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Bicycle Racing News and Opinion:
Monday, July 13, 2015

Back to news and opinion index page for links to archived stories | Commentary

Today's Racing

The Tour de France had a 28 km team time trial on Sunday; Monday will be a rest day. On Tueday the Tour hits the Pyrenees. Hot diggity!

The Tour of Austria (Osterreich Rundfahrt) and the Giro Rosa (Women's Tour of Italy) ended Sunday.

Next up, on the 19th, will be the Italian Trofeo Matteotti (1.1) and then on the 22nd the Grand Prix Cerami (1.1) will be run. We'll post complete results for both.

Ivan Basso has testicular cancer, leaving Tour

Ivan Basso has quit the Tour de France after being diagnosed with testicular cancer during the race. The 37-year-old Italian, who is one of Alberto Contador’s team-mates, announced the news at Tinkoff-Saxo’s rest-day press conference, just a couple of hours after finding out himself.

Basso, who won the Giro d’Italia in 2006 and 2010, complained of pain after a crash on stage five and underwent a scan on Monday morning.

Basso said: "Unfortunately I have a bad announcement. I have a small cancer in my left testicle, so you can understand that I have to go back to Italy. We discovered this just two hours ago."

Ivan Basso

Ivan Basso racing earlier this year

Contador was sitting next to Basso in the press conference and was in tears as the news was announced.

He later tweeted: “Tough day. Doctors have discovered a serious health problem to @ivanbasso. Everything will go well. See you in Paris!"

Tinkoff-Saxo sports director Steven de Jongh added: “We will try to meet Ivan in Paris with the yellow jersey."

Lance Armstrong, who also suffered from testicular cancer, tweeted: "Thinking about @ivanbasso and wishing him the very best as he embarks on his cancer journey. #IvanSTRONG!!"

Richie Porte Leaving Team Sky

This appeared on the Australia ABC site:

Australian star Richie Porte has confirmed cycling's worst-kept secret: he will leave Team Sky at the end of the year. Porte is in the final year of his contract with the British super team and talk has been rife the 30-year-old Tasmanian is looking to pursue his dreams of Grand Tour success elsewhere.

He finally laid his cards on the table on Monday morning following the Tour de France's 28km team time trial from Vannes to Plumelec. "I think it's the worst-kept secret in the world," Porte told SBS after the ninth stage, won by BMC.

"I've got to take my own opportunities."

After four years at Sky, Porte is as one of the biggest names in this year's transfer market and has been linked to BMC. Etixx-QuickStep have also reportedly shown interest and Orica-GreenEDGE are on the lookout for a general classification rider.

Richie Porte

Richie Porte at the pre-Tour de France press conference.

He is in Sky's team for the Tour but as a key domestique for his good friend Chris Froome, who has tightened his grip on the yellow jersey heading into the second week. Porte acknowledged he would have much more opportunity to lead a Grand Tour outfit elsewhere. "I've won Paris-Nice and Catalunya this year, and had my big opportunity in the Giro, which didn't quite got to plan," he said.

"But I'm ready, I'm in the prime of my career now the next few years, so I need to go and lead a team."

Porte has proven himself at Sky in the Tour de France as a domestique, or helper. He played crucial roles when Brad Wiggins won the 2012 Tour and Froome took the title the following year. Two months ago, Porte led Sky at the Giro d'Italia after starting the season with outstanding form.

But after a strong start to the Italian classic, Porte's race fell apart following a controversial two-minute penalty for accepting a replacement wheel from compatriot and GreenEDGE rider Simon Clarke. Porte eventually abandoned the race because of injuries from a crash.

Eritrean cyclists making history

I get great joy posting good racing results for the small cohort of Eritrean racers competing at the highest levels of the professional sport. I felt a genuine thrill when Daniel Teklehaimanot became the first black African to wear the Tour de France's coveted polka-dot jersey for being the best climber. Let's hope, in the word's of Steve Allen's song from the 50s (there, I've gone and dated myself again), this could be the the start of something big.

Daniel Teklehaimanot

Daniel Teklehaimanot on the Tour de France's podium

The Washington Post took notice. Here's part of their story in the Sunday, July 12, edition:

Eritrea isn't a big place. The East African country has a population of 6 million or so. Recently it has come under some serious international criticism: A damning report released by the United Nations last month suggested that the country's one-party government might be guilty of crimes against humanity. While the government disputes the findings, the huge numbers of migrants risking their lives to escape the nation contribute to a poor international reputation for life in Eritrea.

This week, however, even Eritreans critical of the government may be feeling a sense of pride in their nation. Eritrean cyclists Merhawi Kudus and Daniel Teklehaimanot have made history by becoming the first black Africans to compete in the Tour de France. The Eritrean riders are making their presence felt in the race, with Teklehaimanot winning the coveted King of the Mountains jersey on Thursday.

"This is a day I will never forget," Teklehaimanot said. "It is a big step for African cycling."

In a sport still dominated by white Europeans, the success of two black Africans is a big step. And while Eritrea may be a small nation with a troubled history and serious economic and political problems in the present day, few are surprised that Eritreans are leading the charge. As the Economist has put it, cycling is Eritrea's "unofficial fifth state-sanctioned religion."

Eritrea's cycling culture is intertwined with its colonial history. According to Eritrean academic FikreJesus Amahazion, the first bicycle was introduced to the country by the Italians in 1898, and by the 1930s Eritreans were organizing their own bicycle clubs. Amahazion notes that even under the fascist rule of Benito Mussolini, the prowess of the Eritrean cyclists was undeniable: Eritrea’s Ghebremariam Ghebru beat a number of Italian cyclists in a special race organized in 1939 by the colonial administrators, in turn shattering "colonial myths about Eritrean inferiority," Amahazion writes.

From 1961 to 1991, Eritreans were locked in a bloody war for independence with Ethiopia. Despite the chaos, cycling remained a part of daily life in Eritrea. Dan Connell, a journalist and expert on Eritrea, says he can recall seeing bicycles in Eritrea regularly when he first traveled there in the mid-1970s. "At that time it was just common to see people riding bikes," Connells said, noting that often he saw "older men riding clunky bikes with no gears on them." Connell says that this was partly as cars were rare during the war for independence: At one point, bicycles themselves were outlawed because Ethiopia suspected they could be used by the independence movement to aid attacks.

Once Eritrea gained independence, the country's cycling culture flourished. Perhaps spurred on by its high-altitude environment (Asmara, the capital of Eritrea, sits 7,628 feet above sea level) and mountainous roads, Eritrean cyclists have established themselves as dominant forces in the competitive African cycling world, repeatedly winning African championships. In the Tour de France, Kudus and Teklehaimanot form part of the MTN-Qhubeka team, a South African-registered team that became the first on the continent to participate in the Tour de France after being chosen as a "wild card" pick. The rest of their team is white, with riders from Belgium, Britain, Norway and the United States taking part.

But Eritrea's problems haven't made things easier for its cyclists. Even before the recent U.N. report, the country had gained a reputation as "Africa's North Korea." While analysts say the "North Korea" tag is an oversimplification, they also argue that Eritrea's police state is genuinely unique among its neighbors. Eritrea's mandatory national service, which the government admits can last a few years but the United Nations says can end up being indefinite, has become a focal point of international criticism. Accusations of torture and extrajudicial killings also have been made by human rights organizations.

Eritrean athletes get support from this state – their sporting performances can count as national service, for example – but Eritrea's troubled reputation complicates matters when they go abroad. Last year, three young Eritrean cyclists were invited to the training center of the International Cycling Union in Switzerland, but their visa applications were rejected by the Swiss government. The decision may have been made because of fears that the athletes would use the trip to Europe as a chance to escape their country permanently. This has happened before: An entire Eritrean soccer team was reported missing during a trip to Kenya in 2009 and later discovered to be seeking asylum.

For the whole story, please click here

And thanks to writer John Britt for sending me the Post article.

Team Reports for Tour de France stage 9

This jubilant note came from BMC:

Plumelec, France - By a single second, the BMC Racing Team earned its second victory at this year's Tour de France by winning Sunday's team time trial. The reigning world champions in the team time trial averaged 52.09 kilometers an hour on their BMC timemachine TM01s over the 28-kilometer course to finish in 32:15 and defeat race leader Chris Froome and Team Sky. Movistar Team finished third, four seconds back.

The stage shuffled the top of the overall standings, with Froome now leading van Garderen by 12 seconds. BMC Racing Team's Greg Van Avermaet is third, at 27 seconds. Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo), who had been second, is fourth, at 38 seconds, and recent Giro d'Italia winner Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) moved up to fifth, at 1:03.

"We knew we were on a really good ride," van Garderen said. "In a perfect world, we would have taken the stage and the yellow jersey. But we will take the stage win. Honestly, I couldn't be happier."

The BMC Racing Team and Team Sky were tied at the first time check at 10 km and Team Sky was one second faster at the second check at 20.5 km. Heading into the final two kilometers - all of it uphill - the BMC Racing Team trailed Team Sky by five seconds.


BMC on their stage-winning ride

"We definitely had to rail the corners and make sure we stayed together outside of them," van Garderen said. "On the climbs, we had the stronger guys pulling longer. And we had to finish with five guys. Rohan Dennis was really the key element to the team. He's got a motor."

Dennis, winner of the opening stage individual time trial on July 4 and wearer of the yellow jersey for one day, said he thought the team might have started too fast.

"I was really worried the first 10 kilometers. I was actually on my limit," the past world hour record holder said. "When we started losing a couple guys, the directors told us to start pulling longer turns."

Four of the BMC Racing Team's nine riders Sunday were part of the gold medal-winning result last September at the world team time trial championships: Dennis, Daniel Oss, Manuel Quinziato and van Garderen. Joining them in the winning effort this time were Damiano Caruso, Samuel Sánchez, Michael Schär, Van Avermaet and Danilo Wyss.

BMC Racing Team Sport Director Yvon Ledanois said everything went according to plan, with a lot of support from staff behind the scenes.

"When you have the world champions, you don't need to talk very much with them," he said. "They have a lot of experience and this was a big objective for them. The plan was to give 200 percent and they did."The three-week race enjoys its first rest day Monday before resuming with a 167 km stage Tuesday on the cusp of the Pyrenees mountains.

"We have not had any problems and we have not had any big crashes," Ledanois said. "Tomorrow is recovery for everybody and the team will be ready for the Pyrenees. For sure, Tejay is ready for the mountains."

Tinkoff-Saxo had this to say about the stage:

Tinkoff-Saxo finished fourth on the team time trial of Tour de France, where the squad had to concede 28 seconds to stage winner BMC. Team captain Alberto Contador is now 1’03” behind the GC lead but notes that much can change, when the race hits the mountains.

After crossing the line in Plumelec, a poised Alberto Contador asserts that the team had raced well despite a time loss.

“I think we still did a good time. We will rest and then attack the mountain stages, anything can still happen. There are many stages at altitude and it’s a Tour, where consistency will be important. This can favor me. We'll wait and see how everyone is in the mountains. Everybody will have less good days, hopefully we won’t, and we will have to benefit from that. Regularity is very important and that encourages me”, says Alberto Contador and continues: “On the first rest day of the Giro I was a bit more certain, as I knew the status of my body. Now, there is more uncertainty. What I've noticed in this first part of the Tour is that I lack the spark that others have. I hope that this spark will not have importance, when we look at the Tour as a whole. If I am good I'll try, because I believe that we must seize every opportunity, when it arises”


Tinkoff-Saxo on their stage 9 ride. That's Peter Sagan in the green kit

Tinkoff-Saxo rode the 28km team time trial in 32’43” – a result that Peter Sagan, who still holds the white and green jersey, sees as neither good nor bad.

“For me, today’s result was not as important, as it was for Alberto but I had hoped that we would have done a bit better. We lost 28 seconds, which is significant but not very bad. We have to look forward, tomorrow is the rest day and then we will start to focus on what we can do in the next part of Tour de France. For me the tempo was okay, we started out at full speed and kept the intensity high to the finish. For sure, this result is not a step in the right direction for the team’s and Alberto’s chances but the Tour is still long and we are all here to fight for the yellow jersey”, comments Peter Sagan before adding about the first part of his Tour de France:

“I’m happy for the rest day, but the rest day always feels very short. So we will use the time to recover and to plan how we can regain time. Overall I’m happy with the first nine days, it has been a very interesting Tour de France so far. I would have been happy for a stage win, but there are more chances later on in the race”.

Head sports director Steven de Jongh underlines that the team made a well-coordinated and consistent team effort but couldn’t have gone any faster.

“I had hoped that we would finish in the top three but overall I think the team was consistent. We simply didn’t have that high speed and we lost just below 1 second per kilometer. I think that, as a team, we did very well, we divided the work and the boys rode as we had planed - but we were just not fast enough. I don’t believe that we could have gone any faster, so I’m satisfied with the fact that everybody rode their best. Now, Alberto is 1’03” behind Froome, we still have much terrain, where we can try to turn the classification around and with the mountains coming up it will be up to Sky to control the race. I still think that Alberto can realize his goal and we will definitely be looking for opportunities”, concludes Steven de Jongh.

Here's LottoNL-Jumbo's stage 9 report:

Team LottoNL-Jumbo finished ninth today in the stage nine team time trial of the Tour de France. Robert Gesink and his team-mates completed the 28-kilometre course between Vannes and Plumelec in 33 minutes and 29 seconds. The stage was won by BMC, in 32-15. Chris Froome retained the yellow jersey. Gesink is now 15th overall.

“I think we did fairly well, although I had hoped for a slightly better result. We made a few mistakes,” Gesink said, referring to Bram Tankink and Laurens ten Dam being dropped early on in the TTT.


LottoNL-Jumbo headed down the road.

“Laurens made an error with his levers. He feels embarrassed, but I know all the guys on the team for a long time and I know that we always try to help each other as well as we can. Of course, I’d preferred not to lose one minute and 14 seconds, but we are heading into the mountains now and there’s a lot of time to win there. Laurens already promised me that he will do his utmost best for me in the final two weeks.”

“We had expected a lot of this TTT,” Sep Vanmarcke said. “Especially, since all of us did well in the prologue. Because of circumstances, it wasn’t perfect today, unfortunately. The cooperation was spot-on, though. Therefore we were able to limit the damage.”

Nico Verhoeven admitted that the team time trial did not start perfectly. “But the second half was a lot better. Our last five riders were able keep pace on the final climb and so we hardly lost any time there. Wilco was having some problems with his back during the recon ride this morning, but I think he rode very strong in the end. That’s a hopeful sign looking forward to the remainder of the Tour.”

Jos van Emden explained how important it is to ride with a complete team for as long as possible. “During a team time trial, each rider has his value. Every second that someone rides in the front, means time to recover for the others. I’m looking forward to some rest by the way. The first nine days were exhausting. Tomorrow’s rest day is well-timed.”

The Tour of Austria ended Sunday

Here's what BMC had to say about the Austrian race:

Bregenz, Austria - Ben Hermans finished runner-up Sunday at the Tour of Austria while teammate Brent Bookwalter was fourth overall and the BMC Racing Team took home the team title. Winner of Brabantse Pijl and the final stage of the Tour de Yorkshire, Hermans finished 1:21 behind Víctor De La Parte (Team Vorarlberg), who won both of the race's mountain-top finishes. Jan Hirt (CCC-Sprandi-Polkowice) was third, 1:32 back.

"I knew before the race that a good result was possible because I felt good and I had a good group of riders around me," Hermans said. "So I am happy with my second place."

Moreno Moser (Team Cannondale-Garmin) won the final stage in a bunch sprint. BMC Racing Team's Amaël Moinard and Manuel Senni were part of separate breakaways, but the race came back together in the final five kilometers.

Moreno Moser

Moreno Moser winning the Tour of Astria's final stage

Hermans enjoyed his best overall finish in a stage race since placing third at the Tour de Wallonie in 2011. He helped the BMC Racing Team finish third in the team time trial that opened the nine-day race, was runner-up on Friday's mountain-top finish and placed third on Thursday.

Bookwalter, who was fourth on Saturday, enjoyed his best finish in a stage race since his runner-up result at the inaugural edition of the Tour of Alberta in 2013.

The BMC Racing Team also won a stage with Rick Zabel on Tuesday while earning its fifth victory of the year in a team classification. Sport Director Valerio Piva said he was pleased with the performances.

"Ben is a good rider, but he is not really a true climber and De La Parte was very strong in the climbs," Piva said. "On the Kitzbühler Horn, he beat the record and the times of Riccardo Ricco and Danilo Di Luca. We did win a stage with Rick and almost won two and every day we had somebody in the top five. So we are happy with this result."

Back to news and opinion index page for links to archived stories | Commentary