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Preview of Wednesday’s racing

Wednesday is a busy day with a summit finish in Oman and sprint stages in Algarve and Andalusia








16.02.2016 @ 21:35 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

This week is an extremely busy affair in professional cycling as no less than four stage races will take place in Oman, France, Spain and Portugal respectively. Instead of doing our usual extensive stage preview, we will provide a short preview of the stages each day.


Tour of Oman, stage 2:

The course:

In the past, the first half of the race has always been a bit of a waiting game for the GC riders who have been trying to save energy for the big battle on the Green Mountain. This time they have to be on their toes right from the start as the tricky first stage is followed by a first big climbing battle in a new summit finish on the second day.


The 162km stage brings the riders from the start at the Omantel Head Office on the western outskirts of Muscat through mostly flat terrain to the new summit finish in Quriyat in the much hiller area east of the capital. From the start, flat roads lead them to the capital which they will pass through before heading into the hills. The first challenge is the Bousher al Amerat climb (3.4km, 8.8%) that has often been tackled in the Ministry of Housing stage and will again play a key role in the penultimate stage of this year’s race. The summit comes at the 33km mark and then it is back into flat terrain as the riders will continue their eastern journey.


The first intermediate sprint comes at the 81km mark just before the feed zone and then the riders descend back towards the coast where the terrain gets slightly more undulating. With around 30km to go, they will turn around to head back towards the finishing city of Quriyat before the final intermediate sprint comes with 22.5km to go.


The riders will reach Quiryat with 7.5km but this time they won’t finish in the city as they have done in the past. Instead, they will follow flat roads into the nearby hills where the race will end at the top of a tough climb that averages 6.5% over 2.8km. It includes two hairpin bends close to the flamme rouge and then the road bends gradually to the left before the riders get to the 100m finishing straight.


Quriyat has hosted one stage finish in the past but when the race visited the city in 2014, there was no summit finish. Instead, it was a flat finale that allowed Alexander Kristoff to take a bunch sprint win ahead of Leigh Howard and Tom Boonen.


The weather:

Wednesday should be another perfect day for a bike race as there will be plenty of sunshine and a maximum temperature of 26 degrees. It will be a bit windier though, with a relatively strong wind from an easterly direction. This means that it will be a cross-headwind almost all day until the riders turn into a crosswind and a cross-tailwind in the finale. There will be a tailwind and a crosswind on the final climb.


The favourites:

The stage to Al Bustan already creates a few surprises and some of the GC contenders always lose ground as the short, steep climb of Al Jissah and the heat are usually shocks to the system after a long travel. This year it was pre-race favourite Richie Porte who failed to stay with the best and he is now unlikely to win the race overall. However, history shows that the legs often come around for the good climbers. Two years ago Thibaut Pinot was dropped on Al Jissah and last year it was Rui Costa but both bounced back with great performances in the queen stage. It is still too early to write Porte off as a possible stage winner in the queen stage even though his GC campaign is now over.


At the same time, Bob Jungels proved his huge talent by launching a perfectly timed move in the finale. As we wrote yesterday, it was always going to be tricky for the likes of Edvald Boasson Hagen and Greg Van Avermaet to control the late attacks to get a sprint. Van Avermaet was isolated and Boasson Hagen only got company when Jungels had already taken off. Hence, both were left frustrated.


The stage gave the first indications of who’s going strong at the moment but the first big test for the GC riders will come tomorrow. It’s a new uphill finish so it hasn’t been tried in the past and everybody will be heading into the unknown. However, it’s a relatively short climb that is not very steep so it is better suited to puncheurs than to real climbers. Hence, the time gaps will be small but it will be important not to lose any seconds or potentially take a share of the bonifications.


The stage is likely to be firmly controlled by Etixx-QuickStep as they both have the leader’s jersey and Dan Martin as a potential winner of the stage. BMC may lend them a hand as may Dimension Data so it will be decided on the final climb. However, there will be a cross-tailwind in the run-in to the climb so everybody needs to be attentive as things could potentially split up here.


Today Astana tried to make the race hard on the climb and they will probably try to do so again tomorrow. However, it is not obvious who’s strong enough to control the race and bring back any late attacks and it won’t be impossible to make a successful move in the finale. Today tactics came into play and there is no guarantee that we will get an uphill sprint. However, this climb is not long enough for the best climbers to make a difference so it will either be an uphill sprint from a small group or a successful late move.


Greg Van Avermaet had no luck in today’s stage as he missed some teammates to control things. Unless Porte bounces back, it will be a similar scenario tomorrow. He can only cross his fingers that Astana, Etixx-QuickStep or Dimension Data will be strong enough to control things and set up a sprint finish. Van Avermaet looked very strong in today’s stage as he was never in trouble on the climb which is much harder than tomorrow’s final ascent. As he proved in last year’s Tour de France, he is very strong in an uphill sprint and he will be hard to beat in a final dash to the line. This makes Van Avermaet our favourite.


Edvald Boasson Hagen proved his good condition in Qatar. Today he was again with the best on the climb and he should be up there again tomorrow. Obviously he is a relatively big guy but in last year’s Tour of Britain he proved that he can do well on this kind of ascent. He is the faster than Van Avermaet in a flat sprint but the tables are likely to have been turned around for this kind of finale. However, he definitely has a big chance in this kind of punchy finale.


Tom Dumoulin is making his debut in this race so his form is still a bit of an unknown. However, he is always very strong at the start of the year and it is unlikely to be different in 2016. He was in the first group today but not among the very first at the top of the climb which indicates that he still needs to gain some extra percent. On the other hand, he did a very strong final sprint and tomorrow’s finale suits him a lot better as he is a great sprinter in this kind of punchy finale. If he had been at 100%, he would have been our favourite but now he has to settle for third place.


Daniel Martin is better than usual at this time of the year but the Tour of Valencia proved that he is not at his best yet. Furthermore, he is suffering from a small cold so he may not be ready to go for the win yet. On the other hand, he easily stayed with the best in today’s finale and this kind of uphill sprint suits him down to the ground.


Rui Costa looked very strong in today’s stage. That’s no surprise as he is always very consistent. This finale suits him really well as he is fast in an uphill sprint. Martin, Dumoulin, Van Avermaet and Boasson Hagen are faster but if Martin is not at 100% and the race becomes hard, it won’t be impossible for him to win.


Astana have two cards to play and they know that neither Vincenzo Nibali nor Jakob Fuglsang will win an uphill sprint. They will try to ride aggressively. While the Italian will probably be heavily marked, Fuglsang may get a bit more freedom and he looked very strong today.


Domenico Pozzovivo attacked in the finale of today’s stage and he was one of the strongest on the climb. Tomorrow he will probably try a similar move and he will probably not be too heavily marked. His teammate Romain Bardet is better suited to this kind of finish but after his third place today, he may not get the same kind of freedom as Pozzovivo.


Davide Rebellin attacked with Pozzovivo on the final climb today and he seems to be in great condition. This is the kind of punchy finale that he loves. He is fast in an uphill sprint but there are faster riders than him. However, he seems to have the form to make a late move.


Finally, we will point to Eduardo Sepulveda. The Argentinean was with the best in today’s stage but crashed on the descent. Now he is out of the GC battle so he may be given the freedom to attack in the finale.


CyclingQuotes’ stage winner pick: Greg Van Avermaet

Other winner candidates: Edvald Boasson Hagen, Tom Dumoulin

Outsiders: Daniel Martin, Rui Costa, Jakob Fuglsang

Jokers: Domenico Pozzovivo, Roman Bardet, Davide Rebellin, Eduardo Sepulveda


Vuelta a Andalucia, stage 1:

The course:

The five-day race has often had a time trial on the opening day but this year the race against the clock will come much later in the race. Instead, the sprinters will get a chance to go for glory on the opening day. They will have to be ready right from the start though as the first stage could easily turn out to be their only chance in the race.


The stage brings the riders over 165.2km from Almonaster la Real to the big city of Seville where the sprinters have usually come to the fore. The starting city is located in a hilly region and the climbing all comes in the early part of the race where the riders will tackle a small circuit in the area that will see them go up the category 3 climbs of Alo de Jabugo (5.1km, 4.7%), Puerto de los Pinos (6.4km, 3.0%) and Alto Castano del Robredo (13km, 2.2%) at the 14km, 32.4km, and 5.25km marks respectively


After the hilly beginning, the riders head to the southeast and the city of Seville. The terrain is still undulating until they get to the intermediate sprint at the 82km mark but the second half of the stage is mostly slightly downhill. They will enter Seville with 3km to go from where it is almost completely flat. There will be a right-hand turn with 2.6km to go and then there are sharp left-hand turns with 900 and 600m to go respectively. The final challenge is a roundabout just 400m from the finish in a technical finale that has a 6m wide finishing straight.


Seville last hosted a stage in 2014 when Gerald Ciolek won a bunch sprint. In 2006, Tom Boonen was faster than Alessandro Petacchi and he also won in 2004. Endrio Leoni was the fastest sprinter in 2002.


The weather:

Wednesday will be a day with beautiful sunshine and a maximum temperature of 15 degrees. There will be a moderate wind from a southwesterly direction which means that the riders will first have a cross-tailwind and a crosswind for most of the day. In the finale, there will be a crosswind from the right for most of the final three kilometres.


The favourites:

There’s only one opportunity for the pure sprinters in this year’s race and so there is no chance that they will miss out on this one. However, there will be a crosswind all day and this could make it a very nervous day in the saddle. We doubt that it is strong enough to split things but we may see some teams try to make a move. In any case, it will probably make it very stressful and the big team will be on their toes all day.


The race was dealt a huge blow due to the loss of Bryan Coquard who was the in-form sprinter in the field and the favourite to win the stage. Now Direct Energie will do nothing to chase and as there aren’t many sprinters in the race, it is not obvious who’s going to do the work. Everybody will be looking at Cofidis who probably have to do the majority of the riding on the front. They may get some help from Dimension Data and maybe even Movistar. However, the nervousness and Cofidis’ interest in a sprint should be enough to bring things back together.


The finale is pretty technical with two turns inside the final kilometre and then a late roundabout. This means that it’s a sprint for riders with a good acceleration and a good lead-out. On paper, the Cofidis train of Lemoine-Bozic-Laporte-Soupe-Bouhanni is in a class of its own and we expect them to dominate the finale as they did in both sprints in Valencia. They should be strong enough to get Bouhanni into the perfect position for the final two turns and he loves this kind of technical finale. As he is also the fastest rider here, he is the overwhelming favourite.


His biggest rival is Juan Jose Lobato who is probably the only rider that is fast enough to beat Bouhanni. As usual, he will suffer from the positioning and this kind of technical finale won’t make it any easier for him. On the other hand, the sprinting field is less stacked here so for once he may actually get into a good position for the sprint. If so, he has the speed to win.


Raymond Kreder has been sprinting really well this year in both Valencia and Almeria. He won’t survive the climbing later in the race so this is his big chance. He doesn’t have his best lead-out though but he can still rely on some fast riders to support him. It will all be determined by his position but he is clearly one of the fastest here.


Southeast have a pretty strong team to support Manuel Belletti. Filippo Pozzato and Enrique Sanz both have lots of lead-out experience and that makes a huge difference in this kind of finale. Belletti is clearly one of the fastest riders here and he is in solid condition. With a strong team at his side, he will be one of the favourites.


Daniele Bennati doesn’t get many chances to sprint for himself but this race should be an opportunity for him. He showed good form in Dubai and he can count on some fast riders to support him as he has Nikolay Trusov, Jay McCarthy and Oscar Gatto at his side. He is not as fast as he once was but if he has a good position, he can still win this kind of stage.


Kristian Sbaragli makes his season debut here and he claims to be in pretty good condition. However, he is not a pure sprinter and he doesn’t like this kind of flat finale. Furthermore, his team is mostly made up of climbers so he won’t get much support. It won’t be easy for him to beat Bouhanni but he is still one of the fastest riders in the field.


The same goes for Ben Swift but like Sbaragli, he is not a rider for these pure sprints and he doesn’t have much support as his team is focused on GC. He is probably faster than Sbaragli but he is not great at positioning himself. However, if he is in a good position for the final two turns, he is one of the riders that can realistically target the win.


Tosh van der Sande is another fast rider that is not a pure sprinter. He showed improved sprinting skills in last year’s Vuelta and he should be up there. The same goes for Carlos Barbero and Fabio Felline but they are not fast enough to win this kind of sprint. Finally, it will be interesting to see what Tom Devriendt can do for Wanty. Last year he proved that he is very fast and he has a good team to support him.


If you are looking for more sprinters, keep an eye on Koen De Kort, Martin Elmiger, David, Tanner, Enrico Battaglin, Philippe Gilbert, Adrien Petit, Bert van Lerberghe and Meron Teshome.


CyclingQuotes’ stage winner pick: Nacer Bouhanni

Other winner candidates: Juan Jose Lobato, Raymond Kreder

Outsiders: Manuel Belletti, Daniele Bennati, Kristian Sbaragli, Ben Swift

Jokers: Tosh van der Sande, Tom Devriendt, Carlos Barbero, Fabio Felline


Volta ao Algarve, stage 1:

The course:

The Volta ao Algarve has usually kicked off with a stage for the sprinters and it will be no different in 2016. The opening stage is a bit of an Algarve classic as it will finish in Albueira for the seventh year in a row. The first part of the course usually varies from year to year but the tricky finale is the same that has been used for several year. It is a difficult affair that can suit a mix of sprinters and classics specialists who have sometimes managed to deny the fast riders.


Like last year the stage will start in Lagos on the Algarve coast and will bring the riders over 163.6km to Albufeira a bit further down the coast. The stage has a similar format to last year’s stage but it will follow a slightly different route between the two cities. The riders will first tackle a flat coastal section before they head inlands to get into some hillier terrain. Here they will face the only categorized climb, the category 4 Derrocada (3km, 1.8%) which summits after 34.6km of racing. Then it’s back into flat terrain which ends at the first intermediate sprint at the 81.7km mark. A long, gradual climb now signals the start of a lumpy section which includes the second intermediate sprint after 112.5km of racing.


The riders will now head back towards the coast as they make a small loop to approach the finishing city from along a mostly flat coastal road. Here they will contest the final intermediate sprint before they start one lap of an 18.6km finishing circuit on the eastern outskirts of the city. It is mainly flat but it includes the well-known tricky finale. There's a short descent inside the final 5km that leads to the bottom of a small hill close to the finish. The 500m ascent has an average gradient of 6% and summits just 600m from the line and then it descends to the finish. Furthermore, the finale is loaded with roundabouts, with 6 of those obstacles inside the final 6km. The final one comes just 1000m from the line.


Last year the tricky nature of the finale was evident from the results as André Greipel failed to take the win and instead the top 3 spots were occupied by versatile sprinters Gianni Meersman, Ben Swift and Paul Martens. In 2014 Lampre-Merida and Omega Pharma-Quick Step managed to set up a bunch sprint that was won by Sacha Modolo but in 2013 Paul Martens, Thomas Sprengers and Tiago Machado slipped away in the finale, with the latter two narrowly holding on to 1st and 2nd on the stage. In 2012, Gianni Meersman beat Greg Van Avermaet and Matti Breschel in the sprint while Greipel was the winner in 2011. In 2010, a late break again succeeded when Benoit Vaugrenard held off the sprinters in the difficult finale.


The weather:

Wednesday will be a great day for a bike race as it will be bright sunshine with only a few clouds arriving late in the afternoon. The maximum temperature will be 14 degrees and there will be a moderate wind from a westerly direction. This means that the riders will have a tailwind for most of the day and there will be a cross-tailwind in the important coastal section near the end. There will be a headwind as they head back to the finish in Albufeira and then they will gradually turn into a tailwind for the sprint.


The favourites:

Usually, the sprint stages don’t get much attention in the Volta ao Algarve. However, that’s not the case in 2016. The resurgence of Marcel Kittel and André Greipel’s dominance in 2015 mean that the first clash between the two titans has been eagerly awaited and it will only be made more important as it’s the first chance for both of them to prove themselves worthy of German leadership at the World Championships.


Kittel and Greipel only have two chances in this race and as the finish in stage 4 is pretty hard, this is their best chance to get a real bunch sprint. Hence, there is little doubt that Lotto Soudal and Etixx-QuickStep will control things.


In the finale, there will be a cross-tailwind as they hit the coast and this is likely to make things very nervous. It is probably not enough to split the field but everyone has to be on their toes. Furthermore, the finale is very tricky and has often created splits. It is definitely not a straightforward bunch sprint and in the past, late moves have had success and GC riders have lost time. History shows that it is very difficult to organize a lead-out and we have often had some surprise outcomes.


Etixx-QuickStep and Lotto Soudal are both here with strong trains. Usually, Lotto Soudal have the best lead-out but the loss of Marcel Sieberg to illness will be dearly felt. Furthermore, Greg Henderson has not joined the train yet so they are not in their best formation.


Etixx-QuickStep have Niki Terpstra, Tony Martin, Zdenek Stybar, Yves Lampaert, Tom Boonen and final lead-out man Fabio Sabatini. Things worked really well in Dubai and even though it’s not the same team here, they have lots of experience. We expect them to be able to deliver Kittel in the perfect position and in Dubai he clearly indicated that he is still the fastest rider in the world. The late climb doesn’t favour him but the way he climbed in Dubai proves that his form is outstanding. Hence, it should be no major challenge and he is our favourite to win.


His biggest rival is of course André Greipel. He may be missing Sieberg and Henderson but he still has Jens Debusschere Jurgen Roelandts, Tiesj Benoot and Tony Gallopin at his side. They have much more experience in working together than the QuickStep guys and this could make the difference. Furthermore, Greipel knows the finale which could be hugely important. Another textbook lead-out by Lotto Soudal is likely to be enough to win.


Dylan Groenewegen proved his speed in Valencia where he was the fastest in both sprint finishes. Furthermore, Dennis van Winden proved his great lead-out skills. LottoNL-Jumbo don’t have the firepower of Etixx and Lotto but van Winden knows how to position his sprinter. The late climb is not ideal but Groenewegen is in very good form and one of the three fastest riders here.


Wouter Wippert is also extremely fast and he nearly beat Mark Cavendish in last year’s Tour of California. However, the late climb doesn’t really suit him and he usually needs a flatter finish to excel. Furthermore, he doesn’t have the best team to support him.


Trek have a lot of firepower for the lead-out and have two options for the sprint. Edward Theuns will probably be given the nod and then Jasper Stuyven will act as the lead-out man. Theuns is not a pure sprinter so this tricky finale should suit him well and with a strong team at his side, he may beat some of the faster riders.


IAM also have a pretty strong team here and they will try to set Jonas Van Genechten up for the sprint. He climbs pretty well and is in good condition at the moment. Hence, this tricky finale should favour him and with Heinirch Haussler at his side, he will probably get a solid lead-out.


Phil Bauhaus is a talented German sprinter and he is here with most of Sam Bennett’s lead-out train. This should give him a great chance to prove the speed that allowed him to win a stage at the Volta ao Portugal before he turned professional.


As said, a late move on the final small climb has often been successful. Keep an eye on Ramunas Navarduaskas and Fabian Cancellara to try such a move.


For more sprinters, look to Eduard Prades, Roman Maikin, Andrea Peron, Martijn Verschoor, Andrea Pasqualon, Pawel Franczak, Filipe Cardoso and Samuel Caldeira


CyclingQuotes’ stage winner pick: Marcel Kittel

Other winner candidates: André Greipel, Dylan Groenewegen

Outsiders: Wouter Wippert, Edward Theuns, Jonas Van Genechten

Jokers: Phil Bauhaus, Fabian Cancellara, Ramunas Navardauskas



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