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Bicycle Racing News and Opinion,
Friday, January 26, 2018

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2018 Tour de France | 2018 Giro d'Italia

The chief qualification of a mass leader has become unending infallibility; he can never admit an error. - Hannah Arendt

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Victory for Sam Bennett at Towards Zero Race Melbourne

Bennett's Bora-hansgrohe team sent me this report:

After the Tour Down Under, BORA hansgrohe turned its attention towards the first of two events at the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race in Australia. Today saw the curtain raiser kermesse-style Towards Zero Race Melbourne, a fast-paced circuit race in the state capital. After a breakaway of 7 riders led for most of the day, they were caught in the last lap, with Sam Bennett sprinting to victory.

The Course:
The race took place on the Albert Park Formula One Grand Prix circuit. The event consisted of 22 laps of a 5.3 km circuit, making a total of just over 116 km. The course’s flat profile, which made for very fast-paced racing, was complicated by some tight turns, which became particularly significant going into the finishing stretch. With a sprint classification also being included as part of the race, points were awarded to the three fastest riders at intermediate sprint points on laps 5, 10 and 15. Today’s race therefore required not only power and speed, but also strategy.

The Team Tactics:
The course is notoriously fast and flat, with some tricky bends which become particularly significant in the finishing stretch. It was always going to be essential to control the breakaway, and watch out for the crosswinds on this circuit. With several high-quality sprinters in attendance, positioning into the final stretch would be essential to ensuring a good chance for the sprinters to go for the victory.

The Race:
There was quite a lot of nervous tension in the peloton as the race began, with Maciej Bodnar becoming involved in a crash with one other rider after one lap of the circuit, and having to abandon today’s race, thankfully without serious injuries.

It was expected that the day would end in a bunch sprint. However, this did not stop several riders from trying their luck and attempting to escape off the front of the peloton. A very large group initially managed to establish itself at the head of the race, but the number of riders present was reduced to seven by the fourth lap. Two laps later, they had built up an advantage of 48 seconds, and maintained this gap for much of the race, increasing it to a maximum of 1:15 at one point. The break worked well together to attempt to counteract the effects of the crosswinds, and managed to stay out in front for 20 laps. However, with the sprinters’ teams putting down the hammer and driving a hard tempo to pull back their advantage, the escapees were caught on the last lap. The peloton’s chase was timed to perfection, and at the line it was Sam Bennett who took the win at the end of a very fast-paced day of racing.

01  S. Bennett         2h29’08”
02  E. Viviani           + 0:00
03  S. Von Hoff        + 0:00
04  N. Arndt             + 0:00
05  C. Ewan             + 0:00

From the Finish Line:
“This win is really important for my morale and confidence. I came to the Tour Down Under and unfortunately fell ill there, and didn’t have very good form. Yesterday I even had to turn back from training, because I felt in a bad way. So today’s result is a bit of a surprise. I had good legs and the BORA-hansgrohe guys did an excellent job to put me in a good position into the final stretch. It is very encouraging to get this win, which I think bodes well for the rest of the season. To win twice here is also a great feeling.” – Sam Bennett

“The plan was to put Sam in a good position in the finishing straight, and deal with the headwind on the finish line. This is a fantastic win for him, and also a very important win. I’m very proud of the team which delivered him to victory today. At the Tour Down Under, he struggled with the heat and illness and so it’s good to see him bounce back and gain confidence for the rest of the reason. Almost half of the WorldTour teams are here, and so to see Sam emerge victorious ahead of sprinters like Ewan and Viviani is very encouraging. These are top-notch sprinters who are not easy to beat. We are confident heading into the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race on Sunday, and are looking forward to racing there in a few days.” – Steffen Radochla 

Vuelta a San Juan stage four reports

Thursday is a rest day at the Vuelta a San Juan.

Here's the San Juan Vuelta update from Team Quick-Step Floors:

Maximiliano Richeze stepped up for Quick-Step Floors after the team lost Fernando Gaviria following a crash and nabbed his fifth stage win at the Vuelta a San Juan, taking the team's all-time tally in Argentina to 17 victories.

maximiliano Richeze

Richeze wins Vuelta a San Juan's fourth stage.

It was a crazy and atypical day at the South American race, where overnight heavy rain complicated things during the stage and even forced the organizers to neutralize the race in the final 20 kilometers so that the riders could pass a river that overtopped its banks and flooded the road. That wasn't the only incident on the last stage before a rest day, with a crash occurred about 50 kilometers from the finish taking several riders to the ground.

Stage 1 winner Fernando Gaviria was among those involved, and the 23-year-old, the main favourite in case of another bunch sprint, was taken to the San Juan hospital for further tests, after initial on-ground examination by the team doctor didn't reveal any broken bones. The Colombian, racing his first event of the season, came out of this incident with multiple abrasions and a deep wound on the left knee; the doctors will keep him at the hospital for further examinations, but fortunately the tests he underwent so far didn't show any kind of fractures.

From then on, the tempo intensified and the peloton split into four groups, all five remaining Quick-Step Floors riders making it to the front and sharing the pace duties with two other teams, as they rode full gas to Villa San Agustin. With two kilometers to go, our sprint train began assembling, combining physical presence, positioning, timing and speed, and thus prevailing against the other teams interested in the sprint.

Neo-pro Alvaro Hodeg was the one to launch Maximiliano Richeze with under 200 meters to go, and the 34-year-old put in an incredible rush towards the line which held off the efforts of Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek-Segafredo) and Matteo Pelucchi (Bora-hansgrohe) and was welcomed with huge cheers by the hundreds of Argentinean supporters at the finish, who celebrated "El Atomico's" maiden victory of the season.

"From the start I had good feelings in the legs, but I was also advantaged by the headwind on the climbs, which allowed me to sit in the wheels of the stronger guys. With the rain we had during the night we knew it would be dangerous out there, and unfortunately we were struck by bad luck when Fernando crashed and had to abandon. The radio communication was also down, so it was only later that we found out he wasn't in the race anymore", said Richeze after the podium ceremony.

The Argentinean – whose victory in Villa San Agustin was his 26th since turning pro – continued: "When we got the news about Fernando, we moved to the front and pushed hard to keep the chasers behind together with Lotto-Soudal. My teammates did a great job, they were instrumental in my victory today, what they usually do for Fernando they did for me, and I want to thank them for helping me get this win, which is also for Fernando. I'm a pro for 13 years, but haven't been riding a lot in my country, so every time I find myself here I am happy and try to repay my fans for their fantastic support. Result-wise, it's been a good race for us so far and we hope we won't stop here."

Stage 4 of the Vuelta a San Juan – the longest of the week – was a good one also for Jhonatan Narvaez, the Ecuadorian neo-pro who impressed in Tuesday's individual time trial. The 20-year-old climbed three positions in the general classification and now lies in fifth place, only 43 seconds adrift, ahead of Alto del Colorado, the sole mountain top finish of the race.

Here's the race update Bora-hansgrohe sent me:

When a six-men breakaway was caught after around 150 kilometers, a crash did split the bunch. With all six riders in front, BORA – hansgrohe took advantage of the situation and gained time on some of the GC contenders. While Rafal Majka moves up to second place overall, Matteo Pelucchi sprinted to another 3rd place in the stage.

The Stage:
With two 1st cat. climbs half way through the stage, it was hard to predict if there was a chance for another bunch sprint, or if the climbers would test their legs again to force some gaps in the GC. Still, as the second half of the stage was mainly downhill, there was plenty of terrain to neutralize attacks. Therefore, on the 182.8 kilometers from San José Jachal to Villa San Agustín different tactics were expected.

The Team Tactics:
After his strong time trial yesterday, BORA – hansgrohe leader Rafal Majka sits in a comfortable position in the race. His stage will come on Saturday, until then the goal is to always stay in touch with the race leaders. But with Pascal Ackermann already proving on the second day to have good legs in the climbs, there was a chance to have one of the fast men of the team also still in contention in today’s race final.

The Race:
Most of the day a group of 6 escapees were at the front of the race. Their gap was well under control as BORA – hansgrohe and Quickstep were working in the bunch early enough to avoid any surprises. When the pace was raised in the peloton, the breakaway riders were not able to remain their advantage and shortly after they were reeled in, a crash forced a split in the bunch. With all 6 riders in the first group, BORA – hansgrohe tried to take advantage of the situation. In the end the effort payed of and Rafal Majka moved up to second overall. But in the sprint for the stage win, BORA – hansgrohe missed some energy as a result of the hard work before. Nevertheless, Matteo Pelucchi again was able to step on the podium, becoming 3rd for the second time this week.

01        M. Richeze      4:31:48
02        G. Nizzolo       + 0:00
03        M. Pelucchi     + 0:00
04        M. Raim          + 0:00
05        N. Bonifazio    + 0:00

From the Finish Line:
“Today we controlled the stage the whole day, the team did an excellent job. After the split we had all six guys in front and decided to go for Rafal (Majka) and his GC ambitions. The effort payed off and some of his rivals lost crucial time. But of course, this effort also did cost us a lot of energy we would have needed in the sprint lead-out. Still Pascal (Ackermann) positioned Matteo (Pelucchi) well and with the 3rd place we can be satisfied. Overall it was a good day for us. But I hope that from the riders involved in the crash nobody is seriously injured.”– Enrico Poitschke, sports director

“In the end the race was really hard. We had all riders in front and in the beginning several teams pulled with us, but the longer we pulled the more they relied on us. I felt really good today and was still able to help Matteo in the sprint. It’s great to get another podium finish, but our goal is still to win a stage.” – Pascal Ackermann 

Alejandro Valverde back racing in Mallorca after 2017 season-ending kneecap fracture at Tour de France

Here's the post from Valverde's Movistar team:

He’s finally back. Alejandro Valverde put on bib #1 at the first day of the 2018 Mallorca Challenge, Thursday’s flat Trofeo Campos – Ses Salines (177km), where German John Degenkolb (TFS) into a bunch sprint ahead of Movistar Team’s Daniele Bennati (7th place).


John Degenkolb wins in Mallorca.

The relatively easy route opening this year’s Challenge made for a calm debut for Valverde –208 days out of racing after his injury in the Tour de France– and his team-mates, who nonetheless had to bring some efforts to the table before the finish, the peloton kicking it up for an average exceeding 44kph at the end of the race.

Valverde will again be part of the Blue roster on Friday -together with debutant Rosón, Erviti, Rojas, Arcas, Amador and Carretero– at the Trofeo Serra de Tramuntana, the hardest course of this week’s racing in Spain, with six rated climbs in just 140km from Sóller to Deià.

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