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Bicycle Racing News and Opinion,
Monday, March 27, 2017

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2017 Tour de France | 2017 Giro d'Italia

“There is no better than adversity. Every defeat, every heartbreak, every loss, contains its own seed, its own lesson on how to improve your performance next time.” — Malcolm X

Upcoming racing:

Latest completed racing:

Giuseppe Pancera was one of the finest Italian racers of the late 1920s. These great riders shouldn't be forgotten. The family's photo collection is presented to Puccini's beautiful "E lucevan le stelle".

Cycling's World Championships: The Inside Story is reviewed

Les Woodland's latest book, which we are proud to have published, was just reviewed by Podium Cafe. You can read Feargal McKay's review here.

Here's all the info, including how and where to get the book.

World Championships: The Inside Story

Gent-Wevelgem team reports

Here's Lotto-Soudal's news:

Gent-Wevelgem was scheduled today: a race of 250 kilometres with cobblestone sections, short hills and an unpaved section on the course. It was a nervous race right from the start in Deinze. There were a lot of attacks and crashes. After 40 kilometres nine riders got away from the bunch and got a big gap of maximum seven minutes. A reduced peloton climbed the Kemmelberg for a first time but without much danger. Stybar attacked on the plugstreets, three unpaved road sections, forming a first separation. Van Hecke was the last escapee of the early breakaway. He was caught just before the second ascent of the  Kemmelberg.

Van Avermaet accelerated on the Kemmelberg and a select group of riders got at the front of the race including Sagan, Terpstra and Keukeleire. Jürgen Roelandts and Jens Debusschere couldn’t follow the attack. Lotto Soudal was up to a chase and was forced to be the engine of the pursuit. Sagan gave Van Avermaet and Keukeleire a little gap and the duo stayed ahead until Wevelgem. Greg Van Avermaet held off Keukeleire in a sprint and was the winner of the race. Sagan was the fastest for the third place. In the end Lotto Soudal reduced the gap to seven seconds. Jens Debusschere finished seventh as the first Lotto Soudal rider.

Greg van Avermaet

Greg van Avermaet just beats Jens Keukeleire

Sports Manager Marc Sergeant: “In the beginning of the race we tried to get Wallays, Frison or Bak into an escape but the peloton didn’t let them go. The important passage through the Moeren was one without any problems and in the important hill section we were always with five men in the first group of seventy riders. So far so good. But on the second passage of the Kemmelberg the best fifteen riders were gone and yet again no one from Lotto Soudal was at the front of the race. It’s painful to see but we can’t make excuses.  “

“We had to lead the chase with other teams who also weren’t represented at the front of the race. Eventually we stranded on dozens of metres and Jens Debusschere sprinted to the seventh place. That’s the only positive thing today. We need to recharge and focus on next week. First we need to see how the Driedaagse De Panne goes. Everbody knows that Van Avermaet and Sagan are the two top favourites for the Ronde van Vlaanderen. Hopefully we can form a solid team with Tiesj Benoot and Tony Gallopin and do better than past races.

Jens Debusschere: “I was on the wheel of Tom Boonen on the second passage of the Kemmelberg but I just had to let him go. In the descent of the Kemmelberg the better riders of the race were gone. I knew it would be hard to return to the front of the race. The team gave it their all and we almost caught the escapees, we were very close. It’s nice that I can sprint to the seventh place but I’m not satisfied. We couldn’t follow the better riders and that’s frustrating. We must look forward. I’m focussing on the Driedaagse De Panne and the Ronde van Vlaanderen.”

In the last stage of the Volta a Catalunya the riders covered 138.7 kilometres in and around Barcelona. Right after the start 21 riders including Thomas De Gendt set up a breakaway. Once the escapees were on the local circuit Thomas De Gendt and McCarthy left the others behind. McCarthy couldn’t follow the pace of De Gendt and let him go. The Lotto Soudal rider was caught at ten kilometres from the finish after a great escape. Alejandro Valverde sprinted to the victory. Jarlinson Pantano became second and Arthur Vichot third. Valverde is also the winner of the GC. Louis Vervaeke had to abandon the stage, André Greipel didn’t start.

Here's what Peter Sagan's Bora-hansgrohe team had to say:

After riding a strategically-strong race from the start, the UCI World Champion, Peter Sagan, showed he had the nous to be in the right place at the right time at Gent-Wevelgem, only to be denied in the closing kilometres. After working hard to try and bridge to a late attack, the Slovak rider found himself in a group unwilling to work with him, and had to settle for third spot on the day. This disappointment only gives the BORA - hansgrohe star more hunger for the win in the coming races as he looks ahead to defend his Tour of Flanders crown.

There’s as much chance of Gent-Wevelgem being won in a bunch sprint as there is a breakaway or solo attack. The UCI World Champion knows this only too well, having won the race both in a sprint and after a surging late breakaway, in 2016 and 2013 respectively. What Peter also knows is that it’s one thing to cover the 249km parcours without incident, while crossing the vast open sections in the first 120km, where riders will be battered by crosswinds, as well as traversing the eleven difficult climbs that will rip the field to pieces in the final 120km, but so much of what leads to victory in this race is pure, simple luck.

It took some time for the break to form – and understandably so, given that the escapees would be riding in a small group over the exposed flatter section of the race, but after nearly 30km of the day covered, a group of nine made their move. With the climbs of the day still a distant spot on the horizon, the peloton was happy to let them build up their advantage to a fairly sizeable six minutes, preferring to stick together as they were battered by the crosswinds, conserving their energy for the climbs. While the reigning champion had his eye on a third victory, other teams had their eyes on the win as well, and were pulling hard to bring the gap to a more manageable margin. By the time the race hit its final 100km, what was a strong lead of almost eight minutes was shrinking by the kilometre.

The first climb of the day out of the way, and it was clear the break didn’t have the legs to see it through to the end. This was when the race’s favourites drove the pace hard both to draw in the break, as well as to put some hurt into their opponents. The important strategic climbs were approaching fast, and being in the right position was essential – as well as being a good opportunity to see how well, or badly, other riders were performing. The first pass of the 22% cobblestone Kemmelberg out of the way, there was a little respite before the second pass and the push to the finish. Peter was giving nothing away, sitting towards the rear of the bunch, as the last member of the break came into view. With it all back together with 40km to go, this was when the racing would really start.

As Van Avermaet attacked from 35km out, Peter instantly latched onto the back, helping drive out the gap and create some distance while taking a few others with them. Another attack from this group left Peter a short distance behind with two others. Peter fought hard, but the other two knew that once the catch was made he was so much stronger than them in the sprint, and so no-one was willing to push on with him. The win taken by Van Avermaet, Peter sprinted to third as the peloton surged from behind.

Clearly disappointed with the reluctance of his group to work with him to bridge the gap, Peter used this frustration to fuel his desire to take more wins in the coming races. “I don’t know what Terpstra wanted to do, because he attacked to go in the breakaway, but afterwards he didn’t want to work. This is just one example of how you can lose the race against me. What can I do – we’re not teammates – I can’t work for everyone, only for them to beat me in the sprint. I’m not disappointed – I’m more motivated now. If you win all the time, you lose your motivation. Now I’m motivated to take some more wins. We’ll see what happens at Flanders and Paris-Roubaix.”

Sports Director, Jens Zemke, was similarly frustrated with the day’s outcome. “To start playing games with 15km to go is not the way to win races. At the moment, it seems that some are more interested in beating Peter than in winning, but that’s cycling. Peter was strong again and always in control until that point – that’s the good thing about today. Also, the team was strong. We still had four guys to support Peter going into the finale.”

With a week until his next race, Peter will concentrate on recovering his form for two of the biggest events of the Classics season: the Tour of Flanders and Paris Roubaix. These races need no introduction, and only the strongest riders will be in contention after a hard day in the saddle. The UCI World Champion will be looking to defend his title in Flanders before attempting to take the win at Roubaix for the first time in his career.

And here's Team Quick-Step Floors report:

Cobbles, punchy climbs ramping up to 22%, gravel roads and a 249km-long and leg-sapping course, that was the menu of the 79th Gent-Wevelgem, which welcomed a star-studded field at the start line in Deinze. Once the riders rolled out, it took more than an hour for a break to form, and when nine riders finally managed to slip away, they put around seven minutes between them and the peloton.

Quick-Step Floors was the team to take up the initiative behind and chew into the escapees' advantage once the race hit its famous climbs, with the likes of Julien Vermote, Yves Lampaert and even Tom Boonen leading the bunch. Same Lampaert, the winner of last Wednesday's Dwars door Vlaanderen, was the one to cover several moves launched before the narrow and tricky plugstreets which made their debut at the race this year.

Then, on the second of the day's three gravel roads, Zdenek Stybar and Matteo Trentin pulled clear and were joined by Edward Theuns (Trek-Segafredo) and Guillaume Van Keirsbulck (Wanty-Groupe Gobert). After leaving the last of the sectors behind, they enjoyed a 20-second lead, but with the peloton still being a sizeable one, it was difficult for them to hold on to that advantage.

Over the Kemmelberg, Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) and Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) fired away and opened a gap, but our team responded immediately with Stybar, Trentin and Niki Terpstra. Other riders bridged across, and inside the last 30 kilometers the 14-man group had 25 seconds over the peloton, a margin which continued to stretch out as they approached Wevelgem.

The front group disintegrated with around 20 kilometers to go, and shortly after Van Avermaet and Jens Keukeleire (Orica-Scott) got away. After a moment of hesitation, Terpstra, Sagan and Soren Kragh Andersen (Team Sunwen) began to chase, but despite their strong effort they came short on the line, and Niki finished the race in fourth place, his best result in a one-day race since the start of the season. The bunch arrived seconds later, and Tom Boonen took sixth, two places ahead of teammate Fernando Gaviria.

"We were five riders in the front. When Greg and Jens attacked, I didn't chase immediately, because I thought it was up to Sagan to close the gap, as he was the fastest of the group. Unfortunately, we couldn't come back until the line and that was that", explained Niki Terpstra, whose feelings were echoed by Patrick Lefevere: "Niki, Sagan and Kragh Andersen missed the timing when the other two went away, but sometimes races are decided by details and today we probably made a small mistake. I'm sure that if they could play those final kilometers again, they would choose a different approach. That's racing sometimes."

One of the five riders to have won Gent-Wevelgem on three occasions, Tom Boonen saw the bright side of things following the sixth place he got at his last presence here: "It was another good race for me. To score a top 10 finish in my final appearance at Gent-Wevelgem isn't that bad, considering how tough the race was. This just comes as extra proof that I'm on the right road for Flanders and Roubaix."

In this past week, not only that Quick-Step Floors racked up a win and three other podiums in the four races the team has completed in Belgium and Spain, but thanks to this consistent display of strength and versatility, our team was catapulted at the top of the World Tour classification.

"I am happy to see the squad in the lead, because it shows how competitive we are on all kinds of terrains. These first months of the season were really impressive, as our team was a key player in all the races. We have a great mentality, our staff and riders are motivated every time we race and in the past years we have made a significant leap in quality", said Patrick Lefevere, Quick-Step Floors' CEO. "It's not by mistake that 20 of our riders have scored points in the World Tour rankings, with 5 of them winning a World Tour race. I'm satisfied of this first place in the standings, a reward for all our hard work, and I'm sure the team will continue to perform in the months to come."

Trek-Segafredo's final Volta a Catalunya report:

After a week of selfless work, Jarlinson Pantano had the opportunity at contesting the final stage in Volta a Catalunya Sunday, and nearly overtook Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) at the line, settling for a close second.


Valverde gets this one

Alberto Contador arrived with the first group to secure his 2nd place in the general classification, capping a successful final day and week for the team.

"We knew it was an opportunity, both yesterday and today," said Pantano. "Unfortunately yesterday I could not be in the first group, but today went much better. The end of the race was very fast and was quite hard. Thanks to Alberto, who helped me pull in the end, that we were close to the victory.

"I feel super; the sensations are quite good. I never thought that Alberto was the person he is, but it is very good to have him as a teammate, he is a great professional and a great person. He fills you with confidence, and I am very happy to work for him. I am happy to be here and to put a grain of sand for Alberto."

Sunny skies greeted the riders, but the tough parcours of the Barcelona circuit made it anything but a walk in the park. The peloton whittled to a skeleton group of 16 on the last ascent of the Montjuic climb, a two-kilometer grueling uphill tackled eight times.

With less than two kilometers to go, Daniel Martin (Quick-Step Floors) attacked and was quickly joined by Alejandro Valverde. The two riders opened a gap as the remaining 14 riders gave a heated pursuit. As the group closed on the pair in the final 200 meters, Valverde jumped away. Pantano opened his sprint and was able to overhaul Martin, but ran out of road to reach Valverde.

Contador finished safely at the back of the leading group in 15th place to cement his second-place GC, his third this season after Paris-Nice and Vuelta a Andalucía. "Today has not been a walk at all, perhaps if it was seen on television," said Contador. "It was a very, very demanding stage in which we wanted to try our options with Jarlinson Pantano, who has always been working for me. We have been very close to the victory with him.

"It has not been possible to win because Movistar has been very strong in all areas and we have to congratulate them. But I am very happy with my performance at this beginning of the season even though we have made many second places. I prefer to have these second places than to get victories and maybe not have the same level. The victories will come sooner or later; we are well placed in the WorldTour ranking, which is also important for the team."

Only four teammates of Trek-Segafredo finished the race, with Peter Stetina abandoning earlier to a stomach ailment and Bauke Mollema yesterday to rest ahead of his final Giro preparations. In a punishing stage six, 47 riders were outside the time limit, eliminating Markel Irizar and Matthias Brändle.

"We are riding very well despite the fact that it is difficult for the team to run with me because we always take responsibility and that makes my teammates have great wear," Contador pointed out, heaping praise on his teammates. "In fact, in the Basque Country the team will be completely different from the one I've had here and Paris-Nice because my teammates are quite fatigued. But I'm really happy about how they are behaving with me and with the support they give to me!"

Team Sky's Coppi-Bartali race report:

Ian Boswell wrapped up sixth place overall on the final day at Coppi e Bartali and declared himself pleased with the four days of racing. It was another wild day of action in Italy with numerous attacks splitting the peloton and Boswell made the eventual front group, coming home 10th in the same time as stage four winner Lilian Calmejane (Direct Energie).

Lilian Calmajane

Lilian Calmejane has a good day in Italy

With the win the Frenchman snatched the overall title from Toms Skujins (Cannonade-Drapac) by just 16 seconds. The team will leave Italy empty handed but, according to Boswell, that wasn’t for a lack of trying.

He said: "It was a unique race - it was full on all the time so it was fun for all of us. We were racing like juniors again - constantly attacking. We wanted to come away with a stage win so we planned to be aggressive today, and we were.  We jumped in moves at the beginning but a breakaway was never really established and it was kinda chaos all day - but it was fun.

"On the final climb we tried to make something happen. I went into the front group but unfortunately I didn’t do much in the sprint.”

Kenny Elissonde, Tao Geoghegan Hart and David Lopez were also in the thick of the action on the final day in Italy as they build up towards future races.

“It was good preparation for the races coming up," continued Boswell. "Myself and Tao have Pais-Vasco with Lopez next week so it’s nice preparation for that. For myself, it was fun just to get back into racing. It’s been an up and down spring with illness. I’m not at 100%, but I’m at a good level of fitness. It feels nice to be competitive in a race again."

Boswell’s longer-term target remains the Tour of California, which he plans to lead. He added: "There’s Pais-Vasco and a couple of other races in between, but I’m building up nicely towards California. Everything’s on track at the moment."

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