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Bicycle Racing News and Opinion,
Monday, August 27, 2018

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2018 Tour de France | 2018 Giro d'Italia

Unprovided with original learning, unformed in the habits of thinking, unskilled in the arts of composition, I resolved to write a book. - Edward Gibbon, author of The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

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Vuelta a España stage two team reports

We posted the organizer's report with the stage results.

Here's the report from stage winner Alejandro Valverde's Movistar team:

Alejandro Valverde wrote another page of his legend next to the Caminito del Rey walkway, end of the scorching, demanding stage two in the 2018 Vuelta a España -163km with plenty of hills and wind from the start in Marbella-, to further honour a race which has given him just as much he’s offered to it. The Murcia native, a crucial member of the Movistar Team’s history for nearly two decades, won the sprint atop the Alto de Guadalhorce (Cat-3) ahead of Michal Kwiatkowski (SKY), following sensational work from his team-mates and great strategy and intelligence by ‘Bala’ into the last kilometer.

The good pacing and positioning work at the front of the bunch from Imanol Erviti and Daniele Bennati into the last 40km was followed by strong, race-breaking turns from Andrey Amador and Nelson Oliveira, who left only 40 riders into the main field as they tackled the decisive 5km climb. A move with less than two kilometers to go by Laurens de Plus (QST) put the punchy climbers’ chances into jeopardy, yet a wise, effective Valverde knew when the right moments to attack were: an acceleration with 600m remaining, with only Kwiatkowski on his wheel, was continued by a majestic sprint to beat the Polish champion and claim his tenth career stage success in La Vuelta.

Valverde, who has got now 120 victorias as a professional competitor, has taken the Movistar Team’s tally up to 25 in 2018 -nearly half of them, twelve, thanks to ‘Bala’-, and reached today another legendary milestone: equalling with 97 victories, all that he has obtained bar the 23 scored as part of the Kelme outfit, a certain Miguel Indurain as most successful rider in the 39-year history of the Abarca Sports organisation, active since 1980. Nairo Quintana, well supported by the rest of Unzué’s squad, did not have any problems either to stay with the top contenders -9th over the line- and enter the GC top-ten, Kwiatkowski now in the lead with 14″over Alejandro.

Alejandro Valverde

The stage is Valverde's. Sirotti photo

REACTION:
Alejandro Valverde: “Surprised? I am, but I’m not at the same time. I knew my legs were going to do well here. After the Tour de France, I tried to rest up as much as I could, spent a lot of time on flat roads next to the coastline in Murcia, trying to stay focused but calm and relaxed at the same time, making the right form come to me and hoping to progress over the next three weeks here in La Vuelta. The progress I followed throughout August has been proven to be the right one with this victory.

“Before the start, we already had clear instructions of going to the front with the whole team into the final circuit, because there were dangerous, narrow zones where you had to take over if you didn’t want to get caught out of position. The heat really hurt many people, I was surprised to see so many riders dropping back though. Hearing on the radio that real contenders for this win were getting out of contention, we were more motivated about seeking for this victory. I knew the biggest rival for today was ‘Kwiato’, but couldn’t wait to just launch the sprint because De Plus was ahead of us. I waited until the last 550-600 metres, thinking about having to go on one long attack through the last few turns. I think I timed that first effort well; Kwiatkowski was like one metre behind after my move, and you could see he had taken a big effort to follow my wheel. I let him overtake me because the last turn right, because I knew that the final slopes gave me a chance to go past, and once we were on that final straight, I just launched my sprint to come out on top.”

“For the time being, we’ve already got a victory, and achieved one of the goals I had in mind coming into this Vuelta. The Tour de France just didn’t go as I expected. I didn’t feel my legs as I wanted them to. I was also eager to score a victory after two months, and coming back to winning ways in La Vuelta after missing last year’s race. La Vuelta – I love the race. The Giro is nice. The Tour is nice. However, the Vuelta is my race. I’m a Spaniard. I love it. We’ve got off to a great start, and it’s day-by-day for us again after this. Any GC plans? I don’t rule myself out of contention at all, since I’ve shown I’m doing great and we’re just getting started, but our only leader has to be Nairo, and I can’t say I’ll stay focused at every single stage not to lose time, 100%, because it just doesn’t work like that for me in this race. There are other goals in mind. And if Nairo needs me to work for him because he’s in a position to win the Vuelta outright, I won’t hesitate to offer him a hand.”

Michal Kwiatkowski is the new GC leader. Here's the report from his Team Sky:

Michal Kwiatkowski surged into the overall race lead at the Vuelta a Espana after a strong second-place finish on day two. The Pole launched a stinging attack on the Alto de Guadalhorce, breaking clear of the peloton alongside Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and crossing the line in second place. With the overnight race leader distanced, Kwiatkowski elevated himself into a 14-second lead, picking up bonus seconds on the line, in addition to finishing three seconds ahead of the chasing pack.

Michal kwiatkowski

Michal Kwiatkowski will start stage three in red.

Kwiatkowski was set up by a supreme team effort from Team Sky. On a sweltering day the white and blue jerseys strung out the bunch from 20km to go.

Pavel Sivakov, Dylan van Baarle, Jonathan Castroviejo and Salvatore Puccio gradually thinned out the peloton. With the red jersey Rohan Dennis (BMC Racing) distanced and dropping over 13 minutes Team Sky continued to turn the screw, with Tao Geoghegan Hart shredding the bunch heading into the final two kilometres.

With David de la Cruz and Sergio Henao also finishing well it added up to a strong day for the team, with a number of key rivals losing time on a stage that proved far harder than it appeared on paper.

After the stage Kwiatkowski admitted he had mixed emotions, having come so close to the win. He said: "It’s not the way I wanted to take the jersey, I was hoping to win the stage. The team were amazing ahead of the finale but Valverde was very impressive. In his country, when he races La Vuelta, it’s not easy to beat Alejandro.

"It’s a bit disappointing but I’m the leader of La Vuelta. I’m happy about yesterday and about my shape today. Let’s stay focused and try to win another one. I just want to celebrate this moment. La Vuelta is really long so I want to enjoy tonight and then racing in the red jersey tomorrow."

With the race still in its infancy Kwiatkowski, who also holds the points and combined jerseys, added the team still have plenty of tactical options to play across the three weeks.

"The Vuelta has just started and we have to play it smart with the whole team. (Think about) how we're going to race and what is the opportunity to bring success to Team Sky. It doesn't mean only on the GC. We have to be flexible and take what is there, whether it's with David, Tao, Sergio and any other riders."

Bretagne Classic Ouest-France team reports

We posted the update from third-place Tim Wellens' Lotto-Soudal squad with the results.

Bora-hansgrohe sent me this:

The 82nd edition of the Bretagne Classic spanned 256.9km around Plouay in the northwest of France. Difficult weather conditions toughened up the race, which also saw many attacks throughout the day. Before the first climb of the Côte de Ty Marrec, three riders launched a decisive move, and O. Naesen took out the win in Plouay. Daniel Oss finished the race in 44th place.

Oliver NAesen

Oliver Naesen takes the race.

The Route
This year, the course underwent something of a redesign. The race, which began and wrapped up in Plouay, initially led the riders over a 242.2km-long circuit. After having returned to the start town, another 14.7km-long finishing lap had to be completed.

The course took the peloton through typical Breton landscape, which was dotted with several hills. The riders had to climb the toughest ascent of the day, the Côte de Ty Marrec (1.1km, 6.8%), just before the first passage of the finish line, and then yet again with 4km remaining in the race. Before crossing the Flamme Rouge, the riders had to contend with two tricky corners, and from there the road dipped downhill before the flat run-in to the finish. Although the parcours was, in general, not overly demanding, it was characterised by constant ups and downs, and the narrow streets in Plouay also added some difficulty to the race.

The Team Tactics
Although the race was held at the same time as the Vuelta a España and the Deutschland Tour, a host of top-name riders were in attendance at the French one-day classic, and the team had to prepare itself for a hard and tactical day in the saddle. It was the sprinters and classics specialists that were widely believed to have a chance of bagging the victory today. If it were to come down to a sprint, it was Sam Bennett who would carry the hopes of BORA – hansgrohe. In that case, the plan was to support the Irish sprinter and bring him into an advantageous position for a final sprint. In addition, the last lap of the race has traditionally been the showground for several attacks, and it could be expected that late attacks could be made on the climb of the Côte de Ty Marrec. The team therefore had to be alive to this threat and ready to shut down any moves.

The Race
Seven riders tried their luck in the break today, and the race situation remained unchanged for much of the day. During the course of the race, the gap swung between 3 and 4 minutes. Rainy conditions in the last third of the course made the race increasingly difficult, and with 70km remaining, the advantage of the leading group began to drop dramatically. At this time, two of the escapees managed to escape from the breakaway, and not long afterwards T. Wellens and S. Stybar launched an attack which saw them bridge the gap to the remnants of the original break. However, all nine riders were reeled back in by the peloton shortly afterwards. A 14-man strong group, which was populated with many top-favourites, saw this as an opportunity to distance themselves from the field, and managed to establish a gap of over 1 minute. Ahead of the ascent of the Côte de Ty Marrec the leading group split. The trio of T. Wellens, M. Valgren and O. Naesen pushed to the front of the race, and it came down to a sprint between the three in Plouay, which was taken out by O. Naesen. Daniel Oss finished the day in 44th position. 

From the Finish Line
“The last 100km were particularly difficult. I tried to stay up front with Daniel [Oss] and we thought that we could bridge the gap to the leading group. However, the tempo was ultimately too high, and with the difficult weather conditions with which he had to contend, our attempts to catch the leaders remained fruitless. It was a tough day in the saddle today.” ­ Pawel Poljanski

“It was a very long race over 250km today. Particularly in the latter part of the course, the rainy weather conditions made the race quite difficult. The roads became more dangerous and tricky to navigate, some were dirt and gravel roads with many corners. There were a lot of crashes because of these conditions. It was a hard race, but our riders worked hard to support Sam [Bennett] and also Daniel [Oss]. In the end, Daniel tried to sprint for a good position in the main group. However, despite the difficulty of the race, the team rode together well and fought hard.” – Ján Valach, Sport Director 

Alberto Bettiol fractures collarbone in Bretagne Classic-Ouest France crash

Bettiol's BMC team sent me this bad news:

26 August, 2018, Plouay (FRA): Alberto Bettiol sustained two fractures of his right collarbone and a fractured fifth digit on the right hand in a crash during the one-day Bretagne Classic - Ouest France race.

BMC Racing Team doctor, Dr. Michel Cerfontaine provided the following update on Bettiol's condition. "Alberto Bettiol crashed during Bretagne Classic - Oust France and was immediately taken to hospital for observation. X-Rays revealed a double fracture of the right collarbone and a fractured fifth digit on the right hand. He also has a contusion on his right hip and some superficial abrasions. At this stage, we have not determined if he will undergo surgery. Generally, fractures of this nature require around six weeks to heal but once a decision has been made about a surgical option, we will make a plan for his recovery."

Bettiol is disappointed to miss the upcoming races, including Gran Prix Cycliste de Quebec and Montreal, that he was targeting.

"The roads were pretty narrow and slippery because it was raining. I was really in front, in the front row, on a downhill right-hand corner, and I lost control of my front wheel. It was more or less the same way I did it in Liège-Bastogne-Liège a couple of months ago. I crashed pretty hard on my right side and I immediately felt that something was wrong with my right collarbone. As well as the fractured collarbone, I have a contusion on my right hip but I'm ok and not in too much pain," Bettiol explained.

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