La Vuelta a España 2017 – Stage 20 Preview

Course:

We finally reach the most eagerly awaited stage of 2017’s La Vuelta a España, finishing atop an iconic climb and laying the foundations for an epic conclusion to this year’s race. Beginning in Corvera de Asturias, the course totals a brief 117.5km and seeks to instigate an immense battle upon the epic Alto de L’Angliru. Climbing immediately from the start, Stage 20 is bound to see another hotly contested battle to feature amongst the day’s breakaway, though the first recognised climb does not appear until the Category 1 Alto de la Cobertoria; lasting for 8.1km and sustaining a draining gradient of 8.6%. A steep descent then follows and sends the bunch headlong into the Category 1 Alto del Cordal, averaging a gradient of 8.6% and taking all of 7 km to complete. The subsequent downhill run is a deceiving drop down which never really hits level ground again, slingshotting the riders immediately up the day’s iconic climb of Alto de L’Angliru. Considered one of the toughest ascents in the whole of Europe, the HC task totals 12.5km and possesses an average gradient on paper of 9.8%. This is a greatly misleading fact however, as the reality is that of a climb which has slopes far into double digit figures and eventually touches around 25% to really break the spirit of those hoping for the win. There is very little in the way of relief during the ascent, contributing to the immense gruelling nature of this legendary climb.

La Vuelta a España 2017 - Stage 20

Contenders:

Romain Bardet has had eyes upon the stage for sometime now, and having started the race with his ambitions on stage wins, Stage 20 would be the most impressive win to take at this year’s La Vuelta a España. He invested plenty during yesterday’s breakaway attack, though still looked relatively fresh when crossing the line, potentially giving him the confidence to try another move today. The steep slopes suit his talents, providing an ideal springboard to break his rivals upon.

Chris Froome is the best climber in the race currently, looking to pace himself perfectly en route to the summit of the day’s finale, reeling in all rivals in the process. He shall rely heavily upon his Team Sky firepower as usual, but when it comes to the concluding kilometres on Stage 20, Froome has enough to solo his way to victory. Having had to endure a defensive approach to this summer’s Tour de France, he will want to seal this impressive second grand tour victory of 2017 with a flourish and has the ability to achieve precisely that.

Alberto Contador shall be waving goodbye to his home grand tour this weekend, hanging up his wheels and choosing to retire on Spanish soil. As the greatest rider of a generation, he will not be content with leaving his final race empty handed, and his constant attacking in recent days as proved exactly that. His greatest ally is the element of surprise, as many are certain he shall make a move, but where that might occur is a mystery right now. For all fans with a sense of romanticism, a victory for Contador would be a fitting tribute to himself and La Vuelta.

Ilnur Zakarin has once again found his best form during the final week of a grand tour race, looking more aggressive as of late and being capable of following the moves of the bigger names. He often emerges as one of the strongest when racing upon ludicrously steep climbs, especially those which last for quite some time, rather than brief ramps to battle up. Zakarin could struggle to find the freedom to attack, though with such a huge challenge concluding the day, his rivals might not have what it takes to close him down.

Vincenzo Nibali is another rider who can produce his best on steep climbs which last for several kilometres and his been relatively consistent throughout the entirety of the race. The Italian has performed well atop the Angliru before, providing insight as to how best to measure his efforts, thus will be a danger to stage honours on this infamous climb.

Others to consider are Miguel Angel LopezRafal MajkaJoe Dombrowski and Daniel Moreno.

Outcome:

1st Romain Bardet 2nd Alberto Contador 3rd Chris Froome

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La Vuelta a España 2017 - Stage Preview

La Vuelta a España 2017 – Stage 18 Preview

Course

A relatively short day at 169km in duration, though one which again packs much of the anticipated action in the latter stages of the day’s racing. Starting in Suances, the route to Santo Toribio de Liébana does not begin any significant climbing until around 100km of riding has been completed by the riders. The first of the day’s recognised climbs is the Category 3 Collada de Carmona (4.8 km, avg 7.2%), signalling the start of a sawtooth triple header which also features the Category 3 Colaada de Ozalba (6 km, avg 6.6%) and then concludes this rapid blast of ascents with the Category 2 Collada de la Hoz (7 km, avg 6%), the peak of which then sends the riders down another ascent before the final charge to the finish line. The last climb of the day is the 3.2km (avg 6.4%) rise to the finish line on Stage 18, likely to function as a crucial springboard for those hitting out for victory from a bunch of frontrunners.

La Vuelta a España 2017 - Stage 18 Preview

Contenders:

Michael Woods could finally hit out for a stage victory on a stage finish which plays convincingly to his strengths. He has managed to stick relatively closely to the likes of Chris Froome and Alberto Contador throughout the race thus far and will now be afforded the chance to utilise his sparkling form to bring some happiness to the ailing Cannondale – Drapac team.

Julian Alaphilippe has shone brightly during the race this year and will be confident of being in the frame for stage honours yet again today. He has animated the days on a regular basis, which may have cost him somewhat ahead of Stage 18, though his condition has been so encouraging that he seems like he can achieve anything he sets his mind to right now.

Miguel Angel Lopez really stepped into the limelight during La Vuelta a España this year, proving incredibly strong and a consistent thorn in the side of those hoping for unexpected breakaway success. Despite his swashbuckling performances, Lopez still appears in competitive condition, having managed to avoid fatiguing too much as a consequence. If part of a group reaching the final rise first, he will be an obvious favourite to go all the way.

Rafal Majka finally mustered glimpses of his best last week and now looks a threatening presence for the win if a breakaway makes it all the way to the concluding kilometres. The amount of climbing late on plays into his hands well, though there are questions as to whether the terrain is truly tough enough to extract the best performance possible from the Polish rider.

Romain Bardet is here to collect stage wins, having looked relatively animated on occasions, though there are suggestions he may have eyes upon a bigger prize later in the race. The final climb to the finish is a fitting finale for the surprisingly punchy French rider, though much like potential rival Rafal Majka, the last push for the win might not be steep enough to allow Bardet to really hammer home an advantage.

Others to consider are Daniel MorenoRui CostaAdam YatesAlberto Contador and Pello Bilbao.

Outcome:

1st Michael Woods 2nd Romain Bardet 3rd Julian Alaphilippe 

La Vuelta a España 2017 - Stage Preview

La Vuelta a España 2017 – Stage 14 Preview

Course:

Though yesterday was billed as a day for the sprinters, other than the blisteringly on form Matteo Trentin who took the win, it failed to be the conclusion which we were anticipating. Regardless, that quasi-sprint was a brief reminder of the fast men being present at La Vuelta, as Stage 14 immediately returns to the mountains with a summit finish. Beginning in Écija and finishing atop Sierra de la Pandera, the day clocks in at 175km and is essentially climbing for the entire duration. Rising gently from the starting line, the first recognised climb is encountered after 76km of racing in the shape of the Category 3 Puerto el Mojón, an 8.8km challenge which averages a gradient of 3.7%. After the subsequent descent, the peloton will face an extended period of rolling terrain, finally reaching the next significant ascent around the 144km marker. The Category 2 Alto Valdepeñas de Jaen is similar to its predecessor at 8.5km and averaging 4.8%, though it is what follows so soon after which makes it crucial. The Category 1 Sierra de La Pandera totals 12km from bottom to top and possesses an average gradient of 7.3% on paper, though the reality is that of a climb which is irregular throughout. Tipping upwards to beyond 10% in the opening couple of kilometres, the climb momentarily softens, before swinging between 5% – 13% en route to the summit. It drops down just before the finish line, though the last push to the chequered flag will be against a reasonable incline.

La Vuelta a España 2017 - Stage 14

Contenders:

Romain Bardet is here to collect stage wins and should find the final third of today as having the sort of terrain which brings his skills to the fore. With little in the way of flat roads, a few rapid descents and climbs which repeatedly kick between gradients; the Frenchman is a clear frontrunner today. His previous effort several days ago was encouraging, suggesting he has not suffered too greatly from arriving here off the back of Le Tour de France and is still posing a genuine danger to the rest on these tough finales.

Darwin Atapuma was the main accomplice in Romain Bardet’s attack earlier in the race, the two combining well together late on and there is no reason to suggest why Atapuma may not find himself in that position once again. Evidently feeling good at La Vuelta, he will be confident of making a breakaway early on, though might now be more aware that he shall need to avoid going head to head with riders of Bardet’s calibre for the stage win.

Rui Costa has not been as active as perhaps expected, but the realisation that a convincing general classification placing was not possible, should now provide him with the freedom to try and follow the key moves on Stage 14. Though not a pure climber, he is very successful when it comes to placing himself in the best possible situation to win from and there is every chance that he may already have too great an advantage to catch once on the final climb. He can certainly sprint well after a tough day, so with a final kilometre which dips down and then up again to only a few degrees, he might be the best bet to win from an elite group.

Pello Bilbao will be hoping to make the cut today, his form bubbling under particularly well at the moment and he will not wish for this to be wasted amongst the peloton all day. Though duties to his team and team leader Fabio Aru could prove impossible to escape, the natural selection process of the final climb could see him as their best placed rider regardless. Bilbao exited the rest day looking sharp and stands a good chance of making it count for something if given the freedom to try.

Joe Dombrowski could be amongst those who choose to try their luck from a long range breakaway, though this perhaps is not tough enough to really get the best from him. The lithe limbed climber is still without a grand tour stage win surprisingly, though that is no true reflection upon his capabilities for these mountain stages. If he can find himself in a well drilled and strong move, then the American might finally strike it lucky.

Others to look for include Adam YatesRafal Majka, Igor AntonJulian Alaphilippe and Sergio Pardilla.

Outcome:

1st Romain Bardet 2nd Pello Bilbao 3rd Joe Dombrowski

La Vuelta a España 2017 - Stage Preview

La Vuelta a España 2017 – Stage 11 Preview

Course:

Stage 11 promises a spectacular finale at the end of a 187.5km journey from Lorca to Observatorio Astronómico De Calar Alto, as a quick double header of Category 1 ascents are crammed into the second half of the day. Though climbing immediately from the start, this is a short lived feature, as the road settles downwards once again for a considerable period of time. Having begun to rise again after 75km of racing, the serious climbing starts to bubble up once beyond the 100km marker, as an anxious peloton approaches the Category 1 Alto de Velefique. The 13.2km climb does not hesitate to begin testing the day’s contenders, ratcheting up to 11.5% early on and sustaining an average gradient of 8.6% from bottom to top; though a final kick of 15% is present at the summit. A sharp descent immediately follows and offers little in the way of recovery before tasking the bunch with battling their way up the Category 1 Calar Alto. A 15.5km climb which averages 5.9%, though this is somewhat misleading, as much of the steeper climbing is front-loaded during the ascent. Opening with 12% and not dropping below 9% for the opening 5km, it then softens relatively in the middle, before finally reaching 10% in the final kilometre ahead of flattening out at the line. It will require a great effort to survive, let alone win Stage 11.La Vuelta a España 2017 - Stage 11 Preview

Contenders:

Ilnur Zakarin has proven to be one of the few riders who is improving as these tough mountain stages progress and could now be at the point he begins to establish an advantage over some rivals. He might not have the complete freedom to truly escape the indomitable Team Sky train, but if the race is relatively tight during the final ascent, then the Katusha captain has a great chance of getting the jump on everyone else. There is a possibility of bad weather during Stage 11, something unlikely to undermine his chances, though it may mean he needs to take the descent between the two categorised climbs less aggressively than normal.

Rafal Majka shall be the pick of many pundits on a day expected to be highly attritional late on, even before the possibility of thunderstorms has made any sort of impact. He showed a glimpse of his best form during last week and a rest day since then should only have helped that to crystalise yet further still. Dangerous from either a breakaway or an elite general classification group, the Polish rider has demonstrated his talents for days like these before and could emerge the favourite to romp home to victory.

Romain Bardet may have eyes set upon tougher stages than today’s challenge, but this would prove a greater exercise in establishing whereabouts his form is at the moment. A courageous descender in any weather, he could make an advantage stick after the Alto de Velefique and push hard to sustain it right the way to the summit finish on Stage 11. Given the final steep ramp to the line, it might benefit the Frenchman to be part of a well working group for as long as possible, before then utilising his talent for dominating these wall like inclines to win.

Jan Polanc has previously caught the peloton napping on grand tour stages like this and is certainly capable of repeating this achievement once again given his current form at La Vuleta. Having recently conceded time upon the general classification, there is a good chance he will no have a greater level of freedom to pursue the day’s breakaway moves and will be a tough rider to reel back in if escaping solo late in the day.

Others to consider from long distance breakaways and late attacks are Joe Dombrowski, Adam Yates, Tejay Van GarderenChris FroomeOmar FraileAlberto Contador and Rui Costa.

Outcome:

1st Ilnur Zakarin 2nd Rafal Majka 3rd Jan Polanc

La Vuelta a España 2017 - Stage Preview

La Vuelta a España 2017 – Stage 9 Preview

Course:

A 174km task is at hand on Stage 9 of this year’s edition of La Vuelta, sending the riders from Orihuela to Cumbre del Sol and setting the stage for a dramatic finale against a wall like climb. For much of the day, riding will be easy, as nothing truly noteworthy features until over 130km has been raced; that being the Category 2 Alto de Puig Llorenca. The 3.2km long rise averages a gradient of 9.2%, giving some riders an indication as to whether they shall have the legs required to perform in the final kilometres when visiting it again later on. The road then gradually descends, setting itself up for the anticipate melee as the bunch reach the Alto de Puig Llorenca for the second time, though they shall ride a longer 4km passage right the way to the top on this occasion. The irregular steep climb will make it hard for the favourites to settle into a rhythm, especially as ramps swing greatly from 8% to 25%, demanding riders to constantly shift their position and gearing.

La Vuelta a España 2017 - Stage 9 Preview

Contenders:

Alberto Contador does not wish to exit professional cycling without some glory at his final home grand tour, marking him out as a likely antagonist in the closing moments of Stage 9. His form is certainly improving as the race develops, while today’s far steeper terrain plays to his strengths and could certainly diminish the gap in strength to Chris Froome which was seen yesterday. Contador is an intelligent rider who is likely to have already calculated the best point to attack from, yet he often rides based on the moment and nobody can exploit an opportunity to strike better than ‘El Pistolero’.

Chris Froome does already appear to be the strongest climber at the race and will be searching for a stage win to cement his credentials as likely overall winner. The gradients are not to his suiting, though he is likely to adopt an aggressive approach in order to act as defence, making it as hard as possible for his rivals when the road pitches down somewhat. As a punchier rider than most in the frame for today’s honours, Froome could choose to follow the attacks and simply pounce with a trademark acceleration during the final kilometre.

Rafal Majka has previously performed strongly on this concluding climb and will take confidence from yesterday’s efforts to feel capable of challenging once again today. His ambitions have altered in regards to those he initially held heading into the race, though a focus on winning stages instead of the general classification makes the Polish rider far more dangerous now.

Esteban Chaves needs to start finding his best form at the race, otherwise, it is beginning to look like he is suffering under the greater strength of Chris Froome and Alberto Contador right now. His explosive capabilities could inflict great damage upon his rivals, but Chaves will need to time such a move to perfection in order to avoid blowing up or simply towing others to the finish line.

Others to consider from a large group or breakaway move on Stage 9 are Joe DombrowskiMichael WoodsDarwin AtapumaSerge Pauwels and George Bennett.

Outcome:

1st Alberto Contador 2nd Chris Froome 3rd Rafal Majka

Le Tour de France 2017

Le Tour de France 2017 – Stage 5 Preview

Course:

It has taken less than a week for this year’s Tour de France to reach the first summit finish of the race, setting the riders on a course to battle it out atop the familiar slopes of La Planche des Belles Filles. Stage 5 is an 160.5km route from yesterday’s finish at Vittel, finally providing a day in the saddle under 200km, though finishing atop the Category 1 ascent of La Planche des Belles Filles. A simple enough start to the day’s action, the tension is expected to begin building with around a third of the stage left to race, as the peloton are able to test their climbing legs upon the Category 3 Côte d’Esmoulières (2.3 km avg 8%). The climb to the finish line is a much tougher prospect however, lasting for 5.9km at and an average gradient of 8.5%, though does feature a brief section of 20%. A real opportunity to put down a marker for the following two weeks of racing, expect the general classification riders to begin testing the waters of Le Tour de France.

Le Tour de France Stage 5 Preview

Contenders:

Thibaut Pinot is aware that his hopes of an overall win at his home grand tour is unlikely, thus shall be on the hunt for stage victories when possible, making him an expected antagonist during the decisive moments on Stage 5. The Frenchman will need to ride particularly clever to avoid running on empty as the yellow jersey favourites start attacking one another, but if he can position himself well on the steepest sections, then he has the power to accelerate hard over the summit into the finish.

Richie Porte has entered the race in eye-catching form, fully aware of how this could prove to be his greatest opportunity to take a grand tour victory in his career and will not hesitate to begin gaining time on his rivals. Often seen to make the top climbers in the world suffer as a result of his efforts on climbs, he has spent a great deal of his time working for others at major races, but will finally have the chance to attack for his own glory.

Fabio Aru will be eager to showcase his form after having to miss out on this year’s Giro d’Italia and suits this finale well enough to mark him out as a real danger to those with eyes set on the stage victory. A fan of tough gradients, it would be no surprise to see the recently crowned Italian road race champion attack on the steepest inclines of 20%, hoping to look back and see his rivals cave in as a result.

Chris Froome might not be able to gain a great deal of time on today’s stage, but he ticks all the boxes required of a rider capable of emerging victorious at the end of the 160.5km journey to La Planche des Belles Filles. Question marks have been hanging over him in regards to his form heading into the season’s biggest race, though the limited insight we have gained from him riding thus far at Le Tour, does suggest that he is certainly on the ball once again.

Dan Martin surprised himself with a podium place on Stage 3 and will have taken even greater confidence into today’s contest as a result of his impressive showing in the opening week of racing. The Irishman has admitted to making poor tactical decisions at major races and shall be aiming to succeed in benefiting from the tactics of those wishing to focus more on who will have the yellow jersey at the end of the three weeks. Likely to be afforded a greater degree of freedom than other favourites today, Martin could push clear on the steeper slopes and find himself without rivals to worry about as he approaches the line.

Other riders who should perform well are Esteban ChavesRigoberto UranJakob FuglsangAlberto Contador and Rafal Majka.

Outcome:

1st Thibaut Pinot 2nd Richie Porte 3rd Chris Froome

Rio Olympics Individual Time Trial 2016 Preview

Olympic Road Race 2016 – Preview

Course:

Whereas Olympic host cities often struggle to create a testing affair for the road race, 2016’s Rio Olympics have put together the toughest course in living memory to crown one of the first gold medal champions of this year’s games. The course snakes a total of 237.5km, starting and finishing at Avenida Atlantica, though much of the racing will comprise laps of the Grumari circuit and then the tougher Canoas Vista Chinesa climb which concludes the day’s racing before heading back to the coast. To emerge victorious from this gruelling affair will carry immense respect from within the peloton, one of the few races this year which can rival a monuments victory upon a rider’s palmarès.

Rio Olympics Road Race 2016 Preview

Contenders:

Alexis Vuillermoz and Romain Bardet finished first and third in this year’s test event, no doubt entering today’s race with a great amount of confidence to repeat their success when it matters most. The possibility of a long-range attack making it to the line will appeal greatly to Vuillermoz, the AG2R rider well experienced in performing upon rolling terrain such as this. Bardet on the other hand is more likely to bide his time, poised to make a move on the final laps of the race with a focus upon the steepest gradients of the race. Julian Alaphilippe continually performs beyond expectation and will look to cause another upset today by striking out late to take the win as part of a small move or solo breakaway.

Alejandro Valverde and Joaquim Rodriguez have experienced a fractious relationship since their combined failing to win 2013’s World Championship Road Race for Spain; resolving such issues today could deliver gold for their nation. Valverde is the favourite for many here, renowned for his ability to stick with the strongest climbers and then descend like a stone, making him a clear favourite to attack over the top of the final climb in an attempt to steal the win during the downhill run to the line. Rodriguez concluded this year’s Tour de France in good condition, though it will be uncertain as to whether or not he will have managed to retain this form heading into the Olympic road race.

Chris Froome is taking much of the attention in regards to Great Britain’s chances of taking a medal here, but it will take a very hard race on the steepest sections to bring the Sky captain to the fore today. Instead, attention might well be better placed upon Adam Yates, arriving here in the scintillating form which secured him the first ever white jersey for a British rider at Le Tour de France. While Yates will be looking to follow the wheels of the day’s big names, teammates Stephen Cummings and Geraint Thomas might well choose to attack late on the climbs in pursuit of a medal placing.

Esteban ChavesSergio Henao, Rigoberto Uran and Jarlinson Pantano provide an embarrassment of riches for Colombia during 2016’s Olympic road race. Chaves may not have raced competitively for sometime, though shall be extremely motivated to perform on terrain which plays to his love of attritional days featuring plenty of steep gradients. Henao has looked strong throughout 2016 and will be eager to cash in on a year of great condition, though of little success. Uran and Pantano offer great alternatives in the shape of two talented riders who know how best to contest a breakaway move in order to make it to the line first.

Wout Poels has enjoyed a spectacular season thus far, emerging as an indomitable lieutenant in the highest of mountains for Chris Froome, while also collecting a monuments victory in the shape of Liége-Bastogne-Liége during the spring. He will be the strongest card to play for a Dutch team also featuring Bauke MollemaSteven Kruijswijk and Tom Dumoulin, providing Poels with a greater degree of protection than other big names here. Poels’ aggression is often disguised by his duties within Team Sky, but when offered the chance, he is an incredibly strong rider who could prove impossible to reel back in once the peloton has been reduced to its bare bones here.

Vincenzo Nibali still has what it takes to win gold despite a disappointing Tour de France last month, though one which did finish with a stronger third week for the Italian rider. Nibali often performs well on attritional courses such as these and the final downhill run to the line will have caught his eye as the ideal opportunity to attack over the final summit, then descend aggressively to the line in an attempt to arrive solo. Teammate Fabio Aru will be a strong auxiliary option if Nibali finds himself too tightly marked to attack successfully, Aru favours these inclines and will appreciate an aggressive race on the harder sections.

Dan Martin has established a strong reputation for peaking specifically for one-day races and will be eager to perform upon a course which plays to his strengths. This year’s Tour de France demonstrated a greater level of consistency throughout the mountains than we had ever seen before from the Irishman, something he achieved without lessening his attacking style. He tried on several occasions to secure a stage win at Le Tour, but with Team Sky’s chokehold on the general classification diminishing any freedom, Martin never succeed in maintaining a gap. With no general classification or finishing times to worry about today, the race for gold will be a much more open affair and this will suit Martin well.

For those riding as part of small teams or even on their own, there shall be no other option than to ride aggressively and attack the race, as attempting to control the day’s proceedings will be impossible. Tim Wellens, Rafal MajkaJakob FuglsangRui CostaRamunas Navardauskas and Andrey Amador are all expected to animate affairs at some point; riders lacking teammates who will be happy to cooperate in order to improve their chances of winning.

Outcome:

1st Romain Bardet 2nd Vincenzo Nibali 3rd Dan Martin