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Bicycle Racing News and Opinion,
Friday, February 23, 2018

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2018 Tour de France | 2018 Giro d'Italia

If thy brother wrongs thee, remember not so much his wrong-doing, but more than ever that he is thy brother. - Epictetus

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Saturday weather forecast for Gent, Belgium (Omloop Het Nieuwsblad): Sunny, low of -4C (25F) and high of 5C (42F). Wind from the ENE @ 25 km/hr (16mph)

Abu Dhabi Tour stage two team reports

Here's the update from winner Elia Viviani's Quick-Step team:

Three kilometers from the finish of Abu Dhabi Tour stage 2, Julian Alaphilippe took the front of the peloton on the left side, upping the tempo and clearing the way for his teammates, who had Elia Viviani on their wheel. The race was preparing to hit its climax, after a calmer intermezzo that followed 20 fast-ridden kilometers which saw the peloton get split into pieces in the desert, once the wind began causing chaos, signaling the end of the five-man break that stood for over 100 kilometers at the front of the race.

Viviani, who is making his third career appearance at the Middle East race, was caught at the wrong end of the peloton in the crosswinds, but the 30-second gap that opened didn't discourage the 29-year-old, who even traded pulls together with his Quick-Step Floors teammates until they erased the deficit and a regrouping took place inside the last 20 kilometers.

British neo-pro James Knox was once again the one to set the tempo in the bunch as they rode past the 10km-to-go mark, before best young rider of the 2017 edition Alaphilippe stepped in and furiously drove the peloton, stretching it out to the max as the flamme rouge was looming on the horizon.

Alvaro Hodeg and Michael Mørkøv stepped in, riding their wheels off until with 500 meters to go, then Fabio Sabatini did what he knows best and placed Elia Viviani in a perfect position, from which the Italian opened his sprint and stormed to a spectacular win, two bike-lengths ahead of Danny van Poppel (LottoNL-Jumbo) and Pascal Ackermann (Bora-hansgrohe), who rounded out the podium.

Elia Viviani

Elia Viviani (far right) wins the stage.

"Today I felt good, that's why I pulled in the echelons at one point. We missed timing when the wind began to blow, but I was very confident in my legs and told the guys to chase hard, and that's what Alvaro and James did. They are young, both neo-pros, but super strong, and the way they managed to bring me back was outstanding, so a big shout-out to them", said Elia at the finish in Yas Beach, before taking us through the last kilometers.

"It was an interesting day, with classic-style racing. Julian put down the hammer, before Alvaro pulled hard and led the way for Michael, who was in the right place and showed why he is one of the most experienced guys in the pack. With Saba by my side I was very calm, because I trust him 100%, and his great lead-out made my job very easy. I was extremely motivated after losing yesterday and I am happy with how things played out and for repaying the guys for their incredible work. Now there's no more pressure on us, so we'll just enjoy the moment and try again tomorrow, before the GC men will hit the spotlight", concluded Quick-Step Floors' sprinter, who is leading the overall classification and the points standings at the Abu Dhabi Tour after his fifth victory of the season.

Bora-hansgrohe sent me this Abu Dhabi Tour report:

The second stage of the Abu Dhabi Tour ended with another bunch sprint. After the breakaway of the day was caught, the sprinter teams started to form their lead-out. BORA – hansgrohe sprinter Pascal Ackermann was more than motivated, on the finale metres he increased the pace and sprinted to third place. E. Viviani took the stage win ahead of D. Van Poppel.

The Stage
Stage 2 was another stage for the sprinters. The race covered 154 km from Yas Mal to Yas Beach with two intermediate sprints, along the Yas Marina Circuit and Yas Waterfalls. The only problem was crosswind on the final km today.

The Team Tactics
Like yesterday, the German squad focused on their young sprinter Pascal Ackermann and Erik Baska as his last lead-out man. After missing the chance for a good result yesterday, Pascal was more than motivated to achieve a top result today.

The Race
Directly after the start, a group of five riders formed the breakaway of the day and after some kilometres, the advantage increased to more than three minutes. BORA – hansgrohe stayed conscious in the peloton to save energy for the finale. With the gap dropping steadily, it was all back together with 47km remaining. Due to the heavy crosswind the race split into three groups. BORA – hansgrohe sprinter Pascal Ackermann was able to stay in the front group. His teammates were only some seconds behind, however the chasing group joined the front group after some kilometres. Therefore all BORA – hansgrohe riders were back together. As the race headed into the finale, the pace was high and the teams started to form their lead-out. BORA – hansgrohe was more than motivated after yesterday´s result, the team worked very well together and protected Pascal until the last metres. In a hard battle Pascal gave his best and sprinted to a strong third place only some millimetres behind of D. Van Poppel, who finished second. E. Viviani took the stage win. 

From the Finish Line
“I think we can be satisfied with Pascal´s third place today, on the last corner he was a little bit in the back and had to go a long way, in that case it’s really a good result for him. I think everyone could see, that he is able to go for the victory. “ - Enrico Poitschke, sports director

“On the last corner I was in the back, so I had to pull hard to go to the front. After yesterday I wanted to achieve a good result. I am really happy with my third place but tomorrow will be another chance and I will try it again.“ – Pascal Ackermann  

UAE-Team Emirates departs for the early Belgian classics

The team sent me this news:

A mix of youth and experience in the Emirates team's roster for the 'Opening Weekend' in Belgium, the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne races.

The UAE Team Emirates will make its 2018 debut on the Belgian roads in the one-day races Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, February 24, and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, February 25. Italian Sports Director Mario Scirea will guide the team of seven men, a good mix of youth and cobbled experience.

– Matteo Bono (Italy)
– Simone Consonni (Italy)
– Filippo Ganna (Italy)
– Marco Marcato (Italy)
– Aleksandr Riabushenko (Belarusian)
– Ben Swift (Great Britain)
– Oliviero Troia (Italy)

Ganna explained, “In 2017, my first year in the professional ranks, with the worlds on the track, I only had a small taste of the Belgian races, participating in Gent-Wevelgem and the Binck Bank Tour. Regardless, they allowed me to breathe in the air of these particular and anticipated events loved by so many cyclists and fans.

This year, I will have a chance to participate in more of these types of races, already in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and in Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne I will try to get my bearings and understand the dynamics of the race, all with the mindset of learning. I can count on expert team-mates like Marcato, Bono and Swift“.

Filippo Ganna

Filippo Ganna at the San Juan Vuelta earlier this year.

“I’m going to arrive in Belgium with good legs and the knowledge that I’ve reached good form from the first races of 2018 in Australia and Dubai,” Consonni said. “In the last race in Dubai, I worked to support Kristoff, and I really learnt a lot.

“I’m going back north after gaining so much experience in 2017. In Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, I’m ready to play my cards given the race is adapted to my characteristics”.

Vanmarcke will lead EF Education First-Drapac in Classics season opening weekend

The team sent me this:

Sep Vanmarcke leads EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale as it heads into Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, the two Belgian races that make up Classics season opening weekend.

Omloop Het Nieuwsblad has fans, directors and riders excited due to its new/old finale, which harkens back to older Tour of Flanders finishes, featuring the Muur-Kapelmuur and Bosberg climbs as the closing hills that will inevitably impact the race. The Muur-Kapelmuur, with its cobbled switchbacks and storied history, is one of the sport’s most iconic climbs.

Sep Vanmarcke

Sep Vanmarcke racing in the 2016 Paris-Roubaix

“Omloop is the first important race of the season and the first time on cobbles. The atmosphere is great, and everybody wants to be good. It’s hard, full-gas racing,” Vanmarcke said. “In Valencia and Ruta, the team was riding perfectly together. To me, it feels very different than last year. We were in Spain with a part of the classics team, so we are already used to each other. Others, like Mitch Docker and Tom Scully, I haven’t raced with this year, but they will fit in the system because they are real team players.”

Joining Vanmarcke at Omloop on Saturday are Matti Breschel, Docker, Sebastian Langeveld, Sacha Modolo, Logan Owen, and Scully. Modolo, Docker, and Owen are new to the team this year, and Breschel is making a return after a season away. All told, it amounts to a new feel within the classics group.

“We have an interesting group of riders for this years’ northern classics and yes, so far we have seen a few promising efforts,” sport director Andreas Klier said.

A swath of the cobbled classic team recently escorted Modolo to his maiden victory in pink at last week’s Ruta del Sol. “This year’s edition of Omloop shows us a totally new parcours, which is similar to older versions of the Tour of Flanders,” Klier said. “Obviously, it is a very hard race with most of the difficulties you could possibly find in that area. For us, it is a good indicator to see if our riders did their homework during the off-season, and already now we should be able to see if we are competitive for the upcoming northern classics during March and April.”

Klier, who himself raced Omloop 16 times, has the type of fond memories only a gritty one-day race can spark. “This is race is all about suffering, often in bad weather, alongside a nervous peloton, but at the end of the day, it is one of the few northern classics with a long tradition and it’s a beauty of a race,” he said.

Saturday promises to be high on suffering in part due to the different route and also the late winter Belgian weather. The temperature is expected to reach a high of only 40 degrees Fahrenheit with a steady, cold wind.

For Sunday’s Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, the team stays largely the same, seeing a one-rider swap: Tom Van Asbroeck is in for Logan Owen.

Kuurne is fancied by sprinters due to the flat final 50 kilimeters, though that comes after 12 climbs to open up the race. The last two years, a rider from a breakaway has survived to take the win. The temperature chills off a bit from Saturday, with projections calling for below-freezing temperatures around start time.

The team fosters clear objectives. “For both races we should aim for a podium spot,” said Klier. “Looking at the contenders I would say this is a difficult goal to reach. But again, I still think that this is realistic, and together as a team we should always reach out for the best possible, right?”

Right, indeed.

EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale for 2018 OHN:

Sport Directors: Andreas Klier (GER), Ken Vanmarcke (BEL)

Riders
Matti Breschel (DEN)
Mitch Docker (AUS)
Sebastian Langeveld (NLD)
Sacha Modolo (ITA)
Logan Owen (USA)
Tom Scully (NZL)
Sep Vanmarcke (BEL)

EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale for 2018 KBK:

Sport Directors: Andreas Klier (GER), Ken Vanmarcke (BEL)

Riders
Matti Breschel (DEN)
Mitch Docker (AUS)
Sebastian Langeveld (NLD)
Sacha Modolo (ITA)
Tom Scully (NZL)
Tom Van Asbroeck (BEL)
Sep Vanmarcke (BEL)

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