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Bicycle Racing News and Opinion,
Friday, March 9, 2018

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2018 Tour de France | 2018 Giro d'Italia

Many a good argument is ruined by some fool who knows what he is talking about. - Marshall McLuhan

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Paris-Nice Stage five team reports

GC leader Luis Leon Sanchez's Astana team posted this stage 5 report:

The riders of Astana Pro Team successfully defended the leaders jersey of Luis Leon Sanchez at Stage 5 of Paris-Nice. Only the day’s breakaway was threatening the lead halfway the stage. But by decreasing the gap in today’s final, no harm was done, finishing close to the strongest rider of the breakaway, Jerome Cousin. Magnus Cort sprinted to a 4th place behind Andre Greipel, finishing behind the two breakaway riders.

- It was a good stage of the whole team today, protecting me well and working in the front. The first climb was a hard one, but I think we did a good job by controlling the race. That Magnus Cort managed to finish 2nd in the sprint behind the breakaway was impressive after the work he had done today. We’re confident for the stages to follow, but still everything can happen, - told Luis Leon Sanchez.

After yesterday’s Time Trial, today was a new challenge for the peloton at Paris-Nice, climbing the first 1st category climb of the race at Stage 5. Riding from Salon-de-Provence to Sisteron, 163.5 kilometers, the riders had to conquer 4 climbs in total of which one 3rd category climb in the final 15 kilometers.

In the first phase of the stage, 4 riders got clear for the day’s breakaway: Nils Politt, Nicolas Edet, Jérôme Cousin and Julien El Fares. These riders had a maximum advantage of 5.50 at the top of Col de Lagarde-d'Apt (1st cat.). After this climb the gap decreased because of a pulling Astana Pro Team leading the pack.

At today’s final climb, 12 kilometers before the finish, half of the breakaway dropped. Only Politt and Cousin were still in the front of the chasing peloton, making it into the final kilometer. It was Jerome Cousin finishing in front of a rushing peloton, where Magnus Cort sprinted to a 4th place behind Andre Greipel.

Luis Leon Sanchez

Luis Leon Sanchez remains the Paris-Nice GC leader

A harder stage is expected for tomorrow, with the Colle sur Loup (1st cat.) in the final 10 kilometers, after multiple climbs riding from Sisteron to Vence (188km).

Here's the Bora-hansgrohe report:

An early break took advantage of a too late chasing peloton to win in Sisteron. Cousin outsprinted Politt, while Patrick Konrad and Felix Großschartner finished safe in the main bunch.

As the peloton arrived in the southern part of France, stage profiles change from now on at Paris – Nice. Today’s 5th stage from Salon-De-Provence to Sisteron covered 165 kilometers, including 4 categorized climbs. With the Col de Lagarde-d’Apt a first category KOM awaited the riders after 76.5 km. After another 3rd cat. climb, the last 50k of the stage were mainly downhill, which gave the sprinters in the bunch a chance of bringing themselves into play again. But with an undulated, 17 kilometer-long, finishing circuit in Sisteron, today’s final was for sure a tough one.

A stage like today, divided into two parts, first with some hard climbs, afterwards mostly downhill, is always hard to predict. There was a chance for a breakaway making it to the finish today, but also the sprinters had options to come back in the second part of the race. BORA – hansgrohe’s plan was to fully concentrate on the two leaders Felix Großschartner and Patrick Konrad. Both had the task to follow the other GC guys once more, while saving as much energy as possible after yesterday’s hard effort. All BORA – hansgrohe riders had to stay close to them as long as possible.

Jerome Cousin

Jerome Cousin wins Paris-Nice stage five

Right after the sharp start, 4 riders took advantage of a short uphill section to escape from the bunch. The quartette extended their lead fast to around four minutes, while in the peloton Astana and Groupama-FDJ controlled the pace. The situation in the race didn’t change at all for the next 2 hours, but on the long downhill to Sisteron, Quickstep and Lotto-Soudal started to pull hard in the bunch. When crossing the finish line for the first time, the gap was down to two minutes and N. Politt attacked from the leading group. On the last climb of the day, Politt was joined by J. Cousin and both were desperately fighting for their lead, while the other two breakaway riders were caught from the bunch. Sky was pushing hard on the last 10k and Lotto-Soudal later joined them at the head of the peloton, but their efforts came too late and Cousin took the win just meters ahead of a flying bunch. For BORA – hansgrohe it was a day without any highlights, and both, Felix and Patrick finished safe in the main bunch.

From the Finish Line:
“After yesterday’s hard effort, I still felt my legs in the beginning. In the final I was on the wheel from Juraj (Sagan) and Pawel (Poljanski), but unfortunately I lost them with just 1k to go. I had to swing to the other side of the bunch then, but this way I avoided the last crash. It was important today to don’t lose any seconds, so I’d say: mission accomplished.” – Patrick Konrad

“The team did a great job today to make it as easy as possible for Felix (Großschartner) and Patrick (Konrad). There have been a lot of crashes, but we did avoid all of them. I am happy we didn’t do any mistakes and didn’t lose any time today.” – Jens Zemke, Sports Director 

Alexander Kristoff's UAE-Team Emirates sent me this update:

After two difficult days in Paris-Nice, where Alexander Kristoff didn’t have the best feelings, he showed his Norwegian force by placing fifth in the fifth stage to Sisteron. The stage – covering 163.5 kilometres over four climbs including one of second and one of first category – was won by Jérôme Cousin (Direct Energie) over Nils Politt (Katusha-Alpecin). They were both part of a four-man escape.

The group behind with Daniel Martin and Sven Erik Bystrøm came within two seconds of the lead duo and then Kristoff, the European champion, opened up in the sprint from behind.

“Today, I was better than the past days, even if I didn’t have great feelings,” Kristoff (in photo, Bettini, with Bystrom at the start) said. “In the race, though, I went better than I thought I would and, after I spoke with my team-mates, I decided to try the sprint. My legs didn’t have such force, though, but I still pulled off a fifth place that gave me some morale.”

Tirreno-Adriatico stage two team reports

Stage winner Marcel Kittel's Katusha-Alpecin posted this report:

It was a sprint from distance for Marcel Kittel, but the strong German rider held his power to the finish line in Follonica to take his first win in team colors, as well as his first professional victory on Italian soil.

“For us it’s a big relief to finally get this victory. This sprint finish was perfect for me. I knew it when I saw it. I had such a big will to go for the win today. I pushed as hard as I could and I am very happy I could show my power. It was a great thing to experience today. And seven years as a professional and never a victory in Italy before this. Now I can say winning in Italy is checked off the bucket list”, said Marcel Kittel.

The second stage of the 53rd Tirreno-Adriatico marked the first chance for the sprinters in the 7-day stage race after yesterday’s opening team time trial. At 167km, the stage began in Camaiore and looked good on paper to the powerhouse Kittel.

“The finish was very complicated. There were a lot of turns, some speed bumps in the road and gravel and holes. It wasn’t easy. But I have to say the last 2 kilometers were a sprinter’s dream and I was feeling great today on the bike. I was trying to sprint as hard as I could to get this victory,” said Kittel.

Marcel Kittel

Marcel Kittel wins Tirreno-Adriatico stage two.

Joining Kittel on the podium in second and third place were world champion Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Giacomo Nizzolo of Trek-Segafredo. The race lead belongs to Patrick Bevin of BMC.

Although it took a few races before seeing his first team win, Marcel Kittel was never in doubt about his chances for victory.

“We were trying very hard and of course it’s always a challenge to put a new group together. We were very close, even two times on the podium already but never the victory. Of course every race you are hungry again and you want to go and go and go, and then it doesn’t happen. This is such a relief. I’m also very happy that the team worked so well. They did a great job and we really deserved to finally get this win,” concluded Marcel Kittel.

Race leader Patrick Bevin's BMC squad sent me this news:

8 March, 2018, Follonica (ITA): The Tirreno-Adriatico blue leader's jersey swapped from one BMC Racing Team rider to another today with Patrick Bevin sprinting to fifth place to move into the overall lead at a UCI WorldTour race for the first time in his career.

Apart from a short opening climb, it was an almost entirely pan flat day of racing on stage 2 with a four-rider breakaway going clear early and building up an advantage that was nudging towards 4'30" after 15km of racing.

With BMC Racing Team setting the tempo at the front of the peloton, the gap peaked at over seven minutes before, heading into the second half of the race, the chase heated up and the three remaining leaders began to be pulled back.

With a bunch sprint up for grabs, the gap began to tumble approaching the 60km to go mark and, with the sprinters' teams controlling the pace going onto the first of three laps of an 8.3km finishing circuit, less than one minute stood between the front group and the rest of the field.

The catch was finally made just in time for the final 10km of racing, however, only a couple of kilometers later, as the battle for position began a crash, which involved Stefan Küng, saw riders caught out before the run into the line.

Going under the flamme rouge, the peloton was at full speed, and Bevin was able to make his way up through the field with ease before launching his sprint and powering to fifth on the line behind the day's winner Marcel Kittel (Team Katusha - Alpecin) to inherit the blue leader's jersey.

BMC Racing Team remains in control of the General Classification heading into stage 3 with Bevin leading the way ahead of Damiano Caruso, Greg Van Avermaet, and Rohan Dennis.

PAtrick Bevin

Patrick Bevin gets ready to start stage two.

Race leader, Patrick Bevin:
"It wasn't the plan coming into the stage for me to go for the leader's jersey, it came about as the stage went on. We didn't have to do too much work, and my teammates geared me up to have a go at the sprint. We didn't have a guy to sprint, and they were keen to let me have a go in the final. I actually got caught behind the crash and I only just got back on and was able to have a good run through the bunch because it was pretty spread out. It's a weird feeling to take a jersey from a teammate but the plan for the week doesn't change."

"I have had moments in the past when I have had a good sprint, and as an amateur, I sprinted, but in the last couple of years, it hasn't really been a priority. Today, was probably the first time in my whole career that I have had a teammate come to me and say that I should have a go and that they knew I could sprint. It's a special feeling coming into a new team when you have some well-established riders trying to motivate you and letting you show what you've got."

"It's really nice to be leading the race. Like I said before, it's weird to take the jersey from a teammate and especially one who is here to lead the team. Of course, I don't mind babysitting it for a day, but as we head into tomorrow, nothing changes in terms of our plan."

Sports Director, Valerio Piva:
"It was an almost entirely flat stage, and it was one for the sprinters. We were controlling the race at the beginning and then we had the help of the sprinters' teams. It was a fight for position at the end, and unfortunately, Stefan was involved in that crash. We hope it is nothing serious."

"Patrick Bevin was able to sprint to fifth, and he took the jersey. The main objective of the team today was to try to keep the jersey with one of the four guys that finished together yesterday. We had no problems at all throughout the day until of course the crash. "

"Tomorrow is a long stage, and the final should be one that suits the strengths of our team so we will be looking to try to defend the jersey once again. We will see what happens."

Peter Sagan's Bora-hansgrohe team sent me this news:

As the first road stage of this year’s Tirreno-Adriatico, riders were eager to claim the first individual win after yesterday’s team time trial. A flat finale after a pan flat stage meant the fast men would have their eye on the victory, however a hectic street circuit finale saw a crash in the final 10km shake things up, losing UCI World Champion, Peter Sagan, much of his sprint train. With the support of Daniel Oss, Peter pushed hard to take second, with the rest of the team returning home safely ready to fight another day.

Apart from a slight hump at the start of this 167km stage, the whole of the second day of the race would be pan flat. Heading south down the coast from the start town of Camaiore, where yesterday’s team time trial took place, the sparks would fly in the final 27km, where a street circuit ridden three times would up the pace for a predicted sprint finish. As is always the case though, fast finales make the racing more hazardous, and on street circuits there are always tight turns and road furniture that could change the day’s outcome in a matter of seconds.

On one of the flattest stages and a predicted sprint finish, all eyes would be on the UCI World Champion, Peter Sagan, but with a stage more suited to the pure sprinters, contesting the finale would be tough. The Slovak rider would be supported throughout the stage, and would be provided with a lead-out train for the closing kilometres. In the GC race, Rafał Majka would be looking to keep safe on the stage, ready to push for seconds in the later stages.

With a parcours that promoted fast riding, the break went away the moment the race left the stage’s neutralised zone. A small group of four built up a sizeable advantage over the peloton, who at their peak held the bunch at more than seven minutes with 90km remaining. Knowing the terrain wouldn’t trouble them in making the catch, the peloton increased their pace, and on reaching the street circuit in Follonica with 27km remaining, the break only had forty seconds in hand, finally being swallowed up with 12km to go. As the pace quickened the nervousness in the bunch was palpable, and a crash with 7km to go split the peloton, taking with it Peter’s lead-out train. Managing to stay in the lead group, Peter was supported by Daniel Oss as the final few kilometres sped by. Five men back in the last 100m, Peter pushed hard in what was a very messy sprint, taking second on the line – hitting his top speed just a little too late to take the win. While Marcus Burghardt, was caught up in the crash, the German National Champion came in safe, while Rafał Majka managed to finish with the lead group, protecting his GC hopes. 

Peter SAgan

Peter Sagan signs in to start stage two.

From the Finish Line
"I think my second place today was a good one since this was a stage that favoured the pure sprinters. The weather forecast was calling for rain but we actually had dry conditions, so that was a nice change. The team worked well but on the final lap there was clear tension in the peloton and a crash took place. Fortunately, I was in front but I think Marcus Burghardt was involved. I hope he or anyone else didn't suffer anything serious. Tomorrow is another stage and we'll again try our best." – Peter Sagan

"I think the day played out the way we expected. It was the first road stage of the race and it's difficult to know how it will finish as there are more unknowns than a time trial. All our guys performed very well, showed excellent teamwork and Peter took second place in the sprint behind Kittel. Fortunately, the crash in the circuit didn't affect us. Rafał finished with the first group, so he didn't lose any time to the GC contenders while Marcus Burghardt, who got caught in the pileup, didn't suffer any injuries." – Patxi Vila 

Development Team Sunweb's Nils Eekhoff wins Istrian Spring Trophy prologue

Team Sunweb sent me this race news:

Development Team Sunweb's Nils Eekhoff (NED) raced to victory on the opening stage of the Istrian Spring Trophy in Croatia, setting the fastest time over the 2km prologue to secure the first yellow jersey of the four-day race.

After his podium duties, Eekhoff explained his race: "Today was a very short prologue along the coast of Umag. There was some wind from the sea which also made it quite hard. I tried to get up to speed as fast as possible, hold it until the 180 degree turn, and then race full gas and give my all to the finish. I’m very happy with my start to the Istrian Spring Trophy, and am looking forward to the next days on the bike with our strong team."

Team Sunweb coach Tom Veelers (NED) added: "All went well today, the boys all did a good preparation, you can not make any mistakes given the time and distance was so short. We're pleased with the win and look forward to tomorrow's stage in yellow." 

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