Lets start with a quick look back to last year. Rui Costa took the win after a select group of four had gone clear, the others being Alejandro Valverde, Vincenzo Nibali and Joaquim Rodriguez. Why is this relevant? Last years course was easier to define and always likely to favour the stronger climbers. This years course still has people guessing, with many tipping sprinters and believing it will be a much larger group that comes to the finish. While the climbing might not be quite as difficult as it was last year this years course has more vertical climbing, 4284 compared to 3,600 metres.

The Route:


14 laps of an 18.2km circuit totaling 254.8km. There is no doubt that the cumulative climbing and kilometres will take their toll. As the graphic above shows, the circuit features two climbs, the first is a more regular affair, while the second is shorter and steeper. The chance of rain means the roads could be dangerous, and a good descender (such as Fabian Cancellara or Nibali), could escape on the second more technical descent to claim the win. The last kilometer includes a couple of roundabouts, with the final 600 metres straight and flat to the line.

The scenario:

There are a number of strong teams in the race that will seek to control proceedings at different times. Most likely the day’s break will take a while to get established and will include plenty of second tier riders from big countries who’s primary role will be to patrol proceedings at the front. Once the teams of Spain, Italy and maybe Poland and Great Britain come to the front the pace will steadily increase, with each lap being quicker than the last. Australia also send one of the strongest teams, with two of the big pre-race favourites, but they are unlikely to appear at the front until the last lap or two, unless they have missed a break and are chasing. Why? Because both Simon Gerrans and Michael Matthews can sprint to the win from a group. The other countries noted above, especially Spain and Italy, need to make the race hard to have any chance. Neither team brings a designated a sprinter and as such they will look to force the tempo on the climbs and hope that fatigue slowly whittles down the number of contenders.

A number of commentators have talked up the chances of riders like Nacer Bouhanni, John Degenkolb, Alexander Kristoff and even Andre Griepel. The fact that the stronger nations have to force the pace and make the race harder will, I think, mean that the race will be too tough for the pure sprinters. While those mentioned above are certainly not bad climbers, Alexander Kristoff coped well enough with the hills to win Milan San-Remo earlier this year, I just can’t see them being in the mix on the final lap. When the course was released Peter Sagan was immediately installed as the favourite. He has shown he can climb with the best and still possess a quick finish. By his own lofty standards 2014 hasn’t been a great year and he looked out of form, to the point of being disinterested, at the Vuelta. On his day he could certainly win but I don’t think he has the form required. Of the riders generally classified as sprinters the two I think that have the best chance of success are Michael Matthews and Ben Swift. Both have improved their climbing, have won stages in big races featuring plenty of climbing and enter the race on the back of some good recent results.

I think the mix of 250 plus kilometres of racing, plenty of climbing, wet weather and a fast pace will mean that the race is far more selective than many are anticipating. If a group is to come to the finish together I don’t think it will contain more than 15 riders.

So who will win:

Its an open race and most of the worlds best riders will be taking to the start line. As such there are plenty of riders who believe they can win. Looking in detail at all of them will take too long. Instead I’m going to focus on the few I think have the best chances of victory.

Fabian Cancellara has made no secret of his desire to win the rainbow jersey (the jersey that the world champion gets to wear for the following year) and while the course isn’t perfect for him he should be able to handle it. Cancellara’s record in Classics (major one day races) over the last two years is unparalleled and after over 250 kilometres of hard racing he packs a pretty good sprint. Cancellara could win from either a small group or alone and if he is in the front group come the final lap he will have a number of options. One of Cancellara’s main disadvantages is he only has two Swiss teammates. This means that they can’t control the race and Cancellara will have to be very aware and hope to make the right move. Cancellara has set himself for this race and when he does that he usually performs very well.

Michal Kwiatkowski started the year in blistering form, had a slightly disappointing Tour de France and now seems to be returning to form. While he might have preferred a slightly harder course the parcours still seem to suit him. Incredibly powerful, as his Strade Bianchi win earlier this year showed when he dropped Peter Sagan in the final stages, he has a good kick and is incredibly versatile. Simon Gerrans is the bookmakers favourite, he is inform and has the support of a very strong team. Gerrans’s win in Liege-Baston-Liege earlier this year showed he can follow the best one day stage racers on the hilly terrain and he arguably has the quickest finish of all the non-sprinters. His recent wins in GP Quebec and GP Montreal highlighted how effective his quick finish is and, concerningly for everyone else, were dominant. Like Cancellara he has set himself for this race and in recent years when he has targeted a race he has often delivered. Gerrans’s biggest problem is that his form and performances mean he is a marked man, and nobody will want to go to the finish with him.

Ever since his crash on stage 1 of the Giro Dan Martin has had this race marked on his calendar. His performances in the Vuelta finally confirmed his grand tour potential, but even he said during the race he prefers and feels he is a better one day rider. He has been at his best in the Ardennes in recent years and will excel on the short punchy climbs. He could well slip off the front on the final lap but also has a reasonable sprint if it comes down to a small group. Greg Van Avermaet may not be Belgium’s designated leader, they have multiple options depending on how the race evolves, but he is their most likely source of a podium. Van Avermaet has proven to be incredibly consistent without securing a breakthrough win. Maybe his time will come on the biggest stage.

In a race like this there are plenty of outsiders to take the fancy. Ramunas Navardauskas, Daryl Impey and Sep Vanmarcke are the three who, I think, have the best chance of causing a surprise. Impey has only returned to racing recently after proving his doping innocence. His leadouts were a key part of Gerrans’s recent successes and here he gets an opportunity to ride for himself. He is fresh and his enforced layoff may end up being a blessing in disguise. Vanmarcke may be more well known as a cobbles rider but he is incredibly strong and is one of a number of cards the Belgians will look to play in the final few laps.

Tips – Cancellara, Kwiatkowski and Gerrans to fill the podium.



  1. Freelunch says:

    I like your picks, particularly cancellara as he, like Gerrans, seems to be able to pick his events and perform well. My top 3 are not my favoured 3 but I think most likely. In no particular order, Spartacus, valverde, and Ben Swift


  2. Julian says:

    Tough top three to beat, I also think you have underestimated valverde. I find a top three very difficult to predict. I don’t think the sprinters will be there at the end and with sagan’s form such an unknown it is hard to go past gerrans. Having said that I think kwiatowski will be too strong and valverde will win the sprint for second over van avermaert.


  3. sportussion says:

    Close gents, we were all in the ball park and had one or two of the top three. Not bad. Final monument of the year this weekend to look forward to….


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