Eneco Tour – Stage 3 Review

Stage 3 of the Eneco Tour looked to be in the hands of a five man breakaway until the last 100m when the break wavered, lost momentum, and relinquished their opportunity to the chasing peloton.  Martin Elmiger of IAMCycling started the day 23 seconds behind race leader Rohan Dennis, and by getting into the break almost as soon as the race began, spent much of the afternoon as the virtual race leader on the road.  Elmiger was accompanied by Brit Mark McNally of Wanty-Groupe Gobert, Jesper Asselman of Roompot Oranje, Yukiya Arashiro of Lampre-Merida and Stijn Steels of Topsport Vlaanderen.  At one point, the leaders were ahead by over 6 minutes.

As the leaders passed under the flamme rouge, the peloton still had their work cut out on the chase – especially given the fact that no one team was keen to commit to reeling in the five leading riders.  Frustration began to simmer in the peloton as the sprinters’ teams got edgy.  Etixx-Quickstep sent Tony Martin to the head of the bunch to chase in earnest, a role he didn’t seem exactly pleased to be asked to fulfil.

With the finish line in sight and 100m of road left, the breakaway hesitated, looking at one another and appearing to have lost all sense of race tactics.  Seizing this opportunity – the only one they’d been presented with all day, the peloton took the initiative and swept up the five leaders.

Sagan, coming from well back, managed to glide through gaps visible to no-one but the Slovak rider, as his bike handling skills saw him sail across the finish line for victory, in an unbelievable sprint which social media was quick to christen ‘the finish of the season’.  Team Sky’s Danny Van Poppel crossed in second place, with Nacer Boudhanni of Cofidis in third.

Sagan’s winning time of 4:10:36 sees him move up to second in GC, 3 seconds behind race leader Rohan Dennis, who retains the leader’s jersey going into day 4.  Alex Dowsett of Movistar is the highest placed British rider in 11th place, with Tony Martin and Tom Dumoulin in 14th and 15th place respectively, 20 seconds back as a result of losing time on Tuesday’s TT.  Dumoulin had been enjoying a rich seam of form – perhaps his heavy race calendar and numerous top 3 placings have taken their toll as the seasons draws nearer its close.

Tomorrow, Stage 4 – the only one to top 200km, takes the riders across numerous stretches of Belgian pave, with three uphill sections on the circuit, including Bruine Put at 8.2%.

Preview – Eneco Tour Stage 3

Stage 3 begins on the Belgian coast at Blankenberge, hugging the shore until Ostend before heading inland to Ardooie.  Unless a breakaway can gain a big enough lead before reaching the Belgian town, the stage seems destined for a sprint finish.  The circuit of Ardooie is actually pretty technical, with some tight corners to navigate before a straight 1km run in.

The technical aspects of the final urban circuit may make organisation difficult, however these are the types of finish which Sagan will relish with his exquisite bike handling skills ready to come to the fore.

Freewheeling Prediction – Sagan looks to be the likely beneficiary of the technical corners in the final circuit.  After backing the Cofidis boys for an outside chance with Nacer Bouhanni on Stage 1, don’t bet against them on this stage either.  Bouhanni was close on the first day, and he has won here before in 2014.

Eneco Tour – Stage 2 Review

Photo: Rohan Dennis on his way to winning the TT in Bristol, Tour of Britain 2016

Tuesday’s Stage 2 time trial in Breda was won by Australian national TT champion Rohan Dennis in convincing fashion.  Dennis’ win on the 9.6km course puts him in the race leader’s jersey by 5 seconds from LottoNL-Jumbo rider Jos Van Emden, who took second place on the stage.

Pre-stage favourites Tony Martin and Tom Dumoulin were off the pace, coming in 20 seconds behind Dennis.  The short stage allowed the sprinters to finish strongly, with Sagan securing a top ten position in 8th place in a time of 11.05, and Kittel in 9th.  Movistar’s Alex Dowsett rounded out the top ten.

Dennis was pleased with his commanding performance, which bodes well for Stage 5 and the Team Time Trial.  “I took all the risks and kind of crossed my fingers every time I went through a corner…Today was as quick as I could possibly go”.  Sagan’s top ten finish saw him move up to third place in GC.  “He was the main guy that stressed me out” explained Dennis, “I was worried about him once Tom Dumoulin and Tony Martin had gone through”.  Dennis’ BMC Team are now in a solid position, with Dennis confirming “we’re here to win with either myself or Greg (Van Avermaet)”.

Reigning World Time Trial champion, Vasil Kiryienka, didn’t have a great day, arriving at the start ramp 45 seconds behind his allocated time slot, meaning the clock had started without him.  Rohan Dennis therefore set off only 15 seconds behind the Sky rider, overtaking him near the finish line.  Dylan Van Baarle was also late starting.

Tomorrow the race enters Belgium, with a route of 186km from Blankenberge to Ardooie.  The sprinters will once again be hungry for a stage win on rolling roads, although there may be a chance for a breakaway if riders can organise to hold off the peloton.

Eneco Tour – Stage 1 Review

Dutch rider Dylan Groenewegen won a nail-bitingly scrappy sprint in Bolsward to claim Stage 1 of the 2016 Eneco Tour in his home country.  Freewheeling had predicted a strong finish for Cofidis rider Nacer Bouhanni, who came in second, ahead of European Champion Peter Sagan.  With a flat stage to start the seven day race a bunch sprint was widely anticipated, although a five man break including riders from three Belgian teams (Bert Van Lerberghe of Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise, Brian Van Goethem of Roompot Oranje Peloton and Frederik Backaert of Wanty-Groupe Gobert) joined by Laurens De Vreese of Astana and Matteo Bono of Lampre-Merida looked set to upset expectations before the sprinters’ teams began reeling them in during the final few laps of the course.  By virtue of the breakaway, the combativity points were shared amongst the five leaders, with Bert Van Lerberghe leading the competition 28 points to 22 from fellow Belgian Laurens De Vreese.

Groenewegen, leading both the General Classification and the sprint competition, was delighted to outsprint the field to take the win, stating “it’s great to pull it off in the first stage…the sprint was long and hectic on a wide road.  It was hard to judge your marks”.  As the sprinters’ teams wound up for the final laps, there was a crash in the peloton with 15km to go, flooring several riders including Team Sky’s Danny van Poppel.  The nervy bunch meant that no team took overall control of the sprint.  “In the final kilometre I came through with the Oreca lead-out train and then followed Nizzolo.  I turned out to have the best jump” said Groenewegen.

Tomorrow the riders will take part in an individual time trial of almost 10km, which could see another Dutchman on the stage winner’s podium as Giant-Alpecin’s Tom Dumoulin also looks for a win on home soil.  Check out the Freewheeling prediction in the Preview section!

Preview – Eneco Tour Stage 2

Photo: Etixx Quickstep’s Tony Martin warming up before winning the Tour of Britain TT – Stage 7 Bristol

Photo credit: Rich Ainsley

Stage two is a 9.6km individual time trial around Breda in the Netherlands.  The short length of the stage will mean those who may not be TT specialists aren’t stretched to breaking point, however the big guns will have the chance to show their mettle.

Freewheeling  prediction – In incredible form and seemingly capable of winning stages in every road race discipline, perhaps Sagan might make a cheeky top three appearance?  Freewheeling is looking forward to seeing what Tom Dumoulin does on this stage in particular, although Tony Martin appears to have rediscovered his TT legs at the Tour of Britain, and Van Avermaet has had a great season.  We’re going for Dumoulin; with Martin, Van Avermaet, Rohan Dennis and Geraint Thomas as strong finishers.

Preview – Eneco Tour Stage 1

Monday sees the start of the Eneco Tour, the only WorldTour stage race assigned dual nationality – shared between Belgium and the Netherlands.

Appearing later in the race calendar to accommodate the Olympic Games, the race is packed with star riders using the event as the perfect preparation for the World Championships in October.  Fresh from his win at the European Championships, Sagan will be on the start line of the Eneco Tour for the first time, as Freewheeling favourite Geraint Thomas leads Team Sky supported by previous World Champion Michal Kwiatkowski and Brits Luke Rowe, Andrew Fenn and Ben Swift.

Although the route favours the Classics experts, the race contains something for everyone with flat stages, hilly stages, a team time trial and an individual TT.   Last year Belgian Tom Wellens of Lotto-Soudal took the overall classification, with Olympic road race champion Greg Van Avermaet of BMC in second.  This year offers a favourable parcours for sprinters, with Andre Greipel, Peter Sagan, Nacer Bouhanni, Caleb Ewan, Marcel Kittel and John Degenkolb all in the hunt for stage wins and sprint points, with the orange points jersey their ultimate prize.

Stage 1, a 184km circuit from Bolsward in the Netherlands, could see a bunch sprint on the finish line, although with part of the route hugging the coast, there is potential for echelons to form and split the peloton.  The weather forecast however looks good, so it seems likely that the bunch will finish together.  The streets are fairly narrow in the final run-in, so teams will need to be organised to avoid a messy finish and potential pile ups.

With the individual time trial on day two, the GC contenders will be on the hunt for time bonuses to secure a good TT starting position, so team tactics will come into play early in the race.

Freewheeling Prediction – A bunch sprint with the potential for one of the big names to secure the stage victory.  Greipel, Kittel and Sagan will hope to be up there, but don’t underestimate the strength of Team Cofidis, who’ll be working to deliver Nacer Bouhanni to the line, and Orica-BikeExchange have a sense of purpose with Caleb Ewan, fresh from his Tour of Britain stage win in London.

Lotto-Soudal Confirm Boycott of World Championship Team Time Trial

Lotto-Soudal have announced that they will not be sending a team to compete in the team time trial (TTT) at next month’s World Championships in Doha, Qatar.  The announcement follows August’s war of words between the governing body, the UCI and the Association International des Groupes Cyclistes Professionels, AIGCP, which looks after the interests of cycling teams worldwide.

The AIGCP released a statement last month threatening a boycott of the Doha TTT, after an ‘overwhelming majority’ of WorldTour teams voted not to participate.  The dispute stems from the reintroduction of the team time trial at the World Championships in 2012, which the UCI included in the event to make the programme more appealing to fans and spectators.  Whilst the individual time trial and road races are contested by national teams; financially assisted by home federations as an incentive to participate, the TTT is open only to commercial teams, and is not subject to the participation allowance which is available at all other top races.

The UCI dismissed the boycott threat, announcing that all WorldTour teams should be present.  “We continue to expect excellent participation…the Road World Championships is a celebration for the whole cycling family…the UCI, a non-profit organisation, reinvests any surpluses in the development of the sport of cycling”.

The dispute with the UCI also includes issues with the expansion of the race calendar, which has seen the addition of 10 extra events, all in far-flung locations.  The AIGCP has concerns over the financial pressures upon teams, given that sponsors will have already allocated budgets for future seasons, which may now be inadequate due to the expanded race schedule.

The debacle with the reduction of the WorldTour licences has also concerned the teams’ association, as has the two-year licence, previously three years, another outcome of the dispute with ASO (see Freewheeling article ‘WorldTour Woes’).

As with the licence reduction, these disputes all have the potential to negatively impact the future of the sport, as sponsors reassess their involvement with teams which will require much larger budgets in order to be competitive.

Shock at Paralympic Road Race as Iranian Cyclist Suffers Fatal Crash

Earlier this afternoon, Freewheeling learned of a serious crash at the Paralympic C4-5 road race.  it is with great regret that we now have to report that Iranian cyclist Bahman Golbarnezhad has passed away as a result of that crash.

Deepest condolences to Bahman’s family, friends, and the whole of the Iranian Paralympic team.

Russian Hack Leads to Questions For Wiggins and Froome

Russian ‘cyber-espionage’ website Fancy Bears has released documents detailing medical data and therapeutic use exemptions (TUEs) for a number of athletes as a result of a hack on the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) database.

On Tuesday 13th September 2016, the Russian group released data attributed to tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams, and the US gymnast Simone Biles, amongst claims that they had ‘sensational proof’ of athletes participating in doping practices.

The following day, details of therapeutic use exemptions obtained by Sir Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome were released, alongside medical reports on numerous international athletes.

Froome’s data showed TUEs from 2013 and ’14, confirming statements made previously by the three-time Tour de France winner to the Scotsman newspaper, in which he explained that he had used TUEs twice in his career, providing dates which correspond to the leaked Wada data.  Froome was shown to have been prescribed prednisolone, used to treat autoimmune and inflammatory conditions, during the 2013 Critérium du Dauphiné.  The second TUE, which was widely reported, dates from April 2014, when Froome was competing at the Tour of Romandie.  When questioned about the leak, Froome explained that he had ‘no issues’ given his previous transparency on the matter.

“I’ve openly discussed my TUEs with the media and have no issues with the leak, which confirms my statements”.  Froome went on to explain that he had twice used TUEs in his 9-year career, the last being in 2014.

The release of Sir Bradley Wiggins’ data caused more of a stir, with the cyclist forced to release two statements to clarify what he’d written in his autobiography regarding the use of needles.  Information published in the leak showed that Wiggins was permitted to use injectable Triamcinolone Acetonide to treat a pollen allergy, which appeared to contradict comments in his 2012 autobiography, ‘My Time’, in which Wiggins claimed to have never received injections in relation to his cycling career.  In a statement released on behalf of the Tour de France winner on Saturday, it was claimed that Wiggins “stands by his comment concerning the use of illegal intravenous needle injections”.  The spokesman went on to explain that the comments in the book were made in relation to the “historic and illegal practice of intravenous injections of performance enhancing substances, which was the subject of a law change by the UCI in 2011.  The triamcinolone injection that is referred to in the Wada leaks is an intramuscular treatment for asthma and is fully approved by the sports’ governing body”.

Triamcinolone is a controversial substance owing to the fact that Lance Armstrong tested positive for the drug at the 1999 Tour de France.  It was subsequently revealed that Armstrong had used a back-dated medical certificate for saddle sore cream in order to claim a TUE after his team were informed of the positive test.  Wiggins was prescribed the medication as a result of his asthma and pollen allergy, however the substance is included on the Wada prohibited list due to its action as a corticosteroid.  Corticosteroids are open to abuse due to their ability to improve recovery by reducing inflammation, and some are questioning the timing of Wiggins’ TUEs for this particular medication – right before the 2011 and 2012 Tour de France (he won the latter), and once prior to the 2013 Giro d’Italia.

Wiggins also faces questions over Team Sky’s 2011-2012 involvement with Geert Leinders, a disgraced cycle doctor banned for life after he was found to have committed serious anti-doping violations whilst working for the Rabobank Team.  Wiggins has made it clear that Leinders was not involved with issuing his TUEs, which were verified independently to Wada, UCI and British Cycling guidelines.