E3 Harelbeke 2015 Preview – Tips, Contenders, Profile

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2015 E3 Harelbeke Logo

E3 Harelbeke is the first World Tour race of Flanders week and we’ve got a strong field of riders all aiming for the win. The race has already courted some controversy before even starting with the ‘sexist poster’ storm which had a nod to Peter Sagan’s podium antics in this race. Harelbeke has been known for its risque posters in the past but the majority seemed to think this strayed over the line. The race itself covers famous hellingen such as the Paterberg (scene of many of Boonen’s attacks), Oude Kwaremont and the Kapelberg. These tough climbs favour strong riders and the strongest, most in-form rider shows himself by riding away from the peloton.

E3 Harelbeke Profile

2015 E3 Harelbeke Profile

E3 Harelbeke Contenders

John Degenkolb has become a favourite from his race winning display at Milan – San Remo last weekend, he has had decent results in the past and is clearly in form. Sagan and Cancellara are standard favourites, Cancellara has won 3 times in the last 5 years and Sagan won E3 Harelbeke last year. Sep Vanmarcke is a good shout for a top 5 place, which he’s done three times so far in this race, his weaker team seems to stop him winning the bigger races. Geraint Thomas has finished 3rd and 4th in the last two years and is a good shout to do well again if he can ride for himself – Ian Stannard is the other key Team Sky option.

Niki Terpstra came second last year, but will be racing at Dwars door Vlaanderen a couple of days before which may hinder him here. Greg van Avermaet is perpetually in the mix for these sorts of races but is missing the big win so far this season – his attack on the Poggio last weekend was a huge effort and a sure sign of strength. Sebastian Langeveld has a number of top ten finishes at Harelbeke and should get a similar result this year but would be doing well to make the podium.

Edward Boasson Hagen performed well at Milan – San Remo and has top ten finishes here – he seems to be in decent form and a part of the usual MTN team of people who were good four years ago. Zdenek Stybar won this year’s Strade Bianche but despite only having a 19th place to show for his efforts at Harelbeke, is still a contender. And finally, Sebastian Turgot has finished tenth here twice and should be the focus of AG2Rs efforts.

E3 Harelbeke Outsiders

As usual, there’s a couple of outsiders who can do well provided they get a break and their teams let them off the leash. Luke Rowe for Sky can do well provided he is released from protective duties for Geraint Thomas, Ian Stannard and Bradley Wiggins.
Yves Lampaert is a part of a strong Etixx – Quickstep line-up and again if he gets a chance he’ll be able to give a strong showing after winning Driesdaagse van West-Vlaanderen recently.

E3 Harelbeke Prediction

1 – John Degenkolb
2 – Greg van Avermaet
3 – Peter Sagan

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E3 Harelbeke 2015 Preview – Tips, Contenders, Profile was originally published on Me vs. Pro Cycling

Dwars door Vlaanderen 2015 Preview – Tips, Contenders, Profile

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Dwars door Vlaanderen

We’re now firmly in classics season after Milan – San Remo last weekend. Dwars door Vlaanderen is the start of ‘Flanders week’ which sees 4 top quality races in a short space of time. Something to look forward to! This race is a combination of cobbles and steep climbs, a early tester for the Tour of Flanders but also those looking to impress in Paris – Roubaix. Traditionally Belgians win this race however after a modern re-scheduling more and more other riders have been winning too.

Dwars door Vlaanderen Profile

Dwars door Vlaanderen Profile

Dwars door Vlaanderen Contenders

Niki Terpstra has won this race twice in the last three years and lines up on Wednesday too. Naturally he is the favourite.

2013 winner Oscar Gatto lines up for Androni and after strong performances at Strade Bianche and Milan-San Remo, is definitely in the mix. 2010 winner Matti Breschel also lines up as leader of Tinkoff-Saxo. Breschel did well in Milan – San Remo, finishing 12th which is surely an indicator of good form.

Other riders in with a chance are Cofidis’ Nacer Bouhanni, who has been on the verge of a big win this year but seems to lack the lead out train. Trek’s Giacomo Nizzolo, MTN’s Tylar Farrar (or Boasson Hagen who looked good last weekend), Lotto’s Jens Debusschere are all good shouts for a top ten finish or higher with the right amount of luck. Astana’s Lars Boom should do well too although may get left behind if caught out by the attacks on a steep section.

Dwars door Vlaanderen Outsiders

This smaller sort of race can allow genuine outsiders a chance to shine. Edward Theuns of Topsport can do well, as can Raymond Kreder of Team Rompoot Oranje. Both are locally based and have the ability to make the selection near the finish.

Dwars door Vlaanderen Prediction

1 – Niki Terpstra
2 – Giacomo Nizzolo
3 – Matti Breschel

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Dwars door Vlaanderen 2015 Preview – Tips, Contenders, Profile was originally published on Me vs. Pro Cycling

Milan – San Remo Preview 2015 – Tips, Contenders, etc.

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Milan San Remo Logo

After successfully predicting the top two at Paris-Nice (and my tip for 3rd came 4th) – here’s my Milan-San Remo preview and predictions.

After a period for a few years with an extra hill near the end, the race now favours sprinters with a reasonable degree of climbing, provided all the attacks from puncheurs are neutralised.

Milan – San Remo Profile

2015 Milan San Remo Profile

2015 Milan San Remo Profile

Milan – San Remo Contenders

Starting with last year’s winner Alexander Kristoff, he is in good form already this year and can definitely repeat last year’s performance. Fellow sprinters Mark Cavendish, Arnaud Demare, Nacer Bouhanni, John Degenkolb, Michael Matthews and last year’s 3rd place Ben Swift can all do well.

2014 Milan San Remo Kristoff Wins

Kristoff wins in 2014

The bookies have Fabian Cancellara and Peter Sagan as the top two favourites – but both of these two struggled at Strade Bianche recently. Cancellara through illness whereas Sagan simply wasn’t strong enough. Both will be on most people’s lists for a strong finish however.

Strongmen of the puncheur type can do well if they manage to stay away and a couple may sprint well too. Greg van Avermaet has been up there all Spring so far, Sonny Colbrelli does well in Italian races, world champion Michal Kwiatkowski can blast away from the group, Tony Gallopin did very well in Paris-Nice, Alessandro Valverde can never be ignored despite his finish in Strade Bianche and Ramunas Navardauskas can do surprisingly well in a powerful sprint situation.

2013 Milan San Remo Snow

2013’s race was hit by epic snow

Milan – San Remo Outsiders

Ever since Gerald Ciolek won Milan – San Remo in the snow-hit 2013 version, outsiders know they can win if they’re the strongest that day. He will be racing this year but is again a rank outsider.

Italians with a chance of winning Milan – San Remo are Bardiani’s Enrico Battaglin, Lampre’s Filippo Pozzato, Androni’s Franco Pellizotti and Tinkoff’s Daniele Bennati. Luca Paolini has traditionally done very well, but is slowly decreasing in quality in recent years.

If you’re wanting a real outsider to follow my two riders are Luke Rowe and Matti Breschel.

Milan – San Remo Top 3 Prediction

1 – Fabian Cancellara
2 – Alexander Kristoff
3 – Greg van Avermaet

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Milan – San Remo Preview 2015 – Tips, Contenders, etc. was originally published on Me vs. Pro Cycling

Paris Nice 2015 Preview

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Paris Nice 2014

Paris Nice has been seen as a warm up for the Tour de France, a recent check of winners has the likes of Wiggins, Contador, Kelly, Anquetil, Merckx, Zoetemelk, Poulidor and Indurain on it but in modern times it can also suit those more punchy riders with a decent time trial. The Panzerwagon Tony Martin won the race in 2011 thanks to his time trialling and arguably so did Wiggins in 2012. With a prologue and a time trial included, it definitely suits those who race against the clock.

Paris Nice 2014

A cursory look at the start list gives us obvious favourites such as world champion Michal Kwiatkowski, former world champion Rui Costa, former winner Richie Porte, Tejay van Garderen, Andrew Talansky, Rafal Majka.

A couple of outsiders who can do well given the right chance are Fabio Aru, Wilco Kelderman, Benat Intxausti and Simon Yates.

ParisNice214

There are those whose specialisations will see them in the fight for stage wins – chief of which is world time trial champion Bradley Wiggins who has two opportunities to win a stage. Tony Martin will naturally be his main contender in these stages. Rohan Dennis, Tom Dumoulin, Thomas de Gendt and Sylvain Chavanel are always in with a shout in Paris Nice time trials.

Sprinters in the race include Alexander Kristoff, John Degenkolb, Arnaud Demare, Nacer Bouhanni, Bryan Coquard and  Andre Greipel. It will be interesting to see how the Demare and Bouhanni rivalry plays out after their split. Kristoff is definitely the man in form and will be favourite on the appropriate stages.

Paris Nice 2014

Today’s prologue gives us a chance to see who leads the early running.

Top 3 Paris – Nice Prediction

1 – Richie Porte

2 – Michal Kwiatkowski

3 –  Rui Costa

 

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Paris Nice 2015 Preview was originally published on Me vs. Pro Cycling

Strade Bianche 2015 Review

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Strade Bianche

For all the pre-race talk of Peter Sagan and two time winner Fabian Cancellara fighting it out on the way to the finish of Strade Bianche, it didn’t pan out anything like that.

Strade Bianche 2015

The selection took place on the hardest stretch of gravel roads and saw a very elite group hit the front of the race with around 50km to go.  The likes of Vanmarcke, Nibali, Sagan, Cancellara, Valverde, van Avermaet and Stybar got free and set a pace that meant the peloton never caught up.

Then with 20km to go, Vanmarcke attacked on the same spot where Sagan and Kwiatkowski got free last year which gave us a final elite group – Sagan blew up in a big way on the climb and Cancellara drifted on and off the back of the group until losing touch for good.

Vanmarcke attacks

Vanmarcke attacks

Valverde and van Avermaet went on the attack with 15km to go, Stybar joined them and they reached the final climb all together having dropped all other contenders.

Cancellara pulls Oss along

Cancellara pulls Oss along

Valverde, the best climber, found himself on the front of the group in the worst position. Van Avermaet attacked and came round him with Stybar on his wheel and surprisingly Valverde started dropping back unable to respond. Stybar had enough to overtake van Avermaet and drop to the finish line to celebrate the win.

The early season scenery in Tuscany in the sun gave an excellent background to the racing and as mentioned in the commentary, if Strade Bianche was 80 years old, we’d definitely consider it a monument.

Stybar wins Strade Bianche

Stybar wins Strade Bianche

The amount of top quality riders battling together from all the top teams led to some great racing and due to the nature of the roads it meant we didn’t see riders protected until the finished – with the exception of Oss working for van Avermaet, no other rider had team-mates to work for them and this led to the exciting finale.

Strade Bianche Top 5

1 – Stybar

2 – Van Avermaet

3 – Valverde (my pre-race tip for the win)

4 – Vanmarcke

5 – Rosa

 

 

Strade Bianche 2015 Preview

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Strade Bianche LogoStrade Bianche is Italy’s version of a Spring Classic and a relatively new addition to the calendar. It takes place on regular roads with gravel tracks thrown in to make things interesting. The race gets its name from these sections as the white roads give it a distinctive look.

 

Strade Bianche

White roads

The race suits punchy one-day riders, with a climb in the last 1km of 9% peaking at 16% before a quick drop to the finish, it requires contenders to be relatively light rather than just powerful. It’s this climb that has seen Sagan come second twice in the last two years whereas a flat finish would see him walk it.

Strade Bianche 2014 Finale

Strade Bianche 2014 Finale

2015 sees a strong field line up at the race. Two time winner Fabian Cancellara will be aiming for a third win, one-day race king Alessandro Valverde will be racing and Peter Sagan will aim to go one better.

There is a lot of strength in depth aiming for a win too. Omloop winner Ian Stannard will race, although the final climb may not suit him, so will Niki Terpstra who was one of the Quickstep triplet that allowed Stannard to win.

Greg van Avermaet and Vincenzo Nibali race despite off the bike problems, and Sepp Vanmarcke will fly the flag for LottoNL. Simon Gerrans returns after breaking his collarbone to start his season and Carlos Betancur starts his European season for AG2R.

Strade Bianche

Strade Bianche

For those looking for a more left-field option for a good result, Sonny Colbrelli for Bardiani always seems to do well in Italian races like this, Adam Yates can do well and is suited to the final climb but his finish will depend on how well Gerrans does. Peter Kennaugh can also do well if released from Sky teamwork duties.

Top 3 Prediction

1 – Valverde

2 – Sagan

3 – Cancellara

An even better weekend for the Brits…

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Cav wins Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne

Cav wins Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne

It only seems like last weekend when I posted about the impact Brits have had so far this season, but they’ve done it again during the first week of the Spring Classics season winning both Omloop het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne Brussels Kuurne.

On Saturday, Ian Stannard managed to win Omloop het Nieuwsblad for the second year running and again managed to beat off favourites on the run-in to the finish. Despite being ganged up 3 to 1 by the Etixx-Quickstep team, he managed to have enough strength to respond to their late attacks and beat Niki Terpstra, Tom Boonen and Stijn Vandenbergh. In theory their team work should have seen them drop Stannard without too much trouble and they were heavily criticised afterwards.

Quickstep kept an eye on Stannard, but still lost

Quickstep kept an eye on Stannard, but still lost

Fellow Brit Luke Rowe also got a respectable 9th place, winning the bunch sprint.

Stannard wins Omloop het Nieuwsblad

Stannard wins Omloop het Nieuwsblad

My tips for the top 3 came in 6th, 5th and 11th in the end.

Stannard gets ganged up by Quickstep

Stannard gets ganged up by Quickstep

Sunday saw the Kuurne Brussels Kuurne race take place, a cobbled race for the sprinters. Mark Cavendish won to make up for Quickstep’s miss the day before. He took up Kristoff’s wheel and came round him for the win with Sky’s Elia Viviani in third place

The chasing pack at Kuurne - Brussels - Kuurne

The chasing pack at Kuurne – Brussels – Kuurne

Nacer Bouhanni was positioned well at the front but a close coming together saw him have to take evasive action and come in down in 18th. He’s not showing the same form as last year currently and it looks like Cofidis’ decision to keep Demare is still the right one.

Things we’ve learnt

Stannard is definitely a classics contender if he can stay injury-free

Cavendish has a decent shot at Gent-Wevelgem and Milan-San Remo

Kristoff is still a force this season

Vanmarcke is still consistent but doesn’t have the killer instinct

Van Avermaet will be in the mix but has off the bike issues fighting his corner against rumours he doped in 2011.