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 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

La Flèche Wallonne – Race Preview 2017

Course:

The Ardennes dishes up a midweek classic in the shape of the 81st edition of La Flèche Wallonne, placed neatly between last weekend’s Amstel Gold and the upcoming Liége – Bastogne – Liége on April 23rd. Established as a happy hunting ground for puncheur extraordinaire Alejandro Valverde in recent years, having won in 2014, 2015 & 2016; La Flèche Wallonne prides itself on an explosive finish atop the Mur de Huy to crown the day’s victor. Starting in Binche, the race travels a total of 200.5km en route to the finale in Huy, navigating the narrow roads of the Ardennes which induce stress for all teams as they seek to keep their leaders out of trouble. Several climbs will need to be tackled along the way, including two passes of the Mur de Huy itself, though it is the final attempt which is expected to prove decisive once again. With a gradient reaching 25% at times, this brutal challenge cannot be won as a fluke result, it takes a perfect balance of tactical nous and potent acceleration to attack at the ideal moment in order to win La Flèche Wallonne.

La Flèche Wallonne Race Preview 2017

Contenders:

Alejandro Valverde has made this race his own during the previous three seasons, proving unable to be caught once he accelerates hard upon the steepest section of the Mur de Huy. His early season form has been very impressive in 2017, making the prospect of going toe to toe with the Spanish veteran even more intimidating for his anticipated rivals. His Movistar team are now extremely experienced at positioning Valverde ideally at the base of the final climb, but it is his own prowess at timing his attack perfectly which has delivered him three consecutive victories thus far. For many, it seems impossible to see any other man standing atop the podium once again.

Sergio Henao looked extremely impressive while working for teammate Michal Kwiatkowski during Amstel Gold the other day and should be allowed a greater degree of freedom to lead the charge here today. The Colombian has an encouraging record at the Ardennes classics, possessing the skills necessary to attack aggressively on these ludicrously steep slopes and perhaps one of only a handful genuinely able to threaten the indomitable Valverde. Henao looks to be hitting form at the perfect time to challenge for La Flèche Wallonne and has the strength of a well equipped Sky team to slingshot him into the opening section of the Mur de Huy in pursuit of victory.

Dan Martin has become accustomed to watching the silhouette of Alejandro Valverde cross the line ahead of him in recent years at La Flèche Wallonne and has finished in the top four in 2013, 2014 and 2016. Much like Valverde, the Irishman has enjoyed a successful start to the season thus far, hopefully keeping him on par with his familiar foe in 2017. His greatest weakness has been knowing when to finally make his race winning move at this race, often coming up short of the line as a result of attacking too hard too soon, but there can only be so many times he makes this mistake without learning from it. Martin abandoned Amstel Gold, though never circled that as a serious target and it may in fact be a great indication of how assured he is of his form heading into La Flèche Wallonne right now.

Michael Albasini is a rider who seems to muster a strong performance at this race each year, though rarely mounts a serious challenge for the day’s win. His third place finish at Amstel Gold is a strong indication of his form currently, no doubt convincing Orica – Scott more than ever to back the Swiss rider with everything they have in hope of taking victory. Albasini is unlikely to have the sheer pace of riders such as Dan Martin and Alejandro Valverde, but could be the man most likely to benefit from a tactical standoff between the big favourites.

Warren Barguil has been flying under the radar during 2017 thus far, but there may be some concern that this has in fact been due to a lack of form. He was lively during Amstel Gold, appearing as one of the strongest members of the chasing group, now potentially arriving in ideal form to compete well at La Flèche Wallonne. Though he might be a lithe bodied climber, Barguil does have a strong burst of speed on these steep ramps which stretch beyond 20% and could be one most likely to breakaway solo in order to take the win. 

Michael Woods continues to impress since making his transition from running several years ago and finished a creditable twelfth place during last year’s edition. There is no doubt that he has the physical strength to challenge the bigger names, possessing a strong uphill sprint when required, but may find that a lack of good positioning leaves him with too much ground to make up once the fireworks erupt.

Other interesting riders who could all feature in the day’s final top ten are Robert GesinkLilian CalmejaneTom-Jelte Slagter and Diego Ulissi.

Outcome:

1st Sergio Henao 2nd Alejandro Valverde 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

Le-Tour-de-France-2015-Stage-3-Preview-

Le Tour de France – Stage 3 Preview

The howling coastal gales of the Netherlands certainly played their part in shaping the day’s racing on Stage 2 of this year’s Tour de France, but a sprint was still the fashion in which the day’s winner was crowned. The German André Greipel took the first road stage of this tour and subsequently makes his debut as a wearer of the Green Jersey; however attention was focused greater upon Etixx-QuickStep after the race. Having forced decisive splits in the crosswinds, the Belgian outfit found themselves staring at the possibility of a stage win and yellow jersey double, but the end of the day found them without either. The leadout for Mark Cavendish may well have cooked themselves when pushing to maintain their gap to the maillot jaune, but it was the defeat of the Manxman himself which acted as a double-edged disappointment for the teame; a late surge from Fabian Cancellara taking third place and a time bonus ahead of the Brit to leapfrog Tony Martin on the general classification simultaneously. It seems that Stage 2 can act as another chapter in what is becoming an almanac of tactical flops by Etixx-Quickstep this year. Perhaps their support shall turn to that of Michal Kwiatkowski on Stage 3, a day culminating upon Flèche Wallone’s famous Mur de Huy climb, an ascent which provides a chance for the young Pole to win.

Course:

As if the Tour de France was not already a great enough spectacle in its own right, the organisers this year seem to have created a miniature run of classics during the first week. For those who found a safe passage through the tumultuous ride to Zeeland, they will now strike upon a familiar foe in the mould of one of the Ardennes’ famous Spring races Flèche Wallonne. The debut inclusion of this icon of cycling is great for  fans of the sport and even more so for the classic styled puncheurs who seldom find opportunities at France’s national tour to take a victory so tailored to their talents.

An inspection of the day’s route indicates that this is not quite the carbon copy of this Ardennes’ classic that many have expected, though the finale itself is exactly the same as that of 2015’s Flèche Wallonne. The big difference on Stage 3 is the total distance, the Tour’s version of this race clocking in at a more modest 159.5km; 46km less than this Spring’s edition of the race. It all begins in Antwerp where an opening 30km of flat terrain will allow the peloton to get up to speed and gauge their fatigue from the previous day’s hardships. Though the profile shows a few gradual lumps and bumps after the early period of simple riding, the real race will be lit up around the 105km marker as the categorised climbs approach on the horizon and the battle for positioning becomes a priority ahead of the conclusion.

A Category 4 ascent opens their account for the day, the 2.4km Cote de Bohisseau and its 5.5% gradient likely to be familiar to those who rode Flèche Wallonne earlier in the year; as will all of the day’s categorised climbs. Rolling roads follow which lead into the day’s intermediate sprint where it is likely we shall see Peter Sagan strutting his stuff if he deems it a worthwhile effort. Next comes another Category 4, this time the 2.1km Cote d’Ereffe (avg 5%), after which funnels the peloton down to the town of Huy and out to contest the penultimate climb ahead of the concluding Mur de Huy. The third and final Category 4 climb arrives with less than 10km remaining of the day’s racing, the Cote de Cherave sure to have an impact upon the outcome with its 8.1% average gradient playing out upon tight cobbled streets; its short 1.3km length a small upside for the peloton.

Tempo will be high as those with eyes on the victory seek to stay in contention at the front of the group as they sweep through tricky streets and negotiate the usual blend of Ardennes road furniture. At 1.3km from home the infamous Mur de Huy begins twisting the thumbscrews upon the day’s favourites, its soft start a trick to lure those naive enough to go hard too soon. A miscalculation here will be punished with no mercy once the road hits its maximum gradient of 19%, a brutal test which has crowned a worthy champion year after year.

 

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Contenders:

Alejandro Valverde is the clear favourite to win Stage 3 having won Flèche Wallonne in 2008, 2014 & 2015; demonstrating a clear affinity for pacing the harsh climb perfectly. His ability to always position himself neatly ahead of the Mur de Huy is an enviable skill, the contrast here will be the lack of total team support which he usually finds afforded to him in the normal running of this infamous climb. Valverde has not had the same solid build up which has delivered him three prestigious wins on the Mur de Huy in his previous appearances here, but there is no doubt he is a major contender on familiar territory once again. A greater depth of puncheurs and climbers means his rivals are not as clear cut as usual when riding here; so great are those able to mount a serious charge that Valverde could possibly be swamped late on. If the Spanish road race champion finds daylight with around 300m left of the Mur de Huy, he should pocket yet another victory on a climb he has made his own as of late.

Irishman Dan Martin has proven to be a consistent rider at Flèche Wallonne and he will be part of the frontrunners which decide this stage; if he avoids the misfortune which haunts him so frequently that is. He is clearly impassioned to make a statement here, primarily due to abandoning this year’s running of the race after a silly crash brought down several riders and sent him out of the running. Martin’s recovery has been encouraging despite the short time afforded to him and a solid Dauphine certainly strengthens his claims to winning on a course tailor made for him. Assuming his team works hard to place him decisively ahead of the finale, Martin has a good chance of winning, but will perhaps need to make a move earlier than expected due to faster finishing rivals.

Spain have another former champion of the Mur de Huy in the shape of Katusha’s Joaquim Rodriguez, coming here off the back of an encouraging Dauphine much like Dan Martin. Over the years, Rodriguez has built a reputation for winning upon these brutally steep finishing slopes and will no doubt be present in the shake up here. Though his prowess has not necessarily been forthcoming as of late on similar finales, this is a brilliant opportunity for the 36 year old puncheur to claim a major win ahead of what must be an impending retirement.

A similarly consistent rider on this terrain, specifically the Mur de Huy, is Orica-GreenEDGE’s Michael Albasini who has notched up seven top ten results over the years at Flèche Wallonne. The Swiss rider rounded out the podium this year when finishing behind a flying Alejandro Valverde and the surprise star of 2015’s Ardennes’ races Julian Alaphilippe. The broader spectrum of contenders is certainly a negative for Albasini, but the real positive for him is the diminished length compared to the usual running which brings him over the Mur de Huy. If he can stay fresh and safe during the ratcheting maelstrom towards the end of the day, Alabsini could finally turn his consistency on this climb into a satisfying victory.

Third in 2014 was the blossoming Michal Kwiatkowski, winner of the most aggressive rider prize at the end of Stage 2’s blast through the Dutch coast’s testing gales. There is little doubt that the reigning World Champion is in great condition at the start of this year’s Tour de France, spending a large amount of time driving hard in the name of Mark Cavendish and doing his utmost to set his team leader up for the win. In recent seasons there is little which the young Pole seems unable to turn his hand too, finally taking an Ardennes victory after good showings this year when edging out Alejandro Valverde for the Amstel Gold title. Etixx-QuickStep shot themselves in the foot somewhat on Stage 2, but Kwiatkowski could prove the perfect man to remedy this at the first time of asking.

Tom Dumoulin has a fantastic chance to place himself in yellow by the end of Stage 3, but it is Bauke Mollema and Wilco Kelderman who could both stake a claim to stage honours on day three. The former having secured several top ten finishes in previous editions of Fléche Wallonne, while Kelderman managed a tenth place finish on only his second ever meeting with the Mur de Huy earlier this year.

British interest could be represented by Chris FroomeSimon Yates and Peter Kennaugh. Froome is perhaps the most suited of the general classification contenders to seriously challenge here, his high cadence attacks often deadly on such short, sharp climbs. The young Yates is surely saving himself for the first volley of major mountains and is likely to be here in order to support Albasini, but if the opportunity to strike out in his own right arises, the Orica-GreenEDGE rider could deliver a shock win. Peter Kennaugh recently defend his national road race title on the cobbled Michaelgate climb, which although considerably shorter in total length, contains similar gradients to that of the Mur de Huy at its maximum. He suffered in the previous day’s crosswinds, but if he his given permission to attack, Kennaugh could sail away unexpectedly to take an early victory for Sky.

Beyond those mentioned above are a variety of riders who could all go towards animating the race, either in its latter stages, or as part of a breakaway; Julian ArredondoTony GallopinWarren Barguil and Romain Bardet all worth watching as the peloton turn onto the final climb.

Outcome:

Cyclists are notorious for replicating past successes on the same terrain, making Alejandro Valverde the man to back as he attempts to find further glory upon the Mur de Huy. Positioning will be more crucial than ever at a grand tour version of this finale, though Valverde clearly has the skills to compensate for this and with his potent acceleration should win. Others appear in slightly better condition than Valverde, both Joaquim Rodriguez and Dan Martin have the current strength and history to perform well here on Stage 3 and cannot be overlooked in regards to the win. Their biggest advantage compared to Valverde is that they are likely to have an entire team at their disposal in order to place them well ahead of the finale; Movistar on the other hand will be protecting Nairo Quintana as expected. Though the Fléche Wallonne should be a strong indicator of the victor on Stage 3, the topsy turvy world of a grand tour could certainly throw this out the window, paving the way for a real outsider to stand atop the Mur de Huy as champion on day three of Le Tour de France.

1st Alejandro Valverde 2nd Dan Martin 3rd Joqauim Rodriguez

Outsiders: Michael Albasini & Michal Kwiatkowski

Tour-de-Suisse-Spokenforks-Prologue-PreviewTour-de-Suisse-Spokenforks-Stage-8-Preview

Tour de Suisse – Stage 8 Preview

Peter Sagan was edged out by Alexander Kristoff for the victory on Stage 7 of Tour de Suisse, reversing his apparent struggles at the race to rediscover his imperious spring form and secure a win. Whereas on the previous day Sagan was victor thanks to his ability to navigate such a technical finale, on Stage 7 he came unstuck due to exiting the final position which left him stifled with 300m remaining as the Norwegian Kristoff unleashed his sprint to the line. Stage 8 offers a similar course which should favour the puncheurs who possess the required guts and determination to survive the rolling Swiss terrain and leave enough power in the tank to conquer finale and walk away from Bern with a win in the bag.

Course:

A 152.5km route will take the peloton on an out and back race which starts and finishes in the Swiss capital of Bern. The day includes four passes of a categorised ascent which features on a city centre circuit intended to wear down the big names and set the strongest riders up for the harsh finale which will crown the winner in Bern. Four laps of the 38.7km city centre circuit comprises the entire day’s racing, despite the first 90km failing to feature a recognised climb upon the stage profile, the terrain maintains a rolling style for the entirety of the 152.5km. Overall there are four recognised climbs upon the final lap of the city centre circuits, which should ensure a reasonable shelling of contenders as the tempo is increased ahead of a difficult fight for the line.

With a little over 20km remaining, the peloton shall summit their penultimate climb which is the 800m Liebewill; likely to crack some legs with an average gradient of 9.25%. Despite the climb summiting here officially, the reality is that the uphill run shall continue for several kilometres further until they break the 700m altitude mark and begin dropping down with around 15km separating them from the finish in Bern. Less than 4km shall be left to conquer as the frontrunners square to the finale climb before the finish line, the Category 3 Aargauerstalden likely to function as a springboard for somebody attempting to get away late on. Though only 400m in length and possessing a relatively tame 4.25% average gradient, its impact upon the outcome is bound to be dictated by the intensity at which it is ridden. Once completed, the last 2.5km are almost entirely flat, yet will test the abilities of this targeting a win, due to an array of technical turns late on. A total of six corners are present after the last climb, all of which are bound to be tackled at high speed and fought shoulder to shoulder upon in order to gain primary position for any possible sprint.

A winner here shall not only need the strength to maintain a good position in the last 2.5km, but the ability to navigate so many technical corners late on could be the difference between a win and minor placings. The finishing straight itself is a total of 200m in length, making it an attractive prospect to any rider who bolsters a potent acceleration which can see them exit the corner and gain an advantage which cannot be cut in such a short period of time.

Tour-de-Suisse-Spokenforks-Prologue-PreviewTour-de-Suisse-Spokenforks-Stage-8-Preview

Contenders:

Once again the Tour de Suisse has managed to create a finale which is likely to prove hard work to control for those wishing to set up the finish for their punchy sprinters. If a breakaway times its move well and possess the right composition of talented riders, there is a good chance of a move making it all the way to the line on Stage 8. However, given the amount of classic specialists, sprinters and puncheurs who could all dominant here, it seems that the common interest will be to ensure that a bunch kick decides the outcome in Bern. With this in mind, Peter Sagan looks to be the favourite yet again to commit to a charge to the line and attempt to reverse his fortunes from Stage 7 in order to finally gain his hat trick of wins at this year’s Tour de Suisse. The Slovak champion is perhaps the most in form rider at the race currently and has once again demonstrated his reputation for being the most consistent man when it comes to sprint finishes. Short climbs which are not excessively steep and numerous corners which place positioning above speed mean Sagan’s proven skill-set places him right at the fore to challenge for the win on Stage 8. If his team manage to reduce the amounts defensive efforts required of Sagan late on, leaving him well placed and fresh ahead of a likely bunch sprint, the incumbent wearer of the black jersey has a solid chance of winning once again here.

As stated throughout the week, Alexander Kristoff appeared to be lacking any noteworthy form and was subsequently a surprise victor when beating Peter Sagan to the win on Stage 7. Despite congestion behind him causing Sagan to alter his sprint a likely aid to his victory, Kristoff managed to stick the pace and manoeuvre himself into position to take advantage of a favourable finale. Katusha invested plenty into setting their leader up for the win and if they appear in numbers once again on the front of the peloton, it comes as an ominous warning to anyone else hoping to win in Bern. Throughout this season Kristoff has managed to go beyond expectation on numerous occasions, so despite the technically demanding run in not suiting him on paper, there must be caution when ruling out the strongmen entirely in his attempt to make it two wins on the bounce in Switzerland.

Home support shall be out in force for Orica-GreenEDGE’s Michael Albasini who should feature once again at the pointy end of a day’s racing which plays to his strengths. The biggest issue for the Swiss rider shall be gauging which is the most worthwhile endeavour between that of a sprint finish or joining a possibly successful breakaway group. Throughout the week he has stretched his legs and given pundits a reasonable indication of his current form, which combined with this fitting stage, should make him a real contender for the win. His team could look to make the final 20km or so particularly handwork for his rivals as they shall be aware that in the limited 200m sprint to the line, many other riders possess a sharper acceleration than Albasini, making a thinning of the pack advantageous for the Swiss rider. A tactually astute racer, if the race unfolds favourably for him, it is difficult to see him losing once placed in the perfect situation.

Sep Vanmarcke finally provided a showing of his form on Stage 7, a particularly interesting insight in the wake of a disappointing classics campaign for the Belgian. This series of circuits could be reminiscent of the bergs which populate his home nation, possibly inspiring him to try something late on as a solo breakaway rider. As mentioned before, Vanmarcke is a very difficult man to pull back once he has decided to give it everything to escape the peloton, even more so on terrain which looks favourably upon his talents. Despite the finale possibly being too tough for him when it comes to winning the stage, it seems likely that he will show his face and make life harder for the favourites regardless.

The course for Stage 8 is particularly suiting to the attributes of Greg Van Avermaet of BMC, the Belgian rider known for his ruthless blend of speed, strength and determination to hold off his pursuers. He has a great chance of winning if he chooses to join a breakaway on the day, as it is unlikely that he will find any escapees faster than him upon this rolling and technical finale. If he decided his odds are winning are better off amongst a bunch sprint, Avermaet certainly has the potential to surf through the bunch and place himself in the first five riders or so before hitting the front and accelerating sharply over the last 200m. Given the course being so favourable for the Belgian classics specialists, it seems difficult to imagine that he has not marked this as a serious target before his likely participation at Le Tour de France.

Etixx-Quickstep have failed to make their presence here felt much so far and could decide to give it everything ahead of the final day’s time trial which holds limited hope in terms of a win for them. On Stage 8 they might look upon Matteo Trentin and Zdenek Stybar as two men worth backing to feature within a decisive breakaway which makes it to the line first. Both are able to commit to a high work rate in order to stay away and are equally skilled when it comes to navigating a tricky run in which features tight bends and a brief climb within the final 10km. If one of these riders makes it into a move with riders such as Michael Albasini or Greg Van Avermate, the peloton will certainly have their work cut out in order to prevent them deciding stage honours amongst themselves.

Davide Cimolai turned out an unexpectedly good performance to gain a third place finish on Stage 7, adding to his case for possibly going yet further on today’s stage. The Italian usually survives these sorts of testing days in the saddle and should find the benefit of a lead out reduced somewhat due to the twisting nature of the finale; bringing him further into contention.

Though a strong time trial performance is always likely from the Swiss rider, Fabian Cancellara will be aware that stage honours upon the final day are likely to be won by the those sitting within spitting distance of the yellow jersey right now. Instead, Cancellara may decided to switch focus and attempt to steal a march on the favourites during the technical run into Bern; a course which would make the classics legend a difficult man to catch.

Outcome:

The city centre circuits which form the day’s racing could prove to be the foundations of a conclusion which proves extremely difficult to control when it matters most. Assuming that the sprinters’ teams manage to drag any dangerous breakaways back within their grasp, Peter Sagan will once again be the favourite to find a safe passage through the last 2.5km and sprint to victory upon the short 200m finishing straight. Yesterday showed that Alexander Kristoff can summon up the strength to contest a win at this Tour de Suisse when the course is favourable, even despite his form appearing shaky during the week so far. A harder day should see Greg Van Avermaet and Michael Albasini come to the fore, knowing that starting an early sprint before the line comes into view, could mean the head of the bunch is chasing them round the deciding corners with little luck. Both Avermaet and Albasini also have the potential to join strong breakaway forces, likely to attract interest from Zdenek Stybar and Sep Vanmarcke.

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