De Brabantse Pijl 2018 Preview and Betting Tips

One last Belgian cobbled race to ease us into Ardenne season. A Europe Tour 1.HC race, De Brabantse Pijl falls just after Paris Roubaix and just before the hillier classics kick off at Amstel Gold. Its place on the calender tends to draw an eclectic startlist with some coming off the back a long spring classics campaign and others just about hitting peak form in time for the Ardennes. Rarely does a large group come to the finish and the tough finishing circuit frequently brings exciting and unpredictable racing.

de brabants pilj 2017

Parcours.

The race is really defined by it’s finishing circuit although this is not to write off the first 120km which includes the Alsemberg,  Bruineput and La Hulpe/Terhulpen, all of which feature ramps in excess of 10% and will work to soften up the legs.

The rider cross the finish line for the first time at 135.2km but will have already negotiated part of the 23.3km finishing circuit which they will then have to complete a further 3 times. Each circuit packs in 5 climbs ranging from 300m to 955m in length and with gradients regularly going into double digits. The winning move could go from any of these climbs such is the nature of this race but unless we see someone riding to the finish line unaccompanied we are likely to see the decisive move made on the final climb of Schavei. 700m at an average of 7% it arrow straight meaning it is easy to misjudge your effort. With only 200m to the finish line once this is crested there is little room for error.

Weather.

Currently forecast to be dry with an 10kph Easterly breeze. Unlikely to affect the race.

Race Strategy.

De Brabantse Pijl is a race usually defined by a move made on the finishing circuit but on which lap this will go is a lottery.

Last years winner, Sonny Colbrelli has the archetypal profile of a rider suited to this race. Someone able to repeat short, high-power efforts and with a strong finishing kick able to win out of a small group. Look back further and the majority of winners fit this specification with the likes of Gilbert, Hermans and Sagan all recently taking the top step on the podium.

Teams will look to throw riders up the road as the technical up and then down finishing circuit makes any kind of organised chase difficult. Expect to see a number of different groups spread across the road.

Contenders.

Tiesj Benoot is the prime pick having skipped Roubaix in order to focus on the upcoming fortnight. He’s just off the back of a short training camp at altitude in Sierra Nevada so could either be absolutely flying or still be recovering with an eye on Amstel this weekend and LBL the next. He’s a great climber (top 20 finisher at the Tour de France) and is arguably better suited to the hillier classics than those that he’s been riding so far this Spring. Lotto Soudal also bring Tim Wellens which could prove to be a great tactical move. Both have proven their ability to win from a lone move and if one is brought back then the other will be in a great position to counter-attack. Jelle Vanendert and Toshe Van Der Sande also offer good options for Lotto.

I’m very interested to see what Fabio Jakobsen can do. He’s still relatively untested in these kind of races but has shown that he’s more than quick enough in a bunch finish with his wins in Scheldeprijs and Nokre Korse but can also tough it out on short climbs with his 13th place in le Samyn. He’s good value at 15s and one that I will be backing.  If the climbing does prove too much then Quickstep can also call upon the horsepower of Bob Jungels. He can sustain huge power for extended periods and has the ability to bridge alone to any dangerous looking moves. He’s listed as number 41 on the startsheet so I’m guessing he’ll be given some freedom by his team but there’s a chance he’s here to keep the race together for Jakobsen to take out the sprint. As long as 34s he represents pretty good value.

Unusually Bahrain-Merida have probably brought the strongest all-round team. Sonny Colbrelli is back again but has no where near the same level of form as he had this time last year. Top 15 in each of MSR, E3, Gent Wevelgem and the Ronde before his win last year the best result he’s had in 2018 was 3rd at Kuurne, a much flatter race than what’s in store on Wednesday. They also bring Enrico Gasparotto, formerly on the podium at this race, Arashiro, Borut Bozic and Ramunas Navadauskus all of whom usually take on team roles but on their day have the capacity to do very well in this kind of race. I would think it’s all in for Colbrelli after his success last year but don’t count out the likes of Gasparotto who may be given more of a free hand if Colbrelli looks to be struggling.

Dylan Teuns leads BMC and remains on stellar form after his breakthrough year in 2017. He was up there with the best climbers in the world at points last week in the Basque country and was very strong in Paris Nice before that. With his 3rd place in La Flèche Wallonne last year he’ll be targeting the Ardennes classics and should just about be peaking. If the racing is tough I would most definitely expect him to be involved in the finish and this has been reflected by the bookies who have him as favourite at 4s but I’ll be staying away as I expect his relatively weak team to be a major disadvantage.

I also cannot count out the likes of Warren Barguil who rides for the first time in this race  and comes off the back of a rest period, last racing two weeks ago in Catalunya. He likes the punchy style of climbing required here but is prone to wasting his energy or attacking in the wrong place. This race can be incredibly tactical and more down to the timing of an attack than the strength of a rider. I expect him to do well but doubt he’ll be on the top step of the podium.

While I expect a small group to come to the finish on Wednesday there are a number of fast finishers that will be worth watching out for in the case of a reduced bunch sprint. Vital Concept bring Bryan Coquard who has an okay record at this race and is probably the fastest finisher of anyone on the startline. Despite his small build he really isn’t a great climber and even the short inclines we’ll see on Wednesday may prove to be too much. Eddie Boasson Hagan will lead Dimension Data and always has the potential to go well but is wildly inconsistent. I like the chances of Daryl Impey who comes as part of a strong Mitchelton Scott team. His confidence is likely still high after his big win at the Tour Down Under and he will be in a great position the riders come to the finish in a reduced bunch.

Final mentions also go to Roman Kreuziger and Pieter Weening who have one big races in the past and could slip away here relatively unmarked.

Tips.

Outrights –

1 pts Tiesj Benoot at 4.5 (Coral)

0.5 pts Tim Wellens at 7.5 (Coral)

0.5 pts Fabio Jakobsen e/w at 34.0 (Unibet)

0.5 pts Bryan Coquard e/w at 17 (Skybet)

Matchups –

1pts on Paul Martens tb Marco Canola at 2.62 (bet365)

2pts on Dries Van Gestel tb Fabien Grellier at 1.4 (bet365)

 

 

 

 

Paris-Roubaix 2018 Wrap Up

Nobody expected him to do it, but equally nobody is shocked, Peter Sagan wins Paris-Roubaix and takes his second monument. Gilbert, Stybar and then van Avermaet all tried their hand before at 53km Sagan slipped off the front, bridged to Dillier and then rode it home in convincing style. The turn of the head from GvA as Sagan rolls away is the staple of a race-winning move and a clear indicator that the group is starting to run out of legs. Sagan was the strongest man on the day and a deserved winner. Dillier finished right behind him with a career defining performance and Terpstra broke away from the chasing group to take the final spot on the podium.

sagan wins roubaix 2

The bookies were correct in selecting Sagan as their favourite but at 4s he didn’t really hold too much value. Gilbert and Stybar both put in decent performances but I sense their attacks were mistimed, as if eager to get out in front before another one of the Quickstep boys managed it. Both seemed to invest quite heavily in futile moves with Gilbert attacking as far out as Arenburg and Stybar persevering solo for kilometre after kilometre with only a 15-20 seconds gap on the peloton. Both finished pretty well with Stybar earning yet another top 10 and Gilbert a top 15.

What to say on Vanmarcke? Another good showing, visible in the final but dropped by Terpstra and beaten by Stuyven and GvA in the sprint so finished outside of the top 5.

My outside pick of Kristoff was looking good after a shaky start that saw him dropped on Troisville, only to be taken out by a pretty severe crash at 48km to go where he went down with Luke Rowe and Tony Martin. He looked pretty second hand sitting on the road but he did in fact get back on his bike and bring it home for 57th, 4 places ahead of Demare and helping us to bring in the 2.75 matchup between the two. With the results of Haussler, Stuyven and Vanmarcke we also managed to tie up the other matchbet.

As always Paris-Roubaix throws up some unexpected performances. The most obvious of those was Sylvain Dillier whose ride was reminiscent of Mat Hayman a couple of years ago. I was particularly impressed with Nils Pollit who showed that he may have a real future in these types of races and Mike Tuenisson who went with Gilbert at 90km and despite making the error of overworking in the break still managed to finish in a very respectable 11th place. Wout van Aert put in a great ride as many people expected with only a shipped chain late on preventing him from a certain top 10. I’m convinced he’s going to win this race one day. Two final performances that I though were particularly noteworthy were John Degenkolb’s and Tony Martin’s. Degenkolb was very active and was a major factor in the success of Stuyven while Martin seemed to be in the top 5 riders for over 100km before being taken out in the same crash as Kristoff.

So to conclude, we staked 7 points, with 4 of those being on outrights (e/w) These all lost unfortunately but we’ve been saved by the success of both of our matchbets in which we staked the remaining 3. Kristoff to beat Demare was a large 2.75 (2pts) and  Haussler tb Petit, Stuyven tb Moscon and Vanmarcke tb van Aert was 3.37 (1pt) giving us a return of 8.87 pts.

This gives us a tidy profit of 1.87pts (26%). This is very sociable considering the rollercoaster that is Roubaix, onto the Ardennes!

 

Paris-Roubaix 2018 Preview and Betting Tips

Paris-Roubaix.

The big one.

It’s the most brutal one day race on the calendar and one of the most unpredictable. Last year saw a flying GvA win from a group of 5 and the year before that it was outsider Matty Hayman. 2018 sees the race run for the 115th time with a couple of new sectors, a questionable weather forecast and a field with a dozen potential winners. It’s safe to say I can’t wait!

GVA roubaix2017

Parcours.

The route is what makes Roubaix so special. A 257km slog from Compiegne (Not Paris) North towards the famous velodrome in Roubaix. The route is largely unchanged from last year (if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it), with a new sector at Saint-Hilaire (25/29) coming early on and the return of the Saint-Python sector shortly after that featured in the 2016 edition however it will be tackled from the opposite direction this time round.

The peloton will travel 93km before they hit the first section of cobbles but don’t expect this to be easy-going. With TV coverage from the gun now customary at the monuments teams are even more eager to ensure that they have a rider in the break. Couple this with the larger number of pro conti teams invited to Roubaix (as a result of the team size reductions) and you’ve got yourself the perfect recipe for increased aggression in the bunch.  Expect the first couple of hours to average in excess of 45kph.

Once the riders do hit the first cobbled sector at Troisville (***) the barrage of rough roads becomes relentless. From this point on the longest stretch of smooth tarmac is only 11km between Saint-Hilaire (***) and Verchain-Maugré (**). As always the first 5-star sector comes as the riders fly through Arenburg into the ‘trouée’ which slices through the forest. Every team will want to be at the front here and the race for the gate will be particularly intriguing. Paris Roubaix will not be made here but it will shape how the rest of the race unfolds with at least 1 favourite likely spat from the front group.

Only two other sectors are on a par with Arenburg for their brutality and are rightfully given 5 star ratings. Mons-en-Pévèle, which includes a small climb, comes at 208km and is followed by an incrediblely cobble-heavy part of the race with seemingly more of the rough stuff than actual roads. Carrefour de l’Arbre comes at 240km with less than 20km to the finish and is often the last chance for any of the favourites to use their brute strength to create a gap. The final two cobbled sectors at Gruson (**) and Hem (**) probably aren’t rough enough to put anyone in real trouble but will serve to soften up anyone who is already struggling.

2018 roubaix route

Weather.

Yet another dry Roubaix. A southerly wind will blow but it’s gentle and is unlikely to cause any problems. There’s potential for some gustiness which could cause issues for the riders as the race zig zags between sectors 14 and 6 but will that really be enough?

If you’ve been keeping up on social media you may have seen a lot of the riders posting pictures from their course recon. It’s interesting to see that there’s still a lot of standing water on some of the sectors and many are caked in wet mud. If this is still there on race-day the riders will be slipping and sliding all over the place and it could spell disaster for more than one of the main favourites. Conversely the Stybar’s and van Aert’s of the peloton may be licking their lips at the thought of a mud-soaked Carrefour de l’Arbre.

Contenders.

The spring classics season this year has seen a multitude of winners with one thing in common. They’ve all been riding for Quick Step! The bumpy roads of Northern France however are a great leveller and it could be the first race we see the wolfpack russled.

Peter Sagan has been the default pick for the bookies in most of the classics this season and is again here priced at 4s. He’s had a decent season so far but arguably hasn’t been at his best. He won Gent Wevelgem convincingly but wasn’t able to get away from the chasing group of favourites in Flanders. He complained in a post-race interview that he was once again marked out of the race but on the couple of times he tried to get away I think it was revealing that he couldn’t make it stick let alone make any inroads into a tiring Mads Pederson. Compounding my lack of faith in Sagan is his relatively poor showings in each of the Paris-Roubaix he’s entered, only finishing in the top 10 once in 6 attempts. How does Sagan win? No one will work with him in a small group for fear he will outsprint them at the end and he’s unlikely to be allowed to go it alone, and even if he does I’m not sure he has the horsepower required. I don’t see any value in backing Sagan on this one and so will be staying away.

In contrast Zdenek Stybar has an incredible record at this race, only finishing outside the top 10 in one of his 5 participations. It’s a race he seems to truly excel in not least due to his extensive background in cyclocross. He’s had a decent string of results so far this season but has often come in as part of a chasing group with a teammate up the road. His performance at Sheldeprijs earlier in the week was impressive not for the result but for making the front echelon and then for the huge pull he did in the final few km’s to keep Jacobsen right at the pointy end of the race and it was his long pull that likely gave Jacobsen the kick that he needed to win. There is good value to be had on Stybar at 21s (Coral) and it could be worth a punt.

What if Niki Terpstra or Philippe Gilbert are up the road? Well that’s what’s seemed to happen so often this season. And if it isn’t one of them then it’s another member of ‘the Wolfpack’. Both Terpstra and PhilGil are priced pretty evenly at 9s and if one of them gets up the road solo it could be game over in a pack that will likely have at least one other member of QS sandbagging. Niki seems to prefer to go up the road earliest of the QS boys but surely the likes of PhilGil are grinding their teeth waiting for him to be brought back and allow themselves an attack of their own. No-one gets into cycling for the team aspect, particularly riders with the talent of Gilbert. I can’t see Niki winning because he’ll be a heavily marked man at his point. Gilbert on the other hand has had his eyes on this race since he won Flanders last year, although slightly worryingly only has one previous participation (with the average before a win being 4). I’d imagine his work in helping QS to a number of wins this year hasn’t gone unnoticed and the likes of Terpstra and Lampaert will (perhaps grudgingly) be prepared to put in a helping hand.

Can someone outside of QS win? Without an obvious team leader QS have seemed unstoppable this year and those teams who do have a dedicated leader have looked second rate. Sep Vanmarcke was ruled out last year with injury but has a great record at this race with 3 top 5’s out of his 4 most recent participations. Unfortunately he lacks a decent-enough kick to win out of pretty much any group and if I’m honest I’m not sure he has the best race IQ, often attacking at odd points or trying to play games with his breakaway companions where there are no games to be played. Still I like his chances here. He has the watts to slip away solo and isn’t so high on the list of marked men anymore. On top of this lots of riders are happy to work with him because of his weak sprint. With Betfair offering him 21s I wouldn’t want to miss out on a potential placing from Vanmarcke and I will be backing him Each Way.

Greg van Avermaet season has been an odd one. He’s placed in the top 20 in his last 5 races but hasn’t looked particularly threatening in any of them. His form doesn’t look quite as good as it was this time last year, although this could also be down to his promotion from the second to the top tier of favourites. The number 1 on his back highlighting him as last years winner is unlikely to help this.  He’s priced as low as 4s which I think holds no value however if he comes to the finish in a small group then who could possibly bet against him? I’ll be staying away from him but I won’t be shocked if he pulls off a repeat win.

Alexander Kristoff is my final main pick. I’d all but written him off at Flanders but he was visible when it mattered and this race should suit him more. He was ill at Paris-Nice and was seen floundering at the back of the peloton on a number of stages and I think his perseverance there may have cost him some form in E3 and GW. I’m slightly worried by his poor showing at this race in the past but he’s had his eyes on Roubaix for a couple of seasons now and could be coming into form just at the right time. He’s also got the backing of his team with his DS recently saying that he was in prime condition going into the weekend. Similar to Vanmarcke I think backing him e/w at 29s with bet365 is great value considering both his ability to muscle a big gear and win from a group.

kristoff-flanders-2018.png

This being Roubaix there were a multitude of other riders who could go well and have the potential not just to podium but stand on the top step. Only two years ago it was Mat Hayman and 5 years before that it Yohan Vansummeren. One rider I will be looking out for is Wout van Aert. Roubaix is a race where experience really counts so I don’t see him winning on his first attempt but his cyclocross skills are likely to come in very handy. As mentioned previously Stybar’s success here can partly be put down to his cyclocross background so expect van Aert to do the same. Arnaud Demare and Jasper Stuyven could both do well here and both have fast finishes that could be useful if they arrive in a small group. I’m particularly interested to see how Demare goes after his disqualification in Scheldeprijs and initial refusal to leave the race. He should be fired up for the weekend and be desperate to put in a good showing. Degenkolb, Boasson Hagen and Trentin all have similarly quick sprints but have been rare winners in recent times with EBH frustratingly inconsistent. Where positioning and fighting for wheels is so key I can’t picture him at the pointy end of the race. Oliver Naesen will  be an interesting watch. He’s had a torrid time with crashes but despite this has put together a great string of results and his chase back to the front group in Flanders was particularly impressive. He’s one who may be able to slip away under the radar. It will also be interesting to see how Mads Pederson fairs after last week. He held off an incredibly strong chasing group in Flanders but much like van Aert I think his lack of experience at this race will work against him. Geraint Thomas rides but last raced in Tirreno while Magnus Cort Nielsen  has been very visible but has a lack of results to show for it and Heinrich Haussler has quietly been putting together a pretty good season. Will this finally be the year he replicates his form of 2009?

Tips.

For me Sagan and GvA offer little value and I can’t see Terpstra winning again. Below are the riders that I think offer the best value with a great shot at a podium. In my opinion Kristoff tb Demare at 2.75 is way too big and if you back anything it should be this.

To win –

1 pt on Kristoff e/w at 29s with bet365

1 pt on Vanmarcke e/w at 21s with Betfair

1 pt on Gilbert e/w at 13s with Ladbrokes

1pt on Stybar e/w at 21 with Coral

Matchups –

1pt Haussler tb Petit, Stuyven tb Moscon and Vanmarcke tb van Aert at 3.37 with bet365

2pts Kristoff tb Demare at 2.75 with bet365

 

Sheldeprijs 2018 Wrap Up

Not what we were hoping for results-wise but when the racing was so enthralling the blow is somewhat softened.

jakobsen shelde 2018

As expected the new route caused chaos early on with echelons spread across the road and a number of big favourites caught in the split. However what completely changed the shape of the race was the disqualification of over 30 riders that were caught jumping a level crossing at a red light. With the pressure on and the eyes of many riders glued to the wheel in front it’s conceivable that they genuinely had no idea they were even doing anything wrong. No race moto or car stopped to warn them before the crossing and some riders have tweeted after the event that they were completely oblivious to the level crossing altogether. I agree with the decision to disqualify the rider but I have a feeling this was more a show of force before Paris Roubaix this weekend and may have gone unpunished had it been at a different race or in Roubaix itself.

Anyhow, once I’d gotten over this rotten bit of luck which took out two of our picks it was all down to Kittel. Surely he would bring it home out of a group of only 60? The main worry would be that without any other recognisable sprinter the entire peloton would lean on Katusha to bring back the break leaving Kittel little support in the final. As it turned out Katusha controlled the break expertly and it was looking great until Kittel punctured twice late on in the race, the last of which was the nail in the coffin and Kittel looked very second-rate in his attempts to move up through the cars until we saw the dreaded shake of the head which meant he was out of it.

With no Kittel the prize of a win at Sheldeprijs was open to a host of second-tier and upcoming sprinters and it was anyone’s guess as to who could pull it off. Coming into the final 500m Lawless was the first to really open up his sprint which gave Jakobsen a wheel to follow and then go over the top of. Ackermann managed to squeeze past Lawless on the inside to take second and just about prevent us from breaking even with our matchbet.

As a spectator this was overall one the best Sheldeprijs in memory and I think the new route is great in making the race that little bit harder early on. The result is impressive for quickstep and Stybar’s leadout to position Jakobsen in the finale should definitely be noted with Roubaix only a couple of days away.

Scheldeprijs 2018 Preview and Betting Tips

**UPDATE

Forecast for the race today includes light rain and heavy wind. 30kph Southerly winds in the early part could cause some panic for the east-facing peloton but with the race turning South towards Schoten the effect of this wind will be lessened. I would expect any of the major players caught in a split to come back to the front of the race.

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This coming Wednesday it’s all about the sprinter’s, or should I say all about Marcel Kittel. The Katusha rider has won this race 5 times (’17, ’16, ’14, ’13, ’12) and who is anyone to say that he won’t do it again this time?

The startlist for this years event is strong, but not quite the ‘sprinters world champs’ that we’ve seen in previous editions. None of Cavendish, Greipal, Kristoff, Bouhanni, Coquard, Gaviria or Viviani will be on the start line. Rather we have a mix of riders, some seemingly just using the race as a bridge to this weekend’s Roubaix.

Scheldeprijs 2017

Parcours.

The route has again been freshened up but still retains the feel of a classic Sheldeprijs  in that it is almost entirely flat and the cobbled sectors are some of the most forgiving around. Starting in the Dutch town of Terneuzen the race heads West out towards Middelburg before turning back on itself, crossing into Belgium, and then negotiating a finishing circuit of which the riders will make their first pass at the 150k mark. The only cobbled section within the last 50km is the 1700m Broekstraat which the riders will have to pass three times. This is unlikely to cause the riders any issues with its relatively smooth and evenly spaced cobbles although with the final passage of this section less than 9km from the finish we may see some elbows as riders try to hit the Broestraat first to stay out of trouble. The last major turn is a left hander and comes 800m from the line. Again it should be navigated pretty safely but we’re likely to see a lot of riders wanting to hit this turn in the top 15.

Scheldeprijs 2017 course mapScheldeprijs 2017 course elevation

Contenders.

Marcel Kittel is the default pick for this race. He’s won in every single edition since 2012 with the exception only of 2015 on a day where he was ill and didn’t compete. Rumours of discontent in his new team seem to have died off and results picked up dramatically with two very impressive wins in Tirreno Adriatico. With it’s total lack of elevation and the long, untechnical finishing straight this race really is made for Kittel and I can’t see anyone beating him bar a crash.

Dylan Groenewegen is the best of the rest after a great start to the season with a feeling amongst many that he is coming of age and has taken his place amongst the peloton’s elite sprinters. Having said this he was very quiet in both Gent Wevelgem and DDV, citing cramp late in the race at Gent. Sheldeprijs should suit him more and and he’ll most certainly be there in the final and I’m confident will be on the podium. Whether this is the top spot or not is another question but it would be foolish to rule it out considering his two convincing wins over Kittel in Dubai earlier in the year.

A couple of seasons ago Arnaud Demare would have been a strong favourite for this kind of race but his transition from sprinter to classics contender now seems complete and I think his eyes will be on Roubaix this Sunday. That said, he’s a fierce competitor and isn’t going simply to roll around for 200km. He’s got the backing of a full team and will be there in the finish, don’t be surprised to see him on the podium.

Outside of these three I’m struggling to see anyone with comparable horsepower. Dimension Data’s Edvald Boasson Hagen can finish well but is a rare winner. Quickstep bring a comparably weak team, with Fabio Jakobsen their leader. He’s had a very solid string of results in some big races throughout March with the highlight clearly being Nokere Korse, although a win here at Sheldeprijs would be a big step up. A podium is certainly a possibility though. Adam Blythe of Aqua Blue Sport is another rider who packs a quick finish but I’m sure would prefer a harder route. Also keep an eye on Chris Lawless. He’s relatively untested at this level but is a very experienced crit racer and could certainly pull something off here in what will be a very fast finish. Moreno Hofland and Kris Boeckmans get mentions as well but both have shown little sign of form (fair enough for Boeckmans after THAT Vuelta crash) but could go well.

Tips.

Outright –

2pts on Kittel to win at 3.75 (Bet365)

1pt on Groenewegen at 3.75 (Bet365)

1pt on Demare e/w at 15 (Bet365)

Match Ups –

Chris Lawless tb Pascal Ackerman and Fabio Jakobsen tb Maximilian Walscheid at 3.64 (Bet365)