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Bicycle Racing News and Opinion,
Thursday, March 25, 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 secret of life is honesty and fair dealing. If you can fake that, you've got it made. - Groucho Marx

Current racing:

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Latest completed racing:

Lotto Soudal’s Harry Sweeny returns positive covid-19 test

The team sent me this:

Lotto Soudal’s Australian rider Harry Sweeny did not start in today’s Oxyclean Classic Brugge - De Panne. Sweeny, with stomach problems, underwent a PCR test in the morning and returned a positive corona result.

Consequently, and in compliance with Lotto Soudal’s health protocols to prevent the spread of covid-19, the team decided to isolate and quarantine Sweeny’s roommate Tosh Van der Sande as well. The latter returned a negative result in a post-race rapid test. Van der Sande feels well and does not show any symptoms.

Tonight all team riders and staff underwent PCR tests. Team Lotto Soudal will continue to carry out more covid tests in the coming period.

Volta a Catalunya stage three reports

We posted the report from new GC leader Adam Yates' INEOS Grenadiers team with the results.

Here's the report from second-place Esteban Chaves' Team BikeExchange:

Two-time Grand Tour podium finisher Esteban Chaves attacked his way to an impressive second place on the summit finish in Vallter 2000 today in Volta a Catalunya, firing out of a reduced chasing group in the steep final four kilometres and powering towards the victory.

With the breakaway remains swallowed up, Chaves picked his moment and launched in pursuit of former teammate Adam Yates (Ineos Grenadiers), Sepp Kuss (Jumbo Visma) and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar Team) who had forced a gap, leading the race into the final six kilometres as the road continued to head north.

Finding his rhythm, Chaves caught and passed Kuss and Valverde but with still Yates ahead, it was all to fight for. The Colombian drew closer with each pedal stroke but had to settle for a bittersweet second place, crossing the line just 13seconds down on the stage winner Yates.

Adam Yates

Adam Yates taking stage three. You can see Chaves coming up behind him.

Heading into tomorrow’s Queen stage, Simon Yates and Chaves sit in eighth and ninth place respectively, with the classification all still to play for after today's strong showing.

Esteban Chaves:
“I lost the momentum in the final part; it is the first race, and the confidence is not 100% especially after the last years and months and I lost the momentum in the final moment. I have to work harder but I am getting closer.

“Adam (Yates) was really strong in the end and it was the first real test for my legs, but I am happy with this ride.

“The team worked really well as always today, we understand each other and now we are looking forward to tomorrow.

“Today really gives me and the team a lot of confidence for tomorrow and for the coming days and the season in front.”

Alejandro Valverde's Team Movistar posted this:

One month and one day away from turning 41 years old, Alejandro Valverde (Movistar Team) destroyed again his identity card to offer race fans another display of courage at the 2021 Volta a Catalunya, nineteen years after his first appearance. The former World Champion finished 3rd atop Vallter 2000, behind unstoppable, new race leader Adam Yates (IGD) and Esteban Chaves (BEX), going on the attack from halfway through the final ascent.

Alejandro Valverde

Birthdays don't seem to mean much to Alejandro Valverde (shown at the 2019 Vuelta a España). Sirotti photo

It was actually a flurry of accelerations from the Murcian at the last 8km, who went solo to only be reached down by top GC contenders. He left behind Quintana (ARK) and Carapaz (IGD); was later caught by Yates and sepp Kuss (TJV); and as both left him behind, ‘Bala’ was eventually able to get back to the American and finish, with his signature, late move, ahead of most team leaders. The overall standings now show Alejandro in 6th place, only 14″ short for the podium.

The Volta a Catalunya, which will feature plenty of mountains through to Sunday, will hold on Thursday its Queen stage, with another mountain-top finish at Port Ainé (HC) after two other big climbs: Toses (Cat-1) and Cantó (HC).

REACTION / Alejandro Valverde:
“I’m super happy to be back in contention here. It was a fast stage, since the early breakaway was given such a huge gap, which forced the GC teams to start pushing hard from quite afar, and that showed at the end. I felt quite well at the end and wanted to give it a try to anticipated the final push from the main favourites, at least to be up there near the front when they launched their moves. As I said, I’m so happy. Tomorrow at Port Ainé there’s another huge mountain finish, a really tough one – I just can hope to be as good as today. I don’t know if I can match or improve this result, but seeing how I did today, I think we can at least be up there.”

Wilco Kelderman's Bora-hansgrohe team sent me this report:

From the start, stage 3 of the Volta a Catalunya steadily made its way skyward, the day not just long, at 203.1km, but also mountainous, with every kilometre leading to the finale in the Pyrenean ski resort of Vallter, 2,125m above sea level. While a breakaway would have their sights set on winning the stage, today the GC riders would also be having their own race to see who could rise up in the overall standings.

Nine riders made their move around 15km into the stage, and the peloton was content to let them go, this group going on to build an advantage that topped out at 12:25. This spurred the peloton on to speed up a little, cutting this lead down to less than half with 50km left. With the road starting to rise from this point, the GC riders started to head to the front of the peloton, with Wilco Kelderman and Lennard Kämna representing BORA-hansgrohe here, closely watching their rivals’ moves at the start of the 12km long climb to the finish, with Peter Sagan among the duo’s teammates helping set the pace here and keep them protected. With the ascent an average gradient of 7.4%, the break started to splinter, but while the remnants still held their lead over the bunch for the first 7km of the climb, it was clear they were going to be caught.

A small select group formed on the front, with both Wilco and Lennard here, before a four-man group went ahead up the road having swept past the break. The escapees were only fifteen seconds up the road, and injecting some pace into the chase group, Wilco went on the attack himself with 3.5km remaining, forcing the chasers to now chase him. While the Dutch rider was brought back and the lead trio managed to stay out and take the stage, he kept fighting to the line and finished the day with a strong performance that was enough to propel him into fifth in the overall standings.

From the Finish Line:
"I think it was a good day, this is my first race and in my view, I can be satisfied with my legs and the feeling. The team did a good job all the way to the last climb and I was brought into a good position. It was a fast ascent with quite a number of attacks and accelerations in the final 10km. I tried to attack myself with about 4km to go but I still haven't reached my peak power because of the lack of racing. However, I think it was a good stage for us." - Wilco Kelderman

"I think it was a good day for the team. The guys supported Wilco and me very well throughout the day. At the end, everybody rode on the limit and the legs were the decisive factor. I struggled a bit on the final kilometres but overall I am quite satisfied." – Lennard Kämna

"Today's stage played out the way we had expected, with the yellow jersey team in control. We focused on the final climb, the team worked well and our GC riders were safe and in a good position coming into the ascent. We had told them that if they felt they had the legs they could try something on their own in the last 3km but there were lots of attacks from the other riders and our guys stayed in the bunch. I don't think anything more was possible today and we are happy with Wilco's result, especially his 5th place now in the GC." – André Schulze, Sports Director

Here's the Tour of Catalonia Tour stage three report from Jumbo-Visma:

The first mountain stage in the Tour of Catalunya hasn’t gone as planned for Team Jumbo-Visma. Sepp Kuss seemed to be able to claim a place on the podium for a long time, but in the end had to settle for sixth place in the day’s results. Steven Kruijswijk lost one minute and thirty seconds on stage winner Adam Yates.

About nine riders decided to go for it at the beginning of the race. The lead grew to twelve minutes. Thanks in part to the efforts of Team Jumbo-Visma, the gap was brought back to three minutes at the foot of Vallter 2000. Early on the climb the favourites started to attack. First it was Alejandro Valverde who decided to shake things up. Kuss was able to follow and was then also on the alert when Yates placed an attack. Two kilometres from the finish, the Brit placed the decisive attack. Kuss crossed the line 33 seconds later, just outside the top five.

Sports Director Grischa Niermann was bummed afterwards. “I think Sepp was the second best in the race today over the whole final climb. Only Adam Yates was better, because nobody was able to match him. Unfortunately, Sepp blew himself up in the final kilometres. It’s a shame then that he ended up finishing sixth. We had hoped for more. In retrospect the stage victory was not going to happen.”

Unfortunately, Steven Kruijswijk and George Bennett were also unable to stay close to the winner. “Steven and George had a lesser day. We’re going to review the situation tonight with all of them and from that the plans for the coming days will come.”

Classic Brugge-De Panne team reports

we posted the report from winner Sam Bennett's Deceuninck-Quick Step team with the results.

Here's the report from Arnaud Démare's Groupama-FDJ team:

Everything was going just well until the home stretch of the Classic Brugge-De Panne on Wednesday. Then, Arnaud Démare accidentally unclipped his pedal as he was just launching his final sprint. The French champion could not therefore fight for victory, which proved quite frustrating after his teammates put on a good work throughout the day. The French sprinter will now try to take revenge on Sunday, in Ghent-Wevelgem.

Sa Bennett

Sam Bennett wins Classic Brugge-De Panne

Last autumn, the Classic Brugge-De Panne offered quite a lively and open race, especially due to echelons all day long. Only forty-nine riders actually completed the 2020 edition. It did not seem this scenario would repeat itself in 2021 considering the good weather conditions this Wednesday. And indeed, a typical scenario established itself quite early on. Six men broke away, namely Alexis Gougeard (AG2R-Citroen), Gerben Thijssen (Lotto-Soudal), Barnabas Peak (Team BikeExchange), Ruben Apers (Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise), Erik Resell (Uno-X) and Wout van Elzakker (Vini Zabù), while the bunch mainly focused on controlling them.

Supporting the French champion Arnaud Démare, Alexys Brunel was actually among the first ones to pull in the peloton. “There was hardly any wind today,” said Yvon, “and it was mostly a headwind on the flat part in the beginning of the race, where it split last year. There were not the best conditions to create echelons this time.” However, once on the final circuit, the peloton momentarily split on the exposed section of De Moeren. “They still tried, but the wind was not strong enough,” told Yvon. “It was the only tense part on the circuit, and our guys were very careful, especially Arnaud. He was very focused, he warned his teammates every time and motivated them”.

Due to the peloton’s sudden acceleration, the day’s breakaway was caught with more than 70 kilometers to go. Then, some riders gave it a go but it did not prove a danger for the sprinters’ teams. Groupama-FDJ constantly remained at the front of the pack, and Jake Stewart was able to get back alongside his teammates after a minor crash with fifty kilometers to go. In the final lap around De Panne, the peloton stretched but did not split in the De Moeren’s section. It was therefore quite complete while heading to the finish line. Olivier Le Gac, Jake Stewart and Ramon Sinkeldam led out the train in the last five kilometers then Jacopo Guarnieri brought back the French champion up front shortly after the flamme rouge. “Everything was looking good”, said Yvon. “He was in a good position on the last corner, in Ackermann’s wheel. It’s a good spot to sprint from. This morning, he clearly told us: “even if we don’t do the perfect sprint, I want to sprint in good conditions”. This is what was about to happen before this stroke of bad luck.”

Three hundred meters from the line, as he was just starting to launch his sprint, Arnaud Démare was indeed stopped dead, actually taking off his right foot. “Someone probably touched my wheel in the final because the quick release on my rear wheel was open,” said Arnaud. “My wheel was quite loose but I didn’t realize it. As I get back into Ackermann’s wheel, I stand on the pedals, and I suffer a big chain drop that makes me lose my balance. I unclip and I’m actually not far from crashing. On the one hand, I was lucky, but on the other hand, I couldn’t do my sprint while I was in a good position. It’s frustrating”. The French sprinter then saw Sam Bennett collecting the victory without being able to fight for it. “It’s a big disappointment for the whole group,” Yvon continued. “It’s a shame not to get a result because we did a good job all day long, and Arnaud himself was really committed”. “In cycling, you also need to be lucky, and right now we are not,” said Arnaud. “It’s a bit long, but you need to keep going. Morale remains good, it’s also part of the sport”.

Although disappointed with the day’s outcome, he is now fully focused on Gand-Wevelgem this weekend. “Nevertheless, I think he still gained some confidence today”, concluded Yvon. “He feels he’s got good legs. He’s not worried. He would have been able to sprint for the win today. I am convinced that he has both the condition and the mindset to win at a very high level. We just need for the bad luck to leave him alone… “

Here's Team DSM's Classic Brugge - De Panne report:

One day racing in Belgium continued today at the Oxyclean Classic Brugge-De Panne, with 204 mostly flat kilometres on the menu for the peloton. A break of six broke clear early in the day, and with all Team DSM riders in the bunch, attention switched to saving energy for the finale and staying safe.

The threat of crosswinds on the many exposed sections of road saw the peloton catch the breakaway with 70 kilometres to go, but despite the effort from some teams, nothing materialised and the bunch stayed together. A few more counter attacks broke clear in the remainder of the day but with a lot of motivated sprint teams working together in the peloton, it was all back together with ten kilometres to go.

The team worked well to pilot sprinter Cees Bol towards the front of the bunch as the race charged until the flamme rouge. However, on the hectic run-in Bol got blocked against the barriers a little as a rider in front of him had a mechanical, and he had to brake a few times, so he couldn’t launch his sprint at the perfect moment to fight for the podium. Riding all the way to the finish though, he crossed the line for a solid seventh place on the day for the team.

“It was a stressful race with the wind and twisting roads,” explained Bol. “In the finale the boys positioned me well. I had to hit the brakes a few times with lead out men from other teams coming back through the group. It was a bit unlucky and there is some room for improvement but it was still a top ten, so we’ll take that into our next races.”

Team DSM coach Marc Reef continued: “Our goal today was to sprint with Cees in the finale and be prepared for any crosswinds. The guys did a good job in the final lap, bringing Cees into position for the moments that we wanted to be at the front. In the final two kilometres Cees lost momentum a few times, having to break in the last corner and in the end he sprinted to seventh place. In general it was a pretty good race from the guys that we can build on heading towards the next races.”

Coppi-Bartali Week stage two reports

We posted the report from stage two winner Jonas Vingegaard's Jumbo-Visma team with the race results.

Here's the report from Team Israel Start-Up Nation:

Ben Hermans was part of a small group to charge up the Sogliano al Rubicone and finished fourth, to cement his third place overall in the Settimana Internazionale Coppi e Bartali.

Jonas Vingegaard

Jonas Vingegaard wins stage two.

The Belgian Israel Start-Up Nation rider just missed out on taking the leader’s jersey. There was a small gap between the first two finishers and Ben’s group of three, “If I had finished third instead of fourth, I would have gotten the four-second bonification and taken the jersey.”

But every cloud has a silver lining. “Then we would have had to control the race for three more stages, and that’s not so easy, so maybe it’s a good situation.”

A break group stayed away for much of the stage, and ISN controlled things in the chasing field. “I thank Matthias Brändle and Alex Dowsett, who pulled really hard for something like 140 km. Then I had a lot of help from Alessandro De Marchi and James Piccoli controlling the attacks, and Guy Niv who chased down an attack near the finish.”

“I am still in the running for GC,” he said. “There is still one hard day coming, in two days, so we hope to get it done there. Today Vingegaard and Sosa were better than me, and we have to hope that I am better than them in two days.

“Today we all did well but just missed out by a few seconds. I’m a little bit disappointed but actually I should be happy with the result and with the way we were controlling the race.”

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