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Bicycle Racing News and Opinion
Thursday, April 16, 2015

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Today's Racing

Today's race is the French one-day competition Grand Prix de Denain. It is held around the city of Denain, near Valenciennes and very close to the Belgian border.

De Brabantse Pijl Reports

Wednesday the 15th was the Belgian semi-classic De Brabantse Pijl, or La Flèche Brabançonne if you prefer the title in French. For simplicity's sake and laziness - I don't have to bother with diacriticals - I'll use the Flemish name. The winner was Ben Hermans of BMC.

BMC sent this report:

Overijse, Belgium - Ben Hermans soloed to his first victory for the BMC Racing Team Wednesday at De Brabantse Pijl as teammate and defending champion Philippe Gilbert finished third.

Hermans attacked fellow breakaway companion David Tanner (IAM Cycling) with less than four kilometers remaining in the 205.4-km race. With runner-up Michael Matthews (ORICA-GreenEDGE) furiously leading the chase, Hermans still had enough time to thrust both arms in the air to celebrate the team's sixth victory of the season and his first win since 2011.

"I was very scared," Hermans said. "You don't have too many possibilities to win the race in this way, especially if you are not explosive and don't have the sprint like Philippe. I was in a good position there and I had to push all the watts I had. Luckily it was enough."

Ben Hermans wins the 2015 Brabantse Pijl

Ben Hermans wins the 2015 Brabantse Pijl

As Matthews finished runner-up for the second straight year, Gilbert was smiling broadly as he stood on the podium with his teammate after earning his second third-place result of the year. "I told Ben he deserves this," Gilbert said. "He is always working for the team. When you have someone like this and they win, it is always nice."

Hermans and Tanner had been away since attacking with 33 km to go after the last two riders from the day's breakaway were hauled in. The leading pair's advantage see-sawed: from 20 seconds with 30 km to go, down to 14 seconds with 20 km to go and back up to 18 seconds with 10 km to go. It peaked at 33 seconds with 5 km left.

"I think the race was pretty hard in the beginning, but I was going good in the wheels and saving energy," Hermans said. "I have done this race several times and suffered more in the beginning, so I knew I was good. I also told Philippe that if I have to go in a counter attack, you need to tell me - or if I have to make the race hard. Luckily, it turned out good. Everything was in the right place for me to win the race."

Hermans' victory was his first since joining the BMC Racing Team last year and the third of his professional career. It is his first win since capturing Trofeo Inca in February of 2011, with his other victory coming in a stage of the Tour of Belgium in 2010.

BMC Racing Team Sport Director Max Sciandri said he was pleased to see a well-executed plan come together as a result of solid teamwork. Joining Gilbert and Hermans on the squad were Damiano Caruso, Silvan Dillier, Campbell Flakemore, Amaël Moinard, Manuel Senni and Dylan Teuns.

"It is a little bit like last year - settling into the second part of the classics with a good victory," Sciandri said. "And we had good teamwork. It was something we saw in a great way today. Having Philippe behind really helped Ben to be able to stay there. The plan was to make it hard. I had Damiano and Ben on the last lap-and-a-half or two laps really open the race up because for us, the harder the race, the better. It worked out well."

Cult Energy sent this Brabantse Pijl news:

Cult Energy Pro Cycling today participated in the hilly and 206 kilometer long Belgian one-day race, Brabantse Pjil and the Danish team targeted a good result with Rasmus Guldhammer after Alex Kirsch spent some time in the breakaway.

A morning breakaway including Cult Energy Pro Cycling's Alex Kirsch dominated the first part of the race but the remains of the escapees were already swept up with 40 kilometers to go and the neutralization prompted a series of new attacks from the bunch. The peloton kept dropping riders on the endless climbs but ultimately Ben Hermans (BMC) and David Tanner (IAM Cycling) managed to create a promising gap of 40 seconds with 6 kilometers to go.

On the penultimate climb, Philippe Gilbert (BMC) launched a stinging attack, which forced the other favorites to respond. Cult Energy Pro Cycling Dane, Rasmus Guldhammer was well-protected throughout the finale by Linus Gerdemann and he managed to follow the Belgian BMC-rider with a select chase group. Going under the red kite, Hermans maintained the gap dropping Tanner and even though the chasers opened the sprint with 200 meters to go, no one was able to catch him. Guldhammer finished  13th in the select chase group.

Rasmus Guldhammer

Rasmus Guldhammer

DS, Michael Skelde comments: "I think the boys did a good job. Our plan was to participate in the breakaway from the start of the race and to protect Rasmus before the finale and I think everything went according to plan. Rasmus is probably in the best shape ever and really motivated, which I think today's race strongly indicates It's not a win but I'm content about the way we executed the plan and it's only a matter of time before we get that win."

Rasmus Guldhammer didn't feel too well: "My legs felt quite bad today and it was a really tough race due to the terrain, the weather and the way it unfolded. But I think in time I'll realise that it was a good result during the circumstances even though I didn't pull a top-10. When Gilbert made his move, I couldn't respond directly but I made my way back on the final descent before the uphill finish where I was simply empty. Now, I need to recover as fast as possible and to start focusing on Sunday's Amstel Gold Race."

And Lotto-Soudal had this to say about, OK, Flèche Brabançonne:

The peloton started the Flèche Brabançonne with a high pace. After almost two hours three riders got ahead. Lotto Soudal rider Thomas De Gendt was accompanied by Anthony Delaplace and Alex Kirsch. De Gendt obviously was the strongest in the breakaway. In the first of three laps of 23.4 kilometres with five hills he set the tempo on the Hagaard climb and Kirsch got dropped. Orica – GreenEdge led the peloton and with 39 kilometres to go it was over for De Gendt and Delaplace as well.

A few kilometres further Louis Vervaeke came to the front when he countered an attack of Tim De Troyer. Three others joined them. Soon Ben Hermans accelerated and David Tanner jumped along, so there were two leaders in the race. On the last ascent of the IJskelderlaan Hermans left Tanner behind. It was close, the chase group with Tony Gallopin finished at only two seconds of winner Hermans. Michael Matthews sprinted to the second place, ahead of Philippe Gilbert. Tony Gallopin was fourth today.

Tony Gallopin: “The situation this year is different than last season, when I had taken part in some Flemish classics. Now I specifically prepared for the Ardennes classics. After Milan-Sanremo I took some rest, then I went on a training camp and last week I participated in the Vuelta al País Vasco. The legs felt good today. I tried a few times to escape from the chase group, but I didn’t succeed. I had the feeling Matthews shadowed me. The fourth place isn’t what I had hoped for, but it proves that my shapes is fine and it gives me confidence for the Ardennes races.”

Tony Gallopin

Tony Gallopin wins stage four of the 2015 Etoile de Besseges

Thomas De Gendt: “It was not very fun today. It took a while before a front group was formed, we had to fight eighty kilometres long. When I jumped away I hoped to get several riders with me, it stopped after two. Then you know it won’t be easy, although we worked together pretty well. We didn’t get much more than four minutes lead. The good thing was the team didn’t have to work in the peloton, that’s why my attack was useful after all.”

Amstel Gold is Sunday

The World Tour ranked Amstel Gold Race is Sunday. We've got complete results posted for every edition of this important Dutch race. A couple of teams have sent news about their plans.

This from Tinkoff-Saxo:

Tinkoff-Saxo swaps cobbles for climbs, as the team takes on Amstel Gold Race, the first of three Ardennes Classics, notorious for its 34 steep bergs and over 4,000 altitude meters along the 258km, obstacle-laden route in Limburg. Michael Valgren and Roman Kreuziger lead Tinkoff-Saxo in a challenging attempt to repeat the team victory from 2013.

Heading into the Dutch World Tour classic, Tinkoff-Saxo’s sports director Sean Yates elaborates on the team ambitions: “We are going to Amstel with a good lineup. We aim to be active, show the team colors and initiate our race strategy and then we’ll see how it materializes during the race, where you constantly have to be on your toes. We have Kreuziger, who is a previous winner, however he’s primarily targeting Liège-Bastogne-Liège. But the guy I actually think the race suits the most is Michael Valgren. So it will be a big occasion for him to step up”, says Sean Yates.

Tinkoff-Saxo’s lineup for Amstel Gold Race is Roman Kreuziger, Michael Valgren, Manuele Boaro, Ivan Rovny, Jesper Hansen, Evgeny Petrov, Robert Kiserlovski and Chris Anker Sørensen.

Roman Kreuziger

Roman Kreuziger will be at the Amstel Gold Race

“We will naturally be ready for a move like when Roman won in 2013, but the decisive moment is the last time up Cauberg, where Valgren has the capacity to go hard for a short while and that’s what it’s all about in Amstel combined with a constant awareness of positioning in the pack. For Valgren, maybe this years is a bit too early against the likes of Rodriguez and Gilbert but he has power and he will receive support from the rest of the guys, who will make sure that him and Roman conserve as much energy as possible”, adds Sean Yates.

The young Danish champion Michael Valgren has proved capable in the undulating terrain of the Ardennes winning the U23-edition of Liège-Bastogne-Liège twice. But he notes that the shorter climbs of Amstel Gold Race might suit him better, if he can find the race rhythm on the tricky parcours.

“It’s a race that I indeed look forward to. I rode it last year and it’s a very cool race, if you ask me. I think I can do a good result if I hit the day and I have a role on the team where I can try. Then I just hope that the legs are where they should be. Amstel suits me well, as I might have to drop a few kilos to be really competitive on the longer climbs of Liége. However, in Amstel you don’t get a single chance to relax and it can even be a fight to get something to eat”, comments Michael Valgren, who adds that refueling is essential on the 258km route from Maastricht to Valkenburg: “You constantly have to be at the front going into the climbs, and since you face a new climb almost constantly, you have to plan and concentrate. If you have the legs but don’t refuel, you will fall short of energy before the finale”.

Amstel Gold Race is renowned and dreaded for its obstacle-filled race route, where road furniture and traffic calming measures require constant attention, as the teams and favorites fight to enter the 34 climbs like Gulpenerberg, Eyserbosweg and Cauberg in front. According to Sean Yates, it’s simply not just about the legs.

“It’s a race that goes a long way back, it has a good setup and atmosphere and the Dutch really like their cycling. However, they also really like their road furniture and the area around Valkenburg is known for this. The parcours is full of obstacles, which also shapes the spirit of the race, but one mistake and the race can be over”, explains Sean Yates.

“We simply need to be on our toes, as it’s not just a matter of having the legs. We got to focus on positioning the team at the bottom of every climb and save energy for the final burst in the finale. We are here to do our best and perform but we have to be realistic, however, it’s time for many of our riders to step up”.

Race Preview:

And this is Orica-GreenEdge's Amstel Gold news:

ORICA-GreenEDGE will kick off their Ardennes Classics campaign at the Amstel Gold Race on Sunday, supporting 2015 Paris-Nice stage winner Michael Matthews in the first of three good opportunities for the Australian team.

After achieving their best result in history at a cobbled classic at the Paris Roubaix last weekend, a sixth place courtesy of Jens Keukeleire, the outfit are looking forward to a period of racing that has traditionally been a successful one.

“The Ardennes has been a really good hunting ground for us since our inception,” sport director Matt White said. “We are confident Michael will be very competitive for us again on Sunday. It’s a course that suits his characteristics, we have a really strong team to support him and he has shown good form with some early season wins.”

ORICA-GreenEDGE has twice podiumed at the Amstel Gold Race courtesy of 2014 Liege-Bastogne-Liege winner Simon Gerrans. The 34-year-old has finished third on three occasions at the opening Ardennes Classic, including in the past two editions for the Australian team.

Simon Gerrans

Simon Gerrans

Gerrans has recently completed his first block of racing for 2015 in Spain and, as the next step in preparation for his targets ahead, will be a crucial support for Matthews alongside fellow 2013 Tour de France yellow jersey wearer Daryl Impey and three-time 2014 Tour de Romandie stage winner Michael Albasini.

The experience of Mathew Hayman and climbing abilities of 2012 Vuelta a Espana king of the mountains Simon Clarke, multiple Giro d’Italia stage winner Pieter Weening and Canadian workhorse Christian Meier will also boost Matthews in the 251km race that features 4000m of climbing courtesy of 35 ascents.

“Amstel Gold Race is like the Tour of Flanders with no pavé,” White explains. “There are a number of crucial sections, it’s a very nervous, technical race, narrow roads and a lot of turning and changing of direction. There is only one part of Holland that is hilly and the Amstel Gold Race certainly covers it. Positioning is crucial and we are lucky enough to have a couple of locals in Weening and Hayman.

“For us as well, we have taken this core Classics group up to the Ardennes for the last three years so they are attuned to the demands of the race, these guys work seamlessly together and it makes a huge difference."

White identifies the final climb, which has seen the race won in recent years by solo or duo moves, as crucial. “The Cauberg, which is the last climb of the day takes you to just outside the final kilometre of the race, is one where the race is certainly lost,” White said.

“The wind when you get to the top will usually have an effect on the finish of the race. If it’s a tail wind, the attacks of the favourites can stick. But if it’s a block head wind, usually a bigger group can come back together.

“The usual favourites are Dan Martin, Joaquim Rodriguez, Alejandro Valverde, Michal Kwiatowski and three-time winner Philippe Gilbert. They are the guys who I see will play it out on that last climb.”

ORICA-GreenEDGE at Amstel Gold Race (Sunday, 19 April): Michael Albasini, Simon Clarke, Simon Gerrans, Mathew Hayman, Daryl Impey, Michael Matthews, Christian Meier, Pieter Weening


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