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Bicycle Racing News and Opinion,
Thursday, August 30, 2018

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2018 Tour de France | 2018 Giro d'Italia

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Vuelta a España stage five team reports

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

Here's the report from stage winner Simon Clarke's EF Education First-Drapac squad:

Simon Clarke added a second Vuelta a España stage victory to his palamares in Roquetas de Mar on Wednesday. The Australian perfectly played a three-up sprint on stage five to deliver the win for EF Education First – Drapac p/b Cannondale.

"It's just amazing. I worked so hard since I last won a stage here, and I just couldn't repeat it. It's taken me so long to get back there and have my stars aligned. Even today I wasn't sure it was possible," said Clarke. “You've got to be willing to lose to win, and I was and I came out on top.”

“Four days we were in the breakaway, including today,” said sport director Fabrizio Guidi. “We needed to show that we could finish it, to win. We never gave up and finally. Today Simon was really smart and really strong. For the team it’s a great day.”

Simon Calrke

Simon Clarke wins the Vuelta's fifth stage. Sirotti photo

“Simon got the result the way he usually does – via intelligence,” said EF Pro Cycling CEO Jonathan Vaughters. “He knows how to play a tense situation just right.”

Clarke was granted a reprisal from his usual Vuelta role on Wednesday. The 32-year-old is tasked, like much of the Vuelta squad, with looking after team leader Rigoberto Uran. Clarke, in particular, plays a key role in Uran’s general classification ambitions.

“I saw today as a breakaway stage before the Vuelta even started,” said Clarke. “I put a circle around this stage and stage seven. Today was definitely the priority of the two. I spoke to the team about having some freedom today, which they gave me, and I had to make that count.”

It was no easy feat getting into the stage five escape. The peloton covered 48 hilly kilometers in the opening hour of the race as attack after attack proved fruitless.

“Everyone knew it was a good breakaway day,” said Clarke. “We saw the breakaway go quite easily on the first four days, even yesterday, because the bunch didn’t think the breakaway could succeed. Normally Sky likes to keep the break under close control on the mountain stages, so yesterday was a bit of a surprise, but today was for sure a breakaway day.”

Clarke covered and initiated several attacks before finding the 25-rider strong move with staying power.

“When you have such a big group, you cannot for one minute be complacent,” Clarke said. “There’s never very good cooperation in such a good group. I kept telling myself I needed to stay as close to the front of the group as possible because otherwise guys get in front of you and you just can’t catch them.

“The way the breakaway went, it was on a climb, so the nature of the breakaway was that it had some very strong climbers,” added Clarke. “I wasn’t going to be able to attack them on the climbs to get to the front of the race.”   
So Clarke attacked on the descents.

“Quite often on the descents, people relax and have something to eat and drink. Sometimes that’s an opportunity to get a bit of an advantage,” said Clarke. “On the first descent, I got away with a couple of other guys. We got brought back that time, but I saw it could work.”

It did work.

Clarke and Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) accelerated away on the descent leading up to Alto El Marchal, the stage’s final climb. They had 1’30 and Alessandro De Marchi (BMC) for company by the time they reached the foot of the climb. “I thought: ‘This is good. I need to commit now.’,” said Clarke. “Unfortunately we couldn’t put on a good show on the climb, attacking each other, because it was such a strong headwind. We realized we just needed to cooperate and get to the finish line.”

They time trialled to the finish line, pushing the pace on the descent to keep their chasers at bay, cooperating until the final six kilometers. “When you come three-up to a final, there’s always going to be cat and mouse,” said Clarke. “Coming into the final 5km, I said to myself: 'I need to keep one in front and one behind.' That way I could keep an eye on both of them.

“Each time they attacked, it was really hard. It really hurt. It also gave me a lot of confidence that they felt like they needed to attack me and not come to the finish,” noted Clarke. “I didn’t think I was necessarily faster than De Marchi or Mollema because they’ve won big races in small group sprints. I wouldn’t necessarily have backed myself as the strongest guy because they’re such strong guys, but when they started attacking, it gave me confidence. Maybe they’re not feeling good for the sprint? I’m going to back myself for the sprint.”

“I was nervous watching it all,” said Vaughters. “But I was also confident. I know Simon knows how to play the game.”

Clarke’s gamesmanship skills were on full display in the final kilometer as he steadfastly sandwiched himself between De Marchi and Mollema despite the fast-closing chase threatening to bridge the gap. He opened his sprint late and hung on for the win.

“After I won my first stage in the Vuelta, I fell in love with the race,” said Clarke. “You fall in love with the races you can win in, and every year since I won my first stage, I’ve asked my teams if I can come back. Four times now I’ve done the Tour de France and every time I’ve come to the Vuelta after it. I don’t care how tired I am. I love the Vuelta.

“I’m so happy we were able to come away with the win,” said Clarke. “At the Tour, we had such a committed group, even throughout the whole year we’ve repeatedly shown a high level of commitment, and I don’t think our results have justified the quality of this team or how hard we’ve worked. I hope a stage win like this shows the effort, commitment and talent we have in this team.”

Here's Team BMC's stage five report:

29 August, 2018, Roquetas de Mar (ESP): Alessandro De Marchi put in an impressive solo performance at the Vuelta a España before narrowly missing out on the stage win in Roquetas de Mar after a three-man sprint for the line saw him take third on stage 5.

With the breakaway staying away on stage 4 yesterday, riders sensed that there would once again be an opportunity for the attackers today and as a result, a fierce battle began with all of the opening moves being chased down by a determined main bunch.

The peloton was still together as it reached the slopes of the first of two categorized climbs, the Alto de Orgiva, before De Marchi tried his luck alongside one other rider at the front of the race approaching the top of the 4km long climb.

More attacks saw the group swell to 25 riders with De Marchi being joined by his BMC Racing Team teammate, Brent Bookwalter, as the gap back to the already reduced peloton began to rise over the series of uncategorized climbs that led into the Alto el Marchal.

De Marchi soon pushed on at the front of the race alongside Stéphane Rossetto (Cofidis) with the pair opening up an advantage over the rest of the breakaway before the Italian rider, who is known for strong performances in the breakaway, showed his grit and determination to go solo around one minute ahead of the chasing group with 65km to go.

After the rest of the breakaway split behind him, De Marchi was joined by Simon Clarke (EF Education First - Drapac p/b Cannondale) and Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) heading into the closing 50km of the day, by which point, the Team Sky-led peloton was sitting almost six minutes back.

At the start of the second categorized climb, which at 10.8km long had an average gradient of 4.1%, the leading trio was sitting 1'30" ahead of the first chasers but as they went over the summit and began the final 26.7km downhill run into the finish, the gap had fallen to inside 45 seconds.

However, rather than concede more time to the chasers, the trio were able to push their advantage back out to over minute on the descent and in the end, the stage win came down to a sprint for the line between the leading trio.

De Marchi, who had already done a huge amount of work throughout the day, still had the strength in his legs to try to anticipate the bursts of acceleration from his rivals but ultimately, it was Clarke who proved to be the fastest on the day with Mollema and De Marchi finishing second and third respectively.

Bookwalter continued to ride his own pace in the closing kilometres of the stage before finishing in 16th place, 3'52" behind the De Marchi trio. Meanwhile, the rest of BMC Racing Team finished in the main bunch another one minute back which meant that the race leadership change hands as Rudy Molard (Groupama-FDJ) inherited the red jersey from Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky) after making into the large breakaway.

Alessandro de Marchi:
"These are the days when I would like to be a sprinter. In the end, I am happy. I took a risk going really far from the finish but honestly, I had nothing to lose so, why not? In the end, Clarke and Mollema were stronger and faster and I had to play a bit because a podium is better than nothing. So, this is my first try. Going on the front was the only option. Clarke was strong and ready to cover each attack, so it was difficult."

"At the beginning, it was crazy. It was a big battle to try and make it into the breakaway with a lot of groups, both big and small, trying and in the end, I decided that the best way would be to try alone or just with a few riders and try to stay away and see what happened because nobody was really working in the big bunch."

"At the moment I attacked on my own, I was feeling really good and there was a climb up ahead so it was a good place to do something. You never know what can happen and I had nothing to lose by trying. In the end, the two riders who bridged across to me were stronger and faster but as I always say, if you don't try, you will never know."

"This is the first day that we really raced full gas and now I will try to recover and see what else I can do. I think for me, going in the breakaway is the best way to enjoy this race and I will keep trying to find not just a good day but a perfect day."

Bora-hansgrohe sent me this Vuelta news:

With the break having taken the stage yesterday, the peloton was working hard today to prevent a repeat performance. In spite of their best efforts, and a wait of almost 60km before anything stuck, the escapees once again took centre stage. While the Austrian National Champion, Lukas Pöstlberger, made it into the large group, it was a small splinter group that took the win, with a new wearer of the red jersey jumping over BORA-hansgrohe’s Emanuel Buchmann in the overall standings to push the German rider into GC third. With a lot of the Vuelta still to go, the team would be working to ensure Emanuel was well supported to stay in touch as the race went on.

Rudy Molard

Rudy Molard is the new race leader. Sirotti photo

The Stage
After yesterday’s summit finish and the hard climbing that took place, the sight of only two categorised climbs on today’s 188.7km would send a ripple of relief through the peloton. The Spanish heat showed no sign of letting up and so to only have one third category and one second category climb to contend with would make the going much easier. That said, the third category Alto de Órgiva was short but steep, with an average gradient of 7%, while the second category Alto el Marchal was long but more gentle, with an average gradient of 4.1% over its 10.8km length. With the climbing out of the way, there would be a swift downhill ride to the coast, where a flat finale would encourage a bunch sprint – that is, if the breakaway didn’t spoil things, and of course, provided the sprinters had made it over the hills to contest the stage to begin with.

The Team Tactics
As a fairly long stage – and an undulating one at that – it would be hard to control the pace for the whole day. To do so would risk burning out too many riders on the stage and possibly jeopardise the race, with more than two weeks still to go. If the chance was there, Lukas Pöstlberger or Jay McCarthy would try to jump in the day’s break, but if this wasn’t possible, it would be a matter of keeping an eye on how the finale unfolded and to see whether the UCI World Champion, Peter Sagan, would be in the position, and the condition, to go for the sprint. After the break controlled the whole day yesterday, if the same scenario were to play out today, the team would be reluctant to go all-in to make the catch for a sprint finish.

The Race
There was a flurry of activity at the start of the day, with multiple teams wanting to get in the day’s break. In stark contrast to the earlier stages, it took nearly 60km of racing for a break to stick, with a group of twenty-five finally pushing off from the fast-paced peloton, with Lukas Pöstlberger representing BORA-hansgrohe in his distinctive Austrian National Champion’s jersey. The advantage grew to more than six minutes as the day went on, but it was clear this still wasn’t enough for some in the break, an attack from 86km out splintering the breakaway group and leaving some behind to be caught by the peloton, including Lukas. As the final 50km came, there were four groups on the road, the race being led by a small group of three with the second group a minute behind. Holding their advantage as the kilometres ticked down, it was clear this committed group was going to take the win. With the flatter terrain making it easier to stay in touch, there were no attempts from the peloton to attack and take extra time, the fast pace meaning it was almost impossible to break away. The peloton crossed the line almost five minutes after the stage winner, with the new GC leader, who was part of a small group eight seconds back, jumping past Emanuel Buchmann in the overall standings to leave the German rider seven seconds behind second place and 1:08 behind the top spot. However, this small change in the standings didn’t trouble the team and with a long road still to race, it would be a matter of working to stay in touch in the GC race in the weeks to come.

From the Finish Line
"It was a really tough start to the stage, especially after the effort yesterday. Our team worked really well and after the break was gone they always kept me close to the front to stay out of trouble. After a couple of kilometres I had good legs again and in the end, it was a day without any issues for us. Molard took the red jersey today, but I don’t think this will make any difference to the GC at the end of this Vuelta." – Emanuel Buchmann

"It was a brutal stage, with attack after attack in the initial stretch. It took almost 60km until a break was allowed to go. Lukas and Jay tried several times to jump, but most of the times the attempts were neutralised. In the end, Lukas made it to the break, but he had already spent too much energy to fight for the win. At the back, the team did a great job protecting Emu. He came home in the main bunch, still just 7“ behind Kwiatkowski and this was the most important aspect for us today." – Steffen Radochla, Sports Director 

Annemiek van Vleuten takes a consecutive stage victory despite a wrong turn at the Boels Ladies Tour

Van Vleuten's Mitchelton-Scott team sent me this:

Yesterday's stage winner Annemiek van Vleuten had a phenomenal ride on today's second stage of the Boels Ladies Tour after leading the race solo in the final 20km, before taking a wrong turn with less than five kilometres to go.

Despite the setback, the Mitchelton-SCOTT rider was still able to hold on for a consecutive stage victory and extend her overall lead.

Annemiek van Vleuten

Annemiek van Vleuten winning the 2017 Cadel Evans Ocean Race.

The 132km stage featured seven laps of a circuit with a narrow steep climb into Beek to contend with each time. As the peloton fought up the climb, riders continued to drop off the pace, yet despite multiple attacks no moves were able to stick in the opening stages.

With 60km to go, finally two riders broke the elastic and were able to open up an advantage over the peloton. Rosella Ratto (Cylance) and Amalie Dideriksen (Boels-Dolmans) hovered in front and reached a maximum advantage of one minute.

Mitchelton-SCOTT sent all of their riders to the front of the peloton to pick up the pace and draw back the duo ahead of the penultimate ascent, where Van Vleuten launched an explosive attack with only two other riders, Anna van der Breggen (Boels-Dolmans) and Elisa Longo-Borghini (Wiggle-High5) able to follow.

The peloton fragmented in her wake as she continued to drive the pace. A small chase group including teammate Amanda Spratt bridged across after the descent and immediately after Spratt counter attacked to force other riders to chase.

Spratt's move was the perfect launchpad for van Vleuten as once she was caught, the race leader was ready to pounce and made another fierce attack and was able to breakaway solo.

The world time trial champion continued to extend her solo lead out in front to around 40seconds, with the reduced chasing peloton unable to reel her back as the kilometres ticked down.

Then, with less than five kilometres to go, it looked all over for van Vleuten as she took a wrong turn off course and lost valuable seconds. With sheer strength and determination, the 35-year-old returned to the course and continued her momentum but hovered dangerously close to the fast chasing peloton with a slender 15seconds advantage

It proved to be enough as she crossed the line for a second stage victory and extended her overall lead in the race.

Annemiek van Vleuten:
"I have mixed feeling because it was a crazy final, there was no motorbike rider in front of me, I did a recon of the course so I did know it but there was maybe some road works there and I saw some arrows pointing there so I thought maybe they changed the course that is why I went the wrong way.

"We had an awesome attack, we played it really well with Anna van der Breggen and Elisa Longo-Borghini in the front. Anna didn't want to ride, I don't know why, so I started to attack and then Spratt came with speed from behind at an amazing moment so then she had to chase. Then I took over with a good attack and then Anna was exposed with only Spratt in the wheel.

"I thought I lost the race and lost my time gap after the wrong turn but it was a good day in the end, the team work with Spratty was awesome and also Spratty can take a lot of confidence, she was super strong in the final attack.

"The girls also closed the gap in front really well so it was a good team effort and team win today so I look forward to racing with the team tomorrow."

Boels Ladies Tour results:
1. Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton-SCOTT) 3:28
2. Eugenia Bujak (BTC City) +0:12
3. Elena Cecchini (Canyon-SRAM) +0:12

General classification after stage 2:
1. Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton-SCOTT) 3:32
2. Eugenia Bujak (BTC City) +0:29
3. Ellen van Dijk (Sunweb) +0:30

Roger Kluge joins Lotto-Soudal

Lotto-Soudal sent this release:

Roger Kluge moves, together with his current team leader Caleb Ewan, from Mitchelton-SCOTT to Lotto Soudal in 2019. The past two seasons the 32-year-old German played a vital role in the successes of teammate Ewan and sprinted to a stage victory in the 2016 Giro d’Italia himself. As the reigning World Champion in the Madison and medal winner in the Omnium, Roger Kluge is a top track cyclist. He signs with Lotto Soudal for two years and is very happy to join his teammate.

Roger Kluge

Roger Kluge winning stage 17 of the 2016 Giro d'Italia. Sirotti photo. 

Roger Kluge: “I’m really looking forward to riding for Lotto Soudal in the next seasons. I’ve been a professional cyclist for quite a while now as I’ve signed my first contract with a WorldTour team in 2010. Next year will be my ninth season as a pro, but becoming part of Lotto Soudal feels like an entire new chapter. It's very special to be riding for a Belgian team with such a big history. Cycling is really big in Belgium and there are always many spectators alongside the road of the Classics. Of course, I’m also very happy to keep racing in the same team as Caleb. At Lotto Soudal he will be given new chances to prove he’s one of the fastest men of the peloton and I will definitely help him with achieving his goals.”

“My main role in the team is to position Caleb well in the sprint. Whether I am the last or second last man in the lead-out, I have to make sure he’s in the best position to sprint. I can look back with great satisfaction on the things he achieved and my part in those achievements. There are, of course, the many victories in the Tour Down Under, but there’s also this year’s Milan-San Remo. Though he didn’t win, he was the fastest man of the peloton, which came just a bit too late to reel in Nibali. I managed to position him well at the foot of the Poggio and Caleb eventually sprinted to a nice second place. That impressive sprint really showed off his strength and talent. Furthermore, at Lotto Soudal we’ll also be given new opportunities to compete for those Grand Tour stage victories again.”

“I’m also looking forward to the Classics. I really love those races, and - as I will be riding for a Belgian team - they will become even more special. At my age, I assume to be a bit more experienced than the other guys in the team, so that I can help the Classics riders in the team as well, besides my role in Ewan’s lead-out. As I’m probably also the heaviest one of the team, Classics like Paris-Roubaix and Gent-Wevelgem suit me the most: tough races, in which a rider of my type or a sprinter can still cheer at the end. It’s not really a goal to win such races myself. I could obtain a place in the top 20, but that doesn’t prove much at my age. Helping teammates to finish on the podium is worth just as much than winning myself. Of course, I won’t say no to another Grand Tour stage victory, but only if there’s no other teammate there and the opportunity presents itself.”

“First and foremost, I’m a road cyclist. Though, track cycling has always been a big part of my life as well. I grew up with the track and took part in many competitions when I was younger. I achieved some nice results as a track cyclist, like my current title in the Madison. I’m extremely proud of my rainbow jersey, but my focus remains on my career as a road cyclist. If there’s a possibility to win more races on the track, I'll definitely take my chance. But, like I said, my role and results at Lotto Soudal are my main priority.”

“During the past two seasons and thanks to the many races Caleb and I rode together, we established a good relationship. He became a true friend and I hope to be racing in the same team as him for a long time - maybe even until I quit cycling. Of course, we’re nowhere near that yet and I'm looking forward to helping him win other races and to support all the Lotto Soudal riders in the next seasons!” 

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