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Bicycle Racing News and Opinion,
Monday, April 2, 2018

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2018 Tour de France | 2018 Giro d'Italia

Beware of little expenses. A small leak will sink a great ship. - Benjamin Franklin

Today's racing:

Latest completed racing:


Tour of Flanders team reports

We posted the report from winner Niki Terpstra's Quick-Step team with the race results.

Mads Pedersen was second. Here's the report from his Trek-Segafredo team:

In his first Tour of Flanders, Mads Pedersen, 22, turned heads with a surprising second-place finish in arguably the hardest one-day race on the calendar – more than he and many expected, but a testament to his well-known capacity.

When Pedersen followed a late attack with some 45 kilometers to race, joining two others out front, he was playing out the team’s plan, while Jasper Stuyven remained with the race favorites group that numbered around 28 riders.

“We have two leaders on the team (Degenkolb and Stuyven), and the role was to play me out a little bit early to put pressure on the other teams, but to come so far? I didn’t expect that,” said Pedersen. “The team tactic was for me to follow the early attacks at the end, and I did that, but for it to stick…it was unexpected that I held it to the finish.”

While the trio out front gained a lead of 30 seconds, the first move from the big hitters came on the Taaienberg when Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) attacked, drawing out a select group of five, including a strong Stuyven. But it was short-lived as the group came back together.

It was the next attack by Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain Merida), followed by Niki Terpstra (Quick-Step Floors), that turned into the winning move. A powerful Terpstra proved too much for the Italian, who lost his wheel, and the Dutchman never looked back. Terpstra caught and passed the leading trio the final time up the Kwaremont.

“I didn’t expect to almost follow Niki when he came like a motorbike and passed us on the Kwaremont,” explained Pedersen, who was the only one of the breakaway to follow Terpstra.“I really tried to come back to him, but it was too much. I was really on the limit from there to the finish.”

With 13 flat kilometers remaining after the Kwaremont-Paterberg climbs, it turned into a game of pursuit to the finish: Terpstra followed by Pedersen followed by the group with Jasper Stuyven.  While Terpstra had a significant gap, it was touch and go if Pedersen would hold off the chasing group.

But the young Dane dug deep and crossed the line 12 seconds after Terpstra, and 5 seconds in front of Philippe Gilbert (Quick-Step Floors), an incredible and well-deserved second place.

Mads Pedersen

Mads Pedersen finishes second. Sirotti photo

"I just went full gas; I was fighting to try come back to Terpstra and to keep the group behind me away. I wasn't thinking; I was just pushing the pedals. I really followed the tactics today, and in the end, I survived. I was afraid of the climbs in the final, and actually, I thought that Jasper's group would come back at some point.

“For sure I am happy, I didn’t expect this,” Pedersen continued. “This is one of the biggest races you can do, and the biggest for a guy like me, so this means a lot. It was long and super hard: always when you do 260kms, it’s a race where you have to survive no matter how good you are.  I am still young, this was good, but I still need some experience, so maybe in a few years I can be here again. I need time to grow even more. It was a good way to start, but there’s more to come I hope.”

Jasper Stuyven added to the team’s excellent performance, finishing in seventh place.  He has been consistent in the northern classics so far with top ten finishes in each race, but his breakthrough result is still to come, leaving him wanting more.

“It was an amazing performance by Mads,” said Stuyven. “I think if they haven’t seen him as a threat yet, now they will. The team did an amazing job, we were always there in the crucial points we had pointed out in the pre-race meeting, my legs were good, and on the Taaienberg I was there with the five first guys, and then you think, ‘okay, I am here with the strongest.’ I didn’t have to pull with Mads in front, so I was hoping to go for the last podium spot. So I am little disappointed that I am always there, but again I finished between 5 and 10.”

Team director Dirk Demol was all smiles after the race and heaped praise on the team’s performance: “The confidence was there; we had seen in the last week that the group was coming together. All seven did a great job and having Mads second on the podium in the Tour of Flanders is just fantastic! And Jasper confirmed again with another top 10 – his 6th time in the top 10 in the 6 WorldTour one-day races in the north. Chapeau!”

“Maybe I am a little too optimistic, but I will say it anyway: with the team we have, our best chances are in Paris-Roubaix. I have told them straight away, great performance today, I am super happy, but one thing is clear: we have to keep our focus one week longer, keep concentrated. Yes, we have a podium spot in Flanders, but next Sunday we have to fight again and go for it, and finish one step higher.”

Here's what Peter Sagan's Bora-hansgrohe team sent me:

For the whole day, dark clouds threatened to rain on the Tour of Flanders. Starting the day on rain-soaked roads, the race saw frequent crashes and mechanicals that would put an end to even the strongest riders’ races. Throughout though, the BORA-hansgrohe riders did everything right, riding hard to ensure the UCI World Champion, Peter Sagan, came to the most important sections of the course in a strong position. In the end though, and in spite of a strong effort from the Slovak rider, it was a solo breakaway that decided the most popular Belgian Classic, with Peter fighting for sixth place in a reduced bunch sprint for the remaining top ten places. Peter’s performance in the race saw him take the top spot in the UCI WorldTour rankings after some strong performances in the early season.

Peter Sagan

Peter Sagan at the starting ceremonies in Antwerp. Sirotti photo

The Stage
For the 102nd edition of the Tour of Flanders, riders are treated to one of the hardest races of the UCI WorldTour. The 265km parcours makes for a long day in the saddle, even without any climbs or cobblestones to take into account, but the 2018 edition of the race sees no fewer than 13 cobblestone sections and 18 brutal climbs. The closing third of the race also brings with it some of the hardest climbs of the race - including the Koppenberg and the legendary Oude Kwaremont, ridden three times, and Paterberg, ridden twice. The final ascent of the Paterberg comes just over 10km from the finish line. This would undoubtedly be the climbs to watch the decisive move unfold over, the steep and narrow cobblestone climb having been the deciding climb in so many previous editions of the race. If the parcours wasn’t enough, however, the Belgian weather always manages to shake the day up - potentially ruining even the strongest rider's chances, with crashes and punctures likely as the roads become soaked.

The Team Tactics
Having won this race only once before in 2016, Peter Sagan would have his eye on the win today. His previous solo victory regarded as one of the great moments of the race, the Slovak rider would aim at taking a second win after disappointment in last year’s edition. Success at Gent-Wevelgem last week showed that the UCI World Champion had the form and the strength to take the top prize, but it would be a matter of ensuring he was protected and well supported throughout the day - something the BORA-hansgrohe team has proven time and again this season they are more than capable of doing. It would be essential to both keep Peter safe and well-positioned, while also driving the pace to neutralize any breakaways that might be aiming to take the race for themselves.

The Race
Rain had soaked the course before the race started, with dark clouds hovering above Antwerp, and even a crash on the slippery roads in the opening kilometres didn’t stop the attacks, but it took almost 70km of the race for a break to form. In spite of taking five minutes from the peloton, the group of eleven never had the legs and was swept up, and with the catch being made less than 100km from the finish, further attacks were certain, and a group of three surged ahead shortly after. In spite of the peloton breaking up on the Muur, the efforts of the BORA-hansgrohe riders made sure that the team was ahead of the splits, with Schillinger working hard, and Peter Sagan, Daniel Oss and Marcus Burghardt staying in the front group as this reduced bunch became strung out on the Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg.

Protecting Peter, Daniel turned himself inside out on the front, delivering the UCI World Champion to the second pass of the Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg in position. With a solo rider out in front, the chasers were forty seconds behind with 15km to go, and Peter was still in amongst this reduced bunch, riding at the front on the second climb of the Oude Kwaremont. Kicking at the top as the road smoothed out, Peter left ten riders behind him. While Peter was soon caught, this renewed ambition in the chasers saw them chipping away at the solo rider’s lead, but it as the kilometres became metres, it was clear the solo rider – Quick Step Floors’ Terpstra – was going to take the win, with Peter taking sixth spot in a reduced bunch sprint.

From the Finish Line
"It was a very hard and fast Tour of Flanders, right from the outset, with Quick-Step, Sky and BMC setting a strong pace. I'm happy with my performance as well as that of the rest of my teammates, who were there, together with me, whenever it was possible. I gave my best effort to close the gaps, but on my own it was impossible. I'm happy with my condition and I now look forward to Paris-Roubaix, a week from now." – Peter Sagan, UCI World Champion

"We expected that Quick-Step would go on an early move. They have shown they are at a very good level and have a lot of options. We were the ones to drive the race at the back, with Daniel Oss putting a tremendous effort today, but we were practically the only ones doing that. The rest of the teams weren't cooperating, so there was very little we could do. Peter showed his strong form. He attacked in the last climbs and dropped the others, so he's in good shape but that wasn't enough today to bring the victory." – Enrico Poitschke, Sport Director 

Here's what fifth-place Greg van Avermaet's BMC had to say about the day's racing:

Greg Van Avermaet claimed fifth place in a hard fought Tour of Flanders finale to continue his run of top ten finishes at the iconic second Monument of the season.

The battle started from kilometer 0 when attack after attack was shut down and a breakaway didn’t go away until after 70km, creating a tough opening two hours of the race, coupled with cold weather and rain.

Alberto Bettiol was the first casualty for BMC Racing Team after crashing in the first 10km and although he was able to continue racing, he was forced to abandon when the peloton passed through Oudenaarde for the first time after 120km.

The ten-rider breakaway gained a maximum advantage of five minutes at the halfway mark and heading into the final 120km, BMC Racing Team moved up to the front of the peloton for the first time and positioned Van Avermaet well as the race started to heat up.

Michael Schär was caught in a nasty crash with 98km to go and was forced to join Bettiol on the sidelines but fortunately did not sustain any serious injuries.

A huge effort at the front of the bunch from Francisco Ventoso was followed by strong teamwork from Jempy Drucker, Jürgen Roelandts, and Stefan Küng, particularly in the final 60km when the peloton began to close in on the breakaway and the battle for positioning played out.

The finale started on the Koppenberg when half of the bunch was caught out on the steep slopes and split the group by blocking all riders behind. Van Avermaet made it through at the front surrounded by his teammates and gave the first indication of his strong form with an attack of the Taaienberg which put riders in difficulty behind.

In the last 30km, a select group of favourites, featuring Van Avermaet and Roelandts, was chasing the leading trio of Dylan Van Baarle (Team Sky), Mads Pederson (Trek Segafredo) and Sebastien Langeveld (EF Education-First Drapac Powered by Cannonade) and once the trio was within 12 seconds, Niki Terpstra (Quickstep Floors) attacked to bridge and then overtake to become the solo leader.

Roelandts led the chase behind but lack of cooperation saw Terpstra’s advantage grow and despite attacks and more cooperation in the group in the final 15km, the group failed to bring Terpstra back.

Pederson remained between Terpstra and Van Avermaet’s group under the flamme rouge and was able to hold on for second place behind Terpstra, while Van Avermaet’s group was left to battle for the final podium spot.

Greg van Avermaet

Greg van Avermaet wins the sprint for fifth place.

Van Avermaet sprinted to fifth place after a tough 265km in the saddle.

Greg Van Avermaet:
"It was a hard moment so I think he [Niki Terpstra] made a really strong move, dropping guys like Vincenzo Nibali from his wheel because there was some reaction afterward. I think probably the strongest guy won today. I think I was able to do something and I was one of the strongest guys in the race but I think Terpstra was maybe just a little bit better than everyone else and took the right move. It was pretty impressive that he kept this effort going all the way to the line because we didn't wait too long to react."

"You look at each other in the chasing group but the problem is nobody is really strong enough to go away and make a gap and in that way it is normal that you close in on each other and you get a bit stuck. That's the kind of feeling I had here and also at the races before."  "I've been at this race a few times in the past and experienced a great sense of disappointment as I had the feeling that I could win, but today I could have maybe done second or third but not the win so I am pretty happy with how I raced. I think some other years, like last year, I had the feeling that I could win and today was a different edition. It was hard to win for me."

Fabio Baldato, Sport Director:
"I am 100% satisfied with the team today. They did an amazing race. It was a pity we lost Alberto Bettiol due to a crash and Michael Schär as well but today was really an epic day. It was raining almost all day and most of the time the race was wet and dangerous. The guys rode great, in particular Jürgen Roelandts at the end and before that, Stefan Küng who was super important. Going up the Kwaremont for the second time, Greg was stuck behind a bit as it was a crazy approach with the group going 70km/h downhill to the bottom of the climb which was dangerous for me. Stefan did a great job to bring Greg in front and from the Paterberg and the Koppenberg the team was there. Of course, Greg tried something but we saw immediately that Quick-Step Floors, who still had the numbers, was the team that could make trouble and put us in difficulty."

"Greg is super and we saw again here that at the end, he had the fastest sprint of the chase group and he even started from the front. We know that everybody watched him and tried to anticipate what he would do for the third spot. We are confident looking to Paris-Roubaix. I think Greg has the same legs as last year but we will need to have a little bit of luck and hopefully the team can race like today and not give up."

Here's the report from Tiesj Benoot's Lotto-Soudal team:

Tiesj Benoot got eighth in the Ronde van Vlaanderen today. The victory was for Niki Terpstra, who finished solo in Oudenaarde.

It was an atypical start of the Ronde. Many were interested in joining the early breakaway and that made nobody got away in the beginning. It was only after seventy kilometres that a front group of eleven riders was established. On the Muur van Geraardsbergen, with just under one hundred kilometres to go, Tiesj Benoot raised the pace. Next, four riders bridged to the front, including Mads Pedersen.

After the second ascent of the Oude Kwaremont the peloton split in two. Tiesj Benoot was safely in the first group. Terpstra attacked on the Kruisberg. During the last ascent of the Oude Kwaremont he caught the leaders and immediately went solo. Tiesj Benoot accelerated on the Oude Kwaremont, but he couldn’t ride away from the elite group. On the Paterberg Benoot and co followed at half a minute of Terpstra. They weren’t able to catch Terpstra anymore. Mads Pedersen also succeeded in staying ahead, claiming the second place. Philippe Gilbert completed the podium. Tiesj Benoot finished eighth at 25 seconds.

Tiesj Benoot: “I am somewhat disappointed with this eighth place, because I felt like I was one of the best in the race. I had really good legs at the start and that remained the case for the entire race. There were some important teammates missing from our line-up, which made I was all by myself in the finale, but that was something I knew beforehand. When Terpstra attacked, I was a bit boxed in and I couldn’t immediately respond. The way he distanced Nibali uphill was impressive. He is the deserved winner. This eighth place confirms my good condition, but I had hoped for a better result. I hope to be coming back to this race with the same shape in the future, but with a better result at the end.” 

“I am really happy to be going to the Sierra Nevada again for another training camp. My next race is the Brabantse Pijl. I am looking forward to the next part of the spring, but first some mental rest in Spain. Afterwards we’ll see what’s possible in the Ardennes races.”

Lotto-Soudal previews Tour of the Basque Country

From Monday 2 April until Saturday 7 April the Tour of the Basque Country (País Vasco) takes place. Sports director Mario Aerts looks ahead to this WorldTour race for Lotto Soudal. As a rider Aerts participated eleven times in this race. In 1999 he finished fourth overall, three years later he was fifth on GC.

Mario Aerts, sports director Lotto Soudal: “The stages are generally rather short, but it’s hardly ever flat. Definitely a challenging course. The riders need to climb the Jaizkibel on the first stage, famous from Clásica San Sebastián, but that’s still early on in the race. It’s a tough finale on Monday and there will only be a small group that fights for victory. The second day is similar: a climb in the deep finale and then a descent towards the finish. Those first two days will determine who’s in the running for a high overall ranking.”

“On the third day a break stands a better chance. On the other hand it’s also the only stage that is possible to finish with a sprint. Although the question needs to be asked: which teams will want to control the race? Michael Matthews is one of the participants, maybe his team will want to do that job.”

“The fourth stage is an individual time trial, on a flat course. On the penultimate day there’s a steep climb in the finale, followed by a descent and some slight uphill kilometres towards the finish. After the last climb there won’t be many riders who will be able to bridge to the front anymore. The final stage is the shortest and the hardest of the week. That will once again be something for the GC riders.”

“We don’t have any GC ambitions, but we want to race aggressively as that’s our only chance of success. We have only Belgians in our line-up. It has been almost thirty years since a Belgian has won a stage (The last Belgian stage win dates back to 1991 when Johan Bruyneel won the closing time trial in the shirt of Lotto – Superclub, LTS). It would be wonderful to change that. I finished second once, in the fifth stage in the edition of 1999.”

Alejandro Valverde

Alejandro Valverde won the Tour of the Basque Country in 2017.

“The Volta a Catalunya was successful for us, with the stage win of Thomas De Gendt. He will also race in País Vasco. The way he won was once again typical for him. Few thought he would be able to make it. Neo-pro Bjorg Lambrecht did it very well last week. He finished seventeenth in the last stage in Barcelona. That proves he definitely wasn’t empty at the end of the week. It was a good experience for him on the highest level of cycling, also at País Vasco he will learn a lot. Maxime Monfort joined a breakaway one day in Catalunya, his condition is improving day by day. Jelle Vanendert was good last week, he’s working on his final preparation on the Walloon Classics.”

Line-up Lotto Soudal: Sander Armée, Thomas De Gendt, Bjorg Lambrecht, Rémy Mertz, Maxime Monfort, Tosh Van der Sande and Jelle Vanendert.

Sports directors: Mario Aerts and Bart Leysen.

Stages:

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