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Bicycle Racing News and Opinion
Friday, March 27, 2015

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Today's Racing

Today is the fifth stage of the Spanish stage race, Volta Ciclista a Catalunya. It's highly ranked, being part of the World Tour. Also, the Italian 2.1-ranked Settimana Ciclistica Internazionale di Coppi e Bartali is currently running and today is stage 2. And in Belgium, there is the big-deal World Tour ranked E3 Harelbeke.

Time to Race on Cobblestones

The cobbled classics begin this weekend with the E3 Harelbeke. The UCI posted this excellent summary:

Following last Sunday’s Milano-San Remo in Italy, the UCI WorldTour heads to Belgium for the E3 Harelbeke on Friday. All the Classics specialists will be at the start.

Friday’s E3 Harelbeke is the first of the UCI WorldTour’s series of cobbled Classics. It will be followed by Gent-Wevelgem on Sunday, the Ronde van Vlaanderen the following week-end and will culminate with Paris-Roubaix on April 12. In all of these exceptionally challenging races, factors ranging from bike handling skills to a well-developed sense of strategy and a steely determination to win come what may are all vital factors on the road to Classics success.

This year’s crucial element in the 215 kilometre E3 Harelbeke, as ever, are its 17 short, steep, cobbled climbs, or bergsas they are known locally. After 100 kilometres, the race’s third climb, La Houppe, begins the E3 Harelbeke’s relentless series of bergs prior to a short, flat, run-in to the finish. Traditionally, the crunch moment tends to come somewhere during the last four ascents: the Paterberg [km 173], the Oude Kwaremont [Km 177], the Karnemelkbeekstraat [km 184] and the Tiegenberg [km 196], the last climb’s summit reached just 19 kilometres before the finish. By this point the usually exhausted peloton easily shatters and a small group or lone rider emerges strongly enough  from the pack to fight for the victory - as was the case last year, when Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) won from a four-man breakaway ahead of 2014 Paris-Roubaix winner Niki Terpstra and Team Sky’s Geraint Thomas.

Niki Terpstra

Top E3 contender Niki Terpstra, here shown at the this year's Tour of Qatar

This year Sagan is once again one of the top favourites, alongside Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing), who has already won E3 Harelbeke no less than three times.  Terpstra and Thomas - who rode strongly in Milano-Sanremo last Sunday - are other top contenders, together with Milano-Sanremo winner John Degenkolb (Team Giant-Alpecin) and runner-up Alexander Kristoff (Team Katusha).

Of E3 Harelbeke’s provisional starters, Degenkolb and Kristoff are the best-placed riders in the UCI WorldTour individual rankings, in fourth and sixth positions overall. Whilst mathematically speaking Richie Porte (Team Sky), currently racing in the Volta Ciclista a Catalunya, cannot lose his overall lead no matter the result on Friday, another victory for Degenkolb would allow the German to move into the top three. 

A change of leader is even more unlikely in the UCI WorldTour nations ranking, where Porte’s country, Australia, currently holds a near unassailable lead of 473 points. Its nearest rival, Colombia, is well behind on 191 points. The UCI WorldTour teams classification, on the other hand, is a lot closer-run affair, with Team Sky only 84 points ahead of second-placed Movistar. The results from E3 Harelbeke, therefore, could have important short-term consequences for this ranking.

Pozzato out of E3

Lampre-Merida posted this message about Filippo Pozzato:

Filippo Pozzato is forced to withdraw from the E3 Prijs Vlaanderen-Harelbeke.

Doctor Guardascione, head of the medical staff from Team Lampre-Merida, explained that "in the night, Pozzato suffered from a temperature and viral gastrointestinal troubles".

The cyclist will stay in his hotel in Belgium, waiting to recover for Gent-Wevelgem which is scheduled for Sunday the 29th of March.

Van Garderen's Mountain-Top Finish At Catalunya

Lotto-Soudal was justifiably happy:

Bart De Clercq conquered the leader’s jersey in the Volta a Catalunya today. The fourth stage, the queen stage, started in Tona and had a summit finish at La Molina.

It was on that final climb that Tom Danielson and Riccardo Zoidl, the last of the escapees, were reeled in by the GC riders. Tejay van Garderen won the stage. Bart De Clercq crossed the finish line as nineteenth, at 47 seconds. The Lotto Soudal rider moved up from the third to the first place in GC. He takes over the leader’s jersey from Pierre Rolland who lost several minutes today. De Clercq has 21 seconds lead on Richie Porte and 26 seconds on Domenico Pozzovivo. There are three stages left to go in Catalunya.

Bart De Clercq: “Before the start of this race I had never thought I would wear the leader’s jersey after the fourth stage. In the first stage the peloton gave the break I was in a big  advantage, but now I will do all I can to grab this opportunity with both hands. I’m not used to lead the overall classification, but I’ll have to be really attentive the next days, follow my opponents and defend the jersey with all I got. The condition is good, I don’t have to be afraid of that.”

Stage winner Bart De Clercq

Bart De Clercq after winning stage 4

“Yesterday I was angry at myself because I had lost contact with the first group in the descent and lost precious time. That’s why I was 100% motivated to set things straight in the queen stage. I climbed well, I could maintain a position in front, also on the climb of 21 kilometres I kept riding in tenth to fifteenth position. When the tempo was raised, Rolland was dropped, but I could follow. On the last climb there were attacks, as expected. I hung on to the same tempo and that way I could control the damage.”

Lotto Soudal lost a second man today. Thomas De Gendt crashed twice in the beginning of the stage and abandoned the race. He incurred abrasions and bruises. Louis Vervaeke didn’t appear at the start of the fourth stage after yesterday’s crash. A CT scan today didn’t show any fractures of wrist, hand or fingers but his hand is severely bruised. Louis hopes to start training again very soon.

This came from BMC:

La Molina, Spain - One day after seeing his hopes for the overall classification dashed by a crash, BMC Racing Team's Tejay van Garderen soloed to victory on Thursday's mountain-top finish at the Volta a Catalunya.

Van Garderen notched his first win of the season on the queen stage finish at the ski resort of La Molina. Last year, he scored his first career WorldTour win in a snow and fog-shrouded queen stage of the race at Vallter 2000.

"I have very good memories of this race from last year," van Garderen said. "I have an up-and-down relationship with this race. It was an unfortunate event yesterday with the crash. Luckily, I came away with minimal damage."

On Stage 3 Wednesday, van Garderen crashed on a descent and narrowly avoided hitting a guardrail about 35 kilometers from the finish. He was not seriously injured, but lost nearly 16 minutes and plummeted from 32nd to 104th in the standings. "I was really motivated for today," van Garderen said. "I changed the tactic from trying to go for the classification and put everything into the stage. That was all I had in my mind today."

Van Garderen made the winning move on the final climb after the last two riders from the day's breakaway were overtaken by Vasil Kiryienka (Team Sky) with five kilometers to go in the 188.4-km race. The 2012 "best young rider" at the Tour de France counter-attacked a move by Dan Martin (Cannondale-Garmin Pro Cycling Team), then caught and passed Kiryienka before holding off strong chases by Alberto Contador, who finished third on the stage, and Richie Porte (Team Sky), who placed runner-up, three seconds back.

Tejay van Garderen

Tejay van Garderen wins stage 3

BMC Racing Team Sport Director Yvon Ledanois commended van Garderen for bouncing back from a "bad, bad day" and especially credited the three riders who were with him in the leading group on the final climb: Darwin Atapuma, Amaël Moinard and Peter Stetina.

"This was a very nice victory and it was a nice win for both Tejay and for the entire team," Ledanois said. "Yesterday was a bad, bad day for Tejay. Today was a new day. His morale was good this morning. All the guys were ready to do their best."

Atapuma, who followed Contador's attack in the final kilometers, finished sixth on the stage, 11 seconds back, and moved into 10th overall, 54 seconds behind new race leader Bart De Clercq (Lotto Soudal).

"You never know how much Darwin can move up," Ledanois said. "The last stage in Barcelona with the Montjuïc is also hard. He is riding very strong, just like Tejay."

Michael Rogers Returns to Racing

News about Michael Rogers came from Tinkoff-Saxo:

“A big block of solitude training” is what Michael Rogers calls the 57 days, where he has mostly spent his working days training and pedaling in the mountainous terrain around his home in Ticino, Switzerland. Tinkoff-Saxo’s trusted capitaine de route is now back at racing in Volta a Catalunya and happy to ride alongside his teammates.

After returning from an early season stint in his native race of Tour Down Under, Michael Rogers hasn’t had to pin his race number. Instead he has been laying down the hours and watts in preparation of the big goals of 2015, where he’s once again expected to play the crucial part as close companion of Alberto Contador. However, with the start of Volta a Catalunya, Rogers has returned to racing with his teammates.

“I’m quite excited to be back actually. It’s safe to say that now is the time to come together and the Giro is not far away, which is of course a big goal for both the team and for Alberto as well. I’ll follow him into battle at the Grand Tours, so for me Catalunya is first and foremost a race, where I’m joining the GT team with the likes of Alberto and Ivan. It’s important that we get together and spend time also in between stages to create strong ties before racing intensifies in May”, tells Michael Rogers, who’s now in the midst of battle in Volta a Catalunya.

Michael Rogers

Michael Rogers wins stage 16 of the 2014 Tour de France

With Rogers aiming to take part in both the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France, his focus has been on carefully building his shape – and not necessarily through racing. “I’m very happy with the big block of training I’ve done. I’ve spent many hours alone on the roads around my home and I’m looking forward to seeing where I’m at. I learnt last year that I don’t necessarily need to be racing the entire year and solitude training can be very productive, as you have time to work on specific areas. These days with the use of our SRM power meters, you can work in a very detailed fashion that mimics race situations”, explains Rogers.

Besides his role as a cornerstone support of Contador, the 34-year old Tinkoff-Saxo rider is equally eyeing the possibility to create great personal results as in the successful 2014-season, where he conquered two solo wins in the Giro and a memorable victory in Tour de France.

“No doubt that we have a strong team and setup for the Grand Tours, where my main role will be to support Alberto to the fullest. And as a team, it’s no secret that we’re looking for results. But I hope to get some chances again this year. I love to win, all cyclist do, as it is an amazing feeling. I believe I’ll get a few days of freedom, when Alberto doesn’t need me and there I’ll certainly look for opportunities”, finishes Michael Rogers.

And while we're with Tinkoff-Saxo, this also crossed my desk:

Peter Sagan is leading a Tinkoff-Saxo squad assembled to offer the Slovak champion support on the bumpy road to winning E3 Harelbeke for the second time in a row. However, the obstacles are numerous and come in the form of cobbles, bergs and tough competition, recognizes sports director Lars Michaelsen.

E3 Harelbeke, semi-classic and part of the World Tour, is by most considered as one of the toughest cobbled races of the season, only second to Paris-Roubaix and the much similar but longer Ronde van Vlaanderen. Last year, Peter Sagan was first to cross the finish line in Harelbeke and his ambition is to do so again.

"I will go to Belgium with a great desire to perform well. I won the E3 Harelbeke last year and I will try to do the double this year. The cobblestone Classics kick off and I want to be ready”, says Sagan and adds: “I focus on the Classics ahead and I feel very well and in very good form”.

Tinkoff-Saxo’s team for E3 Harelbeke is Peter Sagan, Matti Breschel, Maciej Bodnar, Michael Mørkøv, Matteo Tosatto, Nikolay Trusov, Michael Kolar and Pavel Brutt.

Peter Sagan wins Tirreno-Adriatico stage 6

Peter Sagan wins this year's Tirreno-Adriatico stage 6

With the defending champion on the roster, Tinkoff-Saxo’s sports director Lars Michaelsen agrees that the team will be at the start of E3 with ambitions. However, as with all cobbled races, it’s impossible to predict the outcome.

“We have last year’s winner on the team in the shape of Peter Sagan, so we ought to be one of the favorites. At the same time E3 Harelbeke is a very hard and challenging race. No doubt that Peter is in form, but we need to avoid crashes and then we have to cross our fingers and hope that the race develops in the right direction for us. We have a plan A and B but as we saw in Dwars door Vlaanderen, crashes and tactical deadlocks can throw a spanner in the works”, explains Lars Michaelsen.

E3 Harelbeke is, without doubt, more than a warm-up for Ronde van Vlaanderen. The big engines of the peloton are all vying for victory on the route, which features clusters of climb and cobbled sections such as the always decisive and dreaded Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg. The 192 riders will have to tackle no less than 17 listed bergs, many of them on cobbles.

As the name denotes, the riders will start and finish in Harelbeke but visit cycling capitals such as Geraandsbergen and Oudenaarde along the way. According to Lars Michaelsen, real racing will commence after the first 100 relatively flat kilometers.

“The race tactics will come down to the constellation after 100km of fairly flat racing, where a break will most likely form. I expect Etixx-Quickstep to be very strong, so we have a group of riders, who’ll support Sagan and stay with him as long as possible. Guys like Bodnar, Breschel and Tosatto should play a key role here. A lot can happen in the last part of the race and this is where the game of tactics and constellations of the groups will impact the race heavily”, concludes Lars Michaelsen.

Race details

Dates: 27 March
Total length: 218 kilometers
Kind:  Cobbled World Tour Semi-Classic
First edition: 1958
Last year’s winner: Peter Sagan
Best result of Tinkoff-Saxo: 1st  - Kurt Asle Arvesen (2008), Fabian Cancellara (2010)

Lampre-Merida's Race Plans

This came in from Lampre-Merida:

On Friday March the 27th, the Northern campaign of Team Lampre-Merida will start: the blue-fuchsia-green team will take part in the E3 Priis Vlaanderen - Harelbeke, World Tour event that will be soon followed, on Sunday the 29th, by the Gand-Wevelgem.

In both races, the sport directors Scirea and Righi will have at their disposal Bonifazio, Cimolai, Modolo, Mori, Oliveira, Pibernik, Pozzato e Richeze.
In the operative staff there will be the doctor Guardascione, the mechanics Bortoluzzo, Pengo, Romanò and Tiede, the masseurs Capelli, Del Gallo and Redaelli and the driver Bozzolo.

Bonifazio and Cimolai recently realized very interesting performances and on Sunday they were both in the top ten of the Milano-Sanremo: their goal is to improve the past year results, exploiting the experience they gained in the past.

For what concerns the experience, Filippo Pozzato is a master and he will aim to compete at the top level. [Note: Pozzato is ill and will not ride the event] The support from Oliveira, Richeze and Mori to the team mates will be fundamental, while Pibernik will try to size his skills for this kind of races. An extra value to the team selection will be given by Sacha Modolo, who'll be back to races after the unlucky participation in the Tirreno-Adriatico .

Filppo pozzato

Filippo Pozzato at this year's Tirreno-Adriatico. He fell ill Thursday evening and will not be at E3.

Lotto-Soudal's Upcoming Racing

And this note came in from Lotto-Soudal:

Two Belgian WorldTour races are scheduled this week: E3 Harelbeke on Friday and Ghent-Wevelgem on Sunday. Jürgen Roelandts, eleventh in Milan-Sanremo, will race for the fifth time in Harelbeke. He hopes for a hard race. German champion André Greipel tells about his expectations for Ghent-Wevelgem, a race where he crashed in the final last year and couldn’t sprint for the victory.

Jürgen Roelandts: “I just finished outside top ten in Milan-Sanremo. I could have finished higher, top five was possible. I had to brake in the last corner and in the sprint as well. In any case Milan-Sanremo was good to be on the bike for 300 kilometres. I could use that after my illness. When you have a positive feeling about the condition after Milan-Sanremo that’s good for the next weeks.”

“The E3 Harelbeke definitely is a race that suits me, but the weather and wind also decide the race. Sometimes forty riders go to the finish line together and other years the whole field is split up. In 2011 I was second after a really open race. I hope the battle starts early, that’s an advantage for our team. It would be good if the weather is like the day of Dwars door Vlaanderen, that makes the race harder, more spectacular and more difficult to control.

André Greipel: “Of course it’s still in my mind that I crashed in the final of Ghent-Wevelgem last year, but that won’t have any influence on this year’s race. The weather forecasts show a lot of wind on Sunday, so I expect a lot of echelons. In Ghent-Wevelgem you can always make the difference with echelons.”

“We have to be attentive all day long. We have to make sure we are part of the first group and don’t have to waste any energy chasing. That’s especially important in the loop with the Kemmelberg. But because of the wind the Kemmelberg itself won’t be the main obstacle on Sunday. Ghent-Wevelgem is a classic I’d really like to win. I already could have won it in the past. I’ll strive for the win again on Sunday. The line-up of Lotto Soudal is really strong, everyone is in excellent shape. We are ready.”

Lar Bak

Lars Ytting Bak in the 2013 Tour de France

E3 Harelbeke (Friday 27th March): Tiesj Benoot, Kris Boeckmans, Vegard Breen, Sean De Bie, Gert Dockx, Jürgen Roelandts, Marcel Sieberg and Dennis Vanendert.

Preselection Ghent-Wevelgem (Sunday 29th March): Lars Bak, Tiesj Benoot, Vegard Breen, Stig Broeckx, Sean De Bie, Jens Debusschere, André Greipel, Pim Ligthart, Jürgen Roelandts, Marcel Sieberg and Dennis Vanendert.

Sports directors: Herman Frison and Frederik Willems.

Cult Energy at Classica Corsica

Despite its 1.1 ranking, the Classica Corsica doesn't seem to have attracted much attention.

This came in from Cult Energy after the race:

Today’s 203 kilometer long French one-day race, Classica Corsica started in Ajaccio and brought the peloton to the finish town of Bastia in the Northern part of the French Mediterranean island. After numerous attacks along the way, Cult Energy Pro Cycling ended up with two riders in the top-10.

A breakaway consisted of 19 riders including Cult Energy’s Rasmus Guldhammer and Linus Gerdemann and they managed to get a gap on the big climb, Col de Vizzivona halfway through the course but the main bunch quickly decided to bring them back. Throughout the race, new breakaways were established and reeled in but Reinier Honig (Team Roompot), Flavien Dassonville (Auber 93) and Kiel Reijnen (Unitedhealthcare) threatened to take it all from the hungry sprinters. However, the escapees were swept up with 2 kilometers to go and a bunch sprint was inevitable.

In the frantic gallop, Cult Energy Pro Cycling’s Rasmus Guldhammer and Linus Gerdemann finished 5th and 8th. Thomas Boudat was the fastest rider and took the win.

Callsica Corsica sprint finish

Classica Corsica finish

DS, Michael Skelde was happy about the result: “With two riders among the best ten riders, I can’t be dissatisfied. They are both in very good form at the moment and they were in the select group of climbers on today’s climb. 70 riders were in the finale and it displays a great deal of motivation and strength when two climbers finish among the best sprinters. Now, we get a day off and then take on Criterium International where our best chances for success are on Sunday’s mountain stage,” says Skelde.

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