Le Tour de France 2018 Stage 18 Race Preview

Le Tour de France 2018 – Stage 9 Preview

Course:

Anticipation has long been simmering ahead of this tantalising crossover between Le Tour de France and Paris – Roubaix. Populated with a total of 15 official sectors, Stage 9’s path from Arras to Roubaix is a potentially treacherous obstacle for the riders ahead of the first rest day of this year’s edition of the race. Plenty of talented and specialist riders line up for this demanding day, though with the shadow of general classification ambitions cast strongly, it will be a strategic headache to decide if the priority is protecting team leaders or going for glory. Unlike the usual monumental distance of Paris – Roubaix, the day will be far more explosive as a result of totalling only 156.5km, meaning even greater fireworks may be ignited.

Le Tour de France 2018 Stage 9 Race Preview

Contenders:

John Degenkolb ended up finishing third yesterday as a result of André Greipel and Fernando Gaviria being penalised for dangerous sprinting, though this does not flatter him and his current form. There is little doubt that this is a key ambition for himself and his team, knowing that his previous expertise in winning Paris-Roubaix is likely to be priceless during the defining moments of Stage 9. Likely to be an aggressive day, the shorter distance compared to the Hell of the North could be detrimental, though a week of racing is already in the legs of the peloton, which might negate this factor convincingly so. Powerful enough to follow the danger men and unquestionably fast enough to win at the end of the day, Degenkolb could find himself victorious upon familiar territory once again.

Peter Sagan is the favourite for many ahead of the day’s stage, the indomitable three time world champion able to turn his hand to any riding specialism and prove a contender immediately. Finally winning Paris – Roubaix this year after continuous expectation and pressure, Sagan knows that he is a champion on these cobbles, only adding fuel to the inferno of which is his ego. A victory here would also help to cement a tighter grip upon the green jersey, as few rivals in that contest are likely to match him here as well.

Philippe Gilbert appears to be in fantastic shape during the opening week of Le Tour de France, no doubt now looking to put this to great use by winning Stage 9. Capable of winning from a select sprint or epic solo breakaway (as we witnessed in 2017’s Ronde van Vlaanderen) he is a hard man to anticipate. Given Quick Step’s lesser ambitions with the general classification, he is likely to be part of a potent force alongside Niki Terpstra, Bob Jungels and Yves Lampaert who have the freedom to attack the day. Gilbert rode Paris – Roubaix for the first time in a long time this year with an eye catching performance, one he will be eager to push further.

Sep Vanmarcke must feel jinxed, a specialist in one day races who is continually plagued by bad luck and misfortune. Hoping that the context of a grand tour might alter this for him, the Belgian rider will fancy his chances of going for the win, as with no serious general classification riders to protect, he can give everything to finally take a victory of sorts upon the cobblestones.

Greg Van Avermaet is seeking to extend his time in the yellow jersey until the opening barrage of mountains. Not only is he capable of achieving this ambition, he has a very strong chance of winning the stage too, especially having won the genuine Paris – Roubaix only last year. BMC shall be in a quandary however, as any freedom for Avermaet to ride his own race could result in leaving team leader Richie Porte short of support when it matters most. An interesting dynamic to observe on the day, but the Belgian should be confident of having a shot at glory regardless.

Vincenzo Nibali could cause a stir amongst the peloton on Stage 9, as the grand tour specialist has growing ambitions to take a clean sweep of the five monuments before retiring, ensuring that we will not see the Italian shy away from the action. A dramatic Milan – San Remo earlier this season exemplified his strategic prowess compared to many, yet the feeling is that he is bound to be underestimated yet again by his rivals. His performance in 2014, when Le Tour de France visited the cobblestones in the rain, resulted in a third place finish ahead many of today’s classic specialists. As ever, the Shark of Mesina remains one to keep an eye upon.

Niki Terpstra possesses fantastic pedigree when it comes to racing around these parts of France and Belgium where cobblestones and hellingen are commonplace. An unrivalled performance during De Ronde this season was spectacular, while his previous victory at Paris – Roubaix certainly means he is comfortably placed upon Stage 9’s list of favourites. Likely to wait for a lull in the action or until his rivals go into the red, Terpstra’s best chance will come from his trademark solo attack. Additionally, fighting alongside his teammates from Quick Step can only help to soften the peloton up before he gives it everything.

Taylor Phinney was long touted as a future Paris – Roubaix champion, but racing schedules and a significant injury has meant that his talent for this type of terrain has fallen to the back of some people’s minds. A back to back winner on these cobbles at Paris – Roubaix Espoirs and an 8th place finish at this year’s elite edition sinks any doubt about his capabilities on Stage 9. With enough talent in the team to help protect leader Rigoberto Uran, the American powerhouse should be given the freedom to chase this victory, one which he would richly deserve if successful.

Outcome:

1st Philippe Gilbert 2nd Peter Sagan 3rd Greg Van Avermaet

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La-Vuelta-A-España-2015-Stage-9

La Vuelta a España – Stage 9 Preview

Course:

Having been afforded a day’s break from the Vuelta a España’s summit finishes in the first week, Stage 9 marks a return to a stage profile the peloton will have become accustomed to by now. Though the uphill finishes thus far have proved exciting, the expected stirrings from within the general classifications hopefuls have not quite materialised, Fabio Aru’s attack and Chris Froome’s ailing on the Stage 7 the only moments of note. Today should change this with a ruthlessly steep summit finish that will force a reaction should another general classification favourite decide to make his move late on.

The race begins heading towards the real mountains soon, Stage 9 acting as a bridge to the upcoming Pyrenees challenges which will offers us the first convincing insight of the battle for the Red Jersey. For now however, attention remains upon the short, intense and punchy finishes which have shaped the conclusion of the opening half of the race. Departing from Torrevieja, the peloton will begin their 168.3km journey to Dumbre del Sol-Benitatxell easily enough, the opening 125km or so tracing its way along the coast on easy going terrain.

By this point in time, the peloton will encounter their day’s major challenge for the first time, the Alto de Puig Llorenca. This tough finish appears once before the finale, allowing the riders a brief reconnaissance of the climb, but one which is curtailed as this is a Category 2 3.3km (8.9%) climb which lacks the summit finish of the second ascent; meaning the finish is instead recognised as a Category 1 obstacle.

A descent drops the riders back down to level ground in order to contest the intermediate sprint with a little over 10km left to race. Once completed, the Alto de Puig Llorenca begins looming large once again, but this time it’s the longer 4.1km climb at the same 8.9% gradient, upgraded to a more imposing Category  1 status. Like many of the summit finishes we have seen so far at this race, the opening couple of kilometres appear to be simple enough (5.3%), but this soon comes crashing down around them as they ride straight into a 500m long wall of 19% climbing. A short lived plateau offers brief relief, though the final kilometre remains flickering between 9% – 11%, all of which is combined with a series of tight bends en route to the summit. The final push to the top is set to be a brutal affair as the average gradients begin jumping rapidly to ramps of 13%, 16% and even a leg breaking 26%. Whoever does win on Stage 9, it shall certainly not be a fluke victory.

 

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La-Vuelta-A-España-2015-Stage-9

La-Vuelta-A-España-2015-Stage-9

Contenders:

Nairo Quintana might finally break cover at the Vuelta a España on Stage 9’s gruelling summit finish. His condition is almost unknown as we have seen very little of him beyond the inability to follow the attacks on Stage 2, but this finale’s steeper gradients suits his skills much better. The recent days seem to suggest he is not struggling to mark his rivals right now and if he believes he has the legs for it today, the Colombian will prove a difficult man to reel back into the pack.

Esteban Chaves has enjoyed a supremely impressive opening half to this grand tour and there is little to suggest he cannot extend this further with victory on Stage 9. The diminutive Colombian climber tends to thrive on this steeper terrain, perhaps even more so than the finales which have so far earnt him two stage wins and ownership of the leader’s Red Jersey. Being the current race leader does mean he could end up being marked out of the race, though he seems to relish his current status and he remains as combative as ever. If everything is relatively together ahead of the final kilometre, Chaves will perhaps even become the favourite to win on these incredibly sharp ramps preceding the line.

Fabio Aru is the only general classification rider to have stretched his legs so far and won himself a handful of seconds over his rivals. The Italian is known for his explosive finishing ability, but it is unclear if these fluctuating steep gradients during the last kilometre will offer a positive or negative platform towards his ambitions on Stage 9.

Joaquim Rodriguez would historically be the standout favourite for a stage finish such as this, but his performances so far at 2015’s edition of La Vuelta a España have been rather underwhelming. At one point it seemed that he was simply restricted by his wishes to mark his rivals extremely closely, but subsequent inability to perform upon ideal terrain for the Spanish puncheur would suggest that he is actually struggling to stick the pace.

Alejandro Valverde is no stranger to steep gradients, most famously dominating the Ardennes’ classics on similar terrain, though today’s test will prove an exaggerated version of these races. Similar to Rodriguez, his form looks uncertain, despite having already taken a stage win during the opening week of La Veulta. Since that showing, he has not performed as well as expected on finishes which really should have marked him out as a favourite and offered him the chance to at least double up on his wins so far. With the Pyrenees looming large ahead of Stage 9, Valverde may decide he is better to keep his powder dry ahead of much more demanding days in the saddle next week.

Domenico Pozzovivo has remained a clear presence behind the obvious favourites for this year’s title and could emerge today as a real contender for Stage 9 honours. The Italian climber flourishes on these mind numbing gradients and is unlikely to be marked by any of the major teams should he decide to make a move. Pozzovivo finished safely alongside the general classification men on Stage 7 and will feel confident of achieving something today, having confirmed his condition with consistent riding already.

Louis Meintjes is ridding extremely impressively right now and there is no reason to think a stage win is beyond him at this Vuelta a España. Whether or not today is the ideal opportunity to do just that is not clear, but the South African should certainly be able to stick the pace of the general classification riders without a doubt. Given his surprising prowess on the climbs so far, MTN-Qhubeka may instead decide to focus upon cementing his overall placing, rather than investing heavily in attempting to secure a stage win.

Outcome:

1st Domenico Pozzovivo 2nd Esteban Chaves 3rd Nairo Quintana

Le-Tour-de-France-2015-Stage-9-Preview-

Le Tour de France – Stage 9 Preview

Though the Mûr de Bretagne did indeed prove to be decisive in the outcome of Stage 8, many are likely to have expected greater fireworks amongst those aiming to contest the overall win at the end of the three week tour of France. Alexis Vuillermoz proved to live up to expectation after Spokenforks highlighted him as a real threat for the victory on Stage 8, edging out Dan Martin for the win after the Irishman struggled to find the space to follow his attack late on. The general classification riders all crossed the line safely together, though Vincenzo Nibali did concede 20″ on the Mûr de Bretagne, despite the fact it actually eases considerably in the second half of the climb. Today’s stage is a totally different offering altogether, a Team Time Trial which many have cited as a likely turning point in the battle for the maillot jaune. Several squads have already lost riders, Orica-GreenEDGE already having had three depart 2015’s Le Tour de France; making this already attritional affair an even greater challenge.

Course:

An unexpectedly hilly course for the Team Time Trial, it is placed just ahead of the peloton’s first venture into the mountains and will have no doubt already caused anxiety to spread through the ranks. This testing discipline is hard enough to ensure that at least five riders cross the finishing line together at the best of times, but with its placing as Stage 9 and in the wake of many abandonments, we could see some teams suffer a nightmare afternoon here.

A 28km course brings the riders from their starting point of Vannes and over the rolling terrain to the day’s finish in the town of Plumelec. Its lumpy nature begins almost immediately once they have made it out of the starting gate, negotiating a moderately technical beginning, before then opening up the legs and laying down some speed on parcours which may have been underestimated in regards to the average speed of the teams here.

The first checkpoint will offer little insight as to the possible winner, positioned ahead of the first real climb, it is after this 10km marker where we will begin to gauge the strength of each team. At 4km long and averaging around 2% – 3% gradient, this extended drag should not prove too difficult on paper, but with the mission to cover this course in the fastest time possible, cracks could already begin to form. A long plateau follows this initial ascent, a good opportunity to pick up the speed and take it into the following descent which leads to the next climb and checkpoint number two. Approximately 20km will have been tackled by this point, meaning the time check here will begin to signal who exactly is flagging with almost 10km still to tackle in this race against the clock.

A short 1km climb (avg 4.2%) will be summited with 21.5km chalked up, subsequently sending the teams down a long and gradual descent which could offer recovery for some or provide more stress as riders struggle to stay together on the downhill section. The finale itself is what will have been the main focus for the riders heading into today, the 1.7km Côte de Cadoudal sustaing a tough gradient which fluctuates between 6% to 7% for the most part; it is here the stage will be decided. Even the pure climbers will find this difficult when tasked with completing this climb as rapidly as possible, ensuring that not too much time is lost here late on. The road does flatten out with approximately 200m to go, offering some possibility of a straggling last man being able to reduce any gap to his teammates before the line.

Ultimately, this stage looks underestimated in speed for the most part and the same once again in regards to the difficulty of the climb to the line. Teams will have to be incredibly well organised to ensure they cross the line with the prerequisite amount of riders to take a solid time, if they fail to do just that, then large time gaps can be expected here.

 

 

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Contenders:

BMC enter this as the big favourites to win the stage and take the yellow jersey into the first rest day on the shoulder of Tejay Van Garderen. They are World Champions at this discipline and bring a similar squad to the one which won them the title last season into Stage 9, their alterations in personnel here are those who will cope well with this hilly terrain too. They have a huge engine in Rohan Dennis to help maintain the pace throughout the course, while team leader Tejay Van Garderen is obviously no slouch either when tasked with battling against the clock. All of this contributes to a brilliant chance of a stage win on Stage 9 for a BMC team in great shape and with no injuries right now.

Though they have been relatively quiet up to now, Movistar could possibly cause a stir here on a course which favours their climbing prowess well. They possess time trial specialists in the shape of Alex Dowsett, Adriano Malori and Jonathan Castroviejo; while riders such as Alejandro Valverde, Nairo Quintana and Gorka Izagiree have a strong blend of TT skill and climbing talent to help put in a strong time here also.

Astana are often strong on this type of short, rolling team time trial and should be confident of being in the mix for the overall win on Stage 9. The Kazahk outfit have fantastic depth here, riders who are solid in time trials and are bound to only get stronger on the parcours which allow them to utilise their climbing talents to really hammer home any advantage; Vincenzo Nibali, Jakob Fuglsang, and Tanel Kangert being such riders who fit the mould.

Team Time Trials have not always seen Team Sky gain much in the way of rewards for their preparation and efforts ahead of such a tough discipline. Chris Froome, Geraint Thomas and Richie Porte are a potent trio who should ensure that they do not get bogged down on the uphill sections, while the rest of the squad appear to be in good condition currently. They lack the real big engine of a time trial specialist, but the terrain will allow them to compensate for this, though the ability of riders such as Peter Kennaugh and Wout Poels to stick the pace is uncertain right now. It is unlikely he will be greatly disappointed by it, but Chris Froome looks certain to hand over the maillot jaune by the end of the day.

Albert Contador will have to limit his losses on Stage 9 as his team appear to lack the real depth of strength and specialism in this team time trial compared to the likes of Movistar, BMC and Astana. Michael Rogers and Roman Kreuziger are strong riders, though their potency is ailing somewhat currently, while Daniele Bennati is the closest thing they really have to a powerful engine to maintain the pace on the flatter sections. Though versatile, the Tinkoff-Saxo roster lacks enough specialist talent on Stage 9 to remain competitive and Alberto Contador could be staring at a loss to his general classification rivals by the end.

IAM Cycling and Etixx-QuickStep could both push to a podium placing with reasonably fresh squads which offer a blend of time trial riders and strong climbers to finish well on Stage 9. The former will call upon Sylvain Chavanel, Matthias Brändle and Jerome Coppel to get up to speed and then maintain this over the rolling terrain which will see some riders suffer early on. Etixx will have to look upon the likes of Rigoberto Uran and Michal Kwiatkowski to do the brunt of the work here, as with Tony Martin crashing out, they are now severally lacking in the power required to dominate Stage 9. The riders present in the squad to support Mark Cavendish in the sprints could also mean the team suffer badly here if they misjudge the pacing poorly.

Outcome:

BMC are the clear favourites and should win given how close the yellow jersey now is to being on the shoulders of Tejay Van Garderen. Team Sky and Astana could both mount strong efforts here and make BMC day’s a little harder than expected, though the reigning Team Time Trial World Champions should emerge victorious and in yellow. Perhaps the biggest threat on the day comes from Movistar, the Spainish team are a threatening blend of time trial specialists and mountain men who should all combine well to set a solid pace and finish strongly too.

1st BMC 2nd Movistar 3rd Team Sky

Tour-de-Suisse-Spokenforks-Prologue-PreviewTour-de-Suisse-Spokenforks-Stage-9-Preview

Tour de Suisse – Stage 9 Preview

The breakaway did indeed cause an upset on Stage 8 and saw a powerful blend of nineteen riders establish an unassailable lead; gradually disintegrating until only two men were left out front. It was down to AG2R’s Jan Bakelants and Alexey Lutsenko of Astana who found themselves in a two man sprint to decide the victor in the Swiss capital of Bern. Despite the apparent lack of action amongst the general classification contenders on the day, Geraint Thomas of Team Sky still managed to sneak a total of three seconds advantage out over current race leader Thibaut Pinot. A race against a clock on the final day is set to decide the overall outcome of this year’s Tour de Suisse, requiring Pinot to defend his jersey in an unfavourable position with Geraint Thomas and Tom Dumoulin fancying their chances of overturning the deficit and stealing the title at the death.

Course:

The time trial itself is 38.4km of the sort of rolling terrain which the peloton have spent the last week or so battling upon day after day. Yet again the riders have been provided with a relatively flat opening to the stage after the initial descent which starts after 1km and takes them down to the level terrain by the 3km marker. Though several kilometres of flat roads are present for some time, a gentle gradient will begin lifting them up towards the Category 3 climb of Liebewill. Though the ascent itself is short at only 800m in length, the preceding couple of kilometres could make it difficult for some riders to select the right gear and tempo due to the little kicks in terrain which lead to the climb.  Considering the average gradient of this short Category 3 climb is 9.25%, anyone who does fail to find the right rhythm as they fight their way to the summit could loose time rapidly.

Around 23km will then remain of the time trial set to decide the winner of this year’s Tour de Suisse, the course will see each rider push on after this as they sprint up another short and sharp unclassified hill; this marks the highest point of the day’s stage. From here a rapid descent then follows before they hit another kick in the terrain, a 1.1km rise which once over the other side shall lead them downhill to just shy of 4km from the finish. After which point the Category 3 Aargauerstalden will bring them up to the final 2.5km run in once its 400m ascent and 4.25% average gradient have been tackled. Several technical corners populate the last couple of kilometres right up to just 200m from the line, meaning some contenders could ship time even at this late stage if they pick the wrong line through the bends.

Tour-de-Suisse-Spokenforks-Prologue-PreviewTour-de-Suisse-Spokenforks-Stage-9-Preview

Contenders:

Current race leader Thibaut Pinot has his work cut out in order to walk away from this race as 2015’s champion, but that is not to suggest he is set to be walked over by the opposition. A talented climber, Pinot will favour this rolling terrain in order to reduce the deficit to time trial specialists on the day, though shall remain aware of how this stage is certainly no mountainous course. Much has been made of his supposed ineptitude against the clock in recent years, whereas a glance through his performances in the last couple of seasons displays a solid ability to place within the top ten when not racing a team time trial or prologue. If you also factor in the ‘magic’ of the yellow jersey when defending the lead, there is little to suggest he will be embarrassed by the abilities of his rivals. He could well fend off Tom Dumoulin’s attempt to win overall, but Geraint Thomas looms heavily behind Pinot and should win the overall today.

Beyond another dose of misfortune, Tom Dumoulin should almost be guaranteed the stage win on the final day at the Tour de Suisse. Only bettered by Tony Martin at last year’s time trial, the Dutchman has grown since then to become the biggest threat to breaking the Martin/Cancellara/Wiggins dominance of the World Championships. His performance in the last week has been extremely impressive, not only demonstrating his time trialling form on the opening day’s prologue, but also sticking with the big name climbers on some of the toughest climbs. The question on the day shall be as to what margin he wins by it seems, Pinot’s 1’14” perhaps within the realms of possibility to catch, but Geraint Thomas is bound to prove a much tougher man to reel in at 50″ to Dumounlin. His showings throughout the entire race and a likely win on Stage 9 should be satisfying enough for the Dutchman, regardless of how close he comes to regaining his yellow jersey at the final time of asking.

Geraint Thomas has paced his efforts at this race very well indeed, maintaing a presence amongst the favourites, yet ensuring he never rode himself into the ground for the sake of a fruitless attack. The Sky rider knows how rare these opportunities to lead the team are and has clearly seized upon this with great effect thus far. His prowess at climbing has grown substantially in recent years and has subsequently been highlighted as the cause behind his diminishing time trial performances; not to say these are poor though. If there is one thing he has proven this year so far, it is how well the Welshman can adapt to differing terrains and disciplines when targeting a specific race. His performance on the queen stage’s ascent of the Rettenbachgletscher should have been almost impossible for any rider previously so heavily invested in the Spring classics, yet Thomas seemed to find little hardship when transitioning from the short efforts which won him E3 Harelbeke to only just being distance by Thibaut Pinot on Stage 5’s summit finish. Today’s time trial course suits him relatively well with a blend of flat passages and short climbs, combing this with his current GC placing, Thomas is clearly the favourite to walk away from here as champion.

For the day’s stage win, Adriano Malori has the potential to push Dumoulin close for the victory, but his showings during this race so far have been rather disappointing. The Italian has progressed like his rival to become a rising name in the time trial discipline, but does not seem to have struck form so far this season against the clock. A course built towards top average speed would have favoured him more, but his climbing is solid enough to cope with the day’s rolling terrain regardless. Should he find himself in good condition, Malori might be the only man able to stick the pace of an extremely motivated Tom Dumoulin on Stage 9.

Fabian Cancellara’s names is written throughout the Tour de Suisse and its time trialling history as of late, but it seems too much for him to add another entry today. The Swiss hero started this race off the back of an infection and had to be prescribed medication in order to make it to the startline; though this did not stop him from just missing out on the prologue victory to Dumoulin. With the Tour de France not far away now, Cancellara will not wish to scupper his recovery from illness by going too deep for the sake of a stage win which has no bearing on the overall outcome. Though his name will no doubt be in the upper mix of the stage’s final classification, even if he had entered this race without having to recover from an illness, the requirements to beat Tom Dumoulin were always bound to be too great.

Though still developing as a time trial specialist, Bob Jungels will be worth watching to monitor his current progress when pit against the clock. The Luxembourg time trial champion is often better on rolling terrain such as this, but the distance here might be a little too much for him right now. His condition at the Tour de Suisse is relatively unknown as it stands, so his showing on the last day will be of definite interest to those wishing to see his talents grow.

Another young rider who is still developing, though seems capable of turning his hand to anything right now, is Michal Kwiatkowski. Despite having lost a large amount of time unexpectedly early on in this race, his form has not been too shaky and the Polish rider certainly appeared in good condition when animating two stage’s with his presence amongst the breakaway. Some would suggest he is riding himself into form at the tail end of this week, if this is the case, you cannot discount Kwiatkowski from a reasonable placing in a discipline which he often performs well at. His biggest difficulties of the day will be the course’s lumpy terrain and possible fatigue from his efforts in yesterday’s large breakaway.

Other names which all have the potential to fill out the eventual top ten on the day include: Steven Morabito, Simon Spilak, Silvan DillierMatthias Brändle and Martin Elmiger.

Outcome:

Tom Dumoulin looks poised to take another stage win here in the time trial, obviously riding at such a high level during this Tour de Suisse, where only bad luck seems able to prevent him from winning Stage 9. The biggest story of the day shall be the battle for time between Dumoulin, Pinot and Thomas. There is certainly a strong chance that Thibaut Pinot shall surprise many pundits with his efforts on the day in an attempt to defend his ownership of the yellow jersey, but the victory is likely to be Geraint Thomas‘ for the taking. The Welshman has been tactically astute in this race and has set himself up to take the victory on the final day nicely, requiring a strong performance, but not one which is greatly beyond his abilities right now.

1st Tom Dumoulin 2nd Geraint Thomas 3rd Adriano Malori

Overall Outcome: Geraint Thomas

Giro-d'Italia-Stage-9-Spokenforks-Preview-2015

Giro d’Italia – Stage 9 Preview

Though the previous day did not quite deliver the level of fighting expected from the general classification favourites, Fabio Aru was first to have a dig in the final kilometres; finding Alberto Contador, Richie Porte and Rigoberto Uran too strong to drop. Based on the insights gathered thus far there is little to separate the contenders, some might just be trying to stay as fresh as possible before dealing their damage against the clock on Stage 14. Regardless of the lack of definitive action amongst the favourites, Spokenforks’ pick Beñat Inxausti was a worthy winner on Stage 8, having kept his powder dry as part of the break before attacking and dropping his companions late on. The peloton’s next challenge is a 215km trek across rolling terrain, a course which is bound to prove too much for some riders come the finish at San Giorgio del Sannio.

Course:

Many of the teams will have their eye caught by the possibility of stealing an unexpected win on Stage 9’s race from Benevento to San Giorgio del Sannio, a stage which is likely to shine favourably upon those who ply their trade as escape merchants. Lacking much in the way of flat roads and stretching itself across 215km, the day will be a draining affair for many who will instead seek a quiet life as part of the peloton for the most part. Despite a sawtooth profile, the day only possess three recognised climbs from start to finish, the first of which comes after nearly 100km have been racked up. Monte Termino is a Category 2 ascent which averages 4.2% for the majority of its 20.9km entirety, but does include a short lived ramp of 9% after the halfway point. Once tackled, the riders shall descend onwards through Montella before finding themselves once again at the foot of a major climb; on this occasion the Category 1 Colle Molella. This climb is shorter lived than the preceding ascent, but packs more into its short gradient of 9.5km, averaging a 6.3% gradient which swings aggressively between 10% – 12% for two kilometres nearer the summit.

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Whoever is leading at this point will then begin dropping back down in altitude rapidly, forming a roller coaster ride which takes the bunch through several small town as they head towards the base of the day’s final climb; beginning less than 20km from San Giorgio del Sannio. The climb up Passo Serra is likely to prove decisive for whatever type of group hits it first, given its short 3.6km distance packing in an average of 8% and a maximum gradient of 13% during its midsection. Just over 10km will remain once they have hauled themselves over this last climb, subsequently descending before striking a 2km long hill (4.9%) with 5km separating them from victory. The finale could make for an intriguing backdrop to the battle emerging from a possible lead group, any such contest will be fought upon a 600m 3% gradient up to the finishing line.

 

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Giro-d'Italia-Stage-9-Spokenforks-Preview-2015

Contenders:

Given the likelihood of the winner in San Giorgio del Sannio emerging from a strong breakaway, the possibilities of who will form its constituent parts are broad. Many of those who helped to form the breakaway on Stage 4’s ride to La Spezia are bound to fancy their chances here as well; as are those who have missed out on the break so far. Many will point to Giovanni Visconti has a man who is certain to find himself aboard the day’s key move, the Spaniard has already performed in similar moves so far and was unlucky of Stage 4. Sitting only 1′ 16″ on the general classification makes the chances of him securing the maglia rosa for his team very high if a move containing him makes it all the way to the line.

A man who rode alongside Visconti on day four was Yonathan Monsalve of the Southeast team; causing a stir with his impressive performance. Such a successful day in the breakaway will have no doubt raised the expectation of him repeating the same en route to San Giorgio del Sannio and there is little to suggest he cannot execute a repeat performance.

Though unlikely, should a bigger group manage to stick together and contest the finish without having disintegrated upon the final ascent, Fabio Felline would surely dominant a sprint. During this season he has demonstrated an huge step up in terms of climbing ability, managing to stick with the mountain men at the Criterium International, Pais Vasco and Vuelta Ciclista a Murcia. Stage 9 appears too long and testing for the Italian sprinter, but this Giro d’Italia has proven far from predictable during its unexpectedly hectic first week.

These early stages have been attritional, in both terrain and distance, but one rider who seems to favour these conditions is BMC’s Philippe Gilbert. Misfortune has been haunting him currently, so Stage 9 could come as an opportunity to remedy this situation for the Belgian, with a strong win coming on the finishing drag to the line. On the assumption that he will be able to stick the pace over the steady Monte Termino, it would leave him well placed as part of a breakaway to survive the shorter Colle Molella and onto the rolling terrain which has suited him so well in the past. The finish in particular is what makes Gilbert such a contender for the day, the drag to the line will be reminiscent of the Ardennes for the former world champion.

Rinaldo Nocentini and Carlos Betancur offer AG2R La Mondiale options in the wake of the disappointing departure of Domenico Pozzovivo after his nasty crash. Nocentini has had a surprisingly quiet 2015 so far, a shock given his hectic race schedule since the season kicked off in January. Though his chances of winning this stage are limited, he will be interested in contributing to the day’s breakaway on a stage where TV coverage shall be good for sponsors in the break. The Colombian Betancur is certainly capable of winning Stage 9, but his efforts in the previous day’s break is likely to deter him from attempting much the same so soon again.

Edoardo Zardini is not that far back in the hunt for the mountains jersey and is certain to see this stage as a great chance to be part of a break which tackles all categorised climbs first. He will need a dominant performance to take maximum points on a day where the break is likely to be large in participants, but the motivation of the jersey will lure the Bardiani CSF rider into the decisive move.

CCC Sprandi Polkowice could turn to Maciej Paterski in their search for glory at this year’s opening grand tour. The Polish rider has had a great season already and his win at the Volta a Catalunya on Stage 1 proved he can stay the course under pressure from better climbers and ultimately take the victory. If he does find himself aboard the crucial breakaway, Paterski will be a serious contender in any group which is allowed to stay out front all day.

Somehow clinging onto second place under the charge of Fabio Aru, Alberto Contador and Richie Porte was an impressive achievement from Sylvain Chavanel on Stage 5. The Frenchman is evidently in good form and will happily contribute to a break which he believes to have the potential of staying clear all day. If late on in the day it becomes apparent that Chavanel’s group will indeed reach the finish first, he will need to drop others and arrive solo as he does not suit the finish as well as others likely to comprise his group.

The assumption that this stage can only be decided by a breakaway could prove costly for some, especially with how Stage 5 played out still fresh in the mind. Given the terrain and distance, a general classification skirmish could erupt once again in the wake of a break and Fabio Aru is the favourite to benefit most if the opportunity arises. He appeared somewhat edgy today when attacking the likes of Contador and Porte, all too aware that he needs to find time before the time trial which is bound to be the scene of a significant time loss for the Italian. The finale includes a drag which Aru could exploit with his faster turn of speed and gain a handful of seconds over his rivals at the death.

Outcome:

It is almost a case of pulling names out of a hat in terms of picking a winner for Stage 9 of this year’s Giro d’Italia, a variety of riders suit the course, all with a diverse range of motives. Philippe Gilbert and Fabio Felline will be favourites to take a sprint from a small group if present, but they will both need an impressive performance to be there come the finale. A breakaway which gradually diminishes throughout the day seems more likely and Maciej Paterski could prove a dangerous man in such a situation; able to stick the pace and finish strongly. As mentioned, if the day ignites an unexpected battle amongst the general classification contenders, then Fabio Aru is likely to come out strongest on this course.

Sprint: Philippe Gilbert

Breakaway: Maciej Paterski

Outsider: Fabio Aru

Return To The Mountains – La Vuelta a España Stage 9 Preview

We find ourselves looking upon the general classification contenders once more, as Stage 9 runs the 185km from Carboneras de Guadazaón to  Aramón Valdelinares. The early part of the day is simple enough affair for the peloton as a breakaway of the usual suspects is likely to get away – think CajaRural, MTN-Qhubeka and IAM Cycling. But after 124km the peloton will need to start calculating how they shall best tackle the Category 3 Puerto de Cabigordo and Category 2 Alto de San Rafael in order for the big GC hopefuls to play out the stage win atop the Category 1 Aramón Valdelinares. 

Aramón Valdelinares will force the big names to the front of affairs.

Aramón Valdelinares will force the big names to the front of affairs.

Course:

Stretching over 8km is the climb to Aramón Valdelinares, fluctuating between a low of 4.5% and a peak of 8.5%, it eventually levels out to a comfortable 2.5% in the last few hundred meters. It will naturally bring the major GC players to the fore as they look to concede as little time as possible to one another, especially with a 34.5km Time Trial on Tuesday. The relatively constant gradient will suit most of those with the red jersey in their eyes, but the sudden ramp from 4.5% to 8.5% will be the perfect time for one to launch a, possibly jersey snatching, attack for the line.

A crucial move will be made.

A crucial move will be made.

Contenders:

Similar to the previous visit to the mountains at this year’s Vuelta; messrs Valverde, Quintana, Froome and Contador will be at the front of affairs once again. Around them it is likely that Mikel Nieve, Joaquim Rodriguez and Esteban Chaves will be trying to bridge the gap once too. The main surprise from Valverde’s win in Stage 6 was Rigboberto Uran’s shipping of more than a minute to the victorious Spaniard, so it is unclear how he may cope on a similar finish. His Movistar teammate Nairo Quintana kept his usual facade of comfort during the conclusion, making it difficult to gauge how hard he found it exactly, but he looked cool regardless. Chris Froome and Alberto Contador seemed to be having a contrasting time at the moment, Contador’s horror injury has healed incredibly well and left him looking close to peak form once again. Froome however has been off the bike again already, and despite finishing only 8 seconds back on Stage 6, seems to be less convincing than Contador already. Froome’s interesting habit of snatching 2 or 3 seconds at a time could be read in a couple of ways; is it showing an eagerness to win the race by making every opportunity count? Or is he having doubts about his mountain form, so is looking to create a cushion ahead of this? With today not being hugely important in the overall outcome of this year’s Vuelta, there is a chance that the favourites will be happy to let somebody like Dan Martin get away from them on the final approach to take the win, though a day long breakaway also has a reasonable shot today.

Outcome:

It seems likely that the jersey will trade hands tomorrow and it might just be passed to Alejandro Valverde’s teammate, Quintana, who ends up wearing it come the end of the day. His team look solid at protecting him, and with more mountains along the way than Stage 6 and the need to recoup some time, they would be wise to back the diminutive Colombia the entire day rather than Valverde – though the finish looks ideal for a second win. Alberto Contador is expected  to make his presence felt once again tomorrow as the terrain does play into his hands somewhat, and as Chris Froome commented the other day, Contador is back to his usual self already. Floating amongst the rest, we might see Adam Yates from Orica-GreenEDGE or even Chaves try his best to earn a high placing as he is believed to be focused upon the general classification at the Vuelta.

1st Quintana 2nd Contador 3rd Chavez

Who Wants It? – Le Tour Stage 9

Appearing on the page like the contents of a Crocodile’s jaw, Stage 9 barely offers the riders a flat stretch of road in the opening 130km. Despite the six categorised climbs, today never really injects super-steep ramps into the legs of the peloton which shelled a few riders yesterday, grinding the gears will be the approach instead. The terrain should play into the hands of a reasonably sized breakaway, as will the likely crosswinds which may cause issues in the peloton. The climbs may provide them with contrasting slopes (uphill v downhill) to the chasing pack behind; Le Markstein could be a likely catching place however if the break is not fully functional. Concluding with a 20km flat section after the final long descent, breakaways may start to fall apart as individuals try to avoid towing rivals to the line while simultaneously dodging the catch. Depending upon the contents of the breakaway, Astana may have to work harder than expected today in order to prevent a dark horse gaining time or even sneaking into the jersey. Truly an open day for a variety of riders and styles, offering the viewer a dramatic finish as outsiders duke it out for an unexpected win.

Topsy Turvy

Topsy Turvy

 

Candidates:

Tony Martin has been on the leash so far for the sake of OPQS’s sprint ambitions and keeping an eye on Kwiatkowski; today however could see him instigate an early break through the frantic start and time trial solo to the end,

Garmin have certainly lacked impact so far, that is excluding Talansky’s impacts upon the ground, today could be their chance to sneak in their typically unexpected Grand Tour win. Ramūnas Navardauskas certainly fits the mould of a breakaway rider for the day and is usually pretty handy when it comes to a select bunch kick. Tom Jelte-Slagter was somewhat of a disappointment yesterday, but did not seem totally out of contention and may have targeted today’s more generous slopes as an opportunity to win this year.

Alessandro De Marchi has a similar tale to Tony Martin in regards to his recent job requirements for Peter Sagan. If allowed to attack today while Cannondale protect Sagan in the pack, De Marchi could be involved with a move, but a win may be too far.

Team Europcar were blown away yesterday early on and subsequently lost any hope of a decent GC placing this year. With such pressure now lifted, they may decide to push on for a stage win today with the likes of Pierre Rolland and Cyril Gautier more than able.

Sylvain Chavanel has been a joy to watch over the last few days, excelling beyond his years to be part of several key moves. It would not be a surprise should he manage to sneak into yet another breakaway, but would have to play some canny tactics in order to win. Thoughts on Greg Van Avermaet are very similar and appears to be in relatively good form, the relentless climbing might be a step too far though today.

A raft of others who may be crucial in the outcome of Stage 9 still remains though, as team’s goals have altered due to the war of attrition in this first week. Katusha have been lacking so far, Simon Spilak though is likely to have a bash at today should the opportunity arise. Bretagne Seche have quietened down since the opening couple of days, but a wildcard for today could appear in the shape of Brice Feillu who has recovered some reasonable form as of late and will be looking to add to his solitary 2009 tour win.

It is unlikely to see any battling between the major GC contenders, but Alberto Contador looked strong yesterday and may wish to test Vincenzo Nibali once more before the final descent. Though most will be looking to save their legs for a horrendously important stage to Les Planches des Belles Filles tomorrow.