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Bicycle Racing News and Opinion
Monday, April 13, 2015

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Upcoming Racing

No racing today, I guess the world needs to catch it's breath after Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix in the last eight days.

Next race will be the Belgian one-day competition De Brabantse Pijl - La Flèche Brabançonne on Wednesday, the 15th

Etixx-Quick Step Frustration

L'Equipe had a story about Etixx-Quick Step's lack of success despite its enourmous talent. It got me to thinking. I would hate to be around Etixx-Quick Step team boss Patrick Lefevre right now. In years past Lefevre has directed his teams to some of the most prestigious and important single-day races in professional cycling. In 2012 the team, then known at Omega Pharma-Quick Step, won 60 races including Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders. Since then the team has been less successful grabbing the big wins. in 2014 team riders won both the Cyclocross and World Road Racing championships.

Patrick Lefevre talks with Mark Cavendish

Patrick Lefevre (right) talks with Mark Cavendish at the second stage of the 2014 Tour de France. At the time Cavendish was recovering from a separated shoulder he suffered crashing in the first stage. More bad luck for Lefevre.

This year has not begun well for the team. Regularly Etixx-Quick Step has put good riders in the winning breaks of important races, but they just can't close the deal. High placings, yes, but no blue ribbon. Always a bridesmaid, never a bride.

At this year's Paris-Roubaix, Zdenek Styber was in the winning group of six, but was second to John Degenkolb. At the Tour of Flanders it was down to just two riders, Etixx-Quick Step's Niki Terpstra and Katusha's Alexander Kristoff. Kristoff took the race.

Earlier, Gent-Wevelgem was the same story. Terpstra initiated the winning move, taking a select group of riders with him. But Luca Paolini went on a flyer from this break and won the race while Terpstra had to be content with second place.

Omloop Het Nieuwsblad was an even worse disappointment for the team. They put three top riders in the winning break of four. That's right, it was Niki Terpstra, Tom Boonen and Stijn Vendenbergh along with Sky's Ian Stannard. Stannard won the race and Terpstra was again second. L'Equipe noted that, though the quartet formed their break with about 40 kilometers to go, the Etixx-Quick Step trio did not start hammering and attacking Stannard to drop him. He basically got a nice ride to the finish where he simply left the others behind.

Ian Stannard wins Omloop Het Nieuwsblad

Ian Stannard wins the 2015 Omloop Het Nieuwsblad

We still have some important one-day races coming, including La Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège (the 26th). it will be interesting to watch Etixx-Quick Step and see how they handle what must be enormous pressure.

Chairman Bill's Error Corrected

I have a terrible tendency to spell the Queen of the Classics "Paris-Roubiax" instead of "Paris-Roubaix". Doing a search, despite my best efforts, I found the site was littered with the mistake. I think I have fixed the errors, which should make doing searches far more accurate.

Post Paris-Roubaix Team Reports

We'll start with winner John Degenkolb's team, Giant-Alpecin

John Degenkolb sprinted to victory in Paris-Roubaix, taking Team Giant-Alpecin's second win in a "monument" this season. Unleashing a huge sprint in the Roubaix velodrome, Degenkolb was by far the fastest of the group of favorites. After finishing second in last year’s edition of the “Hell of the North,” Degenkolb was able to outsprint his fellow breakaway companions in the Roubaix velodrome at the end of a sunny, dusty and exhausting day.

John Degenkolb: “I am so happy with this win. The team was so strong and I received great support from the guys. Everything went perfectly. I chose the right moment to attack. I knew if I waited longer, the same scenario as last year would play out, so I went. I was forced to do most of the work because the others know I am a fast finisher.

“I was able to stay calm and follow my instincts in the finale, as I wasn't afraid to fail and that was the key today. The sprint was perfect. The combination of wins in Milan-San Remo and today is very special.” 

John Degenkolb

John Degenkolb is headed for the finish line in this year's Paris-Roubaix

Bert De Backer: "It can't be better than this. The team was really fantastic today. We made a plan with our coach Marc [Reef] last night and everyone did their job perfectly. I think we have learned from last year, what happens when we try to take control over the race too early. Today, we never took control, we simply had control over the race.

"It was a crucial move from me to jump away in the final instead of riding on the front. Then the others had to chase but they were not able to anymore. At the moment John [Degenkolb] and I attacked he said to me, ‘Hang on,’ but I was unable to follow. But I am very happy to add something to his win today.” 

Koen de Kort: “We knew a win was possible after his second place last year, but to actually do it is a completely different story. The plan was very clear and I had a very good day. There were five of us in the finale to keep John [Degenkolb] in front and we were able to keep good control over the race.

“It was very nice to hear through our communication that he had won. I was so happy.” 

Marc Reef: “It’s incredible to win two monuments within four weeks. This is unreal and something one can only dream of. We knew that none of the teams would be able to take control over the entire race, so all the teams did part of the job. In this way we were able to race from the second line. The plan was executed very well.

“To have Bert [De Backer] and John [Degenkolb] in the finale was fantastic. The whole team did a great race, but De Backer was outstanding. The moment Degenkolb responded to the counterattack of De Backer was pure intuition. When he joined the two leaders we knew he had an excellent chance to win."  

Here's BMC's Paris-Roubaix report:

Roubaix, France - BMC Racing Team's Greg Van Avermaet enjoyed a career-best third-place finish at Paris-Roubaix Sunday while earning back-to-back podium placings in cycling's two cobblestone classic monument races.

Van Avermaet was part of a group of seven sprinting it out in the Roubaix velodrome at the end of the 253.5-kilometer race. Also third last week at Ronde van Vlaanderen, Van Avermaet was not able to follow a surge by race winner John Degenkolb (Team Giant-Alpecin) coming out of the last turn. Czech Republic national road champion Zdenek Stybar (Etixx-Quick Step) held off Van Avermaet's late charge to take runner-up honors.

"You always want to win the race, but I knew it would be pretty hard against Degenkolb," Van Avermaet said. "He is strong in these kinds of races and he was pretty strong when he came to us. He did a few good pulls and I was a little bit empty at the end. It was hard to come to the finish. I felt a little bit of energy going away in the last five kilometers and had to put out the maximum to get on the podium.

With only two of 27 cobblestones sectors and 12 kilometers to go, Van Avermaet and his BMC granfondo GFX followed an attack by Yves Lampaert (Etixx-Quick Step) and the pair quickly gained 20 seconds. But coming out of the penultimate cobblestone sector, Degenkolb had bridged the gap. The trio was then joined by four others as they exited the final section of pavé within sight of the velodrome. "I never really had a great feeling today," Van Avemaet said. "Last week, I was feeling good at Flanders. Today, I had to fight against myself on the cobbles. I think I did a good attack with Yves Lampaert in the end. But we could not hold off Degenkolb and Stybar and the others. In the end it was hard to beat them in the sprint."

2015 Paris-Roubix podium

The 2015 Paris-Roubaix podium. Greg van Avermaet is the BMC rider on the right. On the left is Zdenek Stybar and in the center is winner Greg van Avermaet.

Van Avermaet's finish bettered his fourth-place result at this race in 2013. It was his fifth third-place finish of the season to go along with a runner-up result at Strade Bianche and a victory in March on Stage 3 of Tirreno-Adriatico.

Manuel Quinziato was the BMC Racing Team's next best finisher in 34th, 2:55 back. Daniel Oss, who was eighth at Gent-Wevelgem, 10th at E3 Harelbeke and 11th last week at Ronde van Vlaanderen, took a tumble into a ditch with about 53 kilometers to go. He was able to continue and finished 67th.

"Quinziato was doing a great job of protecting the team by following several attacks," BMC Racing Team Sport Director Valeria Piva said. "We had a bit of bad luck with Oss because he was also strong and we planned to have him in the final. But Roubaix is a race like this. We can be happy for the podium. Greg was obviously in top shape, so it is too bad he was not able to win one of the monuments."

Tinkoff-Saxo expressed its disappointment in its Paris-Roubaix results here:

Paris-Roubaix concluded the cobblestone season Sunday afternoon in a dusty and fast affair, where the favorites waited relatively long to open up the race. Tinkoff-Saxo fell short of the team ambitions, as a bike change and stomach issues for team captain Peter Sagan made for a tough day at the office. Sagan finished 23rd, part of the big second group coming in behind race winner John Degenkolb. After the race conclusion in the famed velodrome of Roubaix, Tinkoff-Saxo sports director Lars Michaelsen notes that despite a dedicated effort, the team ended up with a minor result.

“As always Paris-Roubaix is a really special race and not least a hard race. Today was definitely no exception. In the finale, we were of course focused on Sagan and he was focused on Carrefour de l’Arbre. But here an unknown issue with his shifters meant that he couldn’t move up to the big chainring to make a move, and when the guys started attacking after Carrefour de l’Arbre, he wasn’t able to respond. So we had to change bike in the very finale and we ended up with close to nothing if you look at the pure result”, says Lars Michaelsen.

The 253.5 kilometers from Compiègne to Roubaix contained 52.7km of cobblestone sectors and for this  113th edition presented the riders with clear skies, multiple parts of cross- and headwind and a dusty road surface. After a fast start with the usual and numerous crashes, the main bunch slowly thinned out until the big favorites split the group of main contenders into chunks deep into the finale.

Ultimately, it was John Degenkolb (TGA) who proved the fastest in a seven-man sprint. Peter Sagan came in with the second group of favorites finishing 23rd, while Michael Mørkøv came in just after as 29th. Lars Michaelsen explains Tinkoff-Saxo’s race.

Peter Sagan

Peter Sagan enjoying the cobblestones of this year's Paris-Roubaix.

“Due to good weather conditions we expected a fast race, which also happened to be the case. The guys did great in the first part of the race keeping themselves out of trouble. Then before moving into Haveluy and Arenberg, which is a key point of the race, Peter unfortunately had some stomach problems so he had to stop. But with a good team effort especially from Pavel Brutt he made it back to the front of the pack before Arenberg and he was where he should be in the forest and sections afterwards”.

“Towards the end we still had Sagan, Bodnar, Breschel, Mørkøv and Brutt in the main group. Five riders in a group of 50 is a good count, so we were pretty happy with the situation at around km 200. However, then Breschel crashed and hurt his hand or wrist. He was in pain but wanted to keep going, so we managed to get him back on a new bike and he could finish the race. Now, we will wait for the medical examination and see if it reveals any injury or fracture”, concludes Lars Michaelsen.

For Tinkoff-Saxo, the 2015 season goes on following a mixed stint at the cobblestone races. The team looks forward to important races such as the Ardennes Classics and Giro d’Italia, which await the team in the near future.

Orica-GreenEdge had this to say about Paris-Roubaix:

Belgian Jens Keukeleire has recorded Orica-GreenEdge’s best result at a cobbled classic, finishing sixth at Paris-Roubaix, the ‘Queen of the Classics’, today. In a strong day on the road for the outfit, Briton Adam Blythe was also part of the day’s major break, animating the race in support of the team’s objectives.

Keukeleire entered the famous velodrome in Roubaix in the lead group, the 26-year-old battling for sixth behind winner John Degenkolb (Giant – Alpecin). “They always told me it’s a really amazing feeling riding into the velodrome,” Keukeleire said. “I have done it many times but not with the front group. No matter how bad I felt in the final, you always have to keep believing and I tried my best but I just didn’t have any legs.

“It’s a pretty amazing feeling riding for the win.”

The day was not without drama for the Belgian, who suffered a puncture in the middle of the famous Arenberg Forest sector. Quickly serviced by teammate Sam Bewley with a wheel, the Belgian fought back to the front chase group. “I am definitely happy with the result,” Keukeleire said.

“Especially if you look at the race I did, I had a lot of bad luck and to be honest a couple of times I thought my race was over but I know from previous editions that you can never give up. You always keep fighting because you never know where you’ll end up and I’m still top ten.”

The ‘Hell of the North’ set off in conditions anything but. Sun and a tail wind made for fast opening to racing as the peloton covered over 50km in the first hour. After numerous attempts, most covered by an Orica-GreenEdge rider, the day’s main break with Blythe established and extended towards a ten-minute lead before the peloton reacted ahead of the first cobbled sector.

Despite the pressure, the peloton remained in tact for a large portion of proceedings before wind and crashes caused it to break apart. “There was a lot more wind than I expected and I think that is what kept it together for such a long time,” Keukeleire said. “But cobblestones are cobblestones, you have to get over them and they always hurt.”

Jens Keukeleire

Jens Keukeleire at the 2012 Eneco Tour

Sport director Matt Wilson reflected on a great day for the team and an even more promising sign for the future. “All the guys were really good at the start covering the moves,” Wilson said. “We were in a couple of other ones that went away and then Blythe was in the one that stuck.”

“So at the start it was all going perfectly and even in the first 30-40km of the pave sections it was all going pretty well and then we started to get the punctures, crashes and bad luck but that's Paris-Roubaix. “But it was the best result for us at a cobbled classic, that’s huge for us, and Jens rode incredibly.

“He made all the right decisions, move all the right moves and gave himself every chance to win the race.”

And this Paris-Roubaix report is from Lotto-Soudal:

It was a really fast start of the 113th edition of Paris-Roubaix, due to the tailwind. Many tried to escape. Eventually nine riders  got ahead, Sean De Bie was part of that front group. They had a maximal lead of more than nine minutes. At that point Astana, Katusha and Sky started to reduce the gap. As if the devil was involved Sean De Bie, who impressed on the cobbles, had a puncture at the Trouée d’Arenberg and so eight leaders were left.

About thirty kilometres from the end Belgian champion Jens Debusschere bridged to Stijn Vandenbergh and Bradley Wiggins. They got the company of Zdenek Stybar as well. The peloton, that was considerably reduced by that time, didn’t let them go. Twenty kilometres before entering the velodrome in Roubaix Jürgen Roelandts responded to an attack of Borut Bozic. The Lotto Soudal rider then started a solo on the cobbles of Camphin-en-Pévèle. Roelandts covered the sector of Carrefour de l’Arbre as race leader. His chasers were close and with fourteen kilometres to go the Belgian rider was caught by a group of about twenty, teammate Jens Debusschere was now with him. Yves Lampaert and Greg Van Avermaet attacked next. John Degenkolb bridged to them. This trio entered the velodrome in Roubaix together with Lars Boom, Martin Elmiger, Jens Keukeleire and Zdenek Stybar. John Degenkolb beat Stybar and Van Avermaet in the sprint. Jens Debusschere finished as ninth at 29 seconds of the winner after a strong race.

Jens Debusschere and Andre Grepel

Lotto-Soudal teammates Jens Debusschere and André Greipel at the 2015 Three Days of De Panne

Jens Debusschere: “The race went pretty well for me, although sometimes I was positioned too far. That’s why I had to close some gaps and that cost energy. At the Forest of Wallers four riders of our team were part of the first thirty riders in the peloton. It was still a long way to go, but it was a good situation. Later I got in a group with Stybar, Vandenbergh and Wiggins, ideal for the team and me. After we got caught Jürgen attacked. Once we had covered the sector of Carrefour de l’Arbre I got in the group with Jürgen. The first seven riders in the ranking were too strong for me. Together with Luke Rowe I jumped away from the chase group. The circumstances changed all the time, I’m happy with the ninth place.”

Marc Sergeant, manager Lotto Soudal: “The team animated the race again. Unfortunately we didn’t get the top result we had hoped for. Although there were moments in the race it could have turned out differently, when Jens was in the group with Wiggins or when Jürgen attacked. If Jürgen would have been joined by some riders it could have been the right move. On the other hand with about seventy kilometres to go we missed a breakaway. The team did everything they could to get back. Especially Marcel Sieberg did a good job at that point.”

“We weren’t strong enough to get a podium place. That’s the story of the past classics as well. Previous years we had less good results though. From Milan-Sanremo on we animated the race each time and we now have almost three times more WorldTour points than at this time last year. But we miss a top result. We can’t blame our riders. Now we’re looking forward to the Ardennes classics.”

And finally this is LottoNL-Jumbo's Paris-Roubaix news:

Sep Vanmarcke finished eleventh in Paris-Roubaix, the ‘Hell of the North’ behind German winner John Degenkolb of Giant-Alpecin. Vanmarcke’s teammates assisted him until late in the race by keeping their leader out of the wind and positioned. Things went south kilometres from the Roubaix Velodrome, right after an acceleration on the Bourghelles sector, when Vanmarcke punctured.

Tom Van Asbroeck and Maarten Wynants brought the Belgian back into the group of favourites, but the extra effort didn’t make things easier for Vanmarcke. He was unable to follow when Yves Lampaert (Etixx) and Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) attacked in the final ten kilometres, joined by Degenkolb, then Zdenek Stybar (Etixx) and a group with Lars Boom. “I flatted exactly when my final started,” Vanmarcke explained.

“I’d just split up the group with an attack and felt strong. I wanted to give my everything one more time and I thought that not many would be able to go with me, but destiny decided otherwise, and not for the first time this spring.”

Vanmarcke had hoped to get in the mix for a classic victory prior to the season, but every time, something went wrong. “Every time when it was crunch time this spring, something happened to me. It’s actually been a very annoying spring, it was a spring of bad luck. I’ve become stronger, but I haven’t been able to show it.”

Sep Vanmarcke

Sep Vanmarcke racing in the 2015 Tirreno-Adriatico

“The team was superb today. I was happy Tom and Maarten were there for me when I punctured. Thanks to them, I was able to reconnect with the front group, but because of the huge effort, I couldn’t really do more than just chase. I tried to make the most of the sprint and I think there isn’t much shame in finishing behind Kristoff. I left with my head held high.”

Sports Director Nico Verhoeven was disappointed by his leader’s bad luck during the race. “We were on our way to a good result with Sep, but a flat tire at a bad moment cost us dearly. In a race like Roubaix, you just can’t have any misfortune.

“Sep couldn’t do his thing anymore because of the extra effort. Due to the puncture, we practically lost Tom and Maarten as well. We were still in the mix with three men at that moment, but because of Sep’s flat tire we needed to sacrifice them.”

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