2014 Tour de France: Stage by Stage Preview


Stage One: Leeds – Harrogate 190.5km

For the second consecutive season the Tour de France opens with an obvious sprint stage. With 60km remaining from the final categorised peak the hills aren’t close enough to the finish to be used to jettison the sprinters; though the climbs of the Buttertubs and Grinton Moor would be problematic for the fast men if the finish came within 20-30km of them. The finish itself is fairly straightforward; there is a roundabout to negotiate with 2km to go, after which it’s a relatively straight run to the line. The race does go uphill in the final few kilometres, but the gradient is negligible and won’t prevent a sprint. Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) would dearly love to win this stage on home soil, but with the winner claiming the first Yellow Jersey of the race, every other sprinter in the race will be out to stop him, it should be a fiercely contested finish.


Stage Two: York – Sheffield 201km

The second stage of the race resembles something from the Ardennes, full of short, steep climbs which should provide a dramatic finish. The terrain is inhospitable for the sprinters, so with a sprinter likely winning the opening stage, we should expect a change in the race lead after this second stage. The final climb comes with 5km remaining on the stage, a 800m, 10.8% climb on Jenkins Road. The terrain is challenging enough to bring some of the GC favourites into play, however they are unlikely to want to take on the burden of the Yellow Jersey so early in the race. Instead look to other riders who have had success in the classics to prevail, or even an early successful breakaway.


Stage Three: Cambridge to London 155km

The final and easiest stage in  England sees the peloton travel south from Cambridge to the increasingly familiar sprint finish on The Mall in London. The run-in is a little more technical than on stage one, but it shouldn’t present any real difficulty for the professional peloton.


Stage Four: Le Touquet-Paris-Plage – Lille Métropole 163.5km

The first stage in France should bring the third sprint of the race, as the peloton leaves the coast and head east to Lille and the Belgian border. Once again the finish isn’t overly technical, there is a tight left hand corner before the 1km to go marker, and the road sweeps left as the race approaches the line.


Stage Five: Ypres – Arenberg Porte du Hainaut 155.5km

To commemorate the Centenary of the commencement of the First World War, the race organisers, ASO, have opted to start in the Belgian city Ypres and traverse the battlefields of Flanders and Northern France that were ravaged during the conflict. At 155.5km the stage itself isn’t overly long but with nine cobbled sections in the second half, it will certainly be entertaining. Many of the classic specialists will have targeted this stage which should ensure an exciting finish. However for many the greatest interest will come from watching how the GC specialists cope with the cobbles, terrain where crashes and punctures are common and that typically causes problems for the lighter climbers.


Stage Six: Arras – Reims 194km

Yet another likely sprint stage, there are some hills in the second half of the stage, but they aren’t testing enough to favour a breakaway group over the sprint teams. The run-in features a series of roundabouts, the last of which comes with little more than one kilometre remaining, after which there is a slight drag up to the line. Strong winds may play a role on this stage, so it could favour an opportunistic team or one of the stronger sprinters.


Stage Seven: Épernay – Nancy 234.5km

The second longest stage of the race at 234.5km is one that could suit the breakaway. It’s just about hilly enough to be difficult to control over that length, and the finish is too tough for most of the sprinters which will reduce the number of teams who might work to control the break. The final 1.3km, 7.9% climb comes with just under 7km to go, after which there is a short descent and a tricky enough run-in, so any riders who go clear over the hill have a chance to reach the line ahead of the pursuing pack. If the break fails to make it, then expect to see the opportunists come to the fore, revelling in the opportunity to win in the absence of the elite sprinters.


Stage Eight: Tomblaine – Gérardmer La Mauselaine 161km

The GC battle is likely to spring to life on stage eight, as the peloton reaches the Vosges and tackles a difficult finish over the first substantial climbs of the race. The opening 134km are relatively benign but the three climbs that follow are definitely not. The Col de la Croix des Moinats (7.6km at 6%) and the Col de Grosse Pierre (3km at 7.5%, and with a long stretch over 10%) are sure to see attacks as riders attempt to reach the final climb ahead of the remaining peloton. At 1.8km and 10.3% the Côte de La Mauselaine is reminiscent of an Ardennes finish and difficult enough to bring the GC riders into contention.


Stage Nine: Gérardmer – Mulhouse 170km

Another intermediate mountain stage; with a more difficult stage to follow and a finish that suits a chasing pack rather than an attacking rider, the GC riders may hold back on this stage. Which means the victory will either belong to a member of the break, or to an opportunistic fast finisher who survives in the reduced peloton to contest the win.


Stage Ten: Mulhouse / La Planche des Belles Filles 161.5km

The race returns to La Planche des Belles Filles for just the second time, having introduced the climb for the 2012 edition which saw Chris Froome take stage honours on an exciting stage finale. The parcours is almost 40km shorter this time, but much more challenging with seven categorised climbs featured. With a rest day to follow we can expect fireworks on this stage; the start should be frantic as half the peloton will be keen to make the break on Bastille day, there are plenty of KoM points on offer and the break has a great chance to stay away. The finish will also be explosive with two tough climbs inside the final 25 km, the Col des Chevrères (3.5km at 9.5%, with ramps up to 18%) and La Planche des Belles Filles (5.9km at 8.5%). That final climb features multiple sections over 10% as well as a 20% ramp to the line. Any rider that harbours legitimate aspirations to win the Tour de France will need to perform on this stage.


Stage Eleven: Besançon – Oyonnax 187.5km

A tricky transition stage that offers hope for the break, but also holds out possibilities for the more opportunistic finishers in the peloton. The toughest climbs are concentrated in the final third of the stage but the climbs are not difficult enough to automatically shed the better climbing fast men, which could mean their teams keep the break on a tight leash. If any of the major contenders have lost time they may seek to use the final climbs as a launch pad for an attack, as they attempt to recoup a little of that time, the final peak gives way to a descent that leads almost to the finishing line, a gifted descender could well stay clear as there is very little flat to mount a chase.


Stage Twelve: Bourg-en-Bresse / Saint-Étienne 185.5km

Bearing many similarities to stage eleven, stage twelve is another hilly transitional stage that offers a chance to both the break and the fast finishers. This time the climbs are less taxing and the run-in to the line a little flatter which makes it even more appealing to the sprint teams.


Stage Thirteen: Saint-Étienne – Chamrousse 197.5km

The transitional stages have led us to a true mountain stage in the Alps. The Col de la Croix de Montvieux comes after just 10km and should allow a breakaway group to form, but the real hostilities will wait until the final third of the stage, where the first high mountain of the Tour awaits, the Montée de Chamrousse. Before reaching it, the peloton must cross Col de Palaquit (14.1km at 6.1%) which has sections over 10% at the foot of the climb and towards the top; the latter section could see attacks as riders try to break free ahead of the final climb. Though the favourites may not want to play their cards so early on the stage, the stage that follows is harder again and it wouldn’t do to push too far into the red today and pay tomorrow.

The Chamrousse is 18.2km at an average of 7.3%, there are sections over 10% in the lower half of the climb, but the last of these comes 11km from the line which may be too far from the finish to prompt serious attacks from any of the main GC contenders. If they do hold back in the lower slopes then expect the most explosive attacks to come around the 4km to go mark where the gradient ramps up to 8.7% and stays quite high for the following three kilometres. After that final steep section the gradient eases towards the line so the damage must be done before that final kilometre.


Stage Fourteen: Grenoble – Risoul 177km

This second and final alpine stage of the race is a brute that features three huge mountain passes. The King of the Mountain’s contenders will be desperate to make the break and claim points on the Col du Lautaret (34km at 3.9%) and the Col d’Izoard (19km at 6%). Those two climbs will primarily serve as leg sappers for the peloton, allowing the aggressive teams to weaken their opponents, whittle down the pack and set up their leader for an attack on the final climb; however the final 7.5km of the Col d’Izoard averages out at 8.2% and is certainly difficult enough to allow the elite climbers to go on the offensive. The stage finishes atop the Montée de Risoul (12.6km at 6.9%) which is a difficult but relatively steady climb, typical of the Alps; the second half is a little steeper hitting 8.5% for much of the final 2.5km, before tailing off towards the finish.


Stage Fifteen: Tallard – Nîmes 222km

The race moves west towards the Pyrenees with a bunch sprint the most likely outcome. The stage does run roughly parallel to the coast so crosswinds could be a factor, the GC contenders will have to be attentive. Once again there are a number of roundabouts to negotiate in the run-in but the final kilometre is just a fairly straight run to the line, ideal for the big sprint trains.


Stage Sixteen: Carcassonne – Bagnères-de-Luchon 237.5km

After the final rest day the peloton must tackle the longest stage as the race arrives in the Pyrenees. The stage gets increasingly difficult as it progresses, culminating with the 11.7km, 7.7% Port de Balès, which has ramps of up to 11%. They crest the Port de Balès with 21.5km to go and all bar the final 2km is covered in the descent. Any riders who lead over the top of the climb have a great chance to take the stage victory and an aggressive descender could well attack the favourites on the run to the line.


Stage Seventeen: Saint-Gaudens – Saint-Lary Pla d’Adet 124.5km

This may be the shortest road stage but it will also be one of the most testing days of the 2014 race. The road rises gradually right from the start but the real climbing begins 50km into the stage with the Col du Portillon (8.3km at 7.5%). That opening 50km is likely to be covered at speed as many riders will be keen to make the break today; any team that misses the moves will give chase, so it’s quite possible that the break doesn’t truly become established until the Col du Portillon itself. The riders will spend the rest of the stage either going uphill or downhill, with little flat to be found. They must traverse the Col de Peyresourde (13.2km at 7%) and the Col de Val Louron-Azet (7.4km at 8.3%) before reaching the final climb of the day, the Montée de Saint-Lary Pla d’Adet.

The final climb is 10.2km long with an average gradient of 8.3%, but the chief difficulty comes in the first few kilometres where there are sections exceeding 10%, and ramps of up to 12%. The first 7km of the climb has an average gradient of 9.5% and any ambitious riders must use this section to attack as the climb is easiest at the top.


Stage Eighteen: Pau – Hautacam 145.5km

This is the final mountain stage of the race and the last opportunity for riders to gain time ahead of the penultimate stage time trial, or make up for time lost on previous stages, so we should expect fireworks. The first half of the stage is hilly but not overly difficult, once the break goes clear there should be a calm before the storm, a storm that should arrive upon the legendary slopes of the Col du Tourmalet.

The Col du Tourmalet measures in at 17.1km with an average gradient of 7.3%, but that is a little misleading as after a relatively easy beginning to the climb, the gradient rises to a relatively constant 8.4% for the final 11km of the climb. The Tourmalet could easily be the launch pad for attacks from riders desperate to get back into the overall classification, or to salvage their race with a stage win, and good descenders can make full use of the hair-raising descent to carry a useful lead into the final summit finish of the race, the Montée du Hautacam (13.6% at 7.8%).

Where the Tourmalet has a very difficult but relatively constant gradient, Hautacam is a more typical Pyrenean climb with fluctuating gradients throughout and ramps in the 10-11% range. The second half of the climb is the most difficult, with an average gradient of 9.2% in the final 6.6km, setting up an explosive finish to the final mountain stage of the 101st Tour de France.


Stage Nineteen: Maubourguet Pays du Val d’Adour / Bergerac 208.5km

This likely sprint stage has a potential sting in the tail with hills in the final 30km, and the Côte de Monbazillac (1.3km at 7.6%) inside the final 15km. It will be exceedingly difficult for any rider to jump clear on that hill and hold of the chasing pack, but this stage will offer the last opportunity for many teams and riders to salvage something from the race, so they are sure to try and do just that. The hills may also cause problems for a sprinter such as Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano) who has been distanced on this kind of finish already this season, opening the door for the other sprinters. There is a right hand bend with 3km to go and a tighter right hand bend shortly after; from there it’s a relatively straightforward road into the final kilometre where there are two left hand corners before the sprinters reach the finishing straight.


Stage Twenty: Bergerac – Périgueux 54km ITT

The solitary time trial of the race comes on the penultimate stage, it’s undulating parcours suits both the GC riders and the time trial specialists. The hills are mostly quite gentle and only the Cöte de Coulounieix Chamiers (1.4km at 6.4%) which comes with 7.5km to go, carries any real difficulty. Given the length of the course, and coming at the end of a tough three weeks of racing, fatigue will have a major influence and the time gaps could be huge. In all likelihood Chris Froome will take a large chunk of time over the majority his rivals on this route, so they need to arrive in Bergerac with a healthy advantage if they are to win the Tour de France.


Stage Twenty One: Évry – Paris Champs-Élysées 137.5km

The destination of the Yellow Jersey has been decided and the race will end with the traditional ceremonial entry into Paris, before the most famous sprint finish in the world upon the Champs-Élysées. As usual a number of riders will attack the peloton on the laps in Paris, seeking their moment of fame. Ultimately though, the stage should end with a frantic sprint, as the team’s battle for position before the final bends, and the world’s top sprinters go head to head once again.


Some of this will also appear on http://www.vavel.com/en/cycling/

All images come from http://www.letour.com


2014 Amgen Tour of California preview

The 9th edition of the Tour of California once again looks like an excellent race, though hopefully the temperature won’t be quite as punishing, it looks set to be warm, but nowhere close to extreme, but you never know if those predictions will prove accurate.

The race starts with a certain sprint finish in Sacremento, before the 20.1km ITT on day two which will see the race lead change hands. The third stage offers the first summit finish of the race on Mount Diablo, last year Leopold Konig (NetApp-Endura) took stage honours there, after attacking on the steeper sections towards the top of the climb. There is likely to be a third leader in as many days after the climb, but the time gaps between the favourites shouldn’t be huge.

The GC contest should take a break on stage four as the sprinters return to the fore, there are a couple of bumps in the road but nothing to serious. Stage five should see yet another sprint, but this time the presence of the San Marcos climb close to the finish will likely see a reduced group reach the finish, anyone dropped will have to work hard to chase back on in time for the sprint.

Stage six features the second summit finish of the race and should prove decisive for the GC competition. Much like Mt. Diablo on stage three, the Big Pines Highway Climb is steepest at the top, the final 2.5km average 7.4%, however peaking at 2071m the altitude is almost double that of Mt. Diablo, and it is the last chance for the best climbers to really excel. Stage seven will probably result in the final sprint in the race, there are some climbs which could prove problematic for some sprinters, but only if a team decides to set a punishing pace. Finally the race finishes with a circuit race in Thousand Oaks, there is a significant climb in the course which caused many splits when it was used in 2010, Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp) won that day and I’d expect a similarly strong rider to excel this time as well.


Team Guide (not all line-ups are confirmed so some riders mentioned may not be there)

BMC Racing Team: Expect Peter Stetina to mount a strong challenge for the GC as the team try to defend the title Tejay van Garderen won in 2013. Stetina is a strong climber and will relish the opportunity to ride for himself, after spending most of his career as a strong climbing domestique. Taylor Phinney will target the ITT, while Thor Hushovd and Greg Van Avermaet can mix it in the tougher sprint finishes.

Garmin-Sharp: As usual Garmin-Sharp have brought a strong team with many options. Tom Danielson is the most experienced leader, but he has been struggling with illness recently which may mean the team turns to the strong time trialist Rohan Dennis or one of last year’s stars Janier Acevedo. With Alex Howes, who looked strong in the Ardennes, and Lachlan Morton available the team have a plethora of attacking options.

Omega Pharma-Quick Step: With Mark Cavendish showing good form in the Tour of Turkey, and a team packed full of powerful rider, OPQS are here to dominate the sprints. Tom Boonen may be an option on the tougher sprint finishes if Cavendish can’t hold in the lead group.

Trek Factory Racing: If this is to be the final appearance of Jens Voigt in the Tour of California, expect him to try and go out with another long distance attack. Young Danny van Poppel will seek to get involved in the sprints, and Matthew Busche could have the chance to compete as a leader, but the most interesting rider may be Jesse Sergent who produced a terrific time trial in the Tour de Romandie and will want to follow that up with victory in stage two.

Team Sky: It seems that Team Sky are coming to California to race for Bradley Wiggins, he certainly hasn’t been shy about his desire to compete for the overall win here. With a flattish ITT in his favour, Wiggins’ prospects rest entirely upon how well he copes with the two summit finishes. The fact that they have relatively constant gradients for most of their duration will help, but he could struggle to keep in touch on the steep upper slopes.

Orica GreenEDGE: It’s been a quiet enough start to the season for Matthew Goss, he has finished second twice but had precious few opportunities to chase his first win of the season. He will get that opportunity here, but may find his best chance comes if he can survive in the front group on stage five, in the hope that Cavendish does not. Adam Yates was the star of the Tour of Turkey, but the team may look to Johan Esteban Chaves to lead their GC challenge here.

Cannondale: Once again Cannondale are headed by the phenomenal Peter Sagan. He will likely struggle to match Cavendish in the normal sprints, but can certainly survive the climbs to make it to the more difficult sprint finishes, where he excels.

Belkin Pro Cycling: Laurens Ten Dam is seeking to recapture the form that took him to 13th overall in the Tour de France last year, so that he can challenge for the GC here. He isn’t the only option for Belkin, sprinter Moreno Hofland has enjoyed terrific success so far this season and could surprise, while Lars Boom is always a dangerous man if he spots an opportunity to go on the offensive.

Giant-Shimano: Versatile German sprinter John Degenkolb will be the teams main focus in the race, at his best on the tougher finishes, Degenkolb should be able to contest the majority of he finishes in the race. The team are letting Daan Olivier, Lawson Craddock and Chad Haga compete to be the leader by seeing who has the best form early in the race.

UnitedHealthcare: Lucas Euser will once again give them a solid leader, but the teams most consistently impressive rider so far this season has been Marc de Maar, look for him to feature in the breaks once again. More intriguing would be the inclusion of the talented Colombian climber Isaac Bolivar, 3rd overall in the Tour de Langkawi earlier in the season, it will be fascinating to see how he copes in this company.

NetApp-Endura: No Leopold Konig this year, the Czech rider has been struggling with injury, however a resurgent Tiago Machado alongside Jose Mendes will ensure the team is strong in the mountains once again.

Novo Nordisk: The all-diabetic team will likely look to Javier Megias and Andrea Peron for their greatest chances of success. Megias climbs well enough to be in contention on all terrain and is a likely choice for a break on a hilly stage. Peron is the team sprinter, while outmatched in this company; they will hope he can get himself involved in the bunch finishes

Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies: With Ryan Anderson for the sprint stages, American TT Champion Tom Zirbel for the ITT, and Carter Jones to attack on the tougher stages, Optum seem to have someone for every terrain. Jones won the mountains classification in this race last year, and comes into the race in terrific form after claiming the overall victory in the Tour of the Gila.

Jelly Belly p/b Maxxis: The everlasting Freddie Rodriguez and Jakob Rathe give the team options for the sprints, though whomever they choose will struggle against this competition. Veteran Australian climber Matthew Lloyd will enjoy the opportunity to ride for himself after many years as a domestique on top tier teams.

Jamis-Hagens Berman: Having lost Janier Acevedo after his superb 2013 season, Jamis-Hagens Berman didn’t panic; they simply went out and signed talented climbers Gregory Brenes and Daniel Jaramillo to replace him. 23 year old Colombian Jaramillo has started his career with the team well with a double stage inning performance at the Tour of the Gila, while Costa Rican Brenes was 2nd overall in the same race. Brenes looked impressive during the Tour of Utah last season, and was even better in the USA Pro Cycling Challenge just after that, finishing 6th overall, he will likely be hoping for a top 10 performance in his race.

Bissell Development Team: As always the former Bontrager team have several talented young riders but they may not be ready to make an impression on this years race. For the sprints they will look to Nicolai Brøchner, who looks to have an impressive future as a sprinter for the classics. While James Oram, Clement Chévrier and Tao Geoghegan Hart give the team options for the more mountainous stages, though only Oram has any experience of this level of racing.



Countdown to the Giro: The Parcours

My original articles covering the first 14 stages can be found here http://www.vavel.com/en/cycling/345244-countdown-to-the-giro-the-parcours-stages-1-7.html and here http://www.vavel.com/en/cycling/345665-countdown-to-the-giro-the-parcours-stages-8-14.html


The 97th edition of the Giro d’Italia has an international feel to it, with the opening two stages taking place in Northern Ireland and the third stage traveling into the Republic of Ireland. The race features nine summit finishes, with the majority of them coming in the second half of the race. There are three time trials, the opening stage team time trial, a hilly individual time trial on stage twelve, and an individual mountain time trial on stage nineteen. The most difficult stages come in the third week, and if the race and if the race for the Maglia Rosa is still tight, then the brutal summit finish on Monte Zoncolan on the penultimate stage will settle affairs.


Stage one: Belfast – Belfast 21.7km Team Time Trial

The opening stage team time trial is mostly flat though there is a short steep bump at Stormont, and is more technical in the opening and finishing sections, however the bulk of the course is flat and relatively straight which will suit the more powerful teams. Orica GreenEDGE have targeted this TTT, as sporting director Matt White admitted on the team website “It will be all hands on deck for the TTT in Ireland. We want to take the maglia rosa and of course hold onto it for as long as possible.” With Svein Tuft, Luke Durbridge, Michael Hepburn, Cameron Meyer and Brett Lancaster in their squad, they have a great chance to do just that. With Adriano Malori, Andrey Amador and Jonathan Castroviejo, Movistar should be among the fastest teams, getting Nairo Quintana’s challenge for the Maglia Rosa off to a great start.


Stage two: Belfast – Belfast 219km

The long and flat second stage should end with the first large bunch sprint of the race. The approach to the finish in Belfast is flat and relatively straight, which means that the sprint trains will hit top speed well in advance of the left hand turn leading onto the finishing straight. The turn comes just 300m from the finish line, so whoever is first into the corner will be in prime position to win. Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano) is probably the fastest sprinter in the world and starts as the favourite, while Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ) and Elia Viviani (Cannondale) both bring winning form into the race, Bouhanni in particular seems primed to claim his first Grand Tour stage victory. With the majority of the second half of the stage bringing the peloton along the coast road back to Belfast, there is a possibility of strong winds. If echelons should form then all the overall contenders will need to be vigilant, or they will miss the first selection of the race.


Stage three: Armagh – Dublin 187km

The race leaves Northern Ireland and finishes in Dublin and once again the route follows the coast for much of the day. Winds are again a possibility but the stage will most likely end with a second large bunch sprint. This time the final 5km are more technical which makes the run-in more dangerous, and crashes a distinct possibility.


Stage four: Giovinazzo – Bari 112km

The Giro d’Italia has taken a huge amount of criticism in the past for asking too much of the riders, expecting them to make ridiculous transfers between stages and not caring for their welfare. That has changed, and this year the organisers deserve praise for following the trip to Ireland with a rest day, and then this truncated stage, which at just 112km it is exceeding short for a flat stage. The stage largely consists of multiple laps of an 8.3km circuit in Bari. There is a left hand corner onto the finishing straight, leaving just a 350m run to the line, however the riders have no excuse for misjudging it, as they will have passed through the finish eight times prior to the time that matters.


Stage five: Taranto – Viggiano 203km

Stage five forces the riders confront the first climbs of the race. The peloton climbs the Serra di San Chirico, 8km at 4.2%, a little over half way into the stage before finishing with the double climb to Viggiano. The finish line is a little shy of the summit, so the first time around the riders face an 8.1km 4.3% climb, while the second ascent, which comes after a 6km descent, is 6.8km at 3.5%. The climb is steepest towards the top with the gradient reaching 8% in the final 500m, which should see a flurry of action as riders kick for the line. It’s certainly not difficult enough to automatically force an elite selection, but the first summit finish of the race could see some sort of GC skirmish as the favourites begin to size each other up. However victory on the day is more likely to go to a fast finishing climber like Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida).


Stage six: Sassano – Montecassino 247km

The second longest stage of the race sees the peloton travelling northwards up the eastern side of Italy, past Napoli to an uphill finish at Montecassino, marking the 70th anniversary of the World War II battles. There is a steep section at the start of the climb, but at just 8.65km, an average of 5.2%, and with a final kilometre at a shallow 3%, this is not one of the more testing climbs to feature in the race. So once again this finish should produce little more than a skirmish between the elite riders, instead it should suit some of the faster finishers who can climb.


Stage seven: Frosinone – Foligno 211km

With climbing right from the start as well as a number of hills in the latter part, stage seven offers first real chance for a breakaway to succeed. However, despite a profile that suits the break the race is likely to come back together on the run-in to the finish in Foligno. Marcel Kittel has likely dominated the early sprints, but the big German sprinter will struggle on the Valico della Somma, 6.7km at 4.9%, which comes inside the final 45km. So this stage gives the more versatile sprinters their best chance of victory so far, which should ensure their teams work to close down any break. There are three corners in final 2km, but the finish should be contested by a smaller bunch so there will be less congestion.


Stage eight: Foligno – Montecopiolo 179km

The race has finally reached the real mountains and the fight for the Maglia Rosa must begin in earnest. The stage is relatively hilly all day, but the real climbing comes in the final 60km, where the peloton faces the Cippo di Carpegna, officially a 7.85km climb at 8.2%, but the climbing begins 9km earlier. Immediately after the descent the peloton climbs to Villaggio del Lago, 9.3km at 6.2%, and then after a short descent tackles the 6.3km at 5.9% climb to the finishing line at Montecopiolo. That final climb is tougher than it sounds, with several ramps over 10%, a long 11% section inside the final 2km, and a 13% ramp in the final 250m. It’s the toughest finish of the race so far and the pure climbers need to use it to take time over the better time trialists.


Stage nine: Lugo – Sestola 172km

Stage nine features a longer and higher summit finish, but the stage itself is less testing than stage eight. The first climb, a 13.2km and 3.8% ascent, comes after the relatively flat opening 110km of the stage. Then, after a relatively difficult looking 4th category climb, the peloton tackles the 16.5km at 5.5% climb to the finish at Sestolo. That final climb effectively breaks down into three distinct sections; a first 9km section at 4.3%, a second 3.85km section at 8.2%, and the final 4.15km at 4.5%. With a rest day to follow, there should be fireworks in that steeper second section, and probably with 6-7km of the climb remaining. Any of the favourites who lose ground can try to recover when the gradient lowers towards the top.


Stage ten: Modena – Salsomaggiore Terme 173km

After the rest day comes a fairly normal looking stage for the sprinters. The finish in Salsomaggiore Terme is quite technical with plenty of corners and obstacles to negotiate. There is a small hill with a fast descent inside the final 10km, if the right riders can jump clear of the peloton here, then the technical run-in gives them a chance to stay clear. However the sprint teams will try and hit that hill at high speed to ensure that any such attacks are doomed to failure.


Stage eleven: Collecchio – Savona 249km


A very interesting looking medium mountain stage, it’s the longest day of racing in the Giro d’Italia at 249km. There is plenty of climbing early in the stage which should let a good breakaway group establish itself before the race reaches the coast, however the second half of the stage is flatter prior to the nasty climb to Naso di Gatto, which includes a 7km, 8% section with ramps of up to 12%. After the climb there is a fast descent towards the finish which is 38km away. The Naso de Gatto is key, it is certainly difficult enough to provide the platform for the GC contenders to attack each other, but it would be hard to hold off a concerted chase when the line is so far away. Instead the race is likely to end is a sprint from a much reduced peloton, which suits any fast finishers able to remain in the front group, or chase back into that group on the descent.


Stage twelve: Barbaresco – Barolo ITT 41.9km

The longest and flattest individual time trial of the race, it gives the more rounded GC contenders a chance to gain time on the slighter climbers. However this being the Giro d’Italia, the flat ITT really isn’t that flat which helps the specialist climbers limit their losses. The fourth category climb dominates the first half of the course, after which there is a relatively straight and flat 8km section that will suit the more powerful riders, before finishing with another couple of climbs. The climbs in the course aren’t difficult, with the gradients generally falling in the 4-5% range, not steep enough to favour the climbers, but just steep enough to help them cope.


Stage thirteen: Fossano – Rivarolo Canavese 157km

A short and fairly standard sprint stage, it will be a while before the sprinters can come to play again, so it’s hard to see their teams letting this chance slip through their fingers. The peloton must make a right hand turn through a roundabout with 250m remaining, but the finish is not that technical overall. There are a few small hills inside the final 50km and it’s possible that some teams may try and drive the pace over them to try and dislodge Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano), but even with his recent problems climbing, there really isn’t anything difficult enough in this parcours that should force him to be dropped.


Stage fourteen: Agliè – Oropa 164km

On stage fourteen the race returns to the mountains with a very difficult stage to Oropa. The first half of the stage is relatively bumpy and will see frantic action as riders targeting the King of the Mountains jersey will want to be in today’s break. The real climbing begins at the halfway point of the stage with the Alpe Noveis, a 9km and 7.8% climb, though that 7.8% average gradient is misleading as much of the first 3kms are quite gentle, after that the gradient is generally in excess of 10%, reaching up to 16% at points. Next is the 18.35km, 5.5% Bielmonte climb, followed by a long descent to the foot of the final climb. The climb to Oropa is 11.75km at 6%; however once again that average gradient fails to reflect the true difficulty of the climb, after an easier opening 5km, the final 6.75km of the climb have an average gradient of 7.9%, ramps of up to 13% and sustained sections of 7.9% and 7.4% inside the final 2.5km of the climb. The scene of a famous victory for Marco Pantani.


Stage fifteen: Valdengo – Plan di Montecampione 225km

The majority of the 225km long fifteenth stage is straightforward and flat, however a rather imposing 19.35km, 7.6% climb awaits the peloton at the finish. A second successive summit finish that is synonymous with the late Marco Pantani. The climb itself consists of two long challenging sections, the first a 10km section at 8.4% begins roughly one kilometre into the climb, after which the gradient eases and the riders have the chance to gather their strength for the final 5.35km at 8.9%. Attacks could come anywhere, but the serious contenders will most likely wait until the second testing section before really throwing down the gauntlet. With a rest day to follow they can afford to go deep on the climb.


Stage sixteen: Ponte di Legno – Val Martello 139km

The shortest road stage in the race, but far from the easiest, this most beautiful and difficult of stages was due to feature last year but was snowed out, you could forgive any rider who is praying for snow again this time around. With three climbs in the Ortler Alps to conquer, all of which have an altitude in excess of 2000m and thin air at the top, a good breathe is going to be difficult to find. First up is the Passo di Gavia, 16.5km at 8% with the steepest section reaching 16%, a terrific climb in its own right, the Gavia is here to serve as a leg sapper on this stage. Next, after a tricky descent, comes the 21.7km and 7.2% Passo del Stelvio, a second tortuous leg sapping climb to be followed by another trick some descent. At the bottom of that descent the peloton will find all 5km flattish surface which features in this stage. The final climb of Val Martello is 22.35km with an average gradient of 6.3% and ramps of up to 14%, the gradient changes often with many steep and gentler sections mixed together. The gradient exceeds 10% for most of the final 1.3km, including the last 14% section with 1km remaining. A brutal stage.


Stage seventeen: Sarnonica – Vittorio Veneto 208km

Stage seventeen avoids the mountains and offers some relative respite for the overall contenders. There are enough bumps in the road that the stage could suit the break, but it’s more likely to end in a sprint from a reduced bunch, where an opportunistic fast finisher can excel. The presence of the Muro di Ca’Del Poggio, at 1.15km, 12.2% and ramps of up to 18%, just 20km from the finish should split the peloton and prompt a mad dash for the line. There are two left hand corners inside the final 750m, but with what should be a thinned out bunch they shouldn’t be that difficult to negotiate.


Stage eighteen: Belluno – Rifugio Panarotta 171km

Another difficult high mountain stage, once again look for the riders who are chasing the King of the Mountains jersey to attack early. While the Passo San Pellegrino (18.45km at 6.2%) and Passo del Redebus (4.6km at 9.5%) will test the legs, the main action should wait for the final climb to Rifugio Panarotta, which is 16.85km at 7.6% and with ramps up to 14%. Those ramps come in the first half of the climb, which may mean the favourites leave their attacks for the final 2.5km where the gradient remains over 8% throughout.


Stage nineteen: Bassano del Grappa – Cima Grappa ITT 26.8km

The third and final test against the clock in the race is an individual mountain time trial. The opening 8km are relatively flat and let the riders find their feet before reaching the climb proper. The first 11km of the climb comes at a relatively constant 7.4% gradient, the sort of constant climb that suits the majority of riders. The final 7.5km averages out at 8.9% but the gradient ramps throughout, reaching up to 14% and making it impossible to ride in a constant rhythm. The pure climbers will love this stage, but some riders are going to lose a lot of time.


Stage twenty: Maniago – Monte Zoncolan 167km

The final and toughest summit finish of the race. The challenge begins 75km from the finish as the peloton has to climb the Passo del Pura, 11.25km at 7.7%, and the Sella di Razzo, 15.85km at 5.2%, in quick succession. After the Sella di Razzo there is a long descent to the foot of the monstrous Monte Zoncolan, one of the most intimidating climbs in professional cycling. At 10.1km Monte Zoncolan isn’t overly long, but with an average gradient of 11.9%, ramps up to 22%, and a 4km stretch in the middle where the gradient remains a minimum of 15%, it’s akin to cycling up a wall and favours the slightest riders. The climb is slightly less difficult towards the top, but with a ramp of 18% as they reach the final kilometre, and a 16% section inside the final 500m, there is a nasty sting in the tail. If the race for the GC remains tight, then we are in for quite a treat, if not then this is just a cruel and unusual punishment for the riders involved.


Stage twenty one: Gemona del Friuli – Trieste 172km

The race ends with the traditional sprint finish. The opening 100km serve to bring the peloton to Trieste, where they face eight laps of a 7.3km circuit before the likely sprint finish. That circuit has a 600m 4.7% hill, enough to tax the legs and encourage attacks, but not enough to stop the sprint.


All stage profiles come from the Giro website http://www.gazzetta.it

Countdown to the Giro: Fabio Duarte Profile

My original article can be found here http://www.vavel.com/en/cycling/344798-countdown-to-the-giro-5-days-to-go-fabio-duarte-profile.html

Fabio Duarte. Image from http://www.colombiacyclingpro.com

Fabio Duarte. Image from http://www.colombiacyclingpro.com

Fabio Andres Duarte Arevalo will lead Team Colombia in the Giro d’Italia. The 27 year old carries the team’s general classification hopes on his shoulders and offers their strongest stage win threat in the high mountains. The team have selected a mixture of climbers and fast finishers, as they seek stage wins and approach the race with a mandate to attack as often as possible. Sprinters Edwin Avila, Jeffrey Romero and the veteran Leonardo Duque will try their luck on the flat stages, though their best opportunities would likely come from a break. Jarlinson Pantano and Miguel Angel Rubiano will look to be active in the mountains; Pantano finished 3rd after a break in the 2013 race, while Rubiano won from a break on a hilly stage in 2012. However the most talented rider in their line up is Duarte and he represents the team’s best chance of success.

Fabio Duarte’s name first rang out in the cycling world when he became the 2008 Under-23 World Champion in Varese, Italy. Duarte sealed that victory after he got the jump on faster finishers Simone Ponzi, John Degenkolb and Ben Swift. However despite that terrific early success Duarte was forced to wait for his chance to test himself in the upper echelons of the sport. Over the next two seasons he produced some impressive results in relatively minor races, three stage wins in the Vuelta a Colombia, a stage win in the Vuelta Asturias, a stage win and overall victory in the Circuito Montañés, which was won by Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing Team) the year before.

In 2011 Duarte finally had a chance to test himself in some bigger races after signing with Geox-TMC, a Spanish Pro Continental team. He proved he was up to the challenge throughout the season, finishing 2nd in the G.P. di Lugano, a hilly Swiss race, 4th overall in the Vuelta a Murcia, winning a stage in the Giro del Trentino and making his debut in both the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a Espana, finishing 2nd on a hilly stage in the Giro. Geox-TMC dissolved after the season and Duarte signed with his current team, then racing as the Colombia-Coldeportes team. In 2012 Duarte won the Coppa Sabatini, finished 4th in De Brabantse Pijl and 5th overall in the Tour of California, after finishing 3rd on the key mountain finish, ahead of a host of strong riders. Last season was more of a struggle as Duarte failed to perform to expectations. The bright spot was his return to the Giro d’Italia, where even though he could only finished 28th overall, Duarte found great form in the final week of the race, finishing 5th on the Col du Galibier, and 2nd on the final summit finish of the race at Tre Cime de Lavaredo, the snow seemed to bring out his best form.

Team Colombia’s Giro preparations have been disrupted by issues obtaining passports for the opening stages of the race in Northern Ireland; a mix up over which type of visa to apply for resulted in some riders being rejected initially. While it all seems to have been sorted out eventually, the team was forced to withdraw from the Tour of Turkey as the British Embassy still had possession of the passports of a number of the riders. As a result several of the team may be underprepared when the race starts.

Thankfully for Duarte he should be unaffected by that and appears to have planned his season much better this year. Duarte’s 4th overall finish at the Giro del Trentino demonstrated that he is finding form ahead of the Giro d’Italia; he was 61st overall in the same race last season. Duarte is an excellent climber, and at 5’5” and 55kg he has the right build to excel on the tougher climbs. He has produced some decent performances as a time trialist, and while it wouldn’t be considered one of his strengths, it’s not a great weakness either. If he can hold his form from Trentino throughout the Giro d’Italia, then Duarte could very well challenge for a top 10 overall finish. If not, then he should find he has some freedom to attack in the mountainous final week, where his natural skill set gives him a great chance to claim the stage win that team manager Claudio Corti craves.

Countdown to the Giro: Diego Ulissi Profile

My original article can be found here http://www.vavel.com/en/cycling/344444-countdown-to-the-giro-6-days-to-go-diego-ulissi-profile.html

Diego Ullisi winning the Giro dell'Emilia. Image from teamlampremerida.com

Diego Ullisi winning the Giro dell’Emilia. Image from teamlampremerida.com

Even though he is only 24 Diego Ulissi is already entering his 5th season with the Lampre-Merida team. The Italian is a naturally gifted climber and a handy time trialist, a potential future GC contender for the Grand Tours, but for now Lampre-Merida are content to lean on Przemyslaw Niemiec and a resurgent Damiano Cunego as GC contenders, leaving Ulissi free to stage hunt. With the explosive style to excel on the shorter sharper slopes, and terrific finishing speed, Ulissi is a potential winner in any stage that doesn’t end with a bunch sprint.

That team has placed considerable faith in Ulissi, a double junior world champion, being patient and giving him the time to develop naturally. Ulissi has rewarded that support with a string of increasingly impressive wins, year on year making more of an impact in the prestigious races. His neo-pro season in 2010 was dotted with good performances and ended in style, with Ulissi sealing his first professional win in the Gran Premio Industria e Commercio di Prato.

He started well in 2011, finishing 2nd on the final stage of Paris-Nice, and went on to make a stage winning debut in the Giro d’Italia before winning the Tour de Slovenie three weeks later. The Giro d’Italia stage win came from a break after Ulissi arrived in the final kilometre as part of a four man group. Ulissi immediately tested his companions with a strong attack, but eased up then took up position at the rear of the group. Ulissi was the first to launch his sprint and was set for victory until Giovanni Visconti pushed him aside to cross the line first, however Visconti was penalised for his actions and Ulissi handed a deserved win.

Three more stage wins would follow in 2012 as would a 9th place finish in La Fleche Wallonne, before Ulissi took a major step forward in 2013. At Paris-Nice Ulissi would find himself mixing it with the overall contenders, finishing 7th overall and ending the race with a strong performance against the clock. Victory at the Coppi e Bartali followed before top 25 finishes in all three of the Ardennes Classics. Ulissi won the opening stage of the Tour de Pologne, a climb to Madonna e Campiglio where Ulissi proved to be the fastest of the 15 strong group that arrived at the finish together. Ulissi also made his debut at the Vuelta, finishing 2nd on the Alto del Naranco. He then finished his season with a trio of victories in the Italian Autumn season, winning Milan-Torino, the Coppa Sabatini and the Giro dell’Emilia.

Ulissi enjoyed a sensational start to 2014 with a fine victory on the second stage of the Tour Down Under. The stage finish featured several sharp ramps which let Ulissi jump clear of Simon Gerrans (Orica GreenEDGE). Ulissi finished the Tour Down Under 3rd overall and also recorded 2nd, 3rd and 4th place finishes in the race. Victory in the lumpy G.P. Camaiore followed but Ulissi’s season has gone a little off the ball since then. Despite failing to record any notable results Ulissi showed some signs of form during the Ardennes Classics; races that suit his skill set perfectly.

The team will continue to be patient with Ulissi’s transformation into a GC contender, but it’s easy to be patient when a rider keeps producing results, as Ulissi has done. With Niemiec and Cunego looking after the team’s GC hopes, expect Ulissi to pick a handful of stages to target. The uphill finishes on stages five and six could be targets, and he could try and get into the breaks in the mountainous final week.

Countdown to the Giro: Maxime Monfort Profile

My original article can be found here http://www.vavel.com/en/cycling/344018-countdown-to-the-giro-7-days-to-go-maxime-monfort-profile.html

Maxime Monfort. Image from www.demorgen.be

Maxime Monfort. Image from http://www.demorgen.be

With Andre Greipel’s fitness suffering after a bad crash in Gent Wevelgem, Lotto Belisol lost their likely leader and main focus for the Giro d’Italia. As a result they have opted for a team with mixed ambitions, one capable of being involved on all fronts but without a star rider. Kenny Dehaes and Tosh Van der Sande will hope to be involved in any sprint finishes, with Van der Sande capable of contesting sprints on the hillier stages or even from a break. Adam Hansen, Lars Ytting Bak, and Tim Wellens are all capable breakaway riders for the hilly stages, Hansen, in 2013, and Bak, in 2012, have both won stages from breaks in the Giro. However the teams General Classification hopes rest solely on the shoulders of 31 year old Belgian Maxime Monfort.

One of Lotto Belisol’s major signings for 2014, Monfort is expected to improve the team’s profile in both the Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta a España. Monfort is a classic GC rider; he isn’t an explosive attacking rider or an obvious stage winning threat, but rather a rider who climbs well and is solid against the clock; he doesn’t truly excel in either discipline, but is capable of limiting his losses on all terrain. Monfort has rarely been given the opportunity to ride for himself in the biggest races, tending to be a very strong domestique for a legitimate GC contender, but he has done well when given the chance to be a team leader.

Monfort demonstrated his GC potential while with the Cofidis team, with an 11th overall finish in the Vuelta a España in 2007. Monfort joined Leopard Trek in 2011 and after working for the Schleck brothers in the Tour de France, he was given more freedom to ride for himself in the Vuelta. He recorded a 6th overall finish, his best Grand Tour result, after finishing 8th on the hideously difficult ascent of L’Angliru.

Monfort rode both the Tour de France and the Vuelta a España again in 2012, finishing 16th in both races, and then last season Monfort produced his best ever performance in the Tour de France, finishing 14th overall. Monfort was strong throughout, frequently being one of the final riders to be dropped in the mountains by the elite climbers.

Monfort has proven to be consistently strong in the Grand Tours; he may be capable of improving upon his 14th placed finish in the Tour de France, but he probably isn’t a legitimate contender for a top 5-10 finish there. However his potential is greater for the other two Grand Tours, both of which tend to attract weaker fields than the Tour de France. At Lotto Belisol Monfort gets the chance to both the Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta a España as an outright leader. Looking after his own ambitions, Monfort is certainly capable of competing for a top ten finish over the next month and that is the target his team have set.

Countdown to the Giro: Nacer Bouhanni Profile

My original article can be found here http://www.vavel.com/en/cycling/343802-countdown-to-the-giro-8-days-to-go-nacer-bouhanni-profile.html

Nacer Bouhanni wins the GP de Denain. Image from http://www.equipecyclistefdj.fr

Nacer Bouhanni wins the GP de Denain. Image from http://www.equipecyclistefdj.fr


Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ) is one of the leaders of a terrific new wave of French talent. The French FDJ team have built their squad for the Giro d’Italia around the 23 year old sprinter, and with the support of a solid sprint train, and experienced lead out men in Sebastien Chavanel and Geoffrey Soupe, Bouhanni has a great opportunity to claim his maiden Grand Tour stage victory.Nacer Bouhanni is blessed with tremendous natural speed, while he is not yet at the level of the three elite sprinters, there are very few others who can claim to match him. An avid boxer, he was heavily involved in the sport when he was young, and still uses boxing as a form of training during the offseason. So it’s no surprise that Bouhanni is amongst the feistiest of sprinters, and more than capable of using his elbow, shoulder or head to look after himself in the chaos of a bunch sprint. Any rider trying to remove and supplant a sprinter from the base of their sprint train, would be well advised to select a different rider to target rather than taking on Bouhanni.Bouhanni really started to come of age in 2012, his second full season as a professional with FDJ. Sprint victories in Etoile de Besseges, Circuit de Lorraine and Halle-Ingooigem were surpassed when Nacer Bouhanni became the French National road race champion. Bouhanni would win twice more in the second half of 2012, as well as making his Grand Tour debut at the Vuelta a Espana where he was 2nd behind John Degenkolb on stage ten, though he didn’t finish the race.

The following season brought many more successes, two wins in the Tour of Beijing, victory in the GP de Fourmies and a trio of wins in the Tour du Poitou Charentes amongst others. Best of all was a stage win and the assumption of the race lead in Paris-Nice, though a crash the following day put an end to that. Bouhanni also made two further truncated appearances in Grand Tours, with his debut in both the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France. In the Giro Bouhanni recorded 2nd, 3rd and 4th place finishes on stages won by Mark Cavendish, before withdrawing from the race to focus on his Tour debut. However that race was one to forget for Bouhanni who sustained nasty injuries from crashes, he tried to ride through the pain but it proved too much.

Bouhanni has five wins so far in 2014 and seems to have a developed little more kick to his sprint; he won the opening stage in Paris-Nice to take the race lead, which was particularly impressive after a rough looking crash seemed to have taken him out of contention. However Bouhanni has also endured some frustrations this season, particularly being overlooked for Milan-San Remo in favour of fellow young star FDJ sprinter, Arnaud Demare.

Much has been made of the ability, or inability of Bouhanni and Demare to co-exist on the same team. Reports that they don’t get along appear to have been exaggerated. While they don’t have the relatively harmonious relationship that Marcel Kittel and John Degenkolb seem to share at Giant-Shimano, they also don’t have the acrimonious one that Mark Cavendish and Andre Greipel endured while at HTC. Instead what friction there is comes from the fact that they share some similar traits and target similar races. The team have struggled to accommodate them in the same line up, and having them in concurrent races has also been slightly problematic as there aren’t enough sprint support riders on the team to go around.

However as both riders develop that friction should recede, Bouhanni is the better pure sprinter, possessing a more explosive burst to the line than Demare. While Demare is the tougher rider, he copes well with the more difficult races and is developing into an impressive classics specialist. There will always be some overlap, but there is more than enough disparity between their skill sets that each could succeed at FDJ. However the sticking point may be the Tour de France, both are going to want to ride their home Grand Tour every season, and accomodating both could prove problematic Will either accept being subservient to the other? It is a particularly pertinent question as this was a contract season for both riders, the team moved quickly to ensure Demare would stay, but contract talks have been slower to develop with Bouhanni.

If Bouhanni should choose to leave FDJ, there will be no shortage of suitors; highly talented young sprinters aren’t easy to find. Regardless of whether Bouhanni opts to seek pastures new, or remain with FDJ, claiming his first Grand Tour stage win(s) at the Giro is certain to result in a more lucrative contract.