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Bicycle Racing News and Opinion,
Sunday, February 26, 2023

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UAE Tour stage six reports

We posted the report from stage winner Tim Merlier's Team Soudal-Quick-Step with the results.

Here's the report from second-place Sam Bennett's Team Bora-hansgrohe:

The last chance for the fast men came today on the 166km course that took the riders to the familiar finish at Abu Dhabi Breakwater. The breakaway trio had no chance on the parcours that was tailored to the sprinters, and with 10km remaining, the jostling for position among the sprinter teams began. On the finishing straight, Sam Bennett found a gap on the left-hand side of the road, latched onto Tim Merlier's rear wheel, but was ultimately unable to overtake the Belgian, and took second place.

Tim Merlier was a bit faster than Sam Bennett.

"The sprints today and yesterday were pretty hectic. There's tough competition in this race among the different sprint leadouts, but the guys did a fantastic job on both days, and we arrived at the finale in the perfect position. Unfortunately there are so many sprinters competing for the win here, and some guys take a risk and go early and ultimately get the reward. It's hard to respond to so many sprinters in the fast finishes. But we'll be back up and running in the next bunch sprint in the next races." - Sam Bennett

"Of course we wanted to take the win today and there was  potential to achieve more. We may have waited a second too long. We knew in advance that there would be a headwind on the finishing straight, which would make the sprint more difficult. But Merlier was simply faster today. The legs were there, but we have to try to do better next time. Tomorrow there's a mountain finish and Ben and Emu are very motivated for the last stage. On the first few days we had temperatures around 22 degrees, but today it was very hot, at about 37 degrees and we hope it will be more comfortable tomorrow." - Bernhard Eisel, Sports Director

And here's the UAE Tour report from fourth-place Olav Kooij's Team Jumbo-Visma:

Olav Kooij finished just off the podium in the sixth stage of the UAE Tour. The 21-year-old Jumbo-Visma sprinter started his sprint a little too late in Abu Dhabi and had to beat Tim Merlier, Sam Bennett and Dylan Groenewegen on the line.

The stage starts from Warner Bros. World.

The penultimate stage of the multi-day stage race in the Middle East was once again one for the sprinters. Three riders attacked early in the race, but the maximum four-minute gap remained out of reach. This was partly due to Team Jumbo-Visma setting the pace in the peloton.

The yellow and black brigade put Kooij well in front in the final, then it was up to the young Dutchman to choose position. He chose Sam Bennett's wheel, but from this position, he came too late for the sprint. "Olav rode a good sprint, but he was a bit too far away", sports director Maarten Wynants said.

After finishing fourth, second and ninth, Kooij had to settle for fourth today. Performances that Kooij can take confidence from, said Wynants. "He participated in every sprint. There were 20 sprinters at the start, and some of them didn’t even get involved in the sprints at all. That demonstrates how challenging it is to perform well here."

The UAE Tour's concluding stage is scheduled for tomorrow. The stage to Jebel Hafeet is important for the GC riders, said Wynants. "Sepp and Tom are feeling good. If they have a good day, it should result in a good classification", said the Belgian, anticipating a challenging final climb. "UAE will attack early since they need to catch up on Remco Evenepoel by a minute. To follow for as long as possible is crucial to us."

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Omloop Het Nieuwsblad reports

We posted the organizer's report with the results.

Here's the report from race winner Dylan van Baarle's Team Jumbo-Visma:

Dylan van Baarle has won the 78th edition of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad in style. The 30-year-old Dutchman took his first victory for Team Jumbo-Visma after a tour de force in his season opener.

Dylan van Baarle has plenty of time to sit up and enjoy his victory.

Team Jumbo-Visma started with a well-thought-out plan. This became clear to the riders of other teams about a hundred kilometres before the finish. Even though the steepest hills and most challenging cobblestone sections were yet to come, the Dutch formation caused a stir among the peloton. Fourteen riders were able to form a breakaway group as the pace picked up and the peloton began to show signs of cracks. Among them were Tiesj Benoot, Christophe Laporte, Tim van Dijke, Jan Tratnik, Nathan Van Hooydonck and Van Baarle.

Tratnik and Van Hooydonck held out for a long time, riding in a strong group between the peloton and a seven-man breakaway. This put the Jumbo-Visma team in control of the race and forced the competition to chase. Van Baarle made his move after Van Hooydonck and Laporte’s hard work in the front. He quickly moved up to the group in front.

On the Muur van Geraardsbergen, the winner of Paris-Roubaix, also left the last of his escape companions behind. The competition tried to catch Van Baarle, but their efforts were unsuccessful. With a clear advantage, he crossed the line in the streets of Ninove. A few dozen seconds later, Laporte crossed the line in third.

"I can hardly find the words to describe this beautiful victory", Van Baarle stammered. "It was a great first race. We worked hard last winter. It's all paid off. We planned to make the race hard from the start, and we all did that perfectly. With forty kilometers left, I rode away from the peloton entirely out of instinct. The team told me to follow my instincts. That is what I did."

"Of course, winning Paris-Roubaix was fantastic, but I can promise you that this victory also ranks high on my list of honours."

Van Baarle analysed the race from the moment he attacked. "We had some strong guys in front. I was hoping that they would stay in front longer so that we could work together. But soon, I noticed that I was the only one left with something in the tank. Then I thought it would be good to get rid of those guys. That put Christophe and Tiesj, among others, in an even better situation. After that, it was full speed ahead. I had no clue about any time differences. In the last kilometre, I looked back and knew it was OK. Then I could start to enjoy."

Benoot also praised the strong teamwork. "We planned for the race to explode early on. I have never seen a plan executed so perfectly. After we got away with six riders, we didn't want the race to stall. Jan and Nathan created an extraordinary situation that allowed us to get into the peloton. We showed today that we can win this kind of race with several riders. Maybe we were the favourites, but it is so hard to live up to expectations. We deserved it. I am very proud of the team. We are a close-knit team. That unity comes from working together towards the same goals for a long time. We have made an excellent start to the spring season, and we will do our best to make the most of it."

Here's the report from second-place Arnaud De Lie's Team Lotto Dstny:

Lotto Dstny rider Arnaud De Lie finished on the podium at his Omloop Het Nieuwsblad debut. The 20-year-old Belgian sprinted to second place behind Dylan Van Baarle, who soloed to the victory. De Lie made a strong impression in the race and thanks to a strong ascent of the Muur, he could join a four-rider chase also including Laporte, Mohoric and Wellens. The Dutchman Van Baarle stayed ahead and with the uphill finish in sight, a reduced bunch also came back. But with a powerful kick, De Lie still sprinted to a second place in his first Omloop.

Arnaud De Lie (on left) gets second.

“I am really happy with this second place in the Omloop, I really had a great day. I can’t be disappointed with my first WorldTour podium, at the age of 20. Last year, I was still watching this race on television, to be up there on the Muur at the very front, is just incredible”, says Arnaud De Lie.

It didn’t look great for De Lie at fifty kilometres from the finish, when he crashed in one of the many corners on the course.

“It was a constant battle for the best position, I took the turn a bit too wide and hit the deck. But I remained calm and could also count on my strong teammates to bring me back to the bunch. That way, I could begin the Molenberg in really good position. On the Muur, it was all about the power and I could bridge towards the duo Wellens – Mohoric. To be climbing such an iconic hill like the Muur at the very front gave me goosebumps. Van Baarle was really strong and at the end, I gave it my all to finish second, I didn’t want to give that podium place away. I was obliged to do so towards my teammates, who really did a strong race today”, concluded Arnaud De Lie.


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Here's the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad report from Team Groupama-FDJ:

The cobblestone Classics campaign has started! And in the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, the traditional opening event of the season in Flanders, the team Groupama-FDJ showed some promise on Saturday. Aggressive in the final part of the race, Stefan Küng and his teammates only missed a great result to conclude their efforts. Behind solo winner Dylan van Baarle, Jake Stewart took seventeenth place in a reduced bunch. A slightly modified group will aim to do better on Sunday on Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne.

Jake Stewart (left) was second in 2021. Here he's with 2021 winner Davide Ballerini and third-place Sep Vanmarcke. Sirotti photo

The sweet atmosphere of the Flemish Classics was back on Saturday in Ghent. First Belgian event of the season, first cobbled race, first major Classic, the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad was surely much anticipated. Thirteen bergs and nine cobblestone sectors were on the menu for this 2023 edition, with the “Muur” as a probable decisive point of the race.

Seven men wanted to pave the way before the rest on this first Classic: Louis Blouwe (Bingoal WB), Alex Colman, Gilles de Wilde (Flanders-Baloise), Adam De Vos (Human Powered Health), Mathis Le Berre (Arkéa- Samsic), Mathias Norsgaard (Movistar) and Jelle Wallays (Cofidis). The peloton also gave them quite some space during the first two hours, as their lead even reached eight minutes. “The start was rather calm”, confirmed Frédéric Guesdon. “Jumbo-Visma wanted to pull but no one wanted to help them and so the pace was very slow”.

The action eventually resumed in quite a spectacular way as the halfway mark approached. “After 90k, we tackled a long, exposed cobbled portion, and with the side wind, the bunch split up”, said Frédéric. “A group of twenty broke away, it was then reduced to six guys, but that forced other teams to pull. We were not in this group. We weren’t careful enough and we had a tough start-up. The race was on anyway, we had to find to catch our breath, which the guys did”.

Everything finally came back together about sixty kilometres from the finish when the chasing group was caught by the peloton. Another race started soon after, and Stefan Küng got into the fight for the first time in the Molenberg. The peloton broke up, and a few minutes later, Dylan van Baarle (Jumbo-Visma) took advantage of a speed drop at the head of the bunch to attack with Mathis Le Berre (Arkéa-Samsic), Jonathan Milan (Bahrain-Victorious) and Florian Vermeersch (Lotto-Dstny). The four riders took a gap, then Kevin Geniets chased them with Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo). The Luxembourger remained in-between groups for ten kilometres but wasn’t able to jump across.

The peloton then reorganized ahead of the “Muur”, where Van Baarle went alone in the lead, while Stefan Küng tried to bridge across together with the best. At the top, however, the Swiss found himself alone behind a four-man chasing group. “We were active, but our timing wasn’t the best”, explained Frédéric. “Kevin could have followed Van Baarle, but he went a bit too late. In the Muur of Geraardsbergen, Stefan just came up short. He didn’t miss much to be with the four chasers of Van Baarle, but it made a big difference”.

Isolated in-between, the Swiss rider kept on pushing for a few kilometres before a small peloton joined him in the Bosberg, the last climb of the day. Kevin Geniets tried to attack again at the top with his Swiss mate, but the two men could not break away. From then on, they pulled for Jake Stewart, who was still present in the small peloton.

“We chased to go for second place,” explained Frédéric. At the very last moment, the pack caught with the chasing group, but the Briton had to settle for seventeenth on the line. “He had quite heavy legs and the sprint was not easy on an uphill false flat,” added Frédéric. “The result is the day’s regret. We would have hoped for better, but the positive point is that we were right up there as a team. It’s a decent start, but we have to improve for the future. It wasn’t bad, but we lacked a little something and we can see it in the results”. “It was a correct start with three guys in the final group,” Kevin Geniets briefly added.

The second act of the Opening weekend should allow the sprinters to show themselves on Sunday in Kuurne. “Paul and Miles join the group”, concluded Frédéric. “We have a card for the final sprint, but we must always be careful, and some riders will be able to follow the moves if necessary”.

And here's the report from Tom Pidcock's Team INEOS Grenadiers:

Tom Pidcock sprinted to fifth place at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad as the Opening Weekend of the Classics kicked off.

The Brit was able to launch a strong sprint in Ninove, coming around a number of riders in the final metres to claim sixth. Also in the group was Magnus Sheffield (22nd), who worked hard following the Bosberg to help close the gap to a small group of breakaway riders.

Up front there was no stopping former Grenadier Dylan van Baarle (Jumbo-Visma), who won solo after a long-range attack.

Pidcock had hit the front with 28 kilometres to go to pushing things onwards and again rose through the pack on the famous Muur ascent.

Earlier in the race Connor Swift went off the front as part of a strong six-man move featuring a number of top teams. His presence was a big tactical help but the move was ultimately reeled in with 66km to go.

The race got off to a tough start for the team after Ben Turner was forced to abandon following a crash. The Brit was checked in hospital, with scans revealing a fractured elbow.

After the race Pidcock said: “It was really difficult to actually make a difference in the end. Okay maybe I could have attacked but for sure a Jumbo guy could have followed me. It was a tricky race to play out.”


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Faun-Ardèche Classic reports

We posted the report from winner Julian Alaphilippe's Team Soudal-Quick-Step with the results.

Here's the report from Team Bora-hansgrohe:

In France today a breakaway went clear from the bunch right on the uphill start and later two riders were leading the race for most of the day. Still, with 30km remaining all was back together and on the penultimate climb the race exploded. When Alaphilippe attacked only Gaudu was able to follow while Sergio Higuita was part of a first chasing group.

Just before the last climb of the day also Cian Uijtdebroeks was able to join this group and the young Belgian finished 16th in the end. In the front Julian Alaphilippe took the sprint to win the Drome Ardèche Classic.

Julian Alaphilippe was the winner. Sirotti photo

“Well, it was for sure not our best day, but we also had some bad luck in the decisive moment. On the penultimate climb a rider crashed uphill and all our guys had to stop. Actually, that forced the split and only Sergio was able to bridge across to the chasing group. Cian was a little further back but joined Sergio just before the last climb. He could stay with the group while Sergio had to pay for his effort earlier. In the end we only had Cian in the chasing group, and this is of course not what we expected today.” – Rolf Aldag, Sports Director

 

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