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Bicycle Racing News and Opinion
Thursday, August 28, 2014

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Matthews Retains Vuelta lead Another Day

Orica-GreenEdge's Michael Matthews has proven to be a more durable GC leader than I thought he would be. He came through yesterday's difficult stage retaining the red jersey. Here's the statement from his team:

Michael Matthews has retained the red race leader’s jersey at the Vuelta a Espana, finishing in the front group on stage five today. Despite cross winds playing havoc with the peloton mid-stage, Matthews remained at the head of the race over the category three climb but suffered from the previous day’s efforts in the final sprint, managing 11th position.  Giant-Shimano’s John Degenkolb won his second consecutive stage.

“It was a difficult day all round,” the 24-year-old said. “I didn’t expect the cross winds to come like that so the team did a really good job to get me onto the bunch at the bottom of that climb but from then on I was totally pinned. I just did my best to be up there in the final but I didn’t have the kick in the finish that I would have liked to have had.”

After a two huge days at the forefront of the peloton, ORICA-GreenEDGE took a more conservative approach on stage five.

“The boys have done a lot of work over the last couple of days and we have a lot of the Tour of Spain to come,” sport director Neil Stephens explained. “Most of the teams haven’t contributed anything and today was an ideal sprint stage for a lot of other guys so we let them control the race. If we lost the jersey we would have had to have taken it on the chin. Fortunately for us that wasn’t the case, but the split in the peloton did mean we used the team to support our general classification rider Esteban Chaves which left Michael to fend for himself in a tricky finish.”

On what was another scorching day with over 40 degree temperatures, Tony Martin (OPQ) and Pim Ligthart (LTB) were the only riders willing to take their chances off the front but didn’t pose any threat to the peloton.

When the wind changed with 40 kilometres to ride, Tinkoff Saxobank pushed the pace causing the bunch to split. With the main general classification contenders recovering and the sprinters present, the stage was set for another reduced sprint.

Tomorrow’s sixth stage offers up the Tour’s first mountain top finish, the final ascent a five kilometre category one climb at 10%.  The challenging finale is likely to see the end of Matthews’ reign in the lead.

“Tomorrow will be a bit more of a rest day for me. I’ve had a hard five days so far and the stage three victory really hurt me so I am trying to recover each day,” Matthews said. “Unfortunately I will loose the red jersey but you just have to enjoy the lead while you can and appreciate the jersey because as a sprinter eventually in grand tours like this, the time will come when you have to hand it over on the mountain stages.“

Michael Matthews

Michael Matthews at the end of stage five. Photo ©Sirotti

Roberto Ferrari on the Vuelta Stage Five Finish

Lampre-Merida sprinter Roberto Ferrari finished tenth yesterday. Here's what he had to say about the stage five sprint:

"At 800 meters to the arrival there was a roundabout, there began a light ascent to the arrival: it was important to approach the roundabout in the head of the bunch - Ferrari explained - In fact, after having passed the roundabout, there was no chance to overtake the opponents. I thought I was in a good position, but some riders overtook me just before the roundabout, so I could not complete in the best way the support I had received by my team mates".

Tinkoff-Saxo Attack Near the End of Vuelta Stage Five

If there are crosswinds, you be sure Tinkoff-Saxo director Bjarne Riis is thinking attack. And that's just what he did yesterday. Here's the team statement issued after Vuelta stage 5:

Tinkoff-Saxo attacked with over 30 kilometers to the finish line in Ronda in an attempt to split the peloton and leave rivals in the wake. In a section with crosswinds the entire team moved to the front and succeeded in splitting the bunch into several groups, but all GC-contenders managed to make the cut in the front group. After the 5th stage of Vuelta a España, team leader Alberto Contador said:

“The team needed more information about, who was behind and who wasn’t, we didn’t know who had been left behind. I think that we managed to leave a few interesting riders behind in the initial part, but then they came back and we wasn’t aware of this. There was a bit of confusion, but well, we tried. We have to be aware and continue to be well placed in the peloton, because anything can happen on stages like this”.

About Froome’s sprint, where he won two bonus seconds, Alberto said he expected it.

“Yes, we saw him attacking. In the first sprint he tried, but Bouhanni and FDJ pulled him back again. In the second sprint he attacked with his teammate from a bit further away, but it isn’t important in the long run”, Alberto Contador said.

BMC Tried for Vuelta Stage Win

With the Vuelta Stage 5's uphill finish, BMC naturally looked to Philippe Gilbert for a stage win. He can be a genius at this kind of finish, but lately seems to lack enough finishing punch to win.

Here's BMC's statement after stage 5:

BMC Racing Team's Philippe Gilbert finished seventh Wednesday while teammates Samuel Sánchez and Cadel Evans continued their climb up the overall standings on the eve of the first major mountain stage of the Vuelta a España.

Gilbert led out the uphill sprint but could not hold off the charge from behind as John Degenkolb (Team Giant-Shimano) won for the second straight day. Evans finished 19th and Sánchez was 24th, both five seconds behind the stage winner, as each moved up one spot overall. Sánchez is 11th and Evans is 12th and both are 34 seconds off the lead of Michael Matthews (ORICA-GreenEDGE) heading into Thursday's mountain-top finish at La Zubia. "The team was strong and did a perfect move at the end," BMC Racing Team Sport Director Valerio Piva said, "but it is hard to compete against the pure sprinters."

Evans avoided a scare earlier in the 180-kilometer stage when the peloton split as it climbed its way through narrow village roads and down a technical descent with about 40 km to go. The past Tour de France and world road champion found himself in the second group while Sánchez and at least three other BMC Racing Team riders made the front group. "Nobody expected Tinkoff-Saxo would go full gas on the descent," Piva said. "Unfortunately, we had Cadel behind. But Garmin had Daniel Martin behind, so Cadel stayed just stayed in their wheel and the group came back. Fortunately, the gap was never more than 25 or 30 seconds."

Heading into the final kilometers, the BMC Racing Team organized a concerted lead-out for Gilbert with Manuel Quinziato and Steve Morabito the last two to peel off the front as the past world road champion started his sprint. "We did a pretty good lead out, but unfortunately, the pure sprinters were still there," he said. "I think we did a good try, though." Piva said he is pleased to have more than one option for the general classification heading into the mountains. "We have two guys who are in really good shape," he said. "We will work to keep Samuel and Cadel safe and hopefully get a good result."

Philippe Gilbert

Philippe Gilbert winning this years La Flèche Brabançonne. Photo ©Sirotti

Ag2R Signs Bakelants, Keeps Betancur

Ag2r-La Mondiale has signed Omega Pharma rider Jan Bakelants for two years. Bakelants won a stage in the 2014 Tour de France and the sixth stage of the Dauphine.

Jan Bakelants

Jan Bakelants celebrates his stage 6 Dauphiné victory. Photo ©Sirotti

Carlos Alberto Betancur has had a difficult relationship with his team, Ag2r. Rumors have been flying that the 2014 Paris-Nice winner will leave the team, despite his being under contract through 2016. Betancur is currently riding the Vuelta. He's a bit overweight and sitting near the bottom of the standings. Ag2r boss Vincent Lavenu says things are getting sorted out between the rider and team management and Betancur will remain with Ag2r through the life of his contract.

Carlos Alberto Betacur

Betancur wins 2014 Paris-Nice stage 5. Photo ©Sirotti

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