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Bicycle Racing News and Opinion,
Friday, March 4, 2016

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

Nothing happens unless first we dream. - Carl Sandburg

Current Racing:

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Lotto-Soudal will be at Strade Bianche

The team sent me this release:

Story of the Tour de France Volume 2

The peloton will be in Tuscany for the tenth edition of the Strade Bianche on Saturday 5 March 2016. This Italian classic, which has become more popular during the past few years, is part of the Europe Tour. The start and finish place in Siena is legendary. The peloton needs to cover 176 kilometres in total of which 52.8 kilometres are on unpaved roads (sterrati).

After about ten kilometres the riders need to cover the first gravelled section. Thereafter, two hills and another unpaved road are on the course before the peloton gets to Lucignano d’Asso. This is the longest gravelled section of the race, it’s almost twelve kilometres long. Then it’s time for four other unpaved sections, among them Sante Marie. The final gravelled road is at eleven kilometres of the finish, then it’s a sloped course towards Siena. At the end, there’s a tough climb which is situated in the final kilometre with a maximum gradient of sixteen per cent. The finish line awaits at the famous market place ‘Piazza del Campo’.

Lotto Soudal heads to Italy with different types of riders. Tiesj Benoot, Jürgen Roelandts, Maxime Monfort and Rafael Valls will participate among others. They will compete against riders such as Fabian Cancellara and Jasper Stuyven, Greg Van Avermaet, Alejandro Valverde, Vincenco Nibali and Peter Sagan. Zdenek Stybar, the winner of last year, will also start. It’s been five years since the Lotto team went to the Strade Bianche; Philippe Gilbert won in 2011. Sports director Bart Leysen gives a preview.

Maxime Monfort

Maxime Monfort will be at the Strade Bianche

Bart Leysen: “There are a few tough and tricky sections on the course. Some parts are tougher compared to the hills at the Ronde Van Vlaanderen or Brabantse Pijl. If it rains, the chance of punctures and chain problems will increase. It’s possible that we'll have a Paris-Roubaix scenario. Although these gravelled sections are different in comparison to the hills of the spring classics. These sections are much longer and sometimes steeper. This is just a very nice race, the first selection will already occur before the first half of the race. The sections at about sixty kilometres of the finish will be very important, especially the ones of nine and eleven kilometres. There’s also a tough climb at the end. It will be a hard race, that’s for sure.”

“We have a very motivated Tiesj Benoot in our team and he’s in a very good shape as well. He’s a rider that can perform several consecutive accelerations and we need someone like him in such races. Also Jürgen Roelandts and Jens Debusschere can handle such courses. But Tiesj will be our leader and will be protected. We hope to obtain a nice result of course, everyone is in good shape so I think we can determine the race. Maybe one of our riders can be part of the early break so that other teams need to ride at the front of the peloton. The competition will be hard though, riders such as Valverde and Cancellara are always good.”

“We go already leave for Tuscany on Thursday. Only Jens will arrive later, he replaces Stig Broeckx. We want to do a recon of the final sixty kilometres with the seven other riders on Friday. Just to let the riders feel how tough these gravelled sections are. During that recon, we’ll also test the tyre pressure for instance. This training will be useful because a great amount of our line-up isn’t familiar with this race.”

Line-up Lotto Soudal: “Tiesj Benoot, Jens Debusschere, Bart De Clercq, Pim Ligthart, Tomasz Marczynski, Maxime Monfort, Jürgen Roelandts and Rafael Valls.

Sports directors: Bart Leysen and Mario Aerts.

Gerts Sidelined Following Crash at Le Samyn

BMC sent me this news:

03 March, 2016, Roeselare (BEL): Floris Gerts' racing program will be put on hold following a crash at Le Samyn yesterday which left Gerts with two fractured ribs.

The treacherous conditions caused multiple crashes throughout the one-day race and Gerts was brought down as the race entered the circuit with 100km to go, crashing into a road sign that had fallen on the course.

Floris Gerts

Floris Gerts crashed badly at LE Samyn

BMC Racing Team Doctor Daniele Zaccaria gave the following update. "Floris has fractured his 7th and 8th ribs on the left side which will require him to take things easy for the next couple of weeks and slowly build up from there. He was already recovering from a crash at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad last Saturday which left him with a fractured finger."

"It is important that Floris takes the necessary time to heal and really listens to his body, not only in terms of pain but to avoid any risk of re-fracture or a pneumothorax. We will continue to monitor his condition in the coming weeks."

It is a disappointing outcome for Gerts who was set to race at Driedaagse van West-Flaanderen tomorrow. "I'm really disappointed, not only because it will stop me from racing this weekend but also because I was feeling really good yesterday before the crash. In the opening weekend I didn't quite have the legs but yesterday I was up there in the front group before the crash and I felt like I was in a good position," Gerts explained.

BMC also sent me this update about Philippe Gilbert:

03 March, 2016, Santa Rosa, California (USA): Philippe Gilbert has been given the all clear to compete at Paris-Nice this Sunday following his crash at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.

Gilbert lined up at GP Le Samyn yesterday however withdrew due to the extreme conditions and lingering back pain resulting from his crash at the one-day race.

BMC Racing Team Chief Medical Officer, Dr Max Testa gave the following update on Gilbert's condition. "Philippe has undergone a medical examination to assess the nature of his back pain which resulted from his serious crash at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. X-Rays have ruled out any fractures, but confirmed soft tissue contusions of the deep spinal muscles," Dr Testa explained.

Philippe Gilbert should be back at it this week.

"Philippe will be fit to race at Paris-Nice this Sunday as scheduled and we do not believe that this injury will impact his Classics campaign. Of course we will continue to monitor his condition in the coming days and as the race gets underway."

Gilbert is looking forward to lining up this weekend.

"I have some pain but I'm really motivated to race at Paris-Nice. Obviously for me the goal has never been to win but rather to put in a solid block of racing in the lead up to Milan-San Remo and the other Classics. I'll take it day by day but we are not worried," Gilbert said.

Alberto Contador heads to Paris-Nice

This came to me from Tinkoff:

The WorldTour calendar gets back into action this weekend with its first European outing of the season, the historic French race, Paris-Nice. Alberto Contador, already a two-time winner of The Race to the Sun, returns to the race after a five year hiatus to lead Tinkoff’s assault over the eight-days that present the first real GC test of the season.

Commenting ahead of the race, Alberto said: "Paris-Nice is a special race where I have always performed well. In addition, it is a very important one in terms of preparation because it gives you pace and provides a good base for the rest of the year. On the other hand, it's also a complicated race, because of the big number of rivals, its parcours and the weather conditions."

Lining up for Tinkoff from 6-13 March are Robert Kiserlovski and Sergio Paulinho, both of who started their seasons alongside Alberto in Portugal, as well as Polish duo Rafal Majka and Pawel Poljanski. The experienced Matteo Tosatto, as well as Russian road race champion, Yuri Trofimov, and young Danish talent Michael Valgren complete the team in France.

Robert Kiserlovski

Robert Kiserlovski will be at Paris-Nice to help Alberto Contador

Looking at the challenges that present themselves at the race, Sport Director Steven De Jongh comments: “It’s going to be a hard race, starting with a fast prologue before the flat stages in which positioning will be key. Stage 1 features a section of gravel road and in these exposed stages there’s always the chance of crosswinds.”

Following the early sprint stages the attention turns to the climbers in the second half of the week. De Jongh continues: “The first goal is to not lose any silly time on the early stages, and to minimalise the risk of getting caught out before stage 3’s uphill finish where we will see who’s there for GC.”

This third road stage presents the first climbing test, covering six categorised climbs over the 165.5km parcours. The yellow jersey will likely be wrestled off the shoulders of one of the flat specialists on this day on the 3km ascent to the finish.

Particular focus can be paid to stage 6, the queen stage, which features the only mountain-top finish of the race, as well as the final day with a late ascent of the Col d’Eze after which it’s all downhill to the finish in Nice.

“The early stages could shape the race but the overall should be decided on the final weekend,” De Jongh added. “We have a strong team here with a mix of climbers, experienced riders and some younger guys too, and everyone is in good shape to support Alberto. We are ready to get the job done.”

Looking at this year's course, Alberto highlights: "It is one of the toughest that I can recall, very hilly, but on the other hand it kicks off with a flat prologue that isn't technical at all, very well suited to specialists. I miss the time-trial on Col d'Eze which I have never been able to race, but instead it has two summit finishes, one for heavier riders and another for climbers."

The Race: The first yellow leader’s jersey of the race will be decided after a short, fast 6.1km opening prologue around Conflans-Sainte-Honorine in north-central France. Once the TT specialists have had their day the attention moves towards the sprinters with two opportunities for a bunch finish on stages 1 and 2 as the race continues to head south towards the first uphill finish on stage 3, a 3km climb averaging 7.7% - enough to cause the first shake up on GC.

After another day for the sprinters on stage 4 comes the first real mountain test as the race tackles the infamous Mont Ventoux, climbing up to Chalet Reynard before turning and descending back to Sault. With over 125km between the Giant of Provence and the finish line there’s still time for a reshuffle at the front so this could be a day for the breakaway to succeed, or for a small peloton to battle it out.

Stage 6 will prove to be the real GC decider with six categorised climbs leading the way to the final 15.3km ascent to the line atop La Madone d’Utelle. All could still be to play for on stage 7 as the riders do battle over six more classified climbs over a testing parcours. The last climb on this year’s race is the Col d’Eze, before a fast run down to the finish in Nice where the 2016 champion will be crowned.

Cannondale's Paris-Nice plans

Here is the team's release:

The Cannondale Pro Cycling Team will send a measured squad to line up at the 74th edition of Paris-Nice, an early season test for GC riders and sprinters alike.

Pierre Rolland, Tom-Jelte Slagter and Wouter Wippert headline the Cannondale Pro Cycling Team’s roster for the Race to the Sun, dubbed such because it runs from the colder climes of Paris in the early spring to the Mediterranean town of Nice over the course of a week. This year’s edition will cover 1,290 kilometers over seven road stages and a prologue. There are two true mountain days, two hilly endeavors and three anticipated sprint finishes.

Cannondale heads to the race with several ambitions: a good showing on the general classification with Rolland, punch in the hills with Slagter and a shot in the sprints on the legs of Wippert.

For Rolland, the race is an opportunity to compete on home soil and take measure of his different approach to training with a new team. “I am always very happy racing in France. There are three major competitions for me in France: The Dauphiné, Paris-Nice and the Tour de France,” he said. “The first round of the major races in France is always an event. Also, I have not raced in front of the French since the Tour de France 2015.”

Peirre Rolland

Pierre Rolland (shown in 2015 at the Tour de France) will be wearing his new Cannondale colors at Paris-Nice

Cannondale Pro Cycling Team director Charly Wegelius anticipates a strong showing from the Frenchman over the course of the season.  “Pierre is coming off a period at altitude, which so far in his career has been a rarity. He has really applied himself well over the winter and has approached all the new experiences with great enthusiasm. I am sure it will pay itself back in terms of results over the season,” he said.

A Frenchmen has won Paris-Nice 21 times (the most of any nation, by a good measure to Belgium’s 14) but not since 1997.

“It’s a strong team and a balanced one,” Wegelius added. “You could almost divide it into two groups: we have a classics group based around Dylan Van Baarle, along with Matti Breschel, Paddy Bevin, and Wouter Wippert and a climbing group lead by the Andrew Talansky / Rolland duo, with great support from Lawson Craddock and Tom-Jelte Slagter.”

“A rider in the top 10 in Nice and a stage win somewhere on the way from one of our several options would be a great result,” Wegelius said.

One of those “several” options comes in the form of Wippert, who’s been knocking on the door since the Tour Down Under; the 25-year-old sprinter has three top five finishes to his credit this season.

“Wouter is getting very close to that point where he pulls off something big — pulls off a first win in Europe, first win at the World Tour level,” team manager Jonathan Vaughters said. “He tends to go big or go home. He’s going to be sprinting for the win — he’s going to take big risks to get that. He’s not one of those sprinters who’s going to be ‘in the wheels, in the wheels, ok, he got third again.’ He always tries to come off the wheel. Sometimes that hurts him from getting placings, because he’s totally focused on the win.”

Craddock, also a new signing for the team, likes Cannondale’s chances. “It’s a really good group of guys. I think with the guys we’re bringing we have a really good shot to do well overall. It’s encouraging and exciting. It’ll be good to get out there and race with guys I haven’t raced with before  — guys like Pierre and Matti Breschel,” he said. “The main goal is to help out. When you look at the team, there’s a pretty good shot to do well overall.”

The Race to the Sun begins on Sunday, March 6 in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine with a 6.1km prologue and ends on Sunday, March 13 in Nice.

And here's Lampre-Merida's Paris-Nice release:

The first European World Tour event is starting in a few days: in fact, Paris-Nice will take place from 6 to 13 February.

In Lampre-Merida's line-up, which will be supervised by the sports directors Mauduit and Scirea, there will be Bono, Cimolai, Mario Costa, Rui Costa, Grmay, Kump, Meintjes and Pibernik.

DAvide Cimolai

Davide Cimolai (shown winning 2015 Laiguelgia) will ride Paris-Nice

The operative staff's members will be the physician Dr Ronchi, the masseurs Capelli, Chiodini, Conti and Lima, the mechanics Bacchion, Baron, Coelho, the driver Bozzolo and the press officer Haoyang.

These are the details of the race:

The captain of Lampre-Merida for the overall classification will be Rui Costa, who'll try to be on the same level of the past edition, when he was 2nd in 2014 and 4th in 2015.

During the current season, the Portuguese champion has already raced 10 days, obtaining the 5th place in the overall classification of the Tour de Oman.

The overall classification will be undefined until the 6th stage, unless the weather conditions with wind and rain would make the race uncertain. The riders will face two innovations: in the first stage the cyclists will cover two dirty road sectors and the last stage won't be the the time trial on the Col d'Eze as in the past editions.

Rui Costa will compete with opponents of a high quality, so the fight for the top positions of the overall classification.

In the mountain stages, Lampre-Merida will rely on the African climbers duo Meintjes-Grmay, with the support of Bono and Mario Costa: all these riders will be important for Rui for achieving the goals.

Cimolai will be the main sprinters for the hilly stages, considering also his feeling with the French race where, in 2015, he won one stage and obtained a second place.

Lampre-Merida will also have the extra value of the Slovenian duo Kump-Pibernik for the faster stages.

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