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Bicycle Racing News and Opinion,
Friday, September 30, 2016

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Just before takeoff on an airplane flight, the stewardess reminded Muhammad Ali to fasten his seat belt. "Superman don't need no seat belt," replied Ali.

"Superman don't need no airplane either," retorted the stewardess.

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Giro del Piemonte/Gran Piemonte team reports

Here's how second-place Fernando Gaviria's Etixx-Quick Step team saw the race:

Etixx – Quick-Step started the Italian one-day race as one of the favourites, but was soon struck by bad luck, as three riders crashed in the opening kilometers of the event which took the peloton from Diana d'Alba to Aglié, over 207 kilometers: Laurens De Plus, Fernando Gaviria and Pieter Serry. After landing on his right side, Laurens had to abandon and was taken to the Casale Monferrato hospital, where the X-rays didn't seem to show any fractures, but a strong right hip contusion that puts his Il Lombardia participation under a cloud.

Although both Fernando and Pieter remounted after the crash, it wasn't an easy task for them to continue the race, as the bunch put the hammer down and rode at an average speed of 49 kilometers for more than an hour. Eventually, when things settled down, a large group went clear, but with many dangerous riders – including Matteo Trentin – booking a place in that move, the pack wasn't willing to let them go.

After the group was reeled in, Stephane Rossetto (Cofidis) attacked and established a consistent margin of six minutes, which allowed the Frenchman to stay at the front until the last three kilometers, when the peloton led by Etixx – Quick-Step swept past him. The sprint, a very technical one, with several tricky corners, saw two of our riders finish in the top 10, same time as winner Giacomo Nizzolo (Italy): Fernando Gaviria, who came second, and Zdenek Stybar, who concluded the 100th edition of Gran Piemonte in 8th place.

Fernando Gaviria

Fernando Gaviria finishing the Giro del Piemonte

"I had good legs, but not powerful enough to beat Giacomo, who was better today and deserved the victory. Overall, I am happy, because I could continue the race and keep my focus, despite crashing. It wasn't easy, so to get second is still a good result and I want to thank the team for their work. To me it's important that I'm on the right track, especially as I'll race Tour de l'Eurometropole, Binche-Chimay-Binche and Paris-Tours in the space of just one week, before going to the World Championships", said 22-year-old Fernando, who has six victories and six podiums in his first season as pro.

Tinkoff sent me this report:

After two days of falling short when it came to the final result, Tinkoff finished the Giro del Piemonte with a podium spot after Daniele Bennati finished third in the day's bunch sprint. It was a race where Tinkoff spent the whole day on the front foot, represented in the initial large break, before leaving their mark in the finishing bunch sprint. After his final race wearing the Tinkoff colours, Bennati thanked team owner Oleg Tinkov and the entire team for this incredible four-season period of his professional career.

Daniele had to dig deep on the race’s final climb to stay in contention with the select lead group, before being put into position by Michael Gogl and mixing it up in the finishing sprint at the end of the day.

Sport Director, Lars Michaelsen explained the race more after the finish: “The day got off to a fast, heavy start around Barolo with a climb early on where a group of 38 riders got clear with four of our guys there. We pushed hard to make it stick but eventually they were caught after 115km.

Bennati and Gaviria

Daniele Bennati and Fernando Gaviria just after the race

“After 173km there was a final selection on a 6km climb at around 6% gradient and Benna and Gogl made the selection here. The plan was to go for Benna for the sprint today and Gogl was able to do a good job to help him at the finish. He was a bit boxed in for the sprint but it is a nice result after two days of not coming away with what we wanted.”

After the fast start, Bennati, Gogl, Manuele Boaro and stagiaire, Davide Ballerini made the initial selection in the early break of 38 riders. The fast, attacking start resulted in an average speed of 49km/h in the opening two hours of racing. The break was too large to stick and, despite a hard push from the Tinkoff riders, it was reeled back in after 115km.

From here, one rider pushed on and went clear building a few minutes’ advantage before gradually being reeled back in. All eyes were on the last climb of the day where the real selection would be made for who could fight out the finish. Despite initially suffering on the climb, Michael Gogl dug deep to make the front group and be in a position to help teammate Daniele Bennati in the final. The lone escapee went close but was eventually caught in the final few kilometres before the sprint unfolded.

After finishing his podium duties, Daniele said: "Today was a very special day for me as this race was my last one in Tinkoff colours and I really wanted to close this chapter of my professional career with another win. In addition, I have already won Piemonte twice and I would have become the record holder with three victories. That victory would have a special value because it would also be a way to thank my teammates, the staff and, of course, Oleg Tinkov. I joined the team in 2013 and after four incredible seasons, Tinkoff will always hold a special place in my heart.

"Our plan today was for me to try to win. It was a very fast race with an average of 47km/h. I went in the early break of 38 riders and stayed at the front for more than 100km. In the last climb we were part of a group of around 35-40 riders and I had Michael Gogl there who helped me until the final kilometre. I stayed on the wheel of Gaviria but we got boxed in and Nizzolo grabbed the opportunity to pass us on the right.

"I'm very happy with the final result and even if I missed the victory, I'm very satisfied with my form and the podium place I achieved. Once again, thanks everybody at Tinkoff and thanks Oleg! I will never forget these four great years."

Michael Gogl explained the situation further from the finish: “It was a really hard race and we made it hard from the start. We wanted to make everybody tired and forced the move. On the last climb Benna was able to stay there, as was I, so I tried to help position him as much as possible. He was boxed in but got a nice result. After the Vuelta my legs are really good – I had a bit of a down day at Tre Valli Varesine but today was much better.”

The next race for Tinkoff this week in Italy is the final WorldTour race of the season on Saturday, Il Lombardia.

Giro di Lombardia is coming October 1

Here's Cannondale-Drapac's race preview:

Rigoberto Uran will start Il Lombardia as a pre-race favorite following a pair of third place finishes in Italy over the last week. The Colombian climber rounded out the podium at Giro dell’Emilia on Sunday and Milano-Torino on Thursday, where he finished one spot behind teammate Mike Woods.

“Rigoberto’s results show us that he means business and that his condition has held since his excellent performances in Canada,” said head sport director Charly Wegelius. “He has his papers in order to be competitive in Lombardia.”

The course for the final monument of the season changes yearly, though the test remains largely the same. The peloton faces a long, unrelenting day in the saddle. The 110th edition of Il Lombardia covers 240 kilometers between its start in Como and its conclusion in Bergamo.

Rigoberto Uran

Rigoberto Uran earlier this year

“The race has changed in recent years, alternating finish lines between Como and Bergamo,” noted Wegelius. “The climb of the Ghisallo is not only steeped in cycling history but also a mainstay of the race. This year it comes early in the race, so it should not be decisive. The final this year, while passing the familiar Bergamo Alto route, also includes new climbs, and importantly new descents.”

Italian sport director Fabrizio Guidi has been on the ground with the team in Italy since last week. He directed Uran to third over the weekend and has kept a close eye on proceedings throughout the week, managing a multitude of training schedules and race days.

“Lombardia has always been the main target this week, but the smaller races with strong fields are not so small from a sporting point of view,” noted Guidi. “We’ve had the opportunity to face the strongest riders, and we’ve risen to the challenge. At the same time, there is still work to be done to have the best possible approach for Saturday.”

Il Lombardia is a big one for a myriad of reasons: finale to the Italian one-day races, final Monument, final WorldTour race and, for many, final race with their 2016 teams.

“The days when large parts of the peloton rode Lombardia with their minds already on their holiday plans are long gone,” said Wegelius. “The race will be hotly contested by a mixture of classic riders and climbers. Holidays can wait when such a prestigious race is up for grabs.”

“Lombardia is the hardest of the monuments,” added Guidi. “It’s true this year more than ever, and for us, it’s an opportunity to get the result that we’ve been chasing and that we deserve.”

Woods, who animated the Milano-Torino finale to earn his first European podium, is one of several Cannondale-Drapac riders showing significant progress ahead of Saturday’s showdown. The Canadian has fought back from two mid-season injuries to find his late-season form.

“The team has been riding great this week, and we have come super close to getting a win,” said Woods. “Rigo is on great form, and with the other guys on the team also getting results, we have a lot of cards to play on Saturday. Milano-Torino has been a real confidence boost for me, and I think going into Lombardia I can play a solid role in supporting Rigo for the win.”

Davide Formolo has pinned on a number for two of the last three Italian one-day races. He’ll sit out Giro del Piemonte on Thursday to sharpen up for Saturday’s showdown.

“It’s always a pleasure for me to race in Italy,” Formolo said. “I feel like I’m racing with friends, and it always makes me happy. My focus this last week has been to use these races as training to get ready for Lombardia after the Vuelta. Last week, I felt a little bit tired but day by day now, my feeling is getting better. My ambition for Lombardia is to help the team in any way possible and to enjoy with my teammates this lovely last race.”

Cannondale-Drapac for Il Lombardia: André Cardoso, Davide Formolo, Moreno Moser, Tom-Jelte Slagter, Toms Skujins, Rigoberto Uran, Davide Villella, Mike Woods

Lotto-Soudal sent me this race preview:

Last year, Tony Gallopin finished as seventh in the Giro di Lombardia and this year Lotto Soudal returns with ambition. The race of the falling leaves is the last race of the World Tour. The 110th edition will be ridden on Saturday first October, it is 240 kilometres long and the riders have to overcome 4400 elevation metres.

The peloton starts in the streets of Como just before eleven o’ clock. Over the undulating roads the riders go to Bellaggio where the famous climb Madonna del Ghisallo is located.  The climb is 8.5 kilometres long with an average gradient of 6.2% and a section of 14%. At the top there is a chapel that is a pilgrimage for cyclists and cycling fans. After the descent, there is a quit long flat part with the Colle Brianza as the only hill in the race. In the next hundred kilometres the peloton has to overcome one climb after another.  This year the hardest part of the Giro di Lombardia will be the succession of five climbs: Valico di Valcava, Berbenno, Sant’Antonio Abbandonato, Miragolo San Salvatore and Selvino. At the top of the Selvino there are still 28 kilometres to the finish and the first fifteen kilometres are cut out for riders who can ride a fine descent.

The finale is similar to the one in 2014 when Tony Martin won. After a few flat kilometres there is one last steep climb to Bergamo. The hill is located 6.5 kilometres before the finish and is one kilometre long with an average gradient of 7.9%. The hardest part of the climb is at the end of the hill when the riders are faced with cobblestones and with a gradient of 12%. The fast descent leads the riders to the finish. In 2014, Daniel Martin, Alejandro Valverde and Rui Costa were on the podium. Also this year they’re among the favourites for the victory. Lotto Soudal counts on Tony Gallopin and Tim Wellens, who ended up as fourth in 2014. Also the Spanish riders Alberto Contador and Joaquim Rodríguez should be on the shortlist of potential winners.

tony Gallopin

Tony Gallopin

In last year's Giro  di Lombardia Vincenzo Nibali triumphed after a solo. For the first time since 2008 an Italian rider won this race. Tony Gallopin finished eighth in a scattered group after a very well-planned race. Together with Tim Wellens, he is one of the leaders of Lotto Soudal. Two years ago, Tim Wellens crossed the finish line as fourth in Bergamo after a similar race. He’s already looking forward to this year’s edition of the race of the Falling Leaves and he hopes to obtain a good result again.

Tim Wellens: “In the Eneco Tour I wasn’t good. Once, we were close to the victory with André Greipel, but it wasn’t good enough. Unfortunately in the last stage the peloton didn’t let the breakaway of which I was a part of, ride for the win. My condition is still not how I want it to be. The season is almost over but I still hope I can obtain a nice result.”

“The Giro di Lombardia is one of the nicest monuments in cycling. It’s a very beautiful race. With the two new climbs the race is a little bit tougher than in 2014, but the finish is still the same. Today I’m going to recon those two climbs. However, I think that the Valcava will be the hardest climb. It’s located halfway the day. It might not have a big influence on the race, but we still have to climb it. I cherish some beautiful memories of the finish in Bergamo in 2014 when I finished as fourth. I’m curious about how I will perform this year. I won’t focus on getting in the early break, but I’ll be fully concentrated during the finale. I want to obtain a good result and I can only hope that my legs will be good during the finale.”

Sports director Frederik Willems wishes for a top-ten place for his team in the Giro di Lombardia, but a spot on the podium would be absolutely fantastic he says.

Frederik Willems, sports director: “This year it will be a very tough Lombardia, even tougher than the edition of 2014. Just like in 2014, the start is in Como and the finish in Bergamo, but the race includes steeper and longer climbs. The last hundred kilometres it goes up and down all the time.”

“I expect Astana and Team Tinkoff to control the race. There must be a reason why Alberto Contador is still racing this late in the season. Lotto Soudal has to get a rider in the breakaway. I’m spontaneously thinking about Maxime Monfort. After that, we’ll have to wait and see. With Tony Gallopin we have a strong leader and beside him we also have Tim Wellens and Jelle Vanendert who should be good on this kind of course. Tiesj Benoot will get a free role in this race: if he feels good, he'll show it. However, we have wait and to see how the riders have recovered from the Vuelta and the Tour of Britain. A top ten place lies within possibility, but if we can perform as good as in 2014, or maybe do a little better and get on the podium, that would be fantastic. Anyway, with this race, I would be really happy with a top five place.”

Line-up: Sander Armée, Tiesj Benoot, Bart De Clercq, Tony Gallopin, Maxime Monfort Jelle Vanendert, Louis Vervaeke and Tim Wellens.

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