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Bicycle Racing News and Opinion
Sunday, March 22, 2015

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

Today's Racing

Sunday's big race will be Milano-San Remo. Fotoreporter Sirotti will be there, so we'll have lots of pictures of the racing action. And... we'll also have results for the French 1.1 ranked Cholet-Pays de Loire.

UCI to determine Astana's Fate:

The French newspaper Le Monde ran article on the 20th about Astana, its doping problems and the UCI. What follows is my bad translation of the article:

Le Monde learned that the license commission of the International Cycling Union (UCI) will meet Thursday, April 2, in Geneva (Switzerland) to decide the thorny case of the Kazakh Astana team.

On February 27 The UCI recommended that the committee should withdraw Astana’s World Tour license.

Astana’s racing leader is the winner of the 2014 Tour de France, Vincenzo Nibali. Yet three Astana riders tested positive [for banned drugs] in the second half of 2014. In a statement, the UCI explained that two factors led to this decision: the audit conducted by the Sports Science Institute of the University of Lausanne, focusing on "culture, strategy and systems doping management" of the Kazakh team; and information transmitted by the Italian courts in connection with the case of Padua doctor Michele Ferrari (Lance Armstrong’s former trainer), citing "some members of Astana Pro Team" (but not Vincenzo Nibali, according to Transalpine press).

vincenzo Nibali

Astana racer Vincenzo Niabli races all bundled up at this year's Tirreno-Adriatico

The Astana team has until Friday, March 20, to file its defense to the license commission,which is composed of four Swiss members and chaired by a former judge of the Swiss Federal Court, Pierre Zappelli. If it decides to follow the UCI’s recommendation and removes Astana’s World Tour license, the Kazakh team could ask for, according to the regulations, a place in the [UCI’s] second division. This would still give them the opportunity to be invited to the major races on the calendar. But the reasons for the withdrawal of licenses being ethical and not administrative, it is unlikely that the UCI will be authorized to change this ranking.

Rather, we should expect Astana and its leader, Alexandre Vinokourov, 2012 Olympic champion who tested positive for blood transfusion during the 2007 Tour, will make an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). The latter would decide first, whether this decision is suspensory - a decision that usually takes less than a month. It will then rule on the case’s merits. In 2013, the CAS overturned a decision of the license commission, which had ruled the Russian Katusha team to have World Tour status.

Pending the decision on the suspensive effect of the appeal, Astana will not be able to race. Depending on the speed of the two bodies, the Kazakh team could miss the entire classics season: April 5 (Tour of Flanders) to April 26 (Liège-Bastogne-Liège).

The organizers of the Giro d'Italia, which begins May 9, hope the issue will be decided before their race begins. In 2011, Alberto Contador, authorized by the CAS to race pending a decision on his positive test for clenbuterol during the Tour in 2010, won the Giro d'Italia and came in fifth in the Tour de France. His results were canceled by the CAS in February of 2012.

Rodriguez Won't Start Tour of Catalonia

2014 Tour of Catalonia (Volta Ciclista a Catalunya) winner Joaquin Rodriguez won't be on the start line Monday to race the 2015 edition. The Katusha rider, who also won the race in 2010, is ill with a stomach virus.

Rigoberto URan and Joaquin Rodriguez

Joaquin Rodriguez loses to Rigoberto Uran in the sprint for third place in stage 4 of this year's Tirreno-Adriatico

Ronde van Zeeland Seaports

Only twenty riders finished this year's Ronde van Zeeland Seaports. This report came from Cult Energy:

The Cult Energy Pro Cycling delegation and the rest of the peloton in the Dutch 196 kilometer long one-day race Ronde van Zeeland were challenged with a rather flat course with crosswind sections and rain. However, a certain team from Belgium took all the attention and all three spots on the podium. Troels Vinther was among the few to complete the race.

It was the Etixx-Quick Step trio, Niki Terpstra, Iljo Keisse and Lukasz Wisniowski who superbly escaped from the field 70 kilometers from the finish line and simply team time trialed their way to the finish line while a chase group including CultEnergy Pro Cycling’s Troels Vinther was trying the bridge the gap.

Etixx wins 2015 Ronde van Sealand

Etixx-Quick Step owned this year's Ronde van Zeeland Seaports.

On the finish line, Iljo Keisse drew the longest straw and took the win ahead of Terpstra and Wisniowski. Only 18 riders completed the race and Cult Energy Pro Cycling’s Troels Vinther was one of them:

“It was a very tough day. A fierce cross wind section met the peloton after 50 kilometers and completely demolished the bunch. Troels and Martin Mortensen actually made it in the chase group but unfortunately, Martin was dropped when he had a flat tire while Troels kept on fighting through the rainy course. The Quick Step riders were simply too strong for the rest of the pack,” says DS, Luke Roberts after the race.

Troels Vinther finished 15th and states: "It's Dutch semi-classics when they're best. Rain, cold, wind and cobbles and this cocktail proved deadly to most of the peloton and you just have to give it to Etixx - Quick Step, they were better than rest of the pack today and for the rest of the day, it was an elimination race. However, this is solid training for Wednesday's Dwars door Vlaanderen, which I'm looking forward to."

Tinkoff-Saxo's Plans for Tour of Catalonia

This just came in from Tinkoff-Saxo:

Volta a Catalunya [Topur of Catalonia] is once again shaping up to become an attraction for the big stars of stage racing. With only one day in the high mountains but numerous GC contenders, stage 4 to La Molina should see sparks fly. Tinkoff-Saxo sends a team of climbers spearheaded by team captain Alberto Contador, who continues his preparation ahead of the Giro.

Off the back from a week of racing at Tirreno-Adriatico, Alberto Contador hopes to have a successful race backed by a strong team. “I’m coming to Volta a Catalunya after a few days of rest following Tirreno. I’ve caught a little cold from the two wet stages in Italy with snow and rain, but I hope that I will able to start the race fully recovered. My ambition is to secure a good result, while continuing to build my form ahead of my first main objective, which is of course the Giro”, comments Alberto Contador, who recognizes the fact that the difficulty of the race route is not overwhelming.

“First off, I’m very happy with the team we have for Catalunya. But we will have to wait and see how hard and decisive the mountain stage to La Molina will be. In any case, I think that the bonus seconds will play a key role. There’s strong competition but the whole team is here to fight”.

Alberto Contador will be joined by Ivan Basso, Michael Rogers, Rafal Majka, Robert Kiserlovski, Jesús Hernandez, Michael Valgren and Sergio Paulinho.

According to Tinkoff-Saxo sports director Steven de Jongh, the team is fielding a strong squad with the ambition of fighting for the GC. However, with only one real mountain stage, it might prove difficult.

“On paper we have a very strong team, but several of our riders are not in top shape yet. Rafal Majka and Robert Kiserlovski weren’t at their best in Paris-Nice but we expect them to continue building their shape at Catalunya. Sergio Paulinho has shown good form and Alberto will of course fight for the win, but he was not super at Tirreno – however it’s not the intention that he peaks yet”, says Steven de Jongh.

“Alberto had time to recover but it will be hard to win overall in Catalunya due to the parcours with only one mountain finish. It could become difficult to make the decisive split but we will of course seek to create opportunities. We’ll also welcome Michael Rogers back in action, which I look forward to. He has been training well and he’s definitely heading in the right direction. However, it’s his first race since Tour Down Under, so it will be a matter of finding the race rhythm”, adds Steven de Jongh.

Monday will see the start of the 95th running of Volta a Catalunya, the second biggest stage race in Spain. With 7 days in versatile terrain there’ll be a bit for everybody except the time trial specialists. After several days in rolling terrain, an array of top contenders will fight for overall triumph on the queen stage to La Molina. Conversely, Steven de Jongh notes that Tinkoff-Saxo will not necessarily take to the front of the field like in Tirreno-Adriatico.

“There are other teams with higher expectations than us, so we don’t see ourselves as the team that will take control from day one. We’ll see what happens on La Molina and then evaluate the situation. But of course we look forward to getting started”, finishes Steven de Jongh.

Michael Rogers returns to racing with excitement. His last race was Tour Down Under.

Michael Rogers

Michael Rogers at the first stage of this year's Tour Down Under

Race Preview

Dates: 23 – 29 of March
Number of stages: 7
Total length: 1,238 kilometers
Kind: All-round stage race
First edition: 1911
Last year’s winner: Joaquim Rodriguez
Best GC result of Tinkoff-Saxo: 2nd – Alberto Contador (2014)

Volta a Catalunya presents the riders of the 95th edition with various kinds of terrain. Being a prestigious World Tour race, Catalunya will see participation from an array of stars looking to secure important points for their teams. The first opportunity comes on stage 1 from and to Calella with three categorized climbs along the way. However, looking at the outcome of the past year’s similar stages, both stage 1 and the much flatter stage 2 will end in bunch sprints.

The road kicks up and the mountains kick in, although gently, on stage 3 with five categorized climbs and a downhill finish to Girona - one of the pro cycling cities of Europe, where numerous riders reside. The all-important queen stage is up next, as the riders must tackle two first category climbs and a HC climb before the cat. 1 climb to La Molina, 1,725m high in the Pyrenees.

Stage 5 and 6 are ideal for riders looking to take stage glory in a breakaway. However, with a category 2 climb within the absolute finale of stage 5, punchy GC riders might make an effort to create a selection.

Stage 7 in Barcelona sees the riders tackling the traditional city circuit around the Montjuic Park with 8 bursts up the Alto de Montjuic before finally settling the race and the general classification.

Tinkoff-Saxo Also Looks Ahead to Dwars door Vlaanderen

Now that we're into late March, the big races will keep coming at us. This press release came from Tinkoff-Saxo:

The big engines of the peloton will kick-start the high season of the cobbled classics Wednesday at the Flemish semi-classic Dwars door Vlaanderen. Tinkoff-Saxo is at the start with a squad consisting of younger talents and proven riders headed by the Danish trio of Matti Breschel, Michael Mørkøv and Chris Juul-Jensen.

Tinkoff-Saxo’s team for Dwars door Vlaanderen consists of Matti Breschel, Michael Mørkøv, Christopher Juul-Jensen, Maciej Bodnar, Nikolay Trusov, Jay McCarthy, Michael Kolar and Juraj Sagan.

Matti Breschel

Tinkoff-Saxo rider Matti Breschel at this year's Paris-Nice

With the cobblestone races considered a key point during the season for Tinkoff-Saxo, it’s important to get going on a positive note, tells the team’s sports director Tristan Hoffman, who won the race twice in his career – in 1996 and again in 2000, while he rode for Tinkoff-Saxo.

“Dwars door Vlaanderen is the first of five big cobbled races in the next intense weeks. We want to perform well and we’re heading to Dwars door Vlaanderen with the ambition of finishing in the top five or higher. Matti Breschel, who won the race in 2010, is our captain together with Michael Mørkøv and Chris Juul-Jensen, who’ll also get a protected role”, says Tristan Hoffman and adds: “Bodnar has equally shown that he’s in a strong shape and a fast guy like Kolar could also come into play, if the race ends up in a bigger group sprint. Dwars door Vlaanderen is a quite unpredictable race and it can be decided in multiple ways. Sometimes, we’ve seen a single rider taking the win, just like in 2010 with Matti, and on other occasions the race has been decided in a bunch sprint. We have to create a hard race but at the same time it’s not up to us to take full responsibility”.

Matti Breschel obviously has good memories of the Belgian semi-classic from 2010. Since then, the Dane hasn’t participated in the race but he returns poised and ready for the cobblestone season with Tinkoff-Saxo.

“The team’s ambition is to win, but that’s easier said than done. Dwars door Vlaanderen marks the beginning of our cobblestone season, where it’s no secret that we’ve set some big goals”, notes Breschel. “Right now, my focus is on Milano-Sanremo and then we’ll see how I feel come Wednesday after 293km of racing in Italy. So I look at Dwars door as an ideal opportunity to find my race rhythm on the cobbles and, of course, if there’s an opening, then it would be stupid not to seize it”.

Matti Breschel adds that the Flemish race, which features the punishing Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg, is an opportunity for several teammates to ride their own chances. “Peter Sagan will first join the team at E3 Harelbeke, so riders like Michael Mørkøv will get the chance to seek out a personal result. I know that Michael has been looking forward to Dwars door Vlaanderen and he seems to be going really well at the moment. I think we have different cards to play dependent on how the race evolves. In these races, a lot comes down to the weather and the wind, so we’ll see how it all plays out once we hit the cobbles. But one thing is for sure, I expect it to develop into a real Wild West kind of race”.

Chris Juul-Jensen will be co-captain at Dwars door Vlaanderen after riding in support of Sagan and Contador in Italy

Race Preview

Dates: 25 March
Total length: 200 kilometers
Kind:  Cobbled Semi-Classic
First edition: 1945
Last year’s winner: Niki Terpstra
Best GC result of Tinkoff-Saxo: 1st  - Matti Breschel (2010), Nick Nuyens (2011), Tristan Hoffman (2000)

Race Route: Comprised of 200 undulating kilometers from Roeselare, Dwars door Vlaanderen challenges the riders with no less than 12 marked hills with the first after some 87km of racing. On top of that, the riders will face eight cobblestone sections with much of the action taking place within the 40km marker. After tackling the Oude Kwaremont directly followed by Paterberg, the riders face a 15 kilometer flat section before the last three hills with Nokereberg less than 10k from the finish line in Waregem.

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