Il Lombardia Race Preview – 2017

Course:

As Autumn begins to set in across Europe, the race of the falling leaves once again signifies the end of the year’s major races, concluding the season’s monuments campaign with Il Lombardia. Starting in Bergamo and travelling 247km to the finish at Como, the day’s racing is expected to be fierce as ever, with plenty of riders in good form after a late surge in promise off the back of the Vuelta a España and World Championships last month. The route itself is based upon 2015’s course, one which delivered Vincenzo Nibali the win on that day, packing much of the toughest climbing into the final third of the day’s racing. Though a couple of recognised ascents are present during the opening 150km, it is not really until the riders reach the Madonna del Ghisallo where life in the saddle gets really difficult. Lasting for 8.6km and averaging a gradient of 6.2%, the rise includes maximum inclines of 14% and should give an early indication of who is contention for the final win. The biggest challenge of the day soon follows, a chance of seeing some big names crack on the Muro di Sormano and its mind numbing gradients which touch 27%; under 2km of gruelling climbing. A relatively extended period without climbing lasts until 226km has been completed, from which point the final fireworks are anticipated to be ignited. The climb to Civiglio is a likely launchpad for an attack, a 4.2km rise which peaks at 14%, with riders reaching the summit and hurtling down to face their final climb of the day; San Fermo della Battaglia (3.3 km, avg. 7.2%). The final kilometres are not technically demanding, though after such a fatiguing affair, even the slightest inclines are bound to be magnified.

 

Il Lombardia Race Preview 2017Il Lombardia Race Preview 2017

Contenders:

Rigoberto Uran has shown to be in brilliant form late in the year and will find the finale of this year’s race suited to his talents. The Colombian looks to have peaked perfectly for this last monument and will enter the race with great confidence of succeeding in his endeavours. Able to stick the pace of the favourites on the steepest sections and possessing a punchy acceleration which few can match, Uran is a major contender on a day where those lacking in condition will be hit hardest.

Vincenzo Nibali shall have flashed a grin when first seeing the course for 2017’s edition of his native monument, the route mirroring the one which previously delivered him the win at this race a couple of years ago. With the demands meeting that of a queen stage at a grand tour, Nibali is certainly equipped with the tools needed to survive, but it is still uncertain whether he is truly poised to put his rivals to the sword once again here. If still in contention after the ascent of Muro di Sormano, then there is a strong possibility he will seek to breakaway solo in the remaining kilometres and replicate his win of 2015.

Adam Yates was not far behind Rigoberto Uran during the week’s Milano – Torino and will believe that a tweaking of tactics could land him a major victory to add to his growing palmarès. He has had to endure an awkward year of racing, but now looks to be edging closer to the kind of form which makes him a true contender on such a tough day of attritional racing. Yates will need to focus on conserving energy for as long as possible, as with terrain which is not perfect for the British rider, he knows that every ounce of power will be required to make one big attack stick right to the line at Como.

Julian Alaphilippe appeared on course for the World Championship title late in the day at Bergen, but the race failed to follow his plan ideally, though Il Lombardia offers an ideal remedy to that misfortune. Another who is likely to favour a late solo move, the Frenchman will benefit from a more conservatively ridden race, allowing him to exploit the tactics of bigger favourites and commit to his move when others are beginning to flag. His performance at the World Championships off the back of the Vuelta a España was particularly encouraging, with expectations high for a good performance as a result.

Bauke Mollema is certainly capable of springing a surprise upon the big name contenders at this year’s Il Lombardia, with a tougher route providing him with some ideal opportunities to try and escape the bunch. The Dutchman has clearly targeted this race with full intentions of animating the proceedings when possible, aiming to pounce near the end of the day with one of his unmarked moves which has previously secured him major honours in the past.

Outcome:

1st Rigoberto Uran 2nd Vincenzo Nibali 3rd Bauke Mollema

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Giro d’Italia 2017 – Stage 19 Preview

Course:

Another day which offers little in the way of sustained flat roads, Stage 19’s 191km trek from San Candido / Innichen to the uphill finish of Piancavallo offers further ammunition to alter the general classification before Milano. The riding begins with the immediate uphill challenge of Passo di Monte Croce Comelco/Kreuzbergpass, a Category 3 climb which is 7.9km in length (avg 4.3% max 8%) and will soon find out any rider not blessed with strong legs on Stage 19. Leading downwards for an extended period after the day’s first summit, the next recognised climb does not feature until the rides reach just over 90km worth of racing; Category 2 Sella Chianzutan. The climb has an average gradient of 5.6% and reaches sections of 10% during its 11.7km entirety, after which, all eyes will turn to the stretch of rolling terrain which funnels the riders into the base of the day’s summit finish. The climb to Piancavallo is expected to ignite fireworks amongst the general classification riders, lasting 15.4km and averaging 7.3%, though the steeper sections are a tough 14%. The gradients are easier nearer the summit, while a series of technical challenges are apparent before the day’s frontrunners are able to sprint for the line.

giro-ditalia-2017-stage-19-preview

Contenders:

Thibaut Pinot is likely to want a good showing on Stage 19 in order to cement his prospects of a podium finish once the race concludes in Milano. He appeared strong yesterday, pacing himself well and utilising the strength of teammate Sébastien Reichenbach to stay amongst the likes of Tom Dumoulin and Nairo Quintana before kicking on for a third place finish. Assuming that the majority of top ten GC riders are present during the final kilometres, the Frenchman is certainly one most likely to attack upon this final climb of the day.

Mikel Landa saw another potential stage victory slip through his fingers once again yesterday, but could challenge once again, with a slight alteration to his tactics. Thus far, the talented climber has been seeking to strike victory from long range attacks, but his current form suggests he could instead stick the pace of the favourites and attack from within their ranks instead. He is of no real danger to the maglia rosa, so will be given the freedom to attack late in the day, while few will wish to risk blowing up to simply close down the explosive climber.

Vincenzo Nibali has implied that he will look to make Tom Dumoulin pay for his perceived arrogance, though the likelihood of truly putting the Dutchman to the sword is slim on Stage 19. After an extremely cagey affair during the final climb yesterday, the Italian did little to suggest he is riding in his best form right now, though his cunning nature always makes it risky to disregard the defending Giro d’Italia champion.

Nairo Quintana invested his energy into several small digs yesterday, at one point even managing to distance the bunch of leading maglia rosa contenders. However, the form which we saw earlier in the race has been tougher to glimpse in the previous week and uncertainty now hangs above Quintana and his ambitions to usurp Tom Dumoulin from the maglia rosa with a large enough margin to defend in the final time trial. Regardless, the Colombian has been animated in recent days and seems that he would rather try to succeed than play cat & mouse all the way into the nation’s capital.

Tom Dumoulin toyed with his rivals yesterday and now looks stronger than ever as he attempts to defend his lead upon the maglia rosa. The Dutchman is most likely to ignore the skirmishes from those attempting to secure their respective positions on the general classification, instead preferring to pace his own ride up the climb at a strong tempo. This would allow him to diminish the opportunity to attack for Vincenzo Nibali and Nairo Quintana, aiming to see both of them off with his more powerful sprinting abilities atop the finish.

It will also be worth monitoring Domenico PozzovivoIlnur Zakarin, Adam YatesPierre RollandBauke MollemaDavide Formolo and Winner Anacona.

Outcome:

1st Thibaut Pinot 2nd Nairo Quintana 3rd Tom Dumoulin

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Giro d’Italia 2017 – Stage 14 Preview

Course:

Spokenforks collected another correct prediction as a result of the immense sprinting prowess of Fernando Gaviria, demonstrating one of the best sprints we have witnessed in recent history. Regardless, Stage 14 shall certainly not be a day for the sprinters, the day structured to build to an almighty crescendo which may lure the best out of the general classification contenders once again. Starting in Castellania, the course is an incredibly flat affair as it makes its way to the uphill battle atop Oropa, clocking a total of 131km along the way. The short stage should ensure we witness fireworks amongst the big name favourites, while the summit finish could prove a springboard for an outsider to steal the glory and sneak a win from beneath the nose of the maglia rosa hopefuls.

Giro d’Italia 2017 – Stage 14 Preview

Contenders:

Nairo Quintana was never expected to contest the previous time trial victory, but to lose as much time as he did was a surprise for many. The Movistar rider shall not have expected to be so far off the leader’s jersey at this point of the race, making today’s climatic finish a golden opportunity to begin chipping away at the deficit. The ascent of Blockhaus provided blunt realisation to his rivals, the Colombian already riding in imperious form, despite expectations for him to peak later in the race. This short ascent is not ideal, but with the steeper sections and irregular nature in parts, there is little doubt that he will attempt something in order to gain time here.

Tom Dumoulin will need to keep a close eye on his strongest rival Nairo Quintana, yet this relatively short finale to the day, should mean that the Dutchman does not need to dig too deep in order to keep his healthy advantage. With no other climbs en route to the finale, there is little doubt that Team Sunweb will have everyone at their disposal to protect their captain’s lead. Dumoulin does lack the explosive attack required to match the anticipated moves on this stage, but with such a considerable margin already, it would be of no surprise should he choose to concede time here in order to stay fresh later in the race.

Thibaut Pinot is certainly not renowned for his prowess against the clock, yet many were disappointed in his performance in comparison to recent results, meaning he will have to start attacking days like these as soon as possible to keep his podium chances alive. Though he was easily distanced by Quintana upon the slopes of Blockhaus, today’s shorter ascent could allow the Frenchman to utilise his explosive attacking nature to better effect. If stage honours are of a greater focus on Stage 14, then Pinot will need only to stick close to the front of the pack, seeking to sprint hard for the finish line in an attempt to take the victory.

Vincenzo Nibali has shown a glimpse of the form which previously secured grand tour titles, making it an obvious risk to rule him out of contention on Stage 14. With little to worry about throughout the day, Nibali can focus entirely upon the summit finish, a climb which should see the Italian produce some of his best racing. The ideal situation which he will be hoping to orchestra is one of a late move, keeping pace with the likes of Dumoulin and Quintana, before investing everything in a last gasp effort to take the stage honours late in the day.

Pierre Rolland shall be on the hunt once again for a stage victory, the Frenchman rightly confident in his form at this year’s Giro d’Italia. With such a large part of the day’s racing to be contested upon flat rides, it is not ideal for him to make a success of the breakaway, but he will be a face to watch for if everything comes together in the final kilometres of Stage 14.

Others who will have eyes upon gaining time on the maglia rosa or a stage victory are Ilnur ZakarinBauke MollemaDomenico PozzovivoMikel Landa and Hugh Carthy.

Outcome:

1st Nairo Quintana 2nd Thibaut Pinot 3rd Vincenzo Nibali

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

Rio Olympics Individual Time Trial 2016 Preview

Olympic Road Race 2016 – Preview

Course:

Whereas Olympic host cities often struggle to create a testing affair for the road race, 2016’s Rio Olympics have put together the toughest course in living memory to crown one of the first gold medal champions of this year’s games. The course snakes a total of 237.5km, starting and finishing at Avenida Atlantica, though much of the racing will comprise laps of the Grumari circuit and then the tougher Canoas Vista Chinesa climb which concludes the day’s racing before heading back to the coast. To emerge victorious from this gruelling affair will carry immense respect from within the peloton, one of the few races this year which can rival a monuments victory upon a rider’s palmarès.

Rio Olympics Road Race 2016 Preview

Contenders:

Alexis Vuillermoz and Romain Bardet finished first and third in this year’s test event, no doubt entering today’s race with a great amount of confidence to repeat their success when it matters most. The possibility of a long-range attack making it to the line will appeal greatly to Vuillermoz, the AG2R rider well experienced in performing upon rolling terrain such as this. Bardet on the other hand is more likely to bide his time, poised to make a move on the final laps of the race with a focus upon the steepest gradients of the race. Julian Alaphilippe continually performs beyond expectation and will look to cause another upset today by striking out late to take the win as part of a small move or solo breakaway.

Alejandro Valverde and Joaquim Rodriguez have experienced a fractious relationship since their combined failing to win 2013’s World Championship Road Race for Spain; resolving such issues today could deliver gold for their nation. Valverde is the favourite for many here, renowned for his ability to stick with the strongest climbers and then descend like a stone, making him a clear favourite to attack over the top of the final climb in an attempt to steal the win during the downhill run to the line. Rodriguez concluded this year’s Tour de France in good condition, though it will be uncertain as to whether or not he will have managed to retain this form heading into the Olympic road race.

Chris Froome is taking much of the attention in regards to Great Britain’s chances of taking a medal here, but it will take a very hard race on the steepest sections to bring the Sky captain to the fore today. Instead, attention might well be better placed upon Adam Yates, arriving here in the scintillating form which secured him the first ever white jersey for a British rider at Le Tour de France. While Yates will be looking to follow the wheels of the day’s big names, teammates Stephen Cummings and Geraint Thomas might well choose to attack late on the climbs in pursuit of a medal placing.

Esteban ChavesSergio Henao, Rigoberto Uran and Jarlinson Pantano provide an embarrassment of riches for Colombia during 2016’s Olympic road race. Chaves may not have raced competitively for sometime, though shall be extremely motivated to perform on terrain which plays to his love of attritional days featuring plenty of steep gradients. Henao has looked strong throughout 2016 and will be eager to cash in on a year of great condition, though of little success. Uran and Pantano offer great alternatives in the shape of two talented riders who know how best to contest a breakaway move in order to make it to the line first.

Wout Poels has enjoyed a spectacular season thus far, emerging as an indomitable lieutenant in the highest of mountains for Chris Froome, while also collecting a monuments victory in the shape of Liége-Bastogne-Liége during the spring. He will be the strongest card to play for a Dutch team also featuring Bauke MollemaSteven Kruijswijk and Tom Dumoulin, providing Poels with a greater degree of protection than other big names here. Poels’ aggression is often disguised by his duties within Team Sky, but when offered the chance, he is an incredibly strong rider who could prove impossible to reel back in once the peloton has been reduced to its bare bones here.

Vincenzo Nibali still has what it takes to win gold despite a disappointing Tour de France last month, though one which did finish with a stronger third week for the Italian rider. Nibali often performs well on attritional courses such as these and the final downhill run to the line will have caught his eye as the ideal opportunity to attack over the final summit, then descend aggressively to the line in an attempt to arrive solo. Teammate Fabio Aru will be a strong auxiliary option if Nibali finds himself too tightly marked to attack successfully, Aru favours these inclines and will appreciate an aggressive race on the harder sections.

Dan Martin has established a strong reputation for peaking specifically for one-day races and will be eager to perform upon a course which plays to his strengths. This year’s Tour de France demonstrated a greater level of consistency throughout the mountains than we had ever seen before from the Irishman, something he achieved without lessening his attacking style. He tried on several occasions to secure a stage win at Le Tour, but with Team Sky’s chokehold on the general classification diminishing any freedom, Martin never succeed in maintaining a gap. With no general classification or finishing times to worry about today, the race for gold will be a much more open affair and this will suit Martin well.

For those riding as part of small teams or even on their own, there shall be no other option than to ride aggressively and attack the race, as attempting to control the day’s proceedings will be impossible. Tim Wellens, Rafal MajkaJakob FuglsangRui CostaRamunas Navardauskas and Andrey Amador are all expected to animate affairs at some point; riders lacking teammates who will be happy to cooperate in order to improve their chances of winning.

Outcome:

1st Romain Bardet 2nd Vincenzo Nibali 3rd Dan Martin

Il-Lombardia-Preview-Spokenforks

Il Lombardia – Preview

Course:

The curtain call for 2015’s Classics season is heralded once again by The Race of the Falling Leaves, more commonly Il Lombardia. After a second half to the year focused upon grand tours and the World Championships, we see the racing come to a close in 2015 with a particularly gruelling edition of this Italian monument, 245km from Bergamo to Como and some of the hardest climbing the organisers could squeeze into this course.

Similar to Spring’s battles in the Ardennes, little of note occurs during an opening stretch of 170km which serves to warm the riders up and begin building the attrition subtlety. The Colle Gallo does however feature early on as the peloton are tasked with climbing its 7.4km ascent after only 49km have passed. It possesses an average gradient of 6%, but remains relatively consistent right the way to the top and reaches the 10% maximum gradient before the halfway point. The subsequent descent places them back upon level ground for the most part and does not task them with another climb until the simple Colle Brianza once they reach the 108km marker.

Roads continue to roll with ever increasing contrast and begin to hint towards what awaits the riders during the finale of this race. Madonna del Ghisallo will be the first to land a blow upon the favourites, opening their run to home with 72.5km remaining with the initial 3km being contested at a relentless 9%. From here another 5.5km separate the riders from the summit, the middle of which offers a plateau upon which to recover temporarily, before then kicking onwards to the final 1.2km contested at 9.5%. Considering it even touches 14% at one point, should somebody feel strong to make a move here, it might prove difficult to immediately close them down with a sharp acceleration given the terrain.

A fast and technical descent of only 6km will compound their preceding efforts as they almost immediately charge headlong into the base of the infamous Colma di Sormano. A 6.6% average gradient reels the pack up the opening 5km, but all focus will be placed upon the concluding 2km which shall be a truly brutal affair for even the strongest on the day. This final section includes a mind numbing stint of 27% with less than a kilometre to the summit, and overall, the entire run to the top will be against an average(!) of 15.8%. Just shy of 50km shall be left once they complete this ludicrous Ghisallo-Sormano combo and spectators will have now been provided with a clear idea of who has the legs to contest the win by Como. 

Once they have made their way to Como the riders shall approach the first of two circuits of the rolling roads which thread their way around the city and utilise the ascent of Civiglio. The climb itself is another punch to the guts in order to ascertain the real contenders once again, though only 4.2km in total, its average gradient of 9.7% grinds its way to the summit and includes ramps of 14%. Another drop will funnel the pack downwards again, once they have reached Civiglio’s peak with just under 17km remaining and begin approaching the finale. This climb would be a perfect launchpad for a race winning move, but given the immense depth of talent present at 2015’s edition and the attritional nature of this particular course, we might see the divisive move come even later. The final chance to make a difference will be placed before the hopefuls only 8km from home, the San Fermo della Battaglia may only be 3.3km long, but its average of 7.2% and maximum of 10% will feel like a herculean obstacle in the wake of the day’s preceding climbs. From 5.3km out it begins tipping downhill and ultimately only levels out 1.5km from the finish line, it was during this part of the race last year that the elite lead group were caught napping by Dan Martin as he attacked and sailed away solo to secure the win.

Il-Lombardia-Preview-Spokenforks

Il-Lombardia-Preview-Spokenforks

Contenders:

Vincenzo Nibali is entering this race as the favourite and could finally secure the elusive monument win which so far is absent from his palmares. Not only does the gruelling nature of the day’s route suit Nibali well, but the high possibility of rain combined with the technical descents offers all the ingredients required to bring the Italian to the fore when it matters most. Having missed out on ridding the Vuelta a España due to his disqualification for cheating, he arrives here fresher than many of his rivals and has already demonstrated this fact by winning Tre Valli Varesine last week. Often this race is decided by an elite group sprinting late on for the win, something which would normally be a negative for Nibali, but today’s arduous finale should guarantee him the opportunity to attack and come to the line solo for his debut monument victory.

Alejandro Valverde could prove to be Nibali’s greatest adversary in pursuit of Il Lombardia, possessing an encouraging record at the race but having never stood atop the podium. However, he shares the biggest unappealing factor as many of the contenders here, arriving at the start line off the back of a difficult Vuelta a España. A day of bad weather could actually become a positive for Valverde, the pace subsequently being reduced and taking the sting out of some rivals’ attacks. Like Nibali he will be comfortable on the technical descent and will no doubt be the favourite in a sprint should a small group make it right the way to line.

Rui Costa tends to be forgotten when it comes to these races, despite having won the biggest one day race of the year (2013’s World Championships), but remains a clear danger today. The Portuguese rider was third in last year’s race and certainly has the skill set required to go even better today, but his exact condition is somewhat uncertain. However, the fact he placed 9th at the World Road Race in Richmond is a big hint at what could lay in store, a dangerous rider who might mistakenly be provided with too much room to attack.

Dan Martin is the defending champion and appears here in the colours of Garmin-Cannondale for the final time before moving onto Etixx – Quick Step next season; no doubt a sign that he will wish to sign off with a good performance today. Sadly for the Irishman, his preparation heading into the day has been far from ideal, only making his return a few days ago since the shoulder injury which forced him to abandon the Vuelta a España. Despite this, he did finish 14th and less than a minute down on his comeback at Milano-Turino, so there is evidence to suggest he will at least be competitive to a certain extent. He does not have the effects of a hard grand tour still lingering in his system like others here and certainly fits the mould of a likely winner of Il Lombardia yet again.

Bauke Mollema may emerge as a surprising animator of the race today, the Dutchman has looked to be in strong form as of late and certainly suits the amount of climbing in this addition. His one-day racing credentials are a good support to his claims of a win, though the most positive suggestion of a good showing is his continued form throughout the Tour of Alberta, GP Quebec & Montreal and a great team role during Richmond too. Like Rui Costa mentioned above, he is the sort of rider who could be underestimated and afforded far too much room in order to make a race winning move.

Thibaut Pinot has made this race a huge goal for himself at the end of the season and will ride amongst a FDJ.fr team which offers no real alternative beyond their leader. Given the amount of horrendous climbing in 2015’s route, this is a great chance for Pinot to secure a surprising monument amongst his palmares come the end of the day. If he can mirror the sort of strength we witnessed during the Tour de Suisse earlier in the year, Pinot would be the strongest pure climber present at the race and no doubt ensure everybody is aware of this fact when it matters most.

Outcome:

1st Vincenzo Nibali 2nd Thibaut Pinot 3rd Rui Costa

Le-Tour-de-France-2015-Stage-17-Preview-

Le Tour de France – Stage 17 Preview

Course:

Though only yesterday, the rest day will seem a million years ago for many in the peloton on Stage 17 of 2015’s Le Tour de France; sending the riders headlong into an Alpine summit finish for their first day back in the saddle. Tasking them with an 161km long trip from the start in Digne-les-Bains to a summit finish upon the historic Pra Loup climb of the Alps. For those not so immersed in cycling folklore, the ascent of Pra Loup was the scene of a rare sight during the 1975 Tour de France; the dethroning of Eddy Merckx by Bernard Thévenet. If that in itself does not ring any bells, then perhaps the fact an almost identical route and finish was used during this year’s Critérium du Dauphiné will; Romain Bardet emerging victorious after attacking on Pra Loup’s preceding descent on that day.

Essentially, it is safe to say that the peloton will be plenty well versed enough to anticipate what exactly awaits them on this first day back in the moutains, the favourite poised to ignite their last chance efforts to force Chris Froome out of the maillot jaune before Paris. The day’s account is opened by the Category 3 Col de Leques (6km, avg 5.3%) which tops out at the 40km marker and serves as a moderate warmup ahead of Stage 17’s schedule. A further 27km down the road comes the summit of the second of the day’s climbs, the Category 3 Col de Toutes Aures, one hundred meters longer than its predecessor but offering an easier gradient of 3.1% to be conquered.

A brief descent follows on from here and places the riders at the base of the Category 2 Col de la Colle-Saint-Michel, a much longer climb at 11km and averaging 5.2% from start to finish. The summit of this climb will come just before the century mark at 96km of riding, running immediately into another brief downhill section. Stage 17’s intermediate sprint appears slightly further down the road after 111km of racing and is bound to see Peter Sagan mixing it up again; if the break have not swept up all the points before the Slovak passes through. Onwards from this brief competition, the road segues straight into the ascent of the day’s solitary Category 1 climb; the Col d’Allos. This 14km ascent will soon begin to offer us up an indication of who is in good form during the day’s ride to Pra Loup, though billed as 5.5% on paper for the entirety, it is the testing 6km run to the summit which fluctuates between 6% and 8.5% which will be the battle until they drop down the other side.

From its summit, a little over 20km will separate the peloton from the summit finish of Stage 17, Pra Loup sure to be dialling up the anxiety as they drop down to its opening slopes. If the impending rush to win the was not enough to add fuel to the fires of stress, the descent which connects the two final climbs is also technically demanding and is sure to act as a launchpad for a gifted climber to gather an advantage on the downhill before scaling the gradients to Pra Loup. Given that its length is only 6.2km in total, some may consider the anticipated drama to occur here to be over exaggerated, but there is sure to be enough action to bring the frontrunners to the fore and see some serious defending of the yellow jersey by Chris Froome. The gradients here are stated to average a constant 6.5%, though its final kilometre is set to make for some interesting viewing as it spikes upwards to 8.5%. A short finishing straight will decide the day, only 80m in fact, meaning there is little imperative for somebody who rolls well on the flat to make the cut upon the final climb unlike Stage 14.

Le-Tour-de-France-2015-Stage-17-Preview-

Contenders:

The opening Alpine salvo of 2015’s Tour de France is sure to lure some riders out who began this race in Utrecht with well founded ambitions of featuring towards the pointy end of this year’s general classification, but now find themselves separated by around ten minutes to current leader Chris Froome. However, despite many perceiving a gradual demise of Team Sky’s strength due to the abandonment of Peter Kennaugh and the ailing form of Richie Porte, Wout Poels and Nicolas Roche; Chris Froome might decide to strike out once again and demonstrate his dominance. Though not wishing to jinx him, there is a great misconception about Froome’s ability to descend, a total absence of evidence to suggest he cannot keep pace with the likes of Alejandro Valverde or Vincenzo Nibali. Assuming he stays within 15 seconds of a rider such as Valverde heading into the opening sections of Pra Loup. There is little to argue against Froome taking yet another summit finish victory at Le Tour de France.

As stated above, Alejandro Valverde appears to be a likely contender to attack on the final descent and try to gain an advantage to his rivals before turning onto Pra Loup. The descent is technical, meaning Froome may decided to back down on the pace somewhat in pursuite of Valverde, allowing the Spainard to start the ascent to home solo; a climb which suits his attributes well given its distance and gradients. If away late into the stage, Froome will not wish to work too hard to bring him back, as their is a strong chance of Nairo Quintana then immediately counter-attacking as soon as his teammate is reeled back in.

AG2R will be confident of featuring in some form during the finale of Stage 17 and Romain Bardet should be confident of animating the race given his recent winning performance on almost the exact same course during this year’s Critérium du Dauphiné. The young Frenchman appears to be finding his legs at last and is likely to invest his efforts heavily during this Alpine conclusion of the tour after his general classification hopes failed to make it through the opening week. There is obviously the chance that his focus will instead be placed upon cementing his top ten general classification placing, as those sitting around him will not be particularly fond of seeing his bike vanish up the road during their ride down Col d’Allos.

Of those who entered his race has contenders for the overall win, Vincenzo Nibali is now the rider likey to be given the most freedom to attack on a stage such as this. Little needs to be said of the Italian’s prowess for descending, a talent which would set him up well if deciding to attack as soon as the summit of the Col d’Allos is reached. As little as thirty seconds could be enough of an advantage for Nibali to fend off his pursuers on Pra Loup, but it will be hard to pull out such time if the likes of Chris Froome and Alejandro Valverde wish to keep him on a tight leash. Entering this final week, Nibali does look to have begun finding his climbing legs once again, but he will need a reasonable cushion to emerge victorious atop Pra Loup.

Nairo Quintana has the possibility to begin pulling back time from Chris Froome on Stage 17, the Col d’Allos and Pra Loup an enticing combination which could see the Colombian attack hard on both ascents. As mentioned earlier, Froome is beginning to appear isolated in the latter stages of these mountain days and has the potential to start creaking under the pressure of his Spanish speaking rivals. With teammate Alejandro Valverde equally well poised to attack Froome, the Movistar combination could finally strike gold if they play their cards right.

Though Romain Bardet’s win on a carbon copy stage at this year’s Crtéterium du Dauphiné was the main headline, eyebrows were slightly raised after Tejay Van Garderen’s performance saw him take four seconds out of his rival Chris Froome. Though it is unlikely to see the American fighting for the win here, it should be monitored as to how well he copes with his general classification rivals attack; possibly making a move himself yet again to take a handful of seconds.

Two noteworthy riders currently placed in the top ten overall are Robert Gesink and Bauke Mollema, who could contribute a surprising amount of energy into pursing a rider such as Vincenzo Nibali; stopping him from leapfrogging Gesink or pulling away from Mollema. On the road, both are finding their climbing legs at last and are often dangerously underrated on a stage finish such as this. Both have the ability to lay down high tempo attacks, but it is Mollema who stands out as the most likely to attempt such a move in the final kilometres in order to gain time on the general classification.

Of course, a breakaway winning on Stage 17 remains a strong possibility, especially if the dynamic of strength and size is struck spot on when going clear. Simon Yates has been ill during Le Tour, but stated that his ambitions were to rest and actively recover as best as possible, before then coming to the fore on his favoured Alpine climbs. If Romain Bardet fails for AG2R on today’s stage, Alexis Vuillermoz will be waiting in the wings to take over and lead the charge in either a breakaway or elite group of contenders which reaches Pra Loup first. He was only 1:37 down on Bardet during that Dauphiné finish this year and has already demonstrated his form by winning on Stage 8. Yet further French hopes can be flown by Pierre Rolland, who is in good condition, but is not always best positioned to follow the right moves. Having finished within a minute of Bardet on Pra Loup at the Dauphiné, he must feel confident of mounting a serious charge once again on Stage 17’s same finale. The South-African Louis Meintjes is well worth a mention on a day such as this, he has looked strong throughout the mountains for the most part so far and placed 6th (50″ down) when Bardet took the Pra Loup win last month.

Others worth keeping an eye on are Daniel MartinRafael VallsMathias FrankJoaquim RodriguezWilco Kelderman, Ryder Hesjedal and Andrew Talansky.

Outcome:

Breakaway: 1st Romain Bardet 2nd Louis Meintjes 3rd Simon Yates

GC Riders: 1st Alejandro Valverde 2nd Chris Froome 3rd Bauke Mollema