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Bicycle Racing News and Opinion,
Saturday, March 26, 2016

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

An imbalance between rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics. - Plutarch, Greek historian who lived about about 100 AD

Racing just completed:

Today's racing:

Lotto-Soudal for Gent-Wevelgem

The team sent me this update:

It’s Ghent-Wevelgem this Sunday, a WorldTour race of 242.8 kilometres. Last year was a memorable edition because of the awful weather conditions with a wind that literally blew riders off their bikes. Also this year the wind is expected to play its part, can it be an ally of Lotto Soudal?

As usual the race doesn’t start in Ghent itself, but in Deinze. Then the peloton heads towards Veurne and via De Moeren it goes to the hill section. This year the Casselberg isn’t on the route, the Catsberg will be the first of ten hills. The Kokereelberg, Vert Mont and Zwarte Berg (2x) will lead the riders to the Baneberg, Kemmelberg and Monteberg. 25 kilometres further the peloton gets back to Baneberg and Kemmelberg. When the riders are at the top of the Kemmel the second time, 34 kilometres are left to the finish in Wevelgem.

Herman Frison, sports director Lotto Soudal: “The course is slightly different than last year, but that won’t influence the race. In the first 150 kilometres the riders still head towards the coast and De Moeren. The hill section has changed, but the new hills aren’t tough ones so there won’t be an impact. The Kemmelberg remains the crucial point on the course. The first time the riders will climb it as usual, the second time on the steep side where they normally take the descent. After the second passage over the Kemmelberg they won’t head back to the Monteberg this year, but that doesn’t matter. The Kemmelberg and the wind are the ingredients of Ghent-Wevelgem. For us the wind is a welcome factor, but preferably less than last year (laughs). Flandrien weather doesn’t scare our riders.”

“For André Greipel it will be the first race since he abandoned Paris-Nice, his feeling on the Kemmelberg will tell if he can sprint at the end. If the race ends with a sprint that is, because the wind can make it a really tough race. We can also rely on Jens Debusschere, who has just won Dwars door Vlaanderen, and Jürgen Roelandts. Also Tiesj Benoot will start, even though that wasn’t planned originally. Tiesj is strong and has already proven many times that he can start up the battle. A strong rider like him is always an advantage.”

Andre Greipel

André Greipel winning at stage at Mallorca earlier this year.

Earlier this month André Greipel had to leave Paris-Nice due to a rib injury he incurred at the Volta ao Algarve, he needed more time to recover. He gets back in competition this weekend in Ghent-Wevelgem.

André Greipel: “I still feel it, but it doesn’t bother me anymore when I’m on the bike. Actually, I got used to the pain but after I sprinted to the third place in the fourth stage of Paris-Nice I noticed something was really wrong. I put the bike aside for three days and then I started training again because the Classics remained a goal. I was careful, so I didn’t sprint for example. It wasn’t the preparation I had in mind, but I did the best I could in the given circumstances. I also travelled to Mallorca to train a few days on the island.”

“I followed the performances of the team, but it was difficult to watch the others race without being there. I’m looking forward to join my teammates and contribute to the success. I don’t know where I stand now. The feeling when I train is good, but as we all know a race is different. I’m realistic. It’s not clear what I can expect for myself on Sunday, but with Tiesj Benoot, Jens Debusschere and Jürgen Roelandts we have a strong team. If I can’t go full myself I will do all I can to help them. But I’m still ambitious. I really would like to win in the next two weeks, that can also happen at the Three Days of De Panne or Scheldeprijs.”

Line-up Lotto Soudal (provisional): Lars Bak, Tiesj Benoot, Jasper De Buyst, Jens Debusschere, Frederik Frison, André Greipel, Jürgen Roelandts and Marcel Sieberg.

Sports directors: Herman Frison and Frederik Willems.

E3 Harelbeke team reports

This news came from LottoNL-Jumbo:

Sep Vanmarcke finished eighth in Belgium’s E3 Harelbeke on Friday. Team LottoNL-Jumbo’s Belgian front man was in the right place most of the time, during the final 80 kilometres of the race, but wasn’t able to follow Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) and the winner of the race, Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky) when they escaped from the leading group.

The final began already at 80 kilometres out on the climb of the Taaienberg. “I said to the team that we had to be in front at that point and that happened,” Vanmarcke said. “I want to thank my team-mates for that. Since that moment, the race was on fire, but I didn’t have to do too much during it. Etixx - Quick Step was with four riders in front and Team Sky with three. When Timo Roosen bridged to us, we took our part in front, but after the Oude Kwaremont it changed again.”

Vanmarcke wasn’t able to follow Sagan and Kwiatkowski when they attacked 30 kilometres out. “They were the strongest riders today,” he continued. “I wanted to do a good sprint in the end so I decided to ride the slipstream of Etixx’s Matteo Trentin. He wasn’t able to find enough space to deliver his sprint, so I was too far back.”

Sports Director Nico Verhoeven saw an impressive Sep Vanmarcke today. “He was in the right place when he had to be,” Verhoeven added. “That’s his good work, but the team’s as well. Besides that, Timo did a great job when he was with Sep, but we were counting on Bram Tankink and Tom Leezer as well at that point. Sep did what he had to do eventually. He couldn’t do anything more than wait for the sprint.”

Here's Tinkoff's release:

The first of the cobblestone classics – E3 Harelbeke – was one to remember, with a strong breakaway from Peter Sagan the defining moment in a hard-fought race. The World Champion looked strong, attacking from 30km out and contesting a two-man sprint finish that saw the Tinkoff team leader cross the line second. Peter is in excellent form for the remaining cobblestone classics.

The 206.4km cobblestone classic, while not the longest, was plenty hard enough, taking in some of the most feared climbs of the Belgian landscape. The Tinkoff leader has plenty of experience riding these roads, having won the race in 2014. In contrast to Peter’s ride in 2014, which was won in a four-man sprint, the Tinkoff leader attacked from 30km out, with a strong break that stuck until the finish, taking second to Team Sky’s Michal Kwiatkowski.

From the outset, the racing was fast and furious, with the top contenders pushing hard and forming a group ahead of the bunch. The World Champion was working hard for much of the early part of the race, making sure that when the decisive moment came, he was in a position to contest the win. The Slovakian rider’s experience in the race was clear, as he attacked after the race’s hardest climb, the Oude Kwaremont, 30km from the finish. The Kwaremont is a notorious climb, not only for its difficulty, but in the potential for riders to be caught on its narrow sections. With clear roads ahead, Peter saw his chance.

Sport Director, Tristan Hoffman, commended Sagan’s strategy “I think in the end Peter did a fantastic race today. He stayed calm until the Kwaremont, and was always at the front but not using too much energy. He sped up there and created a break before Fabian Cancellara came back after his mechanical.”

After the attack, the duo took it in turns, and from there the gap kept growing. Both riders looked comfortable and in control, and working together, the gap grew to as much as thirty-six seconds. It was a strong move when he got away with Kwiatkowski.” Tristan continued. “Together they worked really well and gave it their all. They both did their part and in the sprint he just ran out of legs, and today Kwiatkowski was stronger at the end.”

Peter Sagan and Michal Kwiatkowski

Peter Sagan leads Michal Kwiatkowski at the E3

Peter concurred with his Sport Director’s comments. “I did my attack and we were working together, but in the finish I was without energy and he was stronger than me. I think I did a lot of work in the finale and was without legs. I’m happy with how it went though – I didn’t crash, I was in the front. I attacked to try to break the group after Cancellara came back to see what happened. Cycling is simple sometimes. I've got a fast finish but after a race like this, everything is different. In the last two kilometres the group was closing behind and I pulled a lot on the front and in the finale I ran out of legs.”

Tristan was positive about the outcome, however. “Of course we are disappointed and we try to analyse what we could have done better, but at the end there were more teams behind with more than one rider and attack is sometimes the best form of defence otherwise if he had waited until the flat roads he would have again been isolated and alone. At the hard best moments he had the best legs today and he made the race.“

The E3-Harelbeke is only the first of the cobbled classics and more races await, as Peter explained. “This is good training after Milano-Sanremo for Flanders, and I’m keeping in good condition. We’ll see after Sunday how things will be ahead of Flanders.”

And here's Lotto-Soudal's report:

Today, it was time for the Record Bank E3 Harelbeke, the second race of a tough triptych. The break wasn’t formed immediately but eventually eight riders managed to get away. After that the Lotto Soudal and Trek-Segafredo controlled the gap. The race really began on the Taaienberg. Jürgen Roelandts accelerated, Tiesj Benoot and several other riders followed him. The escapees were caught quickly due to this acceleration and bit by bit a large front group was formed.

After the Paterberg the front group was reduced to twelve riders, Ties Benoot managed to remain in that group. Just after the Oude Kwaremont Fabian Cancellara re-joined the front group, he had some mechanical problems and chased for about 40 kilometres. Fifteen leaders were in front at the Karnemelkbeekstraat and that’s where Peter Sagan attacked, Michal Kwiatkowski followed him. They remained ahead in the final 30 kilometres and they fought for the victory. Kwiatkowski easily won the sprint, he obtains the victory for the first time in Harelbeke. Ian Stannard sprinted to the third place in the background, Tiesj Benoot finished nicely at the seventh place. Once again, Lotto Soudal rode a decent and attacking race.

Tiesj Benoot: “The group that entered the finale contained the best riders of the race. Bit by bit some riders were dropped but when Sagan and Kwiatkowski placed their attack, no one was able to react. Everyone was racing at his limit and had to give full gas. Logically, the riders of Etixx – Quick-step needed to pull in the chasing group because they were represented with four riders. We came close in the final kilometre but that was mainly because the two leaders were preparing themselves for the sprint. I finished seventh and that’s a good result I think.”

“We tried to be attentive at the front of the peloton since the beginning of the race. The first key point was on the Taaienberg where Jürgen caused a first partition in the peloton. After that several riders were able to join the front of the race. It’s a pity for us and especially for Jürgen that he had some back issues on the Paterberg, in that way I was isolated in the front group. If you’re with two riders in that group, it’s easier to create some opportunities. Now it was mainly the case to try to stay in that group in order to obtain a nice result. It was a very tough race due to the very high speed. But in my opinion, if the weather conditions would be more severe, the race would be even tougher and more selective.”

“I will participate in Gent-Wevelgem, that wasn’t planned beforehand but I like it though. Last year I watched this race on television but I really wanted to participate. The weather forecast isn’t good so that’s an advantage for me. I’m always better when it’s cold, windy and rainy. Next week I’ll prepare myself entirely for the Ronde Van Vlaanderen.”

As mentioned before, Jürgen Roelandts has troubles on his back. He had a very good feeling till after the Eikenberg but on the Paterberg his back blocked and he had no power in the legs. Tonight and tomorrow he’ll be treated so he can perform as well as possible on Sunday. Jelle Wallays was involved in a crash at the end. He has a scratch on his left side. Wallays will participate in the Driedaagse van De Panne-Koksijde.

In the Volta Ciclista a Catalunya, the fifth stage was scheduled today. The pace was tremendously high, during the first hour of racing no less than 51 kilometres were covered. Due to this it took a while before a break was formed. After a bit more than 100 kilometres eight riders managed to obtain a significant gap, Tosh Van der Sande was part of that front group. Wout Poels accelerated on the final climb of the day and he left his co-escapees behind. Poels eventually won the stage after a solo of about ten kilometres. Nairo Quintana remains leader on GC, Thomas De Gendt won the first KOM sprint of the day and remains leader in that classification.

Meanwhile, there was the Volta a Catalunya in Spain

This came from Tinkoff:

With the drama of the mountains at an end, the racing was far from over. A flatter parcours may not have presented the opportunities to create bigger time gaps, but Alberto Contador took time where he found it. Reducing the gap on the GC Leader to seven seconds, the Tinkoff leader crossed the line in Valls safely, and ready to race another day.

Catalonia stage 5 finish

Wouter Poels wins the fifth stage of the Volta a Catalunya

The Volta a Catalunya left the mountains in today’s stage, covering a rolling 187.2km route that, while taking in three climbs – two of which were categorised – presented little in the way of opportunities to create time gaps. In spite of this, Tinkoff’s leader took every opportunity he could, taking third in the sprint on the climb of the Port d’Ager, and gaining a second’s bonus, reducing the GC gap to seven seconds.

“Today's stage wasn't really suited to attacks.” observed Alberto after the race “I saw there was an uphill intermediate sprint and since the breakaway wasn't formed yet I gave it a shot. I was only able to get one bonus second but the most important thing was to stay alert and get to the finish well.”

The fast start to the stage made it more challenging for the GC contenders to take time in the sprints early on. After a small break of eight formed later in the day, Wouter Poels, the Team Sky rider who won the stage, broke away with 15km to go, managing to solo away from the break and take the win.

The Spanish rider continued “It was a very fast race and it was impressive to see the breakaway form only after 110-115km. After all these days of racing this effort takes its toll even more and it's fundamental to rest and recover now."

Sport Director, Sean Yates, knew the early stages of the race would be important for Alberto to reduce the gap on the GC leader. “It was a pretty fast and furious day with a very fast start downhill into the valley, before we turned right towards the first climb. That was where he first bonus sprint was, and as there was no one up the road we went for it with Alberto getting third and a bonus second.”

In a stage that saw plenty of aggressive riding, and a solo breakaway taking the stage win, the GC contenders were untroubled by the breaks, as Yates continued. “The attacks came and went, and finally after a few hours of racing the break stuck with a small group going clear. The bunch wasn't overly concerned for the GC and the gap went out to four minutes before the chase really started. Over the last climb a reduced bunch was closing in behind the bunch was closing in, with Alberto there with Jesper.“

Two stages of the race remain, and in spite of the flatter terrain, there are still opportunities left to make up time. Stage 6 is the Volta’s longest stage, at 197.2km in length, and an early sprint represents a chance to gain more seconds. As Sean Yates observed from today’s finish, every second counts. “Overall, status quo was maintained today, but with Alberto moving a second closer. We know that one second can make a difference, and if the opportunities are there then we're obviously going to take them. You're limited by the terrain as to what you can do, but there's still two more days and we'll see what we can come up with. It's not over until Sunday.”

“We now have to see have the remaining days will play out.” said Alberto of the days to come. “It's true the GC will be very difficult to get but we still have two days left. I'll have to stay focused because anything can happen. We'll see tomorrow.”

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