Paris - Roubaix 2017 Race Preview

Paris – Roubaix – Race Preview 2017

Course:

The season’s cobbled campaign reaches its crescendo at Paris – Roubaix once again, the preceding weeks of gruelling Spring races in Northern Europe having given us a glimpse of who is mostly likely to survive another ‘Sunday In Hell’. Stretching a total of 257km from the start at Compiègne – Choisy-Au-Bac to the historic finale at the Roubaix velodrome. Tackling 29 official sectors en route to the finish, riders will not only require the strength and determination to succeed, but also the light touch of luck to steer clear of danger throughout the maelstrom. The riders are gifted 100km to prepare themselves for the barrage of challenges, hitting their first cobbled sector after the century marker and finding little in the way of relief until the finish line is crossed or they climb off their bike. As ever, much anxiety will be heaped upon the riders’ passage through the crucial sectors of Care Four de l’Arbre, Mons-en-Pevele and Arenberg forest; the fight for position entering these being some of the most intense riding during the day. Of all the classics which form the monuments in cycling, Paris – Roubaix is perhaps the one which sees the greatest number of star riders lose out through bad luck rather than poor form, meaning an upset is always on the cards at this iconic race. Regardless, whomever is crowned 2017’s champion will have achieved it through no fluke, as every rider who enters the Roubaix velodrome does so gripped by exhaustion. There is no ‘easy’ way to win Paris – Roubaix.

Paris - Roubaix 2017 Race Preview Route

Contenders:

John Degenkolb was unable to defend his title last year due to a training accident which almost cost him a finger and will now be extremely motivated to compensate for his previous absence by performing strongly once again. The German seems built to dominate this race and it is easy to imagine that this 2017 edition may have been poised to complete a hat-trick of wins had he been able to contest the monument last year. His immense strength has seen him as one of the best riders behind the likes of Peter Sagan and Greg Van Avermaet during the early semi-classics this year, but on many of those occasions it was the dreaded hellingen which prevented him from challenging for the win. Today features no such cobbled climbs, making it a levelling factor which plays into his hands. It will take plenty of effort to detach Degenkolb, should the frontrunners fail to achieve this, then nobody will be faster than the German at the end of this race as they enter Roubaix.

Peter Sagan saw his ambitions of defending his title at Ronde van Vlaanderen wiped out by a rogue coat, causing himself Oliver Naesen and Greg Van Avermaet to crash upon the cobblestones. His classics campaign has not been as easy as many expected, Sagan having to cope with negative riding and limited team support compared to teams such as Quick – Step and Trek – Segafredo. Though the results may not immediately demonstrate it, Sagan has been indomitable for much of these semi-classic races and will believe himself strong enough to compensate for a lack of team strength once the race becomes a ‘man vs man’ battle. He is not always the fastest at the end of a tough race such as this, so will need to focus upon conserving energy and allow Quick – Step to take control of affairs for the day.

Oliver Naesen has risen rapidly during the Spring to become one of the few riders capable of matching the likes of Peter Sagan and Greg Van Avermaet. He was in a fantastic position at the Tour of Flanders, but was unfortunate enough to be taken out by a spectator alongside Peter Sagan and Greg Van Avermaet before he could make any moves for victory. Naesen is an aggressive rider who will not wish to simply sit on the wheel and wait to be ridden off, capable of attacking solo from range, he is also talented enough to be a danger in a sprint. However, those most likely to match him are all faster than he is on paper, but nothing is guaranteed once Paris – Roubaix reaches its conclusion. The course suits Naesen’s skills extremely well, and if he rides a cunning enough race, he will be the most likely to cause an upset.

Greg Van Avermaet has become the classics specialists which many had long expected him to become, dominating 2017’s opening classics with apparent ease and the only man able to put Peter Sagan to the sword when given the chance. The Belgian is not as well suited to the rigours of Paris – Roubaix however, as much of Avermaet’s riding is built around his immense acceleration on some of Europe’s toughest cobbled climbs. He is in the form of his life right now, so he cannot be dismissed simply because the terrain is not perfect, instead it is likely that Avermaet will look to follow the wheel of favourites such as John Degenkolb and Peter Sagan, expecting to then dispatch them with ease in a sprint for the line.

Alexander Kristoff is not currently in the same monstrous form as that which delivered him immense success in 2015, yet there are signs to suggest he is once again on the rise to the top. Kristoff does not possess an eye-catching history at Paris – Roubaix, which is surprising when considering his physical attributes, though he certainly has what it takes to succeed if he commits everything to it. His ability to suffer through the hardest of days in the saddle is well documented, but given the encouraging weather forecast for the day, this year’s edition is unlikely to be the attritional affair which would see Kristoff become favourite.

Tom Boonen bids farewell to life as a professional cyclist with one final appearance at Paris – Roubaix, a race which he has conquered on four occasions, confirming himself as one of the greatest Belgians to have ridden this race. Boonen will be inspired to deliver a famous farewell to the sport, aiming to claim victory for a fifth time and become its most successful competitor in history. Quick – Step are once again the strongest team in this one day classic, but their mix of potential victors means Boonen will not be afforded total support. Plenty needs to go in his favour throughout the day to arrive at Roubaix with the leading riders, but should he do so, there is no doubt that he has the gritty determination to lift the cobblestone one last time.

Others who are anticipated to animate the race and challenge for the win are Niki TerpstraZdenek StybarLuke DurbridgeIan StannardLuke Rowe and Florian Sénéchal.

Outcome:

1st Oliver Naesen 2nd Peter Sagan 3rd Tom Boonen

Advertisements

Omloop Het Nieuwsblad 2017 – Race Preview

Course:

The peloton dip their toes into the freezing waters of the classics season for the first time in 2017, as the hellingen of Belgium seek to break riders’ spirits before Spring as even arrived. Omloop Het Nieuwsblad will not only drop the flag to begin its 198.3km journey out of Gent and back again, but also signal the start of the oncoming wave of cobbled races which traditionalists view as the true beginning to the cycling season. Many riders will be familiar with the roads and climbs used during the days race, as given the size of Belgium, parts of the course also crop up in classics such as Ronde van Vlaanderen and E3 Harelbeke. A total of 13 different hellingen and 10 pavé sections will combine to make this a selective race where much of the final action occurs during the concluding 50km, as the attritional nature of the contest sees the most cunning riders capitalise en route to victory.

Omloop Het Nieuwsblad

Contenders:

Peter Sagan is the day’s favourite for many people, arriving here in the rainbow stripes of the World Champion for the second consecutive year after finishing behind Greg Van Avermaet in 2016. Sagan’s programme so far this year has been light, gradually building him into race condition without having to risk him amongst the season’s early twitchy races. The last couple of years have cemented the belief that Sagan can near enough achieve anything which he desires, and given that the obstacles present today are his favoured hunting grounds, it is difficult to believe Peter Sagan will not win in Gent.

Sep Vanmarcke is yet to find a great deal of glory in races such as these, a surprising factor when seeing him put his rivals to the sword by accelerating over cobbled sectors and hills. The Belgian rider has been plagued continually by bad luck, mechanical issues and poor tactics whenever looking in good contention for a cobbled victory. Regardless, he has always performed well at this time of year and on this type of terrain, Vanmarcke now possesses a stronger team to support him and can hopefully earn a much deserved win at last.

Greg Van Avermaet was last year’s champion, finally getting the better of rival Peter Sagan in a reduced sprint and will be aware that a rematch may well be on the cards in 2017. His ability to always be in the right race move, following the wheels of his major rivals, has always been an impressive skill of his during these often chaotic affairs. Avermaet will no doubt be as astute as ever here, but his preparation has not been ideal due to a broken ankle sustained late last year. This means he could be somewhat behind his expected condition for this time of year, however, if there is one man who can overcome a physical disadvantage through mental strength it is Avermaet.

Tiesj Benoot made all the right moves last year, finishing amongst the elite pack of five riders which decided the race, led home by Greg Van Avermaet and Peter Sagan. He has been much hyped by his home nation of Belgium and is shouldering the burden of being marked as their future saviour for the cobbled classics. His current form is extremely encouraging and there is every reason to believe that he will once again feature as part of the group which crowns the day’s winner.

Luke Rowe was one of the other riders who made it to the finish in the leading pack last year and is in the type of condition which suggests he could be in the mix once again. Despite his diminishing prowess as a sprinter, the Welshman is developing a skill for solo moves, something which he demonstrated earlier in the year at the Herald Sun Tour; a performance which should not be forgotten by his rivals today.

Tom Boonen and Zdenek Stybar pose a headache for their team Quick Step, as each have a proven ability to really shake things up during a gritty contest like this. Between the two of them, there is the ability to either solo away to victory or wait in hope of a sprint finish, but it will be tough to choose which is best to back. The Belgian outfit have a poor reputation for tactical nous after their farcical finale in 2015, making this a very interesting dynamic to watch throughout the day.

Other noteworthy riders who could cause a stir are Alexander KristoffJasper StuyvenNiki TerpstraIan Stannard and Jens Debusschere

Outcome:

1st Peter Sagan 2nd Sep Vanmarcke 3rd Luke Rowe

Gent-Wevelgem Preview 2016

Course:

Having ticked off several Belgian classics and one monument in the shape of Milan-San Remo, the final days of March are seen out with a race tilted more in the favour of the sprinters than the strongmen of the cobbles; Gent-Wevelgem once again poised to be an exciting race in the face of some potentially miserable weather. Possessing a rich and longstanding history in the Belgian cycling calendar, there is no doubt that Gent-Wevelgem is a classic, but one which differs considerably from the brutal contests of the Tour of Flanders or E3 Harelbeke. Instead, the climbs are fewer and somewhat less arduous, while a longer flat conclusion to the day shifts the dynamic away from those more synonymous with last gasp charges over leg shattering hellingen. This 243km challenge is by no means simple though, boasting ten climbs in total, with much of the attention focused upon two ascents of the historic Kemmelberg; the second of which featuring ramps of 23%. No doubt an elite group shall form ahead of the final stretch into Wevelgem, setting up an exciting pursuit with those desperately trying to stay in contention for the win behind, many of whom will be anticipating a bunch sprint of sorts to crown the victor.

GW

Contenders:

Peter Sagan is in fantastic form currently, yet still finds victory elusive, stunning many when finishing behind Michal Kwiatkowski at E3; a race which looked destined to be his as the flamme rouge passed overhead. His issue seems to be the blunting of his top speed at the end of a gruelling contest, something he will hope to be less decisive at Gent-Wevelgem where the largely shared impetus to force a sprint should save him energy. Assuming he makes the right moves and leans on others to do a greater share of the work, Sagan could finally strike upon the glory his rainbow bands deserve.

Etixx-QuickStep have picked up where they left off during last year’s classics campaign, already squandering numerical advantages at decisive moments on several occasions in 2016 and the pressure will be on today to rectify this. Tom Boonen and Matteo Trentin looked dangerous at E3, but choked when it mattered most, both will fancy their chances in a sprint and will be confident of arriving in good condition here too. The Belgian outfits wildcard however is Colombian Fernando Gaviria, his turn of pace in 2016 thus far has been blistering, but it remains uncertain as to how well he shall cope with the race and the weather.

Fabian Cancellara has never won this race, but judging by his showings so far this season, there is little to suggest he cannot change this today. The Swiss legend should make the anticipated selection on the Kemmelberg, leaving him the possibility of attacking solo and giving his rivals the unenviable task of reeling him back in, or hold on for a reduced sprint finish which he has form of dominating after a testing race such as this.

The likes of Giacomo NizzoloBryan Coquard and Nacer Bouhanni are all types of sprinter who could survive the rigours of the Kemmelberg’s attacks in good shape and ride themselves back into contention should a late move break free. All three have taken victories in 2016, including at the end of some testing days given their reputation as pure sprinters; it would be foolish to underestimate the dogged determination of a sprinter to stay in contention when he feels there is a trophy with his name on it if he makes the cut.

Admittedly, this race should end in a sprint, but there will be plenty of strong riders out who are poised to instigate a winning move which stays away and contests the win amongst their limited ranks. Ian Stannard makes surviving a race such as this look easier than it really is and he will be a marked man given his immense strength for helping a move to stick. Edward Theuns, Jens Debusschere and Tiesj Benoot are all likely protagonists in a breakaway winning move, all three having ridden impressively this Spring, while a Belgian winner would be a huge victory for the home fans too.

Outcome:

1st Peter Sagan 2nd Fabian Cancellara 3rd Edward Theuns

ToB - Ipswich 004

A Day At The Races – Tour of Britain 2015


Tour of Britain Stage 7 – Fakenham to Ipswich

Terrain: Country lanes & military airbase

Weather: Lazy drizzle & grey skies

Total Distance: 227.1km                Crowds: Waterproof ponchos everywhere

Start: Fakenham Racecourse        Best Game Face: Graham Briggs

Bradley Wiggins Factor: Parting fans like Moses to make sign-on


Lean racing machines stalk Fakenham racecourse as commonplace, so to see a crowd gathered around the parade ring is nothing unusual here. But today’s runners and riders distinctly lack the expected glossy manes of racehorses, even if Rasmus Quaade does sport a powerful moustache, however plenty here still share a fondness for oats with the thoroughbreds who normally excite the grandstand. This toy town sized venue sits nestled amongst the intricate spaghetti work of Norfolk’s roads, testing both bus and driver as much as any Alpine ascent, resulting in a tediously drawn out transfer for all the riders.

 ToB - Ipswich 003

Unsurprisingly, the day’s dank dawn has done little to persuade the teams away from their space age wagons, with only a handful of British domestic teams bold enough to saddle up on the turbos outside. So unattractive is the weather, that for many of the squads here, the sign-on process has turned into a 100m dash from bus to stage and back. When out onstage however, the speakers gurgle with the daily spiel, guaranteeing each rider’s wave earns a cheer from the crowd; now steaming beneath their complimentary rain ponchos.

ToB - Ipswich 004

Despite the sport’s huge groundswell of interest on British turf thanks to Cavendish, Wiggins, Armitstead Hoy, Pendleton and Froome; cycling remains a strange beast. There are no true limitations for ambling around the riders and their buses, teams relying on the constraints of social norms stopping strangers from inviting themselves onto the bus and generally being weird. The majority of today’s attendance is firmly ensconced within touching distance of the Team WIGGINS van. A sea of limbs grasping smartphones in place of autograph books, contorting their bodies to rattle off selfies with the thread slim Bradley Wiggins stalking the crowded barrier in shot.

ToB - Ipswich 013

This knight’s fellow men-at-arms form the remaining five sixths of his battalion, three of whom slink away to sign-on and return with little interest from the crowd. Bradley on the other hand cycles the hundred meters to the stage with an amateur town crier ahead of him, negotiating a gangway through those magnetised into orbit by his charisma.

ToB - Ipswich 005

Wiggins narrows the scope of a race so acutely that appreciation of the breadth and depth of riders here can became momentarily suspended. Regardless of whether Britain is truly enamoured or simply infatuated by cycling, the profile of the sport has struck an exponential phase of development. This 2015 line-up bolsters World Champions, several National Champions, Grand Tour jersey winners, Monument winners and one of Eritrea’s favourite sons. A once backwater race now sits at the top table of cycling with the room to grow in stature yet further still, admittedly how best to do so is uncertain, though Tour of Britain’s take on the eccentric Tour de France advertising cavalcade could be a start.

ToB - Ipswich 006

Fakenham’s drizzled starting line becomes populated all of a sudden, the weather inspiring riders for a Le Mans style scramble to saddle up and ride out with no hanging around. The previous six days of racing are already etched deep on the brow of many, exaggerated by the tangible heavy sigh pressing down on the peloton from the cinderblock sky above. As they trickle out from the racecourse like a loose thread, it seems that a miserable day is all that lies in store for these riders.

ToB - Ipswich 007


Finish – Ipswich Town Centre

Weather: Blue skies and obscene levels of sunshine

Crowds: Skilled in parkour to get a good view

Bradley Wiggins Factor: Encouraging the 60+ age group to sprint over walls


Like ants beneath a magnified sun, the riders now skitter across scorched tarmac, sailing through the technical kilometres preceding the Ipswich town centre finish. Britain’s climate has impersonated a more continental vibe for the latter half of the day, spectators swap their hot chocolate for cool lagers, while riders strip down to short sleeves for the heated finale into town. Whereas Fakenham’s departure point felt like a juddering steam engine building up pressure to leave the station, the habitual scanning from ‘jumbotron’ to finishing straight (and back again), is more akin to waiting for a thundering bullet train to blitz its way to the line. So eager are those gathered to witness the anticipated showdown between Elia Viviani and André Greipel, that the rooftops of estate agents, apartments, bars and banks now become sky-high terraces for those able to negotiate their way to the summit.

ToB - Ipswich 009

If the start’s modest crowd of enthusiasts and dedicated Rapha/Wiggins acolytes demonstrated a local interest, Stage 7’s town centre finale confirms a nation’s burgeoning obsession. Barriers are five bodies deep, even beyond the finishing line, with 50km still to race before the peloton begin bearing down on the county capital’s outskirts. Time is said to be relative at best, but waiting for first sight of a rider exiting the final bend exaggerates this further still, spectators hung in suspended animation, as minute by minute nothing changes in Ipswich. ‘Jumbotron’ serves as the only assurance that there is indeed a race worth waiting for here. A breath which never quite suffices or the infinite fall of shepard tones, being a spectator feels punishing on occasion, with the prospect of watching paint dry seeming electric after a while.

ToB - Ipswich 011

Time at the line is focused on one calculation: the exact moment at which your eyes can scan down from the live TV and register that the riders are now before you with only 100m left. From rider to spectator, road racing’s facets are sunk deep within hours of increasing tension, before venting frenziedly and abruptly for the mad rush across the line. Synapses spark in an attempt to translate the initial smattering of vibrant jerseys into rider names, and in turn, vocalise some sort of motivational howl to nudge your favoured rider over the line. Today that rider is André Greipel, cementing his season’s final victory in a year which has seen him collect at least one win from nine of his ten stage race appearances. Who said sprinting stopped at 33 years old?

ToB - Ipswich 008

Then it dawns across the crowd – “That’s it.”
The race both comes to life and fades within several pedal revolutions; perhaps no other sports is so tightly bonded to ‘the moment’ in that respect. Rugby, tennis and football drag beyond an hour and have their entirety spectated upon from one location, while much of track and field, or even gymnastics, is the repetition of efforts in pursuit of perfection. Staying at home for armchair race coverage fails to guarantee witnessing everything either, as directors cut from camera to camera in an attempt to please every nation’s fans; missing breaks suddenly forming, riders being dropped or losing everything altogether as weather sabotages live feed.

ToB - Ipswich 012

Those who prop themselves up against a race barrier exchange hours of staring at dire advertising hoardings, for a fleeting moment which places them alongside their heroes. In that moment comes the satisfaction of sharing it with those who inspire you, a process repeated for fans from kilometre zero to the day’s final podium presentation. Photography mirrors this attribute of cycling well, all of the shots here could be flashes in the memory of any individual who turned out for the day. There is no football style ‘build up play’ to be remembered when standing roadside, this sport hinges on being in the right place at the right time; on either side of the barriers.

ToB - Ipswich 010

Ultimately it becomes an addiction, wanting another pass by the peloton, spotting your favourite rider or dreaming of seeing the race winning move vanish up the road. Even nowadays with parades of press motorbikes surrounding the bunch and helicopters overhead, certain aspects and stories of the race are only documented through those dedicated followers at the roadside. For those who decided to watch Stage 7 at some point from Fakenham to Ipswich, all now possess a moment which intertwines them with the race. Yet a lucky few will have walked away with a story too and it is in the pursuit of those tales which fuels interest to become obsession.

END.


Mens-Road-Race-Richmond-World-Championships-2015-Spokenforks-Preview

RICHMOND WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS 2015 – Men’s Road Race Preview

Course:

Richmond 2015 signals the World Championships’ return to a pure circuit race for the first time in over ten years, rather than the use of an opening sector to warm the riders up before starting the laps, something which has become common in recent editions. Instead a smaller run of 5.3km will lead the riders onto a shortened first circuit, before beginning the 15 laps of 16.2km which comprise this 261.24km World Championship contest. Many will already be accustomed to the demands of this course having watched the preceding time trials and road races work their way around Richmond’s streets, ensuring few surprises should now remain on this technically demanding circuit. Tight bends and fast descents are present during the course, but the three most standout aspects of the race will be the climbs which are expected to decide the outcome of the day’s racing.

The first of these is Libby Hill, a snaking 200m cobbled hill which has already seen a variety of riders suffer mechanicals and even slide out on the opening bend once some light drizzle is added to the equation. Position is crucial here and there will be a high pace heading into the bottom as nations attempt to protect their leaders’ by finding the safest path to the top; often by riding in the gutter. After this comes a brief descent which includes some very fast bends, before leading the pack into the second challenge of the day, 23rd Street. Significantly stepper than its predecessor, 23rd Street will compress the bunch on each rotation of its cobbled 100m and possibly serve as a springboard to attack late on in the race. The descent from here would see a breakaway push on rapidly as they strive to hit the final climb of Governor Street first. This 300m climb is a steady grind and tops out 680m short of the finish, where the final straight immediately begins running right the way to the line.

As a whole, the course looks to favour powerful classics styled riders who can repeatedly chase and counterattack their rivals with short anaerobic efforts. With the final climb concluding with almost 700m of flat racing still separating them from the line, a sprint from an elite group of 8 to 15 riders could be the most likely fashion in which the rainbow stripes are won in Richmond. There is of course the chance that it will come down to a bigger bunch sprint, meaning that many of the teams here have made their uncertainty regarding the expected race dynamic clear and called up a pure sprinter and a stronger classics rider to cover both eventualities.

 

Mens-Road-Race-Richmond-World-Championships-2015-Spokenforks-Preview

Contenders:

Alexander Kristoff  has been tipped by many to return the rainbow bands to Norway since his compatriot Thor Hushovd won them in 201o, but he faces a difficult task to achieve that ambition here. His success earlier in the year encompassed a dominant showing in the Spring classics and included winning the Tour of Flanders in impressive fashion. On that occasion he was aware of his status as a marked man coming off the back of early season victories in the Middle-East and subsequently went on the offensive; going clear with Niki Terpstra before rolling past the Dutchman at the finish with ease. This shows an awareness and willingness by Kristoff to take action against those who perceive him to be the biggest threat during a race. This may also prove to be the biggest problem during today’s battle, patience is often the key to these one day affairs and the week’s preceding road races have already demonstrated that those who bide their time often emerge with greater success than those chasing the win. Instead, he might lean upon Edvald Boasson Hagen to chase down any dangerous moves on the final repition of the three climbs, aiming to set up Kristoff for a reduced bunch sprint, within which many anticipate him to dominate. There is no question surrounding the Norwegian’s ability to perform at a single day race, but his current condition is not certain after an average Tour de France but an encouraging third place at GP Quebec recently. Ultimately Kristoff comes to the fore as the attrition rate approaches its maximum (the harder and longer the better), so with cobbles, hellingen, 261km and a high chance of rain; he might just get his way.

John Degenkolb ranks alongside Kristoff in two clear ways, the first being his nation’s desire to see this race decided by a sprint, as well as a shared ability to demonstrate their best during the hardest of one day races. This year saw Degenkolb secure victories at two of the biggest monuments in cycling; Paris-Roubaix and Milan-San Remo. These notoriously long and arduous affairs bode well for the German, but it is the contrasting styles in which he won them that offer the greatest insight as to his chances in Richmond. The former saw Degenkolb protected by his teammates until he perceived the race winning move to occur, attacking solo to bridge the gap to the break and eventually out sprint the likes of Zdeněk Štybar and Greg Van Avermaet to win. In contrast, his victory at Milano-San Remo came off the back of an immense team effort to protect Degenkolb over the day’s climbs, controlling the race and finally delivering him into a race winning position to sprint from. The biggest difference for Degenkolb today is that he will not have the luxury of the well oiled machine that is Giant-Alpecin, instead he will be operating from within the German team on this occasion and could find himself exposed during the final ascent of Governor Street. His recent performances at the Vuelta a España were lacking his normal clinical finishing, but this is less important on a day which comes down to the ability to suffer and survive. Spokenforks believes Degenkolb is likely to find greater success seizing the initiative and protecting his interests firsthand, rather than placing the responsibilities on his German team to ensure a sprint finish. A situation which could throw up yet further problems if his compatriot André Greipel is also present with less than 700m remaining in Richmond.

Michael Matthews won this competition as an Under-23 in 2010 and will surely fancy his chances of repeating this success at a senior level on a course which favours his attributes convincingly. The Australian has found success on similar terrain at both grand tour and one day races in the last couple of seasons, especially those involving late climbs. Matthews’ biggest supporting evidence to a claim at the win here is his performance at Amstel Gold earlier this year, a race which saw him able to match Philippe Gilbert on the notorious Cauberg. He walked away with third on that day, though had he not dug so deep in order to pursue the Belgian classics specialist, he may have been able to muster enough to secure the win. Regardless, it was a demonstration as to his talent for such a course and he will be aware as to how unlikely it is that a World Road Race course will suit him so well again anytime soon. The Australian team can guarantee him great protection throughout the race and could possibly offer up their ‘Plan B’ Simon Gerrans as a leadout man for Matthews in a sprint finish. Though he usually prefers an uphill sprint to the line, the fact that three tough climbs are present in rapid succession on the final lap should be enough to tilt the odds in his favour, marking him out as one of the fastest finishers after Governor Street is tackled for the final time. Perhaps most encouraging of all however is the fact he has not simply added this race at the tailend of his season, rather Matthews has actively prepared and focused upon performing in Richmond and is thus a major contender.

Peter Sagan is bound to face the biggest array of dilemmas during the race, the immensely talented Slovak could win from a variety of situations, but lacks the support required to convincingly back any of them. Teammates Juraj Sagan (brother) and Michal Kolar well simply attempt to protect their leader for as long as possible, before leaving him to go it alone (when this will happen is uncertain). The strength, courage and tenacity we have witnessed from Sagan this year has reignited him and subsequently earned him some belated victories. He has proven to be incredibly strong on climbs this year and is bound to out perform his most likely rivals who are hoping for a sprint finish. Sagan is also not afraid to take the race by the scruff of the neck and join or instigate a breakaway move, working hard to drive it to the line alongside his escapees. However, despite encouraging showings at several classics during his career so far, the distance of 200km+ and a high attrition rate often blunts his abilities, or simply rules him out of the running entirely. It could be a waste for Sagan to simply sit in the wheels and wait for a sprint finish where John Degenkolb and Alexander Kristoff are likely to be in better shape, instead Sagan would bolster a very convincing chance of becoming World Champion should he join a late breakaway and punch his way across the line first.

Greg Van Avermaet has enjoyed a season which has included great results at the major one day affairs of Paris-Roubaix and Tour of Flanders, no doubt the type of form he will hope to replicate at Richmond. He is expected to lead Belgium alongside Philippe Gilbert and will be their best bet to secure the rainbow jersey if the win comes from an elite group which forms on the final lap. Avermaet beat Sagan on a difficult stage at this year’s Tour de France and he has tried to taper his exertions in order to arrive in Richmond in a comparable shape once again. Avermaet is likely to animate the race and join a break in order to ease the pressure on Belgium having to chase a move late on, possibly even finding Gilbert beside him in such a move. Alongside this, the day’s climbs are similar to that of the hellingen which he has performed consistently upon this year, playing convincingly into his hands yet further. Doubts are apparent however, predominately due to his recent displays at the GP Quebec and GP Montreal, suggesting he may not have carried his form late into the year as well as expected.

Alejandro Valverde must wonder what exactly he has to do in order to become World Champion, the Spanish rider has so far acquired a total of two silver and four bronze medals at the race since his first in 2003. This statistic is amazing in itself, but when considering that the courses upon which he has accumulated these medals have contrasted so dramatically, it become clear as to how consistently Valverde raises his game in order to contest this title. He is better suited to the Ardennes style of one day racing and has little history against the Springtime cobbles, something which certainly affects him negatively today. Valverde will be aware of those who will be better than him in a straightforward drag race to the line, adding support to the likelihood of him joining a breakaway or striking out alone on the final ascent of Governor Street. The long and wearing nature of the World Championship Road Race could in fact make him the fastest present in a group sprint, though this would surely have to leave Degenkolb, Kristoff, Matthews and perhaps even Sagan absent from its composition. Possessing such form for this race means he cannot be discounted from being present in the shake up for the rainbow jersey, especially as this might even be his last appearance.

Zdeněk Štybar is a real danger to the hopes of others with their eye upon the win today, the Czech team leader is known for sniffing out a victory and striking powerfully before others even begin to realise what is going on. Štybar has started to carve out a niche as a one day specialist, 2015 seeing him win Strade Bianche and claiming second at E3 Harelbeke and Paris-Roubaix. The support he will have on the day should be more than sufficient to keep him at the head of affairs and it will be interesting to see how he chooses to ride this race. It is easy to forget how huge a talent Štybar also is for Cyclocross, a factor which should ensure he is well equipped to cope with a frantic race upon crucial cobbled climbs which may become drenched with rain. Given his reputation, the peloton will know that any attempt by the Czech rider to go clear cannot be ignored, as Štybar is notoriously difficult to reel back in at the best of times, let alone when there is a World title at stake.

Juan José Lobato has the blend of skills required to at least make it onto the podium if all goes to plan for the strong Spanish sprinter. He enjoyed a successful Tour of Britain earlier in the month, contesting the sprinters’ stages well and even holding the leader’s jersey at one point too. He has enough to suggest he will last the course and his fourth place at Milan-San Remo in 2014 came during some of the worst downpours the race has experienced in recent years, so weather should not be an issue for him either.

André Greipel could cause a real stir if present in the bunch as they turn left onto the finishing straight at the final time of asking today. The end of this season has seen a great showing at the Tour of Britain where he reminded people why he is likely to be the fastest man in this race, as well as his ability to climb impressively for a man of his talents. He is not known for his one day ability and is also notorious for vanishing when the charge to the line is contested in heavy rain. As mentioned previously, the biggest issue should he remain in contention ahead of the finish line is teammate John Degenkolb, a situation which could cause chaos as they decide who should support one another. Certainly an outsider for the title, but if he showcases the same form we saw earlier in the year at the Tour of Flanders, then he cannot be totally discounted from the contest.

Matti Breschel never seems to offer much in the way of excitement during the season and yet he consistently emerges as a protagonists during the final moments of a World Championship Road Race. Because of this he warrants a mention on a course which does indeed play into his hands, the Dane being an extremely strong rider when it comes to long and testing races. The Danish team is certainly underestimated as the likes of Rasmus Guildhammer, Christopher Juul-Jensen and Michael Valgren are just some of the riders which offer a great depth of strength in order to support Breschel throughout the day. Given Breschel’s history for performing at the Worlds, he clearly has the knack of peaking at this time of year down to a fine art, so do not be too surprised if he records at least a top ten placing.

Elia Viviani is likely to lead this year’s Italy squad, a jumbled selection of pure sprinters and tougher fast finishers who should cope with the hills. Viviani was in stellar form during the Tour of Britain, but could struggle to make his presence felt on this particular course, though he has stated how he has replicated the required climbs in training as intervals in order to prepare for Richmond. Fabio Felline will ride alongside Viviani in support, but deserves a mention on the back of a seventh place finish at the Giro d’Italia’s epic 264km long Stage 7, a day won by another Italian teammate Diego Ulissi. A harder race will certainly favour Ulissi, especially if it rains, but the squad still has further firepower in the shape of Giacomo Nizzolo and Matteo Trentin who could both contest the win if circumstances are right. This Italian team appears extremely confused on paper, lacking a coherent plan which could see this talented squad walk away with nothing of note.

Niki Terpstra might be given the task of spearheading a Dutch team which bolsters no sprinters and will rely upon animating the race with the intention of getting at least one rider into the day’s decisive move. Terpstra copes well on this sort of terrain which includes cobbles and is known for being able to choose the perfect moment to solo away from his competitors and take the win. However, this course does not suit that style as neatly as he will have hoped, so attention may instead lie elsewhere within the Dutch ranks. Lars Boom was fourth and six at Paris-Roubaix and Tour of Flanders respectively this year and would like to think this type of form can be mirrored to a certain degree in Richmond; Boom also sprints strongly remember. He is yet another rider the Dutch possesses which the peloton cannot afford to let slip off the front with little reaction to chase. The biggest question mark surrounding the team however can be placed upon Tom Dumoulin, arriving here after a gruelling Vuelta a España and a modest showing in the individual time trial earlier in the week. It is difficult to anticipate what form he will be in, but the parcours do suit him particularly well and if he had of focused specifically on peaking for this affair he would have been a favourite. Regardless, he cannot be dismissed entirely as this year has shown how well he is climbing, while people also forget he can be the fastest sprinter from an elite group at this type of race.

Julian Alaphilippe emerged this year as a talented once day racer and should be confident of being present in the mix in the final stages of today’s race. The Frenchman finished seventh at Amstel Gold, before going on to place second at both La Flèche Wallone and Liège-Bastogne-Liège later on in the week. His talents are perhaps more Ardennes styled than what the expected skill set is to dominate here, but Alaphilippe is unlikely to be caught out on the climbs and is a very quick finisher too. Teammate Tony Gallopin offers similar talents and is sure to be another option for the French team which arrives in Richmond with modest ambitions. Gallopin is always showing a great capability for rising to the occasion of a classic and even managed a top ten finish at Milan-San Remo this season; eighth place at the recent GP Quebec also adds to his case.

Ben Swift could be Great Britain’s best chance of a medal, the Yorkshireman’s grit has often seen him perform well at longer races and he even took third at the notoriously miserable Milan-San Remo of 2014. There has not been a great deal to shout about in recent months, but his showing at the London & Surrey Classic reinforces his ability to fight at the front for these long day’s in the saddle. Ian Stannard is becoming a cobbles specialists and should be worth keeping an eye upon if he should happen to make it into a breakaway, though the finale up Governor Street might be too much for him to handle. Adam Yates was second at GP Montreal a couple of weeks ago and even won Clasica Ciclista San Sebastian, albeit in rather bizarre circumstances and should fancy this finale too.

Ramunas NavardauskasMichal Kwiatkowski, Jempy Drucker, Edvald Boasson-HagenIlnur Zakarin and Grega Bole are just a handful of names who could either force a breakaway, go it alone or feature in a reduced bunch sprint.

Outcome:

The permutations of what may happen seem almost limitless, but Spokenforks believes that a reduced bunch will hit the final climb of Governor Street and see a select group go clear before they turn onto the finishing straight. This small group will contest the win amongst themselves and is likely to comprise many of the sprinters fancied for the win today, though some will have to dig deeper than others to stay in contention. Taking into account the amount of climbing, preparation and the finale itself, Michael Matthews looks to be a strong contender for the win and should have enough support from his Australia team to at least place on the podium. The likes of John Degenkolb and Alexander Kristoff are likely to be in hot pursuit, but might find the pace unmanageable on the final climb and leave themselves too big a gap to close in the final 680m to the line. Peter SaganGreg Van AvermaetJuan José Lobato and Zdeněk Štybar all seem to be names who could feature alongside Matthews during his charge to the line. Of course the purer sprinters do have a chance, though it seems that there may not be enough nations wishing to chase this outcome in order to guarantee a larger bunch kick, instead we might see a greater focus upon getting riders into the day’s decisive breakaway. If the heavens truly open and downpours begin, then you may as well pick a name out of the hat at random, as with cobbles and newly laid tarmac throughout the course, crashes will have a huge influence on the outcome and favour a shock breakaway even more.

1st Michael Matthews 2nd Juan José Lobato 3rd Peter Sagan

Strade-Bianche-2015-Spokenforks-Preview

Strade Bianche Preview

For such a young race, Strade Bianche already possesses the attributes of an age old classic; white gravel roads stretch over dramatic climbs to shape this Italian flavoured affair. The terrain fails to favour the cobbled specialists, nor the climbers; instead serving as a day in the saddle which is sure to force the peloton’s strongest to the surface. Perhaps it is those who savour the Ardenne’s classics which will view the 200km trip from San Gimignano to Siena as an opportunity to add this increasingly popular one day race to their palmares.

Course:

Though other aspects of the race may alter from one year to the next, it is the conclusion upon the devastating Piazza del Campo which remains the final showdown for those staking a claim to the title. Rolling hillsides are the constant theme in the area, but it is the combination of the gravel roads which sets this race apart from others; the first sector of which comes at 31.2km and lasts 2.2km. It takes until after 49km of racing before we witness the difficult run of consecutive gravel sections; this run of four is the first testing passage of the day. The third in this series comes in the form of a 5.9km run and requires the peloton to haul themselves over ramps of 10%. In under 15km, the riders will need to navigate their way across two further sections of 4.4km and 5.5km in length respectively.

Strade-Bianche-2015-Spokenforks-Preview

A certain level of selection is likely to have occurred by this point in time; a 4km climb at a steady 5% will add to the woes of any trying to bridge back to the lead bunch. The peloton will then hit the 9.2km run across gravelled roads; this is generally downhill and should provide little opportunity to impact upon the race’s outcome. With approximately 50km remaining, life in the bunch shall begin to ratchet up as they are tasked with the day’s longest stretch of gravel tracks; the Monte Sante Marie. At 11.5km long and including steep ramps, it is likely to be the first meaningful selection of riders ahead of the last run of three gravel sectors.

The concluding triumvirate’s final section is a draining affair, 1.1km long at an average of 11.4%; it peaks at 18% and is sure to be the scene of a devastating attack. Only 12km remain before the finish at this point, all of which are rolling terrain and includes some technical negotiating of tight bends. Upon the Piazza del Campo is where the hopes of many shall be left in the dust; something which might seem surprising when considering its length of 800m. Though the average is 6.5%, it is the early ramp of 16% which will turn legs to lead as the elite group jostle for positioning on a gradient which does not drop below 10% until 500m from the finish. Navigating a tight right hand bend at 300m will lead the riders onto the fast downward route all the way to the line; ensuring a difficult sprint is required for any harbouring winning ambitions.

Outcome:

Various attributes might be considered crucial for any winner of a race with such a diverse range of aspects, making it a difficult affair to predict a champion of Strade Bianche. Peter Sagan appears to be the favourite after two recent second place finishes at the Italian race and is likely to be in the midst of the action for certain. What remains less certain is whether or not he has the conditioning to dominate above all others; his tactical weakness has been exposed before and his season thus far is still spluttering into life. The multi-talented Alejandro Valverde is a perhaps equally fancied to take the win here; the short and sharp climbs appearing to be the perfect fit for him. He is certainly in great condition having ridden well early season so far and despite this not being a huge target for the year; he will certainly fancy adding this to his already vast mix of trophies.

The only man taking to the line with two previous victories to his name is Fabian Cancellara and is likely to view this a great tester for his fitness at this point in time. Able to cope with ramps similar to those at Tour of Flanders, Cancellara could well sail off into the distance on a solo attack if the opportunity arises once again. Whether or not he can execute such a plan with the power of yesteryear remains uncertain, but he is certainly a risk to disregard. Another talented classics specialist is Greg Van Avermaet, but he comes to the race in a shroud of controversy after news of a doping investigation broke last week. He has performed well in previous editions and looked very strong in the recent curtain raisers to the classics season, but it remains unclear as to the impact of doping allegations will have on his performance.

Zdenek Stybar is certainly a dangerous man to the hopes of others and has already exhibited great form  at both Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne. He should have the strength to make the selections, but will need to be on the ball in order to be part of any final group who makes it to the line. If he manages this, there are few others who could out-sprint him after 200km of testing Italian terrain though. Similarly talented riders usually seen at home on the cobbles are also in attendance – Sep VanmarckeIan Stannard and Niki Terpstra shall all be protagonists, but it seems that the amount of climbing on the day could be too great an ask for them.

Former champion Moreno Moser appears to be on the ascendence after experiencing a rocky patch of form in 2014 and should be the home fans’ favourites for the win. Physically, he suits this race very neatly and will be a major contender should he still be in contention for the uphill drag at the finish. Roman Kreuziger might be at the disposal of Peter Sagan for the most part, though could find himself as an excellent alternative plan for Tinkoff – Saxo if the Slovak crumbles beneath the Italian sun. Kreuziger has an amount of experience here, looked solid in Oman and will enjoy a hard race as the pressure ramps up in the final 50km. Perhaps the biggest dark horse of the whole day is Team Sky’s Peter Kennaugh, a man who should benefit from an unfavourable course for his teammate Ian Stannard; finding himself as sole leader late on. Kennaugh has shown devastating form this year already at both  Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race and while supporting Chris Froome in Andalusia; his climbing has been especially impressive already. He possesses an effective sprint when required, something which he demonstrated when beating Ben Swift to the national title in a one-on-one drag race last summer; the finish in Abergavenny of which is vaguely reminiscent of the last 500m in Siena.

Other outsiders who could all cause a stir include Rinaldo NocentiniFabio FellineDamiano CarusoFrancesco Gavazzi and Filippo Pozzato.

1st Zdenek Stybar 2nd Peter Kennaugh 3rd Moreno Moser

Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne-Spokenforks-Preview

Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne Preview

After much speculation as to who has the legs for this year’s classics campaign, Omloop Het Nieuwsblad served up an interesting mix of answers from the big names. Once again, Patrick Lefevere and his Etixx-QuickStep team found themselves in a position where the win seemed guaranteed to finish in Belgian hands; well it was until Ian Stannard decided otherwise. The defending champion repeatedly closed down gaps and responded immediately with his own, leaving only Niki Terpstra alongside him by the end to challenge the inevitable. With a showing of raw power over tactical nous (or the lack thereof), Britain’s Stannard became the first man since 1998 to defend his title.

Course:

A different sort of offering altogether is next on the agenda in Belgium, a race traditionally favouring the quicker men; Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne. Like Scheldeprijs, this one day affair is a victory most sprinters will fancy adding to their palmares; the fact KBK requires greater work to guarantee a sprint adds to its desirability. This year’s edition is 195km long and boasts 9 testing hills; including the infamous Oude Kwaremont. Having completed the day’s earlier climbs, it is at the 98km mark where the first big test comes in the shape of  the Kanarieberg; an average gradient of 7% which kicks up to 14% over its kilometre length. Once crested, a punchy run of  the Kruisberg (avg. 4%, max. 9%), the Hotondberg (avg. 3.1%, 7.5%) and the Cote de Trieu (avg. 7%, max. 13%) all appear in under 2okm of racing. Positioning will be crucial over these; as no time will be offered to correct lapses in concentration before the decisive Oude Kwaremont is upon them.

In excess of two kilometres long and teamed with an average 4% gradient which maxes out at 11.6%; the Oude Kwaremont is placed at a pivotal moment. Only 75km shall remain once completed; meaning the formation of a select group of riders is likely to be formed over the course of this climb. Those first to the other side will be seen as the biggest threat to the bunch kick ambitions’ of the sprinters. The two final climbs of the day are completed with 51km remaining; these are the Holstraat (avg. 5.2%, max. 12%) and the Nokereberg (avg. 5.7%, max. 7%). Despite opportunities being offered here to ignite more attacks, the teams working for a sprint finish will see the remaining 51km as plenty of time to reel in any breakaway. Two finishing circuits comprise the last 16km and will see the pace ramp up as escapees are swallowed up and sprint trains assembled for a frantic finish.

Outcome:

With the changeable weather conditions always a factor in Belgium, a contender will need a well organised team to protect them from crosswinds and exhibit enough tactical nous to survive on their own if required. The combination of Etixx-QuickStep and Mark Cavendish certainly appears to fit this mould on first impressions, but it is unlikely he will be given full control of the team with Tom BoonenZdenek Stybar and Matteo Trentin all likely to be there. In a straight up sprint, Cavendish should be the fastest man here, but a day in the wind and rain would make all the difference to his turn of speed.

The one man with bolder indications of being suited to this race is Alexander Kristoff; the Norwegian already demonstrating buckets of determination this year in the Middle East. He will have the entire team at his disposal to ensure he is not found out too greatly on the climbs, but with 51km of flat to the finish; he has time to recoup lost ground. A versatile rider who can take care of himself in the midst of battle, he appears to be in incredible form to rectify the current absence of a cobbled classic in his palmares. He is by no means intimidated by the weather either; casually shrugging off the atrocious crosswinds in Qatar when stating his hometown’s seaside gales were worse.

Team Sky have the chance to take back-to-back wins when arriving here after Ian Stannard’s amazing win at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad the previous day. He could choose to ride KBK and would certainly be a huge help to the ambitions of their main sprinter Elia Viviani, a man recently returning from time on the track. He is not an obvious choice for a cobbled classic, but has started this year well and should cope with the range of hills. A reduced sprint would see his odds of winning increases greatly; the same can be said of teammate Luke Rowe. The young Welshman finished an impressive 9th the previous day and appears to be growing into the classics nicely already.

Nacer Bouhanni’s season is gradually spluttering into life, but truly needs a solid victory to really light the fire beneath his ambitions. Though an ill-fitting rider in some respects, he often surprises in tougher conditions and has spoken previously of his interest in the classics. If he happens to be present amongst a reduced group sprint, he should be watched closely; the ability to weave between rivals and accelerate at the right time is a talent of his. A really interesting sprinter to watch for here will be Yauheni Hutarovich, who has finished runner up at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne twice; in ’11 and ’12. He comes to Belgium off the back of a dominant performance at La Tropicale Amissa Bongo; where he took a hat-trick of wins and is clearly in good form with a supportive team.

All of the above is based on the assumption that something resembling a moderate group sprint will determine the outcome of this year’s Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne. However, plenty of names are apparent on the startlist who could instigate the sort of breakaways which can shatter the hopes of the fast men. Greg Van Avermaet is showing good condition for these early classics and would not hesitate to join a strong group of escapees if convinced he would benefit in the finale. Conspirators are likely to be quick to join him with  Sep VanmarckeJean-Pierre DruckerMatthieu LadagnousScott ThwaitesEdvald Boasson HagenMatthew Brammier and Edward Theuns all being men to watch for.

1st Alexander Kristoff 2nd Yauheni Hutarovich 3rd Elia Viviani