Le Tour de France 2017

Le Tour de France 2017 – Stage 15 Preview

Course:

The breakaway could finally have a chance of being allowed a shot at victory by the peloton on Stage 15, something which has become a rarity during the opening two weeks of this year’s Le Tour de France. Starting at Laissac-Sévérac L’Église, the course takes in a very lumpy 189.5km route to Le Puy-en-Velay, featuring four officially categorised ascents and plenty of shorter digs to tire the hopefuls. Beginning with a small section of flat racing, the peloton will soon find themselves heading briefly downhill in order to approach the foot of the day’s opening climb, the Category 1 Montée de Naves d’Aurbrac. The climb itself is 8.9km in length and averages a gradient of 6.4%, concluding by almost immediately starting the next challenge of Stage 15; Côte de Vieurals. A Category 3 task, it is only 3.3km long and averages 5.9%, but could prove crucial in the formation of the day’s break as a result of its proximity to the first of the day’s climbs.

There is then an extremely long duration of rolling roads, with the rise towards L’Hospitalet du Sauvage able to impact upon the escapees, before the road then plummets rapidly downhill shortly after passing Saugues. From the valley the riders will ride upwards to tackle the Category 1 Col de Peyra Taillade, a climb which could leave some struggling to find a rhythm at times, lasting 8.3km with a gradient which averages out at 7.4%. Having reached the summit, the frontrunners will chase one another down again, quickly overcoming the Category 4 Côte de Saint-Vidal as they accelerate towards the penultimate finish before the second rest day of Le Tour.

Le Tour de France 2017 - Stage 15 Preview

Contenders:

Alexis Vuillermoz should be the ideal card for AG2R La Mondiale to play on Stage 15, allowing them to sit back in the bunch with their leader Romain Bardet and leave those interested in the stage outcome to take up the chase. Performances up to this point have been encouraging from the French rider and should be enough to gain the backing of his team to make a move on the tough start to the day. Gifted in all three aspects required to compete well on this course (climbing, descending & sprinting), Vuillermoz could emerge as a key protagonist on a day expected to be decided by the breakaway.

Greg Van Avermaet has previously caused a surprise when successfully taking on grand tour stages of this nature and emerging victorious at the end of what many assumed to be too tough a task for the classics focused rider. BMC are now aiming themselves at stage wins as a result of Riche Porte’s abandonment and could choose to back the Belgian hero from their strong array of breakaway riders. Certainly the fastest in a sprint of those likely to make the day’s break, if Avermaet is on top form and able to control the accelerations throughout the major challenges, then he will be a tough prospect in any deciding sprint. His greatest issues however is joining the crucial attack early on despite a categorised climb not long after the start, meaning his team could turn to the likes of Damiano Caruso or Alessandro De Marchi instead.

Tony Gallopin briefly tried to get away from the peloton late in yesterday’s stage, but soon realised his efforts were better saved for today, especially given its more fitting course. He is returning to full strength after sustaining a foot injury early in the race and now looks to be poised to make a move in order to secure another memorable win at his home grand tour. A fully fit Gallopin is capable of making the cut on the first couple of climbs and fast enough to see off many of his likely rivals in a sprint at the end of the day.

Stephen Cummings could decide that Stage 15 is another opportunity to join the breakaway and hope that the peloton are more forgiving in comparison to his earlier efforts last week. Having taken both national titles the weekend before Le Tour de France kicked off, many were surprised by his strength and condition, given that he had been out of competition due to broken bones for some time. An extremely astute rider tactically, Cummings will not wish to waste energy in the rolling attacks which occur when riders seek to escape from the peloton. Instead, he will wait until he sees the right move beginning to form and then commit his efforts in order to increase its chances of sticking. If he can do this, then the final 40km – 50km offer him opportunities to go it alone and push for the win using his time trial talents once again.

Nicolas Roche will be hoping to bring some celebrations to BMC after a torrid first half of the race, now potentially the strongest man available to them, given his lack of lieutenant duties which are likely to have kept him relatively fresh compared to others with eyes on Stage 15. Very strong on his day, the Irish rider will be hoping to set a strong pace which ditches the faster riders hoping for a larger sprint, as he knows that a tough race is bound result in him being the fastest men left at the front of affairs.

Lilian Calmejane already showcased his talents a few stages ago and will be eager to revisit his exploits once again on Stage 15. No doubt marked more closely now than before his victory, the French rider will be expected to animate the selection process upon the opening climb of the day and pin his hopes upon slipping away from his rivals in the final quarter of the day to take another brilliant win.

Alberto Contador is the rider most likely to attack from the group of original general classification favourites, though admits himself that his focus is now upon stage wins rather than a good overall position by the time the race reaches Paris. The finale is the most unappealing aspect of the course today, as he will be concerned that faster riders will be able to follow him into the finish town, so will want to work hard in the second half of the race to force another split amongst the break.

Others to consider are Alessandro De MarchiDamiano CarusoTiesj BenootEsteban ChavesGianluca Brambilla and Primoz Roglic.

Outcome:

1st Alexis Vuillermoz 2nd Nicolas Roche 3rd Alberto Contador

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Le Tour de France 2017

Le Tour de France 2017 – Stage 13 Preview

Course:

Bastille Day often delivers displays of swashbuckling attacking from native riders at Le Tour de France, so an incredibly short 101km Stage 13 from Saint-Girons to Foix should only serve to act as a pressure cooker to accelerate the selection process. A trio of Category 1 ascents define the day, beginning with the Col de Latrape after only 25.5km of racing; lasting 5.6km with an average gradient of 7.3%. A brief passage down the other side of the climb leads to the opening sections of Col d’Agnes, a longer task at 10km from bottom to top, sustaining 8.2% for its duration. The subsequent descent could prove a useful springboard for attacks, swooping down to Massat and beginning the final climb of Stage 13 in the shape of the Mur de Péguère. Considered to be divided into two parts, the 9.3km challenge sees the first two thirds contested at gradients around the 7% mark, but the real leg breaking sections come in the concluding kilometres en route to the summit. Predominantly in double-digit figures for the final moments, sections even begin to rise closer to 20% during this hectic conclusion to the last climb of the day. With a long descent all the way into the finish at Foix, the battle for the day’s victory could prove to be more tactical than physical, with the last 30km expected to be played out by a group waiting for one another to pounce.

Le Tour de France 2017 - Stage 13 Preview

Contenders:

Dan Martin was impressive once again at this year’s race during yesterday’s finale, doing extremely well to stay with the major general classification riders, only coming up short of the win in the few hundred metres before the line. If he can sustain this level of condition for another day in the mountains, then the long descent down to Foix has the potential to bring the race back together and allow the big names to decide the outcome; from which Martin would be hard to match in a sprint.

Rigoberto Uran offers a similar story to that of Irishman Dan Martin, though has certainly proven to be a greater surprise amongst the group of yellow jersey hopefuls, after failing to show much of the form which previously secured him podium placings at the Giro d’Italia. A proficient descender, Uran will look to bridge over to any frontrunners on the final downhill section and hope to secure another stage victory by beating the opposition in a sprint once more.

Romain Bardet took his third career stage victory at Le Tour de France yesterday and proved to be another correct prediction by Spokenforks during 2017’s race. Though unlikely for him to win back to back days, this course should offer him the chance to apply some pressure to the likes of Fabio Aru and Chris Froome, doing so with his brilliant downhill riding in the final 30km of the day. Struggling to match those with a more convincing burst of speed for a finish like today’s in Croix, Bardet would need to arrive solo in order to chalk up his fourth win at his home grand tour it seems.

Chris Froome is expected to be out for revenge on Stage 13, yet it more likely to utilise his teammates to act as a foil and defend his current position on the general classification by neutralising the stage early on. Regardless, he has recently proven to be one of the most competent descenders in the leading group and could call upon this skill to distance his rivals en route to gaining some time back. He is also capable of producing a reasonably fast sprint when required, so will be one to watch if the yellow jersey group are first into Foix.

Warren Barguil should perform strongly on Stage 13 in order to defend his hold upon the polka dot jersey and could go one step further by securing a famous French win on Bastille Day at the end of it all. He has been strong thus far and has only been distanced by the likes of Chris Froome when having already spent his efforts pursuing King of the Mountains points earlier in the day. A two time stage winner at La Vuelta a España, he previously took victory by pushing hard on a long downhill road into the finish line, similar to what we may expect to see today.

Other names to watch for are Mikel LandaPierre Latour, Jarlinson PantanoTiesj Benoot and Serge Pauwels.

Outcome:

1st Warren Barguil 2nd Rigoberto Uran 3rd Dan Martin

Le Tour de France 2017

Le Tour de France 2017 – Stage 12 Preview

Course:

Leaving the eternally synonymous Tour de France town of Pau, the course of Stage 12 is a testing affair which does not conclude until after 214.5km of racing en route to the finale atop Peyradgudes. A long day in the saddle, the onslaught of climbs which feature today have the potential to force cracks to appear amongst those with eyes upon the general classification at this year’s race. After a couple of moderate ascents, the Category 1 Col de Menté appears on the radar to initiate the real battle for the day, lasting a total of 6.9km and averaging a gradient of 8.1% to really test the legs of the frontrunners. The bunch will then plunge into the valley, before then turning onto the opening the slopes of the Category HC Port de Balès (11.7km, avg 7.7%)The climb is often seen to switch between gradients, making it tough to find a rhythm for for the riders, though much of the focus will be upon the following technical descent. The finale is signalled by the Category 1 Col de Peyresourde, an awkward climb which lasts 9.7km and averages a gradient of 7.8%, though much of the day’s anxiety will be upon the final few kilometres. The Category 2 rise to Peyragudes touches a gradient of double figures and could see some riders lose time if they crack late in the day.

Le Tour de France 2017 - Stage 12 Preview

 Contenders:

Chris Froome has often chosen to hammer home his advantage during grand tours at the earliest opportunity possible, making it likely that he shall be one of the key protagonists once again. His form is improving without doubt, and previous performance upon this concluding climb hint at Froome’s ability to bury the opposition with ease. If the day’s result does end up being decided by a group of elite riders, then it seems most likely that the defending yellow jersey winner will be the strongest man remaining.

Romain Bardet is likely to utilise the day’s descents in order to apply pressure to his major rivals, though will also be aware that the final rise to the finish is within his capabilities also. The Frenchman took a tumble yesterday, though appears to be in a good condition regardless, hoping to making one of the few summit finishes of this year’s Tour de France count for something with so much still at stake.

Dan Martin was extremely unlucky to be brought down as a result of Richie Porte’s crash a couple of days ago and will be strongly motivated to make his current form count for something, hopefully with a strong performance today. The Irishman has the acceleration required to beat the majority of big name climbers in the final metres and will be a rider who nobody wishes to carry all the way to the summit finish.

Fabio Aru knows how strong his form is right now, but needs the ideal situation in order to make a serious impact upon this year’s Tour de FranceIf others within the main group decide to hesitate during the final kilometres, then the reigning Italian road race champion will have a brilliant opportunity to secure a richly deserved stage win at last. His aggressive nature and love for steep gradients lends itself well to the rigours of today, perhaps emerging as the main threat to Chris Froome in the final kilometres.

Thibaut Pinot had intended to be on the hunt for stage wins and potentially the polka dot jersey, however, things have not gone to plan at all for the Frenchman. It seems a huge ask for him to suddenly muster the form required to challenge for a day such as this, but the nature of a home grand tour can stir the emotions enough to produce a sensational effort. With ambitions to ride himself into stage winning shape, Pinot may be getting stronger from this point of the race onwards and will be favourite to join the breakaway

Others to consider include Serge PauwelsWarren BarguilPierre RollandTiesj Benoot and Rigoberto Uran.

Outcome:

1st Romain Bardet 2nd Dan Martin 3rd Chris Froome

Ronde van Vlaanderen / Tour of Flanders 2017 Preview

Ronde van Vlaanderen / Tour of Flanders 2017 – Race Preview

Course:

This season’s second monument appears on the horizon this Sunday, an opportunity for a single rider to guarantee their name is forever entwined with the cobbles and hellingen which make this race so special. The race of course is Ronde van Vlaanderen, the calendar’s most famous contest, only perhaps second to that of Paris – Roubaix. Despite much of the day’s riders having spent the last few weeks riding these roads and hills during the likes of E3 Harelbeke and Dwars door Vlaanderen, little can realistically prepare an individual, whether mentally or physically, for the intense battle which starts immediately after the flag is dropped. Covering a total of 260km through much of Belgium’s Flanders region, a total of 18 official hellingen are to be tackled en route from the new starting point of Antwerp to the traditional finish in Oudenaarde. For many fans, the true race of the day is not instigated until the riders hit the Oude Kwaremont for the second time with under 55km remaining, followed immediately by the ruthless Patersberg which reaches over 20% gradient. The Koppenberg then completes this brutal triumvirate of climbs within 10km of one another, likely to shape the final group which goes onwards to decide the outcome. Though more climbs and cobbled sectors remain, it is the afore mentioned trio of hellish obstacles which should have the greatest impact upon the day’s podium. Ronde van Vlaanderen is certainly not a race which a rider can fluke victory at, everyone hoping to feature late on in the day will need to be able to summon up the form of their life to stand a chance of writing their name into history.

Ronde van Vlaanderen / Tour of Flanders 2017 Preview

Contenders:

Peter Sagan took the win in dominant fashion last season and is expected by many to repeat this again in similarly comprehensive style. His performances so far this Spring have been incredible, seemingly able to bridge across to any move when required and happy to drop the hammer during some of the hardest parts of a race. Sagan will however be plagued by the tactical headache of the day, no doubt unwilling to carry any passengers into the finish at Oudenaarde, so will surely seek to breakaway solo in order to defend his title this year.

Greg Van Avermaet has enjoyed an incredible start to 2017’s campaign, riding in impressive form greater than that of last year, form which even delivered him Olympic Gold in Rio. He has been comfortable on both cobbles and hellingen so far in the supporting Flandrian races, taking great confidence into the Tour of Flanders, aware that perhaps only Peter Sagan might be able to shake him loose today. Belgium have not had a win since 2012, but will no doubt believe the stars have aligned to remedy that, given the amazing form Avermaet has achieved already.

John Degenkolb is not an obvious choice for today’s race, though has proven to be one of the few riders able to follow both Peter Sagan and Greg Van Avermaet when either have made attempts at race winning moves. The German powerhouse enjoys these arduous affairs and will hope to stay in contention en route to Oudenaarde, as E3 Harelbeke proved that he is still the fastest man left in a bunch after a race like this. If he can lean upon others to cooperate in any chance to close the favourites, conserving some energy in the process, then Degenkolb should be unstoppable in any sprint finish which crowns the winner.

Sep Vanmarcke would normally be one of the first names placed into contention for Ronde van Vlaanderen, but this season has simply failed to click into place for the native rider. A mixture of injury and bad luck at crucial times has seen Vanmarcke fail to really catch the eye during the build up to today’s race, though it would be dangerous to rule him out entirely. Talented at attacking upon the steepest cobbled climbs, Vanmarcke is a major threat to the likes of Peter Sagan and Greg Van Avermaet if allowed to vanish up the road solo.

Zdenek Stybar will race amongst a ferociously intimidating Quick – Step team which appears to have finally begun to shape itself into a coherent race winning unit. Stybar will be given a degree of freedom to animate the race when needed, yet could prove restricted by team orders in favour of Tom Boonen or Niki Terpstra. However, Stybar is a master bike handler and has a brilliant record of converting well timed attacks into victories, marking him out as a man to watch throughout the day.

Philippe Gilbert is enjoying a revival of some of his best form, arriving at the Tour of Flanders as a genuine outside contender for the title. A particularly cunning rider, Gilbert will ensure he exploits any tactical quandaries to maximum benefit, hoping to see off rivals from within a reduced group by putting in another great sprinting display.

Tiesj Benoot secured 5th place on his debut here and has since had to endure the huge hype which gets bestowed upon Belgian riders who show promise in the classics. Still only 23 years old, Benoot is developing as a rider mentally and physically, yet can already prove a thorn in the side of the bigger names today. Despite his build, the Belgian rider suits the course well and will start Ronde van Vlaanderen in very strong form, regardless of his recent results not making that clear. He might struggle to follow all the moves, but can hope to turn in a strong sprint for the line if allowed to.

Oliver Naesen demonstrated his growing reputation for one day races during the last few weeks by finishing in all except one of the supporting Flandrian races. He cannot be far off those in the best form right now and can certainly hope to cash in on the fact that he shall not be one of the most watched jerseys in the peloton. Happy to work amongst a breakaway, Naesen could partner up with some exceedingly strong riders and push on to the finish for victory before the battle amongst the favourites has truly begun.

Outcome:

1st John Degenkolb 2nd Peter Sagan 3rd Greg Van Avermaet

E3 Harelbeke 2017 Race Preview

E3 Harelbeke – Race Preview 2017

Course:

With barely a pause for breath in the wake of a hectic Dwars Door Vlaanderen, the peloton once again charges headlong into another contest of hellingen and cobblestones, poised to tackle the ever entertaining E3 Harelbeke. Considered by many to be the closest thing to a practice run of next month’s Ronde Van Vlaanderen, riders who perform well here are often earmarked as the main protagonists to watch during the second monument of 2017. Comprising a 205km route from Harelbeke and back again, the race organisers have once again completed the task of seemingly featuring every possible hill, pavé section or both combined to truly make this an attritional affair. Despite many being all too familiar with the likes of the Taaienberg, Eikenberg and Paterberg, these hellish obstacles never soften, forever skilled at breaking the toughest riders en route to the finish. Given the gruelling profile of E3 Harelbeke, it is rare for a large group to sprint amongst themselves to decide the victor, so expect to see a series of elite riders trading blows until a handful of the strongest splinter from the chasing pack and set about crowning 2017’s champion.

E3 Harelbeke 2017 Race Preview

Contenders:

Peter Sagan is enjoying monstrous form in 2017 and will be given the title of ‘man to beat’ yet again as the peloton spend another arduous day surfing the cobblestones of Belgium. He always rises to expectations of putting on a show for fans, animating races regardless of how it may impact upon his hopes of winning, but today is the kind of race which looks ideal for Sagan showboating en route to victory. Having defended his rainbow bands for another year, being the most watched man in the peloton is hardly of note to him now, no doubt relishing the attention as he seeks to make life as hard as possible for his rivals.

Greg Van Avermaet has been closest thing to a thorn in the side of Peter Sagan, beginning to acquire a convincing record in head to head sprints and diminishing the air of invincibility surrounding the reigning world champion. He often seeks to follow the rear wheel of Sagan, hoping to get the better of him in a sprint at the end of a tough race like this which often sees the Belgian with a faster turn of pace. It is unlikely that Avermaet will be afforded an inch to attack, so himself and his BMC teammates will do their utmost to position him well and leave him in the best shape possible to contest the win from a lead group.

Tiesj Benoot will once again be feeling the strain to convert his potential on the cobblestones into a victory at last, despite only recently turning 23 years old, the native fans are eager to see a new Belgian hero emerge. His performance during Dwars Door Vlaanderen bordered upon the anonymous, yet he still secured 7th place behind the leading group of four riders which decided the race. Benoot knows these climbs well and is not afraid of riding an aggressive race, looking to chip away at his main rivals in hope of arriving solo in Harelbeke. 

Sep Vanmarcke missed all the major moves during Dwars Door Vlaanderen and was surely unimpressed by his Cannondale – Drapac teammates’ lack of impetus to chase the break down. Regardless, we have since learned that Vanmarcke has been suffering from a mixture of illness and a bruised rib, yet has assured fans that he will be in contention once again at E3 Harelbeke; perhaps the greatest threat to Peter Sagan if fighting fit.

Tom Boonen may be lining up for the Spring classics once again, but the reality is that the Belgian cycling icon is currently riding in the Autumn of his career. As part of another incredibly strong Quick – Step squad, the likelihood is that Boonen will be allowed to remain in the main bunch, hoping for a sprint finish to decide the day’s outcome; from which he will be a favourite. The antics of his teammates may well tire other favourites ahead of the finale, allowing Boonen to take advantage to stir some emotions in the Belgian fans of previous triumphs.

Philippe Gilbert worked well with teammate Yves Lampaert to deliver Quick – Step the win at Dwars Door Vlaanderenperhaps even sacrificing his chances of victory to assure the team did not suffer another tactical embarrassment on home soil. He will be further down the pecking order during E3 Harelbeke, where he could be tasked with forcing the hand of rival riders by animating the race late on. If a tactical race begins to play out in the latter stages, Gilbert is certainly a strong enough rider to make a late move stick right the way to the finish line.

Zdenek Stybar is leading the attack for Quick – Step here as they utilise their entire arsenal of riders to try and put Peter Sagan to the sword. In terms of possessing the power required to bridge over to decisive moves and attack rivals on the day’s hellingen, Stybar is perhaps the closest match to Sagan when in his best form. He will be well protected by his teammates and should be a guaranteed face amongst the lead group which pushes onwards to the finish in Harelbeke at the end of the 205km.

Luke Rowe may be given the task of stepping into the shoes of teammate and fellow Welshman Geraint Thomas, who has previously enjoyed victory here amongst several other good performances. Despite Rowe stating that his recent time at Paris – Nice was one of the toughest ever, he caught the eye with his potent efforts to keep protected riders in the best position possible during crucial moments. Being given the chance to ride this race with much greater freedom than normal could deliver Team Sky an unexpected win; Rowe certainly not scared of attacking the bigger name riders.

John Degenkolb is targeting Paris – Roubaix in a few weeks time, though might be tempted to test his form at E3 Harelbeke, despite the course not being a typical fit for his talents. The German is extremely powerful, being the last man to be dropped by Peter Sagan’s attack during the final moments of Milan – San Remo and is often the fastest man present in races which stretch onwards from 200km. This may not be an obvious target for him, yet he will certainly seize the opportunity should he find himself at the front of affairs as part of a race deciding group.

Outcome:

1st Tiesj Benoot 2nd Peter Sagan 3rd Luke Rowe

Dwars Door Vlaanderen 2017 – Preview

Course:

Having seen the monument of Milan – San Remo toppled last weekend, the subsequent springtime whirlwind of hellingen and cobblestones begins immediately with the semi-classic Dwars Door Vlaanderen. Though seemingly lacking the prestige of other one day races in this part of the world during March and April, this shall be the 72nd edition of a contest which features the likes of Eikenberg, Taaienberg, Oude-Kwaremont and Paterberg; making victory here a bold indication of form approaching Ronde van Vlaanderen and Paris – Roubaix. Departing Roeselare, the riders will travel a total of 203.4km en route to the finish at Waregem, taking in twelve hellingen and four pavé sectors along the way. There is no doubt that the course shall do what it was designed for and drain the legs of the peloton throughout the day, thinning the ranks until an elite group of riders has formed at the head of affairs. The biggest question of Dwars Door Vlaanderen is how the finale itself shall be executed, as recent history demonstrates an even balance between riders arriving at the finish solo or a small bunch sprint crowning the champion. Regardless, Dwars Door Vlaanderen is deserving of greater merit within the cycling fandom and those who watch the day’s contest are certain to see an exciting race proving precisely that.

Dwars Door Vlaanderen 2017 Preview

Contenders:

Niki Terpstra has finished on the podium here three times in his career, taking to the top spot in both 2012 and 2014 as race winner, marking the Dutchman out as a rider who often performs well at Dwars Door Vlaanderen. Terpstra seldom takes any win from a sprint finish, so he will be seeking to follow the wheels for the most part, looking to attack solo in the final kilometres by utilising his time trialling prowess to bury the opposition late on.

Tiesj Benoot seems to have long been the rising star of Belgium cycling, but at still only 23 years old, the Lotto-Soudal rider is surprisingly yet to capture his maiden professional victory. This season hints at great form however, with an 8th place finish at Strade Bianche and an impressive 4th place at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne causing a stir amongst native fans. He has often been the victim of bad luck or poor tactics, but his emerging race maturity and strong form will make him a greater threat than ever, Benoot certain to be a key figure in shaping the race’s decisive group.

Zdenek Stybar has not truly been as prolific as many have come to expect at this time of year, perhaps keeping his powder dry ahead of his key focus of Paris – Roubaix later in the cobbled campaign. He arrives here as part of another indomitable Quick – Step squad, the team anticipated by many to make life as hard as possible for the rest of the peloton en route to Waregem. Stybar has the strength required to power across to any moves which begin to sneak away from the pack on either pavé sectors or climbs, while also retaining enough energy to put rivals to the sword in a reduced sprint. If he proves to be on form, Stybar will be a major contender, but he will need to avoid being hamstrung by the talents of his own teammates.

Sep Vanmarcke seems perpetually plagued by misfortune when it comes to the classics and one day races which he admires so greatly. He was present in the mix at this season’s Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, eventually finishing third in a sprint finish behind Greg Van Avermaet and Peter Sagan, hopefully learning in the process that he cannot keep waiting for sprints which he shall never win. Vanmarcke’s greatest asset is his huge engine power, a talent which has often seen him make the cut for the lead group in some of the year’s toughest races. If he is to win Dwars Door Vlaanderen, then he must commit to a late move which propels him away solo, forcing the faster finishing riders to look at each other for somebody to invest energy in bringing him back.

Guillaume Van Keirsbulck recently dropped down from previous employers Etixx to join the Wanty – Groupe Gobert squad, now appearing to be a canny move after having won Le Samyn in dominant form a few weeks ago. The Belgian rider is incredibly strong during races such as these, though has perhaps not always been able to show this due to being at the call of team leaders in major races previously. As a man with an entire team likely to be tasked with protecting him, Van Keirsbulck is a clear wildcard who could capitalise on a naive peloton. 

Arnaud Démare will not wish to walk away from this year’s classics season without a victory of some sort, especially given his determination to perform competitively when attempting to defend his Milan – San Remo title, which as a result now finds him in perhaps a career best form. The Frenchman should be interested in putting this fact to good use right now and could animate the race more aggressively than many expect. 

Fabio Felline continues to demonstrate his strength and endurance at some of the toughest races, winning his opening race of the season Trofeo Laigueglia and recently finishing 4th at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad behind breakaway leaders Greg Van Avermaet, Peter Sagan and Sep Vanmarcke. Felline will be hoping for a reduced bunch sprint, from which he has a great chance of being the fastest man present.

Other riders worth keeping an eye upon include Jens DebusschereJurgen Roelandts and Edward Theuns.

Outcome:

1st Tiesj Benoot 2nd Fabio Felline 3rd Sep Vanmarcke

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