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Bicycle Racing News and Opinion,
Monday, February 19, 2018

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2018 Tour de France | 2018 Giro d'Italia

If you have men who will exclude any of God's creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men. - Francis of Assisi

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Tour of Oman race report from UAE-Team Emirates

Here's the report the team sent me:

Alexander Kristoff scored his first victory of the 2018 season today in UAE Team Emirates’s colours in the Tour of Oman, the final stage running 135.5km along the Muscat Corniche.

The European champion won this stage already in the last two seasons, 2016 and 2017. Today, he didn’t have any rivals in the group sprint of around 70 riders (photo Bettini) and topped Bryan Coquard (Vital Concept Cycling Club), Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek-Segafredo) and Magnus Cort Nielsen (Astana).

A five-man escape dominated the day. Cavagna survived the longest, leaving 2.5 kilometres left to the finish line. Meanwhile, team UAE Team Emirates optimally prepared its sprint and Kristoff followed. The victory came as a result of experience, a strong winter’s training and early season race days in the Dubai Tour and the preceding five in the Omani Arab state.

“I’m very happy to have won my first victory with UAE Team Emirates,” said Kristoff, who is flying tonight from Oman to the UAE for the Abu Dhabi Tour “I feel so much faith from the team and I’ve always had strong men at my side in these first races of the season.

"I enjoy this finish a lot. I won already here in 2016 and 2017, so I knew that today would be an optimum chance to succeed. In the meeting this morning, with the spots directors and team-mates, we were very detailed and studied well every move we’d make in the final. That way, we took on the final kilometres perfectly.
My team-mates worked impressively, I could not ask more of them. And for me, I had great legs, a spark in my legs, which let me take this beautiful sprint.

"To win is always great, but to do it with a new team, it’s even better. It’s easy to find success in this team given that everything prepared perfectly.

"We’re looking forward to taking this victory back to the UAE and hope to use it a momentum going into the Abu Dhabi Tour. Hopefully it can inspire us to produce more fantastic reults in front of our home fans, who are surely celebrating this first victory also dedicating it to the memory of Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nayhan in the 100th year after his birth."

Alexander Kristoff

Alexander Kristoff wins the final Oman stage.

In the final overall classification, Rui Costa finished 10th at 1-37 minutes behind race winner Alexey Lutsenko (Astana).

Ruta del Sol/Andalucia report from Lotto-Soudal

Winner Tim Wellen's team sent me this update:

After his stage win on Saturday, Tim Wellens could start the closing time trial of fourteen kilometres with seven seconds lead over Mikel Landa and eleven seconds over Wout Poels. The first part of the time trial mainly took place on off-road sections.

Before the top ten of GC began their time trial, David de la Cruz (Team Sky) had set a very strong time: 17’11”. None of the favourites could beat his time. Amador (at 6”) and Clement (at 7”) came close, but the Spaniard did win.

At the end one thing was at stake: would Tim Wellens maintain his leading position on GC? The young Spaniard Marc Soler (sixth at 32”) set a time of 17’20”. Luis León Sánchez, Jakob Fuglsang and Mikel Landa lost too much time to be in the running for the overall win. Wout Poels did set a strong time: 17’22”. Wellens could only win the overall classification if he didn’t lose more than ten seconds. The Belgian succeeded in his goal, covering the course in 17’25”. He finished eight and conquered the overall victory of the Ruta del Sol, his nineteenth pro victory.

Tim Wellens

Tim Wellens winning Saturday's stage four.

Tim Wellens: “During the recon I had already noticed this was a course that suited me. The first part was special because of the off-road sections and in the second part there was a fast, downhill section. I had come to this race to set a good overall result. Last year I won a stage here. Before the time trial I gave myself 40 to 50 per cent chance. I expected most opposition from Wout Poels, which was the case too, and maybe Sánchez or Fuglsang. I hadn’t spent much time on the time trial bike recently and there were standing some strong time trialists behind me on GC, which made me a bit unsure.”

“Of course this is great, after winning at Challenge Mallorca. But the main goals still have to come. The next days I will take some rest, with a good training on Wednesday, and Thursday I will travel to Belgium to join the team for the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. It will be a nice début, with nothing to lose. The shape is good, so we’ll see what’s possible. After the Omloop I’ll ride Paris-Nice.”

On the last day of Volta ao Algarve it was Michal Kwiatkowski who took the win. The stage was animated by a large breakaway of 31 riders, including Jelle Wallays and Lawrence Naesen, but also

Kwiatkowski, Küng, Roelandts, Gilbert, Stuyven and Démare. They got up to five minutes advantage. The finish line was drawn on the steep Alto do Malhao, which already had to be covered with 45 kilometres to go. Lukas Pöstlberger attacked on the climb, got accompanied by Stybar who dropped him later. During the three kilometres long last ascent Kwiatkoswki caught Stybar. The former world champion took the stage win and took over the leader’s jersey from teammate Geraint Thomas, who finished in the bunch.

Team reports on the Volta ao Algarve's final stage:

Here's the Team Sky post:

Michael Kwiatkowski timed a late attack to perfection to win stage five of Volta ao Algarve and seal the overall victory, with Geraint Thomas second on the podium.

Kwiatkowski emerged from a small elite group on the final climb to attack solo leader  Zdenek Stybar (Quck-Step Floors) with two kilometres to go and pass him to secure a dramatic win.

He was pursued by Ruben Guerreiro (Trek-Segafredo) and Serge Pauwels (Dimension Data), but they were unable to catch the Polish rider who won from Guerreiro by four seconds.

Michal Kwiatkowski

Michal Kwiatkowski enjoys the moment. Sirotti photo

Thomas finished in a chase group that was 1’47” behind Kwiatkowski, finishing second overall with ‘Kwiato’ earning the points jersey and Team Sky finishing as best overall team.

Earlier, a large group of 31 containing several GC threats was able to break free of the peloton early on the stage, with Kwiatkowski and Michal Golas Team Sky’s representatives tasked with bringing them to heel. 

Kwiatkowski revealed that the team had to readjust their tactics during the race, but with support from Golas he was able to secure the stage win from the lead group. He said: “We had our eyes open at the start and we felt that was the best way to defend yellow and to defend second place and even go for the stage win.

“I’m very thankful for the team and especially to G for that opportunity. Nobody expected the race was going to go that way, it was not a typical way to defend a yellow jersey. Massive thanks to Michal Golas - he was amazing today, protecting me in the breakaway and he made this win possible."

Lukas Postlberger (Bora-Hansgohe) and Stybar were able to get away with 30km to go, but the large group splintered, and Golas and Kwiatkowski worked hard to keep the gap from growing too far, paving the way for the Team Sky rider to complete the stage-winning attack.

Kwiatkowski added: “It was very difficult situation out there [in the break], there were so many guys close in the GC and they were putting us under pressure, trying to split the group. I really felt under pressure as I thought that the chance of taking the lead from G was a strange situation, but I thought that I have to do the perfect race.

"The only way I was going to be able to look G in the eyes after the race was going to be if I won the stage and did everything perfectly."

Despite the excellent team performance, winning three stages, Kwiatkowski revealed that he was a little surprised by the results. “I think it’s a little bit unexpected that I’m in such good shape as I didn’t expect that I could climb so well here and I didn’t spend time here beforehand to get used to the country.

“I won overall, I won this amazing stage on the Malhao, G finished second and I won the points jersey. Volta ao Algarve was always one of my favourite races to prepare yourself for the season and that’s how it was - good weather, good, hard racing and I think everyone enjoyed how Team Sky rode.

“It was a crazy day, we have to be really happy with the team performance, the team won three stages in the end!”

And BMC sent me this:

18 February, 2018, Malhao (POR): Tejay van Garderen climbed onto the podium at the Volta ao Algarve on the final stage of racing in an impressive display on the summit finish to Malhao, in what was his first race of the season.

With five climbs across 173km of racing, stage 5 was billed as a battle for the General Classification but it was a win for the breakaway with Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky) taking the solo stage win and claiming the overall victory.

It was a battle for the breakaway in the first hour and after multiple attempts were neutralized, it was eventually a group of 31 riders including Stefan Küng and Jürgen Roelandts that went clear after 19km.

With most teams represented and a breakaway of 31 riders, it was inevitable that the group would split up which first happened on the approach to the feed zone when Roelandts was one of seven riders to establish a gap. The group came back together but going over the top of the climb to Malhão for the first time, the breakaway was in pieces with Lukas Pöstlberger (Bora-hansgrohe) forging a solo lead at the front of the race.

The rest of the group soon came back together as Küng and Roelandts helped to lead the chase, putting in strong turns at the front to try and close the gap to the lone leader. As they reached the 20km to go mark, the gap had been cut from just under one minute to around 20 seconds as Zdenek Stybar (Quick-Step Floors) launched his own attack to catch and eventually pass Pöstlberger.

At the bottom of the grueling final 2.5km climb, the race really started to heat up with the chase group exploding almost immediately and it was there that Kwiatkowski attacked and eventually closed the gap to Stybar. Behind him, Küng dug deep, gritting his teeth as he battled it out in the closing stages of the race as part of a three-rider chasing group before crossing the line in fourth place, 14 seconds behind.

Having been over three minutes behind the front group with 15km to go, the riders in the main bunch had a lot of ground to make up on the approach to the Alto do Malhão, and as they hit the slopes of the climb, they also found themselves all across the road.

Van Garderen showed his early season form and was able to distance himself from the majority of the General Classification contenders with a strong attack with 600m to go, which saw him cross the line in 18th place and move from fifth to third overall.

Quotes from the Finish Line

Tejay van Garderen:
"I feel good. Team Sky was obviously really strong taking first and second, and three stage victories so they were a notch above us. To be third in the first race of the season shows that my form is processing nicely and I'm where I need to be heading into the big goals."

"I was confused when the breakaway went away. That whole tactic was quite strange. Kwiatkowski was second overall and he made the break. Team Sky could either chase for Thomas or be happy with Kwiatkowski winning the race and other teams were confused. It was pretty chaotic at that point but we had two guys up there so we could play off that and not do too much work. It was obvious that Kwiatkowski would be hard to catch on the General Classification anyway so the fact that he was up ahead didn't really make a big difference to me. It was Bob Jungles (Quickstep-Floors) and Nelson Oliveira (Movistar) that I needed to watch out for."

"Dylan Teuns did an amazing lead into the climb and he had everyone on the limit on the short steel ramp with about 10km to go. He was still able to pull the first 700m of the final climb and from there, Dan Martin (UAE Emirates) put in an attack and I countered him with about 600 to go and was able to put in some good distance. It was only Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) who was able to stay with me. I knew that the stage win was gone so i wanted to get the most of it which was the podium."

"It's a steep climb and it's a climb that has featured in the race around five times. It was my sixth time here so I knew what I was up against and knowing the climb was an advantage. but it didn't make it any easier. Paris-nice has a similar layout, just a couple of days longer. There is one long gradual summit finish and a steep punchy stage so this was almost a trial run. The racing will be a higher level and probably worse weather but this was perfect preparation."

Stefan Küng:
"It was a weird start today with such a big breakaway and also with a GC contender in there. I mean we didn't really commit to the breakaway and Jurgen and I kept rolling through. We knew that the breakaway wouldn't stay together the whole day and we covered the attacks and tried to be in the dangerous moves. Then I was starting to feel better through the whole day. In the beginning I didn't have the best feelings which kept me from spending too much energy. Then there were quite a few good climbers up there so it was hard against them because the final was quite steep. I gave it my best. It's for sure a good result for me on such a stage and now the most important is that I know I'm ready for the classics and the upcoming races."

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