Monday, July 22, 2013

Thank you

The Tour de France is now over and I want to take the time to say thank you to all of you reading the previews during the race. Your feedback and kind words are very much appreciated and I'm happy to hear you liked the previews.

Now it's time to relax a little before the Vuelta España starts next month. Hope to see you back soon. Stay tuned!


Saturday, July 20, 2013

Tour de France: Stage 21 Preview & Favorites

This year’s Tour de France ends with the three best climbers on the final podium. Everybody knew it would be a race for the climbers and it really was. Alberto Contador didn’t have the legs this year and he only finishes fourth overall - surprisingly enough, a fair result after the last das in the Alps. It’s probably only Alejandro Valverde who can look back a feel he didn’t end where he deserved.

Now it’s time for Paris and this year’s finish will be spectacular. The 100th edition of the Tour de France ends with an evening stage in the French capital and we are in for a real treat. The riders may not like the late finish but for the TV-viewers it will be great.

The Route
The stage starts at Palace of Versailles and finishes 133.5 km later on Champs-Élysées, most likely with a bunch sprint. For the first time in many years, there are two categorized climbs on the menu this final day. The first one is Côte de Saint-Rémy-lès-Chevreuse and after 33.5 km the riders will pass the Jacques Anquetil monument on the top of Côte de Châteaufort. We will probably see Polka Dot winner Nairo Quintana first over the climb showing off his new jersey for the first time in the race.

The Finish
As always, the real action won’t start until the riders hit Champs-Élysées. From here on, it’s “race on” and the 10 laps will be completed in a furious pace. To celebrate this 100 Years Anniversary, the route takes the riders around Arc de Triomphe instead of turning just before as we have seen in the past.  The sprinters’ teams will try to control the race but they also have to save a little energy for the final. The leadout trains have never been more important than they are this year and it will be crucial to have enough manpower left for the final.

The Favorites
Mark Cavendish has won the last four years in a row and he is the favorite again this year. Compared to Marcel Kittel he has a lot more experience and he knows he can deliver after three hard weeks. Omega Pharma Quickstep still have all nine riders in the race and that will be an important factor. Argos-Shimano had to say goodbye to Tom Veelers just two days before Paris and it’s now up to John Degenkolb and Koen de Kort to leadout Marcel Kittel. Actually, the key word may not be leadout but instead deliver. Usually Kittel wins after a perfect leadout but he has come from behind in all his three stage wins in this Tour. Compared to Greipel, Kittel doesn’t seem to need a strong leadout and that favors him compared to his German compatriot.

Lotto-Belisol lost Marcel Sieberg the other day and that means they won’t be able to take the lead with 4 riders on the last kilometer as they have done earlier in the race. Greipel hasn’t been able to come from behind in the Tour this year and with only Roelandts and Henderson I doubt he will be able to win on Champs-Élysées.

The last of the four big sprinters is Peter Sagan. He has already won the Green Jersey and he now longer needs just to “cruise” into Top5 on the stage. Last year Peter Sagan finished second on the stage and said he could have won without having to close the big gap after Greipel had problems with his bike. Sagan may have enough raw power to take the win on the final meters but against Kittel and Cavendish, it will be very difficult.

The Joker
This time my joker is Alexander Kristoff. He has been left alone to do the sprints the whole race but now Katusha can finally use riders to help deliver him on the right wheel. These power sprints are close to impossible to win without a team around you and that’s why we haven’t seen Kristoff in Top3 except for the very first stage. The morale must be high at Katusha right now after Purito secured a spot on the final podium and I wouldn’t be surprised if Kristoff finishes like he started with a top performance.

It’s difficult to pick between Mark Cavendish and Marcel Kittel for the stage win. Cavendish has the experience but Kittel has proven to be the fastest on the final meters. Omega Pharma Quickstep will most likely have two riders in front of Cavendish heading into the last corner and I’m sure Cavendish is to take revenge after he missed out on Yellow on stage 1. Therefore, the Manxman is my favorite.

Thank you for reading my previews during the Tour!

Favorite: Mark Cavendish
Joker: Alexander Kristoff

For live race coverage go to

Just like during the Giro d’Italia this year, I once again have the chance to bring you daily “Fly Through” previews from Global Cycling Network. Here is Stage 21:

Friday, July 19, 2013

Tour de France: Stage 20 Preview & Favorites

We didn’t see a real fight between the GC riders on stage 19 but it’s safe to say that will change now. With only 47 seconds between Contador (second) and Purito (fifth), we can expect quite a show on the final climb.

The Route
This is the shortest regular stage of this year’s Tour de France but with six categorized climbs on the menu, it will be anything but easy. The fight for podium will be furious and we will most likely see tactically attacks right from the beginning. Côte du Puget (5.4 km / avg. 5.9 %) and Col de Leschaux (3.6 km / avg. 6.1 %) are both located within the first 18 km of the stage and the heavy riders will have to dig very deep in order to finish this stage and see Paris tomorrow. The intermediate sprint is up after 33.5 km but it will be of little importance since Peter Sagan already seems sure to win the Green Jersey.

After two category 3 climbs the riders start on Mont Revard with 64 km to go. The 15.9 km towards the top of this category 1 climb have an average gradient of just 5.6 % but the climb is very steep in the beginning. There are still 46.5 km to go from the top of Mont Revard. The descent is not easy and the last climb of the day starts just 10 km after coming down from Mont Revard.

The final  HC climb of this year's Tour.
The Finish
The final climb up to Annecy-Semnoz is very steep and there is only one tiny part where you can catch your breath a little. The 10.7 km have an average gradient of 8.5 % and this is where the final podium will be settled. You can lose a lot of time if you have a bad day on this climb. There are not many steep hairpin corners but the gradients are steady of around 8 % and with parts of 10 % near the top. Remember, there are double up on the KOM points on the top of Annecy-Semnoz and that means 50 points to winner.

The Favorites
I think the GC riders will fight for the stage win today. Riders like Purito, Quintana, Valverde and Contador are yet to win a stage in this year’s Tour de France and even though the podium is more important, they don’t want to lose the chance by giving a break too much of gap early on. The final climb is very steep and that favors the tiny climbers like Purito and Quintana. Chris Froome will be happy just to keep his yellow jersey and I would be surprised to see him go for the stage win.

As it stands before the stage, Purito is one with most to win. He is fifth overall but only 47 seconds from Contador in second place. Purito has timed his condition perfectly and he knows the final climb well after training on it before the Tour. I think Purito and his teammate Dani Moreno will attack in the beginning of the last climb - on the steep parts - and try to make an early selection. Contador has not been great the last couple of days and if he’s not 100 %, it will show already.

Nairo Quintana has the White Jersey secured and he’s now gunning for second place overall and the KOM Jersey. If Quintana ends first or second on the stage, he seems sure to win the Polka Dot Jersey as well and honestly I would be very surprised should the Colombian  super climber not make top2 on this stage.

The way I see it, Purito and Quitana are the two favorites. I doubt Froome will go for the stage and I can’t see Contador beating Purito or Quintana as it is right now. Contador may be able to hold onto his podium place but it won’t be easy with the shape Purito is showing right now.

The Jokers
Since I find it highly unlikely that a breakaway makes it all the way for the third day in a row, I don’t really see any jokers for the stage win. This is between the big favorites and that’s the way it should be. However, should something happen and a break ends up getting too far away, look out for Wout Poels and Arnold Jeannesson. Both are out of the GC (29th and 30th overall) but they have been looking very good the last couple of days. At this point in the race, it’s all about who has something left in the legs. Jeannesson stayed with the favorites for quite a while on Friday’s stage but had to let go on the final kilometers of the last climb. Poels probably paid the price for his attack the other day and since none of them can go with favorites when they start to attack, I think both will try to hit the morning breakaway. It won’t be easy though. I think the Saxo-Tinkoff, Movistar and Katusha all will try something from the very beginning of the stage but should a break get away, I would be surprised not to see at least one my two jokers in it.

Favorites: Quintana & Purito
Jokers: Jeannesson & Poels

For live race coverage go to

Just like during the Giro d’Italia this year, I once again have the chance to bring you daily “Fly Through” previews from Global Cycling Network. Here is Stage 20:

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Tour de France: Stage 19 Preview & Favorites

Christophe Riblon did what he does best and took an impressive stage win after a long breakaway in the mountains. Stage 19 doesn’t finish uphill but it will be just as hard for the riders.

The Route
We are in the end of the third week and everybody is already on his limits. Add to that an extremely tough uphill time trial and double up on Alpe d’Huez the days before. These 204.5 km will feel like forever for the riders and it all starts out with two HC climbs. Bon appetite!

There are 21.6 km to the top of Col du Glandon and due to a couple of small descents, the average gradient is “only” 5.1 %. There are steep parts of 11 % in the middle and after a long part of 5 %, the climb kicks up with 8 % near the top. The first rider over the top gets 25 points for the KOM Jersey and with no less than 75 points up for grabs today, this is a very important day for the riders targeting that competition. Chris Froome leads the competition in front of Nairo Quintana and since they both will get points on Saturday’s uphill finish, riders like Mikel Nieve and Pierre Rolland really need to attack from a far if they want to win the jersey.

After the descent from Col du Glandon, there are just 10 km to the next HC climb starts. Col de Madeleine is feared by many and with its 19.2 km of 7.9 %,it’s not difficult to understand why. There are still 121 km to go from the top of Madeleine and we will most likely see a breakaway get a good gap at this point.

The Finish
The last 70 km include three climbs in a row. First up is Col de Tamié (8.6 km / avg. 6.2 %) and after that it’s time for the steep Col de l’Épine with an average of 7.3 % and parts over 10 % near the top. The riders stay on a plateau for about 10 km after reaching the top of Col de l’Épine and after a short descent, they face the final climb of the day. Col de la Croix Fry is 11.3 km and has an average gradient of 7 %. There are steep parts halfway through to the top and we should see the favorites attack each other on this climb.

From the top of Col de la Croix Fry there are just 13 km to go and with only a few tricky corners on the descent, we can expect a fast finish. As of Thursday evening, there are 50 % chance of rain during the stage and that could spice up things a bit. The Tour had a similar stage finish in 2004 when Lance Armstrong tried to get teammate Floyd Landis to win. Landis didn’t manage to get away on the descent and in the end Armstrong outsprinted Andreas Klöden to take the stage win.

The final 70 km of Stage 19 - Click for larger view.
The Favorites
As hoped for in my Preview for stage 18, Saxo-Tinkoff tried to make a masterpiece. They failed however and now they have to focus on keeping their podium spot instead of trying to win the Tour. It’s not like Alberto Contador not to aim for the overall win and even though he may not care if he ends 2nd or 10th, I bet his team does. I personally doubt Saxo-Tinkoff will try to open up the race from afar on this stage but with Contador you never know.

I didn’t mention Purito among my favorites for Alpe d’Huez since I was waiting to play him as my favorite for this stage. Purito had two big goals for this first part of the season; Liege-Bastogne-Liege and Tour de France. He managed to time his condition perfectly for LBL but in a sprint against Dan Martin he couldn’t do better than second place. Ever since April all focus has been on the Tour and trying to peak in the third week. So far, everything has gone according to the plan and Purito is now just 26 seconds from the podium. In his preparation for the Tour, Purito has been training on this stage and tomorrow’s stage and he knows exactly what to expect. He best chance of making podium is to drop Contador and Kreuziger - I doubt he can handle Quintana - and to do that he needs to put in a couple of strong attacks on Col de la Croix Fry. 

Teammate Dani Moreno is also peaking right now and I expect a big show from Katusha in the last days in the Alps. Purito’s biggest rival for the stage win is Alejandro Valverde but according to Valverde, Movistar are now all-in for Nairo Quintana and his podium place. In case Alberto Contador has another bad day, I think it will only be Purito, Froome and Quintana in front (among the favorites) over the top of Col de la Croix Fry and if they can make it to the finishing line, Purito should be able to outsprint Quintana. Froome will happy just to keep the yellow jersey.

The Jokers
I mentioned in the beginning that this is an important stage for the riders still hoping to win the KOM Jersey. Mikel Nieve is fourth in that competition right now, 41 points behind Chris Froome, but if Nieve is first man over the two first climbs, he will take the jersey - for now. The strong Basque climber is 15th overall, 24:13 minutes down, and he’s not a threat for the Top10 riders should he get into the morning breakaway. Euskaltel are in desperate need of a new sponsor and it would help quite a lot if Mikel Nieve could win the Polka Dot Jersey.

Europcar tried to attack on stage 18 with Thomas Voeckler and Pierre Rolland but it all came too late as the breakaway already had a big gap. I think both Voeckler and Rolland will be eager to get into the morning breakaway and with a downhill finish, the stage looks very good for especially Voeckler.

My last joker is Alessandro De Marchi. His teammate Moreno Moser came close on Alpe d’Huez and his third place must have boosted the moral for the coming days. De Marchi himself has tried hard the last couple of days in the mountains and he did very well on stage 18 despite not getting into the morning breakaway. He finished 19th on Alpe d’Huez and he showed in Dauphiné that he has what it takes to go all the way. Two years ago, the Italian’s former team boss, Gianni Savio, told me that De Marchi is strong but “not a winner”. Things have changed since then and should Alessandro De Marchi manage get into the morning breakaway, I think he will be very difficult to beat - should they make it to the line.

Favorite: Joaquim ‘Purito’ Rodriguez
Jokers: Thomas Voeckler & Alessandro De Marchi

For live race coverage go to

Just like during the Giro d’Italia this year, I once again have the chance to bring you daily “Fly Through” previews from Global Cycling Network. Here is Stage 19:

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Tour de France: Stage 18 Preview & Favorites

Chris Froome managed to win the time trial on day where he only focused on not taking too big risks. Impressived. Alberto Contador went All-In and finished second and I think Saxo-Tinkoff have something big planned for this stage.

The Route
This is the Queen Stage of this year’s Tour de France. Finishing on Alpe d’Huez this late in the Tour is already a tall order for many riders - climbing it twice within 60 km, that’s just brutal. The day starts where stage 16 ended, in Gap, climbing Col de Manse (6.6 km / avg. 6.2 %). 30 km later, it’s time for Rampe du Motty. This category 3 climb is only 2.4 km long but as the name suggests, it’s very steep with an average of 8 %. The stage is only 172.5 km long and these two climbs in the beginning will already tire out many riders before the main course gets served.

With about 90 km to go the riders start the ascent of Col d’Ornon. The 5.1 km towards the top have an average gradient of 6.7 % and it will be important for the GC riders to stay in front over the top. Alpe d’Huez starts quickly after the descent from Col d’Ornon and it’s vital to start the climb in a good position.

The Finish
The first ascent of Alpe d’Huez starts with 61 km to go. When reaching the top, the riders stay on a plateau for about 5 km before starting on Col de Sarenne. The descent from here is very difficult and if the weather forecast stands, and it’s raining, this could end up in a real bloodbath. There are rumors circling that the stage will be shortened but as of Wednesday evening, there are no official statement.

From the top of Col de Sarenne, there are 27 km to the beginning of the final ascent of Alpe d’Huez. The 13.8 km up through the hairpins have a frightening average gradient of 8.1 % and it starts out very steep. The first two kilometers have an average of over 10 % and it doesn’t really get easier before the final couple of kilometers (5 %).

The final 61 km and the last three climbs of Stage 18. Click for larger view!
Favorites - Jokers - Scenarios
Any climber with respect for himself wants to win on Alpe d’Huez. Ask anyone who’s not regularly following Tour de France to name a random climb in the race and he or she will most likely be able to mention this one.

Personally, I doubt a morning breakaway will make it all the way this time but do I think the composition of the breakaway will be vital. If I were Bjarne Riis, I would try to put a couple of strong riders in the break. Riders like Nicolas Roche, Jesus Hernandez and Daniele Bennati. Then I would tell Saxo-Tinkoff to go hard in the beginning of Alpe d’Huez and attack with Alberto Contador and Roman Kreuziger. Richie Porte won’t be able to close all the gaps and if they can isolate Froome before the top of Col de Sarenne, they can put him under pressure on the difficult descent. If riders like Nicolas Roche and Daniele Bennati are in the break, they can now wait for Contador and set a high pace on the descent towards the final climb. This won’t be an easy tactic to pull off but we know that Alberto Contador never rides for second place. This will also favor Movistar. In Nairo Quintana and Alejandro Valverde they have two strong riders both uphill and downhill and they should be able to work together with Saxo-Tinkoff despite what happened the other day.

When the Tour de France finished on Alpe d’Huez in 2011, Alberto Contador attacked right from the beginning of the stage. He was out of the GC and wanted something to bring home. For a long time it seemed like he would win the stage but on the last kilometer, Pierre Rolland bridged the gap and won the stage. It’s safe to say Contador has some unfinished business with this climb. He did however win on Alpe d’Huez in Dauphiné but everybody who remembers that stage, also knows Janez Brajkovic almost gave him that one. Contador is a winner and he wants to win on Alpe d’Huez in the Tour de France where all the big champions have won in the past. It won’t be easy against Chris Froome but if they can isolate him early, Contador may have a chance.

Should Saxo-Tinkoff and Movistar not succeed in isolating Froome before the final climb, I think Nairo Quintana will have a good chance of winning. He’s been the best climber - after Froome - in the race so far and if he can keep up this time, Froome will probably let him take the win as he intended the other day. On Mont Ventoux, Froome said the stage win would have been Quintana’s if he had kept the pace and knowing that, Quintana may find the strength to go extra deep on Alpe d’Huez. After Wednesday’s time trial Froome stated that he no longer aims at stage wins but only to keep the yellow jersey.

Another rider who will be extra motivated today is Mikel Nieve. The Basque climber not only has a beautiful first name, he has also turned out to be one of the strongest riders uphill. Futhermroe, he’s now targeting the KOM Jersey. Froome leads that competition in front of Quintana but since they both have other jerseys to wear (yellow and white), Nieve is now in Polke Dots. In 2003, Iban Mayo won on Alpe d’Huez and it would mean the world to Euskaltel could Mikel Nieve repeat that performance here 10 years later. Nieve has already won big mountain stages in Vuelta España and Giro d’Italia and he’s eager to join the club of stage winners in all three Grand Tours. In 2001 Roberto Laiseka won on Luz Ardiden and 10 years later Samuel Sanchez did the same thing. Sanchez won the Polka Dot Jersey that day and what a story if would be if Mikel Nieve could do it too - 10 years after Iban Mayo’s win on Alpe d’Huez.

Last but not least, look out for Daniel Martin. The Irishman had a bad day on Mont Ventoux but he’s been having his eyes on this stage for quite a while. Martin is fond of cycling history and he knows what it means to win on Alpe d’Huez. This year, we will see an Irish corner towards the top and I’m convinced Daniel Martin is very focused on giving his countrymen something to cheer for.

It’s hard to pick one favorite in this bunch. I hope Saxo-Tinkoff and Alberto Contador will put on a show but it won’t be easy. The best winner pick is therefore probably Nairo Quintana since Froome is no longer interested in the stage wins.

Favorite: Nairo Quintana
Jokers: Mikel Nieve & Daniel Martin

For live race coverage go to

Just like during the Giro d’Italia this year, I once again have the chance to bring you daily “Fly Through” previews from Global Cycling Network. Here is Stage 18:

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Tour de France: Stage 17 ITT Preview & Favorites

Everything went as expected on stage 16. A breakaway made it all the way and the GC riders gave us a good show on the final climb and descent. Despite the late attacks, the overall contenders didn’t burn too much energy and they will now have to use everything they have got left during one of the hardest time trials in recent Tour de France history.

The Route
This is another short time trial of only 32 km but that doesn’t make it easy, not at all! The riders face Côte de Puy-Sanières right from the beginning. This category 2 climb is 6.4 km long and has an average gradient of 6 %. It starts out with 5 % in the beginning and has parts of 9 % in the middle. The first time check is at the top of the climb and the last kilometers of 7 % will make it difficult to keep a steady rhythm. The descent is very technical and riders with good bike handling skills can really take back some time on his part.  Coming down from Côte de Puy-Sanières, the riders take on the next climb right away. The 6.9 km towards the top of Côte de Réallon have an average gradient of 6.3 % and it’s a lot easier to find into a good rhythm here. From the top of Côte de Réallon there are 12 km to go.

The Finish
The descent from Côte de Réallon is not as technical as the one from Côte de Puy-Sanières but after reaching the top and the second time check it actually takes a couple of kilometers before the riders starts on the downhill part. The final descent towards the line is very fast the riders should be able to reach a speed of about 80 km/h. The last kilometer is flat and it will be interesting to see if some of the heavier riders have been able to take back time on after the two climbs.

The Favorite
There is no “s” on Favorite this time since there is just one rider to beat if you want to win this stage. Only a strong headwind in the final kilometers kept Chris Froome from beating Tony Martin in the flat time trial and with two climbs on the profile, nobody will get even close to Froome. He’s the best rider uphill right now and even though some say he has difficulties on the descent, it’s not that bad. The only reason why he got off the bike on stage 16 was that Alberto Contador crashed in front of him. Actually, Froome did very well on the descent and he shouldn’t have bigger problems than other riders on this stage. Chris Froome knows he will be under attack in the Alps and he needs to distance himself from his rivals as much as possible before that. I think Froome will win this stage with at least one minute down to number two, probably even two minutes. The way I see it, it’s only the weather that can stop Chris Froome from destroying the peloton on this stage. As of Tuesday evening, there is 40 % chance of rain when Chris Froome takes the start and should it rain; the descents will be very difficult. In that case, look to riders down the GC starting early like national champions Lieuwe Westra and Jonathan Castroviejo.

The Jokers
After his outstanding time trial in Vuelta Pais Vasco, Nairo Quintana looks like an interesting rider for this stage. He’s fighting with Michal Kwiatkowski for the white jersey and he will need a very a good day in order to beat the Pole against the clock. Both are among the outsiders for a Top3 place and so is Bauke Mollema. The Flying Dutchman has never been better and he’s done very well in the time trials the last couple of years. He finished 11th in the flat time trial to Mont Saint Michel and in Tour de Suisse he took 3rd place in the final uphill time trial and made the overall podium. Mollema wasn’t great on Mont Ventoux and if he wants to keep his podium place, he needs another strong performance against the clock before the Alps.

Alberto Contador and Roman Kreuziger will most likely fight for a top3 place on this stage as well but I doubt the World Champion, Tony Martin will be near the top. He may do Top5 on a good day but I would be very surprised to see him near Chris Froome this time.

Favorite: Chris Froome
Jokers: Bauke Mollema / Jonathan Castroviejo

For live race coverage go to and click here to see the starting order.

Just like during the Giro d’Italia this year, I once again have the chance to bring you daily “Fly Through” previews from Global Cycling Network. Here is Stage 17:

Monday, July 15, 2013

Tour de France: Stage 16 Preview & Favorites

After the second and last rest day of this year’s Tour de France, the race continues with tricky stage leading the peloton towards the Alps. It’s not often we have a climb famous for its descent and not its ascent but that is the case this Tuesday.

The Route
On paper, the 168 km from Vaison-la-Romaine to Gap look perfect for a breakaway. The category 3 climb, Côte de la Montagne, starts after just 12 km and serves as a perfect place for a breakaway to be established. The last week of this Tour de France is extremely hard and the GC riders will be happy to have a quiet day in the peloton before the next four tough stages.

This is a short stage and that means the pace will high right from the beginning. For many riders, this is the last chance to win a stage in the Tour de France 2013 and it will be a furious fight to get into the morning breakaway. In case we don’t already have a break after Côte de la Montagne, I think it will happen on Col de Macuègne. This category 2 climb starts after 40 km and the 7.6 km towards the top have an average gradient of 5.2 %.

The riders will be enjoying a light tailwind for most of the day and from the top of Col de Macuègne a breakaway should be able to get a big gap. The following 100 km are more or less flat and unless Cannondale and Argos-Shimano miss the break, I doubt the peloton will be eager to catch them.

The Finish
With 21 km to go, the riders face the last climb of the day; Col de Manse. This category 2 climb is 9.5 km long and has an average gradient of 5.2 %. The ascent is not steep very steep but the descent is very difficult. In 2003, Joseba Beloki crashed hard in a corner and his career basically ended just 4 km from the finishing line in Gap. Lance Armstrong continued straight out, over the field, to join the group in the next corner. You all know the story.

The last time the Tour de France used this descent was in 2011. Alberto Contador hasn’t shown much of himself so far in the race but he came to life on Col de Manse with a series of strong attacks towards the top. In the end, he managed to drop Andy Schleck and on the wet descent Contador, Evans and Sanchez opened up a gap of more than one minute to Schleck who clearly didn’t feel safe on the bike.

The final 2 km of Stage 16.
The last 2.5 km are flat and straight out towards the line. Still, there are two or three roundabouts to overcome before crossing the finishing line. ASO have even put the 1-km-to-go-port in one of the roundabouts. As of Monday afternoon, the weather forecast shows rain in Gap at the time the riders are expected to finish and that means will get another dangerous finish to watch this year. Let's hope all riders stay upright.

The Favorites
I think a breakaway will make it but it all depends on Cannondale. They decided not to chase the other day when Matteo Trentin won the stage. The many climbs made it difficult for Cannondale to control the race but if they don’t have a rider in the break this time, I think they will try to bring it back for Peter Sagan. The final climb is not hard enough to drop Peter Sagan and the wet the descent won’t be a problem either. Nobody handle their bike like Peter Sagan and he can - by himself -  close a gap of 20-30 seconds on that final descent should it come to that.

Argos-Shimano is another interesting team for this stage. The climbs should not be too tough for John Degenkolb and if they don’t manage to put a rider in the break, I think they will set up a chase with Cannondale on the long flat part.

Should a breakaway make it all the way, Philippe Gilbert is my pick. So far BMC have been focused on Cadel Evans in the GC but after Sunday’s stage to Mont Ventoux, that race is now over. Gilbert has been complaining about not getting an opportunity to attack but now he has the chance. Gilbert is yet to win wearing the World Champion Jersey but he’s been very active the last couple of days. On Mont Ventoux he showed great climbing legs when he finished 29th together with Cadel Evans and if Gilbert was to win a stage in this year’s Tour de France, this is the one. Philippe Gilbert also has a chance should a breakaway get caught. He won similar stage in last year’s Vuelta España when he attacked on Montjuic with Purito.

Wednesday’s uphill time trial is very - very - hard and I think the GC riders will save as much energy as possible. That being said, should Chris Froome show any weakness on the wet descent, naturally Alberto Contador and the Belkin boys have to take advantage. Remember, Froome lost Tirreno-Adriatico overall this year on a rainy up-and-down stage (won by Peter Sagan).

The Jokers
Like the other day, there are tons of good breakaway candidates. Riders like Alessandro De Marchi, Romain Bardet, Sylvain Chavanel, Thomas Voeckler, Juan-Antonio Flecha and Damiano Cunego all lookspromising. I had Jan Bakelants down as my favorite for Stage 14 and he almost pulled it off. He’s been in great shape lately, I won’t be surprised to see him in front again on this stage. The same goes for Michael Albasini. He was the strongest rider the other day but burned up too much energy in the final. I’m sure he’s eager to take revenge and if he hit the right breakaway again, he will be difficult to beat. Adam Hansen is another interesting rider for this stage. He won a similar stage in the Giro d’Italia earlier this year - in the rain - and if he has the same strong legs this Tuesday, he could be a good pick for the stage win.

The wild card team, Sojasun, almost pulled off an amazing stage win with Julien Simon. The French puncheur was caught on the last kilometer and this stage is probably their last chance to make up for that. Julien Simon is ready to give it another go and so is Alexis Vuillermoz who’s knows these climbs very well. Should this stage end with a sprint in a reduced peloton, look out for riders like Michal Kwiatkowski, Tony Gallopin and Ramunas Navardauskas. 

Favorites: Peter Sagan & Philippe Gilbert
Jokers: Michael Albasini / Jan Bakelants / Michal Kwiatkowski

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Just like during the Giro d’Italia this year, I once again have the chance to bring you daily “Fly Through” previews from Global Cycling Network. Here is Stage 16:

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Tour de France: Stage 15 Preview & Favorites

 As expected, a breakaway made it on Stage 14 and now the focus is back on the GC riders. This last week of this year’s Tour de France will be extremely tough and it starts out with a killer mountain stage finishing on the legendary Mont Ventoux.

The Route
In the past, the stages on the French National Day were made for the breakaways. This year it’s different. Stage 15 is the longest stage of this year’s Tour and despite finishing on Mont Ventoux, the first 221 km are more of less flat. This means it’s highly unlike a break will make it all way. It will be another hot day in the saddle with temperatures over 30°c and after two hard stages, many will hope for a quiet start of the day.

A tailwind will help a morning breakaway get a good gap but the peloton will make sure it won’t get out of control. The intermediate sprint is located in Malaucène 15 km from the bottom of Mont Ventoux. Since the stage hasn’t been very hard until now, most of the sprinters should be able to fight for points for the Green Jersey.

The Finish
The 20.8 km towards the top of Mont Ventoux.
The 20.8 km towards the top of Mont Ventoux have an average gradient of 7.5 %. The climb starts out quite soft with the first five kilometers not getting over 4-5 %. From here on the road really kicks up with percentages over 10 %. It’s always very windy after getting out of the forest into the moon landscape and this year is no different. The riders will be fighting a headwind and this will make it very difficult to attack and stay away alone. The last right hand turn towards the finishing line is the final struggle of the day and with more than 10 % you need to have something left in the tank if you’re not already alone in front.

The Favorites
The last time the Tour de France had a stage finish on Mont Ventoux, Juanma Garate won in front of Tony Martin after a long breakaway. Starting on Mont Ventpux, the break seemed doomed but since Andy Schleck didn’t want to attack without his brother, Fränk, the GC riders killed the stage and let Garate and Martin stay in front. I don’t think that will happen this year.

Chris Froome already has a good gap to his rivals and they need to take use of every opportunity they get. Froome’s rivals simply have to attack and gain time and everybody wants to win on this mythical climb. Chris Froome himself had his first - ever - rendezvous with Mont Ventoux just two months ago when he went to test his legs on the climb. Riders like Alejandro Valverde, Cadel Evans, Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck already know what to expect of Mont Ventoux and I think they will have a little advantage on Froome. However, it doesn’t help much if they can’t drop him uphill - and I don’t think they can.

The way I see it, Chris Froome is the big favorite for the stage win. He lost a minute to Contador and Mollema in the crosswind and I’m sure he will be eager to take back the lost time time and show who’s the strongest rider in the race. Team Sky are missing Vasil ‘Chloroform’ Kiryienka and Edvald Boasson Hagen but they still have David Lopez, Peter Kennaugh and Richie Porte to set the pace and keep Chris Froome in front. It’s not ideal but it has to do. If not Froome, I think the stage winner will be Spanish.

Movistar will most likely make the race hard but they only have Nairo Quintana for the overall classification. The Colombian super climber will probably put in a couple of strong attacks but I think Froome will respond. He knows can’t let Quintana get away. On the other hand, if Alejandro Vavlerde tries an attack I doubt Froome will chase him down instantly. Valverde has good memories from Mont Ventoux. In 2009, he took the yellow jersey in Critérium Dauphiné (which he later won overall) on the stage to Mont Ventoux. Back then, he ‘gave’ the stage win to Sylvester Szmyd but this time Valverde isn’t giving anything away. Tour de France was his big goal this season and he lost it all when a rider broke his wheel on Stage 13. Movistar are out for revenge and with a fast finish - should it come to that - I think Valverde will be tough to beat if Froome is just focusing on keeping the jersey. I wouldn’t be surprised if we end up with Froome and Valverde in front.

Also, look out for Andy Schleck. He’s getting stronger and stronger every day and he may have some unfinished business with Mont Ventoux from the last time he was here. The headwind won’t favor Andy Schleck but on a good day he could take another big stage win in the Tour.

The Jokers
The French riders will be eager to get something out of this Tour de France, especially on La Fête Nationale (Bastille Day). When the route was revealed Thibaut Pinot was my first pick for the stage win but now I’m not so sure. He seemed to arrive to the Tour in great shape but he had nothing in his legs in the Pyrenees. Lately he’s been getting better but apparently he has some kind of throat problems now. If he’s back at his 2012 level, he will be a dangerous outsider but I doubt it. Pierre Rolland is another strong French candidate and contrary to Pinot, Rolland seems to have great legs. A stage win on Mont Ventoux will help Pierre Rolland significantly in his fight to keep the Polka Dot Jersey and the other GC riders don’t have to worry about him. Rolland is 25:33 minutes behind Froome in the overall classification and he only focuses on stage wins and the KOM competition.

I have high hopes for Daniel Martin too. The strong Irishman has already won a big mountain stage in this year’s Tour de France and he’s been “saving bullets” for Mont Ventoux the last couple of days. Martin is 11th overall so he won’t be giving a card blanche. Still, he won’t be the first rider Froome, Contador and Mollema will start chasing down either. Daniel Martin says he’s a big fan of the cycling history and naturally winning on a famous climb like Mont Ventoux would be amazing. He seems to be in the shape of his life right now and he has a strong kick too. I don’t know if Daniel Martin still fits the “joker” category but if so, he’s my joker for the stage win.

So. To sum it up: Chris Froome is the strongest rider uphill but may not have the best team. Furthermore, his primary target is to keep the yellow jersey. Alejandro Valverde is eager to take revenge and his Movistar team is very strong. Valverde is now out of the GC and the other favorites won’t chase him down right away. Not even Belkin…

Favorites: Chris Froome & Alejandro Valverde
Jokers: Pierre Rolland & Daniel Martin

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Just like during the Giro d’Italia this year, I once again have the chance to bring you daily “Fly Through” previews from Global Cycling Network. Here is Stage 15:

Just to get you into the right mood, take a look at the Mont Ventoux stage from 2000 when Marco Pantani won after an amazing comeback and series of furious attacks in the end:

Friday, July 12, 2013

Tour de France: Stage 14 Preview & Favorites

After Friday’s boring sprint stage, it’s now time for some real action. Kidding aside, Saxo-Tinkoff showed they can outnumber Chris Froome in the crosswind but I doubt they will try something on this stage.

The Route
A morning breakaway is yet to make it all the way in this year’s Tour de France but I have a feeling it will happen this time. There are seven categorized climbs on the menu and even though they aren’t very steep, they should prove to be too much for the pure sprinters.

The first 60 km of the stage is flat and if the wind is strong we could see some teams trying to split the peloton once again. The forecast shows a light wind though and most likely, we will see fireworks of breakaway attempts instead. I expect these first 60 km to take place in a very high pace and since everybody knows this is a day for a breakaway, everybody wants to be up front.

The only thing that really can prevent a breakaway from making it is Peter Sagan and his Cannondale team. If they have the manpower to do another monster pull again, they could really make some damages. It all depends on the wind, who is in the break, how the GC riders feel and bunch of other things. Like I wrote the other day, Peter Sagan is not shy of attacking on these kind of stages and I wouldn’t be surprised if he tries to get into the morning breakaway himself.

The Finish
The final 18 km of Stage 14 - Click for larger view.
The last 30 km include three category 4 climbs. They are not long nor steep but they serve as excellent places to test your fellow escapees. The last one, Côte de la Croix-Rousse (1.8 km / 4.5 %), has its top just after the 10 km to go banner. The run-in from here is very easy and with the expected tailwind, a strong rider may be able to keep a chasing group at bay. The last 2 km are straight out on Avenue Jean Jaurès and it will be a high-speed sprint should a bigger group arrive together.

The Favorites Breakaway Candidates
On a stage like this one, you can’t really talk about favorites. Today’s profile has “breakaway” written all over it but of course there are some riders more likely to hit the right break than others. Classic specialists like Juan-Antonio Flecha, Lars Boom, Philippe Gilbert and Sylvain Chavanel will all have this stage red-circled in their road books but so will about 100 riders. Lars Bak is another rider who’s recently been very good at hitting the right breakaways. He won a stage in the Giro d’Italia last year and managed to get into - what seemed like - the right break this year on a day he had marked. I know he has this stage written down and I won’t be surprised to see him in the final break.

Other solid breakaway candidates are riders like Thomas Voeckler (multiple Tour de France stage winner), Pierrick Fedrigo (last year stage winner), Arthur Vichot (French Champion), Jan Bakelants (stage winner and former yellow jersey), Alexey Lutsenko (U-23 World Champion) and Simon Gerrans (stage winner and former yellow jersey).

With the long flat finish I think it’s important to be fast on the line. If you’re not strong enough to go solo on the last climb, you need to pack a solid sprint. Riders like Michael Albasini, Enrico Gasparotto, Tony Gallopin and Julien Simon are other good candidates with a fast finish but honestly, I could keep on naming possible winners for days. Take a look at the start list and mark the fast guys who’s strong on these kind of hills. You will end up with a long list of names and if you pick out a couple of riders, chances are you will have at least one in the final break.

If I had to put my money on only one rider tomorrow, it would Jan Bakelants. He’s in the shape of his life right now and he’s already won one stage in this year’s Tour de France. He managed to bridge the gap to the break with Pierre Rolland on the second Pyrenees stage and that shows his climbing legs are great too. Bakelants is good at hitting the right breakaways and he’s also kind of fast on the line. His morale is high and after taking it easy on the second part of the time trial, I think he’s ready to do whatever he can to cross the finishing line first in Lyon Saturday afternoon.

Of course, should it all end with a sprint in a reduced peloton Peter Sagan is the man to beat.

For live race coverage go to

Just like during the Giro d’Italia this year, I once again have the chance to bring you daily “Fly Through” previews from Global Cycling Network. Here is Stage 14:

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Tour de France: Stage 13 Preview & Favorites

As expected, it all ended in a bunch sprint on Stage 12 and that should be scenario again on Friday’s Stage 13. Let’s hope this superstitious combination won’t send more riders to the ground as ASO once again have made the final, well, shall we say “interesting” - more on that later.

The Route
Like Thursday’s stage, this is another flat one. There is a small category 4 climb with about 100 km to go but the 1.2 km of 4 % towards the top of Côte de Crotz will barely be noticed in the peloton. The intermediate sprint is located after 112.5 km of the stage and we will see the peloton speed up as usually, which should kill a breakaway’s chances of succeeding.

The route takes the riders southeast and that could make for interesting racing if the wind is strong. As it is now, it won’t be a factor though. With ‘only’ 173 km and a light tailwind, it will be a very fast stage and I can’t see a break making it. This is most likely the last stage for the sprinters before Paris and they simply can’t afford to miss out.

The final two kilometers of Stage 13.
The Finish
Looking at the profile, there seems to be a tough climb close to the line. That isn’t the case. The road does kick up a little but only for 2.5 km with an average of 2.6 %. This surely won’t be enough to drop the sprinters. The run-in towards the finishing line isn’t very complicated but again ASO have decided to spice it up with a couple of tricky corners on the last kilometer. First the peloton turns left in a roundabout, then right - onto a smaller road - then right again and finally left in a roundabout with 400 meters to go. These four corners mean it’s very important to have one or two leadout men left before the final stretch. The finishing line is placed on Rue Pelletier d’Oisy; a parallel road to Avenue du Tour de France which seems like a more logical choice? Oh well.

The Favorites
What Argos-Shimano and Marcel Kittel did on Stage 12 was simply outstanding. Without Tom Veelers, Koen de Kort delivered Marcel Kittel perfectly on the wheel of Mark Cavendish. Gert Steegmans did a great leadout for the Manxman and even though he seemed sure to take the win, Marcel Kittel managed to come around Cavendish on the final meters. Much like he on Stage 10, when Greipel seemed sure to win. Kittel is right now the fastest sprinter in the world and if Cavendish can’t beat him with a perfect leadout, it will be difficult to deny the strong German his 4th stage win of this year’s Tour de France Friday afternoon. For the first time this Tour, Marcel Kittel is now the man to beat but I doubt he will crack under the pressure…

The sprint ended early for Lotto-Belisol and Andre Greipel on Stage 12. So far, they have been great at hitting the front at the right time but now it will be more than difficult. Sieberg and Henderson - two of Greipel’s most important leadout riders - both went down hard in the crash and like Veelers, they probably need a few days to get ready again. Furthermore, Jurgen Roelandts hurts his back again after another rider didn’t manage to break in time.

Omega Pharma Quickstep did everything right on Stage 12 but Cavendish simply didn’t have the legs to finish it off. Naturally he - and the team - will be eager to take revenge but against Super Kittel, it won’t be easy. Peter Sagan seems satisfied with getting third and fourth and I expect him to do that again in Saint-Amand-Montrond.

The Joker
As I said yesterday, I’m starting to run out of jokers to pick. I’ve already been through most of them and it seems like only Yohann Gene is left. Europcar have been trying to set him up for the sprint the last days and Gene is getting better and better. He has Kévin Reza to deliver him onto the right wheel and if he can stay out of trouble, he should be able to do Top10 again.

Favorite: Marcel Kittel
Joker: Yohann Gene

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Just like during the Giro d’Italia this year, I once again have the chance to bring you daily “Fly Through” previews from Global Cycling Network. Here is Stage 13:

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Tour de France: Stage 12 Preview & Favorites

This is a stage tailor-made for the sprinters. Mark Cavendish, Andre Greipel and Marcel Kittel will go head-to-head again and the tricky finish favors the Manxman.

The Route
Without a single categorized climb, there aren’t much to say about this stage. The 218 km from Fougères to Tours take the riders southeast into the country and if you had to skip one stage of this year’s Tour de France, this is probably the one to miss. The intermediate sprint is located with 52 km to go and this will most likely be the only interesting part of the stage so far. If the wind is strong enough some teams could try to split the peloton but I doubt it will happen. If so, it will be towards the intermediate sprint.

The Finish
Contrary to most of the stage, the finish is very difficult. For some reason ASO thought it was a good idea to put in not one but two 90° turns in the last kilometer. The first one comes with about 650 meters to go and the second one with only 450 meters to the line. This means it won’t be a power sprint like last time but it doesn’t undermine the importance of the leadout trains. The peloton will be stretched out significantly in these two right hand corners and you need to be among the first four or five riders into the first corner if you want to win this stage.

The Favorites
The leadout trains are again very important but the tricky finish favors Mark Cavendish. Andre Greipel and Marcel Kittel are both best when delivered in high speed but that won’t be the case in Tours. With the final corner just 450 meters from the line, the ideal scenario would be to enter that corner in second position with one leadout rider in front. Omega Pharma Quickstep messed up last time with Steegmans and Cavendish and they will be eager to take revenge. Also, some idiot sprayed urine on Mark Cavendish in the time trial and if he can convert his rage into power, he will be very difficult to beat.

The final four kilometers of Stage 12. Click for larger view.
Lotto-Belisol have timed it very well the last couple of times with 3 or 4 riders in front with 1 km to go and if they can do that again this time, Greipel should be up for another podium spot. It’s not a sprint that favors Greipiel much but if he enters the last corner with only Greg Henderson in front of him, he should make it three German stage wins in a row.

The tricky final also seems good for Peter Sagan. Nobody in the professional peloton handles their bike like Sagan does and he’s not shy of pushing to get the right wheel when he has to. Like Cavendish, Sagan accelerates very quickly and even though he’s not as fast as Cavendish and Greipel, he should still be able to make Top3.

The Jokers
I think I’ve already mentioned all the joker candidates during the Tour so we are back to repeating a few. I’ve been very impressed by young Danny Van Poppel so far. He’s the youngest Tour debutant since WWII and almost two weeks into the race, he’s still going strong. His leadout man Kris Boeckmans had a bike problem in the final of Stage 10 and despite the crash in front of him, Van Poppel still managed to finish 9th. Van Poppel has a fast acceleration and if he gets onto the right wheel in the final, he could very well make another top performance.

Also, look out for Cyril Lemoine. The French sprinter will be on home soil and in front of his family and friends, he will be extra motivated to do well. Lemoine knows an early breakaway may be doomed but I won’t be surprised if he tries a late attack. If not, expect Sojasun to set up Cyril Lemoine for the sprint. He should know the tricky finish better than anyone else.

Favorite: Mark Cavendish
Jokers: Danny Van Poppel & Cyril Lemoine

For live race coverage go to

Just like during the Giro d’Italia this year, I once again have the chance to bring you daily “Fly Through” previews from Global Cycling Network. Here is Stage 12: