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Bicycle Racing News and Opinion,
Friday, March 2, 2018

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2018 Tour de France | 2018 Giro d'Italia

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Weather forecast for Siena, Italy on Saturday, March 3, where the Strade Bianche race starts and finishes: Thunderstorms, low of 3C (37F), high of 10C (50F). Wind from the SSE at 12 km/hr (7mph).

Sep Vanmarcke leads EF Education First – Drapac for [possibly] snowy Strade Bianche

The team sent me this update:

Strade Bianche takes the WorldTour peloton from the cobbles of Belgium to the white roads of Tuscany. The young-but-instant classic tempts general classification contenders and one-day specialists. The 12th edition of the Italian one-day race looks set to throw up an additional challenge beyond the dirt farm tracks synonymous with the course – snow!

“I’m not surprised by the popularity of this race,” said sport director Fabrizio Guidi. “I also think that there are conditions for the popularity to continue to grow. The scenario and characteristics of the course are unique. Strade Bianche represents the answers to those looking for both spectacle and tradition and offers the opportunity for victory to climbers and classics riders.”

An on-form Sep Vanmarcke captains the EF Education First – Drapac p/b Cannondale squad on Saturday. Vanmarcke, third last weekend at Omloop het Nieuwsblad, will be joined by road captain Simon Clarke, Alex Howes, Swedish road champion Kim Magnusson, Dani Moreno, Taylor Phinney and Tom Van Asbroeck. Phinney, who missed out on Abu Dhabi Tour due to illness, makes his season debut in Siena.

“We have a strong team and start with important ambitions,” said Guidi. “It’s difficult to predict how the race will unfold in light of the weather forecast. We have a plan for every situation. We are prepared. We start to win, as always, and strategy and team spirit will make a difference.”

What Strade Bianche lacks in heritage it more than compensates for in mystique. The race has been both a fan favorite and rider favorite since inception. “It’s a special race because it’s heroic,” said Vanmarkce. “It’s very hard to race on gravel roads. Like with a a cobbled classic, you need to be in good position, stay focused from start to finish and have some luck.”

Saturday’s 184-kilometer course takes the peloton through the Chianti and Brunello vineyards in the Tuscan hills. The route includes 11 gravel sectors, totaling 63 kilometers of dirt roads or 34% of the unforgiving course. The race is typically one of attrition, with selections made over the sharp climbs and descents featured in final few sectors. Traditionally, it’s the cobbled climb to Siena’s Piazza del Campo with 900 meters still to race that determines the victor.

Weather conditions may force a departure from tradition. Snow began to fall in Southern Tuscany on Thursday and temperatures dipped below freezing. Current forecasts call for milder temperatures and rain on Saturday, which would turn dusty dirt to soupy mud.

Strade Bienahce snowy roads

The team sent along this daunting picture of the white dirt roads.

“Growing up in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, most of my favorite routes incorporate wild dirt roads where conditions are often times unpredictable and inhospitable,” said Howes. “To have a spring classic on dirt with the potential for snow is a dream come true for me.”

“The snow can upset this race, making it very hard,” said Guidi. “We’re not worried about this. The weather conditions support us and our goals.”

#PinkArgyle’s early season success has cultivated a team-wide sense of momentum, ambition and optimism headed into Strade Bianche. “The team on a whole feels like it’s been given a second chance,” said Howes. “Everyone knows that with second chances, anything is possible. Plus, we’re pink. Who needs rosy-colored lenses when the whole kit is pink?”

EF Education First – Drapac p/b Cannondale for 2018 Strade Bianche:

Sport Directors:
Fabrizio Guidi (ITA)
Ken Vanmarcke (BEL)

Simon Clarke (AUS)
Alex Howes (USA)
Kim Magnusson (SWE)
Dani Moreno (ESP)
Taylor Phinney (USA)
Tom Van Asbroeck (BEL)
Sep Vanmarcke (BEL)

UAE Team Emirates announces Strade Bianche squad

Here's the note the team sent me:

UAE Team Emirates will ride in the Strade Bianche race, their first event in Italy in 2018.

This quirky race will be held in Tuscany on March 3. Riders will cover 184 km, starting from and arriving in Siena. What makes this event particular is that the route will feature 11 stretches of dirt road for a total of 63 km.

Sports Director Daniele Righi (Italy), assisted by his colleague Mario Scirea (Italy), will call on the following 7 athletes:
– Valerio Conti (Italy)
– Marco Marcato (Italy)
– Manuele Mori (Italy)
– Przemyslaw Niemiec (Poland)
– Jan Polanc (Slovenia)
– Aleksandr Riabushenko (Belorussia)
– Diego Ulissi (Italy)

Deigo Ulissi

Diego Ulissi winning a stage in the 2017 Tour of Turkey

Diego Ulissi will be the team captain: “I’ve only participated in the Strade Bianche twice. In just a few years this race has become a prestigious appointment on the international calendar.

"The last time I appeared in this race was 2016. I managed to give a nice performance, ending up in 7th place. The placement could have been even better, considering that I was in good shape, which is what kept me going.

"I really hope I can count on strong legs like the ones I had two years ago, to stay in the lead group, which will inevitably become selective on the more challenging dirt road sectors. Hopefully I will be with some of my team mates, for example Mori, Niemiec and Marcato, all athletes with plenty of potential.

"I should point out that in the Strade Bianche you must never underestimate the luck factor, considering that the tricky gravel roads can cause flats or slide-outs, which of course will affect performance.”

Tiesj Benoot wants to do better than 8th place in his third Strade Bianche

Lotto-Soudal sent me this note:

Saturday the twelfth edition of Strade Bianche is scheduled. Although the race is still very young it has become a real Classic. Lotto Soudal rider Tiesj Benoot can’t wait to race it for the third time!

Tiesj Benoot: “I finished eighth twice and that proves the races suits me. I can say that it is one of the spring races in which I can use my skills the best. The course is a mix between Flemish and Walloon Classics and that reflects in the names on the start list too. It’s one of the strongest pelotons in the spring.”

“I was very satisfied with my feeling past weekend. Because of different circumstances that didn’t show in the result, but I did get confirmation that my altitude training camp at Sierra Nevada was a good choice. As a team we raced aggressively and we shouldn’t change that way of racing. I am convinced it will get us a good result in the near future.”

Siena is both the start and finish place of Strade Bianche. The course of this WorldTour race is 184 kilometres long and there are eleven white gravel sectors, or ‘strade bianche’, on the route. The longest one is sector eight, which leads towards the top of Monte Sante Marie. That sector is 11.5 kilometres long and starts at 54 kilometres from the finish. The last sector, only 1.1 kilometres long, lies at thirteen kilometres from Il Campo, where the winner can triumph. Before the riders reach the finish line they have to overcome a short, steep hill in the centre of Siena with peaks up to 16%!

Strade Bianche

Racing in the 2017 Strade Bianche. Sirotti photo

Tiesj Benoot: “If it’s bad weather on Saturday, then the eighth sector, to Monte Sante Marie, will be a crucial part in the race. It’s the toughest sector, because of its length and gradient. The Strade Bianche is unpredictable though. You need to be attentive all the time, because something can happen at any moment. Just like at Paris-Roubaix, luck is an important factor. The climb towards the finish is honest and doesn’t scare me. The best man in the race, who doesn’t have bad luck, will win the race.”

“This race doesn’t need bad weather to be tough. Last year it rained and it surprised me how little the effect was on the soil. The dirt you get in your eyes and mouth is worse.”

“Kwiatkowski, Sagan and Van Avermaet are the main favourites according to me. Normally I would add Valverde’s name to that list, but I don’t know how well he will have recovered from his illness. Tom Dumoulin is also dangerous on that course. After two eight places it’s my goal to do better.”

Line-up Lotto Soudal: Tiesj Benoot, Victor Campenaerts, Jens Debusschere, Jens Keukeleire, Nikolas Maes, Tomasz Marczyński and Tosh Van der Sande.

Sports directors: Bart Leysen and Mario Aerts.

Jumbo new title sponsor of combined speed skating & cycling team for at least five years

Here's the team's press release:

Team Oranje, the umbrella entity of the speed skating & cycling Team LottoNL-Jumbo, has closed a deal with Jumbo as its new title sponsor for at least five years, starting January 1st 2019. On behalf of the Dutch family business, CCO Colette Cloosterman-Van Eerd and CFO Ton van Veen signed an agreement with Team Oranje directors Jac Orie and Richard Plugge.

Jumbo takes over the position of Lotto. Lotto’s contract ends at the 31st of December 2018 after having sponsored the team for four years.

“We are extremely proud of the fact that we commit our company to Team Oranje and thus the Dutch top tier sports for the next few years”, Jumbo’s Colette Cloosterman-Van Eerd says. “Jumbo has supported the speed skating & cycling team for many years now and we want to offer possibilities for sports talents to excel. In the meantime, this partnership gives us the possibility to inspire millions of customers to live more healthily. By combining forces between the two teams and our company we can actively carry out our expertise in regard to healthy food and encourage our customers to have a more active lifestyle.”

Good season
“The cycling team already had a good season in 2017; the winning of two stages in the Tour de France were the highlights”, Cloosterman-Van Eerd proceeds. “This trend seems to be continuing as the team has already secured five wins in the early season. The speed skating team experienced the most successful World Single Distance Championships by winning six world titles last year and the Olympic Games went extremely well by winning four golden medals. We started our sponsorship four years ago and we are noticing an upward trend in many fields. We have a lot of confidence in both teams. As with Jumbo, the will to win and wanting to be the best is in the DNA of this team.”

Jumbo had been negotiating with Team Oranje about a more prominent role for a while already. During these negotiations, they spoke about a new and improved set-up of this unique team. Unquestionably, the teams will be surrounded by top notch sports staff in the future. In the coming period, new steps will be taken to create one ecosystem. This was one of the reasons for Jumbo to extend its commitment to Team Oranje.

“It’s nice that we can go full speed ahead”, responds Orie, director of the speed skaters. “I really appreciate the fact that Jumbo wants to invest in the team so we can elaborate on our Olympic successes.”

Plugge is looking forward to the coming years: “It’s fantastic that Jumbo is backing this team and is creating something really nice with us. We like to compete with athletes who have been developed in our team. Jumbo grants us the opportunity to improve on our solid base with a long term vision and to retain talents for a longer period of time.”

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