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Bicycle Racing News and Opinion,
Wednesday, February 10, 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.

If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be a vegetarian. - Paul McCartney

Olympics 50 Craziest Stories

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Interview with Groupama-FDJ's Ramon Sinkeldam

Groupama-FDJ posted this:

The “sprint group” with Arnaud Démare is back in action this week in the Tour de la Provence, and everyone will obviously look at the most successful rider of the past season. A few days before the race, Ramon Sinkeldam, one of the French champion’s most loyal teammates, agreed to tell us more about the spirit, the preparation and the ambitions of the Groupama-FDJ’s train in this first part of the season.

Ramon Sinkeldam

Ramon Sinkeldam on the Grammont in the 2018 Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. Sirotti photo

Ramon, you’ve just completed a training camp before the return to racing in Tour de Provence. Could you tell us more about it?

Initially, we were set to restart in Valencia, and we were supposed to go directly to the Tour de Provence after that. However, since the race in Valencia was cancelled, I contacted Arnaud to know if he was interested to come to Calp anyway. This was a good opportunity to do some hours under the sun, as there is terrible weather both at his place and mine. If the race would have taken place, we would have been there last Monday already, but we decided to stay two more days at home, so I flew last Wednesday. There, I then met Arnaud, Clément Davy and Arnaud’s father – or brother I don’t know, because they look alike (laughs). We first did a nice ride of three hours back to the house in Calp and we also did a good training on Thursday. We took it a bit easier on Friday and we finished the camp with really good training on Saturday and Sunday. The main purpose of the last few days was to get some kilometers in the legs and to do some efforts with good weather. On the last day, we had a ride “behind scooter” that Arnaud’s father was driving. It was actually short, but really good. Then, we travelled by car to Provence on Monday.

How many training camps did you actually attend since the start of the season?

This one came as a last minute decision since our returning race was cancelled a week prior. The week before that, we were in Elche where we had a very nice training camp with the sprint group. We also had a private training camp in Gran Canaria in early January. I have not been much at home since the start of the year, but my family understands it since the weather is way too bad back home and that it is going to be an important year for me as well with my contract expiring at the end of the season.

You experienced a difficult ending to the season last year. Do you know what happened?

I felt really tired on the Giro and I did not actually know why. I had to abandon mid-way through the race. One month after, we met in Besançon with the team and we underwent some tests. We eventually found something in my stomach, like a bad bacteria, which could explain the extent of fatigue I was suffering from. We managed to solve this problem with a cure and I really feel that I’m recovering better since then. I’m all-good now. The last season did not go the way I wanted but I got the reason why and could move forward.

How disappointing was it for you to leave the Giro?

A lot. Of course, I was extremely happy for the team and for Arnaud that they were so successful. On the other hand, I’m normally part of that group, so seeing them being so successful without my help was also a strange feeling. Even though I was glad for them, I was frustrated that I could not do my job like I’m supposed and used to. That was an extra disappointment personally. That being said, I know the team and the guys really appreciate me and they see my value, in the races and out of the races, like last week in this private camp with Arnaud. I know they also felt sorry for me for what happened in the Giro.

Before this personal setback, you still took part in the many victories Arnaud got under his belt. From your perspective, why did it go so well?

I think doing our own race was the big key factor. We actually always wanted to do it. We always aimed to decide what is happening in the race instead of letting the others take the initiative. Two years ago, we started many races like: « we see what happens, and if other teams start to pull, we may pull also ». Last year, we actually took everything in our own hands without paying too much attention to the others. But it also has to do with confidence. If Arnaud sees that you work all day for him, he also feels he must perform. He feels the pressure, but a good one in the way he gets extra-motivated. It gives him an extra-boost. Of course, it also is a huge motivation for us teammates when our leader performs. I’m not saying that when he doesn’t, I don’t give my 100% anyway. However, if you give your 100%, your leader does too, and he eventually wins, then you start to be in this sort of flow where you suddenly can’t stop winning. That is what happened last year in August with that winning streak (9 victories).

How does confidence impact your performance on the bike?

Speaking about Arnaud, you can say when he knows he’s strong and he’s quick in the sprint. I think many of his victories last year also came thanks to the confidence he had because he won so much before. The way he won the Nationals, a few stages in Wallonia or his third stage on the Giro, I think this is pure confidence. Personally, confidence doesn’t necessarily help me in the sprint, in the way I race or do my effort. My role in the last kilometers remains the same, whether or not Arnaud is the best sprinter at the moment. We want to do our own sprint every time, so the confidence we might have does not impact our strategy in the finale.  

Does the confidence remain from one season to the other, or does everything start from scratch again?

I think there is a bit of both. We obviously start this new year with full trust and confidence, but this is still a new season, so we need to prove ourselves again. You don’t know what a few months of winter training do to your legs or to your sprint, and some other riders may be super strong as well. Still, we want to keep going with the same approach and strategy we had last year. Of course, if we happen not to win on Tour de Provence, that would be a disappointment, but we would still keep in mind what we achieved last year, thinking: « we did it last year, there is no reason we can’t do it again ». I think that’s how everyone sees it within the group.

How is the group, physically and mentally, before the return to racing?

We can’t wait to restart! We now have a few more days of training in the legs and I think this is a good thing as the winter was quite short from the end of the Giro until these first days of February. That being said, whenever you train in the winter, you always look forward to the race and I think we are well prepared. From what I have seen in the camp, the shape is good for the whole group. We will need to verify that in the race of course, but if we look at the numbers, it’s really ok for that time of the season. We obviously worked on the train in the camp, but you cannot practice the real lead-out in training because it has to do with so many factors in the race. You can still do the efforts as you’re supposed to, like pushing for 500 or 300 meters in front of Arnaud, but rehearsing a real sprint is almost impossible in training.

But you’re lucky enough to be able to race most of the time together…

I think it helps us a lot, but I also understand why some teams don’t approach it the same way. I believe Arnaud really appreciates us being there most of the time, and if the team manager also understands this and feels this is the good way to work, that is all for the best.. We also witnessed the same pattern a few years ago with the Lotto-Soudal’s train where Greipel always had the same four or five guys with him, and it worked out really well. It’s a decision that needs to be endorsed by the team, and as far as we are concerned, it really pays off.

The Groupama-FDJ’s lead-out train made quite an impression last year. Have you still identified some room for improvement?

We actually discussed it together, but the most important thing is that everyone always tries to be the best version of himself. For instance, I need to work on my climbing skills so I can survive more in the climbs and be there alongside Arnaud in more sprints. Arnaud can improve his sprint even more as well. Overall, everybody tries to be in the best shape possible and then, the right tactics only come with the experience you get in the races. You need to be able to analyse it, to look back at what went well and what went wrong, and this is not something you can really plan over the winter.

How important would it be to get the first win quite early?

Of course, it’s a relief if it comes really quickly, but if it doesn’t we can deal with it. In the last four years, we also had periods in which winning was not something that normal or that frequent. Nonetheless, we never gave up. We know how to handle such a situation and not to stress too much about it. That being said, we are all sportsmen and the whole point of our job is to win, actually, so we want to do it as much as possible. Still we are now only in the first half of February so I don’t think there is a high pressure in the team to win aces. If there were such a pressure, I think this would be the wrong mindset. We should have one or two nice opportunities in Provence and we will try to make the most of them, but I don’t think we should feel pressure already. Anyway, whatever the situation, you never race with 50% of your capacities. You always do it fully. So we will just give it all, as always.

This first part of the season will include some stage races and some Classics. Does it require a specific approach?

In training, we really focus on the sprint. We obviously need to do some efforts uphill to survive the climbs in the Classics, but we don’t have a special preparation for them. We always have them in mind, but if you’re really willing to be a Classics rider, you can’t put some of the efforts we put in sprint training. For every sprint training you do, you need to recover so many days and cannot do the small efforts required for the Classics. I think this is very difficult to do both 100%. Now, our goal will be to win as often as possible, and as soon as we can, but they are obviously main targets. Arnaud’s are Paris-Nice and Milano-Sanremo in this first part of the season. And for me personally, I want to prove myself that I can still be an important value to the team and that I can be there on the Tour.

Matteo Moschetti eager to put injury bygones behind

Moschetti’s Trek-Segafredo team posted this:

One year ago, February 7, 2020, the promising season of Matteo Moschetti – which had commenced a few days before in Mallorca with two successes in two races – was abruptly interrupted. On that day, he was racing Stage 3 of Etoile de Bessèges, and with 15 kilometers remaining, Matteo was involved in a nasty crash.

The pain was heavy. Although Matteo never lost consciousness, he was unable to get up. At the local hospital, the first diagnosis revealed a fracture of the acetabulum (the socket of the hip bone into which the head of the femur fits) and right femur dislocation. Two days later, he was transferred to Italy, where he was also diagnosed with other fractures (scapula, ribs and micro-fractures of few vertebrae). But what was worrying most was the pelvis area, which required surgery and a long recovery. These were intense days for Matteo and those who were at his side.

Matteo Moschetti

Matteo Moschetti winning a 2020 early season race, Trofeo Felanitz. Joan Llado photo

"From one moment to the next, I had swapped celebrating victories with laying in a hospital bed, with my pelvis immobilized and without autonomy.

“When I think back to those days, I don’t forget how many times I wondered if I would ever go back racing,” tells the Trek-Segafredo sprinter. “My morale had dropped from a thousand to zero in the span of a very short time. From one moment to the next, I had swapped celebrating victories with laying in a hospital bed, with my pelvis immobilized and without autonomy. I was discouraged.

“Then, five days later, I had surgery. I clearly remember Dr. Arduini’s words confirming the positive outcome. We started talking about recovery time, rehabilitation. It was the flash at the end of the tunnel, the light that drove away the darkest thoughts from my head.”

The smile returned to Matteo’s face. The road to recovery was long but, at least, mapped out. It was just a matter of patience and strength, especially mental.

“I started my journey by accepting what had happened. I’m not superstitious, I don’t believe in luck, but I think there is a destiny for everyone. The accident was part of mine. I started my recovery by setting myself very simple goals, like walking or putting on socks myself. Every little gesture gave me huge satisfaction and helped me get through the most complicated days, the ones with the lowest morale.”

“As professional athletes, we’re used to going full gas, focused on performances, results, and career. But I had to stop, so my days were passing slowly, and my mind was free. In those moments, it was inevitable that I asked myself questions to re-evaluate things that I previously took for granted. I was able to pass through this time well thanks to those who were supporting me daily.”

The months passed, and Matteo’s recovery was ahead of schedule. In the first post-lockdown race, the Vuelta a Burgos, in late July, Matteo again pinned a race number on his back. One hundred and seventy days since Feb. 7.

“The first impact was emotional, but it took me a short time to realize that I was only halfway to my full recovery. A lot of people were telling me how important it was to be back in the peloton, and it was so true. I was happy for this, but in my mind, I wanted to go beyond, to set a new goal: being competitive again. From that day forward, the road for me was only uphill. I always felt a level below the rest of the group. I was struggling and trudging. Mentally it wasn’t easy, but I knew I had to push on.”

On October 25, during Stage 7 of the Vuelta a Espana, Matteo reached the finish line outside of the allowed time limit. His race and season were officially over, but on the horizon, there was already new hope.

“After the Vuelta a España, I focused only on the future. I had a good off-season preparation, as I hoped and wanted. I feel that something is still missing to get to 100% of my potential, to aim for victory. But today, a year later, I can finally talk again about competitive goals. On Thursday, February 11, I’ll make my 2021 debut at Tour de la Provence, then I’ll ride UAE Tour. I will need some more time to fine-tune the form, but I’ll have an important test to really understand where I’m at.”

“The next step will be getting back to win. For me, there’s no better way to regain full confidence than raising my arms to the sky. That’s the real goal for my season start: winning and proving that I am back. The next goal will come as a consequence, that is earning a place for the most important races, above all the Giro d’Italia.”

Although it is not hard for Matteo to remember the difficulties and fears of this past year, the desire to focus on what is to come prevails over everything.

“Compared to how the journey’s been so far, I hope I have a less curvy path ahead of me. I don’t feel sorry for myself, but sometimes I think about the passed time and the missed opportunities. And as a professional, unfortunately due to crashes, there were too many. I lacked the continuity that, for a young rider, is essential to accumulate fatigue, experience and increase the threshold of resistance to effort.”

“In my head there is always the ambition to establish myself as a top sprinter, first in the team and then in the WorldTour circus. That’s where I want to be. If I look around, I see a lot of strong sprinters and fast riders, with a podium composed by Caleb Ewan, Sam Bennett and Arnaud Demare, the strongest and most consistent riders in the last season. Beating one of these would be my personal consecration.”

Racing continues for UAE Team Emirates at Provence and Almeria

Here's the team's update:

UAE Team Emirates will head into their next block of racing with the Tour de la Provence [2.Pro] from 11-14 Feb and the one-day Clasica de Almeria [1.Pro] on 14 Feb.

With several members of the squad preparing at altitude at the Canary Islands in Spain, the rest of the team will pin on race numbers to go in search of the team’s first victory of 2021.

Tour de la Provence [2.Pro]

New Sports Director Fabrizio Guidi (Ita) and Manuele Mori (Ita) will lead the seven rider squad:
Camilo Ardila (Col)
Sven Erik Bystrom (Nor)
Valerio Conti (Ita)
Alessandro Covi (Ita)
Alexander Kristoff (Nor)
Vegard Stake Laengen (Nor)
Matteo Trentin (Ita)

Alexander Kristoff: “It’s my first race and usually I need to get some races under my belt before I hit top form, but there are a few stages here that suit me. The training has been going well and it would be good to get some nice results before the classics. Obviously stage 3 to Mt. Ventoux will be the decisive day for the GC where our climbers will aim to be active, but the other days are better terrain for me.”

Alexander Kristoff

Alexander Kristoff winning the first stage of the 2020 Tour de France. ASO photo

Clasica de Almeria [1.Pro]

Team Manager Joxean Matxin Fernandez (Spa) and Simone Pedrazzini (Swi) will take charge of the squad:
Fernando Gaviria (Col)
Marco Marcato (Ita)
Sebastian Molano (Col)
Ivo Oliveira (Por)
Rui Oliveira (Por)
Maximiliano Richeze (Arg)
Oliviero Troia (Ita)

Fernando Gaviria: “This will be my first race of the season and my first time racing Clasica Almeria. I usually start the season at San Juan in Argentina so this will be a change of pace and something new for me. We are going in with a very strong squad with guys who are really specialists on this terrain. Between myself and Molano we have options in the sprint and will be looking for a good result. We can’t wait to get back racing again.”

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