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Bicycle Racing News and Opinion
Sunday, March 1, 2015

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

Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne Live Updates

We plan to start posting live updates of the Belgian semi-classic Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne in the early morning, 5:50 AM Pacific time.

In Addition, Photoreporter Sirotti is covering the Gran Premio Città di Lugano (HC), so I'll be posting lots of photos from that race late in the morning, California time. While I'm at it, I'll post complete resuts of the French Drôme Classic (1.1). Lots going on this Sunday.

Greg van Avermaet Under Investigation

BMC rider Greg van Avermaet has been under investigation by both the Belgian Cycling Federation and his team, BMC, because of his relationship with Dr. Chris Mertens. Van Avermaet, a two-time winner of the Tour de Wallonie as well as Paris-Tours and the 2008 Vuelta a Espana points classification must meet with the Belgian Federation's doping committee to discuss his relationship with Mertens, who is accused of using various, er, techniques to improve rider performance.

Mertens is being investigated for helping riders take substances that contravene the rules, shall we say. Van Avermaet is adamant that he took nothing that is illegal and that he is a "clean rider." Several riders are under the spotlight as a result of their relationships with Mertens.

Greg van Avermaet

Greg van Avermaet (BMC) on the Kwaremont in the 2011 Tour of Flanders

Regarding all the Mertens business, this came in from BMC:

"The BMC Racing Team was notified Friday by the Belgian Cycling Federation, Koninklijke Belgische Wielrijdersbond, that Greg Van Avermaet has been requested to appear in relation to the investigation of Dr. Chris Mertens. The Team has been aware of the investigation of Dr. Mertens from various stories published in the press, but until Friday, February 27, had not confirmed that one of the Team's riders would be required to appear.

"An ongoing internal investigation is being conducted by the Team, and at the present time, no information has been obtained that indicates rules have been violated. The Team is aware that Van Avermaet was treated by Dr. Mertens, but is unaware of any treatments that would be in violation of any rules. Based on the information available to the Team at the present time, no decision has been made to remove Van Avermaet from active status.

"The Team will continue its investigation and will evaluate new information at such time as it becomes available. Out of respect for Van Avermaet, the Team will not comment further on the matter at the present time."

Team Sky Well-Pleased with 2015 Omloop Het Nieuwsblad

Team Sky sent this release after Ian Stannard won Omloop Het Nieuwsblad for the second year in a row:

Team Sky’s Ian Stannard pulled off a stunning victory today to defend his Omloop Het Nieuwsblad title. The British rider found himself in a select four-man lead group but headed into the final 40 kilometres by three Etixx – Quick-Step riders. Stannard shut down a pair of late attacks on the run into Gent before out-sprinting Niki Terpstra to seal the victory.

“I couldn’t be happier,” Ian Stannard told after the race. “It’s nice to do the double sweep at the race, but after the difficulties I had last year breaking my back it’s nice to have got myself back to where I was. Being with those three guys I knew they were all committed to trying to win. As a team they haven’t won it for 10 years and it’s a big one missing off Boonen’s palmares. I knew they were going to race hard. With Sep Vanmarcke and Greg van Avermaet chasing behind it put the pressure on them. I could just sit back, play a bit of poker and enjoy the ride.

Ian Stannard

Ian Stannard emphatically wins Het Nieuwsblad

“I just wanted to get a free ride for as long as I could. That was my idea. When they all started attacking me it wasn’t a great feeling. When Boonen went I was thinking ‘right, what do I do here?’ I knew if I rode him back I’d get attacked. I paced myself back a little bit. I could feel the wheel behind was trying hard to stay with me. So I felt like it was going pretty good and then I just took my chance.All the guys got me into the climbs perfectly. I felt a bit of pressure when you’ve got a Tour de France winner putting it all on the line for you. You can only really finish it off can’t you! The whole team has really lifted a level since last year. We were always at the front and always perfectly positioned. Quick-Step took me to the end and I only had to race the last 4km (laughs)!”

Team Sky’s Sports Director Servais Knaven said: “Everybody is really happy and excited. It was a perfect race by the whole team. The situation was not so good if you look at the numbers but when you have the legs of Yogi then everything is possible. In the end it turned into a perfect scenario. He had to wait for them to attack but he was super strong and the others were a bit more tired than him. You come into a situation and you have to make the best of it!

“They did a great race the whole team. It was a good start to the classics campaign having a race like this.”

LottoNL-Jumbo Has Bad Luck at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad

This came came in from the Dutch LottoNL-Jumbo team:

Sep Vanmarcke was truly unlucky today in the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. Team LottoNL-Jumbo’s Belgian powerhouse was hit by bad luck at crucial moments during the race, which ruined his chances to win. Thanks to some extraordinary efforts, he still managed to finish inside the top ten. The 26-year old, who won the 2012 edition, was the fifth to cross the line in Ghent. Team Sky’s Ian Stannard won for the second year in a row.

Sep Vannmarcke

Sep Vanmarcke racing the 2014 Paris-Roubaix

“I don’t race to be the best man in the race, I always aim to win,” Vanmarcke said. “The team kept me out of the wind all day, but after my punctures I knew it was going to be very difficult. I fought until the very end for my teammates and the fans along the side of the road, but unfortunately, it was not enough.”

"Vanmarcke flatted for the first time with sixty kilometres to go, just before the Taaienberg. All by himself, he managed to return to the first group, but after he personally split up the peloton in Haaghoek, things went south yet again: another puncture.

"A group of four took full advantage. The Etixx-QuickStep trio, consisting of Tom Boonen, Niki Terpstra and Stijn Vandenbergh, took the lead with Stannard. Vanmarcke, Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) and Zdenek Stybar (Etixx-QuickStep) chased the quartet for forty kilometres. Vanmarcke fought for what he was worth, but the gap was never smaller than 16 seconds.

"Ahead of the Taaienberg I was exactly where I wanted to be, but with a few hundred meters to go to the foot, I flatted. Maarten Wynants gave me his wheel and told me I still had a chance. Thanks to an adrenaline boost I was able to return to the front.

“I knew at that point that I had to make it a hard race, for tactical reasons. Unfortunately I punctured again and Etixx-QuickStep and Stannard benefited from this. We were one man short in the chase, otherwise we could have bridged to the leaders.”

"Nico Verhoeven sat irritated behind the wheel of the team car during the last forty kilometres. “It was very frustrating that Sep was struck by bad luck during crucial moments,” the Sports Director said afterwards.

“Sep fought back and let the race explode after his first puncture, but a new one prevented him from getting in the break. He fought like a lion, but unfortunately it was not in the cards for us today.”

And Lotto-Soudal had this to say about Het Nieuwsblad

The first Belgian race of 2015 is over. Ian Stannard was the best in the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, just like last year. Lotto Soudal rider Sean De Bie was part of the front group when he had chain problems. Jens Debusschere crossed the finish line as twelfth, the first rider of the Lotto Soudal team.

Sean De Bie bridged to a front group of six together with Albert Timmer. Because of chain problems he fell behind when they covered the cobblestones at Haaghoek for the first time today. Seventy kilometres further the Kruisberg was the start of the final. At the top Stig Broeckx jumped away. Sky controlled the bunch at that point, chasing the front group, and soon Broeckx waited. On the Taaienberg the battle could really start in the peloton. There were five Lotto Soudal riders in the pack: Tiesj Benoot, Stig Broeckx, Jens Debusschere, Pim Ligthart and Marcel Sieberg. The escapees were all reeled in with 45 kilometres to go.

Niki Terpstra

Niki Terpstra lost to Ian Stannard in the final sprint.

The last time at Haaghoek teammates Boonen, Terpstra and Vandenbergh took off with Ian Stannard. Pim Ligthart was the first rider of Lotto Soudal, but he couldn’t join them. Vanmarcke and Van Avermaet – with Stybar in their wheel - tried to close the gap, but didn’t succeed. In a sprint of two Ian Stannard beat Niki Terpstra. Belgian champion Jens Debusschere was the first Lotto Soudal rider today. He sprinted to the fourth place of a group of 34 and finished twelfth at almost five minutes.

Jens Debusschere: “When we covered the cobbles at Haaghoek for the second time I was just behind a crash. It wasn’t a decisive moment yet, but it did cost me energy to close the gap on the first part of the peloton. On the Kruisberg we were well positioned with the team. On the Molenberg, the last hill of the day, I had to brake because of a move of another rider. So I couldn’t even try to join the chase with Vanmarcke or Gilbert. The last twenty kilometres the peloton dropped the pace, I wanted to do my best to still get a nice result.”

Herman Frison, sports director: “Our riders did what we had asked them. If a front group of four or more would get away someone of our team should join them. Sean De Bie closed the gap on a break of six. Unfortunately he had mechanical problems. He had to continue on a bike from the neutral car for a while.”

“Our riders were well positioned to start the Kruisberg, the start of the final. At that point we had five riders in the peloton. After the Kruisberg Stig Broeckx attacked, but it wasn’t the perfect moment as Sky took control of the bunch. That’s why Stig soon waited for the others. But I prefer someone who takes the initiative and tries then that we all hang at the back.”

“When the top riders broke loose at Haaghoek our riders had to pass. I don’t blame any of them, it was just how it was. Of course we would have liked to set a better result, but this young team performed well as a whole. De Bie and Broeckx attacked and Benoot did well in his first Omloop as a pro. Ligthart and Debusschere raced attentively. Tomorrow is another day, with Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne.”

Selection for Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne: Lars Bak, Kris Boeckmans, Stig Broeckx, Jens Debusschere, Gert Dockx, Greg Henderson, Pim Ligthart and Marcel Sieberg.

Tinkoff-Saxo Plans for Paris-Nice

Paris-Nice is coming, the World Tour ranked race will run March 9-15. Tinkoff-Saxo sent this release regarding the team's plans:

"The “Race against the Sun” is coming up and Tinkoff-Saxo is fielding a strong squad in support of team captain Rafal Majka, who’s looking to make an impact. Paris-Nice 2015 will this year provide a noticeable chance for climbers and stage racers to face each other on several mountain stages and time trials in the battle for the GC.

:In addition to GC-captain Rafal Majka, the team is sending Robert Kiserlovski, Matti Breschel, Michael Mørkøv, Pawel Poljanski, Chris Anker Sørensen, Ivan Rovny and Danish champion Michael Valgren to Paris-Nice. Sports director Sean Yates sees the race as the first major event of the year.

Matti Breschel

Matti Breschel is scheduled to ride Paris-Nice

“Paris-Nice is the first European WorldTour event and one of those races that signal the coming of the high-season of cycling. We’ve assembled a strong squad of riders, whom have all shown a current shape that matches the toughness of this race. Rafal is, clearly, in the process of becoming a bona fide team leader and here he’ll get the chance to lead the troops. He’s motivated and with the form he carries on from Tour of Oman, he can do well on this year’s parcours”, comments Sean Yates.

"Besides flat stages and two time-trials, Paris-Nice 2015 also features serious days in the mountains, especially on stage 4 to Croix de Chaubouret. Rafal Majka, 25 years old, picks Chaubouret as a deciding moment, but underlines that the final time trial up Col d’Èze is just as important.

“I’ve recovered well from Oman and I feel that my condition is improving, which is good since I’m here to fight for the GC. I have a really good squad around me with, for instance, Robert Kiserlovski to help me in the mountains. We’re aiming to do a good result for the team. For sure, the mountain stages suit me the most and it’s where I can make a difference, if I have good legs. But the final mountain TT up Col d’Eze will be where the GC is eventually decided”.

"Moving through early springtime France, Paris-Nice more often than not throws harsh weather conditions at the riders before reaching the mild climate of the Riviera. The team captain sees this as a reason to prepare extra well.

“We need to prepare us mentally and be ready for some days of fighting. With wind, rain and sometimes snow in Northern France during the first stages, it’s so important to stay at the front as the weather creates a nervous race”, Majka adds.

"As a prestigious WorldTour race, Paris-Nice attracts strong competition. This year, Majka will face other in-form pre-race favorites such as Tejay van Garderen, Richie Porte and World Champion Michael Kwiatkowski. Sean Yates explains the level of ambition:

“Our goal going into the race is to do well in the GC with Rafal and to win a stage with guys such as Breschel or Valgren, who are obviously fast guys - and can do well in breakaways. The competition for the overall win this year is strong and the likes of van Garderen, Thomas, Porte, and Kwiatkowski are all natural time trialists. So with two time trials on eight stages, we’ll have to look for opportunities and use the strong and versatile qualities we have on the team to soften our rivals, especially on the mountain stages, where Rafal is at his best”.

“However, nowadays it’s more difficult to isolate a team leader, as the teams are very disciplined. But Paris-Nice is a hell of a race, there are so many factors that remain unknown until they are in effect and we can’t take anything for granted. Our approach is to remain flexible and stay focused tactically… half of the favorites could be written off after stage one, if everything is torn to pieces in the wind like in previous editions”, finishes Sean Yates.

"Sean Yates, who joined the team ahead of 2015, will direct the team at Paris-Nice

Race Preview

Dates: 08th – 15th of March
Number of stages: 8
Total length: 1,137 kilometers
Kind: All-round stage race
First edition: 1933
Last year’s winner: Carlos Betancur
Best GC result of Tinkoff-Saxo: 1st – Bobby Julich (2005)

"Race Route: Starting and finishing off with a short time trial, Paris-Nice features both days for the sprinters, stage-hunters and GC-aspirants. After a 6,7 kilometer prologue in Maurepas outside Paris, the peloton heads to Sain-Rémy-lès-Chevreuse for the start of stage 1. The 192km stage, which finishes in Contres, is one of three major opportunities for the sprinters during Paris-Nice. On stage 2 & 3, the riders will again have to be aware of crosswinds, as they continue to head south for what seems to be two sprint stage finishes.

"Stage four sees Paris-Nice enter the mountains. The 204km stage is the longest of the race and features no fewer than eight classified climbs and includes the summit finish on the Croix de Chaubouret, a 10-kilometer long climb averaging 6.7 per cent. Stage five, ideal for riders looking for success in a breakaway, will set off from Saint-Étienne, winding its way 192 kilometers over the climb of the Col de la République before finishing in Rasteau. The penultimate stage 6 is another mountainous affair with six categorized climbs for the riders to tackle. It will be the last opportunity for riders looking to distance themselves or take back time before the final TT, which brings the race to a close on the 9,6km climb to Col d’Èze in the backyard of Nice."

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