Giro d'Italia Stage 20 Preview

GIRO D’ITALIA 2016 – STAGE 15 PREVIEW

Course:

Yesterday’s monstrous Queen Stage of 2016’s Giro d’Italia confirmed that Esteban Chaves, Steven Kruijswijk and Vincenzo Nibali look to be the strongest climbers from the general classification contenders as we approach the third week. Stage 15 throws another potential banana skin beneath the wheels of the favourites today with a 10.8km uphill time trial from Castelrotto to Alpe di Siusi. The almost constant ascent from start to finish is poised to truly begin opening the gaps up on the general classification, potentially extinguishing the ambitions of some riders upon its slopes.

giro-ditalia-stage-15-preview

Contenders:

Esteban Chaves made yesterday’s victory look much easier than it actually was, gauging his efforts neatly within the chasing group to close down Darwin Atapuma and eventually sprinting to victory with a late surge to the line. Given his performance, it is easy to see him as the favourite for Stage 15’s time trial, especially as the contest is more about climbing talent than it is technical time trialling prowess. Assuming that Chaves recovers well overnight, the Colombian has a fantastic chance of making it back to back wins at a grand tour with an impressive climbing performance against the clock.

Vincenzo Nibali may have struggled to follow the day’s decisive move, but given the huge demands and efforts required, it is possible to suggest he has identified today as a way of recouping time having limited his losses yesterday. The biggest issue however is that he did not look like a man in control of his suffering on Stage 14 and instead genuinely looked unable to summon the required strength to follow the likes of Chaves and Kruijswijk when it mattered most. Nibali attacked earlier than expected too, potentially hinting at anxieties regarding his condition by using offence as the best defence. Regardless, this course suits him well and he cannot be discounted purely due to a single off day in a three week grand tour.

Steven Kruijswijk is currently turning in the level of performance which has long be anticipated from the talented Dutch climber and is certain to be one of the fastest home on Stage 15. The trouble for Kruijswijk is that this short time trial is likely to make it difficult for him to truly lay down the power and challenge his rivals. Being a larger and more powerful climber should allow him to gain time on the opening section and later false flat sections though, which could potentially equal enough to give him the win.

Rafal Majka has a good history for performing on days like these and has been one of the stronger climbers at this year’s Giro d’Italia beneath the top tier of Chaves, Kruijswijk and Nibali. The Polish rider is well skilled in measuring his efforts, ranging from time trials to breakaways, so is worth keeping an eye upon here.

Ilnur Zakarin‘s showing thus far has been rather mixed, showcasing a threatening sharpness in the first week, before then diminishing somewhat after several crashes during the earlier rain-soaked time trial. Unlike Nibali, Zakarin did appear to be pacing himself in the wake of the attacks today, so potentially stands to be one of the fresher GC contenders on Stage 15. The Russian is a time trial specialist who has grown to become a convincing climber, so today’s task should play to his strengths perfectly. His time here is likely to provide us with a strong indication of his chances of finishing the third week with a chance of a podium place too.

Alejandro Valverde was one of the first to be dropped after Nibali, Chaves and Kruijswijk all exchanged attacks and sent him sliding out the back door. The Spanish rider has done little to convince people of his form at this Giro thus far, but given his time trialling capabilities, he should turn in a respectable time; even if it does not threaten for the win.

Sebastian Henao, Domenico Pozzovivo, Primoz Roglic, Michele Scarponi and Stefano Pirazzi are all names likely to fill the day’s top ten placings.

Outcome:

1st Esteban Chaves 2nd Vincenzo Nibali 3rd Steven Kruijswijk

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A Day At The Races – Tour of Britain 2015


Tour of Britain Stage 7 – Fakenham to Ipswich

Terrain: Country lanes & military airbase

Weather: Lazy drizzle & grey skies

Total Distance: 227.1km                Crowds: Waterproof ponchos everywhere

Start: Fakenham Racecourse        Best Game Face: Graham Briggs

Bradley Wiggins Factor: Parting fans like Moses to make sign-on


Lean racing machines stalk Fakenham racecourse as commonplace, so to see a crowd gathered around the parade ring is nothing unusual here. But today’s runners and riders distinctly lack the expected glossy manes of racehorses, even if Rasmus Quaade does sport a powerful moustache, however plenty here still share a fondness for oats with the thoroughbreds who normally excite the grandstand. This toy town sized venue sits nestled amongst the intricate spaghetti work of Norfolk’s roads, testing both bus and driver as much as any Alpine ascent, resulting in a tediously drawn out transfer for all the riders.

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Unsurprisingly, the day’s dank dawn has done little to persuade the teams away from their space age wagons, with only a handful of British domestic teams bold enough to saddle up on the turbos outside. So unattractive is the weather, that for many of the squads here, the sign-on process has turned into a 100m dash from bus to stage and back. When out onstage however, the speakers gurgle with the daily spiel, guaranteeing each rider’s wave earns a cheer from the crowd; now steaming beneath their complimentary rain ponchos.

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Despite the sport’s huge groundswell of interest on British turf thanks to Cavendish, Wiggins, Armitstead Hoy, Pendleton and Froome; cycling remains a strange beast. There are no true limitations for ambling around the riders and their buses, teams relying on the constraints of social norms stopping strangers from inviting themselves onto the bus and generally being weird. The majority of today’s attendance is firmly ensconced within touching distance of the Team WIGGINS van. A sea of limbs grasping smartphones in place of autograph books, contorting their bodies to rattle off selfies with the thread slim Bradley Wiggins stalking the crowded barrier in shot.

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This knight’s fellow men-at-arms form the remaining five sixths of his battalion, three of whom slink away to sign-on and return with little interest from the crowd. Bradley on the other hand cycles the hundred meters to the stage with an amateur town crier ahead of him, negotiating a gangway through those magnetised into orbit by his charisma.

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Wiggins narrows the scope of a race so acutely that appreciation of the breadth and depth of riders here can became momentarily suspended. Regardless of whether Britain is truly enamoured or simply infatuated by cycling, the profile of the sport has struck an exponential phase of development. This 2015 line-up bolsters World Champions, several National Champions, Grand Tour jersey winners, Monument winners and one of Eritrea’s favourite sons. A once backwater race now sits at the top table of cycling with the room to grow in stature yet further still, admittedly how best to do so is uncertain, though Tour of Britain’s take on the eccentric Tour de France advertising cavalcade could be a start.

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Fakenham’s drizzled starting line becomes populated all of a sudden, the weather inspiring riders for a Le Mans style scramble to saddle up and ride out with no hanging around. The previous six days of racing are already etched deep on the brow of many, exaggerated by the tangible heavy sigh pressing down on the peloton from the cinderblock sky above. As they trickle out from the racecourse like a loose thread, it seems that a miserable day is all that lies in store for these riders.

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Finish – Ipswich Town Centre

Weather: Blue skies and obscene levels of sunshine

Crowds: Skilled in parkour to get a good view

Bradley Wiggins Factor: Encouraging the 60+ age group to sprint over walls


Like ants beneath a magnified sun, the riders now skitter across scorched tarmac, sailing through the technical kilometres preceding the Ipswich town centre finish. Britain’s climate has impersonated a more continental vibe for the latter half of the day, spectators swap their hot chocolate for cool lagers, while riders strip down to short sleeves for the heated finale into town. Whereas Fakenham’s departure point felt like a juddering steam engine building up pressure to leave the station, the habitual scanning from ‘jumbotron’ to finishing straight (and back again), is more akin to waiting for a thundering bullet train to blitz its way to the line. So eager are those gathered to witness the anticipated showdown between Elia Viviani and André Greipel, that the rooftops of estate agents, apartments, bars and banks now become sky-high terraces for those able to negotiate their way to the summit.

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If the start’s modest crowd of enthusiasts and dedicated Rapha/Wiggins acolytes demonstrated a local interest, Stage 7’s town centre finale confirms a nation’s burgeoning obsession. Barriers are five bodies deep, even beyond the finishing line, with 50km still to race before the peloton begin bearing down on the county capital’s outskirts. Time is said to be relative at best, but waiting for first sight of a rider exiting the final bend exaggerates this further still, spectators hung in suspended animation, as minute by minute nothing changes in Ipswich. ‘Jumbotron’ serves as the only assurance that there is indeed a race worth waiting for here. A breath which never quite suffices or the infinite fall of shepard tones, being a spectator feels punishing on occasion, with the prospect of watching paint dry seeming electric after a while.

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Time at the line is focused on one calculation: the exact moment at which your eyes can scan down from the live TV and register that the riders are now before you with only 100m left. From rider to spectator, road racing’s facets are sunk deep within hours of increasing tension, before venting frenziedly and abruptly for the mad rush across the line. Synapses spark in an attempt to translate the initial smattering of vibrant jerseys into rider names, and in turn, vocalise some sort of motivational howl to nudge your favoured rider over the line. Today that rider is André Greipel, cementing his season’s final victory in a year which has seen him collect at least one win from nine of his ten stage race appearances. Who said sprinting stopped at 33 years old?

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Then it dawns across the crowd – “That’s it.”
The race both comes to life and fades within several pedal revolutions; perhaps no other sports is so tightly bonded to ‘the moment’ in that respect. Rugby, tennis and football drag beyond an hour and have their entirety spectated upon from one location, while much of track and field, or even gymnastics, is the repetition of efforts in pursuit of perfection. Staying at home for armchair race coverage fails to guarantee witnessing everything either, as directors cut from camera to camera in an attempt to please every nation’s fans; missing breaks suddenly forming, riders being dropped or losing everything altogether as weather sabotages live feed.

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Those who prop themselves up against a race barrier exchange hours of staring at dire advertising hoardings, for a fleeting moment which places them alongside their heroes. In that moment comes the satisfaction of sharing it with those who inspire you, a process repeated for fans from kilometre zero to the day’s final podium presentation. Photography mirrors this attribute of cycling well, all of the shots here could be flashes in the memory of any individual who turned out for the day. There is no football style ‘build up play’ to be remembered when standing roadside, this sport hinges on being in the right place at the right time; on either side of the barriers.

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Ultimately it becomes an addiction, wanting another pass by the peloton, spotting your favourite rider or dreaming of seeing the race winning move vanish up the road. Even nowadays with parades of press motorbikes surrounding the bunch and helicopters overhead, certain aspects and stories of the race are only documented through those dedicated followers at the roadside. For those who decided to watch Stage 7 at some point from Fakenham to Ipswich, all now possess a moment which intertwines them with the race. Yet a lucky few will have walked away with a story too and it is in the pursuit of those tales which fuels interest to become obsession.

END.


La-Vuelta-A-España-2015-Stage-1

La Vuelta a España – Stage 1 Preview

Course:

An increasingly familiar sight, this year’s Vuelta a España opens the three week grand tour with another expected team time trial; though this particular curtain raiser differs greatly from the norm. A bizarrely short (7.4km) course for the team time trial was the initial surprise when first unveiled, but what followed was greater confusion when closer inspection revealed the tricky array of surfaces upon which the riders were meant to contest day one’s victory. Rubber tiles, polished stone, loose sand and cement paving are all among the variety of surfaces represented in this prologue sized team contest. Surprisingly, this creation was approved by the UCI who did not deem it dangerous, while it had also not been investigated closely by the teams present here until this very week. The subsequent fallout from the riders reaction of shock at the expectation of racing on such unsuitable time trialling terrain has resulted in this opening affair being neutralised in regards to the expected time gaps; leaving only stage honours up for grabs. A likely consequence of this will be that those who were expecting the need to protect their general classification leader’s hopes immediately on day one, are able to now take it incredibly easy, assuming they do indeed view this as an unnecessary expenditure of energy before the much tougher Stage 2 finale.

La-Vuelta-A-España-2015-Stage-1

Contenders:

In the absence of a squad seriously targeting this team time trial, the opening chance of victory is relatively wide open, with many general classification focused teams likely to limit their efforts hear due to the time neutralisation. Trek Factory Racing should have a great chance of winning this short and flat team time trial which suits their sprint and power based roster for La Vuelta. The Van Poppel brothers, Fabian Cancellara, Jasper Stuyven and Ricardo Zoidl strike a good blend of raw speed and experienced time trialling prowess, but Fränk Schleck was likely to be the rider to drag them downwards with his lack of relevant skills. However, without the opportunity to concede time now eradicated on Stage 1, the more powerful riders may decide to give it everything in the name of victory and let Schleck limp home solo.

Reigning World Champions of this discipline are USA/Swiss outfit BMC, arriving at this race with the hope of remedying leader Tejay Van Garderen’s Tour de France disappointment with an impressive showing at his Vuelta a España debutOf course this team is not the same as the one which earned them their shared rainbow bands, but they still retain a realistic chance of winning here. TVG, Peter Velits and Samuel Sanchez are no slouches against the clock, nor is classics and prologue specialist ‘Jempy’ Drucker. Regardless of the team not possessing their specialist line-up for this contest, they still know their way around such a test and should be present in the final top five at the very least.

Weather they intended to target a win on day one is unclear, but Giant-Alpecin have arrived with a strong selection for this team time trial; inadvertently or not. Tom Dumoulin obviously catches the eye immediately, the young Dutchman cementing his place as one of the world’s finest against the clock in the last year or so. Given that John Degenkolb is the lead man for the German squad, this means a supporting cast for the targeted sprints brings along with him Luka Mezgec, Koen de Kort and Tom Stamsnijder who bolster the team’s chances of winning with speed and prologue experience.

Lotto Soudal enter today’s stage as dark horses for the win and could see the possibility of them sneaking a victory increase rapidly in the wake of the time neutralisation decision, which is bound to quell the interest of general classification focused teams originally worried about performing well here. Kris Boeckmans, Thomas De Gendt, Jurgen Van Den Broeck and Maxime Monfort are all represented in the ranks of the Belgian outfit and offer a solid foundation to launch a bid for a surprise win on Stage 1.

Beyond those mentioned above, the teams aimed towards general classification goals should now be able to breathe a sigh of relief thanks to the neutralisation of all time gaps. Instead of having to achieve a difficult balance of calculating their risk taking on a dangerous myriad of surfaces, while trying to limit any losses, such teams can now pace their way around the course however they see fit. SkyTinkoff-SaxoAstana, Katusha and Movistar are all likely to do just that; conserving energy ahead of the following day’s difficult Alto de la Mesa finale.

Outcome:

1st Lotto Soudal 2nd Trek Factory Racing 3rd BMC

 

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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

Le Tour de France – Stage 1 Preview

It may only seem like a flash since the last edition, but 2015’s Le Tour de France is now bearing down upon us after months of anticipation as to who the man to beat for the title shall be. Chris Froome, Alberto Contador, Vincenzo Nibali and Nairo Quintana are all lining up for the grand depart in convincing form, ensuring the broadest battle of genuine contenders at Le Tour de France in recent memory. However, attention shall at least be afforded initially to those who are best against the clock; the three week grand tour opening with an individual time trial which sits just beyond a prologue in terms of distance. Given the immense depth of talent represented here in order to contest this opening race against time, a diverse range of time trial and prologue specialists shall do their utmost to snatch the first maillot jaune of this year’s Tour de France. 

Course:

The opening challenge of this race is not an overly testing affair, despite the fact that any time trial at this level of competition is bound to feel like a moment in hell for all those strong enough to make the teams’ cut for Le Tour. Overall, a 13.8km course around the Dutch city of Utrecht forms day one, something which should have little impact upon the final outcome of this grand tour but could see some general classification contenders concede around a minute. An unusual affair, the stage is beyond the distance of a prologue and is not a team time trial which often begins a grand tour; making this the longest time trial for an opening day at Le Tour since 2009’s 15km tear around Monaco which was won by Fabian Cancellara (followed closely by Alberto Contador).

A pancake flat ride, the 13.8km affair does contain numerous turns and a couple of roundabouts, though should remain easy enough to navigate in terms of its technical attributes. If approached correctly, many of the time trial specialists will have the skills to maintain their high speed despite the turns, meaning pundits could be surprised by some of the finishing times here. Due to a distance and style which opens up the chance of winning 2015’s inaugural yellow jersey to so many riders, an intense battle against both the clock and rivals alike should ensure an explosive curtain raiser to a Tour de France poised to be a classic.

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Contenders:

Home support shall be out in numbers to cheer on Tom Dumoulin in his quest to place the yellow jersey in Dutch hands as the peloton make their way down to France over the coming days. His performances as of late have been incredibly impressive, especially at Tour de Suisse where he defended leadership strongly, and even when conceding the lead, only did so after immense battling against pure climbers. Despite rumours of illness hampering his performance at the national time trial championships, it should be a given that Dumoulin has recovered well enough in order to contest this opening stage and seize upon the rare opportunity to wear the maillot jaune through local roads. At the Tour de Suisse he won both individual time trials, one of which was a prologue and will be unstoppable should he manage to bring the same form into Le Tour.

The bookies favourite for the day is Tony Martin, the German powerhouse renowned for his prowess against the clock, especially on courses which lack much in the way of technical worries such as this. Martin is extremely gifted, but the short distance should hamper him somewhat, making the likelihood and margin of victory here diminish considerably. Awkwardly placed just beyond what would be considered a prologue, Martin will do well to dominate proceedings, but there is no doubt that a podium should be assured here for one of this era’s best time trial experts.

Fabian Cancellara has unofficially announced that this is likely to be his last ever Tour de France, no doubt ratcheting up his motivation to not only win this stage, but to earn another yellow jersey before impending retirement. His season has certainly not been ideal, but despite this he mustered incredible showings at Tour de Suisse to earn 2nd and 3rd at the two time trials respectively. With talent against the clock so innate for the Swiss rider, there is no possibility of ruling him out of winning this opening day’s affair. Despite the writings of many hinting at a decline in regards to Cancellara’s performances against the clock, these are greatly exaggerated and would come as no surprise to see shattered under a vintage run from ‘Spartacus’.

The British support could be best placed in Movistar’s Alex Dowsett who appears to be an extremely interesting prospect upon this course and distance. He comes here on the back of yet another national time trial title, an hour record title bettered only by Bradley Wiggins and the fastest ever 10 mile time trial in the UK. This year is evidently progressing well so far for the Essex rider and his selection here as part of the Movistar team must surely be one which is aware of his odds of winning the opening day and taking yellow. The former Sky rider is playing down his chances, but considering Stage 1 exhibits echoes of the ‘Club 10’ which Dowsett still regularly contests at home, this has the components to be a career defining victory for him.

Adriano Malori is another hopeful for the Spanish team Movistar and has been ticking overly consistently in the last year or so at various time trial events. The Italian is incredibly powerful and this combination of short distance and reasonably simplistic course will allow him to really empty the tank to mount a serious charge on the yellow jersey. If he manages to maintain his top speed throughout the turns which shape the route, he is certainly one of the fastest present to contest this particular race against the clock.

BMC could have the leader’s jersey amongst their ranks at the end of the day if time trial specialist Rohan Dennis manages to execute one of his best ever efforts. He has been incredibly consistent in the last few seasons and seems to eternally secure podium placings; though wins are seldom against the top tier TT specialists. Much like Tom Dumoulin, Dennis is still continuing to develop as a rider, making him an unknown quantity to a certain extent given his growing abilities.

Of the general classification hopefuls, both Chris Froome and Alberto Contador certainly have the talent to chart high here, but will surely save their efforts for later in the week. Even on such a short stage as this, Thibaut Pinot and Nairo Quintana are both likely to worry about conceding too much time to their rivals this early, so will need to dig deeper than that of Froome and Contador to limit any losses. Though it is not ideal terrain, Tejay Van Garderen has the ability to perform well against such a challenge, offering him the possibility to gain a small margin over title rivals less consistent in time trials.

This short distance for the opening time trial also opens the door for riders such as Michal Kwiatkowski, Peter Sagan, Stephen Cummings and Matthias Brändle.

Outcome:

Though the eventual result should have little impact upon who stands atop the podium in Paris at the end of the three weeks, Stage One’s array of possible winners makes it a fascinating watch to see who will be this year’s first yellow jersey. On paper it should be a straight battle between the bookies favourite Tony Martin and the current form rider Tom Dumoulin; interestingly on a course which does not necessarily play totally to either of their strengths. Both are capable of maintaing high speeds for a long period of time, but this race is simply a case of leaving every possible watt out on the rode, something which could see other names rise to the top. The fact this course and distance is so similar to an archetypal British ‘Club 10’ makes Alex Dowsett well worth monitoring as a dark horse given his attributes and recent form. As stated above, the supposed decline of Fabian Cancellara is greatly exaggerated and his showings at the Tour de Suisse demonstrated this perfectly for any doubters. Seemingly making 2015 his final ever Tour de France, Cancellara shall be extremely motivated to not simply take another time trial win, but also another yellow jersey.

1st Tom Dumoulin 2nd Tony Martin 3rd Fabian Cancellara

Outsider: Alex Dowsett

 

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Tour de Suisse – Stage 8 Preview

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

Course:

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

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

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

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Contenders:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Outcome:

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

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

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Tour de Suisse – Stage 7 Preview

As forecast by Spokenforks yesterday, Peter Sagan did indeed spoil the chance of any such party for the sprinters, utilising the technical finish to his advantage and delivering a potent acceleration late on to take yet another career victory at Tour de Suisse. The Slovakian’s account is by no means closed at this year’s edition and Stage 7 offers him yet another opportunity to exploit his current vein of form and pocket a hat trick of stages in 2015. With a finale which should see the toughest of the sprinters rise to the top once again, Sagan will instead have to switch from technical ability to brute strength and determination to win this contrasting challenge.

Course:

The remaining stepping stones towards the final day’s individual time trial should all favour the strong sprinters and classics riders who have signed up to contest 2015’s Tour de Suisse. Stage 7 offers yet another jagged day’s profile, though it does fail to reach anything greater than 800m during its entirety from Biel to Düdingen. The 164.6km route which links the start and finish towns encompasses four categorised climbs, but should guarantee a bunch kick of sorts; even if the composition is likely to alter given the uphill run to the line against a 4% gradient. It is upon two laps of the Düdingen town centre which we shall saw all four climbs feature, as the teams attempt to break one another’s hopes by upping the pace and shelling the more lightweight sprinters out the back of the peloton.

Once again the day shall open with a reasonably long period of flat, this time providing the peloton with 60km of simple riding to get themselves up to speed and ticking over nicely. Despite the profile clearly displaying a transition to rolling terrain after this period, it is not until the riders pass through the day’s finish for the first time after a little over 90km of racing, that they shall begin the 36.8km circuits which comprise the finale and contain all four categorised climb present on Stage 7. The Category 3 Freiburgstrasse is first on the agenda, a short 1.1km ascent which will do damage if its 6.3% average gradient is ridden at an intense tempo late on. After this, the pack sweep down momentarily before squaring up to the Category 3 Hauptstrasse, a mysterious ascent which lacks any level of documentation beyond its supposed distance of 4.1km, though it is believe to possess gradients around 6% – 8%; any such climb’s attributes are magnified by the high speed with which the peloton shall begin the run in.

Having repeated this double header for the second time, the bunch have almost 20km to get their act together and ensure the teams’ selected men for the day are moved into position ahead of the finale. The road remains rolling and features four roundabouts during the last couple of kilometres to add to the anxiety. This is followed by several turns ahead of the final uphill 800m, eventually exiting onto the finishing straight with 500m remaining. Though the straight is long enough for many of the top sprinters to get up to speed, they shall have to compete with a steady 4% gradient which should add a few wildcards into the mix as the battle for victory on Stage 7 is ignited.

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Contenders:

The impressive form which Peter Sagan is so clearly in right now makes him the obvious favourite for a more difficult sprint finish which could see him triumph once again this week. As mentioned previously, his speed is not at the same level as the likes of Mark Cavendish, John Degenkolb or Alexander Kristoff for example, but his technical skill to position himself and strength means a win on Stage 7 is plausible. The longer finishing straight certainly diminishes his odds of winning, though the tricky concluding 2km will be favourable as they navigate several turns and four roundabouts before the riders catch sight of the finishing straight. Another advantage for Sagan is the possibility of the attrition rate increasing during the town centre circuits; he is one of the strongest of the sprinters once life gets more testing on short climbs before the finish and could even ask his teammates to push the pace if he feels everyone is rolling over these ascents too easily.

John Degenkolb has taken stage wins on uphill finishes before and has the brutish force to stay in contention despite the wearing hills which shape the finale. He should be confident of being at the fore when entering the 500m run to the line, a straight which would allow him to start his sprint and reach a maximum speed if all plays out well. Degenkolb’s speed is possibly unrivalled on this terrain, making him a real danger to the hopes of Sagan if he manages to exit the final corner in a good position. With the incline and finishing straight’s length, the German strongman has a real chance of winning here should he be on form.

Usually Alexander Kristoff would be labelled as key favourite on this type of stage finish, but with his form so far at the Tour de Suisse leaving plenty to be desired, there is a chance he might not even be in the mix to contest the win. Despite this apparent absence of form right now, he still managed to muster an impressive third place finish yesterday, regardless of the fact it failed to suit him well at all. Many of his victories have come independently of a well drilled leadout team to, the Norwegian being well versed in looking after himself in the midst of the maelstrom which often decides these sprints. His efforts on the previous day could leave him somewhat short on potency though, possibly reducing his odds of winning, despite being the fastest man against the gradient alongside Degenkolb.

Frenchman Arnaud Démare does appear to be resurrecting a certain level of form as this race develops, but he is still likely to come up short against rivals currently in their pomp. This will come as a disappointment for both himself and his FDJ.fr team given how the technical run in and uphill sprint do suit the Frenchman particularly nicely. Should he find himself riding well on the day, Démare should put in a good showing regardless of his injuries from Stage 2, making a top ten placing well within the realms of possibility.

BMC could play two cards with one man, Greg Van Avermaet possessing a skill set which could see him victorious in either a bunch kick or a sprint from a small breakaway. The Belgian classics specialist suits the uphill conclusion well and has already managed a podium placing when finishing third on Stage 4’s uphill battle. Though lacking the speed of Degenkolb or strength of Sagan for example, he could leave with the win if he starts his sprint much earlier or successfully picks the right breakaway which delivers him to the line amongst lesser sprinters.

With Michael Matthews having packed his bags and gone home already, Orica-GreenEDGE might decide to place their hopes upon Swiss favourite Michael Albasini for Stage 7. The finishing circuits could prove attritional enough to bring him to the fore after the faster rivals have been drained, Albasini’s form upon uphill finishes makes him a contender for the win if conditions prove favourable. The finish itself would probably have suited him more if the straight was somewhat longer, so, much like Van Avermaet, his better option might be to join a well timed breakaway.

As we have already witnessed at this year’s Tour de Suisse, even the most innocuous lumps and bumps of a stage profile end up being greatly exaggerated due to the tempo which is set upon them by the frontrunners. A hard race would make the two passes of the town centre finishing circuit reminiscent of a classic, ensuring that strong riders who pack a punch in a sprint could contest the victory. Jurgen Roelandts appears in good form at the moment and was only bettered by Peter Sagan on the previous day, no doubt providing him with the confidence to attempt something on Stage 7. Another name more synonymous with the classics is Sep Vanmarcke, a rider known for his immense strength and ability to turn out a rapid sprint at the end of some of the hardest days in the saddle. A move made upon one of the final climbs could prove dangerous for the peloton; Vanmarcke recognised as an extremely difficult man to drag back even when solo.

A dark horse who remains worth watching in the concluding kilometres of Stage 7 is Katusha’s Daniel Moreno who is evidently in good form at the moment. The Spanish rider has already secured a pair of second places and a sixth place finish behind Michael Matthews as well, clearly demonstrating a high level of race fitness currently. Today’s stage profile might not look horrendous on paper, but we have already seen expectedly calm passages explode under the groaning pressure of certain teams at the start of the week. Moreno is good in an uphill sprint, having taken La Flèche Wallonne thanks to such talents and could seriously fancy his chances against big name rivals. Like many mentioned above, he does not bolster the speed of Degenkolb, Kristoff or Sagan, but if the race proves a lot harder than expected on paper, Moreno could put in a barnstorming effort in the final 800m and steal a march on the big names.

Outcome:

Stage 7 has the feel of a day which could be plunged into chaos within the passing of a second, be it due to tougher terrain than expected or a miscalculation by the peloton which lets a strong breakaway slip off the front. Regardless of the vast array of riders who could all make it into a break and subsequently dominate a sprint finish, the conclusion should be fought amongst the sprinters and their supporting cast of teammates. In this situation there is a strong case to be made for the flying Peter Sagan who appears borderline unstoppable right now; as long as the course is suiting. On this occasion the longer finishing straight does reduce his chances of winning somewhat, but the technically demanding final 2km could level this off to a certain degree for him. Not far behind the Slovakian ace should be John Degenkolb, the immensely strong sprinter likely to have the speed to make him the fastest in the final 500m to the line. The biggest worry for the German is ensuring he makes it into a good position once he has exited the last bend, of which he has the talented support to do just this and would be the hardest man to beat if all goes to plan. A mixture of classic specialist and strong riders will feature around the two mentioned above; Alexander KristoffGreg Van Avermaet and Michael Albasini all possessing the skills required to win this finish which could prove more demanding than many expect heading into it. Beyond these, Daniel Moreno warrants a mention as an outside bet, primarily due to his current run of form at the Tour de Suisse, but also thanks to the uphill finish which could see him get a jump on the major sprinters.

1st Peter Sagan 2nd John Degenkolb 3rd Alexander Kristoff

Outsider: Daniel Moreno