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Bicycle Racing News and Opinion,
Sunday, February 25, 2018

Back to news and opinion index page for links to archived stories | Commentary | Our YouTube page
2018 Tour de France | 2018 Giro d'Italia

When will our consciences grow so tender that we will act to prevent human misery rather than avenge it? - Eleanor Roosevelt

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Sunday weather forecast for Brussels, Belgium (Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne): Sunny and cold, low of -5C (24F) and high of 1C (35F). Wind from the ENE @ 22km/hr (14mph)

Omloop Het Nieuwsblad team reports

Here's what winner Michael Valgren's Astana team had to say:

After a strong finale where three riders of Astana Pro Team got in a breakaway of twelve, Michael Valgren managed to attack at the right moment and take the win at the first classic race of the season. After the decisive Kapelmuur the group was created, and after several attacks and closing down gaps, the teamwork was rewarded by Valgren’s victory.

- We really deserved this win with our team, as we were really strong in today’s final. I attacked several times, but the final time I knew it was the right one and I went full gas. Of course, I had some doubts if I was able to stay in front, but going into the final meters I knew we got it. I’m really happy with this win, it’s the biggest so far in my career. I hope I can build on this for the next races to come. It was really special, - told winner Michael Valgren.

This morning the peloton started in a cold Gent for the first Belgium classic of the 2018 season, Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. Right from the start there were attacks, resulting in a ten-riders breakaway that gained a maximum advantage of 4 minutes during the first part of the race. But going into the final part of the race, with 40 kilometers to go, the pack was back together before the challenging cobblestone climbs.

Because of several attacks before the real first climb, the Kapelmuur, already a select group started at the bottom of this climb. Behind a strong Sep Vanmarcke a group was formed of nine riders, including our Oscar Gatto, Alexey Lutsenko and Michael Valgren. After Vanmarcke was caught, the leading group excisted out of twelve riders, still including the three Astana Pro Team riders. Going into the final 10 kilometers, it was clear that this group would battle for the win. After an unsuccessful attack with 8 kilometers to go, Michael Valgren tried it again as a counter attack on Sep Vanmarcke. At that point, nobody could follow and it was Valgren riding solo to the finish line.

Michael Valgren

Michael Valgren wins in style, alone. Sirotti photo

- Our strategy was working out fine, as we were protecting our four possible cards to play during the whole day, and then at the Kapelmuur almost all four were in the leading group. It was one big teamwork today, with great work of all the riders but also from all the staff who did a perfect job behind the scenes. Everybody contributed and then Michael had the legs to finish it off, he really deserves it, - said a satisfied sports director, Lars Michaelsen.

Third-place Sep Vanmarcke's EF Education-Drapac team sent me this report:

Sep Vanmarcke rounded out the podium at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad on Saturday. The Belgian, who won the first Classic of the season in 2012, aimed higher, but he was all smiles from the third step, waving to his wife and daughter in the crowd. His performance in the final 20 kilometers showed his strength and buoyed his confidence ahead of the cobbles still to come.

“Second or third, it’s all right,” said Vanmarcke. “It doesn’t matter from those two places if you don’t win but you’re still on the podium.” “It was physical more than tactical to be up there on the front initially,” said Vanmarcke. “The first 10 guys, you had to be strong to do an attack, you had to be strong to wait for the sprint. If you’re there with the top 10, you’re strong and from there it’s gambling.”

The first day of opening weekend didn’t disappoint. The cobblestone sections were packed in spite of the cold wind, and racers proved they were equally enthused as the race pressed on. Vanmarcke was one of the day’s protagonists, lighting a fire on the fabled Kappelmuur.

“On the Muur, I knew I had to go full gas to split the peloton,” said Vanmarcke. “I was alone but it was too difficult to stay in front with the headwind. Even with Stybar (Quick-Step Floors) joining me, it was too hard with two guys.”

A tough headwind and determined field kept the race to a select group right up into the final kilometer. In the end, Vanmarcke finished third, after attacking several times in the closing kilometers. It was a counter-move by Astana’s Michael Valgren that opened the race-winning gap. Vanmarcke was the first to chase the young Dane, who soloed across the finish line. Sky’s Lukasz Wiśniowski caught Vanmarcke near the line.

Lukasz Wisniowski

Lukasz Wisniowski gets second place ahead of Vanmarcke. Sirotti photo.

“I decided in the last few kilometers to give it a shot and not wait for the sprint,” explained Vanmarcke. “There were too many from Astana, and the cooperation wasn’t great. I hoped if I went, they would wait for a second and then I could be gone but Stybar immediately came to my wheel.

“After that Valgren attacked immediately, and for him, they stopped,” said Vanmarkce. “He was gone. I knew that was it. I couldn’t go again because I had just gone. I waited for a second and when I was recovered, I went again. They were waiting a little bit, and I opened up a gap, but I was dying. I wasn’t recovered enough from the earlier attacks.”

Valgren had enjoyed the benefit of team support in front group that formed between the Muur and the Bosberg, the final climb in new look finale, a throwback to the old Tour of Flanders parcours. Only Astana had more than one rider in the final selection.

“The boys were good today,” said sport director Andreas Klier. “The team did what we planned to do. In the end with the wind gusts up to 50 kilometers per hour, things changed a bit. But this doesn’t mean you have to change your whole plan.”

“You couldn’t see our faces very often on the TV, and there was a reason for that: I asked them to hide,” Klier noted. “They were there in the places they needed to be. “In the final, there was an 11 man group, which wasn’t good. There were too many fast people, and we had to do something. And Sep did do something, and he ended up third. That’s promising. It was a nice move. He did it in a perfect way with very good legs, obviously.”

On Sunday it’s Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, thought of as a sprinter’s classic though the last two seasons the victor has emerged from the break. The forecast’s cold, blustery conditions may favor chaos over order. This time of the year in Belgium, you just never know what can happen, which is why #PinkArgyle will be ready for anything.

Bora-hansgrohe sent me this race report:

After Alex Saramotins controlled the race from the front for more than 150 kilometers, on the Kapelmuur a selection was made when S. Vanmarcke attacked. 11 riders went away with Daniel Oss among them, looking a strong bet for a top result. But when the poker started on the final kilometers, M. Valgren went all in to take the win, while the rest of the group was caught on the home straight. In the end German Champion Marcus Burghardt sprinted to a respectable 10th place for BORA – hansgrohe.

The Stage
Traditionally OHN is the first of the famous spring cobble Classics. With 196.2 kilometers between Gent and Meerbeke the race is not quite as long as the Tour of Flanders, but with 13 Hellingen, the Belgium sharp cobbled climbs, the parcours is almost as hard as it’s bigger brother. Tackling the Kapelmuur and the Bosberg on the last 20k, everything was set for a thrilling final.

The Team Tactics
While Peter Sagan is training in altitude, BORA – hansgrohe had still two cards to play in today’s race. Signed to become a main support rider for Sagan, Daniel Oss was one of the leaders in today’s race for the German team. The well experienced Italian showed plenty of times in the past that he is a man to watch when there is a chance he can take on. Similar to Lukas Pöstlberger, the second leader of BORA – hansgrohe, who surprised last year with his strong 5th place in the E3 Pris. Lukas already showed strong performances in Mallorca and at the Volta ao Algarve and therefore was eager to come on his most favored terrain – the Belgium cobbles. The teams’ goal was to may get one of the two into a group already prior the final, to be able and act out of a position of strength, rather than being caught on the back foot and be forced to react. Still, with the big star of BORA – hansgrohe being not present, the eyes were on other teams to drive or control the race.

The Race
Attacks flew straight from the sharp start and 8 riders went up the road early, later joined from another two including Alex Saramotins. Within the first hour of racing their advantage increased to almost 5 minutes, which did put BORA – hansgrohe into a comfortable situation. After tackling the first climbs, the gap started to come down again when the peloton raised the pace. On the front, the group did split up and with 70k to go, 6 riders with Alex Saramotins had just under 2 minutes advantage over the pack. With 50k to go Alex went on a solo. But his astonishing performance today came finally to an end 12 kilometers later, when the race was all back together again. On the Valkenberg T. Benoot launched his attack to build an advantage of 30 seconds over his main rivals, but it was the Kapelmuur where the selection was made. S. Vanmarcke attacked to form a 11-men break and Daniel Oss of BORA – hansgrohe was among them. But the chasers did fight hard to keep the gap at around 40 seconds, and when the leaders started to play poker, at the same time their advantage started melting. M. Valgren went all in on the last 2k to take the win, while the rest of the group was caught on the home straight. Marcus Burghardt sprinted to a good 10th place for BORA – hansgrohe, while also Daniel Oss and Andreas Schillinger crossed the line in the same group to finish off a solid team performance.

From the Finish Line
“The team did an excellent job today and this boosts our moral for the upcoming weeks. Because there was a lot of headwind in the final, I already thought about that we may catch up with the leaders again. I did a mistake on the Kapelmuur when I was too far in the back, and I really wanted to expunge that mistake in the sprint then. But after a long and tiring day with extremely cold conditions, it was no real sprint any more. I am happy with my performance, especially because this was my first race after a long altitude camp. So I am sure now that I am on a good way.” – Marcus Burghardt

“Congrats to the team. We can be happy with this result, because some of the guys had their first race after a long altitude camp and you never know how they feel after that. Lukas (Pöstlberger) had a cold the last days and unfortunately didn’t feel well today. He dropped out after 120k. But Daniel (Oss), Marcus (Burghardt), Andreas (Schillinger) and also Alex (Saramotins) showed a really strong ride. Daniel was always with the best when it mattered and the others supported him really well. It’s a pity that the group at the end was caught that close from the finish, because I did bet Daniel for a top five. But still we are happy with the top ten result from Marcus.” – Steffen Radochla, sports director 

And here's Lotto-Soudal's Omloop Het Nieuwsblad report:

The first Belgian race of the cycling season has finished. Lotto Soudal animated the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad with Tiesj Benoot and Tim Wellens, but due to different reasons they didn’t make the cut on the Muur. Michael Valgren became the first winner on the new course of the Omloop. Lotto Soudal didn’t set a top result.

Ten early escapees got a maximal advantage of five minutes. With seventy kilometres to go, the gap was 1’40” and there were only six leaders left. On the Molenberg – at about 55 kilometres from the finish – Greg Van Avermaet raised the pace and after the top a break was formed with Tim Wellens. Fifteen kilometres further the early escapees and the break with Wellens were caught. On the Berendries Wellens took the lead and a new break was formed, but they didn’t get enough advantage either.

Then Tiesj Benoot attacked before the foot of the Valkenberg. He didn’t get any companions and was caught just after Tenbosse. 25 kilometres were left to cover at that point, with the Muur and Bosberg as last hills on the course. On the Muur it was Vanmarcke who raised the pace and a front group of twelve riders was formed. Lotto Soudal was one of the teams that chased in the peloton. Michael Valgren, one of the escapees, won the race. Wisniowski and Vanmarcke, second and third respectively, could also stay ahead of the bunch. Jens Keukeleire was the first Lotto Soudal rider at the finish, he was 21st.

Tim Wellens: “I chose to race aggressively, like was the case last spring. I got in a nice group twice, but unfortunately the cooperation was both times insufficient. Too many riders didn’t have any interest in staying ahead. I accelerated a few times, but without much luck. On the moment of truth, I wasn’t strong enough. Before the Muur there was a crash in front of me, but by that time I had already used too much of my strengths. It’s a pity I didn’t set a good result, but I had a good feeling during the race.”

Tiesj Benoot: “I felt very good and tried to ride away from the bunch. When I attacked before the Valkenberg I was surprised that Thwaites and Theuns couldn’t follow. I decided to save some energy for the Muur, because I knew I wouldn’t have much chance on my own. Before the Muur I hit someone who was standing on the road taking pictures and I hurt my shoulder. I didn’t crash, but lost places and there’s no mercy on the Muur. My condition is good, but unfortunately I didn’t set a good result.”

Jens Keukeleire will replace Moreno Hofland, who’s ill, in Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne tomorrow.

Line-up Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne: Tiesj Benoot, Jasper De Buyst, Jens Debusschere, Jens Keukeleire, Nikolas Maes, Tosh Van der Sande and Jelle Wallays.

Sports directors: Herman Frison and Frederik Willems.

Abu Dhabi Tour stage four team reports:

Stage winner Rohan Dennis' BMC team sent me this update:

24 February, 2018, Al Maryah Island, Abu Dhabi (UAE): Rohan Dennis proved that he was the fastest man against the clock at the Abu Dhabi Tour today, taking an impressive stage win on day four of the race and moving into the red leader's jersey.

With the course being completely flat, it was the perfect time trial for Dennis to show why he is known as one of the best time trialists in the world, and as he rolled off the ramp, he made his intentions clear.

The reigning Australian national time trial champion settled into his rhythm quickly, posting the provisional best time at the intermediate checkpoint before powering across the line in 14'21". 

Rohan Dennis

Rohan Dennis starts his winning ride.

It was a nervous wait in the hot seat, but ultimately Dennis' impressive effort would see him secure both the stage victory as well as the red leader's jersey heading into the final day of racing and the summit finish on Jebel Hafeet tomorrow. 

Miles Scotson also demonstrated his time trialling prowess during his 12.6km effort and was able to maintain his speed and power to stop the clock at 14'37" and take third place as well as the lead in the Best Young Rider Classification.

Brent Bookwalter and Patrick Bevin put in strong performances, crossing the line 17 seconds and 23 seconds behind Dennis to finish sixth and eighth respectively.

Interview with Rohan Dennis

Congratulations, Rohan. How are you feeling after today's victory?

"I felt pretty good today. It was a weird effort because although I never felt bad, I also never felt awesome. I felt strong, but it wasn't like I was absolutely on top of my game like I have been in previous time trials that are quite short. I was happy to come across the line and know that I had done a really good ride and then getting the win was a good little bonus."

"It is always good to win and to have two wins so far this season is nice. It is the same as what I had this time last year, but I still have one more stage to go here and hopefully I have three at the end of tomorrow. The overall win here would be absolutely awesome, and it would really top off my start to the season."

What was it like out on the course?

"It was hard to pace out there today and actually what I did power wise and how I executed it was pretty good for February. With the wind, it was quite tricky, but of course, I got the win so I can only be happy at the end of the day and I don't think there is anything I could be unhappy about with the way I rode."

Were you feeling confident coming into the race?

"I knew I was one of the favorites coming into today's race. I always put myself right up there when it comes to time trials. I was backing myself, but I knew that there were a lot of strong guys like Jos Van Emden (Team LottoNL-Jumbo) and Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb), you can never rule him out. I can never say ahead of time that I am going to win any TT but when I say that inside I am really confident. There was no way I was going to say that though before today as I was unsure of where I was when it comes to a shorter effort."

And looking ahead to tomorrow's final stage.

"Tomorrow is definitely going to be more of a test for me. I know that my time trialling ability is as good as anyone's in the World on any given day, but my climbing is not as stable. Some days I am really good and other day's I'm not good so I have to see where I am at against the big GC riders who are here like Alejandro Valverde (Movistar Team), Fabio Aru (UAE Team Emirates), Jonathan Castroviejo (Team Sky). There are a few guys who I can test myself against and see what I can improve on if anything at this time of the year."

Quotes From the Finish Line

Miles Scotson:
"We had four in the top ten at the finish, and I was able to sneak onto the podium and finish third, so overall myself and the team are pretty happy with the day. I think time trials that are a litle bit shorter still suit me a bit more at the moment and you could see that I lost a some time on Rohan. I think he took 15 seconds out of me in the last 5km or so but I was happy that I was able to hold on for third place."

"With Rohan now in this position, we will go into tomorrow's stage with 100% commitment to him because we want to chase that overall victory. That's what we are looking for, and I will try to give all the support I can to him."

Here's the Bora-hansgrohe Abu Dhabi news:

The penultimate stage of the Abu Dhabi Tour was an individual time trail, where R. Dennis (BMC) took the win with a time of 14:21. Best BORA – hansgrohe rider Rafał Majka finished the 12.6km route 0:44 seconds behind the stage winner in 22nd position.

The Stage
For the first time in the history of the Abu Dhabi Tour an Individual Time Trial with 12,6km, ran entirely on Al Maryah Island. A stage which could bring a chance in the GC. The route was on wide and mostly straight roads with relatively broad bends. The U-turn and time check point were at km 7.1.

The Team Tactics
Today was the race against the clock, where some riders could making their mark on the general classification. The tactic from BORA – hansgrohe, Rafal Majka, Emanuel Buchmann and Davide Formolo were the riders to focus on. If they were able to clock a good time today, they would bring themselves in a solid position in the GC before the last stage tomorrow.

The Race
With temperatures of 32 degress, the first riders went up the road at midday. The first BORA – hansgrohe rider was Juraj Sagan . Teammate Erik Baska started eight minutes later at 14:08 and crossed the line with a time of 16:17. Emanuel Buchmann left the start ramp and showed a great performance on the 12,6km route. He finished after 15:09 minutes, which was the 26th place at the end of the day. BORA – hansgrohe rider Rafal Majka completed the course with a respectable time of 15:05 and ended the ITT in 22nd position.

The fastest man was R. Dennis (BMC), who took the stage win with a time of 14:21.

From the Finish Line
“I am really satisfied with the results today. The boys showed a good performance at today´s time trial. Tomorrow will be a difficult day, the wind will make the race very tough. We have some cards to play and will be focus on the final climb.” – Enrico Poitschke, sports director 

Lotto-Soudal previews Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne:

The day after the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne is scheduled. Jens Debuscchere, who finished seventh in 2015, is the leader for Lotto Soudal.

While the temperature will probably not rise above zero degrees, the peloton needs to cover 200 kilomtres. The course takes the riders over twelve hills. Nokereberg is the last hill on the route, with 50 kilometres to go. The race ends with two laps of 15.3 kilometres. Unfortunately Moreno Hofland won’t be able to start due to illness. After the Omloop his replacement will be appointed.

Jens Debuscchere

Jens Debuscchere will be the team leader at K-B-K

Jens Debusschere: “I hope we get an open and tough race, because then I have more chance in a sprint at the end. I feel good and want to influence the race. Like always the ascents of Côte de Trieu and Oude Kwaremont at about ninety kilometres from the finish will cause splits in the bunch. You need to make sure to ride at the front in that section. After the Kwaremont we can assess the situation and decide how we approach the rest of the race. It could be that echelons are formed on the way to Kuurne. I do hope so anyway. In the local laps it’s usually difficult to change the situation, because it’s almost impossible to close a gap. You need to see you don’t miss the right attack before you get to Kuurne.”

“In December we decided that I wouldn’t ride a double opening weekend, but that I could focus on Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne. I aim for a podium place. The fourth or fifth place would already be a good performance, but I want more. I expect a sprint with a rather big group. Fernando Gaviria is one of the main favourites. He always tries to join attacks and is attentive for possible splits. And he can count on the support of an experienced team; a team that loves echelons. Groenewegen is in a good shape, but we have to wait and see how his team performs when it becomes a hard race.”

“I deliberately didn’t start at Tour Down Under with my best condition. You can’t be top in January if you want to be good at the time of the Spring Classics. I was satisfied with my condition at Volta ao Algarve. The sprint on the first day went wrong, but uphill I could always follow until the point I wanted. It was a good test. In general we can be satisfied with the shape of the riders in the team. I don’t doubt Jasper De Buyst will ride the finale on Sunday and that he will give me a nice lead-out. It will be important to have support.”

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