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Preview of Wednesday’s racing

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










02.02.2016 @ 21:05 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 1:

The course:

With the decision to skip the opening time trial, the organizers had to design a completely new route for the opening day in 2015. Unsurprisingly, the stage will be held entirely within the borders of Dubai city but this year the organizers have decided to change things a bit as they will send the riders through the desert and into the Emirate of Fujeirah on the opening day. This means that there will be more wind and more climbing but the course is still predominantly flat.


The stage will be known as the Dubai Silicon Oasis stage and joins the beach of Dubai Marina on the Arabian Gulf with the beach of Fujairah on the Indian Ocean (Gulf of Oman). It has a total length of 179km and runs through the entire stretch of desert between Dubai and Fujairah through the territory of four different Emirates (Dubai, Sharjah, Ras al-Khaimah, Fujairah).


The first part is flat and is held inside the city of Dubai. Here the riders will do the first intermediate sprint at the Dubai Silicon Oasis after 38.6km of racing before facing the long straights that, cutting through the dunes, lead to the Hajar Mountains for a short and mild sequence of hills. The highest point comes at the 110.4km mark when the riders will reach an altitude of 178m above sea level. Then the race arrives in Fujairah on the Indian Ocean where there will be a 6.6km circuit to be completed twice. There will be intermediate sprint points at the first passage of the finish line.


The 6.6km circuit is composed of a 3.3 km northbound stretch and a 3.3 km southbound stretch along the Corniche Road lanes, connected by two U-turns on large roundabouts. The home stretch is about 2.800 m long on an 8 m-wide asphalted roadway. It is a high-speed, flat affair with no major technical challenges.


Fujeirah has never hosted a finish of a stage before.


The favourites:

The terrain is a bit hillier than it is usually the case in Dubai but in the past there has never been enough wind to create much damage. Wednesday will be a sunny day with a moderate wind blowing from a westerly direction, meaning that the riders will have a tailwind almost all day. Hence, echelons are unlikely to be formed. The climbing will not do anything to challenge the fast finishers who will save their energy for the final sprint and with Dimension Data, Sky and Etixx-QuickStep likely to control things firmly, we are heading for a big bunch sprint.


The final intermediate sprint comes just 13.2km from the finish which means that the break is likely to have been caught. The sprinters will save their energy for the bunch kick but we can expect riders like Philippe Gilbert, Fabian Cancellara and Ben Swift to go for the bonus seconds if the opportunity is there.


The long finishing straight means that it is a sprint for the real power sprinters which means that it’s a perfect one for Marcel Kittel. The German is reportedly in very good condition as he has been motivated to bounce back from last year’s disappointment. On paper, Etixx-QuickStep have the most powerful train and apart from Kittel, they have all worked together in the past. Even though he didn’t race much in 2015, Kittel proved that he still has the speed and he is probably still the fastest rider in the world. If Etixx-QuickStep can deliver him well, he is our favourite to win this stage.


Dimension Data don’t have as much power for the lead-out but they have more speed with the likes of Bernhard Eisel and Mark Renshaw. Eisel hasn’t worked with them for a few years but Renshaw and Mark Cavendish know each other extremely well. If they can get into a good position, Renshaw has the speed to deliver Cavendish on the front and then Kittel needs to be very close behind to beat the Brit. We still believe that Kittel is fast enough to win and that Etixx-QuickStep are strong enough to position him but if he fails, Cavendish will be ready to strike.


The two riders that have the speed to beat the two stars are Elia Viviani and Andrea Guardini who are usually very good at this time of the season and love this kind of power sprint. Viviani has the better lead-out and so has better chances.


Giacomo Nizzolo is in good condition and has a strong lead-out but he probably doesn’t have the speed to win. Apart from that, an in-form Andrea Palini should be able to do well against the WorldTour sprinters. Sacha Modolo is always strong at this time of the year but he will miss Maximilano Richeze dearly and doesn’t have the speed to win this power sprint. Juan Jose Lobato is fast enough to win but unless he finally gets the positioning right, he will probably miss out on the top 10.


Other sprinters include Simone Ponzi, Gregorz Stepniak, Matthew Goss, Koen De Kort, Martijn Verschoor, Andrea Peron, Owain Doull, Christopher Latham, Michael Kolar and Tomas Vaitkus


CyclingQuotes’ stage winner pick: Marcel Kittel

Other winner candidates: Mark Cavendish, Elia Viviani

Outsiders: Andrea Guardini, Giacomo Nizzolo, Juan Jose Lobato

Jokers: Sacha Modolo, Andrea Palini


Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana, stage 1:

The course:

The race kicks off in spectacular surroundings in the coastal city of Benicassim where the riders will take off in a 16.6km time trial that will create the first time gaps. The first part in the city is mainly flat and takes place along a straight coastal road but as the riders leave the city, the terrain gets more undulating. There is even a small category 3 climb (2.1km, 5.1%) which summits 3.6km from the finish in Oropesa del Mart. The final 2.5km are mainly flat.


The favourites:

There are plenty of straight, flat roads where power plays a big role but the inclusion of a pretty tough climb will make it very hard for specialists Matthias Brändle and Anton Vorobyev to win this stage. To come out on top, you need to be pretty versatile and have sufficient power for the flats and good climbing skills – and most importantly good form.


Vasil Kiryienka will make his debut in the rainbow jersey and he is our favourite to win the stage. He showed solid form in Mallorca where he finished close to the front on the harder stages despite working hard for his teammates. He is one of the most powerful riders on the flats and is also a great climber and so the course suits him well. He usually needs slightly longer distances to really excel and this is the main disadvantage.


His big rival is Bob Jungels who has the same combination of climbing skills and power. The Luxembourger is making his Etixx-QuickStep debut and will be very motivated. He was very strong at this time of the year in past seasons and if he has the form that allowed him to win Etoile de Besseges in 2015, he will give Kiryienka a run for his money.


Another strong contender is Ion Izagirre. The Basque always finishes in the top 10 in hilly time trials so this stage suits him quite well. He would have loved the climbing to be harder but he will be among the best. He is motivated as he is targeting GC and he showed solid – albeit not splendid – condition in Mallorca.


Leopold König has done some amazing time trials in the past but he usually needs a longer distance to really shine. However, he seems to be in excellent condition as he was among the strongest in Mallorca and he could kick off a good GC campaign here. Luis Leon Sanchez is another very good time triallist who rode reasonably well in Australia and he should find the hilly course to his liking.


Last year Niki Terpstra was flying at this time of the year and the races in Mallorca proved his good form. The climb will make it hard for him to win this stage but at his best he climbs better than most believe.


Jesus Herrada should also do well as he is aiming for GC and is a good time triallist. Dario Cataldo should find the course to his liking but his form is rarely very good at this time of the year. Stef Clement is another very good time triallist for this course but his form in Mallorca was not outstanding. Finally, Gaetan Bille could create a surprise as he is very strong in short time trials and has the right punch for the climb but his form is uncertain and this one may be a bit too long for him


For other good candidates, look out for Alexey Lutsenko, Victor Campenaerts, Steven Lammertink, Reto Hollenstein, Artem Ovechkin, Vorobyev and Brändle.


CyclingQuotes’ stage winner pick: Vasil Kiryienka

Other winner candidates: Bob Jungels, Ion Izagirre

Outsiders: Leopold König, Luis Leon Sanchez, Niki Terpstra

Jokers: Jesus Herrada, Dario Cataldo, Gaetan Bille, Stef Clement


Etoile de Besseges, stage 1:

The course

The race kicks off with the traditional 152km stage from Bellegarde to Beaucaire. It includes two passages of the category 2 Cote de la Tour which the riders will pass for the last time at the 98.2km mark. The stage ends with 4 laps of a 6.6km flat finishing circuit that has been used several times in the past. Importantly, there are bonus seconds on offer at the first passage of the line. Unless the wind wreaks havoc on the field, it will be a day for the sprinters


The finishing circuit has been used for the first stage three years in a row. Kris Boeckmans and Michael van Staeyen took sprint wins in 2013 and 2015 respectively while Sander Helven won from a breakaway in 2014.


The favourites

Great sunshine is forecasted for Thursday but there will be a pretty strong wind from a northwesterly direction. However, it will mostly be a tail- or headwind and with a mostly flat course, this stage should end in a big bunch sprint.


Three sprinters stand out from the rest of the field: Matteo Pelucchi, Arnaud Demare and Bryan Coquard. Those three riders should be able to dominate the bunch sprints. There is little doubt that Pelucchi is the fastest but the Italian showed poor form in Australia. Coquard is always very good at this time of the year but he is not very good at positioning. This race is his first chance to work with his new lead-out man Andrien Petit and it remains to be seen how well they work together.


Arnaud Demare is reportedly in very good condition as he aims to make up for the disappointing 2015 season. He is supported by his trusted lead-out man Mickael Delage and those two riders have plenty of experience in riding together. With more speed coming from Arthur Vichot, Daniel Hoelgaard and Kevin Reza, FDJ should be able to position Demare well and he has proved that he is still one of the fastest if he gets the positioning right. Hence, he is our favourite to win.


There is no doubt that Pelucchi has the speed to win but he needs to show better form than he did in Australia. He has a solid lead-out with the likes of Sondre Holst Enger and Oliver Naesen but they don’t have much experience. However, if Pelucchi is in a good position at the start of the sprint, he will be hard to beat.


Coquard also has the speed to win but he needs to get his positioning right. As the sprint field is not stacked with top level sprinters, the fight could be less intense and this could open the door for him.


It will be hard for anyone to surprise the big favourites. Jonas Ahlstrand is part of Cofidis team with a decent amount of speed and he has proved that he can win sprints at this level. Baptiste Planckaert is always consistent in the French sprints and he was riding really well in Marseille.


A very interesting rider is Dylan Page who was third in the final sprint in Mallorca. It proves that he has a decent turn of speed so he will be able to deliver a surprise. Tom Devriendt showed great potential at the end of the 2015 season and if he gets the nod from his Wanty team which also has Antoine Demoitie for the sprint, he will be a contender. Romain Feillu will be very motivated to prove that he still has the speed while Timothy Dupont is always strong in the French sprints.


For other fast riders, keep an eye on Tony Gallopin, Tosh van der Sande, Carlos Barbero, Armindo Fonseca, Benjamin Giraud, Louis Verhelst, Rudy Barbier, Bert van Lerberghe, David Menut, Anthony Maldonado, Yannis Yssaad, Alexis Bodiot, Stephane Poulhies, Nicolas Vereecken and Justin Jules.


CyclingQuotes’ stage winner pick: Arnaud Demare

Other winner candidates: Matteo Pelucchi, Bryan Coquard

Outsiders: Jonas Ahlstrand, Dylan Page, Tom Devriendt

Jokers: Romain Feillu, Benjamin Giraud, Louis Verhelst


Herald Sun Tour, prologue:

The course:

The race will kick off on Wednesday with the same very short 2.1km prologue in Melbourne that featured 12 months ago. It includes a slight rise at the beginning and has a short climb at the 1.5km mark but it is mainly flat. With several turns, it is a pretty technical affair too. Such a short prologue usually suits the sprinters more than the powerful time triallists and you need a combination of power and acceleration to do well on this kind of course. We should see a mix of those two kinds of riders come to the fore as we did in 2015 when prologue specialist William Clarke won ahead of sprinters Caleb Ewan and Brenton Jones, with the rest of the top 10 including several fast riders. In any case, the gaps will be minor as 53 riders finished within 10 seconds of the winner in 2015.


The favourites

The technical nature of this very short course and the short, punchy climbs means that it has traditionally been dominated by sprinters. This is not a stage for the powerful TT specialists as you need acceleration and punch to do well here.


Last year Caleb Ewan was beaten by less than a second but this year he is obviously in better form and much stronger. The in-form Australian is the obvious favourite to add to his tally and make up for last year’s near-miss. There is a bit of uncertainty as he crashed last Sunday but he doesn’t seem to be too hampered by his injuries.


William Clarke won this stage last year and he is a bit of a prologue specialist. He has done nothing to hide that he is aiming for a repeat performance but he has barely raced all year so his form is uncertain. That can’t be said for Jack Bobridge who delivered an impressive performance at Nationals. He hasn’t shown the same kind of form since then but with his background from the track he can do well on this kind of distance. The main issue is whether it is a bit too explosive for him.


Dion Smith is not a TT specialist but he has the right kind of explosiveness to do well on this kind of course and he has proved that he is in very good form. That’s definitely also the case for Peter Kennaugh who won the Cadel Evans Race. He is not a specialist either but with his track background he could do well here. Sam Bewley is mainly here for the lead-outs but he will take his chance after coming fourth here 12 months ago and he also has the right background from the track


Of course everybody will have their eye on Chris Froome who is definitely in his usual good condition. He has done well in past prologues but this one should be too short for him. However, he should definitely be among the best. His teammate Salvatore Puccio could be better as he proved himself in short time trials at last year’s Tour de Slovenie.


CyclingQuotes’ stage winner pick: Caleb Ewan

Other winner candidates: William Clarke, Jack Bobridge

Outsiders: Dion Smith, Sam Bewley, Peter Kennaugh, Chris Froome

Jokers: Chris Froome, Salvatore Puccio, Niccolo Bonifazio, Michael Storer, Neil van der Ploeg, Anthony Giacoppo, Stelle von Hoff, Daniele Colli, James Oram, Russell Downing



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