30 Seconds With……Mark McNally of Wanty-Groupe Gobert!
We managed to grab 30 seconds with the Eneco Tour breakaway King! Here’s what we found out…
We managed to grab 30 seconds with the Eneco Tour breakaway King! Here’s what we found out…
Il Lombardia holds a special place within the race calendar, as the last of the five Monuments and the final World Tour race of the season. The event, known as the Race of the Falling Leaves, does not close out the World Tour season this year however, with the Road Race World Championships taking place later in the month in Doha, scheduled to avoid Qatar’s high summer temperatures. With the course for the World Championship Road Race being pan flat on this occasion and therefore a sprinter’s paradise, Il Lombardia, with its new, seven summit parcours, could be called the de facto climbers’ World Championship race for 2016, with a line up to suit. You won’t find Andre Greipel, Mark Cavendish or Marcel Kittel anywhere near this year’s edition in particular, with the new route from Como to Bergamo containing 4,400 metres of climbing over 240 kilometres. That’s 1000 more metres of ascending than the race contained last year when Vincenzo Nibali was victorious.
The first of Il Lombardia’s seven categorised summits is the famed Madonna del Ghisallo, topped with an iconic chapel which doubles up as a cyclist’s shrine, housing a host of artefacts to Italian riders, such as the bike that Fabio Casartelli was riding when he was involved in a fatal crash on a treacherous descent in the 1995 Tour de France. Coming 65km in to the race, the first climb is unlikely to have too much of an impact upon the race overall – that honour will no doubt fall to a 75km stretch of road between the 100km and 25km to go markers, containing five of the seven categorised climbs, two of which are new to the race. Valico di Valcava averages 8%, and is a long climb of almost 12km. Sant’ Antonio Abbandonato, new to Il Lombardia, is half the length of the Valico di Valcava climb, but steeper, with an average gradient of almost 9%. The Miragolo san Salvatore averages a 7% gradient; however the first 2km includes sections topping 11%, making for a tricky climb with the possibility of hurting a few riders.
After the 75km stretch of successive summits, the peloton may feel that the hard work is behind them, however the race organisers have devised a course which will thrill fans right up to the last few metres, with the final, uncategorised and partially cobbled climb of Bergamo Alta appearing just before the route finishes, after a full 25km of descending. This year the race finishes in Bergamo, having ended up in Como the year before, when Nibali took victory. The last winner in Bergamo was Etixx-Quickstep’s Dan Martin. So who is expected on the Como start line this time around, and who has the legs to face the thousands of metres of climbing?
Unfortunately for the Italian home fans, Vincenzo Nibali will not be racing to defend his title; therefore leadership of the Astana team falls to Fabio Aru, who does have a good chance on a course of this profile. Supported by Jakob Fuglsang and Diego Rosa, Aru will hope to keep the race in the hands of an Astana rider.
Dan Martin will of course be looking to repeat his winning 2014 performance in Bergamo, no doubt bolstered by the return to the scene of his victory. Etixx-Quickstep are fielding a strong team for the 110th edition of the iconic Monument, and could feasibly launch a double-headed attack with Martin and Julian Alaphilippe, ably supported by an in-form Petr Vakoc. Perhaps the strongest team on the start line however, are the current leaders of the UCI World Tour team competition, Movistar. Alejandro Valverde heads a star-studded line up of team mates comprising Winner Anacona, Jon Izaguirre, Dani Moreno, Nairo’s younger brother Dayer Quintana, Francisco Ventoso, Javier Moreno and Giovanni Visconti.
Looking to thwart Movistar’s aim of a 4th win in the UCI team competition are the Tinkoff boys, on a final World Tour outing before the team disbands at the end of the season. Tinkoff need 70 points to dash Movistar’s hopes, but this could be a tall order, especially given Movistar’s solid line up, and Tinkoff not fielding two of their star riders – Sagan is of course expected to be focusing on retaining his rainbow jersey in Qatar, whereas Contador, who could have been an exciting prospect on this climber’s parcours, is suffering from a flu-like virus. Roman Kreuziger and Rafal Majka spearhead the Tinkoff line up, with Majka, a former Tour de France King of the Mountain’s jersey holder, eyeing up the 4,400 metres of climbing with a decent chance of placing well. Elsewhere, Ag2r-La Mondiale rider Romain Bardet is definitely one to watch in this race; the course suits his style and his form at this late stage in the season remains good. Last year’s runner up, Dani Moreno of Movistar, has both the legs and the team mates to carry him to a strong finish, and Lampre-Merida’s Rui Costa stands a good chance, as does the Columbian Rigoberto Uran of Cannondale-Drapac. His team will be hungry for a big win after having two riders on the Milano-Torino podium earlier in the week with Mike Woods and Uran himself, and early indications are that his form remains strong.
Bardiani-CSF have had a great few weeks, especially Italian favourite Sonny Colbrelli, who last week crossed the Tre Valli Varesine finish line in first place, ahead of the likes of Nibali, Aru, Gilbert and Viviani. Team Sky have brought a strong squad, including Pete Kennaugh and Ben Swift, with Wout Poels looking to be in race winning form. Supported by Mikel Landa, Vasil Kiryienka and Mikel Nieve, with the excellent tactical mind of Nicolas Roche, Poels has a good chance of a late season podium appearance.
With a host of other big names – Mollema, Schleck, Bakelandts, not to mention Olympic medallists Greg Van Avermaet and Tom Dumoulin, the race looks set to be one of the most exciting of the latter half of the calendar. Those who are disappointed by the Doha parcours – and there have been many critics of the pan flat desert course – will no doubt prefer the climbs, descents, and potential for set-piece battles that Il Lombardia 2016 offers. It’s going to be an exciting race for sure!
As the hackers known as Fancy Bears revealed medical information attributed to Olympic gold medallist Fabian Cancellara and Tour of Britain winner Steve Cummings on Friday afternoon, Bradley Wiggins found himself still embroiled in a heated debate about his own use of TUEs. As we reported last week, both former Sky rider Wiggins and current Sky superstar Chris Froome were subject to detailed scrutiny in the media and online following the release of documents obtained by a hack on a World Anti Doping Agency (WADA) database, showing that both Tour de France winners had taken banned substances with a therapeutic use exemption or TUE, the method by which professional athletes are permitted to use such medications to treat ongoing conditions such as asthma.
Chris Froome had previously spoken about his use of TUEs when his 2014 prescription for prednisolone was revealed. Earlier this year, the three time TdF winner had spoken to The Scotsman newspaper about using TUEs, which he confirmed he had done twice in his career, once in May 2013 for 5 days at the Critérium du Dauphiné, and again for 7 days during the Tour of Romandy in 2014. Both TUEs were UCI approved as part of the treatment for Froome’s asthma. Addressing the recent WADA hack, Froome shrugged off any controversy. “I’ve openly discussed my TUEs with the media and have no issues with the leak, which confirms my statements”.
Wiggins however was not so lucky. The controversy surrounding his TUEs centred around claims made in his 2012 autobiography ‘My Time’, in which Sir Bradley wrote that he had never received any injections in relation to his cycling career. The leaked WADA information appeared to tell a different tale, showing that, alongside a host of TUEs for asthma medication such as salbutamol and formoterol, Wiggins had been granted TUEs for injectable Triamcinolone Acetonide, used to treat a pollen allergy. A statement was hurried out on behalf of the former Sky man, claiming that the rider had been referring in his autobiography to the use of “illegal intravenous injections”, not approved intramuscular injections such as triamcinolone. This statement did nothing to quell the furore. Some felt uneasy that Wiggins had not made any direct comment, choosing instead to communicate through his press team. Others felt that, by drawing attention to the difference between intravenous and intramuscular treatments, the statement was addressing the public as if they were fools, and was also starting to appear as a case of ‘one doth protest too much’.
Photo: Wiggins on Stage 7b of the 2016 Tour of Britain.
Questions were also asked over Team Sky’s relationship with disgraced doping doctor Geert Leinders, who was hired by the team during the 2011 and 2012 seasons, when Wiggins was approaching the pinnacle of his road career. Leinders was banned from working in sport for life after he was found to have committed serious anti-doping violations when working for the Rabobank team. Whilst there have never been any allegations of doping stemming from the doctor’s time at Team Sky, a USADA report compiled as a result of the 2012 investigation into Lance Armstong claims that Leinders administered, possessed and trafficked a host of banned substances including EPO, testosterone and corticosteroids for Rabobank riders during his tenure as the team. Leinders was also accused of administering blood transfusions to Rabobank team members.
Forced to address his relationship with the Belgian doctor, a spokesman for Bradley Wiggins explained “Brad has no direct link to Geert Leinders. Leinders was ‘on race’ doctor for Team Sky for a short period and so was occasionally present at races dealing with injuries sustained whilst racing, such as colds and bruises. Leinders had no part in Brad’s TUE application”.
Again, the statement did nothing to quell the rising tide of voices questioning Bradley Wiggins. Four years on from the outcome of the Lance Armstrong investigation, fans are wary of being taken for fools yet again. Releasing statements through spokespeople instead of directly addressing the matter as Froome chose to do, has prolonged the sense of unease. By refusing to answer questions about his conduct in person, many have decided that Wiggins must have something to hide.
In the face of the ongoing storm, Wiggins has been forced to try a different approach to cease the clamour, by appearing on national TV on Sunday morning as part of the Andrew Marr Show. Following yet another Olympic medal haul for Team GB in the velodrome at the Rio games, Wiggins should be on our screens celebrating the close of a fantastically successful career as one of Britain’s most decorated Olympic athletes. Instead he faces the long, drawn out hangover from the Armstrong era.
As the controversy rumbles on with no sign of slowing, former UK pro cyclist and anti-doping campaigner David Millar told The Daily Telegraph that in-competition use of triamcinolone should be banned, and that there should be complete transparency surrounding the use of TUEs. Millar, who himself was handed a suspension from the sport in 2004 for admitting to the use of performance enhancing drugs, claimed that triamcinolone, brand name Kenacort, was incredibly powerful – even when compared with more well known performance enhancers such as EPO. “I took EPO and testosterone patches” explained Millar, “and they obviously produce huge differences in your blood…you felt at your top level. Kenacort though, was the only one you took and three days later you looked different. It’s scary because it’s catabolic so it’s eating into you. It felt destructive. It felt powerful….if it’s that strong, we shouldn’t be allowed to take it unless there is a serious issue. And if we’re suffering from that serious an issue, we shouldn’t be racing”. Millar went on to say that he couldn’t “fathom” why doctors would be prescribing such a powerful drug before races. “We shouldn’t have to face this”.
Sir Bradley may well be thinking “we shouldn’t have to face this” each time another armchair detective on Twitter claims to have known all along that there was something afoot at Team Sky. Whilst the UCI condones the use of TUEs, many so-called cycling fans are whipping themselves up into a frenzy over the WADA leaks, forgetting that Wiggins et al had explicit approval from cycling’s governing body to take the medication listed on their TUEs. Taking an approved drug to treat a recognized condition is not the same as systematic and sustained doping. Just like that colleague who is always ‘ill’ on a Friday, there are probably those who take advantage of the system, just as there will be those who follow the TUE procedure to the letter. The release of this information does not mean that any of the cyclists named by Fancy Bears have done anything wrong.
Establishing how to manage the TUE system so that it is fair to everyone should form part of the UCI’s approach to building a successful anti-doping programme. Meanwhile, one of the UK’s previously best-loved sportsmen is caught in the cross-hairs, facing a fight for his reputation.
The teams Great Britain will be taking to next month’s UCI Road World Championships in Doha, Qatar, have been confirmed as follows: –
Mark Cavendish, Steve Cummings, Ian Stannard, Geraint Thomas, Adam Blythe, Alex Dowsett, Luke Rowe, Scott Thwaites, Dan McLay and Ben Swift.
Eight riders from the list will make the final confirmation, with two also competing in the individual time trial.
Lizzie Deignan (formerly Armitstead) Hannah Barnes, Alice Barnes, Dani King, Laura Massey, Annasley Park, Abby-Mae Parkinson, Hayley Simmonds and Eileen Roe.
Hannah Barnes and Hayley Simmonds will compete in the women’s individual time trial.
Gabriel Cullaigh, Scott Davies, Jon Dibben, Chris Latham, Tao Geoghegan Hart and James Shaw.
Two of the above will be selected for the U23 time trial.
Sunday’s final stage has an interesting profile. At a swift glance, it appears to be incredibly flat, but on closer inspection, from 90km to the finish at kilometre 198, the riders will either be ascending or descending, with no real flat in sight.
The race takes in three ascents of the infamous Muur, a cobbled climb of just over 1km at a gradient of 8.7%. After three full ascents, the finishing line is situated half way up what would have been a fourth climb of the Muur. Riders with experience in the Spring Classics will be well aware of what lies ahead. Current race leader Rohan Dennis may not be as well versed. Whether this affects his grip on that white jersey remains to be seen.
Freewheeling prediction – The final day of racing is a difficult one to predict, due to the many narrative threads running throughout the race. The riders at the sharp end of the GC are not separated by huge gaps, so someone like Tony Martin, 24 seconds back, could decide to throw caution to the wind on the last day and try a courageous attack. Any attack here would be courageous given the terrain – those cobbles on the Muur are no small matter! The technical nature of some of the climbing could give pause for thought to those riders with World Championship hopes, as no one wants even the most insignificant of injuries to interfere with preparations for Qatar.
On Stage 6, Sagan seemed less concerned with claiming the leader’s jersey, perhaps instead targeting stage wins. Tony Martin of Etixx-Quickstep attempted an attack as he chased down 24 seconds. BMC were keen to protect Dennis, but will his lack of Classics experience impact upon his tactics on the final day? And where have Tom Dumoulin and Greg Van Avermaet been? All these questions and narratives make for one interesting day of racing, that’s for sure! Hedging our bets? Maybe. But the unpredictability is what makes this final day so special and exciting!
Freewheeling takes three for three as our prediction was realised for the third day running! Team time trial World champions, Team BMC, swept to victory on the 20.9k course with a time of 23:11. Etixx-Quickstep were the second placed team, adrift by 6 seconds. Yesterday we also predicted that LottoNL-Jumbo would put in a strong performance; another prediction that was borne out by the team’s third place in the stage, stopping the clock at 23:34. Our third ‘one to watch’ from yesterday’s predictions was the Movistar team, who placed 4th overall.
The stage saw big changes to the GC, with Rohan Dennis reclaiming the top spot from yesterday’s stage winner, Peter Sagan. The Tinkoff rider drops down into 4th place, separated from Dennis by 27 seconds overall. Second place is awarded to Dennis’s team mate Taylor Phinney, by virtue of BMC’s commanding TTT performance. Etixx-Quickstep also put in an impressive time trial despite having lost Tom Boonen to a crash in the previous stage, which has catapulted Tony Martin up the standings into third place.
Now that the battle with the UCI over the World Championship TTT has been resolved, it appears that BMC have been thinking about those Qatari gold medals. “This shows why we’re the best in the world” exclaimed race leader Rohan Dennis shortly after his team crossed the finish line together and looking remarkably strong. “This was a very good test for Qatar”.
Etixx-Quickstep too had looked formidable – who knows what they would have been able to achieve with a full complement of riders?
The two final days of this year’s Eneco Tour look set to bring the big GC contenders to the fore. Stage 6, at 197.2km, contains six climbs, starting at Riemst and hugging the Dutch border before ending at Lanaken with an uphill finish.
The organisers have packed the climbs onto the route in quick succession, with three short, sharp ascents fitted into 7km of road. The current GC standings and time gaps should see plenty of attacks, suggesting that Stage 6 could be an exciting day of racing. The Golden Kilometre is once again located on a hilly section, a stroke of genius if exciting racing is what you want. The concept was first trialled at the Tour of Belgium; the idea being that three intermediate sprints are contained within one stretch of road, 1km in length. For each sprint, time bonuses are awarded – 3 seconds for the leader, 2 for second place, and one second for third. For the leader therefore, 9 seconds are up for grabs, making it possible to win or lose a race based on time bonuses earned by racing for Golden Kilometre points.
Freewheeling prediction: Another nice stage for Sagan, but aren’t they all these days?! The current GC placings will certainly make for some exciting tactical racing. Without the Golden Kilometre time bonuses, Rohan Dennis might have been more comfortable about remaining in the leader’s jersey, however if Sagan goes for it, he’ll regain the top spot on GC by the end of the day.
When I first looked at the last two stages, I felt that Geraint Thomas and Greg Van Avermaet might be top three GC riders by the end of this stage. I’m no longer sure about Thomas, who, whilst riding well, looks to be steadying himself for Qatar. Tom Dumoulin appears to be riding into form as Eneco progresses, and I’d expect him to try something on Stage 6. Sagan, Van Avermaet and Dumoulin for me, with Dennis chasing the relevant breaks to protect his lead.
With the UCI finally coming to an agreement with riders regarding the team time trial at the World Championships next month, the atmosphere around Stage 5 will be much less anxious and fraught. As we reported last week, WorldTour teams were threatening to boycott the World Championship TTT due to a dispute over the financial implications. The UCI has now agreed that the World Championship team time trial is not compulsory, therefore also removing WorldTour points from the competition.
Back to Eneco, and Friday’s stage begins in Sittard in the Netherlands before crossing into Germany and then swinging back round towards Sittard. The course is 20.9km, and comes immediately before the two big GC stages this weekend.
Sagan has talked of his pre-TTT feelings, noting “it’s important to ride a good team time trial, BMC are the World champions, but I’m sure Tinkoff can deliver a good performance”. Team BMC are the favourites as reigning champs, and have a very strong line-up for this discipline, including Van Avermaet, Rohan Dennis, Taylor Phinney and Daniel Oss.
Freewheeling prediction – It’s hard to see who could break BMC here, as their line-up is so strong. Movistar and LottoNL-Jumbo should go well, and I’m sure Tinkoff won’t want Sagan to lose too much time to Rohan Dennis. At 7 seconds behind Sagan, we predict more jersey swapping between these two…
Wow, that’s two days in a row where the Freewheeling prediction has actually been spot on! As predicted, Stage 4 was the perfect terrain for another Sagan win, and, as predicted, the Tinkoff rider and newly crowned European Champion took the race leader’s jersey. Sagan has won so much this season that it’s actually a rare sight to glimpse him in his Tinkoff jersey these days!
Setting out from Aalter, four riders got into an early break, building up a steady lead of four minutes. The first appearance of Belgian pave soon put an end to their hopes however, with the lead diminishing. The circuit was where the action was expected, and on entering this section of the race with 64km remaining, the bunch came together. Riders were to make 2 laps of the 32km circuit, which, as well as two pave sections, also had two climbs and a smattering of uncategorised cobbles.
Tom Dumoulin made a move and a group of six riders came off the front as a result. This shook up the peloton, who sharply shut the break down. After that, numerous riders tried and failed to form a sustainable break.
Rohan Dennis and Edvald Boassen-Hagen found themselves in one of these unsuccessful breaks, which formed as a result of the climbs. Dimitriy Grazdev and Andriy Grivko of Astana looked to be in with the best chance of a successful breakaway, but this too was eventually shut down with 3km of road left.
The second lap saw another push from Dumoulin, who had joined Tony Martin up the road. With two strong riders, the break looked to be promising, but the pair were unable to join the two Astana riders ahead of them to consolidate the move, dangling like a carrot in front of the peloton and never quite managing to bridge the gap to the men up the road. Eventually, the 8.2% gradient of Bruine Put saw the pairing sucked back into the bunch, however Trek-Segafredo rider Jasper Stuyven leapt off the front to join Grazdev and Grivko.
The sprint itself was not without drama. Katusha’s Alexander Kristoff started the action, and Sagan and Andre Démare of FDJ fought for his slipstream, resulting in a bumping of shoulders and jostling. Greipel meanwhile, had been set up by his Lotto-Soudal team mates to try for a sprint victory. The German powered across the line, only missing out on the win by a whisker in a photo finish. Neither Sagan nor Greipel was sure of the result initially, waiting for the finish line photograph to be analysed before Sagan was pronounced the victor by virtue of a bike throw.
Démare was evidently unhappy with the outcome of the sprint, which Sagan addressed after the race. “There are some riders who are not happy…I had a little problem with Démare, but that is sprinting. If I did something bad, I’m sorry, but I don’t think I did. I was in my line and he was very aggressive to me”.
There was drama elsewhere on the stage: his attention momentarily diverted by consuming a gel early in the race, Etixx-Quickstep’s Tom Boonen hit a pot hole and was thrown from his bike. Boonen remounted but couldn’t continue, abandoning shortly after. Team manager Patrick Lefevere explained that Boonen had felt ‘dazed’ after the incident, and was taken straight to hospital. After an x-ray, Boonen was permitted to return home and rest. At the present time, no comment has been made on whether or not this will affect his World Championship preparation.
As if that weren’t enough, an incident with a motorbike on a roundabout late in the race almost wiped out the three leading riders. The motorbike took a wide line around the roundabout, losing control after hitting the street furniture and careering from right to left across the road, directly across the path of the three cyclists exiting the roundabout on the left, who thankfully managed to avoid being struck by mere centimetres. The incident comes after Etixx-Quickstep’s Tony Martin praised the Eneco Tour on his Twitter page, writing “with intelligent diversions no motorbike has to pass the peleton” (sic).
For two seasons, incidents involving official race motorbikes have marred events, culminating in the tragic accident earlier this year at Ghent-Wevelgem where Antoine Démoitié sadly sustained fatal injuries after crashing and then being hit by a race motorbike. The Eneco Tour had impressed riders by introducing diversions for race traffic at pressure points on the road; however this latest incident in a supposedly safe race underlines the need for the UCI to truly investigate ways to ensure rider safety.
Stage 4 is the longest in this year’s 12th edition of the Eneco Tour, with 202km of racing between Aalter and Saint-Pieters-Leeuw. Billed as a sprinters stage, the appearance of three uphill sections within the circuit, the last of which tops out within the final 13km – may decide otherwise. If the climbs aren’t enough to contend with – enter the Belgian cobbles!
The pavé sections here are not too long, although could be tricky depending on the weather conditions. The riders will also have to contend with three climbs included within the circuit section, which could see the bunch split. To make things interesting, the Golden Kilometre begins just after the final climb of Bruine Put – a climb of almost 1km at 8.2%, which, given the time gaps at the top of the GC, could make for a very entertaining few metres as BMC seek to hold off Sagan and keep Dennis in the leader’s jersey.
With its technical sections, uphills and sprint-type finish, this should be another perfect stage for Sagan. Only 3 seconds behind the race leader, day 4 could be the day for the Slovak to head GC for the first time in the race.
Freewheeling prediction – Fresh from our prediction success in Stage 3 thanks to Sagan and Boudhanni, Freewheeling is predicting that Sagan will take over the leader’s jersey by the end of Stage 4. There could be another stage win for the Tinkoff rider given the shape of the parcours, although Olympic champion Greg Van Avaermaet is also in good shape to finish the stage at the sharp end.