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Bicycle Racing News and Opinion,
Friday, December 4, 2020

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2020 Tour de France | 2020 Giro d'Italia

Nature and nature's laws lay hid in the night. God said, Let Newton be! and all was light! - Alexander Pope

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Fabio Aru signs for Qhubeka-Assos

Here’s the team’s news release:
Team Qhubeka ASSOS is thrilled to announce that Fabio Aru, the 2015 Vuelta a Espana champion, will be riding for Africa’s only UCI-registered WorldTour team in 2021.

Aru, 30, has a stellar palmares having finished second and third at the Giro d’Italia, in 2015 and 2014 respectively, and fifth at the Tour de France in 2017.

Fabio Aru

Fabio Aru racing in the 2019 Tour de France, stage 13. Sirotti photo

The Italian is a multiple Grand Tour stage-winner including stage five of the Tour de France in 2017, back-to-back Giro d’Italia stage wins in 2015 as well as doubling up at the Vuelta a Espana in 2014. He took his debut Grand Tour stage victory at the Giro d’Italia in 2014.

He announced himself onto the international scene in some style in 2012, then as a stagiare with Astana, by taking an impressive second place finish on stage six of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge. The Sardinian spent six seasons with Astana during which time he returned some very impressive results including a stage win at the Criterium du Dauphine in 2016.

The 2017 Italian champion joined UAE-Team Emirates the following year which is where he joins Team Qhubeka ASSOS from, and during which time he took to the start line of his 13th career Grand Tour.

Aru’s arrival follows on that from Simon Clarke, Sean Bennett, Dimitri Claeys, Kilian Frankiny, Lukasz Wisniowski, Karel Vacek, Emil Vinjebo, Connor Brown and Harry Tanfield.

Further additions to complete our roster will be made in due course.

Douglas Ryder – Team Principal:
I am excited to have Fabio join our team; to have a rider who has won a grand tour in the Vuelta, been 5th in the Tour de France and twice on the podium of the Giro adds a lot to our teams development as we continue to strive to win on the world’s biggest stage; to inspire hope and create opportunity.

Fabio’s passion and love for cycling can be seen in the way he races and I think in our unique team we will see him rise again, as I am sure we will get the best out of each other.

Fabio Aru:
I am absolutely delighted to be joining Team Qhubeka ASSOS next season and very grateful to Douglas Ryder who welcomed me to his team. When the possibility to sign first came about, and then after speaking with Douglas and other team members, I immediately felt that this was an environment that I wanted to be a part of.

I’ve also closely observed the work of the Qhubeka Charity and what they do is incredible. Some of my new colleagues have told me of the power and impact that going to a bicycle distribution ceremony has had on them. This has brought home to me the impact that the bicycle has had in my own life and the power it can hold for others. I really look forward to having that opportunity in the future too.

In the last few years I haven’t experienced all of the success that I’d hoped for and so I will use this new step to draw from some of the simple factors that saw me achieve those results, as I know that I’m capable again of similar success.

At this point in my career Team Qhubeka ASSOS is the perfect place for me to do so and I’m very grateful for the opportunity that they’ve provided me with to contribute to their legacy and to build on that fantastic work that they’ve done in the past. 

Julian Alaphilippe wins the Vélo d’Or Français for the second year in a row

Here's the announcement from Alaphilippe's Deceuninck-Quick Step team:

The Vélo d’Or Français trophy is a well-deserved reward for Julian Alaphilippe, who in the month of September became first Frenchman in 23 years to triumph at the World Road Race Championships. A pre-race favourite in Imola, Alaphilippe attacked from an elite group with 13 kilometers to go just as the gradient was beginning to bite on the toughest climb of the race, dispatched all his opponents and soloed to a career-defining victory.

Julian Alaphilippe

Julian Alaphilippe wins the World Road Championship. Sirotti photo

Apart from that memorable success, Deceuninck – Quick-Step’s rider enjoyed another solid Tour de France – claiming stage 2 in Nice after a trademark attack backed up by a powerful sprint on the Promenade des Anglais and wearing the iconic yellow jersey for three days in a row – and won Brabantse Pijl, just his second race since conquering the rainbow stripes.

“Winning the Vélo d’Or Français makes me very happy, it’s nice to see that my results didn’t go unnoticed and I was again named best French rider of the year, thus getting another trophy. This season has been a special and different one, with plenty of challenges, but I managed to achieve many of my goals and I can be satisfied with what I did, the world title I won in Italy being, of course, the cherry on the top.”

“The rainbow jersey is the most beautiful in the world and wearing it in a few races before the season ended made me realise what a huge honour it is to have it. This gives me a lot of motivation for next year. I can’t wait to be in action with my Deceuninck – Quick-Step teammates and fight for some more nice results”, added Julian Alaphilippe.

Koen de Kort discusses being Trek-Segafredo road captain

The team posted this:

He’s an organizer, motivator, and delegator dedicated to helping others win, and he would have it no other way.  Koen de Kort thrives in his role as Trek-Segafredo’s road captain. He has the mental acuity to read a race and make quick decisions in the heat of action, and a knack for slipping through tightly bunched pelotons and fighting for every inch his team leader needs to get to the front.

The road captain is a fundamental position on a cycling team. They have the ability to rally the troops and keep them focused on the goal, which can make the difference between a winning and losing team. For riders like Koen, this talent for bonding teammates together can be considered an art.

Koen de Kort

Koen de Kort checking out the cobbles before racing the 2018 Paris-Roubaix. Sirotti photo

We caught up with Captain Koen to dig deeper into his role as road captain and why he loves it so much.

TFS: What is the role of a team captain?

Koen: I guess the role is to be a bridge between the team directors, the management, and the riders, especially during the races. When split-second decisions need to be made during a race, I make them. If you don’t have a captain, decisions don’t get made. I don’t always make the right decision, but it is better to have a decision than none. So, during the race, I make a decision when needed and tell my teammates what is expected of them.

There is a crucial role for directors and team leaders before the start of the race, but then you need a captain to act during the race. A big job for the team captain is to figure out what motivates my teammates and say the right things to make sure they do what is needed. An example of a quick decision needed during the race is if the leader has a puncture, choosing which one of my teammates has to give a wheel to the leader. Or, in case of a crash, the riders have a better knowledge of what we need to do; back in the car, they may not know which rider is where. If I can see where everyone is, I can say: “Everybody waits” or “Everyone waits except for so-and-so.” These are the kind of decisions that are highly stressful.

TFS:  How did you become a team captain?

Koen: When you win races as a youth, you have to be a leader to even make it to the professionals. When I turned professional, it was quite a big step, and I started helping my teammates. It turned out my teammates were really happy with the help I was giving them. Bigger named riders wanted me to race with them; they wanted me by their side. I grew into the role. I enjoy it. It’s what I’m good at. It’s not what you envision when you turn pro: helping others win. I actually think I’m better at helping others win than winning myself.

You have to understand people and have some good management skills. You often need to tell riders to do something they don’t want to do, which will cost them their own result. I lead by example; I will always try to be the one working the hardest for the team. Then, I feel like I can ask other riders to do the same thing.

TFS:  Is there a team captain, past or present, that you admire?

Koen: Well, I think I really got into this role when I started out doing some lead-outs for sprinters. The team would tell me I have to stay with one rider, help them out. On my previous team, I looked up to Roy Curvers. I think I really learned a lot from him. It’s not as glamorous as being Fabian Cancellara or Alberto Contador. But it’s an important job. The public may not know who you are, but it’s very nice when the leaders appreciate what you do. I remember Contador saying to me, “Thank you very much; I got that result because of you and would not have been able to do it without you.” It means I’m doing my job very well to be respected by the leaders. That’s most important for me.

I did the lead-outs for Marcel [Kittel] and John Degenkolb. Sometimes it was really juggling between Marcel or John. How can we work out that both riders are happy, and both get their chances? You want to make sure you don’t get two groups within the team where half is for Marcel and half for John. Roy was really good at that. We would always keep chatting together, always be at the dinner table talking for a long time. Even after dinner finished, the team would still be there. We had a really good team feeling, and he was a major driver behind that.

I signed with Trek because I saw that same feeling there. You see what other teams are doing at the dinner table, and Trek was really doing a great job. I wanted to help continue that atmosphere. You don’t want guys with headphones on at dinner or finishing before someone else gets there. In the bus is something else, but dinner is a time to chat about how the day went and what is coming up next.

TFS: How does your role as road captain continue post-race?

Koen: I just always make sure that with the guys who are in the race that I’m staying in constant contact with them after the race. For example, if something happens during the race, a crash or puncture, and a guy has to give his wheel to a teammate, he might have been hoping to do a lot more in that race. It is an anticlimax for him, even though the job he did was really important.

I will make a point of going to see that rider in his room or call him or talk to him at dinner. I will tell him how important that was, how much it was appreciated by everyone. When things like that need to be done, no one wants to give his wheel. Your race is over. You throw away your chances so that your teammate still has them. It’s not fun, but it’s important, and I try to make sure a rider knows this.

TFS: What are substantial differences between supporting a Grand Tour leader during three weeks of racing and a sprinter who aims for success in the stages?

Koen: It really depends on the team’s tactics for the Grand Tour. When you’re going into it with a GC rider, it’s my job to stay with the leader for the whole Grand Tour. I need to make sure he always has enough riders surrounding him, has enough bottles, enough food. I need to make sure he never loses any unnecessary energy because at the end of three weeks, a little bit of energy saved can make a huge difference.

Going into a Grand Tour to win stages with a sprinter is entirely different. It’s about pumping your team up to be ready for when the chances emerge during the race. We have to stick together and make the time limit when there’s a mountain stage. It’s a lot more ‘on and off’ than if you are supporting a GC leader. You need to be there for a GC leader every single moment of the race.

TFS: What does it mean to be a road captain for a leader who has a good chance to win a Grand Tour?

Koen: That is super exciting. I’ve never been part of a GT winning team, though I’ve come close a few times. Every day it’s very important to make sure that you don’t lose any time and save as much energy as possible. If your guy is in the leader jersey all the time, it will be stressful in the last couple of stages. My job might be even more critical. There will be a lot of stress on the team as we get closer to the end goal. Fingers crossed, as well! Assuming we are leading or close, the pressure will build up.

For me, I need a little stress to function properly. In a race where nothing is required of me, it’s hard for me to be motivated. I felt the same studying in school. If there’s no stress for time, I am not at my best. I feel this way in races: if I put extra pressure on myself, I get the maximum out of myself. I’ll be excited to race.

TFS: Often, the image of a road captain is that of a bodyguard who must jostle in the middle of the peloton so that the leader doesn’t take risks. Is that a correct image?

Koen: That’s part of what I do as well, for sure. My role is to stay close to the leader – I need to be close to them. When we’re going into a descent or a bunch sprint, I need to make sure there is enough space for the leader behind me. So yeah, it’s a bodyguard thing: I go a little wider into a corner so the leader can stay safe and stay behind me. It’s like I’m driving a trailer with precious cargo.

TFS: Vincenzo Nibali is considered a great leader. How do you find working with Vincenzo?

Koen: I haven’t done too many races with Vincenzo yet. My impression so far is that he is a lot more relaxed than most leaders I’ve worked with. Normally, I’m with the leader as we roll through kilometers zero, and I make sure everything is okay until I get dropped, and my job is done, or we pass the finish line. I rode with him in Volta ao Algarve, and he said to me: “Just come and get me at 50kms to go.” I said, “But it is my job to stay with you.” He said, “No, no, it’s fine. No problem.” I was like, really?

Typically, climbers aren’t the best bike handlers. I’m pretty used to making some space on the descents. But all of a sudden, Vincenzo came underneath me in a corner, going faster than me on the descent. He’s a really good bike handler. That means it will be easier to do my job; he will follow me through the bunch a little bit easier. I’ll get used to it. And having a leader that doesn’t seem to be too stressed on the outside calms the team down.

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