It’s time (a quote that has been mentioned once or twice this week, if you are superstitious there is a horse with the same name running at Mooney Valley tomorrow) to look forward to the weekends sporting action.

  1. Horse Racing – Cox Plate – Mooney Valley plays host to a huge double header with racing on both Friday night and Saturday. Friday sees the best sprinters in the land lining up at the Manikato Stakes. There are plenty of chances in this one. Lankan Rupee will be looking to turn the tables on Buffering, while Terravista has those from over the border in NSW purring after some dominant recent displays. Buffering will probably lead them into the straight and try and hold on. But there are plenty of others in the race who can win and some at very juicy odds, such as number 6 Famous Seamus, a last start winner who likes the wet.

Saturday’s feature is Australia’s premier Weight for Age race, the Cox Plate. Some have questioned the quality of the field, specifically the final few inclusions, and called for a return to the old days when it was a race reserved for only the elite, and a full field was not a necessity. But it remains a race full of quality horses and as difficult a race to predict as any. It brings together different form lines and a winning case can be made for more than half the horses in the field. Fawkner however deserves to be favourite. His preparation has been faultless and he is a proven group 1 winner. The Cleaner will be the sentimental favourite, the horse from Tasmania has captured the imagination of the public this spring. He received a hero’s send off from the Longford community and then a police escort to the Spirit of Tasmania for the crossing last night. Irish stallion Adelaide leads the international charge and the jet-setting three year old has plenty of admirers. The Kiwi born Sydney based Sacred Falls is another with a great chance. He flashed home for fourth last start after being last at the turn and will certainly be in contention. It will be key to watch how the track is running and whether back markers have a chance, if not then The Cleaner has a great chance of causing a famous upset.

Tips – As noted above, there are plenty of winning hopes and tipping the winner is no easy task. I’ll stick with Fawkner to win from The Cleaner and Sacred Falls.

SUQ – 9.5 – The only race bigger on the calendar is the Melbourne Cup. Tune in for as much of Saturday afternoon as you can afford to.

 

  1. Football – El Clasico – Real Madrid versus Barcelona – There might be other games on but they all take a back seat as El Clasico takes centre stage in La Liga this weekend. It is the most anticipated fixture on the La Liga calendar and this year it comes early in the season. Barcelona has opened a gap at the top and a win here would put them well on the way to regaining the title they lost to Athletico Madrid last season. Cristiano Ronaldo has been in phenomenal goal scoring form, averaging almost two goals a league game (15 in eight games) so far this season. For Barcelona, who are yet to concede in the league this season, all eyes will be on Lionel Messi who will be looking to break the La Liga goal scoring record. Luis Suarez will also be chomping at the bit to get his Barcelona career off to a successful start. Let’s hope he settles for sinking his teeth into football and not any of the opposition.

Tip – Real Madrid took a while to get going but they have been outstanding over the last month. Gareth Bale is under an injury cloud but even without him they have enough quality and depth to win. Real Madrid 3 – Barcelona 1.

SUQ – 9 – So many sub plots. Anything like last season’s 4-3 classic would be a treat for viewers who rarely get the chance to see such quality on the one field.

 

  1. Cricket – Australia versus Pakistan (in Dubai) – It’s been a while since cricket featured on these pages, though that is about to change with summer just around the corner. The rarely watched or talked about domestic one day competition has almost reached its finale (Western Australia will play either Queensland or NSW in the final). These days it is a competition that has a pre-season vibe, with Twenty-20 and the Sheffield Shield the primary focuses. On the international stage the first test between Australia and Pakistan is two days old and evenly poised. A slow first day was followed by a more enterprising second. Pakistan reached 454 thanks to hundreds from Sarfraz Ahmed and Younus Kahn while in reply Australia has reached none for 113, with Warner on 75. It’s a typical Dubai dust bowl of a wicket that is already taking plenty of spin. So while a draw might look likely wickets are likely to start to fall at far more regular intervals. Any chase of more than 150 on the final day will be difficult for Australia.

Tips – Australia to take a first innings lead that is big enough to allow a successful, relatively small, final innings chase.

SUQ – 5 – Worth seeing what sort of form the players are in as summer approaches but there is much better to look forward to.

 

The 2015 Tour de France route was unveiled in Paris on Wednesday. Unfortunately work got in the way of a good story yesterday so a comprehensive look at the route and major obstacles will have to wait a week or two. It looks like a mountainous route with almost no time trialling. A route to suit some (Quintana, Nibali, Contador, Bardet, Pinot etc.) more than others (Froome).

No Monday Musings piece this week as my recent travels took me back to the World Before Mobile Phone Coverage, The Internet and even Televisions. While enjoyable in their own right such adventures are also beneficial because they make us realise just how lucky we are. Today most of us can sit at home and with the flick of a switch or press of a button tune in to almost any live sporting event we please.

Watching sport on delay when you know the result isn’t quite the same. But I still watched a replay of the Caulfield Cup just to see how close Rising Romance got to holding off the charging field. In the days before the race there were a number of high-profile scratching’s and while one of the Japanese visitors was a pre-race casualty Admire Rakti stepped up to the plate with a storming run down the middle of the track. Midfield at the turn Admire Rakti finally caught Rising Romance in the last fifty metres to claim the win. The favourite, Lucia Valentina, was a fast finishing third. Immediately after the finish the mind games started, with Admire Rakti’s owners claiming that if the horse was penalised for the win and given a greater weight for the upcoming Melbourne Cup then he would have no hesitation in skipping the race and taking his prized asset home. In the end the handicapper reached some sort of compromise, with the 0.5kg penalty the lowest for a Caulfield Cup winner since 1980 but not too much to scare off owner Riichi Kondo who has since confirmed the horse will run. Admire Rakti is now the favourite for the Melbourne Cup ahead of Protectionist and Lucia Valentina.

This morning (Australian time) Manchester United travelled to West Bromwich Albion looking to secure a third league win in a row for the first time in more than 18 months. That is far too long for a side of United’s stature and still the wait continues. United bossed the majority of the game but were forced to come from behind twice just to secure a point. West Bromwich Albion started brightly and had the ball in the back of the net inside ten minutes courtesy of a fine strike from Stephane Sessegnon. Thereafter United controlled the tempo but a few half chances for Angel Di Maria and Robin Van Persie aside they never really threatened. The half time introduction of Marouane Fellaini added an extra dimension to United’s attack and, after almost 15 months waiting, he finally scored his first goal for Manchester United.

United looked the most likely to press on but another defensive lapse was yet again costly as young striker Saido Berahino exploited a gaping chasm in the heart of United defence to stroll in and easily beat David De Gea and restore the Baggies one goal lead. United pressed and were rewarded for a committed performance when Danny Blind stroked in a late equaliser. But there was not the same level of late drama as Liverpool’s clash with QPR the previous day (which finished 3-2 to Liverpool after there were four goals from the 87th minute on) as the sides settled for a point each.

And to finish, a word on Manchester United. They controlled the ball well and moved it at pace but were found lacking in two critical errors. Their defensive errors are being ruthlessly punished and yet again that was the case here. West Brom only had a couple of chances but took both and until United stop conceding on such a regular basis they are going to find climbing the table a tough ask. The second area they fell down in was the attacking third. Van Persie seems to have lost not only his goal scoring touch but his appetite. United swung in plenty of crosses all to no avail. And while Fellaini gave them another target he was also unable to get his head to any. Van Persie had one shot that hit the post but that moment aside he looked off the pace, one-dimensional and unaware of the players around him. Adnan Januzaj was another to disappoint. Given a chance from the start he regularly chose the wrong option. The site of him racing past opponents was one of the few highlights for United fan’s last season but on this occasion he failed to beat his man once and is likely to return to the bench against Chelsea. United will be sweating on the fitness of Di Maria, who while not at his best still looked the most likely to create a goal. United’s next two fixtures are against the two sides most likely to fight out this year’s title, Chelsea and Manchester City. Lois Van Gaal’s task is not getting easier any time soon.

I’ll be on the road and without much technology so sadly I’ll miss much of the weekend’s sport. But the action continues in my absence and the Spring Racing Carnival moves into full swing and takes centre stage.

  1. Horse Racing – Caulfield Cup – On Saturday 18 horses will tackle the 2400 metre long Caulfield Cup, a handicap race and one of Australia’s three premier horse races. This year sees more international entries than normal and one in particular, Japanese colt Bande, is likely to shape the race. Bande, one of two Japanese runners, is likely to set the pace and to try and run the rest off his heels. History shows that this is unlikely but don’t discount it. For many of the overseas runners it is their first race in Australia and this makes judging their pedigree and form difficult. Lucia Valentina, a four year old mare, is the clear favourite. She has the ideal barrier draw, is light on the weights and has winning group one form. But favourites have struggled in recent years and there are plenty of others with winning hopes. Trainer Chris Waller has strength in numbers with no less than four runners. Junoob is perhaps the best of them, and is another with good recent form. The eight year old Dandino returns after running second last year. He will have to overcome the second top weight and the very outside barrier but his connections are extremely confident. Rising Romance has been building towards this race since winning the Australian Oaks in the Autumn and should be right in the finish.

Tips – Rising Romance, Lucia Valentina and Junoob to fill the places.

SUQ – 9 – Caulfield’s day in the spotlight and a fascinating main race to look forward to.

 

  1. Football – English Premier League – Round 8 – Manchester City versus Tottenham is probably the biggest match of the round, with many of the big name teams facing lesser opposition. But Chelsea (Crystal Palace), Liverpool (Queens Park Rangers) and Manchester United (West Bromwich Albion) all face tricky road trips. The week after an international break is often a difficult one to predict and an upset or two certainly wouldn’t be a surprise. Southampton has a good opportunity to continue their great start to the season as they host Sunderland.

Tips – Manchester City, Arsenal, Chelsea, Everton, Newcastle United, Southampton, Liverpool, Swansea and Manchester United to be on the winners list, with Burnley and West Ham United to play out a draw.  

SUQ – 7 – No marquee fixtures but still some interesting contests to keep an eye on.

 

  1. Football – German Bundesliga – Round 8 – Bayern Munich, predictably, lead the way after seven rounds and have a four point lead at the top. Behind them are a couple of surprise packets in Hoffenheim and Borussia Mönchengladbach. Borussia Dortmund were considered the most likely to challenge Bayern at the start of the year but injuries and poor form mean they are languishing in thirteenth position, 10 points back. They travel to Cologne (fourteenth) in what is a must win fixture. Dortmund will buoyed by the return of a number of stars, including possibly Ikay Gundogan who hasn’t played for 14 months, and this should be enough to get them over the line. Bayern take on cellar dwellers Werder Breman at home and anything other than a large victory would surprise. Mönchengladbach take on Hannover 96 in a tough away game while Hoffenheim will be confident of continuing their good form when they travel to Hamburg on Sunday.

Tips – Bayern, Dortmund, Mönchengladbach, Mainz, Freiburg, Stuttgart, Schalke, Hoffenheim and newly promoted SC Paderborn 07 to enjoy success.

SUQ – 7 – Harder to catch on TV in Australia but if you can then tune in. Usually has more goals than the typically favoured EPL and is of a similar quality – some might even say better.

I can’t proclaim to be a car racing fanatic or an avoid viewer. But yesterday’s Bathurst 1000 pretty much had it all. It started as the lights went out,with plenty of movement before the first corner, and continued until the very end, when Jamie Whincup’s car rolled over the line. So close to a famous victory yet so far. Scott McLaughlin didn’t start on the front row but his lightning quick start meant he led the field into the first corner. His Volvo had been strong all weekend and he was a contender right up until a slight error meant the rear of his car hit the wall. His accident was the cause of one of ten safety cars during the 1000km race, which lasted almost exactly eight hours. That time included a one hour delay as organisers scrambled to repair defects discovered in the newly laid track. The site of the cars assembled on the grid while being worked on by mechanics was just one of the more unusual mid race events.

Given the length of the race a full run down would take too long. One pre race prediction was that the first nine-tenths of the race was all about positioning for the inevitable final safety car – this was definitely the case on Sunday. There was plenty of movement in race order and drivers took more risks than usual resulting in plenty of excitement. One of the drawbacks of F1 in recent years has been the lack of overtaking but the same criticism certainly couldn’t be levelled at the V8’s in Bathurst. Shane Van Gisbergen had the lead when the final safety was car deployed and, along with a handful of other favourites, plunged for the pits for a quick fuel stop. However the long-time leader of the race never made it back out after his car suffered an electronic failure.

Mark Winterbottom, who had started from 23rd on the grid, led Jamie Whincup as the safety car exited. Whincup moved to the lead, then Winterbottom’s hopes were dashed by Craig Lowndes who sent him off course, ruining his own hopes in the process as he earned the rath of the officials and was issued with a drive through penalty. That left Chas Mostert in second and he was on hand to capitalise as Whincup amazingly ran out of fuel on the final lap. Mostert started from the very back of the grid and led the race for less than a lap. But he timed his run perfectly to secure the biggest win of his young career.

Behind Mostert were James Moffat, Nick Percat, Will Davison and then the labouring Jamie Whincup who had led until the final half-lap. It was an order that was almost incomprehensible 8 hours earlier when the drivers took to the start line.

The A League season was kicked off in style by Melbourne Victory who defeated Western Sydney 4-1 in the opening games of the season. The Victory raced into a three-goal lead before half time and were never really threatened afterwards. Besart Berisha opening his Victory account with a penalty, while Archie Thompson was also amongst the goals. Central Coast Mariners edged out a tight game with Newcastle Jets, while there were away wins for Perth Glory over Wellington Phoenix, and Adelaide United over defending champions the Brisbane Roar. The Adelaide versus Brisbane game was shrouded in controversy, including the second-half dismissal of Socceroo Matt McKay. Sydney FC and Melbourne City played out the only draw of the opening round, David Villa grabbing the equalizer of visiting City.

The European leagues took a break over the weekend with international fixtures taking centre stage. For many European nations that meant the start of qualifying for the 2016 European Championships. Spain’s difficulties continued as they were humbled by Slovakia 2-1. But that wasn’t even the biggest upset: Poland defeated Germany 2-0. Italy left it late before securing a 2-1 win over Azerbaijan, while there were wins for Iceland, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic in Group A.

Saturday’s racing at Caulfield threw up plenty of surprises and upsets. Fawkner secured favouritism for the upcoming Cox Plate with a strong win in the Caulfield Stakes. He beat many of the horses he will face again in two weeks and trainer Lloyd Williams will be confident of securing a first Cox Plate. There are rumours of a Cox Plate/Melbourne Cup double……. In the feature races short priced favourite Rich Enuff was beaten into second by Shooting to Win. In the Thousand Guineas Go Indy Go, along with the pre race favourite Lumosty, settled near the rear of the field but the slow pace meant neither ever really had a chance. The race was won by front runner Amicus, who beat home Traveston Girl and Sabatini.

  1. V8 Racing – Bathurst 1000 – The Bathurst 1000 is a war of attrition. And it takes place at one of Australia’s most famous sporting venues, Mount Panorama. Practice started on Thursday and all the talk was on what impact the resealed track would have and whether records would be broken. The answer at this stage has been yes, and it’s likely to continue. Qualifying was held today (Friday), with the top 10 shoot-out to determine the grid positions to take place on Saturday, then the race on Sunday. Qualifying’s big losers were pre-race favourites Whincup/Dumbrell and the Reynolds/Canto combination, who both crashed out, causing significant damage to their cars in the process.
    Qualifying order:
    1. (14) Coulthard/Youlden (Holden)
    2. (97) Van Gisbergen/Webb (Holden)
    3. (21) Wood/Pither (Holden)
    4. (5) Winterbottom/Owen (Ford)
    5. (33) McLaughlin/Premat (Volvo)
    6. (8) Bright/Jones (Holden)
    7. (18) Perkins/Waters (Ford)
    8. (360) Moffat/Douglas (Nissan)
    9. (2) Tander/Luff (Holden)
    10. (888) Lowndes/Richards (Holden)

    Tip – Winterbottom or McLaughlin to take the chequered flag on Sunday.

    SUQ – 8 – But that depends entirely on how much you like motorsport and more specifically V8’s.

  2. Football – A League – Round 1 – With the AFL and NRL seasons finished another football code commences. Season 10 has plenty of hype, and organisers are optimistic that this season will break all previous records. David Villa will be the star attraction, for the first part of the season at least. He is on loan at Melbourne City and will be expected to both score goals and bring in the crowds. The Western Sydney Wanderers have the small matter of an Asian Champions League final on their minds but they will still want to make sure their season gets off to a steady start. The enigmatic Besart Berisha may have swapped Brisbane Roar for Melbourne Victory but he is still likely to be a key player in this season’s title race.
    Fixtures – Melbourne Victory v Western Sydney Wanderers, Central Coast Mariners v Newcastle Jets, Sydney FC v Melbourne City FC, Wellington Phoenix v Perth Glory, Brisbane Roar v Adelaide United.

    Tips – Draw, Central Coast Mariners, Sydney FC, Wellington Phoenix and Brisbane Roar

    SUQ – 8 – There is plenty of excitement associated with the first round but in an even competition tipping this early in the season is a nightmare.

  3. Horse Racing – Caulfield Guineas day – While the spring racing season may be well underway the first of the season’s big races in Melbourne takes place at Caulfield on Saturday. On a huge ten-race card there is plenty to look forward to early in the day, and a number of leading contenders for the Cox Plate and Caulfield Cup continuing their preparation. The feature races of the day are races 8 and 9. Race 8, the Group 1 Thousand Guineas, is a wide open race with a number of horses battling for favouritism. Afleet Espirit has recent wins over a number of her rivals but they have been getting closer. Race 9 is the Group 1 Caulfield Guineas, a three year old race at set weights over 1600m. Rich Enuff is the big favourite but has never run the distance.

Tips – Go Indy Go in Race 8. Rich Enuff deserves favouritism for the Caulfield Guineas, Almalad and Chivalry are my tips to be the best of the rest.

SUQ – 7 – Some key build up races followed by the main event.

Football

I might not like the way Chelsea play football but it is hard to argue that Jose Mourinho isn’t the best tactician plying his trade in England at the moment. He set up his side to frustrate Arsenal from the start and they did exactly that. Mourinho commands attention and the sight of him directing a ball boy to return the ball to him just to delay Arsenal taking a quick throw summed it all up. Chelsea has become the master of the tactical foul, and kicking it away blatantly after fouls have been awarded. Annoying to the viewer and infuriating for the opposition but brutally effective. For all the negative tactics it was a moment of brilliance from Eden Hazard, a quick run through a flat footed defence that was halted by a clear foul, which was the defining moment of the game. Hazard coolly converted the resulting penalty and Chelsea never really looked like losing from then on.

Elsewhere Angel Di Maria scored another and created one for Radamel Falcao but it was David de Gea who was the real hero for Manchester United. He became the first goalkeeper in the premier league to save a Leighton Baines penalty and followed it up with two outstanding saves as Everton pushed for a late equaliser. Di Maria continues to impress following his record transfer from Real Madrid and even at this early stage he looks worth every penny United shelled out for him. He oozes class and looks a threat whenever he picks up the ball. Elsewhere Burnley finally managed a couple of goals, including one late in stoppage time to seal a draw with Leicester City.

Serie A’s two form sides, and the two likely to fight it out for the title, met in Turin on the weekend as Juventus played host to Roma. Juventus came out 3-2 winners but the game was overshadowed by a controversial refereeing display that included three penalties, two red cards and a late winner which should have been disallowed. Arturo Vidal was clearly in an offside position and impeded the Roma goalkeeper’s line of vision as Leonardo Bonucci’s volley sealed the win. Neither Roma captain Franseco Totti nor coach Rudi Garcia, who was sent to the stands during the match, have held back in their post-match criticisms. Garcia pulled out one particular gem when he stated that “I didn’t know that the penalty area was so big at Juventus” (in reference to the two penalties awarded to Juventus which he felt were for fouls outside the penalty area).

Cycling

Il Lombardia, the fifth and final of cycling’s one day monuments, took place on Sunday. Changes to the route added an element of unpredictability and in the end the long distance between the penultimate climb of the race and the final kick up before the line seemed to dissuade any long range attacks. While there was still some activity in the peloton the group that arrived on the edge of Bergamo was much bigger than anticipated and once again the action was condensed into the final moments. Michel Kwiatkowski was the biggest absentee at the business end of the race, with cramps the cause of his downfall.

Across a small section of pavé it was Tim Wellens who launched the first move and while he went early he did manage to create a significant gap. This disappeared as the big names ramped up the tempo. Fabio Aru could be seen forcing the pace while, as he had done in the World Champs a week earlier, Philippe Gilbert attacked in site of the top of the final hill. While his attack forced a significant selection he lacked the punch to break clear and was unable to solo to victory. Following Gilbert’s attack a lead group of nine formed on the descent. Dan Martin had been anonymous at the back of the group but launched his searing acceleration with 500 metres to go catching the rest of the group by surprise. Gilbert, Alejandro Valverde and the others looked at one another but nobody took up the chase. Martin has crashed at a number of inopportune times in the last 12 months, including this very race 12 months ago, but he managed to safely negotiate the final bend and had time to raise his arms in triumph as he crossed the line. Behind him Valverde had to settle for another minor placing, ahead of former world champion Rui Costa.

Following Il Lombardia the Giro D’Italia race organisers, RCS Sport, announced the route for next year’s race. The 2015 Giro d’Italia will start on May 7 with a team time trial along a coastal bike path from San Lorenzo to San Remo. Over the next three weeks the riders will tackle a mixture of flat, mountainous and hilly stages that will offer plenty of variety. The race features less climbing and high mountain passes than recent editions, while a mammoth 59km time trial will tilt the race in favour of those who are good in the race of truth.

Horse Racing

In the 94 race history of the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, one of the world’s most famous horse races and Europe’s richest all-aged race, there had only been five back-to-back winners. On Sunday Treve became the sixth. Following last year’s success Treve was immediately installed as favourite for this year’s race but injury and form issues meant many had written her off. In the end she won comfortably, dashing clear in the final four hundred metres to win by two lengths.

The AFL season might be over (not that Essendon and James Hird would have you believe) but there is still plenty on offer for the avid sports follower this weekend.

  1. Rugby League Grand Final – South Sydney Rabbitohs versus Canterbury Bulldogs – League fan’s might have to wait until Sunday night for the grand final but that just means the anticipation will grow over the course of the weekend. The biggest pre-match question surrounds Bulldogs captain Michael Ennis and whether he will overcome a broken foot in only eight days (yes, that’s not a typo) to take the field? The Bulldogs stumbled into the finals but now are riding the crest of a wave. They come up against a Rabbitohs side that, if they can avoid stage fright, have been building to a premiership for three years. But that is a big IF.

 Tip – The Rabbitohs to overcome more than four decades of pain and finally claim a title.

CUQ – 9 – Not as big as the AFL but still one of the biggest events in Australian sport.

 

  1. Football – English Premier League – Round 7 – We may only be six games in but already there is a feeling that it is crunch time for some teams. Burnley haven’t looked like scoring all year and if they are to have any chance of avoiding relegation that has to change sometime soon. They play Leicester City, another promoted team, on Saturday. Leicester have looked far more at home in the top flight and have had no problem finding the back of the net, with their 5-3 win over Manchester United an obvious season highlight. Liverpool are yet to hit the heights of last season and at home to West Bromwich Albion they should have no problems. But this season has been anything but plain sailing. The pick of the weekends matches sees league leaders Chelsea host Arsenal. Arsenal are coming off their best win of the season over Galatasary in the Champions League, while Chelsea enjoyed a battling win over Sporting. Arsenal’s attacking pace will frighten Jose Mourinho and Chelsea’s defence and an upset certainly wouldn’t be a surprise.

 Tip – Arsenal and Chelsea to play out a draw, Leicester and Liverpool to win the other afore mentioned games. Elsewhere Manchester United to beat Everton and Southampton to cause an upset and beat Tottenham.

SUQ – 8.5 – Still early in the season but a weekend with plenty of side plots and a massive game between two of the title favourites.

 

  1. Formula 1 – Japanese GP – Mercedes have dominated the F1 season and the story was no different in qualifying for the Japanese GP. Individually, Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton have engaged in a fascinating dual, often to the anger of their Mercedes team boss. Rosberg’s failure to finish the Singapore Grand Prix cost him the Championship lead and he has set about regaining it in the best possible fashion, with the fastest time in qualifying. It’s hard to imagine anything but another 1-2 finish.

 Tip – Rosberg to win, Hamilton to finish second.

SUQ – 7 – A championship without the twists and turns to capture the audience’s attention as much as some. But with four races to go crunch time is approaching.

 

Il Lombardia could well have featured above. It is one of cycling’s five monuments and the only one that features in autumn. Only seven days after the world championships, for many it is an opportunity to redeem themselves after last week. For the new rainbow jersey, Michal Kwiatkowski, it will be a chance to show off his new threads. Alejandro Valverde will start as the favourite, while Joaquim Rodriguez is chasing a third straight win. But the course has changed and he will have to adapt if he is to make that happen. The new route features more climbing in the second half, with the finish in Bergamo. It is also more climber-friendly and lends itself to attacking racing, with long-range attacks more likely to be successful and a selective group expected to reach the final climb of the day. I’m not a big Valverde fan, but this race looks well suited and he is always there or there abouts. One who could surprise is Fabio Aru.