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Bicycle Racing News and Opinion,
Sunday, March 3, 2019

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2018 Tour de France | 2018 Giro d'Italia

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Omloop Het Nieuwsblad team reports

Here's what winner Zdenek Stybar's Deceuninck-Quick Step team had to say:

Zdenek Stybar got off his Spring Classics campaign to an impeccable start, winning the 74th Omloop Het Nieuwsblad with a perfectly-executed attack from the breakaway group that emerged over the top of the Molenberg and managed to keep the chasers at bay, despite being reduced to just a handful of riders ahead of the feared Muur-Kapelmuur – Bosberg combination, which featured inside the final 20 kilometers.

“Finally it happened and I could finish it off in a cobbled classic! The feeling is really nice, the form is good and the team has confidence in me, which is so important; everything fell into place today and I am so happy with what I achieved, that I can’t put it into words”, said the 33-year-old after capturing his maiden win in a Flemish Classic.

Zdenek Stybar

Zdenek Stybar celebrates his victory. Sirotti photo.

Deceuninck – Quick-Step were again one of the most active teams in the race, taking the responsibility with Tim Declercq and Iljo Keisse at the head of the bunch once the break’s gap went up to an incredible 14 minutes and reducing the escapees’ advantage by the time they hit the slopes of the first hill, Leberg. Gradually, the gap came down to just a handful of minutes, and that was the cue for attacks to start flying out of the peloton.

After such a move was shut down by the charging bunch following a 20km-long furious chase, the elastic finally snapped on the Molenberg, where Yves Lampaert and Zdenek Stybar found themselves at the front, part of a strong and dangerous group which came to enjoy a 30-second buffer before Berendries. Unfortunately, Lampaert was slowed down by a crash that took place in front of him and had to drop out from the group, but Stybar continued unabated and responded to every acceleration.

In the chasing group, Philippe Gilbert, Omloop debutant Bob Jungels and the Belgian Champion kept a sharp eye on their rivals, while Zdenek led the way up the iconic Muur-Kapelmuur, which the leading quintet crested more than half a minute clear. Without any shake-ups on Bosberg, the day’s final difficulty, it looked like the winner will emerge from a reduced sprint, but Zdenek had other thoughts and executed a late attack from the breakaway group, immediately nudging out his advantage to ten seconds under the red kite.

The technical run-in played into his advantage, and the 33-year-old – who came into the race brimming with confidence after his Volta ao Algarve stage victory atop Alto do Malhão – seized the day after outfoxing his rivals and netted Deceuninck – Quick-Step’s 12th victory of the season, in a race which two other team riders, Yves Lamapert (7th) and Philippe Gilbert (8th), completed in the top 10.

“The race was different than last year, because we had a tailwind in the second part and this helped. The real race started on the Molenberg and we worked well together, even on the Muur and Bosberg, believing we could make it to the finish line. Initially, I was waiting for the sprint, but with two kilometers left I felt it was the right moment to go and thus went full gas.”

The first Czech rider in history to win a cobbled Classic, thanks to a textbook canny attack, Stybar stressed out the importance of the Wolfpack and the mentality that continues to drive the team, regardless of the race: “I have the same motivation as last year, I have always kept believing I could come back and win big races, especially as my winter preparation went well. From the team car, Tom Steels told me how much confidence they had in me and that I had what it took to finish it off. The attitude of this team is unique, the support you receive is tremendous and nobody calls himself a leader; we all work together for the same goal, because we are the Wolfpack, and that’s why we are so successful.”

Sixth-placed Jempy Drucker's Bora-hansgrohe squad sent this report:

A 200 kilometer-long parcours from Gent to Ninove opened this year’s Classics season today. In total, 13 climbs and several cobblestone sections made it a challenging day in the saddle for the peloton. Right from the gun a four-man breakaway formed at the head of the race, and led for about 160 kilometers, building an advantage of up to nine minutes. In the bunch the teams CCC and Deceuninck-Quickstep controlled the pace, while BORA – hansgrohe rode conservatively in the beginning. When some crosswinds forced the first splits in the bunch, the speed increased significantly, and as a result the advantage of the leading group came down quickly.

With 40km to go the big guns launched their first attacks and 17 riders formed the new leading group with Daniel Oss and Jempy Drucker among them for BORA - hansgrohe. A little later, a crash caused a split in this group and only six riders, including Daniel Oss, remained at the front.

The final was opened on the famous Kapelmuur and unfortunately Daniel lost contact on the steepest part of the climb. After being caught from the chasing group, Daniel sacrificed himself for Jempy Drucker, who was one of the fastest in this group. With 2km to go Z. Stybar made the decisive move at the front to take a solo win, while Jempy took the sprint from the third group to cross the line in a strong sixth position for BORA – hansgrohe at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.

empy Drucker

Jempy Drucker climbing the Grammont. Sirotti photo

From the Finish Line:
"To sprint for the victory would of course have been better, but I am happy with my result today. Unfortunately, Benoot’s crash caused a split in the leading group. But we were in a comfortable position with Daniel in front. My shape is good, especially taking into account that I missed two weeks of training around Christmas due to a broken collarbone. The Classics season has begun, and now we need to keep our focus and hopefully we can fight for a podium soon.”  – Jempy Drucker

"We can be happy with the result today. The guys rode a strong race, and when the leading group went away with 40km to go we had still Daniel and Jempy in front. Daniel also made the spilt into the decisive group, but he suffered some cramps on the Kapelmuur and couldn’t follow any more. After a long training period this can always happen when coming back to racing, so he’s not to blame. He tried his best then in the last 10km to help Jempy in the sprint and this worked out quite well. Our goal was to get a top ten result here at the opening Classic and we achieved that. Jempy is already in good shape and his sprint was timed perfectly in the end.” – Steffen Radocha, Sport Director 

Lotto-Soudal had a rough day in Belgium. Here's their update:

Mixed feelings for Lotto Soudal after today’s Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. Tim Wellens was part of the five-rider group that battled for the victory but after a tactical finale, it was Zdeněk Štybar who eventually emerged victorious. Wellens sprinted – just behind Van Avermaet – to third place. Unfortunately, Tiesj Benoot – who was also part of the front group – crashed hard at 28 kilometres from the line. The 24-year-old Lotto Soudal rider was forced to abandon the race with abrasions and cuts in the knee.

Tim Wellens

Tim Wellens made the podium (far left) with winner Zdenek Stybar and second-place Greg Van Avermaet. Sirotti photo

Besides Tiesj Benoot, Frederik Frison also crashed today. Both Lotto Soudal riders were taken to hospital for further examination. Frison has various abrasions and bruised ribs. Apart from a lot of abrasions, Tiesj Benoot also has a deep cut in the left knee, on which he fell during the Vuelta last year. Their injuries will be evaluated day by day towards a possible participation in the GP Samyn (Frison) and Strade Bianche (Benoot).

Tiesj Benoot will not start in Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne tomorrow and will be replaced by Jens Keukeleire.

Line-up Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne: Jasper De Buyst, Stan Dewulf, Jens Keukeleire, Nikolas Maes, Rémy Mertz, Lawrence Naesen and Brian van Goethem. 

UAE Tour stage seven reports

We posted the organizer's report with the results.

Here's the report from stage winner Sam Bennett's Bora-hansgrohe team:

On the final day of the UAE Tour, the riders took on 145km of racing between Dubai Safari Park and Dubai Walk. The flat parcours was tailored to the sprinters and was capped off, as expected, with a thrilling bunch gallop. Right from the get go, three riders escaped from the peloton and were able to distance themselves by more than 4:30 from the main field behind. The race progressed in a fairly calm manner to the finish, and the peloton did not appear to be in any particular hurry to reel in the leading trio. It was only in the latter part of the race that the escapees’ lead began to be whittled down.

In the last 10km, BORA – hansgrohe took over a large portion of the tempo setting, and the breakaway was caught not long afterwards. The teams of the sprinters, including BORA – hansgrohe, then began to jostle for position. After the last corner, in a fast-paced sprint finish in Dubai to cap off the final stage of the race, C. Ewan opened up his sprint, but was overtaken by A. Kristoff and F. Gaviria. After an excellent lead-out by his teammates, Sam Bennett was able to push past the sprinters in the final metres, and cross the line in first position to take his second win of the season. In terms of the general classification, Emu Buchmann ended the UAE Tour in fourth position overall, while BORA – hansgrohe also took out the team classification.

Sam Bennett

Sam Bennett gets the stage.

From the finish line:
“Our lead-out train worked perfectly today. The guys supported me the whole day and helped me to save extra energy. On the last sprint stage, I didn’t have good legs in the finale, but today I felt very good. The field is full of top notch sprinters and to pick up a win against these guys is a great achievement. My win today gives me confidence heading into the next races, and I’m excited to see what I can do there.” – Sam Bennett

“The strong winds made the stage more difficult, and the guys had to concentrate the whole day. Our goal was to bring Sam [Bennett] into a good position form which to launch his sprint in the last 500m. Then it was up to him to decide when to open up his final sprint. In the end, our plan worked perfectly, and he ended up taking out the final stage of the UAE Tour. We are of course extremely happy with this result. In terms of the general classification, Emu [Buchmann] was able to finish in fourth place overall, which is also a very good result. This week it became clear that he can climb with the very best, and we will see what results he will be able to collect in his next races.” – Enrico Poitschke, Sport Director 

GC winner Primoz Roglic's Jumbo-Visma team sent me this final wrap-up:

Primoz Roglic has won the general classification of the UAE Tour. The Slovenian rider of Team Jumbo-Visma was leading the race since day one. His classification was never in danger thanks to impressive team work.

Primoz Roglic

Primoz Roglic wins stage five.

For Roglic, it’s his second individual win of the season. Yesterday, he won the queen stage of the race. Earlier this week, he already won the team time trial which laid the foundations for his success. For Team Jumbo-Visma it’s the fifth victory this year.

The final stage of the World Tour race ended in a bunch sprint, as expected. In the last kilometres, Roglic was kept in front perfectly by his teammates. As a result, he crossed the finish line safely in the first group. Teammate Laurens De Plus finished ninth in the general classification, 1.49 behind the winner.

“The wind was really strong today”, Roglic said. “Because of that, it was a nervous race from the start. But we finished the race the same way we started it. We showed we are very strong. It’s a good thing we bring the red jersey home.”

The Slovenian could count on strong team work the entire race. “It’s important to be protected well. We didn’t want to risk anything and finished it perfectly. We started this race well by winning the team time trial and continued in the same way.”

The UAE Tour was the first race of the season for Roglic. “It’s a good start to my season. We have trained very hard. It’s nice I’m immediately successful”, he said.

Last year, Roglic won three stage races: the Tour of Slovenia, the Tour de Romandie and the Vuelta al Pais Vasco. Besides this, he finished fourth in the Tour de France. This season, the general classification of the Giro d’Italia is one of his main goals.

And Fernando Gaviria's UAE-Team Emirates sent me this stage seven report:

The sprints of the UAE Tour are never sure, so much so that the last stage of the Emirati race (Dubai Safari Park-City Wak, 145 km) gave the third different winner in as many sprints: Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe) shot ahead of the team’s Fernando Gaviria heading to the line.

The UAE Team Emirates cyclist took second place for the second time, a haul embellished by the success achieved in the stage to the Abu Dhabi Big Flag.

Fernando Gaviria

Fernando Gaviria wins stage two.

Stephens and Marzano directed the effective team work in the final stage, with Laengen making the contribution at the head of the group before Troia getting into action. Kristoff took over for Gaviria within the last kilometre. Considering the strong wind that blew in the final 400-metre straight, the Norwegian’s lead-out was recious with Gaviria tucked in his wheel. Only Bennett spoiled the party.
Of note is that Kristoff, after launching Gaviria, crossed the line in fourth place.

“The sprint was made very difficult by the strong headwind,” explained Gaviria. “I tried to stay as much as possible in the slipstream and I waited until the final metres to go: when I launched, I immediately realised that Bennett was faster.
It’s a pity I did not get a second victory, but I think it’s important to thank all my team-mates for the great job they’ve done today“.

Daniel Martin finished with a good 7th place overall, 1’11” behind the winner Primoz Roglic, the result of the brilliant performances in the two uphill arrivals by Jebel Hafeet and Jebel Jais, and steady riding all week.

In the top 20 were the team’s Diego Ulissi (15th at 2’19”) and Rui Costa (17th at 2’30”).

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