It’s May, guys. May is here! That means we can officially start acting like it’s spring. Fish out the lightweight, short-sleeve jersey and throw them bib tights back in the drawer – we wanna see some bare knees and elbows from now on when you hit the roads, streets and trails!
May also means the first of the Grand Tours in road cycling is upon us, the Giro D’Italia. Kicking off this weekend the race will take three weeks to travel the length and breadth of Italy’s famous ‘boot’, before finishing up in Turin on the 29th.
Who’s going to win?
Well this is a hard one to call. The bookies have Vicenzo Nibali as the favourite, but we’re not too sure. He looked a little bit erratic last year – finishing his Grand Tour campaign by being kicked out of the Vuelta for hanging onto a car was a particular highlight – with his win at the Giro de Lombardia just about saving his fairly middling season. Still, he’s the only man in the race who has won all three of the Grand Tours, so that’s got to count for something.
Also in with a very good shout are Mikel Landa of Team Sky, who managed a third place in the last edition riding in support of Astana teammate Fabio Aru, and Rafael Majka of Tinkoff. The Polish rider excels in the mountains and has been developing into a strong second GC leader (behind Alberto Contador) in the last year or so. There are a lot of time trials (three to be precise) in this year’s Giro, which could play into the hands of a specialist like Tom Dumoulin or Rigoberto Uran – both of whom are not quite as strong on the climbs as Landa and Nibali. Speaking of climbers, don’t count out Alejandro Valverde, Movistar’s old warhorse, either!
Away from the general classification battle the sprints will be contested by Marcel Kittel for Etixx, young gun Caleb Ewan from Orica-Greenedge and Andre ‘the Gorilla’ Greipel.
What’s the route like?
Starting in the Netherlands meant it was never going to be hilly from the start, but it doesn’t take long before the riders will be asked to do some serious climbing. After the initial three days in Holland, the teams have a rest day when they will travel to the southern end of Italy. A couple of low key days later and they’re heading into the first summit finish. It’s classified as a ‘medium’ mountain day, but that’s really just a testament to how tough this race is – the two major climbs, the Bocca di Selva and the finish at Roccaraso are more than 1,300 and 1,500 metres above sea level.
A couple more low-key days and then its the ITT through the Chianti region – with a fairly bumpy 40-kilometre parcours it’s guaranteed to be a stern test and a day that will definitely have some impact on the GC.
After the TT comes the second rest day and a couple more quiet medium mountain or flat days (watch out for Kittel and his fast mates hoovering up the sprint points). Then all hell breaks loose. A mega mountainous stage 14 is followed up with another individual time trial, this time a 10km uphill slog. Perhaps mercifully, the next day is the Giro’s final rest day, but then we’re right back into the swing of things with stage 16 looking to be another hilly one.
The frankly ridiculous profile for stage 15
If it hasn’t been decided already, stages 19 and 20 will effectively seal the race. They’re both immense mountain days in the alps and will require every last ounce of energy from the GC hopefuls.
If it’s the Giro D’Italia, why is it starting in Holland?
Well, just like the Tour de France, the Giro has a foreign start every couple of years to improve the race’s international profile. It came to the United Kingdom in 2014 when it started in Northern Ireland, and has started in the Netherlands three times. The last time it started in Dutch territory was 2010 when a certain Bradley Wiggins won the opening TT.
Who is Britain’s best hope for a victory this year?
Well.. this is a little embarrassing. Based on the provisional startlists we’ve got our grubby mitts on, there is not one single Brit involved in this year’s Giro D’Italia. You can always cheer for those lovable Aussies at Orica-Greenedge, or even better, pick a true underdog and support wildcard invitees Nippo – Vini Fantini – they’ve got a former winner of the Giro in their roster, 40-year-old Damiano Cunego so you never know!Read More
Are you excited for the craziest, most gruelling cobbled Classic ever? You should be!
The 100th edition of ‘the Ronde’, as it is known by natives of the Flanders region, is set to take place on Sunday 3 April and it’s already promising to be a truly explosive race.
This year’s route takes in more than a few of the famous Bergs that often define and decide the one-day races in Belgium. The Paterberg will be scaled twice, while the riders will have to tackle the Oude Kwaremont three different times. The race finishes, as it did last year, with an ascent of Minderbroedersstraat – and no, we don’t know how to pronounce that either.
Oh and don’t forget the cobbles – seven sections of the beggars. Expect crashes, splashes and plenty of elbow-throwing as the big names jockey for position.
200 riders will take to the start line on 3 April, but not all of them are in with a hope, or even a chance of winning. If past editions are anything to go by, many may not even finish! But who are the heavyweights to look out for?
It’d be terribly rude of us not to kick off with last season’s champ. The Norwegian powerhouse will be keen to protect his title, especially after placing a lowly sixth (low by his standards at least) at Milan – San Remo.
What can we say about Old Spartacus that hasn’t been said a million times? He seems to be hugely enjoying his final ‘farewell’ season and has already hoovered up a couple of one-day wins. Even in his advancing years he’s a fearsome opponent when it comes to the cobbles so expect to see him in the mix.
Now he’s finally shaved his legs and won a race in the rainbow bands, Peter Sagan should be in with a real chance of winning at Flanders. Unfortunately he’s cursed by his own brilliance and whenever he gets into a decent situation everyone immediately stops helping him. We’ll see what he can engineer out of nothing.
Greg Van Avermaet
The Belgian will be a firm local favourite and justifiably so after he nicked a win at the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad a few weeks back. He spent much of last season coming close, but not quite winning, so we’ll see if things have fully turned around for him. His recent illness has kept him out of competition at the most recent classics – so can he recover in time?
We’re obliged to include Tom Boonen in this list, because he’s Tom Boonen. But he’s also pretty old and starting to moan a bit about racing in bad weather, which is a not very Tom Boonen thing to do. If he turns up in leg warmers at the start you can forget about him.
Every time he gets on a bike Luke Rowe looks a stronger rider. Eventually that’s going to translate into a Monument win. A select break at 20km to go would suit him as he doesn’t quite have the turn of speed to win out in a bunch sprint. Probably Britain’s best hope of a win.
We love the Tour of Flanders mainly because it’s such a wild and unpredictable race to watch. The cobbled sections lend a complete wildcard factor to the eventual results, so expect to see the top teams riding high up the peloton right from the start in an effort to keep their lads out of trouble.
Here are some things that might happen:
A fight. Things tend to get tetchy on the cobbled climbs with tiny amounts of space available to the riders. If things go wrong and one rider feels it was the fault of another that he ended up on the deck it wouldn’t be unprecedented to see a few fists flying.
A really, really big flag. Lord knows, the Flemish love their flags – especially drooping them in the faces of the riders as they go uphill, only to whip them up out of the way at the last minute. The flag of Flanders is yellow with a black lion on. Just FYI.
A breakaway. This is the Classics. This is Belgium. That means breakaways, counter-attacks and spring-boarding aplenty. Often you’ll get a decent domestique sent up the road to wait for the arrival of their main guy which adds a real ‘everyone is a threat’ angle. Juicy!
Hand-waving. When they’re not coming to actual blows, cyclists love a good angry discussion with plenty of gesticulations. Peter Sagan is especially good value for this when people won’t help him in a break.Read More
We’re already stoked for the Tour de France to kick off on 4 July and with the big names, Nibali, Contador, Froome and Quintana, all down to ride it’s set to be a true heavyweight battle. With a seriously hilly course, it looks like being a year for the pure climbers, which throws a little doubt on Chris Froome’s chances – at one stage he even claimed he mightn’t ride at all because the course didn’t suit him.
Regardless of who makes it to the start line in Utrecht in three weeks or so, it’s doubtless going to be a fantastic month of racing. We took a quick scan of the route and picked out some key days where we think the race could be won or lost.
Stage 2: Utrecht to Zeeland
After a time trial prologue around Utrecht the race begins in earnest with this 166km slog across the barren flatlands of Belgium to Zeeland. It’s very early in the competition for anything to be outright won, apart from the inevitable sprint finish, but we might see some major time losses if the notorious Belgian weather comes into play. Flat terrain and proximity to the sea make this a likely spot for severe cross-winds, and with cross-winds come the dreaded echelons. We may well see one or two big names get caught in a second or third echelon group, at which stage it becomes pretty difficult to bring the race back together.
Stage 4: Seraing to Cambrai
It takes four days for the Tour to reach France this year, with this the stage where it finally crosses over the border with Belgium. Classics fans will be delighted as the peloton hurtles over the infamous cobbles of Paris-Roubaix, with six sectors of the ‘Hell of the North’ race featuring in the route for Stage 4. We expect Chris Froome, who has a healthy disdain for northern Europe in the spring, will be less delighted.
But why might this stage have an effect on the general classification? Well last year Vicenzo Nibali used an early cobbled stage to put more than two minutes into his nearest rivals, laying down a marker for the domination to come. Don’t be surprised to see the top guys clinging to his wheel as he nimbly navigates the ‘baby’s heads’.
Stage 9: Vannes to Plumelec
What’s more fun to watch than a time trial? A team time trial! Only kidding, all time trials are deathly boring for spectators and quite frankly I’m sick of hearing commentators trying to liven them up with ‘fun’ trivia about each rider out ‘on course’. Nevertheless, time trialling is integral to at least one of the big four contenders’ game plan.
Chris ‘looking at stem’ Froome is a master of the race against the clock and his team aren’t too shabby either (despite falling apart at the Giro a little bit this year). It’s still early in the race to be hoping to defend a lead, but Froome must take time here from his nearest rivals if he’s to stand any chance of mixing it up at the business end of proceedings.
An interesting extra dimension is added by the fact that this TTT is later than usual, meaning some teams may have lost a couple for riders along the way – especially on the aforementioned cobbles. Any teams trying to tackle this three riders down could lead to some seismic shifts in the standings.
Stage 17: Digne-les-Bains to Pra Loup
Cycling history buffs will tell you that a summit finish in Pra Loup marked the end of the Age of Eddy, when the all-conquering Belgian, Merckx, was defeated by Frenchman Bernard Thévenet. The Cannibal never won his sixth tour.
Despite the heritage, the part of the day that may well come into play for this year’s GC is not on the climb up to Pra Loup, but the huge descent from the summit of the Col d’Allos. Defending champ Vincenzo Nibali is a superb descender. It’s fair to say that after scuppering his TdF chances last year going downhill, Contador may not be quite so confident. Everyone will be watching the Italian for any attempts to get away on this slope.
Stage 20: Modane to Alpe d’Huez
The inclusion of Alpe d’Huez on the penultimate day of the race is an aggressive move, even by the standards of notoriously sadistic Tour organisers. Anyone whose GC hopes are still alive will be asked to tackle three horrifically big mountains in just 110km, the Telegraphe, the Galibier and then the Alpe itself – all three steeped in iconic racing history, equalled only by Ventoux in terms of their fearsome reputations. Unless we see a show of total dominance earlier in the race, akin to that of Contador at this year’s Giro or Nibali at the 2014 Tour, then this may very well be the deciding stage of the whole affair.
So there you have it, the key stages of the Tour De France 2015. Now let us know who you think is going to win it.Read More