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Bicycle Racing News and Opinion,
Monday, April 4, 2016

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

If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants. - Isaac Newton

Recently completed racing:

Today's racing:

Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders) team reports

This came from a very happy Tinkoff team:

Peter Sagan won Ronde van Vlaanderen in style today, taking the win after a solo breakaway 15km from the finish on the Paterberg climb. The UCI World Champion took his first Monument victory, finishing an exceptionally tough race twenty-five seconds ahead of his rivals.

Peter Sagan

Peter Sagan wins a big one

Seven sectors of pave cobblestones, eighteen climbs and all this over a 255.9km course. Combine that with a fast and furious pace, where the slightest mistake or crash could change the outcome of the race in a moment, the 2016 Ronde van Vlaanderen was never going to be easy.

The UCI World Champion dedicated his win to Antoine Demoitié and Daan Myngheer, the Belgian riders who sadly lost their lives in Gent-Wevelgem and the Criterium International respectively, and to Maciej Bodnar, Peter’s teammate, who was unable to join him at today’s race due to an injury sustained while training this week. “You have to think about the two riders who died last week – it was very sad. I want to dedicate my win to them and to Maciej Bodnar who had a crash in training. I want to wish him well and see him back in the group soon.”

From the start, there were attempts to break away from the peloton, but after almost two hours of racing, nothing had stuck. Shortly before the climbs and cobblestones began at the 100km mark however, a break finally went away, but at such an early stage of the race, the peloton seemed untroubled. As so many of these breaks fell apart all by themselves with no need from the peloton to reel them in, the difficulty of the course became all the more apparent.

With 40km to go, the attacks from the favourites began. With a small group further up the road, at 32km to go, a trio that included Peter Sagan went on the attack, bridging the gap with 23km remaining, leaving the chasing group more than 30 seconds behind them.

Then, on the Kwaremont, the chasers caught Sagan’s group, but instead of being reeled in, Peter attacked, taking Vanmarcke of LottoNL-Jumbo with him, quickly creating a gap. The Paterberg came and Peter, looking calm and composed, made the decisive move, leaving the Belgian Vanmarcke behind him. With less than 15km to go, Peter was alone at the front, quickly putting time into the chasers and creating a significant gap.

Of his solo breakaway, Peter explained from the finish. “The race was very hard today and it’s hard to work with the other guys because nobody wants to work with me. It’s always better to drop everybody.”

As Peter passed under the Flamme Rouge, it was clear that the UCI World Champion’s break was going to be successful, crossing the line in Oudenaarde twenty-five seconds ahead of Trek-Segafredo’s Fabian Cancellara. In spite of the gap, Peter was clear that the race was a hard one. “It was a super hard race from the start until the finish, we were always going full gas and I had a bit of a problem after 100km, having to change both wheels. There were a lot of crashes – thank you to all the team they did a great job.” Peter was quick to praise team owner, Oleg Tinkov, for his continued support for the team.

Sport Director, Lars Michaelsen, praised Peter’s huge effort, as well as the rest of the team, after today’s race. "Going into the race our strategy was quite clear - focused on one lone leader and the whole team believed in Peter and the plan. We spoke in our performance plan for the race about who should do what at what time today and everyone really contributed as they could to the victory, so it was a strong display from the whole team today.”

Lars continued. "It was great to see his brother Juraj do a great race as well, giving his everything, and Oscar was there late on for the climbs and for the finale to prepare the move for Peter. The boys kept him out of trouble even though there were a lot of crashes. We had Nikolay Trusov come down and he had to change bike, and when Peter had had to change wheels the team stayed calm and professional. Then when the move came it was from a long way out again, at 35km to go, like we saw in Harelbeke and Gent-Wevelgem, but he's just a champion in his own right and we of course back him in his decision to go that early. At the end when it was really time to dig in we just kept telling him from behind to believe and that they were cracking behind too. An another amazing ride."

With Paris-Roubaix a week away, Peter felt it was too early after his win in Oudenaarde to talk about his chances. “I’m very happy for this win. Now I want to have fun after this victory, and next week we’ll think about next week, but not now.”

Here's LottoNL-Jumbo's Flanders report:

Sep Vanmarcke finished third in the Tour of Flanders. Team LottoNL-Jumbo’s front man jumped to Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) and Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky) after they attacked just before the final climb of the Oude Kwaremont. Sagan, however, dropped Vanmarcke on the Paterberg and left the Belgian to claim third behind Fabian Cancellara (Trek).

Sep Vanmarcke

Sep Vanmarcke finishes third

The 100th edition of the Tour of Flanders didn’t run completely smooth for Sep Vanmarcke. Team LottoNL-Jumbo’s front man crashed in the descent to Kortekeer after 120 kilometres of racing. “I returned in the peloton, but I noticed the damage of my crash, Vanmarcke said. “My bike broke and it took a while before I was back in the race. I had changed the position of my saddle on purpose, just before the race, and I didn’t have the chance to do that with my second bike as well. After 170 kilometres, I suffered.”

“My team-mates gave it all to bring me back in the race. Maarten Wynants did a lot of work in the beginning of the final,” he added. “I was still feeling good on the climbs. When Sagan and Kwiatkowski attacked, I felt that it was going to be the decisive moment in the race. I had to close the gap to them immediately. Behind me, there was a moment of doubt and that was a perfect situation for me.”

When Kwiatkowski was distanced by Sagan on the final climb of the Oude Kwaremont, Vanmarcke followed. Afterwards, though, the world champion dropped him on the Paterberg and left him to battle with Cancellara who chased from behind.

"This is a great performance by Sep,” Sports Director Jan Boven said. “When you look at the problems we faced during the race and the way we got over it, you have to say that Sep did a great job. It was a hectic race and many big teams were facing problems. Sep was sharp when Sagan and Kwiatkowski attacked and he was the only one who was able to follow Sagan on the Oude Kwaremont. We are satisfied with this third place.”

Here's BMC's unhappy Ronde van Vlaanderen news:

03 April, 2016, Roeselare (BEL): The 100th edition of Ronda van Vlaanderen was one that BMC Racing Team had its sights set on from the beginning of the year. A brutal crash brought those hopes crashing down, forcing Greg Van Avermaet, Michael Schaer, Marcus Burghardt and Manuel Quinziato to abandon. Unfortunately that's cycling but there's always another side to the story and we were incredibly proud to see Daniel Oss, Jempy Drucker, Stefan Kueng and Taylor Phinney battle to the end and fly the BMC Racing Team flag. The below updates concern the four riders who crashed out of Ronde van Vlaanderen.

Greg Van Avermaet

Dr Testa: "Greg has a displaced fracture of the right collarbone and otherwise just bruises and bumps all over the body. He didn't have a concussion so he is in decent spirits considering the situation. Greg will have surgery as soon as possible to secure the fracture and speed up his recovery. With surgery done quickly, Greg could plan to be back on the bike in one week and then racing again in six weeks."

Van Avermaet: "It's been a bad day for us. I'm really disappointed. What can I say, it was really hard for me to be on the ground. I tried to stand up but when you have something broken it is not possible. I think I need some days to think about it and hopefully I'll come back stronger but for me it's a big disappointment because for me Flanders, Roubaix, Amstel are the most important races of the season and I can't be there. It's not a good situation but I have to handle it and hopefully I'll come back stronger."

Michael Schaer

Dr Testa: "A CT scan has showed that Michael was not seriously injured in the crash. He wasn't concussed but he has a stiff neck caused by whiplash which is causing him pain and he has a knee contusion with a hematoma, as well as general bruises and cuts. He was lucky to escape without any serious injuries. We'll have to wait another 24 to 48 hours before we decide on his recovery and race plan."

Schaer: "My knee is pretty swollen and I'm quite sore and stiff in the neck. I was really worried for a while so I'm lucky to be relatively ok. I'll stay in the hotel another day or two and then we'll drain my knee. Paris-Roubaix is my favorite race of the whole season so I hope to be there but at this stage I'm taking things one day at a time."

Marcus Burghardt

Dr Testa: "Marcus has a contusion on his left knee with a superficial bursitis and a soft tissue hematoma. We will evaluate him in 24 hours to decide the plan of attack but we have some hope that he will recover for Paris-Roubaix."

Burghardt: "Im really disappointed as I had the legs and a good feeling today and I couldn't really test myself. I'm not in too much pain but I'm more frustrated about the fact that it was caused by a flying bottle. On cobbles there shouldn't be bottles flying around. If everyone had bottle cages which are tight enough to hold the bottle, we would have avoided the crash altogether. So more than anything I'm disappointed and frustrated but I hope to be back on Sunday."

Manuel Quinziato

Dr Testa: "Manuel has multiple abrasions on his right shoulder, his right elbow and the right thigh. He should be on track to recovery within a week, and hopefully he'll be ready for Paris-Roubaix on Sunday."

Quinziato: "I feel really disappointed because when you crash yourself it is bad enough but to bring down the whole team, it feels like one of the worst days in my professional career. I don't feel like it was my fault because it felt like someone knocked my handle bars and that caused me to crash. In terms of my injuries, I'm not in too much pain so I hope I'm going to recover fairly quickly."

Fabio Baldato on Ronde van Vlaanderen: "After the crash we were lost, in the car and for the four remaining riders. We were all confused but the four riders managed to do a good race. Jempy Drucker and Daniel Oss were supposed to be in the final part with Greg and they showed they could be without Greg, the captain. They tried to fight into the final and I'm satisfied with their performance. For sure we are not happy with how today went but it is like it is, it's cycling. We are without Greg for Paris-Roubaix but we will still have a strong team and I hope that Manuel, Michael and Marcus will be back next Sunday. We'll see what we can do."

Lotto-Soudal sent me this report:

The one hundredth Ronde van Vlaanderen wasn’t a success for Lotto Soudal. Tiesj Benoot had to abandon the race after a crash. A strong André Greipel moved up to the front, but at the end he couldn’t play the role he wanted. Jürgen Roelandts was the first rider of the team at the finish, he was seventeenth. The victory was for world champion Peter Sagan.

Bad luck for Lotto Soudal just before the race was halfway, in between the Eikenberg and Molenberg. A water bottle fell out of the bottle cage of another rider and Tiesj Benoot couldn’t avoid it. The chances of another strong result for Tiesj, who was fifth in his first Ronde last year, were gone. The young Belgian hit his face on the ground. He also has many abrasions on his hands, arms and legs. Tiesj had a deep cut on his left elbow which needed to be stitched. Luckily he has no fractures. How long Tiesj will be out isn’t sure yet. Next week will be decided if racing is still an option this spring.

Lotto Soudal could animate the race thanks to a strong André Greipel who attacked on the Leberg, the sixth of eighteen hills. Together with Nils Politt he bridged to some riders that were left of a break that had been formed after two hours of racing. Greipel remained at the front until the last ascent of the Oude Kwaremont. On that climb Sagan and Vanmarcke – who had joined the front group together with Kwiatkowski – created a decisive gap.

Andre Greipel

André Greipel on the Paterberg

On the Paterberg the world champion went solo and triumphed in the one hundredth Ronde van Vlaanderen. Cancellara rode to Vanmarcke and finished on the second place, while Vanmarcke was third. More than a minute after Sagan Jürgen Roelandts reached the finish as the first rider of a chasing group of nine riders.

Marc Sergeant, sports manager Lotto Soudal: “This isn’t the result we had hoped for. Ideally Jürgen Roelandts would have been part of the group that sprinted for the fourth place 49 seconds after Sagan. The three strongest men in the race were gone, let that be clear. The last time over the Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg it became too much for Jürgen and he lost several positions on those climbs.”

“The crash of Tiesj Benoot was very bad news for the team. We have to wait what the consequences will be for him. In the beginning of the race we were really attentive to make sure none of the big teams would have a rider in the breakaway. Lars Bak, Pim Ligthart, Marcel Sieberg and Jelle Wallays took care of that. Just like in other races this season we wanted to anticipate and hoped that would get us a good result. That’s why André Greipel attacked on the Leberg. He did all he could for the team, just as we know him. It was intended that in the finale he would be able to help a teammate. André was strong, but unfortunately in the last twenty kilometres we had nobody left to get a top result. It’s a pity how today turned out, but we have to look ahead to the next races: Scheldeprijs on Wednesday and Paris-Roubaix on Sunday. Within the next few days we’ll decide which riders are still fresh enough to start.”

Vuelta al Pais Vasco news from Tinkoff:

Alberto Contador will kick off on Monday the Vuelta al Pais Vasco, the fourth and final race he had scheduled for the first part of the season. Tinkoff's leader heads to the race "eager and excited. The Vuelta al Pais Vasco is a race that I like a lot and in which I usually perform quite well," he explains. "We have to see how the legs respond, because after Catalunya I focused myself on resting, as the effort is already becoming noticeable. This is the last race I do before the break that will precede my preparation for the Tour de France."

In what regards the race, Contador expects it to be "very tough, because all days are very, very demanding and we must be attentive." He adds the factor of the weather, as the forecast calls for a rainy week. "In the Basque Country it always is an important factor," he says, although he believes that in what concerns the way the race plays out, the rivals will be a key. "Above all we must take into account the rivals. It is a very close race and the level is very high, although the weather will play an important role, because they are stages that go up and down, and if the weather is bad, it will be even tougher."

It will be difficult to single out the favourites, states  Alberto Contador. "I would give many names and I will surely leave out some of them. Many of the riders that were in the Volta a Catalunya, are favourites, such as Quintana, Purito, Daniel Martin or Aru, and riders that come fresher, like Pinot, who is very strong, or Henao. The truth is that the pool of favourites is vast and this race is also very difficult to control. There may be riders that might not be among the favourites but could create a surprise."

Finally, Contador feels confident about his team-mates that will make up the Tinkoff squad in this race, despite the fact there have been last-minute changes. "I have a great team with a lot of experience," he explains, "but it's true that due to injury and illness we had to change three riders that were initially scheduled. At this time of year this happens many times, but I will still have a great team alongside me and we are all very motivated," concludes Contador.

Just after I got the above release about the Tour of the Basque Country, Tinkoff sent this with more info on the race:

The three-time winner of the Vuelta al Pais Vasco – or ‘Tour of the Basque Country’ – returns to the race for its 56th edition. Alberto Contador, who won the race in 2014, 2009 and 2008 will lead a Tinkoff roster fresh from strong performances at the Volta Ciclista a Catalunya and Paris-Nice, where Alberto finished second in the GC in both.

This UCI World Tour race takes place over six days, with the opening 144km stage starting in Etxebarria in the centre of the Basque Country, ending with a time trial in Eibar, close to the race’s start town. The line-up pits Alberto against adversaries both from previous editions of the race, as well as earlier stage races from this season, on a parcours that could conservatively be called ‘undulating’. While the official route guide lists two mountain stages, the Basque Country is a mountainous area, and as such, only one stage does not include any categorised climbs – the final day’s time trial, and even this stage includes a 5km ascent. All of the other stages have at least one second category climb.

Having won the GC in the race on three occasions, Alberto is no stranger to the race and to the region, and has taken stage wins in each of the editions of the race in which he won the GC. In similar fashion to the recent Volta Ciclista a Catalunya, the Vuelta al Pais Vasco is a race for the climbers, and will be a strong indicator of form for the season’s Grand Tours.

Tinkoff's leader heads to the race "eager and excited. The Vuelta al Pais Vasco is a race that I like a lot and in which I usually perform quite well," he explains. "We have to see how the legs respond, because after Catalunya I focused myself on resting, as the effort is already becoming noticeable. This is the last race I do before the break that will precede my preparation for the Tour de France.

In what regards the race, Contador expects it to be "very tough, because all days are very, very demanding and we must be attentive." He adds the factor of the weather, as the forecast calls for a rainy week. "In the Basque Country it always is an important factor," he says, although he believes that in what concerns the way the race plays out, the rivals will be a key. "Above all we must take into account the rivals. It is a very close race and the level is very high, although the weather will play an important role, because they are stages that go up and down, and if the weather is bad, it will be even tougher."

Joining Alberto in the Basque country is Sergio Paulinho, returning from an injury that developed at Paris-Nice, together with Danes Jesper Hansen and Michael Valgren. Playing a key role in the mountains will be Robert Kiserlovski and Roman Kreuziger, and the team is completed by the experienced Evgeny Petrov and Matteo Tosatto.

Sport Director Steven De Jongh explained the complications in finalising the team. "We had to make some last minute changes to the line-up as some of the guys were still suffering from sickness, but we've built a solid team around Alberto, who's really motivated to go for the win here.

"We've got Roman Kreuziger and Robert Kiserlovski here, they will be our riders to be there with Alberto late on the key climbs, and Michael Valgren who comes to the race after a period of training so we hope he will be in good shape. It's last minute for some of the line-up so we will have to wait and see how some of them are in the early stages. Sergio also returns from injury so we hope he's now fully recovered."

Looking at the stages that lie ahead next week, Steven commented: "Alberto is really focused for the race and our priority is fixed on supporting him as well as possible and having him in the best position overall ahead of the final stage time trial which starts with a climb before descending back down to Eibar.

"I think that stages 2 and 5 will be key in the fight for GC with the finish either at the top of a mountain of just after a final climb. However, the race is known for it's tough stages and every day you need to be ready. We don't have the favourite team for controlling the race so we will have to see how our position is after these key stages. Overall I'm curious to see how things will pan out."

Finally, when talking about the Tinkoff line-up at the race, Contador said: "I have a great team with a lot of experience, but it's true that due to injury and illness we had to change three riders that were initially scheduled. At this time of year this happens many times, but I will still have a great team alongside me and we are all very motivated."

Race Route

The Vuelta al Pais Vasco covers a total of 853km over its six days, which is short when compared to similar stage races, however this is a race where difficulty is not measured in kilometres raced, but in the difficulty of the stages and the mountains climbed.

The first stage, which covers a route from Etxebarria to Markina-Xemein, covers no fewer than eight categorised climbs – one of these being the first category Alto de Ixua. This is not a race that eases riders into the mountains gently, but starts as it means to go on.

While not categorised as a mountain stage, stage 2 provides the race with three second category climbs over its 174.3km distance and its first uphill finish, the second category Garrastatxu. Stage 3 again takes in three second category climbs over the course of the 193.5km stage – which is also the race’s longest – with three categorised climbs coming in the final 30km, representing the opportunity for GC contenders to create time gaps before the flat stage finish.

The race enters the mountains proper on stages 4 and 5. While the profile of stage 4 appears relatively flat, it climbs 455m up the first category Jaizkibel in the first 30km, before ascending nearly 1,500m in categorised climbs over the remainder of the stage. The race’s queen stage more than doubles this, climbing nearly 3,500m over its 159km length – ending in what is potentially a race-deciding finish on the Usartzako.

With the mountains out of the way, one stage remains – the 16.5km individual time trial in Eibar. Even this stage, while not having any categorised climbs, includes a 5km ascent. The race is far from over at this point – the race was won on the ITT in last year’s edition, and the hilly profile means that the time trial specialists won’t necessarily be certain to win here.

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