From France to Spain – Your Post-Tour Survival Guide

The time between the end of the Tour de France and the start of the Vuelta a España is packed to bursting with excellent racing -which is great news if the finishing circuits of the Champs-Elysées leave you feeling flat and uninspired. We’ve already seen some one-day action with RideLondon hosting the World Tour level London-Surrey Classic and Michal Kwiatkowski’s brilliant win at the Clásica San Sebastián since the Tour finished in Paris.  As for stage racing – the Tour of Poland, Tour of Utah and the Vuelta a Burgos are currently in full flow!

We’re still a few weeks away from the Vuelta, but there’s plenty of road racing to keep you busy. Here’s your post-Tour survival guide to take you from France to Spain each year.

Tour de Wallonie                                                                                          

 22nd – 26th July 2017

The Tour de Wallonie travels through the French speaking part of Belgium, and is part of the UCI Europe Tour. From 1974 to 1995, the race was for amateurs only. This year saw BMC’s Dylan Teuns take the overall win – fittingly for a Belgian!

Clásica San Sebastián                                                                                                 

29th July 2017

This year, Team Sky’s Michal Kwiatkowski won the one-day classic in Spain’s Basque region, a race which is famed for its stunning coastline scenery and tricky climbs. Part of the UCI World Tour, San Sebastián usually clocks in at around 220km in length, with the race often being decided on the slopes of the Alto de Jaizkibel, a climb which the riders tackle twice and which makes its second and final appearance around 20km from the finish line.

Lance Armstrong won here in 1995 before his cancer diagnosis; other famous winners include Casagrande, Jalabert, Indurain and Valverde. British rider Adam Yates won the 2015 edition.

London-Surrey Classic                                                                                              

30th July 2017

The annual London-Surrey Classic grew out of the hype around the 2012 Olympics; the first edition of the race was run in August 2011 as a warm-up for the Games. The inaugural London-Surrey race was relatively short for a Classic, covering approximately 140km and taking in many of the same roads as the Olympic events a year later. Once out of the city, the riders enter the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and tackle a number of circuits of Westhumble through to Ranmore Common and on to Box Hill. The famed climb of Box Hill is not the only incline on the route, which also includes Leith Hill and a 50 mile circuit in and around Dorking.

This year the London-Surrey Classic joined the UCI World Tour as part of an ever expanding calendar of races. The race has become a favourite with the riders for the iconic locations taken in over the 200km course – as well as Box Hill, the route also passes through Westminster, crosses Putney Bridge, and finishes on The Mall in front of Buckingham Palace. Amateurs get the chance to ride the same roads as the pros immediately prior to the Men’s race on the Sunday of the RideLondon festival of cycling.

The race is well suited to sprinters – Mark Cavendish won the inaugural edition, this year the honours went to Katusha Alpecin’s Alexander Kristoff.

Tour of Poland                                                                                        

9th July – 4th August 2017

First held in 1928, the Tour of Poland is a week long stage race. Like the Tour de Wallonie, the race began life as an amateurs only event, eventually becoming a pro race in 1993. Now classified as part of the World Tour, the Tour of Poland has earned a reputation as a top quality, well organised race.

Inspired by the Tour de France, the original race even had the backing of a newspaper like it’s French counterpart; the Warsaw Cycling Club teamed up with Przeglad Sportsowy, a sporting newspaper, to organise the first edition.

The 2016 edition was won by Belgium’s Tim Wellens, and I expect by the time you read this we’ll know who the winner of the 2017 edition is!

Tour of Utah                                                                                          

31st July – 6th August 2017

Nicknamed ‘America’s Toughest Stage Race’, the Tour of Utah is relatively new on the scene and notorious for its difficulty – half the competitors did not finish the 2010 edition. The race is made interesting and tough through a combination of extreme weather and high altitude, which are often the deciding factors in the General Classification competition.

Founded in 2000, the inaugural edition was only open to amateurs. In 2004 that changed, and the race became known as the Tour of Utah. The format was bought and promoted by Larry H Millar Investments in 2007 – ironically, the ’07 edition was postponed due to a lack of sponsors.

One of the only UCI sanctioned stage races in the US, the Tour of Utah attracts a mainly American field, and the results table is reflective of this – Levi Leipheimer and Tom Danielson have won two editions each. Last year the race was won by Australia’s Lachlan Morton in a break from the usual US dominance.

European Road Race Championships                                    

2nd August – 6thAugust 2017

The European Road Championships have been regulated by the European Cycling Union since 1995. Riders are chosen by their national governing body and wear national team kit.

The winners receive a Champions Jersey reminiscent of the EU flag – blue, emblazoned with gold stars. This year the event takes place in Herning, Denmark, with the 2018 event scheduled to be held in Glasgow.

The 2016 European Time Trial was won by Castroviejo, with Victor Campenaerts in second place. This year, Campenaerts has just won the Time Trial, with Maciej Bodnar, fresh from Tour de France TT victory, taking second place. In common with national and World championship competitions, the European Championships also hold U23 and Women’s events.

Fun fact – Marcel Kittel won the U23 Time Trial in 2009!

BinckBank Tour (formerly Eneco Tour)                                              

7th-13th August 2017

The BinckBank Tour grew out of the Tour of the Netherlands, which was stalling and losing popularity in the early 2000s. The race as we now know it started life in 2005 when the Eneco energy company came on board as a sponsor. The original idea was to join forces with the Tours of Belgium and Luxembourg, and to roll all three races into one Benelux Tour. The idea faltered, and all three remain as separate races.

Bobby Julich won the newly named Eneco Tour in 2005. The race has always suited Edvald Boassen Hagen’s riding style, and he has won the General Classification twice. Last year Niki Terpstra took the GC honours, with Oliver Naesen in second place and Sagan completing the podium.

The Arctic Race of Norway                                                                    

10th -13th August 2017

The Arctic Race is organised by ASO, who also run the Tour de France and the Vuelta a España amongst other high profile races. A relative newcomer, the inaugural edition was held in 2013. Fittingly, the first edition was won by the Norwegian Thor Hushovd, who is now the race ambassador. The 2016 race traced the edge of the Arctic circle and was won by Team Sky’s Gianni Moscon.

The Arctic Race takes place in northern Norway and features some of the most stunning and spectacular scenery in the whole of the UCI calendar. The 2017 edition covers 680km across 4 stages, aiming to provide terrain for sprinters and punchers, with a bit of climbing thrown in for good measure.

The Arctic Race celebrates Norwegian culture and heritage, and is proud of its reputation as a ‘race with a crazy touch’. Stage 2 will be one for the pure sprinters with an unconventional finish on the runway of Bardutoss Airport. The Norwegian fans are very vocal in their support of the race, which is fast becoming a highlight of the UCI calendar.

Colorado Classic                                                                                        

10th – 13th August 2017

A series of 4 one-day races, the Colorado Classic is a new event which is said to fuse the best elements of ‘Colorado’s lost Red Zinger Bicycle Classic, the Coors Classic and the USA Pro Challenge’. Red Zinger and the Coors Classic were popular American criteriums, whereas the Pro Challenge was the perfect made-for-tv extended advert for the Colorado tourist board, taking the viewer on a spectacular journey of the Colorado high lands.

For a state obsessed with all things bicycle, stage racing has never really found its feet in Colorado. The new initiative hopes to address this anomaly, and includes a ‘three day street party’ in Denver called Velorama. The organisers see Velorama as the perfect vehicle to relaunch road racing in the public imagination, relying heavily on advertising slogans such as ‘Pro Cycling is Back’, and ‘100+ cyclists, 3 cities, 1 giant party’. Colorado is well known as a creative outdoor hub, and it seems fitting that something as unique and intriguing as Velorama is taking place here.

Local lad Taylor Phinney and his teammate Rigoberto Uran of Cannondale-Drapac will be amongst the number of pro riders making an appearance, fresh from Uran’s 2nd place at the Tour de France.

Lance Armstrong and JB Hager will be covering the Colorado Classic for the Stages podcast, a perfect match as both the Velorama event and Stages take a new and pioneering approach to road racing, which could be just what the US scene requires to inject some much-needed enthusiasm at grass roots level. The 2017 Tour de France only included 3 American riders; hopefully initiatives like Stages and Velorama will go some way to rectifying this perceived lack of depth in US pro cycling.

  • Keep your eyes peeled for the Freewheeling Arctic Race special with Eliot Lietaer of Sport Vlaanderen – Baloise

Four Wins, Four Things….

In honour of Chris Froome’s 4th Tour de France win, we look back at 4 things we learned from the 104th edition of the race…..

1) Team Sky can multi task.

Not content with having the rider who completed the course in the shortest amount of time on the team, Sky was also home to the rider who rode round France the slowest – Luke Rowe was this year’s Lanterne Rouge, 4 hours behind his leader Chris Froome.

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Road Captain, Lanterne Rouge….Team Sky show they can munti task with Luke Rowe

2) Team Sky have a thing about numbers…

It looks like 4 might well be Team Sky’s lucky number, which is good, because 9 clearly isn’t. Geraint Thomas crashed out of the race on Stage 9, on July 9th, wearing race number 9. Thomas had been in an excellent position at the Giro a few months earlier when a crash on Stage 9 of the Italian tour caused injuries which eventually saw Team Sky pull him from the race. (There was another 9 involved there too, as Thomas wore number 179, ooh spooky!) Perhaps next year they’ll put Geraint in the number 8 or something, or rename Stage 9 as Stage 8+1. One thing’s for sure, he won’t have the option of turning his race number upside down as is customary for rider 13. (I’ll leave you to think about that for a second – it took me a while to work out why that wouldn’t work….slow day, call me Rowe!)

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This is what happens when you wear number 9 apparently…Geraint’s jersey following his race-ending crash ob the Mont du Chat stage

3) It’s not all about Froome – Landa vs Portal, Kwiatokowski vs rear wheels.

This Tour gave us shades of the 2012 Wiggins v Froome drama when Mikel Landa rode away from a clearly struggling Froome in the closing 200m of the stage to Peyragudes. Briefly stumbling to work out why, commentators seemed relieved when some clever spark suggested that Landa was riding to try and steal some of the bonus seconds on offer to prevent them from going to Froome’s rivals. The angry scenes at the Team Sky bus following the stage seemed to suggest that this wasn’t the case – Directeur Sportif Nicolas Portal was so incensed with Landa’s attack that he couldn’t wait to question the Spaniard in the privacy of the team bus, deciding instead to have words and gesticulate at his rider in full view of the world’s press.

Team Sky’s winning ways didn’t stop at the yellow jersey, as they won the team prize and Michal Kwiatkowsi won Rouleur magazine’s Supreme Banana award. Throughout the race, Rouleur awarded a Top Banana prize to the ‘unsung hero of each stage’. Kwiato won the banana for his instantaneous morphing into a mechanic on the road to Le Puy en Velay on Stage 15. Froome broke a spoke on his rear wheel at a critical moment on the stage; both Froomey himself and Dave Brailsford fully recognise that this could easily have been the end of Team Sky’s grip on the yellow jersey. With an enviable sense of chill, the former World Champion Kwiatkowsi pulled up alongside his team leader, and calmly exchanged Froome’s broken back wheel for his own. It happened so quickly that it was only after the stage had finished that Kwiato’s heroics were appreciated in full. His wheel change was so quick, and Kwiatkowsi so calm, that the incident was almost downplayed.

Now that the Tour is over, we can all appreciate the brilliance of this moment, not to mention the other numerous brilliant Kwiato moments, like actually riding himself to a painful looking standstill on the Izoard, or the tweet he sent attached to a video of him casually throwing his (highly expensive) sunglasses away – “state of mind while you’re over the threshold” (you’ll be pleased to know he sent a follow up tweet the next day thanking Oakley for his replacements “back looking cool”). When presented with the Rouleur Supreme Banana, Kwiatkowsi replied “I was always aiming for the yellow banana on this Tour. Chris has only one yellow jersey, so I’m happy to have the yellow banana. It is yellow, yes?” (I hope he really did say that. They also asked what he was going to do with the Supreme Banana award, which is not actually one supreme specimen of the fruit, but a whole bunch of five. “I’m going to make a smoothie I guess”).

Look up super domestique in the dictionary and there’ll be a photo of Michal Kwiatkowsi, who may or may not be brandishing a banana. Kwiato the mechanic could well have won the Tour for Chris Froome.

4) Chris Froome has a cute baby.

 

Photos courtesy of Reuters, Geraint Thomas Instagram, ASO. Video footage courtesy of France TV and ASO.

Who are….Wanty-Groupe Gobert?

Of the four wildcard entries into the 2017 Tour de France, only one comes from outside of France.  The Wanty-Groupe Gobert team is based in Belgium, and makes its Grand Tour debut in the 104th edition of the Tour de France.

Vital Stats

  • Wanty-Groupe Gobert was founded in 2008 as the Continental level team Willems Verandas.  The team took on its current name in 2014.

 

  • The team currently rides at Pro Continental level, and were the only Pro Continental team to win a WorldTour one day race in 2016, with Enrico Gasparotto’s victory in the Amstel Gold Race.

 

  • Wanty-Groupe Gobert have never ridden a Grand Tour, and each of the 9 selected riders is making his Tour debut.

 

  • The Tour team features: Frederik Backaert, Thomas Degand, Guillaume Martin, Marco Minnaard, Yoann Offredo, Andrea Pasqualon, Dion Smith, Guillaume Van Keirsbulck, Pieter Vanspeybrouck.

Stage 2 Spoils

With todays stage finishing in Belgium, it seems fitting that a Belgian team ended the day as leaders of the team classification.  Yoann Offredo was awarded the Most Combative Rider after his excellent ride in the two-man breakaway, which he rode with Cannondale-Drapac’s Taylor Phinney.  “I studied the race book and immediately saw that an escape would leave early.  When the break was formed, I wondered why I was in front.  It was raining the whole day, but the feeling was good…some talked about a breakaway for publicity but that was not my main goal.  In my mind there was something else.  The stage victory.”  Unfortunately for Offredo, the peloton caught the break with 1k to go.

Speaking of Offredo’s ride, directeur sportif Hilaire Van der Schueren said “I am more than satisfied.  This is the scenario we dreamed of! I saw the sponsors in tears…such days are not common”.

Only two days in to the 2017 Tour and Wanty-Groupe Gobert already have much to be proud of!

 

UCI World Championships 2016 – Elite Men’s TT Round-Up

Photo Credit: AFP Photo/KARIM JAAFAR

Wednesday saw the elite men take to the start ramp in Doha for the 2016 UCI World Road Race Championship Time Trial. There were a number of pre-race favourites, including 3-time winner Tony Martin, defending champion Vasil Kiryienka, Australian Rohan Dennis and Tom Dumoulin, who wore the Dutch national champion’s jersey. Dennis was looking to erase memories of his Olympic time trial in Rio, where his handlebars broke, costing him a precious 30 seconds. He ended up in fifth position that day, missing out on an Olympic medal by 8 seconds. Tom Dumoulin was the Olympic silver medallist behind Fabian Cancellara, a medal which had looked to be in the bag for the Australian, who had been in second place until the incident.

For much of the World Championship TT, 22 year-old Irish rider Ryan Mullen was in the leader’s seat. Mullen was riding for the first time at elite level, and outperformed some of the World’s best time triallists with a time of 46:04 in the searing heat. “I saw all these big names coming in and they’re behind me and I’m thinking ‘ did I take a shortcut or something, have I missed part of the course?'”. Mullen eventually finished in 5th place, ahead of riders like Rohan Dennis and Tom Dumoulin, who finished in 6th and 11th place respectively. The Irish cyclist remained in the leader’s hot seat for over an hour, having been 10th out of the blocks and riding at what was the hottest part of the day. “I was sitting in saunas on the turbo trainer for a week prior to coming here. I had the radiators on trying to emulate the humidity and heat”.

Another rider who undertook heat specific training was eventual winner Tony Martin, who claimed that his friends thought he was ‘crazy’ for “training in the bathroom with the heater on” to adjust to the high temperatures in Qatar. Martin’s ‘crazy’ training schedule clearly worked, as he stormed into first place an astonishing 45 seconds ahead of Vasil Kiryienka in second place. Jonathan Castroviejo of Spain completed the podium, 01:10 behind the winner.

Martin’s World Championship title was all the sweeter given that the past few years have seen the German’s grip on the time trial discipline slip somewhat. After losing 3:18 to Fabian Cancellara at the Rio Olympics, Martin decided to return to his previous position on the bike, which, although not as aerodynamic as his newly adopted style, was much more comfortable. Reverting to his previously successful position obviously felt more natural, as Martin took his first TT victory this season at the Tour of Britain in September, soon after making the decision to switch back. “The changes have been serious. I had my hands very high up and my elbows low down, but it wasn’t for me. Now, I feel much more comfortable again. One has to accept that the aerodynamics are not everything, but the comfort plays a very, very important role. If your body does not work well, then aerodynamics means nothing”. Although Martin’s newer style, which he adopted last year, was more aerodynamic, the German believes that he lost between 5 to 10% of his power due to not feeling comfortable on the bike.  He conceeds that trying the new position was not necessarily wrong, but that he “just couldn’t get used to it”.

When asked about his time trial victory, Martin was ecstatic. “After three hard seasons, I am once again able to show my best”. On a par with Fabian Cancellara’s four World Championship titles, Martin exclaimed “I do not care about records. The most important thing for me is that I will be able to wear the rainbow jersey again”.

UCI World Championships 2016 – Tuesday Round-Up

As you’ll no doubt be aware, the World Championship Road Races are underway in Doha.  The courses are pan-flat due to the terrain; however, the time trials are technical due to road layouts.  This weekend sees the World’s best cyclists attempt the road races, with pure sprinters provided with their best chance to secure the rainbow stripes in years.  We’ve already seen the team time trials, Junior Women’s ITT and the U23 Men’s ITT; here’s a little round-up of some of the events thus far….

U23 Men’s TT

Last year, Mads Würtz Schmidt took the U23 title, and returned to the start ramp this time round in defence of his title.  Alas it was not to be, as German powerhouse Marco Mathis set a blistering pace as only the second rider out of the blocks, securing victory with a time of 34:08 minutes, 18 seconds ahead of his nearest rival, compatriot Maximillian Schachmann.  Miles Scotson of Australia rounded off the podium 37 seconds behind the winner, dashing hopes of a German1-2-3 with Lennard Kämna missing out on third place by 5 seconds.  Last year’s winner Schmidt eventually took 21st, a full 02:02 minutes behind the victor.

Yet again vehicles found their way into the action, now a common feature of 2016 racing.  As Mathis approached one of the roundabouts on the technical course, an ambulance which had been travelling ahead of him in the opposite lane started to cross into his path, a move which most certainly had the potential to knock Mathis from his bike.  The rider, making a quick decision so as not to lose his rhythm and speed, managed to nip in front of the ambulance, tucking in behind an official race vehicle that had tried to communicate with the ambulance driver in an attempt to grant the rider safe passage.  The incident caused Irish cyclist Ryan Mullen to question Mathis’s dominant ride, suggesting on Twitter that the German had benefited from drafting in the slipstream of the race vehicle.

Additional controversy stalked the race as Roxanne Knetemann, participating in the Women’s TTT for Rabo-Liv, described the high temperatures as “like riding in a sauna”.  The UCI had already announced before the start of the Championships that the weather conditions would be continually monitored due to unseasonably high temperatures persisting across the country.

Women’s TT

The USA’s Amber Neben rode an inspirational World Championship time trial in Doha, winning in a time of 36:37 minutes as the oldest rider in the field.  Neben, who missed out on a place in the US Olympic team earlier this year, battled soaring temperatures and a technical 28.9 kilometre course to triumph over her younger rivals at the age of 41 – eight years after winning her first World Championship title in Italy.

As with the U23 Men’s TT and the Women’s TTT earlier in the week, the high temperatures were concerning.  Neben explained that she’d been specifically training for such conditions.  “I was in California when temperatures were up in the 90s – it was probably pretty comical to see somebody riding in a rain jacket and knee warmers when it was 95 degrees outside, but I was trying to get my body to adapt”.

Neben’s heat specific training clearly worked, as she took victory ahead of Ellen Van Dijk of the Netherlands, who claimed a podium spot, 6 seconds behind Neben.  Australia’s Katrin Garfoot completed the podium line up, 8 seconds behind.  Annemiek Van Vleuten, returning from her devastating crash in the Rio Olympics, was involved in yet another controversial incident, as if rogue ambulances and soaring mercury weren’t enough.  Van Vleuten was coming up to a roundabout when Thailand’s Phetdarin Somrat, ahead of her on the course, did not move over to allow the Dutch rider through.  Van Vleuten had to reduce speed which disturbed her rhythm and concentration, losing valuable seconds.  Somrat, who had missed her allotted start time due to a mechanical, was disqualified from the race, compounding a frustrating day.

Hannah Barnes was the best British finisher in 14th place behind Anna Van Der Breggen, with Hayley Simmonds in 25th.

Team Time Trial – Elite Men

For weeks, participation in the TTT had been in doubt, as we reported last month.  After the UCI agreed to provide start fees to all teams that entered, and stopped the event from being compulsory, there was enough interest from 10 of the 18 World Tour teams to make the race viable.  In the end, the TTT proved to be a closely fought and exciting race, as the favourites for the title, BMC Racing, took on the young pretenders in the form of Belgian-based team Etixx-Quickstep.  BMC have dominated the team time trial discipline in recent years, having won the World Championship title in back-to-back editions – 2014 and 2015.  Prior to this, it was the Belgian team who were renowned TTT specialists, also having won two back-to-back World Championships in 2012 and 2013.  Both Etixx-Quickstep and BMC were vying for a record-breaking third title.

The route, a 40km course undertaken in desert heat, proved to be technical despite its pan-flat profile.  Etixx-Quickstep riders Tony Martin, Marcel Kittel, Julien Vermote, Yves Lampaert, Niki Terpstra and Bob Jungels rode a blistering pace, crossing the line in a time of 42:32 with an average speed of 56 kilometres per hour.  The first section of the course contained technical corners and turns, and the Etixx team proved the most adept in handling these aspects, setting the fastest time at the first split.  The BMC team, made up of Rohan Dennis, Stefan Kueng, Daniel Oss, Taylor Phinney, Manuel Quinziato and Joseph Rosskopf, were 4 seconds down on the Etixx boys at this point.  The straighter sections helped BMC to draw level, as both teams registered a time of 27:56 at the 27km point.

Etixx lost Vermote and Lampaert as the course once again grew technical in the closing stages, meaning the team crossed the line with the minimum number of riders, the German pairing of Tony Martin and Marcel Kittel driving the pace during their turns on the front.  BMC had pulled into the lead by a slim margin towards the end of the course, but Etixx-Quickstep showcased their superior horsepower under such testing conditions, fighting the extreme heat to eventually win by 11 seconds from BMC.  Like the Belgian team before them, BMC dropped down to the minimum of 4 riders in what was a risky yet pre-planned move.  After the race, BMC’s Taylor Phinney confirmed that the team had anticipated ending the race with “four or five riders.  Everybody is deep in the pain cave by then…. strategy can only take you so far”.

Like the teams in the prior events, the riders found themselves affected by the desert heat.  Etixx-Quickstep’s director, Tom Steels, explained that he’d never seen his team so depleted after a TTT, testament to both the effort that had been expended and the searing hot weather.  Also riding the sweltering course, fellow World Tour team Orica-BikeExchange came in third, 37 seconds down, with Team Sky in forth, 54 seconds back.

The win was poignant for the Belgian-based boys of the Etixx-Quickstep team, as Tony Martin moves to his new team Katusha next season.  “It’s a really emotional victory for me” explained Martin, “it was the last race for the team, and it’s become a family in the last five years…it’s a dream that came true…the perfect final for me, the perfect moment to leave the team with a fantastic memory”.  Martin will be hoping to repeat his TTT victory when he competes in the individual time trial on Wednesday, although he has stiff competition in the form of riders like BMC’s Rohan Dennis and Giant-Alpecin’s Tom Dumoulin.  British hopes will lie with Tour of Britain winner Steve Cummings and Movistar rider Alex Dowsett.

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?

Eneco Tour – Stage 4 Review

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.

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%.

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!