Yanto Crowned As Blythe Wins Again – Ipswich & Suffolk Coastal Grand Prix

Britain’s Elite Road Series returned to Suffolk once again today, contesting the last fixture of this year’s race calendar at the Ipswich & Suffolk Coastal Grand Prix. Only the second running of this new annual event, Yanto Barker of Team Raleigh went into the day’s race as series leader and defending champion – having won 2013’s edition for the now defunct UK Youth team. The majority of the 200km race was to be contested over five laps of the Suffolk countryside, running through the outlying villages of Rendelsham Forest: Butley, Alderton, Hollesley and Shottisham to name a few. With rolling terrain and a lack of shelter from the coastal winds on the route, it was expected that a breakaway would be prolific throughout the day’s racing in Suffolk.

The Race:

Having left Ipswich and ridden through Woodbridge en route to the start of the five countryside circuits, the early break was formed of Alex Peters (Madison-Genesis), Lawrence Carpenter (Catford-Banks CC) and Jon Mould (NFTO Pro Racing). This triumvirate managed to break the minute mark on the opening lap and a half, before being joined by Mould’s NFTO teammate Adam Blythe and Nathan Edmondson of Velsosure-Node4 Racing. This larger group of five then worked well together, stretching their lead beyond two minutes, but the breakaway was reduced to four as Adam Blythe decided his chances were better off in the day’s possible sprint finish and so sat up to roll back to the peloton. By the fourth circuit, this well functioning group had pulled out a gap over the main bunch of more than three minutes, but a chasing trio of Lloyd Chapman (Richardsons-Trek), Will Bjergfelt (Metaltek-Kuota) and Rob Moore (Pedal-Heaven) tried unsuccessfully to bridge the gap to the leaders with ambitions of contesting the win alongside them.

On the final lap, Rapha-Condor-JLT hit the front hard as they began to eat into the breakaway’s lead; which by this point was edging beyond the five minute mark. As the peloton ramped up the ever-increasing pace, fatigue became apparent in the leaders as Catford’s Lawrence Carpenter lost contact with his companions’, as did Nathan Edmondson. With the time between escapees and bunch now reduced to a measly sub-30 seconds, the leading duo of Mould and Peters were doomed in their attempts to stay away; even a late sprint from Rob Partridge of Velosure-Node4 to the leading pair was hopeless as Rapha and Raleigh ensured that no late counter-attacks succeeded in denying them a sprint finish.

Yanto Barker’s lead of over 20 points heading into the day meant he did not need to win here in order to take the series title, but his Raleigh team were focused upon keeping him at the front of affairs regardless. Rapha and NFTO did their best to force a sprint finish, with impressive pace setting in the closing stages, and their wish was granted as the sprinters navigated the tricky Ipswich Waterfront finish.

Adam Blyhthe’s tactical decision paid off as he took the win from a fast finishing Chris Opie of Rapha and a surprising third went to Pedal Heaven’s Alex Paton. With the day’s win in Blythe’s hands, Yanto Barker was next up on the podium to collect his trophy as overall Elite Road Series Champion, having led the competition since the Lincoln GP in May. Alongside him onstage were his Raleigh teammates,  who were also crowned champions of the series’ team competition after proving the most consistent riders this year.

Next up for the domestic teams is the Tour of Britain, which begins on the 7th of September in Liverpool and will feature some of today’s peloton alongside Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish.

Return To The Mountains – La Vuelta a España Stage 9 Preview

We find ourselves looking upon the general classification contenders once more, as Stage 9 runs the 185km from Carboneras de Guadazaón to  Aramón Valdelinares. The early part of the day is simple enough affair for the peloton as a breakaway of the usual suspects is likely to get away – think CajaRural, MTN-Qhubeka and IAM Cycling. But after 124km the peloton will need to start calculating how they shall best tackle the Category 3 Puerto de Cabigordo and Category 2 Alto de San Rafael in order for the big GC hopefuls to play out the stage win atop the Category 1 Aramón Valdelinares. 

Aramón Valdelinares will force the big names to the front of affairs.

Aramón Valdelinares will force the big names to the front of affairs.

Course:

Stretching over 8km is the climb to Aramón Valdelinares, fluctuating between a low of 4.5% and a peak of 8.5%, it eventually levels out to a comfortable 2.5% in the last few hundred meters. It will naturally bring the major GC players to the fore as they look to concede as little time as possible to one another, especially with a 34.5km Time Trial on Tuesday. The relatively constant gradient will suit most of those with the red jersey in their eyes, but the sudden ramp from 4.5% to 8.5% will be the perfect time for one to launch a, possibly jersey snatching, attack for the line.

A crucial move will be made.

A crucial move will be made.

Contenders:

Similar to the previous visit to the mountains at this year’s Vuelta; messrs Valverde, Quintana, Froome and Contador will be at the front of affairs once again. Around them it is likely that Mikel Nieve, Joaquim Rodriguez and Esteban Chaves will be trying to bridge the gap once too. The main surprise from Valverde’s win in Stage 6 was Rigboberto Uran’s shipping of more than a minute to the victorious Spaniard, so it is unclear how he may cope on a similar finish. His Movistar teammate Nairo Quintana kept his usual facade of comfort during the conclusion, making it difficult to gauge how hard he found it exactly, but he looked cool regardless. Chris Froome and Alberto Contador seemed to be having a contrasting time at the moment, Contador’s horror injury has healed incredibly well and left him looking close to peak form once again. Froome however has been off the bike again already, and despite finishing only 8 seconds back on Stage 6, seems to be less convincing than Contador already. Froome’s interesting habit of snatching 2 or 3 seconds at a time could be read in a couple of ways; is it showing an eagerness to win the race by making every opportunity count? Or is he having doubts about his mountain form, so is looking to create a cushion ahead of this? With today not being hugely important in the overall outcome of this year’s Vuelta, there is a chance that the favourites will be happy to let somebody like Dan Martin get away from them on the final approach to take the win, though a day long breakaway also has a reasonable shot today.

Outcome:

It seems likely that the jersey will trade hands tomorrow and it might just be passed to Alejandro Valverde’s teammate, Quintana, who ends up wearing it come the end of the day. His team look solid at protecting him, and with more mountains along the way than Stage 6 and the need to recoup some time, they would be wise to back the diminutive Colombia the entire day rather than Valverde – though the finish looks ideal for a second win. Alberto Contador is expected  to make his presence felt once again tomorrow as the terrain does play into his hands somewhat, and as Chris Froome commented the other day, Contador is back to his usual self already. Floating amongst the rest, we might see Adam Yates from Orica-GreenEDGE or even Chaves try his best to earn a high placing as he is believed to be focused upon the general classification at the Vuelta.

1st Quintana 2nd Contador 3rd Chavez

Smooth Running – La Vuelta a España Stage 8 Preview

Today will feel like a 207km flat ride from Baeza to Albacete for the peloton, a simple stroll compared to the last couple of days at the Vuelta. This means the sprint teams will be working hard on the front to ensure a breakaway is unsuccessful, as this is a major target for the sprinters with so few opportunities at this year’s edition of the race. 

Rolling to the finish.

Rolling to the finish.

Course:

As the profile shows, the ride to Albacete is rolling throughout the majority of the day, though not hard enough to encourage serious breakaways. The lead-out trains will have prepared especially for today as the final run into the finish is one of the most simple this year, though roundabouts are plentiful once again, the win will be contested along the 900m finishing straight. One aspect which will play a role in the day’s outcome is the possible wind as the riders edge close to the coast once again, making a headwind on the finishing straight a likelihood. 

Contenders:

With such favourable stages for sprinters a luxury at the Vuelta, it is likely that a lot of teams shall have earmarked this as a serious target. However, the conclusion is likely to be a predominantly two horsed affair as Giant-Shimano and FDJ do their best to deliver John Degenkolb and Nacer Bouhanni into prime positions late on. Finishing in Albacete looks best suited to a power sprinter such as Degenkolb who can sustain his output over such a long distance, in order to maintain a gap over the chasers. Though Degenkolb crashed yesterday, it does not appear to be anything serious and with the day being such a target for Giant-Shimano, he is the favourite to win if in convincing condition. Nacer Bouhanni has been incredibly impressive when accelerating so far and, should he leave it late before putting his nose into the wind, he may just be able to produce a jump to overcome a flagging Degenkolb. Others such as Moreno Hofland, Andrea Guardini, Tom Boonen and Roberto Ferrari will also be eager to make their presence felt today, as it will be a long wait before they are afforded such golden opportunities once again.

Outcome:

1st Degenkolb 2nd Bouhanni 3rd Ferrari 

Transitional? – La Vuelta a España Stage 7 Preview

Yesterday proved to be a much tougher conclusion to Stage 6 than expected, after only 2km of the final climb we saw an extremely select group of riders begin to emerge. The GC contenders were at the front of this as expected, but the surprise came when seeing most of the expected explosive finishers being tailed off by Alejandro Valverde’s intense pace. Today’s trip  from Alhendin to Alcaudete (169km) further in inland will be seen as a breather for those involved in yesterday’s conclusion, but concentration will still be required as this is no simple transition stage between mountains.

 

By no means smooth.

By no means smooth.

Course:

Two categorised climbs are on the cards today, including the 12.1km approach to Alto Ahillo’s summit after 121km have been completed. This leave almost 50km to try and bring the peloton back together before the uphill finish, as it is expected that a breakaway will see today as a fantastic chance as many teams worked hard yesterday for their GC riders. It is this factor which shall affect who shares the workload at the front of the peltoton once a break is established, as it is hard to see who will chase if Orica-GreenEDGE and BMC both have riders up the road. Should it remain together in the closing kilometres, the riders face a increasingly familiar uphill finish at this year’s Vuelta as they are required to climb the gradual 5km up to Alcaudete. Hovering around 4% for the majority will keep things even before the closing 1500m tilt up to 5%, then settling down once more for the sprint at 500m to go.

It is difficult to say who will best suited to this finishing climb.

It is difficult to say who will best suited to this finishing climb.

Contenders:

Everyone will be looking at Philipe Gilbert today, the finishing terrain seems perfect for the Belgian, but his 2011 form is long gone with little sign of returning. BMC’s hope of a general classification are certainly diminishing with Cadel Evans and Samuel Sanchez beginning to flag yesterday at the first true test, for those with overall ambitions. With stage wins now a more likely goal, the BMC pair are likely to target 2 or 3 remaining days to try and make their presence here worthwhile. If it had not been for Sanchez struggling the previous day, he may even have been seen as a contender for the win on Stage 7 today. Orica-GreenEDGE are the other major team who will be focused upon the composition of any breakaways and the need to keep them in check before the finish. Michael Matthews is seen as their main hope for today, but he has certainly had to dig deep early in the week and may well have lost the necessary sustained output to win here. The terrain is also not ideal of Matthews, who prefers a shorter hill to act as a launch to the line before sprinting ahead of his tiring counterparts. Because of this, Orica-GreenEDGE might be interested in backing Adam Yates instead, who certainly looked to be going well given his young age and as form on finishes similar to this. Katusha still seem eager to open their account at this year’s Vuelta a España and Alexander Kolobnev would be the ideal candidate for them in the closing stages of today. Beyond his 6th place behind Degenkolb earlier in the tour, Kolobnev has kept his powder dry – possibly targeting today as a real chance for him and the team. Finishing off those we might see if a large group comes to the finish are riders such as Lloyd Mondory who has been riding extremely well so far and Luis Leon Sanchez who is probably the best hope for a home victory today.

Outcome:

There is a reasonable chance that a breakaway could get away and stay clear until Alcaudete, so it is difficult to predict the makeup of those contesting the win exactly. But assuming that a moderately sized group are together at the finish, the outcome is still incredibly open for the first time at the Vuelta thus far. If Orica-GreenEDGE support Adam Yates and ensure he is in a good position in the final 2km, he could be the ideal candidate for the win with no flat sprint to worry about at the end. The man threat will come from Gilbert and Matthews, but the former’s chances are not convincing and the latter does not suit the terrain perfectly. Alexander Kolobnev has a great chance today if he decides to take it and might be relatively unmarked compared to the afore mentioned hopefuls.

1st Kolobnev 2nd Yates 3rd Sanchez/Mondory/Gilbert

Altitude Sickness – La Vuelta a España Stage 6 Preview

Today will finally see the mountain men come to the fore as the peloton are given the task of finishing up a Category 1 climb for the first time this year. Passing along the coast to Malaga early on, the riders will then begin to head inland once again as they tackle the 167.1km route from Benalmádena to La Zubia. Hopefully temperatures will begin to drop today as the altitudes begin to soar, though seeing salt stained jersey will remain commonplace for now.

Course:

It is all very simple to begin with on Stage 6, between 50km-60km will have to pass before the riders begin searching for their mountain legs upon the approach to Provincia de Granada’s Category 2 climb. A typically Spanish run of roads then follows, whether nose down descending or eyes up climbing, it will not be until around the 125km mark that the riders will see flat tarmac once more. This only serves as respite, including the two intermediate sprints spaced at a bizarre 8km apart, en route to the expected showdown upon the Category 1 Alto Cumbres Verdes.

Not only do things get lumpier, but the finishes begin soaring.

Not only do things get lumpier, but the finishes begin soaring.

Contenders:

Stage 6 is interesting bait for riders to say the least, we should see the first emergence of a select group comprised solely of the mountain goats aiming for GC or thereabouts. It will not only deliver us the sight of our first real mountain top win but also indicate those with the legs for the tough stuff – regardless of winning the stage. 

Alto Cumbres Verdes will be seen as the perfect launchpad for some.

Alto Cumbres Verdes will be seen as the perfect launchpad for some.

Alto Cumbres Verdes is steep, but short, and preceded by a long stretch of easy rolling terrain which fails to sap the legs; meaning a bout of explosive attacking and counter-attacking should be guaranteed in the final moments of stage 6. With a maximum ramp of 12.78% over its 4km or so length, the climb will appeal to those blessed with the skywards acceleration which makes such a task look flat on TV. Climber-Puncheur crossover riders such as Daniel Martin and Joaquim Rodriguez will surely see the day as a golden opportunity to, not only take a win, but also secure some bonus seconds on GC.

Another man who displayed interest in such matters the previous day was Team Sky’s Christopher Froome, unexpectedly sprinting for a couple of bonus seconds at the intermediate sprint. He clearly understands that every second on offer is worth fighting for and with time incentives rewarding the top 3 at each stage, Froome may consider challenging for the win. Despite Froome being one of the most impressive climbers in the world currently, the finale does not really suit his high tempo approach to sustained climbing. Though he has displayed his ‘spiked efforts’ on numerous occasions in the high mountains, there does not appear to be enough ascending before the finale to really favour Froome in such a scenario. He certainly has won similar finishes which entail short, sharp bursts of acceleration over small distances, but not usually when preceded by such little climbing. The same can probably be said of Nairo Quintana when it comes to identifying his preferred terrain; while Alberto Contador would appear to be riding himself into form at this Vuelta after his injury, so will be expected to become prolific later on in the race.

Alejandro Valverde is another interesting possibility, a man who seems to have been duped into co-leadership of a team with Nairo Quintana and who could steal some bonus seconds from the Colombian under the guise of a stage win. He is along the line of the afore mentioned cross-breed of Puncheur and Climber which seems best suited to the finale of the day up Alto Cumbres Verdes.

The almost diagonal line will be a dream ride for one.
Orica-GreenEDGE may be resigned to losing the leader’s jersey today, but it does not mean they shall not bother to make their presence felt with either Esteban Chavez or Adam Yates. The former is rumoured to be targeting GC and is sitting pretty in 6th at the moment; while Adam Yates has nothing to lose by attacking here in the name of a Grand Tour stage win. The young Brit has shown an aptitude for such terrain during the season at Tour of Turkey, Tour of California and Critérium du Dauphiné – he has to be factored into the day’s outcome when looking at the climb and final KM.

Outcome:

With the terrain not appearing to be testing enough throughout the day for the pure climbers, it looks like the win will end up in the hands of a classics styled rider who can finish explosively over short, steep climbs. When searching for comparable conclusions in the race calendar, Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Flèche Wallonne begin to suggest the sort of riders which may contest the win. Though the day does appear to be tailored made for Joaquim Rodriguez of Katusha, it also looks very Dan Martin friendly too with its steep finish of 4km up to the line. The Irishman got the better of Rodriguez in a similar situation at 2013’s Liège-Bastogne-Liège and must still be swearing over his defeat to Michael Matthews a few days ago. His form is clear, even sprinting with the fast men at times, which must be a result of targeting the Vuelta seriously after a disastrous Giro. Not only motivated by his defeat to Matthews, Martin could also do with making some time back on GC by winning here today. Alejandro Valverde might have a similar intention and also beat Martin into second place at this year’s Flèche Wallonne over the Mur de Huy, so could fancy a repeat. Adam Yates is the real dark horse of the day, finding himself free to attack late on due to little threat upon the general classification and looking sharp after San Sebastian. The GC riders of Froome, Quintana, Uran, Contador etc are expected to be part of the finale’s select group, but with little hope of opening up large time gaps to their rivals, it seems less likely that any of them will really dig deep for the win – focusing more on finishing together without losing time. Such a scenario would play into the hands of the fast finishing Martin, who should be able to get the edge on his rivals judging by his displays thus far.

A similar sight could be on the cards again - less Pandas though.

A similar sight could be on the cards again – less Pandas though.

1st Martin 2nd Yates 3rd Rodriguez

 

Double or Trouble? – Vuelta a España Stage 5 Preview

This year’s Vuelta organisers will be making few friends amongst the sprinters as another relatively ‘fast man friendly’ stage is put into doubt by a late bump in the profile.  Rolling across the scorched earth from Priego de Cordoba to Ronda, the route does edge closer to the coast once more, but a cooling sea breeze will not be enough to keep the temperature below 38 degrees at times. With the day in the saddle being relatively rolling for the peloton, the pace might be a little slower under the sun again as they save their efforts for the sole Category 3 climb.

Course:

Only one thing stands out to the sprinters here.

Only one thing stands out to the sprinters here.

Scanning across the day’s profile, only one aspect will standout to the sprinter’s teams – the category 3 climb to Puerto del Sotillo. At a surprisingly long 12.5km, its average gradient of 3.3% might have a greater impact upon the selection of the riders come the end of the day. It will thin out the pack in regards to the lesser sprinters and bring back the puncheur/classic styled riders into the mix once more. It is worth keeping in mind however that the summit, which tops out around 15km from home, offers little in terms of a descent into the finish at Ronda. So should a small attack occur off the front of the peloton, the variety of sprint teams in Giant-Shimano, AG2R-La Mondiale, Astana, Belkin, FDJ and Orica-GreenEDGE should all be able to ensure a straight up sprint finish. Yesterday saw Nacer Bouhanni anonymous when it came to contesting the sprint, eventually rolling over the line 8mins 31secs down in 91st place. Now it is hard to say whether or not this was fatigue or if he is saving his energies for what may be perceived as a more suitable target today – think Degenkolb on Stage 3 compared to Stage 4.  Though the Frenchman would be more keen on another technical finish which secured him his win earlier in the week, today is literally straightforward for the sprint-trains as there are no obvious corners to worry about in the final few kilometres. Only the gentle drag of 1% – 2% and a roundabout before the final 500m will need to be factored into the plans of the teams.

Contenders:

Climbing the Puerto del Sotillo will be tough, but as long as the official tour book is not lying again, the powerful John Degenkolb should be capable of surviving it. Having such strength and depth apparent in his support from Giant-Shimano will be a huge boost to his chances compared to that of Nacer Bouhanni. The FDJ man prefers more challenging finishes which allow him to hijack lead-outs through tight corners, before unleashing incredible acceleration over a short finishing straight – today does not offer this. Michael Matthews is expected to be in the mix again, as today is more suitable than yesterday as he looks for a second win at this years Vuelta. Orica-GreenEDGE will certainly work hard for him, but they might be more careful than previous with their efforts to ensure nobody else benefits from their work rate. Ultimately, today seems akin to the previous stage, sightly different on appearances but the core factors should appeal to the potent Degenkolb once again. With an easy lead-out for himself and the train, it seems that his delivery is assured when it comes to contesting the long finishing straight – Stage 4 showed how his pure power dominates on such finishes. An outsider he has been showing himself in the previous days too has be AG2R’s Lloyd Mondory, with this finish looking more appealing to his talents, we might see him climbing ever higher today.

Outcome:

1st Degenkolb 2nd Matthews 3rd Mondory

 

MADE FOR TV – VUELTA A ESPAÑA STAGE 4 PREVIEW

The Vuelta heads further inland today over the 164.7km route from Mairena del Alcor to Cordoba, a finishing location which has been used a few times before in the tour. With the organisers focused upon creating good TV for when the stage goes live, the majority of the ride will be predominantly flat, though the peloton will have to cope with yet another day in scorching heat. Fabian Cancellera having raised the issue of competing in high temperatures after he finished Stage 3 an astounding 4.5kg lighter. 

 

 

Course

The peloton do not need to worry much about the terrain until around 35km remain, at which point the 8km long category 2 Alto del Catorce por Ciento (4.7%) appears. Once completed, the riders still have to contest with the resulting jagged pass which leads them down to the relatively flat run into the finale’s finishing circuit. However, there is a slight drag of 1% – 2% in the last kilometre, but a sweeping 500m dash to the line should mean a simplistic gallop is guaranteed.

Contenders:

Michael Matthews delivered on yesterday’s prediction with great ease, even despite being out of the picture with only 600m remaining and it would be unsurprising should he repeat his escapades once again. The difference today being the benefit of nearly half a kilometre of straight road for the pure sprinters to contest the win across, an negative aspect for Matthew’s ambitions of back to back wins. Whereas Orica-GreenEDGE spent the majority of today ensuring the breakaway never got too far ahead on their own, FDJ should be more prolific at the front of affairs on behalf of Nacer Bouhanni. In spite of more testing finish than expected on Stage 3, the little Frenchman still managed an impressive 8th place for someone usually known solely for his turn of pace on the flat.

The big threat to his hopes is John Degenkolb once more, who will look upon today keenly in light of the simple run into town, a factor which lends itself perfectly to the organised lead out train of Giant-Shimano. Degenkolb was understandably absent from the finish on Stage 3, which may have left him fresher than Bouhanni when it comes to the inevitable drag race today. Orica-GreenEDGE are fully aware of this fact and will look to repeat the previous day’s efforts to burn off the German upon the final climb – this may play into the hands of Bouhanni though.

Outcome:

Despite the imperious form which Bouhanni appears to be in, Degenkolb could be the better man to back in the predominately flat finish today. The German took little interest in the previous day’s stage, judging by his 74th place compared to that of Bouhanni’s impressive 8th and it is this which raises the question – How much top end may have been chipped from the FDJ man compared to a possibly fresher Degenkolb? Having a dedicated and well oiled lead out train looks to be an advantage too in the final 1km for the German, especially compared to the support offered to Bouhanni.

1st Degenkolb 2nd Bouhanni 3rd Matthews