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Bicycle Racing News and Opinion,
Wednesday, August 30, 2016

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We must believe in free will, we have no choice. - Isaac Bashevis Singer

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Vuelta a España Stage 10 rest day news

Tinkoff sent me two releases. Here's the first, a summary of the first week's racing:

Typically, not one for building gradually into the difficulties, the Vuelta a España has thrown a bit of everything at the riders in the first week of the race, including a team time trial, sprint finishes and mountain-top arrivals. Tinkoff can look back on a week of mixed fortunes, having lost Robert Kiserlovski to a crash on stage 5, but with GC leader, Alberto Contador’s chances still intact.

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The race got underway with the habitual team effort, allowing the fans to be introduced to the riders while the first leaders’ jerseys are also decided. The stage was an early opportunity for some gaps in the GC and with a ninth place finish, losing 52-seconds to some GC rivals, the team had mixed feelings on the result.

There was little time to look back on the evening stage as the peloton was back in action the following morning with the first road stage, a rare opportunity for a bunch sprint. The goal for the team was to just stay safe, looking ahead to the tough uphill finish on day three. The third stage saw a brutally steep final ascent up the Mirador de Ézaro, with ramps of up to 30%. By the line Alberto had again conceded some time to his GC rivals, but he showed strong fighting spirit and realised that he’s still building into the race, with a long way to Madrid.

“It wasn’t a good day overall but as I said before, the Vuelta is far from over and the time differences still aren’t very big,” Alberto told us after the stage. “I am not satisfied, but I feel that my form will improve in the coming days.”

Stage 4 featured another uphill finish, but with gradients less punishing as the previous day. The early breakaway took the stage honours, while behind the GC battle raged on, with several riders unable to follow the fast pace set on the climb. Alberto looked strong and rode within himself to finish the stage in the lead group and reassert some control on the race.

The following day saw the team lose its first rider from the race, as Robert Kiserlovski crashed hard in a large pile-up in the final 600m of a hectic sprint finish. No broken bones, but pain in his sacral-lumbar vertebrae meant Robert would return home to rest and recover. The race roared on though, and the following day turned into more of a GC fight than expected, on what looked like a straight forward transition stage – you can never take a stage of the Vuelta for granted!

“It was another very hot and, actually, a hard day today,” Sport Director Steven De Jongh said after the finish. “They were racing full gas all day, but the boys did a good job – at the dangerous point they were in front which is what we asked of them. The break was strong and several other teams had interest in going for the stage win so there was never a dull moment.”

The bad luck continued on stage 7 as Alberto suffered a heavy crash in the final 500m of the race. Having been well positioned coming into the technical finale by his teammates, he gave Daniele Bennati the green light to press on for the sprint. As Daniele powered on ahead to take second on the stage, Alberto slid out on a late left hand corner, coming down on his left side. Fortunately, there was nothing broken, however, with three tough mountain tests in the days ahead it presented Alberto with a tough test.

Alberto Contador

A bandaged Alberto Contador

“I took a big hit on my calf and my quad, and in general I have extensive superficial wounds on the entire left side of my body It hurts a lot but it seems that there’s nothing broken,” explained Alberto after the stage.

Stage 8 saw a strong comeback on the first of three uphill finishes in three days by the Tinkoff leader as he finishes second of the GC favourites atop La Camperona – showing true fighting spirit, and moving up to seventh on GC in doing so.

Looking back at the race, Alberto said: "There is no doubt today's result is important for my morale. It is also important for the morale of the staff and my teammates that work their fingers to the bone for me. After yesterday's crash thousands of thoughts were in my head but I didn't want to think I would again go back home, even if it was a possibility."

Sport Director Steven de Jongh added: "I'm proud of what the team and Alberto, in particular, achieved today. He had a very hard crash and we were all worried but he fought hard all day, he rode well on the climb and had a very strong finish, which was really important.”

The following day saw a more subdued uphill finish after an up and down day from Cistierna to Alto del Naranco, a five kilometer finishing climb, the last of five categorised climbs on the stage. After being well looked after and positioned throughout the day by his teammates, Alberto rode a confident final climb to finish in the GC favourites – conserving his seventh place on GC.

The third of the three tough days leading into the first rest day of the race saw another spirited ride from Alberto on the long and difficult final climb to Lagos de Covadonga. The ascent covered over 12 kilometres, at an average gradient of over 7%. After nearly six kilometres of climbing, Alberto moved clear with just Nairo Quintana for company, before being joined by a select few other GC favourites from behind. As the fight became a ride of every man for himself, Albeto eventually crossed the line in eighth, moving himself up to fifth on GC. Fifth, on the race’s first rest day, after a heavy crash that nearly saw him out of the race – a strong position to build upon in the 11 remaining stages.

Looking at the race that lies ahead, Alberto commented at the end of stage 10: “Tomorrow we have a rest day and on Wednesday we resume the battle, hoping it gets better for us. The differences, for various reasons, are enormous and this makes the rest of the Vuelta an uphill struggle. However, we'll keep on, taking it day-by-day in order to see what we can do.”

And here's Tinkoff's Alberto Contador press conference summary:

On the first rest day of the Vuelta a España, Tinkoff's GC leader Alberto Contador sat down with the press to evaluate the first week of racing and more. Read what he had to say here.

How do you feel now after yesterday’s stage?

There are a lot of different sensations. If I analyse the tactics of the stage right now, I would have probably been more cautious. That was my idea for the three stages after my crash and maybe I'm a bit too impulsive at times. Yesterday, I made a move when it would have probably been more intelligent to stay at the wheel but at the end, this is how I am. It is complicated for me to change the way I ride. It what concerns my mental state, we are, obviously, far behind in the GC and our chances to win are very slim.

You said you could have been more cautious but if you still want to win the Vuelta you will have to be yourself. You don't have other options.

We have to take the race day-by-day and grab the opportunities but also I have to look to see how my legs respond. We also have to take into consideration the parcours ahead of us. There are many stages with just one climb, where you have few options to make tactical moves. However, again, we will take it day-by-day, grab the opportunities, enjoy the race and see what we can do.

You said you had to be less impulsive. Regardless of what happens in this Vuelta do you think you should change your style and ride more like Froome, looking at your watts on the handlebar? Could this be the option to be beat him?

No, not all. I think powermeters take the spectacle out of the race. They make everything much more controlled and if you have a really powerful squad and if a rider attacks you can have him under control. You will always know your watts and you will know that at those watts after 20 minutes he will be over. This is how it is, it's reality. However, right now, I think it's very difficult for me to change the way I ride.

How do you feel at this moment on all levels?

I feel well and I am enjoying the race. I think the days that are left in this race will be in my favour, and I’m happy that there are still a lot of hard days left in this race, and not a few, as this means more opportunities. I will try to achieve good results and give my maximum but one has to be aware it will be difficult as I’m three minutes off Nairo. It's only a question of being three minutes behind him, it's also the fact he has shown he’s very strong and has an extremely strong team. That means more difficulty in doing everything but if I continue in the Vuelta it's not because I simply want to race, it’s because I want to try to do something.

How do you feel after your crash?

I feel better and it gets better day after day. My body is less swollen because after a crash you retain more liquids and in that sense I think each day will be better. It is a pity that the crash was just before the first three mountain stages. I saved the first two, but, unfortunately, in the last one I probably committed an error in my tactics. We hope and think that we will get better each day.

Do you think it's possible to have a repeat of the Fuente Dé?

I don’t know. I have to study the road book and look what we strategy we could devise. We have to assess various situations, what the other teams will do and whether they try to control the race or leave all responsibility to Movistar. Maybe I repeat this a lot, but I’m here to enjoy the race, take it day-by-day and see what we can achieve.

The day after your crash you commented on the last 3km rule in the sprints. Could you explain a bit more on this?

Yes, the other day, I put on the table this reflection. I know that there are all sorts of different opinions, but I think that cycling in the last years has changed in that aspect. Before, the GC riders were maybe a bit further behind in the last kilometres, but now, on the contrary, sprint finishes are seen as opportunities to gain a few seconds. I don’t criticise this and I respect the way everybody does his tactics. Nevertheless, I think sprinters don't like GC riders fighting with them while they are staking a stage at 70km/h. At the same time, we, GC riders, don't like too much to fight with the sprinters, riders suited for fast and flat terrain, because we know it isn't our place.

It's true though there are a lot of tense moments and that maybe is good for the show. Still, that carries a risk because a GC rider, maybe a favourite, can go home. In addition, it's true that promotional videos of races, nearly always show the crashes of the previous year. I don't know, maybe we have to ponder whether crashes are a spectacle. People can think I'm saying this because I crashed but it's something I think about. I also think the majority of the peloton shares this view because we risk our lives every day in the bunch sprints. Maybe we need to think whether we can take a measure. I don’t want to be the standard-bearer of a rule change, but I think it's interesting to reflect on this.

You have a great riding style and cycling would be poorer without you. But looking back at this season with all the set-backs, do you think you missed the right point to say goodbye?

No, not at all. On the contrary, honestly, if couldn't finish my career with an abandon at the Tour and a possible bad result at the Vuelta. I wouldn't like that to be my last year. We still have a very nice Vuelta ahead of us, and I also look forward to next year. I think we can achieve big things and we can plan a very good calendar for next year. In that sense I'm happy. Finally, I'm appreciating it because the support of the people has been extraordinary and I enjoy each day and each kilometer. No, it wouldn't have been a good idea to retire this year.

Lampre-Merida's successor signs two riders

Next year Lampre-Merida will be taken over by a Chinese firm. We don't know yet the name of the title sponsor, but for now, the transition is being handled by a company called TJ Sport Consultation. Current team management (CGS Cycling) will continue to run the team in 2017.

This update came to me from Lampre-Merida:

The first two talents of the new project TJ Sport will be Diego Ulissi and Rui Costa.

The twenty-seven years old Italian rider and the world champion in Florence 2013 signed the two years renewal of their contracts with the first Chinese World Tour team.

Diego Ulissi, born in 1989, has raced in the pro since 2010 and he has always worn the jersey of the team which has managed by Giuseppe Saronni.
With the contract extension, he's becoming the emblem of the team, adding the Italian colors to the basis of the Chinese team.

Diego Ulissi

Diego Ulissi clearly enjoying the fourth stage of this year's Giro d'Italia

"I'm happy to continue along the professional path I have started in the team several years ago, adding a new enthusiasm which comes from the Chinese project: I'm sure the next two years will be full of satisfactions", Ulissi commented.

Rui Costa, born in Povoa de Varzim (Portugal) in 1986, chose to add two more years to his experience in the team.

"Being part of this new project and having being chosen as a leader of the World Tour team is something special for me - Rui Costa explained - I had received proposals from other teams, however when Saronni described to me his ideas for the future and the project, I had no doubts and I immediately chose to sign a new contract for the next two years.

I really appreciate that Saronni and the group of TJ Sport trust in me, this is a great motivation for me".

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