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Bicycle Racing News and Opinion,
Friday, January 22, 2016

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

There is no great genius without some touch of madness. - Aristotle

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Racer Robert Sassone dead at 37

Robert Sassone, who rode for Cofidis from 2000 to 2003, had died at the age of 37. L'Equipe, which reported his passing, said the cause of death is not known. Teamed with Jérôme Neuville, he was world madison champion in 2001. He also earned five assorted French track championships. On the road he won five races.

But he was busted for doping and received a suspended prison sentence in 2004 as part of a doping scandal that shook his Cofidis racing team.

Tour Down Under Team Reports

2016 Tour Down Under

I'm sure Orica-GreenEdge was happy to send this report:

Simon Gerrans has taken out an exhilarating finish on stage three at the Santos Tour Down Under to move into the overall lead. The three-time Tour winner arrived at the finish line in a small group of riders, just outsprinting Rohan Dennis (BMC Racing) in a final throw to the line.

"To come away with the stage win and the lead, we couldn't ask for much more than that," Gerrans said. "I came from a fair way back, everyone was pretty hammered after getting over the corkscrew so I’m really thrilled to win it, even by the narrowest of margins.

"This is great. It's been a long time between drinks and I had such a difficult season last year. The guys worked so hard for me yesterday, to miss out (due to a crash) so close to the finish when I was feeling so good was bitterly disappointing for me and the team so to come away 24hours later with a win and now the lead I think everyone will be really happy today."

Stage 3 finish

Simon Gerrans just gets stage 3.

Two riders went over the corkscrew with a narrow margin as Gerrans timed his effort to bridge across to a chase group that included race leader Jay McCarthy (Tinkoff) and last year's winner Dennis with perfection. In a fast decent to the finish, the front two groups joined together to round the final right-hand corner with 400metres to go and sprint towards the finish.

"That was super tough going up the corkscrew, there's obviously some really good climbers in the race so I had to time my effort well," the 35-year-old said. Really, my teammates set me up perfectly for that final climb. They had me in third position into the corkscrew so it's really thanks to them that I was able to get this result."

ORICA-GreenEDGE sport director Matt White said it was only a matter of time before Gerrans' luck turned around. “We knew Simon was in super condition,” White said. “The most impressive thing about all this is how he came back from the Tour de France last year. He could have easily thrown the towel in for the rest of the season but his dedication and persistence through 2015 has set him up for a strong start to the season.”

How it happened: Touted as the first big general classification day, stage three of the Santos Tour Down Under left Glenelg headed for Campbelltown, via the famous corkscrew climb.

One solo rider - Laurens De Vreese - spent much of the race in front but was shut down ahead of the all-important climb. A crash split the peloton towards the bottom of the ascent leaving no ORICA-GreenEDGE riders in the front group but the back group recovered to reconnect on the lower slopes of the climb.

Michael Wood (Cannondale) and Sergio Henao (Team Sky) were the strongest over the top but were caught by a small chase group including Gerrans on the decent.

In a long drag to the line, Gerrans pipped Dennis with a throw to the line.

Santos Tour Down Under - Stage 3 Results:

1. Simon Gerrans (ORICA-GreenEDGE) 3:37:34
2. Rohan Dennis (BMC Racing) ST
3. Michael Woods (Cannondale) ST

Santos Tour Down Under - GC after Stage 3:

1. Simon Gerrans (ORICA-GreenEDGE) 10:28:12
2. Jay McCarty (Tinkoff) +0:03
3. Rohan Dennis (BMC Racing) +0:05

And here's Tinkoff's post stage remarks

Jay McCarthy now sits second in the GC, just 3 seconds from the top and keeps the green jersey as best young rider. The entire squad put on a strong performance, supported McCarthy during the race and  positioned him at the front group before the Corkscrew climb.

It was another hilly landscape for the course of stage 3 of the Australian race. The insidious climb of Corkscrew Road to Montacute made the difference by allowing a small group of 10 riders, including McCarthy, to break away from the peloton and race at full speed into the final descent to the finish.

Jay McCarthy

Jay McCarthy at the stage start

Tinkoff had been working hard since the first kilometers to keep the Australian in the front group, making sure him he also grabbed a couple of bonus seconds in the intermediate sprints.

"Today we can all be satisfied with the team performance", commented sports director Lars Michelsen - "because we were able to control the race. Already in the intermediate sprints Jay got bonuses, by coming third twice, and it was a shame he didn't manage to finish the stage in the top three positions, as in the final sprint the difference with the other riders was minimal. Anyway, it was a great performance by Jay, who proved to have good legs to stay with the best on the final climb."

Jay McCarthy commented on the stage, "today the team supported me a lot during the whole stage, helping me to win bonuses in the intermediate sprints and then going to chase the escapees. Also Michael Gogl and Michael Valgren kept me in the first positions before Corkscrew, allowing me to stay with the best in the climb".

"After riding on top of the hill with the others we went to catch the two escapees and when we got to the final sprint I had to close a small gap that was created with Dennis and I lost a bit of energy for the final sprint. I probably should have started a little earlier, but I'm satisfied with fourth place because I'm second in the GC and I'm still the green jersey leader for the young riders, so my Tour Down Under is not finished yet. A good result, especially on Saturday in the Willunga Hill stage could take me back to the top", concluded McCarthy.

Tomorrow's stage starts from the suburbs of Adelaide and finishes in the coastal town of Victor Harbor, covering a total of 138 km.

"Tomorrow will be different than today", sums up  Michaelsen, "the finish is not new, but every year the organizers slightly change the course to get there, and this year at 20 km from the finish there will be a King of the Mountains that could definitely be decisive for the stage win. Furthermore, during the stage there may be areas with cross winds, another factor to be taken into account because it could disunite the group."

Here's what BMC had to say about the Down Under third stage:

Dennis goes one better to take second on Santos Tour Down Under stage 3

21 January, 2016, Adelaide (AUS): Defending champion Rohan Dennis jumped one place on the podium and General Classification after sprinting to second place on stage three of the Santos Tour Down Under, narrowly edged out by Simon Gerrans (ORICA GreenEDGE).

Rohan Dennis

Rohan Dennis

The other half of BMC Racing Team's Australian duo, Richie Porte, finished ninth in the nail-biting stage from Glenelg to Campbelltown. Dennis now sits third overall in the General Classification, with Porte in tenth place.

"It is a little bit disappointing. I thought I did a great sprint but Gerrans, you can't take anything away from him. He's a class act, he hasn't won Liege, won Tour de France stages, beaten guys like Sagan, for nothing. I really have to take my hat of to him," Dennis said.

"Last year I won at Paracombe and Richie didn't and he pumped me on Willunga. Different day, different story. I think it's going to be really close after Willunga. It's going to go down to the wire and I think if we don't get ten seconds up on Gerrans on Willunga before the last criterium, they're going to go for the primes in the middle."

For Porte, today's climb was a good sign so early in the season. "Rohan was fantastic today and was so close to Gerro, so it's a good sign for our team. I felt comfortable. I didn't come into the climb in the best position but Alessandro De Marchi moved me up into a good position. The signs are quite good, i'm happy with that. Obviously Sergio Hinaut is absolutely flying. I think he's quite a danger man as well. But we cracked quite a few other guys that we thought would possibly be up there on GC."

Stage four of the Santos Tour Down Under takes the peloton 138 kilometres from Norwood to Victor Harbor, before Saturday's penultimate stage on Willunga Hill.

"Corkscrew is purely who is the better climber I think and with Willunga, tactics come into play. It's a lower gradient so you can actually push a bigger gear and it helps bigger guys like myself," Dennis admitted. On Willunga I think we are just going to have to throttle them, really give it to them," Porte confirmed.

Dennis and Marcus Burghardt were caught up in separate crashes on today's stage, both requiring bike changes.

BMC Racing Team Race Doctor, Dr. Scott Major gave an update on both riders: "Rohan walked away unscathed from his crash, however Marcus is a little banged up. He has a muscle contusion on his left elbow, although it doesn't seem to be broken, and has slight muscle strain in the neck. We are going to observe his elbow overnight and make a decision tomorrow morning regarding an X-ray," Dr. Major said.

And here's what Lotto-Soudal had to say about stage 3:

Simon Gerrans has won the third stage of the Tour Down Under. The Australian beat his nine companions in the sprint. Rohan Dennis got second, Michael Woods third. Rafael Valls was part of the front group as well and finished sixth. Gerrans is the new GC leader, while Valls is sixth at fifteen seconds.

Immediately after the start in Glenelg Laurens de Vreese took off on his own. The Belgian rider from Astana rode almost 120 kilometers alone in front. Tinkoff kept control and let him have a maximal advantage of four minutes. It was over for De Vreese at the beginning of the finale. The last five kilometres of the stage were downhill, but on Corkscrew Road one could expect a battle. Indeed, Richie Porte attacked at the bottom of the climb. Woods and Henao countered him and they had a small lead on a group of chasers, Lotto Soudal rider Rafael Valls was one of them.

In the descent Woods and Henao got caught and ten riders sprinted for the victory. Gerrans was a tad faster than Dennis. Rafael Valls moves up to the sixth place overall thanks to his performance.

Rafael Valls: “I could show myself in the finale today, so I am satisfied. The peloton kept Laurens De Vreese under control, he was caught just before entering the finale and then I had to make sure to start the last climb in a good position. Richie Porte attacked quite soon and immediately the peloton fell apart. Then Henao and Woods had a gap, but I kept going to be able to return during the descent. Nobody was capable of avoiding the sprint. I knew there were faster guys in the group, I did what I could and I finished sixth, that’s my place on GC as well now. The goal is to finish in top ten and conquer the first important WorldTour points of the season. I’m in a good position now, but tomorrow’s stage is dangerous, the wind could really influence the race.”

Tinkoff's Tour de San Luis news

The team sent me this update:

Rafal Majka advances in GC at Tour de San Luis, takes 7th on stage 4 

Tinkoff's Polish marquee rider at the Tour de San Luis, put a good performance in today's fourth stage and moved to the GC top ten, 1:36 behind the leader. The South American riders dominated the first mountain stage of the race.

It was the first summit finish for the Argentinian tour and the big day for the climbers with a hard climb to  Cerro del Amago. The summit at 1,710 metres put a strain on the riders and gave the South American climbers the chance to shine, while Tinkoff's squad worked hard to protect Rafal Majka.

Rafal Majka

Rafal Majka in the 2015 Vuelta

"Considering that, apart from the scorching heat, we find in the top spots most of the South American climbers, who were riding at home", commented sport director Patxi Vila, "and that it was the first climb tackled by Majka after the World Championships, I think we can be satisfied by his performance today. Let's not forget he finished together with Nairo Quintana, another climber who will be challenging the Grand Tours this year".

"In the end, what happened is what I expected, we tackled the climb calmly knowing it was long, and Rafal was very good in managing his own race. There's just some regret for those 40 seconds he lost in yesterday's stage because he could be in a better position, a little further ahead, in the general classification", concluded Vila.

"I am very happy with my performance today,” commented Rafal Majka on the stage, “we can see my shape is building up. Yesterday we lost some time because of my flat tire but today I was feeling good and I would like to thank the entire squad for their effort to position me at the  front. They did a great job and even Peter Sagan joined in to help the final kilometers before the climb. My condition is improving, so we'll see what happens on Saturday's stage six."

Tomorrow's stage, the fifth of the race, is 168.7 kilometers long  and will take the riders from Renca to Juana Koslay. It is a stage more suited to sprinters with a slightly uphill finish which should not worry the faster riders in the team.

"Tomorrow's stage will be an undulating one, therefore we'll be staying next to Peter Sagan, also because it will be the fifth day of the race and legs will start feeling the heatwave. Majka will try instead to recover some energy ahead of Saturday's stage with the second summit finish at Filo Sierras Comechingones", concluded Vila.

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