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Bicycle Racing News and Opinion,
Sunday, July 3, 2016

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In politics stupidity is not a handicap. - Napoleon Bonaparte

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Tour de France team news

Tinkoff had a mixed day. Here's their report:

Tour of Flanders, the Inside Story

The first stage of the 103rd Tour de France started today as it meant to go on, with a fast-paced opening race that brought with it a breakaway, a relentlessly-high pace and a hard-fought finish. At the end of the day UCI World Champion, Peter Sagan, pushed hard for the win, but was just beaten to the line, taking third.

The 188km route started in the stunning Normandy town of Mont Saint-Michel, before heading up the western coast before the stage’s arrival at the historic Utah Beach. While the day was fairly flat, as is the character of this part of France, the race did cover two fourth category climbs before 40km were up, meaning all four jerseys were up for grabs by the end of the day. With such close proximity to the sea as well, strong wins would hit the peloton throughout the stretch up the coast. A flat finale meant a sprint finish was all but certain.

In spite of today being one for the sprinters, this didn’t stop the breakaways trying to spoil their fun. A group of three pushed ahead the moment the flag dropped for the start of the stage – and the race – and quickly gained some time. With three minutes’ advantage, a second attack came from the peloton, with two working to bridge the gap, catching with 160km of the day still to race.

With 77km to race however, Tinkoff’s leader, Alberto Contador suffered a crash. While the Spanish rider was able to rejoin the race showing little more than a torn jersey as a result of the fall, the team was ensuring Alberto was checked to be certain there were no injuries, as Sport Director, Sean Yates, explained. “Alberto’s crash was the only real stress point today, but got back OK quickly with the help of the team and we will now see how he recovers. He’s cut up on the upper shoulder and upper back, which will be uncomfortable, but he’s being checked out for any damage. It’s not a great way to start but other than that it wasn’t a bad day. We had no other incidents, and the other guys kept out of trouble. Hopefully no long lasting after effects – the body takes time to recover from a crash and this is energy that you need in the race.”

Alberto Contador

Contador: battered, but upright and ready for more racing.

Alberto gave some insight into the crash and how it happened. “The race was very tense and everybody was fighting to position themselves in the front because of the wind. We were well positioned and very attentive but at a turn, a number of riders hit the central reservation. My front wheel got off and I also think that was the case with some others. We fell, hit the ground and skidded. In addition, another rider fell on me and hit my shoulder.”

With the stage over, Alberto was waiting to see how he felt when the adrenaline of the day’s racing had worn off, and wanted to concentrate on recovering. “Now, it's a question of applying ice, doing a treatment with the Inbida machine and making sure the inflammation doesn't get worse. I have scratches all over the right part of my body, from the ankle up to the shoulder. What can we do, that's cycling. You might prepare intensely for months and then you crash.”

As the gap was brought down steadily, the two who had originally worked to bridge the gap went out in front again, leaving the original three escapees to be swallowed up by the chasing peloton. With 60km still to race, the break was going to see if they could hold out until the end, attacking each other to see who would take the day’s combativity prize, pulling ahead of the peloton once again.

It wasn’t to be however, as the peloton’s sprint teams weren’t going to let the day end without a bunch finish – with a perfect run-in for the fast men, their trains upped the pace, and the catch was made with 5km left.

Coming to the finish looking completely in control, Peter Sagan was surfing the other teams’ sprint trains as the finish line came closer. In the final few hundred metres it all came down to three men. Peter was looking strong as he started his sprint, quickly building up some incredible speed. It wasn’t to be, however, as he was just beaten to the line, taking third. With plenty of sprint stages still to come, and even more with terrain that will suit the Slovakian rider, there is everything still to race for.

Peter himself was pleased with his performance today. “There was a lot of stress in the group for nothing, and then in the final there were the usual guys at the front. Personally I’m very happy with my third place today and it’s a nice way to start the race. I didn’t have any problems in the finish and I can be happy with my result.”

Yates saw that today’s finish didn’t play entirely to Peter’s strengths, and was pleased to see him finish as strongly as he did. “Peter had a couple of guys looking after him for as long as possible coming into the finish but we don’t have a lead out here so he was on his own. He led it out from quite far and did a good sprint – it was super fast with the tailwind, which isn’t really his thing, so he did a good sprint and it’s a good result.”

Tomorrow’s stage will take riders 183km around the Cotentin Peninsula. Starting in Saint-Lô a little way south of today’s finish. The three categorised climbs early in the day shouldn’t trouble riders too much, however the third category ascent to the race’s first uphill finish could challenge some of the fast men looking to contest the win. This could be a day for the all-rounders.

Looking ahead, Yates saw that stage 2 was more suited to Peter’s strengths, and today’s ride showed he was bringing good form to the race. “Tomorrow’s sprint is more suited to Peter and if he’s strong like today he should be right up there again. There’s no 3km rule, so we’ll have to be up there at the end to the line with Alberto.”

The Spanish team leader was now looking to see how the next few days would pan out after his crash today, but was pleased it wasn’t worse. “Fortunately, I don't have to go home and I will try to go through the following days in the best way possible so that I reach the mountains recovered. We will go to the hotel and assess the situation. When I place my shoulder in a certain position I am worried. As I said, it's important to apply ice and as the days pass I will feel more pain. However, the Tour doesn't finish here. We have to be optimistic and focus on the following hours in order to rest and recover as much as possible for tomorrow morning."

Team Dimension Data had this deservedly happy post:

The opening stage of the 103rd Tour de France came down to a bunch sprint in Utah Beach and Mark Cavendish gave Team Dimension Data for Qhubeka an incredible stage victory and also secured his, and our African Team’s, first ever yellow jersey of the Tour de France.

Starting in Mont-Saint-Michel, Team Dimension Data for Qhubeka had a clear plan of delivering Cavendish to the sprint finale with the hope of taking the stage victory and the yellow jersey. The 188km stage to Utah Beach suited the sprinters perfectly and so the 5 rider breakaway that did go clear early on, had zero chance of making it to the finish first.

Etixx-Quickstep and Lotto-Soudal did the lion’s share of the pace making from the peloton while Team Dimension Data for Qhubeka rode near the front, out of trouble, during a nervy stage which saw a number of crashes and splits in the peloton caused by crosswinds. With 5km to go, the race was all together and our African Team started to put our stage plan into action.

Moving up the left side of the peloton, Bernhard Eisel led Reinardt Janse van Rensburg, Edvald Boasson Hagen, Mark Renshaw and Mark Cavendish to the head of the bunch. Our African Team was shoulder to shoulder with the Belgian Etixx squad, as they had the stage favourite, Marcel Kittel, at the rear of their train.

After two powerful turns by Janse van Rensburg and Boasson Hagen respectively, our African Team edged ahead as Renshaw led under the 1 kilometer to go sign. Cavendish waited in the wheel of the World Champion, Peter Sagan (Tinkoff), who had to start sprinting early, before our Manxman burst out of the Slovakian’s slipstream with 200m to go, to take a historical victory ahead of Kittel and Sagan.

Mark Cavendish wins stage 1

Mark Cavendish wins stage 1

Mark Cavendish – Rider: This is a very special win. It is the first time I have had the honour of wearing the yellow jersey. What a special moment to do it, with such special people. Three of my last guys, Edvald, Mark and Bernie were guys that have been with me my whole career and to have Reinardt Janse van Rensburg pulling full on for me in the final, it was super emotional for me. In this team, we race for more than just our sponsors, we race to raise the profile of the Qhubeka charity and to put 5000 kids on bicycles. There is no better way to do that than to wear the most iconic symbol in cycling and that’s the yellow jersey. I am very, very happy.

Douglas Ryder – Team Principle: A Tour de France win, our first stage this year, our first yellow jersey, our first year in the World Tour with a new sponsor, this is just unbelievable for this team. The team has an x-factor because it’s got everything going for it at the moment. It has a social cause that everybody really cares about and that the riders believe in. For all the riders to work like they did today, to commit to one objective and one goal and then to pull it off, it is sensational. To wear our first yellow jersey in our second Tour de France and win the first stage, after an incredible start to the season where we had a hugely successful Dauphine, this is an amazing moment for this team. It is amazing for our new partners and for that group came, Bernie, Renshaw and Cavendish, it is incredible how they have integrated with our African riders to make this a special moment for this team and for African cycling.

LottoNL-Jumbo sent me this update:

Dylan Groenewegen didn’t get the chance to sprint during the first stage of the Tour de France. The Dutch champion had a big scare when a rider in front of him crashed heavily, but he managed to stay on his bike. His chance to sprint, however, disappeared. Mark Cavendish (Team Dimension Data) won the stage to Utah Beach and took the yellow jersey.

“I’m glad that I was able to stay on my bike, but it took some stunt work,” Groenewegen said. “The Katusha rider in front of me hit a spectator and crashed hard. I touched him, but didn’t crash, fortunately.”

It happened just after Groenewegen lost some positions in front of the peloton. “We did not have many men left, so it was hard to stay in front. We succeeded in our aim to take the first positions in the race, but it was too chaotic to stay there. It was a fun day, today, though. I enjoyed the chaos.”

Timo Roosen was one of the victims in the final part of the stage. “I tried to stay with my team-mates, but slipped away in a turn,” Roosen said. “It was important to stay together, so you take some risks. It’s a shame that I crashed. You’re fighting for the best spot the whole day. Now, my knee is a little sore, but that won’t bother me too long.”

Groenewegen lacked Roosen because of his crash and Robert Wagner because he was not able to stay ahead. “I lost Sep Vanmarcke and Maarten Wynants,” the Wagner said. “If I would have been able to stay with them, we would have had a good chance. It’s very hard to prepare the sprint when it’s this chaotic. The overall riders are in front with their trains, as well. That’s a big difference with other races.”

“The stage turned out the way we expected,” Sports Director Merijn Zeeman said. “You have to get in the right position early and it’s a big fight to get there. We did a good job in that fight. It’s too bad that Timo crashed because we needed him in the final part of the race. We went to the front a little too early afterwards. It’s our plan to give Dylan a good position to sprint from and we didn’t succeed today. We didn’t know how Dylan was feeling after his intestinal problems earlier this week on the other hand. He feels well again, so that’s a good thing when you look at the upcoming week.”

The second stage of the Tour de France tomorrow ends with a third categorised climb. “It’s going to be chaotic again,” Zeeman continued. “We’re riding by the coast for a big part of the race, so the wind is going to play its role as well. That’s always stressful. It’s probably going to be a finish for the overall riders and the specialists on this terrain. We want to take part in that fight and are going to bring Wilco Kelderman in position.”

Etixx-Quick Step had a good day at the Tour:

Returning to the race after after two years, the Marcel Kittel took a solid result in Utah Beach.

Mont-Saint-Michel welcomed the Tour de France peloton for the first time in three years, but if in 2013 it was at the end of an individual time trial (won by Tony Martin), this time the scenario was totally diferrent, as the Normandy commune hosted the Grand Depart of the race, a 188-km long road stage. 198 riders coming from 22 teams lined up at the start and rolled over the neutral kilometers, and once the flag was dropped, five men slipped away and quickly opened a 5-minute advantage: Jan Barta (Bora-Argon 18), Anthony Delaplace (Fortuneo-Vital Concept), Leigh Howard (IAM Cycling), Alex Howes (Cannondale) and Paul Voss (IAM Cycling).

As soon as the quintet's gap hit its peak, Etixx – Quick-Step came to the front to control the peloton and helped by Lotto-Soudal took back time on the breakaway. The real action began with 107 kilometers to go, when the tricky road furniture led to a crash in which several riders were involved, including Brent Bookwalter (BMC), Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) and Geraint Thomas (Team Sky). As the pack didn't push, deciding instead to slow down the pace, they rejoined the main group, who shortly after became nervous because of the crosswinds.

The strong wind didn't result in any splits, despite an attempt coming from some teams. After things settled, the bunch continued its pursuit of the escape, which had only Delaplace and Howes left up the road. Etixx – Quick-Step brought its strong engines to the fore and they reeled in the breakaway inside the final five kilometers. Tour de Suisse points classification winner Maximiliano Richeze and Fabio Sabatini helped Marcel Kittel make his way to the front, leaving the German in a good position with 500 meters remaining.

Unfortunately, a crash occurred in the finishing straight changed everything and Marcel had to open his sprint early, in the wind, responding to an acceleration of Peter Sagan (Tinkoff). The strong effort he put in saw Marcel Kittel conclude the Tour de France's curtain raiser behind Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data), but ahead of the world champion and André Greipel (Lotto-Soudal), in what was just his seventh day of racing in the past six weeks.

"It was a big fight in the last five kilometers. Everyone wanted to be there, even the GC guys fought hard to get at the front. My boys where very strong, did a great lead-out and kept me well-positioned. Because of the crazy finale, I had to start the sprint from left side and go really early; that made the difference today, because Mark started his sprint later. When you are in the wind and someone is coming from behind, there's no chance to keep up. Of course I am disappointed, because it was my goal to win, but I must congratulate Mark; he's one of the fastest guys in the world and it's no shame to lose to him. On the up side, the team worked well, I'm satisfied with how my legs felt and we are sure more chances will come in the next days", Marcel Kittel said after the finish in Utah Beach, where a Tour de France ended for the first time in history.

Trek-Segafredo ended the day owning the white jersey. Here's their report:

Edward Theuns, 25, sprinted to fifth place in the first stage of his first Tour de France Saturday and claimed the white jersey as the best young rider.

It was a frenzied sprint for the stage win with the coveted yellow jersey on the line, and Theuns proved he can mix it up with the world's fastest finishing a smidge behind four legendary names.

While Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) won the first round in the battle of sprinters – and the first leader's jersey of the 103rd Tour – Theuns celebrated his success, climbing onto the podium in his first Tour stage to don the white jersey.

With 400 meters to go maybe I was dreaming a little to win, but really I felt just holding the wheel was the maximum I could do. "This feels a bit like a victory for me," gushed Theuns. "I was feeling good, and Fabian (Cancellara) and Jasper (Stuyven) helped me in the last 15 kilometers to stay at the front. I had to spend a little bit too much energy at the very end to get on the wheels of the real top sprinters, and that is maybe the power I missed at the end.

"I had to sprint a little to get on Kittel's wheel. With 400 meters to go maybe I was dreaming a little to win, but really I felt just holding the wheel was the maximum I could do. I am very happy with this! It is incredible."

Theuns has never considered himself a pure sprinter, but he is beginning to find his niche with Trek-Segafredo in his first season at the World Tour level and slowly understanding and growing into his strengths.

"I want to prophesize myself as a sprinter, and I think putting myself between these sprinters is for me a big step and maybe next time I can beat one of them," continued Theuns. "It was close, I think Greipel came over me in the end, but the rest were losing speed because it was a long sprint.

"It was hectic, and I had to come from far to get in the best position. The other guys have built a train just for this and then it is not easy to get in good position. That little bit going into the wind might have cost me some power in the end, but still it is very satisfying to be there."

With top speeds hitting over 70km/h in the dash for the line, Theuns explained he was prepared with a 55-tooth large chain ring (standard size on most bikes is 53). "Kim (Andersen, director) came to me last night and said it was not a bad plan to use a 55, and I totally agreed because I have used a 54 before, and today we all knew was going to be a really fast sprint."

Those 55 teeth came in handy in claiming the white jersey – and elevating Theuns' young heart to an astounding 207 beats per minute!

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