UCI World Road Championship Bergen 2017 Men's Road Race Preview

Road World Championships Bergen 2017 – Men’s Road Race Preview

Course:

The end of the 2017 road season is hurtling to its conclusion, with Sunday’s Men’s Road Race marking the finale of a brilliant World Championships in the Norwegian city of Bergen. Having watched the preceding races from the elite women and youngsters, today’s title challenge is anticipated to be a difficult to control affair, one which sees nations panic at the prospect of missing any decisive moves. As ever, the course to crown the next World Champion is intended to be a wearing task, chipping away at the riders upon each rotation of the circuit having completed the initial 39.5km of racing. Once the 19.1km circuits begin, the attritional nature of the course will become apparent, the day’s total mileage of 267.5km intended to see only the finest rise to the top.

The eleven laps of the circuit begin with a small rise shortly after first entering, plateauing briefly, before then dropping down once again 5km in. From this point starts much of the climbing on these laps, the road tilting upwards and eventually placing the riders at the day’s sole recognised ascent. Salmon Hill is a 1.5km hill, averaging a very consistent 6.4% on average and should be a challenge which many choose to tackle in the big ring. The drop from the summit is a simple enough descent, allowing riders to push on at great speed, though might not offer quite enough to escape a well organised peloton. The final 4km of the circuit are not particularly technical once heading back into Bergen, though two turns in the final 300m might be enough for a solo move to just cling on after the flamme rouge. With no convincing gradient present, the likelihood of a sprint deciding the day’s winner is high from a reduced bunch, though solo success as been prominent during the supporting races here in Norway.

UCI World Road Championship Bergen 2017 Men's Road Race Preview

Contenders:

Peter Sagan arrives in Norway with the very plausible chance of becoming the first man to win three consecutive World Championship Road Race titles. The course plays to his strengths convincingly enough and provides him with the belief he shall be the fastest men present in a sprint for the win after 267.5km of arduous racing. Two key issues are prominent however for Sagan, and the first is the fact he is Peter Sagan, a rider few others will be interested in working with as part of any moves. Having already won this twice in his career, he certainly does not need to prove himself today and could ride defensively in hope of being towed right the way to the finale. Though Salmon Hill is a key feature on the course, it is there to tire the bunch and is unlikely to prove the launchpad for another swashbuckling Sagan solo move. The second greatest issue for him is his recent illness, Peter Sagan has been sick for almost a week now and has not ridden for three days as a result. He may not be incapacitated by it, but it is certainly enough to take the edge off his form, on a day where only 100% is likely to win the rainbow stripes.

Alexander Kristoff as had an interesting season of results and performances, perhaps reaching this World Championship on home soil as a forgotten favourite, a man who has previously dominated gruelling one day races like this in recent seasons. There is no denying that the course has been built with his talents in mind, aiming to blunt his rivals throughout the day and place him in a position to deliver a home victory in Bergen. The year has not been rich in rewards for Kristoff, though victories at the European Road Race Championship and Ride London have demonstrated his innate talent for riding the perfect one day race. He is also one of the few names who is likely to benefit from miserable weather; native spectators happily cheering on a downpour with hope of improving Kristoff’s odds of winning. Surprisingly fast during a flat sprint, and with Peter Sagan potentially suffering from sickness, Kristoff may emerge as the man to beat.

Fernando Gaviria looks to be the fastest man present at the race this year and can certainly cope with the rigours of this course in convincing fashion to still challenge when it matters most. The Colombian team is a somewhat awkward fit for Gaviria however, supported by many pure climbers who are unlikely to be used to protecting a sprinter all afternoon, let alone trying to lead him out late in the day. He has often proven able to survive the cut on difficult courses like today, though admittedly sees his top end speed suffer as result, potentially leaving him short in the final metres. He is a man which many will want to see dropped, meaning his team and himself will have to be alert to all dangers in hope of keeping him in contention.

Michael Matthews chased home a victorious Peter Sagan in Richmond a couple of years ago and will feel he has only improved further since that point. The Australian team have confirmed that Matthews is the sole leader for the day, intending to keep all their riders in reserve to work for him and making it unlikely we will see any riding from them in speculative breakaway moves. Matthews is known for his indomitable sprinting skill when it comes to short uphill finales, making the Bergen course ill-fitting on paper, though things are never that simple after such a long day of racing. With a powerful and committed squad at his disposal, he should arrive as one of the freshest riders in contention if a bunch kick proves the crowning moment of 2017’s World Championship Road Race. His current form has been convincing in recent weeks and there is no doubt he will be fired up to take the rainbow stripes in the green and gold of Australia.

Elia Viviani arrives as one of the most in form riders at the race, enjoying a raft of victories in recent months and shall be another sprinter many will want to distance. Potentially the fastest man at the race for a flat sprint finish, the Italian knows he has a brilliant chance of winning, as long as he can stay in contention during the hectic concluding laps. As always seems to be the case at the World Championships for Italy, their greatest issue is the assurance of teamwork, as at least three riders shall feel they have a chance of taking the stripes in Bergen. If Viviani cannot get his compatriots united behind him, then life will only be made harder as a consequence, as any unnecessary chasing shall only serve to increase the likelihood of him cracking before the finish line is in sight. However, if he does make the cut and has managed to avoid working too hard earlier in the day, it will be surprising if anyone faster than Elia Viviani is present

Philippe Gilbert could be the joker in the pack, poised to secure an unexpected second rainbow jersey in Bergen, benefiting from a Belgium squad which boasts an incredible degree of cycling talent. As a nation lacking a convincing pure sprinter, they shall be committed to making the repetitions of Salmon Hill as hard as possible, doing their utmost to avoid a large bunch kick finishing the day off. Tiesj Benoot, Oliver Naesen and Tim Wellens are just three examples of Belgian riders which other nations shall not be able to allow any freedom to within the final 50km of racing. This should allow Gilbert to sit behind the favourites and hope to stay as fresh as possible, allowing his teammates to fracture the race repeatedly throughout the city centre circuits. Gilbert’s killer instinct will inform him of which is the key move to follow late in the day, from which his odds of winning look most likely and shall believe he has what it takes to sign off from Norway with a rainbow stripes delivering sprint.

Greg Van Avermaet shall be the equally dangerous game plan for Belgium, a man who has repeatedly shown to be a clinical finisher, specifically when small groups find themselves deciding the outcome of major races. His confidence is greater than ever these days, as recent battles against Peter Sagan have often favoured the Belgian more than the reigning World Champion. Much like teammate Philippe Gilbert, Avermaet will hope that he only needs to make two crucial efforts during the day; one to make the cut and another to win the day. If Belgium can make this course far harder than it appears on first sight, then he will be one of those who shall come to the fore and benefit from a more arduous contest.

Michal Kwiatkowski should be another rider capable of securing his second stint in the rainbow bands on today’s course, though shall not be given the freedom which previously handed him the jersey in 2014. There are no question regarding his ability to survive a day in the saddle as tough as this is likely to prove, especially after taking the win at Milan – San Remo earlier this Spring. His best hope shall be to join a strong breakaway group, as a solo attack shall be difficult on such a simple climb, from where he can choose to sprint for the win or fracture the move further in the final kilometres with a fierce attack.

Matteo Trentin looked to be enjoying great form in the recent Vuelta a España and any confirmation of him having carried his condition through to the World Championships will make him a danger to everyone’s ambitions today. Capable of winning from either a small move or larger bunch sprint, the Italian will fancy his chances on a course which is unlikely to see him dropped from the group of favourites. However, it is unclear what his team orders have been heading into this race and whether he shall agree with any request to ride entirely for his faster compatriot Elia Viviani. If not hamstrung by team orders, then Trentin will aim to vanish up the road and emerge as the fastest man present from a small group of riders.

Others to consider:

Michael Albasini is a namer few will have on their list of contenders, but the veteran Swiss rider deserves a mention off the back of recent performances at Coppa Agostoni – Giro delle Brianze and Coppa Bernocchi; winning the former and finishing fourth in the latter. Both around 200km in distance, he evidently has the condition to bother the favourites today and his sprinting has been the best since earlier this season at his home tour. It will take plenty to occur in order to place Albasini in a race winning position, though recent showings suggest he does have what is required to finish it off.

Edvald Boasson Hagen is another pick for the Norwegian’s to rally behind, especially after a great Tour de France and recent Tour of Britain, both seeing him ride aggressively throughout. It is unclear what the leadership situation is within the home nation’s team, though it would be wasteful to expect Boasson Hagen to protect Alexander Kristoff all day. If a well equipped move of contenders gets free late in the day, expect Boasson Hagen to be quick to join, aiming to bury his fellow escapees with a potent sprint to the line.

Julian Alaphilippe has seen the selectors pick a French team with the intention of supporting him as best as possible, hoping he can repeat some of his familiar early season form which has delivered him great results in the Ardennes Classics. No doubt preferring a tougher course, he might actually benefit from the plan of the Belgian team today, perhaps going as far as to unite with them to break the race apart. He looked to be rediscovering his best in the Vuelta a España a few weeks ago and is worth watching if appearing cool in the pack with less than 50km of racing left.

Outcome:

1st Michael Matthews 2nd Alexander Kristoff 3rd Philippe Gilbert

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Le Tour de France 2017

Le Tour de France 2017 – Stage 16 Preview

Course:

The first stage back after a rest day always generates a degree of trepidation for the riders, as some return feeling fresher after a day free of the rigours of racing, while others sense their form begin to go off the boil. Signalling the return to the saddle for the peloton is an 165km trip from Le Puy-en-Velay to Romans-Sur-Isère, offering little in the way of easing the riders back into the swing of things with its immediate uphill start. The opening rise forms the Category 3 Côte de Boussoulet, a 4.5km long ascent which averages a hard to ignore 6.3% gradient throughout its slopes. From its summit the road continues to roll for around another 40km, eventually tackling the relatively short Col du Rouvey and its subsequent fast descent. After dropping into the valley, the road does not feature a great deal of topographical challenges, though crosswinds could play a pivotal role in deciding the composition of any leading group late in the day. Whoever does reach the final kilometre first will face a very technically demanding run into the finishing line itself, with tight turns and roundabouts packed in to make things even more stressful. It may even prove tempting for some sprinters to chance their luck in the day’s breakaway in order to avoid such a hectic conclusion to Stage 16.

Le Tour de France 2017 - Stage 16 Preview

Contenders:

Alexander Kristoff is a master at measuring his efforts when the crosswinds begin scything apart the peloton, even going as far as to say he enjoys their destructive nature and the familiarity it brings having spent much time cycling along the Norwegian coastline. His main goal will be to survive the opening climb within touching distance of his main rivals for Stage 16, after which if successful, there will be a great chance for him to collect a Tour de France victory in 2017. With the winds potentially turning this into an arduous return to racing, combined with a technical finale, Kristoff should be able to emerge as a major contender for stage honours here.

Michael Matthews and his team will appreciate how crucial today could prove in the battle for the green jersey, having already secured a brilliant stage win in the absence of Marcel Kittel before the rest day. Stage 16 is another chance to turn the screw on the dominant German sprinter, likely aiming to make racing hard from the very start and hoping to drop Kittel as soon as possible. Though not renowned for his prowess in crosswinds, his teammates do offer plenty of experience in surviving the challenges it throws their way, so Matthews is likely to be in safe hands. A harder day will blunt the top end speed of his faster rivals, while the late turns and road furniture could derail a few leadout trains too, but he will need to be in the leading group before he can worry about victory. Matthews will be contesting this on an almost flat finish, so everything will need to fall perfectly into place if he is to stand a chance of winning and cutting the lead of Marcel Kittel upon the maillot vert.

Greg Van Avermaet could prove to have eyes upon joining the day’s breakaway if able to muster the sort of form we have previously seen from the classics specialist at Le Tour de France. He knows that life will be hard if a bunch kick ends up deciding the day, especially given the lack of incline, but the Belgian has a great chance of being the fastest rider present if he smuggles himself aboard a successful move. Unlikely to fear life in the crosswinds, Avermaet will know how to look after himself as best as possible and even identify the riders who are most likely to contribute towards forming a breakaway which will survive a day out front.

John Degenkolb looks to be on the up once again and Stage 16 does provide an opportunity which suits him more ideally than those which have already been sent his way. A powerful rider, Degenkolb is capable of producing the efforts required to make the cut if echelons form during the day; his immense strength a huge asset over his lighter weight sprinting rivals. Much like his countryman Marcel Kittel, his greatest challenge will be hauling himself up the opening climb of the day and ensuring he has enough left in reserve to battle it out in the final kilometres. He lacks team support to help him navigate the technical run into the finish, but a hard race could thin the ranks enough to give Degenkolb a better chance at victory.

Edvald Boasson Hagen shall certainly want to see his current form put to good use and is another rider who could potentially join the breakaway if he does not fancy his chances in a larger sprint at the end of the day. He can certainly climb well enough on his day to make the key moves, has the strength to manage life in the crosswinds and is often one of the freshest at the end of a tough race. Team Dimension Data have been working hard to produce a good result since the departure of Mark Cavendish, so should view Stage 16 as an opportunity to finally see their determination secure themselves a taste of victory once again.

Nacer Bouhanni has proven incredibly tough to gauge during this year’s Tour de France, though if he is returning to top form, then this will be the day to demonstrate so. With its anticipated nature and technical finale, Bouhanni has the tenacity required to ensure he finds himself stuck to the right wheel throughout Stage 16. Another fast finisher who lacks a convincing team support on days such as these, the Frenchman will no doubt see his chances of winning improve if the number of riders able to contest the outcome is greatly reduced by a hard race.

Other names to consider for both sprint and breakaway are Ben SwiftSonny ColbrelliStephen CummingsMarcel KittelDylan GroenewegenAndré Greipel and Davide Cimolai.

Outcome:

1st Michael Matthews 2nd Edvald Boasson Hagen 3rd Greg Van Avermaet

Le Tour de France 2017

Le Tour de France 2017 – Stage 15 Preview

Course:

The breakaway could finally have a chance of being allowed a shot at victory by the peloton on Stage 15, something which has become a rarity during the opening two weeks of this year’s Le Tour de France. Starting at Laissac-Sévérac L’Église, the course takes in a very lumpy 189.5km route to Le Puy-en-Velay, featuring four officially categorised ascents and plenty of shorter digs to tire the hopefuls. Beginning with a small section of flat racing, the peloton will soon find themselves heading briefly downhill in order to approach the foot of the day’s opening climb, the Category 1 Montée de Naves d’Aurbrac. The climb itself is 8.9km in length and averages a gradient of 6.4%, concluding by almost immediately starting the next challenge of Stage 15; Côte de Vieurals. A Category 3 task, it is only 3.3km long and averages 5.9%, but could prove crucial in the formation of the day’s break as a result of its proximity to the first of the day’s climbs.

There is then an extremely long duration of rolling roads, with the rise towards L’Hospitalet du Sauvage able to impact upon the escapees, before the road then plummets rapidly downhill shortly after passing Saugues. From the valley the riders will ride upwards to tackle the Category 1 Col de Peyra Taillade, a climb which could leave some struggling to find a rhythm at times, lasting 8.3km with a gradient which averages out at 7.4%. Having reached the summit, the frontrunners will chase one another down again, quickly overcoming the Category 4 Côte de Saint-Vidal as they accelerate towards the penultimate finish before the second rest day of Le Tour.

Le Tour de France 2017 - Stage 15 Preview

Contenders:

Alexis Vuillermoz should be the ideal card for AG2R La Mondiale to play on Stage 15, allowing them to sit back in the bunch with their leader Romain Bardet and leave those interested in the stage outcome to take up the chase. Performances up to this point have been encouraging from the French rider and should be enough to gain the backing of his team to make a move on the tough start to the day. Gifted in all three aspects required to compete well on this course (climbing, descending & sprinting), Vuillermoz could emerge as a key protagonist on a day expected to be decided by the breakaway.

Greg Van Avermaet has previously caused a surprise when successfully taking on grand tour stages of this nature and emerging victorious at the end of what many assumed to be too tough a task for the classics focused rider. BMC are now aiming themselves at stage wins as a result of Riche Porte’s abandonment and could choose to back the Belgian hero from their strong array of breakaway riders. Certainly the fastest in a sprint of those likely to make the day’s break, if Avermaet is on top form and able to control the accelerations throughout the major challenges, then he will be a tough prospect in any deciding sprint. His greatest issues however is joining the crucial attack early on despite a categorised climb not long after the start, meaning his team could turn to the likes of Damiano Caruso or Alessandro De Marchi instead.

Tony Gallopin briefly tried to get away from the peloton late in yesterday’s stage, but soon realised his efforts were better saved for today, especially given its more fitting course. He is returning to full strength after sustaining a foot injury early in the race and now looks to be poised to make a move in order to secure another memorable win at his home grand tour. A fully fit Gallopin is capable of making the cut on the first couple of climbs and fast enough to see off many of his likely rivals in a sprint at the end of the day.

Stephen Cummings could decide that Stage 15 is another opportunity to join the breakaway and hope that the peloton are more forgiving in comparison to his earlier efforts last week. Having taken both national titles the weekend before Le Tour de France kicked off, many were surprised by his strength and condition, given that he had been out of competition due to broken bones for some time. An extremely astute rider tactically, Cummings will not wish to waste energy in the rolling attacks which occur when riders seek to escape from the peloton. Instead, he will wait until he sees the right move beginning to form and then commit his efforts in order to increase its chances of sticking. If he can do this, then the final 40km – 50km offer him opportunities to go it alone and push for the win using his time trial talents once again.

Nicolas Roche will be hoping to bring some celebrations to BMC after a torrid first half of the race, now potentially the strongest man available to them, given his lack of lieutenant duties which are likely to have kept him relatively fresh compared to others with eyes on Stage 15. Very strong on his day, the Irish rider will be hoping to set a strong pace which ditches the faster riders hoping for a larger sprint, as he knows that a tough race is bound result in him being the fastest men left at the front of affairs.

Lilian Calmejane already showcased his talents a few stages ago and will be eager to revisit his exploits once again on Stage 15. No doubt marked more closely now than before his victory, the French rider will be expected to animate the selection process upon the opening climb of the day and pin his hopes upon slipping away from his rivals in the final quarter of the day to take another brilliant win.

Alberto Contador is the rider most likely to attack from the group of original general classification favourites, though admits himself that his focus is now upon stage wins rather than a good overall position by the time the race reaches Paris. The finale is the most unappealing aspect of the course today, as he will be concerned that faster riders will be able to follow him into the finish town, so will want to work hard in the second half of the race to force another split amongst the break.

Others to consider are Alessandro De MarchiDamiano CarusoTiesj BenootEsteban ChavesGianluca Brambilla and Primoz Roglic.

Outcome:

1st Alexis Vuillermoz 2nd Nicolas Roche 3rd Alberto Contador

Le Tour de France 2017

Le Tour de France 2017 – Stage 14 Preview

Course:

A victory of great panache by Warren Barguil secured a back to back correct prediction for Spokenforks yesterday, tightening his grip upon the polka dot jersey and managing to take France’s first Bastille Day win at Le Tour since 2005. Today’s 181.5km course from Blagnac to Rodez will be a tougher affair to predict than yesterday, rolling terrain lending itself well to the ambitions of the breakaway, though an uphill finish to the day will have caught the eyes of several punchier sprinters and their teams. The first of two Category 3 ascents, Côte du viaduc du Viaur (2.3km, avg. 7%) is followed relatively quickly by the Côte de Centrès (2.3km, avg. 7%), neither of which are likely to cause much of an issue for breakaway or bunch alike. Though uncategorised by the race manual, a following rise is then apparent en route to Bonnecombe, which could potentially prove a useful launchpad as the break begins to fracture late on. The road starts to drop back down to Rodez, while the tension ratchets up ahead of the decisive climb of Côte de Saint-Pierre, which lasts just 570m and averages a tough 9.6%. Expectations are that an elite sprint finish will crown the day’s winner, though this is the Tour de France and life rarely goes to plan.

Le Tour de France 2017 - Stage 14 Preview

Contenders:

Greg Van Avermaet has not shown his face a great deal at this year’s race, no doubt hoping to keep himself out of trouble and in good condition ahead of today’s finish, having previously won in Rodez at the Tour de France a couple of years ago. There will be a greater amount of pressure upon the Belgium to perform now BMC’s general classification hopes have left with Richie Porte in the back of an ambulance, but also a greater degree of team support as a result. With stage wins now the team’s main agenda, everyone will be fully aware of how ideal today’s finale is for Van Avermaet and they will do their utmost to control the race especially for him.

Michael Matthews should be motivated on a day which could help him massively in the green jersey competition, as the finish will be his greatest chance of taking a victory with Marcel Kittel firmly out of the picture. His team are on a high as of yesterday’s Bastille Day victory with Warren Barguil and will be hoping to continue their success with another strong showing on Stage 14. His climbing prowess has repeatedly allowed him to showcase how much stronger he is going uphill than many of his rivals, placing him in good stead for the tests expected here. A hard day and a hard ridden finish will favour Matthews, one of the most durable riders outside of the general classification big names, possessing a brilliant uphill sprinting talent to see it off emphatically.

Philippe Gilbert fits the bill well of a potential winner for Stage 14, having the endurance required to follow the rolling attacks and sprint convincingly over the Côte de Saint-Pierre in order to distance his opposition. His greatest strength will be the support, specifically positionally speaking, of his teammates as they guide him through the concluding half of this stage. The competition will be fierce for the win today, though Gilbert has the grit to suffer the punches and emerge sharpest when it matters most.

Diego Ulissi has carved out a talent for this style of finale, so should be looking upon this with eager eyes and serious conviction to be amongst the frontrunners on the Côte de Saint-Pierre. The Italian is not at his best right now, yet should be able to contest this outcome at least, given it being towards the lower end of his toughest career victories. UAE Team Emirates have focused plenty of effort in placing Louis Meintjes well in pursuit of the white jersey, though shall be eager to take a potential stage win by switching their support to the celebrated Italian for the day.

Sonny Colbrelli will no doubt have circled this as a day to aim for since the route was first released, but would surely have liked to be sat before it in stronger condition than currently seen to be riding in. Despite this fact, Colbrelli has done well at major races when somewhat below par by simply riding smarter than his rivals, maintaining freshness for the last push to the line. With limited team support, he may end up becoming swamped by the stronger teams around him late on, so might actually prefer a tougher selection process for the finale.

John Degenkolb does have form for producing brilliantly strong efforts upon late rises to the line, yet is likely to be further down the pecking order in Rodez as a result of lacking form and weaker team support. The German has not been able to produce the level of performance previously seen by him at Le Tour de France, but can expect to edge closer to victory now the race is getting tougher for the more lightweight sprinters. Powerful enough to grind a huge gear over such a short climb, this is well within his capabilities on paper, though has not shown enough up until now to suggest he will take the win.

Daniel Martin has survived his collision with Richie Porte relatively well, though yesterday’s post-race walk to the team bus did showcase just how much pain and bruising the Irishman has suffered as a result of his misfortune. Surprisingly strong yesterday, his teammates have rallied round him to accelerate his recovery as best as possible when riding a grand tour and he definitely looks dangerous enough to challenge for stage honours if the race lends itself to the maillot jaune group. This short and sharp conclusion to the day is ideal for Martin to attack upon, but it is not necessarily likely he will be in a position to do precisely that. If however the battle for the yellow jersey swallows up the day’s smaller moves, then Martin is the most likely to win from such an outcome.

Tony GallopinJan BakelantsEdvald Boasson HagenBen Swift and Alberto Bettiol could all cause an upset from either a breakaway or simply bursting forth from a bunch sprint when least expected.

Outcome:

1st Michael Matthews 2nd Greg Van Avermaet 3rd Philippe Gilbert

Le Tour de France 2017

Le Tour de France 2017 – Stage 3 Preview

Course:

Though this is earmarked as another day for a bunch sprint to decide the outcome, Stage 3’s 212.5km journey from Verviers to Longwy offers a far greater number of rolling roads than yesterday and finishes with an uphill battle to the line at Côte des Religieuses. Rather than simply seeing the fastest riders in the race lay claim to stage honours, we can expect the puncheurs and those fond of classics style finales to also show their faces during the final moments. There shall be a heated battled for position as the peloton turns onto the final climb of Côte des Religieuses, opening with an incline of 8.2%, meaning there is a chance of getting stuck behind fatigued riders sliding out the back. At 1.6km in length, it manages to reach a maximum gradient of 11%, though the last 500m are considerably easier at 3% – 4%.

Le Tour de France 2017 Stage 3 Preview

Contenders:

Michael Matthews has established himself as a consistent performer upon these difficult uphill stage finishes in recent years and even won a similar challenge earlier this season at Tour de Suisse. He climbs far better than a typical sprinter and has the ability to still produce a blistering acceleration after having hauled himself up a late climb such as today’s. Support from teammate Nikias Arndt could prove decisive, as the opportunity to conserve any ounce of energy for the deciding sprint will be a great advantage for the Australian.

Peter Sagan could open his account early at this year’s race with a stage win in Longwy and will be considered the man to beat by fans and riders alike. Though he has always been quick in a kick to the line, it is these attritional conclusions which he has improved upon immensely and now finds himself a true specialist at winning upon. Sagan is brilliant at positioning himself without the guidance of others, though may finally have support in the closing moments of a stage in the shape of Jay McCarthy. Regardless, the reigning world champion will not worry if isolated and shall be confident of finding the gap required to surge forth in order to take the win.

Greg Van Avermaet is the thorn in the side of Peter Sagan on days like these, as the Belgian has risen to become one of the few riders who can consistently put the Slovakian to the sword in a head to head contest. His form might not be sparkling right now, and he does have eyes on stages later in the race as well, but his talent for uphill sprints makes him a real contender despite this. If the weather makes it a more attritional day, then Avermaet’s chances will improve further still; as the closer Stage 3 gets to becoming a Belgian classic, the more likely it is that he will take the stage.

John Degenkolb surprisingly missed out on a top ten placing on yesterday’s stage, but could be saving his efforts specifically to challenge for the win atop Côte des Religieuses. He recently finished behind Michael Matthews and Peter Sagan at the Tour de Suisse on a similar finale, suggesting that his form could be better than expected at Le Tour de France. Degenkolb can produce huge amounts of power to get over these inclines, though could come unstuck if the sprint is ignited from further out than expected, leaving him with nothing else to call upon once the inclines soften towards the line.

Phillipe Gilbert is capable of producing a potent display of aggressive riding on Stage 3’s final climb, arriving at Le Tour off the back of one of his most successful Spring campaigns for sometime. The former world champion will be able to utilise his dominance upon Amstel Gold’s Cauberg to help gauge his efforts today and can lean upon an extremely talented group of teammates to set him up for grand tour glory.

Sonny Colbrelli seems one of the most difficult riders to gauge form of, often producing eye catching results out of thin air at major races, then seemingly unable to reproduce it on days tailored to his abilities. The Italian rider should be interested in this finish, though much like John Degenkolb, could discover that it leaves him short of the pace required in the last 500m to secure victory.

Other names who have the potential to steal the show are Diego Ulissi, Michael AlbasiniZdeněk ŠtybarEdvald Boasson Hagen and Arthur Vichot.

Outcome:

1st Michael Matthews 2nd Peter Sagan 3rd Greg Van Avermaet

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

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