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Against the Odds – A gambler’s look at RvV and Roubaix

Insight through gambling as we prepare for back-to-back monuments

This is precisely how I see myself. Precisely.
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You might have heard, there’s a bike race coming up in Flanders. There’s a couple of people at the café who think it is worth watching. The boss has already done a definitive preview (that’s gone up early so that he can spend Friday throwing his family out of the house and changing the locks, and Saturday preparing his frites station and lining up his beer, before genuflecting at a statue of Boonen and going to bed early. One assumes). Me? I’m as excited as the rest of you, and like the rest of you I’m throwing myself into the prediction business, the only way I know how – with gambling!

This is, in effect, a bonus. Read Chris’ stuff, comment, vote for the likeliest winner, throw yourself into the preview… then come back here and look at the value. The bookies know that Sagan is the favourite – but have they priced him correctly? If he’s right, what about the others? Oh, and there’s a “top three market”, which is where you go to bet on Sep. You might have thoughts on that. Finally, because I’m not going to be around to write before Roubaix, this is a look at the markets for that race too, and the links between them.

Tour of Flanders

The current market, as per Bet365, looks like this:

Sagan 11/4

GVA 5/1

Gilbert 6/1

Tjesj 9/1

Kwiat 11/1

Sep 14/1

Terpstra 14/1

Piti 14/1

Stybar 14/1

The justified favourite
Corbis via Getty Images

You can grab 20/1 or bigger the rest of the field. You can also, of course, shop around, and the first thing to say is that prices are varying wildly, so it is worth a look at a comparison site. Valverde is available at 25/1 (Betway), for instance.

What does that tell me? Firstly, it is an annoyingly good list. The bookies have done a good job of pricing the favourite, which is essential for the entire market. By the logic of the bookies, we’re saying he “should” win between one in four and one in three editions, which sounds about right to me (the effective percentage of 11/4 is 26.67%, but this ignores the fact that the sum of the effective probabilities are well over 100%, stats fans). They’ve also captured important form (Degenkolb and Naesen drifting, Terpstra and Benoot shrinking, etc) without overreacting, and they’ve priced the “drop-in” riders like Kwiatkowksi and the suprisingly popular Valverde sensibly.

It then becomes a question of how you see the race panning out. If you think that, with clement conditions and a well-known course, the favourites will battle it out and there will be a low chance of surprises, you could say that Sagan, GVA and Gilbert have it between them, and bet accordingly. Or you could say that QuickStep are on fire, this is Flanders, and chaos happens. You could mention Nick Nuyens and 2011 and go looking for an outsider.

Me, I’m somewhere in the middle. Absent terrible weather, I think you need to be strong and canny to win on this course. However, I don’t think you necessarily need to be one of the biggest favourites to be in the right group and go well. If Sagan has a chink in his armour, it is that he doesn’t like pulling people back together, even if doing so helps him. That’s less true in monuments than in smaller races, but if we saw a group of 3-4 pull clear of the leading 20 over the Kruisberg, say, I wouldn’t be totally surprised.

So I’m looking for guys who are a decent price for a win or podium, are strong enough to be up there with the bigs, have the attitude to go for it and the strength to make an attack stick if attention isn’t being paid, and, ideally, enough kick to finish it off solo or in a sprint.

This’d be a nice sight on Sunday...
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I’ve found two. Jasper Stuyven is 28/1 with Bet365 but I’ve found 33/1 with Skybet. That’ll do me nicely for a team leader in good form. Winning isn’t a given but I think he’s got a chance of going solo, KBK style, or grabbing a podium in a very small group. My second guy is Matteo Trentin, who I dismissed at 25/1 with Bet365 but I couldn’t look past at a much more attractive 50/1 with Betfair. He’s been riding very well, and aggressively, since joining Mitchelton Scott and certainly has a sprint. It is likely he’ll be dropped when things get tough but if a big enough group comes together on the last climb and then splinters, he’s a poacher with a sprinter’s finish. too would this
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Two riders, though… in a field of 175, that isn’t much coverage. That just proves that the market was well set and my opinions weren’t strong. I’ve kept my stakes down to reflect my lack of confidence, too. I need a race where I have a stronger view, and where the market is less well-drawn. I need to turn my attention to Roubaix.

We’ll cover this properly, but you all know the basic drill. All the way from Cambrai to Lille they’re on and off horrendous cobbles. Tough riders to the fore, sprinters clinging on. Fastest man in the lead group with any strength left in his legs wins in the velodrome. Every year we sadists hope for rain, every year it doesn’t happen. Still, mechanicals happen, bad legs happen, and surprises are far from rare, especially when we consider the podium rather than just the winner. (Incidentally, I know it is way too soon to say this, but the long-term forecast looks pretty wet for Roubaix. I’m going to miss this race but will watch it as live if it is a rainy one).

Anyway, the market (prices are from Bet365 again):

Sagan 5/2

GVA 11/2

Sep 7/1

Degz 11/1

Gilbert 12/1

Terpstra 14/1

Stybar 14/1

Boss-Hog 16/1

Wout 18/1

You can have 20/1 or more on all the rest. Now, this is a market I can pick holes in, but we’ll come back to that. First, we need to talk about timing. Is it a risk to bet on a rider before Flanders? Sure! Your pick might crash and you won’t get a chance at winning. They might be rubbish, and get much bigger in the odds. That’s a possibility. Equally, a favourite might crash. Think about the price that, say, Terpstra will be if Sagan and Gilbert don’t turn up for Roubaix. Also, if you’re betting on someone for Roubaix, isn’t there a decent chance that they’ll ride well at Flanders and get shorter in the market? Have some confidence and lock in a price now!

I promised to look at the errors in the pricing. There are several names there that are way too short (Eddy BH doesn’t do well in monuments, ever. Wout is unbe-fricking-leivable but he’s not ready for 257km of hurt. Degz is a long way from the rider who won previously and not looking back to form, alas). Most significantly, though, Sagan is a shorter price for Roubaix than for Flanders? Pardon me? This is what I look for in a betting market. I’m not saying these guys don’t have chances, I’m saying their prices are too short – which means other prices are too long.

In looking for the overpriced gentlemen of Roubaix, I started greedy. Guys who can be expected to be at or near the front if things are difficult in the wet. Guys who are in form and have demonstrated strength. Guys who might get a chance because of bad luck to their team leaders in a chaotic race. That led me to Stefan Kung (66/1 with Skybet (ignore the 200/1 with 888 bet – they aren’t reliable and don’t offer place terms)), Lukasz Wisniowski (150/1 with Skybet) and Florian Senechal (150/1 with Ladbrokes).

Come on, of course I was going to back my boy Florian!
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Then I got less greedy. What if we get a conventional grind? A really tough race with bike handling at a premium, where an absolute beast, in form, can grind to victory. Someone with a history of success in this race, perhaps? 20/1 on Zdenyk Stybar, Ladbrokes? You’re spoiling me!

On the other hand, betting on a long-race weather forecast isn’t the wisest. Maybe it’ll be drier, and a tiny bit less selective. What happens if we look for a sprinter who is in great form this spring and is proven to handle the cobbles and to finish well at the end of monuments? We find Arnaud Demare, available at 25/1, again from the generous folks at Ladbrokes.

My bets

So there we are. Two races with very different betting markets. Flanders will not be predictable – it will be beautiful, exciting, and brutal. I’ll be in front of the telly with some beers and I won’t think about my bets. Roubaix will be just as exciting, just as brutal, and it’ll come with some financial investment to add the cherry to the cake.

Tour of Flanders:

Jasper Stuyven, 1 point e/w 28/1

Matteo Trentin, 1 point e/w 50/1


Zdenyk Stybar, 3 points e/w 20/1

Arnaud Demare, 2 points e/w 25/1

Stefan Kung, 0.5 points e/w 66/1

Lukasz Wisniowski, 0.5 points e/w 150/1

Florian Senechal, 0.5 points e/w 150/1

In my view, 20/1 on Stybar for Roubaix is the outstanding bet of the spring cycling season.
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