutch riders within it then that will be game over and the winner will come from there.

The one reason I say this is because no other team has an Ellen van Dijk. She is incredible and can bring back strong breakaways herself by setting a strong tempo at the head of the peloton.

There are a few teams who might hope for a 40-50 rider sprint, such as Denmark, USA and maybe Australia, but I don’t think anyone has the firepower to bring back a strong move on their own. They’ll need a lack of cohesion up ahead, and a lot of co-operation behind for that to happen.

The next to consider is that if the smaller group will come to the line and sprint it out, or if it will fragment and split again. That of course all depends on numbers and team representatives, but I think it will split into a smaller group which will battle it out for the win.

Possible Contenders

Aside from the Dutch team, there are plenty of riders who will love the route tomorrow but the following list won’t be excessive, so apologies if I have missed someone you were looking/hoping for.

Coryn Rivera.

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The US pocket rocket has had a great first year racing for a European team. She’s proven that she is much more than a fast sprinter though as her climbing has developed a lot. In the Ardennes she was able to follow the best until the very final stages of the race. I don’t think the US team will be banking on it coming back for a big bunch sprint tomorrow so both Rivera and Guarnier will be given license to attack. If the Sunweb rider does come to the line in a small group, she has to be the favourite.

Hannah Barnes.

The British team have one of the favourites in the shape of Deignan but her form is unknown just now after having her appendix removed. I think they’ll ride an aggressive race and hope to get two riders into any strong move that goes off the front. With everyone marking Deignan, then Barnes could make the final selection. She performed above expectations in the TT so she is in good shape. Not as strong a climber as some of the others, she won’t be too far off the pace but will hope that the final selection will have gone before Salmon Hill. With a fast sprint after a tough day, she is an outsider to keep an eye on!

Pauline Ferrand Prevot.

Former World Champion and arguably the rider with one of the best season’s of all time back in 2014/2015 when she held 3 separate World titles, the Frenchwoman has a good chance of going well again here. A pretty uneventful season due injury and illness; she’s only managed 8 race days so far; picked up again at Plouay where she finished second to Deignan. Since then she has went on to podium at the mountain bike Worlds and could really have challenged Neff for gold if it had not been for an untimely puncture. She can climb and with a fast sprint from a small group, she won’t be afraid to bring it to the line.

Shara Gillow.

A rider who I have grown fond of over this season (it has absolutely nothing to do with her being in my season long fantasy team, I promise), the Aussie can climb with some of the best in the world on her day. I expect their squad to be attacking all day and Gillow is certainly someone who can follow attacks on the climbs. She lacks any kind of sprint really, but she makes up for that by being a strong time trial rider. Something I’m sure Carlton will remind you of tomorrow! If we get a group out front and she times her attack perfectly, it might just stick. Look out for her and her now standard snood off the front!

Leah Kirchmann.

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Another one of those riders who is a solid climber but also packs a good sprint. She recorded a top 15 back at Liege in the Spring which highlights her ability on the short climbs. However, she might find it difficult to follow some of the strong climbers if they go crazy on Salmon Hill. Nonetheless, if she can remain close to the front and there is some type of regrouping then she is a danger in the sprint.

As I mentioned above, of course there are several riders who could contest but I’ve only cherry-picked a handful for the preview. It should be an open race but I don’t think the winner will be a “surprise”.

Prediction

The Dutch to have ‘too many cooks’ and with everyone expecting them to chase down every move as the strongest team; Pauline Ferrand Prevot to take advantage and win her second road title, signalling that her career is back on track!

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Van der Breggen to pick up her second second of the week, with Barnes coming home just behind them in third.

Betting

Three selections from me to cover a few options; PFP as my favourite, Barnes as an outsider, then Gillow as a solo arrival. I’ve already backed Barnes at 300/1 but that price is long gone. I think the 66/1 available is still worth a punt though.

1.5pt EW PFP @ 20/1 with Ladbrokes/Coral (would take 16s)

0.75pt EW Barnes @ 66/1 with SkyBet/PP/BF (would take 50s)

0.5pt WIN Gillow @ 150/1 with Bet365 (would take 100s)

 

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Can anyone outsmart the Dutch team? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Women’s Individual Time Trial World Championships Preview – Bergen 2017

After the somewhat of a shock win from Sunweb on Sunday in the team effort, our focus now turns to the individual race against the clock and riders are back to riding for their country, not trade teams!

The power course in 2016 saw Amber Neben of the USA take a surprise win, beating Van Dijk and Garfoot into the silver and bronze medal positions respectively.

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The 42 year-old is here to defend her title but there are plenty of others looking to take it from her. First though, let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

The women will complete just one “long lap” around Bergen, which is quite disappointing if I’m honest. Especially when you consider that the U23 men completed a “long” and “short” lap for their event today!

Anyway, as per usual I’ve made a Strava/Veloviewer profile of the route that you can view here.

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A fairly flat and not overly technical opening 5.6km will allow the power riders in the peloton to open up the taps and hopefully get into a rhythm. However, after that they will then face the toughest part of the course where that “rhythm” might get thrown out of the window!

Rolling Section Women's TT

Lots of small drags and fast descents for the riders to tackle, the term “rollercoaster route” describes this section perfectly. Averaging 2.7% for the 4.4km it isn’t too tough and the more traditional TTers would hope not to lose too much. Well, that is until we get to the climb that has put to bed some of the contenders chances over the past few days of action.

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A short but very sharp climb, it is important to pace it and not go too deep. The lighter riders will hope to make up some time here but given its length, they won’t be able to make up much. If only the women finish on Mount Floyen too!

The reason pacing is important, is because the riders still have more than half of their ride to complete.

That closing 11kms actually average -1% so it can be a place for riders to gain a lot of time if they nail the descents and put the power down on the flat. We saw this in the women’s TTT with Sunweb gaining roughly 15 seconds on Boels over that section. Can Van Dijk do it again?!

Weather Watch

Over the past few days it has hardly rained. We had a smattering during the women’s junior TT earlier but in the city that is apparently one of the wettest in the world it has been a lot less than expected.

However, that might change tomorrow.

Saying that different forecasts have different outlooks. You can’t trust meteorologists these days!

So I’ll go off of Yr.no (A Norwegian site) which hopefully should be the most accurate*…

*famous last words.

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Source : YR.no

It seems that we’re in for another sprinkling of rain in the afternoon, which in theory should affect those late on in the order.

Speaking of which, Lauren Stephens is first down the ramp at 15:35 local time, with defending champion Neben off last at 16:54.

You can view the full start list and times here.

Contenders

I’m really not sure what to make of this race tomorrow. We have a whole host of riders who in theory could compete on this course, but it all depends on their form!

Lauren Stephens.

First down the ramp, the American will no doubt set the fastest time early on but it could be one that might stand a while. She’s been very impressive so far this season, taking 3 wins to her name, including two-time trials. Possibly benefiting from better weather, can the strong all-rounder shock the peloton?

Anna van der Breggen.

World Championships - Womens TT

The rider who could potentially knock Stephens off that early hot-seat, the Dutchwoman has had a great season; winning a famous Ardennes Triple. Her efforts against the clock have been solid, but she’s failed to win a TT. The course tomorrow suits her as a strong all-rounder but I think she might prefer a few more hills.

We’ll then have to wait a bit for riders to challenge the times of the two above. There will be some who might come close but I can’t see anyone beating them for almost another hour…

Annemiek van Vleuten.

The bookmaker’s favourite for this race “Vleuty” has been incredibly strong this season, bouncing back form her horror crash in Rio last year. Everything she’s touched recently has turned to gold pretty much, it has been a truly remarkable effort. She will arrive her full of confidence after beating Van Dijk in the recent Boels Rental Tour and she has every chance to do that again. My one doubt about her is that as she has been so strong for a large percentage of the year, is she starting to tire now, while others have managed their peaks a lot better?

Ellen Van Dijk.

The third Dutch rider/potential winner on the start list, she was instrumental in helping Sunweb to the TTT title on Sunday. A powerhouse on the bike, the course looks almost ideal for her. She is one of the last riders down the start ramp so she’ll be hoping any rain holds off until after she has finished, but she will be up there fighting either way. I imagine she will be satisfied with nothing less than Rainbow at the end of the day.

Amber Neben.

Last year’s somewhat of a shock winner, we could well be in for another surprise again. I personally don’t know much about her as I only started following the women’s side of the sport a few years ago, but she apparently can put out some serious watts. At 42 years old though, surely this is a step too far? Then again, winning your first Worlds at 41 kind of negates that a bit…

Olga Zabelinskaya.

10-08-2016 Giochi Olimpici Cronometro Elite Donne; 2016, Russia; Zabelinskaia, Olga; Rio De Janeiro;

A strong TT rider with a “dubious” racing history, she always seems to go fairly well at the big events. Her form this season has been poor though and she disappointed at the Euro Champs. However, given her ability to surprise then who knows what we’ll get from her tomorrow!

Katrin Garfoot.

Not too far off the pace last year, where she somewhat avoided the Haughey Curse and managed to take third; she will obviously be hoping to go better this time round. Like Van Dijk, this course looks great for the naturalised Aussie who can manage on the climbs but also put the power down on the flat. She has been slowly building some form and a third place during the Tour of Norway is promising. Watch out for her!

Others to look out for to be in and around the top 10 include Villumsen, Brennauer, and Duyck.

Prediction

Hmmm, I’m still really torn on this one.

The course suits a rider who can climb fairly well but is strong enough on the flat to put the power down. Before the Championships started I had this down as van Vleuten’s to win, but after watching the opening few days of racing I’m not so sure. In fact, I’ve changed my mind and I think Van Dijk has the best chance for the Dutch team.

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The European Champion to add a World title to her collection!

Watch out for Garfoot though, I think she could sneak a podium place and possibly even better…

Betting

The 7/2 available for Van Dijk to win is very tempting but I’m still not overly convinced. So to take out any “shocks” we might see, I think that the 2/1 to beat Van Vleuten offers some value.

I’m also tempted to back the Garfoot to beat Villumsen H2H at 5/4 as on this course I would have the Aussie as favourite.

I also think Garfoot is way overpriced as an outside podium contender at 22/1. As a rider who turned pro late (back in 2014) she’s since gone on and finished 11th/4th/3rd over the past three World TT competitions. Not bad. I think she’ll be close again tomorrow and has to be backed at the price.

So with all that said (including some of me talking through my logic) my punts are as follows –

3pts Van Dijk to beat van Vleuten @ 2/1 (would take 13/8)

5pts Garfoot to beat Villumsen @ 5/4 (would take at 10/11)

1pt EW Garfoot to win @ 22/1 (would back down to 14/1)

 

Thanks as always for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated. Who do you think will win tomorrow? I think we’ll be in for an exciting and close afternoon of TT action. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.