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Bicycle Racing News and Opinion,
Sunday, February 28, 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.

The best revenge is to be unlike he who performed the injury. - Marcus Aurelius

Plato's Phaedo

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Omloop Het Nieuwsblad team reports

We posted the report from winner Davide Ballerini's Deceuninck-Quick Step team with the results.

Here's the report from second-place Jake Stewart's Groupama-FDJ team:

The Groupama-FDJ cycling team opened its Classics campaign in a stellar way on Saturday. On the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, the first race of the Belgian calendar, Jake Stewart took a wonderful second place in the reduced bunch sprint that occurred after the 200 kilometers of racing. The 21-year-old Englishman netted the best result of his – still very young – career and provided the team his first podium in a cobbled classic since Ghent-Wevelgem in 2018. As a bonus, Kevin Geniets also managed to finish in the top-10.

The podium

The podium, from left: Jake Stewart (2nd), Davide Ballerini (1st) & Sep Vanmarcke (3rd)

The Classics’ atmosphere was back this morning in Ghent, although the crowd was obviously missing on the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad’s course. While the excitement was high among fans and riders, the first part of the race was still pretty quiet as the day’s breakaway shaped up quite early. Bert De Backer (B&B Hotels p/b KTM), Yevgeniy Fedorov (Astana Premier Tech), Kenny De Ketele (Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise), Ryan Gibbons (UAE-Team Emirates) and Matis Louvel (Arkéa Samsic) got in front and took up to eight minutes before Deceuninck-Quick Step took control. The gap then obviously decreased as the race progressed, but it was only with fifty kilometers to go that things got really serious, as the bunch approached the Wolvenberg. At this point, Groupama-FDJ was still in a good position. It was not so much so at the bottom of the Molenberg a few minutes later, and that’s where the world champion Julian Alaphilippe attacked and made a gap with some other riders.

“We told the guys to do something because they seemed to cooperate well in front,” said Frédéric Guesdon. “When we heard the names on the radio, we realized there were some big leaders up there,” said Kevin Geniets. “I told myself that I had to move. I attacked with Pidcock and together we were able to close the gap. It was a good thing”. “It was a relief to have someone in front,” even said his sports director. Joining the group with forty kilometers to go, the Luxembourg champion remained with the top names until Alaphilippe broke away solo in the Berendries. However, the chasers worked together and managed to catch him at the bottom of the Muur. So did the bunch, which still included Stefan Küng and Jake Stewart. With the last two climbs to go, the race started from scratch. Gianni Moscon tried to break away in the iconic Flemish climb, but the peloton did not actually split. Neither did it in the last climb of the course. “Stefan tried in the Bosberg,” said Frédéric. “It didn’t work out so our last card was Jake, for the sprint.”

Due to a headwind in the final, around fifty guys were still in the main peloton heading to the finish as Groupama-FDJ started to gather around its young Briton. “It was full gas from the Wolvenberg until the finish,” said Jake. “It was just about surviving. I struggled in the Muur, but when I got back into the peloton I knew I just had to follow Kevin and Stefan until the finish”. The two national champions then took the lead of the bunch with about two kilometers to go. “Stefan did a big pull,” Kevin said. “I turned around, and we had lost Jake. It was a bit of a mess”. “I got back in Kevin’s wheel a few hundred meters from the finish and he was able to launch me in the wheel of Deceuninck-Quick Step,” added the Englishman. Thanks to a good position entering the last corner and the final straight, Jake Stewart was able to deliver a powerful sprint, which allowed him to take second, just behind Davide Ballerini. “I was coming fast in the end, but it was not enough for the victory”, said the young man, 4th in the Etoile de Bessèges and now a WorldTour’s Classic runner up.

“I keep surprising myself and a lot of people this year,” he added. “Nobody really expected me to be second today. It’s certainly a surprise, but I had a good winter, the team is supporting me really well and we have a great group for the Classics. From that point of view, maybe it’s not that surprising”. “If we had been told this morning that he would be second in the sprint, we would have been happy,” said Frédéric Guesdon. “When we look at the images of the finish, we may have a few small regrets, but we are still very satisfied with this podium. We did a very good race so we deserved it”. Thanks to Kevin Geniets (9th), the team even had another rider in the top 10. “It’s promising to see them at this level,” Frédéric concluded. “The Conti’s purpose is for them to be ready really fast for the WorldTour, and that’s what is happening with these two riders. This is good for us, and this is good for the future”.

Tom Pidcock's INEOS Grenadiers team posted this report:

As he hit the Molenberg, 160 kilometers into his first Classic as a Grenadier, Tom Pidcock knew he was well-positioned, but just a few wheels too far back.

He was right. The pre-race favourites lit the afterburners at the front of the race and Omloop Het Nieuwsblad was well and truly on.

An elite group of nine riders went clear, swept up the break, and looked dangerous. But Pidcock felt strong, and a couple of kilometres later, he set off in pursuit. He bridged the gap and in the process, confirmed to himself that he had better form than expected.

“All of the strongest guys were there,” he explained. “I was well positioned into the climb before that group went, but just probably 10 wheels too far back. I stayed calm, I knew there was no point panicking. Bora chased for a bit, attacked, and it didn’t go anywhere, so me and [Kevin] Geniets, went across. You needed to be in that group really.

“I’ve found form a lot quicker than I thought I would. My first race for the team at Haut Var was alright, but I was struggling a bit. I wasn’t flying. I was decent, but coming into these races I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know where my shape was. And it’s weird to go into it without being able to imagine what you could do, which is how I always like to prepare. Now I know, so in that sense there’s lots of positives today. I definitely learnt a lot.

“It bodes well and gives me a lot of confidence. Tomorrow is more likely to be a sprint but we’re looking forward to it. I’m going into it with a much more positive mindset than I did today and I hope I can then go into Strade with some good form.”

Eventually a hugely reduced peloton did reabsorb the group, but it wasn’t without a fight. Tom was able to slot back in and help position teammate and long-time friend Ethan Hayter for the sprint, but the Brit was caught up in a tough crash with 1.5km to go.

“Ethan and I raced a lot when we were young so we know each other really well. I'm 100% sure he would have been on the podium if he hadn’t have crashed.”

Here's the report from Team Jumbo-Visma:

Team Jumbo-Visma has failed to achieve a top result in the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. In the hectic final, Timo Roosen, Pascal Eenkhoorn and Nathan Van Hooydonck were bothered by a crash, after which a good result was out of sight.

Five riders created a gap of more than eight minutes on the peloton. Just after the Molenberg, debutant Olav Kooij managed to cross over to this leading group, and then coloured the race for a while. In the final a big group remained, in which Roosen, Eenkhoorn and Van Hooydonck were represented on behalf of Team Jumbo-Visma.

When the trio had to brake due to a crash, the plan to sprint with Eenkhoorn was no longer successful. According to Roosen, the trio should have been better positioned with regards to the final sprint: “In retrospect, we should have moved earlier. We were now in the middle of the crash and had nowhere to go. Fortunately we did not fall, but this is a missed opportunity. Pascal has fast legs and if you are well placed at the end, something is always possible. He felt good too, so we pulled his card. We should have just been better placed.”

The young debutant Kooij was in the front of the race just before the final by riding in the first group. “I counterattacked with a Movistar rider, after which we made the crossing towards the early breakaway. We passed the Molenberg, after which a group of strong riders joined. On the Berendries the lights went out and my legs no longer wanted to race anymore. I ended up in the chasing group, where I tried to help my teammates towards the Muur van Geraardsbergen. After that my race was actually over. I am happy with my role today and the way in which I fulfilled it.”

UAE Tour stage final reports

We posted the report from stage winner Caleb Ewan's Lotto Soudal team with the results.

Here's the final report from Jumbo-Visma:

Team Jumbo-Visma returns home from the UAE Tour with a good feeling. Chris Harper’s fourth place in the general classification was not really in danger in the final stage to Abu Dhabi. David Dekker took home the green points jersey in his first World Tour race.

David Dekker

David Dekker went home wearing green. Jumbo-Visma photo

From the start, three riders rode at the head of the race for a long time. However, due to the high tempo in the peloton, they were caught at sixty kilometres from the finish. The peloton was briefly shaken up after the formation of echelons but this was of short duration.

Debutant Dekker was unable to secure a place of honour in the bunch sprint, but his good performance in the two intermediate sprints along the way was enough to secure the green points jersey. Harper in turn was alert when the competition tried to put pressure on his fourth position in the general classification.

Sports director Addy Engels was very happy about his team’s great results. “We look back on a very nice week for us. A stage victory, a number of beautiful places of honour, the fourth place in the final classification and then also the green points jersey. David does it on his debut and Jonas and Chris confirm the progress they have made. A good start of the cycling season for us.”

It's the first top ten in a stage race for Harper since he joined Team Jumbo-Visma in 2020. "I am very happy to end up the week of racing here in fourth overall. The team has been great in helping me to keep my place in the classification while still having very impressive results in the stages. It’s great to end up with a stage win with Jonas and to see David keep the sprinters jersey."

Team DSM closed out the UAE Tour with this:

The final stage of the UAE Tour saw the peloton take on a 147 kilometre parcours, in and around the city of Abu Dhabi. With its pan-flat profile, a sprint finish was expected at the end of the day and almost immediately from the flag drop a breakaway group of three riders escaped the bunch, building up an advantage of three minutes.

As the kilometres ticked by, the advantage of those ahead thinned as the pace increased in the peloton. Through an exposed section of road, some GC teams put the pressure on and split the race in the crosswinds. After a frantic few kilometres, things calmed down however and the race regrouped. A few crashes caused some nervousness in the peloton but nothing would deter the sprinters in the finale.

The team worked well to keep fast-man Cees Bol safe, bringing him towards the fore in the final few kilometres. Last lead out man Nikias Arndt dropped Bol off in a good position alongside the other sprinters as the race charged under the flamme rouge. Bol then produced a good kick to the line, ending the final stage with a solid fifth place finish for the team.

Caleb Ewan

It was Caleb Ewan who had the legs in the final stage.

“We made the plan to wait really long and then make a move towards the last corner with just over one kilometre to go, together with the four guys to try and do the lead out,” explained Bol at the finish. “It was really smooth and it went like the plan we had. I was able to start the sprint in a good position but there were just some guys that were faster. That’s still a bit disappointing of course, but we showed some good teamwork and it’s something to build on for the next race.”

Team DSM coach Luke Roberts continued: “Today we had a shorter stage around the city of Abu Dhabi. It was again quite windy which made for a nervous race again. We saw some small sprints in the bunch and some hard racing at times, but inevitably it came back for a bunch sprint finish. We hoped to set the sprint up for Cees and I think we made some steps in the right direction there and also the result from Cees is going in the right direction with a fifth place today. All in all from the week, there are definitely some learning points that we can take from the guys’ first race of the season, and we’ll look to put them into practice in the races to come.”

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