Liége - Bastogne - Liége Race Preview 2017

Liège–Bastogne–Liège – Race Preview 2017

Course:

The week of classics racing in the Ardennes reaches its crescendo with the year’s fourth monument of the season, Liége – Bastogne – Liége; the penultimate chance to win a monument until the Giro di Lombardia in late September. Known as La Doyenne or ‘The Old Lady’, the race’s 103rd edition since its founding in 1892 totals 258km from Liege and back again to the suburb of Ans. A predominantly tame opening half will do little to worry the bunch, allowing the day’s futile breakaway to obtain their time on TV for the sponsors, before being drawn back in by the peloton during the much harder second half of the race. Once the riders begin to turn back towards the fringes of Liége, where the finish line in Ans awaits them, they shall hit a gruelling sequence of nine climbs intended to send plenty of riders out the back door. The introduction of a short cobbled section towards last year’s finish has been removed, which should mean that the familiar triumvirate of Côte de La Redoute, Côte de La Roche-aux-Faucons and Côte de Saint-Nicolas shall be the officially recognised battleground as they bear down upon Ans. However, as we have seen previously, it is the unclassified rising road into the finishing straight which has become a key springboard for remaining riders to make their move for the win. The rise lasts for almost 1.5km and hits a gradient of 10%, a challenge which will feel more like a mountain after more than 250km worth of racing.

There are many critics of The Old Lady, labelling it as a race where nothing much really happens for the most part, but in an era of teams throttling the life out of stage racing and several monuments, La Doyenne remains a contest few would wish to stake their savings on predicting.

Liége - Bastogne - Liége Race Preview 2017

Contenders:

Alejandro Valverde has once again entered the week of the Ardennes classics in the type of form which surely leaves some rivals pondering if it is even worth them showing up to contest these races. The Spaniard is in imperious form so far in 2017, the peloton all too aware of this fact when reaching the Mur de Huy during Wednesday’s La Flèche Wallonne, left to simply watch Valverde sail uphill to yet another victory. His Movistar team will seek to control the bulk of the day’s racing once again, confident that their team-leader will be able to follow the most important moves late on solo, finally putting his rivals to the sword with his customary burst of pace.

Dan Martin is still smarting from his crash in the final corner of 2014’s edition, appearing on course to defend his 2013 title and no doubt believes there to be a great deal of unfinished business with Liége – Bastogne – Liége. He was once again unable to beat Valverde at La Flèche Wallonne, though did suffer from undesirable positioning when his longterm classics rival finally attacked for the line. Martin will want to make the final kilometres as hard as possible, hoping to blunt the speed of faster finishing rivals, most likely doing so by attacking on the final rise into Ans as he did in 2014 before crashing. His buildup to 2017 has been one of his most impressive in his career, but unfortunately for the Irishman, Valverde’s has been equally eye catching.

Sergio Henao‘s progress at the Ardennes classics has been hampered over the years by unfortunate injury and all the hassle surrounding his native blood values, but the Colombian rider finally looks en route to success in 2017. The Sky rider worked hard for teammate Michal Kwiatkowski during Amstel Gold and followed it up with a convincing fourth place atop the Mur de Huy at La Flèche Wallonne. He looks strong enough to follow all the right moves and possesses a faster sprint at the end of a race like this than many would expect.

Michal Kwiatkowski is the other option for Team Sky and forms a seriously strong two man attack alongside Henao for the British outfit at Liége – Bastogne – Liége. The former World Champion has one of the fastest sprint finishes for a race like this after Alejandro Valverde, however, it seems that his growing penchant for late attacks is the method which the Polish rider is most likely to utilise in order to secure his second monument victory of 2017.

Greg Van Avermaet will be eager to eke out every last watt of his incredible Spring form, lining up at La Doyenne with serious ambitions of challenging for the win. His consistency during the cobbled classics has been extremely impressive, but this contest is an entirely different affair altogether for the Belgian and it seems unlikely that this year’s Paris – Roubaix winner will also be champion of Liége – Bastogne – Liége. With nothing to lose and no real pressure upon his shoulders, Avermaet is a very dangerous rider in relation to the hopes of day’s bigger favourites and will demand the respect of typical Liége contenders; as the Belgian will punish anyone who gifts him too much freedom.

Michael Albasini has always performed well at one day races, yet at the age of 36, still lacks the palmarés to demonstrate his talents for these gruelling events. The Swiss rider was one of the few to benefit from the introduction of the short cobbled sector of Côte de la Rue Naniot during last year’s race, utilising it effectively to really put his rivals under the hammer and thus making Albasini one of the few riders to truly miss the sector this year. His strength this year should assure him of being in the mix once again, but it often feels a struggle to back Albasini over more successful riders when it matters most in a major race.

Warren Barguil continues to improve at the Ardennes and secured himself sixth place during Wednesday’s edition of La Flèche Wallonne despite a far from ideal run into the Mur de Huy. The combative Frenchman may be more synonymous with grand tour mountain stages, yet he also finished sixth at last year’s running of Liége – Bastogne – Liége, suggesting he does favour these longs days in the saddle with plenty of climbing. He appears to be the best bet for Team Sunweb, as Michael Matthews has not really displayed enough convincing form to suggest he can take the win in Ans.

Romain Bardet spoke recently of his love for this race and its importance to lithe limbed climbing specialists like himself; La Doyenne being their best hope of a monument victory. Bardet is an aggressive rider who appears to relish the intensity of these single day races, finishing second in 2011’s U23 edition of Liége and now possessing four top 15 finishes as a senior rider; two of which being top ten placings. Bardet’s best hopes of victory will come from attacking either on the final uphill section into Ans or going much earlier during the sequence of Côte de La Redoute, Côte de La Roche-aux-Faucons and Côte de Saint-Nicolas. 

Other riders deserving of attention during the year’s fourth monument are Rui Costa, Alex HowesDylan TeunsTosh Van Der SandeSamuel SanchezJakob FuglsangEnrico GasparottoDiego UlissiRigoberto Uran and Tom Jelte-Slagter.

Outcome:

1st Romain Bardet 2nd Sergio Henao 3rd Dan Martin

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La Flèche Wallonne – Race Preview 2017

Course:

The Ardennes dishes up a midweek classic in the shape of the 81st edition of La Flèche Wallonne, placed neatly between last weekend’s Amstel Gold and the upcoming Liége – Bastogne – Liége on April 23rd. Established as a happy hunting ground for puncheur extraordinaire Alejandro Valverde in recent years, having won in 2014, 2015 & 2016; La Flèche Wallonne prides itself on an explosive finish atop the Mur de Huy to crown the day’s victor. Starting in Binche, the race travels a total of 200.5km en route to the finale in Huy, navigating the narrow roads of the Ardennes which induce stress for all teams as they seek to keep their leaders out of trouble. Several climbs will need to be tackled along the way, including two passes of the Mur de Huy itself, though it is the final attempt which is expected to prove decisive once again. With a gradient reaching 25% at times, this brutal challenge cannot be won as a fluke result, it takes a perfect balance of tactical nous and potent acceleration to attack at the ideal moment in order to win La Flèche Wallonne.

La Flèche Wallonne Race Preview 2017

Contenders:

Alejandro Valverde has made this race his own during the previous three seasons, proving unable to be caught once he accelerates hard upon the steepest section of the Mur de Huy. His early season form has been very impressive in 2017, making the prospect of going toe to toe with the Spanish veteran even more intimidating for his anticipated rivals. His Movistar team are now extremely experienced at positioning Valverde ideally at the base of the final climb, but it is his own prowess at timing his attack perfectly which has delivered him three consecutive victories thus far. For many, it seems impossible to see any other man standing atop the podium once again.

Sergio Henao looked extremely impressive while working for teammate Michal Kwiatkowski during Amstel Gold the other day and should be allowed a greater degree of freedom to lead the charge here today. The Colombian has an encouraging record at the Ardennes classics, possessing the skills necessary to attack aggressively on these ludicrously steep slopes and perhaps one of only a handful genuinely able to threaten the indomitable Valverde. Henao looks to be hitting form at the perfect time to challenge for La Flèche Wallonne and has the strength of a well equipped Sky team to slingshot him into the opening section of the Mur de Huy in pursuit of victory.

Dan Martin has become accustomed to watching the silhouette of Alejandro Valverde cross the line ahead of him in recent years at La Flèche Wallonne and has finished in the top four in 2013, 2014 and 2016. Much like Valverde, the Irishman has enjoyed a successful start to the season thus far, hopefully keeping him on par with his familiar foe in 2017. His greatest weakness has been knowing when to finally make his race winning move at this race, often coming up short of the line as a result of attacking too hard too soon, but there can only be so many times he makes this mistake without learning from it. Martin abandoned Amstel Gold, though never circled that as a serious target and it may in fact be a great indication of how assured he is of his form heading into La Flèche Wallonne right now.

Michael Albasini is a rider who seems to muster a strong performance at this race each year, though rarely mounts a serious challenge for the day’s win. His third place finish at Amstel Gold is a strong indication of his form currently, no doubt convincing Orica – Scott more than ever to back the Swiss rider with everything they have in hope of taking victory. Albasini is unlikely to have the sheer pace of riders such as Dan Martin and Alejandro Valverde, but could be the man most likely to benefit from a tactical standoff between the big favourites.

Warren Barguil has been flying under the radar during 2017 thus far, but there may be some concern that this has in fact been due to a lack of form. He was lively during Amstel Gold, appearing as one of the strongest members of the chasing group, now potentially arriving in ideal form to compete well at La Flèche Wallonne. Though he might be a lithe bodied climber, Barguil does have a strong burst of speed on these steep ramps which stretch beyond 20% and could be one most likely to breakaway solo in order to take the win. 

Michael Woods continues to impress since making his transition from running several years ago and finished a creditable twelfth place during last year’s edition. There is no doubt that he has the physical strength to challenge the bigger names, possessing a strong uphill sprint when required, but may find that a lack of good positioning leaves him with too much ground to make up once the fireworks erupt.

Other interesting riders who could all feature in the day’s final top ten are Robert GesinkLilian CalmejaneTom-Jelte Slagter and Diego Ulissi.

Outcome:

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

Amstel Gold Logo

Amstel Gold – Race Preview 2017

Course:

A hectic week of frantic cycling in and around the Ardennes region begins, as ever, with one of Dutch cycling’s greatest treats; Amstel Gold. Forming part of late spring’s famous triptych, the next eight days will be crammed with some of the season’s most aggressive riding as the peloton tackle Amstel Gold, La Flèche Wallonne and Liège–Bastogne–Liège in almost a single week. Each race favours a slightly different style of rider, though they each demand an individual to be strong, combative and intelligent in pursuit of victory. Today’s task is a 261km journey from Maastricht to Berg en Terblijt, taking in narrow roads on constant undulating terrain, creating a bunch who sees its anxieties grow as they seek to peer around the next corner. Positioning shall be a key factor for those hoping to perform well at Amstel Gold, making the battle for the front an intense contest as soon as the starting flag has been waved. A total of 35 officially recognised hills feature on course, few of which would invoke much trepidation normally, but mole hills become mountains once the race passes 200km of sustained racing. Suffice to say, Amstel Gold often becomes an attritional affair which builds tension ahead of the final attack on the finishing climb, but this course is slight different than normal. Instead, the finish in 2017 should allow a greater number of riders to come into play, favouring the strongest sprinters who are capable of surviving a day like this in good shape. Gone are the days where riders sought to put everything down on the final ascent of the Cauberg in order to win, though the iconic hill does feature throughout the day, 2017 looks set to be a reduced sprint amongst the toughest of riders.
Amstel Gold Race Preview 2017

Contenders:

Michael Matthews is one of several riders expected to challenge once again for the win at Amstel Gold, despite having never managed to convert several good showings at this race into a victory thus far. The Australian has continued to develop his ability to survive hard days in the saddle, able to emerge when it matters most at the end of the stage, easily putting rivals to the sword with his blistering pace. Matthews is not scared of joining a breakaway either, making him a crucial rider to mark for those also seeking victory, as it is unlikely any move capable of staying away could feature anyone faster than himself. Though his previous form here is exciting, the course changes will make it harder for Matthews to gain an advantage over pure sprinters, as the finish is no longer upon or shortly after the Cauberg.

Fabio Felline has been on the rise since last year and will enter today’s race with plenty of confidence that a podium place is well within his capabilities right now, if not more. His efforts during the early part of the season have showcased his durability for arduous contests, able to match some of the best in the world as the pedal revolutions tick higher and higher. The Italian is another who is dangerous due to his ability to win from either a bunch kick or breakaway move, so will not be afforded a great deal of freedom by the bigger favourites. However, his greatest issue is that he is not on par with the elite climbers and sprinters, meaning any move he makes will need to be intelligent enough to compensate for this difference in ability.

Bryan Coquard finished an impressive fourth place at last year’s edition of Amstel Gold, only losing out to Sonny Colbrelli in the sprint for third place on the day. The French rider possesses an immense turn of speed, often emerging late from behind his more powerful rivals, accelerating past them as the finish line rapidly approaches. Coquard looks to have developed a greater degree of strength and determination to stay in contention when things get tough at races such as these; with last year’s result testament to that fact. He may not have enjoyed an eye-catching Spring like others here, but the general feeling amongst those in the sport, is that Coquard has the form necessary right now to win Amstel Gold.

Sonny Colbrelli continues to surprise people with his results during the early part of 2017, appearing here off the back of victory at De Brabantse Pijl last week. Colbrelli has good form at Amstel Gold in recent years and should find that the course alterations play into his hands more than any other major contender present. Also, his team features defending champion and two time winner Enrico Gasparottoable to guide him through the maelstrom with his wealth of experience at Amstel Gold. Colbrelli is one of the best at surviving tough races, demonstrated clearly by his recent showings at Milan – San Remo; one of the hardest races a rider can face each year. With a strong combination of individual and team strength, there is a great chance that the trophy will remain in Italian hands for another year.

Greg Van Avermaet should be another rider who finds the recent route chances favourable for his chances of winning Amstel Gold. Currently enjoying an incredible year of form and successes, the Belgian hero will still emerge motivated as ever to perform well enough to challenge for the day’s honours. Assuming that the main bunch is slowly whittled down throughout the day, it is hard to see Greg Van Avermaet being absent from such a group and from that position he is currently unbeatable in a reduced sprint.

Alejandro Valverde is a rider who shall not be overjoyed by the finish no longer being determined by the testing Cauberg, so will need a new plan if he is to succeed today. The start of the season has proven fruitful for the veteran Spanish rider and many are hinting that he is in some of the best Spring form ever seen from him. As there is no longer the steep springboard on offer to catapult him to the finish line, he is now another rider seeking to be part of a much smaller group which battles it out for the victory. Should the situation arise, then Valverde is one of the hardest men to beat in a flat sprint after such a long and gruelling race.

Philippe Gilbert delivered a miraculous victory at De Ronde Van Vlaanderen a few weeks ago and has been a dominant force during the last couple of months. The Belgian champion will however struggle to replicate his previous dominance at this specific race, as the Cauberg lacking finale makes it much tougher for Gilbert to drop riders who can sprint faster than himself before the line. It is likely that he will need a much more attritional day in order to improve his odds of winning, but it is not impossible to see Gilbert once again becoming champion, especially given his current form.

Outsiders who are worth watching throughout the day are; Enrico Gasparotto, Ben Swift, Michael Albasini, Diego Ulissi, Tim Wellens and Simon Gerrans.

Outcome:

1st Sonny Colbrelli 2nd Michael Matthews 3rd Fabio Felline

Rapido Guide – Il Lombardia Preview 2016

Course:

It shall seem a lifetime ago since the riders battled it out amongst themselves for glory in the Spring classics, but they shall soon need to get back up to speed with the rigours of those races as the peloton tackle the final monument of 2016. Il Lombardia is the last major one day race of the year ahead of the World Championships and offers canny puncheurs a final chance of glory before the peloton goes into hibernation until next season. This extremely lumpy course will be a gruelling affair once the pressure ratchets up and the favourites become twitchy to the movements of their rivals on the final climbs en route to the finish. The day totals 241km as it snakes its way from Como to Bergamo, looking to chip away at the riders until the last 50km of racing instigates skirmishes to breakout, likely to form an elite group which fractures in the final 20km to the line. With more climbing than recent years, it should allow purer climbers to deal greater damage to the puncheurs, the latter favouring a small group reaching the line from which they can sprint to victory ahead of the true mountain men.

Il Lombardia

Contenders:

Romain Bardet looked in great condition at both Giro dell’Emilia and Milan-Turin, riding aggressively in the latter stages of both and certain to feel encouraged by those performances as he enters this final major race of his season. His team AG2R La Mondiale worked really well during the earlier Italian races last week, placing Bardet perfectly throughout the day and setting him up neatly for attacks late in the race.

Esteban Chaves has been in great form as of late and has improved consistently throughout the season to confirm his status as one of the most exciting prospects within the peloton for next year. He won Giro dell’Emilia with a typically clever move, though something which he might struggle to succeed with today as a result of Il Lombardia‘s much more hotly contested nature.

Rigoberto Uran has established a talent for performing well in these one day races which come after La Vuelta a España, often emerging as one of the strongest riders as the favourites approach the finale. He felt somewhat aggrieved to miss out on the win during Milan-Turin and is riding extremely strongly right now ahead of this last big battle. He should be confident of staying with the strongest and is one of the fastest finishers in a reduced sprint after a day like this.

Diego Ulissi is somewhat of an outsider, but his showings in the previous week and a finish which plays to his strengths perfectly mark him out as a true contender for victory today. Assuming he can stay with the frontrunners late in the day, Ulissi will prove extremely difficult to beat in a sprint to the line.

There is a great breadth of riders who could all ride themselves into contention for this last monument of the year, including big name contenders such as Alejandro ValverdeJulian AlaphilippeBauke MollemaDan Martin and Greg Van Avermaet.

Outcome:

1st Romain Bardet 2nd Rigoberto Uran 3rd Esteban Chaves

La Vuelta a España Preview

La Vuelta a España 2016 – Stage 12 Preview

Course:

After yesterday’s surprising exchanges between the general classification favourites, Stage 12 should follow a more orderly script, but that is not to say that the outcome will be easy to predict here. Stretching over 193.2km from Los Corrales de Buelna to Bilbao, today’s stage takes in a total of four categorised climbs and will see the roads packed with some of cycling’s maddest fans as it passes into the Basque country. The immediately steep start to the day should lure out a breakaway with a greater number of climbers present, especially those eager to accumulate points in the chase for the mountains classification. The first ascent of the day is also the toughest, the Category 1 Puerto de Las Alisas is 10km in duration and averages a steady 6% gradient, after which the pack drop down to another flat section ahead of the next climb. Second on the day comes the Category 3 Alto La Escrita (6.4km avg 4.5%), then a longer run of flat terrain leads into the first of two finishing laps and onto the Category 2 Alto El Vivero (4.2km avg 8.5%), which will be summited a second time with less than 13km from the finish. Tactics on the concluding finishing circuits will play a huge part in the outcome of Stage 12 and it will be a late call as to whether a small move can stay clear into Bilbao.

La Vuelta a España - Stage 12 Preview

Contenders:

Fabio Felline has come agonisingly close to a stage victory on a couple of occasions at this year’s race and is likely to have requested that his Trek-Segafredo teammates commit to the day’s chase in hope of setting himself up for a win in Bilbao. His climbing ability has really caught the eye in this opening week and a bit of racing, now raising the question as to whether or not rivals can make life tough enough for him on the final climb.

Gianluca Brambilla should now find himself with a great deal of freedom to attack by the peloton, as a result of having blown a large amount of time on the general classification. This type of hilly terrain, which concludes with a descent to the line, is perfect for Brambilla to launch a late attack; while he shall also be a favourite to win from a reduced bunch sprint if required to.

Alejandro Valverde could be tempted to contest the finale here, a rider who often emerges as the strongest on a course which concludes with a late ascent that leads into the finish. His focus is now focused upon securing himself another grand tour podium finish, so may instead wish to simply follow the wheels of rivals and ride defensively during what may be a tougher than expected last climb. As ever though, if he is present in a lead group which splinters from the peloton late in the day and reaches Bilbao first, then Valverde will be many’s pick for the win.

Omar Fraile seems certain to join the day’s breakaway in order to continue his mission to secure the mountains classification and shall see the start to Stage 12 as an ideal springboard to do so. The main negative aspect for Fraile in regards to winning the stage is the amount of effort he is likely to invest when securing his points, certain to blunt his ability somewhat come the final climb.

Thomas De Gendt and Alexandre Geniez will be alert to the movements of Fraile in an attempt to prevent him gaining a greater advantage on the pair of them. De Gendt is perhaps the more likely of the two to go after the stage win given his recent form, while Geniez could be playing the long game and instead focus upon collecting points rather than stage honours.

Others with the potential of taking the win include; Luis Leon SanchezMathias Frank and Dries Devenyns.

Outcome:

1st Gianluca Brambilla 2nd Fabio Felline 3rd Thomas De Gendt

 

La Vuelta a España Preview

La Vuelta a España 2016 – Stage 10 Preview

Course:

The iconic slopes of Lagos de Covadonga are poised to initiate the first true showdown amongst those anticipated to spend the next two weeks wrestling for the red jersey of 2016’s La Vuelta a España. Starting in Lugonas, the course stretches a total of 188.7km en route to the gruelling ascent of Lagos de Covadonga, with the opening 140km comprising relatively tame terrain before the Category 1 Alto del Mirador del Fito (6.2km, avg 7.8%) opens the day’s climbing account. From the summit the peloton shall descend rapidly, after which the road momentarily flattens out before almost immediately starting the ascent to the summit of the HC Lagos de Covadonga. The 12.2km challenge averages 7.2%though the ramps are far more severe and the irregular nature of the climb will see plenty crack under the strain. As seen below, the opening few kilometres feature gradients of 14% and remains in double-figures for the most part, while the final stretch to the line hits 17.5%.

La Vuelta a España - Stage 10 Preview

La Vuelta a España - Stage 10 Preview

Contenders:

Nairo Quintana may have only had one true chance to demonstrate his form, but the Colombian did appear to be the strongest rider amongst the general classification contenders currently. He will be aware that there is a need to secure a reasonable amount of time ahead of the individual time trial; Chris Froome and Alberto Contador both more talented against the clock than himself. The steep gradients and irregular nature should play more into his hands than other rivals, hopefully seeing him secure a historic win and potentially take the race lead as a result.

Chris Froome will want to shadow the moves of rival Quintana to prevent him gaining too much time on him before the individual time trial. Froome misjudged his efforts somewhat on Stage 8, subsequently losing time to rivals Quintana and Contador, so may now choose to ride defensively until more certain of his form. Regardless, if he finds himself leading the way in the final kilometres and feeling strong, Froome will certainly choose to seize upon the opportunity to gain time.

Alberto Contador looks to be riding in competitive form despite dehydration issues and an unfortunately late crash earlier in the week which left him strapped up quite severely. He favours longer climbs and will consider testing the water alongside his lead rivals on the final climb, potentially aiming to claw back some of the time he lost early on at this year’s Vuelta España.

Alejandro Valverde‘s best chance of victory will come from a race which only erupts in the final kilometres, at which point the steepest sections of the Lagos de Covadonga will offer him the perfect terrain for him to attack in pursuit of victory. Though he is a talented climber, if the likes of Nairo Quintana and Chris Froome choose to really up the pressure early in the ascent, it would be a huge task for Valverde to match them right the way to the last two kilometres.

Tejay van Garderen should be a danger from a breakaway today, as there remains a chance that the fireworks from the general classification riders will prove too late to reel them back in. His switch to stage victories at this grand tour must not prove to be a waste of time and he will view Lagos de Covadonga as a finale suited to his climbing style.

Alberto Losada has been performing extremely well at this year’s Vuelta a España, Katusha surely now viewing him as the ideal man to back for another stage victory. He has a knack for making the day’s break and certainly has the strength required to outperform most of his likely escapees en route to the summit of Lagos de Covadonga

Omar Fraile was surprisingly absent from the breakaway yesterday, perhaps indicating that he would rather collect points for the mountains classification on the biggest days, rather than rolling through numerous category 3 climbs in the next two weeks. There is no doubt that he has the legs required to perform well on Stage 10, but the hectic cut to make the early breakaway is certain to decide his hopes today.

Others worth watching include Andrey ZeitsLeopold KönigSergio Pardilla and Christophe Riblon.

Outcome:

1st Nairo Quintana 2nd Alberto Contador 3rd Chris Froome

La Vuelta a España Preview

La Vuelta a España 2016 – Stage 7 Preview

Course:

The task on Stage 7 of this year’s La Vuelta a España is a 158.5km trek from Maceda to Puebla de Sanabria, a tough day to control which offers very little in the way of flat terrain from start to finish. This short affair should prove to be another aggressive day in the saddle which sees many team’s eager to get a rider in the breakaway. A triumvirate of Category 3 ascents shall await the peloton en route to Stage 7’s finish, softening the legs ahead of a manic final 20km which appear poised to crown the winner of today. Once again at La Vuelta a España, it shall be difficult to choose whether to back the chances of the breakaway or an elite bunch kick, but a handful of names do stand clear of the rest.

La Vuelta a España - Stage 7 Preview

Contenders:

Fabio Felline was able to place on the podium once again at this year’s race and will be wondering what exactly he needs to do in order to walk away with a stage win from this opening week. The Trek-Segafredo rider appears to be in fantastic condition right now and there should be a good chance of him matching the strongest in today’s final 20km, before then outsprinting them at the finish.

Alejandro Valverde once again appears to be the most well-suited rider in the peloton in order to contest the finish of Stage 7. The Spanish veteran has support in the way of José Joaquín Rojas and Daniel Moreno and shall subsequently feel confident of possessing a strong leadout in the decisive finale of today’s stage. The attritional nature of Stage 7 should play into his hands and there is a strong chance that Movistar will be looking to set him up for the stage finish once they crest the final summit.

Samuel Sanchez will surely be eager to seize upon what appears to be some fantastic form in the twilight of his career. BMC worked hard on Stage 6 and are clearly interested in picking up a stage win while defending the red jersey of team leader Darwin Atapuma. Normally this would be a golden opportunity for Sanchez to make the day’s move and then push onwards to a stage victory via a reduced bunch kick. However, his recent performances have now forced him further up the general classification and could subsequently find himself closely tethered to the peloton.

Philippe Gilbert could prove the ideal alternative for BMC in the case of Sanchez finding his efforts stifled on Stage 7. The former world champion and Belgian hero has a strong chance of featuring here on paper, but his performances so far at La Vuelta a España have done little to suggest he will really threaten those already in good form.

Tosh van der Sande is riding himself into some good form and could well challenge for the win here, though a slight uphill drag to the line may make it difficult to outperform the likes of those mentioned above who are bound to find the terrain more preferable.

Others well worth keeping an eye upon during the day are; Simon Clarke, Kristian Sbaragli and Nikias Arndt.

Outcome:

1st Fabio Felline 2nd Alejandro Valverde 3rd Philippe Gilbert