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Bicycle Racing News and Opinion,
Monday, February 22, 2021

Back to news and opinion index page for links to archived stories | Commentary | Our YouTube page
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 de Poel's Alpecin-Fenix team withdraws from UAE Tour after positive Covid-19 test

Here's the team's post on Facebook:

Abu Dhabi, 22 February 2021 - Alpecin-Fenix, in agreement with the UAE Tour organiser, have decided to withdraw its team from the race, in order to safeguard the race bubble and ensure the safe continuation of the race.

The team was notified of one positive result of a member of its staff from the round of tests conducted on Sunday evening, 21st of February.

Mathieu van der Poel

Mathieu van der Poel winning stage one.

Upon receiving the results, the person immediately went into isolation, and all those who came into contact with this person are self-isolating, in compliance with the protocol measures put in place by the race organisers and UAE Health Authorities. All team members will undertake further tests in the coming days, while they remain in isolation.

Tour de Alpes Maritimes et du Var final team reports

We posted the report from winner Gianluca Brambilla's Trek-Segafredo team with the results.

Here's the report from second-place Tao Geoghegan Harts' INEOS Grenadiers team:

Tao Geoghegan Hart bounced back well from a small crash on Friday's opening test, forcing his way into a high-calibre break ahead of the Col Saint-Roch.

With the GC group chasing hard from behind, Tao dug deep as the lead group splintered on the Col de la Madone. The Grenadiers man was able to sprint for second into Blausasc, 13 seconds behind lone stage winner Gianluca Brambilla (Trek Segafredo).

Tao Hart

Tao Geoghegan Hart going deep with 33 kilometers to go. Getty Sport Images

The result saw Geoghegan Hart elevate himself to 10th overall in a tightly packed GC battle - a productive start to the season for the Giro winner.

Sunday also saw the opening stage of the UAE Tour, with crosswinds quickly blowing the race apart. Defending champion Adam Yates positioned himself perfectly to make the front group as the echelons formed for a second time.

Despite the split coming over 100 kilometres out, the group would never be caught, eventually finishing over eight minutes ahead of a defeated peloton. 12th on the stage, Yates was immediately able to place himself among the top contenders for overall victory. The action continues on Monday with a time trial.

Here's the report from KOM Martijn Tusveld's Team DSM:

Saving the toughest day for last, today the peloton were faced the queen stage of the race at Tour des Alpes Maritimes et du Var, with over 3500 metres of climbing crammed into just 131 kilometres of racing. As expected the racing was fierce from the gun, with multiple attacks flying from the peloton, including several from the team.

Eventually a move stuck, with Martijn Tusveld riding strongly to make the group of 16 that formed at the head of the race. Working well together, and despite a committed chase by those behind, the breakaway extended their advantage to over three minutes at one point.

Martijn Tusveld

Martijn Tusveld on his way to claiming the KOM prize. Team DSM photo

The break and the gap thinned down though as the kilometres ticked by, with Tusveld riding well to be in contact with the group as it reduced to single figures in size as they hit the last categorised climb of the day – the Col de la Madone de Gorbio. Tusveld dug deep, fighting to hold onto the wheels of the fast-moving breakaway but he eventually had to let go and was caught by the peloton just before the summit.

Within the now reduced peloton, Michael Storer continued his good early season form by staying with the group for as long as possible before having to relinquish contact just before the summit of the climb. Powering on, he rode home solo to collect 13th place on the stage for the team, a result that was mirrored in the final GC standings. Tusveld’s efforts out front weren’t in vain either as he collected the KOM jersey for the team too.

“Today it was an all or nothing stage for a lot of teams and at only 130 kilometres in distance, it was clear that it be full gas from the start,” explained Tusveld. “On the first climb I attacked with a small group and later on a lot of guys joined us which included some GC threats. That caused the peloton to not give us too much space. Although there were a lot of strong guys in the break I tried to go for the mountains jersey and got second on the first Cat-1 climb and first in the second Cat-1 climb. That gave me enough points to win the mountain jersey. Personally, the first two days I didn’t have the best legs but I’m happy the feeling improved today and we could take a nice prize home for the team.”

Team DSM coach Michiel Elijzen continued: “I haven’t experienced a race like this for a really long time. It was full on racing for the 130 kilometres and only up or down; there was no flat. The guys did well in the start to try and be in the breakaway and Martijn did well to be in there for us. The goal to go for the KOM jersey wasn’t there at the start but he picked up some points so then we went for it. We were able to get the jersey in the end which was a nice bonus, but we fell just short to follow the very best in the break. In the peloton, Michael did a good job to stay with the best guys in the race but had to let the top favourites go on the last climb. Overall, I think we did a good last day with some aggressive racing. It was a really hard three days, and we lacked the top shape that the top GC guys here have to go for a really big result, but in the end we showed a good fighting spirit as a team and it’s a nice start to our year.”

And here's the report from Michael Woods' Israel Start-Up Nation team:

Michael Woods came ever so close to winning Tour des Alpes-Maritimes et du Val overall this Sunday. However, despite being one of the strongest riders on the day, our Canadian had to settle for second place, just five seconds down on the winner. We asked Woods and Dan Martin to give you their versions of the dramatic stage.

Michael Woods

Michael Woods winning stage two. Photo: Toledo Arnon

Michael Woods:
“Everybody in the team was riding so well today. Five of our guys were in the front at the bottom of the Col de la Madone with only about 30 riders left in the whole bunch. That shows you how strong we were all day, controlling and chasing at such a high pace.

“Close to the top, when my teammates had already given me all they had, I had no choice but to push it by myself.

“I think I was going really hard, and I felt pretty strong, finishing just five seconds away from the overall victory.

“Our super-inspiring performance from everyone here will give us a lot of confidence and the momentum we need as we go to our next races.”

Dan Martin:
“The fact we are so frustrated at second in GC shows the ambition this team has now. The atmosphere and work ethic of the guys was exceptional the last three days, and we all pulled together to control the race the whole day.

“We gave everything to get Mike back in the game and I think he showed he was the strongest in the race. So frustrating to come so close, but we will learn from these days and improve for the next races.”

UAE Tour stage one team reports

We posted the report from second-place David Dekker's Jumbo-Visma team with the results

Here's the update from UAE Team Emirates:

UAE Team Emirates laid down a strong marker on stage 1 of the UAE Tour, with Tadej Pogačar finishing in 6th place and crucially, gaining valuable time on most of his rivals for the general classification.

The action started with over 100km to go when strong crosswinds provoked an elite group to form at the front including Tadej Pogačar, Mikkel Bjerg, Max Richeze and Fernando Gaviria from the Emirati squad.


The crosswinds were quite strong.

The group held a steady gap of 1’30’’ over the chasing peloton before opening up the gap in the closing 20km to over 4’. Fernando Gaviria hit out early for victory with 1km to go but fell short on the dash to the line , won by Mathieu Van Der Poel (Alpecin).

Pogačar now finds himself well placed in the general classification in 5th place, just 8’’ behind race leader Van Der Poel.

Tomorrow the race continues on Al Hudayriat Island with a 13km flat individual time trial.

Pogačar : “It was a really hard stage with the wind, but in the end our team did a super good job with four guys in the front group. Sadly we missed the stage win but I think we showed that we are strong and up for the fight.We were there at the front and we’ve set ourselves up well for the next few days.“

Here's the UAE Tour report from Team Movistar:

The 2021 UAE Tour started on Sunday with a 176km route from Al Dhafra Castle to Al Mirfa. A flat course, suited for the sprinters, which nevertheless, as it’s usual in the desert, would be severely affected in its outcome by the crosswinds.
Gusts were constant, around 25-30kph, usually a head-crosswinds, yet with some sections more favourable for echelons to form. It was otherwise a classic day at this part of the world and year, with sunny skies and temperatures around 25ºC.


Another shot of the echelons formed as the wind blew.

Two significant series of splits would lead to the incredible gaps in the end. The first echelon attempt, right from the start, forced the Movistar Team to chase and help Alejandro Valverde to make up about 50″ with the small leading group. The second one, originated after the intermediate spritn (65km), was the most important, with a 1’30” gap between a first peloton of 26 riders -with five Deceunincks, four UAE riders (Pogacar), Adam Yates (IGD) or Van der Poel (AFC)- and the bigger, second field, including the Movistar Team riders.

Despite strong turns by Iñigo Elosegui and Albert Torres, as well as other team-mates, to try and bridge the gaps alongside the other teams with no riders ahead, the 26-strong group reached the two local laps around Al Mirfa (-37km) with more than two minutes over the next two groups. Valverde and Torres rode at the G2, with Gregor Mühlberger, Antonio Pedrero and Davide Villella just behind.

The chasers eventually surrendered and gaps soared, which left no chance in the GC to anyone outside the twenty riders who finished together at the front. Mathieu van der Poel (AFC) won the stage en route to the first leader’s jersey, with more than eight minutes over Valverde’s group. The Movistar Team will now have to switch their focus towards chasing stages and featuring in the race as of Monday.

The Emirati stagerace features a 13km individual time trial at Al Hudayriat Island on Monday. It’s a perfect course for the specialists, with no technical sections and open turns. The first mountain-top finish, Jebel Hafeet, will be tackled on Tuesday.

Team Deceuninck-Quick Step had this to say about the first stage:

Deceuninck – Quick-Step ripped it apart in the crosswinds in what turned out to be the best stage in the history of the UAE Tour, one which on paper should have ended up in a bunch sprint. The attacks started from the off, with several teams splitting the peloton into four groups and kicking off a furious chase from the riders who missed the cut. The tempo relented only after 50 kilometers, when the wind changed direction, allowing the chasers to make it back.

The man who showed himself as a Grand Tour contender for the future at last year’s Giro d’Italia, João Almeida snatched three seconds at the first intermediate sprint as our team sparked another echelon, with more than 100 kilometers to go. Having Shane Archbold, Mattia Cattaneo, Fausto Masnada and Michael Mørkøv – all experienced riders – around him, helped the 22-year-old Portuguese stay at the front of the main group at all times, which was quickly reduced to just 26 men.

In the space of just 15 kilometers, the gap yawned out to more than a minute, the Deceuninck – Quick-Step boys putting in a concerted effort at the front that dealt a serious blow to the chasers hoping to bridge across. As they entered the local circuit with more than two minutes in hand, the leaders fought for bonifications at the second intermediate sprint, and it was again Almeida who came out on top after a perfect lead-out.

Having the numbers in the group allowed the Wolfpack to fire at will, sending Almeida up the road inside ten kilometers to go, before a canny attack of Mattia Cattaneo, who went clear as soon as his teammate was brought back. Tucked over his handlebars, the Italian opened a 15-second gap but the long, straight roads didn’t play into his favour and he was reeled in under the flamme rouge.

Three-time Danish Champion Michael Mørkøv stepped in for the squad and sprinted in Al Mirfa, taking third place as Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) surged to victory. João finished the stage in ninth place, a result that puts him into fourth overall ahead of Monday’s individual time trial, which is expected to reshuffle the general classification.

Joao Almeida

João Almeida earned the points jersey for his efforts. Photo: Tim De Waele

“It was a good start of the season, really encouraging for the next stages. We knew we were going to have crosswinds all day long and were focused to be at the front and make sure we don’t get caught out. The team did a superb job, putting in a solid effort and giving it their all, for which I am grateful. It’s thanks to them I got those bonifications, which could end up being very important, as the UAE Tour is the kind of race where every second counts. We are content with the way things went today and at the same time we are hoping for more next week”, a confident Almeida said after the Sunday’s 176km stage.

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