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Bicycle Racing News and Opinion,
Friday, September 2, 2016

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If we don't change direction soon, we'll end up where we're going. - Irwin Corey

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Vuelta a España Stage 12 news

We'll start with the report from stage winner Jens Keukeleire's Orica-BikeExchange team:

Tour of Slovenia stage winner Jens Keukeleire finished off a perfect day to take a sprint victory on stage 12 of the Vuelta a Espana today, hitting out early to finish well clear of the reduced bunch.

ORICA-BikeExchange reached the finale in numbers and a great team performance was brought home by 26-year-old Keukeleire after Briton Simon Yates covered late moves and Australian Damien Howson executed the lead out. “The first thing I thought about (after crossing the line) was my girlfriend and my son who are here today,” said Keukeleire. “It has only been a month since I became a father for the first time and they’ve been here the last couple of days, so to get my first Grand Tour win in front of them is amazing.”

“I’ve been feeling pretty good for the last couple of days and we knew that today was going to be a hard stage and we decided this morning if I was still there in the finale we could for it. I am really happy that the team gives me this opportunity because understandably when you have guys in good positions on the general classification it’s not easy to give everyone a chance and I’m very grateful.

Jens Keukeleire

Jens Keukeleire looks back after winning the sprint.

“The first time over the climb (on the finishing laps) I was on my limit and thought I would never make it over again, but I felt a lot better the second time. It’s amazing and I’m very happy that I was able to finish off the work of the team.”

Colombian general classification contender Esteban Chaves remains in fourth overall with stage six winner Yates also finishing at the front and retaining seventh place going in to tomorrow’s stage 13.

Sport director Neil Stephens was delighted with the win and praised the selfless work and attitude of the team. “It was a really special outcome today,” said Stephens. “In the team meeting this morning we said that our main goal is obviously the general classification.”

“Everyone has noticed that Jens (Keukeliere) has been recovering well and going about his work with relative ease and we all agreed that if it came to a reduced bunch then Jens should go for it. In a way, we went one step further because everyone rallied around Jens in the finale to help him pull off the win. It was a great win for the workers and a great win for the team all round.

“I think Jens felt honoured that his teammates recognised the fact that he was going well and the stage suited him and the victory is maybe a way to repay that confidence."

How it happened: The 193 kilometre stage 12 began under blue skies and bright sunshine in Los Corrales de Buelna with the peloton still together after a very fast first hour of racing. Splits began to form on the first ascent of the day, the Puerto de las Alisas, only for the bunch to re-form on the following descent. Gradually a seven-man move began to pull clear.

The pace slowed a little over the second hour of racing, enabling the seven escapees to push their lead out to two and a half minutes over the watchful peloton.

The finishing circuits included two ascents of the Alto El Vivero climb and by the first time over the top with the peloton had clawed back nearly minute on the leaders. The catch was made with 17 kilometres remaining and the speeding peloton was reduced to around 60 riders on the final time over the El Vivero.

Dries Devenyns (IAM-Cycling) attacked towards the summit and gained 30seconds as the bunch began to split behind him. The bunch caught and passed Devenyns with only two kilometres to go and immediately shaped up for the sprint.

ORICA-BikeExchange were well represented in the finale with Howson holding a strong position on the right and Keukeleire tightly on his wheel. As Howson pulled off, Keukeleire hit out early and magnificently held his sprint to the line to take the stage victory by a number of bike lengths.

Stage 13 takes place tomorrow and is the longest stage of this year’s race, covering 213.4kilometres from Bilbao to Urdax-Dantxarinea. The stage includes four third-category climbs before a technical and undulating finale.

Tinkoff sent me this update:

On a hilly parcours, the attacks came thick and fast on a stage where a breakaway might just have been able to take the victory. On the flat final kilometre of the Bilbao finishing circuit however, the fast men saw they had a chance to go for the win, and a reduced bunch contested the sprint, pulling in a last-minute breakaway with only a couple of kilometres to go. Sitting just behind the reduced bunch, Alberto Contador took 30th spot with the same time as the sprinters – the first of the Tinkoff riders to cross the line.

At 193.2km, this was one of the longer stages of this year’s Vuelta, and the stage profile managed to fit in four challenging climbs – the last two part of a finishing circuit of Bilbao ridden twice. Starting the day with the first category Puerto de las Alisas, the 10km-long climb was too far out to have an impact on the stage’s outcome, but its length would tire riders early in the day. As part of the finishing circuit, the second category Alto El Vivero was where some of the decisive moves would take place – its 8.5% average gradient certain to string out the bunch late in the day. The only question would be whether the day’s breakaway could hold out their advantage until the end.

There was plenty of action at the start of the day, as riders strived to get into the breakaway group, but it wasn’t until near the summit of the Puerto de las Alisas that an escape managed to stick – with several groups being pulled back earlier in the stage. The gap remained slim as other teams, eager for mountains points and a possible sprint finish, worked to keep the break in contact.

With 60km remaining, the escape reached the Bilbao finishing circuit, with the peloton not far behind. A group of five held out their lead on the front with an advantage of a little under three minutes, hoping to stay ahead until the end of the day. With 18km to go however, the peloton was within touching distance, and it was all back together soon after, shortly before the second ascent of the Alto El Vivero. With a late push, a small breakaway group went for the win, while Alberto Contador went on the attack himself to test his legs, but the peloton wasn’t going to allow another escape to happen – the fast men had a chance to go for the win with a bunch sprint, and Alberto Contador was on their tail, finishing safely in the reduced bunch with the same time as the sprinters.

It was a hard day for everyone, explained the Tinkoff leader. “Today was a day of great effort for everybody. The Sky riders spent quite a lot of energy in the breakaway, and Movistar were controlling the breakaway. It's been a few days of incredible watt figures and I'm sure they have taken their toll. Everything went well today though and we finished the day out of trouble.”

Sport Director, Steven De Jongh, saw how hard the day had been after some huge efforts from the whole team over the past few days. “It was a very hard day today. It was very fast after the hard work of yesterday, and so it was hard for the whole team – especially for Manuele who was on the front so long yesterday. We tried to get in the breakaway but did that wasn’t possible, and with Sky in the break, Movistar worked even harder. Luckily in the end everyone was ok, although Manuele did finish later. It was good to see Alberto testing his legs on the Alto El Vivero.”

Tomorrow, the longest stage of this year’s Vuelta will again take place in the Basque Country, with brief forays into France towards the end of the day. At 213.4km, the stage takes in four categorised climbs – all of them third category – but the parcours itself is hilly and will be draining for the riders, who already have tired legs from almost two weeks of hard racing.

Alberto was feeling the effort of the past few days’ racing and would be taking every day as it came. “It has been nearly 600 kilometres in three days with practically no flat part and at a fast pace. Today this was on top of the high temperatures. My SRM power meter was showing 25-26 degrees, which was combined with the high humidity here. All these factors mean we will reach the final week quite weak. We will see how I feel and how I recover.

De Jongh was waiting to see what happened on tomorrow’s stage, especially given the tough stage to come on Saturday. “Tomorrow will be a day for the break. We’ll see what happens and stay out of trouble – but we’ll see if a big group goes and see if we can get in it. We’ve had some very tough days and tomorrow is another long one before a hard day on Saturday.”

Here's LottoNL-Jumbo's Vuelta report:

Team LottoNL-Jumbo rider George Bennett made a strong showing during the 12th stage of the Tour of Spain. In the final climb into Bilbao, Bennett tried to join the Belgian attacker Dries Devenyns. He ran out of gas, and the main bunch reeled in the attackers, with Jens Keukeleire (Orica Bike Exchange) winning the sprint finish. Bennett finished 19th. There were no major changes in the overall standings.

"Today we started with the goal to be in the break. It is a shame that it does not work, but soon we knew that there would be another chance in the final. George Bennett tried it several times at the beginning of the race, but could not get away,” said Sports Director Addy Engels. "In the beginning, we’ve jumped many times, but we could not make it to the group of seven men who escaped on the long climb."

Despite missing the break, Engels soon knew it would come together in the final. "Movistar kept the lead to a small gap, and Astana had already closed several gaps in the beginning, then you know that they're going to ride in the final. And that is what happened. We had Gesink and Bennett in the peloton who could participate on the final climb. "

Bennett surged off the front of the peloton on the last climb, adding: "I saw Devenyns go and immediately thought that it was too early. When no one responded, I am trying to follow him. I came close but behind me a group with several strong riders were coming. "

Bennett soon realized that it was not going to happen: "Despite the strong riders, there was no cooperation, and I just attacked on the descent. Shame it was a wide road, because you’re not in advantage on a big group."

Tomorrow: Sports Director Addy Engels looks ahead: "I saw a beautiful race and the chances are that it will be another good day tomorrow. Tomorrow is a long stage that goes up and down. It can go either way, although I do not think we will see men like Bennett and Gesink in front, because of the lack of a real executioner-style climb like today."

Cannondale-Drapac headed to Tour of Britain

Here's the update from the team:

The Cannondale-Drapac Pro Cycling Team brings a balanced team to the Tour of Britain, which begins Sunday in Glasgow, Scotland. Over eight stages, the race travels 1,308 kilometers down the west of the United Kingdom before finishing in London.

Dylan Van Baarle, the 2014 winner of the Tour of Britain, will be joined by Ryan Mullen, Wouter Wippert, Jack Bauer, Sebastian Langeveld, and Ruben Zepuntke. The six-man squads plus the tight roads and spectators make the Tour of Britain an exciting race with myriad variables.

Dylan van Baarle

Dylan van Baarle in 2014

“I really like the way they are racing the Tour of Britain. It's like a junior style race. And with only six riders in a team, it is more exciting,” Van Baarle said. “I'm looking forward to the stage with the mountaintop finish. I'm in good shape so hope that I can do something there.”

The hectic nature of the race ensures sport directors and riders have their hands full. Cannondale-Drapac’s sport director in the UK, Eric Van Lancker, won the Milk Race in 1985, a predecessor of sorts to the current Tour of Britain

“In this tour there are many aspects that come into play for the overall,” Van Lancker said.  “The weather, short and steep climbs, one hilltop finish and a TT over 15 km… the deciding factor in this tour is always racing in front and not coming into the last groups on this narrow roads and open fields. We're going to race aggressively. With six riders, it is difficult to rectify a crooked situation. It’s always better to be in front."

Ryan Mullen said, for some reason, the Tour of Britain seems to get more difficult every year. “I like the whole British feel of the race,” said the Irishman. “No language barriers, hard roads and more often than not some pretty amazing routes. Even if they are getting harder every year for some bizarre reason.”

“The team we are sending is a very strong one,” Mullen added. “Everyone is capable of a result on any of the eight days. We have Wouter, who’s in great form for the fast finishes, and if I’m not too nailed by the time we get to Bristol maybe I can try and do something in the time trial. But we have a lot of classics type riders here which really suits the style of racing here in the UK. It’s definitely going to be an exciting week. But hard.”

In the sprints, as Mullen indicated, Cannondale-Drapac will look to Dutchman Wouter Wippert. “It’s going to be a tough week with a lot of climbing, turning and small roads. There will probably be some wet days, and there are never easy moments in wet stages, which makes it harder. Also the six-man teams mean less control and more unpredictable stages,” Wippert said. “After some good races the last couple of weeks I hope my shape has continued to improve so when it comes to a sprint I can compete for a stage win. I think we race with a strong lineup, so who knows how we are going to try to get the stage win? The race will be on from the first kilometer on Sunday, and we will be ready.”

Cannondale-Drapac to the 2016 Tour of Britain: Jack Bauer, Sebastian Langeveld, Ryan Mullen, Dylan Van Baarle, Wouter Wippert, Ruben Zepuntke

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