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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










03.02.2016 @ 22:18 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 2:

The course:

The sprinters that lost out in the opening stage will get an immediate chance to take revenge as the second day is another one for the fast men. The course is very similar to the one that was used for last year’s second stage even though the riders will tackle it in the opposite direction. Most of the stage will be held in the city of Dubai but will pass through its outskirts as it passes some of the major sports facilities, meaning that there are actually a few elevation gains in this stage. It will have the same spectacular finish on the Palm Jumeirah Island that was used in both 2014 and 2015 but like last year it will have a longer distance than it had in the first year, something that has been requested by the riders.


Known as the Nakheel Stage, the 188km route will of course start at the Dubai International Marine Club and is divided into two parts: The first part is just outside the metropolis, partially in the desert, the second part within Dubai Marina to end in Palm Jumeirah, in front of the Atlantis “door”.


The first part will pass next to the Camel Track, the Al Qudra bike path, the Hamdan Bin Mohammed Bin Rashid Sports Complex pool and through the desert. It includes long, straight roads that are mostly flat and offers intermediate sprints at the 77.2km and 105.5km marks.


The second part returns into the city touching Dubailand, the Jumeirah Golf Club and Dubai Sports City where there will be lots of corners as riders zigzag their way through the city. The final intermediate sprint comes with 50.1km to go.


The stage then heads to the finale on the Palm through an underwater tunnel before the last kilometres, with a turning point on the artificial island. From here there will be 3200m to the final sprint. The final 3 kilometres are virtually straight (although on constantly slightly-bending road), with some roundabouts along the way. The home stretch is 800 m-long (still bending slightly), on 7 m-wide, asphalted roadway.


In 2014 Giant-Shimano won the battle of the lead-out trains and delivered Marcel Kittel to the win, with the German holding off Peter Sagan and Taylor Phinney. Last year it was Elia Viviani who benefited from a great Sky lead-out to beat overall leader Mark Cavendish and claim his first win in Sky colours.


The favourites:

Both Marcel Kittel and Etixx-QuickStep proved us right. The rumours have suggested that the German is extremely motivated to get back on track and has been training very hard during the winter. Today he looked like his former self when he powered clear to take a comfortable stage victory, proving his very good form.


At the same time, Etixx-QuickStep confirmed our assessment that they have the strongest train in the race. Trek did a very good job in the final kilometres and it was exciting when the quartet of Marco Coledan-Jasper Stuyven-Boy Van Poppel-Giacomo Nizzolo went head-to-head with Matteo Trentin-Nikolas Maes-Fabio Sabatini-Kittel. In the end, the Belgians had more power and then Kittel just had to finish it off.


Tomorrow’s tricky finale on the Palm Jumeirah island has already established itself as a real classic as it has been used on both past occasions. The final part of the stage is very exposed and things can very easily be created in windy conditions. For this stage, it is essential to have a strong team to keep you in a good position in the finale.


However, Friday will be less windy than Thursday when a strong tailwind pushed the riders to the finish. There will be a moderate wind from the north which means that there will be lots of crosswind in the desert. This will make things nervous but it is unlikely to split. On the island, it will first be a cross-tailwind when they exit the tunnel and this could create some splits. Later they will turn into a cross-headwind which makes timing very important. It will be very difficult for a team to keep enough in reserve to stay on the front all the way from the exit of the tunnel to the end of the sprint.


Today Etixx-QuickStep and Trek proved that they have the most powerful teams and this gives Marcel Kittel and Giacomo Nizzolo a clear advantage. Today Etixx-QuickStep were the strongest and they are likely to again deliver Kittel on the front. Only Cavendish has the speed to beat him and Kittel also likes this kind of power sprint. He is our clear favourite to win again.


Today Cavendish was actually faster than Kittel who spent more time in the wind. However, Cavendish only have three powerful lead-out men for the finale in Brammeier, Eisel and Renshaw and this is probably not enough to get the perfect position for the sprint. However, if he can win the battle for Kittel’s wheel, he proved that he has the speed to beat the German and the headwind sprint suits him aerodynamic sprinting style.


Today Trek nearly gave Nizzolo the perfect lead-out but they came up short against Etixx-QuickStep. It is not impossible for them to change things tomorrow and this gives a chance to an in-form Nizzolo. However, he is usually not fast enough to win this kind of power sprint.


Elia Viviani has the speed to win but Sky messed everything up in today’s stage. For some reason, Andrew Fenn was at the back of the field in the finale and this left Viviani with just Ben Swift whom he even lost. Sky don’t have the power to match the stronger train but Viviani is fast enough he can overcome his lack of team support.


Andrea Guardini also has the speed to win but doesn’t have much of a lead-out. Tomorrow’s stage, however, could be more about power than speed and with guys like Lars Boom and Lieuwe Westra he could get onto the Palm in a good position. Unfortunately, the crosswind can make it too hard for his fragile nature. On the other hand, his resistance has increased a lot and he is always good here.


Sacha Modolo did a really god sprint today and he is clearly in very good form. However, his lack of team support will be costly.


Juan Jose Lobato always loses out due to poor positioning but tomorrow’s sprint could suit him if the windy conditions string things out and make it less chaotic. Movistar have lots of power to keep him close to the front and they just lack the speed when the trains really take off. Tomorrow power will be important.


Finally, we will again point to Andrea Palini who keeps impressing at the WorldTour level. However, he doesn’t have much team support.


CyclingQuotes’ stage winner pick: Marcel Kittel

Other winner candidates: Mark Cavendish, Giacomo Nizzolo

Outsiders: Elia Viviani, Andrea Guardini, Juan Jose Lobato

Jokers: Sacha Modolo, Andrea Palini


Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana, stage 2:

The course:

The first big battle between the climbers comes already on the second day when the riders will tackle 163.3km from the coastal city of Castellon to a summit finish on the category 1 climb of Alto de Fredes. The first part is mainly flat and only includes the category 2 Puerto La Mirona (5.31km, 2.6%) at the 69km mark. However, there will be nowhere to hide on the final climb (15.18km, 4.6%). The average gradient is slightly deceptive as it includes three 12% sections, with two of them coming in the final third, but it stays around 4-6% for most of the time. The final kilometre is the steepest at an average of 7.1%.


The favourites:

We made Wout Poels our favourite to win this race overall but we had actually expected him to be on the back foot after the time trial. Surprisingly, he did the TT of his life to take the victory and so goes into the first mountain stage in pole position.


Tomorrow’s stage offers the only summit finish but there is no doubt that Saturday is much harder. The final climb only has an average gradient of 4.6% and such climbs are usually not hard enough to separate the best climbers. In fact, they are often decided in small group sprints and as there will be a headwind, it will be even less selective. However, the final kilometre is a bit steeper. This could open the door for the best climbers to gain some seconds but the gaps will be small.


The gaps are still pretty small and teams like Astana, Sky and Movistar will have their eyes on the stage win so it should all come down to a battle on the final climb. Here we expect Sky to use their strong team to set a brutal tempo and with a headwind, it will be very difficult for anyone to get clear. We expect it to come down to the final, steeper kilometre which should make it one for the explosive riders.


We have always expected Poels to be in very good condition but his performance in the time trial was much better than expected. This indicates that he is flying and if he can add to the level he showed occasionally in 2015, he will be scary. He had preferred a harder climb but he actually has a decent punch to do well on this climb. He has been up there in sprints and short walls an so he is our favourite to win the stage.


Daniel Martin is always riding very poorly at this time of the year so we were surprised to see him do one of his best time trials. Maybe it is finally time for him to shine in February. We don’t expect him to have the legs to follow the best on the harder climbs but this finish is more about sprinting skills and punch which will make him a strong contender.


As said in our preview, there was a big chance that Diego Rosa would be stronger than Fabio Aru and he lived up to expectations. A fourth place in the time trial is much better than expected and adds more depth to his talent. He will only get stronger in the future and he is likely to be the rider to challenge Poels on the climb in this race. He has a decent sprint too.


Movistar have both Ion Izagirre and Jesus Herrada for the GC and they both showed great form today. Unfortunately, Izagirre crashed but he showed excellent fighting spirit to end the stage very well. He has not suffered any injuries but he probably lacks the speed to win this kind of stage. Herrada is very fast in a sprint and will be a very good option on this stage.


Sky have such a strong team and can also play the cards of an in-form Leopold König, Mikel Nieve or Benat Intxausti. However, it will now be all about Poels but they could try to put their rivals on the defensive by sending one of the other riders up the road. There is little doubt that the Czech is the strongest at the moment and this kind of explosive finish doesn’t really suit Nieve.


Joaquim Rodriguez is not at his best at the moment and we expect him to come up short on the harder climbs. However, as this is more about punch, he could do well here. This will also make Tom-Jelte Slagter and Eduard Prades contenders even though they are usually not strong on this kind of long climbs. Davide Formolo also has a decent punch as has Paolo Tiralongo who crashed in today’s time trial.


Fabio Aru did not have a great time trial and we don’t expect him to have the form to contend for the win.


Finally, we will point to Koen Bouwman as a very interesting young prospect.


CyclingQuotes’ stage winner pick: Wout Poels

Other winner candidates: Daniel Martin, Diego Rosa

Outsiders: Jesus Herrada, Ion Izagirre, Leopold König, Joaquim Rodriguez

Jokers: Tom-Jelte Slagter, Davide Formolo, Eduard Prades, Paolo Tiralongo, Koen Bouwman


Etoile de Besseges, stage 2:

The course:

The second stage will see the riders head to a new finish in Mejannes Le Clap as they tackle 153.16km staring in Nimes. It’s an almost completely flat course with just a category 2 climb at the 111.5km mark. In the end, the riders will do 5 laps of a flat 7.7km finishing circuit, with bonus seconds being offered at the second passage of the line.


The favourites:

Yesterday we were uncertain whether the Direct Energie train was already firing on all cylinders. They proved us completely wrong as they dominated the finale to deliver Bryan Coquard to victory.


Today the wind was strong enough to briefly split the field. Tomorrow it will be less windy and it will mainly be a headwind. However, there will be some crosswind in the final section leading to the circuit and this could create some damage. However, with lots of laps on a relatively long circuit, there will be time to get things back together. Today the teams wanted to save their lead-outs for the finale and as it will be the same tomorrow, we expect a straightforward bunch sprint.


Today Direct Energie proved that they have the strongest team and the train of Sylvain Chavanel-Julien Morice-Angelo Tulik-Adrien Petit-Coquard did the perfect job. They don’t have the power of the best trains in the world but in this race, none of them are present. Based on today’s stage, they have so much power that they should again be able to deliver Coquard on the front. In the past, he has often lost out due to positioning and been unable to benefit from his impressive speed. As that’s unlikely to happen, he will be our favourite.


Today Arnaud Demare and the rest of the FDJ team were set back by a crash and the Frenchman had to settle for 9th. However, he is supported by his lead-out man Mickael Delage and they have lots of experience in working together. That’s an advantage compared to the inexperience of Direct Energie and Demare has proved that he still has the speed to beat the best despite his poor 2015 season.


The third big-name sprinter in the race is Matteo Pelucchi who had to settle for 15th. There are some fast guys in the IAM team but Sondre Holst Enger and Oliver Naesen don’t have much experience. At the same time, Pelucchi is clearly not in his condition. On the other hand, he is the fastest rider in the race so if he can get the positioning right, he has the speed to win.


Those three riders should be the fastest and it will be a surprise if we get a different winner. However, Timothy Dupont has proved his talent in 2015 when he didn’t have much team support. Now he is the sprinter of his team and today he showed his potential by taking second. He has the speed to shine in this kind of sprint.


Baptiste Planckaert has proved his good form and is always up there in these sprints. Tosh van der Sande showed great form today as he came back from a puncture with 7km to go to cross the line in 5th (he was later relegated for illegal mechanical assistance) and even though he is not a pure sprinter, he can rely on one of the strongest teams. Dylan Page was a surprise third in Mallorca and will try to get confirmation after missing out today. Finally, Jonas Ahlstrand deserves a mention as he has won at this level in the past even though Cofidis were nowhere to be seen today.


CyclingQuotes’ stage winner pick: Bryan Coquard

Other winner candidates: Arnaud Demare, Matteo Pelucchi

Outsiders: Timothy Dupont, Baptiste Planckaert, Tosh van der Sande

Jokers: Dylan pPage, Jonas Ahlstrand, Benjamin Giraud


Herald Sun Tour, stage 1:

The course:

The sprinters will hope to get their first chance in the 144.2km second stage that brings them from Yarra Glen to Moe. It has a flat start and a rolling middle section with three categorized climbs – one in the second and two in the third category – which leads to a mostly descending final third. The stage ends with a 14.9km finishing circuit that includes a steep little climb at the midpoint.


The favourites:

The prologue only created minor time gaps and the top 3 will be nowhere to be seen when the climbing gets earnest tomorrow. The final climb is long but not very steep and it is not a summit finish. However, the level of this field is very mixed and so it will be a lot more selective than it would have been in a European race.


When it comes to climbing, Sky are in a class of their own and everything will depend on how they tackle the stage. We expect them to take control throughout the day and then set a brutal tempo on the final climb. It will be a tailwind up the ascent which will make it more selective and then a headwind back to the finish.


The main question is whether Froome already wants to drop everybody else at this point or whether he will be content with a waiting attitude. However, we expect Sky to play some of their many strong cards and no other team will be able to control them. This could allow some of the domestiques to ride away with victory. There is also a chance that Froome and Peter Kennaugh will simply be able to drop everybody else and if they get to the finish together, the British champion will probably be allowed to win.


We expect Sky to play the Kennaugh card. He can do it alone or get to the finish with Froome and as he is also pretty fast, he can also win from a small group sprint.


We won’t rule out the possibility that Froome wants to test his legs though. On paper, he is in a class of his own in this field and he could take a solo win. Sebastian Henao showed good form in the prologue and could also be given his chance and the same goes for Ian Boswell. In general, we will be surprised if Sky don’t win the stage.


However, they can be beaten in a sprint from a small group and so we need to look to fast riders that can also climb. The biggest threat will be an in-form Dion Smith who is both climbing well – he was in the top 5 at last year’s Tour of Alberta – and very fast on the line. Nathan Earle has the skills but his form has not been very good recently.


Lachlan Norris is also reasonably fast but we doubt that he will be able to beat a guy like Smith. Jack Bobridge could be an option but this climb should a bit too hard for him. Finally, Damiano Cunego has a good sprint but he seems to be way off his best shape.


CyclingQuotes’ stage winner pick: Peter Kennaugh

Other winner candidates: Chris Froome, Sebastian Henao

Outsiders: Dion Smith, Ian Boswell, Nathan Earle

Jokers: Lachlan Norris, Jack Bobridge, Damiano Cunego



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