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Bicycle Racing News and Opinion,
Sunday, September 2, 2018

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2018 Tour de France | 2018 Giro d'Italia

Man is the most intelligent of the animals - and the most silly. - Diogenes

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Vuelta a España stage eight team reports

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

Here's the report from stage winner Alejandro Valverde's Team Movistar:

A climber against stage racers, a classics rider against spring specialists, a sprinter against the fastest men in the peloton. Alejandro Valverde was again the man for all seasons for the Movistar Team at Saturday’s Almadén finish of stage eight in the 2018 Vuelta a España -195km starting from Linares-. And also from today, the marvel from Murcia is the most winning rider for the Abarca Sports organisation, now managed by Eusebio Unzué, since 1980: 98 victories from his (already) 121 as a pro cyclist, leaving behind the all-time record from Miguel Indurain he already equalled atop Caminito del Rey last Sunday.

The Las Lumbreras native had to surmount several moments of difficulty to find a spot at the front in the continuously-uphill last five kilometers. The fight to stay in a good position in the bunch started well before Almadén, with Erviti and Bennati leading the Blue train for ‘Bala’ and Nairo Quintana before Amador and Oliveira set Alejandro up to enter the town in a perfect situation. After the last difficult turn left inside the final kilometer, Valverde had to brake twice, boxed in against the barriers, before he found a line to launch his final rush and beat two top sprinters, Peter Sagan (BOH) and Danny van Poppel (TLJ).

Valverde -13 victories in the 2018 season, half of the Movistar Team’s tally of 26 since January- remains in 2nd place overall in La Vuelta, now 37″ behind Rudy Molard (GFC), while Quintana, also away from troubles inside the main group, stays in 8th, 1’14” down. The two, together with their six team-mates, will have to tackle a huge mountain test on Sunday, over the longest climbs the riders have faced since Málaga’s depart: 200km starting at Talavera de la Reina and crossing the Sierra de Gredos, with three categorized ascents, before a serious ascents towards the La Covatilla ski resort in Béjar.

Alejandro Valverde

The stage is Valverde's. Sirotti photo.

REACTION:
Alejandro Valverde: “I do am really surprised with this victory, to be honest. Even if I knew this finish would be tougher than a normal sprint, I didn’t expect it to be that steep. Arrieta was insisting to me on the radio, after our staff had arrived to the finish before the race, that it was an excellent finish for me. He told me: ‘Just follow the wheel of the one who overtook you yesterday.’ I told him: ‘Look, ‘Arri’, I won’t go chase the stage win. I’ll try to just not lose time, and that’s it.’ If you look at the finish, it was so nervous already before entering Almadén, but the team worked so hard to bring me to the front. Since it was uphill all the way to that roundabout with 500 meters to go, I sort of got into the mood to go forward, follow Peter’s wheel and contest the win.

“At the finishing straight, I wanted to overtake Sagan on the right side, but Peter inadvertently boxed me in, and I was afraid I couldn’t pass. I stopped pedaling for a split second, went to the left-hand side, Nizzolo was also sprinting from there, I hesitated a bit… until I saw an empty space to go for my sprint, and I could overtake Peter from there. It’s a victory which gives you massive motivation. Beating Sagan, who had this stage marked down as a clear chance, and put all of his team to work at the front of the bunch – it’s just spectacular.

“We’ll carry on with tomorrow’s stage with a mentality of remaining up there with the top contenders, and hopefully have a hot at the red jersey. Up until today, my goal was not losing time and claiming stage victories, like the two I’ve obtained. Tomorrow’s stage will be a clearer picture of what could happen in the remainder of the Vuelta. Nairo is feeling great, and either me or him -hopefully both of us- will try to stay there. After La Covatilla we’ll see if we focus entirely on Nairo’s chances or it’s my task to still contest the race alongside him. What I’m right now is really, really calm: two stage wins… it’s a relief for me.”

Second-place Peter Sagan's Bora-hansgrohe team sent me this:

Just two stages separated the riders from their first rest day, and with the terrain promoting fast speeds, today was always going to be a fast day – whether due to the riders making short work of the relatively flat 195.1km parcours, to the fact that a sprint finish was expected in Almadén for the stage’s finale. The uphill drag to the line was always going to be difficult, and for the UCI World Champion, Peter Sagan, it was just that little bit too long, with the Slovak rider leading the sprint until the last few metres, finishing in second. Staying in touch and finishing his day safely with the bunch, there was no change in position for Emanuel Buchmann in the GC, with a tough test ahead of the German rider tomorrow.

Peter Sagan

Coming to the line Sagan and Valverde looked to be really close.

The Stage
Today was going to be a fast stage. While no stage at a race like the Vuelta is ever ‘flat’, there would be only one categorised climb on today’s 195.1km parcours and this was only a third category – the Alto de Españares. This climb was long – 10.3km – but with an average gradient of only 3.4%, this wasn’t going to create any problems for even the most tired riders, especially when it summited less than halfway through the stage. With a rolling downhill to the finish, the pace was going to increase even more – especially if there was a break still to catch – and in spite of a short uphill drag to the finish, this looked to be a stage where plenty of riders would be able to contest the sprint.

The Team Tactics
After Peter’s strong sprint performance on yesterday’s stage, the team was confident that the UCI World Champion was returning to form, and so would push to ensure he was in position for the final kilometre of this long day in the saddle. The GC race was just starting to come to life, and so it was essential to ensure Emanuel Buchmann was well looked after – something the BORA-hansgrohe squad showed it was more than capable of doing on yesterday’s stage after an incredible effort delivered the German rider, currently sitting in third in the GC, to the finish without losing time, in spite of being caught up in a crash.

The Race
Knowing just how fast the day was likely to be, this clearly didn’t put off the three riders who made their escape from the start. In contrast to previous days, the peloton was more than happy to let the break go out to ten minutes, confident that they would be able to make the catch – in spite of having been denied a few times over the past week. The gap hit twelve minutes with 100km remaining, but with the BORA-hansgrohe riders pushing the pace on the front, the speed in the peloton was a full 10km/h faster than the break, and the time gap started to drop rapidly, and with 50km remaining, the gap was a little over five minutes. At 10km to go, the gap was just 35 seconds, and in spite of one last push off the front by a particularly committed rider, with the remaining two riders of the trio lapped up by the peloton, it was clear it was all over, the peloton biding its time to make the catch to ensure no other rider had a chance to go off the front. As soon as they passed under the 6km to go banner, it was all over and the race to the finale was now on.

As the pace rose dramatically, Lukas Pöstlberger jumped to the front as the bunch stretched out, the Austrian National Champion pushing hard to put the other teams into the red on the fast and flat sections. The UCI World Champion, Peter Sagan, was protected well and sat comfortably in the bunch as the roads narrowed and squeezed the peloton. With the road veering steadily upwards, this was when the race came to life, with teams battling for position. Safely round a roundabout in the final kilometre, Peter didn’t allow the chaos of riders starting their sprint early to trouble him, but was a little too close to the front when the sprint really started and lost momentum, just being passed on the line to be pushed into second. Emanuel Buchmann finished in the lead group, avoiding the chaos of the finale, to maintain his hold on GC third.

From the Finish Line
"Today, we had a 195km-long Vuelta stage, pretty flat with 2,000m of climbing. Our goal was to allow only a small breakaway and work for Peter in the sprint. It played out well in the start, we only had three escapees who got a maximum lead of 12 minutes. We then started working with Burgi and a few other teams to bring the break back. With 5km to go, the break was caught and we prepared for the sprint in the bunch. Peter was in a really good position and started his sprint perfectly. In those really steep final hundred metres, unfortunately for us, Valverde seemed to have better legs and managed to pass Peter in the closing metres. I think we have performed well in the Vuelta so far and tomorrow we will focus solely on Emu, especially in the final tough climb to the finish on La Covatilla." – André Schulze, Sports Director

"Yet another hard and hot Vuelta stage where the entire team worked very well. We managed to keep a small break, the guys then pulled hard to bring it back and I was in a good spot for the sprint. I gave my all in the hard, final metres but it wasn't enough to win. Still, I feel my form is improving each and every day. I would have liked to double BORA-hansgrohe's victories today and I congratulate Pascal Ackermann for his win in Brussels." – Peter Sagan, UCI World Champion

"It seems yesterday's crash hasn't affected my performance too much but I still notice the injury. The team, once again, put in a strong effort and worked perfectly for me. As we headed to the last roundabout, I was in 15th position and finished in the leading bunch, keeping my 3rd place in the GC. Tomorrow, we tackle a tough stage and I'm surely going to give my best." – Emanuel Buchmann

Trek-Segafredo reports on Brussels Cycling Classic

We posted the report from winner Pascal Ackermann's Bora-hansgrohe team with the race results.

It all ended in the expected fast bunch finish at the Brussels Cycling Classic, one of the oldest races on the UCI calendar, and Jasper Stuyven capitalized on a perfect leadout from his teammates, including the team’s usual designated sprinter John Degenkolb, to sprint to second place.

Pascal Ackermann

Pascal Ackermann just beats Jasper Stuyven to win the Brussels Cycling Classic.

After stellar teamwork in the last two kilometers, Stuyven was placed ahead of a high-speed crash in the final 250 meters, but he could not match the speed of Pascal Ackermann (Bora-hansgrohe) who jumped clear for the win.

“I think the team did perfect today. We wanted a hard race, and because the breakaway was strong, the other teams had to chase them to get them back which made it a harder race which was good for us. The team did well keeping me up front in the last 2kms, and Ryan (Mullen) had a good kick at the end so were out of the trouble. The crash happened behind me on my left, I am not sure I did not see any images yet, but anyway it was good to stay out of that,” explained Stuyven.

While a few sprinters were held up by the crash – including last year’s winner Arnaud Demare (FDJ) – that happened close to the front just as the sprint was starting, Mullen and Degenkolb had Stuyven positioned ahead of the carnage.

“I think because of the crash I hesitated a little bit, and when I looked back to the front I saw that Ackermann already had a big gap, so I started my sprint and I came close but not fast enough,” continued Stuyven. “But I think in the end, if I would have been able to react immediately maybe it would have been a head-to-head battle, but I am not saying I would have won. So, I am happy with my second place, and happy after such a great team job that I can be on the podium. That is always nice.”

Lotto-Soudal previews Tour of Britain

The team sent me this:

“The course is a bit tougher than last year’s, featuring more hills and only a few sprint stages, in which we’ll play the card of André Greipel. James Shaw and Jelle Vanendert could play a role in the more difficult stages as they could try to break away or keep up with the GC riders till the finish line. The general classification isn’t a main goal of Jelle Vanendert and he will probably pick a stage in which he can take his chance. James Shaw might want to obtain a solid overall result as he knows the British hills quite well and is really motivated to set a strong performance in his home country. He also proved to be in good shape in the Deutschland Tour, so I think he’s ready for this race. James doesn’t need to be in the breakaway right from the start, but has to try and stay with the GC contenders as long as possible. Of course, we have to take it one day at a time: if he’s having a bad day in one of the stages, the general classification won’t be a goal any longer and James could try and join the early breakaway as well.” 

“The team trial is a difficult part of the tour, which we’ll have to approach in a tactical way. It's a short course with a flat first half and an uphill second part, of which the final four kilometres are really steep. We have a team that consists of good climbers, but there’s a big difference in riding a team time trial with six guys or eight. With the latter you can lose more riders along the way, whereas you don’t have that option if there are only six riders at the start. We’ll have to see whose shape is the best to determine who'd better ride the first part and who’d better save energy to clock a good time at the finish line.”  

“It will be the first race of Jens Keukeleire after his crash in the Tour. He was able to maintain his muscles during his recovery period by swimming a lot and managed to get back on his bike quite quickly. It’s also a good thing that he returns to competition in a multiple stage race: he'll get a massage everyday to loosen up those muscles and he will build up his shape more quickly than he'll probably do so in one-day races. He doesn’t need to have a goal in the tour, but has to see the progression of his shape as a goal itself. He has to finish the tour in a better way than he started it. And of course, we’re counting on his support to help Greipel and the entire team, but it's equally important for him to get back into racing again."

Andre Greipel

André Greipel winning the first stage of this year's Tour of Belgium

Line-up Lotto Soudal: Jasper De Buyst, André Greipel, Moreno Hofland, Jens Keukeleire, James Shaw and Jelle Vanendert.  

Sports director: Bart Leysen. 

Stages  

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