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Bicycle Racing News and Opinion
Friday, March 6, 2015

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

Today is the start of Driedaagse van West-Vlaanderen (3 Days of West Flanders) which will run through Sunday, the 8th. We may be a little late with results today, my apologies. We'll post full results for each stage, of course.

Strade Bianche Coming Saturday. Hot Digggity!

And tomorrow, Saturday, the 7th, is one of my favorite races, Italy's Strade Bianche. Click on the race name and you'll go to La Gazzetta dello Sport's official web site for the race. Fotoreporter Sirotti will be there, so I'll have lots of terrific pictures what will be hard, exciting racing.

What follows about the race is my shameless re-writing Belgium's Het Laaste Nieuws' story about Saturday's racing over dirty, dusty (or muddy) roads.

On Saturday we'll have the ninth edition of Tuscany's Strade Bianche. This Italian one-day race is relatively new, having been run since just 2007, but it already has a rich tradition. Last year Michal Kwiatkowski won after a fierce duel with Peter Sagan. Kwiatkowski, the world road champion, will not there this year because of his participation in Paris-Nice, but with two-time winner Fabian Cancellara, Peter Sagan, Niki Terpstra, Sep Vanmarcke, Alejandro Valverde, Filippo Pozzato, Alessandro De Marchi and Greg Van Avermaet there will be plenty of high-powered competition to make a real race of it.

The race begins in San Gimignano and travels 200 km partially over white Italian gravel roads to the medieval city of Siena. There, the riders will confront an uphill grind to end finally at the famous Piazza del Campo. Michal Kwiatkowski

Michal Kwiatkowski winning Strade Bianche in 2014

Along the way the riders confront ten unpaved sectors of "sterrati" (white dolomite unpaved roads). The racers will go over 45.1 kilometers of these unpaved roads and should also get it a lot climbing along the way.

The Strade Bianche is sometimes called the "Hell of the South", in contrast to Paris-Roubaix. But that comparison is actually wrong, because the Strade Bianche climbs make the course more challenging than Paris-Roubaix's mere gravel roads.

Fabian Cancellara won twice, in 2012 and 2008. "This is one of my favorite competitions," he said. "I won twice already, I am in good shape and will be only too happy to race for a third time in Siena. It is a brilliant competition, on a course that is unique on the international calendar." Only Belgian compatriot has managed so far to win the Strade Bianche. Philippe Gilbert, who will race instead in Paris-Nice this year, won in 2011.

Lotto-Soudal Plans for Paris-Nice

This release came in today from Lotto-Soudal:

Paris-Nice is the second stage race at WorldTour level of the season. The ‘Race to the sun’ starts 8th March with a prologue. Paris-Nice ends with a climb time trial on Sunday 15th March. Last year’s edition was won by Carlos Betancur, Tony Gallopin finished tenth in the GC.

A flat 6.7 kilometres long prologue in Maurepas will cause minimal differences at day one. It will be looking out for the wind, causing spectacle the three following flat stages. If the wind isn’t strong enough and the peloton stays together, one can expect bunch sprints in Contres, Saint-Amand-Montrond and Saint-Pourçain-sur-Sioule. The fifth stage is the queen stage, with the finish line drawn uphill. Eight climbs along the route will make sure the favourites will make the difference.  The final climb, the Croix de Chaubouret, is a ten kilometres long first category climb with an average gradient of 6.7%.

The peloton has an easier day on Friday. Although the Col de la République has to be covered pretty soon. After the climb the stage is rather flat. The last kilometre is quite hard with an average gradient of 4.4 %. The penultimate stage contains a lot of climbs again. Six climbs, among those three first category climbs, should decimate the peloton. At the top of the last climb there are still 27 kilometres to descend to the finish line in Nice. Anything is possible with a 9.5 kilometre climb time trial on the final day. At the Col d’Èze, a first category climb, the riders will be striving for the GC win.

‘The first goal’, that’s how Tony Gallopin describes Paris-Nice. It’s not the main goal, but still he hopes to give a first demonstration. How that will be, will become clear in the ‘Race to the Sun’, but as a Frenchman and one of the leaders in the Lotto Soudal team he can’t wait until it’s Sunday.

Tony Gallopin: “The preparation went smoothly. The past three years I rode the Tour of Oman, now I rode the Tour of Algarve, a tough stage race with many race kilometres in good weather; ideal. Paris-Nice is my first real goal. I finished tenth in GC last year. The course suited me perfectly and if I had been more lucky, I would have finished on place five. This year there is a summit finish and the time trial to the Col d’Eze on the final day. You can’t compare these two editions.”

Tony Gallopin

Tony Gallopin time-trialing at this year's Etoile de Besseges

“I know the route well. The first two stages take place in my home region. I also know the stages of the final weekend pretty well, because I often go training in that area. We have a top sprinter in the team with André Greipel. For a team it’s nice to have riders for each types of stages, that will definitely be the case in this Paris-Nice. The GC will probably be determined in the stage on Thursday to the Croix de Chaubouret and during the two days in Nice.”

Lotto Soudal sports director Herman Frison gives his preview of Paris-Nice as well: “Tony finished tenth in the overall standings last year. Hopefully we can do better this year. André Greipel can strive for the win in the three flat stages. He missed the opening weekend in Flanders but he resumed his training on Monday. Now we have got to make sure he doesn’t get ill again and that he has recovered sufficiently for Paris-Nice. His shape was good, he proved that in the Tour of Algarve. If he could raise his form to a next level it would be all right. The prologue isn’t important for him, so his Paris-Nice will start on Monday.”

“Tim Wellens and Tony Gallopin are two riders who can strive for a good GC. If they ride a decent prologue, it will be important not to be surprised in the flat stages. If the wind is advantageous the peloton could split. Hopefully both of them won’t lose time so they can maintain a good position in the overall standings. We have Tim and Tony to go to the battle. If one of them loses time, we still got the other one. Towards the end the race gets harder with two mountain stages and a climb time trial. These are stages which are feasible for our leading men. I’m looking forward to it.”

Lotto Soudal team selection: Lars Bak, Thomas De Gendt, Tony Gallopin, André Greipel, Adam Hansen, Greg Henderson, Marcel Sieberg and Tim Wellens.

Sports directors: Herman Frison and Marc Wauters


BMC's Paris-Nice Roster

Here's BMC's rider list for Paris-Nice:

Santos Tour Down Under winner and world hour record holder Rohan Dennis and  Tour of Oman runner-up Tejay van Garderen headline the BMC Racing Team's  roster for Paris-Nice.

Rohan Dennis

Rohan Dennis at this year's Tour Down Under

Dennis  and van Garderen will be joined by two other members of the BMC Racing 
Team's winning world team time trial championship squad from last fall,  Silvan
Dillier and Peter Velits. Past world road champion Philippe  Gilbert and 2010 Paris-Nice "King of the Mountains" winner Amaël Moinard  will also compete in the eight-day race that begins Sunday.

Roster: Rohan  Dennis (AUS), Silvan Dillier (SUI), Philippe Gilbert (BEL), Ben Hermans (BEL), Amaël Moinard (FRA), Michael Schär (SUI), Tejay van Garderen  (USA), Peter Velits (SVK).

Sport Directors: Yvon Ledanois (FRA), Max Sciandri (ITA)

LottoNL-Jumbo Plans for Upcoming Races

LottoNL-Jumbo Sport Director Erik Dekker had to change his plans for the Tirreno-Adriatico stage race, March 11 to 17, since Robert Gesink will not be able to travel to Italy. The overall classification is no longer a goal, but Dekker said, “We have other plans.”

“Our goal was top ten with Robert, but that’s going to be difficult now,” Dekker explained. “However, we are flexible and we’ll start the race with new ambitions. With Tom Van Asbroeck we aim to be in the sprints. Winning is going to be hard with Marcel Kittel, Mark Cavendish and Peter Sagan, but to get in the mix for a third or fourth place is a good goal.”

Robert Gesink

Robert Gesink (shown racing last year) will not be at Tirreno-Adriatico

Gesink will not compete due to a distressing period. “I’m glad my son Bram will leave the hospital today. The last couple of weeks, I was only concerned about my family. That’s why I won’t be able to reach my desired level in Tirreno-Adriatico. I made a false start in the Tour of Algarve and I didn’t gain the intensity I wanted. Now, with Bram back at home, I don’t have to worry that much anymore and I can focus on bike riding again. I’m going to prepare myself for the Tour of the Basque Country via other races.”

Tirreno-Adriatico is Van Asbroeck’s first WorldTour race for Team LottoNL-Jumbo. The Belgian gained confidence on Sunday by finishing fourth place in Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne. “Last weekend was pretty good, although winning is better, of course,” Van Asbroeck said. “My fourth place felt a bit like a consolation prize.”

The fast man from Aalst does not know what to expect in Tirreno-Adriatico. “It’s my first time, a whole new world is opening up for me. The level of racing will be very high with all the top sprinters involved. It’s going to be a good opportunity to learn new things and become stronger.”

Dekker sees a challenge for all of his riders. “Sep Vanmarcke needs to stay fit and prepare as well as possible for the classics. For Laurens ten Dam and Kevin De Weert, it’s important that they end the race better than they started. Rick Flens, Tom Leezer and Robert Wagner need to assist Tom in the sprints. Finally, there are some stages in which Paul Martens will have his freedom.”

First, the team races Strade Bianche this Saturday. “The race is sometimes compared with Paris-Roubaix, but actually it’s more like an unpaved Liège-Bastogne-Liège,” said Dekker. “With Sep Vanmarcke we have a serious contender, although the many climbs are not in his favour.”

Sep Vanmarcke

Sep Vanmarcke racing in last year's Paris-Roubaix.

Rick Flens looks forward to his first time on the white gravel roads between San Gimignano and Siena. “It’s a beautiful race to watch,” Flens explained. “The climbs are steep. On the bike is going to be very hard, much harder than in front of the television! My main task is to assist Sep. I’m excited.”

Team line-up Strade Bianche: Rick Flens, Paul Martens, Sep Vanmarcke, Robert Wagner and Kevin De Weert.

Sports Director Strade Bianchi: Erik Dekker.

Team line-up Tirreno-Adriatico: Tom Van Asbroeck, Laurens ten Dam, Rick Flens, Tom Leezer, Paul Martens, Sep Vanmarcke, Robert Wagner and Kevin De Weert.

Sports Directors Tirreno-Adriatico: Erik Dekker and Nico Verhoeven.

Contador and Sagen Join Forces for Tirreno-Adriatico

This came in from Tinkoff-Saxo:

Italian WorldTour race Tirreno-Adriatico is set to host an array of big names. Tinkoff-Saxo is bringing a prominent squad headed by Alberto Contador and Peter Sagan, who will race together for the first time. According to Team Manager Bjarne Riis, Contador is reporting for GC-duty, as he looks to defend his title against strong rivals.

Alberto Contador

Alberto Contador racing in this year's Ruta del Sol

Accompanying Alberto Contador and Peter Sagan into action is Ivan Basso, Roman Kreuziger, Daniele Bennati, Maciej Bodnar, Christopher Juul-Jensen and Matteo Tosatto. It’s a squad that comes with the clear ambition of making an impact on both stages and in the GC, tells Team Manager Bjarne Riis.

“We’re sending a strong lineup to Tirreno-Adriatico just like we are in Paris-Nice, where Rafal Majka is leading the team. It’s obvious that we’re heading to Tirreno with ambitions, when you look at the squad. Alberto and Peter are of course very prominent but names like Kreuziger, Basso and the entire list of riders shows that we’re here to play a part”, says Bjarne Riis upon the announcement of the squad.

Alberto Contador, who’ll be at the start of the race in Lido di Camaiore as defending champion, is also on-route to Giro d’Italia. However, Tirreno-Adriatico will not just be a quick stopover for the Spaniard.

“Alberto is in good shape and we, like him, believe that he can target the overall win. He’s of course using the race to build shape ahead of the Giro, but for a rider like Alberto it doesn’t mean that you can’t target Tirreno as well”, comments Bjarne Riis, who looks forward to seeing the team perform in different terrain. “It’s a versatile route, where some of the days definitely suit Sagan. We have a strong team, so I see it as a great opportunity to have Alberto and Peter in the same race”.

Tirreno-Adriatico will mark the first ever clash between the so-called “Fantastic Four” consisting of Alberto Contador, Chris Froome, Vincenzo Nibali and Nairo Quintana, who have never gone head to head in a prominent World Tour stage race before. Bjarne Riis reckons that this will have an effect on the race.

Chris Froome

And here's Chris Froome at the 2015 Ruta del Sol

“It will definitely mean that we’ll see the intensity of the race increase, not least from the media. It will be interesting for everyone to follow, but you can’t compare it to the Tour, where they’ll all meet again, as they are in different stages of their preparations”, says Bjarne Riis.

Tirreno-Adriatico 2015 features a slightly less mountainous route than last year’s edition. And with a team time trial alongside the queen stage to Terminillo, the benefit from a strong team could prove decisive.

“It’s a versatile parcours, where there’s terrain for different kinds of riders. It, of course, requires a strong rider to win, but also a strong team. We’re focused on the team time-trial, as this is an important discipline for us in general and it could also prove decisive for the GC, if the time gaps are small on Terminillo”, concludes Bjarne Riis.

Alberto Contador will get valuable support from Ivan Basso, who was also at the captain’s side in Vuelta a Andalucia in late February. The Italian reports that his shape is on the ascendency and he looks forward to fighting for the win.

“I felt really strong in my last race GP Lugano. That gives me great confidence, as I have to be in top shape for Tirreno-Adriatico, where we will have to provide support to our team leader, Alberto Contador”, Basso says and continues: “The Tirreno-Adriatico is similar to the quarter finals of the Champions League. It's as if you had to confront Real Madrid, Barcelona or Manchester United. We will have to go head to head against some of the best teams but we’ve put in a lot of hard work during the last few months and we are convinced it will pay its dividends. We are ready to fight and take Alberto to victory at Tirreno”. This year marks the 50th edition of Tirreno-Adriatico. The race starts with a TTT on Wednesday March 11 and is concluded in an individual time trial Tuesday March 17.

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