Liège–Bastogne–Liège Race Preview

Liége-Bastogne-Liége 2016 – Race Preview

Course:

As ever, Liége-Bastogne-Liége comes as the crescendo to a week of Ardennes racing, a gruelling 253km finale to draw the curtain over another year of racing in this unique corner of Europe. One of the only monuments to still trace a familiar route between the towns which comprise its name, Liége-Bastogne-Liége pivots around a familiar set of climbs in recent history; Cote de La RedouteCote de la Roche-aux-Faucons and Cote de Saint-Nicolas. One difference this year is the inclusion of a late cobbled climb in order to add further pressure to controlling the race with 3km remaining; Rue de Hal averaging 10.5% for 600m looking an ideal springboard for a late attack.

Liége-Bastogne-Liége Race Preview

Contenders:

Alejandro Valverde once again demonstrated his apparent infallibility to anticipate the Mur de Huy perfectly and win Flèche Wallonne during the week, now making him the clear favourite for today’s race as a result. The question mark over the weather here could be the biggest risk factor for Valverde, the Spaniard has set his mind on entering the Giro d’Italia in top form and should the race become an attritional affair it is easy to see him falling out of contention. Regardless, he remains the rider to beat and will feel confident of bettering most rivals in a sprint after 253km of racing.

Irishman Dan Martin has a great love of this race and is unfortunate to have not already won this more than his sole victory in 2013. He excels on this type of terrain and can certainly match Valverde on the hills, but now finds an added dynamic in his new teammate Julian Alaphilippea man who could hamper any chase for Martin with his presence as nobody will wish to tow him into contention. Such a situation would play neatly into Martin’s hands and motivate him to strike out solo in the final kilometres.

Julian Alaphilippe is the perfect alternative to Etixx-Quick Step’s plans with Dan Martin, the young French rider has grown into a specialist for the Ardennes in the last couple of seasons and is now one of the biggest threats to Valverde in a sprint. He chased the Spaniard home for second place at Flèche Wallonne during the week and is clearly in great condition for this last battle at the Ardennes. Etixx will look to set him up as part of an elite group with the hope of him being the fastest man remaining as the line approaches.

Alongside the three obvious contenders above, there is a supporting cast of interesting outsiders who could prove dangerous if given too much freedom late on. The likes of Romain BardetRui Costa and Warren Barguil all have the required talents to conjure up unexpected showings and cause a surprise win at the penultimate monument of the year; after which the wait begins to Autumn’s Il Lombardia.

Outcome:

1st Dan Martin 2nd Julian Alaphilippe 3rd Alejandro Valverde 

La_Flèche_Wallonne_Preview

Rapido Guide – La Flèche Wallonne

Course:

Part two of this week’s triptych of Ardennes classics sees La Flèche Wallonne and its dramatic finale of the Mur De Huy return once again to bridge the gap between Amstel Gold and Liége-Bastogne-Liége. Despite just falling short of a typically classics sized 200km (196km to be precise), the repeated ascents of this region’s short, sharp hills is a draining affair as teams do their utmost to tee up a hectic melee upon the Mur de Huy’s gruelling slopes; maxing out at 25% towards the top.

La_Flèche_Wallonne_Preview

Contenders:

Alejandro Valverde will be many pundits favourite for another victory at La Flèche Wallonne, potentially making it three consecutive titles in addition to his first win in 2006. The Movistar leader has had an impressive start to the season, though his preparation has altered this year as a result of the dawning realisation that he may in fact have a shot at winning the Giro d’Italia next month. Regardless of his unusual preparation on this occasion, Valverde is a mastermind at anticipating his rivals ahead of the finish and such experience often compensates for a few lacking percentages of fitness.

Dan Martin has always performed well at this race, despite normally focusing upon the preceding Amstel Gold and following Liége-Bastogne-Liége instead; 2016 appears to be the first time he has targeted this race on purpose. His performance at Pais Vasco was far from encouraging, but it seems he rode this simply to keep the legs turning and perhaps it is best to avoid reading too much into his showing. Martin is a true specialist upon these steep gradients, so combining this with a real focus upon performing well here, the Irishman should emerge as a contender.

Much like Martin, Sergio Henao has everything needed to win this race and has already come close to achieving this goal in 2013. In 2016 Henao’s condition has been very impressive, only losing the Pais Vasco title in the final day’s time trial to Alberto Contador off the back of an extremely strong week of racing. He fits the mould of a Flèche Wallonne champion convincingly and will be one of the frontrunners during the last charge to the line.

Julian Alaphilippe is returning well from illness and seems destined to enjoy a successful career at the Ardennes, though this year’s races may come too soon for a victory and a podium would be equally impressive given recent sickness. It always seems difficult gauging the chances of Tom Jelte-Slagter ahead of big one day races such as these, but it is worth keeping him in mind on a course which has already seen him finish in the top ten twice.

Outcome:

1st Dan Martin 2nd Sergio Henao 3rd Alejandro Valverde

Amstel_Gold_Race_Preview

Rapido Guide – Amstel Gold 2016

Course:

Our official Rapido Guide to the exhilarating Ardennes classics begins with the infamous Amstel Golda race which has often churned up a surprise thanks to a testing course and highly tactical finale. This year’s edition is a familiar affair, likely to be decided by the strongest of riders on the Cauberg, where an elite group is often seen trading punches as they haul themselves to the top. Those first over the Cauberg for the final time will then have 1.8km separating them from the line, a stressful stretch of tarmac as riders calculate which wheels to follow and when to launch their move for the victory. Overall, 2016’s Amstel Gold is 248.7km long and packs in a staggering 34 recognised climbs to help decide who deserves the title of champion.

Amstel_Gold_Race_Preview

Contenders:

Michael Matthews has ridden incredibly strongly so far this season and we are not even into summer yet, so his form is only expected to get better still. The Australian rider should cope well with these short climbs throughout the race and will utilise a strong Orica-GreenEDGE team to keep all moves on a tight leash, hoping to power up the Cauberg on the final ascent in pursuit of victory. His performance at 2015’s World Road Race Championships showcased his talents on a demanding course like this and he could emerge as the man to beat during the final 1.8km run into the finish.

Michal Kwiatkowski is the defending champion here and will hope to stay in contention during the final decisive ascent of the Cauberg. He has already won E3 this year, but then looked less impressive at Ronde van Vlaanderen, though Amstel Gold is a far bigger target for him in 2016 and should hope to rise to the occasion here.

Julian Alaphilippe experienced a breakthrough season at these Ardennes races last year and will look to build upon that in 2016 by winning one. Though he has recently battled illness, Alaphilippe appears to be riding himself into ideal condition ahead of these races which he has performed so well at previously. He is a great threat to many, as he has the potential to drop others on the Cauberg, attack solo or even win a reduced sprint finish; a risky man who cannot be afforded too much space.

Other riders who may emerge as surprise challengers if they make it into the race winning move on the day include Simon GerransTony Gallopin and Ben Swift.

Outcome:

1st Michael Matthews 2nd Julian Alaphilippe 3rd Michal Kwiatkowski

Rapido Guide – Branbantse Pijl 2016

Course:

While most fans and riders are still recovering from the maelstrom which was Paris-Roubaix, this week’s stopgap ahead of the major Ardennes Classics is filled by the lumpy Branbantse Pijl, serving up an insight as to 2016’s favourites for Amstel Gold, Fléche Wallone and Liège-Bastogne-Liège

Brabantse-Pijl-2016

Contenders:

Orica-GreenEDGE will fancy their chances of adding another victory to their recent Paris-Roubaix triumphant through the ever-improving Michael Matthews. The young Australian rider’s ability in a sprint has been impressive for some time now, but it is his growing talent on the climbs which have moulded him into the deadly rider we see now. Twice a runner-up in this race, Matthews clearly performs well on this type of course and used this as a stepping stone to the bigger Ardennes Classics last year; almost delivering him his first win there. His biggest concern in pursuit of victory will be controlling the breakaway and covering attacks via his Orica teammates on a rolling course which benefits aggressive riders.

Those mostly likely to rival Matthews in a potential sprint finish are Bryan Coquard (who can contribute to the chase with his Europcar team) and Sonny Colbrelli (limited chasing resources). Tony Gallopin has an encouraging record here and certainly has the skills to convert this into a victory; often the fastest in an elite group and strong enough to go solo. Other riders who are bound to catch the eye are Dries DevenynsTim Wellens and Silvan Dillier.

Outcome:

1st Michael Matthews 2nd Bryan Coquard 3rd Tony Gallopin

 

Paris-Roubaix Preview 2016

Course:

Having put to bed the Tour of Flanders for another year last weekend, the wait for another opportunity to make history has been brief for the riders. Paris-Roubaix now finds itself next on the agenda for much of the peloton, poised to rattle the bones of all and certain to introduce an unlucky few to the cobbles for a ‘closer inspection’. Recent years have seen dusty editions contested on a regular basis, plumes of sunbaked dirt rising skywards thanks to the obscenely large cavalcade of motos and cars churning up a choking smokescreen, within which the riders find themselves racing for most of the day. The fact that 2016’s edition could be wet is certain to cause anxiety for many ahead of the race, as a few millimetres of rain can soon turn the jagged cobbles into a surface as slippery as ice – only a select few would welcome such conditions.

Whatever the weather, the 27 sectors of pavé will be a brutal selection process that can only be softened through an amalgamation of power, endurance, nous and luck. The peloton will at least be afforded almost 100km to prepare for the opening sector, as once the ball starts rolling, there shall hardly be an opportunity to take breath between each vicious stretch of pavé. A total of 52.8km shall be spent surfing from one cobblestone to the next during this 257.5km affair, with great attention focused upon the traditional triumvirate of Trouee d’Arenberg, Mons-en-Pevele and Carrefour de l’Arbre which all feature once again in 2016 and have each proven decisive over the years.

As is tradition, the final moment of Paris-Roubaix will be played out within the historic Roubaix velodrome, where a one and a half lap battle between the surviving men has often been the climax to proceedings. Though someone might just be lucky enough to enter solo and savour this victory lap on their own before crossing the line to lift the cobbled trophy unchallenged in the finale.

Paris-Roubaix

Contenders:

It is strange to consider a peloton without Fabian Cancellara acting as one of its greatest ambassadors, though thankfully his retirement is still some time away and he shall be firing on all cylinders as he attempts to tie with Tom Bonnen and Roger De Vlaeminck for most wins – 4. The Swiss legend obviously hopes to end this year with a major win of some sort, and having come so close at Ronde van Vlaanderen last weekend, Cancellara evidently has the form to achieve such an ambition. Paris-Roubaix victories always owe a small debt to luck, but it is the ability to stay out of danger and anticipate crucial moves which seals the win for most, a talent honed through experience and one which Fabian Cancellara has in spades. His previous three wins here are testament to his innate tactical nous, while pairing this with his current condition, the title of favourite is certain to be bestowed upon him.

Sep Vanmarcke is overdue for a big win such as this and comes to the race off the back of encouraging showings at both Ronde van Vlaanderen and Gent – Wevelgem. Vanmarcke shares attributes with Fabian Cancellara, powerful enough to attack solo or follow the wheels of others for example, and it would come as little surprise to see both feature in the day’s decisive move. In 2013, these two contested the win in the Roubaix velodrome with Cancellara emerging victorious, but this year it could be wiser to back Vanmarcke for the win should a repeat occur.

When given the freedom to attack this season, Luke Rowe has proven to be incredibly strong, coping with attacks from some of the biggest riders. The Welshman has the gritty determination demanded of a winner on the cobbles and might prove even stronger should the rain emerge as a factor on Sunday. He finished 8th here last year, 5th in Ronde van Vlaanderen last weekend and was unlucky to puncture on Stage 1 of Driedaagse De Panne a couple of weeks ago; having looked strong after making the crucial race winning move alongside Alexander Kristoff, Lieuwe Westra and Alexey Lutsenko. There is no doubt that Rowe is a danger to the hopes of others and it would be no shock to see them rue letting him slip off the front unmarked.

A man who usually blossoms when attention turns to this unique set of cobbles is Dutchman Niki Terpstra, winning the race in 2014 and never shying away from making his presence felt. His season thus far has been modest, though he did take the win at La Samyn when dropping Scott Thwaites with a monstrous effort late on, so is bound to feature in one way or another. For him to take victory, expect him to capitalise upon an inch of freedom by calling upon his time trialling talents and vanishing up the road solo.

Zdeněk Štybar and Lars Boom are an interesting couple of riders given that both of last year’s first two riders home (John Degenkolb & Greg Van Avermaet) are unable to contest 2016’s edition due to injury. Štybar was third last year and is thus the highest finishing rider here from 2015, he looks strong this season, but has not quite met the demanding expectations of his team Etixx-QuickStep in these Northern European one day races so far. His cyclocross background will come in handy should conditions get slippery, a skill shared by Lars Boom who also made the move to the road from cyclocross and won 2014’s Tour de France stage which crossed these cobbles under heavy rain. Boom is a bit of a dark horse in this respect, as it may really come down to the weather more than anything else to determine if he shall be a player in the outcome.

Peter Sagan has laid the curse of the rainbow bands to rest in the last couple of weeks; first when taking Gent – Wevelgem and then again when securing one of the biggest wins of his career at Ronde van Vlaanderen. His performances at these classics in 2016 have been extremely consistent, marking him out once again as a favourite, though there are slight doubts as whether this will be enough on this occasion. His reputation goes before him and he often finds others expecting him to do the bulk of the work in a move, draining his energy and ultimately blunting his sprinting capabilities before the finale. He could form an elite group with riders such as Fabian Cancellara and Sep Vanmarcke once again, but he will have to measure his efforts well, as such a powerful break could dissolve into kicking chunks out of one another late on and reduce his chances of winning a sprint as a result.

A wildcard for the day is Cofidis’ Florian Sénéchal, the young French rider having won this as a junior in 2011, now he leads the team and will be one of the home fans’ greatest hopes of a win. He made the jump up convincingly in 2015 when finishing 17th, looks even stronger this year and could benefit greatly from a naive peloton underestimating just how talented he is.

Outcome:

1st Fabian Cancellara 2nd Sep Vanmarcke 3rd Zdeněk Štybar

Tour of Flanders Preview 2016

Course:

The 100th edition of De Ronde is poised to be a dramatic affair as we tick off the second monument of 2016 this Spring. After a week of varied Belgian cycling across the country, this Sunday’s Ronde van Vlaanderen once again sits as the cherry atop the cake of Flemmish cobbled racing. Stretching from the historic town of Brugge to Oudenaarde, the 255.9km course shall once again demand the utmost from any rider with an eye on victory here. With home stars such as Greg Van Avermaet and Tom Boonen searching for glory in this centenary edition alongside the likes of Fabian Cancellara, Peter Sagan and Tiesj Benoot; an epic battle for the title seems certain.

Ronde

Contenders:

There is little doubt that Peter Sagan enters this race with the form and skills required to win it, though his recent sprinting efforts at the end of such arduous contests do raise doubts about his ability to see such a contest out to the end. Should he manage to join a group of five or more riders which reaches the finish first, there is a good chance that he will have limited his efforts on the front and still retain enough energy to take the win with a solid sprint to the line.

Fabian Cancellara will be extremely motivated to take another win at the Tour of Flanders during his final season as a professional cyclist, especially considering his brilliant form as of late. Alongside this comes a supporting cast of Trek riders which offer the level of strength and stamina required to survive such a contest in good position in hope of making all the key moves. The Swiss rider is certain to be a major protagonist once again and will not be afforded an inch of freedom during the day’s racing.

Sep Vanmarcke really should possess a greater number of major cobbled and classic wins by this point of his career, yet the Belgian rider has often been painfully unlucky at decicive moments of races in recent years. He looks to be in good form entering the 2016 classics season and will feel confident of being the fastest man left in the many permutations of favourites which seem likely to contest the finale.

Belgian support will also be out to cheer on youngster Tiesj Benoot, a rider who has already demonstrated a prowess for this race during his senior debut in 2015 when finishing fifth. If he manages to make the selection for the decisive move once again, then he will be a threat in the final as Benoot has demonstrated his great turn of speed at the end of such races already.

Greg Van Avermaet seems to have finally solved his reputation as a nearly man and will be extremely motivated to win this 100th edition of the Tour of Flanders off the back of a Spring which has seen him better World Champion Peter Sagan on more than one occasion already. Avermaet has a very strong team at his disposal and should feature in any move which has the chance of making it all the way to the finale.

The strongest of outsiders likely to feature include Geraint ThomasZdenek StybarMichal KwiatkowskiArnaud Démare and Luke Rowe to name a handful.

Outcome:

1st Peter Sagan 2nd Fabian Cancellara 3rd Tiesj Benoot