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Bicycle Racing News and Opinion,
Sunday, March 26, 2017

Back to news and opinion index page for links to archived stories | Commentary | Our YouTube page
2017 Tour de France | 2017 Giro d'Italia

You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough. - Mae West

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Author Les Woodland talks about Belgium's most brutal, yet most important day of bicycle racing, the Tour of Flanders. The Belgian spring classic is known to the bike-mad Flemish as the Ronde van Vlaanderen.


Lotto-Soudal previews Gent-Wevelgem

Tomorrow it’s the 79th edition of Gent-Wevelgem. The WorldTour race introduces something new this year, the so-called plugstreets. The Kemmelberg remains an important part of the course, the riders have to cover it twice.

The race of 249.2 kilometres starts in Deinze, from where the peloton heads towards Veurne. Then the bunch rides along the French border towards the first hill of the day: the Catsberg. Via the Kokereelberg and Vert Mont the route leads to the Zwarte Berg, which has to be covered twice in a row. Then the route goes over Ravensberg and Banenberg to the bottom of the Kemmelberg. When the riders have arrived there it is still 75 kilometres till the finish. The Kemmelberg is immediately followed by the Monteberg. Then it’s time for the plugstreets. Plugstreet is the name the Britons gave to Ploegsteert. The peloton will ride over three of these plugstreets or gravel roads, a total distance of 5.7 kilometres. Those plugstreets take the riders along the Christmas Truce Monument in Ploegsteert. After the plugstreets the riders head to Baneberg and Kemmelberg. From the top of the Kemmel 34.2 kilometres are left to go.

Jens Debusschere

Jens Debusschere winning 2016 Dwars door Vlaanderen

Jens Debusschere is one of the riders in the Lotto Soudal line-up tomorrow. Two years ago, he finished fifth in his home region. The past two editions, Jürgen Roelandts finished seventh. In 2015 he had rode solo in front for a long time in an unforgettable stormy edition. What are his expectations for tomorrow?

Jürgen Roelandts: “I rode Dwars door Vlaanderen this week, but I was too far behind to join the decisive breakaway. I didn’t feel one hundred per cent that day and then such things happen. I was probably still tired from Milan-Sanremo. The condition is fine. I am ready to kick it tomorrow. I didn’t ride E3 Harelbeke. Riding all four races – Milan-Sanremo, Dwars door Vlaanderen, E3 Harelbeke and Gent-Wevelgem – is too much. By choosing Dwars door Vlaandere and skipping E3 Harelbeke, I have three days rest every time. That is the best schedule one week before the Ronde.”

“The past years, I set some good results in Gent-Wevelgem. I did always compete for top ten, but never got on the podium. Tomorrow is a new chance and as always I will aim for the victory. Winning a Classic remains the goal.”

“No doubt, it will be a tough race tomorrow. Gent-Wevelgem is not a sprint Classic anymore. Also this edition, the wind will be a determining factor early in the race. We can expect echelons in the Moeren. That is what makes Gent-Wevelgem so attractive. Also the plugstreets could cause some spectacle. If echelons are created on those narrow roads, only a few riders can be in it. Otherwise the plugstreets won’t influence the race.”

“The second ascent of the Kemmelberg will have a big influence on the result. For 99% of the riders it is important to attack before Peter Sagan does. I am not alone and can look for some companions.”

Line-up Lotto Soudal: Lars Bak, Jens Debusschere, Frederik Frison, Moreno Hofland, Nikolas Maes, Jürgen Roelandts, Marcel Sieberg and Jelle Wallays.

Sports directors: Herman Frison and Frederik Willems.

And here's Team Quick-Step Floors Gent-Wevelgem preview:

One of the most prized classics of the season, Gent-Wevelgem runs its 79th edition this year. The 249.2km-long race, which should take place in nice weather conditions, with sunny skies and 14 degrees Celsius, will have the riders roll out from the small town of Deinze and wait until kilometer 135.6 for the first hill of the day, Catsberg, which averages 8%.

Kokereelberg, Vert Mont, Mont Noir-Ravel Put, Mont Noir-Blanchisserie, Banneberg, Monteberg and Kemmelberg will follow over the next 80 kilometers, with Kemmelberg, its iconic cobbles and treacherous descent set to be once again the star attractions of Gent-Wevelgem, as the 3000m-long hill will be tackled twice, last time 35 kilometers away from the finish and on the steeper side, peaking at 22%.

Also making the race complicated and spicing it up will be the plug streets; a new addition to this year's edition, these will be spread over three different sectors and will come with 60 kilometers remaining, before the last two bergs of the day.

Tom Boonen

Tom Boonen winning Gent-Wevelgem in 2012

For Tom Boonen, Gent-Wevelgem – a race he won on three occasions (2004, 2011 and 2012) – will mark the start of his final two weeks in the peloton, and the 36-year-old captain of Quick-Step Floors will be motivated to put on a strong display and fine-tune his form for Ronde van Vlaanderen (April 2nd) and Paris-Roubaix (April 9th).

Also lining out at the start of the Belgian classic will be Fernando Gaviria, who gave notice of his potential on the cobbles at the 2016 Gent-Wevelgem, where he finished sixth. Now, buoyed by that solid showing but also by his excellent results in the races he's done since the beginning of the season (four victories and a top 5 in Milano-Sanremo), the young Colombian will come at the start as one of the riders to watch.

Rounding out the Quick-Step Floors line-up for Sunday's race will be Iljo Keisse, Yves Lampaert – who returns to action after nabbing a beautiful solo victory at Wednesday's Dwars door Vlaanderen – Zdenek Stybar, 2015 runner-up Niki Terpstra, Matteo Trentin and Julien Vermote.

Volta a Catalunya team reports

Here's what Team Movistar had to say:

The Volta a Catalunya doesn't stop making headlines day after day, as Saturday brought another amazing stage where the bunch broke into three echelons just after thirty of the 189km day six from Tortosa to Reus. Splits into a technical, wet descent of the Coll de Bot (Cat-3) created a 50-rider front group that included all six Movistar Team riders –Castroviejo, DNS on Friday, and Amador, DNF early today with illness-, set to cover the remainder of their journey at the front with no opposition.

The stragglers of the elite group included Chris Froome (SKY), whose second group finished a whooping 26 minutes behind -just one minute inside the time limit-, which puts Marc Soler in a fantastic 3rd place overall just behind Alberto Contador (TFS). An attack by the Madrilian over the final ascent to La Mussara (Cat-1) was quickly aborted by the Movistar Team as race leader Alejandro Valverde defended himself without any problems to keep the 'blanc-i-verd' jersey. The 'missile from Murcia' even took a shot at what could have been his third stage victory, sprinting into the reduced field and coming second only to South Africa's Daryl Impey (ORS).

Daryl Impey

Daryl Impey wins stage 6

Valverde, who now holds a 53-second advantage against Contador and 1'06" over Soler, will chase his second overall success in the Volta's showdown in Barcelona, a 138km stage seven which includes a circuit (eight laps) over the 'Magic Mountain' of Montjuïc, a traditional loop in the Olympic area of the Catalan capital that will pay tribute to the Blue heroes.

Alejandro Valverde: “It was another really tough day. The beginning of the stage was so fast, and it was all split down the first climb, which was even more difficult than the climbing itself. We always kept the front of the group and caught Froome unprepared behind, yet we only put Erviti out to work. There were so many teams interested on making that group stick, and the riders behind didn't have a chance to make up terrain. Now it's all down to Sunday. It shouldn't be a problem to keep the leader's jersey, yet we must race as focused as we've done over the week. There will surely be attacks and many riders are still pretty much together and up for the podium and top-ten fights. We will just try to continue as we've been doing during the last few days. Keeping our team together and working as brilliantly as my team-mates have done over the entire race is the only way to win this."

Team Sky had a bad day in Catalonia. Here's their report:

Team Sky’s GC hopes were dashed on a disappointing day at the Volta a Catalunya. The team was caught out by a split in the peloton on the day’s first climb. Chris Froome soon found himself distanced by his GC rivals and a gap was forged on the descent of the Alt de Bot.

Froome and his team-mates were unable to recover and eventually rolled home more than 20 minutes behind stage winner Daryl Impey (Orica-Scott) at the end of day six. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) finished second to maintain his race lead.

Mikel Landa endured a tough day on the bike and his race ended prematurely when he abandoned early on.

Froome expressed his disappointment at slipping down the rankings, but was philosophical about the result. He said: “We just caught out. We didn’t expect the race to split apart at that point and that the main split would go on a two kilometre descent.

“All it took was one rider a few wheels ahead of me to let the wheel go. On a really technical descent like that there was no way of getting round to close the gap. We chased really hard for about 50kms but we were making no ground on a group of that size ahead of us, so we had to call it a day at that point.

“I said coming into this race that I was here to suffer this week and that’s exactly what I’ve got out of it. Personally it was great to be up there yesterday with the best guys and to be feeling that good this early on in the season, but days like today are really tough. We just have to learn from them and move on."

Sport Director Nico Portal gave an honest assessment of the day’s action. He said: “We made a big mistake. I’m not going to try and make an excuse, there is no excuse. The guys have been brilliant up until today. It looks like it was a positioning issue. The guys weren’t in the top positions on the first descent and this is what can happen.

“It’s a good reminder for us that it can happen to anyone. It’s always bad when it happens, but maybe it’s better to happen here, and we learn from it, than in some of the bigger races we will have this season."

Meanwhile our Coppi e Bartali team suffered a similarly tough day in Italy. Another day of fast racing, combined with an untimely crash and a bout of crosswinds, saw the peloton split midway through stage three and Elia Viviani was caught in the second group on the road.

Kenny Elissonde worked hard to get the Italian back on terms but couldn’t close the gap in the final 30 kilometres. Thomas Boudat (Direct Energie) claimed the win from the 19-man front group, which contained Ian Boswell, who was able to move up to sixth overall ahead of the final stage.

David Lopez and Tao Geoghegan Hart finished safely, although Jon Dibben didn’t take to the start in Crevalcore.

CCC Sprandi Polkowice's Coppi-Bartali stage 3 report:

One of the first attacks turned into the breakaway of the day. It was launched by Davide Ballerini (Androni Sidermec Bottecchia), Josu Zabala (Caja Rural – Seguros Rga) and Niccolò Salvietti (Sangemini – Mg K Vis), who established the biggest gap of the stage at 3:30, with more than 100km to go.

With 70km remaining there was a crash in the bunch which split the field. Alan Banaszek was able to get into the first group, which consisted of around 25 riders. They quickly set the pace high and the 3-man escape was caught in a blink of an eye.

Banaszek’s group was holding off the chasers, keeping around 30-second advantage. The second group was fiercely trying to bridge the gap, but the leaders were not going to let that opportunity to slip away.

It was all decided in a sprint from the breakaway and Alan Banaszek finished just behind the winner, Thomas Boudat (Direct Energie), in 2nd place. Wiliam Clarc (Cannondale-Drapac Pro Cycling Team) rounded out the podium, while his teammate, Tom Skujins, retained overall lead.

Thomas Boudat

Thomas Boudat wins stage 3

Banaszek said, "The plan was to move as a team up front with 5 laps to go and to try to rip the group apart, by setting strong pace. Unfortunately Direct Energie had the same idea, but implemented it a little bit sooner. The peloton was starting to stretch, and when a crash happened it split in few pieces. I was very close from falling myself, since the rider who went down was just ahead of me. I had to slow down and do a 1-kilometer long sprint to bridge the gap to the front group. I was the last one to join them.

"In the finale riders were pushing through to get the spot just behind Boudet. He had few of his teammates in the break, was well led-out and everyone knew he is the man to beat. In the finishing meters I was able to overtake some riders and crossed the line in 2nd place, losing by half a bike length."

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