Mens-Road-Race-Richmond-World-Championships-2015-Spokenforks-Preview

RICHMOND WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS 2015 – Men’s Road Race Preview

Course:

Richmond 2015 signals the World Championships’ return to a pure circuit race for the first time in over ten years, rather than the use of an opening sector to warm the riders up before starting the laps, something which has become common in recent editions. Instead a smaller run of 5.3km will lead the riders onto a shortened first circuit, before beginning the 15 laps of 16.2km which comprise this 261.24km World Championship contest. Many will already be accustomed to the demands of this course having watched the preceding time trials and road races work their way around Richmond’s streets, ensuring few surprises should now remain on this technically demanding circuit. Tight bends and fast descents are present during the course, but the three most standout aspects of the race will be the climbs which are expected to decide the outcome of the day’s racing.

The first of these is Libby Hill, a snaking 200m cobbled hill which has already seen a variety of riders suffer mechanicals and even slide out on the opening bend once some light drizzle is added to the equation. Position is crucial here and there will be a high pace heading into the bottom as nations attempt to protect their leaders’ by finding the safest path to the top; often by riding in the gutter. After this comes a brief descent which includes some very fast bends, before leading the pack into the second challenge of the day, 23rd Street. Significantly stepper than its predecessor, 23rd Street will compress the bunch on each rotation of its cobbled 100m and possibly serve as a springboard to attack late on in the race. The descent from here would see a breakaway push on rapidly as they strive to hit the final climb of Governor Street first. This 300m climb is a steady grind and tops out 680m short of the finish, where the final straight immediately begins running right the way to the line.

As a whole, the course looks to favour powerful classics styled riders who can repeatedly chase and counterattack their rivals with short anaerobic efforts. With the final climb concluding with almost 700m of flat racing still separating them from the line, a sprint from an elite group of 8 to 15 riders could be the most likely fashion in which the rainbow stripes are won in Richmond. There is of course the chance that it will come down to a bigger bunch sprint, meaning that many of the teams here have made their uncertainty regarding the expected race dynamic clear and called up a pure sprinter and a stronger classics rider to cover both eventualities.

 

Mens-Road-Race-Richmond-World-Championships-2015-Spokenforks-Preview

Contenders:

Alexander Kristoff  has been tipped by many to return the rainbow bands to Norway since his compatriot Thor Hushovd won them in 201o, but he faces a difficult task to achieve that ambition here. His success earlier in the year encompassed a dominant showing in the Spring classics and included winning the Tour of Flanders in impressive fashion. On that occasion he was aware of his status as a marked man coming off the back of early season victories in the Middle-East and subsequently went on the offensive; going clear with Niki Terpstra before rolling past the Dutchman at the finish with ease. This shows an awareness and willingness by Kristoff to take action against those who perceive him to be the biggest threat during a race. This may also prove to be the biggest problem during today’s battle, patience is often the key to these one day affairs and the week’s preceding road races have already demonstrated that those who bide their time often emerge with greater success than those chasing the win. Instead, he might lean upon Edvald Boasson Hagen to chase down any dangerous moves on the final repition of the three climbs, aiming to set up Kristoff for a reduced bunch sprint, within which many anticipate him to dominate. There is no question surrounding the Norwegian’s ability to perform at a single day race, but his current condition is not certain after an average Tour de France but an encouraging third place at GP Quebec recently. Ultimately Kristoff comes to the fore as the attrition rate approaches its maximum (the harder and longer the better), so with cobbles, hellingen, 261km and a high chance of rain; he might just get his way.

John Degenkolb ranks alongside Kristoff in two clear ways, the first being his nation’s desire to see this race decided by a sprint, as well as a shared ability to demonstrate their best during the hardest of one day races. This year saw Degenkolb secure victories at two of the biggest monuments in cycling; Paris-Roubaix and Milan-San Remo. These notoriously long and arduous affairs bode well for the German, but it is the contrasting styles in which he won them that offer the greatest insight as to his chances in Richmond. The former saw Degenkolb protected by his teammates until he perceived the race winning move to occur, attacking solo to bridge the gap to the break and eventually out sprint the likes of Zdeněk Štybar and Greg Van Avermaet to win. In contrast, his victory at Milano-San Remo came off the back of an immense team effort to protect Degenkolb over the day’s climbs, controlling the race and finally delivering him into a race winning position to sprint from. The biggest difference for Degenkolb today is that he will not have the luxury of the well oiled machine that is Giant-Alpecin, instead he will be operating from within the German team on this occasion and could find himself exposed during the final ascent of Governor Street. His recent performances at the Vuelta a España were lacking his normal clinical finishing, but this is less important on a day which comes down to the ability to suffer and survive. Spokenforks believes Degenkolb is likely to find greater success seizing the initiative and protecting his interests firsthand, rather than placing the responsibilities on his German team to ensure a sprint finish. A situation which could throw up yet further problems if his compatriot André Greipel is also present with less than 700m remaining in Richmond.

Michael Matthews won this competition as an Under-23 in 2010 and will surely fancy his chances of repeating this success at a senior level on a course which favours his attributes convincingly. The Australian has found success on similar terrain at both grand tour and one day races in the last couple of seasons, especially those involving late climbs. Matthews’ biggest supporting evidence to a claim at the win here is his performance at Amstel Gold earlier this year, a race which saw him able to match Philippe Gilbert on the notorious Cauberg. He walked away with third on that day, though had he not dug so deep in order to pursue the Belgian classics specialist, he may have been able to muster enough to secure the win. Regardless, it was a demonstration as to his talent for such a course and he will be aware as to how unlikely it is that a World Road Race course will suit him so well again anytime soon. The Australian team can guarantee him great protection throughout the race and could possibly offer up their ‘Plan B’ Simon Gerrans as a leadout man for Matthews in a sprint finish. Though he usually prefers an uphill sprint to the line, the fact that three tough climbs are present in rapid succession on the final lap should be enough to tilt the odds in his favour, marking him out as one of the fastest finishers after Governor Street is tackled for the final time. Perhaps most encouraging of all however is the fact he has not simply added this race at the tailend of his season, rather Matthews has actively prepared and focused upon performing in Richmond and is thus a major contender.

Peter Sagan is bound to face the biggest array of dilemmas during the race, the immensely talented Slovak could win from a variety of situations, but lacks the support required to convincingly back any of them. Teammates Juraj Sagan (brother) and Michal Kolar well simply attempt to protect their leader for as long as possible, before leaving him to go it alone (when this will happen is uncertain). The strength, courage and tenacity we have witnessed from Sagan this year has reignited him and subsequently earned him some belated victories. He has proven to be incredibly strong on climbs this year and is bound to out perform his most likely rivals who are hoping for a sprint finish. Sagan is also not afraid to take the race by the scruff of the neck and join or instigate a breakaway move, working hard to drive it to the line alongside his escapees. However, despite encouraging showings at several classics during his career so far, the distance of 200km+ and a high attrition rate often blunts his abilities, or simply rules him out of the running entirely. It could be a waste for Sagan to simply sit in the wheels and wait for a sprint finish where John Degenkolb and Alexander Kristoff are likely to be in better shape, instead Sagan would bolster a very convincing chance of becoming World Champion should he join a late breakaway and punch his way across the line first.

Greg Van Avermaet has enjoyed a season which has included great results at the major one day affairs of Paris-Roubaix and Tour of Flanders, no doubt the type of form he will hope to replicate at Richmond. He is expected to lead Belgium alongside Philippe Gilbert and will be their best bet to secure the rainbow jersey if the win comes from an elite group which forms on the final lap. Avermaet beat Sagan on a difficult stage at this year’s Tour de France and he has tried to taper his exertions in order to arrive in Richmond in a comparable shape once again. Avermaet is likely to animate the race and join a break in order to ease the pressure on Belgium having to chase a move late on, possibly even finding Gilbert beside him in such a move. Alongside this, the day’s climbs are similar to that of the hellingen which he has performed consistently upon this year, playing convincingly into his hands yet further. Doubts are apparent however, predominately due to his recent displays at the GP Quebec and GP Montreal, suggesting he may not have carried his form late into the year as well as expected.

Alejandro Valverde must wonder what exactly he has to do in order to become World Champion, the Spanish rider has so far acquired a total of two silver and four bronze medals at the race since his first in 2003. This statistic is amazing in itself, but when considering that the courses upon which he has accumulated these medals have contrasted so dramatically, it become clear as to how consistently Valverde raises his game in order to contest this title. He is better suited to the Ardennes style of one day racing and has little history against the Springtime cobbles, something which certainly affects him negatively today. Valverde will be aware of those who will be better than him in a straightforward drag race to the line, adding support to the likelihood of him joining a breakaway or striking out alone on the final ascent of Governor Street. The long and wearing nature of the World Championship Road Race could in fact make him the fastest present in a group sprint, though this would surely have to leave Degenkolb, Kristoff, Matthews and perhaps even Sagan absent from its composition. Possessing such form for this race means he cannot be discounted from being present in the shake up for the rainbow jersey, especially as this might even be his last appearance.

Zdeněk Štybar is a real danger to the hopes of others with their eye upon the win today, the Czech team leader is known for sniffing out a victory and striking powerfully before others even begin to realise what is going on. Štybar has started to carve out a niche as a one day specialist, 2015 seeing him win Strade Bianche and claiming second at E3 Harelbeke and Paris-Roubaix. The support he will have on the day should be more than sufficient to keep him at the head of affairs and it will be interesting to see how he chooses to ride this race. It is easy to forget how huge a talent Štybar also is for Cyclocross, a factor which should ensure he is well equipped to cope with a frantic race upon crucial cobbled climbs which may become drenched with rain. Given his reputation, the peloton will know that any attempt by the Czech rider to go clear cannot be ignored, as Štybar is notoriously difficult to reel back in at the best of times, let alone when there is a World title at stake.

Juan José Lobato has the blend of skills required to at least make it onto the podium if all goes to plan for the strong Spanish sprinter. He enjoyed a successful Tour of Britain earlier in the month, contesting the sprinters’ stages well and even holding the leader’s jersey at one point too. He has enough to suggest he will last the course and his fourth place at Milan-San Remo in 2014 came during some of the worst downpours the race has experienced in recent years, so weather should not be an issue for him either.

André Greipel could cause a real stir if present in the bunch as they turn left onto the finishing straight at the final time of asking today. The end of this season has seen a great showing at the Tour of Britain where he reminded people why he is likely to be the fastest man in this race, as well as his ability to climb impressively for a man of his talents. He is not known for his one day ability and is also notorious for vanishing when the charge to the line is contested in heavy rain. As mentioned previously, the biggest issue should he remain in contention ahead of the finish line is teammate John Degenkolb, a situation which could cause chaos as they decide who should support one another. Certainly an outsider for the title, but if he showcases the same form we saw earlier in the year at the Tour of Flanders, then he cannot be totally discounted from the contest.

Matti Breschel never seems to offer much in the way of excitement during the season and yet he consistently emerges as a protagonists during the final moments of a World Championship Road Race. Because of this he warrants a mention on a course which does indeed play into his hands, the Dane being an extremely strong rider when it comes to long and testing races. The Danish team is certainly underestimated as the likes of Rasmus Guildhammer, Christopher Juul-Jensen and Michael Valgren are just some of the riders which offer a great depth of strength in order to support Breschel throughout the day. Given Breschel’s history for performing at the Worlds, he clearly has the knack of peaking at this time of year down to a fine art, so do not be too surprised if he records at least a top ten placing.

Elia Viviani is likely to lead this year’s Italy squad, a jumbled selection of pure sprinters and tougher fast finishers who should cope with the hills. Viviani was in stellar form during the Tour of Britain, but could struggle to make his presence felt on this particular course, though he has stated how he has replicated the required climbs in training as intervals in order to prepare for Richmond. Fabio Felline will ride alongside Viviani in support, but deserves a mention on the back of a seventh place finish at the Giro d’Italia’s epic 264km long Stage 7, a day won by another Italian teammate Diego Ulissi. A harder race will certainly favour Ulissi, especially if it rains, but the squad still has further firepower in the shape of Giacomo Nizzolo and Matteo Trentin who could both contest the win if circumstances are right. This Italian team appears extremely confused on paper, lacking a coherent plan which could see this talented squad walk away with nothing of note.

Niki Terpstra might be given the task of spearheading a Dutch team which bolsters no sprinters and will rely upon animating the race with the intention of getting at least one rider into the day’s decisive move. Terpstra copes well on this sort of terrain which includes cobbles and is known for being able to choose the perfect moment to solo away from his competitors and take the win. However, this course does not suit that style as neatly as he will have hoped, so attention may instead lie elsewhere within the Dutch ranks. Lars Boom was fourth and six at Paris-Roubaix and Tour of Flanders respectively this year and would like to think this type of form can be mirrored to a certain degree in Richmond; Boom also sprints strongly remember. He is yet another rider the Dutch possesses which the peloton cannot afford to let slip off the front with little reaction to chase. The biggest question mark surrounding the team however can be placed upon Tom Dumoulin, arriving here after a gruelling Vuelta a España and a modest showing in the individual time trial earlier in the week. It is difficult to anticipate what form he will be in, but the parcours do suit him particularly well and if he had of focused specifically on peaking for this affair he would have been a favourite. Regardless, he cannot be dismissed entirely as this year has shown how well he is climbing, while people also forget he can be the fastest sprinter from an elite group at this type of race.

Julian Alaphilippe emerged this year as a talented once day racer and should be confident of being present in the mix in the final stages of today’s race. The Frenchman finished seventh at Amstel Gold, before going on to place second at both La Flèche Wallone and Liège-Bastogne-Liège later on in the week. His talents are perhaps more Ardennes styled than what the expected skill set is to dominate here, but Alaphilippe is unlikely to be caught out on the climbs and is a very quick finisher too. Teammate Tony Gallopin offers similar talents and is sure to be another option for the French team which arrives in Richmond with modest ambitions. Gallopin is always showing a great capability for rising to the occasion of a classic and even managed a top ten finish at Milan-San Remo this season; eighth place at the recent GP Quebec also adds to his case.

Ben Swift could be Great Britain’s best chance of a medal, the Yorkshireman’s grit has often seen him perform well at longer races and he even took third at the notoriously miserable Milan-San Remo of 2014. There has not been a great deal to shout about in recent months, but his showing at the London & Surrey Classic reinforces his ability to fight at the front for these long day’s in the saddle. Ian Stannard is becoming a cobbles specialists and should be worth keeping an eye upon if he should happen to make it into a breakaway, though the finale up Governor Street might be too much for him to handle. Adam Yates was second at GP Montreal a couple of weeks ago and even won Clasica Ciclista San Sebastian, albeit in rather bizarre circumstances and should fancy this finale too.

Ramunas NavardauskasMichal Kwiatkowski, Jempy Drucker, Edvald Boasson-HagenIlnur Zakarin and Grega Bole are just a handful of names who could either force a breakaway, go it alone or feature in a reduced bunch sprint.

Outcome:

The permutations of what may happen seem almost limitless, but Spokenforks believes that a reduced bunch will hit the final climb of Governor Street and see a select group go clear before they turn onto the finishing straight. This small group will contest the win amongst themselves and is likely to comprise many of the sprinters fancied for the win today, though some will have to dig deeper than others to stay in contention. Taking into account the amount of climbing, preparation and the finale itself, Michael Matthews looks to be a strong contender for the win and should have enough support from his Australia team to at least place on the podium. The likes of John Degenkolb and Alexander Kristoff are likely to be in hot pursuit, but might find the pace unmanageable on the final climb and leave themselves too big a gap to close in the final 680m to the line. Peter SaganGreg Van AvermaetJuan José Lobato and Zdeněk Štybar all seem to be names who could feature alongside Matthews during his charge to the line. Of course the purer sprinters do have a chance, though it seems that there may not be enough nations wishing to chase this outcome in order to guarantee a larger bunch kick, instead we might see a greater focus upon getting riders into the day’s decisive breakaway. If the heavens truly open and downpours begin, then you may as well pick a name out of the hat at random, as with cobbles and newly laid tarmac throughout the course, crashes will have a huge influence on the outcome and favour a shock breakaway even more.

1st Michael Matthews 2nd Juan José Lobato 3rd Peter Sagan

Mens-Individual-Time-Trial-Richmond-World-Championships-2015-Spokenforks-Preview

Richmond World Championships 2015 – Men’s Individual Time Trial Preview

Course:

Richmond offers up a relatively simple course to decide the 2015 Individual Time Trial World Champion, laying down the foundations for a race built upon power and speed, though a hard finish will ensure nobody slinks across the line having not sunk deep into the lactic acid. This 53km long course is certain to catch many of the thoroughbred time trialists here by surprise, off the back of a season which has lacked opportunities to test themselves over similar courses and distances at the very top level.

With wide boulevards marking the way throughout the race, riders will not require any great technical nous to negotiate tight bends or tricky descent, instead finding themselves able to focus intently upon both power and aerodynamics. The course itself does roll gently throughout, extended hills appearing on occasion, but it is the run into home which will require the greatest focus and effort of all. The last 2km lead downwards to a turn which places the riders onto the opening ramps of the 300m ascent of Governor Street, this relatively short ascent is extended by a close to 700m false flat which pushes right the way up to the line.

Ultimately, though the course is a mixed bag, it comprises two relatively contrasting halves; opening with the majority of the rolling terrain and concluding with a more technical second half which includes the tougher ascent of Governor Street. As mentioned, the two deciding factors here are bound to be power and aerodynamic position, with less of a focus upon power-to-weight ratio, those who can keep low to the bike and churn over a big gear steadily are favourites to emerge in the battle for a medal.

Mens-Individual-Time-Trial-Richmond-World-Championships-2015-Spokenforks-Preview

Contenders:

Tony Martin finds himself faced with an opportunity to regain his rainbow bands once again, but on this occasion lacking his greatest adversaries in the shape of Bradley Wiggins (who will not defend his title) and Fabian Cancellara. The German powerhouse however is not in the same pomp which once secured him the World title and could even struggle to impose himself upon the emerging leading lights of the time trial discipline. This year has not seen a wealth of victories against the clock to be forthcoming, failing to contest anything close to this distance at all this season; his national title competition being the most similar (like for many entering today). Despite crashing out of Le Tour de France while in yellow this summer and briefly suffering a viral setback shortly after his return, Martin should arrive here considerably fresher than several of his nearest rivals. The fact that this course allows him the chance to lay down sustained high power output will certainly play to his strengths, but it is the last 2km which will test him the most it seems. Though on paper he is not the same man who won this title a couple of years ago, if he summons up his best, the German will yet again be the man to topple in pursuit of victory.

Tom Dumoulin was the favourite of many to win this competition ahead of his performance at La Vuelta a España, but the efforts which he invested up to the penultimate day in an attempt to defend the leader’s jersey in Spain, will have no doubt left their mark upon the Dutchman heading into today’s race. He has however dominated the time trialing scene of the WorldTour in 2015, cementing his position as one of the strongest amongst the peloton against the clock. The course itself has caught several by surprise during the opening few contests, hinting at a tougher route which will favour Dumoulin’s strength. If he is not burnt out after his swashbuckling exploits in Spain, and can also take advantage when the terrain swings to his favour instead of Martin’s, he could force a tighter contest than anticipated here.

Rohan Dennis appears to have built his condition perfectly ahead of a convincing tilt at winning the rainbow bands this year. The Australian has made no secret of his intentions surrounding the contest, but he does perhaps lack a convincing depth of results at similar distances to confirm him as a gold medal contender. In fact, Dennis has never displayed a convincing aptitude for these long affairs and instead has a history of dominating prologues and short time trials which allow him to focus upon getting the power out, regardless of the consequence. Of all the riders billed as favourites for today, Dennis is the one most likely to see his predicted level increase on the day as a consequence of the preparation which he has focused upon ahead of the contest in question, though it remains to be seen if this will be enough to dispel the question marks surrounding him.

Taylor Phinney is America’s best chance of a medal in both the men’s road race and the individual time trial, an incredible thought given his recent upheaval. It is easy to imagine him entering this as the favourite had he enjoyed an injury free season’s worth of racing, such is his innate level of talent. Instead, the recent longterm layoff from the sport has left him earmarked as one of the biggest dark horses for a medal in Richmond. His return has not been one of active recovery since rejoining the peloton, instead he has arrived at a competitive level which has already won him a stage of the USA Pro Challenge and a gold medal as part of the BMC Team Time Trial squad which defended their rainbow bands last weekend. If there is one rider present on the entire start-list who is most likely to execute a spectacular rider, seemingly out of nowhere, it is the indomitable Taylor Phinney.

Vasil Kiryienka has been one of the most consistent competitors at the World Individual Time Trial Championship in recent years, outlining him as a serious contender for a podium spot once again. The Belarusian Sky rider possesses a reputation within the peloton for superhuman strength which sees him churning over Alpine passes in the big ring from bottom to top. This level of strength can only breed the necessary brute force required to nullify the lumps and bumps present on this course, utilising the final week of La Vuelta a España as a springboard into this race for the last three years. His condition as a result has been impressive thanks to this technique, leaving no reason to question whether or not this plan will work once again in 2015. Such is Kiryienka’s depth of talent, it seems he is able to medal on courses varying from the pan flat, to the steep roads which allow him to demonstrate his mountain climbing prowess upon; the possibility of that medal being gold however is not clear.

Alex Dowsett no doubt possesses the greatest education against the clock, the Essex rider grew up amongst Britain’s obsession with time trialling and is naturally gifted in this discipline to an incredible degree. However, despite having demonstrated this ability, his results in the WorldTour have never been consistent; a Giro d’Italia stage win when beating Bradley Wiggins his greatest success thus far on the road. However, he is the reigning Commonwealth Games Champion and showed his class when setting the official hour record earlier in the year too. The course appeals immensely to Dowsett, its blend of rolling terrain, smooth boulevards and moderately technical finale suit him particularly well and he cannot be ruled out from finally living up to expectation with the rainbow bands at stake.

Jurgen Van Den Broeck peculiarly decided that today’s race was to be his biggest goal for the entire season, switching tact from middling general classification hopeful and instead knuckling down to nail his time trialling efforts. His performances this year have been relatively consistent, often securing him a position inside the top ten at some major races. The solitary win this year against the clock came at his national competition, though he was not far off the pace when finishing fourth on a testing lumpy stage at this year’s Tour de Romandie. Factoring his seventh place on Stage 14 of this year’s Giro d’Italia, which was contested upon an almost 60km route, the Belgian remains an interesting prospect to monitor if nothing else.

Adriano Malori maintained all season that this was his major goal for the year, but it is difficult to see the Italian who is often a dominant on shorter courses, realistically challenging for medals in Richmond. Last year saw him secure a sixth place finish and he certainly has the talent to match many of his rivals here in terms of speed and power. However, much like Rohan Dennis, he has never done anything convincing over this sort of distance and subsequently looks to have the odds stacked against him to earn a medal.

Rasmus Quaade truly is an outsider to feature in the shake up for the medals, but the Dane genuinely has the talent and history to rise to the challenge at the World Championships. Last year he finished thirteenth in the competition on a course which failed to play to his strengths, whereas today’s is somewhat more suitable for the Cult Energy Pro Cycling rider. He finished fifth at this year’s European Games time trial over a 51.6km course and has a silver medal at this event as an under-23 rider, both sound indicators of the sort of level which he can compete at; there is nothing to say he cannot improve yet again here.

Outcome:

1st Rohan Dennis 2nd Tony Martin 3rd Vasil Kiryienka

Outsiders: Taylor Phinney & Rasmus Quaade

La Vuelta a España – Stage 21 Preview

Course:

As ever, the remedy to three weeks of unpredictable racing at La Vuelta a España is the expected final hosted in Spain’s capital city of Madrid. Considering the longest stage of this year’s race clocked in at 215km, today’s 97.8km charge to and around the city will surely seem like a blink of the eye for many 0f the riders here. Having rolled out from the start in the Madrid suburbs of Alcala de Henares, the usual steady parade of processioning teams and riders will gently approach the capital and cross the finish for the first time after 39.8km.

From here they will begin the first of 10 laps which comprise the day’s finale, each pass taking them along the 5.9km pan flat route as the speed and intensity ratchets up lap upon lap. Little has changed about these finishing circuits in recent years and the riders should be well aware of the technical challenges on each lap which includes a pair of tight 90-degree bends and a trio of complete U-turns. Having exited the last lap’s final turn, the bunch will stream immediately under the flamme rouge and have an unobstructed (slightly uphill) run to Plaza Cibeles’s finish line.

La-Vuelta-A-España-2015-Stage-21

Contenders:

John Degenkolb has experienced somewhat of a nightmare in the sprints during this year’s La Vuelta a España, but he will return as the favourite to win on the final day regardless. The German is likely to be the freshest of many of the sprinters who are also targeting a victory today, but it is his team which really inflates his chances of wining here. Luka Mezgec and Koen De Kort are both crucial to the success of his sprint today and each man has looked in great condition throughout this final week of the tour. Ultimately, the biggest doubt against Giant-Alpecin and Degenkolb is the possibility that the team may already have cooked themselves heading into today as a consequence of doing their utmost trying to defend Tom Dumoulin’s lead.

Danny Van Poppel produced a fantastic sprint on Stage 12 and could once again emerge as the biggest threat to John Degenkolb’s hopes of winning here. The Dutchman has a fantastic turn of speed and will have a full team at his disposal who have not had to dig a great deal during the final ten days of this grand tour. Of his support still present at the race, he might lack a certain level of brute strength to keep him at the front of the bunch heading into the final kilometres. This might not prove crucial however, as he was already lacking both Fabian Cancellara and Jasper Stuyven when he took his victory on Stage 12 and Van Poppel still looks fresh enough to challenge here.

Alejandro Valverde knows that a good placing in the sprint today will likely win him the points jersey from Joaquim Rodriguez. The Movistar rider’s turn of pace is well documented and there is little doubt to suggest that himself and the team will shy away from this opportunity to leave this year’s Vuelta with a jersey in the bag.

Tosh Van Der Sande has been a surprisingly consistent rider in the sprints at this year’s race, an unexpected factor for a man who usually only flourishes on the real tough days and stage finishes. On paper he should not be able to challenge for the win today, but given the attritional nature of a grand tour, he could find himself being brought into contention greater than expected.

Jempy Drucker is another rider who has performed incredibly consistently throughout the race and has demonstrated a strong enough turn of speed to push the bigger name sprinters right to the line. He is unlikely to have invested much in the way of effort during this final week of the race and he has a strong chance of getting onto the podium today; if not more.

Tom Van Asbroeck will have a great deal of power offered to him on the final stage in an attempt to win the stage for himself and LottoNL-Jumbo, a team who have not experienced a great deal of success at the race this year. Though like several of the sprinters here, he has lost a few men who would have contributed to his leadout today, but if they pick up the chase later than usual, Asbroeck will still have a great chance of winning Stage 21. The subtle drag to the finish line is perhaps the most favourable factor of today’s finish and this could be the reason why we see a shock result in Madrid.

 

Outcome:

1st John Degenkolb 2nd Tom Van Asbroeck 3rd Danny Van Poppel

La-Vuelta-A-España-2015-Stage-20

La Vuelta a España – Stage 20 Preview

Course:

The penultimate day of La Vuelta a España shall once again pivot around a testing day in the mountains, designed to offer the riders one final chance to dislodge the Red Jersey from the shoulders of this year’s current leader, Dutchman Tom Dumoulin. However, the most obvious contrast compared to previous editions’ last hurrah is the lack of a summit finish, a factor which could ignite the battle much earlier than we have witnessed on these penultimate stages recently. Four recognised ascents feature on this day for the climbers, which is realistically two climbs tackled twice from opposing sides and should entice at least one general classification rider to make the most of the slopes and utilise them as a race changing springboard.

In total, it will be 175.8km from the departure in San Lorenzo de El Escorial to the extremely anticipated finish line situated at Cercedilla. Beginning with only 17km of riding before the peloton roll their way onto the foot of the day’s opening climb, the Category 1 Puerto de Navacerrada, which they shall also meet once again from the other side as the day’s finale ascent. On this occasion however, the climb is 9.4km in length and averages out at 6.6% gradient. Like many of these Spanish slopes, the upper sections are tougher after an easier opening period, maxing out at 11.25% just before they crest the summit. A brief plateau then follows, leading into the descent which sends the bunch head first into the day’s second ascent immediately.

The second Category 1 climb of Stage 20 is Puerto de la Morcuera, a longer challenge of 11.5km, but one with a softer and more regular gradient of 5.4%. From the summit the peloton will have clocked up a little under 70km worth of racing, leaving them with just over 100km still remaining of the decisive day. The descent from the summit passes down to the base of the valley, before then building again and starting the third climb around the 116km marker. Though differing in nature, this is in fact the same as the previous climb, a consequence of the racing beginning to loop back on itself en route to the finish in Cercedilla. The Puerto de la Morcuera’s second appearance of the stage comes from its opposite side, making it a 10.4km climb with an average gradient of 6.6%, only possessing a short lived maximum incline of 9.5%.

A shorter descent than previous then follows, passing through the intermediate sprint and onwards to the final ascent of the day. Puerto de Navacerrada appears once again, though experiences a name change to the Category 1 Puerto de Cotos as a result of the alternative approach, averaging 5.4% and totalling 11km from bottom to top. Once again the opening slops are simple enough, riding upwards to a sustained 6% – 7% run of gradient, peaking yet again ahead of the summit to a maximum of 8.5%.

Less than 20km will separate the frontrunners from Stage 20’s finale, nearly all of which is a sustained descent right the way down to the final kilometre pennant ahead of the line. The road maintains an ever so slight incline of between 2% – 3% during the last kilometre and does not pose a great deal of technical issues which stage winning hopefuls will have to worry about.

La-Vuelta-A-España-2015-Stage-20

Contenders:

Tom Dumoulin remains the strongest looking rider in the final week of this year’s La Veulta a España, but his workload will be immense to retain the lead on a day which is bound to isolate him and leave the Dutchman spinning plates as he calculates who to chase and who to let slip. He took three further seconds from Fabio Aru during the cobbled finale of yesterday’s stage, though it will be surprising if after everything which has preceded this last mountains stage, that such a tight advantage has a huge affect on the overall race outcome. That is to say, on Stage 20’s parcours, Tom Dumoulin will either stick to the wheel of his rivals like glue and cross the line in their shadow, or he will finally be overcome by the attrition rate and crack entirely. Whichever of the two rings true today, spectators are sure to witness an intriguing climax to 2015’s final grand tour.

Fabio Aru hit the deck hard yesterday, lost time to Dumoulin and even appeared to struggle with the pace on the day’s final descent into town; not encouraging signs. The Italian has to make a big move today if he hopes to bury his Dutch rival and take the Red Jersey at the final time of asking. Astana have the strength and depth to make life difficult for Dumoulin, a man who came here with little support due to the unexpected position within which he now finds himself, instead now relying on the likes of John Degenkolb to offer him assistance; something Astana are bound to exploit. Despite it being an unpredictable stage as to when the fireworks will truly erupt, for Fabio Aru, it seems that he will invest everything into cracking Tom Dumoulin on the final ascent. His biggest issue is that the gradients are not favourable and nor is it a summit finish for the Italian to strike for. Coupled with the long descent into the finish and Dumoulin’s apparent strength in the midst of the hardest days, Aru will have to conjure up something spectacular to win 2015’s La Vuelta a España.

Alejandro Valverde performed convincingly during the last three stages and even appeared to be toying with the elite group of riders during the descent into yesterday’s finish; upping the tempo and looking round to gauge their reaction. He could have seriously targeted several of the stages in the final week of the race, but today could certainly emerge as the most worthwhile day to put his talents on the line for another stage win. Given his swashbuckling nature, Valverde will not fear risking everything in order to bridge back to the front group on the descent, nor push on to put the likes of Aru or Dumoulin under pressure if he is already present. Due to the general classification dynamic which imbues the day with greater aggression and anxiety, it seems likely that the usual top 15 – 20 riders will catch the breakaway and come to the line together. In this scenario, Alejandro Valverde will be confident of executing his great turn of pace to secure victory in Cercedilla.

Rafal Majka must not be placed beyond the picture of today’s contest, the Pole knows he still has plenty to race for and could be enticed to attempt something unexpected as a result. Joaquim Rodriguez will be most concerned by any activity from Majka, as both are still fighting desperately to secure a podium spot. Unlike his Spanish rival, Majka appears to have sustained a greater level of condition into this final week of the race and is more likely to drop Rodriguez than vice versa.

Nairo Quintana is another man on the general classification who might fancy his chances of making gains on the final day and impact upon the final standings. The Colombian has not been at his best during La Vuelta due to a combination of Le Tour de France hangover and a viral infection of sorts, though he could muster something here. It appears that his form is now beginning to come round at last, his superb effort in the individual time trial being the strongest marker of that thus far. Rafal Majka and Joaquim Rodriguez will both need to stay alert to his movements, as out of the three, Quintana would be able to inflict the greatest damage if indeed riding as strongly as believed.

Domenico Pozzovivo has appeared in convincing form throughout the race, but has just fallen short of riding the sort of day which earns a rider a stage victory. Today is his final chance to remedy this and he could finally discover he has the freedom to attempt precisely that. Given his placing on the general classification, the impetus to close him down will come from further down on the standings and from one rider only; Louis Meintjes. Should these two indeed instigate a sparring session between them, it is easy to imagine those sitting more comfortably at the top of the standings allowing them to vanish up the road and possibly even allow them to decide the stage outcome amongst themselves.

Daniel Moreno‘s race is not over and he could still yet be crowned with a stage victory at the final time of asking. A cagily ridden race would help Moreno stay in contention with the likes of Alejandro Valverde as they reach the summit of the final climb, after which he is bound to fancy his chances in a sprint from an elite group where his compatriot Valverde will be his greatest adversary present.

Those who could also be encouraged to animate the race in order to aid a team leader in a late attack or climb up the general classification themselves are: Gianluca BrambillaRomain SicardKenny Elissonde, Esteban Chaves, Fabrice Jeandesboz and Giovanni Visconti.

Outcome:

1st Alejandro Valverde 2nd Gianluca Brambilla 3rd Daniel Moreno

Outsider: Nairo Quintana

La-Vuelta-A-España-2015-Stage-19

La Vuelta a España – Stage 19 Preview

Course:

This year’s La Vuelta a España is running out of opportunities for the teams and their riders to strike it lucky with a win and Stage 19 will no doubt instigate a frantic start as most of the peloton attempt to make their way into the day’s breakaway. Around 90km of ever so slightly rising roads will make it difficult for a move to establish itself once the bunch are on the road, but expect the size of the eventual group to be large, perhaps between 15 – 25 riders as team’s attempt to make their presence here worthwhile.

Medina del Campo will host the riders’ departure point for Stage 19 and set them on their way to the 186.8km journey to the day’s finish in Ávila. Building steadily from the off, it will not be until the 92km marker where the bunch will finally face a significant feature of the day’s profile; the Category 3 Alto de Valdelavía. A simple enough ascent which lasts 13km and averages out with a gradient of 2.7%, it will fail to impact upon the day’s outcome. From the summit, the bunch will drop down into the valley via a gradual descent, before beginning to climb yet again 35km from the finish in Ávila. 

Once the intermediate sprint is tackled by 158km, the day’s concluding descent begins immediately, maxing out just shy of 20km from home. The climb of Alto de la Paramera is a total of 8.7km and averages a manageable gradient of 4.5%, an ascent which could act as a springboard for those in the breakaway who will reach this climb first. Though there is still everything to play for in regards to the Tom Dumoulin and Fabio Aru dynamic, it seems more likely both shall keep their powder dry ahead of what is bound to be the more pivotal Stage 20. This means the escapees should be allowed to maintain their advantage into Ávila, where an uphill finish and cobble roads are set to make this conclusion just a little tougher still.

 

La-Vuelta-A-España-2015-Stage-19

Contenders:

Alejandro Valverde will be the favourite to win if the breakaway capitulates late on in the day, the Spanish rider suiting this finale well and will certainly jump on the chance to add to his stage haul at this year’s La Vuelta a España. A man who performs well at the Ardennes and possesses a potent turn of pace, it is easy to see him dominating on the cobbled climb which precedes the finish.

Giovanni Visconti was a well backed rider to find success in yesterday’s breakaway, but sadly he struggled to identity the right move and consequently spent the day back in the bunch. Movistar will lean upon him once again today and request he does his utmost to make the cut on this occasion. With a limited amount of climbing and a finish which should favour those with a fair sprint capability, Visconti suits the requirements of Stage 19 well.

Stephen Cummings is still riding strong at the tail-end of this grand tour and he should be watched in the formative moments of the race as the breakaway attempts to establish its composition. Though absent from the previous day’s moves, Cummings will be the best card to play for MTN-Qhubeka and should be considered a danger man on a day which favours the breakaway’s chances of staying away to the line.

Alessandro De Marchi is another such breakaway specialist who has ridden impressively throughout La Vuelta, securing himself a stage win along the way. Today is perhaps not as tough as the terrain which usually draws the Italian out into a successful move, but at this point in the race it comes down more to condition than simply relevant talents; making him an ideal confederate to have amongst the break’s ranks.

Simon Gerrans was highlighted to make himself known on yesterday’s stage as a way of testing his condition ahead of this year’s World Championship Road Race, but this failed to materialise. Stage 19 is the last opportunity he will have to attempt such an exercise and the finale does suit the Australian quite well. The amount of climbing is unlikely to prove problematic for Gerrans, and with the cobbled hill coming a little way before the line, he could definitely challenge for the win.

Geraint Thomas might be tasked with getting into the day’s move, Sky no doubt eager to capitalise once again in the breakaway and avoid having to commit anything to the chase beyond protecting Mikel Nieve’s general classification position. Given their success yesterday however, they might be content with calling it quits at this year’s Vuelta and enter Madrid feeling a little fresher. The Welshman enjoyed an impressive Spring campaign this season and it is easy to see today’s late mixture of ‘hellingen’ and cobbles catching his eye.

José Joaquín Rojas could well feel a bit cooked after his exploits in the previous day’s breakaway, but he has ridden very strongly throughout the race and it is hard to see him call it a day with Stage 19 being such a good fit for him. Rojas will be a tough adversary amongst any group which contests the finale, and with the added drag to the line, it all adds up to a very enticing stage for the Spaniard.

Adam Hansen will be a man fancied to feature today, his reputation for a long breakaway preceding him, while the Australian is also known for utilising his brute strength to power through these final days of a grand tour. Of course, like Rojas, he did work hard on the previous stage and could decide that his hopes of another stage win at La Vuelta a España will have to wait until next year’s edition.

Julien Simon might choose to have one last attempt at picking up a stage win for his team Cofidis at 2015’s La Vuelta during today. The Frenchman has already taken three top ten placings, including a runner up spot on Stage 13 behind Nelson Oliveira and may emerge once again at the final time of asking. The uphill sections into the finish should not discourage him either, factoring in his sprinting ability, Simon actually suits today well if he can join the right move.

Rinaldo NocentiniNelson OliveiraTosh Van Der Sande and Moreno Moser all warrant a passing mention as those who could bolster the ranks of a decisive breakaway.

The ongoing Tom Dumoulin versus Fabio Aru battle also deserves a few words here, as it is possible that we may witness more activity than we expect between the two on Stage 19. The climbs do not really suit Aru, and given their nature, Dumoulin should not struggle to pace his way up them with the Italian safely in sight. However, the finale which includes a cobbled climb and rising roads in the last 2km, could prove advantageous for Dumoulin to actually take more time from Aru. The Dutchman performs strongly on these short, sharp climbs and could certainly put down the power in order to add a couple of seconds to his current lead.

Outcome:

1st Giovanni Visconti 2nd Adam Hansen 3rd Geraint Thomas

Outsider: Alejandro Valverde

La-Vuelta-A-España-2015-Stage-18

La Vuelta a España – Stage 18 Preview

Course:

After the drama of yesterday’s individual time trial shook up the general classification, Stage 18 returns to the riders to the open roads and offers up a day likely to instigate typical Vuelta a España style late drama. From the departure in Roa, the route takes the peloton over three categorised climbs during the 204km journey to the finish in Riaza, though the opening two Category 3 ascents should prove to be simple enough ‘bread and butter’ riding for the pack. It is instead the Category 1 Puerto de la Quesera which will catch the eye as the point many will expect the day’s outcome to pivot upon, an ascent tough enough to form an elite group which can launch itself over the other side and into the finish at Riaza; assuming a breakaway is not already an unreachable distance ahead.

Having completed the first 25km of Stage 18, the bunch will be aware of a slight upwards drag which begins pulling them closer to the opening double salvo of categorised climbs. Alto de Santibañez de Ayllón (7.8km avg 4%) comes as the first of these two climbs and is swiftly followed by the Alto del Campanario (6.5km avg 3.9%). From here they drop down and tackle an extended section of acutely rolling terrain, which continually builds towards the base of the day’s final climb. Only a little over 20km shall separate the peloton from the finish as the riders begin climbing the Category 1 Puerto de la Quesera which stands before them. The 10km climb will allow plenty to find their rhythm while ascending thanks to a favourably even gradient, opening with almost 4km of easy slopes which spend most of their time in and around 2%-3% before reaching a kilometre section of 5%. The remaining passage to the top is tilted predominately at 7%, though it softens nearer the summit to resemble a gradient closer to 6% than 7%.

A total of 13km will remain by this point, though this quick descent will only last for about 9km before returning to the flat for a 6km run to the line, of which the second half is essentially poker straight.

 

La-Vuelta-A-España-2015-Stage-18

Contenders:

Alejandro Valverde is likely to be a name we shall find ourselves repeating during the final stages of this year’s La Vuelta a España, the swashbuckling Spaniard is well suited to these concluding days and will certainly fancy securing another stage win before Madrid. Today does offer such an opportunity to do this, Valverde looked strong in yesterday’s individual time trial and should not struggle to make it over the top of the Puerto de la Quesera in a good enough position to make the most of the following descent and contest the win.

Gianluca Brambilla has looked good enough to challenge for a stage win on several occasions during this year’s Vuelta a España and he could be up for today’s battle too. The Italian is still surprisingly well placed on the general classification and may decide to keep his energy in reserve, rather than join a move, and utilise it later in the week to cement his place in the standings. Brambilla certainly has the required skills to make the most of the fast descent and would be one of the quickest men present in an elite group which comes to the line

Giovanni Visconti will be another fantastic alternative for Movistar to back on a day which will provide the breakaway with a convincing chance of going all the way. Visconti has a great talent for joining an effective move and will not be deterred on a day which is rolling throughout and contains a Category 1 ascent only 2okm from the line. However, the biggest attribute which marks him out as a favourite to win from a break is the Italian’s fantastic turn of pace, a potent sprint which will be difficult to better for many rivals.

Daniel Navarro‘s race thus far has been surpassingly quiet, but the Spaniard still has a good chance of stamping his authority on a stage finale such as this. On a good day, Navarro has the strength to make it over the final climb and could certainly slip off the front of the peloton during the descent, catching the riders napping and soloing to victory.

Simon Gerrans has endured a torrid season of bad luck and injuries, but he states that his focus is still primarily centred upon that of the Richmond World Championship Road Race in Virginia. Stage 18 could be a good day to test the legs before the end of the Vuelta, though the final climb and run into home do not quite suit him as ideally as he would like.

José Joaquín Rojas will be one of the fastest riders in a bunch gallop should an elite group tackle the final kilometres together and is yet another possibility for team Movistar on Stage 18. Rojas is one of the better climbers in regards to the quick men and will find the even gradients of the Puerto de la Quesera simple enough, if the peloton do not strike an intense tempo during the ascent. Much like several names mentioned here, Rojas could even be part of a move which fractures late on in the race and contests the outcome amongst themselves. Ultimately, if the Spaniard is present during a sprint finish, he could prove difficult to beat.

Stephen Cummings has been enjoying a good year and is still going strong at this year’s La Vuelta a España, demonstrated by yesterday’s top ten placing in the individual time trial; one which did not play to his strengths. Breakaways are a well documented penchant of the British rider and Stage 18 fits the bill as another platform for him to strut his stuff and try to bring yet further glory to his team MTN-Qhubeka. Combining his rouleur capabilities with time trial pacing skills, Cummings should make it over Puerto de la Quesera in good condition and attempt to treat the final kilometre of flat riding as a solo prologue ride to the line.

Niki Terpstra looked fantastic in the opening week of La Vuelta, but has surprisingly remained lacking of a stage win up to this point in the race. Either functioning in a breakaway or attempting a late attack on the descent (or even closer to the finish), Terpstra will go into time trial mode and set a difficult tempo in order to bring him back to the group.

Nicolas Roche might prove to be the best man to back for Team Sky, in order to reduce their requirements at the front go the peloton during the day. He has been the most active rider in the roster so far, making it into various moves and appears to have exited the three day run of mountain stages in good enough condition to feature here.

Outcome:

1st Stephen Cummings 2nd Nicolas Roche 3rd Giovanni Visconti

Outsider: Gianluca Brambilla

La Vuelta a España – Stage 17 Preview

Course:

Much has been made of Stage 17 and its individual time trial as being the defining moment of this year’s La Vuelta a España, a day where many could see their overall ambitions sink without trace and where one rider could perhaps even win the tour outright. Today’s 38.7km race against the clock offers little in the way of salvation for the climbing specialists who currently sit towards the upper tier of the general classification. Instead, the long and wide open roads which thread their way in and around the city of Burgos will favour the big engined time trialists who twirl huge gears as if it were the Sunday club run to the nearest Café. Many are bound to find themselves overexposed after a tough Vuelta a España which has continually sent them into uncharted territory in order to test themselves against monstrous gradients never seen before at the race. If there was ever a time during these three weeks to rally every ounce of energy and engage all possible muscle fibres for around 45mins worth of effort, it is today; capitulation here will not merit a place on the podium in Madrid.

La-Vuelta-A-España-2015-Stage-17

Contenders:

Tom Dumoulin is expected to dominate proceedings today and possibly place himself upon an infallible path to becoming the first Dutch grand tour winner since Joop Zoetemelk won Le Tour de France in 1980. Dumoulin is one of, if not possibly, the best time trialist in the world this year and is many pundits favourite to walk away from Richmond, Virginia in a few weeks time with the rainbow bands across his chest. He heads into today’s stage 1’51” behind race leader Joaquim Rodriguez, an achievable margin to overturn on a course which does not favour his Spanish rival; as Rodriguez’s best time trial performances have come upon much tougher rolling terrain. The biggest cause for concern in regards to Dumoulin’s chances of winning Stage 17 and putting considerable time into his general classification rivals is the level of fatigue with which he enters today. However, other than Stage 16, he seems to have paced the majority of his defensive work very well in the mountains and he should be strong off the back of a rest day.

Vasil Kiryienka should be considered the greatest threat to the hope of a Dutch win on Stage 17. The Belarusian Sky rider is known for his immense strength and ability to churn over huge gears at the front of the peloton in the face of severe gradients. Recent years have seen him finish 3rd and 4th (on two occasions) at the World Championship Individual Time Trial and should subsequently ring alarm bells for others with eyes on the win today. His form at the World’s clearly indicates an ability to exit the Vuelta a España in fantastic condition which allows him to contest the podium places in recent years at the event. This should mean Kiryienka is the man most likely to stand between Tom Dumoulin and stage victory in Burgos, his easier race thus far perhaps even giving him the edge.

Stephen Cummings is known for his affinity for prologue or similarly styled time trials, but today will come as a great opportunity to impress his team with the hope of securing a spot at the World’s later this month. The British rider has enjoyed a fantastic year at MTN-Qhubeka, a move which has offered him a greater level of freedom and subsequently reaped the benefits of such opportunities afforded to him. Though it is difficult to see him bettering Dumoulin and Kiryienka, a podium placing could be an achievable target.

Jurgen Van den Broeck has altered his ambitions as of late and used this year’s La Vuelta a España as a springboard to acquire condition ahead of the World Championship Individual Time Trial. The Belgian has rediscovered his prowess against the clock and perceives it to be strong enough to warrant burying general classification hopes in the meantime, in order to focus upon Richmond, Virginia. The predominantly flat terrain will allow him to put down the power, while any kicks in the road will not worry this strong climbing Belgian.

Beyond those mentioned above, little remains in the way of riders truly blessed with the skill set required to dominate a time trial such as this. However, due to the attrition rate at the Vuelta, this does mean much of the day’s placings will be influenced more by condition rather than talent, so unexpected performances are more plausible. This is bound to mean Fabio Aru will place relatively highly, due to the lack of depth of time trialists and could perhaps even offer Joaquim Rodriguez a higher placing than expected too. The Spaniard has displayed great performances against the clock this season, but this will be very difficult to produce on a course which does not play into his strengths at all. Aru on the other hand is a competent time trial rider and should be the one to make the biggest gains in the general classification beyond Tom Dumoulin. Rafal Majka should also benefit today, while Mikel Nieve and Esteban Chaves are likely to lose a considerable amount of time due to the lack of climbing here.

Outcome:

1st Vasil Kiryienka 2nd Tom Dumoulin 3rd Jurgen Van den Broeck