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Bicycle Racing News and Opinion,
Sunday, February 21, 2016

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

It isn't the mountain ahead that wears you out; it's the grain of sand in your shoe. - Robert W. Service

Today's racing:

Cannondale's race report

Cannondale sent me this update:

Cannondale Pro Cycling Team enjoyed a victory and a second-place finish on Saturday in two different races, highlighting the team’s ability to perform in both sprint and uphill finishes.

Tom-Jelte Slagter took a daring victory at Haut Var, a two-day French tour, 10 minutes after Wouter Wippert finished runner-up to Marcel Kittel in a fast finish at the Tour of Algarve.

Tom Jelte Slagter

Tom Jelte Slagter wins Haut Var stage 1

At Haut Var, it was a struggle all day due to a rolling profile and a finish circuit that saw a 1-kilometer ramp to the line.

“It was a great day. The victory is always nice. I knew the final would suit me. It was all about positioning. I was in good position with five, six kilometers to go, so I could move up. I went over the top in third or fourth, full gas downhill so there was a gap behind me,” said Slagter. “Once I saw the gap was there, we came into the last kilometer and I thought if I waited they would probably catch us, and you’ll never know what could have happened. I surprised myself a little bit."

The victory is the second of the season for the Cannondale Pro Cycling Team, and they never come easy. “The road was all day up and down left and right,” said Eric Van Lancker, Cannondale Pro Cycling Team’s sport director at Haut Var.

A break went early, and the team did its part to bring the race all together with 15 kilometers to go. The plan all along was to ride for Slagter and Paddy Bevin, but Bevin crashed with 15 kilometers left and had to fight to make contact with the peloton again.

In the end, it was Slagter who took the flowers. Bevin emerged without serious injury. “Tom did a great last kilometer to win the race,” Van Lancker said. “He told me this morning he was in good shape, and he saw the profile, and he said ‘Ok, we try today.’ ”

For Slagter, the win is a validation that he’s beyond the knee injury that hampered his last season. “Last year in this period, I was still trying to get better and better with the injury. I am happy at the moment with the form. Today I showed I can go for the win again. And that’s a great feeling. Completely different than last year,” Slagter said.

Team CEO Jonathan Vaughters said much the same. "Slagter is off to a great start after having to deal with a knee issue last year. He will be a top contender in the Ardennes classics this year. He's ready,” Vaughters said.

“It’s nice to have first European victory of the season,” Van Lanker added. “The first win is always difficult. And if you have the first, everybody is in a good mood. It’s really important.”

Slagter will fight to keep the leader’s jersey Sunday over a tough 200-kilometer stage. “You always have to try. A lot of things can happen — you never know. But you always have to fight for it.

And at the Volta ao Algarve:

Wouter Wipper opened up his account at Volta ao Algarve with a fourth place finish against the WorldTour big guns on Wednesday. On Saturday’s stage four, he went two better, sprinting to second in Tavira behind Marcel Kittel (EQS).

“Two steps closer to the first,” said Wippert. “The team did a really good job. The boys kept me out of the wind the whole day, supported me the whole day and believed in me the whole day. I felt really strong.”

Cannondale Pro Cycling Team dedicated the squad in Portugal to supporting Wippert’s efforts in the finale. The 194-kilometer stage had been earmarked for the fast finishers.

“We had two goals today initially,” noted Wipper.  “[André] Cardoso wanted to go into the break to try to get the mountain jersey. He was in the first break but it was chased back by Caja Rural. We just missed out on the second break. Three guys went and that was it. Roads blocked. After that team orders were to work for the bunch sprint.”

With 30 kilometers left to race, Wippert followed green argyle to the front of the peloton. “The whole team went to the front,” said Wippert. “I was well-positioned and out of the wind, so I could save a lot of energy. The last 20 kilometers we had a tailwind, so it was a fast run-in.” The sprint train began to take shape in the final 5 kilometers.

“They left me on the front with one-and-a-half to go,” explained Wippert. “I found Marcel Kittel’s wheel.”

Kittel led through the final corner. Wipper followed, braking through the turn. “I had to make up a little bit of a gap, but it was so fast that no one could come around us,” Wippert said. “Once I closed that little gap, I was in the perfect position. Kittel gave me the perfect lead-out, but he was too strong in the last 200 meters, and I couldn’t come around. So second. There was nothing more possible.”

It feels like it’s just a matter of time for the 25-year-old sprinter from the Netherlands. “Wippert is starting to become a giant slayer in sprinting. It won't be long before David whacks Goliath,” Vaughters said.

A double race program continues tomorrow. Cannondale Pro Cycling Team will defend Slagter’s leader’s jersey in France. In Portugal, the roads rise up for the final stage of the five-day tour.

LottoNL-Jumbo's Ruta del Sol news:

LottoNL-Jumbo’s Wilco Kelderman finished second in the fourth stage of the Ruta del Sol, just two seconds short in the 21-kilometre time trial behind winner Tejay van Gardener (BMC Racing).

Disappointment dominated Wilco Kelderman’s mood. “I finished second many times in time trials already and the difference is only two seconds today,” he said. “It was a long time trial, so I’m quite fed up with that. A time trial is a very fair race, on the other hand, so I can only blame myself. I really wanted this victory. I’m in a good condition and I proved that today. I built up to this race well, I had the right rhythm and Addy Engels’s coaching was worth a lot. I’m satisfied with my performance, but I keep looking forward. I want to win races.”

Wilco kelderman

Wilco Kelderman time trialing in 2015

Engels followed Kelderman in the team car during his time trial and saw that he did not miss a beat. “He delivered a superb performance,” the sports director added. “We already saw in training that he has a high level at the moment. Today was his first chance to prove that in competition as well. I was able to see from my spot in the team car that he was doing a great job. He rode technically well, took some strong turns and went very fast. He climbed the first, steep climb in the time trial very fast as well.”

Behind Kelderman, Maarten Tjallingii and Steven Kruijswijk finished 12th and 13th. They confirmed that the general level of Team LottoNL-Jumbo is high. “Many riders are performing great,” Engels noticed. “Our riders are delivering even in the Tour of Oman and the Volta ao Algarve. Almost everyone came through the winter in good condition.”

Especially Kelderman, who has the chance to win the general classification of the Ruta del Sol on Sunday. “I had a great winter and I’ve been feeling strong for quite a while,” he added. “That gives me a lot of confidence. I’m second in the general classification and I’m only two seconds behind, so I’m going for the win tomorrow. If I’m feeling good in the end of the stage, I will go all in to win the general classification.”

Here's Tinkoff's Ruta del Sol release:

After three stages ruled by sprinters, the fourth day of the Spanish race saw a demanding individual time-trial of 21 km, in Alhaurin de la Torre. With a slightly uphill finish, the race was dominated by time-trial specialists. Rafal Majka and Roman Kreuziger finished respectively 21st and 23rd, moving in the GC to 19th and 20th.

"Majka and Kreuziger are still a bit behind in their-time trial preparation as at present we focused more on the preparation for the mountain stages," stated Sport Director Bruno Cenghialta. "We will now work even harder on time trials, but this shouldn't sound like an excuse. They both have a good physical condition, but it's not perfect yet for this kind of trial."

Shortly after the end of the time trial Rafal Majka, one of Tinkoff's two co-leaders at the race, commented, "This was the first time-trial of the year and I think it wasn't that bad, but we didn't do too well either. We will nowl focus on tomorrow's stage where we will try to do our best although it will not be easy as we are at the beginning of the season and there are many riders who are already riding strong and fast. Our goals this season are still to be achieved, but nonetheless we are glad we have already won two stages, and then we'll see about tomorrow."

The race will close tomorrow with the fifth stage that features five categorized climbs and a summit finish atop the Alto Peñas Blancas after a 16km climb with an 6% average incline. Without any previous, tough intermediate climbs that could create big gaps, a group of 8-10 riders could still come together at the finish.

"As for tomorrow's stage, we still have to decide what our race tactics will be. We also need to see first how the other teams ended this time trial and how they're going to move tomorrow. However, we definitely aim at winning the stage", concluded Cenghialta.

Tinkoff's Volta ao Algarve report:

On a day that ended, as expected, with a bunch sprint, the Tinkoff squad kept Alberto Contador out of trouble, allowing him to safely navigate his way in the main group. According to Sport Director Steven de Jongh, the team is motivated for tomorrow's closing mountain stage of the race that finishes atop Alto de Malhão.

The 194km-long stage from São Brás de Alportel to Tavira held no surprises and finished with a fast bunch sprint. A four-man breakaway was formed in the initial kilometers, gaining a gap that peaked at 4 minutes. However, the sprinter teams took the matter into their hands, working hard to keep the race under control.

With just five kilometers to go, the last escapees were brought back in the peloton and the sprinters fought for victory in the fast finale.  Contador's teammates kept him safe until the finish line where he crossed in the main group.

"It was a long day and like I already said there was going to be a bunch sprint," commented Sport Director Steven de Jongh. "There was a lot of control from Etixx-Quickstep for Marcel Kittel and Tony Martin and at the end it was Kittel that took the stage. Our guys worked well to keep Alberto in a safe position, and that was it. Tomorrow is an interesting day because we have a top mountain finish and we're motivated for this," concluded de Jongh.

Alberto Contador confirmed his good sensations regarding his form: "The confidence I have in my form is increasing every day and I feel my shape gradually improving. It's true I'm not very satisfied with my result in the second stage but I have been out of competition for so many months, so it was something that I knew could happen. We have to take each day as it comes and we will see what we can do tomorrow."

Tomorrow, the battle for the final stage of the Volta ao Algarve will start in Almodôvar and end, after 169 km, at the top of Malhão, a second-category climb, 2.5km long with and an average gradient of 9.4%. At 45 km from the final, riders will pass for the first time at Malhão, before a hilly terrain that resembles the Spring Classics, with short but steep ascents. The final 2.5km, ascending to the top of Malhão are expected to be really exciting, with huge crowds and a fight among the GC contenders and the riders that will go for a stage win.

Lampre-Merida's Tour of Oman news:

The 5th stage of the Tour de Oman (Yiti-Ministry of Tourism) was short (119,5 km) but had a quite demanding profile, especially with the tree passages in the last 40 km on the climb of Bousher Al Amerat. However, no changes in the overall classification.

The race was immediately lively because of the many attack attempts, which had as one of the protagonists Federico Zurlo. However, the young rider from Lampre-Merida did not succeed in escaping from the bunch, while the right move was made by Houle, Janse Van Rensburg and Weening.

The trio had a top advantage of 7' at the 40th km, before the bunch reacted also thanks to the leading work made by Lampre-Merida, which wanted to create a situation, for the final part of the stage, that could be potentially interesting for Rui Costa.

The breakaway was neutralized in the final circuit with the climb of Bousher Al Amerat, where the climbers tried to exploit their chances: Bardet, Van Avermaet and Nibali attackes and counter attacked, while Rui Costa preferred to keep a regular pace.

In the downill which followed the last climb (13,5 km to the arrival), the selected group of 40 riders (Rui Costa was one of the members) became united and it reached the final straight where Boasson Hagen ruled in the sprint, preceding Van Avermaet.

Rui Costa was 20th and he could maintain the 5th position in the overall classification, at 54" to the leader Nibali.

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