La Vuelta a España 2017 – Stage 21 Preview

Course:

After almost a month of gruelling racing, we finally arrive at the end of 2017’s La Vuelta a España, Chris Froome having achieved his ambition of consecutive grand tour victories in familiar faultless fashion. With a processional ride into Madrid to celebrate his success, much of the race’s remaining stress will be upon the shoulders of sprinters and their teammates. Leaving the start in Arroyomolinos, it is a total of 117.6km to the finish within the Spanish capital, of which should prove another showcase of the fastest men left standing at the race this year. The finale itself posses very few technical challenges, with the final dash to the line a simple affair that will be a drag race set to have the sprinters duke it out for the last stage honours on offer.

La Vuelta a España 2017 - Stage 21

Contenders:

Magnus Cort shall finally be allowed off the leash to chance his luck amongst a bunch kick on the last stage of this year’s Vuelta a España. Though we have not seen a great deal of the Orica-Scott rider during the last three weeks, he is certainly one of the fastest riders present and will relish the opportunity to remind people of this fact. The leadout afforded to him shall not be particularly ideal, though at the end of a grand tour stage race, it becomes more of a head to head task to discover who has the energy remaining to turn in one last successful sprint.

Matteo Trentin has ridden the race particularly intelligently and could walk away with one of the leader’s jerseys as a result of his canny tactics. He is not the fastest man here and should be one of the most fatigued as a result of his recent breakaway efforts, though the motivation to win the points jersey at the final time of asking could make all the difference for him. The leadout at his disposal might remedy any issues however, as their combined power will make it tough for rivals to seize control in the concluding kilometres.

Edward Theuns should find himself with a brilliant chance of taking the win on Stage 21, as the talented Belgian appears to have survived the rigours of the previous three weeks in good shape, providing confidence that he is still able to produce his best in a sprint finish. Though his role has often meant supporting his teammates, limiting his hopes of winning, his surprising freshness has been evident when working for Alberto Contador. If Trek-Segafredo manages to produce a successful leadout, then they shall have great odds of taking back to back stage wins in the final weekend of racing.

Adam Blythe should feel a sense of pressure having been lessened as a result of teammate Stefan Denifl’s victory last week for Aqua Blue Sport, allowing him to enjoy this last opportunity to secure a win for himself. This stage suits him convincingly so and the leadout train expected to support him will be one of the best still capable of performing strongly at such a late point in the race. The British sprinter’s greatest problem will be fatigue; though this is the case for everyone now and his highly motivated teammates could compensate for this issue well enough for him.

Those also expected to muster a final strong showing in the anticipated sprint are Sacha ModoloTom Van AsbroeckSøren Kragh and Michael Schwarzmann.

Outcome:

1st Adam Blythe 2nd Matteo Trentin 3rd Magnus Cort

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La Vuelta a España 2017 - Stage Preview

La Vuelta a España 2017 – Stage 13 Preview

Course:

A day without horrendous mountains to crack the peloton, Stage 13 is an 198.4km ride from Coín to Tomares, though it does start by immediately sending the riders uphill once again. A rare chance for the sprinters to return to the spotlight during this attritional Vuelta a España, the only significant challenge for the fast men to overcome is the early Category 3 ascent of Alto de Ardales (7.2 km, avg. 4.3%.) Once over the summit of this sole recognised climb on Stage 13, the bunch will ride for around 80km on rolling terrain, before then beginning to drop downwards to the flat roads which shape the second half of the day and last almost right the way to the line. The fly in the ointment for the sprinters will be the final 3km of the day, a series of ramps and slopes which will disrupt the rhythm of the leadout trains late on. Though the gradients might not be immense compared to recent days, at such a late point in a sprint, they shall prove significant at around 6% and finally drop to 2% for the final hundred metres.

La Vuelta a España 2017 - Stage 13 Preview

Contenders:

Matteo Trentin has been enjoying some fantastic form during this year’s race and the Italian will have high expectations of performing strongly once again today. It is his climbing ability which has really impressed so many during the Vuelta so far, which combined with his speed, makes him the clear favourite to take the honours on Stage 13. Normally, it might be more plausible to back those who have a better pedigree for winning uphill finishes, yet the difficult final 3km may well see such rivals fail to make the cut for the sprint entirely.

Magnus Cort will have circled this stage out of interest sometime ago, but since the general classification woes of Orica – Scott took hold, there is now an even greater likelihood that he shall receive the support required to compete strongly today. No doubt one of the fastest sprinters present here, the gradients during the finale will play into his hands and he shall be confident of guiding himself into position if lacking teammates. The greatest question however regards how tough he has found the recent big mountain stages, as any glimpse of fatigue will be magnified greatly in the stressful deciding kilometres on Stage 13.

Juan José Lobato is one of the best riders in the professional ranks for winning uphill sprints and could prove to be the man to beat here today. If this was a single one day race, then Lobato would find his odds of winning diminished somewhat, but after nearly two weeks of racing that is not the case. He will hope for a driven tail end to proceedings and aim to jettison as many of the purer sprinters as possible before the final push to the line. Lobato’s current form is very encouraging and it is likely that a flurry of draining attacks late on will only strengthen his hand yet further still.

Edward Theuns started the race in blistering condition, though it is unlikely he will be able to muster quite the same performance at this point in a grand tour. Regardless, on this type of terrain, the Trek – Segafredo rider remains a strong candidate for stage honours. He dug deep yesterday, which is unlikely to have helped his chances of winning today, but his talent for uphill finishes is so great that this factor could almost be disregarded.

Julian Alaphilippe will be a perfect alternative for Quick – Step if anything should suggest Matteo Trentin will be unable to stick the pace late on in the day. The Frenchman has animated the race on several occasions and has not refrained from reminding the peloton of his form whenever possible during La Vuelta. A really high tempo towards the end of the stage would make the deciding ramps much tougher, subsequently improving the odds of Alaphilippe becoming the Quick – Step rider to watch for in the concluding sprint. A man with a gift for the Ardennes classics, this is well within his capabilities to win.

Outcome:

1st Juan José Lobato 2nd Matteo Trentin 3rd Magnus Cort

La Vuelta a España 2017 - Stage Preview

La Vuelta a España 2017 – Stage 4 Preview

Course:

Having left the day’s start of Escaldes – Engordany, the riders will face a 198.2km journey to the coastal finish at Tarragona, most of which being a gradual downhill route. The only classified climb of the day is the Category 3 Alto de Belltall, punctuating the day with a 13km rise at a gentle 2.8% and unlikely to cause much trouble for anyone. Once over the top, it is downhill all the way to the finish line, with a bunch sprint of sorts expected to decide the outcome. Position will be crucial, as plenty of road furniture in the way of roundabouts feature on the route into town, with a small 2.5% drag to make things more difficult still.

La Vuelta a España 2017 - Stage 4 Preview

Contenders:

John Degenkolb is often the man to beat on finales such as these, as even the slightest of inclines, seem to make the German almost unmatchable in the final moments. His form is certainly still bubbling up to the level we know from him, though this could prove to be the launchpad which signals his return to great form once again. The technical nature of the last few kilometres might be troublesome for him, especially as he would prefer a simple head to head drag race to the finish, concentrating simply of churning his pedals. Regardless, if he informs his team that he believes he can do it, then the expectation is that Degenkolb shall deliver on his word.

Edward Theuns might instead prove to be the card which Trek – Segafredo choose to play on Stage 4, backing the gifted Belgian to seize the opportunity while teammate Degenkolb waits for a more suiting finale. Theuns’ form has been blistering as of late, and if he has managed to sustain that when heading into La Vuelta, then there is a great chance he will be untouchable in the final metres of the stage. The jostling for position and drag up to the line are ideal for Theuns to make his skills count, attacking hard from a jumbled bunch of leadout trains and opening a gap which nobody can close.

Adam Blythe could be the joker in the pack on the second sprint stage at this year’s Vuelta a España, the British rider clearly aggrieved by the lack of a bunch kick on Stage 2, especially given the form he has possessed for such a long time now in 2017. This drag is not perfect, but such a gentle incline can still be decided simply by sprinting power, meaning those who lean closer towards being puncheurs are unlikely to better him. The leadout train at his disposal is certainly one of the top three at the race and they will be confident of positioning Blythe well here, allowing the Yorkshireman to focus on timing his effort perfectly.

Matteo Trentin was pleased to see his teammate Yves Lampaert take the win on Stage 2, though there is no doubt that the Italian would have fancied a more typical finish to the day’s proceedings, as he looked well positioned in the final moments to secure a win. Quick – Step have already looked impressive as a coherent unit during the race thus far and stand a good chance of proving why they are the best leadout train present at La Vuelta. With its tricky final kilometres, Trentin and his leadout men will relish the technicalities, applying pressure to their rivals and hoping to slingshot their Italian rocket skywards over the line.

Juan José Lobato is a real champion at winning upon uphill finishes, though he is likely to have wanted more of a severe challenge to really see the day play into his hands on today’s stage. Regardless, such talents do not always need the perfect conditions to succeed and there is every chance that he shall be in the mix for the win at the very least.

Other names to consider on a day such as this are Tom Van AsbroeckMichael SchwarzmannJens Debusschere and Jonas Van Genechten.

Outcome:

1st Adam Blythe 2nd Edward Theuns 3rd Michael Schwarzmann

 

Scheldeprijs – Race Preview 2017

Course:

Resting between the epic strong-man contests of Ronde van Vlaanderen and Paris – RoubaixScheldeprijs sits as a mid-week tonic to keep people’s attention piqued on the classics season, handing the reins to the sprinters to contest this prestigious race for the fastest riders. The flattest day in the saddle the peloton shall ride during this spring campaign upon the pavé and hellingen of Northern Europe, Scheldeprijs is a 202km crescendo from Mol to Schoten which finally explodes with an electric mass sprint to the line. This year’s start has been moved to Mol from Antwerp in order to honour Tom Boonen, one of Belgian cycling’s greatest icons, who will be riding today as his final race on home soil; Mol being his former hometown. It is a stressful day on the bike each year for those at Scheldeprijs, teams investing every ounce of energy into protecting their lead riders and focusing on delivering them to the finishing straight in best shape possible for the frantic finale.

Scheldeprijs Preview 2017

Contenders:

Marcel Kittel is seeking to win this race for the fifth time in his career, finding this a favourable affair which plays to his strengths nicely. The German sprinter may even believe this to be his easiest edition to challenge for in recent years, as the absence of both Mark Cavendish and Alexander Kristoff are two major hurdles cleared before the bunch have even rolled out from Mol. Kittel is the fastest rider in this race, he looks the man to beat as ever and will be supported by another strong Quick – Step squad which features Tom Boonen, Matteo Trentin, Iljo Keisse and David Martinelli to ensure he is led out at top speed.

André Greipel seems to have never really fitted well with this race, last year’s third place finish being his most impressive performance in a total of four appearances thus far. Though he is growing older, Greipel remains one of the fastest sprinters when it comes down to a head-to-head drag race on flat roads, so cannot be excluded from contention. He rode last weekend’s Tour of Flanders in aggressive style, making it possiblr that he shall arrive with greater fatigue than those who have targeted this exclusively. If the day becomes an attritional battle due to wind or rain however, then the strength of the ‘Gorilla’ will increase his chances as others tire.

Arnaud Démare will still be eager to convert his strong form this season into a prestigious addition to his palmarés before it fades, perhaps focusing more on this sprinters classic than many realise. The French rider enjoys longer races, so shall not be fearful of the distance just scraping over the 200km mark, while the terrain and potential weather conditions could combine for a harder race which diminishes the top speed of his faster rivals. The FDJ squad has developed rapidly in regards to sprint leadouts and could emerge as one of the strongest outfits late in the day.

Nacer Bouhanni did not start 2017 quite as well as many perhaps anticipated, but the Cofidis rider has looked to be returning back to a level we have become to expect from the combative sprinter. He shall be provided with total leadership of the team once again and will be confident of being protected throughout the day’s 202km route. Distance is unlikely to concern the gritty Frenchman, but he shall need another strong performance from his crucial cog in the sprint train Geoffrey Soupe, if he is to better Marcel Kittel.

Edward Theuns is certainly no pure sprinter, yet the Belgian rider has previously finished second at Scheldeprijs, losing out to the indomitable Alexander Kristoff in 2015. Last year he was first to finish behind the potent trio of Marcel Kittel, Mark Cavendish and André Greipel, the best performance possible given such strong opposition present. This season could allow him to improve once again, but it will take plenty of luck to finally secure victory for a man who does not challenge the thoroughbred sprinters much beyond this race.

Dylan Groenewegen has built upon his encouraging start to the season since the Abu Dhabi Tour, taking a podium place on Stage 5 of Paris – Nice and finishing a surprise fifth at the tough Dwars Door Vlaanderen a couple of weeks ago. Groenewegen is certainly still developing as a rider at the age of 23 years old, but his combination of great pace and steely strength is already a danger to the more experienced sprinters racing today. Victory at Scheldeprijs would be another major breakthrough for the talented Dutchman and he is certainly the one most likely to upstage the bigger names come the finish.

Others likely to feature in the final top ten classification are Timothy Dupont, Dan McLay, Matteo Pelucchi, Niccolo Bonifazio, Elia Viviani and Danny Van Poppel.

Outcome:

1st Marcel Kittel 2nd Dylan Groenewegen 3rd Arnaud Démare

Dwars Door Vlaanderen 2017 – Preview

Course:

Having seen the monument of Milan – San Remo toppled last weekend, the subsequent springtime whirlwind of hellingen and cobblestones begins immediately with the semi-classic Dwars Door Vlaanderen. Though seemingly lacking the prestige of other one day races in this part of the world during March and April, this shall be the 72nd edition of a contest which features the likes of Eikenberg, Taaienberg, Oude-Kwaremont and Paterberg; making victory here a bold indication of form approaching Ronde van Vlaanderen and Paris – Roubaix. Departing Roeselare, the riders will travel a total of 203.4km en route to the finish at Waregem, taking in twelve hellingen and four pavé sectors along the way. There is no doubt that the course shall do what it was designed for and drain the legs of the peloton throughout the day, thinning the ranks until an elite group of riders has formed at the head of affairs. The biggest question of Dwars Door Vlaanderen is how the finale itself shall be executed, as recent history demonstrates an even balance between riders arriving at the finish solo or a small bunch sprint crowning the champion. Regardless, Dwars Door Vlaanderen is deserving of greater merit within the cycling fandom and those who watch the day’s contest are certain to see an exciting race proving precisely that.

Dwars Door Vlaanderen 2017 Preview

Contenders:

Niki Terpstra has finished on the podium here three times in his career, taking to the top spot in both 2012 and 2014 as race winner, marking the Dutchman out as a rider who often performs well at Dwars Door Vlaanderen. Terpstra seldom takes any win from a sprint finish, so he will be seeking to follow the wheels for the most part, looking to attack solo in the final kilometres by utilising his time trialling prowess to bury the opposition late on.

Tiesj Benoot seems to have long been the rising star of Belgium cycling, but at still only 23 years old, the Lotto-Soudal rider is surprisingly yet to capture his maiden professional victory. This season hints at great form however, with an 8th place finish at Strade Bianche and an impressive 4th place at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne causing a stir amongst native fans. He has often been the victim of bad luck or poor tactics, but his emerging race maturity and strong form will make him a greater threat than ever, Benoot certain to be a key figure in shaping the race’s decisive group.

Zdenek Stybar has not truly been as prolific as many have come to expect at this time of year, perhaps keeping his powder dry ahead of his key focus of Paris – Roubaix later in the cobbled campaign. He arrives here as part of another indomitable Quick – Step squad, the team anticipated by many to make life as hard as possible for the rest of the peloton en route to Waregem. Stybar has the strength required to power across to any moves which begin to sneak away from the pack on either pavé sectors or climbs, while also retaining enough energy to put rivals to the sword in a reduced sprint. If he proves to be on form, Stybar will be a major contender, but he will need to avoid being hamstrung by the talents of his own teammates.

Sep Vanmarcke seems perpetually plagued by misfortune when it comes to the classics and one day races which he admires so greatly. He was present in the mix at this season’s Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, eventually finishing third in a sprint finish behind Greg Van Avermaet and Peter Sagan, hopefully learning in the process that he cannot keep waiting for sprints which he shall never win. Vanmarcke’s greatest asset is his huge engine power, a talent which has often seen him make the cut for the lead group in some of the year’s toughest races. If he is to win Dwars Door Vlaanderen, then he must commit to a late move which propels him away solo, forcing the faster finishing riders to look at each other for somebody to invest energy in bringing him back.

Guillaume Van Keirsbulck recently dropped down from previous employers Etixx to join the Wanty – Groupe Gobert squad, now appearing to be a canny move after having won Le Samyn in dominant form a few weeks ago. The Belgian rider is incredibly strong during races such as these, though has perhaps not always been able to show this due to being at the call of team leaders in major races previously. As a man with an entire team likely to be tasked with protecting him, Van Keirsbulck is a clear wildcard who could capitalise on a naive peloton. 

Arnaud Démare will not wish to walk away from this year’s classics season without a victory of some sort, especially given his determination to perform competitively when attempting to defend his Milan – San Remo title, which as a result now finds him in perhaps a career best form. The Frenchman should be interested in putting this fact to good use right now and could animate the race more aggressively than many expect. 

Fabio Felline continues to demonstrate his strength and endurance at some of the toughest races, winning his opening race of the season Trofeo Laigueglia and recently finishing 4th at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad behind breakaway leaders Greg Van Avermaet, Peter Sagan and Sep Vanmarcke. Felline will be hoping for a reduced bunch sprint, from which he has a great chance of being the fastest man present.

Other riders worth keeping an eye upon include Jens DebusschereJurgen Roelandts and Edward Theuns.

Outcome:

1st Tiesj Benoot 2nd Fabio Felline 3rd Sep Vanmarcke

Tour Down Under 2017

TOUR DOWN UNDER 2017 – STAGE 3 PREVIEW

Course:

Sprinters should be gifted another opportunity for victory at this year’s Tour Down Under on this 144km route from Glenelg to Victor Harbor. The lumpy nature of Stage 3 is evident when glancing at the profile, likely to be combined with tricky crosswinds, making this favourable for the classics styled strongman to snatch the day’s honours. Having negotiated the only categorised climb of the day, the peloton will progress onwards to begin the first of four 12.9km laps which comprise the finale in Victor Harbor. A technically demanding run into the finish, with a couple of tight corners, will make having an organised leadout train at the front of affairs a great advantage to guide a sprinter safely into the finishing straight. It does look like a day for a sprint of sorts, but the stresses of the last kilometre may be enough to swing the odds in the favour of some of the more experienced and canny riders who relish these hectic contests at the expense of the thoroughbred fast men.

Tour Down Under 2017 - Stage 3 Preview

Contenders:

Peter Sagan has the skills required to perform well today, but there is a question mark as to whether his team Bora-Hansgrohe shall aim to protect him or sprinter Sam Bennett during Stage 3. The former’s status as World Champion makes him an obvious man to watch in the sprints, thus making it difficult to really catch opponents off guard when it matters most, though the technical finale today is likely to play into Sagan’s hands and limit this factor somewhat. If the route fails to prove as tough as expected, the wind perhaps not coming into play for example, then Bennett will be the better option for Bora-Hansgrohe to try and capture victory at Victor Harbor.

Caleb Ewan enters the day as an awkward contender to estimate, the fastest man in the race is rarely a fan of disorganised finishes and can become lost as rivals find the best lines to follow. ORICA-Scott are an efficient outfit when it comes to leading their talented young Australian out and may be able to provide the guidance which offers him a clear run at the finish line where it is tough to see anyone else other than Ewan emerging victorious.

Niccolo Bonifazio may have arrived at this year’s Tour Down Under without a strong team to support him in the sprints, but Stage 3’s technical demands offer him a level playing field where he can catch the faster riders napping. Bonifazio will look to remain hidden by the stronger trains of his rivals, before bursting through the pack from a good position after exiting the final tight corner.

Danny van Poppel has perhaps surprised a few people with his strong form already at the race, marking him out as one of the fastest riders behind Caleb Ewan currently. Losing teammate Owain Doull on the eve of the race has reduced the firepower of the Sky leadout train, but he still turned in a great performance on Stage 1 and can rely on his sharp acceleration to make the most of this tricky run into home.

Other contenders with a chance of Stage 3 honours are Nikias ArndtEdward TheunsMarko Kump and Sean De Bie.

Outcome:

1st Peter Sagan 2nd Danny van Poppel 3rd Niccolo Bonifazio

Tour Down Under 2017

Tour Down Under 2017 – Stage 1 Preview

Course:

Spokenforks emerges from the comfort of Christmas and the off-season, somewhat heavier around the waist, but eager to dive right back into the blazing sunshine which drew last year to a close for us in Abu Dhabi. Australia’s premier stage race has now become the curtain raiser for the cycling season, with many of the major stars lining up at the Tour Down Under to stretch their legs competitively for the first time since 2016. A six stage affair around the Adelaide area, the contest produces unpredictable racing as riders look to find their feet during the early shifting sands of 2017; sharp climbs, scything winds, fast finishes and testing conditions will keep everyone guessing during the week. Stage 1 is a 145km stretch from Unley to Lyndoch, offering those in pursuit of the mountains jersey the first set of points, before later settling down into three laps of a finishing circuit around Lyndoch which should guarantee a rapid finale to close Stage 1.

Tour Down Under 2017 - Stage 1 Preview

Contenders:

Caleb Ewan has risen to the top table of sprinters in a short period of time, and having won the People’s Choice Classic ahead of the Tour Down Under a few days ago, now enters the race as the favourite to win this opening affair. ORICA-Scott have the required firepower and organisational skills to smoothly deliver Ewan into race winning territory during the final 200m, after which he will be expected to finish clinically from. Given his impressive win only a few days ago, it is a tough challenge to realistically look beyond the young Australian as the winner after Stage 1.

Niccolo Bonifazio performs well at this early season competition, so should be a rider worth watching for on a day like this. It did not seem like he truly committed to the sprint during the People’s Choice Classic, making it tough to gauge his form precisely, but being one of the first to finish behind the podium placed riders certainly suggests he has the fitness to challenge.

Sam Bennett appeared strong in the same race as Ewan and Bonifazio, finishing second through some very clever riding which allowed him to burst to the fore despite missing an ideal leadout. Stage 1 will require Bora-Hansgrohe to execute a more successful leadout for Irishman Bennett and he will stand a great chance of winning if they achieve precisely that.

Peter Sagan appears here in the rainbow bands for the first time since winning the World Championship Road Race, looking eager to open his account as soon as possible having finished third during the People’s Choice Classic. Today’s finale should prove somewhat too fast for Sagan to win from, but it always remains a risk ruling anything beyond his skills or capabilities.

Others who should all feature include Danny Van PoppelNikias ArndtMark RenshawBen Swift and Edward Theuns.

Outcome:

1st Caleb Ewan 2nd Sam Bennett 3rd Niccolo Bonifazio