Tour de France 2018 GC Preview

Tour de France 2018 GC Preview

In 2017 we saw a rather dominant Chris Froome win by ‘only’ 54 seconds ahead of Rigoberto Uran with Romain Bardet edging Landa by one second to round out the GC podium.

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I say ‘only’ above as it was actually Froome’s smallest winning margin in all 4 of his victories so far, but he never looked in that much trouble throughout the three weeks. Obviously it was a measured effort so that he could go on to win the Vuelta later in the year, then the Giro this year. Can he make it an incredible 5th Tour win and 4th GT win in a row?

No fancy business here because as I’ll be doing daily stage previews I’m just ducking any route analysis here and just jumping straight into the favourites. I would recommend this preview from Road.cc though as they cover each stage in concise paragraphs. Much better than my ramblings!

I’m also going to be blunt with some riders as I don’t really rate their overall chances. Also you’ll have read many previews by now and if I’m honest, I can’t really bothered to rehash what others have said.

Anyway, onto the contenders and pretenders…

The Favourite 

Chris Froome.

Despite what your opinion is (I’m sure you all know mine by now) on the whole salbutamol case, the bottom line is that Froome is cleared and is here to race. Nothing like a bit of pre-Tour drama though with ASO apparently going to ban him before UCI/WADA announcing the following day that his case was dropped. More drama than Love Island!

At the Giro Froome was seemingly way off the pace but two remarkable days on the bike, Zoncolan and Stage 19, saw him claw back an almost 3 minute deficit to Dumoulin with some more left in the bag. With an extra week between the Giro and Tour, he should have recovered reasonably well. His team is super strong, as you would expect, and he will have a lot of support on the flat and in the mountains. It will be interesting to see how he can handle the cobbled stage – it will certainly bring back bad memories from crashing out in 2014. No doubt he starts as the favourite and will gain time in the efforts against the clock but can we really expect a rider to win four Grand Tours in a row? I hope not, for the sake of the sport.

The Waiting for Froome to falter-ers

Richie Porte.

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Can Richie survive a Grand Tour without a bad day? That is the million dollar question. If he does, then he will play a massive role in the outcome of this race. Arguably the best rider on a 15 minute climb in the World, he will hope to display some of that trademark out of the saddle “sprint-climbing” in this race. At the Tour de Suisse he was strong and took home that race but I get the sense that he still wasn’t at 100%, there is still room for improvement from him. Compared to what he has been used to in the past couple of seasons this looks like his strongest BMC support team. They have all terrain covered to shepherd Porte around France and he should be able to rely on Van Garderen and Caruso deep into many of the mountain days. I started off this season thinking that Porte would win the race and although my mind has been slightly changed, he still starts as one to beat if he stays on his bike.

Romain Bardet. 

The AG2R man has finished on the podium the past two years and will be hoping for a similar result this year, if not better. A third in the recent Dauphiné was a good and highlights that his form is heading in the right direction but that he has not peaked too soon. In last year’s edition of the race I loved the way AG2R attacked Sky in the mountains and they bring an even stronger squad with them this time out. He shouldn’t lose a crazy amount of time in the TTT as a result but I do have a slight worry for him on the cobbled stage. Then again, who of the GC contenders will truly be comfortable then? A big day is needed from Naesen! In the mountains he (alongside Porte) is one of the few riders I am confident can actually challenge Froome. With a few stages ending in descents from climbs, he will be in his element and certainly put pressure on the other GC contenders.

Nairo Quintana.

Is the Colombian back to his climbing best? It looks like it after his strong showing in the Tour de Suisse and he was particularly impressive holding off the group of GC contenders on the shallow drag before the final steeper ramps of Arosa. He forms a very strong attacking trident with Valverde and Landa and I’m really looking forward to see how they approach the race. I just hope that at least two of them are in contention after the cobbled stage. We saw in 2015 just how strong Nairo can be in the final week of the race in the high mountains and the rest of his challengers will be concerned if he is within 2 minutes going into the closing stages. No doubt we’ll certainly see some enthusiastic Colombian fans at the side of the road!

The Podium Outsiders

Right, shorter musings from now on.

Vincenzo Nibali.

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Winner of the Tour when the race last visited the cobbles, the Bahrain rider has had a pretty average year so far. However, he knows how to peak for a race and he can never be discounted. With a strong team to support him, we will probably see him on the attack as he will no doubt have to claw some time back after the TTT.

Rigoberto Uran.

A surprising second place last year, I think it will be hard for the Colombian to repeat the feat this time around. He found some race sharpness in Slovenia recently but I just don’t think he has enough to do it. Then again, no one really mentioned him last year and look what happened.

Alejandro Valverde.

Mr Evergreen, Valverde has been incredibly strong this season so far, having won the GC of every stage race he has competed in. It was scary how easy things were for him in the recent La Route d’Occitanie, using the attacks of Elissonde and Navarro as training – deliberately letting gaps grow so he could close them down. He’s another that will probably be chasing time after the TTT but I look forward to his venture onto the cobbles – he didn’t do too badly in Dwars this year.

Adam Yates. 

Have Mitchelton learnt from his brother’s epic collapse at the Giro? In strong form after his second in the Dauphine (the gap to Porte would have only be a handful of seconds if it was not for the TTT), he will be able to rely on a well-rounded squad focussed solely on him. Can he handle the pressure?

Jakob Fuglsang.

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If there was ever a year when Fuglsang could seriously challenge for a podium spot then this would be it. He has a solid team built around him that should be able to support him on most terrain. Back in 2014 he was the one doing the majority of the work when Nibali gained a load of time on the cobbles so no doubt he’ll be licking his lips at that stage. We saw in the Tour de Suisse that he was stronger than Porte on the last day of climbing and he followed that up with a blistering TT. Has he managed to hold form?

Top 10 Fillers

Ilnur Zakarin.

The Katusha man is one of those riders that could really fall into a couple of categories in this preview. I fear he’ll lose some time in the TT and given his poor bike handling the cobbles will be an issue too. However, we saw in the Vuelta last year that he was one of the best climbers in the last week. It all depends on the opening 9 days though.

Geraint Thomas.

Team Sky Plan B but when has a Team Sky Plan B ever actually won a race? I certainly can’t recall a time. Needs Froome to drop out within the opening 9 days for him to get a dedicated team around him. Will he wait for his captain on the cobbles as theoretically he should be one of the strongest GC riders. It will be interesting to see how it plays out within the team.

Bob Jungels.

I rate him as a rider but I feel he’s just going to be a “he’s there” kind of rider this Tour. Top 10 would be a good result.

Daniel Martin.

Terrible team means he will lose a lot of time in the TTT and he will lose a lot of time on the cobbles too. Stage hunting later in the race would be a good idea if he just doesn’t want to ride for a top 10.

Steven Kruijswijk.

See Jungels.

Bauke Mollema.

See Kruijswijk.

The Pretenders

Riders that won’t top 10 despite a lot of people thinking they will. Ready to eat my hat here.

Primoz Roglic.

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He seems to be everyone’s favourite wildcard for the race but I just can’t see it. Having won both Itzulia and Romandie he then returned to racing recently and took the crown at his home tour. Unproven and untested, I think he will once again go for stage wins and focus on contending for the GC in a GT next year.

Tom Dumoulin.

The Sunweb rider has never done two GTs back to back while going for GC. After the brutally tough Giro I think he will fall short here and instead focus on going for some stage wins. The way that Sunweb approached this race to me seemed that Kelderman was going to be their GC candidate with Dumoulin acting as a decoy to deflect attention but unfortunately Kelderman crashed and can’t take the start.

Mikel Landa.

The boldest of the three riders listed here, I just can’t get behind the Landa train. I think something will go wrong for him on one of the days and with the two more established Movistar riders possibly getting a little extra support, Landa will lose his hopes on the cobbles. If he is in contact though I would love to see Rogue Landa again.

Egan Bernal.

Exceptional talent but he’ll fall into line, a.k.a behind Thomas and Poels. We might see something similar to Moscon at the Vuelta where he is exceptional for a while but due to his age he won’t be consistent.

Prediction

Probably Froome, innit.

But after resigning myself to that fate at the Giro I’m going to predict a more fairytale result here and go with Bardet to take home the first French win in a long time.

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Allez Romain!

Betting

Three pre-Tour bets for me, all that I’ve tweeted out over the past couple of weeks.

2pts EW Bardet @ 18/1 for GC (he’s actually out to 20/1 with Betfair Sportsbook but I would take the 16/1 widely available elswhere)

1.5pt Valverde Top 3 at 7/1 (available at Bet365 and Will Hill)

1pt EW Demare Points Classification at 20/1 (with Coral/Lads)

I had set aside 10pts for outright market bets but this is not the year to bet on KOM pre race but I might fancy something during the race.

Let’s just hope for a better Tour than Giro punting wise, I’ll be sticking to my favourite rule: 2pts a day keeps the debt collector away!

Thanks for reading as always and hope you enjoyed the preview. Who do you think will go on to win the race overall? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

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

Today’s Recap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Route

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or Chris Horner.

Weather Watch

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

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

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

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

How will the stage pan out?

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

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

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

What will be the difference tomorrow?

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

I think you know the answer…

Contenders

Contador.

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

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Froome.

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

Zakarin.

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

Nibali.

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

Lopez.

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

Kelderman.

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

Vuelta Picks

Same old stuff again!

Safe Pick – Zakarin

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

Wongshot PickLopez.

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

Lanterne Rouge Pick – Dunne

Good luck Conor!

Prediction

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

Instead, I think Majka wins tomorrow.

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

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

Betting

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

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

 

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

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

Today’s Recap

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

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

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

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

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

Will there be more significant gaps tomorrow?

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

The Route

What a stage!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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That looks like great fun…

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

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

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

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

How will the race pan out?

I’m hoping for chaos.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contenders

Froome.

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

Nibali.

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

Lopez.

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

Contador.

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

Kelderman and Zakarin.

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

Chaves.

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

Vuelta Picks

Safe Pick – Lopez

Should top 5 at least barring any misfortune!

Wongshot Pick – Bilbao

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

Lanterne Rouge Pick – Haga

There’s an illness floating about the Sunweb camp.

Prediction

It should be a Froome v Lopez v Nibali battle.

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

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

Betting

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

2.5pts EW Nibali @ 8/1

 

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

Vuelta a España 2017 Preview – The BFOG

Vuelta a España 2017 Preview – The BFOG

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

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

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

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

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

The Route – What You Need To Know

To some it up in a word: tough.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ouch. Ouch indeed!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GC Contenders and Pretenders

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

Chris Froome.

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

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

Vincenzo Nibali.

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

Alberto Contador.

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

Fabio Aru.

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

Miguel Angel Lopez.

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

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

Ilnur Zakarin.

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

Yates / Yates / Chaves.

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

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

Prediction

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

King of the Mountains

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

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

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

As for points distribution, it is as follows:

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

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

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

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

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

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

How will the KOM race pan out?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Merhawi Kudus.

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

Jetse Bol (2.0).

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

Larry Warbasse.

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

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

Points Classification

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vuelta Picks

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

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

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

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

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

Think you can beat me and take my money?!

*Hint – the answer is probably yes*

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

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

Spreadsheet above^^^

Betting

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

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

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

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

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

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

As for the Points jersey, it’s simple.

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

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

 

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Giro d’Italia 2017 Stage 21 Preview; Monza -> Milano

Today’s Recap

We saw some GC sparklers, not fireworks today, purely because everyone seemed equally on their limit!

Katusha pushed the pace early on which ultimately lead to a Zakarin attack on the final climb and he was joined by Pozzovivo. Unfortunately for them; Pinot, Nibali and Quintana bridged just after the KOM point.

We had a bit of cat and mouse-ing between that group and it looked for a while as if those dropped on the climb were going to get back on. However, thanks to some close motorbikes and some dodgy time gaps anyway, they were able to duke it out in the sprint to the line, holding onto a 15 second advantage from Dumoulin and co.

Pinot asserted his dominance as the fastest sprinter in the group, taking his first Giro win.

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Zakarin came home second with Nibali picking up some bonus seconds in third.

It leaves everything finely balanced going into the final TT.

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

The Route

A pan-flat course suited to the powerful riders in the peloton.

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The course descends at a very shallow rate from around 9km to go all the way to the finish. It won’t be too noticeable but it should certainly ensure that the speed will be kept high!

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Furthermore, it’s not an overly technical route either, with several long straights for the riders to put the power down. It is only once we get close to the centre of Milan that things get a bit more dicey.

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As you can see, there are a lot of 90-degree (some sharper) turns within the closing 5km so a rider willing to take some risks and carry speed through the corners can gain an advantage.

Thankfully for the riders, the weather looks to be holding up for most of the day and they should all face similar conditions.

Contenders

Dumoulin obviously will start the stage as favourite and rightly so. He absolutely decimated the opposition in the first time trial and compared to his GC rivals, this course suits him even better. However, has the past week taken too much out of him? He really struggled yesterday but coped relatively well today, commenting post stage that he had good legs. Riding a good TT after a tough Grand Tour is a completely different beast compared to resting for a few days and pulling out a result. It would be stupid of me to dismiss him, but I don’t think he’ll have it all his own way.

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From the GC contenders Zakarin, Pinot and Jungels look the most likely to contend with the Dutchman. The first two riders can pull off a good TT on their day and will be hoping for a much better performance than their first efforts against the clock. Although I’m sure both would prefer a slightly more undulating route. Jungels will definitely like the power course and he is a serious challenger to Dumoulin for the stage. Yet again though, it depends on how much the race has taken out of him but he has looked strong the past few stages after seemingly cracking on stage 18.

Who out of the non-GC riders will be contending?

Kiryienka  – Depends if he tries or not. If he does, he really should be up there but he only properly gets going after 20km so I’m sure he would have loved an extra 10km on top.

Luis Leon Sanchez – The first of the non-GC riders home in the first time trial, the Spaniard has been active this race in the mountains. He looked tired on yesterday’s stage but had a relatively quiet day in the saddle today, saving himself for tomorrow?

Jos Van Emden – After managing to finish in the top 10 on the first TT, the Dutchman should enjoy this flatter course even more. He rolled home today in the gruppetto and I would not be surprised to see him go well tomorrow.

As for some outsiders…

Stef Clement.

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He of Wongshot fame gets another mention. The Jumbo rider is a solid TT rider on his day but has been a bit anonymous in the discipline over the past few years. However, if he manages to find his legs then he can definitely compete as he is one of those riders who excels at this distance.

Tobias Ludvigsson.

I couldn’t go the whole Giro without naming one of my favourite riders, could I?! Working in support of Pinot, Ludvigsson has performed well as a domestique this Giro. He survived a fall a few stages ago and even ended up in the break the day after. With Pinot needing a good bench-mark time to aim at from his team-mates, Ludvigsson is the ideal candidate for that situation.

Prediction

It more than likely has to be Dumoulin, but that’s no fun, so I’ll go for everyone’s favourite Swede to upset the apple cart and beat his former team-mate.

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Betting

Tweeted out my selections before;

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So avoid those two at all costs!

 

Thanks again for reading, especially if you’ve stuck with my awful predictions for this Giro! Your continued support means a lot.

I’m not sure what’s next on the blog as I haven’t even spared any thought to the upcoming races yet. Most likely the Dauphine and the Women’s Tour. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

Giro d’Italia 2017 Stage 20 Preview; Pordenone -> Asiago

Today’s Recap

So apparently I missed a lot while sleeping this morning after work!

I woke up to see the riders on the final climb and Dumoulin slowly losing contact, but a quick scroll down Twitter also suggested that something else happened earlier in the stage. Either Dumoulin lost time and was gapped on a descent or the others attacked him while he was stopping for a nature break. Reading what the Sunweb director said, I think it was the former.

Up the road, Landa finally took a deserved stage win while simultaneously securing his KOM jersey.

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With Costa and Rolland following him home.

We did get some GC gaps and Quintana moves into Rosa after Dumoulin suffered on the final climb. Pinot has handily moved himself up to within a minute of Quintana and his certainly not out of it either. We should be in for an interesting final two days.

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

The Route

A tough day out but certainly not the hardest that the riders have faced.

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We have almost 100km of flat before we get the start of the climb to Monte Grappa.

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At 24.1km it’s long but only averages 5.3%. However, that doesn’t tell the whole story as the first 8.5km of the climb averages 7.8%, which is certainly difficult enough to shed some riders out the back of the group.

The only issue with that is once we get to the summit of the climb, there is just under 70km to go to the line. With no Contador here, I think it’s unlikely we’ll see any kamikaze GC attacks on Grappa but you never know. I would love it if there was!

The riders will have to tackle a descent that is as long as the climb they’ve just been up, before traversing some valley roads to reach the foot slopes of Foza.

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A more regular climb than Grappa, Foza averages 6.7% for 14km. It is long/steep/close enough to the finish to put some riders into difficulty.

The only issue for some riders is that we have a 15km section of undulating road after the peak, with the last 5km being downhill.

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I’m sure a few riders will be happy to know that the downhill isn’t too technical aside from the last kilometre where it starts to flatten out anyway.

How will the stage pan out?

Another day where we have the conundrum of break or no break?

The first 100km of the stage in theory are easy to control for a team but who will take up the mantle? The onus will obviously be on Movistar to set tempo for the stage but Quintana has looked underwhelming so far this race, although he has managed to get into Pink!

Nibali today didn’t look great either, shipping a couple of seconds on the line. In fact, the two riders who looked the strongest were Pinot and Zakarin, both of whom are very much in podium contention now.

Are any of these teams dedicated/strong enough to set tempo all day to keep the break within touching distance?

I’m not so sure.

I think they’ll see how the race unfolds on the day and if the break is within touching distance over Monte Grappa, they might start pulling. If not, I think it will be another day to play…

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Contenders

The flat start makes it a difficult stage for the climbers to get into the break so we might get a mixed bag.

As I’m losing the will to live in terms of recycling names for this, I’ll come up with a couple of new names;

Diego Rosa.

The Italian was very strong in helping Landa on Stage 18, driving the break for the majority of the first three climbs. With the Spaniard now having a stage win and the KOM secured, Sky will now most likely turn to their other riders and give them a few opportunities. Rosa is strong enough on the flat to make the break, but he is an exceptional enough climber to win from a group as well.

Omar Fraile.

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With a stage win already in the bag, Fraile can go into this stage without any pressure. Brutishly strong on the stage he won, the Spaniard has the engine to join the break on the flat, but also the climbing ability to win. An attacking rider, he certainly won’t give up if he makes the move, taking the approach of finishing last is the same as 2nd.

GC Contenders

I think it will be hard to drop a lot of the GC favourites, but as I said above, Zakarin and Pinot look the strongest just now. In theory, the “flat” final 15km should suit those two and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them attacking over the top of Foza when the lighter climbers are isolated and weak.

If we do get a GC battle, I’ll go for a Zakarin win.

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Prediction

However, I think we’ll once again see a race on two fronts and the break will stay away. Sky will take back to back wins, with Diego Rosa coming out on top.

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Betting

The usual 2pts spread across the break duo as odds on Zakarin won’t change much when they go in-play.

1pt WIN Rosa @ 33/1

1pt WIN Fraile @ 40/1

Thanks for reading as always. Apologies that this is shorter than normal but I’m suffering from preview burnout! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

Giro d’Italia 2017 Stage 18 Preview; Moena -> Ortisei

Today’s Recap

Just like buses…

After waiting almost two years for a World Tour win, Cannondale got their second in one week with Pierre Rolland taking a fine stage victory today!

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He was not only the strongest in the break but also the tactically most astute, attacking the big group at the perfect time. With a disorganised chase behind, the Frenchman had enough time to sit up and properly celebrate his win.

Costa won the “bunch” sprint for second with Izagirre third.

All the GC contenders rode home safely, keeping their powder dry for tomorrow. Let’s tae a look at what’s in store for them.

The Route

A short but very sharp stage!

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At only 137km the riders will be in for a fast day in the saddle, albeit with five categorised climbs to contend with.

The road rises steadily from the gun (14.1km at 1.7%) before the peloton will tackle the first climb of the day. The Passo Pordoi is a fairly steady climb, averaging 6.7% for 11.85 kilometres.

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The same can be said for the following Cat-2 climb of Passo Valparola which averages a shade over 6.4% for almost 13km.

The riders then descend again before tackling the third climb of the day. However, by then a break will have been formed and it’s not difficult enough for the GC riders so I’m just going to gloss over it!

On the long descent that follows, the road does rise back up briefly for the Cat-3 climb and it could cause some issues with a peak gradient of 15%.

However, the stage should come down to the Cat-1 climb of Pontives and the run in to the line that follows it.

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At only 9.3km, it is not the longest climb the peloton will face, but after a stage that is constantly up and down it certainly won’t be easy. Averaging 6.8%, it is the final 3km which could cause some splits as it averages a more stinging 9.3%. This is where we could see some attacks from the GC favourites and those on a bad day might crack and go backwards.

Once over the summit, the riders won’t be at the finish line just yet and will have to contend with another 4km of rising road.

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A tough drag, riders struggling over the KOM could really struggle here as false-flats after a big effort can be a massive challenge. The road pitches up to 13% with 450m to go and any riders looking to avoid a sprint to the line will no doubt attack here.

How will the stage pan out?

With it being such a short day, it will be hard for a breakaway to build up much of a lead. Particularly when considering the way that Bahrain Merida have been riding over the past few stages. They set a fierce pace in the peloton over the first two climbs today and I expect them to do the same tomorrow.

Consequently, it will be another chance for the GC riders to go for stage glory on the day!

Contenders

It’s tough to see past those who were near the pointy end on Stage 16.

Nibali –  Obviously won that stage and is riding himself into form in the final week of a grand tour and in classic week-three Nibali style, he looks like he can follow anyone. On the steepest section of the closing climb, only Quintana was able to stick with the Shark and he will be hoping for something similar on the steep ramps towards the top of Pontives. Will the shark take a second bite out of the GC lead?

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Quintana – Supposedly still not at 100% after his crash, the Colombian looked relatively comfortable following Nibali but lost some time on the descent. He’ll be happy the stage ends with only a little descent! My only issue with him is that the finish isn’t ideal for him with the few kilometres of false flat after the steepest parts of the main climb. He’ll struggle to maintain any gap there.

Zakarin – Will be very glad that the stage ends on the top of a mountain after he lost over 30 seconds on the descent during stage 16. He’s always willing to attack (not always at the correct times morally), so he is sure to give it another go tomorrow.

Pozzovivo – It was nice to see him at the head of the race again but like Quintana, his light frame isn’t ideal for tomorrow’s finish. He’ll no doubt give it a go off the front though if he senses an opportunity.

Landa – Although not a GC candidate as such, the Sky rider was very strong on Stage 16 and it was only his naivety/poor cornering that allowed Nibali to win. Not being a GC threat, he will hope to be given some leeway.

As for the riders in the second group on Stage 16, I like Yates the best for a finish like this.

Prediction

However, I’ll go for none of the above.

Instead, I think current Maglia Rosa Tom Dumoulin will take another stage win.

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His nature break was clearly a freak occurrence because he climbed the Umbrailpass in an almost identical time to his rivals. That’s very impressive considering he rode most of it on his own while others were paced for a lot of the way! Taking tomorrow’s final climb on it’s own, it looks very similar to the finale into Oropa that Dumoulin won. After no one waited for him on Stage 16, I think he won’t be holding anything back and will want to re-stamp his authority on this race.

Betting

I was going to go EW on him, but his price has fallen from 18/1 to 12/1 when I’ve been finishing this off so the EW value has diminished a bit. So I think with that in mind I’ll just go;

2pts WIN Dumoulin @ 12/1 (with Bet365).

 

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

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

Giro d’Italia 2017 Stage 16 Preview; Rovett -> Bormio

Recap

My hopes were raised when I woke up to see Molard in the break, but they were quickly diminished when I saw Orica chasing and the small gap that they had!

Things were eventually brought to heel just as the peloton entered the final 3km and we were treated to a small flurry of attacks from the GC favourites. However, it came down to a very fast sprint and Jungels came out victorious.

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I wonder if he had that massive chain-ring on again?!

Quintana of all people got up for second, with Pinot third.

Let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders after the final rest day.

The Route

I imagine some riders wish they could have the rest of the week off looking at the profiles and the action all kicks off tomorrow.

Not exactly an easy day for the riders to ease themselves back into racing after the rest day, with 222km ahead of them and three massive mountains that all go above 1800m.

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The riders start with a nice bit of descending before the road gradually rises for the next 60km before they start the climb of the Mortirolo officially.

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12.6km at 7.6% average, the climb will certainly be a leg opener for the peloton. It *probably* comes too early in the stage to be of any real significance for the day, but you just never know! Expect those who are after KOM points to be battling it out here.

Once over the top, the riders will face a 14km descent before they start the approach towards the Stelvio. Again, the road rises for those 30km but the climb officially begins with just over 100km to go.

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21.7km at 7.1%, the passage also acts as the Cima Coppi for the race. A brutally tough and draining climb, the steep pitches in the final few kilometres look great for an attack from the bunch.

A long descent follows before the peloton re-climbs the Stelvio but this time from the Swiss side. The first time this has ever been done in the Giro!

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13.4km at 8.4%, the organisers have cruelly left the toughest climb of the day until the end. With very little respite, a rider on the limit can lose a massive amount of time here if they go too far into the red and pop.

The race then ends with a descent into Bormio.

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Almost as important as the climb, a rider can lose a lot of time here if they aren’t fully switched on because they’re tired from their previous efforts. With how technical the closing few kilometres are, let’s just hope a rider arrives solo or a group of three at most!

Weather Watch

Many of you will have memories of that stage back in 2014 when the Stelvio was covered in snow and Quintana didn’t see that the race was being neutralised…

Thankfully, the weather doesn’t look that bad this year.

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Source: Wunderground

The forecast for Bormio suggests that it will be a relatively pleasant day in the saddle with only a small chance of rain. However, as we know, this can change pretty quickly, especially in the mountains!

With the wind coming from the North, it will be a slight headwind for the traditional passage of the Stelvio, before being a tailwind for the Swiss ascent.

How will the stage pan out?

This is a tough one to predict on the best of days but it is made even more difficult after the rest day. Some riders might come out firing, whereas others might take a few climbs to get going!

It really depends on the composition of the morning break as to the size of an advantage the move can get. There are lots of riders way down on GC who will be given plenty of freedom. Even someone like Rui Costa who is 16 minutes behind in 17th place might get some leeway. However, if a rider such as Ben Hermans infiltrates the move, then a few other teams might start riding defensively to protect their top 10 position.

I imagine teams will be very keen to get riders up the road for later in the day so we could see a large breakaway of 20 guys or so. The issue is the amount of flat at the start of the stage which makes it more difficult for climbers to be there.

Ultimately though, it depends on Movistar’s attitude to the stage. They need to take a few minutes out of Dumoulin and I’m very intrigued to see how they approach that job. No doubt they’ll get someone ahead of the peloton to work for Quintana later, but when will the Colombian attack? Most likely near the top of the Stelvio I think.

Will the gap to the break be too big for the Colombian to win the stage after then, quite possibly and like always, I’m leaning towards that being the case.

What Sunweb need to do in my opinion is completely sit up when the break goes so that it gets a huge advantage of 10mins plus so that it becomes nigh on impossible for Quintana to attack and bridge to his team-mates, or any other GC rider for that matter. Play their contenders at their own game, and just trust Dumoulin to be able to follow his competitors’ wheels.

So once again, I think we’ll see a race on two fronts with the breakaway taking stage honours and a massive GC battle behind.

Breakaway Candidates

There will obviously be riders chasing the KOM jersey who try to get into the move, such as Fraile, Rolland and Landa, but I’m going to take a slightly different approach.

With the GC teams wanting to get riders up the road, we should see a few strong climbers from the big teams represented. If Sunweb are then ballsy enough to not properly chase, then a few of those riders might be given the chance to go for stage honours rather than be told to sit up and help their leader.

Winner Anacona.

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The Colombian seems to be in better form than Amador at the moment and I think would be more of an aid to Quintana than the Costa Rican. However, if the gap is too big for Quintana to bridge, then Anacona could be given the green light to go for the stage. He is in exceptional form at the moment and I think that there won’t be many riders capable of beating him.

Sebastien Reichenbach.

Another left-hand man for a GC contender, the Swiss rider has had a very solid race so far in aid of Pinot, often being one of the last domestiques standing amongst the GC guys. He seems to be slowly finding some form this race, building for a big last week. With the stage crossing into his home country, I’m sure he’d like to put on a show!

Carlos Verona.

The Spaniard has been mostly anonymous so far this Giro, but he showed on the front on the previous stage, doing a lot of work for Yates. He’s another rider who seems to building some form nicely. A very strong climber, he should like tomorrow’s terrain and could well take the day. With Yates not too close to the head of the GC order, I think Orica will be happy to let Verona or Plaza go for the stage with the Brit doing what he can behind.

Joe Dombrowski.

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Third week of a Grand Tour so time to start backing the American again! One of the strongest riders in the peloton going by numbers, he still has to master some racing craft. Nonetheless, if he gets into the break it will be tough for a lot of riders to follow him on the climbs.

GC Contenders

It is hard to see past Quintana for this. Although I am bitterly aware I said that on the finish to Oropa! Nonetheless, when considering the altitude the riders will be over, it really does benefit the Colombian over the likes of Dumoulin.

The Dutchman has been strong so far but this is his acid test. If he comes through the day relatively unscathed, losing roughly a minute, he will be very confident of taking the Giro overall.

As for the other contenders, who knows! Nibali always goes well in the final week and after his bad day on Oropa, you would expect Pinot to hopefully bounce back here on a stage with a lot more climbing that is suited to him. Zakarin is also looking strong and will hope to cement his podium charge.

Prediction

I think the break will build up a big enough gap to take the stage honours, it is a 222km long day after all so the GC teams won’t want to go too crazy early on.

I say hesitantly before we get a full gas stage from the start and half the peloton OTL.

Nonetheless, with a few strong climbers up the road and a couple of GC riders cracking behind, I think we’ll see a good climbing domestique take the win. Reichenbach to take the day after the stage goes through his home country!

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Betting

Small stakes on the breakaway punts as it’s too risky to be backing Quintana for the stage.

0.5pt WIN on them, all with Bet365 as well (although also available with PP/BF);

Reichenbach @ 125/1

Anacona @ 125/1

Dombrowski @ 150/1

Verona @ 250/1

Thanks as always for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated as normal! Who do you think will win? Will we see a breakaway make it all the way to the line, or will a GC rider take the stage? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

Giro d’Italia 2017 Stage 10 Preview; Foligno -> Montefalco

Rest-Day Recap

Quintana won the stage on Blockhaus after a very impressive display, but almost equally impressive were Pinot and Dumoulin who only shipped 24 seconds to him on the day. I’m sure the Colombian won’t be as pleased with that outcome as he is in the picture below!

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As for the motorbike incident that has been a talking point for the last day here are, erm, My Two Spokes Worth.

The bike should obviously have never been pulled over in that place, heck, even if it was pulled over further ahead to give the riders time to adjust, considering it was pulled up roughly 100m after a bend. It seems to be far too regular occurrence in cycling nowadays but as Brian Smith said on Eurosport, organisers and governing bodies can’t keep saying, “something needs to be done”, they need to actually take action. I’m sure the motorbike driver will be well aware of the outcome and will no doubt feel pretty shit but this whole trial by social media isn’t going to help anything.

As for those saying Movistar should have waited: the race was on and they had been pulling for the past 30km. It wasn’t as if they suddenly came to the front when it happened to take advantage. If a majority of the field had come to grief then they might have stopped, but I see no issue with what they did. Should we see sprint trains stop as they approach the end of the race due to crashes caused by barriers that protrude onto the road?

Thankfully none of the riders were seriously injured, although Kelderman and Rosa were unfortunately DNFs because of it. Nonetheless, I’m sure it won’t be the last we’ll see of Thomas, Yates and company this race as they’ll possibly animate later stages.

Right, now that’s out the road, let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders tomorrow.

The Route

A rolling 39.8km TT, but certainly not the most difficult in terms of climbing.

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As is TT tradition, I’ve made the route on Strava that you can view here, for those of you that prefer a more interactive profile.

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Interestingly, the organisers have tweaked the route ever so slightly since it was originally announced; making the first climb easier and removing a tricky second climb.

The riders will start with over 12km of flat as they leave Foligno before tackling the first climb on the route. Averaging 3.2% for 5.2kms, it should be a seated effort for most of the riders. However, it does go up in sections and there are some ramps of 6-7% so the change of gradient might catch a few riders out.

From there, the riders will continue along a plateau before another small kick up (900m at 4%) before a quick descent. The road then undulates for the following 10km with a few shallow rises but nothing too severe, before the riders start the drag to the line.

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According to the official profile it is a 5.75km rise averaging 2.17%, whereas my Strava profile indicates that it’s 4.8km long at 3%. Not a massive discrepancy but nonetheless there is a slight difference. Either way, it is a climb for the strongmen of the peloton who are able to put a lot of power down in the shallower gradients, especially when you consider it will be into a headwind!

The weather in Foligno has been a talking point today with there being severe thunderstorms…

However, it is supposed to be dry tomorrow and we should get even conditions for most of the riders. Will the roads have cleared up by then?

Contenders

With this type of course being suited to a more powerful rider, I think a few of the GC contenders (pure climbers), could lose a lot of time. Will that be to anyone else who’s in contention for the title though?

Well, Tom Dumoulin starts as the bookmakers favourite and it is understandable why. He looked exceptionally strong on Blockhaus and is clearly flying on the climbs right now. Will that translate to a good TT though? I’m not so sure. He’s been struggling recently with his time trial, and hasn’t looked great in them since his silver medal at the Olympics last year. Having lost a lot of weight to stay closer to the best on the climbs I think he might struggle on the flatter parcours tomorrow, which is reassuring actually! I am looking forward to seeing him in action though, he does look effortless on a TT bike.

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Bob Jungels will hope to recover some of the time he lost on Blockhaus tomorrow with a good performance. At last year’s Giro, he was comfortably the best GC rider in the atrocious conditions in Chianti, putting over a minute into Dumoulin. This type of route suits him very well as one of the more “heavy-set” GC riders. Exceptionally strong on the flat, windy stage 3 into Cagliari, I think he’ll podium tomorrow.

Vasil Kiryienka loves a long TT although he hasn’t really been able to show his strength since winning the World Championships in 2015. With Team Sky’s GC hopes looking less likely, I think they’ll give Kiryienka the nod to go full gas. He’ll eat up the flat and the climbs. Plus, his experience will be very valuable so that he paces himself well and doesn’t blow up on the final drag to the line.

Thibaut Pinot is a solid TTer and he will hope to take time over his GC rivals on this course, especially Quintana. He was up there on a similar style of course in Andalucia at the start of the year, although that stage was a 3rd of the distance. That is where my issue lies with him, he’s unproven over longer TTs. He won’t lose much time I don’t think, but he certainly won’t gain any over the likes of Jungels etc.

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Geraint Thomas will be hoping to bounce back with a good time tomorrow. One of the reasons I had backed him pre-race for the podium is because of the amount of TT kilometres in the race. This type of strong-mans course should suit him well, but will he suffer the same issues with weight that Dumoulin might?

Other GC names to throw into the hat are Amador and Zakarin who can both pull off a good TT on their day.

Away from the GC guys watch out for Lotto Jumbo pairing of Campenaerts and Van Emden, who will no doubt be going full gas to give Kruijswijk the best possible reference times. The same can be said for blog favourite Ludvigsson!

Prediction

Bold as ever, but I genuinely don’t think Dumoulin wins. He’s struggled in TTs since losing weight and I think there are riders here better equipped for this type of course, Jungels to name one.

However, I’m not going for him, instead I think Kiryienka will be let off the leash to have a proper go tomorrow.

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It would be a great way for Sky to bounce back after what happened on Stage 9. The Belarusian is a brute of a rider and he’ll eat up any terrain that is in front of him. He is truly exceptional on the longer individual efforts!

Betting

Now the question is whether to play it “safe” and take him EW or just go for win only. Playing it safe means doubling the stake and doubling the potential loss if he just doesn’t bother trying at all. So from that perspective, I think I’ll just take him straight up with what I would put on as an EW bet but just put that stake on outright.

3pts WIN Kiryienka at 8/1 with Coral (would take down 7/1 available elsewhere)

Thanks as always for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated. Who do you think will win tomorrow? Will there be large time gaps between the GC riders? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Fight for the Maglia Rosa – Giro d’Italia 2017 GC Preview

Fight for the Maglia Rosa – Giro d’Italia 2017 GC Preview

With the Spring Classics now finished the peloton moves into the next phase of the season, starting with the Giro d’Italia. Arguably my favourite Grand Tour out of the three, the race celebrates its 100th edition this year with a spectacular route.

Last year’s race saw a dogged Nibali win the overall on the penultimate stage, with Chaves in second and ever-green Valverde rounding out the podium.

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Would he have won if Kruijswijk hadn’t famously crashed? I guess we’ll never know, but no doubt the Dutchman will want to make amends this year.

The Route

As I’ll be doing daily stage previews, this section won’t be that extensive at all!

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Stage 1 will should see a sprinter take the leaders jersey, but they will be hard fought to hold onto it the following day where an opportunist might seize his chance.

Stage 4 could see an early GC shake up before we get a few more sprint/opportunist stages. We’re then treated to the big mountain top finish at Blockhaus on stage 9.

A rest day follows, but so does the first TT of the race and no doubt Dumoulin will be hoping to take over the leader’s jersey here. Over the next few days there are more rolling, testing routes before the final rest day.

It all kicks off in the final week though with one of the wackiest routes I’ve seen; the amount of climbing is crazy!

However, it may all even come down to the final TT into Milan as it is certainly long enough for there to be large time gaps.

So…

Contenders

Nairo Quintana.

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Where else to start than with the clear favourite? The Colombian had a “poor” Tour last year but still managed to finish on the podium and he followed that up by winning the Vuelta at the end of the year. So far this season he has shown impeccable form in the stage races he has taken part in, we’ll just not mention the shadow boxing at Abu Dhabi. In his last build-up race (Vuelta Asturias) and his first since a long period in Colombia, he managed to take a stage win but couldn’t take the overall title. In fact, on the two main climbing days he was unable to drop the eventual winner Raul Alarcon. I guess he doesn’t want to peak too early if he’s going to do the Giro-Tour double!

Thibaut Pinot.

After talking him up for Tour success last season, he failed miserably after falling ill and losing all form. Dare I say that he looks as good as he did before that Tour? So far this season he’s beaten Contador on a mountain top finish and he was never outside the top 5 on any stage at the recent Tour of the Alps. An improved time trial rider the Frenchman really has a great chance at the podium and without the pressure of a home crowd we might see him thrive.

Tom Dumoulin.

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The Sunweb rider has had a fairly light race schedule so far and has spent a lot of time recently at altitude camp with some of his team-mates. He made his return to racing at Liege and finished a respectable 22nd place. The Giro is his main focus this year and with the number of TT kilometres he has a very good chance of going well. Yet, his TT ability is regressing as he becomes more of a Grand Tour contender, which is quite refreshing to see actually. I still have reservations about his abilities to cope in the high mountains and the final week might be a step too far for him I think.

Steven Kruijswijk.

Would he have won last year’s race if he had not crashed? I guess we’ll never know, but he certainly looked comfortable up until that moment. Another rider who’s season is based around this race, the Jumbo rider got a scare in Yorkshire last week after being involved in the crash on stage 1. Luckily, it seems to be nothing serious but withdraw before the final stage just to make sure. He’s a solid TT rider and will hope to use that to his advantage.

Geraint Thomas.

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The first of two Sky riders on the list, Thomas has really taken another step forward this season in his quest for Grand Tour success. Forever the loyal second in command to Froome at the Tour, he will have his own chance to go for glory at the Giro. Fifth on GC at Tirreno after the mess that was Sky’s TTT was a hint at what was to come and he looked imperious in the recent Tour of the Alps, taking overall victory. I have said for a while (at least since my Trentino preview) that he will go well at this race and I have seen nothing to make me think otherwise! A podium finish is on the cards.

Mikel Landa.

Thomas’ biggest threat could come from within his own team, but the two riders have shown that they have a good working relationship and compliment each other well. Landa for a while has failed to live up to his lofty expectations but he looked ominously strong in the Alps, doing a massive amount of work in support of Thomas. Could Sky get two riders on the podium in Milan?!

Vincenzo Nibali.

The defending champion has had a fairly good early season by his standards but arrives at the Giro as a relative outsider in my opinion. His team is a lot weaker now at Bahrain than compared to when he was at Astana last season, although Pellizotti and Siutsou did look strong in Croatia but that was against lesser opposition. Nibali will want to be in Pink after the Etna stage so that he is in the race lead going into his hometown. Can he hold that peak for the remaining two weeks of the race? I doubt it, but he does always seem to surge again after the last rest day!

Adam Yates.

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Another rider who’s had a relatively light race schedule this year, I have been impressed with his form whenever he has been active. Without an overly strong team, he’ll have to do a lot of the work himself but with a 4th place at the Tour already on his palmarès there’s no reason why he can’t replicate that result here.

Ilnur Zakarin.

Fighting for podium honours last year until he crashed out on Stage 19, Zakarin has been a bit “hit or miss” so far this season. He looked strong on the Queen Stage in Abu Dhabi but was lacklustre in Romandie. A top 10 is certainly on the cards, but I can’t see him breaking the top 5 this time round.

Bauke Mollema.

An ever-present rider in the top 10 at the Tour, this will be his first time riding the Giro as leader. He was in scintillating form at the start of the season but he has went off the boil a bit since. Nonetheless, you can’t write the dogged Dutchman off due to his consistency in the big races and he should be in contention going into the final week.

Tejay van Garderen.

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The final rider on the list, I’m not sure I would have included him if he didn’t look somewhat promising in Romandie. He managed the second fastest time up the Leysin climb on the penultimate stage of that race behind his team-mate Porte. The following day he produced a very solid time trial which will give him a lot of hope considering the amount of TT miles in this Giro. However, he still seems to always have one bad day and I can’t help but think that will happen again to him this year.

As for the likes of Jungels, Formolo and Dennis, they’ll be in or around the top 10 but nothing higher.

Prediction

It’s got to be Nairo, doesn’t it?!

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However, I do think he will susceptible to losing time in the opening couple of weeks and this is where his rivals will need to make ground before the Colombian smashes the last week.

I’ll go with Pinot and Thomas to round out the podium.

Betting

No bet.

I personally have Thomas at 25/1 EW but he’s no longer value at the price available.

 

Thanks as always for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated. Who do you think will win? Can anyone stop Quintana? I shall be back again tomorrow with my stage 1 preview! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.