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Bicycle Racing News and Opinion,
Monday, April 3, 2017

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2017 Tour de France | 2017 Giro d'Italia

Those who will not reason, are bigots, those who cannot, are fools, and those who dare not, are slaves. - Byron

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Author Léo Woodland (born in England and currently living in France) talks about his search for sticky buns as he and his wife Steph cycled across the United States.

Teams report on Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders)

Ronde van Vlaanderen complete results, stage story and photos

Tomorrow I'll post the team reports for the Women's Tour of Flanders

Here's what winner Philippe Gilbert's Quick Step team had to say:

Philippe Gilbert returned to the Ronde van Vlaanderen for the first time in five years and in doing so he forever left his mark on the race which this year celebrated its 101st edition. The Belgian Champion, who joined Quick-Step Floors at the end of last season, attacked with more than 50 kilometers to go, on the long and iconic Oude Kwaremont, leaving behind the group which emerged on another legendary climb, Muur-Kapelmuur, with 95 kilometers remaining, where Tom Boonen upped the tempo as they rode over the hill's steepest climb, forcing a split which turned out to be decisive.

The newly-formed group had three Quick-Step Floors riders – Boonen, Philippe Gilbert and Matteo Trentin – who were joined by eleven other men. The margin was a small one, of around 15 seconds, but the trio quickly moved to the front and did some huge turns, increasing the lead to 40 seconds ahead of Kanarieberg. Behind, the peloton began the chase, but the Quick-Step Floors boys relentlessly continued to pull away, with Tom Boonen – who made his 15th and final outing at De Ronde – prominent at the front, keen on keeping his promise of bowing out in style from Flanders, a race which he conquered three times.

With 55 kilometers left, on the second ascent of Oude Kwaremont, the gap began to come down, and Philippe Gilbert decided it was the right time for him to surge clear on the climb first used by the race in 1974, so without going out of the saddle, he put some daylight between him and the others, pushing ahead solo, while behind, his teammates dutifully marked the rivals who tried to chase him down. Not even the Koppenberg (22% maximum gradient) – one of the route's toughest ascents – could stand in the way of the Belgian Champion, whose monstrous ride helped him carry a lead of one minute into the last hour of racing.

On the Taaienberg, the day's 15th ascent, just as the bunch was making contact with the first group, disaster struck for Tom, who needed a bike change because of a mechanical. On the same climb, Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) attacked and started his pursuit of Philippe; the world champion was followed by Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) and Oliver Naesen (AG2R), with Matteo Trentin joining them after the hill was crested in order to keep an eye on their plans. Despite the firepower that group possessed, all they could do by the bottom of Oude Kwaremont was to take back ten seconds.

As Gilbert continued to stomp on the pedals at the front and get closer and closer to the finish, Naesen, Sagan and Van Avermaet crashed with around 20 kilometers left, but they all remounted and got back in the race. The group reshuffled, so by the time they left Paterberg behind, three men were part of the first chasing group: Dylan Van Baarle (Cannondale-Drapac), Van Avermaet and a very strong Niki Terpstra, who bridged across on the last hill of the day. They too tried to bring the leader of the race back on the long and flat roads to Oudenaarde, but all they managed was to reduce the margin by 20 seconds.

It was only in the final kilometer that Philippe Gilbert took some time to look over his shoulder, and seeing the trio was a long way back, he decided to celebrate in style his fourth career victory in a Monument, by raising his Specialized bike over his head and crossing the line in the applause of thousands of passionate cycling fans, who witnessed the first win of a Belgian Champion in Ronde van Vlaanderen since 2008, one which came at the end of a 55km-long solo move, the longest at the race in nearly five decades.

Philippe Gilbert

Philippe Gilbert wins Tour of Flanders in style

The first chasers arrived 28 seconds later, and Greg Van Avermaet sprinted to second, whilst Niki Terpstra rounded out the podium (for his second career top 3 at the race), giving Quick-Step Floors another reason to be happy at the end of day.

"After Tom initiated that move on the Muur, we continued to push and decided to go full gas on the second ascent of the Oude Kwaremont. Tom did a big pull just ahead of the hill, I took over as the road began to rise and soon noticed I opened a small gap and never looked back again. Many people thought I was crazy to attack 55 kilometers out, myself included, but I didn't go that hard, because I was aware the final 15 kilometers were very tough, so I kept some energy which I knew would prove very useful for that last part of the race", said Philippe Gilbert, only the second Walloon rider in history to triumph at De Ronde.

Joining Quick-Step Floors ahead of this season gave the 34-year-old the possibility to return after a five-year hiatus to Ronde van Vlaanderen, a race at which he podiumed twice on the old course. Gilbert, who lined out at the start coming off the back of a spectacular overall victory in Driedaagse De Panne-Koksijde, credited his pre-season preparation as the key behind his magnificent success.

"I felt good since winter, when I trained with the team in Denia. The motivation was also there, as I knew I still had it in me and Quick-Step Floors was the right team to be in. Then, going into Omloop, the form was there, but you couldn't see that on TV because I was caught behind a crash, and continued to feel stronger with every race I did", explained Philippe after his epic victory.

The day was a historical one for the Belgian Champion, who became only the fourth ever rider to win during his career the World Championships, Ronde van Vlaanderen, Liège–Bastogne–Liège and Il Lombardia, a tremendous feat: "When I approached the final kilometer, I looked behind and saw the chasers were still a long way back and thought of a nice way of celebrating my success. That's why I raised my bike over my head, because it was an important part of my victory. I'm really proud of how I managed today's race and of what I achieved!"

Philippe Gilbert's triumph and Niki Terpstra's third place at the finish in Oudenaarde helped Quick-Step Floors – who racked up the 15th Monument win since the squad's inception in 2003 – extend its advantage in the World Tour team classification, which the outfit managed by Patrick Lefevere leads since last week's Dwars door Vlaanderen.

And here's the report from Peter Sagan's Bora-hansgrohe team:

The second of cycling’s Monuments, the Tour of Flanders, is undoubtedly one of the toughest races of the cycling calendar. The testing terrain is one thing, but there is still so much more to ruin the chances of the rider with their eye on the win. The defending champion, BORA-hansgrohe’s Peter Sagan, saw his chances fall by the wayside after a crash in the final 20km when he was pushing hard to make the catch on Gilbert's solo breakaway.

Having won the event in style last year, the UCI World Champion, Peter Sagan, knew only too well how hard the race would be. While he made it look easy in 2016, the Tour of Flanders is anything but that. The 260km distance is energy-sapping, the five cobbled sections are brutal, and the eighteen climbs are enough to strike fear into the strongest one-day rider. The infamous Kapelmuur – known affectionately simply as ‘The Wall’ with its 19.8% maximum gradient – made a return to the race, while the Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg combo remained, both to test riders during the race, as well as to set riders up for the finale.

The opening 100km was flatter, willing a breakaway to make its move earlier in the day rather than later, and a group of eight took up the challenge. Not posing any substantial threat to the favourites, they were allowed to go on up the road, quickly building up an advantage of more than ten minutes. As the break hit eleven minutes as the first climbs came into view, this caused the peloton to snap into gear and the chasers started pulling harder to control the gap.

Peter Sagan

Sagan just before his crash

As with all of the classics, positioning is paramount. While the Kapelmuur, with its 9.3% average gradient, may have appeared too far out from the finish to have an impact on the outcome of the race, this was where the decisive move came. With almost 100km still to race, a group of twenty at the head of the peloton made their escape, with some of the race’s favourites in their midst. While BORA-hansgrohe’s Maciej Bodnar was among these riders, Peter was not, and the escapees quickly built up a lead of a minute on the peloton, who did not appear eager to work together to make the catch. However, a lot could still happen in the last 100km.

The fireworks came with 50km remaining. An audacious solo attack by Quick-Step Floors’ Gilbert was met by the peloton upping the pace to a ferocious speed. It was here that Peter made his move, taking four others with him to eat away at Gilbert’s advantage. While the Slovak rider showed no sign of giving up, having missed the first break, a crash with 17km to go floored the UCI World Champion. While he climbed back on his bike, it was clear that as the engine of the driving force in the chasing group, the race to make the catch had ended. While Gilbert took the win, Peter crossed the line a couple of minutes later, clearly disappointed with the day’s outcome.

“The Tour of Flanders lived up to its reputation”, the UCI World Champion said from the finish. “It was a complicated race, but I felt I was in good form and in a position that would have allowed me to reach Gilbert in the final stretch. Unfortunately, my crash at the Oude Kwaremont meant it was all over and that was a pity because the team did a tremendous job to help me and keep me safe. I don’t know how I crashed but these things are a part of cycling.”

Head Directeur Sportif, Enrico Poitschke, was disappointed that Peter’s crash put an end to his chances. “It’s a real shame our Tour of Flanders finished this way. The race had played out well for us and we were in a good position at the front with Peter Sagan and Maciej Bodnar. Peter felt confident about his form and I think we were standing a very good chance of winning. However, the crash put an end to it, although it is true that Gilbert was very strong today and Quick-Step had excellent tactics.”

Next Sunday’s race needs no introduction – the 115th Hell of the North is almost here. The top prize at the most famous one-day race in the world has so far eluded the UCI World Champion, but Paris-Roubaix is the race every classics rider dreams of taking. With a hard, 257km parcours featuring no fewer than 29 cobblestone sectors totalling 55km of brutal, jagged, jarring terrain. Finishing in the famed Roubaix Velodrome, come rain or shine, this is always a race not to be missed.

Here's Cannondale-Drapac's Tour of Flanders report:

Ronde van Vlaanderen delivered on its hype. The crowds were big and boisterous. The action was daring and dramatic. The crashes and mechanicals plentiful and, in some cases, peculiar. At the end of it all, Philippe Gilbert (Quick-Step Floors) delivered Belgium a home victory in spectacular fashion.

Twenty nine seconds after Gilbert hoisted his bike over his head across the line, Dylan van Baarle hit the finish. Part of the first chase group of three that included Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) and Niki Terpstra (Quick-Step Floors), Van Baarle had finished in fourth place. Two spots better than the sixth place he snagged last year; one spot off the podium.

“It was a mental roller-coaster,” said Ken Vanmarcke. “It was a crazy, crazy day. It was too much to happen all at once.”

The first half of the Ronde van Vlaanderen unfolded according to plan for Cannondale-Drapac. The boys in #greenargyle were calm and collected in the peloton behind the early breakaway and led into the first ascent of the Oude Kwaremont.

Tom Van Asbroeck charged off the front on the Oude Kwaremont and gained a 30 second gap over the top. His solo effort was short-lived but signaled the team’s intention. “The plan was to attack,” said Vanmarcke. “At first everything was going really well. We had Taylor [Phinney] attack on the Holleweg.”

Like Van Asbroeck, Phinney gained a small advantage. He rejoined the peloton where he subsequently clipped wheels and hit the ground. “That was not nice, but you have to make a click and move forward,” said Vanmarcke.

Things were looking up for Cannondale-Drapac when Sep Vanmarcke put himself in a possible winning move on the Muur van Geraardsbergen. Tom Boonen (Quick-Step Floors) upped the pace to force a selection. When the elastic snapped, 14 riders were on the right end of the split, including the Cannondale-Drapac team leader.

“And then toward the Patersberg, he crashed,” said Vanmarcke. “We went from a very positive situation again to a very bad one, but we still had three riders in the following group behind Gilbert. You have to make the click and move on.”

Van Baarle set off in pursuit of Gilbert between the Paterberg and the Steenbeekdries. He was joined by Fabio Felline (Trek-Segofredo). The pair made up a bit of ground on Gilbert before being joined by Van Avermaet, Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe), Oliver Naesen (AG2R La Mondiale), Yoann Offredo (Wanty-Groupe Gobert) and Matteo Trentin (Quick-Step Floors). The group hit the base of the Kwaremont for the final time just under one minute down on Gilbert.

In a bizarre twist of fate, Sagan was struck by a roadside banner causing a crash that took down Van Avermaet and Naeson, too. A black jacket was caught in Naeson’s wheel, causing further complications. Van Baarle, climbing up the other side of the narrow road, avoided the incident. Second over the top of the Kwaremont, he chased Gilbert alone. “You are shouting for a podium for Dylan,” said Vanmarcke. “The excitement and the possibility, that’s a good feeling.”

By the top of the Paterberg, Van Avermaet and Terpstra, who had come out of what had been chase group two, reached Van Baarle. The trio crested the final climb 50 seconds behind Gilbert. There were 13 kilometers left to race.

“Before Kwaremont, I felt a little cramp in my hamstring,” said Van Baarle. “I thought ‘no, no, no’ and I hammered a bit and it went away. Luckily. Then in the last five kilometers, I could feel there was not so much in the legs anymore,” Van Baarle added “I tried to play poker, and I set myself up fourth wheel.”

“It would a better feeling if I was on the podium,” said Van Baarle. “We raced for the win, and it’s fourth place. I can be happy about my race but less happy about the result. I knew when Niki was with us that he would be fresh for the sprint, and Van Avermaet is always hard to beat.”

Phinney suffered light road rash on his left side and a minor concussion. He is now in the team’s internal concussion protocol, meaning the earliest he can return to racing is late next week. Vanmarcke suffered heavy road rash and a broken pinky finger. His upcoming schedule can only be determined with further medical review.

Van Baarle’s courageous ride provided a bright spot in an unlucky day. “It’s really nice for him, for us, to come away with fourth place,” said Vanmarcke. “It’s a good feeling. Then after a few hours, you learn about the injuries, and you’re disappointed again. It’s difficult. You cannot get one feeling. At the end of the night, we’ll struggle to fit together both feelings.”

Team UAE Abu Dhabi sent me this:

It was supposed to be a spectacular Tour de Flanders; and so it was. The 101st edition of the race of the walls started from Antwerp for the first time in years, after 19 editions in Bruges, to cover 260 km. The first 116 were flat and then there were 18 walls to take on before reaching the traditional conclusion in Oudenaarde.

An unleashed Philip Gilbert emerged victorious after what can only be considered an epic ride. However, Sacha Modolo was also in great form, garnering a significant sixth place. “For me it is as if I had won; I am very pleased with my placement,” says Modolo. “After coming in fourth at the Milano-Sanremo in my professional debut, people were expecting great things from me, but for one reason or another I couldn’t continue performing at that level. I had lost some self-confidence and started thinking that perhaps I wasn’t suited to these types of races, even though everyone close to me, starting with my Team and my girlfriend, continued to encourage me to keep the faith. With today’s race I am finally back to achieving good results and I hope to continue along this road.”

Neo-professional Olviero Troia also had an enthusiastic debut. The 22 year-old was a major player from the get-go in a breakaway move with seven other riders that lasted no less than 192 km. “Today I experienced an incredible feeling. To break away for nearly 200 km in the middle of two sides of a continuing tide of cheering crowds was something that had never happened to me before. When I got caught I tried to give what I had left to set up the race final as best I could for Sacha Modolo; then I had to raise the white flag because I was exhausted. I’m sure that in a few years I will come back here to figure as a major player all the way to the end.”

And finally, here's Team Sky's report:

Gianni Moscon rode to a strong 15th place as he finished among a group of contenders at the Tour of Flanders. The young Italian was prominent at the head of the race as it split early on the famed climb of the Muur, and battled away as part of a strong breakaway group as the action intensified.

Moscon was able to narrowly avoid a crash that took out his team-mate Luke Rowe, and clung on as the race came back together and new attacks fired clear.

After expending a lot of energy Moscon arrived in Oudenaarde in an elite group battling for fifth place, 52 seconds back on a dominant Philippe Gilbert (Quick-Step Floors).

The Belgian national champion claimed one of the most impressive Classics victories in recent memory, attacking initially alongside Rowe and Moscon, before pushing ahead solo second time up the Oude-Kwaremont, with some 55 kilometres still to race.

Shortly after Rowe's luck ran out, with the Welshman left with nowhere to go as Sep Vanmarcke (Cannondale-Drapac) slid out directly in front of him on the approach to the Paterberg with 52km to go. The Welshman was able to dust himself down and finish the race.

As Gilbert opened out a gap of a minute, an elite chase group formed behind, but drama struck final time up the Kwaremont as Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) hit a barrier, taking down Greg van Avermaet (BMC Racing) and Olivier Naesen (Ag2r-La Mondiale) in the process.

Van Avermaet was able to remount and held on for a gutsy second, winning the three-up sprint to decide the podium ahead of Niki Terpstra (Quick-Step Floors) and Dylan van Baarle (Cannondale-Drapac).

After a relatively relaxed start out of sunny Antwerp, Team Sky took to the front ahead of the first of 18 Belgian bergs. Christian Knees monitored moves over the Berendries, while Owain Doull, Jon Dibben and Lukasz Wisnoiwski impressed on their Flanders debuts - helping position their leaders ahead of the key climbs. Dibben led the peloton onto the Muur, which saw the action kick off in earnest.

On his first Flanders Dibben told "I enjoyed it. My life got a lot easier when the break went straight away, so a lot of my planned work I didn't have to do. Then it was pretty chilled - we had 60-70km with the sun out and good crowds, just rolling along. Then boom - once it got to the Kwaremont first time it was on then. It was a big fight from there."

The situation looked good following the Muur, with Moscon and Rowe ensconced in a strong group, with a number of big names having missed the move. The gap spun out to one minute, but the peloton eventually got organised and hauled it back - but not before Rowe had gone down and Gilbert had escaped to victory.

Back at the team bus Sport Director Servais Knaven added: "I think tactically it worked out well. The plan was to hit the Muur hard and we had a feeling Quick-Step would do the same. After that we had Luke and Gianni up there with three Quick-Step guys - 14 riders in total. That was a perfect situation. They took more than a minute but the gap began to come down before the second climb of the Kwaremont.

"Then Gilbert went and we were still in a good position with two guys behind him. Then Luke crashed with Vanmarcke and we lost him there. Gianni was on his own and he did a really good ride. He's still young and it's hard on your own. But I'm proud of him and he can be proud of himself.

"As a team the guys were really good and strong riding together. They made sure everyone was in a good position on the Muur which was impressive."

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