Sunday, March 31, 2013

Vuelta Pais Vasco - Stage 1 Preview

There aren’t any tailored stages for the sprinters in this year’s Vuelta Pais Vasco but stage 1 and 2 should still end in a sprint. A sprint in a reduced group that is. We have six categorized climbs on the menu and the last one, Alto de Aiastia (4,8 km / 5,42%), has its top just 7 km from the line.

It’s a good finish for riders with strong downhill skills like Samuel Sanchez and Damiano Cunego, but I think GreenEdge, BMC and Astana will try to keep it together. Especially GreenEdge look strong with Michael Albasini, Simon Gerrans and Daryl Impey for the stage, while Astana have Francesco Gavazzi and Enrico Gasparotto. For BMC, Phillipe Gilbert will be the man for sprint and this is a good opportunity for the World Champion to show he’s ready for the upcoming Ardennes Classics later this month.

With a profile like this one, a break will have a solid chance of making it. Especially if strong riders get away on the last climb and if so, look to the Basque home favorites. Euskaltel are still without a win this season and naturally, they are very eager to perform on home soil. Samuel Sanchez may not be 100% yet - since he's targeting the Giro this year and not this race - but riders like Gorka and Ion Izagirre and Igor Antón will be ready to fight stage wins. Personally, I expect a lot from Igor Antón, but on this stage I think the Izagirre brothers will shine. Gorka is very strong on the descents, he showed that in the Tour last year, and fast on the line too. He ended 14th in GP Miguel Indurain on Saturday and he is my outsider for the stage win in Elgoibar Monday afternoon.

Winner pick: Phillipe Gilbert
Joker: Gorka Izagirre

For live coverage go to

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Ronde van Vlaanderen - Preview and Favorites

It’s time for the second big one day race of the season, and just like last time (Milano - San Remo) my favorite is Peter Sagan. The Slovakian wonderboy has been outstanding the last month or so, and he showed in Gent-Wevelgem that he also has what it takes to go solo in the final and finish it off.

The new racecourse, introduced last year, means no more Kapelmuur but instead three times on Oude Kwaremont followed by and Paterberg. The last time on the two hills starts with 18 km to go and last year it was all back together at this point. I would imagine Omega Pharma Quickstep to have one of their outsiders up the road when it’s time for Oude Kwaremont, but at the top I expect the favorite to be together in front. Fabian Cancellara used this hill to get away when he won E3 and I would imagine him to put the Swiss hammer down again here this Sunday.

Peter Sagan ran out of power on Oude Kwaremont last year when he hit the front of the peloton trying to chase down Ballan, but I’m sure he has learned from his mistake. Sagan couldn’t followed Pozzato’s move with Boonen on the false flat, but on Paterberg he kicked hard, went away from the chase group and almost managed to close the gap. I expect Sagan to be in the front group when starting on Paterberg and I doubt anyone will be able to follow him if he kicks like that again this year. Fabian Cancellara is probably the only one able to catch up with Sagan on the final 13 km towards the finishing line, but I can’t see him beat Sagan in a sprint or drop him on the way.

Tom Boonen hasn’t been as strong as last year after his recent crashes and even if he’s able to follow Cancellara and Sagan, he still lack the speed to beat the Slovakian in a sprint. Luckily, Quickstep have a couple of other strong cards to play. Niki Terpstra and Sylvain Chavanel have been showing great shape the last couple of months and you can be certain that both will try their luck.                 

It’s also important to mention Team Sky, when pointing out potential winners. Their tactic of skipping Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico and train together on Tenerife instead hasn’t really paid off yet, but it’s also important to remember that the coming races are the ones they have been targeting. I think Geraint Thomas will be on top of his game this Sunday and I wouldn’t be surprised if he manages to get himself in the front group after Paterberg. Some may think the steep percentages aren’t for Thomas, but don’t forget he dropped the whole peloton on 17% in Tour Down Under earlier this year. Ronde van Vlaanderen is his first big target of the season and together with teammates Edvald Boasson Hagen and Ian Stannard, Team Sky have strong team for Sunday.

Looking at a few jokers, let’s start with Heinrich Haussler. So far it hasn’t worked out for Haussler this spring, but he showed in Gent-Wevelgem to be in great shape. Haussler says that he has never been climbing better than right now, and if he manages to position himself up front when hitting Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg for the last time, he should be able to fight for the podium.

Another good outsider is Luca Paolini. The Italian veteran seems to be in the shape of his life right now and he knows how to ride these races. He won Omloop Het Nieuwsblaad after a sneaky move in the final and took second place after Boonen in the peloton’s sprint in E3. Last year Paolini almost closed the gap to the front trio after Oude Kwaremont and even though he isn’t as explosive as Sagan, he still has enough experience to know when to open up and when to save the energy. I doubt Luca Paolini will win Ronde van Vlaanderen, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he ends on the podium.

If you are looking for a super-super joker, look to Zdenek Stybar. He’s only ranked fourth in the Quickstep team for this race, but he is very strong on the hills right now. I would expect him to be in the moves with about 50 km to go and in case the other Quickstep riders strike out, Stybar could the man for a surprising result.

Winner pick: Peter Sagan
Jokers: Heinrich Haussler / Luca Paolini / Zdenek Stybar

For live race coverage, as always, go to

Friday, March 22, 2013

Criterium International: Preview and Favorites

If Paris-Nice is a mini Tour de France, this race is a mini-mini Tour de France. We have a sprint stage, a time trial and an uphill finish, and it’s all within two days.

The first stage is a same one as last year - hopefully without all the crashes in the final - but the following time trial is a little bit different. It has more turns, it’s 500 meters longer and final km is the same one as on stage 1. The time differences won’t be big and even though you lose 10 seconds here, you still have a chance of getting it back on Sunday’s big mountain stage. Especially because there are 10 bonus seconds to the winner on Col de l’Ospedale.

Last year, the final stage had a tough beginning with four climbs within the first 80 km, followed by a long flat section before the final climb. This year, it’s the other way around. The first 50 km are “flat” - it’s always up and down on Corsica - and then we have five categorized climbs on the menu before Col de l’Ospedale (14,1 km / 6,2%).

Team Sky bring a very strong team to the race and there is no doubt about who the big favorite is. Chris Froome missed out on the overall win in Tirreno-Adriatico and without Alberto Contador (who is out due a flu), Froome now has the perfect opportunity to take revenge. Criterium International will also be Chris Froome’s first race after his engagement to Michelle Cound, and what better way of celebrating than an win? 

To help him achieve this, Froome can count on support from Paris-Nice winner Richie Porte and in-form Vasil Kiryienka and Kanstantin Siutsou. Youngester Joshua Edmondson (7th on the mountain stage in Volta Algarve) is also here to help Froome. I think that Team Sky will start their mountain train on stage 3 and - as usually - simply wait for the other riders to drop out the back one by one. The steepest part of Col de l’Ospedale is with 2 km to go and this would be a perfect place for Chris Froome to put in a strong attack and take time on his rivals. Pretty much like Richie Porte did in Paris-Nice.

The final stage of Criterium International ending on Col de l’Ospedale (14,1 km / 6,2%). 
Looking at the other contenders for the general classification, BMC have two riders with a good chance of a podium spot; Tejay van Garderen and last year’s winner Cadel Evans. TJ was strong in Paris-Nice (ended 4th overall) and has set Criterium International as his next target. Cadel Evans wasn’t really on top of his game in Tirreno-Adriatico but he showed in Tour of Oman that he is already very strong. BMC will probably try to get a good overall result with both TJ and Evans, but I think Evans is their best shot. Also, whoever ends up in a supporting role here, will have some goodwill for the Tour de France, when BMC have to pick a designated leader.

Update: Cadel Evans has now told that TJ is the team leader for BMC in this race. Therefore, expect TJ to take podium instead of Evans. 

Like TJ, also Andrew Talansky and Jean-Christophe Peraud did very well in Paris-Nice (ending 2nd and 3rd overall), and with a time trial and a mountain stage, both should be up there again in Criterium International. Especially Talansky will be eager to take revenge after a poor tactical decision on La Montagne de Lure cost him the chance of winning overall.

My personal outsider is Rein Taaramae. He was originally set to peak in Paris-Nice, but got sick in February and decided to work for Dani Navarro instead. Now Taaramae is showing promising shape and after his 3rd place in Cholet - Pays De Loire last Sunday, he’s now ready to take on Froome and the other favorites in Criterium International. Taaramae is strong against the clock and Col de l’Ospedale should suit him just fine too. He has Jerome Coppel to help him and I would be very surprised not see Taaramae in the overall top10 when the race is over.

Winner pick: Chris Froome
Podium pick: Cadel Evans Tejay van Garderen
Joker: Rein Taaramae

For live race coverage go to

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Pain & Cheer: Milano-San Remo photos

Sunday's Milano-San Remo will forever be remembered, especially by the riders taking part in the race. Of the 200 starting riders, only 135 finished. Italian photographer Davide Calabresi took the following photos during the challenging weather conditions.

The look in Matteo Montaguti's and Fabian Wegmann's eyes tell the same story about the pain the riders felt on the bike today. In the end Gerald Ciolek gave MTN-Qhubeka the best Milano-San Remo debut possible and it's easy to see Peter Sagan and Fabian Cancellara had hoped for a different result.

You see more photos by Davide Calabresi from Milano - San Remo at his site by clicking here.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Androni-Venezuela to honor Hugo Chavez

Gianno Savio and his Androni-Venezuela team didn’t manage to take the win in Wednesday’s GP Nobili but they still managed to honor Venezuela’s late president Hugo Chavez by winning the overall team classification. Fabio Fellini took 6th place, Miguel Angel Rubiano 11th and Riccardo Chiarini 15th.

Androni-Venezuela on the podium in GP Nobili.
We are satisfied. We won the team classification and got important points for the Italian Championship. This was the first race for us after the death of Hugo Chavez and it was important for us to honor him”, Gianni Savio tells C-Cycling.

Androni-Venezuela were wearing black mourning bands in GP Nobili and even though it hasn’t been decided yet, Gianni Savio expect his riders to wear it again in Sunday’s Milano-San Remo.

We don’t have any favorites or specialists for this race”, Savio explains regarding this team’s chances on Sunday. “We want to get into the breaks and by that honor the race. It has always been my philosophy to honor every race we are taking part in. Our three team leaders are Pellizotti, Felline and Rubiano. I hope they can follow the attacks on Cipressa and Poggio, but I also know that it’s almost impossible to follow a rider like Fabian Cancellara when he attacks. The best scenario for us would be a sprint in a little group with either Felline or Rubiano”.

In-shape Francesco Reda was originally set to start on Sunday but has resigned due to family problems. Reda is being replaced by youngster Diego Rosa who won the Youth Classification in Tour Med.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Milano - San Remo: Preview and Favorites

The added s on 'favorites' in the title may be stretching it a bit, because there is only one true favorite for this race; Peter Sagan. Yes, there are many riders with a good chance of a great result, but there is only one top favorite.

Matt Goss won Milano - San Remo in 2011 and last year his fellow countryman Simon Gerrans crossed the line first. Both are in the race again Sunday, but don’t be surprised if a third Australian ends as best rider from Down Under this time - more on that later.

The last two years, we have seen a break on Poggio make it to the end and each time with Fabian Cancellara taking second place. Last year Cancellara, singlehandedly, made sure the break of three didn’t get caught, but normally you need a group of minimum 5-6 riders in order to stay clear. It also depends on the wind. Naturally, a strong head wind minimizes a break’s chances of winning the race. Regardless of the wind, we will see a lot of movement on Poggio though. Every rider without a fast finish wants to get clear of the bunch and with Peter Sagan in such good shape; even fast guys like Filippo Pozzato and Phillipe Gilbert don’t want to take their chances.

Normally the strong riders’ teams set a high pace on the climbs in order to drop the pure sprinters like Mark Cavendish and Andre Greipel, but knowing Peter Sagan can stay with the best uphill and still win in a sprint, they now need to attack as well. I think this will eliminate the sprinters’ chances this year and I will be very surprised to see a pure sprinter take the win on Sunday.

The big question is how Sagan will do the race. Will he go with the attacks on Poggio or gamble and wait for a sprint in a reduced peloton? Personally, I don’t think Sagan will respond until very near the top of Poggio. He is one of the best on the descents and even if he’s a few seconds behind on the top, he can still join the break on the descent. Of course, Sagan will only attack if it’s a group of strong contenders up front or if some of the other candidates like Gilbert or Pozzato attack near the top.

The final 30 km of Milano - San Remo includes the two climbs Cipressa and Poggio. 

It’s difficult to paint a scenario but I would like to give a go anyway. I’m not saying this is how is going to go down Sunday afternoon, but it might be. If nothing else, you’ll now have someone to point your finger at for being wrong. Here we go:

Update: When I wrote this preview last Monday, Rinaldo Nocentini was still expected to start. He has now decided to skip Milano - San Remo and target Volta Catalunya instead. Therefore, replace his name with Andrey Amador, when you read the following:

Yoann Offredo attacks early on Poggio. Rinaldo Nocentini catches up with him. Later in-shape Mauro Santambrogio puts in a strong attack and joins the duo. The three riders cross the top of Poggio first but right behind them are Peter Sagan, Philippe Gilbert and Filippo Pozzato. The chasing trio catch the break on the descent and the six guys get a gap of about 20 seconds. Everybody is looking at Sagan, hesitating to work and Offredo gives it another go. Nocentini closes the gap. Gilbert attacks, Sagan after him. The break is back together; time for the sprint. Gilbert opens, but Sagan wins. Pozzato takes second place and Gilbert third. The rest of the peloton cross the line 15-20 seconds down and Heinrich Haussler wins the sprint - there’s your Australian. This little scenario leaves us with the following top10:

1. Peter Sagan
2. Filippo Pozzato
3. Philippe Gilbert
4. Rinaldo Nocentini Andrey Amador
5. Mauro Santambrogio
6. Yoann Offredo
7. Heinrich Haussler
8. Thor Hushovd
9. Gerald Ciolek
10. Daniele Bennati

Of course, there are tons of different scenarios but if I had to pick one, that would be it. There a lot of riders able to do something great in this race, but there can only be one winner. Vincenzo Nibali, Fabian Cancellara and Matt Goss all seem to be in very good shape right now, but I keep on coming back to Peter Sagan when I think of a favorite.

Winnerpick: Peter Sagan
Podium: Filippo Pozzato / Phillipe Gilbert
Jokers: Mauro Santambrogio / Rinaldo Nocentini / Yoann Offredo

For live coverage of the race check out steephill.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Tirreno-Adriatico: Stage 7 Preview

For the fourth day in a row, we will have a new rider in the blue leader’s jersey. Vincenzo Nibali attacked exactly where everybody expected him to do so, but still no one - except for Purito and Sagan - could keep up with him. Nibali now leads overall with 34 seconds down to Chris Froome and I will be very surprised if he doesn’t win Tirreno-Adriatico for the second time in a row.

This time trial is the same as last year and I doubt even Chris Froome can take back more than half a minute on Vincenzo Nibali in just 9,2 km. Nibali has been working very hard on improving his time trial skills and with a new bike and new skin suit he could even end up surprising quite a few on this stage.

Purito is after two good stages now third overall. He is 11 seconds in front of Contador and 21 seconds in front of Kwiatkowski. Once again, his chances of reaching the final podium depend on his time trial. In January, he said he had improved a lot already and now is really the time to show it. It will be more than difficult to keep Contador - and especially Kwiatkowski - behind him but personally, I hope he will manage.

Only 4 corners to tackle during the 9,2 km.
Click for larger view.
Originally, I had Fabian Cancellara and Tony Martin as my two big favorites for the stage, but both put in quite an effort on stage 6. Cancellara was in the morning break and Tony Martin took a big turn for Kwiatkowski in order to close the gap. Still, other candidates like Taylor Phinney and Svein Tuft aren’t in the race anymore, so I think we’re back to where we started. 

Tony Martin changed his race schedule (from Paris-Nice to Tirreno-Adriatico) in order to help his team win the opening TTT and then win this stage himself. He managed to win the first one and the chances are quite good he will to win this one too. 

Tom Dumoulin and Lars Boom would have been two good jokers for this stage but since both of them were in the big break on stage 6, I’ll look to Movistar to find my jokers. Jonathan Castroviejo started out Tirreno-Adriatico with GC ambitions, but lost time in the last two stages. He is right now 14th overall but without a chance of making top10. Castroviejo is an excellent time trialist and he’s especially good on these short distances. He will be one to look out for. The same goes for his teammate Alex Dowsett. He is the British national champion and without him, Movistar probably wouldn’t have taken second place in the opening team time trial. Normally we see surprises in the final time trial in a stage race and I think Alex Dowsett could be that surprise.

Winnerpick: Tony Martin
Jokers: Alex Dowsett & Jonathan Castroviejo

For live coverage of the stage check out steephill.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Tirreno-Adriatico: Stage 6 Preview

Chris Froome is the new race leader and it will require something extra from the other favorites to rip the blue jersey of his shoulders. On paper, this may not look like a difficult stage, but I can assure you it is. The two loops of 90 km and one of 28 km around Porto Sant'Elpidio take the riders on a real rollercoaster ride. It’s up and down all day and when it’s up, it’s steep! The climbs aren’t very long but they all have gradients of 10% all the way up to 27%.

Team Sky say they are expecting attacks from everyone on this stage and I would be surprised if not. It will be extremely difficult - even for Team Sky - to control the peloton on these steep hills and the technical descents and narrow roads provide excellent opportunities for riders to attack. The last loop of 28 km includes two small and steep climbs with the top of the last one just 10 km from the line. It’s followed by a very technical descent and only the last 4 km towards the line are really flat. There is a tricky left-right curve with about 1800 meters to go before the final 1500 meters straight out on 7,5 meters wide road.

The Santa Lucia climb is the last
struggle before the finishing line.
I think Team Sky would be happy to let a break get away in the morning and stay away too. Froome doesn’t want any of his competitors to get the 10 bonus seconds on the line so if a break could fight it out between them, Sky would be happy. Still, that doesn’t mean the favorites won’t give a go - especially on the last loop. Sant'Elpidio a Mare is 6,3 km in total - including a 1,5 km descent in the middle - but the last 400 meters have an average gradient of 20% - last 50 meters up to 27%. There is only 6 km from the top of Sant'Elpidio a Mare to the next climb, Santa Lucia, starts. The climb itself is only 1,5 km but has an average gradient of 8,2% and 16% towards the top.

Alberto Contador and Vincenzo Nibali both need to take back 20 seconds on Chris Froome and you can be sure they both want to try on these climbs. Nibali is one of the best riders on the downhill sections and even if he doesn’t manage to drop Froome uphill, he will probably try again downhill.

Astana and Saxo-Tinkoff would like to keep this together and fight for the stage win and the bonus seconds, but it won’t be easy. It’s the last chance for most of the riders to get a result and the expected rain won’t help controlling it either. Strong riders with a fast finish like Tom-Jelte Slagter, Eros Capecchi, Giovanni Visconti, Moreno Moser, Lars Boom and Greg Van Avermaet are all out of the GC and I would expect a couple of these to make it into a winning break. And don’t forget Peter Sagan. He doesn’t seem to be 100% again after his sickness but he’s also a rider capable of winning even when he’s just on 80 or 90%.

I’ve already picked Moreno Moser as my joker twice during this TIrreno-Adriatico and I’ll give him one last chance. You can’t really talk about a favorite for a stage like this one, but of course if Peter Sagan is the man to beat, should he be in the front group in the final. Sunday Tom-Jelte Slagter had to let go of his overall lead in the World Tour standing and I think he is eager to take it back from Richie Porte. He is fast on the line and good on these kind of hills too. Bauke Mollema showed the way for Blanco when he took second place after Purito in Chieti and Slagter could top that one in Porto Sant'Elpidio.

And no; I don’t think the sprinters will be able to stay in front when the GC is this close and the climbs are this steep.

Winnerpicks: Tom-Jelte Slagter & Moreno Moser

For live coverage of the stage check out steephill.

Paris-Nice: Stage 7 Preview

In lack of time, I have teamed up with INRNG to provide you with daily stage previews of both Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico. Originally, I would only have been doing stage previews for Tirreno, but thanks to this collaboration you will now be able to read about all the stages of the two World Tour races. The Paris-Nice stage previews are written by INRNG and can be found here and at while all the up-coming Tirreno-Adriatico stage previews are written by me and feature on both sites too.

Col d'Eze profile
A final time trial to settle the race. Can Richie Porte be beaten? As Greg Lemond said on the eve of the final stage of the 1989 Tour de France “if he has a bad day and I have a good day anything is possible”, and the American went on to beat Laurent Fignon by just eight seconds on the overall.
But that was a memorable exception. Porte is playing at home and the course is short so he should be safe. But still, who knows? What’s more certain is that the final podium places are unknown. Andrew Talansky, Lieuwe Westra, Jean-Christophe Peraud, Tejay van Garderen and more all all within reach.
The Route: the climb itself is part-technical, part obvious. There are no narrow parts, nor sharp bends but given it is just 9.6km, every second counts. The road climbs away from Nice on some steep sections and there is often a tailwind for the first two kilometres. Then the course begins to bend back towards the sea and level off before the midway section of 7% and then it continues on with spectacular views of the sea below. Each section of road matters: nowing when to change down a gear is important, knowing when to change up is even more important.
The Scenario: it’s hard to see past Richie Porte for the stage win. He won after dropping everyone else on the Montagne de Lure and is probably better against the clock then he is at climbing. He’s a local too, living in nearby Monaco and has been known to climb this road several times a day. In addition his team will know all about pacing the effort after Wiggins won last year and can measure themselves against the time checks of others if need be.
But as recounted earlier this week the mighty Eddy Merckx was so sure of winning one year that he posed for photos with the boat offered to the winner before riding the final stage… only for Raymond Poulidor to win the time trial and take the overall.
Andrew Talansky is the other obvious pick. He might be as strong as Porte, after all he felt so good he attacked three times on the Lure. Plus he’s got motivation to ride fast. He’s good at this effort too, last year he almost beat Wiggins in the uphill time trial of the Tour de Romandie. Talking of almost beating Wiggins, last year Westra almost won on the Col d’Eze so he could win in the absence of the Briton.
Van Garderen was an outside for the podium this time last year but fell back after losing over a minute to Wiggins and he’s not been the threat we’d thought he might be but he’s still sixth overall. Chavanel is in great form and did well on the Montagne de Lure, don’t be surprised if he’s amongst the fastest on the second half of the course but the early 8% gradient could be too much, plus his efforts yesterday won him the stage but also the points jersey thanks to an escape move to win the intermediate sprint. Jean-Christophe Péraud is having a good race and perpetuating Ag2r’s points-winning strategy of poaching UCI points without ever being too visible in front of the team cameras. He was third on this stage last year.
Mountains and Points: a note that Chavanel is guaranteed to stand on the podium as he’s got the points jersey competition sewed up.
The same for Johann Tschopp of IAM Cycling with the mountains jersey, giving the new Swiss team their first World Tour podium… and marginally boosting their chances of a wildcard invite for the Tour de France. Tschopp (say “chop”) is an often unknown character in the peloton but he’s a keen environmentalist, taking care to eat locally sourced foods and living as ethically as he can. He won the big stage of the Tour of Utah last year and in 2010, won the biggest mountain stage of the Giro that year, taking the prestigious Cima Coppi prize.
Weather: sunshine and showers with temperatures at no more than 14°C (57°F). Crucially the  wind will pick up in the afternoon with a breeze of 20km/h coming in from the sea in the afternoon, enough to make a noticeable tailwind, headwind and crosswind at different points on the course.
TV: 3.30 – 4.50pm Euro time on French TV and Eurosport and or are the go-to sites for video streams.
History: the Col d’Eze was used as a final time trial for the first time in 1969 and Eddy Merckx won. It was a clever idea to use the uphill TT right at the end but prior to this the race had often been designed by another uphill time trial along the way, for example Mont Dore above Manosque, yesterday’s start town, in 1956.
Since 1969 it has been a regular feature of the race. But the starting and finish points have often changed meaning there is no definitive course record nor an easy way to compare today’s riders with Merckx. Not that the comparison is valid, riders will be using special bikes today with all the aerodynamic advantage possible. Merckx just rode on the drops.
Col D'Eze times
The route now 9.6km and last year Bradley Wiggins clocked a time of 19.12.
Standings after Stage 6

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Tirreno-Adriatico: Stage 5 Preview

Team Sky are in a league of their own. Especially with a strong head wind on the climbs. They seem unbeatable this year on mountain top finishes, so if you want to get them, you need a powerful kick and some steep percentages. Luckily for the spectators, that is exactly what we will see on this stage. The steep finish in Chieti has quickly turned into a classic Tirreno finish and it will be difficult for Team Sky to control the pack with gradients up to 19%.

Race leader Michal Kwiatkowski continues to perform on a high level this year and if the other favorites want to fight for the overall win, they need to drop him in Chieti. Kwiatkowski is very strong against the clock but on the steep parts, he has his limitations. 

Peter Sagan won this stage last year but it won’t be easy to repeat that win this time. The race organizers have made the finish even more demanding with the inclusion of Passo Lanciano (11.3 km at 8,6%) just 40 km from the line.  Sagan is great on the descents but if Team Sky set a furious pace uphill like on Prati di Tivo, he won’t be in the mix.

Final steep kilometers in Chieti.
Click for larger view.
The last 7 km see the riders tackle two steep parts separated by a 2,5 km descent. Gradients of 19% on the final hill provide an excellent chance for explosive riders to get a gap before the last, tricky, and flat kilometer towards the line. I know Purito didn’t live up to the expectations on Prati di Tivo, but I won’t hesitate picking him as my favorite again. Purito had problems on Prati di Tivo last year too and if he really is in better shape this year - as he states – he’ll win this stage.

The steep part ends with one kilometer to go and this is a great time to counter if the front group stops a little. Last year Vincenzo Nibali got away on the final 500 meters, but was overtaken by teammate Peter Sagan. Not a very wise tactical decision by Sagan who had to apologize to Nibali afterwards. Nibali wants revenge and if Purito doesn’t take this stage, I think Nibali is the best pick. He knows the final very well and he will be extremely difficult to catch if he manages to put in a late attack like last year.

Originally, I would have picked Mauro Santambrogio as joker for this stage but after his amazing performance on Prati di Tivo, I guess he can’t really be seen as a ‘joker’ anymroe. Same goes for Wout Poels who showed to be back on a great level after his horrible crash in the Tour last year. I think both will be up there in the final, but none of them really fit the joker category. Instead I’ll say Moreno Moser. The young Italian came to Tirreno-Adriatico aiming at the GC, but couldn’t keep up on Prati di Tivo. Moser now has to look for stage wins and stage 5 and 6 seems like good options for him. If he manages to stay near the front on the last steep part, he could profit from an strong attack just as it evens out with one kilometer to go. It won’t be easy, but hey; that’s why it’s called a joker.

One last thing. If the favorites don’t attack on Passo Lanciano and Peter Sagan stays in front over this climb, he’ll most likely end up winning the stage. I hope Nibali and Contador will try something far out, but in case they don’t, put your money on the Slovakian wonder boy. I can only pick one winner and even though all three (Purito, Nibali and Sagan) look good to me, I have to stick with my original idea and say Purito.

Winnerpick: Joaquim ‘Purito’ Rodriguez
Joker: Moreno Moser

For live coverage of the stage check out steephill.

Paris-Nice: Stage 6 Preview

In lack of time, I have teamed up with INRNG to provide you with daily stage previews of both Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico. Originally, I would only have been doing stage previews for Tirreno, but thanks to this collaboration you will now be able to read about all the stages of the two World Tour races. The Paris-Nice stage previews are written by INRNG and can be found here and at while all the up-coming Tirreno-Adriatico stage previews are written by me and feature on both sites too.

Paris-Nice Stage 6
Sandwiched between yesterday’s summit finish and tomorrow’s uphill time trial, it’s tempting to ignore today’s stage. But like all sandwiches, the filling in the middle should the tastiest part.
Today’s route is has plenty of climbing and tricky descents in the second half and there’s a chance to shake-up the overall classification. But if this doesn’t happen we’ll see exciting racing on scenic roads.
  • Km 6.5 – Côte du Bois de Rousset, 4.4 kilometre-long climb at 4.5% – category 3
  • Km 87.5 – Côte des Tuillières, 2.2 kilometre-long climb at 7.8% – category 2
  • Km 103.0 – Côte du Mont Méaulx, 1.7 kilometre-long climb at 4.3% – category 3
  • Km 138.5 – Côte de Cabris, 7.6 kilometre-long climb at 5.8% – category 1
  • Km 148.5 – Col du Ferrier, 4.3 kilometre-long climb at 6.8% – category 1
The Route
A scenic charge east across the southern foothills of the Alps. The start town of Manosque is a great place for cycling, far away from the more crowded finish in Nice. The race avoids a lot of the best roads but it’s still 220km to go as quickly as possible to Nice.
The Finish
Look at the profile and there’s a long downhill run to Nice. The first part twists and turns and a chase is hard if a group is away but the closer the race gets to Nice the bigger the roads get and the harder it will be for a move to stay away.
The final kilometres are flat and smooth along the wide seaside Boulevard des Anglais road. The secret here is to watch the wind coming from the sea and sprint in the shelter of riders.
The Scenario
Andrew Talansky lost the lead by attacking yesterday. His three accelerations yesterday helped thin the lead group and had riders and viewers alike sitting on the front of their saddles and sofas but ultimately when he slowed Richie Porte rode away for the stage and race lead. Nevermind the tactics it’s possible Talansky tries to make amends on this stage with some moves. But any attacks from his part will probably be late rather than over the big climbs as there’s a long way from the last climb to Nice. If not Talansky then note others might try too, they can climb up the GC with even a small time gap thanks to the time bonus.
More likely is that finally a breakaway will stay away, it’s the last chance for half the bunch to win something so expect a fast start as moves try to go clear. Thomas Voeckler’s won before in Nice. He tried the other day but was too close on GC to be let go, now having lost more time on the overall classification he’s an obvious candidate to try again. Talking of Frenchmen, watch Yoann Offredo as the FDJ rider is suited to long distances and today’s slog could suit him as a test ahead of Milan-Sanremo. It’s hard to pick a rider but remember they need a kick to win on the flat at the end.
Weather: rain showers along the way with cool temperatures of 10°C (50°F) rising to only 14°C (57°F) in Nice. A light headwind at the finish is forecast.
TV: the schedule changes with the weekend to a later slot of  3.25 – 4.50pm Euro time on French TV and Eurosport and or are the go-to sites for video streams.
History: in 1955 the peloton left Manosque for Nice but instead of 220km the route was 258km. The stage was won by Gilbert Bauvin who almost won the Tour de France in 1956 but was beaten by Roger Walkowiak. Walkowiak’s name has become synonymous with winning the Tour de France by chance, because if such a feat seems impossible, in 1956 a group of 31 riders including Walkowiak escaped on an early stage to win come in with 18 minutes on the peloton. Walkowiak had to fight, he lost the lead but gained it back and finally won the Tour.
Gilbert Bauvin
Gilbert Bauvin in 1950
Ironically Bauvin was promoted at the last minute to the France A team which left a vacancy in the French B team… which was filled by “Walko”, the the only rider management could find at short notice. In France gagner à la Walkowiak, “to win like Walkowiak,” became a phrase used beyond cycling to describe an easy win or an undeserved triumph. You can feel sorry for Walko here but imagine being Bauvin who ended up losing to the Tour to the man painted as cycling’s greatest loser.
Ride It: the final part of the stage should be familiar to many riders in the race. Some of the pro peloton lives in Monaco and a larger share lives in the surrounding area around Nice.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Tirreno-Adriatico: Stage 4 Preview

Peter Sagan won stage 3 as predicted and just like the last time Sagan won in Tirreno, the following stage will end on Prati di Tivo. Last year Peter Sagan’s teammate Vincenzo Nibali soloed away on the final kilometers, but I seriously doubt Nibali will be able to repeat that victory this year.

As I mentioned in my overall preview for Tirreno-Adriatico, this is the strongest field in many years and compared to last year, most of the favorites have at least two or three strong riders to help on the climbs. Last year only Roman Kreuziger had a teammate in the final. That rider was Paolo Tiralongo who this year is helping Nibali, while Kreuziger himself is at Alberto Contador’s service. Confused? Let’s take a look at the favorites and their teams for the stage.

Team Saxo-Tinkoff
Leader: Alberto Contador
Support: Jesus Hernandez, Roman Kreuziger & Michael Rogers

Leader: Vincenzo Nibali
Support: Paolo Tiralongo, Janez Brajkovic & Fredrik Kessiakoff

Leader: Joaquim ‘Purito’ Rodriguez
Support: Dani Moreno

Team Sky
Leader: Chris Froome
Support: Dario Cataldo, Rigoberto Uran & Sergio Henao

Cadel Evans is the only one of the five big favorites without a strong to help in the uphill sections and as you can see Team Sky are very strong. Last season they perfected how to ride the final climbs in stages races and we just saw how they took control in Paris-Nice. Prati di Tivo doesn’t have any steep, steep sections and that is just how Team Sky like it. Froome can put his team to work from the bottom of the climb and I doubt anybody will manage to get away until the last few kilometers. Astana too have a strong team but I think Brajkovic and Kessiakoff will drop before Uran and Henao.

Looking at the favorites, Purito is the only one set to top very soon; in the Ardennes Classics. Nibali is aiming at the Giro while Contador, Froome and Evans all are set for the Tour. Purito was in the leading group on Prati di Tivo last year, but since he wasn’t supposed to peak until the Giro, he lacked a bit in the end. This year it’s different. Purito started out Tirreno-Adriatico with this mind set on winning overall. He showed in Tour of Oman that he is in excellent shape already and knowing he has to take back the time he lost in TTT, he will be eager to get the 10 bonus seconds on the line. The bonus seconds are also the reason why I don’t think a break will make it. This race will probably be determined within a few seconds and naturally all the favorites want to win this stage. The way I see, Purito is the strongest of them right now. I’m sure Contador will put in a series of furious attacks but I doubt he will be able to drop Purito and Froome for good.

My outsider this time is Bauke Mollema. Blanco have a strong team in this race and Mollema can count on support from in-shape Tom-Jelte Slagter. In the final of stage 3, when Alberto Contador was in front of the peloton Bauke Mollema was right behind him and if the other favorites don’t manage to drop Mollema on Prati di Tivo, his fast finish could even give him the stage win.

Winnerpick: Joaquim ‘Purito’ Rodriguez
Joker: Bauke Mollema 

For live coverage of the stage check out steephill.

Paris-Nice: Stage 5 Preview

In lack of time, I have teamed up with INRNG to provide you with daily stage previews of both Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico. Originally, I would only have been doing stage previews for Tirreno, but thanks to this collaboration you will now be able to read about all the stages of the two World Tour races. The Paris-Nice stage previews are written by INRNG and can be found here and at while all the up-coming Tirreno-Adriatico stage previews are written by me and feature on both sites too.

Stage 5 profile Paris Nice
The big summit finish of the race. The start town of Châteauneuf-du-Pape is somewhere to linger rather than leave. Once home to the Pope, the riders cannot stay because they have a meeting with heavens on the Montagne de Lure.
Will the race be decided today? Can Andrew Talansky cope? The answer is expected at 4.00pm today.
  • Km 47.0 – Col de Mûrs, 10.3 kilometre-long climb at 4.3% – category 2
  • Km 85.0 – Côte d’Oppedette, 7.1 kilometre-long climb at 4% – category 2
  • Km 123.0 – Côte de Saint-Martin-les-Eaux, 2.7 kilometre-long climb at 3.7% – category 3
  • Km 134.5 – Col de la Mort d’Imbert, 4.5 kilometre-long climb at 4.4% – category 3
  • Km 152.0 – Côte des Mourres, 2.9 kilometre-long climb at 4.9% – category 3
  • Km 176.0 – La Montagne de Lure, 13.8 kilometre-long climb at 6.6% – category 1
The Route
176km with plenty of climbing along the way but the six listed ascensions en route look small compared the Montagne de Lure at the end of the day. The visuals are right and the stats above confirm how gentle the route is although they each play their role in sapping the energy and motivating riders to go up the road to win points for the mountains jersey, currently worn by IAM Cycling’s Johann Tschopp.
Montagne de Lure profile
The Finish
The Lure is the smaller sister of Mont Ventoux and 13.8km at a gradient of 6.6%, flattered by a softer section in the middle before the final four kilometres rise at over 7% to the line. But it’s easier than Ventoux and significantly faster in feel.
Starting at St Etienne les Orgues the passage through the town is awkward with narrow roads, drains and potholes, this matters because the pace will be fast as teams try to place their riders at the front. The first kilometre is steep and means riders will be going out of the back right from the start. The middle section is fast, some might deploy the big ring on the 5% sections and riders benefit from drafting. Then it kicks up for the last 4km, the serious part of the climb. The gradient eases for the finish line becoming a false flat and the road is some seven metres wide.
Overall this is no monster climb to savage the peloton. It’s fast in places and should be tactical, don’t be surprised to see a lot of riders glancing at their bike computers every 30 seconds to check if they’re riding to plan when it comes to their power output.
The Scenario
There are at least two races on today. First the fight for a stage win. Here there’s a big cast of contenders but anyone hoping for a win has to be a good climber. If a breakaway stays away only those at ease in the mountains should win. But it’s unlikely a move sticks because several teams will set a high tempo towards the final climb in order to set up their leaders, thus reeling in any escape move. Still for the stage win, rather than going in an early move we could see the likes of Robert Gesink who are down on the overall but still hungry for a stage win. The Dutchman could be “allowed” to ride away because he’s no longer a threat on the overall. The same for Nairo Quintana who crashed yesterday but seems to be ok.
Second there is the overall classification race, a subset of the first group. There are 22 riders within 26 seconds of Talansky and given the time bonuses available, it means one of several riders just need to get a gap on Talansky and take the stage and they’ll take the lead. Of these riders, only Chavanel looks likely to drop out of contention. When the race visited the Lure in 2009 he was in the yellow jersey and lost beaucoup time but these days he’s been training at altitude and has improved his climbing. Still I think this is too much. But there are many names ready to pounce. Lieuwe Westra lost contact on the descent in yesterday’s stage finish and looked solid when he rode back solo to the lead group, he also won the “mountain” finish last year above Mende.
Talansky rode well to take the lead but looked isolated yesterday and we’ll see if he’s got the likes of Jack Bauer and Fabian Wegmann on hard for support. If not his best interest is served by a small group forming quickly so he only has a few riders to survey. Yesterday’s stage saw a series of attacks on the descent into St Vallier but this time any attacks will shred the group and only the strongest survive.
Weather: cloud and rain at times. Temperatures will reach 14°C (57°F) and a light breeze of 5-10km/h from the south is expected.
TV: Live video from 2.55 – 4.10pm Euro time on French TV and Eurosport and X marks the spot, or are where you’ll find the pirate video streams of the race.
History: the Montagne de Lure was climbed in 2009 when Alberto Contador rode away to win the stage but he later lost the race after running out of energy on another stage, prompting Lance Armstrong to tweet about Contador “having a lot to learn”, an early round of their proxy war ahead of the Tour de France. Things have changed since those days, for example Contador’s mystery coach Pepe Marti  from that year was caught in the USADA case (there’s still no verdict for him and Bruyneel). Fränk Schleck was second, Luis Leon Sanchez finished third and went on to win the race… but he’s now stuck at home as his Blanco team fret about his possible links to shady doctors.
Ride It: The sister mountain to Mont Ventoux, the Lure is worth riding up as it offers a peaceful experience compared to the busy ascension of Mont Ventoux where you might ride in the slipstream of cycling history but you also go into exhaust fumes and the stench of burning brakes and clutch plates from passing tourists in their cars. The Lure is trying to establish itself as an alternative, or at least an addition and there’s a “challenge” where riders can add their times to a list – currently topped by maxbouet, aka Maxime Bouet of Ag2r – and get a diploma.
Eat It: Drink it because the start in Châteauneuf-du-Pape rhymes with wine. The nearby Rhone valley and ancient glaciers deposited a bed of gravel which helps the wine, as ever poor soil makes for good wine. It’s also a big tourist destination for general holidays in July and August.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Tirreno-Adriatico: Stage 3 Preview

Mark Cavendish’ complained about his teammates after the second stage. He had the kick, but no help. Andre Greipel had a brilliant team, but didn’t have the legs despite being in a perfect position in the final. The big showndown between Cavendish and Greipel never came and I’m not sure we will see it on this stage either.

The 190 km from Indicatore to Narni Scalo may look like a sure thing for the sprinters, but the last 70 km have the riders climb several small, steep hills. Among these Todi with an average gradient of 12,2%. The last hilly section of the stage ends with 3 km to go. 800 meters of 4,8% serve as the last chance for opportunistic riders to attack but most likely this will end in a sprint. The heavy sprinters will probably have difficulties staying up front but those aiming at Milano - San Remo need to show they can deal with the hills.
The last 3 km are a bit tricky with a few difficult turns, especially a right bend with about 1500 km to go but the last 500 meters are straightforward on a 7 meters wide asphalted roadway. The weather forecast shows another rainy day for the riders and with many descents on last part of the route, it could easily turn into another chaos. Everybody want to stay up front – both the GC riders and the sprinters - and it will only take a single rider crashing to turn it all upside-down.  

Final circuit towards the finishing line in Narni Scalo.
Click for larger view.
The way I see it, this is a great stage for Peter Sagan. As predicted yesterday, he didn’t have the necessary power to sprint for the win on stage 2 but with the many small hills and tricky finish, I think he will have the upper hand against Greipel and Cavendish on stage 3. Matt Goss produced a great sprint when he won in Indicatore and he shouldn’t have problems staying up front either this time. I doubt Lotto-Belisol will be able to provide a strong leadout train for Greipel in this type of finish so it could very well end up being every sprinter for himself.

The favorites want to save as much energy as possible before the big mountain stage the next day, but they won’t let anybody sneak away in the finish either. Vincenzo Nibali and Rinaldo Nocentini have both been showing great shape lately with many attacks in their previous races but they should both be waiting for tomorrow. Instead I’ll pick Moreno Moser as my joker. His conditions is already very good and with everybody looking at Sagan, Moser could try to get away in the final. Not as far out as in Strade Bianche but probably in the last 3-4 kilometers.  Moreno Moser has his eyes on the GC too and it may be foolish to waste energy with a late attack, but on the other hand; he is one of few riders able to finish it off and a stage win sure is better than Top20 overall.

This may be the first time I’ve ever picked two guys from the same team as winner and joker, but I guess there is a first time for everything...

Winnerpick: Peter Sagan
Joker: Moreno Moser

For live coverage of the stage check out cyclingfans & steephills.

Paris-Nice: Stage 4 Preview

In lack of time, I have teamed up with INRNG to provide you with daily stage previews of both Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico. Originally, I would only have been doing stage previews for Tirreno, but thanks to this collaboration you will now be able to read about all the stages of the two World Tour races. The Paris-Nice stage previews are written by INRNG and can be found here and at while all the up-coming Tirreno-Adriatico stage previews are written by me and feature on both sites too.

Paris-Nice Stage 4
We’re halfway. The race is maturing and the profile for Stage 4 has more red dots than a teenager with acne.
But the race is far from decided. If Andrew Talansky is the new leader, his advantage on the others is slim and his Garmin-Sharp team will have to work hard to keep him in yellow. A long stage with plenty of climbing awaits and if you get déjà vu later, don’t worry, as the explanation is below.
  • km 11.5 – Côte de Lachaud, 4.8km at 5.6% – Cat 2
  • km 27.5 – Côte de Condat, 6.9km at 4.4% – Cat 2
  • km 87.5 – Côte de la Chomasse, 3.4km at 5.1% – Cat 3
  • km 105.5 – Côte de Laprat, 2.1km at 3.8% – Cat 3
  • km 136.0 – Col du Rouvey, 2.8km at 5.6% – Cat 3
  • km 176.5 – Côte de Talencieux, 2.9km at 8.1% – Cat 2
  • km 191.0 – Côte de la Sizeranne, 2.9km at 6.6% – Cat 2
The Route: uphill straight away means a fast start and today looks like breakaway day but it’s all about the composition of a move and who will be let go. By now many teams will want to send a rider up the road so if they miss out they might chase or send riders across. This could keep up across the high plateau and the first intermediate sprint at La Chaise-Dieu (trivia: it translates as “The Seat of God” but actually Chaise comes fromcasa or house, after an abbey). Overall if it’s up and down and with plenty of mountains points available, note the average gradients, there is nothing too serious here and only the Côte de Talencieux gives the climbers an advantage.
The Finish: if you have pachydermal powers of recall then you’ll remember Saint Vallier and the Côte de la Sizeranne featured in the finale of last summer’s Dauphiné on Stage 1 when first Andy Schleck was dropped and over the top Cadel Evans went clear to win in a sneaky late with Andrey Kashechkin and Jérôme Coppel (video).
Once again the route is the same and as mentioned in the stage preview last June the stats supplied don’t match the reality of the climb: it’s listed as 6.6% for 2.9km but steeper than the average suggests, kicking up at 7-8% for the first kilometre, then a tiny dip, before rising up again at more than 7%.
The descent is tricky – again in the Dauphiné several riders messed up the corners – and the finish comes up quickly. The final straight is 500m long and flat.
The Scenario: the overall classification – listed at the bottom of this page – has 28 riders within 26 seconds of Talansky meaning it’s going to be hard for his team to control things, especially with the time bonuses at the finish. Many will want to be in the early breakaway but who will make it? It looks like some riders who have lost time might get an exit visa from the peloton, think of Thomas de Gendt and Bjorn Leukemans (Vacansoleil-DCM), Jérémy Roy and Alex Geniez (FDJ), Martin Elmiger (IAM) as examples of riders who could slip away.
But if it comes back to a sprint note the final climb can dump some riders but Tony Gallopin (Radioshack), J-J Rojas (Movistar) and Jonathan Hivert (Sojasun) are riding well. Also it’ll be interesting to see what Philippe Gilbert does, it’s a day for him but he’s been playing loyal domestique for Tejay van Garderen.
Andrew who? Apparently some journos were asking who’s Andrew Talansky but remember he won the mountainous Tour de l’Ain last August before finishing seventh in the Vuelta after some consistent riding every day. He was also second in the Tour de Romandie, 12 seconds behind Bradley Wiggins. The 24 year old could be familiar to readers here as he’s on my list of 12 riders to watch this year.
Talansky made the move with Romain Bardet, the local rider. They’re no strangers as back in 2010 they were fighting in the franco-Italian Tour des Pays de Savoie with Talansky winning a stage ahead of Bardet and also Bart de Clerq, a rider 13th overall in Paris-Nice.
Weather: rain clearing and a top temperature of 13°C (55°F) but much cooler at altitude over the Col du Rouvey. In addition the southerly wind is back, it will pick up during the stage to blow at 20km/h from the south-east by the finish in the often windier Rhone valley.
TV: Live video from 2.55 – 4.10pm Euro time on French TV and Eurosport and, rum at the ready, or have the online co-ordinates for buried pirate video.
Eat: the race passes near Le Puy en Velay which is famous – in culinary circles – for its black lentils which grow in the dark volcanic soils. Supposedly they taste better but they’re also iron rich and a good addition to the cyclist’s diet.
Paris Nice overall classification