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We provide you with short previews of the stages at the Dubai Tour, Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana, Etoile de Besseges and Herald Sun Tour 

Photo: ANSA - PERI / Dal Zennaro










05.02.2016 @ 22:52 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 Australia, Dubai, Italy and France respectively. Instead of doing our usual extensive stage preview, we will provide a short preview of the stages each day.


Dubai Tour, stage 4:

The course:

The sprinters will have been out of the spotlight for 24 hours but they should again get their chance to go for glory on the final stage which is known as the Business Bay stage. The riders will be back in the city for a traditional final stage that is almost identical. However, the finish has been changed and will no longer finish

in front of Burj Khalifa, the tallest skyscraper in the World at 830 metres. Instead, the riders will bring the race to a conclusion at the Business Bay very close to last year’s finale. Earlier in the stage, the riders will do a big loop in the city before they head back to the spectacular finish.


At 137km, the stage is a bit longer than last year and it will again start at the Dubai International Marine Club. It goes through the Old and New Town. It starts in the direction of the great Meydan Racecourse to reach and cross Mushrif Park and then move to the beaches of Al Mamzar. It then runs through Deira, Al Maktoum Bridge and the entire Old Town, almost to Port Rashid, and from there enters the big Jumeirah Road along the coast that leads past the large Union Flag. Then there’s a U-turn at the Burj-al-Arab to go back to Jumeirah Road and reach Business Bay which is the finishing point. There are intermediate sprints at the 78.3km and 102.3km marks.


10 km before the finish, the stage course diverts from Jumeirah road and heads towards the final bend, with 400m to the finish. The riders will do a U-turn in a roundabout just before the 4km to go mark and then there’s right-hand turn that leads onto a long road with a 600m long tunnel with a roof that has sections open to the sky. The road has a few sweeping bends as it passes the Burj Kahlifa and then there are sharp left-hand turns with 900m and 300m to go


Marcel Kittel confirmed his dominance of the race by winning this stage in 2014, making it three in a row in the Dubai sprints. Last year Mark Cavendish took the leader’s jersey off John Degenkolb’s shoulders by beating Elia Viviani and Juan Jose Lobato in a bunch sprint.


The favourites:

The queen stage delivered several surprises and sets the scene for a fantastic finale to the four-day race in Dubai. It was no surprise that Juan Jose Lobato was the fastest in the sprint – we already said yesterday that he is in a class of his own when it comes to pure speed in uphill sprints. Instead, the fact that he finally got his positioning right, was unexpected. Unlike in almost every other sprint he has done in recent years, he actually got to the final climb in prime position and from there the outcome was never in doubt.


Giacomo Nizzolo’s sprint was a surprise but it just goes a long way in confirming his improved climbing. Last year he nearly followed an in-form Vincenzo Nibali on the final climb at Tre Valli Varesine and he now emerges as a real classics contender.


However, the big surprise was Marcel Kittel. As we have claimed in both our overall and stage preview, we have always expected him to be in very good condition and we expected him to limit his losses well. However, we had never imagined him finishing just behind Philippe Gilbert in a finish like this. It just proves that he can go beyond his limits like no other as he did when he won that famous Giro sprint in Dublin.


With Nizzolo, Lobato and Kittel now within 6 seconds of the overall lead, the scene is set for another exciting final stage as we had 12 months ago. All three riders can potentially win the race overall.


The first big issue is whether the intermediate sprints could come into play. Marcel Kittel has a poor result on stage 2 so if he wins the stage and Nizzolo takes third, the Italian will take the overall win. That’s a very realistic scenario so it would be no bad idea for the German to gain a few seconds earlier in the race. The sprints come with 58.5km and 34.7km to go respectively and we may see Etixx-QuickStep bring things back together for one of those sprints before allowing another break to get clear in the finale. If that’s the case, Nizzolo has to gauge whether it’s worth going for the second or not. Lobato will probably give it a go as he can move into the virtual lead and then just has to hope for poor final sprints for his two rivals. He will have a much better chance in a less hectic intermediate sprint than in a big bunch kick.


In any case, this stage will be decided in a bunch sprint as Etixx-QuickStep, Dimension Data and Sky all want this outcome. The wind will be more or less like it has been in the last few stages so it is unlikely to split things on the less exposed roads. The technical finale means that positioning is crucial and strong lead-outs will be of utmost of importance.


Etixx-QuickStep did everything right in stage 1. In stage 2, they messed it up and they were already too far back before the crash happened. However, on paper their train is the best in this race and Kittel proved in stage 1 that he is also the fastest in the race. We expect another dominant performance from the Belgian team and another Kittel win. Whether it will be enough for the overall win depends on how Nizzolo does in the sprint.


On paper, Mark Cavendish is the only rider with the speed to beat Kittel in a direct battle. However, Dimension Data have done really poorly in the lead-outs and now they are even without Mark Renshaw. In this technical finale, there is no room for bad positioning so it will be difficult for Cavendish to win.


The best lead-out trains are Etixx-QuickStep, Sky and Trek. Trek were very strong in stage 1 but missed out in stage 2 when Boy van Poppel crashed. They have the firepower to potentially take on Etixx-QuickStep and are strong enough to deliver Nizzolo on the front. The Italian likes a technical finale. He is usually not fast enough to win but he if he gets a head start he has a chance.


Elia Viviani is extremely fast and Sky have a strong team support him. They messed it up in stage 1 but were very good in stage 2. If Andrew Fenn and Ben Swift can get him into one of the front positions in the final turn, Kittel and Cavendish can’t be too far back if they want to win.


Sacha Modolo has been sprinting and positioning himself really well and he likes this kind of technical finale. It’s also a good one for the consistent Andrea Palini who knows how to find the right wheel. Andrea Guardini is fast enough to win this stage but his lead-out is probably not good enough. Finally, Michael Kolar could do well. Tinkoff have a very strong lead-out and even though he is not fast enough to win, a good position for the sprint could see him finish in the top 3.


CyclingQuotes’ stage winner pick: Marcel Kittel

Other winner candidates: Elia Viviani, Giacomo Nizzolo

Outsiders: Mark Cavendish, Sacha Modolo, Andrea Guardini

Jokers: Andrea Palini, Michael Kolar


Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana, stage 4:

The course:

The GC will be decided on the fourth day which probably offers the best chance for the climbers to make a difference. There is no summit finish but the famous and brutally steep wall of Xorret de Cati comes just 2.09km from the finish and the final kilometres are mostly downhill. It is a well-known finale that has been used in the Vuelta twice in recent years and it has always been the scene of a spectacular battle.


The short 141.3km stage brings the riders from Orihuela to Xorret de Cati and includes a flat start while the riders approach the mountains. The terrain gradually gets harder as the category 3 Alto de La Garganta (7.1km, 2.9%), category 2 Alto de Maigmo (8.41, 3.9%) and category 2 Canali (6.69km, 4.5%) come at the 45km, 75.81km and 101.22km marks respectively. The final climb precedes a flat section that leads to the final category 1 climb which is 4900m long but averages a massive 9.1%. Importantly, the first kilometre is relatively easy but from there the gradient is mostly double-digit. The climb includes a steep 22% just after the midpoint and 17% sections inside the final kilometre. The final part is a fast, non-technical descent until the riders reach the final flat section that includes three late turns.


The final climb is really brutal and has created relatively big time gaps in the Vuelta where it was last used in 2010 when David Moncoutie won from a breakaway. Vincenzo Nibali, Joaquim Rodriguez and Igor Anton arrived together and gained more than half a minute on most of their rivals. One year early Gustavo Cesar Veloso won from a breakaway while Alejandro Valverde, Robert Gesink, Ivan Basso and Cadel Evans put more than 30 seconds into their nearest GC rivals. Eladio Jimenez won the stage both in 2000 and 2004.


The favourites:

We were glad to see Dylan Groenewegen pay back our confidence and the Cofidis train to prove us right that they were the strongest in the race. While they battled for victory, the GC riders all managed to stay safe in the nervous peloton and the scene is now set for a huge battle on the Xorret de Cati climb.


The first part of the stage is unlikely to have much of an impact on the race. There won’t be enough wind to split things and with a long flat section leading to the final climb, it should come down to a battle between the GC riders on the ascent. The early break won’t have much of a chance as teams like Sky, Astana, Etixx-QucikStep and maybe Movistar are eyeing the stage win so there will be plenty of interest in bringing things back together.


This stage has no summit finish but it will be much more selective than stage 2. The Vuelta has proved how hard the final climb is and it can do a huge damage. Still, it is relatively short so it’s suited to the explosive puncheurs more than the real climbers. With a fast, non-technical descent, time gaps at the top are likely to remain the same at the finish but of course sprinting skills will play a role in the battle for the stage win if no single rider can drop the rest.


Right from the start, we have expected Wout Poels to be the best climber in the race and we see no reason to change that assessment. His great time trial proves his good form and in 2015 he showed that he is now one of the best climbers in the world, most notably at the Tour, the Dauphiné and the Abu Dhabi Tour. In the 2011 Vuelta, he showed that he is a specialist on very steep climbs and he says to love that kind of ascents. We doubt that anyone will be able to follow him and we expect him to take a solo win. As he is also fast in a sprint he has more options.


Another specialist on these climbs is Daniel Martin. The Irishman is much stronger than usual at this time of the year. He is a perennial podium finisher at Fleche Wallonne and has a taste for 20% slopes. Of course it is hard to base too much on the relatively easy climb of stage 2 but his time trial proves his excellent form. He is a fast sprinter too and if he is there at the finish, he will be the obvious favourite.


Diego Rosa did the time trial of his life and so confirmed last year’s impressive season finale. He was not very strong in stage 2 but the easy climb didn’t really suit him. He should be much more comfortable here and his TT proves that the form is there. He is not as fast as Poels and Martin though so he needs to get rid of them before the finish.


Ion Izagirre crashed in the time trial but the way he bounced back proves that his form is very good. At last year’s Vuelta al Pais Vasco he showed that he is very strong on short, steep climbs so this stage should suit him well. Like Rosa, he is not fast enough to beat Martin and Poels though.


Davide Formolo seems to be better after his disappointing 2015 season and if he is at his best, he could win this stage. Leopold König is also in very good form. He lost a bit of ground in stage 2 but that explosive finish didn’t suit him and he had crashed just 24 hours earlier. This stage should suit him better and he has had more time to recover. Benat Intxausti is also riding at his usual high level at this time of the year but like König his main priority is to look after Poels.


Finally, we will point to Daniel Navarro, David Belda and Joe Dombrowski who all did well on stage 2 which really didn’t suit them. The steeper gradients are better for them so they should be up there.


CyclingQuotes’ stage winner pick: Wout Poels

Other winner candidates: Daniel Martin, Diego Rosa

Outsiders: Ion Izagirre, Davide Formolo, Leopold König, Benat Intxausti

Jokers: Daniel Navarro, David Belda Joe Dombrowski


Etoile de Besseges, stage 4:

The course:

The fourth stage is a tricky affair that could come as a surprise for some of the sprinters if they have not done the race before. The 148.46km course brings the riders from Tavel to Laudun where the Mur de Laudun is the main feature. The finish line comes on the lower slopes and the riders will tackle it for the first time after 27.3km of racing. Then they do a lap of a moderately hilly circuit with no categorized ascents before they end the stage with four laps of a 15.4km finishing circuit that includes the Mur. There will be intermediate sprints on offer at the first, second and third passage of the line.


The finish line doesn’t come at the top of the climb and the Mur is usually not hard enough to challenge the sprinters. An uphill sprint has decided the stage in the past two editions, with Tony Gallopin and Bryan Coquard coming out on top in a stage suited to puncheurs and strong sprinters.


The favourites:

The queen stage turned out to be hugely exciting and more selective as usual. All the great climbers and classics specialists made it into an elite group and as the major teams all had confidence in their leaders, it was never going to be brought back. Bryan Coquard showed good form by joining the group but in the end the climb was too tough and the sprinters are out of contention for the overall win.


The GC is now likely to come down to a battle in the final time trial but first the riders have to get through stage 4 which could also have an impact on the GC. There are bonus seconds on offer in the intermediate sprints and at the finish and as the race could come down to seconds, many punchy GC contenders will have their eyes on them.


The stage has always been decided in an uphill sprint but the weather could make it more selective than usual. Even though the forecasted rain may now be postponed to the evening, it will be a very windy day. The wind will blow from a southerly direction and this means that there will be lots of crosswind in both the first part and on the finishing circuit. We expect things to split at some point and we probably won’t have a big peloton in the end.


Tony Gallopin won the stage last year and he needs to bonus seconds. That puts Direct Energie in a tricky situation: do they go for another stage win with Coquard who has won here in the past, or do they prefer other riders to take the bonifications? In any case, it will be hard to prevent a sprint finish as both Lotto Soudal and FDJ want such an outcome.


Coquard is one of the best uphill sprinters in the world and he has proved that he is clearly the fastest in the race. He has been in a class of his own in the sprints and Direct Energie have dominated the lead-outs. They are clearly one of the strongest teams and will be there in the right echelons. If one remembers how Coquard sprinted uphill at last year’s Paris-Nice, it is evident that he is not going to get beaten if he is a reasonable position. With the way Direct Energie have been working, he is likely to get a great lead-out and he is our favourite.


FDJ have not had much luck in the sprints as their lead-outs have been poor. However, if things split in the wind, we will have a smaller field. This should make things easier for Demare who is another master in this kind of uphill sprints – just remember how he won a stage of the Eneco Tour a few years ago. He is the only rider with the speed to beat Coquard in a direct battle.


Tony Gallopin won this stage last year and he is suited to this kind of finish. He is obviously in great form and will target the bonus seconds. He has Tosh van der Sande and Sean de Bie for the lead-out and that could make the difference if Direct Energie mess it up. However, he needs to be better positioned than Coquard and Demare who are both faster.


FDJ could opt to give Arthur Vichot a chance in a sprint that suits him well. He has been fifth in the past and seems to be back on track after a difficult year. It’s also a good sprint for an in-form Baptiste Planckaert who has been up there in the past and showed great condition in Marseille. Timothy Dupont is also in great form but this kind of uphill finish may be a bit too tough for him.


It will be too hard for Matteo Pelucchi so Oliver Naesen or Sondre Holst Enger could get the chance for IAM. Armindo Fonseca specializes in this kind of hard sprint but he is probably not fast enough to win. The Cofidis pair of Florian Senechal and Romain Hardy could also be strong here.


CyclingQuotes’ stage winner pick: Bryan Coquard

Other winner candidates: Arnaud Demare, Tony Gallopin

Outsiders: Arthur Vichor, Baptiste Planckaert, Timothy Dupont

Jokers: Romain Hardy, Florian Senechal, Armindo Fonseca, Oliver Naesen, Sondre Holst Enger


Herald Sun Tour, stage 3:

The course:

If the sprinters found the going a bit too tough in stage 2, they can expect to get their chance on the penultimate day. The 146.2km stage from Traralgon to Inverloch includes two minor category 3 climbs in the first half but is predominantly flat. However, the final part of the stages consists of a small loop close to the sea and the final few kilometres will see the riders travel along the coastal road back to Inverloch.


The favourites:

Stage 2 proved to be much harder than expected and even created time gaps. Kennaugh and Froome have virtually secured a 1-2 and are now eagerly awaiting the chance to crush the opposition in Sunday’s queen stage. At the same time, Ewan again proved that he is much more than a sprinter and he can do well in hard races too. When he gets more endurance, he will be a contender in a lot wider range of races.


Ewan has his eyes on another sprint win in stage 3 and it is very hard to imagine that he will be denied. He handled the climbing when Avanti tried to drop him today and tomorrow the challenges are much easier. The big danger is the wind in the final part but there will only be a light breeze and it will even be a headwind in the finale. Of course things will be nervous but the peloton is unlikely to split and if it does, the big teams of Sky, Orica-GreenEDGE and Trek won’t miss out.


Ewan is clearly the fastest rider here and it is very hard to imagine that he will get beaten. He has a solid lead-out with Sam Bewley and Mitchell Docker and they just have to do things reasonably to set him up. Furthermore, there won’t be much stress in this small field mostly made up of continental riders so the positioning will be easier. Ewan is the HUGE favourite to win.


His biggest rival is Niccolo Bonifazio. He is not a pure sprinter and doesn’t have Ewan’s speed but he is in great form. Furthermore, he has a good lea-out with Jack Bobridge and Eugenio Alafaci and they could potentially challenge Orica-GreenEDGE.


Steele von Hoff is probably the second fastest rider in the race and has proved to be climbing really well. His sprints have been pretty bad though as he has been out of position. Here the field is less stacked with sprinters and this will make it easier for him to finally show his speed.


John Murphy has proved that he can win at this level as he has won a stage of the Tour of Utah. Unitedhealthcare are loaded with fast riders and could try to take Orica-GreenEDGE on. In today’ stage, Murphy proved that the form is good.


Today’s stage was much too hard for Nicolas Marini and it could be the case again tomorrow. He needs an easy day to excel but if the wind is not strong, he could get the chance to show his speed. If he is dropped, Daniele Colli will take his chance but he doesn’t seem to have his best form. Jesse Kerrisson is a hugely talented sprinter and he was riding well today so his form is good.


Russell Downing was close to the best in today’s stage so he seems to be in good form and the same is definitely the case for Anthony Giacoppo who should be the Avanti sprinter.


CyclingQuotes’ stage winner pick: Caleb Ewan

Other winner candidates: Niccolo Bonifazio, Steele von Hoff

Outsiders: John Murphy, Nicolas Marini, Daniele Colli

Jokers: Jesse Kerrison, Russell Downing, Anthony Giacoppo



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