Le Tour de France 2017

Le Tour de France 2017 – Stage 20 Preview

Course:

There is perhaps less pressure placed upon this individual time trial than many anticipated heading into the final week, but that does not mean to say stress levels will not be soaring as the general classification favourites do their utmost to stay upright and avoid any late mishaps before the Champs Élysées. The short 22.5km course based in Marseille draws its focus to the sole climb of the day, a steep rise to Notre-Dame de la Garde which lasts 1.7km and possesses a gradient of 9.5%. The following downhill section is technically demanding and could prove hazardous if conditions are reminiscent of those seen in Düsseldorf at the start of this grand tour three weeks ago. Though the yellow jersey is unlikely to change at this late stage of the race, the general classification still as some major battles, most crucially between Romain Bardet and Rigoberto Uran.

Le Tour de France 2017 - Stage 20

Contenders:

Chris Froome will not wish to walk away from this Tour de France having won the overall and not managed to secure a stage win in the process. He has not been his normally aggressive self during this race and has relied more than ever on the strength of his teammates to ensure rivals are kept on a tight leash. He maintains that his form is now peaking during this final week, aiming to dominant this affair and hammer home a strong advantage at last.

Primoz Roglic has enjoyed a brilliant time at the Tour de France, taking great confidence into this time trial, one which he will no doubt believe is within his grasp of winning. He may well lose time on the steep ascent of Notre-Dame de la Garde and the subsequent technical descent, but has the power to outperform major rivals on the more simplistic parts of the course. At the end of such an arduous race, there is a chance of Roglic having lost a degree of explosiveness, though much of the same can be suggested of many contenders today.

Stephen Cummings entered the race in unexpectedly blistering form, though has not been fortunate enough on this occasion to take a stage victory. Had he not invested such a great deal earlier in the race, then Cummings may well have been a greater favourite for stage honours in Marseille, the feeling being that he is unlikely to have sustained the level of strength with which he first started Le Tour de France.

Vasil Kiryienka is a former world champion at the individual time trial, though has not produced that degree of performance for a long time now, often finding himself at the call of his Team Sky teammates at major races such as these instead. Of the traditional time trialists in contention here, the Belarusian rider is the one most likely to have survived in a convincing enough shape to still produce close to his best. The course does not truly suit his talents, but at the tail end of a grand tour, fatigue is often a greater factor than simply what appears favourable on paper.

Tony Martin could perhaps be the greatest time trial rider of all time, yet the German hero has seen his performances ebb and flow more than ever recently, struggling to sustain the level of dominance we once saw from him several years ago. He was bitterly disappointed to have missed out on the win and yellow jersey in Düsseldorf at the start of Le Tour, no doubt pursuing this second opportunity against the clock to compensate. He will have to produce his best in order to win here, as he has invested plenty in helping his Katusha teammates and is now likely to have paid the price as a result; class is permanent however.

Others to consider are Jonathan CastroviejoStegan KüngMaciej Bodnar and Michal Kwiatkowski.

Outcome:

1st Chris Froome 2nd Primoz Roglic 3rd Vasil Kiryenka

Le Tour de France 2017

Le Tour de France 2017 – Stage 1 Preview

Course:

This year’s edition of the biggest race in cycling shall depart from the German city of Düsseldorf, with a short individual time trial to decide who gets to wear the first maillot jaune of 2017. Offering only a couple of moderate rises during its 14km entirety and minimal turns to negotiate safely, this is a course designed to produce a drag race amongst the riders blessed with an ability against the clock. The greatest challenge to the contest shall be the threat of rain, potentially favouring those who manage to race the course on entirely dry roads. Regardless, it is certain to be a great celebration of Le Tour in Germany and one bound to be afforded a thrilling contest given the potent array of time trial specialists present.

Le Tour de France 2017 - Stage 1 Preview

Contenders:

Tony Martin has long seen this day marked in his diary, the organisers doing their utmost to produce a course which will favour the native rider and ensure one of the nation’s most popular riders starts Stage 2 in yellow. His prowess in this discipline has proven astonishing at times in his career, long since securing his place amongst the greatest ever time trialists, though this opening stage distance is not quite synonymous with such performances of his. Martin favours days which allow him to utilise his diesel engine style of riding, churning over a huge gear and sustaining the grind throughout the race. With only 14km to contest on the first stage, the reigning world champion will need to be much more explosive and produce the sort of display we associate with him in time trials more than twice as long as today’s.

Primoz Roglic appears to be improving consistently against the clock and will enter Stage 1 as a real threat to the German organisers’ dreams of Tony Martin ending the day in the maillot jaune. His style of riding has subsequently changed as a result of realising his abilities in this discipline and will feel confident of challenging for the win on this short course. Though he may not have the sustained power of main rival Martin, Roglic is likely to be able to get up to pace more rapidly than the German and make this an extremely tight battle.

Jonathan Castroviejo is another rider who has seen his prowess in these contests increase in recent seasons and should be aiming for a podium finish on Stage 1 at the very least. He would have preferred something with a few more technical demands and rises in terrain, but should still turn in a strong showing despite these factors. The Movistar rider may not have been at his best during the start of the season, though now seems to be finding his best again when it matters most.

Stefan Küng arrives here after taking the Swiss TT title just last week and will be seeking to carry his blistering form onto the starting ramp in Düsseldorf. The route is hard to anticipate in terms of favourability for the talented Swiss rider, but the consensus is that it offers the minimum required for him to mount a serious charge for the yellow jersey.

Jos van Emden has truly established himself as one of the most talented prologue and short-distance time trial riders currently in the peloton, no doubt looking upon the stage profile with great delight. It will be difficult for him to reproduce his excellent form from this season’s Giro d’Italia once again, but if he can at least come close to replicating it, then he has a convincing chance of winning this first day of 2017’s Le Tour de France.

Others worth considering for top 10 placings are Stephen CummingsMichael MatthewsMichal Kwiatkowski and Maciej Bodnar.

Outcome:

1st Tony Martin 2nd Jos Van Emden 3rd Primoz Roglic

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

Strade Bianche 2017 Preview

Strade Bianche – Preview 2017

Course:

Though a relatively new addition to the early season calendar, Italy’s Strade Bianche has already cemented itself as part of the classics landscape which builds towards the likes of Paris-Roubaix and Ronde van Vlaanderen later in the Spring. The iconic white roads and rolling terrain are contrasting to the challenges of Belgium, Northern France and the Ardennes, attracting a unique blend of competitors seeking to add their name to the list of victors at a race growing in prestige. The course totals 175km from Siena and back, returning once again to familiar roads in the latter stages, utilising gravel tracks and persistent changes in gradient to really make this an attritional affair. Expectation is that a reduced group will contest the final kilometres in the wake of a strong selection process, often making tactical nous as crucial as brute strength as the final climb is tackled.

Strade Bianche 2017 Preview

Contenders:

Peter Sagan once again appears to be riding in indomitable form at the start of the classics season and will be viewed by many as the man to beat as the race returns to Siena for the finale. His victory at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne and second place to Greg Van Avermaet at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad have demonstrated his monstrous ability to simply surge across to anything resembling a race winning move. Sagan has previously finished second place on two occasions at Strade Bianche and will no doubt be looking to call upon his current form to convert his runner-up spots into a belated victory.

Greg Van Avermaet could return again to dampen Sagan’s hopes of victory at a minor classic, the Belgian rider having recovered well from an injury at the end of last year with great success. His history at this race is particularly encouraging, having been unlucky to miss the win here on a few occasions already. A strong support team will certainly improve his chances, hoping to shelter him from any unnecessary efforts, saving himself for what is likely to be a testing finish into town.

Zdenek Stybar really enjoys this race and has made no secret of his ambitions to produce another leading performance here. His experience in cyclo-cross has certainly played a part in his previous successes at Strade Bianche, calling upon his great bike handling abilities to navigate the gravel roads safely. He performs well on these repeated uphill accelerations, possesses great endurance and his usually capable of summoning up a blistering sprint after such a gruelling affair.

Fabio Felline should be considered a danger to the bigger name riders with eyes upon Strade Bianchethe Italian arrives at this race off the back of an encouraging performance at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad which saw him finish fourth. His endurance capabilities have grown year after year, often demonstrating real grit and determination to stay in contact with elite groups, hoping to pounce upon victory with his impressive turn of speed. If there is one rider likely to benefit from the favourites eyeballing one another too long, it could be Felline who steals the show.

Diego Rosa and Michal Kwiatkowski are bound to be the riders which Team Sky look upon as their greatest hopes in a race they are not expected to be targeting with great intent. The former caught the eye with his performance during 2015’s edition while riding for Astana and evidently performs competitively on these gravel roads when offered the chance. Former world champion Kwiatkowski won this race in 2014 and might be tempted to repeat his exploits of three years ago after a good performance at Volta ao Algarve already this season.

Other contenders who could well cause a stir are Jasper StuyvenBen HermansNathan HaasDaniel OssGianluca BrambillaGianni Moscon, Moreno MoserGiovanni Visconti and Tiesj Benoot.

Outcome:

1st Fabio Felline 2nd Peter Sagan 3rd Zdenek Stybar

Abu-Dhabi-Tour-Stage-4

Abu Dhabi Tour – Stage 3 Preview

Course:

After two days of sailing through the desert, Stage 3 finally provides a significant uphill challenge to the peloton as the race looks to rearrange the general classification with a testing climb to the finish line. The 150km journey from Al Ain to Jebel Hafeet is another predominantly flat affair, teeing up the climbers for the ascent to the line which is certain to decide this year’s overall winner of the Abu Dhabi Tour. Having stayed safe throughout the day’s flat section, those with an eye on victory shall begin the 10.8km climb which averages 6.6% and possesses a maximum of 11% just before it eases ahead of the finish. With this in mind, any rider with a potent kick who survives the initial selection process upon the lower slopes will become a clear favourite to win the day.

Abu-Dhabi-Tour-Stage-3

Contenders:

Vincenzo Nibali has ridden relatively lightly since this year’s Tour de France and was one of the main protagonists on this same stage last year; his crash at the Olympic Road Race keeping him off the bike until now. The Italian could sign off from his time at Astana with a final victory ahead of his move across to the brand new Bahrain Merida Pro Cycling Team for 2017. There is certainly no doubt that Nibali will survive the ascent and he has a brilliant chance of winning if he manages to ditch the strong puncheurs before making a move in the final kilometres.

Alberto Contador is another big name rider leaving his team at the end of this year’s Abu Dhabi Tour, leaving the histrionic Oleg Tinkov’s eponymous squad to join a rejuvenated Trek-Segafredo for 2017. Contador had not raced since his fourth place finish at the Vuelta a España, so is somewhat of a mystery in regards to anticipating his form right now. This shorter ascent may not play to his strengths which have seen him dominate grand tours for so long, but there is no reason to think he cannot at least follow the main contenders.

Diego Ulissi could catch the climbers napping here if he manages to stay in contention during the ascent and then strike out with one of his famous uphill sprints. Given that the road does ease ahead of the summit, Ulissi has a strong chance of putting the purer climbers to bed with on well timed attack within view of the finish line as nobody can match him upon his favoured terrain.

Andrey Amador has a rare chance to lead Movistar in the absence of both Nairo Quintana and Alejandro Valverde, no doubt looking to make this opportunity count by winning today’s summit finish. He has enjoyed a successful year while riding in support of his team leaders and is sure to view this as a golden chance to add to his sole career win; a statistic difficult to believe.

Nicolas Roche looks to be Sky’s best chance of featuring well today, the Irishman arriving in Abu Dhabi to sign off from his time at the British outfit ahead of his move to BMC next year. He is a strong climber and is actually quite a potent finisher when required to go head to head with a rival for the win.

Other names who could all cause a stir are Davide RebellinTanel KangertThomas De GendtAlexandr KolobnevChristopher Latham and Michal Kwiatkowski.

Outcome:

1st Diego Ulissi 2nd Alberto Contador 3rd Vincenzo Nibali

La Vuelta a España Preview

La Vuelta a España 2016 – Stage 1 Preview

Course:

La Vuelta a España once again looks to the team time trial to raise the curtain on they season’s final grand tour. An immensely testing and technical discipline, this 27.8km route from Ourense to Parque Nautico de Castrelo de Miño will prove a rude awakening for many in the peloton with only a handful of teams likely to relish this arduous opening to the race. The road rises immediately from the start, but soon becomes a more manageable rolling profile which will quicken the pace in the first half, before then offering up wide roads that shall prove ideal for laying down a huge wattage all the way to the line. A day for those who can generate and sustain large power outputs, this team time trial will be an extremely fast introduction to the next three weeks of life at La Vuelta a España.

La Vuelta a España - Stage 1 PreviewContenders:

Movistar have become one of the most consistent performers in this discipline, combining engine power with technical skill to great effect. Like the majority of teams at this year’s race, the composition of the squad leans strongly towards climbers, but Movistar look to have the strength required to perform competitively on today’s course. Though Jonathan Castroviejo is the only true specialist present for them, the likes of Alejandro Valverde, Nairo Quintana and Rory Sutherland are all capable of putting in a performance to match him in this short challenge.

Sky may not have their ideal set of riders available for the opening day’s team time trial, but they shall remain motivated to secure a good performance in this highly pressurised discipline. Though they have riders competent in a time trial such as Chris Froome and Michal Kwiatkowski, there will be concerns that the gulf in ability to the likes of Ian Boswell and Michal Golas is greater than that of other team’s rosters in contention on Stage 1.

BMC are the reigning world champions in this specialist exercise and will hope this foundation propels them onwards to success by the end of the first day. Unlike many here, their strength appears to stem from a lack of any true time trialist within their ranks, thus calling upon them to function efficiently as a whole team which does not expect one or two riders to carry the greatest load. It will be interesting to see how this approach performs in comparison to the likes of Movistar or Sky and their greater number of true TT riders.

Others who could all challenge for a podium place are former world champions Etixx-QuickStepTinkoff and Orica-BikeExchange.

Outcome:

1st Movistar 2nd BMC 3rd Sky

Amstel_Gold_Race_Preview

Rapido Guide – Amstel Gold 2016

Course:

Our official Rapido Guide to the exhilarating Ardennes classics begins with the infamous Amstel Golda race which has often churned up a surprise thanks to a testing course and highly tactical finale. This year’s edition is a familiar affair, likely to be decided by the strongest of riders on the Cauberg, where an elite group is often seen trading punches as they haul themselves to the top. Those first over the Cauberg for the final time will then have 1.8km separating them from the line, a stressful stretch of tarmac as riders calculate which wheels to follow and when to launch their move for the victory. Overall, 2016’s Amstel Gold is 248.7km long and packs in a staggering 34 recognised climbs to help decide who deserves the title of champion.

Amstel_Gold_Race_Preview

Contenders:

Michael Matthews has ridden incredibly strongly so far this season and we are not even into summer yet, so his form is only expected to get better still. The Australian rider should cope well with these short climbs throughout the race and will utilise a strong Orica-GreenEDGE team to keep all moves on a tight leash, hoping to power up the Cauberg on the final ascent in pursuit of victory. His performance at 2015’s World Road Race Championships showcased his talents on a demanding course like this and he could emerge as the man to beat during the final 1.8km run into the finish.

Michal Kwiatkowski is the defending champion here and will hope to stay in contention during the final decisive ascent of the Cauberg. He has already won E3 this year, but then looked less impressive at Ronde van Vlaanderen, though Amstel Gold is a far bigger target for him in 2016 and should hope to rise to the occasion here.

Julian Alaphilippe experienced a breakthrough season at these Ardennes races last year and will look to build upon that in 2016 by winning one. Though he has recently battled illness, Alaphilippe appears to be riding himself into ideal condition ahead of these races which he has performed so well at previously. He is a great threat to many, as he has the potential to drop others on the Cauberg, attack solo or even win a reduced sprint finish; a risky man who cannot be afforded too much space.

Other riders who may emerge as surprise challengers if they make it into the race winning move on the day include Simon GerransTony Gallopin and Ben Swift.

Outcome:

1st Michael Matthews 2nd Julian Alaphilippe 3rd Michal Kwiatkowski