Abu-Dhabi-Tour-Stage-4

Abu Dhabi Tour – Stage 1 Preview

Course:

The suggestion of a few bumps during today’s racing will seem like mountains in comparison to the other sprinters’ stages on offer this week, stretching uninterrupted for miles on flat tarmac roads through the desert landscape. Stage 1 is an 147km out and back trip from Madina Zayed, taking in a few meters of climbing as they roll over dune styled hills, ultimately spending the most part of the day on featureless terrain. A smattering of turns appear in anticipation of the finish line, though the last kilometre itself is a wide finishing straight which should favour those who often dominate a drag race to the finish.

Abu-Dhabi-Tour-Stage-1

Contenders:

Mark Cavendish will wish to return to winning ways after having to settle for silver in Doha last weekend and is no doubt highly motivated to do so. The British sprinter does not possess his full arsenal of team support for the sprints, but a combo of Mark Renshaw and Bernhard Eisel has seen him through plenty of days in the saddle safely enough en route to victory.

André Greipel was initially seen as a favourite for the world title in Qatar, but the potent tactics of the Belgian teams meant the desert wind cut him from the lead group and immediately ended his hopes of a medal. Greipel’s leadout train is far from the familiar wheels he normally follows in the final kilometres of racing, but the simple finishing straight should prove perfect territory for him to hammer out the watts.

John Degenkolb had initially made it across to the front echelon in Doha after the race was blown to pieces, yet suffered a mechanical and ultimately drifted back to endure Germany’s failings with his teammates. He arrives in Abu Dhabi with Koen De Kort and Ramon Sinkeldam to set him up in the sprints, eager to rectify his dose of misfortune at the world championships by picking up a stage win.

Giacomo Nizzolo performed better than expected in pursuit of the rainbow bands last weekend and looks to be in great form as the season reaches its end. The Italian may struggle with the lack of technical finishes at this race, so will need to deliver his sprint perfectly if he is to challenge the likes of Cavendish and Greipel.

Elia Viviani picked up two wins here last year, bringing with him fast finishers Owain Doull and Danny Van Poppel on this occasion in hope of repeating his success. Much of 2016 has been spent focusing on track racing ahead of the Olympics, resulting in a gold medal, so there is uncertainty as to his road form right now.

Magnus Cort Nielsen announced himself to the pro ranks by snatching two stage wins in the final week of this year’s Vuelta a España. He will however be sharing duties with Michael Matthews in Abu Dhabi and there is a reasonable chance they shall look to support the Australian instead today.

Other riders hoping to feature in the mix for the win are Sacha ModoloAndrea GuardiniJean-Pierre Drucker and Steele Von Hoff.

Outcome:

1st André Greipel 2nd Mark Cavendish 3rd John Degenkolb

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Oman

Rapido Guide: Tour of Oman Stage 6 Preview

Course:

The final day of 2016’s Tour of Oman should be one for the sprinters yet again, promising a blood and thunder finale poised to be decided by a drag race to the line. A total of 130.5km separate the riders from the start at The Wave Muscat to Matrah Corniche, encompassing two categorised climbs along the way before a rolling section which exits on to the flat final few kilometres.

Oman

Contenders:

Alexander Kristoff will be confident of picking up another early season win here, the Norwegian is in imperious form once again in the Middle East and will surely be the man to beat on Stage 6. Moreno Hofland was not far behind Kristoff a few days ago in the sprint finish and there is no reason to think he cannot at least equal this result with such a strong leadout team in support of him. Jean-Pierre Drucker might not be a pure sprinter, but given the amount of climbing apparent in the later stages of today, he should be considered as a potential podium contender at the very least.

Outcome:

1st Alexander Kristoff 2nd Moreno Hofland 3rd Jean-Pierre Drucker

La-Vuelta-A-España-2015-Stage-11

La Vuelta a España – Stage 12 Preview

Course:

Today’s 173km trip from Escaldes-Engordany to Lleida is considerably more straight forward than yesterday’s mammoth day in the mountains. The road descends immediately from the departure in Andorra and does not begin to build upwards again until almost 40km have passed. Coll de Bóixols is the only officially recognised climb of the day, a Category 1 ascent which lasts 18.4km and maintains a manageable gradient of around 4% for the most part. This should mark the day out as another bunch sprint as we witnessed on Stage 10, an occasion which saw a surprising amount of fast finishing riders make the cut and reel back in the breakaway.

From here a long descent of about 60km follows, interrupted early on by the unrecognised Coll de Saidella, but otherwise a large chunk of easy riding on Stage 12. Another small bump appears on the profile at the 118.8km mark, after which it is a free run straight to the finish in Lleida. The finish is against a slight gradient in the final meters, however it is not a big enough factor to swap attention from the sprinters to the puncheurs on this occasion.

La-Vuelta-A-España-2015-Stage-11

Contenders:

John Degenkolb has seen himself beaten at every time of asking so far at La Vuelta a España, so he will still be extremely motivated to make his attendance here count for something. The German has the climbing ability to make it over the only categorised climb of the day and often emerges as the strongest sprinter as the race enters its second half. Giant-Alpecin will be confident of dropping him off in the right position once again, and as long as he avoids being boxed in, it is likely Degenkolb will finally take a win. Perhaps the most encouraging note of all however, is the fact that Caleb Ewan, Nacer Bouhanni, Peter Sagan and Matteo Peluchhi are all now absent from the race.

Tosh van der Sande has been putting in a great showing for his team Lotto-Soudal so far and will be confident of doing precisely the same on Stage 12. He is one of the fastest remaining sprinters left in this race and knows how to surf wheels in the maelstrom of a bunch kick. His team will look to offer him a great deal of support as they search for a win at this year’s Vuelta, making the Belgian rider a likely feature on the day’s podium.

José Joaquín Rojas and his ambitions of winning a stage here have had to take a back seat to the general classification focus of Alejandro Valverde and Nairo Quintana. Despite this, Stage 12 appears to be the type of stage which would allow Movistar to segue neatly between protecting their team leaders’ interests and helping Rojas into a race winning pace. He is likely to have preferred a more noteworthy gradient en route to the line, but it seems likely that he will remain in contention for the win regardless.

Kristian Sbaragli has to be mentioned on the back of his Stage 10 winning exploits and will no doubt do his utmost to bring MTN-Qhubeka yet another grand tour stage win this year. The Italian looked strong heading into the rest day, but it remains unclear as to how he will cope in the wake of yesterday’s attritional affair.

Gianluca Brambilla is one of the most active riders in the race currently and he could well get in the mix for a sprint finish today or choose to take off on his own and give the bunch the slip. Should the Italian chose the latter, Brambilla is the type of man which the likes of Giant-Alpecin will not be keen on letting accumulate too great an advantage over themselves.

Jean-Pierre Drucker has placed highly on stages 3 and 5 at the Vuelta a España already and today could see him return to this habit. The BMC rider is a strongman type of sprinter and is bound to survive the day’s trials in a good enough shape to seriously contest compete the win. As mentioned previously, there is a slight incline up to the line and this should improve his odds of him winning yet further still.

Outcome:

1st John Degenkolb 2nd Kristian Sbaragli 3rd José Joaquín Rojas

 

Tour de Yorkshire – Stage 1 Preview

The inaugural Tour de Yorkshire opens its doors to a strong peloton of WorldTour and ProConti squads today; as well as the plucky British teams aiming to cause an upset during the three days in the county. As was seen during Le Tour de France’s excursion to Yorkshire last year, the terrain and course could prove more testing than the European riders expect; being caught short on day one could prove costly. Glancing upon Stage One’s profile for the first time gives the impression of a sprint finish being a guarantee, but with a rolling day in the saddle which includes 5 nasty climbs, this could prove a banana skin for many.

Course:

Exiting from the costal town of Bridlington, the peloton will then travel 174km en route to the finish at the seaside resort of Scarborough. The riders will have 51km under their belt before they are tasked with the day’s first climb; this being Cote de Dalby Forest. Though only 600m in length, the average gradient of 8.9% is likely to give some riders an idea of what shape they will be in come the finish in Scarborough.  A touch over 40km will separate the bunch from the second ascent of the day which comes at Rosedale Abbey in the North York Moors National Park; Cote de Rosedale Abbey to be exact. It is the longest of the day at 2.8km and possesses and average gradient of 7% over its entirety.

A drop down the other side will offer the peloton a certain level of recovery as they approach a potent double header of climbs in under 10km; beginning at 123km with Cote de Grosmont. A length of 400m might induce a scoff from some, but Grosmont is sure to get the blood pumping as they haul themselves up its ferocious gradient of 16.9%. It is here we could see a few riders have their doors blown off by the tempo and slip out the back of the peloton as the bunch reorganises itself for the following ascent of Cote de Briggswath. An average of 6.2% over 1.3km will ensure any recovery found between the two climbs is short lived, rolling onwards through Whitby and onto the day’s final climb. If a breakaway has been swallowed up already by this point, the Cote de Robin’s Hood Bay could act as a solid springboard for anyone fancying a late attack for the line with approximately 27km remaining. The climb itself is 1.5km long and offers up an average of 10% in order for anyone wishing to spoil the sprinters’ day by launching a bid for home; a move Robin Hood would surely endorse.

The remaining ride into Scarborough should prove a more comfortable affair for many and the finish itself looks distinctly flat on paper. A sprint does seem likely, but the size and representatives present in such a bunch will vary greatly depending on the attrition rate apparent in the preceding hours of racing through Yorkshire. If a breakaway proves troublesome to catch, or the county displays its knack for four seasons in one day, the peloton could find life much harder if they hope to keep their sprinters happy come the seaside finale in Scarborough.

 

 

 

Tour-De-Yorkshire-Spokenforks-Preview

Contenders:

The German sprint ace Marcel Kittel attends this race as a marked favourite for the bookies, but many will be surprised by this factor given his recent struggles with form and condition during 2015 thus far. Had this opening day been a flatter affair it may have been possible to make a case for the ‘be-quiffed’ sprinter, but with five climbs present likely to build fatigue Kittel has not experienced for sometime now, doubts are well founded that he might not even be present to contest the finish.

As a Yorkshire lad himself, Ben Swift is likely to be eager to give the locals something cheer about during this three day spin around his home county. The harder nature of Stage 1 certainly leans towards a stronger sprinter such as Swift, but the flat finish negates this enough to place him back at square one. Team Sky are registered a British team and would certainly like to put Yorkshireman Swift in the first leader’s jersey of the Tour de Yorkshire and will work hard to do this. The finish itself should mean the purer sprinters go speeding past him, but a day ‘blessed’ with typical Yorkshire weather and motivation stoked by home pride are factors not to be ignored.

A sprinter who started the 2015 season well was Matteo Pelucchi of IAM Cycling, but heading into the first day in Yorkshire, his form has been absent for sometime now. Having won his opening two races in the shape of  Trofeo Santanyi-Ses Salines-Campos & Trofeo Playa de Palma-Palma, he then proceeded to finish on the podium twice in Oman before a solid 10th place at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne in March. Since then his placings have been far from impressive, averaging between 150th – 170th during his time at Tirreno-Adriatico and Catalunya; as well as a few DNS or DNF along the way. His lack of recent competition could be interpreted fairly as a positive or negative; is he race fit or lacking race fitness for example? Regardless, Pelucchi has not offered much for a while now and Stage 1 does not suggest he will change this in Scarborough.

Though Bradley Wiggins makes his debut for his eponymously titled team here, attention on Stage 1 will be better focused upon the performance of their strongman sprinter Owain Doull. He is young still, but has shown encouraging form during the season so far with solid performances at Tour de Normandie, Le Triptyque des Monts et Châteaux and ZLM Roompot Tour for Great Britain. A win would be a dream result for the promising Welshman, but he should certainly feel comfortable aiming for a top ten placing; beyond that is hard to say.

BMC offer up Greg Van Avermaet, Jean-Pierre Drucker and Rick Zabel as viable options for the opening day’s ride to Scarborough. The Belgian Avermaet has had an impressive Spring campaign, charting in the top 5 at Amstel Gold, Paris-Roubaix and Tour of Flanders thanks to his great form. He certainly enjoys a hard day’s racing and often benefits when attrition leaves a reduced bunch to duke it out for the stage win. Teammate Drucker enjoys a testing day too and could secure himself a top ten if allowed the space to ride for it, though yet to take a win this year, he should see this as a chance to open his account. Zabel is still learning the ropes, but much is still expected of him due to his surname, a quick finisher who will benefit on the simple run into Scarborough; remaining in contention will be his major challenge.

Though JLT-Condor will fancy their chances of a good overall placing, this has not stopped them from bringing Ed Clancy, Tom Moses and Graham Briggs to Yorkshire in hope of a stage win. Clancy has not done a great deal in 2015, but such a naturally talented sprinter can never be ruled out from causing an upset. Moses and Briggs on the other hand have had more convincing openings to the season, the former finishing 11th in the testing Melton CiCLE Classic on Sunday and the latter displaying promising form during his only outing so far this year at February’s Herald Sun Tour.

Tom Scully had a great time during the Tour of Normandie, eventually finishing third overall having sustained a great level of form after his second place on the opening day’s prologue. Having spent several seasons racing in Britain now, he is certainly not adverse to a bumpy day of riding, but he is yet to capitalise on his domestic results when it comes to races such as the Tour of Britain for example.

NFTO will look to former WorldTour rider Steele Von Hoff as their man for the sprints here in Yorkshire. On Sunday he emerged as the champion of the arduous Melton CiCLE Classic and has form at the Tour of Britain in 2012 & 2013 where he had to settle for podium places behind the winner. He is evidently in good form right now and will be motivated to demonstrate that he still has what it takes against the best quick-men in the bunch as he eyes a move back to the top tier.

Outcome:

1st Ben Swift 2nd Steele Von Hoff 3rd Matteo Pelucchi

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 

Omloop-Het-Nieuwsblad-Spokenforks-Preview

Omloop Het Nieuwsblad Preview

The European curtain raiser to the classics season begins with the 70th edition of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad; requiring a real specialist to rise to the occasion and slay this tough beast. With weeks of racing in the legs of many who found seasonal refuge in the climates of Oman, Dubai and Qatar; a taste of Belgian grit will be a shock to the system for the ill-prepared. Life in the continental spring shall not start softly at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad; this is no longer a case of ‘getting the miles in’ for the peloton.

Course:

Short, sharp and often cobbled climbs will be the order of play for a large part of the day; the diet of many champion strongmen. Its 200km distance is enough to jelly the legs of many, but when factoring in the possibility of dismal weather, this really can become a war of attrition. The total of official climbs has increased by one (to 11) and has once again utilised the testing Muur van Geraardsbergen; a formerly decisive cobbled climb of the Tour of Flanders. Despite many of the hills being unlikely to decided the race’s outcome, it is a case of the accumulative damage inflicted throughout the day which will see contenders tossed aside.

Omloop-Het-Nieuwsblad-Spokenforks-Preview

Life will become tense as the peloton approach the 65km marker, where positioning for the oncoming barrage of hills and attacks will be imperative for those with an eye on the win. The Taaienberg will appear around this time; signalling a crushing triumvirate of slopes (as well as the obligatory Boonen attack) in the space of 10km alongside the Elkenberg and Wolvenberg. This trio is followed by another, on this occasion pavé in nature, which will lead directly into the final two climbs of the day. Afterwards, any leading breakaway will be left with a flat 37.2km run to the finish; provided with three further cobbled sectors upon which to play their race winning moves or gamble to win in the sprint.

Omloop-Het-Nieuwsblad-Spokenforks-Preview

Outcome:

Classics specialists are few, but contenders remain many as ever; these turbulent courses can churn up the most unlikely of winners on occasion. At this point in time, even the strongmen favourites are unlikely to be riding at 100% for this opening of the classics season. This has not prevented Greg Van Avermaet being named favourite however; the combination of a strong team and finishing second in last year’s edition being deciding factors. Many times before GVA has been deemed a forgone conclusion for a race win, but he always remain an awkward fit as a ‘dead-cert’ bet. BMC will also field Philippe Gilbert alongside him; though it does not seem a race to lure Gilbert out all guns blazing.

Alexander Kristoff is the other major favourite for Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, returning from his dominant performance in the Middle East which resultantly saw Tom Boonen leave empty handed. Kristoff genuinely appears to be on form for this race so early in the classics campaign and will thrive if conditions become atrocious in the Belgian countryside. One glaring negative is the lack of depth apparent in his support team; no big name lieutenant is apparent to marshall Kristoff through the decisive maelstrom.

It would be challenging to argue Sep Vanmarcke’s credentials as one of the most talented riders to emerge from Belgium in recent years; especially in this environment. A true specialist with the consistency to negotiate the full support of his team, he is likely to be an antagonistic character amongst the pack. The day’s course probably calms down too far from the finish for him to be part of a winning move; it is over the difficult sections where he will make others suffer most. Teammate Tom Van Asbroeck could be an alternative; he has shown good condition already this year and is more than handy in a selective sprint.

The entire Etixx-Quick Step team pose a threat to everyone’s ambitions; Tom BoonenZdenek StybarNiki TerpstraStijn Vandenbergh and Guillaume Van Keirsbulck could all take the reins if plan A  does not go well. Though Boonen was consistent in the Middle East, it seems unlikely that he will find himself in a position to sprint for the win and demonstrate his turn of pace. On the other hand, Stybar has already demonstrated form beyond his usual terrain and has a much greater chance of finding himself in a race winning position.

Omloop’s defending champion this year is Ian Stannard, a rider who can win this back-to-back but will need truly atrocious conditions to do so. The assembled ranks of Team Sky also bolster Elia VivianiBradley Wiggins and Luke Rowe; it is perhaps the later who is the biggest wildcard for the team. The young Welshman is a growing talent on the classics scene and could be a threat in a reduced bunch kick.

Outsiders and dark horses are plentiful, with the permutations for what could happen in the race so broad proving inviting. Heinrich Haussler has demonstrated early season condition in both Australia and Qatar to hint at a possible return to the sort of form he wielded several years ago now. He enjoys a day on the cobbles and is long overdue for a another good result in such races; he is another who might benefit from a tougher ride. FDJ will aim for their riders to peak later in the classics campaign, but still come here with an aggressively mustered squad of riders. Perhaps the standout man in regards to being present at the decisive moment is Matthieu Ladagnous; he was on the ball at Haut Var last week and also suits the 1.5% drag when sprinting for the finish line. Pim Ligthart is another who has opened the season well and is likely to have the entire team at his disposal if he decides to really pursue the day’s racing. Buried beneath the big names at BMC is another possible contender for the day in the shape of Jean-Pierre Drucker. Having only recently stepped up to a major team as he approaches 30, the Luxembourg rider has a great depth of encouraging results at a variety of classic races and could serve as a handy contingency plan for any unforeseen events.

1st Zdenek Stybar 2nd Matthieu Ladagnous 3rd Jean-Pierre Drucker