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Bicycle Racing News and Opinion:
Friday, May 22, 2015

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Racing Today

Two races today: The Giro d'Italia's thirteenth stage and the Tour of Norway's (HC) third stage.

Giro d'Italia News

We'll start with the big dog, the Tour of Italy:

First, this awful news from BMC:

Vicenza, Italy - Stefan Küng of the BMC Racing Team suffered a compression fracture of his T9 vertebrae Thursday when he crashed with two others in the last 25 kilometers of the Giro d'Italia stage won by his teammate, Philippe Gilbert.

Küng said he could not avoid going down after two riders from the CCC Sprandi Polkowice team crashed in front of him on the rain-slickened descent of the Crosara, the second-to-last climb of the 190-km race.

"I did not want to take risks and my sport director, Valerio Piva, said not to take risks," Küng said. "I had a little bit of space from these two guys, but then they crashed in a left-hand corner. I tried to avoid them, but they were everywhere on the road. I hit the bike of one of them, went over it and hit my head on the ground. I think that is how my vertebrae was compressed."

Stefan Kung

Stefan Küng. Stock BMC photos

BMC Racing Team Chief Medical Officer Dr. Max Testa said Küng was taken to a hospital in Vicenza, where he will remain for several days.

"He has no neurological problems and the fracture appears to be stable," Dr. Testa said. "He will be kept under observation, then discharged wearing a brace and transferred back to Switzerland for further evaluation and treatment. He will be on bed rest for several days before he can start the rehabilitation process."

Testa said it has been his experience that cyclists who suffer this type of injury can return in 12 to 16 weeks.

Küng, the reigning world individual pursuit champion on the track, said he is bitterly disappointed not to be able to continue. He was looking forward to competing in Saturday's individual time trial after earlier this year finishing runner-up to world time trial champion Bradley Wiggins in a time trial at Driedaagse De Panne-Koksijde. Küng also was the solo winner of two races: the Volta Limburg Classic in April and Stage 3 of the Tour de Romandie earlier this month.

"I was in the ambulance and the tears were running down," Küng said. "As a sportsman, you always want to keep going. I was looking forward to the time trial every day. So it is a shame to finish like this. When they told me what I have, it is even worse because I know I will not be able to ride my bike for awhile. It is going to take time for me to come back. But for sure, I will come back."

BMC was otherwise justifiably pleased with how stage 12 turned out. They also sent this note:

Vicenza, Italy - Philippe Gilbert of the BMC Racing Team roared up the finishing straight in the midst of a raging downpour to win Stage 12 of the Giro d'Italia Thursday.

Out of the saddle and furiously rocking his BMC teammachine SLR01 side-to-side on the uphill sprint to the line, the former world road champion overtook solo leader Tanel Kangert (Astana Pro Team) in the last 200 meters and had time to sit up and celebrate his first victory of the season.

Race leader Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) was runner-up, three seconds later, and Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida) finished third. The victory was Gilbert's second at the Giro in four appearances and the BMC Racing Team's ninth on the year

"This is amazing and it is a great feeling," Gilbert said. "Before the stage this morning, we had a talk and the entire team was really focused because we knew this would be a good stage for me. All of the guys did a great job for me, especially the tremendous effort to bring two guys back late."

Philippe Gilbert wins stage 12

Philippe Gilbert wins Giro stage 12

Kangert was riding with Franco Pellizotti (Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec), who had attacked with less than 20 kilometers to go in the 190-km race. The pair led by nearly 30 seconds heading into the final five kilometers, but the BMC Racing Team went to the front to chase them down.

"I decided to wait for the group because I heard that Silvan Dillier and Amaël Moinard had rejoined from behind," Gilbert said. "We got organized and worked well as a team for the final few kilometers. This win is very important for the team and for me. We have tried many times, and finally we have won."

BMC Racing Team's Damiano Caruso finished 14th, six seconds back, to hold onto his eighth place overall. Two other BMC Racing Team riders are also in the top 20: Darwin Atapuma, who finished 19th on the day, is 14th at 3:24, and Moinard is 19th, 5:05 behind.

BMC Racing Team Sport Director Fabio Baldato said two things were pivotal to the win: the return of Dillier and Moinard to help with the chase and course reconnaissance on the final kilometers Gilbert performed prior to Milan-San Remo in March. "Having Amaël and Silvan do that work late was the last little piece that we needed to close the gap," Baldato said. "But we cannot forget the great work done at the beginning of the stage by Brent Bookwalter, Marcus Burghardt, Stefan Küng and Rick Zabel. All of them were working in the wind to cover Philippe, Damiano and Darwin. They were really motivated to have this win."

Notes: BMC Racing Team's Stefan Küng crashed heavily, along with two riders from the CCC Sprandi Polkowice team, while descending off the climb of the Crosara, about 17 kilometers from the finish. He was able to continue for a short time but then stopped. The winner of a stage of the Tour de Romandie and the Volta Limburg Classic was taken by rescue squad to a nearby hospital. More details will follow on the extent of his injuries and condition as they become available ... Gilbert's last win prior to Thursday occurred last October on Stage 2 of the Tour of Beijing on his way to winning the race overall. His last victory at the Giro d'Italia - in four participations (2004, 2006, 2009 and this year) - dated back to a similar winning effort on Stage 20 in 2009 ... The BMC Racing Team's last stage win in a grand tour came on Stage 12 of the 2013 Vuelta a España, also by Gilbert. It was also his victory of that season.

And this letter came from Tinkoff-Saxo, the team of Giro GC leader Alberto Contador:

Tinkoff-Saxo’s team leader Alberto Contador put in a powerful performance in the uphill finish of stage 12 extending his lead in the GC to 17 seconds over rival Fabio Aru. Tinkoff-Saxo once again took the reins in an effort to make the soaking wet Giro stage to Vicenza as hard as possible. Crossing the line, Contador underlines that it was a good day.

Alberto Contador didn’t just take second place on stage 12 behind winner Philippe Gilbert – the Tinkoff-Saxo captain also took 14 seconds on his nearest rival in a close GC. After crossing the line, Contador notes that he had good legs on the tough stage.

"It was yet another very hard day. We rode at 50km/h for the first two hours and then the rain started. The peloton broke apart because of the high speeds, but I felt that I had good legs. Philippe Gilbert was strong on the final climb, but I was focusing on the general classification and I’m very pleased with the outcome today”, says Alberto Contador and adds: "We were of course riding at the front to minimize risks. We’re trying to ride in a clever way during the stages, considering each situation as they came. Astana are still very strong but I think that we are well organized as a team and I think it was a really good day for us”.

Alberto Contador

Alberto Contador extended his GC lead today.

Tinkoff-Saxo once again took to the front of the bunch to control the events on the 190km stage from Imolà to Vicenza. Tinkoff-Saxo’s Sergio Paulinho adds that the ambition was to make the race hard.

“It was certainly a good day for the team, we knew that the finish was hard and good for Alberto, and in the last part we tried to make the stage as hard as possible. We continue to take it day by day and Alberto has recovered very well so far. We hope that he is super for the last essential week”, comments Sergio Paulinho.

Tinkoff-Saxo’s Head Sports Director Steven de Jongh states that the stage went according to the plan although the wet descents created gaps in the final part of the race.

“Today was hectic with wet roads from km 120 and to the finish. It was really pouring in some places, which made some of the sections dangerous. Our boys took control and worked well to keep us in a good position to protect Alberto also in the crosswinds. On the penultimate climb, Rogers pulled hard, while we had Kreuziger there to support Alberto”, says Steven de Jongh who adds: “It went according to our pre-stage plan and it’s of course nice that Alberto was strong enough to take some seconds on his rivals on the final climb. It was an uphill finish after a hard stage, so there were some riders who were marked on the last kilometers. Another important factor is that we avoided crashes on the wet descents, where the rain and small stones on the surface made it difficult. Everybody gets more cautious on descents like these and some are afraid to crash, so we also saw some splits”.

So far Giro d’Italia 2015 has been raced at high intensity. According to Steven de Jongh, it comes down to the parcours. “It’s been a hard Giro so far and it has definitely not been easy for anybody. We’ve had a lot of up and down and left and right and very few really flat stages. So I think the Giro has been this tough due to the challenging parcours on nearly all stages”, finishes Steven de Jongh.

Here's what Lampre-Merida had to say about the stage:

The rain, a punctured tyre, a crash which involved some riders who were pedaling just in front of him: Diego Ulissi was stronger than these adversities and he took the 3rd place in the 12th stage of the Giro d'Italia, going from Imola to Vicenza, 190 km.

On the final hill, Monte Berico, he was preceded by two champions, the winner Gilbert and the pink jersey’d Contador.

Ulissi came back to the bunch after having a rear puncture at 50 km to go and later he had to chase the bunch again when, in the downhill from the KOM of Corsara (3rd category, 20 km to go), he had to avoid some cyclists who had crashed just before him.

The talented Italian talented rider succeeded once again to come back to the head group and he could use his remaining energy to sprint on the hill to Monte Berico, gaining 3rd place.

Diego Ulissi wins 2015 Giro stage 7

Diego Ulissi wins the 2015 Giro's 7th stage.

For what concerns the other blue-fuchsia-green riders, they tried to escape from the bunch in the early part of the stage, which was covered at a very high speed (average speed over the 50 km/h), but they could not enter the breakaway, which led the race in the central sector of the stage.

In the overall classification, Contador increased his advantage on Aru (+17").

"It's a pity I had to face a puncture and I had to slow down to avoid the riders who had crashed - Ulissi explained – “In order to come back in the bunch, I had to spend energy for 50 km, I missed them in the final sprint, but Gilbert deserved the victory. From today until the end of the Giro there won't be many stages suitable for me, so I'll need to try to join the breakaways if I want to achieve other good results".

LottoNL-Jumbo had this to say about the Giro's 12th stage:

Team LottoNL-Jumbo again tried to take the bull by its horns in the Giro d'Italia today. Nick van der Lijke was part of the day’s breakaway in the 12th stage and Steven Kruijswijk accelerated on the final climb, but Philippe Gilbert ended up winning the 190-kilometre day in an uphill sprint to Vicenza.

Van der Lijke, who won the second intermediate sprint of the day, led the race with Enrico Barbin, Kenny Elissonde, Patrick Gretsch and Davide Appollonio for nearly 90 kilometres. At about 60 kilometres from the line, when the rain was already hammering down on the riders, all five men were reeled in by the peloton.

“It was attack after attack during the first 75 kilometres,” Van der Lijke recalled afterwards. “I jumped often, but every time the group was taken back by teams who had missed out. In the end, everyone was tired, and I was able to create a gap along with four others. We didn’t get much space, though, as we already had covered some distance into the stage. Moreover, there was a crosswind and so the peloton never was able to take it easy. That was all to our disadvantage, but things like that you just cannot control. It was not to be today.”

Van der Lijke hopes to show himself another time this Giro. “I’m ready to fight and would like to try again. Steven has attacked a few times and we have to switch a bit. Hopefully, next time I hang on longer.”

Sports Director Frans Maassen admitted afterwards that Kruijswijk’s move on the final climb wasn’t really an attack. “It was more a precaution to start the descent in the front as the rain made things quite dangerous. You saw that with several crashes.”

Friday’s thirteenth stage leads the peloton from Montecchio Maggiore to Lido di Jesolo. It’s a 147-kilometre flat ride.

“A sprinter stage,” Maassen said. “We have explored the stage and are well-prepared. The wind could play a role, but I expect a bunch kick. As a team, we will make sure that Moreno Hofland is able to get involved in the sprint. That is going to be a challenge.”

Team News about the Second Stage of the Tour of Norway

This Norway news from Tinkoff-Saxo:

Nikolay Trusov took fifth place on the second stage of Tour of Norway, while Alexander Kristoff proved the fastest in the final sprint. Tinkoff-Saxo sports director Nicki Sørensen asserts that Tinkoff-Saxo can be fairly pleased with the result in Norway before the race heads into more undulating terrain.

Tinkoff-Saxo sprinter Nikolay Trusov swapped sixth for fifth on stage 2 won by Kristoff, while the team’s GC riders crossed the line with the main bunch.

“It was fairly decent today, Nikolay Trusov moved up a spot compared to yesterday in what was probably his last opportunity in the sprints. Maybe he can try again on the last stage, but it depends on the race. Juraj Sagan did a big work in the finale and they all tried to do their best and they worked dedicatedly to execute the team strategy”, says Tinkoff-Saxo sports director Nicki Sørensen.

Nikolay Trusov

Nikolay Trusov

Stage 2 from Drammen to Langesund presented the riders with a mostly flat 199km parcours. The peloton controlled the breakaway and in the end it came down to a near replica of yesterday’s sprint with Alexander Kristoff taking the win ahead of Caleb Ewan.

“As usual, a breakaway got away at the start of the stage. The peloton controlled the events and Juraj Sagan made an effort to position Trusov in the sprint”, explains Nicki Sørensen.

“Overall it went well in what concerns our GC guys. Brutt, Hansen and Chris Anker stayed well positioned throughout the stage and came home with the main bunch. Tomorrow the terrain shifts and it’s time for the GC riders to come to the fore as we got much more undulating terrain on the menu. Our guys are ready to do their best and then we’ll see how it goes”, finishes Nicki Sørensen.

And Cult Energy sent me this:

The 199 kilometer long and undulating second stage of Tour of Norway from Drammen to Langesund held a thrilling finale after a five rider breakaway dominated the first part of the stage. Eventually, the stage was decided in another bunch sprint where Cult Energy Pro Cycling's Rasmus Guldhammer finished 6th.

Resmus Guldhammer

Rasmus Guldhammer

The five escapees worked hard to stay in front of the pack but several teams showed interest in the chase and they several times had to stop chasing to prevent reeling them in too soon. Entering the final 20 kilometers of the race, the gap was quickly brought down even though they picked up the pace in the breakaway group as well.

With 6 kilometers to go, the escapees were back in the pack and new attacks were immediately launched from the bunch but Katusha evidently were in control of things setting a solid pace on the front while Cult Energy’s riders were waiting right behind the Russian team. In the bunch gallop for the finish line, Cult Energy's Rasmus Guldhammer showed good form by sprinting to sixth position while race leader, Alexander Kristoff (Katyusha) took his second consecutive stage win.

DS, Michael Skelde says: "I was expecting more fireworks at the end of today's stage but Katusha managed to keep the peloton in one piece before the final kilometer where things exploded. We had several guys up there but Rasmus managed to find a really good seat behind the Katusha train and managed to take sixth today. I'm happy with this result because we have no real sprinters able to match the likes of Kristoff. From now on, the stages become more mountainous and that's much better for Rasmus, Linus and Fabian," concludes Skelde.

World Ports Classic is the weekend

Lotto-Soudal sent this race preview:

This weekend, Saturday 23rd and Sunday 24th May, the World Ports Classic is scheduled on the Europe Tour calendar. It’s only the fourth edition of this race between the harbours of Rotterdam and Antwerp.

On Saturday the riders leave around noon in Rotterdam for a 195 kilometres long ride to Antwerp. The course is completely flat and takes the riders over the Eastern Schelde and through the province of Zeeland. The last 24.5 kilometres the race takes place in Belgium. The next day the caravan heads back to Rotterdam, via a different route. The second stage is 164 kilometres long. After fifty and a half kilometres the riders leave Belgium. At Lotto Soudal Kris Boeckmans and Jens Debusschere are the sprinters who will take on among other Theo Bos, Nacer Bouhanni, Andrea Guardini and Marcel Kittel. Tiesj Benoot and Jürgen Roelandts are two other names in the Lotto Soudal selection.

Herman Frison, sports director: “Riders like Benoot and Debusschere, who took some rest after the classic races, returned to competition in the Tour de Picardie. The whole team performed very strongly there. Kris Boeckmans won two stages and the overall classification. He and Jens Debusschere are our sprinters for this weekend. We will decide during the race which of the two will do the sprint. We aim for a stage win. All that’s extra is of course welcome. The GC always comes down to seconds in that race.”

“The first seventy kilometres of the first stage are the last seventy of the second stage of the Tour de France. It will be good to take a look at that course. How are the roads? That’s important to know. There is danger for echelons in that area. The peloton can split at any moment. When you race in the Netherlands you have to be attentive all the time. We won’t put all on a bunch sprint, we want to ride aggressively. There will definitely be opportunities to try something.”

Jens Debusschere: “As expected I wasn’t top yet in the Tour de Picardie, because I hadn’t taken part in any races for a few weeks since the end of the classic spring. Kris Boeckmans rode well and soon we decided he would do the sprint the first day, the rest is history. I felt better day after day in the race. Also this week I felt more fresh every day. Today I did a training behind the scooter. I expect this weekend I will do much better in the race. We’ll see if it will be good enough to play a role.”

Jens Debusschere

Jens Debusschere at this year's Tirreno-Adriatico

“I don’t think we’ll get two real bunch sprints, there is a big chance of echelons. Kris Boeckmans rides the World Ports Classic as well. During the stage we’ll decide who will sprint. I’ll be honest and tell it when I’m not good enough to sprint. Otherwise I’m happy to take my chance. Next week it’s the Tour of Belgium, that’s a goal of mine. I hope I can mingle in the sprints there. I’m pretty sure that will be the case if all runs smoothly this weekend and I can rest on Monday and Tuesday.”

Team Selection Lotto Soudal: Tiesj Benoot, Kris Boeckmans, Jens Debusschere, Thomas De Gendt, Kenny Dehaes, Gert Dockx, Jürgen Roelandts and Marcel Sieberg.

Sports directors: Herman Frison and Kurt Van de Wouwer.

The stages
Stage 1: Saturday 23rd May: Rotterdam – Antwerp (195 km)
Stage 2: Sunday 24th May: Antwerp – Rotterdam (164 km)

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