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Bicycle Racing News and Opinion
Saturday, March 21, 2015

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

Today's Racing

We'll be covering two races today, the French Classic Loire Atlantique and the Dutch Ronde van Zeeland Seaports. Sunday's big race will be Milano-San Remo. But we'll also have results for the French Cholet-Pays de Loire. Lots of racing this weekend.

Racing Season Moves Up a Notch This Weekend

With Milano-San-Remo happening Sunday, the 2015 bicycle racing season starts in earnest. The UCI had this appraisal of the coming cycling competition:

The UCI WorldTour moves into top gear this week with Milano-San Remo opening the season of Spring Classics on Sunday and the Volta Ciclista a Catalunya, which starts on Monday, the next big challenge for the stage race specialists.

Known as La Primavera in Italy, Milano-San Remo is the first of the five ‘Monuments’, ushering in a full month of top one-day racing that stretches from Italy to Belgium, the Netherlands and France.

By far the longest Classic on the calendar, at 293 kilometres, Milano-San Remo starts with a slow build-up as the bunch treks its way across the plains of northern Italy. The finale, however, is always fast and furious. The insertion by organisers of two late ascents - the Poggio climb in 1962 and the Cipressa climb in 1982 - makes the last hour of racing a constant, thrilling battle between the sprinters and their teams and the breakaway specialists. Furthermore, the re-introduction in 2015 of the finish on the Via Roma in Sanremo considerably reduces the distance between the foot of the Poggio and the finish line. It will make this year’s battle for victory an even harder-fought affair than usual.

2014 Milano-San Remo finish

Alexander Kristoff winning the 2014 Milano-San Remo

After three straightforward initial stages, Volta Ciclista a Catalunya has its hardest leg on Thursday, with the race’s only Hors Categorie climb of La Creueta preceding a summit finish at the Pyrenean ski station of La Molina. However almost every other flat finish is preceded by a difficult climb in the final hour of racing, and the last stage’s showdown in Barcelona on Sunday 29th features multiple ascents on a circuit through the Montjuic Park. The absence of an individual time trial makes the event far more unpredictable, too.

The UCI WorldTour’s current leader, Richie Porte (Team Sky), is due to be racing in the Volta Ciclista a Catalunya, as is last year’s outright winner of the series, Alejandro Valverde (Movistar Team) and Rigoberto Urán (Etixx-Quick Step), currently lying eighth overall. Meanwhile reigning World Road Champion Michal Kwiatkowski (Etixx-Quick Step), fourth in the UCI WorldTour, is the best placed rider in the provisional line-up for Milano-Sanremo.

Other top names for the Volta Ciclista a Catalunya include  defending champion Joaquin Rodriguez (Team Katusha) and Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo), first and second overall last year, as well as Britain’s Chris Froome (Team Sky), returning from a spell of illness after a strong start to the year.

The line-up of potential favourites in Milano-San Remo, meanwhile, is almost too long to list. Former winners like Alexander Kristoff (Team Katusha), Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing), Gerald Ciolek (MTN-Qhubeka) and Mark Cavendish (Etixx-Quick Step) are all contenders. However, the unpredictable format of Milano-Sanremo, as well as the dramatic knock-on effects of the smallest change in the weather and wind direction in such a hard race, makes it extremely difficult to pick a single standout name. But as fans of La Primavera like to point out, that is exactly why Milano-Sanremo is such an amazing race.

Racers Less Likely to Compete in Extreme Weather

There was a meeting in Milan on Friday, with David Millar, Luuc Eisenga, Jean-François Pécheux and Mauro Vegni, representing racers, sports groups and race organizers. The result was an agreement allowing racers to have more say in about racing during extreme weather, participating in decisions as to whether the given competition is to be run as planned, changed, or cancelled. The agreement allows for decision to be made jointly by the race organizer, the president of the jury commissioners and a representative from the racing teams. The agreement will go into effect next season.

Niaro Quintana

Nairo Quintana wins Tirenno-Adriatico's stage 5

The meeting came about after the snow in the fifth stage of this year's Tirreno-Adriatico and the extreme heat that caused the cancellation of a stage in this year's Tour of Oman.

Team Reports for Handzame Classic

This from Cult Energy:

The 195 kilometer long Belgium one-day race, Handzame Classic is usually effected by the harsh wind conditions near the coastline but Friday’s weather forecast reported only light wind, which also meant perfect conditions for a bunch sprint. But Cult Energy Pro Cycling’s Alex Kirsch worked tirelessly in the break throughout the day for a spot on the podium.

The breakaway split up due to the tenacious attacks from Cult Energy Pro Cycling’s Alex Kirsch and eventually only Connor Dunne was able to follow the pace of the Luxembourgian rider. As the gap started to crumble, Kirsch decided to move on alone and dropped his last standing companion while the attacks started flying left and right from the peloton.

Entering the final 15 kilometers, the show was over for the young Cult Energy Pro Cycling rider as he was swept up by the peloton and the expected bunch sprint was under way. The Etixx-Quick Step riders formed the train that brought their captain, Gianni Meersman first across the finish line.

Gianni Meersman wind Handzame Classic

Gianni Meersman wins the 2015 Handzame Classic

Cult Energy Pro Cycling's Alex Kirsch says: “My job was to participate in breakaways from the gun so naturally I did my best to be in the right place at the right time and just like Wednesday, I was fortunate enough to hit the crucial move. I think we went a little too fast in the beginning but I had some fuel left in the tank on the penultimate lap so I took a chance and went for it. Generally, I feel strong and I'm already looking forward to tomorrow's race," concludes Alex Kirsch.

DS, Luke Roberts says: "Alex was executing the plan beautifully in the front of the race and when he was caught we tried to set up Russell (Downing) for the sprint. However, he didn't get a clear run to the finish line and we didn't get the result we came here for. There's another chance tomorrow where we're crossing the border to Holland where a little more wind is expected," says Roberts.

Cult Energy Pro Cycling had no riders in the top-10.

And this from Lotto-Soudal about the Handzame Classic:

Kenny Dehaes was the leader of the Lotto Soudal team in the Handzame Classic today. He won the race two years ago. Unfortunately Dehaes crashed early in the race and had to abandon. Gianni Meersman won. Tiesj Benoot was third.

In the first hour the riders covered 49.5 kilometres. Nobody could escape the peloton. It was only when the peloton slowed down that four riders got away. Kenny Dehaes crashed and had to leave the race. Lotto Soudal had to rely on plan B, that meant the riders had to attack. Vegard Breen, Tosh Van der Sande and Sean De Bie all tried, but couldn’t stay ahead. In the local laps in Handzame all escapees got caught and a bunch sprint couldn’t be avoided. Gianni Meersman was the fastest. Tiesj Benoot sprinted to the third place.

Tiesj Benoot: “I saw Kenny hit the ground. I stopped to see how he was doing, it was soon obvious that he couldn’t continue the race. We changed our tactics. At the end Tosh, Sean and Vegard could attack. I had to help Boris Vallée take a good position for the sprint. In the last three kilometres Sean and I rode behind the guys of Etixx - Quick-Step, with Boris Vallée just behind us. With one kilometre to go I saw Boris lost my wheel. It was too late to search for him, so I took my own chance. If I hadn’t done the efforts at the end, I might have finished higher.”

Kenny Dehaes, winner of the Handzame Classic in 2013, crashed on a hill. The race was over for him after ninety kilometres. It was immediately clear that it was serious. After his crashes in Tour Down Under and Three Days of West-Flanders this is another set-back for Dehaes. He went to the hospital of Herentals for further tests. He will undergo surgery this evening.

Kenny Dehaes

Kenny Dehaes with unbroken bones at the 2014 Paris-Roubaix

Servaas Bingé, team doctor Lotto Soudal: “Tests in the hospital of Herentals showed that Kenny has a fracture in the middle of the radius in his left arm. He undergoes surgery this evening. The first fourteen days he’ll have to rest. Then it’s waiting to see how the fracture heals before we can set a date for his comeback.”

Lotto-Soudal's Plans for Milano-San Remo

Lotto-Soudal released this:

Sunday 22nd March it’s the 106th edition of Milan-San Remo. Lotto Soudal starts this WorldTour race with a strong team. La Primavera is 293 kilometres long. Just like last year Le Manie and Pompeiana aren’t on the route. As usual, the Cipressa and Poggio are crucial points in the final. For the first time since years the finish line is drawn on the Via Roma.

The Lotto Soudal team has several strong riders in the selection. Two days before the start sports director Herman Frison, André Greipel, Jürgen Roelandts and Tony Gallopin give their preview of the race. They all agree, it’s unpredictable.

Herman Frison: “The finish line is drawn on the Via Roma again. According to me that doesn’t make much difference. The descent of the Poggio has always been important. Maybe now fewer riders get the chance to return to the front, but they probably wouldn’t be able to win anyway. The strongest riders are always present in the front. It is a big difference that Le Manie and Pompeiana aren’t part of the route. The group that gets to the Poggio will be bigger than if the Pompeiana had been an extra obstacle just before that climb. The Cipressa and Poggio remain crucial. Some teams will have to take control of the race. The strongest riders will attack. There are many who think they can make it till the end, but few who succeed. Often it ends with a sprint of fifteen to thirty riders. Milan-San Remo is always a special race. It’s difficult to predict and to win.”

“It’s an open race. The moment of truth starts at the Cipressa. We have to have as many riders in front as possible. If the moment is right we can let someone attack or join a breakaway. We have several opportunities. Wellens or Vanendert can escape. Greipel is our man for the sprint, but also Roelandts and Gallopin aren’t slow. Boeckmans is in top condition. The signs are positive for us. The recent performances of the team have given us a boost. It’s important that we have won with several riders. You feel it motivates the group. They stimulate each other. We can race without any pressure. We would be happy with  a podium place, but of course we prefer to win.”

André Greipel: “Sunday I rode the last sixty kilometres of Milan-San Remo. Of course I knew the final already, but it’s always good to see it again before the actual race. In any case it’s a good preparation. Every year there are attacks on the Cipressa and Poggio. That will be the same again this year. Last year I survived the Poggio, but because of cramps I didn’t get to participate in the sprint. I know now that I am able to get in the final. Mentally it was important, knowing that I am able to get over the Poggio with the best. The finish is closer to the Poggio now, that doesn’t help the sprinters. It will change the tactics. Anyhow, in Milan-San Remo anything can happen.”

“I have never been close to a good result in Milan-Sanremo. I never proved that I am able to win, but I am motivated. It would be great to add this race to my record. I’ll keep trying and challenging myself. I have a good condition and the team is strong. It would be fantastic if any rider of Lotto Soudal would get a good result. It also depends on the condition of the day of the race. If that’s fine you can give all you got in the final. I hope I will be up there at the end and can battle for the victory.” 

Andre Greipel

André Greipel winning stage 5 of the Algarve stage race.

Jürgen Roelandts: “I don’t think it’s a big disadvantage that I missed the Belgian opening weekend due to illness. The most important races of the season are yet to come. When you haven’t been on your bike for eight days, you always have to wait how your level of condition will be. As expected, the first day in Tirreno-Adriatico wasn’t great. The day after I could help Jens Debusschere to get in perfect position for the bunch sprint. Thanks to his victory the atmosphere in the team was good for the entire week, that helps. I finished Tirreno-Adriatico with a very good feeling, that’s important for the classics.”

“Milan-San Remo is a weird race. I want to be good on Sunday and ride the final. Lots can happen from the Poggio on. It’s the first time for me as a rider that the race finishes on the Via Roma. I don’t think it has an influence that the last part to the finish is a bit shorter now. On the Poggio the best riders come to the front anyway. Although punchers have a slightly bigger chance now. Last year I stayed with André after the Poggio, this year I can have a go of my own. I’m looking forward to it.”

Tony Gallopin: “ Last Sunday I was really disappointed after the time trial in Paris-Nice. I won’t say I already forgot about it on Monday, but I could put it behind me. I can look back on the Race to the Sun with satisfaction. This week I completely focused on Milan-San Remo. First I took some rest, because I was tired after Paris-Nice. Then I trained as planned and it all went smoothly.”

“Milan-San Remo is a unique race because of the distance and course. The race has its place in the history of cycling. It’s a prestigious race; one of the five monuments. Of course this race makes me dream and I want to win it. I do not immediately think about a solo scenario like in Paris-Nice. You never know what happens in Milan-Sanremo. You have to adapt your plan to the situation in the final. I think it’s an advantage the finish is closer to the Poggio. There is less chance sprinters can get reorganized or that riders bridge to the front. The position after the Poggio will be even more important now.”  

Selection Lotto Soudal: Kris Boeckmans, Tony Gallopin, André Greipel, Adam Hansen, Jürgen Roelandts, Marcel Sieberg, Jelle Vanendert and Tim Wellens.

Sports director: Herman Frison

Giant-Alpecin Riders Talk about Milano-San Remo

This release from Giant-Alpecin just came my way:

This Sunday sees the first 'monument' of the cycling season, with the near 300km epic that is Milan-Sanremo. Team Giant-Alpecin comes to the race with a strong line-up including John Degenkolb (GER) who missed out on a shot at victory in 2104 due to an untimely puncture late in the day. Due to illness late this week, Nikias Arndt (GER) has been replaced by Bert de Backer (BEL).

The line-up is completed by: Roy Curvers (NED), Tom Dumoulin (NED), Chad Haga (USA), Koen de Kort (NED), Albert Timmer (NED) and Zico Waeytens (BEL).

John Degenkolb: "We had a good ride today, seeing the course and getting one last long ride in. I'm happy with my shape and how I am feeling and am looking forward to Sunday. After Paris-Nice you need some time to recover to it has been a steady week, and I had a small cold at the start of the week but I am feeling good now.

"It's a shame that Simon [Geschke] is out of the race as he plays a good role on this course, and Nikias [Arndt] too, but we have a strong team with everyone here in decent condition. We should not hesitate to go for the result that we are after here, to be on the podium in Sanremo." 

John Degenkolb

John Degenkolb clearly enjoying himself at the 2014 Vuelta a Espana

Roy Curvers: "We're here staying in Sanremo and I am getting excited about the race now. I have a good feeling about my shape and think that the others are all the same too. We should go into this race with one clear target, to get John into the final in as fresh a shape as possible with support, that is our most important task. It looks like it might be a bit wet on Sunday but after the past two years we are used to the bad weather here and this shouldn't stop us. We will be ready.

"We did a good recon ride of the final 50km today, taking in the last climbs and seeing the finish again. I am looking forward to getting racing again now." 

Chad Haga: "I'm really looking forward to racing such a prestigious event on Sunday, but even more so to using the form that I have been building up to help John try to win here. I think the team that we have here is well rounded and has a lot of experience as a group together so that should serve us well." 

Wilco Kelderman Ambitious for Better Results

This came from LottoNL-Jumbo:

Wilco Kelderman will be Team LottoNL-Jumbo’s leader in the 95th edition of the Volta Ciclista a Catalunya next week. The Dutchman hopes to bounce back in Spain, where he will be assisted by a strong group. Sports Director Frans Maassen is clear about the team’s ambitions. “Wilco is our man for the overall. We want to do well in the general classification, that’s our goal. We want to finish as high as possible. It’s hard to say a specific number. Wilco wasn’t bad in Paris-Nice, otherwise he wouldn’t have finished 15th, but of course we want to do better.”

Wilco Kelderman

Wilco Kelderman racing in last year's Giro d'Italia

Kelderman agrees. “I was inconsistent in Paris-Nice, unfortunately. I hope to leave Paris-Nice behind me in Catalonia and show that I was on the right track. “I am aiming for a good overall. It is difficult to predict what is possible because the field is very strong, but I’m looking forward to some nice uphill battles.”

Kelderman is pleased with the support he will receive in Catalonia. “We travel to Spain with a strong team. A bit of a free-spirited team, we have quite a few guys who know how to attack. “Moreover, Steven Kruijswijk got better and better by the day in Paris-Nice. He’s full of confidence.” The Volta Ciclista a Catalunya starts on March 23 in Calella. Seven days later, the race finishes in Barcelona.

Team line-up: George Bennett, Brian Bulgac, Laurens ten Dam, Martijn Keizer, Wilco Kelderman, Steven Kruijswijk, Nick van der Lijke & Timo Roosen.

Sports Directors: Frans Maassen & Mathieu Heijboer

BMC Roster for Catalonia

The BMC Racing Team's roster for Volta a Catalunya includes Tejay van Garderen, last year's third-place finisher and the winner of Stage 4. The seven-day race begins Monday.

Tejay van Garderen

Van Garderen time trials in the 2014 Tour de France

Riders: Darwin Atapuma (COL), Ben Hermans (BEL), Amaël Moinard (FRA), Samuel Sánchez (ESP), Manuel Senni (ITA), Peter Stetina (USA), Dylan Teuns (BEL), Tejay van Garderen (USA).

Sport Directors: Yvon Ledanois (FRA), Jackson Stewart (USA).

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