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Bicycle Racing News and Opinion,
Friday, July 22, 2016

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Tour de France Stage 18 news

We have to start with stage winner Chris Froome's team Sky report:

Chris Froome powered to an emphatic time trial victory on stage 18 to extend his Tour de France race lead. In a masterful show of pacing, the Team Sky rider got quicker through each intermediate split to clock a winning time of 30 minutes and 43 seconds.

That effort was enough to beat Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) by 21 seconds, but more significantly it allowed Froome to put yet more time into his GC rivals, pushing his yellow jersey advantage out to 3:52.

Fifth quickest at the opening split out of Sallanches, Froome pushed hard on the climb to readdress the balance, driving home his advantage to punch the air after crossing the line in Megeve.

The mountainous course saw the GC favourites utilise a variety of equipment choices, with Froome opting for a full TT set up across the 17km test.

Chris Froome

Chris Froome on the way to another yellow jersey.

"I really didn't expect to beat Tom today," he said. "Pacing was key. I really started off quite steady and controlled that first part, and then just gave it everything I had over the top and the last part. I'm really, really happy with that.

"There are two more big days to come now. Hopefully I didn't leave too much out on the road today. At this point, two days out from Paris, we're just giving it everything we've got now. It's just this last couple of days to get the job done.

"Tomorrow is a very tricky stage with a lot of tricky descents. There's talk about thunderstorms during the race. It's definitely going to have to be a stage where we stay right on our game. Of course it's fantastic that I opened out my lead today, but we can't relax and switch off now. We've got to see this through right to the end."

Geraint Thomas was the next Team Sky rider home with a strong effort to place 23rd, with the race now set to head back into the mountains for an Alpine double to decide the 2016 Tour.

And here's what second-place tom Dumoulin's Giant-Alpecin squad posted about the day:

The stage was a big uphill effort, with riders starting off at two-minute intervals before the GC favourites were split by three minutes as the sharp end of GC. The first two kilometres got off to a steady start before the riders turned onto the climb and the gradients quickly ramped up pitching up to 10% at times. It was always going to be important which bike the riders chose either a time trial or a road bike, with weight and climbing position playing a factor. Tom Dumoulin decided to ride on his time trial bike.

Tom Dumoulin

Tom Dumoulin chose to ride a time trial bike in stage 18

It was a close call for Dumoulin who completed the 17km uphill time trial from Sallanches to Megève in a time of 31’04” as he raced to second place, 21″ behind winner Chris Froome (Team Sky).

Tom Dumoulin said: “I think it was good performance today but not my best. At the finish, I didn’t know if it would be enough as the general classification riders have been fighting every day for almost three weeks now on every climb.

“This was a real climbing time trial, not the hardest I have ever done but still a lot more difficult than the previous one. There was also no time to recover after the first climb. It was really steep at the start and at that moment I felt really good. However, I think I went a little bit over my limit and I paid for it later on in the parcours. It was a very difficult time trial.

“I was in the hot seat for a long time but I expected already it would be very hard to win. It was a good time trial and I knew it would be close. I am a bit disappointed but on the other hand, I can be satisfied with my time trial and it is what it is.”

Dan Martin's Etixx-Quick Step team had this to report:

29-year-old Dan Martin showed how much he improved against the clock, putting in a solid display on stage 18.

For the first time in years, the mountain time trial returned to the Grande Boucle, as the riders faced a 17-km long test against the clock. The start was given from Sallanches, which has previously hosted two editions of the World Championships, in 1964 and 1980, and the first part consisted of a fast downhill and a flat part. As soon as that ended, the road began to rise, up to Côte de Domancy (2.5 km, 9.4%), which was followed by another short ascent, that opened the way for the last climb of the day, Côte de Chozeaux (3.1 km, 5.4%). The final two kilometers were in a downhill, with the closing meters bringing a couple of technical corners before the finish in Megève, which was hosting a Tour de France arrival for the first time.

Dan Martin

Dan Martin going deep in stage 18

Last Etixx – Quick-Step rider to roll down the ramp, Dan Martin had a very fast start, posting a top result by the time he went through the first intermediate split. Once he hit the slopes of Domancy, the Irishman began to feel more comfortable, as he was on familiar ground, and continued to dig deep in order to get a good time in Megève, where he stopped the clock in 32:11, after safely negotiating the tricky corners and sprinting to the line. Eventually, as other riders came in, Dan lost some places, but still concluded the stage with an impressive result – 16th, around one minute and a half behind yellow jersey Chris Froome (Team Sky), who took the win – and made sure of going into the last three stages of the race with a good shot at his maiden Tour de France top 10 finish.

"I had the best equipment possible and I'm grateful for that, this was very important today. I did my best, although it wasn't easy. I suffered for around two kilometers after the steepest part of the route and lost some time there. We are 18 days into the Tour de France, we have 3 000 kilometers in the legs, some very fast flat kilometers with crazy winds and a lot of altitude gain, so it's normal to feel tired", said Dan, who is 10th in the overall standings and is now looking with confidence towards Friday's stage. "This morning I felt good, but things changed during the race. Hopefully, tomorrow morning I will wake up with the same sensations. I never felt so good this late into a Tour de France, I also managed to avoid being sick and I'm happy for that. Two crucial mountain stages are now coming and I hope things will go in the way I want."

Stage 19 of the race will take the peloton from Albertville to Saint-Gervais Mont Blanc, over a mountainous course – with more than 4 000 meters of vertical gain – which is set to finish on a 9.8-km long first-category climb, averaging 8% and pitching up to 10.8%.

BMC sent me this news:

21 July, 2016, Megève (FRA): Richie Porte put in a solid time trial performance on the uphill 17km course on stage 18 of the Tour de France to clock the fourth-fastest time and gain time back on his General Classification rivals.

Sitting in sixth place on the General Classification, Porte was one of the last riders to roll down the ramp and clocked the then-fastest time at the first check point.

The clock stopped at 31'16" on the finish line, 33 seconds behind eventual stage winner and race leader Chris Froome (Team Sky). Porte remains in sixth place, but gained significant time on other top ten rivals, to now sit 44 seconds off third place and 1'08" off second place with two mountainous stages to come before the race concludes in Paris.

A trip to the podium concluded stage 18 for Porte, as the recipient of the Bernard Hinault award as the rider with the fastest time on the Côte de Domancy check point.

Richie porte

Richie Porte

Richie Porte: "It was a hard time trial and I guess time trials are never nice. Now I've had a bit of time to look at the time I've put into some of the other General Classification contenders so it was a good day."

"The goal is now podium so day by day I'm chipping away a little bit more time. I'd have liked to gone a bit quicker today but it was still a good performance. We'll see how tomorrow goes and then the next day. It's a great honor to win the Bernard Hinault prize and I think it shows that I'm climbing well. The next two days are full of hard climbs so I'm quite confident and we've got a great team and I'm just looking forward to fighting for that podium."

"Let's just hope that I can chip away some more time. I really want the podium and I'm going to fight for it. I'm fit and healthy and I hope all of my bad luck is behind me now. We'll just take it day by day."

Brent Bookwalter: "It was just one big climb basically. There were a lot of good, enthusiastic spectators. There's no real easy way to get up it but I tried to conserve as much as I could. There's a few really steep sections so I think the power has to be big, and then a couple of really small portions to recover on. I think Richie's good at that so he should do a good ride."

Tinkoff is having a good Tour. Here's their report:

Only 17km, but that 17km could be pivotal in how the GC looked at the end of the day. Le Tour’s second Individual Time Trial was tough, with a constantly changing profile that prevented riders from finding a rhythm, and in the heat that has proved so draining for riders throughout the race. Working hard and riding the course well, Roman Kreuziger finished the day just outside the top ten, in 13th, after a ride that challenged his GC rivals.

After a fairly flat opening 4km, the day’s climbing began, and for 3km it was gradients of up to 11% that would put the hurt straight into the legs. While the course saw a slight downhill towards the end, there was no chance for recovery, as the riders would have to go full gas to either claw back some time lost on the climb, or to try and draw out an advantage on the descent.

Looking over the route and its challenging profile, Sport Director, Sean Yates saw that the stage would test every rider. “The course had a bit of everything really. Some very steep climbs and also descents, and pacing was key, but by the end of the day, the strongest will take the stage on a parcours like this.”

With the course consisting more of climbs than a more traditional time trial, most riders opted to tackle the course on a standard road bike with clip-on aero bars. With the more competitive riders putting in times of a little more than half an hour, Michael Valgren set a strong time early on, recording 33’05” – a ride which kept him in the top twenty most of the day.

With the GC favourites starting their rides as the day wore on, it was Roman Kreuziger’s turn to make his way onto the course. The smooth roads promoted fast times, and the combination of flats, uphills and a downhill section meant the faster times demanded riders be skilled at all three in order to set a good time. Making good use of the course and riding well throughout, Roman came home in 32’03” – a full minute faster than Michael – and held a top ten place as he waited for the rest of the GC riders to come in. With everyone home, Roman finished just outside the top ten, taking 13th spot, and in spite of a strong ride that saw him perform well on all of the stage’s terrain, the Czech national road champion dropped a place in the GC – a position he is more than capable of reclaiming in the coming road stages.

While the Tinkoff GC rider had lost a place in the GC after the stage, Yates, was confident of Roman’s ability and was pleased with his performance on the challenging stage. “Roman did a good ride, he might have slipped a bit on GC but it was very tight with all the guys only separated by a few seconds here and there, apart from the top riders on the stage. He did a good ride, did everything he could and paced it right. He had one scare where he almost came down after a few kilometres when the wheel slipped, but otherwise it was a good ride. Everyone else got through ok, they just went through the motions.”

The King of the Mountains, Rafal Majka, was feeling the efforts of two days in the break, but was keen to take more mountain points tomorrow, and so took the ITT more gently. “I felt a bit tired after yesterday's long breakaway but today I didn't go full gas, only enough to open the engine and set a nice pace, that was it. I needed to save a bit of energy for the stages to come - it's not just the Tour in my legs but also the Giro too. We want to go in the breakaway tomorrow of course, but we will see. And for sure others want to try to take the jersey but I won't make it easy. I want to take this jersey to Paris and home - I like it so much, and already won it in 2014 already.”

Peter Sagan was also trying to conserve energy ahead of the alpine stages to come. “Yesterday I was trying to help Rafa get points for the mountain jersey, now today I tried to have it as a rest day, to do the time trial inside the limit as we still have two very hard stages ahead before Paris.”

It’s back on the road tomorrow, but it’s not out of the mountains, with views of Mont Blanc throughout the day. At 146km, the route from Albertville to Saint-Gervais is one of the shortest stages of the Tour, but the profile clearly shows how hard the day is going to be: there are four categorised climbs, the toughest being the Hors Catégorie Montée de Bisanne, cresting 50km from the stage’s finish. The two final climbs, of which the Montée de Bisanne is one, each have an average gradient of 8%, and only the strongest riders will be able to contest the win here.

Ahead of the day, Yates saw that the stage would be a challenge for the whole team. “Tomorrow is another mountain stage and the polka dot jersey is not yet sewn up. Roman has got to keep plugging away in the GC fight, and Rafa has to keep an eye on De Gendt too. He had a hard day in the break yesterday, but I'm sure he'll be ready to fight again tomorrow.”

Lotto-Soudal previews the Tour de Wallonie

From Saturday 23 July 2016 till Wednesday 27 July 2016, the Tour de Wallonie is scheduled. A part of the peloton will be guided through the tough Walloon landscape. This stage race will be something for the Classics riders as there are several climbs situated on the course.

The stages are quite similar compared to previous years. The first stage will most likely offer a chance to the sprinters. Also the second stage can end with a bunch sprint, although the punchers might have a better opportunity in the hard finale. After that, the longest stage of this race is scheduled. At the end, the riders need to cover a few local laps and a tough climb is situated in each lap. This may offer another chance for punchers or attackers. Finally, the last two stages will be very important for GC. The riders have to surmount several hard climbs so the GC riders need to be attentive.

Lotto Soudal participates with among others Tiesj Benoot. Last week, Tiesj Benoot finished fifth on GC at Tour de Pologne. He will try to aim for a good position on GC in this stage race.

Tiesj Benoot

Tiesj Benoot

Kurt Van de Wouwer, sports director Lotto Soudal: “In my opinion, our roster for the Tour de Wallonie is very strong. Six riders participated in GP Cerami last Wednesday (Jelle Wallays won this race, LTS). The other two riders will be Tiesj Benoot and Sean De Bie. It’s a nice mix of young and more experienced riders. Each and every one of them prepared themselves really well so I’m confident that we can obtain some nice results.”

“Our main goal is to win a stage. The first two stages will possibly end with a bunch sprint, Kris Boeckmans and Tosh Van der Sande will be our leaders if that’s the outcome. But also riders such as Jelle Wallays or Sean De Bie can try to obtain a stage win. Finally, Tiesj Benoot will aim for a good result on GC. He rode very well during the Tour de Pologne and Tiesj showed that he’s in great shape. He’ll certainly have the opportunity to show himself.”

“The course will be covered in the other direction compared to previous year. The stages remain more or less the same, but now the riders ride from Charleroi to Liège. Last year, it was the other way around. It’s a very hard race and the course is very varied. The first stages will most likely end with a bunch sprint, the final three stages will be very important for the GC riders. We’ll have to be attentive right from the first stage. Last year, Niki Terpstra secured his overall victory during the first stage. Therefore, it will be important to ride aggressively and to put pressure on other teams.”

Jelle Vanendert: “I’m really looking forward to race again after a long rest period. I did a training week in Livigno and then it’s always important to rest as good as possible so your body can recover from the hard trainings. The environment in Livigno is perfect to prepare yourself for the second half of the cycling season. Last Wednesday (GP Cerami, LTS), I rode my first race since a long period and everything went really well. I felt good on the bike. Unfortunately, I was involved in a crash but the wounds are not that bad. I only have some scratches so I’ll be fully recovered to start at Tour de Wallonie on Saturday.”

“The Tour de Wallonie is a very nice stage race. The course contains a lot of hard parts and it allows an aggressive way of racing. Our team likes these kind of races, we always try to attack and this course is perfectly suited for that. I already did a recon of the final two stages, they’re both really tough stages and I’ll certainly test my legs if I get an opportunity. I think I’m ready to obtain some nice results as I prepared myself really well for the second half of the season. I hope to show myself and I’ll help the team to obtain the victory when that's necessary.”

Roster Lotto Soudal: Tiesj Benoot, Kris Boeckmans, Sean De Bie, Gert Dockx, Pim Ligthart, Tosh Van der Sande, Jelle Vanendert and Jelle Wallays.

Sports directors: Kurt Van de Wouwer and Marc Wauters.

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