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Bicycle Racing News and Opinion
Wednesday, April 22 2015

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Today's Racing

Two races today. First, there is the ongoing Italian Giro del Trentino. Today it's the hilly second stage, going from Dro to Brentonico.

And of course, there is the Big Dog, the single-day Belgian classic La Flèche Wallonne, 205 kilometers of tough, hilly racing.

Today's News

Since yesterday's news was devoted solely to to the Hein Verbruggen-UCI matter, I've got a little bit of catching up to to do.

La Flèche Wallonne News

Of course, most attention goes to La Flèche Wallone.

BMC's Flèche Wallonne roster:

The BMC Racing Team's roster for La Flèche Wallonne includes past winner Philippe Gilbert (2011) and past runner-up Samuel Sánchez (2006), as well as recent Brabantse Pijl winner Ben Hermans. The 205.5-kilometer WorldTour race takes place Wednesday in Belgium.

Riders: Brent Bookwalter (USA), Philippe Gilbert (BEL), Ben Hermans (BEL), Amaël Moinard (FRA), Samuel Sánchez (ESP), Dylan Teuns (BEL), Tejay van Garderen (USA), Danilo Wyss (SUI).

Sport Director: Valerio Piva (ITA)

Amael Moinard

Amaël Moinard will be at the Flèche Wallonne start line.

Sky's Flèche Wallonne lineup:

Team Sky has confirmed its rider line-up for La Flèche Wallonne: Philip Deignan, Chris Froome, Sergio Henao, Peter Kennaugh, Vasil Kiryienka, Lars-Petter Nordhaug, Wout Poels and Nicholas Roche

Orica-GreenEdge's Flèche Wallonne plans:

British climber Simon Yates and three-time 2014 Tour de Romandie stage winner Michael Albasini have earned themselves a lead role in ORICA-GreenEDGE's assault on La Flèche Wallonne this Wednesday.

Whilst it's the form of Yates at the recent Vuelta Ciclista al Pais Vasco, finishing an impressive fifth overall, that sees the team show him support, it's Albasini's consistency at the second Ardennes Classic that earns him the protection.

The 34-year-old has been the ORICA-GreenEDGE's top finisher in every edition they have raced, including a second place in the team's debut season in 2012.

"We will definitely go in with two options as a dual leadership on Wednesday," sport director Matt White said. "Whilst people might not see Michael Albasini's results at Amstel or Basque country as anything special, it's a race that suits him and his consistency over the last five years certainly deserves respect.

"Then so does Simon Yates' form. Looking at his performance at the Basque country, he definitely deserves our protection too."

The pair will attempt to back up the well-executed team ride at yesterday's Amstel Gold Race that saw Michael Matthews claim his second Classics podium for 2015. Matthews will line up in a support role alongside fellow Amstel teammates Simon Clarke, Christian Meier and Pieter Weening. The fresh legs of Esteban Chaves and Damien Howson complete the team.

"I think we have the ability to be on the podium," White said. "It's the second time Simon Yates has ridden this race and Albasini has ridden it many times very consistently. So the goal is a podium. If we rode like we did at Amstel Gold Race and miss out on a podium, that would still be satisfying. You can only control certain things."

The only summit finish Classic, La Flèche Wallonne has traditionally always been won on the final climb of the Mur de Huy with a large group of riders surviving to position at the foot of the last ascent. This year, organisers have introduced an additional climb up Côte de Cherave immediately prior in attempt to see some variety in proceedings.

"Fleche has less climbs and is nowhere near as technical as Amstel yesterday," White explained. "In general, it's been a pretty predictable race but the new climb may change things a bit. The new climb, that we are going to check out today, is five kilometres from the finish.

"Although I think it'll just soften up the number of guys arriving at the bottom of the final climb. Instead of 70-80 guys there may be 30-40, but at the end of the day the winners will be the same, the race will still be won on the final climb."

Orica-GreenEDGE at La Fleche Wallonne (22 April): Michael Albasini, Esteban Chaves, Simon Clarke, Damien Howson, Michael Matthews, Christian Meier, Pieter Weening and Simon Yates.

Michael Matthews

Michael Matthews finishes the 2015 Brabantse Pijl.

Tinkoff-Saxo's plans for Flèche Wallonne:

With a squad in shape after Amstel Gold Race, Tinkoff-Saxo takes on Flèche Wallonne and the dreaded Mur de Huy. Rafal Majka leads the squad backed by Roman Kreuziger with the ambition of representing his team in the full-out surge up Mur de Huy.

Joining the team prior to the Belgian midweek classic off the back of racing in País Vasco and a subsequent block of training, Rafal Majka aims at delivering his best on the iconic and decisive Mur du Huy. “I hope that I hit the day in Fléche Wallonne. I want to do my best for the team and that involves delivering on the Mur de Huy. I saw from Amstel Gold Race that both Valgren and Kreuziger are in good shape so I think we have several options. I join the Ardennes squad after a period of training and I reckon that I’ve had a descent build-up. Of course, with Flèche being the first race after País Vasco, it’s difficult to know exactly where I am, but for sure I hope to be there at the front of the bunch the last time up Mur de Huy”, says Rafal Majka and adds: “Typically there’s a big fight for positioning at the bottom in Huy, as it’s important to enter the climbs in a good position. It’s a hard climb and you just have to go full gas and give it your all”.

With 205.5km of climbing in Ardennes territory, La Flèche Wallone offers undulating racing. But unlike its counterparts Amstel Gold Race and Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Flèche Wallonne puts less strain on the riders on the way to the final ascend of Mur du Huy, where the race then explodes in a anaerobic performance arguably unparalleled during the cycling season.

According to team sports director Sean Yates, Tinkoff-Saxo will face tough competition in the classic but approaches the race heads held high with eight riders in-shape. “At Amstel Gold Race, we got the confirmation that the general condition is on the up. And now with the addition of Rafal, I hope that we can be a force and play with the best in this sort of terrain. Flèche is not a super duper hard race, but obviously the finale will ensure that the strongest guy wins. During Amstel we had five riders in that 60-man group before the finish, which means that we’re in good physical shape and we can fully commit to try and create a result in Flèche, whether it’s on the Mur with Rafal or with Roman perhaps in a more continuous effort”, notes Sean Yates, who adds that Tinkoff-Saxo has several cards to play:

“I’m hopeful that Rafal is good and I have no reason to believe that he’s not. Roman is also strong, he showed that in Amstel. Indeed, it’s not the best race for him but I hope that he can finish up there with Kiserlovski as well. There’s a new additional climb five kilometers from the finish, and to some extend Roman or even Robert could have a dig there. The race favorites like Rodriguez and Valverde are strong and they’re all going to save themselves for the finale, but I hope Rafal can achieve a top result on Mur de Huy. He has a strong support in Valgren and Boaro as well as Chris Anker, Rovny and Petrov to cover the early moves”.

Mur de Huy with its 1.3km of 9,6% is not only a major crowd-puller. The climb with sections of more than 20% is also the pinnacle of the Flèche Wallonne and where the winner reveals himself. In fact, the last time a favorite didn’t pull off a winning move on Mur de Huy was in 2003, where a breakaway kept the favorites at bay. Sean Yates explains the finishing challenge.

“We face Mur de Huy as the big race conclusion. It will be crucial to enter the climb in a good position and time the final burst. But no matter how you put it, with this kind of incline it’s simply a climb, where the strongest guy wins. They are going to push their threshold and go all out and we hope that Rafal hits the day. We have a versatile package that should be competitive, but talking about the final result, we are up against pure specialists on a climb like this so we, of course, know that it wont be easy”, finishes Sean Yates.

Tinkoff-Saxo lines up Rafal Majka, Roman Kreuziger, Michael Valgren, Robert Kiserlovski, Chris Anker Sørensen, Manuele Boaro, Ivan Rovny and Evgeny Petrov at La Flèche Wallonne.

Rafal Majka

Rafal Majka (shown at last year's Tour of Poland) will be on the start line at this year's Flèche Wallonne.

Race Preview

Lotto-Soudal's plans for Flèche Wallonne:

Tomorrow, 22nd April, the peloton returns to Belgium for the second race of the Ardennes triptych: the 79th Flèche Wallonne. The peloton will search for a new reigning champion at the Mur de Huy. Last year Alejandro Valverde managed to win. The two leading men in the Lotto Soudal team are: Jelle Vanendert and Tim Wellens. For Tim this will be the third participation while Jelle will ride his eighth Flèche Wallonne. He already finished three times in the top 10: sixth in 2011 and 2014, and fourth in 2012.

Jelle Vanendert: "I still have some consequences of my crash in the Amstel Gold Race, especially my fingers and shoulder are damaged. It's hard to predict if this will have any influence in the race tomorrow. I don't feel bad when I'm on the bike, only when I get up on the pedals I feel it's not completely as it should be. Although on Sunday it wasn't too bad after all and that's hopeful."

"The penultimate climb, new on the route, should make sure the peloton is smaller when it gets to the final ascent of the Mur de Huy. I would like that. Another possible scenario is that a group of five to ten riders takes off and that those men will contest the victory. Such a scenario is now more likely than in the past. I can wait until the Mur, I have proven that already, but when some strong riders jump away on the Côte de Cherave I won't hesitate to join them."

"It's my goal to get another top ten place, if the consequences of the crash don't bother me too much. With Tim Wellens we have an extra asset. If I feel less good I will ride for him. Otherwise we are with two to try something in the final."

Herman Frison, sports director Lotto Soudal: "With Tim Wellens and Jelle Vanendert we have two guys in our team that can set a high result in the Flèche Wallonne. We hope that Jelle has sufficiently recovered from his crash in the Amstel Gold Race and Tim knows the region really well. On Monday we did a recon and covered all the adjustments to the final. Bart De Clercq, Sander Armée, Louis Vervaeke and Thomas De Gendt are four fresh riders who are racing well uphill and can support our leaders. Of course we strive for a good result. There are lots of opponents, but it should be possible with this team."

Team Selection Lotto Soudal: Sander Armée, Bart De Clercq, Thomas De Gendt, Pim Ligthart, Dennis Vanendert, Jelle Vanendert, Louis Vervaeke and Tim Wellens.

Sports directors: Herman Frison and Frederik Willems.

Tim Wellens

Lotto-Belisol is hoping Tim Wellens (shown at the 2014 Eneco Tour) does well at this year's race.

LottoNL-Jumbo sent this Flèche Wallonne release:

Team LottoNL-Jumbo will start La Flèche Wallonne on Wednesday with
two leaders, Wilco Kelderman and Paul Martens. "We are working hard to get to the top, which requires a certain way of racing,” Sports Director Merijn Zeeman said.

“I saw encouraging things on Sunday in the Amstel Gold Race. We rode
an attractive race. It’s the result that counts, however, and we
failed to bag one. We want to race with courage, though, and doing so,
the results will follow. I’m convinced of that.”

Team LottoNL-Jumbo will work for Wilco Kelderman and Paul Martens in La Flèche Wallonne. “We want to help Wilco and Paul start the Mur in the best possible position and shape. The final kilometres are more difficult than last year because the organisation added an extra climb. I expect that a smaller group will fight for victory this time around.”

Wilco Kelderman feels ready for La Flèche Wallonne after his performance in
the Amstel Gold Race and wants a good result on the Mur de Huy. “Things went better than expected in Amstel,” said the Dutchman, who fell sick last week. “I felt really good in the final. I could even attack. That’s a good thing as it only makes me stronger. With La Flèche Wallonne coming up, that’s a good sign. “It’s also very convenient to ride La Flèche Wallonne with a Tour de France stage finishing on the Mur this year. I trained in the area a few times already, but racing is always different.”

Dutchman Robert Gesink will make his comeback in La Flèche Wallonne after a disrupted spring. “I’m delighted with Robert’s return,” added Zeeman. “He will get some race kilometres in his legs. Though he already began 2015, his season really kicks off on Wednesday.”

Team line-up:Laurens ten Dam, Robert Gesink, Wilco Kelderman, Tom Leezer, Nick van der Lijke, Bert-Jan Lindeman, Paul Martens & Mike Teunissen.

Sports Directors: Frans Maassen & Merijn Zeeman.

Laurens ten Dam

Laurens ten Dam will be at the Flèche Wallonne. He's shown racing in the 2014 Vuelta a Espana.

Giant-Alpecin's rosters for the upcoming week's races:

RACE PREVIEW: APRIL 20 - 28

LA FLÈCHE WALLONNE (WT)

The second in the series of the Ardennes Classics is La Flèche Wallonne this Wednesday. The steep uphill finish on the Mur de Huy has always been a challenge for the team as it has never achieved top results there so far. The team's best finisher of last year's edition was Tom Dumoulin (NED) as 21st but he will not compete on Wednesday as he will fully focus on Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

Team Giant-Alpecin comes to the Belgian one-day classic with a line-up of specialists for the hilly races including Warren Barguil (FRA) and Georg Preidler (AUT), complemented by a balanced mix of youth and experience.

"Our main goal is to go for a good result with Barguil. We have a young team and the experienced Johannes Fröhlinger (GER) will be our team captain. Preidler already showed his excellent shape in last weekend's Amstel Gold Race and he will be good support for Barguil in the finale", explained coach Aike Visbeek (NED).

COACH: Aike Visbeek (NED)

LINE-UP: Warren Barguil (FRA), Lawson Craddock (USA), Caleb Fairly (USA), Johannes Fröhlinger (GER), Thierry Hupond (FRA), Cheng Ji (CHN), Fredrik Ludvigsson (SWE), Georg Preidler (AUT)

LA FLÈCHE WALLONNE FÉMININE (CDM)

This Wednesday the UCI Womens Road World Cup continues with La Flèche Wallonne Féminine. In absence of five-time winner Marianne Vos (Rabobank-Liv), a much more open race is expected.

Team Liv-Plantur will miss their climber Claudia Lichtenberg (GER) as she needs more time to recover from a bad crash in Gent-Wevelgem. Lichtenberg will be replaced by Willeke Knol (NED). Amy Pieters (NED) and Sabrina Stultiens (NED) will lead the team on Wednesday as the line-up is completed by Sara Mustonen-Lichan (SWE), Julia Soek (NED), and Kyara Stijns (NED).

Coach Dirk Reuling (NED) looks ahead: "Our plan is to have Stultiens and Pieters as fresh as possible at the start of the final climb on the Mur de Huy. In that way we aim for a place among the first 15.

"Stultiens has the opportunity to become the new leader in the youth classification of the World Cup which may become a secondary target for us, but that depends on the progress of the race. We had a good recon recent Thursday. It was especially useful because of the climb that is added to the final section of the parcours, which makes the race even more difficult."

COACH: Dirk Reuling (NED)

LINE-UP: Willeke Knol (NED), Sara Mustonen-Lichan (SWE), Amy Pieters (NED), Julia Soek (NED) Kyara Stijns (NED), Sabrina Stultiens (NED)

Amy Pieters

Amy Pieters will be at La Flèche Wallonne Féminine.

EPZ OMLOOP VAN BORSELE WE (UCI 1.1)

The third race for the Top Competition will take place this Saturday in the always windy region of Zeeland (NL). Team Liv-Plantur will aim for a good result in the race, which is not often decided in a bunch sprint.

The Team Liv-Plantur line-up includes Floortje Mackaij (NED), winner of Gent-Wevelgem and Amy Pieters (NED), runner-up in the Ronde van Drenthe.

"We hope for a strong wind on Saturday as a hard race will be in our advantage. Pieters will lead the team and she will be surrounded by a strong team of specialists for these kind of races.

"It is important that we keep control over the race and that we have the ability to take the initiative when needed. The route is unchanged for years so we know what to expect", explained coach Hans Timmermans (NED).

COACH: Hans Timmermans (NED)

LINE-UP: Willeke Knol (NED), Floortje Mackaij (NED), Sara Mustonen-Lichan (SWE), Amy Pieters (NED), Julia Soek (NED), Kyara Stijns (NED)

LIÈGE-BASTOGNE-LIÈGE (WT)

The Ardennes campaign is rounded off by Sunday's Liège-Bastogne-Liège. The 253km race faces 10 ranked climbs including the legendary Redoute. Team Giant-Alpecin aims for a good result with Tom Dumoulin (NED) and Warren Barguil (FRA).

Best finisher for the team in last's year's Liège-Bastogne-Liège was Simon Geschke (GER) as 24th. The German rider will return to competition in this year’s race after recovering from a broken collarbone. His objective will be to regain his racing rhythm and to support the team wherever possible.

Coach Aike Visbeek on Sunday's classic: "It is obvious that we will continue to aim for a good result with Dumoulin and Barguil. I am very happy to have Geschke back onboard as his experience in those kind of races is very valuable for us.

"I expect a difficult race. Both Dumoulin and Barguil will aim for the finale and then we will see who has the better legs. Georg Preidler (AUT) is doing very well and I hope he will be able to support the guys until the Côte de la Roche-aux-Faucons."

COACH: Aike Visbeek (NED)

LINE-UP:Warren Barguil (FRA), Lawson Craddock (USA), Tom Dumoulin (NED), Caleb Fairly (USA), Johannes Fröhlinger (GER), Simon Geschke (GER), Thierry Hupond (FRA), Georg Preidler (AUT)

DWARS DOOR DE WESTHOEK (UCI 1.1)

Sunday's Dwars door de Westhoek is the fourth race in the Lotto Cycling Cup 2015. In recent years the team's Lucy Garner (GBR) performed well with a sixth place in 2013 and a second place in last year's race.

Garner is included in the line-up of Team Liv-Plantur again this year, and she is in very good shape with a second place in last Sunday's Ronde van Gelderland. She will be supported by a strong team including Amy Pieters (NED) and Sabrina Stultiens (NED). Both girls are in excellent shape and capable of competing in the finale.

Coach Hans Timmermans: "Dwars door de Westhoek is to some extent comparable with Gent-Wevelgem as the race will take place in the same area. The weather forecast is looking good so we probably do not have to challenge the bad weather conditions we faced in recent Gent-Wevelgem.

"Three times the Rodeberg is normally enough for a partition in the bunch and we have the team to maintain the front positions. If the Rodeberg does not have its effect on the peloton we have Garner for the sprint. She raced to the podium in last year's edition and her second place in Ronde van Gelderland has given her a lot of confidence".

LINE-UP: Lucy Garner (GBR), Sara Mustonen-Lichan (SWE), Amy Pieters (NED), Julia Soek (NED), Kyara Stijns (NED), Sabrina Stultiens (NED)

TOUR DE ROMANDIE (WT)

The final preparations for the Giro d'Italia will be completed in the Tour de Romandie. The Swiss six-stage race kicks off with a team time trial and traditionally counts for a lot of climbing. An individual time trial in Lausanne will round out the race and decide the general classification.

In last year's edition Marcel Kittel (GER) was closest to a stage win with his third place in the prologue. Once again in 2015, Team Giant-Alpecin will be looking for a good stage result in Switzerland.

The Team Giant-Alpecin line-up includes Luka Mezgec (SLO), who will be the man for the stages with a sprint chance, as well as Tobias Ludvigsson (SWE), who will use his time trial capacities to aim for a good results in the finishing stage, and Georg Preidler (AUT) who may try for a breakaway in one of the climbing stages. Tom Veelers (NED) returns to competition in the Tour de Romandie after recovering from a knee injury.

Coach Christian Guiberteau (FRA) looks ahead: "Our main goal is to go for a stage victory with our sprinter Mezgec. For Ludvigsson it becomes an ideal opportunity to get into racing again after his wrist injury. In Romandie he and Chad Haga (USA) will get the space to gain rhythm, which might result in a nice GC classification. For most of the guys it will be their last race to refine their shape before the Giro d'Italia begins."

COACH: Christian Guiberteau (FRA)

LINE-UP:Johannes Fröhlinger (GER), Chad Haga (USA), Thierry Hupond (FRA), Cheng Ji (CHN), Tobias Ludvigsson (SWE), Luka Mezgec (SLO), Georg Preidler (AUT), Tom Veelers (NED)

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