Cafe Roubaix

Despre ciclismul de azi şi cel de altădată

Turul Flandrei 1919: o cursă de poveste

În urmă cu aproape un secol, pe când avea 28 de ani, Henri Van Lerberghe s-a prezentat la startul celei de-a treia ediţii a Turului Flandrei fără bicicletă, motiv pentru care a fost nevoit să împrumute una de la cumnatul unui alt ciclist, Jules Messelis. În 1919, primul an în care Turul Flandrei s-a desfăşurat în sensul invers acelor de ceasornic, belgianul nu era un rutier important, în palmaresul său mai figurând doar o victorie, la ediţia din 1913 a Turului Franţei, când a terminat primul la Bayonne, după o etapă în lungime de 379 de kilometri.

Cu toate acestea, Van Lerberghe a venit plin de încredere în Flandra, spunându-le celorlalţi concurenţi că îi va chinui teribil în cursă, afirmaţie care a fost primită cu amuzament. Pentru a le demonstra tuturor că nu glumeşte, el a atacat cu 120 de kilometri înainte de final, când caravana trecea prin Ichtegem, localitatea în care era născut Jules Vanhevel, unul dintre favoriţii la victorie. Fără să îl ia în serios, cicliştii din pluton l-au lăsat să se desprindă, convinşi fiind că nu va rezista prea mult, mai ales că vântul lateral bătea cu putere.

Spre surprinderea tuturor, Henri Van Lerbeghe a dezvoltat un avans impresionant, de peste jumătate de oră, moment în care ceilalţi rutieri au început să se organizeze pentru a-l prinde. În acest timp, în faţă, belgianul din Lichtervelde a trecut prin câteva aventuri unice, care i-au creat un loc special în istoria Turului Flandrei. Mai întâi, el l-a întâlnit pe un ajutor al lui Marcel Buysse, care îl aştepta pe acesta cu mâncare. După mai multe minute de discuţii, l-a asigurat că Buysse a abandonat şi l-a convins să îi dea săculeţul cu mâncare ce îi era destinat câştigătorului din urmă cu cinci ani, atunci când Van Lerbeghe a terminat pe poziţia a doua.

Apoi, cu forţe proaspete după ce a luat masa, ciclistul originar din Lichtervelde a continuat cursa, iar la un moment dat a ajuns la o cale ferată, blocată de un marfar ce era staţionat de ceva vreme acolo. Fără să stea prea mult pe gânduri, şi-a luat bicicleta în spate, a urcat într-unul dintre vagoane şi a coborât pe partea cealaltă, spre uluirea fanilor aflaţi pe marginea drumului.

Practic, după ce a trecut şi de acest obstacol, cel poreclit “Ritte” era virtual câştigător. Ştiind şi el acest lucru, a hotărât să intre într-un bar amplasat cu puţin înainte de velodromul plin de oameni care aşteptau noul învingător. Fără să îi pese de acest lucru, Henri Van Lerbeghe a comandat o bere blondă şi a început să îşi savureze succesul. Fermecat de gustul excelent, venit la fix după peste 200 de kilometri de cursă, “Ritte” a mai cerut un rând, iar apoi încă unul. După a treia bere a apărut antrenorul său, care îl căuta disperat, pentru a-l convinge să termine cursa.

Până la urmă, Van Lerbeghe a acceptat să urce pe bicicletă şi a ajuns pe velodrom, acolo unde trebuia să facă turul de onoare. A reuşit acest lucru, dar fără să pedaleze, ci mergând alături de bicicletă, după ce şi-a dat seama că are probleme în a-şi menţine echilibrul. În timpul turului, el le-a strigat spectatorilor să plece acasă şi să revină peste câteva ore, deoarece adversarii lui se aflau la mai mult de jumătate de zi în urma sa. Nu a fost chiar aşa, “doar” 14 minute separându-l de al doilea clasat, Lucien Buysse, fratele lui Marcel. Cu toate acestea, a rămas până astăzi cea mai mare diferenţă din istoria clasicei.

Conclusions after E3 Harelbeke and Gent-Wevelgem

Etixx-Quick Step has a tough life without Tom Boonen, the team resembling to a ship which lost its compass. The squad still has some very strong riders, with the likes of Niki Terpstra and Zdenek Stybar spearheading Etixx for the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, but something just doesn’t click in the team whenever it comes to the one-day races. Add this to some dodgy decisions from the team car, and you have a big picture where the Belgian team is struggling to find its pace and tactics on the cobbles. Patrick Lefevere said he’s not worried at the moment and asked that the team be judged on April 12th. A fair request, but if his riders fail to put their mark on the Monuments, then 2015 will go down as one of the worst Spring seasons in the history of Etixx and it will take a great display in July for people to forget this.

The horrible weather shaped Sunday’s Gent-Wevelgem and made for one of the best Classics ever seen, a race of heroes and truly one for the ages. Only 39 riders managed to get to the end, and as Jean-Pierre Drucker put it, all would deserve a “Gent-Wevelgem Survivor” T-shirt. But not only Gent-Wevelgem put on a great show, with also E3 Harelbeke being a spectacular race, that had attacks, a crazy chase and a surprising outcome. The great racing we’ve had last week-end raises the bar for De Ronde, but also pinpoints to one thing: it’s very likely that the Tour of Flanders, in the absence of both Fabian Cancellara and Tom Boonen, will have a surprise winner, as was the case in Gent-Wevelgem, where nobody was expecting Luca Paolini to cross the line first.

Speaking of Luca Paolini, the Italian shined on a rainy day and showed in Gent-Wevelgem that age has nothing to do with guts and instinct. With just five kilometers to go, he attacked from the main group and soloed to the finish line, where he became the oldest winner of the race (38 years), thus breaking the record of the legendary Briek Schotte, which was standing from 1955. Just like two years ago, when he took the victory in Giro d’Italia’s stage seven to Marina di Ascea, Paolini put one hand on his hea and and one to his heart, underlining that cycling isn’t only about who was the strongest legs, but also about the ones who give it all and play it perfectly in order to succeed.

For years, Sky has struggled to match its stage racing dominance in the Classics. For a team used to winning big in events like the Tour of France, Paris-Nice, Tour de Romandie or Critérium du Dauphiné, the disappointment caused by the one-day races came as a hard pill to swallow. After five seasons with just two victories – both in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad – Sky reached a turning point in 2015 and it’s slowly transforming itself in one of the dominant teams for the Classics, thanks to Ian Stannard and Geraint Thomas (who’s in the best form of his career). So far, in four cobbled semi-classics, the British outfit took two wins and two podiums, and with Flanders and Roubaix knocking at the door, the morale is high and that big win the team is searching for is not a dream anymore.

Two big favorites for the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix came empty handed from E3 Harelbeke and Gent-Wevelgem: Sep Vanmarcke and Peter Sagan. After the injuries that have hit both Fabian Cancellara and Tom Boonen, the Belgian was hyped to take over the crown as the best pavé rider, but things didn’t go as planned for him, and Vanmarcke, all of the sudden, doesn’t look so strong as he was at the beginning of the Spring. The pressure also seems to add up, with the spotlight being on him for the Monuments, which means every moves he makes will be countered by others and he’ll have little space for pavé. When it comes to Sagan, the Slovak is a bit of an enigma. He should have won E3 Harelbeke easily, but he failed in a spectacular way, reminiscent of last year’s Strade Bianche. Hard to say if Sagan had a hunger-knock or is overtrained (a very plausible hypothesis), but one thing that’s certain is he’ll enter Flanders as an underdog and with many doubts.

Rider of the week

It has been a great week-end for Sky’s Geraint Thomas, who is enjoying his best ever Classics campaign. On Friday, the Welsh rider took an emphatic win in the 58th edition of E3 Harelbeke, after an impressive display all day long and a perfect timed attack with just 4 km to go. After going at the forefront on the legendary Oude Kwaremont, where he was quickly followed by Zdenek Stybar and Peter Sagan, Thomas was the main powerhouse of that group, his hard work being the reason for him and the other two cyclists staying at the front.

Knowing that he’s the weakest in a sprint, the 28-year-old attacked with just four kilometers left and dispatched Sagan – who popped and couldn’t follow – and Stybar, who waited too much before deciding to go after him. There was nothing more to do for the Czech, considering Geraint Thomas was rolling at around 50km/h in those last kilometers of the race as he swept into Harelbeke, where he became the first ever British cyclist to win the Belgian semi-classic.

After that victory, Thomas said that the result gave him the much need confidence for the rest of the Classics, and this was obvious two days later in Gent-Wevelgem, where he has the most powerful rider in the race, although this didn’t land him another win, but a third place, behind Luca Paolini and Niki Terpstra. The result was equally impressive, as Thomas survived a crash before getting at the front and taking the last place on the podium, which helped him climb to second in the World Tour standings.

Before E3 Harelbeke, people were talking of Ian Stannard and Bradley Wiggins as Sky’s main riders for the cobbled Classics, but Geraint Thomas’ huge results add a new dimension to the team’s plans for Flanders and Roubaix. Of course, Thomas will now have to ride with the favorite tag on his back, but at the rate he’s going, barring crashes or misfortunes, next Sunday he has a huge chance of becoming Britain’s second De Ronde winner, after Tom Simpson, in 1961.

Gent-Wevelgem Stats

Historical stats:

– The first edition of the race took place in September 1934 and was won by Gustave Van Bell

– In 1935, the organizers decided to include the Flemish Ardennes on the course

– Starting with 1945, the race became open for pro cyclists, up until that point having at the start only amateurs

– Five riders share the record for the most victories (3): Tom Boonen, Mario Cipollini, Eddy Merckx, Robert Van Eenaeme and Rik Van Looy

– Belgium leads the nations standings, with 48 wins, way ahead of Italy (6) and Netherlands (5)

– The only rider to win the race while wearing the rainbow jersey was Rik Van Looy, in 1962

– The record for the longest time span – 10 years – between the first and last victory belongs to Mario Cipollini: 1992-2002

– Belgium’s Johan Museeuw has the most podiums – 4 – without winning the race

– Only winners from outside of Europe are Djamolidine Abdoujaparov (Uzbekistan) and George Hincapie (U.S.A.)

– Biggest time gap between first and second was recorded in 1950, when Briek Schotte came home 2:46 ahead of Albert Decin

– Youngest ever winner is André Declerck (19 years in 1939), while the oldest one is Briek Schotte (35 years in 1955)

– Same Briek Schotte is the first cyclist to win the race witk Kemmelberg on the course (1955)

Race stats:

– The 2015 race will have 239 km and 9 climbs: Casselberg, Casselberg, Catsberg, Baneberg, Kemmelberg, Monteberg, Baneberg, Kemmelberg and Monteberg

– Five former winners will be at the start of the 77th edition: Edvald Boasson Hagen, Marcus Burghardt, John Degenkolb, Bernhard Eisel and Peter Sagan

– As expected, Belgium will line-up the most cyclists, 34

– Jakub Mareczko is the youngest rider to take part in the 2015 race: 20 years

– His teammate from Southeast, Alessandro Petacchi, is the oldest one: 41 years

– The peloton of this this year’s race has won a combined total of 8 Monuments and more than 150 Grand Tour stages

2015 E3 Harelbeke Preview

E3 Harelbeke 2015

Forget about Milan-Sanremo, the dust has settled on “La Classicissima”, which is already history! Now it’s the moment for the cobbled one-day races, with five of them in the space of just two weeks. After Dwars door Vlaanderen took place on Wednesday, the riders are now ready for E3 Harelbeke, a semi-classic that is widely considered the dress rehearsal for the Tour of Flanders, thanks to its cobbles and hills, which have the role of preparing the big guns of the peloton for the main appointment on Sunday 5th.

A race for the specialists and for the real strong men of the peloton, E3 Harelbeke will celebrate this year its 58th edition, and should provide a great entertainment, as many cyclists are keen on going to the attack, light up the race on the hellingen and take a win which brings more peace ahead of the next two Monuments. Add this to some wind and some showers in the last hour of the race, and we’re up for maybe one of the best Classics of the season.

The course

The 218 km race – that includes 17 hills – starts in Harelbeke and the first 30 kilometers will be completely flat, before the bunch will hit the first climbs of the day, the Katteberg (600 m, 6,7% gradient) and Leberg (700 m, 6,1% gradient). Then, the next hour or so will be a quiet one, before the climbing carousel begins once the peloton will tackle La Houppe. From that point, the hills will come in a very quick succession, with Berg Stene, Boigneberg, Eikenberg, Stationsberg and Taaianberg ready to lay the mark on the peloton.

Very important will be the last of these, Taaianberg, a 1250 m long climb with a 9,5% average gradient, were some heavy attacks are expected. Although there are around 90 kilometers more from the Taaianberg until the finish, if a favorite isn’t in the main group because of a crash or bad positioning, is very likely he’ll lose the race. After Taaianberg, five more hellingen will make the riders’ life tough, but none of these should have any serious impact on the race.

This can’t be said of the Paterberg, which gives the favorites the perfect opportunity to attack and distance their rivals. Paterberg is short – just 360 meters – but is very steep, having a 12% average and a 20% maximum gradient. The battle for a good position will be intense and the riders won’t have any chance to rest, because Oude Kwaremont comes in just 3,5 kilometers from the top of the Paterberg. One of the iconic hills of Flanders, Oude Kwaremont has 2200 meters and a 4,2% average gradient, but can be split in two parts, with the second one being more tough.

Although there are two more climbs – Karnemelkbeekstraat (1530 m, 4,% gradient) and Tiegemberg (1000 m, 6,% gradient) – it’s not likely to have a proper attack there, so if a group is at the front on the last flat 20 kilometers of the race, we should see the winner emerging in a sprint that takes place on the new finale of E3 Harelbeke, one that has much more turns than in the past.

The favorites

Three years have passed since Sep Vanmarcke’s last victory in an important one-day race (Omloop Het Nieuwsblad), so it’s about time for him to win again, after notching countless top 5 placings in the past one year and a half. The Belgian skipped Milan-Sanremo last week-end, preferring instead to do a reckoning of Paris-Roubaix’s last 150 kilometers, so he’s in top shape for this important rendez-vous that comes a week before the Tour of Flanders. Vanmarcke is maybe the strongest guy in the race and can win with a big attack on one of the climbs, but also in a sprint from a small group; very important for him will be to play his cards to perfection, especially as he’s going to be a marked man on Friday.

Another cyclist expected to attack at some point in order to escape from the bunch and take a solo victory is Fabian Cancellara. The Swiss is hitting top form for thes important two weeks around which his season is built and we’ll look to shrug off the disappointment of missing a podium in Milan-Sanremo, and thus take an important success for his confidence. Last year, Cancellara crashed just before a key point of the race (Paterberg) and didn’t get to fight for the win, so this season he will be very eager to add a fourth victory in E3 Prijs to his palmares, despite the fact that it will leave him with even less space in the Tour of Flanders. Also, the Belgian semi-classic will show if Fabian Cancellara can still rely on his brute force which helped him in the past to drop the hammer in the Monuments, or will have to be more defensive in the Classics.

Coming from Milan-Sanremo, where he played to perfection the role of the invisible man before sprinting to the biggest victory of his career, John Degenkolb will look to follow it with a triumph in E3 Harelbeke, a race which saw only two German riders win it in the past (Dietrich Thurau and Olaf Ludwig). People still consider the Giant-Alpecin to be more of a sprinter, but he can really climb over the hellingen, and this makes him a contender for the win. Being so fast in the sprint, he doesn’t need to attack, just to take wheels and play it cool, like he did last Sunday.

What should Peter Sagan do to win a one-day race after a year? In 2014, the young Slovak emerged from a four-man group to finish first in E3 Harelbeke, but since then he’s had some problems finding the right tactic in the key moments of the Classics. The same happened in Milan-Sanremo, where he wasn’t sure if he should go to the attack or just wait the finale to see how it will pan out in the sprint, so something should change in his strategy. If Sagan fails to win the race, then it will add up to the huge pressure that he already has after a not so impressive start to the season in the Tinkoff-Saxo kit.

Greg Van Avermaet is a strong favorite to bring the host nation its first victory here in three years, and also show he is ready for the Tour of Flanders, his biggest goal of 2015. After some impressive results in Strade Bianche and Tirreno-Adriatico, the Belgian cyclist is ready to lead BMC, which is sending the likes of Jean-Pierre Drucker and Silvan Dillier to help him nab the win. Van Avermaet can break away on the climbs, but also has the advantage to go for it in a sprint, and this makes him one of the most dangerous men out there.

Niki Terpstra failed to win Omloop Het Nieuwsblad earlier this season, but now he’s ready to fight for the victory in the first World Tour cobbled one-day race of the year and show that he can fill in Tom Boonen’s shoes, who’s out of the Classics after his crash in Paris-Nice. It remains to be seen if the Dutchman will be the captain of Etixx-Quick Step, or if the team will allow Zdenek Stybar – who is in an incredible form – to lead the squad, thus supporting him and playing the race into the Czech’s favor. Etixx has an incredible depth for the cobbles, so don’t be surprised if at some point you’ll see Yves Lampaert or Guillaume Van Keirsbulck at the front, with a big chance of winning the race.

Alexander Kristoff was left empty handed after “La Primavera”, missing the win after being caught by John Degenkolb in the final meters, and now the Norwegian will be poised to take his revenge in the Belgian semi-classic. Kristoff didn’t raced here one year ago, choosing to focus on Gent-Wevelgem, but since than he became stronger and stronger on the cobbles and hills, which makes him a big favorite for the victory, seven years after his countryman, Kurt-Asle Arvesen, finished first.

Ian Stannard crashed in the last hour of Milan-Sanremo, but fortunately he didn’t require hospitalization. Still, he has some cuts, abrasions and bruises after the first Monument of the season, so it remains to be seen if he can be a genuine contender in E3 Harelbeke. If he’ll not be ready for it, then Geraint Thomas gives a solid option to Sky, in a race that he has finished third last year. Thomas is expected to step up in the Classics and show he’s a real leader, and E3 will provide him with the perfect opportunity.

A perennial contender for the cobbles, Edvald Boasson Hagen will be supported by a strong MTN-Qhubeka squad, and will be keen to show that he can be a protagonist in the next two Monuments, the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix. Another interesting outsider is Lars Boom, although the Astana rider has crashed in Dwars door Vlaanderen, and the aftermath of that incident could have an impact on him this Friday.

Cannondale-Garmin comes with a young team, spearheaded by Sebastian Langeveld, who is tipped for big results ever since he defeated Juan Antonio Flecha, in the 2011 Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. The Dutchman was 14th in Milan-Sanremo, and inspite of not finishing Dwars door Vlaanderen on Wednesday, he has an important card to play. Also, don’t forget of IAM’s duo – Heinrich Haussler and Sylvain Chavanel – who will have something to prove after not such a great display in March so far.

Race stats

– The first edition took place in 1958 and was won by Belgium’s Armand Desmet, ahead of Lucien Demunster and Briek Schotte

– Tom Boonen holds the record for the most wins – 5 – between – 2004 and 2012

– Belgium leads the nation standings, with 38 victories, ahead of Netherlands (5) and Italy (4)

– Ten times throughout history, the winner of E3 went on to take the victory in the Tour of Flanders

– The only non-European victorious in the race is Australia’s Phil Anderson (1985)

– The youngest ever winner is Dietrich Thurau (22-years-old in 1977); oldest one is Andrei Tchmil (38-years-old in 2001)

– Highest average speed was recorded in 2013: 45,9 km/h

– William Tackaert is the winner of the longest edition – 236 kilometers – in 1983

– E3 Harelbeke is one of the few one-day races Eddy Merckx has never won, his best result being a second place in 1972

– The record for the longest time span – 8 years – between the first and last victory belongs to Tom Boonen: 2004-2012

– Belgium will have the most competitors in the 58th edition – 38

– Southeast has the youngest (Jakub Mareczko – 20 years) and the oldest rider (Alessandro Petacchi – 41 years) in the race

– Three former winners are at the start in 2015: Fabian Cancellara, Filippo Pozzato and Peter Sagan

 

Rider of the week

Three years ago, John Degenkolb made his debut in Milan-Sanremo, and Erik Zabel – a four-time winner of the race – tipped him for greatness, after the young rider finished 5th. In comparison with Peter Sagan, the German wasn’t overhyped and overwhelmed by the fans, media and pundits, instead enjoying some peace and quiet during his first years in the pro peloton, which helped him have a nice and steady development, in a team that made a name for itself of the way it nurtures young talents.

During these seasons, John Degenkolb emerged as one of the fastest men in the bunch and scored 35 wins (10 of these coming in the Grand Tours), but more important, he showed he is much more than a sprinter, his victories in Paris-Tours, Vattenfall Cyclassics and Gent-Wevelgem underlining his huge potential for the Classics, races in which the Germans were searching for a leader, after years and years of disappointments.

In 2015, Giant-Alpecin’s rider was one of the cyclists expected to make the transition from contender to winner of a Classic, but after a good start at the Dubai Tour, things didn’t go as he had hoped in Paris-Nice. Degenkolb failed to get a stage win in the French race, and because of that he was kind of flying under the radar at the start of “La Primavera”, as everyone was talking of Alexander Kristoff, Michael Matthews, Fabian Cancellara and Peter Sagan.

This didn’t bother the German, who came in Milan-Sanremo determined to leave his mark on the race and to shrug off the disappointment of last year, when he punctured just as the peloton was beginning to ride up the Poggio. This time, Degenkolb had a smooth race, at the end of which he showed not only that he’s one of the strongest Classics guys out there, but also one of the most intelligent, as he let Alexander Kristoff accelerate and then timed his sprint to perfection, surpassing the 2014 winner in the last 50 meters.

Without any doubt, the 106th Milan-Sanremo is the first of many Monuments wins in John Degenkolb’s career, the 26-year-old looking poised to be one of the main protagonists for many more seasons from now on. For the moment, he savours his huge victory, one thanks to which he has sent a warning message to his rivals, pointing out that he’s ready for the next two big appointments: the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix.

Volta a Catalunya Stats

Historical stats:

– The first edition of the race took place in 1911 and was won by Sebastia Masdeu

– Mariano Cañardo has the most GC victories – 7 – between 1928 and 1939

– Miguel Poblet holds the record for the most stage wins, 33

– Spain leads the nations standings, with 58 triumphs, followed by France (11) and Italy (10)

– Only two riders from outside of Europe have won the race, Colombians Alvaro Mejia and Hernan Buenahora

– Italy’s Francesco Moser is the last rider who took the victory while wearing the rainbow jersey (1978)

– Biggest time gap between first and second was recorded in 1912, when Jose Magdalena finished 44:16 ahead of Jose Marti

– Only once two cyclists came in the same time: Sean Kelly and Pedro Muñoz, in 1987; the Irishman was the winner back then

– Spain’s Jose Serra Gil is the rider with the most podiums without winning the race – 3

– Five cyclists have won five stages at one edition, a record for the race: Jean Aerts, Vicente Carretero, Walter Godefrot, Freddy Maertens and Delio Rodriguez

– Last rider to nab a Monument and the Volta a Catalunya in the same season is Daniel Martin (2013)

– Barcelona is the city with the most stage starts (55) and stage finishes (74) throughout the years

2015 Stats

– 24 teams will race the 95th edition (17 World Tour, 7 Pro Continental)

– Seven of these teams haven’t scored a win in 2015: Caja Rural, Cannondale-Garmin, CCC Sprandi Polkowice, Cofidis, Colombia-Coldeportes, FDJ, LottoNL-Jumbo

– Two former winners will be at the start: Alejandro Valverde and Daniel Martin

– The cyclists in the 2015 race have won a combined total of 11 Grand Tours, 3 Monuments, 3 world titles, and more than 50 Grand Tour stages

– Youngest rider in this years’ race is Daniel Martinez, 18 years and 338 days; oldest one is Spain’s Pablo Lastras, 39 years and 68 days

– 16 neo-pros will make their World Tour debut at the Volta a Catalunya: Loic Chetout, Clement Chevrier, Edward Diaz, Caleb Ewan, Jan Hirt, Ilia Koshevoy, Pierre-Roger Latour, Kevin Ledanois, Miguel Angel Lopez, Daniel Felipe Martinez, Julien Morice, Simon Pellaud, Manuel Senni, Marc Soler, Dylan Teuns and Louis Vervaeke

– 30 countries will have at least one rider in the race, with France topping the list (38)

Echipele invitate în Vuelta 2015

Cinci grupări Pro Continentale au fost primite la startul celei de-a 70-a ediţii a Turului Spaniei, acestea urmând să li se alăture celor 17 de World Tour pe 22 august, la Puerto Banus, unde un scurt contratimp pe echipe va deschide balul. În săptămânile premergătoare cursei, nu s-au făcut pariuri cu privire la numele formaţiilor care vor primi un wild card, deoarece lucrurile erau destul de clare, având în vedere informaţiile neoficiale apărute încă de la începutul lunii februarie.

În condiţiile în care Amaury Sport Organisation este acţionar majoritar al Vueltei, două echipe franceze vor merge în ultimul Mare Tur al sezonului, Cofidis şi Europcar. Niciuna dintre acestea nu are un om de general – e greu de crezut că Pierre Rolland va conta, după un Tur al Franţei solicitant – astfel încât obiectivul lor principal va fi să obţină cel puţin o victorie de etapă. Totodată, nu ar fi exclus ca Europcar sau Cofidis să dea un pretendent la tricoul alb cu buline albastre, ce îl recompensează pe primul clasat în ierarhia căţărătorilor.

Una dintre cele mai importante ţări din ciclism în ultimii ani, aflată pe un trend ascendent ce pare să nu aibă limite, Columbia nu avea cum să rateze acest rendez-vous, la care va lua parte nu doar prin rutierii de World Tour, ci şi prin Colombia-Coldeportes, echipă foarte activă în această primă parte a sezonului, în curse ca Turul San Luis sau Tirreno-Adriatico. Trecută cu vederea de către organizatorii Turului Italiei, gruparea manageriată de Claudio Corti îşi va face de acum calculele în jurul celei de-a doua jumătăţi a sezonului, conştientă că are toate atuurile necesare pentru a bifa o victorie în Vuelta.

Pentru MTN-Qhubeka, 2015 se dovedeşte a fi un sezon de vis prin prisma invitaţiilor obţinute, formaţia sud-africană urmând să participe nu doar în foarte multe clasice, ci şi în două Mari Tururi, pentru prima dată în scurta sa istorie (Le Tour+Vuelta). MTN-Qhubeka poate fi o protagonistă în Spania, însă va fi foarte important cum va gestiona această situaţie inedită, în condiţiile în care se bazează pe un lot de doar 23 de rutieri, iar mulţi vor fi suprasolicitaţi până în august.

Celor patru grupări de mai sus li se va alătura Caja Rural, singura echipă Pro Continentală din Spania, care este aşteptată să iasă la atac în toate etapele ce vor avea munţi. Un succes pare a-i fi la îndemână lui Caja Rural, mai ales că în lot are ciclişti precum David Arroyo, Angel Madrazo, Sergio Pardilla, Carlos Barbero sau Amets Txurruka.

2015 Milan-Sanremo Preview

Milano-San Remo 2015

Milan-Sanremo is more than just one of the five Monuments of the season. Milan-Sanremo is Fausto Coppi – who attacks 200 kilometers from the finish abd takes a magnificent triumph, is Eddy Merckx – who celebrates his seventh win like it’s his first, is Sean Kelly – who puts on a daredevil descent to catch Moreno Argentin and break the hopes of the Italians on the Via Roma, and is Oscar Freire – who nips past Erik Zabel on the line and stoles what looked to be a sure victory for the German. Milan-Sanremo is tradition, history, and poetry.

This year, “La Primavera” will almost certain be the last chance of the sprinters to shine, as the organizers are keen on having the Pompeiana ascent on the 2016 route, which will favor the puncheurs and the climbers. To raise the stake, the race returns on the Via Roma eight years since the last time it finished there, and this will add a certain historical perfume to the race. Last, but not least, it’s worth mentioning that there isn’t any clear favorite, which means we should get once again an unpredictable race.

The course

At 293 kilometers, Milan-Sanremo is the longest one-day race in the calendar, and the distance will sap the riders’ legs, especially as showers are expected during the morning and the afternoon, making it for the third year in a row that the weather will prove to be an important obstacle for the peloton. And as this and the 12 degrees weren’t enough, a 45km/h tailwind along the coast is forecast on Sunday, which translates into a headwind on the early part of the Poggio, making it very likely to see a bunch finish.

The cyclists will leave early in the morning from Milan’s via della Chiesa Rossa, knowing that the first 120 kilometers are perfectly flat, until they will hit Passo del Turchino, which was the main difficulty in the early years of “La Classicissima”. After that ascent, the road will again be flat for the next 100 kilometers, starting to rise once the riders will tackle Capo Mele, Capo Cerva and Capo Berta. These are sure to create problems and distance some riders, but don’t expect any proper attacks, as the really difficult part will begin only when Cipressa will loom on the horizon.

The 9 km long climb has an average gradient of 4,1%, but in some parts it hits 9%, so look for some of the strong teams to come at the front and push the pace, so that the sprinters will have a hard life trying to hang in. There’s no much rest after the Cipressa before the last obstacle of the day, the famous Poggio, which was introduced in 1960 in an attempt to stop the race from ending each year in a sprint finish. Poggio – 3,7 kilometers in length – starts 9,7 kilometers before the finish line and has four hairpin turns in the first 2 kilometers; the average gradient on the Poggio is less than 4%, but the maximum hits 8% in the segment before getting to the top of the climb.

The descent is extremely technical, on asphalt roads, narrow at points and with a succession of hairpins, twists and turns that can reward the riders who decide to go all in. The descent ends just two kilometers before the finish line on the Via Roma (which is in a slight uphill), so if a rider or a small group has a couple of seconds in hand by that point, the chance to succed will be pretty big. If this will not be the case, then the sprinters’ teams will line-up on the famous Via Roma and try to bring their leaders in the best position to take the victory.

The favorites

Alexander Kristoff has to one of the prime picks for the victory in Milan-Sanremo, a race in which he wrote history last year, when he became the first Norwegian to take the win. In 2015, he already has five successes to his name and also possedes the attributes to repeat last season’s victory. If he gets at the finish, even without a teammate, then Kristoff will be very difficult to beat, thus having the chance to become the first cyclist in 14 years to score back-to-back victories in “La Classicissima”.

Peter Sagan has two options: to escape from the pack on the Poggio and the subsequent descent, or to wait for the sprint and try to win there. In the penultimate stage of Tirreno-Adriatico, the Slovak finished first and somehow managed to take off some of the pressure he had on his shoulder, but that moment doesn’t change much, because he still has a big challenge ahead of him, and that is to finally add a Monument to his palmares. A marked man on Sunday, Sagan has to find a way to get rid of his rivals, and also show he made some improvements to his tactics and positioning, two elements which didn’t help his cause in the past.

This year, Michael Matthews had a bit of freedom to have some input into his program, so he decided that he was better to miss the National Championships and the Tour Down Under in order to prepare for Milan-Sanremo, a race many are tipping him to win ever since he made his pro debut. So far, the former U23 world champion has had a more gradual build-up than in the previous season, that leaves him in perfect shape for “La Primavera”, in which he comes after nabbing a stage win in Paris-Nice, last week. By his own saying, Michael Matthews has raced the Poggio and its descent about 100 times, so he knows every meter of the last part, which, added up to his speed, makes him one of the big favorites for the race.

Five days before the first Monument of the year, Fabian Cancellara blasted his way to a time trial win in Tirreno-Adriatico and proved once again, if it was really necessary, that he’s in a fine form for Sunday. He didn’t do a recon of Milan-Sanremo, but he doesn’t need it, although the finish is different than when he won, back in 2008, when he attacked three kilometers out and soloed along the Ligurian seaside. Since that triumph, he came on the podium four times in a row, so now he’ll look to change this stat and finish on the top. Last season, Cancellara showed in Flanders that he has the ability to play with his rivals and sprint from a small group when he needs to, but expect him to attack on the Poggio and put on a fast descent in order to drop all his rivals.

Things were on track for Mark Cavendish – who nabbed six victories in 2015 – up until two weeks ago, when he went to South Africa for a race and got a stomach virus. Then he came at the start of Tirreno-Adriatico and had to ride through some dreadful weather, before deciding to quit during stage six. This leaves a question over the 2009 winner’s condition for Milan-Sanremo, who doesn’t look to be at 100% in a 300 km race where every little detail counts. If Cavendish – whose number one goal this Spring is “La Classicissima” – will not be at his best, then Zdenek Stybar can fill in and attack on the Poggio in the same manner he did it in Strade Bianche. Also Michal Kwiatkowski should be followed, as he’s in great shape and went on to recon the Sanremo course this week after his second place in Paris-Nice. The race suits him, with the finish being similar to the one in Ponferrada, where he won the world title six months ago.

Just like last year, Juan Jose Lobato stretched his legs in the Gran Premio Nobili, and his 4th place on Thursday in the Italian one-day race showed that Movistar’s sprinter – more mature and much stronger this season – is prepared to tackle Milan-Sanremo, a race which was won in the past by just two Spaniards: Miguel Poblet and Oscar Freire. Very intriguing, Movistar will line-up at the start also Alejandro Valverde (returning in the race after eight years), who provides some interesting options, as he can stay in the bunch until the Poggio and go on to the attack once the road rises.

BMC’s duo Gren Van Avermaet – Philippe Gilbert is a dangerous one, especially as both can climb easily and have an extra kick after 300 kilometers, in case the race will conclude with a sprint from a small group. From the two, Van Avermaet looks to be in a better shape, after coming from Tirreno-Adriatico with a stage win and two top 10 placings. Basically, the only concern of BMC will be to play its cards wisely in a race well-known for its fast and tricky finish.

Other outsiders that can go for a podium or a top 10 finish are Grega Bole (who had a strong display in the Gran Premio Nobili), John Degenkolb, André Greipel, Arnaud Démare, Nacer Bouhanni, Heinrich Haussler, Gerald Ciolek, Ben Swift, Giacomo Nizzolo, Ramunas Navardauskas, Tony Gallopin, Sam Bennett and Lampre-Merida’s Davide Cimolai and Niccolo Bonifazio, two cyclists who are tailor-made for such a race and who know every meter of the final ten kilometers.

Race stats

– Eddy Merckx holds the record for the most wins, seven, between 1966 and 1976

– The team with the most victories in the race is Bianchi – 17

– Italy leads the nations standings, with 50 successes over the years

– Six-time winner of Milan-Sanremo, Costante Girardengo has the most podiums, 11

– Italian cyclists have taken the first three positions 34 times

– Youngest winner is Ugo Agostoni, 20 years and 252 days (1914); oldest one is Andrei Tchmil, 36 years and 57 days (1999)

– Wladimiro Panizza has the most starts in “La Primavera”, 18

– Four riders have won Milan-Sanremo while wearing the rainbow jersey: Alfredo Binda (1931), Eddy Merckx (1972, 1975), Felice Gimondi (1974) and Giuseppe Saronni (1983)

– The only winners from outside of Europe are Australia’s Matthew Goss and Simon Gerrans

– Sean Kelly is the last Grand Tour champion victorious in Milan-Sanremo (1992)

– Throughout history, the maximum distance of the race didn’t exceed 298 kilometers

– Highest average speed was recorded in 1990: 45,806 km/h

– 1954 is the year in which the race was shown live on television for the first time

– Biggest gap between first and second came in 1910, when Eugene Christophe got to the line in 61 minutes ahead of Giovanni Cocchi

– Milan-Sanremo is the only Monument which wasn’t won three years in a row by a rider

– In 2015 there will be 33 nations at the start, with Italy providing the most riders, 47

– Romania is going to have its first ever cyclist in the race, Serghei Tvetcov

– Youngest rider in the race is Carlos Mario Ramirez (20-years-old); oldest one is Matteo Tosatto (40-years-old)

– Six former winners will line-up at the start: Fabian Cancellara, Mark Cavendish, Gerald Ciolek, Matthew Goss, Alexander Kristoff, Filippo Pozzato

– The peloton of Milan-Sanremo has won a combined total of 18 Monuments, 5 Grand Tours, 8 world titles (road race+individual time trial) and more than 150 Grand Tour stages

Milano-San Remo 1946: Fausto Coppi îşi relansează cariera

Viaţa şi cariera lui Fausto Coppi seamănă cu o poveste, iar absolut toate întâmplările prin care a trecut şi momentele memorabile par a fi nişte bucăţi dintr-un puzzle a cărui imagine a fost prestabilită. Poate cel mai talentat ciclist italian din istorie, rutierul născut în Castellania a fost o adevărată vedetă a ciclismului, iar moştenirea sa rămâne una imensă, fiind adusă în prim-plan cu fiecare ocazie, de rutieri, fani sau jurnalişti, chiar şi la mai bine de cinci decenii de la dispariţia sa.

Coppi a câştigat Turul Italiei la vârsta de doar 20 de ani, dar ghinionul său a fost Al Doilea Război Mondial, când cursele în Europa au fost întrerupte, iar el a fost chemat în armată. Mai mult, italianul a fost luat prizonier de către britanici, pe când se afla în nordul Africii, o situaţie ce şi-a pus amprenta asupra fizicului său, şi aşa fragil. La finalul conflagraţiei a revenit în Peninsulă şi s-a întors la marea lui iubire, ciclismul; apoi, un an mai târziu, a câştigat prima clasică din carieră, Milano-San Remo.

Evadarea epică

Conştient că trebuie să recupereze cât mai repede anii petrecuţi departe de curse, Fausto Coppi a început să se antreneze încă de la începutul lui 1946. Astfel, zilnic a rulat între 100 şi 150 de kilometri, pentru a reveni la forma precedentă. Apoi, a ajuns să parcurgă şi câte 250 de kilometri. Programul său a devenit mai complex: timp de 150 de kilometri a mers singur, după care, ajutat şi de câţiva rutieri amatori, a simulat diverse condiţii de cursă pe distanţa a 100 de kilometri, pentru a vedea cum reacţionează în cazul unor atacuri ale adversarilor.

Aşa a arătat pregătirea sa pentru “La Classicissima”, care, în 1946, s-a desfăşurat pe 19 martie. Evident, la start s-a aflat şi rivalul său, Gino Bartali, iar toată lumea era convinsă că lupta se va da doar între cei doi. Imediat după start, mai mulţi rutieri au evadat, între aceştia aflându-se şi Lucien Teisseire, câştigătorul din urmă cu doi ani a cursei Paris-Tours. După 50 de kilometri, Coppi a atacat şi el, o acţiune care a părut nesăbuită, deoarece până la final mai erau peste 200 de kilometri. Mergând într-un ritm uimitor, “Il Campionissimo” i-a ajuns pe cicliştii aflaţi în faţă, cu puţin înainte de a începe ascensiunea pe Turchino. Fără să se uite în jurul său, Coppi a continuat să accelereze, până când i-a desprins pe toţi, ultimul fiind Teisseire, într-un moment în care francezul era ocupat să îşi schimbe viteza.

Aflat la echipa Tebag, Gino Bartali şi-a impulsionat colegii să tragă mai tare, pentru a-l prinde pe adversarul său, însă avansul acestuia a crescut, în ciuda faptului că se afla singur în faţă. Spre deosebire de acum, pe traseul de atunci nu se aflau Cipressa şi Poggio, dar chiar şi în cazul în care ar fi existat, cele două ascensiuni nu i-ar fi pus nicio problemă lui Coppi. Drept dovadă este avansul incredibil cu care a câştigat ediţia din 1946 a Milano-San Remo, 14 minute, deşi a rulat în solitar aproape 150 de kilometri.

“Arriva Coppi”

Aceasta a fost scandarea preferată a miilor de italieni aflaţi la linia de sosire de pe Via Roma. Entuziasmaţi de succesul uriaş al compatriotului lor, aceştia au început să uite de teribilul război care afectase ţara în ultimii anii. Aveau un nou idol, pe Fausto Coppi, care a ajuns la finiş după ceva mai mult de opt ore de la start. San Remo şi-a primit cu fast eroul, iar în timp ce el îşi sărbătorea succesul, al doilea clasat termina cursa: Lucien Teisseire, francezul care se aventurase încă de la începutul zilei. După el, a venit un alt italian, Mario Ricci, în vreme ce Gino Bartali a terminat doar pe patru.

Zece triumfuri a obţinut Fausto Coppi în clasice, iar trei dintre acestea au fost în Milano-San Remo. Victoria din 1946 reprezintă, fără îndoială, una dintre cele mai importante ale carierei sale, deoarece a marcat renaşterea lui. Odată cu “La Primavera” de acum 69 de ani, italianul, unul dintre cei mai iubiţi ciclişti ai tuturor timpurilor, şi-a început drumul spre istorie.

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