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We provide you with previews of the stages in Oman, Andalusia, Algarve and Haut Var 

Photo: Muscat Municipality/Paumer/Kåre Dehlie Thorstad

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TOUR DU HAUT VAR

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TOUR OF OMAN

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VOLTA AO ALGARVE

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VUELTA A ANDALUCIA

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20.02.2016 @ 23:38 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 6:

The course:

Like most other national tours, the Tour of Oman has usually ended with a flat stage for the sprinters in the country's capital and the 2016 edition won't change this tradition. However, the circuit on the Matrah Corniche in the centre of Muscat is not as easy as it is in other stage races and as the stage includes some climbing earlier in the stage, the sprinters will have to dig deep a bit deeper to make sure that they are still in contention in the end.

 

The 130.5km stage starts at the Wave Muscat just west of Muscat and brings the riders to a finish on a circuit on the Matrah Corniche in the city centre. It is almost identical to last year’s final stage as there have only been very few modifications and a new starting point. The number of laps on the final circuit has been increased from two to three and the distanced has been reduced by 3km.

 

After the start, the riders will follow the coast for a few kilometres. In the city of Al Seeb, they will head inlands along flat roads until they hit the Muscat Express Road that they will follow all the way to the capital. This section is completely flat too.

 

Instead of continuing all the way to the city centre, the riders will do a small loop on the hilly eastern outskirts of the capital. First they will go up the Al Hamriyah climb after 78.5km of racing and then take the long, gradual descent. Having reached Al Jissah at the 92km mark, they will contest the first intermediate sprint before turning around to head back towards the city. They will now go up the Al Jissah climb (1.4km, 9%) which also featured in the finale of stage 1 and in stage 5 before they descend to the coastal road that they will follow until they hit the Matrah Corniche.

 

With 22km to do, the riders will cross the finish line for the first time. They will now do two laps of the well-known 7.5km finishing circuit. It follows the coastal road for most of the time and only makes a small digression when it makes small loop before getting back to the seafront. The circuit is almost completely flat but has a very small climb 3.5km from the finish that may serve as the launch pad for a late attack. The riders hit the coastal road shortly before the 2km to go banner and from there they will follow the flat, slightly winding 8m wide road all the way to the finish, with the line coming into sight when the road makes its final slight bend 210m from the end of the race.

 

The first year the race ended with a time trial but the next four years, the race has ended with a big bunch sprint at the Corniche. Mark Cavendish, Marcel Kittel, Nacer Bouhanni and André Greipel came out on top but last year the sprinters were denied. Their teams failed to organize a chase in time after some sprinters had been dropped on the climbs and this allowed Matthias Brändle to take a surprise win from a breakaway after having attacked on the climb on the final circuit.

 

The weather:

Sunday will be typically sunny day in Oman, with a maximum temperature of 27 degrees. There will be a moderate wind from a northerly direction. This means that it will be a crosswind for most of the stage. There will be a cross-headwind on the final climb and a headwind in the final part leading to the circuit. Here there will mainly be a crosswind. It will be a cross-headwind in the penultimate kilometre and then a crosswind on the finishing straight.

 

The favourites:

As we said yesterday, the headwind in the finale was always going to make it difficult to create a big selection in today’s stage and Ag2r didn’t really have the team to make the race hard. Of course they tried to attack Nibali but they were always going to come up short against a very powerful Astana team. Hence, it was impossible to change the GC. It was still a bigger group as expected though and there was a vast difference between this year’s edition of the stage and the hugely selective race we had in 2013.

 

Tomorrow’s final stage won’t change the GC and it is hard to imagine that anyone will even try. However, there’s still a stage win up for grabs and even though the stage finishes on a relatively flat circuit and so has the characteristics of a typical final stage, it is not as straightforward as usual. The two climbs are pretty steep and if the pace is fast it will be too hard for many of the sprinters. Last year the break stayed away but it was actually a reduced bunch that sprinted for the minor places as they pace had been fast on the climbs.

 

Katusha have the overwhelming favourite for this stage and they will go all in to get a bunch sprint. This stage is also a very big goal for LottoNL-Jumbo, Bora-Argon 18 and Wanty-Groupe Gobert so it is very hard to imagine that we won’t get a bunch sprint. However, it will be interesting to see what happens on the climbs and we wouldn’t be surprised if BMC try to go full gas in an attempt to get rid of some of the faster guys. Etixx-QuickStep may have similar plans and so we may not get a full bunch sprint. However, there will be a cross-headwind on the climb and it will also be a cross-headwind back to the circuit which means that it will be easier to stay in contact.

 

Alexander Kristoff is the overwhelming favourite. The Norwegian is strong enough to survive the climb and he is the fastest rider here. Furthermore, he has the best lead-out. However, while Kristoff will get over the climb, some of his lead-out men may get dropped and this could complicate affairs. On the other hand, Kristoff is great at positioning himself even without much support and we will be surprised if Michael Mørkøv and Marco Haller are not there in the end. If that’s the case, he will probably again get the perfect lead-out and then no one is going to beat the Norwegian.

 

Sam Bennett is the only rider with the speed to beat Kristoff as he proved last year in Norway. Furthermore, he is great condition and the climb will be no problem for him. However, he has often lost his train in the finale and this was also what happened in stage 2. He needs to improve that aspect but if he can get the positioning right, he is fast enough to win.

 

The train that can really match Katusha is LottoNL-Jumbo. They did very well in stage 3 to deliver Moreno Hofland to second. The Dutchman likes this kind of harder stage but he may not have his full train at his disposal in the end. He is not as fast as Kristoff and needs the perfect lead-out to beat the Katusha captain.

 

Roy Jans has really stepped up his level and has only been third thrice this year. His form is obviously great but he doesn’t climb as well as the likes of Kristoff, Bennett and Hofland. On the other hand, he can count a Wanty lead-out that has been impressively strong.

 

Edvald Boasson Hagen is in great condition but he is not a man for these real bunch sprints. However, this stage is a bit harder and he can rely on a solid lead-out. He is unlikely to win the stage but with his current form you never know.

 

Jempy Drucker is not a pure sprinter so he should find this harder stage to his liking. He is great at positioning himself and is very consistent in the sprints. Marko Kump has been sprinting very well all year and Lampre-Merida have a pretty powerful team. He likes this kind of harder stage. The same goes for Marco Canola who has a slow start to the year but proved his form by taking third today.

 

Etixx-QuickStep have a very powerful team and Gianni Meersman is one of the best climbers among the sprinters. They will probably try to make the race hard but Meersman is probably not fast enough to win.

 

Finally, we will point to Daniel Oss as a joker. In case a break makes it, the in-form Italian is a great pick. He could also try an attack on the climb on the circuit.

 

CyclingQuotes’ stage winner pick: Alexander Kristoff

Other winner candidates: Sam Bennett, Moreno Hofland

Outsiders: Roy Jans, Edvald Boasson Hagen, Jempy Drucker

Jokers: Marko Kump, Marco Canola, Gianni Meersman, Daniel Oss

 

Vuelta a Andalucia, stage 5:

The course:

Last year the climbers had lots of chances to shine but this year they will have to wait to the final day before getting their only opportunity to make their mark on the race. Everything will still be open as we go into the final stage which is also the queen stage of the race. It will be a day with lots of climbing and even though the final climb of Alto Penas Blancas is not the hardest in the region, it will surely create changes in the GC on the final day of the race.

 

The stage is 164.2km long and brings the riders from San Roque to the top of Alto Penas Blancas. San Roque is located near the Mediterranean coast and the first part of the stage is flat as they head to the north into the hilly interior of the region. Here the climbing gets serious as the riders will tackle the category 1 Puerto del Espino (20.8km), the category 3 Alto de Cortes (5.1km) and the category 2 Puerto Espirito (7.4km) in quick succession at the 60.7km, 76km and 90.7km marks respectively. This section barely has a metre of flat.

 

At the top of the third climb, the riders will turn around and head back towards the coast. After a few undulating kilometres, there’s a long descent before the riders face the category 2 Puerto de la Cruz (4.1km) whose summit located 42.1km from the finish. The intermediate sprint comes 7.7km later and then the riders will hit a long descent down to the coast and the city of Estepona.

 

After a short, flat sightseeing trip in the city, they will head back into the hills and it will be almost straight onto the lower slopes of the category 1 Puerto de Penas Blancas. It averages 6.2% over 14.8km and will be a tough end to the race. It has a very steep first part with section of up to 12.5% but after a short flat section at the 3km mark, it gets more regular, with the gradient mostly hovering around 6-8%. The final three kilometres are easier at 5.9%. There’s a sharp turn with 2km to go and a hairpin bend just before the flamme rouge.

 

Alto Penas Blancas made its debut in a major bike race at the 2013 Vuelta a Espana when Leopold König made a late attack in a very tactical race that saw numerous riders slip off the front while the favourites were watching each other. The Czech held off Daniel Moreno by one second while Nicolas Roche, Thibaut Pinot and Ivan Basso arrived four seconds later. The relatively easy gradients in the finale meant that the main contenders finished within second of each other, with Alejandro Valverde and Joaquim Rodriguez using their sprinting skills to put a few seconds into the likes of Chris Horner and Vincenzo Nibali.

 

UPDATE: The course has been changed and the distance has been increased to 171km. The Puerto del Cruz has been replaced by another passage of the Penas Blancas, albeit from the other side where it averages 5.0% over 15.4km. From the top, 47.8km remain and then the riders will descend to Estepona where they will do a flat loop before going up the climb again.

 

The weather:

Sunday will be a sunny day with a maximum temperature at the bottom of the final climb of 17 degree. There will be a moderate wind from an easterly direction. This means that it will be a crosswind almost all day, also on the final climb.

 

The favourites:

Tejay van Garderen underlined the excellent condition he showed at the Vuelta a Murcia by doing the best time trial he has done for a few years. It was no mean feat to beat Jerome Coppel on this course but his overall victory is still far from guaranteed. Wilco Kelderman again proved that his sudden loss of TT skills in 2014 and the first half of 2015 is now behind him and he is now time trialling better than ever. It started when he beat Dumoulin at the Dutch Championships and now he seems to be competitive on every course.

 

While van Garderen and Kelderman both had great rides, it was also confirmation that Alejandro Valverde is still shy of his best form. Furthermore, the stage showed that Wout Poels’ improved TT skills are not enough to beat great specialists on a course like this one. He now finds himself with 20 seconds to make up in the queen stage and this will set the scene for the final day.

 

Alto de Penas Blancas is not a very hard climb and even though they have tried to make it a bit harder by including another passage from the other side, it’s not a very selective stage. It’s definitely nothing like Xorret de Cati in Valencia where Poels demolished the opposition.

 

Sky haven’t given up and they will go into the stage with the goal to win at the top of the climb. Furthermore, they need to make the race as hard as possible to have any chance at taking overall victory. Hence, the early break will have no chance. Sky will be riding on the front – probably alongside Movistar – as soon as the climbing starts. That will set the scene for a final battle on the climb where those two teams will try to make it as hard as possible.

 

Poels is in great form but the same is true for van Garderen and he probably needs a harder climb to get rid of the American. If he’s unable to drop the BMC leader, we could get a bit of a tactical game which could allow another rider to make a move in the finale like König did when he won in the Vuelta. Otherwise we expect the best riders to sprint for the win.

 

Alejandro Valverde is clearly not in his best form but he is still relatively strong. If it comes down to a sprint from the best, no one will have any chance against him. The main challenge will be to keep up with the best and control things in the finale. For the latter, he can count on a strong team with the two Morenos and Ruben Fernandez. Hence, the main issue could be to follow Poels and van Garderen. His form may not be good enough to do so but on this kind of climb we still expect him to be there. Hence, he is our favourite.

 

Wout Poels is in great condition and an excellent climber. As said, we doubt that he is strong enough to drop van Garderen but he will definitely be up there with the best. If anyone is going to take a solo win, it’s probably him. Furthermore, he is fast in a sprint and will be able to beat almost everyone – bot of course not Valverde.

 

Wilco Kelderman said that he would have a slow start but that’s definitely not the case. Today he admitted that his form is very good and so he should be able to follow the best. One tends to forget that he is actually fast in a sprint and he can beat Poels in a finish like this.

 

Tejay van Garderen is focused on the overall victory but his form is excellent and if he eyes an opportunity to go for the win, he will take it. In Murcia, he dropped everybody, including Valverde, and he may be strong enough to do the same here.

 

As said, the tactical battle between the favourites could open the door for a late attack. Rafal Majka looked very strong on the climb in stage 3 and he has lost a bit of ground on GC and so won’t be heavily marked. The same goes for Daniel Navarro who has been flying all year and has the right aggressive mindset.

 

Tim Wellens is another very aggressive rider who seems to be in excellent form. He would have been in the top 10 in the time trial if he hadn’t missed a turn. Now his time loss can be a blessing in disguise as he will have more freedom. It’s also a good climb for Bauke Mollema. He doesn’t seem to be at his best yet but he can both attack and will be competitive in a sprint. Daniel Moreno may also get his chance if Valverde is still not at 100% and this is a very good climb for him if he can follow the right move in the finale. Finally, we will point to Louis Vervaeke and Luis Angel Mate as jokers for a late attack.

 

CyclingQuotes’ stage winner pick: Alejandro Valverde

Other winner candidates: Wout Poels, Wilco Kelderman

Outsiders: Tejay van Garderen, Rafal Majka, Daniel Navarro

Jokers: Tim Wellens, Bauke Mollema, Daniel Moreno, Louis Vervaeke

 

Volta ao Algarve, stage 5:

The course:

The Alto do Malhao is the marquee climb of the Volta ao Algarve and it is not a true edition of the Portuguese race if the riders haven't climbed then 2.6km ascent with its average gradient of 9.6%. This year it is of course back in the race and as always the riders have to go up the ascent twice in the finale. The stage may be shorter than usual but by moving the stage to the final day, it will be the scene of a very spectacular end to the five-day race where things can change right until the end.

 

The 169km stage starts in Almodovar just north of the finish and the first part of the route is made up a lumpy section as the riders zigzag their way to the final circuit. There aren’t many metres of flat roads in the first part but there are no categorized climbs and the highlight will be the first intermediate sprint ater 48.9km of racing.

 

The riders will get a chance to warm up their climbing legs when they go up a category 3 climb (2.3km, 5.4%) which summits at the 83.7km mark. Then a long descent leads to a short flat section that includes the second intermediate sprint with 54.1km to go.

 

Just moments later, the riders hit the bottom of the Alto do Malhao for the first time and they will now go up its 2.6km at an average of 9.6% before they cross the finish line for the first time. From there they start one lap of a hilly 42.8km finishing circuit that is flat in the first part and then includes a long descent. Then the road are mainly flat until the riders hit a category 3 climb (3km, 6.2km) whose summit is located just 22km from the finish. From there is it mainly descending or flat until the riders again hit the Malhao to tackle the final very steep 2.6km. There is a hairpin bend just after the flamme rouge but the road on the climb is mainly winding,

 

Last year Richie Porte beat Michal Kwiatkowski by 3 seconds despite having worked for Geraint Thomas who was nine second behind in fourth. In 2014 Alberto Contador took the first win of his season when he beat Rui Costa by 3 seconds and Michal Kwiatkowski by 10 seconds. In 2013 Sergio Henao took a resounding win ahead of local hero Costa while Bradley Wiggins set Richie Porte up for a beautiful solo win one year earlier. The climb has been dominated by Sky in recent years as Stephen Cummings won the stage while riding for the team in 2011 while Alberto Contador conquered the ascent in 2010 after having been beaten by Antonio Colom one year earlier.

 

The weather:

Sunday will be a sunny day with a maximum temperature in Malhao of 16 degrees. It will be another relatively windy day as a relatively strong wind will blow from a southeasterly direction. This means that it will be a day with lots of headwind and crosswind in the first part. On the circuit, it will mainly be a crosswind but there will be a cross-tailwind on the climb.

 

The favourites:

After today’s dominant showing, there’s no longer any doubt that Marcel Kittel has reestablished himself at the top of the sprinting hierarchy. André Greipel may have been taken out by a crash but it is hard to imagine that he would have been able to challenge his compatriot who out daylight into the rest.

 

Meanwhil,e the GC riders enjoyed an easy day and they will be ready to battle it out on the queen stage. Alto do Malhao is a very steep climb but it is also relatively short. It is not a day to create huge differences and it is a stage more suited to riders with a lot of punch that pure climbers.

 

Sky need to take back three seconds on Tony Martin and they would like the bonus seconds to come into play. They don’t have their best team here but they will try to make it hard. The same goes for Astana that are no longer in GC contention and have done nothing to hide that it is all about winning the final stage. FDJ, Tinkoff and Katusha also want to win. Hence, the early break will have no chance even though Etixx-QuickStep would be pleased to let them stay away to take away the bonus seconds.

 

Sky and Astana will try to make the race as hard as possible and we can expect lots of attacks on the final circuit. Astana have so many strong climbers that they have to play their cards from further out. This should make it difficult for the strongest teams to control things and a late move with good climbers definitely has a chance. Still Tinkoff, FDJ, Sky and maybe also Movistar are riding for a single leader which means that we will most likely see a battle between the best riders on the final climb.

 

Geraint Thomas was extremely strong on the very windy climb in stage 2. It was a massive performance for him to put everybody in the hurt zone on a climb where it was hard to ride in the wind. This proves that he is in excellent form. He is not a pure climber though and these gradients could be a bit too steep for him. On the other hand he left everybody behind on the Corkscrew in the Tour Down Under a few years ago and that climb is very similar to this one. Since then he has only improved and we doubt that anybody will be able to follow him here. We expect Thomas to take it all on the final day.

 

One of his big rivals will be Thibaut Pinot. The FDJ rider has been flying all year and confirmed his good form in the time trial. The climb in stage 2 didn’t suit him and this steeper ascent should be a lot better for him. He would have preferred it to be longer but he could very well turn out to be the best.

 

Alberto Contador has been far from his best form but it is too early to rule him out. The Spaniard feels that his form is getting better and he is still the best climber in this race. He did a relatively good time trial and this much steeper climb suits him a lot better than the Alto da Foia. Tomorrow he won’t play with the muscles like he did two days ago and this could allow him to win the stage.

 

Ion Izagirre was very strong in Valencia and was also among the best in stage 2 where he was only caught a few metres from the line. He likes this kind of short, steep ascent which he proved with his third place last year and now he is obviously a lot stronger.

 

Fabio Aru was slightly off the pace in stage 2 which didn’t really suit him. He will be much more comfortable on this climb and he is obviously one of the best climbers here. He is still not at his best but less may be enough for the strong Italian.

 

Primoz Roglic is a huge talent. He won the Tour de Slovenie and he was third in stage 2. This climb should even suit him a lot better and so we can expect another great performance. He lost a bit of time in the time trial so he won’t be too heavily marked.

 

The same goes for his teammate Robert Gesink who deliberately lost time in today’s stage to have the room to attack tomorrow. He rode very strongly in stage 2 where he finished 12th despite being on the attack in the finale.

 

As said , Astana will try to play their many climbing cards. Diego Rosa and Paolo Tiralongo are both riding well and have the climbing skills to win here. Finally, we will point to Jarlinson Pantano who is suited to this kind of short, steep climb and proved his good form by doing an amazing time trial.

 

CyclingQuotes’ stage winner pick: Geraint Thomas

Other winner candidates: Thibaut Pinot, Alberto Contador

Outsiders: Ion Izagirre, Fabio Aru, Primoz Roglic

Jokers: Robert Gesink, Paolo Tiralongo, Diego Rosa, Jarlinson Pantano, Fr

 

Tour du Haut Var, stage 2:

The course:

The second stage both starts and finishes in Draguignan and it is almost completely identical to the one that was used last year. The 206.8km course barely has a single meter of flat roads as it is up or down all day. Having left Draguignan along lumpy roads, the riders will tackle three laps of a difficult 25km circuit that includes the category 2 Bastide de Tourtour (6km, 6%). Then they head onto a second 35km circuit that includes the category 2 Col de la Grange (8km, 6%). They will do that circuit twice, with the final climb coming 70.7km from the finish. Then they head to the finish which they reach with 38.1km to go.

 

The final part of the stage consists of two different circuits. First the riders will tackle 20.4km that include the small climb of Route de Grasse before they end the stage by tackling the well-known 17.7km circuit that includes the famous Cote des Tullieres with passage of up to 15% just 16.6km from the finish. Then a gradual descent leads to the final 5km which are flat.

 

The weather:

Sunday will be another very sunny day with a pleasant maximum temperature of 22 degrees. There will be a moderate wind from a westerly direction. This means that the wind will be coming from every direction on the many circuits. On the final one, it will be a tailwind on the climb and a headwind back to the finish.

 

The favourites:

Today’s finishing circuit turned out to be a lot more difficult than indicated in the roadbook. In the end, it was not the Col du Blavet but the circuit that made the race selective. The roads were narrow and twisting and the finishing straight was a lot steeper than we had thought. That definitely tipped the balance more towards the puncheurs than the sprinters and in such a finish Tom-Jelte Slagter is one of the best.

 

Slagter now has to defend his position in the second stage which is a lot hard. It has a huge amount of climbing but history proves that it is possible for a strong sprinter to survive or make it back to the peloton on the final descent. That’s what happened last year when Luka Mezgec won the stage. In 2013 and 2014, however, small groups managed to stay away and both outcomes are possible.

 

Tomorrow’s great weather conditions will make it easier to control things and there will be a headwind on the way back to the finish. This makes it more likely that we will have some kind of regrouping and a reduced bunch sprint could be the outcome.

 

The first part of the stage will be very aggressive. In the past, very strong groups have gone clear. If all the major teams are there, they could even go all the way but most likely some of them will have missed out. The second half of the stage is a lot flatter and that will give time to chase it down so we will probably get the usual battle between the best on the final climb. Then it will all come down to whether the best riders can be brought back in the final part.

 

We doubt that anyone will be able to drop an in-form Slagter and with a headwind, it means that we are most likely to get a sprint from a reduced group. In that case, we will put our money on Francesco Gavazzi who has been in great form all year. He could only manage seventh in today’s sprint but a flat finale suits him a bit better compared to the punchy Ardennes specialists. He is fast enough to win small bunch sprints and is also climbing well enough to be with the best if a small group makes it to the end. He is out favourite to win the stage.

 

Alexey Tsatevich again showed his good form in today’s stage. He was up there with the puncheurs in an uphill finish. Tomorrow’s flatter finale will suit him a lot better and there is a solid chance that he will be one of the fastest in the end. It will be a challenge to survive the final climb but he did so last year and seems to be in even better condition.

 

Jesus Herrada has been flying all year and again put his good form on show in the finale today. He is definitely not a pure sprinter but he has won reduced sprints in the past and he will be strong enough to follow the best on the climbs.

 

Fernando Gaviria may just have returned from a broken collarbone but he was close to the best in today’s stage. Tomorrow the sprint is flat and this will make it much easier for him to win. We doubt that he will be able to survive this huge amount of climbing but as his form is not too bad, he could be there if a bigger group gathers in the end. In that case, he will obviously be the fastest.

 

Julien Simon has slowly been building his condition and he specializes in reduced sprints. He is not as fast as he once was but in this field he could be strong enough to win. Diego Ulissi missed out due to poor positioning in today’s stage which suited him down to the ground. The flatter finale suits him less and his best chance will be to make it into a small group of elite climbers. That will also be the case for a very strong Arthur Vichot but he is usually not as fast as Ulissi in a flat sprint.

 

Another win for Slagter cannot be ruled out but it will be much harder for him in a flat finale. On the other hand, he has a very strong Patrick Bevin to lead him out. Giovanni Visconti is capable of winning these sprints. Today he made a late attack but he was still able to finish 12th so his form is good. He will probably have to do the lead-out for Herrada though.

 

In case, a bigger group gathers in the end, keep an eye on Ryan Anderson and Leonardo Duque.

 

CyclingQuotes’ stage winner pick: Francesco Gavazzi

Other winner candidates: Alexey Tsatevich, Jesus Herrada

Outsiders: Fernando Gaviria, Diego Ulissi, Arthur Vichot, Tom-Jelte Slagter

Jokers: Giovanni Visconti, Ryan Anderson, Leonardo Duque

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