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Bicycle Racing News and Opinion
Wednesday, March 11, 2015

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Today's Racing

We've got two ongoing stage races running today plus the start of another: the Tour de Langkawi stage 2 and Paris-Nice stage 3, plus the start of Tirreno Adriatico. My apologies: I have been trying to post Tour de Langkawi results in the evening (Pacific Time), but with the change to Daylight Savings Time, the results are available too late in the evening. I get them posted first thing in the morning now.

Tirreno-Adriatico Will Start Today: Wednesday, March 11

Trreno Adriatico protagonists

The likely protagonists in this year's Tirreno-Adriatico gathered at the Lido di Camaiore hotel for a pre-race press conference. From the left: Peter Sagan, Alberto Contador, Vincenzo Nibali, Rigoberto Uran and Fabian Cancellara

The UCI had this informative post about Tirreno-Adriatico, called the "Race of Two Seas" because it follows a route between the Tyrrhenian and Adriatic coasts of Italy.

From the UCI:

The UCI WorldTour heads to Italy this week for the seven-stage Tirreno-Adriatico raced between the Tyrrhenian and Adriatic seas.

Rohan Dennis (BMC) currently leads the individual UCI WorldTour rankings after winning the Tour Down Under in Australia. He scored a total of 110 points, followed by fellow Australian Richie Porte (Team Sky) with 86 points. BMC leads the team ranking, while Australia is at the top of the nation ranking. The season-long rankings will next be updated after Paris-Nice and then Tirreno-Adriatico.

Race organiser RCS Sport has attracted a star-studded line-up for the fiftieth edition of Tirreno-Adriatico. Tour de France contenders Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo), Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) and Nairo Quintana (Movistar) are expected to fight for victory. Chris Froome (Team Sky) will not start due to illness, but whoever emerges as the final winner of the race leader’s blue jersey will land a psychological blow to their rivals in view of the Tour de France and other important stage races on the 2015 WorldTour calendar.

Tirreno-Adriatico also traditionally attracts the sprinters and Classics riders looking to polish their form for the rapidly approaching Spring Classics and especially for Milan-San Remo on Sunday March 22. Mark Cavendish (Etixx-QuickStep) leads the long list, with Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing) both keen to test their form before heading to Belgium and Northern France.

The route of this year’s Tirreno-Adriatico is a perfect mix of road racing, with terrain and opportunities for every kind of rider and a big mountain stage that will no doubt decide the overall classification before the final time trial crowns the eventual winner.

The racing begins on the Tuscany coast of the Tyrrhenian sea on Wednesday March 11 with a high-speed 5.4km individual time trial on the seafront after fallen trees caused a switch from the planned 22.7km team time trial.

2015 Tirreno-Adriatico map

2015 Tirreno-Adriatico route

Stage two and three take the peloton across Tuscany to Cascina, near Pisa, then to Arezzo. The sprinters will be to the fore in Cascina, with the uphill finish in Arezzo making for a more selective finale. Sagan won in Arezzo in 2014 and so could finally take his first win of 2015 in the city if he has the power and speed to beat his rivals.

Stage four to Castelraimondo is perfect for a breakaway attempt but could also be important for the battle for overall victory. However the big show down will surely come on stage five to Terminillo, with the 16km climb finishing at 1675m amongst the snow and local skiers.

The race reaches the Adriatic coast on stage six, with a 210km ride to Porto Sant'Elpidio. This will be the last chance for the sprinters and their teams before the final stage seven 10km individual time trial in San Benedetto del Tronto. The short flat time trial will decide who lifts the overall winner’s trident trophy and follow on from Alberto Contador, who dominated Tirreno-Adriatico in 2014.

Alberto Contador wears race number one as defending champion and looks to be the favourite for this year’s race as he prepares to target both the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France.

The absence of Froome will help the Spaniard but he knows he cannot underestimate 2014 Giro d’Italia winner Nairo Quintana or Vincenzo Nibali. The Italian may not be at his best but he won Tirreno-Adriatico in 2012 and 2013. He is an expert at handling difficult spring weather conditions and has a strong team to help him. Quintana delayed his European debut until Tirreno-Adriatico but has trained hard in Colombia in recent weeks. Other overall contenders include Rigoberto Uran (Etixx-QuickStep), Dan Martin (Cannondale-Garmin), Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) and Frenchman Thibaut Pinot (FDJ).

Marcel Kittel (Giant-Alpecin) will not ride Tirreno-Adriatico due to illness and so will not take on Cavendish in the sprints. However other fast finishers and Classics stars on the start list include Sagan, Cancellara, Edvald Boasson Hagen (MTN-Qhubeka), Greg Van Avermaet (BMC), Zdenek Stybar (Etixx-QuickStep), Matteo Pelucchi (IAM Cycling), Filippo Pozzato (Lampre-Merida) and Elia Viviani (Team Sky).

Orica-GreenEdge Very Happy With Tour de Langkawi Stage 3 Results:

After Caleb Ewen's stage 3 win, Orica-GreenEdge sent out this note:

After two consecutive second places neo-pro sprinter Caleb Ewan has made his breakthrough at the Tour de Langkawi, winning stage three in a reduced bunch sprint and moving into the race lead. The victory marks the 20-year-old’s first victory off Australian soil as a professional and the first for Orica-GreenEdge at the Tour de Langkawi.

It also moves the young gun into the overall race lead, with 13 seconds advantage to Natnael Berhane (MTN – Qhubeka).

“It’s a bit of a relief,” Ewan said. “Today was a bit harder and the sprinters weren’t really there. It was a pretty hard day for the whole team. Obviously with me being the only sprinter in the group, the team had to work pretty hard to bring back the break. It was good to get the win in the end to reward them.”

Langkawi stage 3 finish

Tour de Langkawi stage 3 finish

After putting on the pressure with his Orice-GreenEdge teammates on two early climbs, Ewan arrived into Tanah Merah with a group of 50 riders and was too strong for Youcef Reguigui (MTN – Qhubeka) and Leanardo Duque (Team Colombia) who rounded out the podium.

“I was pretty tired coming into the final sprint,” Ewan continued. “Pieter [Weening] did a really good job. We just waited and let the other teams do some work in the last few kilometres and then in the last kilometre we moved up right near the front. I just jumped on a few other guys wheels in the sprint and came around them with about 200metres to go.”

Despite the race lead, the pint-sized sprinter said the team will likely stick with their stage ambitions as the priority in the coming days. “We will probably keep going for stage wins like we have been,” Ewan said. “I don’t think it’ll change too much with the yellow jersey. We will probably be expected to do a bit more than what we have had to so far so that will make it a bit harder but we are more than capable of doing it.”

The 170km stage three journey from Gerik to Tanah Merah presented two categorised climbs in the first 70km, the second of which a category one up Titiwangsa. With 100km left to recover, one would have commonly assumed the damage would not have been so great but at the top of the second king of the mountain the race was in three pieces.

An early-established five-rider breakaway led a first chase group of approximately 45 riders with Ewan, fellow sprinter Leigh Howard, New Zealand’s Sam Bewley and Orica-GreenEdge general classification leader Pieter Weening at three minutes 20seconds, and a trailing group at over six minutes.

The back group, with the winner of the previous two stages and race leader Andrea Guardini (Astana Pro Team), never recovered as Orica-GreenEdge kept their foot on the gas at the front.

“The first 70km was basically all uphill and we wanted to make it as hard as possible,” sport director Matt Wilson said. “We hoped it would cause as much damage as it did but to be honest I am surprised. On paper it wasn’t a terribly hard climb, it was a fairly gradual gradient, and I was pretty sure the sprinters would be able to come back because there was such a long way to the finish. Fortunately for us the gap was just too big and we had enough troops at the top that we could keep the speed up and take the morale out of the chase group.”

Always great to have a win on the board, Wilson said there is more to come for the up-and-coming talent. “It’s our first win at Langkawi, so for Caleb and for me personally it’s a relief,” Wilson said. “I think it would be great for him to beat Guardini head to head in a sprint, that would be a huge feather in his cap. But not taking anything away from his win today, he was one of the better climbers today, he was there with 25 guys at the top of the climb. He is a fantastic talent.”

Paris-Nice Stage Two News

This came from Lotto-Soudal:

With only one rider in front it was an easy day for the peloton. The Frenchman Arnaud Gérard got more than seven minutes advantage, but the bunch caught him already with 35 kilometres to go. A hill at eight kilometres from the finish line in Saint-Amand-Montrond caused excitement. Tony Martin attacked and was joined by Geraint Thomas, Lars Boom and Matti Breschel. Lotto Soudal riders Tony Gallopin and Tim Wellens realized the danger of the situation and responded. It was a short counterattack, Orica and Lotto Soudal then had to organize the chase.

It was over for the escapees with one and a half kilometre to go. That was the sign for Adam Hansen to get to the front of the peloton with the rest of the Lotto Soudal train in his wheel. In the final hectometres Greg Henderson did the lead-out for André Greipel. The German champion was launched with two hundred metres to go. Because of the headwind French champion Arnaud Démare could come close to Greipel, but he resisted and sprinted to his second victory of the season after winning the second stage in the Volta ao Algarve. With men like Degenkolb, Démare, Bouhanni, Kristoff and Matthews the competition was strong, but nobody could get over Greipel.

Andre Greipel wins Paris-Nice stage 2

Andre Greipel wins Paris-Nice stage 2

André Greipel: “Paris-Nice is a big race. Every victory is important, but a victory in a WorldTour race like here is very nice for the team and me. Yesterday all went wrong what could go wrong, and the whole team was determined to set things straight today. It was a different sprint preparation than usual because of the attack of Martin, Thomas and Boom, but thanks to the reaction of Tony Gallopin and Tim Wellens we maintained a good position. We came to the front with more than three kilometres to go, Orica obviously had a plan, but we got in their slipstream with 800 metres to go. I was afraid that Greg Henderson began the sprint too early with the headwind, but I could take over and leave the rest behind me.”

“The entire team rode a marvellous sprint and we achieved a goal by winning this stage. Winning is never easy, but now we can go to the other stages a bit more relaxed. We have the right spirit for tomorrow’s stage and the goals later in Paris-Nice.”

Tinkoff-Saxo had this to Say about the second Paris-Nice stage:

Tinkoff-Saxo’s Matti Breschel was on the lookout for stage success at Paris-Nice. Breschel had bridged the gap to a strong front trio in the stage 2 finale but was forced to withdraw after a mechanical failure stopped the Dane in his tracks. Instead the stage ended in a sprint finish, where Andre Greipel proved the fastest.

After the stage, Sean Yates, Tinkoff-Saxo’s leading sport director at Paris-Nice, commented that bad luck at the wrong moment had spoiled Breschel’s chances.

Matti Breschel

Matti Breschel at the start of stage 4 of the 2014 Eneco Tour

“It’s always unfortunate, when a rider gets a mechanical at a crucial moment. Adding the fact that Matti was really strong today, of course, makes it even less fortunate. Tony Martin, Lars Boom and Geraint Thomas is a strong trio to catch down but Matti did it and he continued to hold on the following hill”, says Sean Yates and adds: “It of course makes it less heartrending that the trio didn’t hold on to the finish line, but you newer know what could have happened had Matti been in the group. What I know is that it looked impressive, when he bridged that gap to the three guys up front”.

Stage 2 of Paris-Nice took the riders 172 kilometers south to Saint-Amand-Montrond. The race started out at a slow pace allowing a lone rider out front to build an 8-minute advantage midway through the stage. However, as the peloton got closer to the stage finale, the sprinter’s teams turned up the heat and caught the escapee with around 40km’s to go.

“It was a slow day again, where the peloton sort of controlled the lone rider out front and ultimately brought him back in again. Our mission was once again to protect Rafal Majka and not to spend too much energy. But the stage was lit up, as we got into the last part and it definitely was a serious move, when Thomas, Boom and Martin attacked, as they are all within the GC top ten. I think that Matti did right, when he decided to follow”, explains Sean Yates.

“Tomorrow, we’ll get into more hilly terrain and the pace will probably pick up. Matti has showed that he’s in good shape and if the opportunity arises, we will of course be ready to take it. However, our main goal still awaits further on in the race”.

And while we're on the subject of Tinkoff-Saxo, this just arrived:

On the eve of the Tirreno-Adriatico, Tinkoff-Saxo is delighted to announce that the Spanish six-time Grand Tour winner will remain as its leader until the end of the 2016 season.

Alberto Contador is undoubtedly one of the world’s best stage racers and a legend in his lifetime. With six overall Grand Tour wins, more than any other active rider, along with numerous wins in stage races, Alberto has a claim to being the finest overall cyclist of this generation. As such, it is only natural Tinkoff-Saxo will have him as its leader for one more year, until the end of the 2016 season.

Contador had an impressive 2014 season, where he won the Vuelta a España after a spirited comeback following his hard crash at the Tour de France. Besides his win in the Spanish grand tour, Alberto also played a major role in the one-week stage races of 2014. He won the Tirreno-Adriatico and Vuelta al País Vasco and finished 2nd in both Critérium du Dauphiné and Volta a Catalunya, adding the top results to an already impressive palmares.

The 2015 season started on a high note with a great performance at the Ruta del Sol and will continue tomorrow, with the start of the prestigious Tirreno-Adriatico, as the Spanish rider focuses on his main goal of the season, to win the Giro d'Italia-Tour de France double.

Bjarne Riis, Tinkoff-Saxo Manager, Oleg Tinkov, Tinkoff-Saxo Owner, Alberto Contador and Stefano Feltrin, Tinkoff-Saxo CEO

Oleg Tinkov, Team Owner, expressed his satisfaction with the fact Alberto Contador will lead his team  for one more year: “I'm very happy that Alberto will lead Tinkoff-Saxo in 2016 as well, because I truly believe he is the best cyclist in the world and I am convinced he will continue to be so for a few more years. Unfortunately, he decided he would retire at the end of next year which means he will race with my team for two full seasons. I would have, obviously, preferred him to stay longer but that was his personal decision.

However, I am very proud that Alberto's impressive career will conclude in my team and I hope he takes the Tinkoff-Saxo colors to the top step of the Tour de France podium in 2015 and 2016.”

Bjarne Riis, Team Manager, commented on Alberto Contador's renewal: “I am, obviously, very happy Alberto extended his contract with Tinkoff-Saxo. Everybody knows I am a big fan of his and I look forward to working with him for another year. It's also extremely important for the team to have as a leader a champion of his caliber.

Tinkoff-Saxo

Tinkoff-Saxo guys, from left: team manager Bjarne Riis, Oleg Tinkoff, Alberto Contador and Stefano Feltrin, Tinkoff-Saxo CEO

This will be a very important year for Alberto and I'm confident it is going to be a good one. I have built a big part of the team around him and Tinkoff-Saxo will continue to fully support him. I believe that this is the best decision that Alberto could have made.”

Alberto Contador commented on the renewed deal: “For me it was something very important. I knew I could not wait much more because if I had to choose another option it should have been done much in advance, in order to adequately prepare the team.  We have been thoroughly assessing all aspects and in Tinkoff-Saxo we have a group that can fully guarantee the challenge of the Grand Tours.

It is true that it was important for 2016 to have these guarantees and for that reason I am very happy to have closed the deal. It is already five years that I have been working with Bjarne Riis and the possibility to continue for another year is satisfying. I would like to thank all the team's sponsors, Tinkoff Bank, Saxo Bank and Oleg Tinkov for their support. I am very happy and I look forward to start racing.”

And this about Paris-Nice from Lampre-Merida:

Paris-Nice is once again the playground for the fast wheels of the bunch.

In fact, the 2nd stage too ended in a massive sprint: on the arrival in Saint Amand de Montrond, 172 km from the start in the Zooparc de Beauval, the best sprinters of the group battled in a very fast final part of the race (light downhill from -5 km to -3 km to the arrival).

Niccolo Bonifazio

Bonifazio wins earlier this year at Lugano

Lampre-Merida's target was to support Bonifazio in view of the sprint: the blue-fuchsia-green riders (photo Bettini) and Niccolò realized a good performance, whose result was another one place in the top ten of the stage standing.
The young Italian sprinter was 10th (the best result for an Italian rider), Greipel won the stage.

Finally Rui Costa spent a calm stage after the previous two days during which he faced two crashes: he's 29th in the overall classification, that is led by Kwiatkowski (Plaza is 16th).

"We always aim to the best results, but the 10th place that Bonifazio obtained today could be considered as a quite good result - Mauduit and Pedrazzini, the two sport directors from Team Lampre-Merida, agreed - Niccolò is battling against the top sprinters, receiveing a good support by the team, and these experiences will improve his skills sprint after sprint".

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