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Bicycle Racing News and Opinion,
Friday, March 25, 2016

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

If you wish to forget anything on the spot, make a note that this thing is to be remembered. - Edgar Allan Poe

Today's racing:

Illness Rules Van Avermaet Out of E3 Harelbeke

This unfortunate news came to me from BMC this morning:

25 March 2016, Roeselare (BEL): Greg Van Avermaet has been forced to withdraw from E3 Harelbeke on the morning of the race due to illness.

BMC Racing Team Physician, Dr. Dario Spinelli gave the following update on Van Avermaet's condition. "Greg has developed some digestive problems overnight and is not feeling well. The best thing for his health is to rest and recover completely in the next day or two. We will continue to monitor his condition throughout the day." Dr Spinelli said.

It was a tough decision for Van Avermaet to make. "I don't feel 100%. I've had some stomach problems and I didn't have a great night so I think the best decision is to not ride today and focus on Gent-Wevelgem and Ronde Van Vlaanderen." Van Avermaet explained.

"I was feeling good yesterday when we trained and still during the press conference in the afternoon. I didn't have any appetite last night and that's when I started to feel unwell. When your body is telling you something I think you have to listen to it."

"I wanted to be there at E3 Harelbeke because it is one of the nicest races of the year, but Ronde van Vlaanderen is only one week away. I'm convinced my teammates will do well today and I'll be watching them. I know they are strong so even without me I think they will have a great race and get some good results. I wish them the best of luck."

Volta a Catalunya team reports

This is from Tinkoff:

After a thrilling finish to stage 3, the Volta a Catalunya’s queen stage promised drama and excitement with another tough day in the mountains. A strong ride by the Tinkoff leader saw Alberto Contador finish the day fourth on the stage and retaining his second place in the GC standings, eight seconds behind the race leader. With three stages still to go, the race is far from over.

Catalonia stage 4 finish

Thomas de Gendt wins Tour of Catalonia stage four

Starting the stage after a second place on stage 3 moved him up to second in the GC overall, there was everything to race for in today’s route from Baga to Port Aine for Alberto Contador. The 172.2km course started how it meant to go on, with an uphill start up the third category Tunel del Cadi, before ascending the top category Porte de Canto and the first category Alt de Enviny, before the uphill finish on the top category Port Aine – an 18.9km climb with an average gradient of 6.3%.

For the Volta a Catalunya’s second day in the mountains, the race saw a second break from Pieter Weening of Roompot-Oranje Peloton. As the Dutch rider neared the final 10km, Lotto-Soudal’s De Gendt leapfrogged him to go clear at the front of the race. Tinkoff moved to the front to push the peloton to chase, with Jesper Hansen working hard to up the pace.

This was where the real racing started, with the top contenders for the GC going on the attack. With De Gendt heading up the road, Alberto pulled away from the peloton, fighting to shake the chasers from his tail, taking Movistar’s Quintana up the road with him, the two riders matching each other’s pedal strokes as the finish came closer. With De Gendt over the line and only a few hundred metres to go, Quintana broke away, leaving Alberto to fight for the finish with BMC’s Richie Porte, crossing the line at the same time, fifteen seconds after Quintana.

The attacks were non-stop, as Alberto explained after the race. "There were a series of attacks in the final kilometers. First it was Dan Martin, but we could see he didn't have it easy. Then there was a pause and Van Garderen attacked and built a considerable gap. Then it was Zakarin's turn and I had to put in a strong effort to reach him. I did and from that point, Richie Porte attacked, then Quintana and then myself. In one of these attacks, I tried to catch my breath but afterwards, it was impossible to catch Quintana.”

Sport Director, Steven De Jongh was keeping a close eye on the times at the finish line, as the bonus seconds would make a big impact on the standings. "It was a real close and tight finish, and the situation was always changing with the bonus seconds available. For a long time there were three riders ahead on the climb, so no bonus seconds available. Then by the end there was six and four which was more important. Alberto worked hard to bring Tejay van Garderen back, but in the final Quintana was too strong. And then Riche Porte beat him on the line, which was a pity as he would have been four seconds closer on GC – but he put a strong ride in today.

"Pawel Poljanski was sick and so he stopped the race. He was dropped early on the climbs and it didn't make any sense to keep pushing on so he stepped off. Jesper Hansen did a really good job today which was great to see - when Sky sent a rider up the road he started working to bring the gap down, and did a really good ride there."

With the race now leaving the mountains, Alberto was looking to the next three days’ racing, after the race leader’s strong show today. “Quintana now has a chance at the Volta and I can only congratulate him. We still have to see what will happen but Movistar has a strong team with the intention to win the GC and it will be difficult to surprise them, given the profile of the stages left. The most important thing now is to fully recover and think in the days ahead."

With three stages still to go, anything can happen. Tomorrow’s stage from Rialp to Valls takes in two second category climbs over its 187.2km length, in a stage that, while flat compared to today’s stage, still presents the opportunity for breakaways and for time to be taken. De Jongh was clear the team will be racing for each of the race's remaining days. “The race finishes on Sunday and we will fight until the last day like at Paris-Nice. We won't take second place for granted.”

Here's BMC's take on the stage:

24 March 2016, Port Ainé (ESP): Stage 4 of Volta Ciclista a Catalunya put the General Classication contenders to test, with the summit finish on Port Ainé seeing Richie Porte cross the line in third place and Tejay van Garderen in fifth. .

The 172.2km queen stage ended with a surprise win by Thomas de Gendt (Lotto Soudal) who was the sole survivor of an early breakaway that included Philippe Gilbert.

In the final three kilometers both van Garderen and Porte attacked but Nairo Quintana (Movistar) got the better of them in the last kilometre to finish in second place and move into the overall lead.

Richie Porte

Richie Porte winning a stage at this year's Tour Down Under

Porte and van Garderen praised each other's performance and the opportunity to race together as teammates for the first time. "Our team in the final there were great. Tejay and I showed that we can work together so it was a good day. Samuel Sanchez did a fantastic job on the final climb. He took us up to the three kilometre to go mark and then for Tejay to attack like that, he set is up so well. I think Tejay was the most aggressive. He was the first one to fire off the attacks so full credit to him," Porte said after the stage.

"I feel like we had a great day as a team. Brent Bookwalter really deserves the VIP award for the best teammate and it was great to see Sanchez coming into form on the climb. It was a lot of fun being able to race the big guys with Richie there at the end. It's too bad we couldn't get the better of Quintana but we were both right there in the mix. The first race with Richie is a huge success I think," van Garderen agreed.

Porte now sits in third overall on the General Classification, 17 seconds behind Quintana and van Garderen in fifth place, 27 seconds back. BMC Racing Team leads the team classification by 1'04 over Movistar.

Stage 5, 187.2km from Rialp to Valls, includes two category 2 climbs and will likely see a breakaway go early in the stage.

And here's Etixx-Quick Step's report:

Etixx – Quick-Step's Daniel Martin lies in fourth overall with three days left to go.

A huge breakaway made its way to the lead of stage 4 in Volta a Catalunya (Baga – Port Ainé, 172.2 km) after 20-odd kilometers from the start and worked hard to build a huge lead of more than 10 minutes: Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal), Boris Dron (Wanty-Groupe Gobert), Kristijan Durasek (Lampre-Merida), Imanol Erviti (Movistar), Philippe Gilbert (BMC), Ruben Plaza (Orica-GreenEdge), Ben Swift (Team Sky), Laurens ten Dam (Giant-Alpecin, Alexey Tsatevich (Katusha) and Pieter Weening (Roompot Oranje).

After the escape was established, Etixx – Quick-Step moved to the front of the peloton to protect Daniel Martin, the 29-year-old Irishman who was leading the standings following his impressive victory on La Molina, one day earlier. Thanks to the strong pace, the advantage of the riders in the break began to melt halfway through the stage, and on the first slopes of Port Ainé, the day's final climb, they kept less than seven minutes in hand.

In the end, the victory was taken by one of the escapees – Thomas De Gendt – who wasn't a threat for the general classification guys, as he was way behind them at the start of the day. Second came Nairo Quintana (Movistar), after the Colombian attacked from the bunch with around two kilometers to go, the podium being rounded out by Richie Porte (BMC), just ahead of Alberto Contador (Tinkoff).

The ascent was a hard one, just as Dan Martin has expected, but he managed to limit the losses thanks to the great effort made by the team, with Carlos Verona digging deep at the front of the pack and protecting his leader on the steep part of Port Ainé. Martin gave his all when the action kicked-off and came 10th on the stage, a result which means he's now fourth in the GC, less than 30 seconds behind the leader.

Daniel Martin

Daniel Martin at last year's Vuelta

At the finish, after catching his breath, Dan talked of how the day went on the race's toughest climb and what's next for Etixx – Quick-Step in Volta a Catalunya: "The team rode incredible today. It's such a young team, but the guys controlled the race like seasoned pros. We had no help all day, but still controlled the race with style and strength. I am very proud of how the boys rode. Of course, I'm disappointed to lose the jersey after the hard work of the team, but I have to be happy with our position after the mountains. The race is for sure not over, and even though it will be difficult to take so much time on Quintana, we will look for opportunities. There's still three hard days of racing left, the team is going really good, so hopefully we can look for more results after what is already a successful week for us."

Stage 5 (Rialp – Valls, 187.2 km) will take place on a rolling terrain, which features two medium categorized climbs: Port d'Ager (9.6 km, 5%) and Alt de Lilla (4.1 km, 4.8%). It will be for the fourth year in a row that the race will visit Valls, where the victory could very well come from a breakaway, a solo attack on the final ascent or from a reduced sprint.

Lotto-Soudal previews E3 Harelbeke

The team sent me this update:

There’s a lot of cycling in Belgium these days. Yesterday Dwars door Vlaanderen took place, tomorrow it’s E3 Harelbeke and on Sunday it’s time for Ghent-Wevelgem. The E3 Harelbeke is a WorldTour race that takes the riders through the Flemish Ardennes over hills that are also on the route of the one hundredth Ronde van Vlaanderen next week.

The E3 Harelbeke is 206.4 kilometres long and there are fifteen hills on the course, two less than previous edition. The last one hundred kilometres will be the hardest with thirteen hills. The Taaienberg and Eikenberg are situated closer to the finish than last year: in between 75 and 63 kilometres from the finish. Just before the Eikenberg the Boigneberg has to be covered. After the Eikenberg six hills still follow. The Tiegemberg is the last hill on the course with nineteen kilometres to go. Just before the Tiegem the riders will ride over the cobbles of the Varent. Jürgen Roelandts is one of the leaders in the Lotto Soudal team.

Jürgen Roelandts: “Between Milan-Sanremo and E3 Harelbeke I took some rest. On Sunday Jens Debusschere and I did a ride of about two hours, on Monday I took a rest day. The past days and today I did a short training ride. That rest is important to fully recover from Milan-Sanremo and to be fresh for the two upcoming classics: E3 Harelbeke on Friday and Ghent-Wevelgem on Sunday.”

Jurgen Roelandts

Jurgen Roelandts earlier this year at the Tirreno-Adriatico

“The E3 is a race I like. The hills are quite close to each other, your position is even more important than at Dwars door Vlaanderen. The bad weather that is forecasted for tomorrow and Sunday could be an advantage. In the past I proved that I can ride a finale after a wet and tough race. Remember Ghent-Wevelgem last year.”

“It’s good that we have several strong riders in our team who can ride a finale. Tiesj Benoot left again a good impression in Dwars door Vlaanderen, so he’ll definitely play his role on Friday. Last year he launched me for the sprint for a top ten place. The team is in a winning mood. Jens won a nice semi classic and I am happy with my third place at Milan-Sanremo. With these results we already performed well in two important races.”

“I have the feeling my condition is still improving. By the end of Tirreno-Adriatico I felt better than at the start. In the penultimate stage I was fourth of the bunch in a tough sprint, which confirmed I was ready for Milan-Sanremo. Jens and I stayed in Italy and further prepared ourselves there. That turned out to be successful for both of us. I was third Saturday and Jens won yesterday. In the meantime the Ronde van Vlaanderen is coming closer, it’s only ten days to go. I could quietly prepare myself for the Classics and got better each race. I think I can still add some percentages to my condition and am really looking forward to the rest of the spring.”

While sports director Herman Frison is still reminiscing about the victory of Jens Debusschere at Dwars door Vlaanderen, he’s also thinking about the upcoming Classics.

Herman Frison: “It was a beautiful victory of Jens yesterday. The whole team did a good job in the race. Our riders took the initiative and rode aggressively. At the end Jens finished it off. That’s how we like it. The team has the right spirit. Tim Wellens won a stage in Paris-Nice, there was the third place of Jürgen Roelandts at Milan-Sanremo and now the victory of Jens. This is a motivation for everyone.”

“Tomorrow we want to aim for the victory again. The condition of our riders is promising. Tiesj Benoot and Jürgen Roelandts are our leaders for the E3 tomorrow, a small Ronde van Vlaanderen actually. They have a strong team around them that can support them.”

Line-up Lotto Soudal: Tiesj Benoot, Sean De Bie, Jasper De Buyst, Frederik Frison, Pim Ligthart, Jürgen Roelandts, Marcel Sieberg and Jelle Wallays.

Sports directors: Herman Frison and Frederik Willems.

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