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Bicycle Racing News and Opinion
Saturday, April 4, 2015

Back to news and opinion index page for links to archived stories

Today's Racing

We've got two races today. In Spain racers will be competing in the 1.1 ranked Gran Premio Miguel Indurain and in the Netherlands the Volta Limburg Classic, also rated 1.1, will be held. We'll post complete results for both races.

Sunday, April 5 is the Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders). Hot Diggity!

UCI on Upcoming Racing

Big stuff coming, here's what the UCI says:

Two more crucial rounds of the UCI WorldTour, the Ronde van Vlaanderen Classic in Belgium on Sunday and the Vuelta Ciclista al País Vasco in Spain the following week could see some major changes in the overall classification.

The second of cycling’s five ‘Monuments’, the Ronde van Vlaanderen’s 19 short, steep climbs on its 264.2 kilometre course will once again prove to be the decisive feature. Starting in the picturesque medieval city of Bruges and concluding six or seven hours later in Oudenaarde, all bar one of those ascents are packed into the last two thirds of the course - and all of them will be lined with huge numbers of Belgian cycling fans, estimated last year to total 825,000. Millions more, world-wide, will be watching the race on television.

Lacking two of the main top pre-race favourites, multiple winners Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing) and Tom Boonen (Etixx-Quick Step) because of injuries, the 2015 Ronde van Vlaanderen looks set to be a wide-open, unpredictable race. For the UCI WorldTour classification, although overall individual classification leader Richie Porte (Team Sky) is not taking part, his team-mate Geraint Thomas, second overall, is viewed as a key contender.

Geraint Thomas

Geraint Thomas wins E3 Harelbeke

Already the winner of the E3 Harelbeke this season and third in Gent-Wevelgem two days later, Thomas has 184 points to Porte’s 303. Other top favourites also in strong positions in the UCI WorldTour include Alexandre Kristoff (Team Katusha), fourth with 133 points, and John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin), the Milano-Sanremo winner, who has 102 points.

The Ronde van Vlaanderen winner will barely have had time to finish celebrating before Vuelta Ciclista al País Vasco gets underway in the Basque Country in Spain. Six stages long and running from April 6th - 11th, the key days will likely prove to be the traditional ascent to Arrate on stage four, the very hilly 155 kilometre stage from Eibar to Aia the following day, and the final medium length technically challenging time trial in Aia on April 11th.

Peppered with short climbs on narrow, twisting roads through the hilly Basque Country, the six-day race is both a prestigious event in itself and serves as a key warm-up for the Ardennes Classics, which start a little over a week later. The weather, too, which can range from snow to warm sunshine, is one of the many unpredictable factors in this arduous event, often decided by seconds rather than minutes.

Top favourites are Nairo Quintana (Movistar Team), recent winner of Tirreno-Adriatico and Michal Kwiatkowski (Etixx-Quick Step), the reigning UCI World Champion. Quintana already captured the Vuelta Ciclista al País Vasco in 2013 and after his stunning victory in Italy, will be on the hunt for more success. Quintana is laying eighth overall in the UCI WorldTour, with 106 points, whilst Kwiatkowski is eleventh, with 89 points.

A top placing for Quintana would also allow Colombia, currently fourth overall in the UCI WorldTour nations ranking behind Australia, Spain and Italy but which has lost ground in recent races, to regain momentum in that particular classification. In the UCI WorldTour teams ranking, meanwhile, Team Sky with 525 points will be looking to reinforce their overall lead at the Ronde van Vlaanderen with strong performances by Geraint Thomas and his team-mates Sir Bradley Wiggins and Ian Stannard. For second placed Etixx-Quick Step, though, the Ronde represents a chance for them to regain ground and build on their current total of 394 points.

Alejandro Valverde Won't Ride Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix

Though he is currently enjoying scintillating condition, Movistar rider Alejandro Valverde will not be on the start line Sunday for the Ronde van Vlaanderen. Instead, he's racing his home country's GP Miguel Indurain on Saturday. From there he'll ride the Tour of Rioja on Sunday, the day of Flanders and then probably Klasika Primavera Amorebieta, which is run the same day as Paris-Roubaix.

Alejandro Valverde

Valverde wins stage two of this year's Tour of Catalonia

Tour of the Basque Country Team Plans

This came from Lotto-Soudal:

The 55th edition of the Vuelta Ciclista al País Vasco, the Tour of the Basque Country, is just like the past years a WorldTour stage race suited for the climbers. From Monday 6th April until Saturday 11th April the peloton has to cover the Basque hills. Sports director Mario Aerts analyses the chances of the Lotto Soudal riders.

Mario Aerts, sports director: “We have several riders who can go for a good GC. A top ten spot is the goal. That won’t be easy, because the tradition goes that there are a lot of strong riders at the start. Bart De Clercq proved to be in shape last week in the Volta Ciclista a Catalunya. Maxime Monfort is our second guy for the overall standings. Also Louis Vervaeke could show himself. Tony Gallopin and Tim Wellens just came back from a training camp in Tenerife. So it will be awaiting how they recover from the first stages. But they can both choose a stage to shine. The same goes for Jelle Vanendert. This stage race is the ideal preparation for the Ardennes classics, in which they will compete.”

Bart de Clercq

Bart de Clercq after crash in the 2014 Tirreno-Adriatico

“Tosh Van der Sande has a chance in the second stage to Vitoria. He gained a lot of confidence because of his bunch sprint win for the fourth place in the opening stage in Catalunya. Dennis Vanendert could go for an attack, and maybe the attack could last until the finish line. We will see day by day how we handle the race. The overall standings will play a role in this choice.”

“The Vuelta Ciclista al País Vasco is the hardest one-week stage race there is. I’ve experienced it myself as a rider (as a rider Mario participated ten times, LTS). The tempo is fast and the climbs come in a rapid succession. The same hills come back each year, sometimes in a different order, but the race directors add new climbs each edition. There are plenty of climbs in this region. The second stage, to Vitoria, normally is the least hard stage where a group of eighty to ninety riders arrives at the finish together. Now extra climbs are added. For the GC riders all stages are worth paying extra attention.”

For Jelle Vanendert the Vuelta al País Vasco is the last preparation for the Ardennes classics. How does he try to peak in that period?

Jelle Vanendert: “The Vuelta al País Vasco is the last straight line towards the Ardennes classics. Like Mario Aerts said, this is a hard race. I’ve never set a really strong performance in this race. This is because I train a lot in the period towards the Ardennes triptych. If I have a chance to score I will take it, but the main goal is to prepare myself for the Amstel Gold Race, Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège.”

“Until now, the season was very good for me. Except my crash in the Ruta del Sol, my preparation towards the classics was good. I’ve completed all my scheduled trainings, except this week I had to adjust my training scheme because of the bad weather. I shortened my road training, and trained more on the rollers. I’m someone who can peak to certain races. It’s not easy to explain how I succeed in it. First of all I make sure I have a good basic shape and I build further on that with intensive trainings and races. Often, riders try to be good just with training. I train a lot to improve my basic shape and try to grow stronger in races, like next week in the Vuelta Ciclista al País Vasco."

“It’s never a guarantee for success, but I feel good two weeks before the Amstel. The Amstel, Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège suit me all three. In the Amstel I was two times second (in 2012 and 2014, LTS). On the Cauberg you can really make differences. This remains the case even as the finish line is drawn several hectometres further. I’ve got a small preference for La Doyenne, but I would be very happy to win one of these three races in my career.”

Team Selection Lotto Soudal: Bart De Clercq, Tony Gallopin, Maxime Monfort, Tosh Van der Sande, Dennis Vanendert, Jelle Vanendert, Louis Vervaeke and Tim Wellens.

Sports directors: Mario Aerts and Kurt Van de Wouwer.

Stages

And this is Tinkoff-Saxo's Basque Country race news:

Tinkoff-Saxo enters Vuelta al País Vasco with the ambition of building race shape during the demanding six days of racing. With several riders, including Rafal Majka, bouncing back from a period of illness, Tinkoff-Saxo scans for possibilities to build power and animate the race.

Lining up at the start is Rafal Majka, Robert Kiserlovski, Edward Beltran, Evgeny Petrov, Bruno Pires, Pawel Poljanski, Chris Anker Sørensen and Oliver Zaugg. Tinkoff-Saxo sports director Sean Yates notes that the team starts with no absolute captain but expects the riders to support each other and animate the race, when the possibilities arise.

Evgeny Petrov

Evgeny Petrov is scheduled to ride the Tour of the Basque Country

“Initially, our team captain was Kiserlovski, who should secure a GC result. But right now he’s in the process of getting back into shape after a tooth operation that required a break. We got Rafal, who is looking to boost his shape ahead of the Ardennes Classics, and we hope that he’ll do well during some of the harder stages in the second part of País Vasco”, says Sean Yates and adds about the race objectives:

“We have strong names on the roster, but right now they are a mixed bag of guys, since some of them are getting back from injuries and sickness and others are in the process of building their shape. So everyone will get their chances and they are ready to support each other. We are going into the race with the ambition of giving the guys a chance to prove themselves, but ultimately you can only do as well as the legs allow. That’s why, considering the competition of guys like Quintana, who has shown strong shape, we need to be realistic”.

With Tinkoff-Saxo divided into four squads during Vuelta al País Vasco all at different races and camps, Yates notes that it isn’t feasible to aim for a top GC result at all races.

“We have groups of riders at the Classics, Circuit de la Sarthe, Training Camp on Tenerife and here at País Vasco, so even for a team of our stature it’s necessary to tone down the race ambitions at some races. We aren’t pressuring Rafal Majka to deliver in the GC, he has goals at the Amstel, Fleche and Liége, but if he’s feeling well, then we know that he can do well in the kind of terrain that the pack will face”.

“Chris Anker and Pawel Poljanski were both doing well just before Criterium International but they had stomach issues during the race. However their shape is good and I know that they want to do a good performance. It’s a hard race route with an 18k TT on the final day, however we’ll probably be racing in more friendly weather conditions than what we traditionally witness at País Vasco”, finishes Sean Yates.

Race details

Dates: 6 – 11 April
Number of stages: 6
Total length: 845 kilometers
Kind:  Undulating WorldTour stage race
First edition: 1924
Last year’s winner: Alberto Contador
Best GC result of Tinkoff-Saxo: 1st  - Alberto Contador (2014)

Women's Racing News

This came from Velocio-SRAM:

Matera, Italy - April 3, 2015 - The third UCI Women's World Cup is just two days away, Ronde Van Vlaanderen, to be raced in Belgium on Sunday 5 April, 2015. Arguably the most prestigious World Cup to win, Velocio-SRAM is sending a strong roster to the Spring Classic. Belarusian rider, Alena Amialisuik, says she is looking forward to an exciting race. "We have ridden the course earlier in the Spring, and as you expect from Flanders, it is going to be a typically hard fought race."

The 144 kilometre course, takes in more than five cobblestone sectors including the famous Paddestraat, and ten official climbs. After the riders complete the penultimate climb, Oude Kwaremont and the final Paterberg climb, they will have 13 kilometres to race to the finish line in Oudenaarde.

Amialiusik, who finished fifth at last week's Trofeo Binda World Cup, says her team is in good form and is hungry for a win. "We have a lot of cards in our team to play with for this race and I am confident that we will improve on our result from last week."

Alena Amialisuik

Alena Amialsuik leading a team training ride

Team Directeur Sportif, Ronny Lauke agrees the 2015 Flanders course is exciting. "There are many opportunities for the race to split and for early attacks to stay away, even as early as the Lange Munte in the first 17km," said Lauke. "Flanders is like no other World Cup. Successful riders need to have a unique skill and strength and the ability to cope with the technical demands. However in this race riders need to be focused and use their tactical nous for the entire 144km."

Amialiusik, will be joined by teammates Trixi Worrack, Lisa Brennauer, Tiffany Cromwell, Karol-Ann Canuel and Barbara Guarischi for a strong Velocio-SRAM squad.

Orica-AIS also sent their Ronde van Vlaanderen update:

The inclusion of Swedish champion Emma Johansson, returning from injury, has boosted ORICA-AIS ahead of the third world cup and one of the biggest races for the year, Ronde van Vlaanderen on Sunday.

Johansson broke her collarbone in a crash in the final of the Novilon Eurocup just 19 days ago. The epitome of professionalism, the 31-year-old has worked tirelessly with her support team before passing a fitness test on this weekend’s course mid-week and receiving the all clear on a final medical scan this morning.

"The Ronde is one of the most important races of the year to me," Johansson said. "I would have been devastated to miss it. I don't know exactly what to expect of myself in terms of how I'll compare to the rest, but it's a victory in a way that I even get to start."

Emma Johansson

Emma Johannson (Orica-AIS kit) climbs on the cobbles

"Everything I have done has been targeted at getting me back on the bike this Sunday. I'm really happy the hard work paid off and that I will be at the start this weekend."

Johansson will be joined by former Australian champions Gracie Elvin and Amanda Spratt, track world champion Melissa Hoskins, 2015 Santos Women’s Tour winner Valentina Scandolara and road captain Loes Gunnewijk. Each starter has been a member of the team for multiple years, a significant advantage in such a difficult race according to sport director Gene Bates.

“It is really a race where experience counts for a lot and between Emma and Loes there is a huge amount of experience in the group now,” Bates said.

“With Emma coming back into the team, she has been really focused on this event for the spring and she is very keen to put up a good show. But we need to be realistic about where she is at. She has had three weeks out of racing now, at a pretty critical time of the year.

“Mel Hoskins is the only rider who has never raced this event and she will be guided a lot by the other girls. We are really excited to see how she handles her first monument at Flanders.”

Just like the men’s event held on the same day, the Ronde van Vlaanderen is not only one of the toughest, but also the biggest days on the women’s cycling calendar.

“There is something special about Flanders,” Bates said. “There is really nothing like it and being on Easter Sunday, it turns into something huge. The riders get very excited and the atmosphere on the hills and just in general is exceptional. It really is the ‘world championships of spring’.

“It would have to be easily one of the toughest races of the year. Not only for the course in the cobbles and on the climbs, but also because there are certain points of the race that are critical you are in the front and there is 180 women who realise that at the same time so you can imagine the stress.”

Orica-AIS come into Sunday’s race with fond memories of the past, winning the monument in their first season with the now retired Judith Arndt and placing third in the previous two editions with Johansson, but the outfit are realistic about their expectations in 2015.

“I think if we can get a couple of our riders there in the final going into the Kwaremont, that will be a satisfying result for us,” Bates said. “After that point it really comes down to how well you have been prepared the last couple of weeks.”

“I like to think we can have someone in the top ten, that would be a realistic goal for us, and the team will look to have a really good outing and try to animate the race as much as possible as well.”

Orica-AIS riders at Ronde van Vlaanderen WC (5 April): Gracie Elvin, Loes Gunnewijk, Melissa Hoskins, Emma Johansson, Valentina Scandolara, Amanda Spratt

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