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Bicycle Racing News and Opinion,
Sunday, May 22, 2016

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

There are three kinds of men. The one that learns by reading. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves. - Will Rogers

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Giro d'Italia stage 14 video, May 21

Tour of California stage 7 video, May 21

Giro d'Italia stage 14 team reports

Here's what Orica-GreenEdge had to say about stage 14:

Story of the Tour de France Volume 2

Colombian Esteban Chaves produced a spectacular ride for ORICA-GreenEDGE to win stage fourteen of the Giro d’Italia today, attacking repeatedly on the final climbs to distance his more fancied rivals and move up to third on the general classification.

After finishing fifth at last year's Vuelta a Espana, Chaves has made no secret about his and the team's ambitions for the Giro d’Italia and the 26-year-old chose the toughest stage of the race to make his move.

Distancing race favourites Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) on the Passo Valparola, the last of six categorised climbs, Chaves continued to accelerate with Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) all the way to the finish before winning the sprint convincingly after executing a perfect approach to the line.

“After 5,000metres of climbing I’m tired but I’m really really happy,” said Chaves. “Winning the Queen stage at the Giro d’Italia is really special. This is not only for me but for the team who worked really well today. I want to thank everyone involved with ORICA-GreenEDGE because this team is like a big family.”

Chaves continued to describe the key moments of the stage. “Everyone was riding at their limits," he said. "Kruijswijk started his attack then I tried to follow. It was a steep climb and then we saw Nibali was dropped so we started to work together. There is a lot of this race left and this is great but we will see what happens tomorrow.”

Esteban Chaves

Esteban Chaves wins Giro stage 14

2015 Tour de France stage winner Ruben Plaza put in a great solo ride from the early breakaway to claim the mountain's points on the Passo Gardena and the Passo Campolongo before slipping back to the bunch to let Chaves take over.

Sport director Matt White praised the great work by the team and the wonderful performance from Chaves. “Esteban (Chaves) rode a very very smart race today,” said White. “It was probably the hardest stage you will see in any race this year and he waited brilliantly for the perfect moments to go on the attack.”

“We definitely saw who the best climbers were because there was nowhere to hide out there today. Esteban has been feeling good and the team did another fantastic job of protecting and supporting him into the final third of the stage.

“Ruben (Plaza) rode very well in the breakaway for us. It was a hard stage to plan for because everything can change on that kind of course but in the end it worked really well for us going into the final. We are in a great position now going into tomorrow’s crucial uphill individual time trial.”

How it happened: The incredibly difficult ‘Queen stage’ of the 99th Giro d’Italia got underway in dry conditions but with ominous grey clouds hanging overhead.

Lotto-Soudal took early control at the front of the peloton with several attacks attempting to form without success over the first 40kilometres. Eventually a large group of around forty riders went clear on the approach to the Passo Pordoi. The group included Plaza for ORICA-GreenEDGE and they had soon developed a lead of over two minutes on the peloton.

After 55 kilometres of racing the breakaway had over four minutes on the bunch with Movistar now taking up the mantle of leading the chase.

Despite a constant incline from virtually the start line, the climbing began in earnest after 65kilometres. The large group of leaders included Plaza for ORICA-GreenEDGE, Damiano Cunego (Nippo-Vini-Fantini) and Tim Wellens (Lotto-Soudal).

At the start of the legendary climb up the Passo Pordoi the Plaza group was six minutes 23seconds ahead of the peloton with Movistar being forced to continue the work at the front of the bunch in defence of the pink jersey of Andrey Amador.

The breakaway group split slightly on the descent of the Pordoi with David Lopez-Garcia (Team-Sky) off the front alone. Over seven minutes separated Lopez-Garcia and the peloton at the start of the second climb the Passo Sella. The sky rider was caught by the remnants of the Plaza group with Plaza the next rider to attack on the Passo Gardena.

Pushing on alone the ORICA-GreenEDGE rider claimed the mountain points at the summit with 20seconds on the chasing Lopez-Garcia and Moreno Moser (Cannondale) going into the descent.

This was proving to be a great ride by Plaza as the Spaniard continued to put the hammer down on the Passo Campolongo with three chasers 50seconds behind him and the peloton a further eight minutes down as Plaza climbed solo to again claim the mountains points.

Time trialling his way along the rolling roads between the climbs Plaza was motoring towards the iconic Passo Giau and maintaining his lead over the three groups behind. Plaza had a minute and a half on the first group of chasers going onto the penultimate climb with the pink jersey group at nine minutes.

Immediately reaching gradients of 14%, the Passo Giau came with 50kilometres left to race and riders were starting to get dropped from the first chasing group of Lopez-Garcia and the Chaves/Nibali main contender group.

Kanstantsin Siutsou (Dimension-Data) and Darwin Atapuma (BMC) attacked from the chasing group and caught Plaza near the summit of the Passo Giau with 45kilometres to go.

The pink jersey group was also changing shape as Astana moved to the front and upped the pace with Amador immediately losing contact as the group thinned out dramatically.

Chaves was sat in fourth wheel alongside Nibali, Rigoberto Uran (Cannondale) and Valverde with race leader Amador now 45seconds off the back.

Amador managed to regain contact with the Chaves/Nibali group after a hair-raising descent ten kilometres from the final climb.

The eleven kilometre Passo Valparola was the last climb before the short Muro del Gatto just before the finish in Corvara and it was here that Nibali attacked with Kruijswijk and Chaves jumping immediately onto his wheel before Nibali went again. Valverde and Amador were now both dropped as was Uran and Rafal Majka (Tinkoff).

Uran and Majka regained contact a couple of kilometres later as Chaves began to unleash a series attacks off the front of the group. Kruijswijk followed suit managing to distance Nibali but Chaves stayed with the LottoNL-Jumbo rider and attacked again gaining ten seconds into the Italian Champion.

Chaves and Kruijswijk were now tearing the Valparola climb apart with Nibali falling further behind and the trio out front at 50seconds and dropping.

Atapuma attacked over the summit and started the long descent alone as Chaves and Kruijswijk caught Siutsou and Georg Preidler (Giant-Alpecin). The quartet were 20seconds behind Atapuma with Nibali now taking risks on the downhill a further 38seconds behind.

Into the last ten kilometres and Chaves was driving the group forward still 20seconds down on Atapuma heading onto the short but steep Muro del Gatto. Siutsou was now dropped and caught by Nibali as the Chaves trio caught Atapuma in the last five kilometres.

The four riders now shaped up for the sprint with Chaves positioning himself perfectly before launching himself into the final 100metres to take a spectacular victory.

Stage fifteen takes place tomorrow with an individual uphill time trial of 10.8kilometres from Castelrotto to Alpe di Siusi. With an average gradient of 8% and a maximum of 11% the challenging route runs entirely uphill.

Vincenzo Nibali's Astana squad posted this:

"On the Passo Giau we picked up the race", commented Michele Scarponi, "and we held a very high pace so that some rivals for the final victory have lost many seconds".

"It has been a very tough race", he continued, "but it was what we wanted. The first place in the team classification is a just reward for so much effort that all the Team did. "

After the Queen Stage across the Dolomites (210 km and climbed 6 passes), Vincenzo Nibali has earned a position in the GC and is now second only 41" from the new leader, the young Dutch Steven Kruijswijk.

Vincenzo Nibali

Vincenzo Nibali beating Alejandro Valverde for third place in stage 13

"The new pink jersey", commented sport director Paul Slongo, "should monitor the situation and we will be able to run in another surprising way. Tomorrow there uphill Individual Time Trial and will emerge who really has best recovered from the efforts of the last two stages."

The time trial Castelrotto - Alpe di Siusi nearly 11 km has an average 8.3% gradient with straight stretches alternated with hairpins that feature a high bend radius. The final kilometers Entirely run uphill, with constant slopes with a gradient of 11% maximum.

This report came from Tinkoff:

After thirteen exceptionally difficult days of racing, the Giro hit its Queen Stage today. Going into the stage sixth in the GC, Rafal Majka had shown strong performances throughout the race so far, with huge efforts from the team keeping him safe and helping him move up the GC. After a hard day on a constantly undulating parcours, Rafal crossed the line in eighth, holding onto his sixth spot in the GC.

The toughest day of the Giro d’Italia arrived in style. On stunning roads in the Dolomites, the profile more closely resembled a saw than a bike race, with barely a kilometre of flat terrain between the start in Alpago and the finish, 210km later, in Corvara. With seven exceptionally tough climbs to test the GC riders, the steepest gradient at 14% on the first category Passo Giau, cresting a little over 50km from the finish line.

For many riders, at the sight of the parcours, their aim would be to simply get through the stage, but for the GC riders, they would be looking for opportunities to attack their rivals and create time differences. This was to be an exceptionally difficult day – the stage was not just long, it crossed some of the most difficult climbs in the Dolomites too.

Rafal Majka

Rafal Majka racing in last year's Vuelta

The moment the flag was dropped and the race left the neutralised zone, the attacks began. While nothing stuck, the attacking style was to set the tone for the stage. After the relentless difficulty of the previous day, the peloton had little desire to spend the full length of the stage chasing down an escape.

After 45km of racing, the split came, not because of an attack, but because of the relentless pace of the peloton and riders simply not being able to hang on. The group of thirty seven riders soon created a gap of twenty five seconds, which steadily grew to 3’30” after just a few kilometres. With the best-placed rider in the front group more than five minutes behind the Maglia Rosa, the peloton was comfortable with the group building up an advantage.

After nearly 100km of the racing, the pace in the peloton was relaxed. The race was entering the categorised climbs now, and it was imperative to conserve energy and be ready to react to any attacks from the GC contenders. Tinkoff were comfortably together here, riding in support of Rafal Majka. With the road veering upwards, the breakaway riders being gradually caught and with riders began to be dropped off the back of the peloton, the Polish leader was well protected to contest the final climbs.

As the stage entered its final 50km, with the gap at eight minutes, the pace began to rise steadily, gradually reeling back the advantage to five minutes 10km later. As the pace rose and the grassy mountain plains were replaced by snow on the ground, the Maglia Rosa was slowly falling off the back, with a select group of GC riders, which included Rafal Majka, sitting 4’30” behind the duo out in front, and with forty five seconds over the trailing Maglia Rosa.

With 40km to go, there were only twelve riders left in the GC group. While at the head of this group, Vincenzo Nibali of Astana had a rider in support, Rafal appeared to have little difficulty staying with the Italian. After a fast descent of the Passo Giau, the race leader, Andrey Amador, managed to rejoin the GC group in time for the second category Passo Valparola, while the duo at the front of the race became a trio. The final categorised climb had a maximum gradient of 14% and an average gradient of 5.9% over a little more than 10km, and as the final climb before the stage’s uphill finish, was the point an attack was likely.

From 27km out, Vincenzo Nibali went on the attack, taking two men with him. Rafal, in the chasing group, still had him in his sights, pulling hard to stop him escaping further up the road, closing in before catching Nibali’s group. It was a huge effort for Rafal to bridge to this group, but he left several of his GC rivals further down the road – including the Maglia Rosa, who was again suffering and being dropped – but after further attacks, the group began to be strung out along the road and Rafal was left chasing, with six groups in front of the Maglia Rosa and three minutes separating them.

At the stage’s finish, Sport Director, Tristan Hoffman, praised Rafal’s commitment and spirited ride today. “We hoped of course for a little bit more when Chaves and Kruijswijk went but Rafal and the others couldn't follow at this point. He was chasing at 30 seconds with Nibali for a long time but then had to set his own pace, but he kept fighting right to the end and only three riders from the peloton were stronger than him today.”

While there were just 20km remaining, there was a lot of racing still to be done, with the descent of the Passo Valparola and the final ramp up to the finish line in Corvara. The final kilometre saw the race climb the Muro del Gatto – the infamous 360m section hitting a maximum gradient of 19%. After over 200km of racing, this section of road would more closely resemble a wall to the tired riders. As the descent of the Valparola began, Rafal was in a group of three, just a short distance behind the solo Nibali, and a minute off the front group. With smooth, well-surfaced roads, the descent was fast, and enabled Rafal’s group to put some distance on the faltering Maglia Rosa and some of his GC rivals.

As the race neared its close and the solo breakaway was caught, Rafal was still fighting hard as his group hit the Muro del Gatto. Buoyed by the support of the Polish fans on this short but steep climb, Rafal reached the finish 2’29” after the stage winner, in eighth position, keeping hold of his sixth position in the GC rankings.

After the stage, Rafal looked back on his performance and looked to the coming final week. "As said before, it would be a tough and long Giro with strong rivals. Today, it was a very difficult stage that required a huge effort and, unfortunately, I suffered a bit at the finale. I lost time to some GC contenders and gained against others. We still have a week ahead of us and we will keep fighting every day."

The Tinkoff leader’s ability as a GC rider came through strongly today, as Hoffman observed, riding hard and not making mistakes. “He had a good gap on the guys from Movistar but they did a very good downhill and final kilometres so he didn't move up the GC, but he took time on some of those in front. It was a really tough stage, and Rafal didn't make any mistakes - he followed, ate and drank well and never gave up.”

Stage 15 is an uphill time trial. At 10.85km in length, the route is far from easy, climbing the Alpe di Siusi from Castelrotto. Starting with a gentle 1.8% section, the route quickly ramps up to an average of 8.4% before hitting slopes of 11% just as riders will start going into the red. The wide and well-paved roads will encourage fast times, but pacing will be the key here. Rafal goes into tomorrow’s stage with just fourteen seconds between him and fifth in the GC. After a hard day today taking its toll on riders, the day is wide open and may even lead to a few surprises – and with a rest day on Monday to recover, some may go deeper than others. After the toughest stage, Hoffman was looking ahead and waiting to see what Rafal’s rivals would do next. “We can look forward to the time trial now, and then the rest day. There's still a lot to come, and I believe those who lost time today will want to fight back so we will see what happens. Tomorrow's uphill TT is going to be really tough and I expect the same guys as today at the front. Rafal just has to go full gas but we have confidence in him and he's shown he's riding strongly.”

Giant-Alpecin sent this unhappy news:

Bert De Backer (BEL) had to step off the bike on today's 14th stage of the Giro d’Italia, after suffering from fatigue and a minor respiratory infection for a short while now.

Team physician Chris Jansen (NED) told us: "Bert was suffering from a minor respiratory infection from last Sunday's time trial. The last days he seemed to overcome it, but obviously it took energy, which you need in difficult days like these."

On retiring from the race, De Backer said: "For my feeling, I felt on the back foot from the beginning of the Giro after the crash on stage 3, and never felt completely fit. Sadly today I was simply unable to continue to fight."

"Unfortunately we lost Bert today, which is a setback for the team," said Team Giant-Alpecin's coach at the Giro, Marc Reef (NED). "On the uphills he has had some difficult days, and today it was just too much. Bert is a very valuable member of the team and specifically in the sprint preparation for Nikias so we are going to miss him here."

The team wishes Bert De Backer a speedy recovery, and thanks him for his hard work over the past weeks at the race.

Tinkoff's Tour of California stage 7 report

Stage 7 of the Amgen Tour of California was very nearly crowned as the Sagan show as Peter dominated the stage before then just missing out on the win by a matter of centimetres in a photo finish sprint. Obviously feeling good today, Peter spent much of the stage up the road before waiting for the bunch, and then had the energy to contest the sprint from the front at the finish.

“That’s Peter – he’s able to do everything,” said Sport Director, Patxi Vila from the finish in Santa Rosa. “Everyday there’s an opportunity, and he has a great repertoire of winning possibilities – in a bunch, solo, even over climbs. It was an incredible ride. Michael Gogl did a strong ride to get in the break and still be there at the finish too, as well as the other guys who helped these two early in the stage – it was a nice team effort.”

It was Michael who kicked off an active day for Tinkoff as he got clear in a strong group of five on the first climb of the day, pulling out 25” advantage over the peloton. However, the bunch wasn’t going to let that go easily and nine riders bridged across, including Peter, making a group of 14 at the front.

Despite a hard chase from behind, the leaders pulled out over a two-minute advantage by the second climb of the race, but it was here that the attacks came from behind leaving the break’s advantage shattered. There was a coming together of sorts, but Peter didn’t ease off, pressing on taking first over the third climb over the day before forcing a break of six to go clear. With ninth place on GC in the move, the bunch weren’t keen to let the group get far ahead, and knowing this was the case, Peter decided to jump clear with just over 60km to race, going it alone.

He soon set about building his advantage, the move echoing those he made occasionally in the spring classics – just quite a bit further out. He managed to pull out over a minute’s advantage over the chasers who were swallowed up by the peloton, but with sprinters still present the reduced bunch was keen to chase Peter all the way.

Having gone under the 25km to go banner, Peter decided to sit up and wait for the chasers behind, saving his energy for the sprint at the end. Vila explained the situation further: “The plan was actually to get Michael Gogl or Juraj Sagan in the break today, which we achieved with Michael and then Peter bridged across. When he got away in the group of six the guy from Lotto was a GC threat so Peter went solo to see what happened behind. We gambled to see if the sprinters would get dropped and there wouldn’t be much of a chase but when Katusha started to pull we decided to wait for the sprint. Then at the end it was so close in the sprint to the big prize.”

After being caught by the chasing bunch, Peter set about sitting in the wheels alongside teammate Michael Gogl who helped to keep him in position for the impending sprint. They got a few opportunities to see the finish, with several finishing circuits to cover, but it wasn’t too technical with a large open straight road to the line after a final right hand bend.

Coming out of the last corner, Peter was right in the wheel of Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) who’s team had done all the work in setting up the sprint at the end, and as Kristoff opened up his effort Peter started coming around but ran out of ground before the line came, leaving him in second by the smallest of margins. The placing, together with the points won at the intermediate sprint earlier in the day, give Peter a large lead in the points classification ahead of tomorrow’s final stage.

Tour of California stage 7

The Tour of California stage 7 photo finish, Kristoff gets this one just ahead of Sagan

“It was really hard out there today, one of the hardest races I’ve done in my career,” said Michael Gogl after the stage. “It was the whole day full gas so I was pleased I could stay in the front group after having been in the first break. When we caught Peter I tried to support him as much as I could for the sprint.

“I feel like my shape is getting better day by day – it’s my first race since Roubaix – but the hard stages and transfers are tiring. Although I really like the racing here.”

Tomorrow's final stage is a 138km downtown circuit race around Sacramento, likely to end in a bunch sprint - one final opportunity for Peter and the team to go for a third stage win of the week.

LottoNL-Jumbo's Tour of Norway news:

Team LottoNL-Jumbo’s Paul Martens finished third in the fourth stage of the Tour of Norway today. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Dimension Data) won the stage and Peter Weening (Team Roompot) kept his overall lead.

An early escape of seven men marked the 174-kilometer stage to Eggemoen. They gained more than seven minutes but saw their difference slowly whittled down over the tricky final circuit.

"The day started off nicely but ended up with rain," Sports Director Merijn Zeeman explained. "It was a classic stage that ended on a local circuit at an airport with a difficult climb. We had a go for Paul and worked for him in the final. The breakaway was very strong and the guys really had to work very hard. Only on the last climb, we caught up with them. Only six riders could manage the high pace on the final climb. Paul was with them. Boasson Hagen won the sprint and Paul took third. It was a nice reward for him and good for his confidence after a difficult spring."

"This is really good for me because I did not have the best spring season," said Martens. "I was far below my normal level. Then it is nice when you can once again sprint to victory. Well Boasson Hagen is faster, but I have a good mindset."

The race in Norway highlighted the strong local cyclists. “There are many strong riders racing," Martens said. "It's not that you're here and just pick up a victory or pull away in a break. We don’t know the riders yet but we will. This race is the Tour de France for the Norwegians. They are all in shape. Today, everyone in the team contributed a bit to my podium. It feels good that they worked so hard for me."

Tomorrow is a flat sprinters’ stage in the Tour of Norway. Martens said the team would work for Tom Asbroeck.

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