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Bicycle Racing News and Opinion,
Saturday, March 20, 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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Bora-hansgrohe & Trek-Segafredo report on Bredene Koksijde Classic

We posted the report from Deceuninck-Quick Step with the results.

Here's the Bora-hansgrohe report:

The 199km long Bredene Koksijde Classic was contested today in Belgium on flat and narrow roads along the North Sea coast. The first 30 km saw echelons and peloton split into three groups, however, after 20 km they came together yet again. Nils Politt and Lukas Pöstlberger subsequently made it into a leading group that escaped on the Kemmelberg.

With less than 25 km to go, Lukas launched a strong attack from this group, which led him to ride solo at the front of the race until the last 1.5 kilometres. After he was caught by the chasing group, the race came down to a sprint in Koksijde, which was taken out by Tim Merlier. The best placed BORA-hansgrohe rider was Nils Politt, who finished 9th.

Tim Merlier

Tim Merlier was first across the line in Koksijde.

From the Finish Line:
"After the leading group went in the wrong direction, the attacks really got going. We lost about 20 seconds and the riders in my group panicked a bit. I followed the first moves and they were all brought back. Then Nils went, but was caught soon afterwards. After that I tried and rode out a small gap. Nobody wanted to follow, so I ended up riding alone at the front of the race. It was very close in the end, a bit disappointing, but I did my best." - Lukas Pöstlberger

"That was a very tough race, especially with the crosswinds today. Lukas and I were able to pull away at Kemmelberg and then he attacked out of our group, however ultimately, it didn't work out for us. Nevertheless, we can be satisfied with the type race we rode today. We animated the proceedings and on another day, he could have made it solo to the end. Following this, we’re able to go into the next race with a lot of self-confidence." - Nils Politt

"That was very close with Lukas at the end. We made the race difficult from the beginning and the pace was very high. Several riders got into trouble and on the Kemmelberg Nils and Lukas, together with 10 other riders, managed to distance themselves from the field. We then wanted to launch an attack with either Nils or Lukas, and in the end, Lukas almost made it, but was caught again within the last 2 km. It's admittedly a bit disappointing when you come so close to winning, but we’re proud of his efforts." - Jean-Pierre Heynderickx, Sports Director

And here's the Trek-Segafredo report:

The action kicked off from kilometer zero in the 19th edition of the Bredene Koksijde Classic and continued to the last meters, leaving a group of 21 riders sprinting for the victory.

Tim Merlier (Alpecin-Fenix) opened his sprint early and Mads Pedersen, in his slipstream, looked poised to slingshot around the Belgian. However, Mads had race aggressively for 200 kilometers and his legs politely said no thanks.

Mads sat down, glanced behind, and tried again. He easily held on for second place, but Merlier denied a second win for the 2019 World Champion after he claimed Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne in February. For a red-hot Merlier, who also won Le Samyn, it was his third win of the year.

“After a tough race like this, and trying in the last 30k, I didn’t really have the legs to follow Merlier,” explained Pedersen. “If I would have been more conservative and raced only for the sprint maybe it would have been different. But I came here to do a hard race, and I needed a hard finale, so I am pretty happy with the result. Sure, it would have been better chances if I had waited for the sprint, but today the most important was to have a tough race. It was still a good day – I am happy with second place.

“It was a last-minute decision to do this race and I came here to do good preparation for the next bigger races,” he continued. “It’s nice to finish with a good result today and the boys did a really good job so it’s nice to pay them back. Of course, it would have been better with a win, but the legs were not there in the sprint anymore.”

It was the fastest edition of the 200-kilometer Belgian semi-classic with an opening hour raced at an astonishing average speed of 56km/h.  The crosswinds made for early echelon action and when the cobbled climbs came at the mid-way point, a breakaway finally formed.

Alex Kirsch and Mads Pedersen were part of the 13-man escape group that emerged over the second ascent of Kemmelberg.  For the next 90 or so kilometers, they held a gap between 30 and 45 seconds to a stubborn chase group of 18 riders unwilling to throw in the towel.

“With the wind, it was a possibility to make an early break,” said Mads. “Of course, we aimed for a long, tough hard race and we got it. [The breakaway] worked quite well together for a long time. I tried an attack to have a hard last 30kms, and it turned out to be pretty hard, so we got what we came for today.”

A solo move by Lukas Postlberger from the leading group created an exciting finale. Behind the two chase groups merged and reshuffled. Alexander Kamp joined Pedersen out front, taking over from Alex Kirsch’s hard work, and he immediately went to the front to help close the gap to Postlberger.

“Kirsch did a really good job and when he was done Kamp came from the second group and he did an excellent job also to close the gap to Postlberger. It was really nice to see the teamwork today and to see the shape of our guys – it was a solid ride from our team,” said Pedersen.

With two kilometers to go, it was all together, and while Pedersen was a favorite for the win on paper, Pedersen came into the race with a different agenda. Still, second is a great result and Merlier has shown fast sprinting legs this year.

Mads Pedersen next lines up Wednesday in the WorldTour classic, Brugge-De Panne.

Lotto Soudal's Philippe Gilbert to ride Milano-San Remo

Here's the release from Lotto Soudal:

Lotto Soudal will be lining up at the start of the 112th edition of Milan-Sanremo with four leaders: Caleb Ewan, John Degenkolb, Philippe Gilbert and Tim Wellens. The team targets a strong performance at cycling’s first Monument of the season.  

The course underwent little changes. Only the ascent of the Passo del Turchino has been replaced by the Colle del Giovo. Traditionally, the Capo Mele, Capo Cervo and Capo Berta will make up the prelude of a nerve-wracking finale on the famous Cipressa and Poggio before the race reaches its climax on the iconic Via Roma.

Philippe Gilbert will be at the start for the 17th time in his career and still is ambitious of trying to win his fifth Monument, but the 38-year-old Belgian is well aware it won’t be easy.

Philippe Gilbert: “Of course, I will get the most out of the race, like I do every year. I still have the ambition to win Milan-Sanremo, but it won’t be easy at all. Of course, Alaphilippe, Van der Poel and Van Aert are the main favourites for Saturday. But Milan-Sanremo is the only Monument where many different types of riders have a chance to win and this year will be no different. For the sprinters, it is the only chance to win a Monument. That explains why it’s always so close at the end between a breakaway and the bunch. This is what makes Milan-Sanremo a truly unique race.”

“Unfortunately, I can’t look into the future but I expect fast racing up the Cipressa and we might see some attacks there. There should be a tailwind in the final, which will have a big impact on the race, but it always does, in every race. I am part of a very strong team and I can only see that as an advantage. In modern cycling, the best way to win a race seems to be with a strong team. But in the end, the legs will do the talking.”

John Degenkolb knows how it feels to win Milan-Sanremo as the German sprinted to victory at ‘La Classicissima’ in 2015. This year, Degenkolb hopes to make use of that experience to help the team and to seize chances for himself.

John Degenkolb

John Degenkolb winning Milan-San Remo in 2015. Sirotti photo.

“Milan-Sanremo generally is the first big objective for the Classics riders”, states John Degenkolb. “The cliché says it’s the easiest one to ride, but the hardest race to win because it’s so unpredictable and of course also the longest race of the season. Both for me and the team, it’s a big goal and I hope we can make it a nice day out. Hopefully, I’ll have good legs and I can bring added value to the team and take the opportunities if they present themselves.”

For the fifth time in his career, Caleb Ewan will be at the start of Milan-Sanremo. The Australian already came close to the victory in 2018, when he finished second after Vincenzo Nibali, who could just stay ahead of the charging peloton.

“From Milan to the coast, it’s is a pretty straightforward race”, starts Caleb Ewan. “Once we get to the coast, the speed and tension goes up as we climb the multiple ‘Capi’. The crucial point in the race starts at the Cipressa, followed by the Poggio. These are also the two most difficult parts of the race for me. Generally, I struggle to get over these hills with the front group, but hopefully this year will be different. Having such a strong team at the start will definitely be a major advantage as we have multiple cards to play with. Contrary to two years ago – when I was the sole leader of the team – we now have different options, which can only be to our advantage. Tim and Philippe can play a crucial role on the climbs and John and I will be hoping for a sprint.”

After several years of absence, Tim Wellens will again be present this year. The 29-year-old Lotto Soudal rider had a strong start to the season and looks forward to racing Milan-Sanremo as one of the team’s leaders.

Tim Wellens: “Milan-Sanremo is a long but beautiful race. It’s the first Monument of the year, so I really look forward to it. Having multiple cards to play with in the race will only benefit us. If one of us has a bad day, we still have some options left. With Caleb, we have one of the world’s fastest sprinters if it comes to a group sprint. Should Caleb be struggling on the climbs, we still have John as our second fast guy. Philippe Gilbert and I have the task to not get surprised on the climbs and follow interesting moves in the final.”

“I’ll definitely try to be up there on the Poggio and if a have a really good day, I should be able to get over it with the best riders. If not, we have to adapt to the situation and get our sprinters into place.”

Line-up Lotto Soudal: Jasper De Buyst, John Degenkolb, Caleb Ewan, Frederik Frison, Philippe Gilbert, Roger Kluge and Tim Wellens.

Team BikeExchange headed to Volta a Catalunya

Team BikeExchange sent me this preview:

2018 Vuelta a España Champion Simon Yates and recent fourth place Paris-Nice finisher Lucas Hamilton, will lead a strong Team BikeExchange outfit at next week’s 100th edition of Volta a Catalunya, hungry for the general classification victory.

Simon Yates

Simon Yates at the end of the 2018 Vuelta a España. Sirotti photo

Alongside the duo, bringing a wealth of experience in the hills, will be two-time Grand Tour podium finisher Esteban Chaves and 2021 signing Tangel Kangert; who will both make their season debuts at the WorldTour event.

With a mixture of stages ranging from an individual time trial to the high mountains and rolling sprint stages spread throughout the seven-days, the roster is packed with diverse talent.

Adding strength and depth to support the team’s GC ambitions is American rider Brent Bookwalter and Australian rider Callum Scotson, whilst New Zealander Dion Smith gives the squad a strong option for any potential sprint finishes.

Team BikeExchange at Volta a Catalunya:
Brent Bookwalter (USA)
Esteban Chaves (COL)
Lucas Hamilton (AUS)
Tanel Kangert (EST)
Callum Scotson (AUS)
Dion Smith (NZL)
Simon Yates (GBR)

Simon Yates:
“I had a change of plan, originally I was only going to do Tirreno and then Tour of the Alps but in Tirreno I felt like I missed some racing, some race rhythm, so it looked like a good idea to come and race Catalunya to try and find that intensity and take another step forward.

“We have a very strong team there so I think as a group, as a team, we can do a good ride. I had good form in Tirreno so we will see what we can do.”

Lucas Hamilton:
“I am looking forward to racing Catalunya, it is in the region that I spend a lot of time training, so I look forward to getting stuck in. I have never done this race but from all accounts it looks really tough, so I'm happy to try and get another good stage race under the belt soon after Paris-Nice.

“I learnt a lot riding the GC for the first-time last week and now I’m really looking forward to carrying that momentum into Catalunya and having another crack and we will have a really strong team in the climbs.”

Julian Dean – Sport Director:
“Our main goal is the general classification and we will go in with a dual approach with Lucas and Simon. Obviously, Lucas has shown some good signs recently, performing well at Paris-Nice so he deserves that opportunity.

“Simon is adding some more racing to his programme, so he is joining us for Catalunya and will give us that extra firepower and options for the GC. We also have Chaves who is coming in for his first race of the season and will be important support for those guys.

“We have a massive amount of depth coming to this race in general so will definitely have to be aggressive and make the most of the depth of our team.

“The time trial will be a really crucial day and our approach will be really based on the outcome of that. We also have the stage to Vallter 2000 and then Port Aine on stage four, and I think that will be the real critical stage with all those climbs coming back-to-back and the accumulation of the days before."

Sepp Kuss extends with Jumbo-Visma through 2024

The team sent me this release:

Sepp Kuss and Team Jumbo-Visma will stay with each other for at least three more years after the current cycling season. The 26-year-old American announced that this afternoon in a chat session with fans and cycling enthusiasts.

Sepp Kuss

Sepp Kuss wins stage five of the 2020 Dauphine Libere.

“I’m really happy to extend with the team. For me, over the past three years, it has felt really comfortable for me”, Kuss said. “Everybody on the staff and all the riders make Team Jumbo-Visma a very nice environment for me. The special thing about the team is that everybody understands me as an athlete and, more importantly, as a person. That way we get the most out of each other. I always get opportunities and that helps me stay motivated. We are always striving for something big at this team and that’s really exciting and really special. So I hope to continue that and keep making some good memories.”

Sportive director of Team Jumbo-Visma, Merijn Zeeman, is very pleased with the extended stay of the rider who has achieved great victories in the Tour of Utah, the Vuelta and the Dauphiné. “Sepp is one of the best climbers in the peloton. He has grown into a rider who takes his own chances, but he is also super important in supporting the leaders. He is increasingly becoming a leader himself and we will guide him in discovering his limits in the upcoming years.”

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