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Bicycle Racing News and Opinion,
Monday, July 11, 2016

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Alberto Contador's Tour abandonment

Sunday I posted this:

Halfway through the 2016 Tour de France's ninth stage, Alberto Contador has abandoned. He awoke with a fever and had trouble on the first climb.

Alberto Contador abanons the 2016 Tour de France

Earlier, Tinkoff's sport director Sean Yates had said from his team car: “Alberto [Contador] had a bit of fever this morning. He told us at the beginning of the race that he wasn't feeling super and it's obvious. We've told him to stay quiet. Now the peloton is going slower, which is better for his recovery after the fast start this morning.”

Later in the day I got this report from Tinkoff:

It was a sad day for the team on the 184.5km 9th stage of the Tour de France. After a hard first week of the race battling against injuries sustained in the first two days and suffering from fever in the morning, Alberto Contador was forced to withdraw from the race after one of the toughest challenges of his career so far. After a week spent fighting against GC rivals – who had suffered none of the misfortunes he had – and holding his own against them, the strain became too much and the Spanish rider climbed off the bike on the second climb of the day. Picking up the baton, Alberto’s teammates pushed on hard, with Rafal Majka and Peter Sagan taking points in the climbers’ and points contests respectively, and Roman Kreuziger riding hard with the GC group for the remainder of the day.

With the stage starting on a first category climb with no lead-in, this was going to be a tough day in the saddle. Spending much of the day in the Spanish Pyrenees before crossing into Andorra for the final 55km, the 184.5km stage saw the race ascend five categorised climbs – with the final climb into Andorre Arcalis a 10.1km, 7.2% Hors Catégorie leg killer. Combined with the heat of the mountains, nobody was going to escape the suffering.

Before the race reached that point however, there were four categorised climbs that, from a strategic point of view, gave the GC riders reason to be excited. The 6.1% Port de la Bonaigua from the start would show who had good legs, while the Port del Cantò dominated the middle section of the stage with its 19km distance sapping energy. The Côte de la Comella and Col de Beixalis were where the day was likely to really take shape however. The two climbs – second and first category respectively – were relatively short and punchy, which brought with them the potential for attacks.

There were attacks from the start, first with King of the Mountains, Rafal Majka – for the second successive day – going up ahead with teammate Peter Sagan as part of a large group, before team leader, Alberto Contador also went on the attack. In spite of his best efforts, and after staying with the escape as they built up a 1’30” advantage on the peloton, the Spanish rider dropped back to the bunch.

Alberto had started the day suffering from a fever after working hard on the previous stages to recover following crashes in the first two days of the race. Dropping back to the team car after the descent of the Port de la Bonaigua, it was clear that the Tinkoff leader wasn’t feeling comfortable, having tested his legs attacking on the first climb of the day. Climbing off his bike, Alberto and the team made the difficult decision to abandon before the ascent of the Port del Cantò made his sickness worse.

Alberto had tried to push on from the first crash to his attack on the stage today – never giving up hope. He spoke about his decision after the race. “I did my best today. I tried to attack earlier on in the race but it was impossible – my legs simply couldn’t go after the two earlier crashes. Earlier this morning I had a little fever as well as throat pain, but nonetheless I decided to give it a shot. After I tried to attack my legs were really empty, so I dropped back to team car and talk to the Sport Directors. We agreed that the best decision was to abandon the race in order to rest and carry out further medical examinations, and we’ll assess my racing calendar now until the end of the season.”

Speaking after the stage, Sport Director, Steven De Jongh, explained the difficult decision for Alberto to withdraw.“Obviously it was hard to see Alberto leave today. He had a lot of fever when he got up this morning but still wanted to try and change the situation. He went for the break early on, but was empty and then got dropped. He came to the car and we discussed with him and then with the doctor and decided it was better to stop and leave the race to recover. It made no sense to keep pushing on.”

Further up the road, Rafal and Peter remained in the breakaway and pushed ahead in spite of the sad news. The UCI World Champion was working hard to collect points for the green jersey contest and took all of them at the foot of the Côte de la Comella with total ease – none of the riders in the breakaway even attempting to challenge the strong Slovakian rider. Having taken the full 20 points and re-taking second spot in the points contest, Peter dropped from the break, his work done, while Rafal continued up the road, looking for more climbers’ points. A duo had broken away from the front of the break, but were well within sight of the rest of the escapees and were soon pulled back in.

De Jongh was pleased that after Alberto’s departure from the race, the team was still fighting hard. “The team was in a real fighting spirit. Peter was going for the green jersey points in the break, he picked up another 20, and then Rafa was going for the KOM points and for the stage win too.”

The breakaway’s lead hovering around ten minutes, the road pitched up for the final, brutal climb of the day, and there were only six on the front – each of them wanting to take the stage. Attacks came and went, and Rafal himself tested the legs of his breakaway compatriots. While his rivals on the climb were out of the saddle and pedalling hard, Rafal was sat down and looking comfortable, holding his own against the others. A solo break had gone out in front, but Rafal was next in line a little way down the road with one other, while the remainder of the break fell apart behind him.

With rain falling on the final climb however, conditions were going to be tough for the riders having ridden in the heat all day. At the finish line sheets of rain and hail were falling, which would slow riders down while making the road surfaces slippery. After the summery start to the day the rain was absolutely torrential and back in the peloton, riders were looking miserable. The gap had dropped to 8’30” with 3km to go, but Rafal and his compatriot were reducing their gap on the lone rider out on the front. The peloton was pulling hard to reduce the gap on the three of them as well, with Roman Kreuziger putting in a big effort to stay in touch in the group.

The solo escapee crossed the line, and shortly after came Rafal, narrowly beaten to the line, taking 3rd place. In 22nd position came Roman, fighting hard on the final climb against the rain, hail and the GC group. While Rafal lost his Maillot à Pois, he is behind in the climbers’ contest by only 3 points, and there are plenty of opportunities for him in the race to come.

With 1,769.5km raced, the Tour de France goes into its first rest day tomorrow – a welcome relief for riders after nine incredibly hard stages. When the race returns on Tuesday for stage 10, the race will start with a climb of the first category Port d'Envalira before a long and steady downhill for the rest of the 197km stage, interrupted only by the third category Côte de Saint-Ferréol, cresting 7km from the finish. A finish for the puncheurs, this could be a chance for Peter Sagan to re-take the Maillot Vert.

Looking ahead to the days to come, De Jongh was pleased that the team was already pulling together to work for other goals in the race. “Now we have Roman up there on GC and we will try and help him. Then we have the goal of the green and the KoM jerseys too, so even though it wasn't a good day, we can look forward and refocus.”

Other Tour de France team reports

Here's Team Sky's news:

Chris Froome battled through torrential rain on the first summit finish of the Tour de France to maintain his 16-second lead at the top of the General Classification.
Froome saw off attacks from Dan Martin (Etixx - Quick-Step), Adam Yates (Orica-BikeExchange) and Richie Porte (BMC) on the final climb of stage nine to finish at the head of the GC group, closely followed by Nairo Quintana (Movistar).

Up ahead Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) emerged from the day's breakaway to take a fine solo stage win, six minutes and 35 seconds ahead of Froome, who came home 11th.

The day started in frantic circumstances with Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) infiltrating the day's break, forcing Luke Rowe, Ian Stannard and Vasil Kiryienka to ride hard at the front of the pack to bring it back.

Eventually Valverde called it a day and rejoined the peloton while, after a failed early attack of his own, Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) abandoned the race, seemingly still suffering from his two crashes on the opening two days.

Once Valverde had come back to the pack the gap to the break grew and grew, until it became clear that the stage winner was likely to emerge out of it, but the pace was still high in the bunch. Numerous riders fell off the back of the peloton across the challenging parcours, before the GC battle really ignited on the final hors categorie climb to the line in Andorra.

Speaking after the 185km stage a soaking wet Froome admitted that it had been a gruelling couple of days in the saddle. He said: "That was a tough old day out there. It was really hard yesterday and then another tough day today. Going from pretty extreme heat, really hot, stuffy weather, to 10 degrees and a hailstorm at the finish - that made it quite a difficult day too.

Christopher Froome

Froome will start stage 10 in yellow.

"I'm really happy with that though. It would have been nice to take a bit more time and have more of a buffer in the yellow jersey but all in all I'm really happy going into the first rest day in yellow."

And Froome was quick to heap praise onto his team-mates, who led the peloton from start to finish across every one of the day's five categorised climbs. He added: "I've got a fantastic team around me and the guys have done everything. They've ridden from start to finish almost every day now. I couldn't be in a better place."

After Mikel Landa had produced a stunningly long stint at the front of the peloton in the second half of the stage it was over to Sergio Henao and Geraint Thomas to guide Froome up the final climb for as long as they could.

Speaking afterwards Thomas also paid tribute to the work of the team, and joked that the rain came as light relief to him. He said: "It was actually quite nice! It was like being back in Wales. But it's been a tough week. It was hard to control when Valverde went up the road early on today but we stuck together well, rode as a unit, and then it all came down to that last climb. It wasn't quite hard enough for big gaps I don't think."

Martin and Yates sit second and third on GC now, with Quintana fourth, and Thomas was happy to admit that they are genuine overall contenders, before highlighting how much racing is still to come.

The Welshman added: " Everyone within a couple of minutes is a threat at the minute. They're good climbers but it's only stage nine and a lot can happen in Grand Tours. There's two time trials to come as well."

Stage winner Tom Dumoulin's Giant-Alpecin team sent me this:

Tom Dumoulin (NED) soloed to victory on the queen stage of the Tour de France, taking an impressive stage win that the team worked so hard for. Towards the Arcalis, the fifth ascent of the day, Dumoulin attacked and climbed at a steady pace. In extreme weather conditions, Dumoulin was able to stay clear to win his first stage at the Tour de France.​

Tom Dumoulin (NED) : "To win the queen stage of the Tour de France here in Andorra is just fantastic. If somebody had told me a few days ago that I would win today I would have said they were crazy. Throughout the stage, I was starting to feel better and I saw the opportunity to join the break as my legs were feeling really good.

"It didn't matter to me that it was raining on the final ascent, I was just determined to do my best and I barely noticed the weather conditions. I was just in the suffering mode and completely focused on my effort. I am super happy with this performance.

"The first week of the Tour didn’t go too well at all and I was not feeling particularly content with my performances but my team kept my spirits up. So now I have won one of the toughest stages of the Tour and I am very proud of myself and the whole team."

Tom Dumoulin

Tom Dumoulin wins stage 9

Adriaan Helmantel (NED): "It was a hard fight to join the breakaway. When Valverde dropped out of the break then it was clear that the front group would make it to the finish. The gap finally grew quickly and I was confident that they would make it to the finish. But there were still some strong riders in the group but Tom did a great job.

"During the first category climb he let the others attack and he set his own pace. In the valley before the final ascent, he attacked himself and he immediately created a small gap. Behind him in the chasing group there was a lack of cooperation and Tom's advantage grew to 40 seconds.

"On the final climb he started with a 50 seconds gap, and they didn't close it and I became more confident that he could make it. In the end it was a little bit surreal with the rain and hailstorms and the final kilometre was just amazing."

Here's BMC's Tour update:

10 July, 2016, Andorra Arcalis (FRA): A brutal stage 9 of the Tour de France saw the peloton face five category climbs, with Richie Porte and Tejay van Garderen testing their legs on the toughest day of racing so far.

Porte and van Garderen spent the day in the peloton with the support of their BMC Racing Team teammates. At the front of the race multiple breakaways formed, from which Tom Dumoulin (Team Giant Alpecin) emerged to take the solo win in Andorra.

On the final climb, the reduced number of General Classification riders put in attack after attack to split the group in the final kilometers. Porte crossed the line in 13th place just behind race leader Chris Froome (Team SKY) and van Garderen followed in 21st place.

The final stage before the first rest day saw a shake up of the General Classification, with van Garderen now sitting in 11th place, 1'01" behind Froome, and Porte in 14th, 2'10" back.

Richie porte

Richie Porte in stage 8

Richie Porte: "I put some time into some other General Classification guys so it's a good day. I need to get time back so that's what I was thinking [when I attacked in the final]. The team was fantastic today, we worked quite well together. It would have been nice to get a bit more of a gap but I'm guessing that they're not just going to let me ride away like that. I feel good. It's nice to get the first proper block of racing done. Physically I know where I am and that's in a good place."

Tejay van Garderen: "It was long and super hot and then it got super cold at the finish. It was just a hard day off the back of a hard day so I think Richie [Porte] and I did pretty well. Richie was obviously a lot better than me, but we just look forward. It's been nine hard days of racing so fatigue definitely starts going into play but it's still the first week. The first real mountain day of the Tour I always tend to struggle more than the other ones so I think it can only get better from here. Any one of the stages could be an opportunity to gain back time, the mountains, the time trials, so I'll just take it as it comes."

This came from LottoNL-Jumbo:

George Bennett finished seventh in the ninth stage of the Tour de France today in Andorra. The Team LottoNL-Jumbo rider from New Zealand was part of the early breakaway during the queen stage through Spain and Andorra, and managed to finish ahead of the peloton. Tom Dumoulin (Giant - Alpecin) attacked before the final climb and won solo.

“George Bennett delivered a beautiful stage and gave everything,” Sports Director Merijn Zeeman said. “Before the Tour de France, we chose this stage for him to give it a try. George is a lightweight, so it’s difficult for him to be part of the breakaway when the profile is flat. When the race starts uphill, like today, he has a bigger chance. He already showed that in the Dauphiné and in the Vuelta, and he was there today again.

“George was familiar with the penultimate climb and you might say that he was too eager in that part of the race, but I have to say that that climb suited him better than the last one, as well. George is developing and he should be proud of what he showed today.”

Bennett was one of the riders from the breakaway who survived the mountainous stage and just before the top of the Col de Beixalis, he tried to escape from the others in his group. “I had the feeling that I was able to win this race today and enthusiasm took the better of me,” he said. “I might have done too much at that point, so I have to learn from it. It was awesome that the team gave me the chance to try it. It didn’t work out exactly like what I dreamed of, but it’s a start. Next time, I will wait to make a move until the final part of the race.”

In the beginning of the final climb to Arcalis, Bennett clashed with a spectator. “He stepped forward and didn’t look at me,” he added. “I clashed with him, so he fell. I managed to stay on my bike, but I feel bad that this happened. The fans need to realise that we need a little bit more space.”

Behind the breakaway, Wilco Kelderman wasn’t able to stay with the overall contenders. “Wilco fought, but obviously struggled with the damage from yesterday’s crash,” Zeeman added. “He isn’t able to ride how he should go when he’s fit, so that leaves a sour feeling. The rest day comes at the right moment for him. He has to recover.”

“I have a lot of pain, but in the adrenaline of the race, you manage to get through it,” Kelderman added. “I expected a heavy day, actually, but you’re always hoping that it goes better. I was dropped immediately on the final climb and rode to the top at my own pace.”

He had to fight to get back into the gruppetto quite often. Dylan rode his first heavy mountain stage in the Tour de France, so he should be proud of surviving the Pyrenees.”“He had to push through his limits,” Zeeman said. “The queen stage of the Tour de France was a big struggle for sprinter Dylan Groenewegen, as well.

Lotto-Soudal sent this Tour report:

Today, the final stage in the Pyrenees was scheduled in the Tour de France. The riders had to ride through Spain and Andorra, five hard climbs and a summit finish were today’s menu. The first climb of the day was situated right after the start so it was a hectic beginning of the stage. More than 45 riders tried to go clear with among others Thomas De Gendt and Tony Gallopin. They didn’t get much advantage as Team Sky was setting a high pace in the peloton. About twenty riders were still in the lead after the first climb. De Gendt and Gallopin were attentively at the front of the race, the peloton didn’t react anymore. The lead of the escapees increased bit by bit and they obtained a maximum advantage of ten minutes. Due to this big gap, the race got a battle on two fronts.

Thomas de Gendt

Thomas de Gendt getting hammered by the end-of stage rain and hail

Thomas De Gendt showed himself in the breakaway and he fought for the KOM points. He won the second KOM sprint, on the third climb of the day he accelerated. De Gendt rode alone in front for a while and he was able to win the third KOM sprint. Unfortunately, he was reeled in on the penultimate climb by what was left of the front group and he was dropped several moments later. Eventually, ten riders rode towards the final climb. Tom Dumoulin won the stage as he attacked in the beginning of the climb. His co-escapees weren’t able to follow him, the Dutch rider was obviously the strongest. A lot of attacks took place in the GC group but the positions on GC remained more or less the same. Chris Froome maintains the yellow leader’s jersey, the gap between the first ten riders on GC is one minute. Thomas De Gendt rode an aggressive race today and therefore he was the first Belgian rider at the summit in Arcalis. Tomorrow, the first rest day in this Tour is scheduled.

Thomas De Gendt: “I felt really good before the start of today’s stage so I decided to attack immediately. Before the first climb of the day in the beginning of the stage, more than 40 riders were still in the front of the race. In my opinion, that was a bit too much so I accelerated again. Eventually twenty riders were part of the break and as I promised beforehand, I tried to obtain as much points as possible for the KOM classification (Thomas was able to get 23 points for the KOM classification today, LTS). When I attacked on the third climb of the day, I hoped to remain in front till the summit of the penultimate climb, but that was a bit too optimistic. I was reeled in by the strongest climbers in the front group and after that I was dropped rather quickly. The first three hours of the stage were really hot, but on the final climb the weather changed entirely and it started to rain and hail. Personally, that wasn’t a big problem for me. I’m confident that I’ll be able to show myself the next two weeks, I feel very good. But first I will enjoy the first rest day in this Tour.”

Megan Guarnier wins Giro Rosa

The race organizer sent me this news:

The US National Champion got the absolute victory in the biggest Cycling Stage for Women, the second athlete from the United States after Mara Abbott in 2010 and 2013. Born in Glen Falls on 4th May 1985, last year she has won the Strade Bianche, and she finished third the Giro and the World Championships in Richmond. The Giro Rosa 2016 has been her most important goal of the season and now she is taking a look to the Olympic Race of Rio, where she wants to win a medal.

Megan Guarnier

Megan Guarnier gets another pink jersey to go with this one she earned in 2015

In this Giro Megan Guarnier has been one of the most constant of the favorites: race leader in San Fior after the first stage, she had to give the leadership the day after in Montenars. In the very hot and tough stage in Alassio/Madonna della Guardia she could be back in Pink. Second place for Evelyn Stevens at 34'' and third is Anna Van der Breggen at 1'53''. The final stage in Verbania has been won by Thalita De Jong (Rabo-Liv), Cyclocross World Champion 2016. Second was Riejanne Markus (Liv-Plantur) and third Maria Giulia Confalonieri again on the podium after Lovere (2°) and Legnano (3°)

STAGE RESULTS: VERBANIA - VERBANIA 104.8 KM

1. Thalita De Jong (Rabo-Liv)                                        2:44'24''
2. Riejanne Markus (Liv-Plantur)                                      +1'05''
3. Maria Giulia Confalonieri (Lensworld-Zannata)               +1'05''

FINAL CLASSIFICATION 27th GIRO ROSA:

1. Megan Guarnier (Boels Dolmans)                              22:42'40''
2. Evelyn Stevens (Boels Dolmans)                                    +34''
3. Anna Van der Breggen (Rabo-Liv)                                  +1'53''

THE FINAL JERSEYS of the 27th GIRO ROSA:

Maglia Rosa COLNAGO: Megan Guarnier (Boels Dolmans)
Maglia Ciclamino SELLE SMP: Megan Guarnier (Boels Dolmans)
Maglia Verde MORTIROLO: Elisa Longo Borghini (Wiggle High5)

And here's the Giro Rosa news from Lotto-Soudal Ladies:

Claudia Lichtenberg set a wonderful result at the Giro Rosa! The German rider finished fourth overall. During the entire race Claudia showed consistency, with four top ten positions on the stages, and that resulted in this fourth place.

Megan Guarnier became the overall winner. Evelyn Stevens got second at 34 seconds, while Anna van der Breggen finished third at 1’53”. Claudia is fourth overall at 2’33” of Guarnier. Today Claudia gained one place, this morning she was still fifth. She could distance Mara Abbott far enough to claim the fourth place. Claudia was 26 seconds down on Abbott, but has five seconds advantage in the final classification.

Claudia Lichtenberg: “I’m going home with a positive feeling after ten nice days. I succeeded in gaining one place during the final stage. Everyone was waiting for the last climb for one last attack, but GC leader Megan Guarnier set a very high pace on the climb. No one was thinking of attacking anymore. Everyone just tried to stay in the group. We reached the top with the same riders as the previous days. Elisa Longo Borghini attacked a few times in the downhill in the long corners, that’s a strength of her. Mara got dropped from the group and then I tried to take this chance to jump one place in front of her. You have to grab every chance that you get.”

“It wasn’t possible anymore to achieve a podium place, then I would have needed to take back forty seconds or someone should have had a bad day. The riders at the top of the ranking were all racing on the same level and this is an honest result.”

“I could race on the same level as the best climbers and that’s important to me. This race was a goal in itself, but I’m also working towards the Olympic Games in Rio, which are coming up in less than one month. The fact that I was so strong here gives me confidence. Now I will take a few days rest and then I’ll start training again.”

“It was nice to race with the Lotto Soudal Ladies. There was a really good atmosphere in our team and everyone did her best for me, to take me in a good position to the climbs for example. I want to thank my teammates and the staff. And Dany Schoonbaert of course, our sports director who managed it all so well.”

Tour of Poland update from Lotto-Soudal:

Whilst all eyes are set on the Tour de France at this moment, several other races are held around the world. From Tuesday 12 July 2016 till Monday 18 July 2016, a part of the peloton will be in Poland for seven days as the 73rd edition of the Tour de Pologne is scheduled. This stage race, which is part of the WorldTour, is normally held in August. Because of the Olympic Games in Rio, the race is scheduled one month earlier this season.

Mario Aerts: “I don’t think that this change will have a big influence on how the race will develop. This change has a bigger influence on the riders though. Normally, this is a rather calm period for riders who aren’t racing at the Tour. Now it’s a huge adaption for our riders with the coming Olympic Games in Rio and the Tour de Pologne during the Tour.”

The first two stages will most likely end with a bunch sprint. The stages are short, they contain two climbs each and the riders need to cover a few local laps in both stages. Day three will be something different though. The peloton has to ride 240 kilometres and needs to surmount three tough climbs. After that a transition stage is scheduled. The next two stages will be very important for the positions on GC. During the fifth stage, the riders have to climb seven mountains of the first category. The sixth stage is even harder as fifteen climbs are on the menu that day. Finally, the individual time trial of 25 kilometres in and around Krakow will determine the positions on GC.

Mario Aerts: “The course is very similar to last year. The first two stages are almost the same and they offer a chance for the sprinters. The local lap and the finish in the first stage are slightly different though. Day three will be a whole different story. The positions on GC won’t be determined this day, but you can lose the race here. In my opinion, the GC group will be reduced towards the end of the stage. After that, a transition stage is scheduled and maybe the break has a chance to survive. The heavy part of this race is situated in the final three stages. Stages five and six will certainly demand a lot of energy from the riders, it will be really hard days in the saddle. Several parts of the climbs are very steep, you mustn’t underestimate them. Finally, the closing time trial can be important regarding to the positions on GC.”

Bart De Clercq finished second on GC during last year’s edition of this hard stage race. He also won a stage and wore the leader’s jersey one day. The Belgian climber will be extra motivated, that’s certain.

Mario Aerts: “I think that we start with a very strong team. It’s a nice mix of young and more experienced riders, that’s an advantage in my opinion. Rafael Valls hasn’t raced since several weeks so we have to wait how well he will perform already. Tiesj Benoot is able to show himself in a break and maybe he can try to win a stage. Maxime Monfort is preparing himself for the Vuelta so he can test his legs in a few stages. Jasper De Buyst will be our leader for the sprints. Riders such as Tim Wellens and Tiesj Benoot already proved that they can be part of a sprint train. But Jasper is someone who can sprint on his own as he’s a very good track cyclist. The sprints in the Tour de Pologne are often a bit hectic so Jasper’s abilities on the bike are a true asset.”

“We can also aim for a good position on GC with two or three riders. Bart De Clercq and Tim Wellens will be the main leaders, but also Louis Vervaeke could obtain a nice result. Louis and Bart are still in the pre-selection for the Olympic Games in Rio so they’ll certainly try to show themselves. Bart was also a bit disappointed because he wasn’t selected for the Tour and he did a great job during last year’s edition of this race. He’s definitely going to try something. Finally, Tim said that he really aims for a good position on GC. He’ll certainly get the opportunity to do so. I have a lot of confidence in this team and I’m sure they will perform well next week.” 

At the moment Bart De Clercq is training in Italy to prepare for the Tour de Pologne.

Bart De Clercq: “I was disappointed not be selected for the Tour, but I have new goals now: the Tour de Pologne and Vuelta. I am motivated to perform well in both races. At the Tour de Pologne we start we GC ambitions. Last year I finished second overall. It won’t be easy to do as well, but I’m definitely aiming for a top ten result. The route is quite similar to last year, so we can expect a tough race again. To win the stage to Zakopane as I did last year luck would have to be on my side. I would be as happy to win another stage (laughs). We go to Poland with a very strong team, with different riders who could play a role on that terrain. We definitely have the possibility to make the race hard and then we’ll see day by day which one of us can aim for the best result.”

Roster Lotto Soudal: Sander Armée, Tiesj Benoot, Jasper De Buyst, Bart De Clercq, Maxime Monfort, Rafael Valls, Louis Vervaeke and Tim Wellens.

Sports directors: Mario Aerts and Marc Wauters.

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