Weekend Races End in Controversy

Both the final Monument of the year, Il Lombardia, held on Saturday, and Sunday’s Tour de l’Eurometropole finished with an air of controversy surrounding the podium places of each race’s top two riders.

Saturday’s Il Lombardia, won by Orica-BikeExchange’s Esteban Chaves, saw Astana’s Diego Rosa attack twice in the final kilometres, although both surges proved fruitless as his closest rivals, the Columbian pairing of eventual winner Chaves and Cannondale-Drapac’s Rigoberto Uran, were too strong for Rosa to break.  After the race, which saw the Astana rider take second place, Rosa’s Directeur Sportif told the press that he felt ‘truly sick’ at the outcome, claiming that his rider ignored orders.  “If Rosa had listened to me, he would have won”, explained Giuseppe Martinelli, DS for the Astana team.  “I’ve only been this upset a few times in my life…you can’t throw away an occasion in that way.  You can’t lose like that”.

Martinelli told reporters that Rosa should not have expended energy in his two fruitless attacks, and should instead have sat in the wheels on the last two climbs, and made sure he was second wheel in the finishing straight.  “It was clear the other two would help each other, it happened at the Giro d’Italia…instead, he went through first”.

For his part, Rosa admitted that his attack “at 1600 metres was useless”, but claimed that, as Chaves would outsprint him, he had to “play my hand, a surprise.  I believed. I knew that curve at 250 metres.  Uran obviously closed the gap to me, but I don’t want to cause polemics…if I had made it through with two metres on them then it would have worked”.

Sunday’s Tour de l’Eurometropole also finished with the second placed rider at the heart of a controversy.  IAMCycling’s Oliver Naesen claims that LottoNL-Jumbo rider Dylan Groenewegen deviated from his line in the final sprint, causing Naesen to be pushed towards the barriers and therefore become boxed in. He even had to hop over an obstacle on the road surface before crossing the line in second place behind Groenewegen.  Similar circumstances have seen riders disqualified for their blocking actions, however on this occasion the race jury deemed Groenewegen to be the winner regardless.  Naesen was clearly unhappy with the decision, claiming to be the ‘rightful winner’.

Under the UCI rules, riders are ‘strictly forbidden to deviate from the line they selected when launching a sprint’.  The regulations have seen Boudhanni disqualified for cutting into Caleb Ewan’s race line at Cyclassics Hamburg, and Andre Greipel famously fell foul of the rule at the 2015 Tour of Britain.

Naesen, clearly outraged by Groenewegen’s actions, attempted to confront the LottoNL-Jumbo rider in the finishing area, but was blanked by the Dutchman.  Groenewegen told the press “that was chaotic as the leading group was caught in the final metres…I certainly went to the left but I left enough room to pass”.

Naesen’s team later posted a video on their Twitter feed from CyclingHub, showing Boudhanni’s disqualification from Cyclassics Hamburg, adjacent to the Tour de l’Eurometropole finish, highlighting the similarities between the two incidents.  No official statement was made on the social media page, however the CyclingHub retweet made the team’s feelings clear.  Naesen is certain that he is the ‘rightful winner’, but the official results still show Groenewegen’s name.

Il Lombardia 2016 – Preview

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.

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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.

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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!

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GB’s World Championship Teams Announced

The teams Great Britain will be taking to next month’s UCI Road World Championships in Doha, Qatar, have been confirmed as follows:  –

Elite Men

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.

Elite Women

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.

U23 Men

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.

Eneco Tour – Stage 5 Review

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?

Race Reports – Trittico Lombardo pt.1

What with all the excitement of Cycle to Work Day and the GP Wallonie on Wednesday, you could be excused for thinking that Freewheeling had missed the start of the Trittico Lombardo.  Not so! Here’s our race reports for the Coppa Bernocchi and Coppa  Agostoni.

Traditionally held over three consecutive days – although not anymore – the Trittico Lombardo is an important series of events in the Italian race calendar.  Last year Vincenzo Nibali took both the Coppa Bernocchi and Tre Valli Varesine, with fellow countryman Davide Rebellin winning Coppa Agostoni.  As a staple of the Italian season, you’d be mad to bet against a winner from that country securing victory.

Coppa Bernocchi

Part one of the 2016 Trittico, Coppa Bernocchi took place this year on 14th September.  Founded in 1919 by businessman Antonio Bernocchi, Coppa Bernocchi has seen 85 Italian winners from almost 100 editions.  In a sea of green, white and red, Steve Cummings’ 2008 win whilst riding for Barloworld leaps off the page.  The 2016 edition, taking place five days before Sunday’s European Championships, was an excellent way for the Italian national side to spin their legs in race conditions.  Starting in Legnano, the race took in seven laps around Olona, which included a climb of Piccolo Stelvio, before flattening out, creating perfect conditions for a bunch sprint.

An eight man break managed to establish a 4 minute lead before the Italian national team – featuring Olympic gold medallist Elia Viviani, reeled six of the leaders back into the pack.  The two riders still off the front, Riccardo Viela (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA) and Vitaliy Buts (Kolss-BDC Team) were joined by three Italian riders on the last of the seven laps, including Sonny Colbrelli of Bardiani-CSF.  Colbrelli launched a surprise attack, which was neutralised when the bunch came back together with 15km to go.

As expected, the race was decided with a bunch sprint, which saw Giacomo Nizzolo secure victory over a brace of Bardiani riders, Ruffani and Simion, in a time of 4:25:53

Coppa Agostoni

24 hours later, the riders gathered at the start line for the Coppa Agostoni, a race held in memory of the Italian cyclist Ugo Agostoni, a winner of Milan-San Remo before his death in World War 2.  As with the Coppa Bernocchi, the race palmarès is littered with Italian winners.  The 2000 victory for the German Jan Ullrich, followed two years later by a French win for Laurent Jalabert, stand out as anomalies in an event dominated by the Italians.

The race saw an early break of thirteen riders, including Alexander Kolobnev riding for Gazprom-Rusvelo.  The break almost attained a full 6 minute lead before this was brought steadily down during the circuit of Colle Brianza.  As before in the Coppa Bernocchi, the Italian national team were instrumental in closing the gap.  The original thirteen man break was whittled down to six with 1 and a half minutes in hand.

As the bunch hit the climb of Lissdo, Fabio Aru of Astana leapt from the peloton with three others, and started the chase.  Aru’s attempt was ultimately swept up along with the majority of the leading riders.  Benito was the lone leader for the remainder of the race before he was caught in the final kilometre.

Colbrelli won the bunch sprint in a time of 5:05:57, with the lone leader Benito securing 26th.  “Yesterday I wanted to try something new by attacking from a distance” Colbrelli explained of his unsuccessful attack in the closing stages of Coppa Bernocchi.  “I wanted to fight back today.  I was feeling well and after my teammates were second and third yesterday, we needed a win”.  Colbrelli has seen a total of five victories this season, and will be joining countryman Vincenzo Nibali at the new team Bahrain Merida for 2017.

The third and final race of the Trittico Lombardo, Tre Valli Varsine, takes place on the 27th of September, four days before another Italian classic Il Lombardia, pegged as ‘the final Cycling Monument of the season’.  This year, Il Lombardia; also known as Giro di Lombardia, starts in spectacular scenery at Lake Como, finishing 245km later in Bergano.  Look out for our race preview coming soon!

Race Report – Grand Prix de Wallonie 2016

Crossing the line in the late summer air, Lotto-Soudal’s Tony Gallopin took the first win of his 2016 season after an exhilarating final climb in the Grand Prix de Wallonie.  Freewheeling’s pick of the race, Czech Petr Vakoc of Etixx-Quickstep, came in a close second, with Jerome Baugnies of Wanty-Groupe Gobert completing the podium.

Freewheeling takes you through the breakaways, crashes, climbs and chases of the 56th edition of the Wallonian classic….

With an individual stage win at the 2014 Tour de France, a stint in the yellow jersey at the same race, and a strong season in 2015, this year was set to be a good one for French rider Tony Gallopin.  The 28-year-old had been a mainstay of the top ten finishers in a host of prestigious races throughout the last two years, and looked set to build upon the successes and add to his impressive palmarès going into the new season.   Prior to the Grand Prix de Wallonie, Gallopin’s season hadn’t gone quite according to plan, with a number of somewhat frustrating near misses taking the place of overall victories, including a solid second place at the Clasica San Sebastian and third at Brabantse Pijl.

The Grand Prix de Wallonie was the Frenchman’s first win of the 2016 season, showing the rider coming into form in time for the European Championships this Sunday.  Although the field for this years’ Wallonian adventure was arguably less strong than in previous years, the hilly course led to a fascinating finish after 205km of hard racing, with Gallopin only just managing to hold on for victory after a valiant chase from Etixx-Quickstep’s Petr Vakoc.

This year the course featured seven tough climbs, four of which came within the last 40km of the race.  To begin with, the route was fairly flat, allowing the riders to set an aggressive pace straight from the off.  Four riders went clear of the bunch in the opening kilometre, being reeled back in soon after.  From there, the race headed into the Ardennes, with a trio of climbs loaded into the front end of the parcours.  The first of these, Cote de Saint-Hubert, came after 31km, followed by Cote de Saint-Remacle, and Cote de Webomont at almost 60km.  The middle section of the race was fairly flat, as riders anticipated the four short, sharp climbs coming up within the final 40 kilometres.

Numerous attacks were attempted in the early stages of the race, before a group of six riders managed to go clear, including Johan Le Bon of FDJ and Stef Van Zummeran of Belgian team Verandas Willems.  The break managed to establish a gap of 24 seconds before Axel Flet of Veranclassic-AGO attacked from the front of the peloton.  Flet was unable to reach the six leading riders, as the peloton ramped up the speed and started to chase.  Various attacks were launched with the breakaway now 30 seconds ahead, although none were successful until John Hemroulle (Color Code), Samuel Leroux (Veranclassic-AGO) and Gregory Habeaux (Wallonie-Bruxelles) reached the leading group with 170km remaining, the gap having grown to 4 minutes 20 seconds.

The nine man breakaway managed to extend their lead to almost 6 minutes before Lotto-Soudal started putting in big turns at the front of the peloton, aided by riders from Etixx-Quickstep.  With the gap gradually being closed and down to 2 minutes, the leading group approached the four remaining climbs as Samuel Leroux was dropped.  The race approached the 30km to go mark, with Etixx-Quickstep taking control of the peloton and bringing the gap down to under a minute.  With the chasers accelerating hard, a crash split the bunch as Benoit Jarrier of Fortureo-Vital Concept and Jonathan Fumeaux of IAM Cycling got swept up in the chaos and hit the tarmac.

With only 20 seconds remaining of their advantage, the breakaway tackled the slopes of the second of the four final climbs, Côte de Lustin.  Johan Le Bon sat up at the foot of the slope, as Habeaux accelerated, dropping riders in the attempt.  Pouilly steadily rode across the gap to rejoin Habeaux at the head of the race, leaving three clear groups on the road.  Pieter Weening of Roompot-Oranje attacked from the peloton, joined by Christian Mager of Stölting.  The pair rode up to the chase group before pulling away and bridging the gap to Habeaux and Pouilly.  Seizing the advantage, Weening stepped up the pace; dropping his three companions to lead the race alone.

On the penultimate climb, Etixx-Quickstep managed to bring the race together, mopping up what remained of the breakaway and chase groups.  Tony Gallopin and Jan Bakelants took control in a group of seven riders on the climb of Tierre aux Pierres, stretching the gap to just under half a minute.  Wanty-Groupe Gobert chased hard, closing the gap to 15 seconds at the foot of the final climb, Citadel Namur.

With time and road running out, numerous attacks were tried.  Gallopin, riding on the wheel of Bakelants, jumped with 1km to go, immediately opening up a 5 second advantage.  Vakoc made a move as the road flattened out in the final few metres of the race.  Hesitating on a corner, Vakoc seemed unsure of how to come around Gallopin in the front.  The Czech rider came within a whisker of taking the race for Etixx-Quickstep, Gallopin however held him off to cross the line in first place with a time of 5:06:17.  Vakoc was awarded the same time in second place, with Jerome Baugnies of Wanty-Groupe Gobert completing the podium for the 2016 Grand Prix de Wallonie.  Lotto-Soudal take the race for the second year in a row – will 2017 see a hat-trick in Wallonia?

Grand Prix de Wallonie -Preview

At lunchtime today, 18 teams will set off on the Grand Prix de Wallonie, a one-day race through the Wallonia region of Belgium.  The race, categorised as part of the UCI Europe Tour, was first run at professional level in 1935, and has seen a total of 36 Belgian wins from 56 editions, the most recent winner being Jens Debusschere of Lotto-Soudal.  So who has the wheels to race for the 2016 win?

Fresh from claiming victory in the 2015 edition of the GP, Lotto-Soudal return to Wallonia with a team brimming with Belgian talent.  Of the 8 riders participating for last years’ winning team, 6 are Belgian racers, with New Zealand’s Greg Hendersen and France’s Tony Gallopin adding some international flair.  Lotto-Soudal are one of five WorldTour teams in the race, the others being Etixx-Quickstep, FDJ, Ag2r La Mondiale and IAM Cycling.

The parcours is undulating throughout, beginning at Beaufays near Liège, and ending at Namur and the famed climb up to the Citadelle.  The gradient on the final climb averages 6% and tops 8% over some sections, and is sure to separate the men from the boys coming after 200k of hard racing, and featuring some technical cobbles.

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Julien Vermote, wearing number 22 for Etixx-Quickstep, will be looking to capitalise on his success at last weeks’ Tour of Britain, where he wore the leader’s jersey for 4 days.  The team fielded by Etixx-Quickstep is a young one, including Vermote and the talented Petr Vakoc, who performed well in Canada recently before unfortunately crashing in the finishing straight of the Grand Prix Cycliste de Montreal.  This young squad is our pick for the 57th Wallonian GP, coming off the back of a successful season for these stars of the future.

Look out for the Freewheeling race round-up later on!