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Bicycle Racing News and Opinion,
Wednesday, May 25, 2016

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

It was a woman who drove me to drink, and I never had the courtesy to thank her for it. - W. C. Fields

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Giro d'Italia Stage 16 video


Giro d'Italia team reports

This from Movistar, the team of stage winner Alejandro Valverde:

The most spectacular stage in the 2016 Giro d'Italia (132km between Bressanone and Andalo) was won by a legend in cycling and the leader of the Movistar Team. Alejandro Valverde has turned the dynamics of the 'Corsa Rosa' upside down with the gift that turned him into the most consistent rider of the peloton for decades: tenacity. The plan was clear for the Blues, and 'Bala' unveiled it after the finish: "Tear the race apart". Nothing else. Forgetting about power data for a day, without counting the seconds behind his nearest rivals, including Vincenzo Nibali (AST). The only premise today was going on the attack.

75 kilometers from the finish of Andalo, after good work from the whole telephone squad during the Passo della Mendola climb (Cat-2), Ilnur Zakarin (KAT), Steven Kruijswijk (TLJ) and Valverde himself ultimately broke the peloton after several accelerations. The attacks left Colombia's Esteban Chaves (OGE) behind, 39" after the ten-man group led by Valverde into the 'Traguardo Volante' of Cles, where 'Bala' took a two-second bonus he would multiply at the finish.

Cards were on the table as Valverde recovered his nonconformist spirit from the Mur de Huy, the Vuelta a Andalucía and already so many races this year, leaving Nibali behind into the Fai della Paganella (Cat-2) ascent and beating Kruijswijk on the last kick up Andalo. The win, Alejandro's 97th as pro, takes him directly into the selected club of stage victors in all three Grand Tours vueltas (Tour, Giro, Vuelta). Things will calm for a while on Wednesday -196km from Molveno to Cassano d'Adda, with just one Cat-4 climb- before the big finale of this 'Corsa Rosa' starts in Piedmont on Thursday.

Alejandro Vlaverde

Alejandro Valverde beats Steven Kruijswijk to win Giro stage 16.

Alejandro Valverde: “It was an amazing victory. We came to the start fully focused, knowing that it was going to be a really demanding stage for us. We had already inspected it back in March, the three of us - Chente, Andrey and myself. The team worked their hearts out to go for victory today and tear the peloton apart. We really dug deep for the victory, we put all means we had to claim it. The split wasn't forming up into the first ascent, and the race leader and other rivals were insisting a lot. Happily, we were able to open that gap just before the end of the ascent, with Kruijswijk and without Chaves. We went ahead, pulling all the way to the foot of Fai della Paganella - I think we did a great job, all of us up there.

"I don't think it was a really bad day for Nibali. He was keeping up with us all the time during the break and had everything under control. It was just that I attacked into the final ascent, so I could keep the gap against Chaves and reduce the field ahead - those kilometers alone might have costed him a lot. Seeing Kruijswijk doing that well wasn't a surprise to me, either when he took the leader's jersey. He's been already showing for years he can cope well with the Giro, he was arguably the strongest into the final week last season, and this year, he came here with all willingness to win the race. We three, Steven, Zakarin and Myself, insisted until the very end so we could keep that gap. That brought me the win.

"I already stated during the rest day that my bad day on Saturday was just a consequence of riding in altitude for so long, so many kilometers above 1,700, 1,800 meters. We got through the day as good as we could and later on, we saw at the mountain TT that my physical condition was still near optimal. We just had to go for it today, breaking the peloton into pieces - and we succeeded. The team was phenomenal. I want to thank all of them -mechanics, carers, riders, sports directors- for their dedication. This is a tribute to them, also for my family, my kids and all the fans.

"It's true that Kruijswijk's only weak point so far is his team. Even though we tried to isolate him today, he reacted fantastically well. However, the Giro is far from over. Many demanding stages are left, including Friday and Saturday. We must, however, enjoy today's win, and also the podium, which makes the final result even better."

And here's the Giro update Tinkoff sent me:

Fresh from a day of rest, the GC contenders would be looking to see who had good legs and who was struggling. With three categorised climbs, stage 16 may have been the shortest stage of the Giro, but after a downhill start, became one of the toughest and most exciting of the race so far. After a massive effort to reduce the gap on the GC breakaway, Rafal Majka finished the stage in ninth position, on a day when one of the race’s favourites cracked on the top slopes of the penultimate climb.

Coming after the final rest day, the 132km route from Bressanone Brixen to Andalo was the shortest of the road stages, but by no means the easiest. The profile was dominated by the second category Passo della Mendola, and while it would tire out the riders and show who had recovered well on the rest day, this was by no means the point where the stage was going to be decided and where the GC race was going to take place. Twenty kilometres from the stage finish was the start of the second category Fai della Paganella, cresting 10km later, before the final third category climb to the stage finish. This is where the day’s decisive move was likely to take place.

With a downhill start to the stage, the breaks went early, hoping to make the most of the fast run-in to the first climb of the day. In the break was Pavel Brutt, and while the gap grew to thirty-seconds and the peloton seemed happy to let the break go, it was pulled in just a few kilometres later. Even on a stage this short, there was still a lot of racing to come though.

After several smaller attacks, once the peloton reached the Passo della Mendola, the GC attacks started, and this time they began to stick. Attacking one by one, a group of GC contenders went up the road. With this, Rafal Majka and a few other GC riders were left down the road, and the forty-second gap the breakaway group had gained would have an impact on the GC standings if it couldn’t be pulled back.

Rafal Majka

Rafal Majka climbing in stage 16

Sport Director, Tristan Hoffman, knew attacks were likely and the stage was going to be fast-paced. “As we expected it was full gas from the start today, with the slight downhill run to the first climb. Then it went straight into the second category climb and the race was on. Rafal was there but just missed the first group when the attacks came towards the top.”

The descent of the back of the Passo della Mendola nearly finished and the Fai della Paganella approaching quickly, Rafal and a group of three took up the chase, leaving the rest of the bunch behind. Within a few minutes they’d used the remaining downhill stretch to their advantage and had cut the gap to the breakaway group in half, picking up the dropped breakaway riders as they went.

Further up the road, and with 17km remaining, the GC contenders were attacking again. While the moves had the potential to create time gaps, these attacks showed who was on form and who was struggling. With the Maglia Rosa and two others in front, Rafal’s group caught the breakaway, and with the greater numbers, the gap of thirty seconds was far from insurmountable.

At just over 10km from bottom to top, the Fai della Paganella was taking its toll. Shortly before cresting the climb was a short, sharp ramp of 15% that would put more hurt into the already tired riders. While the breakaway had twenty-five seconds on the chasers, it was clear that they were in the red and as the stage reached its final 12km the outcome was far from decided and absolutely anything could still happen.

9.7km from the finish and just shy of the top of the penultimate climb, Chaves made his move on the steepest section, but marked expertly by Rafal, found he couldn’t escape alone. A quick conversation between Rafal and his GC rival and it was clear they were going to work together to pull in the gap – but also to put distance between them and Vincenzo Nibali, who was falling off the back and unable to respond. Joined shortly after by four others, at 4.5km remaining, twenty-six seconds was the gap to the front, and Nibali was fifteen seconds behind, this gap increasing rapidly.

Having used a lot of effort to recover distance on the breakaway, there was bound to be some impact on Rafal, explained Hoffman. “For 40km he was in the chasing group at between twenty and forty seconds, and it was just thirty-five seconds at the bottom of the next climb. Chaves kept pulling on the climb and he was able to follow which was good, but he had to set his own pace towards the top.”

After working so hard to keep in touch with the breakaway group, Rafal started to drop back on the final climb of the day, but in spite of this, the Polish rider bravely pushed on to the finish, crossing the line only fifty seconds after the stage winner. More significantly, Rafal finished almost a minute in front of Vincenzo Nibali and some of his other GC rivals. In spite of moving down a place in the overall standings to sixth, there are still five stages still to race, and anything can still happen.

Hoffman had a lot of praise for the team, having been able to support Rafal until later in the stage, where other teams weren’t able to do the same. “We hoped for a little bit more but he's still in a good place. Pawel Poljanski worked hard for Rafal today between the mountains, and it was good to have him there to help as there weren't many riders in the front part - it was a very tough day.”

Tomorrow, after four mountain stages, the Giro hits flatter terrain. The 196km route from Molveno to Cassano d’Adda has an undulating first half, finishing with a fourth category climb, before a flat run-in to the finish. Other than some mild bends, this is a rest for the GC riders, who will aim to finish the stage unscathed. While many of the race’s major sprinters dropped out of the race before it hit the mountains, there are still enough to bring some excitement to the end of the stage – but the GC riders could still spring some surprises when least expected. Hoffman was making sure the team kept a close eye on the GC contenders. “Tomorrow I believe there's a good chance for breakaway with the flatter profile. For the GC guys, it can be a stage to go easier but we always need to stay vigilant and alert.”

Tour of Belgium team plans

Here's Lotto-Soudal's preview:

Wednesday 25 May, the Baloise Belgium Tour begins with a prologue of six kilometres in Beveren. This Europe Tour race ends on Sunday 29 May with a stage to Tongeren.

The day after the prologue it’s the traditional sprint stage to Knokke-Heist. On Friday the peloton leaves the Belgian coast and heads to the Flemish Ardennes. More than 110 kilometres before the end of the race the riders pass the finish in Herzele a first time, then they need to cover two laps of 55.6 kilometres. There are three hills in that loop: Valkenberg, Leberg and Berendries. That last hill is situated halfway the lap, then the riders head towards the cobbles of the Paddestraat and Lippenhovestraat, the last obstacle at ten kilometres from the finish.

On Saturday it’s the longest and toughest stage of this race. There are eight hills on the course, the last four need to be climbed twice. The Côte de Maquisard and Côte de la Redoute are two of those hills. The last hill, Rue de la Paix, lies at five kilometres from the end. On Sunday the stage takes the riders from Tremelo to Tongeren. They get a chance to take a good look at the finish because they need to cover three laps of 18.8 kilometers. Important for the GC riders is the Golden Kilometre: three intermediate sprints within one kilometre at about 25 kilometres from the finish were bonus seconds can be gained.

With Tiesj Benoot and Jens Debusschere there are two Classics riders in the Lotto Soudal team who had their share of bad luck this spring, by crashing at the Tour of Flanders and Ghent-Wevelgem respectively. Both got back in competition at the Tour de Picardie and hope to perform well in their own country.

Tiesj Benoot: “This spring I really felt like I had set a step forward and felt that I was ready for the Ronde, Roubaix and Amstel. Then I crashed in the Ronde. It was hard mentally, because I knew I was strong enough but I couldn’t ride the finales due to that crash and its consequences. After the Amstel I had a short holiday and then I did a training camp in Italy, together with Jens Debusschere, to get ready for this time of the year. The Tour de Picardie was a race to get back in the rhythm, but the Belgium Tour is a real goal. I aim for a stage win and also want to get a high overall ranking. The overall victory is a goal, but not an obsession.”

“The stages on Friday and Saturday really suit me. Riders who want to set a good overall result will need to be strong on Saturday. Of course it’s best not to lose much time in the prologue, but on the other hand a god time trialist who can’t follow the best riders on Saturday, won’t win the GC either. Nonetheless, the past weeks I did some tests and worked on my position on the time trial bike. I know I can still make progress and I hope that I can show tomorrow that my training of the last weeks has already helped. But as I said, Saturday will be an important stage. It’s a very tough stage, we did a recon with the team last weekend. All those hills will hurt. I expect that riders like Tony Martin, Enrico Gasparotto, Wout Van Aert and Lieuwe Westra will be good.”

“The next four weeks are very important with the Belgium Tour, Tour de Suisse and Belgian Championships on the calendar. Last year I rode the Dauphiné, but know I will ride in Switzerland because there are several finales that match my profile. In the Dauphiné it are stages for sprinters or climbers. The road race at the Belgian Championships is a goal as well, but first let’s do it well at the Belgium Tour.”

Tiesj Benoot

Tiesj Benoot

Jens Debusschere: “I fractured two transverse processes in my back when I crashed in Ghent-Wevelgem. I needed to rest three weeks long. The Tour de Picardie was my first race, seven weeks after the crash. I didn’t have the best possible feeling yet. Each sprint I noticed I wasn’t in top shape yet. I had trained hard just before Picardie, afterwards I took enough rest to get the best condition for the Belgium Tour. The second and third stage suit me. Thursday it will very likely be a bunch sprint and on Friday it’s a stage in the Flemish Ardennes. What happens on Sunday will depend on how tiring the stage on Saturday was. In Picardie Boeckmans, De Buyst and Sieberg did a very strong lead-out three times. If they do the same now that would be fantastic, then it’s up to me to finish it off.”

Line-up Lotto Soudal: Tiesj Benoot, Kris Boeckmans, Stig Broeckx, Jasper De Buyst, Jens Debusschere, Frederik Frison, Marcel Sieberg and Jelle Wallays.

Sports directors: Herman Frison and Marc Wauters.

Here's Cannondale's Tour of Belgium release:

Cannondale Pro Cycling Team’s Ruben Zepuntke will make his return to racing this season at the Tour of Belgium. Zepuntke has been sidelined since a crash in the final stage of the Tour of Provence in late February after movement in the peloton forced the German into a tree. He broke his elbow in the crash and required surgery and extensive time off the bike due to pain.

“It’s been three and a half months,” Zepuntke said. “That was a bad crash. I’m really excited to be back on the bike. I’m happy to be back with the team and race again. It’s really, really nice.”

He joins Jack Bauer, Matti Breschel, Sebastian Langeveld, Ryan Mullen, Kristoffer Skjerping, Tom-Jelte Slagter, and Dylan Van Baarle at the five-day race.

It has been a long road back this for Zepuntke; the first month following surgery, he couldn’t be on the bike at all due to the pain in his elbow. After two months, he was cleared to train on the road again.

“I’ve been training for one and half months really well. I don’t feel the elbow anymore,” he said. “It was a really bad break. My elbow was dislocated 5cm. It was a heavy injury. The doctors said I was really lucky that I didn’t cut any nerves. Now I have to see how it works in a race.”

The crash and recovery marked the fickle nature of a sport that demands constant training that can evaporate in a single moment. “One second, everything is over. All the time you spent on the bike is gone. It was really frustrating. I did quite a lot of work in the offseason,” he said.

Now, it’s about incremental progress. Zepuntke has circled the prologue in the Tour of Belgium as a starting point. “The prologue is good for me to show myself again. Otherwise, I have to see in the race. Getting strong through the race, that’s my motivation,” Zepuntke said. 

Cannondale Pro Cycling Team for the Tour of Belgium: Jack Bauer, Matti Breschel, Sebastian Langeveld, Ryan Mullen, Kristoffer Skjerping, Tom-Jelte Slagter, Dylan Van Baarle, Ruben Zepuntke

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