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?

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.

2016_grand_prix_de_wallonie_profile

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!