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Bicycle Racing News and Opinion,
Tuesday, April 9, 2019

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

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EF Education First reports on Alberto Bettiol's Tour of Flanders win

Here's the Flanders report from the winner's team:

Alberto Bettiol reached the one kilometer marker 20-seconds ahead of the chase group in his wake. The Italian, six years a professional, without a victory to his name, was moments away from winning Tour of Flanders. In the car behind him, Andreas Klier was urging Bettiol to dig deep, to forge forward. 

“I must have told him in every possible language to push to the finish,” said the EF Education First Pro Cycling sport director. “I wasn’t surprised that Alberto dropped them. That he held on? That was another story.”

Alberto Bettiol

Alberto Bettiol enjoys his first pro victory. Sirotti photo.

Standing at the finish line was a highly emotional crew. There were EF Education First soigneurs Jon Adams and Alyssa Morahan and communication director Matthew Beaudin. “I might have cried a little,” admitted Beaudin.

He wasn’t the only one.

Back at the bus, Taylor Phinney and Sacha Modolo, who withdrew from the race following their early work, were watching their teammate bring it home. The rest of the Tour of Flanders team watched in different places — at the bus, on their phones along the Belgian roadsides. Sport director Charly Wegelius, viewing from home in Finland, had reliable coverage lacked by those in the race and fed crucial information to Klier and Ken Vanmarcke, both in the race cars.

The EF Pro Cycling WhatsApp group comprised of 100+ EF Education First employees exchanged messages across countries and continents, sharing in the edge-of-your-seat excitement of Bettiol’s final pedal strokes.

“In the car, on the bus, at home, they believed in me, but I didn’t believe until 100 meters from the finish,” said Bettiol. “Then I turned back, and I could see I had the victory.”

When Bettiol turned forward again, he lifted his arms over his head and blew a kiss to the crowd awaiting his arrival. He pointed to the EF logo spread across his chest. He made an “I see you” gesture, pointing first to his eyes and then to the crowd as he rolled over the finish line.

Twenty seconds later, Sebastian Langeveld, who shared leadership with Bettiol in Belgium on Sunday, punched his fist in the air in celebration as he contested the finish from the chase group.

“This is the power of pink,” said EF Education First Pro Cycling CEO Jonathan Vaughters. “For a number of years, we’ve struggled with funding and haven’t been able to keep track of the little details that need to be tracked to win. With EF having taken over ownership and sponsorship and financial backing, we are now able from a sports science perspective, from a training, a coaching perspective, from a support perspective, we can take care of all the little details. And those details add up and apparently they add up in big ways.

Bettiol’s victory has been called a surprise, an upset. Bettiol has stunned the favorites, according to headlines about the race.

And yet…

“Early on at Tour Down Under, he was riding pretty good,” said Vaughters. “At Tirreno, getting second at the time trial, you could see things were starting to click for him. And Milan-Sanremo, he did a great attack but basically blew himself out. He launched Alaphilippe to the win, but you could see it was just one notch, just that one notch more. E3, I think E3 was the moment he realized he could win, that he was really pissed off he didn’t win, and that rolled into this week.”

EF Education First Pro Cycling started the season’s second monument with joint leadership, shared by Bettiol and Langeveld. Normally Sep Vanmarkce would offer the team a third card to play in the final, but Vanmarcke, injured during a crash at E3 Harelbeke 10 days ago, was only confirmed to start in Antwerp two days ago. The Flandrian readily accepted a support role in his favorite race of the season.

"At the start, I was doubting how long I could ride,” said Vanmarcke. “I was hoping for five hours, but the team doctor said that was really wishful thinking. During the race, I thought: ‘Okay, this won’t last long’ but the harder we raced, the better I became.”

When the race action heated up in the final 60-kilometers, Vanmarcke was among the protagonists. He followed an attack the second time up Oude-Kwaremont, becoming a part of a leading quartet alongside Stijn Vandenbergh (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Kasper Asgreen (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) and Dylan van Baarle (Sky).

“We have a very clear team tactic today,” said Klier. “We wanted to be defensive until the Muur, be aware of what would happen on the Muur, and then from there be offensive. Whenever someone moves, we move with them.”

Thirty kilometers later, an attack from Mathieu van der Poel (Corendon – Circus) up the Kruisberg drew a swift response. The chasers, including Bettiol, Langeveld and Tom Scully, were closing in on the leaders.

Vanmarcke fell away from the leaders on the lower slopes of the final ascent of the Oude Kwaremont. He dropped to the front of the chase group and drilled it up the cobbled climb, setting the stage for Bettiol to make his decisive move. 

“A champion like Sep working for us all day? It’s crazy,” said Bettiol. “This race means a lot to him, and today he helped me and Sebastian.”

Near the top of the Kwaremont, Klier directed Bettiol to attack. “Andreas said from the car: ‘If you can, just go.’ And I closed my eyes and went,” said Bettiol. “I looked over the top. I had a gap, and from the car they said to keep pushing on, keep pushing on.”

Alberto Bettiol

Alberto Bettiol on his solo ride to the finish.

And so the 25-year-old pushed on, stretching his advantage to 20-seconds over the top of the Paterberg, the final climb. From there it was flat, 14-kilometer run to the finish line. “It was the longest 14 kilometers of my life,” said Bettiol.

His gap never wavered. He benefited from a disorganized chase and the composition of the sprint-heavy chase group. No one rider or team wanted to commit to the work, and Langeveld was on-hand to squash any momentum the chasers attempted to build. 

“I saw on Sporza what Sebas did on the Paterberg, how he stopped the peloton,” said Bettiol. “It was amazing.”

Bettiol’s victory is the seventh this season for a rejuvenated EF Education First Pro Cycling. He praised the team effort that resulted in his climb to the top step of the Tour of Flanders podium in Oudenaarde on Sunday evening.

“Behind this success is the work of thousands of people,” he said. “Behind this win is my teammates and all the staff at EF, from all the service guys standing for hours with the wheels, we were covered 27 times on course today, the sport directors, the mechanics, the media guys, the directors. Everyone, everything. It’s a dream.” 

“Today is my day, but I’m sure in the future many of my teammates will enjoy this same moment as me,” Bettiol added. “I think from now on you should be looking more at pink at the front.” 

Max Schachmann wins the opening time trial at the Tour of the Basque Country

Schachmann's Bora-hansgrohe team sent me this report:

The 59th edition of the Tour of the Basque Country commenced today with an almost 12 km-long individual time trial around Zumarraga. It also marked the first time that Itzulia has featured a race against the clock as an opening stage.

The first part of the parcours was not particularly demanding, however, 3km before the finish, the riders had to traverse a 2.3km-long ascent with an average gradient of almost 10 per cent. Gregor Mühlberger was the first BORA – Hansgrohe rider to take to the start on wet roads in the early afternoon, and ended up finishing the course in a time of 18:39.

He was then followed by Cesare Benedetti and Jay McCarthy. E. Mas led the standings for quite some time at this point, having completed the course in 17:34 minutes. However, then Patrick Konrad left the start house, and after cresting the only climb of the day, he was only 2 seconds behind the provisional leader Mas. He was able to take more time out of the Spaniard in the last part of the course, and as a result he set a new best time of 17:29.

Teammates Max Schachmann and Emanuel Buchmann were the last BORA – Hansgrohe riders to take on the race against the clock. Max was able to put in a very strong performance and he bettered the time of his teammate by 19 seconds. He reached the finish in 17:10 minutes, and in the end, that was enough to seal the stage victory, and he now also holds the yellow jersey of the leader in the general classification. Emanuel Buchmann, with his 15th position today, also demonstrated good form and capped off an outstanding overall result for BORA – hansgrohe.

Max Schachmann

Max Schachmann gets the leader's jersey to wear dring stage two.

From the Finish Line:
“This is my third win in this season alone, and it’s really something special. It was a difficult time trial, and I didn’t completely know if I could pull it off, particularly in such a strong field which also contains riders of the calibre of Alaphilippe. We’ve come to this race with a very strong team, and therefore we have several options. And of course we have come here with big ambitions and we also want to achieve more in this race.”
– Max Schachmann

“We did a recon of the course several times and said that if there were wet roads, then we would be ready to do a bike change. But then we decided that it was relatively dry enough for Max, and got through the time trial well, and rode a very technically sound race. He was able to net a very strong win today. Our GC riders, like Patrick Konrad, for instance, also put in good performances today, with 6th place, and Emanuel Buchmann also did well, particularly for a pure climber. Now we’ll take it day by day as we head into the next stages.”
- André Schulze, Sports Director

UAE-Team Emirates sending a young team to Wednesday's Scheldeprijs

Here's the team's release:

Youth will be the distinctive feature of the UAE Team Emirates roster in the Scheldeprijs on Wednesday, April 10. The midweek race sits between the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix.

Allan Peiper (Aus) will direct the team, supported by Simone Pedrazzini (Ita). The line-up averages 25 years of age:
– Tom Bohli (Swi)
– Simone Consonni (Ita)
– Roberto Ferrari (Ita)
– Ivo Oliveira (Por)
– Rui Oliveira (Por)
– Jasper Philipsen (Bel)

The Belgian race, category 1.HC, will start from Ellewoutsdijk and end at Schoten after 202.3 km.

Peiper explained, “The Scheldeprijs will be a hard race Wednesday because of the predicted wind and, even though this race is usually decided in a bunch sprint, this year could be different because of the wind. We have Consonni and Philipsen as leaders and the rest of the team will work for them“.

Team Sunweb previews upcoming races

The team sent me this update:

Scheldeprijs, APR 10

Michiel Elijzen - Team Sunweb coach:
"Scheldeprijs is a race that normally ends as a bunch sprint and we have Max as our fast man for the day with a strong team here to support him and position him well for the sprint. However, we need to be wary of the weather conditions as crosswinds can affect the race. The team are suited to riding in those conditions but we need to be alert and prepared for that and in position at the important moments."

Cees Bol

Cees Bol (shown winning 2019 Nokere Koerse) will race the Scheldeprijs

Line-up:
Asbjørn Kragh Andersen (DEN)
Nikias Arndt (GER)
Cees Bol (NED)
Roy Curvers (NED)
Lennard Kämna (GER)
Casper Pedersen (DEN)
Max Walscheid (GER)

Circuit des Ardennes: APR 12-14

Jelle de Jong - Team Sunweb coach:
"Circuit des Ardennes is a hard stage race where the riders will need to be sharp and attentive from the start. The race features four stages in only three days and the riders will face lots of punchy climbs with stage two the most demanding. The stages could end in reduced bunch sprints but the punchy climbs also give groups and riders the chance to escape. We hope to ride for a good GC result with Felix and in the case of bunch sprints we will set up Ludvig for a result." 

Line-up:
Felix Gall (AUT)
Leon Heinschke (GER)
Ben Katerberg (CAN)
Martin Salmon (GER)
Nils Sinschek (NED)
Ludvig Anton Wacker (DEN)

Paris-Roubaix: APR 14

Marc Reef - Team Sunweb coach:
"We start Paris-Roubaix with a very young group of riders, three of which are debutants and are all very motivated for what is always an incredible race. Our goal will be to ride offensively and fight for the early breaks and try to anticipate moves in the pre-finale, to put us in a good position on the crucial sectors. Cees and Nikias, who is recently back from a tough crash at Tirreno Adriatico, will be the guys to look out for in our line-up and we will work to set them up to be there in the final."

Line-up:
Asbjørn Kragh Andersen (DEN)
Nikias Arndt (GER)
Cees Bol (NED)
Roy Curvers (NED)
Lennard Kämna (GER)
Casper Pedersen (DEN)
Max Walscheid (GER)

Wholesale bike sales down sharply year-to-date for everything but e-bikes

Bicycle Retailer and Industry News sent me this troubling story:

BOULDER, Colo. (BRAIN) — Wholesale bike sales were down in dollars and in units in the first two months this year, compared to the same period last year.

Wholesale bike sales can fluctuate over short periods, especially if retailers brought in their preseason bikes earlier in the year, perhaps to avoid the increase in tariff on Chinese bikes and other bike-related products, which was due to take place March 1, but has now been delayed indefinitely.

The sharp decline affected all bike categories except e-bikes, according to the latest Bicycle Product Suppliers Association Sell-in Report. The report tracks wholesale sales of bikes to IBDs by BPSA members.

The trend continues: BPSA members are selling fewer bikes, but more expensive ones. For the full year 2018, that trend resulted in a 10 percent decline in units but a 4 percent uptick in dollar sales. So far in 2019, there's less positive news: Unit sale were down 19.6 percent and total dollar sales were down 6.5 percent the first two months.

BMX bike sales were down 40 percent in units in the period. Lifestyle/leisure bikes were down 4.7 percent. Mountain bikes were down 14.4 percent while road bikes were down 21.9 percent. Transit/fitness bikes: down 33.6 percent. Sales of youth bikes, the final nonelectric category, were down 13.5 percent. In dollar sales, all those categories were in negative territory compared to last year.

Sales of electric bikes, however, were up 24.7 percent in units and 50.1 percent in dollars in the two-month period.

Within the subcategories there were some increases as some specific styles went in or out of fashion. For example, 27.5-inch full suspension bikes declined 54.5 percent in units, as tastes shifted to 29-inch full suspension bikes, where sales were up 61.3 percent. In the road category, the “Performance Men’s” subcategory was the only one in positive territory, showing a 0.1 percent increase in dollars but a 22.6 percent decline in units.

You can read the entire story here.

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