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Bicycle Racing News and Opinion
Wednesday, April 8, 2015

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Today's Racing

Three races today. First two ongoing stage races, the Spanish World Tour Vuelta Ciclista al Pais Vasco (Tour of the Basque Country), and in France the 2.1 ranked Circuit Cycliste Sarthe-Pays de la Loire.

In Belgium, the 103rd edition of the HC single-day Scheldeprijs is being run.

Speaking of the Scheldeprijs, the teams filled my mailbox with their plans for the important Belgian race.

Scheldeprijs Team News

This from LottoNL-Jumbo:

Team LottoNL-Jumbo, ready for a bunch kick, will start Wednesday’s Scheldeprijs with three fast men.

“The Scheldeprijs traditionally ends with a large group sprint,” said Sports Director Merijn Zeeman. “With Tom Van Asbroeck, Moreno Hofland and Barry Markus, we’ve selected three quick riders.”

Moreno Hofland

Moreno Hofland in the 2014 Tour of Romandie

Van Asbroeck and Hofland are returning to the peloton after an injury and illness.

“We’ll see who feels best during the race and after that, we’ll determine the best plan. We’ll do anything to help one of those three men get the best possible result.

“It is clear that we are not the top favourites, but all three of our sprinters are great talents and with a strong battle plan, a good result is possible.”

Barry Markus is full of confidence. “I feel that I’m in a good shape, Dwars door Drenthe and Nokere Koerse went pretty well,” the modest Dutchman said, referring to his second and seventh place.

“It’s always a hard mission to start the sprint in Scheldeprijs in good position, but Moreno, Tom and myself all know how to position ourselves properly.”

The Scheldeprijs serves as “important” Paris-Roubaix preparation for Sep Vanmarcke and Team LottoNL-Jumbo’s other classics riders. “They will ride in support on Wednesday,” added Zeeman. “That way they can gain important race kilometres in the run-up to Paris-Roubaix.”

Zeeman will rely on Ken Vanmarcke during the 200 kilometres between Antwerp and Schoten. Sep’s older brother, who is studying to become a trainer and Sports Director, will be an intern at Team LottoNL-Jumbo for the rest of the year.

Team line-up: Tom Van Asbroeck, Rick Flens, Moreno Hofland, Barry Markus, Maarten Tjallingii, Sep Vanmarcke, Robert Wagner & Maarten Wynants.

Sports Directors: Ken Vanmarcke & Merijn Zeeman.

And here's Tinkoff-Saxo's Scheldeprijs release:

Time has come for the powerful men of cycling to take on the fast and historic Scheldeprijs, with 200km of racing in Northern Flanders around the diamond capital of Antwerp. Tinkoff-Saxo is at the start on Wednesday, led by Nikolay Trusov and Michael Mørkøv looking to secure a result in the final hectic sprint.

On Wednesday, for the 103rd edition of Scheldeprijs, Tinkoff-Saxo lines up Nikolay Trusov, Michael Mørkøv, Peter Sagan, Christopher Juul-Jensen, Pavel Brutt, Maciej Bodnar and Matteo Tosatto.

PAvel Brutt

Pavel Brutt at this year's Tour Down Under

Sports Director Tristan Hoffman notes that Mørkøv and Trusov will take on a lead role in the search for a result, whilst Sagan has his eyes fixed on the cobbles of Paris-Roubaix, a mere four days later.

“We are at the start with seven riders, since Breschel went home for the birth of his second child. As with the past cobbled races, I think we have a homogenous team, only this time Nikolay and Michael will get the chance to show themselves and create a result for the team. They are both fast riders, so they will talk to each other in the race and decide, who should spearhead the sprint or try to catch the wheel of one of the favorites”, says Tristan Hoffman and adds:“Peter Sagan will ride with less responsibility, as we want to ensure that he’s ready for Paris-Roubaix on Sunday. But he’s participating, getting kilometers into the legs and supporting our race strategy. Scheldeprijs is one of the oldest races in the word, for sure in Belgium, and we want to align a strong team for this race”.

A bunch sprint decision is almost a foregone conclusion, when considering the 200km Flemish race despite a few sections of cobblestones. The near pancake flat parcours takes the riders from the center of Antwerp in a big circle around northern Flanders and back to Schoten – a suburb, 10km outside Antwerp. Here, the riders finish off by doing three 16km laps before the final hectic sprint. According to Nikolay Trusov, an ideal position in the dangerous sprint is crucial.

“The Scheldeprijs is similar to a sprint championship. It is completely flat and very fast. I don't know what wind conditions we’ll encounter but it will undoubtedly be very fast and I would say that we have a 99% chance of a fast final sprint. I know that race quite well now, I took part four times and the finale is very dangerous. It is important to position ourselves at the front and stay in the wheels of one of the big sprinters. That way, even if you aren't a pure sprinter, you can still create opportunities”, explains Nikolay Trusov before adding: “For Sagan, the main focus is on Paris-Roubaix. This is undeniably the biggest goal for him and the entire team. Scheldeprijs will be a good training race for him but we don't want to take risks. I don’t think that a lead out train will be necessary, since other teams will do it. Michael Mørkøv is a fast sprinter as well and in the least 30-40 km we will see how we feel and we will take a decision. We will work together so that one of us takes part in the final sprint”.

Race Details
Dates: 8 April
Total length: 200 kilometers
Kind:  Fast one-day race
First edition: 1907
Last year’s winner: Marcel Kittel

Lotto-Soudal on the Scheldeprijs:

This year it’s the 103rd edition of the Scheldeprijs, with start in Antwerp and finish in Schoten. The last three years Marcel Kittel dominated this Europe Tour race, the German won three times in a row. It’s not sure if it will be a bunch sprint again this year. The course is completely flat. After 150 kilometres the riders enter the first of three local laps.

Two Lotto Soudal riders that were on the original team roster won’t appear at the start, the team has only seven riders in the selection. Kris Boeckmans isn’t recovered from his illness yet and André Greipel won’t start on doctor’s advice after a tiring Tour of Flanders. Sports director Bart Leysen has to change the plans: “Of course it’s a pity that André and Kris won’t start. Both are fast and with Kittel and Cavendish not on the start list our chances had grown. Now we’ll have to change our plans.”

“Due to the absence of some sprinters it’s possible there won’t be a sprint for the victory. We have to be prepared for two scenarios. If there is a sprint, we can rely on guys like Henderson, Vallée and De Buyst. Bak, De Gendt, Dockx and Vanendert can try something in the race. The composition of the breakaways will be crucial.”

Greg Henderson

Greg Henderson will be at the Scheldeprijs.

Jasper De Buyst will ride his first road race of the season, after he took some rest after the track season.

Jasper De Buyst: “I’m looking forward to race again, especially because it’s on the road. My last road races dates back to October last year. I took sufficient rest after the track season, that was necessary. After two and a half weeks I started training again. I have been ill, but all things considered I had a good rest and training period. My condition seems to be good, but I’ll see how the legs feel in the race tomorrow. I’ll need some time to adjust to the race rhythm. The Scheldeprijs is a predictable race, with a realistic chance of a bunch sprint at the end. This is a typical race, there are not much races on the pro calendar that are so flat. It’s always a nervous race. I think it’s a beautiful race and perfect to start my road season.”

Selection Lotto Soudal: Lars Bak, Jasper De Buyst, Thomas De Gendt, Gert Dockx, Greg Henderson, Boris Vallée and Dennis Vanendert.

Sky's Scheldeprijs squad:

Team Sky has confirmed its rider line-up for Scheldeprijs: Bernhard Eisel, Andy Fenn, Salvatore Puccio, Luke Rowe, Ian Stannard, Geraint Thomas, Elia Viviani and Sir Bradley Wiggins.

Pais Vasco Team Reports

Tinkoff-Saxo sent this:

Tinkoff-Saxo tried to save as much energy as possible during the undulating stage 2 of Vuelta al País Vasco. Despite six categorized climbs, the stage ended in a bunch sprint won by Fabio Felline, with seven Tinkoff-Saxo riders, including Rafal Majka, finishing in the main pack. Majka, rebounding from illness at Volta a Catalunya, looks forward to the mountainous ordeals to come.

After the stage finish, Tinkoff-Saxo’s sports director Patxi Vila tells that the day was about saving the legs and protecting Majka in the fast downhill finale. “Early on the stage, we faced a pretty steep first category climb followed by five easier climbs. The guys stayed well positioned and we had seven of our riders finishing in the main pack. The guys did a good job in shielding Majka from the wind and making sure that he stayed safe on the last downhill section down towards the line”, says Patxi Vila, who adds that Tinkoff-Saxo’s stint at the front on the final climb was a matter of positioning:

“Poljanski with Majka on his wheel pulled at the front of the pack on the last stretch of the climb, as we knew that the descent would be fast and challenging and we wanted to make sure that we took our precautions in the case of any gaps and splits. Ultimately, it didn’t happen at the stage was decided in a sprint, where we kept off the front, since we don’t have a sprinter here”.

Rafael Majka

Rafael Majka

Stage 2 of Vuelta al País Vasco presented the riders with 175km of racing from Bilbao to Vitoria-Gasteiz. Early on the stage, what would eventually develop into a three-man break rode away from the pack in an effort to capture the day. However, over the top of the last climb, the breakaway was swallowed up and the main bunch readied itself for a fast sprint. Here, Fabio Felline (Trek Factory) secured the top spot ahead of yesterday’s winner Michael Matthews (Orica – GreenEdge).

Tinkoff-Saxo’s Rafal Majka finished the stage with a positive feeling of progress after having suffered from a stomach influenza in Volta a Catalunya.

“My shape is getting better. After my illness in Catalunya it’s a matter of getting back into shape before the Ardennes Classics and finding the rhythm. My shape is perhaps not as strong as last year at this period of the season, but for me the most important is to work hard and recover well. I have more power in the legs now than during Paris-Nice, also after I managed to get a week of recovery after Catalunya”, comments Rafal Majka, who has his eyes latched on the possibilities during the next tough stages in País Vasco.

“Today, the guys did a great job and worked hard to make sure that I wasn’t exposed to the wind. This means that I could save some energy for the stages to come. For sure, we need to do a good job and follow the best and then we will see what happens. There are also other guys on the team, who are strong. I think that Pawel Poljanski is doing well and we will try to catch a stage win or do a good result in the GC. We will see after tomorrow’s stage”, concludes Rafal Majka.

And Lampre-Merida sent me this about their day in the Basque race:

Very good performance by team Lampre-Merida in the 2nd stage of Vuelta al Pais Vasco for achieving today goal: the support to Rui Costa.

Despite the 5 KOMs (one of 1st category and 4 of 3rd category) that characterized the 175.4 km of the course from Bilbao to Vitoria, the 2nd stage of the Vuelta al Pais Vasco ended in a massive sprint that was won by Felline (Trek Factory), who preceded Matthews (leader of the overall classification).

For what concerns Lampre-Merida, Serpa and Ulissi were at the start despite the necessary dressing after the crashes that involved them in the opening stage; the other riders of the team (photo Bettini) were focused on supporting the captain Rui Costa, who succeeded in approaching all the hills in the front positions of the group and in avoiding risks in the final kilometers, when the pace of the bunch considerably raised.

Jose Serpa

José Serpa

The first blu-fuchsia-green cyclists to cross the finish line was Rui Costa, 26th, who's 18th in the overall classification (same time of the leader Matthews).

"Our target for today stage was to be in the head positions in the approaches of the climbs and in the final part of the race: we achieve our goals, thanks to the good performance by the whole team and especially thanks to Polanc, who was a perfect in supporting Rui Costa in the final kilometers", sport director Mauduit explained.

And in France there is the ongoing Circuit de la Sarthe

This From Cult Energy:

Cult Energy Pro Cycling’s Romain Lemarchand was in the long-lasting breakaway trio that threatened to take the victory ahead of the sprinters during the 188 kilometer long first stage of Circuit Sarthe from Sablé sur Sarthe to Varades. The nerve-wrecking finale was however concluded in a bunch sprint after a nail-bitingly intense chase.

Cult Energy Frenchman, Romain Lemarchand took off from the very start of the stage with two companions and they quickly worked up a solid gap in the undulating terrain. Going into the finale, the sprinter teams eventually joined forces behind and initiated an intense chase where the front riders were digging deep in their reserves to make it to the finish line. Deep enough to drop one rider from the front group but it still wasn’t enough as the herd of sprinter teams galloped past the duo on the finish line where Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) was the first across the line. Cult Energy Pro Cycling's Russell Downing finished 10th.

Russel Downing

Russel Downing

Romain Lemarchand was on the podium after the stage to receive the Fair Play jersey given to the rider animating the stage and he is now second overall behind the stage stage winner.

DS, Luke Roberts says: "Our plan was to have a rider in the break and Romain got in the mix pretty much straight from the gun and as the sprinter teams weren't able to cooperate at first, the front trio came extremely close to the victory. Five seconds would have been enough. In the sprint, we had Russell who finished tenth. With the bonus seconds Romain swept up along the way, he's now second overall. We are expecting a very tough stage on Thursday so it's still too early to say whether or not he'll hang on to the podium."

And this Sarthe news came from Tinkoff-Saxo:

Circuit de la Sarthe got off to a fast start, as stage 1 finished in a sprint decision with Nacer Bouhanni taking the win. Tinkoff-Saxo, led by Michael Valgren and Manuele Boaro, focused on saving the power for Wednesday’s dual stage, where the team is eyeing possibilities in the intensive 6.8k afternoon time trial.

After the conclusion of stage 1, Tinkoff-Saxo DS Nicki Sørensen noted that the team followed the strategy set for the 188km stage to Varades in Pays de la Loire.

“The stage evolved as we had expected. For our part it went all right. A three-man break went away at the start and the peloton allowed it to get a decent gap, before the sprinters teams started dragging it back in again. All the while, we were focusing on maintaining a good position in the bunch and saving energy for the stages to come. Our guys supported the team captains as they should, and we’re ready for the dual stage tomorrow”, says Nicki Sørensen.

Stage 1 spanning 188km from Sablé-sur-Sarthe to Varades featured rolling terrain for the duration of the stage. Going into the final sprint, the fast men lined up behind their teammates and it was ultimately Nacer Bouhanni, who proved the fastest in the final burst for the line.

Nacer Bouhanni

Nacer Bouhanni wins stage 1

Another fast 84km stage to Angers awaits the riders tomorrow morning quickly followed by a completely flat, quite technical 6.8km time trial. Here, Nicki Sørensen expects to see team captains Manuele Boaro and Michael Valgren giving it their best.

“We didn’t lose time today and most importantly our captains Boaro and Valgren got through the day while conserving energy for the TT tomorrow afternoon. They are in good shape and it will be very exciting to see what we will be able to take away from the stage. Manuele Boaro is quite a specialist in this type of time trial, so this is of course a stage, where he wants to do well”, finishes Nicki Sørensen.

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