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Bicycle Racing News and Opinion,
Monday, February 1, 2021

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2020 Tour de France | 2020 Giro d'Italia

The audiobook version of The Story of the Tour de France, Volume 1 is available.

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Mathieu van der Poel is World Cyclo Cross Champion, again

Here's the UCI's race report:

The final day of the UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships in Ostend (Belgium) celebrated the rising talent of 18-year-old Fem van Empel in the Women U23 race and confirmed the rainbow supremacy of Mathieu van der Poel, who claimed a phenomenal fourth Men Elite title. Once again, the winners are all from the Netherlands with another Dutch rider, Aniek van Alphen, on the Women U23 podium, in second, and Hungary’s Blanka Kata Vas in third place – while the men's was completed by Belgians Wout van Aert and Toon Aerts.

Mathieu van der Poel

Mathieu van der Poel gets his fourth world championship. Photo: Photopress-be

“I can’t believe it, I have no words”, said the new Women U23 UCI World Champion Fem van Empel, who claimed the third successive rainbow jersey for the Netherlands this weekend. “I think and dream about this. Before the race, mentally, I was very good. I believed in myself the whole race and on the last lap I could make it happen. It’s fantastic. In the sand, I made the difference. My coach said I must be first into the sand after the bridge. I pushed on the bridge, but Blanka Kata Vas went all out.”

“The flat tyre for Van Aert was a little bit of luck from my side to come back but at that moment I didn’t feel the race was over yet,” said Mathieu van der Poel. “The course changed and became a bit faster at the beach section and I felt (I had) a bit better legs by then and I improved every lap running through the sand, so the good feeling was growing lap by lap and that made the difference for me today.”

Van Empel takes the Women U23 gold after a powerful attack on deep sand
One year ago Fem van Empel was primarily a soccer player who moved to cyclo-cross inspired by her father Paul, an amateur CX rider when he was younger. Fast forward 12 months and, at just 18 years, 3 months and 25 days old she took fourth place on the prestigious and tough Dendermonde (Belgium) course in the UCI Cyclo-cross World Cup, ahead of several bigger name riders including the 2017 Women U23 UCI World Champion Annemarie Worst from the Netherlands and former triple rainbow jersey winner, Sanne Cant from Belgium.

As in both races on the first day of the UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships, the decisive action came on the demanding deep sand section where the Dutch rider attacked thanks to her powerful running and pulled out an important advantage over her compatriot Van Alphen and Hungary’s Blanka Kata Vas – who went on to finish second and third, respectively, with gaps of three and nine seconds.

The 2019 U23 rainbow jersey winner, Inge van der Heijden, from the Netherlands, had led the race from its tumultuous start – with several athletes involved in crashes, including Van Empel – and gained a lead of up to 10 seconds climbing the bridge back into the Hippodrome, but was caught by the trio and had to settle for fourth position at the finish.

Van der Poel takes fourth rainbow jersey after a formidable ride
The duel between Mathieu Van der Poel and Wout van Aert started right from the first corner, with the two favourites immediately taking off, also helped by a crash for the outsider Thomas Pidcock (GBR). The chasing group was made up of four more Belgian riders: Toon Aerts, Laurens Sweeck and Quinten Hermans with Michael Vanthourenhout, winner of the first round of the 2020-2021 UCI Cyclo-cross World Cup in Tábor (Czech Republic).

The turning point came on the second and third laps when Van Aert attacked on the sand, with the Dutch rider crashing shortly after. But the lonely lead of the Milan-Sanremo winner lasted only until the next circuit when Van der Poel changed his bike, came back quickly to the Belgian, and counter-attacked, gaining a few seconds also thanks to Van Aert's puncture. The Belgian was forced to change his bike; a draw in terms of bad luck.

The gap between the two rivals remained under 10 seconds until the fifth lap when the Dutchman accelerated and almost doubled his advantage. In the meanwhile, Pidcock caught Aerts, moving into third provisional place. Shortly before the sixth bridge climb, Van Aert was forced to get off the bike, saying goodbye to his dreams of taking a fourth gold this year.

Van der Poel's lead increased lap after lap and despite slight difficulty just before the finish the 2020 Tour of Flanders winner triumphed in Ostend with 38 seconds over Van Aert. Third place went to Aerts in front of Pidcock, at 1’24’’ and 1’37’’ respectively. For the Netherlands it completed a perfect 2021 UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships with four wins out of four races.

Here's the race report from Wout van Aert's Jumbo-Visma team:

Wout van Aert has finished second at the cyclocross World Championships in the Belgian coastal town of Ostend. Partly due to a flat tyre, the Team Jumbo-Visma rider had to acknowledge his superior in Mathieu van der Poel.

Van Aert’s start was strong. He quickly took the lead and due to a crash by Van der Poel he was able to create a big gap. However, a flat tyre quickly ruined Van Aert’s chances of winning. The Dutchman came back and was able to create a substantial lead. The best one-day rider of 2020 kept fighting, but couldn’t catch the leader anymore.

“Of course I am a bit disappointed”, Van Aert said. “The start was good and at one point I was in a favourable situation. The puncture cost too much time and effort though, which is why I exploded. I am also a bit disappointed in myself. I couldn’t fight back like I normally can. The puncture was bad for the morale. I never let my head hang down, but I couldn’t reach a higher level anymore.”

Van Aert had nice words for the new wearer of the rainbow jersey. “Mathieu and I are evenly matched. The one who takes a lead can afford a small mistake. We have a deserved world champion. I didn’t get any closer in the second part of the race. I did miss the supporters, but of course Mathieu did as well. Hopefully they will be back soon.”

The road season is almost there for the Team Jumbo-Visma rider. “Now I’m going to enjoy the rest all week and prepare for the new goals for this year.” Normally, Van Aert will ride his first race in Italy. There he will try to prolong his title in Strade Bianche.

UAE-Team Emirates reports on the GP Marseillaise

Here's the team's update:

Matteo Trentin began his UAE Team Emirates career in promising fashion with a solid but frustrating 7th place in the Grand Prix Cycliste la Marseillaise (1.1) in France.

The race was an undulating 171km which saw the peloton whittle down to a select group entering the finish in Marseille.

UAE Team Emirates were well represented with young Alessandro Covi confidently controlling the peloton with team debutants Ryan Gibbons and Matteo Trentin well placed behind for the sprint.

Trentin hit-out early with around 350m to go which proved costly as the slight incline allowed riders to come from behind to pass the Italian strongman.

Frenchman Aurelien Paret-Peintre (AG2R – Citroen) was quickest to the line to claim the win.

Aurelien Paret-Peintre

Aurelien Paret-Peintre takes the win.

Matteo Trentin : “The whole team rode an excellent race, they did just the right amount of work to get us in the right position. Covi and Gibbons did great work in the finish with Covi especially doing an amazing job in chasing everything down.
I started sprinting with around 350 metres to go which was too soon and I misjudged it. It’s a pity because the legs were good and it was a shame to waste that by opening up too early. I hope to have a chance again very soon to do better.”

Trek-Segafredo to ride Etoile de Bessèges

Here’s the team’s new post:

We’re pumped to start racing again at the 51st Etoile de Bessèges where we will join nine other World Teams to get our 2021 season underway. The recent postponement of the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana has forced Trek-Segafredo management to shuffle its hand, but with some strong cards to play, we’re ready to go all in.

The trio of Mads Pedersen, Vincenzo Nibali and Bauke Mollema will all be present in Bessèges to begin their racing seasons. While there are no big mountains to climb, the peloton will encounter some lumps in the five days of racing.

Stage 1 will be fought out in an uphill sprint. Stages 2 and 3 roll up and down all day before expected bunch sprints, while Stage 4 culminates atop a one-kilometer ascent, which will be climbed with furor. For Stage 5 our team will board their Speed Concepts for an 11-kilometer race against the clock.

Vincenzo Nibali

Vincenzo Nibali riding the 2020 Giro stage 14 time trial. Sirotti photo

Vincenzo is taking a new approach to the 2021 season:
"The desire to return to racing is great, despite this sudden change in schedule making the debut more turbulent than expected. Unfortunately, we are still living in a precarious situation and we have to put that into consideration. We just hope that the situation turns for the better in the coming weeks and months."
- Vincenzo Nibali

Of course, the French stage race will be used as preparation for our upcoming major targets – the Classics and Giro d’Italia – but that doesn’t mean that the desire to win is missing. Many riders have taken a shift in perspective after racing through the topsy-turvy 2020 season.

“Every race will have its importance, every day will be lived with the focus on the present and not necessarily on what will be [in the future]. I want to race with my mind free of future expectations, driven by that healthy competitive edge that motivates me to bring out the best,” said Nibali.

"Every race could be the last one. Now, going into all races, I’m motivated 100 percent to win. It doesn’t matter if it’s Flanders or whatever it is, I’m here to win." - Mads Pedersen

With less than a month until Opening Weekend, the first Classics of the season, Pedersen will be ready to see how the winter training translates in the races. His compatriot Mattias Skjelmose, now a fully-fledged member of Trek-Segafredo, will make his debut as a WorldTour professional at Bessèges.

Vincenzo Nibali is a rider with an enviable palmarès, but he’s never ridden Etoile de Bessèges before. At 36 years old, the four-time Grand Tour winner is taking a different approach to the season ahead of him.

“On my debut, I’ve always approached the season with a few well-defined goals set on the calendar, but this year I’ve chosen to change it,” explained Nibali. “The Giro, Tour and the Olympics are obviously events that I want to attend at my highest level, but the road that will take me there will not only be used as a path of growth in condition.

“I don’t think I have anything to prove, even though the 2020 season was definitely below expectations. But this doesn’t mean that I don’t want to show that I can still have my say, that I can still compete at a great level. In order to do so, I decided to change my approach to the season, with a more intense winter. It’s a substantial change from my habits, but I felt I had to do it,” he added.

For many, it will be strange to see the racing season begin in Europe. We’re used to either staying up late at night to watch the Tour Down Under, hoping to be in warmer climes, or anxiously checking the results first thing in the morning. Regardless of location, we’re just thrilled to be able to be racing again.

Trek-Segafredo line-up for Etoile de Bessèges: Feb. 3-7, 2021
Alex Kirsch (LUX)
Bauke Mollema (NED)
Ryan Mullen (IRE)
Vincenzo Nibali (ITA)
Mads Pedersen (DEN)
Mattias Skjelmose (DEN)
Edward Theuns (BEL)

Directeurs Sportifs:
Kim Andersen (DEN)
Grégory Rast (SUI)

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