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Bicycle Racing News and Opinion,
Tuesday, March 20, 2018

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2018 Tour de France | 2018 Giro d'Italia

Owners of dogs will have noticed that, if you provide them with food and water and shelter and affection, they will think you are God. Whereas owners of cats are compelled to realize that, if you provide them with food and water and affection, they draw the conclusion that they are God. - Christopher Hitchens

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40th anniversary of Merckx's last race

I got a note today from writer Les Woodland. He reminded me that Eddy Merckx rode his last race forty years ago, on March 19, 1978. It was a kermis in Kemzeke. Incredibly, it really has been forty years since Merckx hung up the chamois.

It seems like just yesterday that he filled all the cycling magazines and he was all we could talk about.

William Fotheringham, in his book Merckx: Half Man, Half Bike, wrote: "...he set off to train on the course of Het Volk, but had to stop after seventy-five kilometres, in a state of exhaustion. He was diagnosed with colitis, an infection of the colon. Haut Var was one of just two races he finished that spring. The second and last one was on 19 March at Kezeke, a kermis race in a suburb of Sint Niklaas, north-east of Ghent, where he came in twelfth. This was the day after Milan-San Remo, and he was there rather than in Italy: that in itself spoke volumes.

"If there was a moment when he finally accepted defeat, it was here, when he turned to his soigneur, Pierrot de Wit, and said it was his last race, in spite of De Wit's protestations."

We have an Eddy Merckx photo gallery.

Eddy Merckx

Eddy Merckx in 1975

André Greipel has broken collarbone repaired

Greipel's lotto-Soudal team sent me this update:

Yesterday evening André Greipel successfully underwent surgery of his left collarbone. The unfortunate German crashed Saturday on the descent of the Poggio and is out for the rest of the spring. During the surgery – performed by doctor Toon Claes in Herentals – the complex fracture was fixed with a plate and ten screws.

André Greipel: “Doctor Claes said it was a difficult, but successful operation. The collarbone was broken into different pieces. I already could go home this morning. The upcoming week I need to leave the bike aside and afterwards, depending on the amount of pain I have, I can start riding on the rollers. The next weeks I can’t ride any races, so I try to be patient and not to rush anything.”

Andre Greipel

I'm sure André Greipel will be back in the thick of things in no time.

“I immediately felt my collarbone was broken. Scans in the hospital of Nice Saturday night confirmed that. As a rider you always hope for a miracle, so you can start in the Classics, but that hope disappeared quickly. The next weeks will be all about rest and rehabilitation and I will come and cheer for the team in one of the races. Unfortunately this is also part of a cyclist’s life.”

“I’m over the first disappointment, but it’s true that I had never climbed Cipressa and Poggio so smoothly. This time it wasn’t the ascent of the Poggio that eliminated me, but the descent. Despite a crash in the first feed zone and a pursuit on Turchino, I felt very good. Between Cipressa and Poggio we were still riding on the first rows of the bunch with five teammates to turn up the Poggio in a perfect position and after the top I still had Jasper De Buyst and Jens Debusschere with me.”

“Of course Nibali’s jump was a huge effort. Hats off to him for making it to the finish with such a headwind! But I would have loved to sprint on the Via Roma. The race was perfect for sprinters, the sun had come out in the last two hours of the race and I had never been in such a good condition for the Classics. But it wasn’t meant to be.”

Volta a Catalunya stage one team reports

Winner Alvaro Hodeg's Quick-Step team posted this report:

Three days from his Handzame Classic success, the Colombian Alvaro Hodeg became the first neo-pro to take a World Tour win this season.

Alvaro Hodeg is on fire! Brimming with confidence after nailing his first pro victory at the Handzame Classic last week, the 21-year-old made it into the spotlight once again, this time at the Volta a Catalunya, the fourth oldest stage race in the world, where Quick-Step Floors' sprinter took an undisputed victory in Calella, where he became the first Colombian rider in five years to put his name on the winner's list at the Spanish event.

The 152.4km loop around Calella was animated by a six-man breakaway who took off after the start and got caught on the first slopes of Port de Collsacreu, a third-category climb averaging 4.7% over three kilometers which didn't do any damage in the peloton, despite an attack of Wilmar Paredes (Manzana Postobon), who was easily reeled in by an unforgiving pack.

Quick-Step Floors moved to the front with two kilometers to go, on a short downhill section, where Luxembourg Champion Bob Jungels ramped up the speed to 65 km/h and stretched the field before peeling off with 800 meters left, when Michael Mørkøv took over and expertly delivered Alvaro Hodeg, who put three bike lengths into runner-up Sam Bennett (Bora-hansgrohe) and nabbed a superb victory, which moved him into the leader's jersey at the Volta a Catalunya.

Alvaro Hodeg

Alvaro Hodeg delivers the goods in Catalonia.

The fourth Colombian rider in history to top the general classification at the Spanish race and the first neo-pro to grab a World Tour win this season, Hodeg praised his teammates for their flawless job on Monday afternoon: "The entire team stayed with me and protected me today. On the descent, I was somewhere in the middle of the bunch, but Michael gave me a lot of confidence by telling me to stay calm and pacing me back to the front, where Bob showed an insane power in the last kilometers. Many teams wanted to be there, but thanks to these fantastic guys we were all the time in control, they made the difference today and I thank them for that."

"It's a dream come true! Last week I was celebrating my first pro victory, and now I won a World Tour race against many big and more experienced riders. It is really crazy when you think of it. I was strong today and wanted to get the win for this amazing team who had faith in me. The leader's jersey is a bonus, one which makes me very proud. It's just the beginning of the week and hopefully other good results will soon come for the Wolfpack", concluded Alvaro, the first 21-year-old rider in more than 20 months to take a win at World Tour level.

Sports director Geert Van Bondt, who followed the team from the car, together with Brian Holm, had the lowdown at the end of the day.

"We had a plan and executed it perfectly. We knew from last Friday that Alvaro would have a good shot today. When we gave him the chance on Friday it was to see how he would handle the pressure. Of course, the World Tour is something different and he is only 21 years old and a neo-pro, which makes this victory even more impressive! Today, the whole team was around him and we made a very strong lead-out. He was struggling a bit on the climb but Michael waited for him and in the bottom of the descent the rest of the team lined up around him and brought Alvaro to a perfect position for the final. Max and Bob really split the peloton riding with 60-65 km/h, and when Alvaro took off from Michael's wheel nobody could follow and made it look easy."

Here's the report from Team Movistar:

Colombian Álvaro Hodeg (QST) took the win on Monday’s sprint finish in the first stage of the 98th Volta a Catalunya, a rolling loop (152km) around Calella with the only rated climb of Collsacreu (Cat-3).

The Movistar Team completed the first of two days leading up to the mountains with full focus and determination. Anacona, Erviti, Rojas and Pedrero perfectly covered the Blues’ three GC contenders this week. Marc Soler, Alejandro Valverde and Nairo Quintana stayed away from all troubles and always kept the front, also at the technical final descent to the coast.

Valverde, following the sprinters’ wheels, took a decent 8th place at the finish, with no significant time gaps across the line. Tuesday will see the Volta finishing in Valls -hometown of the late Xavi Tondo- after 175km with a tricky finish up and down Lilla (Cat-3), just 10km from the end.

“We got safely through this first day, which was the only important thing today, and we hope that weather doesn’t end up as bad as it looks during the week, so we can cover the race without any more troubles,” explained Quintana after the finish. “This is my first race of the season in Europe – even if I don’t rule myself out of contention, I feel like Alejandro should be in better condition to chase the win. We’re three riders with a good chance for the GC, as well both of us as Marc, and that gives us good opportunities.”

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