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Bicycle Racing News and Opinion,
Monday, June 24, 2019

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2018 Tour de France | 2018 Giro d'Italia

If we must have a tyrant, let him at least be a gentleman who has been bred to the business, and let us fall by the axe and not by the butcher's cleaver. - Lord Byron

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Tour of Switzerland final reports

Here's the report from the race organizer:

In an exciting showdown with Rohan Dennis (AUS / TBM), Egan Bernal (COL / INS) defended his lead in the general classification. In Goms, he was celebrated as overall winner of the 83rd Tour de Suisse. Patrick Konrad (AUT / BOH) completed the podium in third place.

With his 22 years and 5 months, Bernal is the third-youngest winner of the Tour de Suisse. The Colombian rider is considered as one of cycling’s most talented young professional riders. In the upcoming Tour de France, Bernal is expected to be riding in support of his Ineos team captain, last year’s Tour de France winner Geraint Thomas (GBR).

Egan Bernal

Egan Bernal gets his bike to start the final stage. Sirotti photo

Bernal laid the foundations for his second triumph of this season after Paris-Nice with the mountain-top finish in Flumserberg, with his stage victory on the Gotthard Pass and with a strong performance in the individual time-trial in Goms.

Bernal had to withstand the attacks from his opponents at the last major obstacle of the Tour de Suisse, the Furka Pass. On the final climb, Dennis went all in but Bernal was able to follow the Australian rider. In the end, Bernal held onto his advantage of 19 seconds to secure the overall victory. "This triumph provides me with great confidence," said Bernal.

None of the Swiss riders were able to mix in with the battle for the overall victory. Nevertheless, Patrick Schelling (SUI / SUI) managed an outstanding results with his 11th place in the final general classification, and Mathias Frank (ALM) obtained a strong fourth place in the stage classification on the last day.

With a performance rarely seen in modern cycling, Hugh Carthy (GBR / ED1) stepped into the spotlight. The Briton was one of the first attackers of the final day, riding almost the entire distance of the queen stage alone in front of the race. Outsider Carthy not only celebrated the most significant victory of his career but his bold triple-Alps ride netted him even more. On the Nufenen-, Gotthard- and Furka-pass he collected so many points for the mountain’s classification that he crowned himself as the ‘king of the mountains’ of the Tour de Suisse. After Friday’s mountain-top finish on the Gotthard a good overall placing was no longer possible, said Carthy, because his head and body weren’t co-operating. Now, he is happy that it all worked out two days later.

The 84th Tour de Suisse will take place from 6 to 14 June 2019. Geographically, start town Frauenfeld and finish town Andermatt will feature as cornerstones.

Stage winner Hugh Carthy's EF Education First team sent me this:

Two days ago, Hugh Carthy’s legs were empty, and he was simply hoping to make it to the next part of the season. The final days of the Tour de Suisse, though, were in the way.

No more.

Carthy took a shot Sunday on the race’s final day and mountain test. And he struck gold, turning a long-range mountain attack into a brilliant solo raid across the Tour de Suisse’s high passes, earning his first WorldTour victory in the process.

Hugh Carthy

Hugh Carthy solos in to win the final stage of the Swiss Tour. Sirotti photo.

“On the first climb I knew the legs, body and head were good. It was just a time trial – the same for everybody – just one effort per climb. You just have to believe you can do it,” said Carthy, who picked up the King of the Mountains title in the process. “Two days ago on the stage to San Gottardo I was terrible. My head, legs and body were tired, and I just wanted to be on holiday and finish the first part of the season. Yesterday in the time trial the legs were better. Today I had one last chance and I wanted to finish on a high before the holidays.”

Carthy’s attack came on the opening kilometers of stage 9 and he never looked back. The Brit opened up his lead to just over 2 minutes on the opening climb and extended his lead on the subsequent climbs gaining up to 4 minutes with 50 kilometers to go. Chasing behind him was a group of elite riders including world time trial champion Rohan Dennis (Bahrain-Merida) and young Colombian Egan Bernal (Team Ineos). Carthy, though, held off the pack and had plenty of time to savor the moment and tap the EF Education First logo on his chest, as he won by more than a minute. He was mobbed by Sep and Ken Vanmarcke at the finish line, as the result washed over him. All told, he was on the front of the race for 98km.

“The team ambiance was good and even at that moment, we had the confidence to do something. However, we didn’t think we could do something like that,” said DS Fabrizio Guidi. “The beginning of the week was hard, but he started to feel better during the time trial and today we just wanted to see how he was feeling. We fought until the end.”

Stage 9 of the Tour de Suisse played to the strengths of Carthy, who prefers these types of high mountains stages, but even so a 100km solo ride is a tall order for any rider, physically and mentally. The victory marks a huge step.

“We hired Hugh as the most talented British climber of his generation. But as with a lot of taller, lankier riders, it takes a bit longer to develop the power to handle the speeds of WorldTour racing,” said team CEO Jonathan Vaughters “So over the past three seasons, we always knew Hugh had the talent to do this. It’s a matter of being patient and working on the attributes that he has. I’m incredibly happy for him and for the whole team. He knew when to roll the dice, and it paid off … HUGE.” Huge, of course, is Carthy’s nickname.

“It’s still sinking in,” Carthy said. “But for me, the staff, and my teammates, it’s a happy moment.” 

Patrick Konrad's Bora-hansgrohe team sent me this update:

While many races wind down with a flat stage after a hard week’s racing, the Tour de Suisse saved the most brutal until last. Stage 9 – the Queen Stage – had been shortened due to snowfall, but even at its revised 101.5km distance, it was still by far the hardest parcours riders were going to encounter in a long time. Three Hors Catégorie climbs dominated the profile, and today was going to be a day where there was nowhere to hide – if a rider was having a bad day, it would show straight away.

Rolling out of Ulrichen – where the stage and the race would also end – a break was slow to form, with the peloton climbing Switzerland’s highest pass, the Nufenenpass, almost from the start line making this difficult. There were several groups on the road, but a cohesive escape group hadn’t yet come together, while the peloton itself was small owing to the sheer number of riders dropping off on this first climb alone.

However, for much of the day, there was one rider out in front, and with several smaller groups forming and splintering further back on the road, the solo rider’s advantage exceeded five minutes at times. While exhausted after more than a week of hard racing, the BORA-hansgrohe riders worked hard to stop any riders that could threaten the outcome of the overall race from going off up the road. On such a hard day, there was no strong team presence in the peloton to push the pace and it came down to the individual riders to decide if they were going to try their luck and see if they could take some extra time from their rivals.

Flying the flag for BORA-hansgrohe here were Lukas Pöstlberger and Patrick Konrad, who was also riding for his place in the GC. It was here that the attacks came from the GC riders and Lukas played a pivotal role in responding to these and reducing their threat to Patrick’s podium spot. With Lukas having kept Patrick safe over the second climb, it was all up to Patrick to push on over the 7.7% slopes of the 11.7km long Furkapass, with several riders aiming to take some time from him any way they could.

Cresting the final climb of the race and the finish line looming large on the horizon, with the solo rider already across the line, the Austrian rider knew there were some valuable bonus seconds still available at the finish, but in the final sprint to the line, he confirmed his podium position, taking ninth on the stage and third in the GC – the first time had climbed the podium of a WorldTour race. The Slovak National Champion, Peter Sagan, finished the day to confirm his win in the points contest and extend his Tour de Suisse record, having won the prize in eight of the past nine years.

Tour of Switzerland

The 2019 Tour of Switzerland's final GC podium, from left: Rohan Dennis (2nd), Egan Bernal & Patrick Konrad (3rd). Sirotti photo

From the Finish Line:
"I'm really happy to be on the podium of the Tour de Suisse, it's the result of a solid effort by everybody during these nine stages. The team did an excellent job today, especially by controlling the attacks in the first part of the stage as well as the breakaway that could have put my GC placement in danger. This allowed me to be in a good position in the final climb, together with the main contenders, and secure my spot. Thanks, everybody, it is a good feeling being on the podium and I now look forward to the Tour de France." – Patrick Konrad

"I'm happy with my performance in this year's Tour de Suisse. I extended my stage win record in this race to 17, I got my eighth points classification jersey and I felt that my form has been where it should have at this time of the year. On top of that, Patrick is third overall, so congratulations to him and the whole team for this result. My focus will now turn to the Slovak National Championship next weekend and then, of course, one of the main goals of the season, the Tour de France." – Peter Sagan

"Today we had a very hard stage, with three HC climbs and more than 3,000 of altitude gain, and, of course, our primary objective was to secure Patrick Konrad's position on the final podium. The whole team did a beautiful job from the start and the first climb. We tried to minimize as much as we could the dangerous attacks and cover them when they happened. Everybody worked towards that, with Lukas Pöstlberger, in particular, staying close to Patrick until the final climb. Patrick had the legs, raced smartly to fend off the attacks and finish on the podium. In addition to Patrick's GC goal, Peter Sagan had to retain his points jersey by finishing within the time limits. He rode with the main group in the two first climbs, then dropped back to continue on his own pace and keep the black jersey. I think that overall it was a good race for BORA-hansgrohe, we were third in the GC, leaders in the points classification and got a stage win." – Jan Valach, Sports Director 

Lotto-Soudal reports on final stage of ZLM Tour

The team sent me this:

The curtain fell on the five-day ZLM Tour with a flat stage between Eindhoven and Tilburg today. The fast guys battled for the victory today and after a hectic finale, it was Caleb Ewan who beat the German Walscheid and the Dutch rider Groenewegen with an impressive acceleration! Mike Teunissen wins the ZLM Tour, Jasper De Buyst finishes fourth overall. Rasmus Byriel Iversen could step onto the podium to pick up the young rider’s jersey.

Caleb Ewan

Caleb Ewan wins the final stage of the ZLM Tour.

Three escapees animated the final stage but the peloton - led by Jumbo-Visma - did not grant the three up front a lot of advantage. That way, another bunch sprint was almost certain to happen. In the finale, Jelle Wallays escaped the peloton and rode to Reinders - the last remaining escapee of the day - but after a brave effort, they were reeled in at around six kilometres from the finish. Only moments later, Nikolas Maes attacked but he was also caught. Eventually, the sprinters battled for the win in Tilburg and it was Lotto Soudal rider Caleb Ewan who proved to be the fastest today. With an impressive sprint, the Australian beat the German Walscheid and the Dutch rider Groenewegen. This victory gives Ewan a confidence boost towards his next race: the Tour de France.

Caleb Ewan: “I knew that I was building my form through this ZLM Tour, which was the first goal for this race. I did a little bit of everything in this five-day race. I did a good time trial in the start, a few sprints and some attacks. Actually, the legs felt pretty tired today but luckily, I had something left in the end. Of course, it’s always good for the confidence to get a win. In the finale, we were trying to make Jumbo-Visma work harder as first Jelle Wallays and then Nikolas Maes attacked. So the goal was to make them use up their guys so it wouldn’t be easy for them to do a normal lead-out. I think we successfully did that because they were running out of guys and had to chase really hard during the final local lap. It was a different tactic but in the end, it worked.”

“We were also running short of guys but Roger Kluge and Jasper De Buyst kept the speed high so it was easier for me to jump on the wheel of Groenewegen. Then I knew, once we got through the chicane with 200 metres to go, I needed to start my sprint, so that’s what I did. I came around him with some good speed and could take the win. “

“It is always good to win a sprint before a big goal. I had the same in the Tour of Turkey, which gave me confidence going into the Giro, where I took two nice stage victories. It’s good to get that winning feeling again and it should give me some confidence for the first part of the Tour.”

Tiesj Benoot secured his fourth place in the general classification of the Tour de Suisse today. In a short but brutal stage with the Nufenen-, Gotthard- and Furkapass, the 25-year-old Lotto Soudal rider did not let his nice spot on the general classification slip through his fingers. The final stage was won by the Brit Hugh Carthy, who produced an impressive solo. Benoot finished seventh today. The Colombian Egan Bernal takes the overall victory.

Tiesj Benoot: “Of course, we wanted to try and have a shot at the overall podium today, but with such a hard stage in front of us, the legs would do all the talking. With the finish after the descent, I needed to take some advantage but eventually, holding on to fourth place was the highest possible thing today. During the ascent of the Furkapass, I was close to my limit and racing defensively was the only option. Otherwise, I would have certainly still tried something today.”

“In the first part of the race, teams like Team Ineos and Bahrain-Merida controlled the race and during the first two climbs, I felt that the pace could still be increased. For a moment, there was a little panic as I punctured on the Gotthardpass but luckily, I was able to get back to the group of favourites thanks to a quick wheel change. That was a crucial thing with the descent in sight.”

“Of course, I am really satisfied with my performances in the Tour de Suisse. Before the race, I never thought I would have been able to finish fourth overall. With the feeling I had during the final week of training in the Sierra Nevada, I hoped to obtain a place inside the top ten, but it’s always difficult to say so after two months without racing. Finishing eight seconds from the podium maybe is a pity, but I am also only one second ahead of the fifth rider on the general classification.”

“This performance gives me a lot of confidence towards the Belgian Championships and the Tour de France. It is nice to see the good shape confirmed with a nice result. A stage win remains the ambition for the Tour de France. A Grand Tour is something different to a one-week stage race, so we don’t need to adapt the goals.”

Lotto Soudal also raced on Belgian soil today in the Elfstedenronde. It was Tim Merlier who sprinted to victory as he beat Jakobsen and Philipsen. Jens Keukeleire was the first Lotto Soudal and finished fourteenth.

Diego Ulissi wins Tour of Slovenia

Here's the report from Ulissi's UAE-Team Emirates:

Diego Ulissi won the second Tour of Slovenia of his career (the first in 2011), ahead of Giovanni Visconti (Neri-Selle Italia-Ktm) at 22" and Aleksandr Vlasov (Gazprom) at 25" behind the Tuscan rider in Novo Mesto, in a stage started from Trebnje.

Fourth place in the general ranking went to Tadej Pogačar (+30"), who also won the youth rankings for the third consecutive year. The icing on the cake for UAE Team Emirates was the win in the team classification also.

The final stage saw Pogačar cross the finish line in 8th position in the sprint of a small group won by Giacomo Nizzolo (Dimension Data).

Diego Ulissi: “My form is great at the moment so coming here I wanted to make the most of that. I’d like to thank the whole team, we raced really smart on all five stages: with the talent of Pogačar and Polanc, the inexhaustible strength of Rui Oliveira and Consonni and the experience of Marcato, made everything much easier. Even today we reacted perfectly when Gazprom tried to take control on the uphill. My next target will be the Italian championships “.

Pogačar: “I am happy with the success of UAE Team Emirates in my home race: Diego was very strong, I am happy to have given my contribution. Too bad to have lost the podium by 5", but I still took the white jersey for the third year.”

Results Stage 5
1 Giacomo Nizzolo (Ita) UAE Team Emirates 4h01'55"
2 Luka Mezgec (Slo) Dimension Data s.t.
3 Shane Archbold (Nzl) Bora-hansgrohe s.t.
8 Tadej Pogačar (Slo) UAE Team Emirates s.t.

Final general classification
1 Diego Ulissi (Ita) UAE Team Emirates 19h41’23"
2 Giovanni Visconti (Ita) Neri-Selle Italia-Ktm 22"
3 Aleksandr Vlasov (Rus) Gazprom 25"
4 Tadej Pogačar (Slo) UAE Team Emirates 30"
9 Jan Polanc (Slo) UAE Team Emirates 3’17"

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