The Aftermath of Michele Scarponi’s Death

Just a bit off-topic first: I have been called a virute signaller for doing articles which involve looking back on those in our sport who have passed tragically, but that is not the kind of person I am. Of course, everyone after a sportsperson dies – especially in the sport one follows passionately – feels immense sadness, but I don’t mean to elevate my own social standing and morality by being a ‘warrior for those lost’. I don’t even consider myself a ‘warrior for those lost’, I take the facts and analyse them.

Sadly, this week saw another tragic death to one of the world’s most loved cyclists, Michele Scarponi. This death hit the entire cycling community hard – 5 days after winning a stage at the Tour of the Alps he was killed on a training ride around his local area. Tributes flooded in all over on Twitter (I counted over 300 from professional cyclists alone, and more from individual teams, cycling personalities and others).

Are cyclists in more danger than ever on the road?

He passed to the fears every cyclist, no matter pro or casual, has. Getting struck by a car is one of the inherent dangers of being a cyclist. We share the road with 1.5 tonne metal cages while we sit on our sub-10kg carbon fibre bikes and the only thing that protects us is our helmet and the thin lycra we wear. If we are training, or as footage from yesterday’s Ton Dolmans Trofee shows while we are racing, cyclists are faced with the danger of colliding with a car through a motorists negligence or a cyclists own negligence. Just this week, we have had Scarponi pass away, Lucas Hamilton struck by a car forcing him to miss San Vendemiano and Yoann Offredo was assaulted by a passer-by with a knife and baseball bat. And you don’t have to look back far to see the previous death to a professional cyclist, after Mike Hall was struck by a car during the Indian Pacific Road Race at the end of March. These deaths and injuries caused to riders seem to be ever increasing, and while it is hard to tell if it was motorist or cyclist fault at times, no matter whose fault it is no cyclist should die on the roads.

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Offredo was assaulted this week, the third off road incident involving a cyclist since the death of Scarponi. Source: Facebook/Yoann Offredo.

Even with positive steps towards cyclist safety, it seems like we are becoming even more unsafe on the roads. The example most poignant to me being the WA government introducing ‘safe passing’ laws, a trial for a 1 meter passing distance between cars and cyclists for 2 years. The age of the ‘distracted driver’ on their mobile while driving (and ‘distracted cyclist’ checking KoMs on Strava while riding, and I’ll admit I am guilty of this) means that not everyone is fully aware on the roads, and can lead to accidents. For the first time, on the weekend, I was sideswiped by a car while going down a hill, and crashed (before you ask, I am okay minus some road rash, my bike is okay, and I couldn’t catch the driver). While my experience doesn’t faze me, it made me aware of how fragile us cyclists are on the road. And as Offredo’s experience shows, it’s not just motorists who have something against cyclists (and I know the vast majority of motorists are very respectful), but there is an universal hatred against cyclists by the general public.

My thoughts behind this is that cyclists can sometimes come off as quite elitist and snobby – I can understand that as some people really push the pro-bike/anti-car agenda really hard while ignoring the road rules which apply to everyone because cyclists are ‘special’. I don’t agree with any of these sentiments, and I am sure that most of the cycling community doesn’t too, but it’s this minority who make up the majority of hate against cyclists (and it’s similar with the minority of motorists, too). Everyone – cyclists, motorists, pedestrians – needs to realise that we share the roads (and bike paths!) together and we need to respect each others space. My mum always tells me to ‘give way to the bigger vehicle because you will always come off second best’, and I think this is a fair comparison to cyclists and motorists. Motorists should be required to give cyclists enough space to ride safely, and in return cyclists should respect the fact that motorists are the ‘big cat’ of the road and we can’t just claim the road for ourselves. Share the road, people.

Are pro cyclists the most death-prone athletes?

My great friend and podcast buddy (we promise there is another episode soon!) Miles were taking after the death of Scarponi, and we asked ourselves “Cycling is surely the deadliest sport, right?”. Given the current circumstances – two pro deaths in a month – you wouldn’t be wrong in thinking so. So, I’m going to break down the stats over a number of sports, including: Soccer, American Football, AFL, Cricket, Rugby, Ice Hockey, Wrestling, Boxing and MMA, and compare them to the death statistics of cycling since the turn of the century. I will only be taking into consideration professional sportspeople who died while playing or training for their respective sports.

First, cycling. There has been 22 deaths in professional races since 2000 (including 3 ultracyclists, 3 track riders, 2 mountain bikers, a cyclocross rider, a paracyclist and 12 road riders). There has also been 24 (2 ultracyclists,  3 mountain bikers, a cyclocross rider, a paracyclist, 2 triathletes and 15 road riders) out of competition deaths since 2000, making 46 deaths.

In soccer, there have been 73 deaths while playing since 2000 (most of which were heart failures, although there were some on field collisions), while 12 have died while training (most common cause? Lightning strike). In American football (both College and Pro), there has been 14 deaths to players, all of which were out of competition in training. All of these deaths also occured at the College level. In Cricket, there has been 4 deaths to players (all in competition) since 2000 (for me, Phil Hughes dying still hurts). Ice Hockey has 6 deaths (all in competition) since 2000 as well. There has been 14 deaths to Rugby players since 2000.

To the fighting specific sports, there has been an estimated 34 deaths since 2000 in boxing, 14 deaths in wrestling and 4 deaths in MMA – all in competition. There have been no deaths in AFL due to playing or training since 1971. For easy viewing, here is a chart:

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Soccer is by far the deadliest, but also the most played. Per sportsperson, cycling would be larger, but boxing would beat it per sportsperson. Still one of the deadliest nevertheless.

The one sport I didn’t consider was Motorsport. The reason why is that it is way too broad a sport to pinpoint deaths. There is NASCAR, F1, V8SC, MotoGP, Motorboating, Stunt Driving etc, and while each sport has a handful of deaths every decade, grouping them all into one category would be inappropriate. However, from a quick glance, the deaths in Motorsport are around the same than cycling (except Motorcycling, which has more). So, even on a total sportspeople dead, cycling is one of the deadliest (contemporary) sports on Earth.

If there are any inaccuracies in this, please tell me and I will rectify it. I used Wikipedia as a guideline source, before investigating other sources including news sites.

What direction do Astana take now?

I didn’t necessarily voice my opinion on this on the day of Scarponi’s death, but the second thought that popped into my head (after “Is this real?”) was “How do Astana cope with this?”. Images out of Liege-Bastogne-Liege showed a broken team losing one of their most respected members, while in Croatia there were similar scenes – with ex-team mate Vincenzo Nibali dedicating his Croatia win to Scarpa (like Valverde at LBL). However, with Romandie starting today, and the Giro starting in less than 2 weeks, the big question should be where do Astana go from here in what they race?

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Aru is one of Astana’s major riders who are out with injury at the moment. Source: Eric Feferberg.

Aru is currently out with a recurring knee injury and will be unable to ride the Giro, M.A. Lopez will be back later in May after breaking his leg in the offseason, Tiralongo and Fuglsang can’t really keep up with arguably even the 2nd tier GC riders and Scarponi was Astana’s main man for the Giro. Without Scarponi, Astana are now forced to rely on a 2nd rate team while their team leaders are out with injuries. The loss of Scarponi shows how lacking in depth the team is in the climbing department, and after a weak classics season they really do need to be at full fitness for the rest of the season. They are taking Kangert to Romandie as their team leader, but considering Kangert doesn’t have the best record in these hillier 1 week races, they will probably target stages. Their provisional roster for the Giro suggests this as well, with Sanchez arguably going to ride GC with Moser to target flatter stages, Kangert the punchier ones while the old horse in Tiralongo could still bring some magic in the Italian Alps.

As for next season, there are rumours that Androni’s youngster Egan Bernal is signing with a WT team, either Movistar or Sky. Maybe Astana should lodge a bid for the 20 year old Colombian – while he has 3 years left on his Androni contract he is more than ready for the WT taking out the Youth Jersey at the Tour of the Alps, Coppi e Bartali and 2nd in the Youth Classification at Tirreno. If Astana want the services of a rider who is more punchy, Lucas Hamilton is tearing up the U23 circuit in Europe at the moment and while Orica will want to funnel him into their main squad maybe Astana could tempt him over where he can target the Ardennes classics or punchier 1 week races. 25 year old Tsgabu Grmay is just starting to find his feet in the WT and is out of contract at the end of 2017, and would bolster Astana’s chances in the 1 week races. In a similar vein, Merhawi Kudus of Dimension Data is without a contract in 2018 and is showing great form in the one week races, coming 4th in Oman and 2nd in the Youth Classification at Bartali.

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Bernal could be the rider to solve Astana’s mountain problem. Source: Marca.

Astana should be set in the sprint department with Gatto taking Minali under his wing and with Aru and M.A. Lopez to ride GTs, they just need a team to support these main riders. If Astana can have the team to support them with these climbers, they will be a stronger team, able to target podiums and wins instead of top 10’s in the biggest races of the season. However, they just need this to pass over first.

This week has truly been tragic for the whole cycling community. It shows how fragile all of us are and how we always need to be careful on the roads. We can’t always be mourning losses though, we need to look forward to the future – and that is making sure everyone on the roads is safer, and specifically for Astana, rebuilding a team which can compete on the WorldTour post-Scarpa. For now, I’m out.

~The Cycling Raven

5 Riders To Watch: Amstel Gold Race WWT

The first of two previews today! Sorry for not posting anything for a few weeks, I have had University and other personal issues to address. Enough of the excuses, let’s jump right into the racing!

It feels like I’ve almost forgotten how to do these. The main classics season has ended – Philippe Gilbert took a stunning solo win at Flanders, GVA finally broke his monuments curse at Paris-Roubaix, Strade Bianche was one of the best races of the year (the women’s edition is the best race of the year so far), so there has many hours of brilliant cycling to watch! However, let’s not focus on the men, let’s focus on the women first. Rivera has come from no where to win 2 WWT races and take the Purple Jersey, which no one could have predicted. This year marks the 4th Women’s Amstel Gold Race after a 14 year hiatus, which is a great progression for women’s cycling being able to compete alongside the Men at one of the biggest Belgian races of the year. Enough small talk, let’s jump right into the course overview.

The Course

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I feel like 121 kilometers is a criminally short race for the top level of Women’s cycling. Hopefully that’ll change in the future. Source: Amstel Gold Race.

 

What is lost in the Men’s race is gained in the Women’s race – the Cauberg remains as the final stage for the assault into Berg en Terblijt. The 121 kilometer race – which I personally believe as an injustice to the women racing in terms of length – sees the riders tackle 17 different climbing sections over 10 different climbs, with a punchy uphill up the Cauberg and the fierce 1.1km descent afterwards. The riders will leave Maastricht and head North towards Guelle for the first climb, before looping around the Eastern side of Maastricht and Valkenberg and heading into the final few laps around Berg en Terblijt. The profile, and type of race it is, lends to an early break as per usual, but this year has shown that it’s been really tough to get a break going in the WWT – not many attempts have been successful.

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The Men’s loss is the Women’s gain – the Cauberg finish is here to stay! Source: Amstel Gold Race.

As has been the case for most WWT races this year, a breakaway of the same strong contingent of riders – van der Breggen, Borghini, van Vleuten, Niewiadoma, Rivera, Cecchini and a couple of others who manage to tag on – will form with around 25km to go and head into the finish loop. While you could predict this happening for most WWT races, Amstel Gold has a certain quality to it where I don’t think that will happen. The riders will tackle the Geulhemmerberg, Bemelerberg and Cauberg on their final loops, and the distance between climbs is so minimal that if one gets away they could stay out the whole time. This really suits riders like Borghini and Niewiadoma who have that explosive edge, but riders like Janneke Ensing wouldn’t count themselves out on such a hilly, explosive finish. The dash to the line is downhill after the Cauberg, so don’t take your eyes off the telly on the last couple of kilometers because it’s going to be frantic! That’s the course today, who do you need to keep an eye out for?


The Bookies Favourite: Coryn Rivera

After her amazing run of form, why wouldn’t you back her as the favourite? The only person with two wins in this WWT season at Trofeo Binda and Ronde van Vlaanderen, Coryn Rivera has gone from no-name American straight into the spotlight on the biggest stage of Women’s cycling in the world. She has shown that even after the tough hills, the pint-sized Sunweb rider can sprint better than most, if not all, of the Women’s peloton. She has a great team behind her in Ellen van Dijk, Floortje Mackaij and Leah Kirchmann who can all target the race for themselves too. Will she make it three – if her purple patch run of form continues, you can’t see why not.

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The tiny American sure can rock out. Source: Tim de Waele.

The Hometown Hero: Anna van der Breggen

Being part of the Boels Dolmans super-squad warrants you a mention in any preview of any WWT race. If you are donning Orange and White in the peloton, you know you are the best of the best in the sport. Anna van der Breggen finds herself as one of the best riders on the best squad in Women’s cycling. The European and Olympic Champion (the latter of which was by a bit of luck) will be hoping to lead the Boels charge at Amstel Gold today, after a shaky start to the season for the whole team. She will want to make up for that shaky start back in her home country – she snagged 2nd at the Healthy Ageing Tour last week which would have to be beneficial mentally in terms of form, we will just have to wait until later tonight to see if she has the legs.

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She won it for her team mate, which is good, but van Vleuten deserved the win. Source: NBC

The Youngster: Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig

This is one of my favourite parts of Women’s cycling. You can have riders who are 17 or 18 competing next to riders in their late 30s (or if you are current TT World Champ Amber Neben, at 42 years old), and they all have a fair crack at winning. And after a fair start to the 2017 season, Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig of Cervelo Bigla has experience beyond her age. The 21 year old Dane can keep up with the big names on the big stage, with a 9th at a hotly contested Strade Bianche – the first finisher after the 8 man break. The punchy finish of the Cauberg will definitely suit her, and Amstel Gold is probably her best chance all season to get a top 5 or even a podium on the WWT. While she might not be at the top just yet, 2 years from now she could be winning left right and center.

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So young, but so good. That’s what makes Women’s cycling great. Source: Feltet.dk

The Unknown Entity: Shara Gillow

I love a good Australian underdog story. Strade Bianche was exactly that. Before Strade Bianche, if you asked most people in cycling about Shara Gillow – they would probably think “Why would you want to share a pillow with me?”. The 29 year old Australian broke into the spotlight with a wonderful solo attack into Siena at Strade Bianche, only to be caught only one kilometer out from the line in the world’s slowest drag race. Since then, she has faded back into the shadows, but a similar looking Amstel Gold Race could favour her in a solo effort. Consistently good performances at the Aussie Nats tells you she can tackle hills pretty well, and although her team at FDJ isn’t the strongest by a mile, she can still go herself. If you want an underdog story to follow today, here is one in the making.

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You can pin point the exact moment I lost my shit watching Strade Bianche. Source: FDJ

The Previous Winner: About That…

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Nicole Cooke retired a couple of years ago…but she did win the race back in 2003! Source: Total Women’s Cycling.

Well, the last edition of the Amstel Gold Women’s Race ran in 2003 with Nicole Cooke winning, but she is now retired. So I’m going to use this as a flex spot to talk about a rider who hasn’t been mentioned but is definitely an outside chance. And I’ve alluded to her slightly, but because not many people give her credit for her skill, Janneke Ensing definitely deserves a special mention. I took notice of her at the Santos Women’s Tour after holding onto the wheel of Spratt up Paris Creek Rd – which is far from flat – almost the whole way up and taking 2nd place on that stage into Meadows. This year, she has proven that she can stick it with the top riders and attack near the latter stages of the race, most notably going after Shara Gillow in the closing stages of Strade Bianche this year (if you still haven’t watched Strade Bianche WWT, go watch it. Best race of the year). While she isn’t of the same prowess as the top-top of the sport, she is definitely an outsider you cannot forget about. With no wins to her name at age 30, she will want to grab something in what could be one of her last pro seasons.

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Janneke Ensing took 2nd behind Spratt at Stage 1 of the Santos Women’s Tour 2017. I was at the finish line and she really put in an effort to make me keep an eye on her.

That’s a wrap for my Amstel Gold WWT Preview! The Men’s Preview will be out in about an hour’s time, but for now you can just twiddle your thumbs waiting. My personal pick for this race is Janneke Ensing, I think she can go solo and stun us all. What a win that would be for the win-less Dutchie. For now, I’m out.

~The Cycling Raven.

 

 

Daan Myngheer – 2016’s Forgotten Tragedy

Looking back on 2016, it was one of the worst years for rider deaths and serious injuries in history. Everyone remembers Antoine Demoitie – the 25 year old up-and-coming Wanty rider who died on one of cycling’s biggest days at Gent-Wevelgem after a moto collision. In a similar fashion, Stig Broeckx of Lotto Soudal was induced into a coma for 6 months after a moto collision at the Baloise Belgium Tour – and is still at a state of minimal communication in hospital with little to no change of full recovery. Keagan Girdlestone of Dimension Data for Qhubeka crashed into the back of his team car on a descent at the Coppa della Pace Race, severing arteries in his neck – but since then he has made a great recovery, completing his first race just this weekend gone past. Staigiare Etienne Fabre of AG2R and Chambery Cycling died in a hiking accident late last year, while Colavita Neo-pro Ellen Watters was killed in a training accident after colliding with a truck. Iranian paracyclist Bahman Golbarnezhad died on the worlds biggest stage – the Olympics – on the very dangerous Rio course after a crash on a similar descent to the one which saw Annemiek Van Vleuten suffer a serious concussion (feared dead) and multiple other severe crashes in the Men’s Race. All of these accidents are tragic, and all of them got quite extensive media coverage; but one rider was forgotten amongst all of these.

Daan Myngheer spent 2015 at Verandas Willems Crelan before transferring over to the Roubaix Lille Métropole team for 2016. With promising performances in his junior years including being the Belgian Junior National Road Race Champion in 2011, 2nd at Omloop Juniors 2010, 8th at Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne Juniors 2011 and 17th at Paris Roubaix Juniors 2011; the 22 year old looked like a solid pickup for the Lille team heading into the classics season of 2016. And sure enough, he proved himself in not only the classics but also in the GC races – 4th in the Youth Classification at Etoile de Besseges ahead of riders like Antony Turgis, Florian Senechal and Maxime Farazijn (who are all proving themselves in 2017) and helping team mate Rudy Barbier get a win at Paris-Troyes (who is now at AG2R) was just the start he needed in 2016 on a new team.

The Criterium International 2016. Sunday the 28th of March. Myngheer was getting his first taste of the big time at the biggest race of his career so far. The scenic backdrop of Porto-Vecchio, Corsica, makes the day seem as idyllic as one could hope. Brushing shoulders with riders like Thibaut Pinot, Thomas Voeckler and Jean-Christophe Peraud; Myngheer would have only had to have been in awe of finally making it here. It’s not the WorldTour, but it’s close enough to get a taste of the world stage. 25km into the relatively flat stage, Myngheer lost contact with the peloton quickly, feeling ill, before suffering a heart attack in the ambulance on the way to hospital. While the race was still on in Porto-Vecchio, Myngheer was in the fight for his life in the back of the ambulance, reaching the hospital in Ajaccio.

At 7:08pm, he was pronounced dead. Not much has been announced since them about the specific circumstances surrounding his death, nor should it be. Although reports have been released about Myngheer suffering a similar heart abnormality in a race in 2014, he had been fit all the way through his career. Riders from all over poured tributes towards Myngheer, the cycling community suffering two devastating losses in two days. The race continued on, Thibaut Pinot winning by 37 seconds over Pierre Latour.

Since then, Myngheer has been forgotten. He has faded away into the background of what was cycling’s darkest day in years with Demoitie’s death. It was cycling’s darkest weekend ever, but not many people remember the Sunday. No rider deserves to be forgotten, whether they past in tragic circumstances or retired after a valiant career. Patrick Lefevere summed up the day perfectly: “When winning the race is not important anymore. We lost [two] young people. That hurts.”

Tomorrow marks the one year anniversary of Daan’s death. Another rider taken too young.

RIP Daan. 1993-2016.

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Spinning Out Podcast: Episode 2

7 Race Reviews, multiple discussion topics, all condensed into an episode which somehow was under an hour. Great to do this with Miles again, it was recorded a week or so ago but it still is relevant to now! Download link available soon 🙂

Race Reviews: Paris-Nice, Tirreno-Adriatico, Strade Bianche (M+W), GP Industria, Ronde Van Drenthe (M+W), Dwars Door West Vlaanderen, Oceania Champs (M+W)

Discussion Topics: Weird DQs, Riding for Country or Team, Crappy TTs, Wheelsucking, Continential Championships Formatting, Best Riders of the Week

5 Riders to Watch: Tirreno – Adriatico

Ooof…what a poster (from the 2015 edition). Paris-Nice is just starting but we are already looking ahead to the next stage race! Tirreno-Adriatico is one of a small handful of Italian races not having an anniversary edition this year, but that doesn’t mean it’s spectacular. A race for the climbers, this week provides everything from TTs to 23% incline finishes to downhill sprints. With all the big names who aren’t going to Paris-Nice instead coming here, it is also another stacked race with plenty of big contenders. Let’s see how the course shapes up.

The Course

Stage 1: Lido di Camaiore > Lido di Camaiore (22.7km)

Everything about this team time trial is flat and straight. Like, seriously, it’s straight up a road 8km, then a right turn and 3 left turns to make it back onto the same road and come back the other way. No uber technical corners other than the corner at Forte Dei Marmi for the time check. Really will just be a power time trial, along a coastline with some nice scenery if it wasn’t for all the hotels.

Pick for the Stage: BMC, Rohan Dennis to cross first.

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Couldn’t make a flatter pancake if they tried. Source: Tirreno-Adriatico.

Stage 2: Camaiore > Pomarance (229km)

This stage makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside. It’s the perfect puncheur stage. The first 120 kilometers is pretty dead flat, but it’s all just preparation for the final 100km which just looks like high action and high drama. There are 3 KoM points on the day, Serrazzano (9.1km at 2.8%) at 132.8km, Volterra (9.9km at 4.5%) at 176.6km and Montecatini Val Di Cecina (3.4km at 6% on Strava) at 206.6km. But the climbs don’t end there, with the finish into Pomarance being uphill, and quite steep. 8km out from the finish there is a 16% kicker for 500m, while the last last 2km averages 4.7% and the last 500m is at 6.3%. These climbs may seem long, but there are flat sections and steep sections all the way up and they’re hardly gradual climbs. I see this stage panning out by the peloton letting a non-threatening break get the win while big names try to take a bit of time before heading to Terminillo or will just let a break go for it.

Pick for the Stage: Sebastien Reichenbach

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The last 100km of this stage will be a must watch. Source: Tirreno-Adriatico.

Stage 3: Monterotondo Marittimo > Montalto di Castro (204km)

The first real sprinters stage of the day, the riders will still have to tackle some undulating terrain before the finish in Montalto di Castro. The stage descends out of Monterotondo Marittimo and is pretty easy (relatively) riding until the Scansano climb which is apparently 20km long. It’s quite a gradual climb for the whole 20km – at 2.6% – but there are some pitches of 8 to 10% spaced across the climb. I’m quite intrigued by the sprint point at 129.9km in Catabbio at the top of quite a steep climb after the first sprint point 9.8km earlier – although the points will more than likely be taken by the break the thought of having the sprint point at the top of the climb instead of a KoM is an interesting concept. After that sprint point though, it’s undulating until the last 10km for the descent into Montalto di Castro. There is a roundabout 150m out from the finish which could probably be the launchpad for most riders after the slight incline just before the finish. The sprinters will want to avoid getting boxed in at the roundabout, it looks like the place where the stage will be won and lost.

Pick for the Stage: Peter Sagan

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Sprinters will be relieved with a stage that favours them. Source: Tirreno-Adriatico.

Stage 4: Montalto di Castro > Terminillo (187km)

The Queen stage of the race, the Terminillo stage features some pretty steep and brutal climbs before the riders eventually have to crest the monster in the snow. The La Colonnetta (9.3km at 4.8%) climb early on in the stage should limber up those legs for the start, while the climbs after the Terni sprint point at 126.3km (7.3km at 3.4%) and in Castelfranco (5.4km at 4.3km) just before the Terminillo should just make sure the lactic acid builds up before the pièce de résistance. The Terminillo climb is 16.1km long with an average gradient of 7.3km. At this time of year, the riders might prefer to ski down it than cycle it, but they get paid to do this. The first section of the climb is the hardest, with the first 6 kilometers averaging 8.4% with pitches of 12%. There is a slight ‘lull’ of 3.5% in the middle of the climb, before it ramps up for the summit. With a 10% kicker 1.5km out just after a corner, the twisty climb finishes at 250m to go before a straight but still not flat finish. Barring a terrible time trial performance, whoever wins this stage should win the race.

Pick for the Stage: Nairo Quintana

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It’s not just a mountain top finish, but also a 130km slog beforehand. Source: Tirreno-Adriatico.

Stage 5: Rieti > Fermo (210km)

More punchy finishes! With this stage being placed after the mountain top monstrosity of Terminillo, we will definitely see some attacks from some GC riders unsatisified with their performance the day before to improve their standings. The stage is up and down the whole time straight from kilometer zero. Climb into Amatrice, descend into Ascoli Piceno, climb up the Capo di Monte, more descending, more climbing, and then we hit Fermo for – you guessed it – more climbing. There are 3 KoMs on the stage – Capo di Monte (6.6km at 4.8%), Capodarco (2.6km at 4%) and finally, the final Fermo climb. In the last 55km of the stage, there are 6 different ‘hills’ on the way, and it culminates with the steepest and hardest of them all. The first kilometer of the Fermo climb of 3.4km is at an average of 14.3%. 14 point 3. You read that right. And it maxes out at 22%+! After this pitch, it flattens out for 1.5km with an average gradient of 2% before the last kilometer averages 6.5%. The finish lies on a 10% gradient after a sharp right turn, so this stage could go all the way to the line for a break. As for GC riders who want to gain time, an attack on the 2nd last lump 10km away from the finish line might stick if they can keep the tempo up over the final few steep pitches.

Pick for the Stage: Primoz Roglic

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Polar opposites to the time trial. Source: Tirreno-Adriatico.

Stage 6: Ascoli Piceno > Civitanova Marche (159km)

The chaos of the 5 days previous is almost over. The sprinters will be rejoicing in the fact this stage resembles something flat and contestable in a bunch sprint. The riders climb out of Ascoli Piceno for the start of the race until Galleria “Croce di Casale” where the stage undulates for 35km before heading down to the base for the first and only KoM in Macerata (6.6km at 2.6%) – where, fun fact, I might be doing university exchange in a couple of years time! Anyways, the rest of the stage is more undulating hills until the 127km mark when it turns pancake flat. Minus a little lump at Civitanova Alta (1.9km at 4.7%), the finish into Civitanova Marche is perfect for the sprinters. A hairpin turn with 200m to go resembles more of a hotdog crit finish, and positioning into the final corner will be crucial to see who takes the win.

Pick for the Stage: Caleb Ewan

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Sprinters relief once again. Source: Tirreno-Adriatico.

Stage 7: San Benedetto del Tronto > San Benedetto del Tronto (10.1km)

Tirrento-Adriatico, the home of time trials up and down coastlines. Almost a mirror of the first team time trial, this individual time trial is straight up and down the road following the coast of San Benedetto del Tronto. There is a hairpin turn halfway down the court just after the time check at Piazza Salvo d’Acquisto, with the most climbing action over the whole stage being 14 speed bumps in 2km. Unless there is a crash or mechanical on this stage, the TT specialists should be trying for the stage win while the race leader will be trying to just save his jersey for just 15 minutes longer.

Pick for the Stage: Tom Dumoulin

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Is this flatter than the first time trial? You decide! Source: Tirreno-Adriatico.

I actually prefer the parcours to this race more than Paris-Nice, especially this year’s edition. Hopefully the race isn’t cut down due to snow like last year…here are the riders that should excel if the weather stays nice. I pray.


The Bookies Favourite: Nairo Quintana

I have mixed emotions recently about Nairo. The only guy who can really go toe-to-toe with Froome in a Grand Tour, but can seemingly think not chasing down an attack on Jebel Hafeet is a great idea, costing him the Abu Dhabi GC win. The 27 year old Colombian is an amazing climber and is starting to improve his time trialling as well – as much as you can for a 60kg climber anyway. A win at Valenciana after blasting away the rest of the field by 40 seconds on the Llucena Queen stage just shows he is totally on form when his head is in the right place. I don’t think anyone will be able to hold his wheel up Terminillo, unless it rolls off his bike and a spectator picks it up.

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Quintana experienced success in this race the last time he raced here in 2015. Source: Cortesia

The Hometown Hero: Fabio Aru

With Nibali leaving Astana for Bahrain-Merida, Fabio Aru has been given the reigns as the GC leader at the Kazahkstani based team and will be entering Tirreno-Adriatico to try and get into better form before a big year in Italian cycling. A win will be Aru’s only goal when he finishes next Tuesday – and the race is definitely made for him. He has the TT skills over Quintana, but it’s just a question of whether or not he can stay with him up Terminillo. With the Giro coming up in May, he will want to get his year into second gear after two pretty good performances to start the year in Oman and Abu Dhabi, and The Race of the Two Seas is a great place to start.

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Fabio Aru will be hoping for a win on home soil before the Giro this year. Source: Tim de Waele.

The Youngster: Soren Kragh Andersen

Trying to pick an U23 rider in this race was tough. Only 18 riders are 23 and under, and only 10 of those aren’t already 23. None of these riders look like performing even half decently on GC because of their roles as either domestiques, sprinters or second-tier climbers. But, there is one rider I want to highlight for the energy he brings to the race and his unpredictability on attacking – Soren Kragh Andersen. Already having a stage win to his name in 2017 on a punchy Quriyat finish at the Tour of Oman, 3 punchy finishes in Tuscany this week should surely appeal to him. After Kelderman’s abandonment, Andersen might be given a bit more of a free role to try and get a stage for the team. This parcours really suits him and he would have to be a big chance of at least one win this week.

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Andersen is a real chance for a stage win in Italy this week. Source: Tour des Fjords.

The Unknown Entity: Egan Arley Bernal

One of the biggest Colombian emerging talents, the 20 year old pure climber is not well known outside of his home nation but signing with Androni in 2016 is just a stepping stone to what should be a huge career for the prodigy. 4th at l’Avenir last year on GC, 7th at Langkawi this year and 4th at the Tour de Slovenie in 2016, he is just starting to make an impact on the lower .HC and .1 races. Tirreno-Adriatico is his first WT race, and he comes in as the big GC hope for the Italian PCT team – talk about pressure. He isn’t a great time triallist – and Androni isn’t known for their time trialling skills – so the 2 TTs might damage his prospects for a top 10, but you will see him sticking it with the big boys up Terminillo, so keep an eye out for him this week and maybe even on the podium in France in a few years time.

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Bernal has really flung onto the scene after signing with Androni. World Tour contract in the works maybe? Source: Androni Giocattoli.

The Previous Winner: Greg van Avermaet

A single second separated Peter Sagan and Greg van Avermaet in a weather-affected Tirreno-Adriatico in 2016. No mountain stage meant it was a hard duel between the two heavy weight punchy riders in the pro peloton. If weather stays put this year, GVA has approximately 0 chance of retaining his trident in 2017 – but that doesn’t mean he isn’t in contention for a few stage wins! The multiple punchy stages is what a rider of GVA’s quality lives for, so a stage win is definitely not out of his reach. But he can say good bye to that trident for this year.

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Awkward Trident Kiss #2. Source: Tim de Waele.

And that’s a wrap for my Tirreno-Adriatico preview! Eurosport bought all the rights for Italian races so that is your best bet to catch each stage – or if you are a rebel like me you can use Tiz-Cycling. My pick for overall? Aru, with Nibali to take the 1-2 for Italy. For now, I’m out.

~The Cycling Raven

 

5 Riders to Watch: Paris – Nice

I am writing this preview in huge anticipation for Strade Bianche tonight (well for me it’s tonight), which finishes at a convenient time for me in Australia finally. A race that doesn’t finish at a convenient time for me in Australia is Paris-Nice. I am contemplating just changing my body clock to work in UTC instead of AWST and see if my uni lecturers can re-organise my classes to work around my timezone. However, enough about me, paris-Nice is a race steeped in tradition and this year’s 75th edition brings a lot of big names…minus 1. Alejandro Valverde being out with illness means that he isn’t coming to a race he has been on the podium at two times (3 times minus the doping) but never won. His loss is the gain of the other big contenders though, who will be revelling in the fact that he isn’t coming to quite possibly ruin the party. So, what is this year’s edition of this race looking like?

The Course

Stage 1: Bois-d’Arcy > Bois-d’Arcy (148.5km)

Yay for circuit races? I’m not really a huge fan of circuit races, especially when they seem as pointless as this stage, but either way, it’s the start of Paris-Nice so we should be happy. The 74km circuit of Bois d’Arcy is done 2 times (which in my mind is seemingly pointless but I don’t design these races for a living) and features a sprint point at Beynes 55km and 132.5km in and the Cat 3 Cote de Senlisse (1.1km at 5.5%) 19.5km and 99.5km in. Definitely a bunch sprint unless the completely unimaginable happens, and the best sprinters of the race look to be Kittel, Degenkolb, Coquard and Bouhanni, while Orica’s Magnus Cort might enjoy the slightly uphill sprint this stage brings and he will be trying to replicate his Spanish performances in France this year.

Pick for the Stage: Magnus Cort

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Welcome to European Stage Racing Season! Source: LeTour.

Stage 2: Rochefort-en-Yvelines > Amilly (195km)

Flatter than a babies bottom, this stage presents one Cat 3 climb at the Cote des Granges-le-Roi (1.5km at 3.1%) 10.5km in before a pancake flat stage otherwise. Echelons are quite the possibility as the riders head south towards Amilly, but because there is another completely pointless circuit at the end of the stage, the crosswinds won’t really have an effect on the result of the sprint. The run into Amilly is ‘downhill’, but that is like saying me jumping from the pavement into a swimming pool is a downhill, it’s very marginal. Again, another open sprint, but depending on the winds on the day, the big guys like Kittel and Cort might have some difficulty if their lead-out trains fail to provide protection (but Quickstep and Orica have the two best leadout trains in the peloton hands down, so this happening is very unlikely).

Pick for the Stage: Bryan Coquard

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I still think Cav would get dropped over that Cat 3 climb. Source: LeTour.

Stage 3: Chablis > Chalon-sur-Saône (190km)

While not a completely pancake flat stage with two KoMs up for grabs, Stage 3 into Chalon-sur-Saone brings another compensation stage for the sprinters heading into the next few days of tough racing. The Cote de Grandmont (2.4km at 4.9%) at 128km and Cote de Charrecey (2.1km at 6.7%) at 164.5km is the extent of the days climbing, and their low category status means the points will be absorbed by the break of the day. The riders heading South down into Chalon-Sur-Saone might have to face some tough winds again, but nothing major. Another bone flat sprint, but the roads into Chalon-Sur-Saone are downhill-ish, so expect some fast corners being taken and some risks for position.

Pick for the Stage: Marcel Kittel

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When do the hills start? Source: LeTour.

Stage 4: Beaujeu > Mont Brouilly (14.5km)

Last years edition of Paris-Nice saw the finish onto Mont Brouilly cancelled due to snow. Hardly a Race to the Sun. So, to compensate, the race organisers decided to make a time trial committed to the climb itself this year. Mont Brouilly has been used once before besides 2016 in the 2014 edition (Stage 5), but this is the first time a stage is finishing there. The 14.5km time trial is a pretty dead flat course, with no real technical turns (besides turning out of Regnie-Durette at around 6km with a hairpin corner) until the riders hit Saint-Lager and onwards to Mont-Brouilly. Heading up the climb, the riders will have to take a few hairpin bends up, but the gradient of the climb levels out near the end. The profile makes it seem quite flat, but the climb is 206m gained over 4.1km with a 5% average gradient, so it’s isn’t like a pancake at all. Climbing time triallers like Porte, Martin, Bardet and Izagirre will want to get a jump start on the GC race here over the pure climbers who will be limiting their losses.

Pick for the Stage: Tony Martin

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The prologue TT or final stage TT has been replaced by a mid race TT. Source: LeTour.

Stage 5: Quincié-en-Beaujolais > Bourg-de-Péage (199.5km)

Stage 5 entertains us with 2 more KoMs and 2 more sprint points which should really have much of an influence on GC. The Cote de Givors (4.3km at 4.2%) at 98km and Cote de Saint-Uze (2.7km at 6.5%) at 152.5km will again be hotly contested by those aiming for the Mountains Classification (which I think will be won by Winner Anacona after the loss of Valverde for a team leader), but again, no major impact on GC to be found (these less hilly stages are quite annoying). The finish into Bourg-de-Peage is uphill, so the bunch sprint should provide plenty of entertainment. Not as much entertainment as the next few days to come, but enough anyway.

Pick for the Stage: Bryan Coquard

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The lumps are starting. Source: LeTour.

Stage 6: Aubagne > Fayence (193.5km)

The first serious day of climbing is just a couple of days before the riders finish in Nice. But that is okay, at least it came eventually. The Fayence stage of Paris-Nice this year comes along with 6 different categorised climb, starting at kilometer 0 with the Col de l’Espigoulier (8.9km at 5.6%) and finishes with the final kilometer of the race in Fayence (1.3km at 9.8%). Between those two climbs is a very undulating course west towards Fayence, where the crosswinds off the ocean could quite possibly play a part before the riders loop around Fayence in what seems like a Strava segment hunting competition more than a race. The Cat 1 climbs of Col de Bourigaille twice (once for 5.5km at 6.1%, again for 8.1km at 5.9%) is a circuit I like to see, and because of their minimal distance between each other leaves riders minimal time to rest on the flats. This stage can go two ways: sprinters teams holding on for their lives to keep their sprinter in for a reduced bunch sprint, or a rider not holding any worries for the mountain top finish the day after and launching a big attack into Fayence. I am going to pick the former.

Pick for the Stage: Michael Matthews

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A punchy finish to a hilly stage. Source: LeTour.

Stage 7: Nice > Col de la Couillole (177km)

I guess the best descriptor for this stage is…Nice? The Queen Stage of this years Paris-Nice features 3 Category 1 climbs (how the final climb isn’t HC is beyond me) and is a sprinters nightmare from kilometer zero. The first climb comes no more than 10km into the stage with the Cote de Gattieres, while the Cat 1 Col de Vence is summited at 29.5km into the stage. From there, the road flattens out for 70km or so, until the race hits Utelle for the slow climb up the first major climb of the day – the Col Saint-Martin. The climb averages above 7% for 7.5km, with the climb progressively getting steeper. Teams like Sky, Trek, BMC and AG2R will be on the front trying to whittle down the pack before the final climb of the Col de la Couillole to finish the stage. Never before used in Paris-Nice, the 15.7km climb averages 7.1% the whole way up the climb and rarely drops below 7% for the whole climb. This is where the big attacks and GC battle will pose itself for the week, and it’s definitely one for the pure climbers while the sprinters will be chilling about 5 paces in front of the broom van waiting for the day after.

Pick for the Stage: Richie Porte

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The Queen Stage of Paris-Nice features a never-before-used climb in the Col de la Couillole. Source: LeTour.

Stage 8: Nice > Nice (115.5km)

Now this is a pretty nice stage too. Featuring 5 categorised climbs and 2 sprint points, any rider wishing to consolidate or snatch a points jersey in Nice will have ample opportunity to. 5 5km+ climbs throughout the day will wear the riders out before they hit Nice, with the famous Col d’Eze (7.7km at 5.7%) welcoming the riders to Nice 15km out from the finish. The other Cat 1 climb of the day, the Cote de Peille (6.5km at 6.9%) is also another tough slog in their race from Nice and back. There isn’t a flat section in the whole stage, with the riders descending into Nice before a slight kicker at the end. Personally, this is the stage I am looking forward to the most: there are bound to be attacks galore while riders try to take KoM and Sprint points and anyone who hasn’t gotten a stage win will be desperate for one in Nice.

Pick for the Stage: Nacer Bouhanni

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Not a single flat road in sight. Source: LeTour.

I’ve mentioned a few big names above here who are in contention for a stage win or two, but who are the 5 Riders you truly need to watch?


The Bookies Favourite: Richie Porte

The first race I’ve actually seen bookies odds for, and Richie Porte is currently sitting at 5/2 for the win in Nice, which considering his performances in previous years at Paris-Nice, those odds are certainly worth a punt on. He has won here in 2013 and 2015, and so by deducing the special ‘Porte Wins P-N Formula’, he is due another win here. It’s not superstition, he races better on odd years here than even years – 22nd in 2011, 1st in 2013 and 1st in 2015 compared to 68th in 2012 and 3rd in 2016. The slightly vertically-inclined time trial suits him very well, and Paris-Nice 2017 is lacking in mountain top finishes compared to previous editions, which doesn’t necessarily affect the Tasmanian triathlete as much as his pure climber rivals. With Valverde pulling out with a fever too, that is one less person to challenge Richie in France this week, but it’s not like Richie would beat them all anyway.

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Porte has won in Nice twice. In 2015, he won in the Australian National Champion jersey. Source: Graham Watson.

The Hometown Hero: Romain Bardet

With a surprising lack of Thibaut Pinot who is instead choosing Italy over his home country, the hopes of France in Paris-Nice fall onto one team. AG2R holds both French hopes of winning Paris-Nice, and their best chance lies in Romain Bardet. While the start of 2017 hasn’t been great for Bardet (with 12th up Jebel Hafeet and 10th up Jebel Akhdar), he will be only starting his preparation for the TDF around now and Paris-Nice is his first test and goal. Bardet has slowly been growing from year to year, and a good result at Paris-Nice this year will be a launchpad for a great 2017. His best result previously was 9th last year, but after his TDF performance last year, high hopes will be instilled in him to get the yellow in Nice.

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Romain Bardet will be hoping for more celebrations in 2017, targeting Paris-Nice and the TDF as his two big races of the year. Source: Christophe Ena.

The Youngster: Sam Oomen

I mentioned Sam Oomen during the Spinning Out podcast this week as being one of the next big GC talents. The 21 year old Dutch rider already has a great performance this year at Andulucia coming 15th, just 3 places behind his more experienced team leader Warren Barguil. Knowing Barguil’s ability to seemingly implode under high pressure (which is what he will be facing as a French GC rider at a French Stage race), Oomen could be Sunweb’s GC hopes for Paris-Nice. While he isn’t known especially for his time trial skills, he still beat his team mate by 14 seconds in Andalucia, and his climbing ability means that he might be able to pump it up Mont Brouilly. Oomen is definitely a contender in his own right for a top 10 place in Nice, it just depends on what the team wants in the end – if he works for Barguil he will still place highly because that requires following the big riders all the way to the finish, but if he rides for himself who knows what he can achieve.

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Sam Oomen shone at Andalucia, surely he will get a leading role at Sunweb soon. Source: Cor Vos.

The Unknown Entity: Tsgabu Grmay

I was going to do Ondrej Cink but his performances in the last month or two have shot him straight into the spotlight. However, when you look at Bahrain-Merida’s team, you usually just gloss over all the riders unless you see Nibali, Izagirre, Colbrelli or now Cink. However, this week, there is another man you can’t gloss over, and that is Tsgabu Grmay. The 25 year old Ethiopian has shown some great form in 2017 already at the Tour of Oman, getting 6th up Jebel Akhdar, keeping pace with more well-known climbers like Bardet (10th) and Aru (2nd). While only one mountain top finish is leaving the pure climber hanging for more, he might be able to keep pace with the pack all the way to the top and either launch Izagirre for the win or just go himself on that one day and try and consolidate his losses in the Stage 4 TT. Grmay is just starting to prove himself in 2017, keep an eye out for him.

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I stood right next to the photographer taking this shot at the TDU People’s Choice Classic. Grmay has really shot up since arriving at Bahrain-Merida. Source: Tim de Waele.

The Previous (2nd) Winner: Alberto Contador

Geraint Thomas isn’t coming to Paris-Nice this year to defend his title (grrrr…), so that means the honours of this title get handed down to Alberto Contador. Who has already won this race twice. And came second last year. Discounting Contador in a stage race is like discounting Sagan in a classic – you just can’t do it. After a second place behind Valverde at Andalucia (who is now absent), the Spanish leader of Trek will be hoping to have a great performance this week coming in his Tour de France preparations. He has a great team of domestiques behind him including Gregory Rast, Haimar Zubeldia and Michael Gogl who all have one goal in mind, get Alberto in yellow in Nice. And if the bookies have it their way, he is second to Porte at 15/4. Get fluttering guys, it could be Contador’s year for the hat trick.

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Contador is probably smiling because Valverde isn’t racing Paris-Nice in 2017. Only Porte to overcome for him. Source: Getty Images.

And that’s a wrap for my Paris-Nice preview for 2017! I’ll get around to posting my Tirreno-Adriatco preview tomorrow to wrap up a massive weekend of previews, but as for Paris-Nice, Richie Porte will take the win ahead of Bardet and Contador who will round out the podium. For now, I’m out.

~The Cycling Raven

 

5 Riders To Watch: Strade Bianche & GP Industria

Last weekend was Belgian opening weekend, and what a rollercoaster it was. Boonen, Benoot, Keukeleire and a bunch of other favourites crashing on Donderij at Omloop. The incident ensured the break of Sagan, GVA and Vanmarcke stayed away from the pack all the way to the line, no matter how endeavoured the chase of Quickstep was. Then on Sunday at KBK, Sagan just proved to us once again why he is the worlds best cyclist, demolishing Stuyven, Rowe and Benoot in a reduced bunch sprint. On a side note, I was very happy that a couple of my picks last week performed quite well – Benoot 4th at KBK, Sagan winning KBK and 2nd at Omloop, and the Sport Vlaanderen duo of Van Lerberghe and Farazijn making an impact either in the bunch or the break.

This weekend brings along the Italian opening weekend, with another newly promoted WT race in Strade Bianche, as well as GP Industria (1.HC). Strade Bianche, famous for its use of gravelled roads, is entering its 10th year of existence; while this year marks a big landmark for GP Industria – its 40th edition runs on Sunday. Jeez, it’s quite the year for Italian race anniversaries.

The Course

Strade Bianche

Strade Bianche is known for one thing quite unique in the racing calendar of any year – its sterrati roads. The utilisation of gravel, country lanes and farm tracks give the race a different feel to the hard hitting cobbles and the solid tarmac, and this difference comes out in the rain…which is forecasted. The gravel tracks turn muddy and it becomes a pure slogfest. 2017’s Strade Bianche uses 11 sections of sterrati totalling 61.9km of the 175km race from Siena to Siena, which is more than the usual 9 sections. The start of the race is relatively flat until the 17km mark when the riders reach the Bagnaia sterrati section which includes a climb of around 4km with a 4% average. This could be the final launch pad for a break, if the first sterrati section doesn’t provide enough. The Montalcino climb is 6.6km at 4% average according to Strava (where Kiel Reijnen holds the KoM at 14:01) and is the biggest peak of the day heading into the beautiful city of Montalcino.

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Quite picturesque, isn’t it? A local winery near Montalcino. Source: Live Like An Italian.

After leaving Montalcino, the riders encounter the longest sterrati section of the day in Lucignano d’Asso – although it is mostly flat, but nevertheless quite technical. And then from there, the racing should really start hammering along. The downhill Pieve a Salti sterrati will allow for the pace to really break up, while either 5 sections after Ponte d’Arbia could hold the decisive move. Whether it be the uphill Sante Martino in Grania section, the 5-star difficulty section in Monte Sante Marie or the cluster of sections within 25km of the finish (including some very punchy climbs, one of which averaging 11.4% over 1km on sterrati), it will be the riders to decide. However, one thing we can rule out of the equation of how to win this race is a bunch sprint – the last climb into the Piazza del Campo averages 5.3% in the last 3km and finishes 300m away from the finish line after a 16% pinch at the top. Not to mention the roads are usually narrow. And with rain involved, we might not even see a road race, because it would look something straight out of the turf of Van Aert.

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Sterrati! Source: Strade Bianche.

GP Industria

GP Industia is to Strade Bianche as KBK is to Omloop. Although instead of being the bastardised smaller sibling, it’s more of the neglected older brother while everyone continues to admire the dust of Strade Bianche. “Oooh, It’s so cute, look at the gravel!” (if you are out of the loop on this reference, here is the reference. While you are at it, go watch all his videos). Now with the Cosmo references out of the way, we can talk about what is quite the interesting race. While GP Industria features no such sterrati, it instead features 2 different circuits – one flatter, one with the San Baronto climb – which the riders attack 4 times. The first flatter section loops around the southside of Larciano, going down to Stabbia and Lazzeretto before turning back into Larciano. Nothing particularly interesting, perfect material for a break to go and gain a decent lead before the start of the section circuit.

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How fitting… Source: Gerardo Sena.

The second circuit will be where the action is, and where the winning move will be made. The Strava segment for San Baronto is 3.8km long averaging 7% (with the KoM being held by Manuel Di Leo, a 21 year old Italian youth rider at 9:45), but the actual climb is a lot longer and more shallow than this if you take it from the base around 9km from the top. Either way, it’s a tough climb to do at the start of a race, let alone the end, and doing it 4 times would be excruciating. The summit of the climb is 6km from the finish line in Larciano, while the bottom of the descent finishes at 2km to go, so either a solo break on the ascent could hold off until the descent or a reduced bunch sprint off the back of the climb could get the win. If you decide Paris-Nice on Sunday is a bit of a ‘dead rubber’ Stage 1, watching this beautiful race should satiate your cycling needs.

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Not usually a fan of circuit races but this can be an exception. Source: Larcianese Ciclismo.

While the startlist of these races have some overlap, some riders are saving themselves for Paris-Nice, Tirreno-Adriatco or other races in the coming days and weeks and will skip GP Industria (not to mention it clashes with Paris-Nice Stage 1), so most riders I select to watch won’t be doing both races. Just a heads up before I start.


The Bookies Favourite: Peter Sagan

Unless it’s a race involving multiple climbing stages over 3 weeks, you can’t ever rule out Peter Sagan winning any race. Luckily, this rule trims down Sagan’s pool of ‘Races He Can’t Win’ down to 3, so in the gazillion other races on the cycling calendar, Sagan will ride like a bat out of hell and go for the win. Always. So why should this change at Strade Bianche? The ever essentric and charismatic Slovakian comes into Siena on a high after a win at KBK and a close second at Omloop and will be looking to Strade Bianche as the next race to conquer in his rampage on the WorldTour. He would be at home on the technical sterrati, while the uphill finish benefits his punchy style of just riding everyone off his wheel either on the last little section or beating them after the climb. Even if everything goes wrong for Peter, he will find a way, that’s just how he races.

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Sagan after Omloop looked more fitting at a death metal concert than at a cycling race. Source: Sporza.

The Hometown Hero: Vincenzo Nibali

When you hear the name Nibali, you don’t normally associate him with classics riding. That is unless you consider the fact that a) he loves hills and b) he is Italian in an Italian race. Strade Bianche and GP Industria fulfill both criteria, so he should be set to try and take it out for his country in 2017. He has won Industria before, way back in 2007 while his best place at Strade Bianche is 15th. Not as punchy as the likes of Sagan, Benoot, GVA or Vanmarcke, Nibali’s best chance of winning at Strade Bianche will be Bahrain Merida slamming on the pace for the whole race and allowing Nibali to take time on the sterrati and demolish them on the final climb. His chances at GP Industria though are a lot better – the final finishing circuit is tailor made for him with a large climb and a descent finish where he should be able to beat every other rider in the peloton. The Italian veteran will be hoping to take something out of Italy’s milestone year of cycling in 2017, this weekend would be a good place to start.

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Nibali’s best finish at Strade Bianche is 15th, will 2017 be his year? Source: Joolze Dymond.

The Youngster: Tiesj Benoot

Benoot is the best U23 rider in the peloton, hands down. He is also once of the best classics riders in the peloton, regardless of age, experience, or alikeness to Sagan. After an rollercoaster of a weekend in Belgium to start off the classics season with a DNF at Omloop after the huge crash in Donderij and then a 4th place at KBK, Benoot would be looking to have a more successful and consistent result at Strade Bianche this week. With no experience on the sterrati (how many times can I fit this word into a preview?) being his only ‘downfall’ coming into Siena on Saturday, there aren’t many kinks in his armour. And in the wet conditions like it is forecasted, he might even feel more at home – a Belgian takes to a wet classic like a pig takes to mud.

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No cobbles this week for Benoot, but sterrati is similar, right? Source: Tim de Waele.

The Unknown Entity: Andrea Vendrame

Vendrame took the U23 stage by storm last year in the youth classics season, with 5 top 5 finishes last year in the one day races. While not taking out a victory last year, he has shown how much he loves the hilly classics with a 2nd at Piccolo Lombardia, 2nd at Ruota d’Oro, 3rd at the U23 European Championships and 5th at Giro del Belvedere – all of which where quite hilly. However, he didn’t just race in the .2U races, he also took on the Coppa Sabatini, where he beat Bakelants and Sbaragli in a bunch sprint (where Cavendish was surprisingly AWoL) to take 4th. And the finish isn’t particularly flat there – it’s an uphill sprint. This kid has street cred for the future, especially in these hilly classics which involve some element of off-roading. His contract with Androni runs until 2018, so good performances in the next two years will ensure a WorldTour contract in the future (my prediction: he’ll go to Bahrain-Merida). He is riding both races this weekend, and should have a good chance of getting a top 10 in either or.

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Vendrame rode to 2nd at the Lombardia Piccolo last year. Source: Solowattaggio.

The Previous Winners: Zdenek Stybar and Simon Clarke

Oh look. Another race where the winner isn’t riding in 2017. We miss you already Spartacus (also, where the hell is his personalised sterrati section?!). Luckily, the first loser of 2016’s Strade Bianche Zdenek Stybar isn’t anything to scoff at. He’s already won this race in 2015, and is probably the second favourite behind Sagan to take out the win again. Again, another great Quickstep squad to back him up – but that depends on who is feeling the best on the day. 14th at Omloop after the team got caught out on Donderij was a fair result, while 9th at KBK wasn’t shabby either. Personally, I don’t think Quickstep will ride for him as first choice though, being Brambilla’s home race certainly means that he will be the lead man, right?

Oh…there was another race too, GP Industria? Simon Clarke won that last year, and is coming back to both Strade Bianche and GP Industria to defend his title. Clarke has done Strade Bianche once before, finishing 17th back in 2010, but Cannondale would surely be riding for Vanmarcke or Uran to taken the win on Saturday. However, Sunday brings a whole new kettle of fish, where either Uran or Clarke could be the leaders for Cannondale. The competition at GP Industria this year is much tougher than years past – Nairo is leading the Movistar charge while Nibali and Adam Yates are also attending – so defending his title will be tough. Do I expect him to perform well at either race? Not something outstandingly amazing, but he will ride his heart out like the true Aussie he is.

Clarke GP.jpg
Clarke’s win at GP Industria was the highlight of his 2016 – and arguably one of the better moments of Cannondale’s year too. Source: Tim de Waele.

And that is a wrap for my preview of Strade Bianche and GP Industria! Two more WT races are coming up this week with Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatco, so expect some previews for those in the coming couple of days. My picks for Strade Bianche and GP Industria though? Peter Sagan to take out Strade Bianche, and Nibali to take out GP Industria up the last climb before out-descending Quintana. If you have Eurosport, you can catch Strade Bianche, while GP Industria is available on Eurosport and others too. For now, I’m out.

~The Cycling Raven

P.S: I said sterrati 15 times including this one.