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2015 Strade Bianche Preview

Strade Bianche 2015

Some races are born to be forgotten, while other races are born to become legendary. The latter applies to Strade Bianche, which since its inception, in 2007, grew in fame, prestige, style and class, and achieved Classic-like status in the peloton and among the fans, much thanks to its magical location. With its unique and spectacular course and multiple dirt sections, Strade Bianche can easily be called the Italian Paris-Roubaix, and it’s no wonder the organizers have decided to promote it this year as being “La Clasica del Nord piu a Sud d’Europa”.

The race originated as an amateur granfondo and now has a rock solid slot in the UCI calendar, just before Tirreno-Adriatico, many of the riders who will contest the “Race of the Two Seas” and Milan-Sanremo lining up at the start of Strade Bianche. What makes this race even more beautiful, besides its white gravel obstacles and Tuscan hills, is that Classics riders and Grand Tour cyclists alike come every year here, and both have a strong chance to take the win in the beautiful Piazza il Campo.

The course

San Gimignano, a small medieval town in the province of Siena, hosts the start for the second year in a row and just like last season, the first white gravel section (San Leonardo) comes after 33 kilometers. The third one – Ville di Corsano – will be the most difficult of the race until that point, a 5,9 km sector with a 10% maximum gradient which is sure to stir things up. The course then hits Ridi and the peloton will go over two more long sterrati, but not so difficult in terms of altimetry. Montalcino, which hosted a Giro stage in 2010, brings another tough terrain, 5 km with a 5% gradient, which will mark the halfway point of the parcours.

This part of the route includes five more unpaved sectors (in total, there are ten sectors covering around 50 kilometers), the most difficult being Monte Sante Marie, Vico d’Arbia, Colle Pinzuto and La Tolfe. The first of these isn’t a regular climb, having flat parts and descents, but also gruesome gradients of 20%. The last three obstacles will provide some important opportunities to the riders that have strong legs and are willing to attack from far, thus avoiding a last-minute fight for the win in the Piazza il Campo. Vico d’Arbia, Colle Pinzuto and La Tolfe all have double-digit gradients, which ramp up to 15% and even 18%. If there’s a group on the last unpaved sector, a rider who launches an attack can make it explode and tear everyone else to pieces, thus soloing to the win.

From La Tolfe there are just 12 kilometers left until the finish, and the last kilometers follow the outskirts of the city of Siena, along wide, long and straight roads running downhill and uphill, before the course goes via Esterna di Fontebranda (9% maximum gradient). The stone pavement begins 900 meters before the finish line, after passing the Porta di Fontebranda. The gradient is over 10%, reaching peaks of as high as 16% in via Santa Caterina, 500 m from the finish.

Further on, a sharp bend to the right in via Delle Terme leads to via Banchi di Sotto. From 300 meters to the finish onwards, the road is a slight, continuous descent. With just 150 meters to go, the route turns right into via Rinaldini. The race course then enters Piazza il Campo just 70 meters before the finish line and the rider who will be first in that last corner is sure to take the win in Siena.


Two-time winner of Strade Bianche, Fabian Cancellara will be a contender, and in case of one more victory he will give his hame to one of the white gravel sectors, the first rider to do so. The Swiss, stage winner at the Tour of Oman in February, is going to be supported by a strong team, which will include Jasper Stuyven, Fabio Felline, Hayden Roulston and Markel Irizar. Of course, Cancellara isn’t in the best shape, but this doesn’t mean he’ll not seize the opportunity if it arises. If he’s to attack, then La Toffe should offer him the launch pad, just like in 2012.

Michal Kwiatkowski is the defending champion, but he’s not coming at the start in 2015. Instead, Peter Sagan – who popped last year when the Pole attacked on the via Santa Caterina, will be here keen to take the win after two consecutive podiums in a row and nab his first victory in more than 250 days. Sagan has all that it takes to win Strade Bianche, but is going to be a marked man by his opponents, so the race can easily turn against him.

After showing some fine form in the Tour of Oman, Filippo Pozzato can’t be overlooked as he’s trying to become just the second Italian to triumph in the Tuscan one-day race, after Moreno Moser, in 2013. Speaking of Moser, his season to date has been promising so far, with two top 10 placings (a stage in the Tour Down Under and the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race), so the Cannondale-Garmin cyclist is entitled to hope for a resurrection in the race he scored his biggest win so far.

Coming from Belgium, where he pulled off a remarkable coup last Saturday after a masterful ride, Ian Stannard will be backed by a strong squad, with also Salvatore Puccio, Andrew Fenn and Peter Kennaugh due on the start line, and should have an important say in the fight for the win. The same applies to Astana’s Lars Boom – very impressive in the previous races of the season – who returns to Strade Bianche two years after he did not finish at his debut here.

Greg Van Avermaet was 5th in 2012 and is going to be a contender also now, but it remains to be seen if the ongoing doping investigation in which he is involved will or will not have an impact on his ride. His countryman, Sep Vanmarcke, has a big shot at this, but needs some luck on his side after last week at Omloop he punctured with 43 kilometers to go and missed on the decisive break. For Vanmarcke time has come to start winning, and Strade Bianche will provide him this opportunity.

Alejandro Valverde arrives at Strade Bianche hoping to better his 3rd place of last year. Although he hasn’t raced since the Tour of Oman (where he came on the podium), the Spaniard is expected to be in the mix, giving that he’s always in a strong form. Besides Valverde, other riders worth following are Rinaldo Nocentini – who ups his preparations for Tirreno-Adriatico here – Oscar Gatto, 3rd in 2012, Zdenek Stybar, and Damiano Cunego, who’s searching for his first win in two years.

Race stats

– Fabian Cancellara is the rider with the most wins, two

– Belgium, Italy, Kazahstan, Poland, Russia, Switzerland and Sweden have at least a victory in the race

– Moreno Moser (22-years-old in 2013) is the youngest winner of Strade Bianche, while Fabian Cancellara is the oldest (30-years-old in 2012)

– The two are the only former champions who will ride this year’s race

– Biggest time gap between the first and second came three years ago, when Fabian Cancellara finished with a 42-second lead ahead of Maxim Iglinskiy

– Romania will have its first ever riders in the race: Eduard Grosu and Serghei Tvetcov

– Italy is the country with the most cyclists at this year’s edition, 60

– Simone Velasco (19-years-old) is the youngest rider in the 2015 race; Matteo Tosatto (40-years-old) is the oldest one

– Cyclists from 31 countries will line-up at the start of the 9th edition


Rider of the week

The 70th edition of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad proved to be the best race of 2015 so far, which isn’t a surprise, considering the hype surrounding it, as it was the first Classic of a season many felt started just now, once the riders hit the legendary Belgian cobbles. The 200-km-long race which started and finished in Ghent had everything: attacks, punctures, drama, a hard fight between the strong men and a thrilling finale, which is sure to make it into the vintage collections of every fan.

After Taaianberg, where three of Etixx’s men were left at the front with Ian Stannard, the race resembled to the legendary wins of Mapei from 15-20 years ago, when Patrick Lefevere’s riders mastered the Classic to perfection to get a 1-2-3. In the end, it wasn’t meant to be that way, because a series of mistakes made by Tom Boonen, Niki Terpstra and Stijn Vandenbergh, combined with a very strong and impressive performance from Ian Stannard landed the win for the Brit, who became only the ninth rider in history to take successive triumphs in Omloop.

Thanks to his determination, great power, excellent tactic and instinct, Stannard responded to every attack of his opponents and eventually held off the Etixx-Quick Step trio, scoring what many thought to be an improbable win. One of the strongest cyclists of the peloton, the 27-year-old is building himself a nice palmares and if health and luck will be on his side in the weeks to come, Ian Stannard has every chance of becoming the first British winner of Paris-Roubaix.

Conclusions after Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne

It’s hard to believe that Etixx-Quick Step lost a race in which everything was going in its favor, but this is what happened on Saturday, in the 70th edition of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. After forcing the main selection with 43 km to go, the Belgian team had three riders at the front – Tom Boonen, Niki Terpstra and Stijn Vandenbergh – who had only one thing to do: make the life of Ian Stannard (the other cyclist in the group) difficult and break him on the cobbles and hills that were remaining until the finish. At first, the team lead by sports director Wilfried Peters worked hard and made sure of staying at the front, so that the chasing group will not come back. Everything was looking perfect for Etixx at that point, but something happened in the last 10 km, when the three riders of the team began to act in a chaotic manner, without a clear strategy and that cost them big time. With 5 km to go, Terpstra accelerated, but was brought back in by Stannard. Then, all of the sudden, Boonen attacked, even though he didn’t need to, because he could count on his sprint. His move was a short on, with Stannard covering it immediately. Afterwards, Terpstra escaped again, but Vandenbergh made a surprising move by chasing his teammate. Eventually, Terpstra and Stannard flew from there, while Boonen and Vandenbergh were cooked. In the sprint, Terpstra made one final mistake, leading-out the Brit, who had an extra ounce of energy that gifted him the win in one of the most thrilling finishes the race has ever seen.

Few people gave a chance to Ian Stannard when he was up against three Etixx-Quick Step guys, but the Sky leader made the race of his career and outwitted his opponents to take a huge win, which will boost his confidence ahead of the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix. One of the strongest riders out there, the 27-year-old was also a great poker player and that payed off eventually, as he crossed the finish line in Ghent with his arms raised high, just like last season. If then he won ahead of Greg Van Avermaet, this time the British cyclist defeated a whole team, which was looking for its first Omloop victory in ten years. As Ian Stannard – who continues to impress with his brute strentgth – said after the race, everything aligned on a day that didn’t looked to be so promising with 40 km left until the end, when he was on an impossible mission, against three riders who were expected to outmaneuver him and land the win.

The first important Classic of the season is over, but it’s worth mentioning it isn’t relevant for the big cobbled Monuments of April, Flanders and Roubaix. The riders who didn’t make the cut in the final group had either bad luck (one example is Sep Vanmarcke, who punctured at the moment of the decisive move), or they still aren’t at their best, which isn’t a problem considering they have five more weeks until De Ronde. Actually, throughout history, no rider won Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and the Tour of Flanders in the same year, while only Eddy Merckx (1973), Franco Ballerini (1995) and Johan Museeuw (2000) have won the Paris-Roubaix after taking the victory in the Belgian season opener.

Mark Cavendish is on fire this season, one in which he has to clock up as many (big) wins as he can, so that Etixx-Quick Step comes with a new deal. A favorite in Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, the former world champion was the first to cross the finish line after an impressive sprint, which found him without a lead-out and facing a fierce Alexander Kristoff. Much skinnier than he was in other seasons at this time of the year, Cavendish is not only in a great condition, but also has the mentality and determination to give it all and prove he’s the best sprinter in the world. The six victories he scored so far make Mark Cavendish one of the big favorites for Milan-Sanremo, the Spring’s first Monument, which is scheduled to take place in three weeks. But until then, he will go to Tirreno-Adriatico, where he is expected to finally defeat Marcel Kittel, his “bestia nera” in the previous years.

Both Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurse showed a very nervous Tom Boonen, always irritated and having something to make a reproach to other cyclists. Unlike Cavendish, the 2005 world champion isn’t in his final year of contract, but the pressure is huge also on his shoulders, because there are now three seasons since he last won a Monument. Etixx-Quick Step’s leader for the Spring one-day races, Boonen wanted to have a dream start by winning Omloop, a victory that would have reassured his status in a team where Niki Terpstra is strongly coming from behind. Thanks to Mark Cavendish’s victory on Sunday, things are much calmer in the Belgium squad, but the situation can explode very easily in April, if the team will fail to win at least one of the cobbled Monuments.

Sep Vanmarcke missed on a win last week-end, but the signs are encouraging for the LottoNL-Jumbo rider, who hopes to finally get a Monument under his belt. Coming into the Classics from the Volta ao Algarve, the Belgian had a fine display on home turf until bad luck struck, a puncture which came at the moment of the Etixx attack taking him out of contention. Nevertheless, Vanmarcke showed he is already in great form, and there’s still room for improvement in the next weeks, before the “holy weeks” of April, which include E3 Prijs Harelbeke, Gent-Wevelgem, the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix. One more thing worth mentioning is that Vanmarcke has found a great support in the young Tom Van Asbroeck, who can prove to be of great help in the Belgian’s attempt to have its name engraved in the history books.

2015 Omloop Het Nieuwsblad Preview

Omloop Het Nieuwsblad 2015

For many, the Spring Classics, and not the Grand Tours, are what cycling is all about. With their twists and turns, with the cobbles, heavy rain and strong wind, the Classics represent the hardcore part of cycling, a battle of attrition where legends are born and where riders become immortal.

The first showdown of the season comes in Belgium, where this Saturday the 70th edition of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad will take place. Created by the Het Volk newspaper in 1945, the one-day race is characterised by the cold weather and small cobbled climbs, some of which we get to see also later in the season, at the Tour of Flanders. Although it resembles to its bigger “sister”, Omloop Het Nieuwsblad isn’t defining for the rest of the Spring, as we have to go back to the year 2000 to find the last rider (Johan Museeuw) who has won the one-day race, as well as a cobbled Monument.

Still, Omloop is an important appointment for most of the riders, and we can see this just by looking at the big names who have won it over the years, from Seamus Elliott, Roger De Vlaeminck, Eddy Merckx and Freddy Maertens, to Jan Raas, Peter Van Petegem, Michele Bartoli and Johan Museeuw.

The course

The 200-km-long race starts and finishes in Ghent, the birthplace of world time trial champion Bradley Wiggins (who will be on Sky’s team for Omloop). The first 59 kilometers are flat, with the first obstacles coming once the riders hit Haaghoek, a 2000 meters long stretch of cobbles, which is followed by two hills, Leberg and Beredries (returning on the course). The third climb on the route is the legendary Muur-Kapelmuur, but coming with more than 100 kilometers before the finish means it will not have any serious impact on the race.

Later, the peloton will tackle the Haaghoek sector again, which will mark the beginning of the carousel that Omloop is once it enters its second half, with ups and downs that will make an important selection in the bunch. After Kaperij and Kruisberg, the real race will starts once the cyclists will go on Taaianberg (800 meters and a 7,1% average gradient). Better known as “Boonen’s hill”, the Taaianberg is expected to bring some serious attacks, which can tear up the peloton, especially is the weather is cold.

From there on, the pace can be a frantic one, and the riders will not have any real opportunity to recover. Eikenberg, Wolvenberg, Karel Martelstraat and Haaghoek should make for a tough race and great fight for a better position on the narrow roads, all this while the initial tactics will change, depending on the numerical advantage of some teams. The last hellingen on the route is Molenberg, which isn’t a long one (only 463 meters), but can turn out to be decisive, as the cyclists will be already tired by then and the 7,2% average gradient will prove too difficult for many in case of a late attack.

After Molenberg there will be only 35 kilometers left until the end, which will include three more cobbled sectors that can alter the fate of the race: Paddestraat, Lippenhovestraat and Lange Munte. Regardless of the riders who will be at the front, the only thing it will matter will be to stay away from the chasing group and make sure they’ll have enough left in the tank in case it comes down to a sprint on the slight uphill finish in Ghent. Of course, there’s always the possibility that one rider will go solo, but this hasn’t happened for some time now (2010 – Juan Antonio Flecha), a smaller group having more chances to succeed, giving the fact that the last 20 kilometers are perfectly flat.


For years now, Omloop Het Nieuwsblad has become almost impossible to predict, with many outsiders taking the victory. What’s certain is that since 1998 the race winning group included more than three riders only on two occasions, which shows how difficult this Classic is, one reason for this situation being that it comes at the very beginning of Spring, when many top riders are still polishing their form.

The weather is likely to play a big role in the outcome of the race, with temperatures of just 6-8 degrees and even with some rain forecasted during the day. As always when it comes to Belgium, crosswinds and some headwind are expected on Saturday, which should split the main bunch and sape the energy of riders, making the favorites’ life tougher on the rolling hills of Flanders.

In the past seasons, many cyclists have decided to start their campaign in the Middle East – with Qatar, Oman and Dubai on the schedule – and as soon as they returned to Europe, their on the rise form helped them be among the protagonists in the early one-day races of the year. It happened in 2010 and 2014, and it could be the case also this season, because Alexander Kristoff is coming from a splendid run in the desert, where he got four stage wins. The Katusha rider will not be fazed by cobbled sectors or rough conditions, and being a powerful sprinter means he doesn’t need to attack and can let the others spend their energy while he takes wheels waiting for the finale. The main problem for the Norwegian comes from the fact that his team isn’t a strong one and could leave him alone in the key moments.

It’s very strange to see that Tom Boonen has never won this race, but truth is he came close just once, in 2012, when he surprisingly lost the sprint to Sep Vanmarcke. The Belgian legend will once again lead Etixx-Quick Step, a team that will have many cards to play, with the former world champion being its prime pick. Boonen – ahead of his first real test of the year – has everything he needs to take a victory that has eluded him for almost a decade and prove the whole cycling world that he has found the form from the 2012 season, when he dominated the cobbled season.

Etixx-Quick Step has a lot of depth, so if anything is to happen to Boonen, there are enough riders ready to step up and take the leader’s role. One of these is Niki Terpstra, winner for the second time in a row of the Tour of Qatar. Terpstra is a very aggressive rider and can attack in order to make the other riders lose their grip on Boonen, giving the Belgian a free ride while they chase the Paris-Roubaix winner.

On the other hand, if Terpstra gets a gap and the group fails to cooperate, then the 30-year-old Dutch can solo to the win. What Terpstra lacks is the strong sprint, but here can step in Zdenek Stybar, the former cyclo-cross world champion. Since the 2013 edition of Paris-Roubaix, the Czech has been tipped for a victory on the cobbles, and Omloop could provide him that opportunity, even more now that he has a great form, highlighted by his strong results in the Vuelta a Murcia and the Volta ao Algarve.

Ian Stannard is the defending champion, and the British cyclist comes at the start with a strong morale following his 4th place in the Tour of Qatar. With Bernhard Eisel, Bradley Wiggins and Luke Rowe alongside, Stannard is definitely one to watch on Saturday, when he can become the first cyclist in 17 years to win Omloop two times in a row. Stannard is not strong in the sprint, so he knows that he has to attack in order to leave the others behind. But also his opponents are aware of this, which makes Stannard a marked man, with not so many opportunities.

Sep Vanmarcke has only five race days in 2015, but that shouldn’t be a problem for the LottoNL-Jumbo leader, who had the exact preparation in 2012, when he won Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. Touted for some time now as the-next-big-thing, Vanmarcke was a “near man” last season, when he finished all the cobbled Classics in the top 5, but missed on a win. If he has the legs, the Belgian should be one of the fiercest challengers this Saturday, where he can take advantage of his punchy style on the climbs and leave everyone behind. Another weapon for Vanmarcke is his sprint, which means that if he escapes with one of Boonen’s teammates –very likely, giving the fact that Etixx-Quick Stpe will try to use many of its cards during the race – he can seal the win in Ghent.

Last year, Greg Van Avermaet lost a two-man sprint against Ian Stannard, a thing many didn’t think it was possible when the two riders escaped in the last kilometers of the race. Like Vanmarcke, also the BMC rider has been knocking on the gates of greatness, but still hasn’t found just what it takes to finally win a Spring Classic. Much stronger and determined than last year, the Belgian cyclist will go in the race as one of the big favorites and if he will make the final selection, then maybe he’ll finally get that win he is hunting for. BMC will also have Philippe Gilbert, a double winner of Omloop, so if Greg Van Avermaet misses on the decisive move, and the 2012 world champion doesn’t, then he can take his teammates’ place as the leader of the team.

Another rider we should see in the mix is MTN-Qhubeka’s Edvald Boasson Hagen, third last year in the Belgian Classic. Starting a new adventure with the South-African squad, the Norwegian has worked on his sprint during the winter break and now is prepared to show that he can be again a contender for the one-day races. MTN will also have Tyler Farrar, the American who knows the parcours and can be, with some luck, a protagonist on the tough hellingen. Another squad that will come with a strong duo is IAM Cycling: Sylvain Chavanel and Heinrich Haussler are both hoping for a solid start in the Classics campaign, after what was a rather disappointing 2014, so they can’t be overlooked.

Even though he is 37-years-old, Björn Leukemans can still make an impact on the one-day races, and Wanty-Groupe Gobert is confident that the Belgian veteran can fight for a good result, even more now that he’ll be backed by a strong Marco Marcato. The same goes for the young Edward Theuns: after Tom Van Asbroeck and Kenneth Vanbilsen left Topsport Vlaanderen at the end of last season, it’s now up to Theuns to lead the team in the Northern Classics. Another young rider poised for success and worth watching for is Cofidis’ Florian Senechal, expected to step up in 2015, a season which can give the Frenchman’s career a whole new trajectory.

Finally, being the season opener and almost always surprising, Omloop Het Nieuwsblad doesn’t have a clear hierarchy of favorites, so riders like Arnaud Démare, Jean-Pierre Drucker, Tom Van Asbroeck, Oscar Gatto, Pim Ligthart, Matthieu Ladagnous and Dries Devenyns could also have a shot at taking the glory on Saturday.

Race stats

– Jean Bogaerts is the first winner of the race; at that time (1945), he made his debut as a pro

– Joseph Bruyere, Ernest Sterckx and Peter Van Petegem are the riders with the most victories, three

– Belgium leads the nations classification, with 54 wins so far

– First rider from outside Belgium to take the victory was Ireland’s Seamus Elliott, in 1959

– Only one Tour de France champion has won Omloop Het Nieusblad, Eddy Merckx, back in 1971 and 1973

– Last cyclist to finish first while wearing the rainbow jersey was Freddy Maertens, in 1977

– This is the only big cobbled Classics Tom Boonen has never won

– Highest average speed came in 1975: 43,45 km/h

– Between 1996 and 2009, the race used to finish in Lokeren

– 2011 was the only year without a Belgian rider on the podium

– Five years ago, Tyler Farrar (U.S.A.) was the first non-European cyclists to finish in the top three

– The hills of the Flemish Ardennes were added to the route in the ‘50s

– Biggest time gap between first and second was in 1971, when Eddy Merckx finished 1:53 ahead of Roger Rosiers

– Roger De Vlaeminck is the youngest ever winner (21), while Johan Museeuw (37) is the oldest ever winner

– At the 2015 edition, Eduard Grosu will become the first Romanian cyclist to ride Omloop Het Nieuwsblad

– This year, Mads Pedersen (19 years) will be the youngest rider in the bunch, while Tomasz Kiendys (37) will be the oldest one

– Only three cyclists who have won the race will be at the start: Philippe Gilbert, Sep Vanmarcke and Ian Stannard


Who is Edward Theuns?

At just 23, it goes without saying that Edward Theuns will be the next Topsport Vlaanderen rider to sign with a World Tour team. The Belgian outfit is well-known for the development of young riders – Sep Vanmarcke, Thomas De Gendt, Kris Boeckmans, Kristof Vandewalle, Yves Lampaert and Tom Van Asbroeck being just some of the cyclists who landed impressive results in the past years, before going on to make another important step in their career by transfering to a World Tour team.

A pro since 2014, Theuns comes from Gent, and after playing football at the beginning, he switched to cycling and underlined his potential very early, by winning seven kermesses. Then, during his first U23 season, he came into the spotlight, taking a stage in the Triptyque des Monts et Châteaux, ahead of Taylor Phinney, John Degenkolb or Wilco Kelderman, who now are all well-established riders in the World Tour. Two years later, in 2012, he put on a fine display before taking gold at the Provincial Championships of West-Flanders, in the individual time trial, a result which was followed by a top 10 finish in Paris-Tours, where he was one of the Belgian team’s leaders.

His best season as an amateur came in 2013, when he scored two wins in his home country (a stage in the Triptyque des Monts et Châteaux and the prologue of the Ronde van de Provincie Oost-Vlaanderen) and showed he’s not only a powerful rider against the clock, but also very fast in a sprint, especially when the terrain is challenging, as was the case with stages of Giro del Friuli Venezia Giulia, Tour de la Moselle, and the U23 Liège-Bastogne-Liège, where he came in 6th.

After such strong rides, Topsport Vlaanderen came with an offer and Edward Theuns turned pro in 2014. His first season in this category was above expectations, with a victory in the Grote Prijs Stad Zottegem and eight top 10 placings, in one-day races, but also in stages of the Ruta del Sol, the Tour of Belgium and the Arctic Race of Noway. His development was outstanding last year, so when this season began, Theuns got to score immediately some impressive results, in the Etoile de Bessèges – where his consistence brought him the points classification – and in the Clasica de Almeria, where he finished 5th in the bunch sprint.

Now he is ready to kick off his Classics campaign, with Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne and Gent-Wevelgem being on his schedule for the next weeks. If his form will continue on the cobbles of Northern Europe, there will be only question left: for which World Tour team will Edward Theuns ride in 2016?

Rider of the week

February brought another much anticipated duel between Chris Froome and Alberto Contador, which saw the Briton draw first blood of the season and win the 61th Ruta del Sol, where he returned four years after finishing 50th. Having some questions about his form, the 2013 Tour de France champion had a pretty good start in the short ITT, but cracked a couple of days later on the mountain top finish to Alto de Hazallanas, where Contador attacked with more than seven kilometers before the finish, gaining an 18 seconds advantage over his rival (for a total of 27 seconds in the GC), which put him in contention for the overall triumph. For many, it was a déjà-vu episode, similar to what happened last year in the Vuelta a España, where the Tinkoff-Saxo rider won two stages, leaving his rival each time in the dust.

Some considered the race to be already over, but not Froome, who landed one huge blow in the last mountain stage, attacking Contador with two kilometers left from the Alto de Allanadas. That gruelling climb, combined with the Brit’s fierce pace – which was reminiscent of his attacks in the 2013 season – was enough to give Sky’s leader the stage win and the GC victory, with a mere two-second lead over his arch-rival, who had a hard time pacing himself until the end of Allanadas. Besides Froome’s drive on the climb, another important factor was the Sky – Tinkoff-Saxo duel, won by the British squad, which was more powerful than Contador’s and made sure of supporting Froome until the key moment of the race.

It was for the third year in a row that Chris Froome won his opening race of the season, after back-to-back victories in the Tour of Oman, which he skipped now in favor of the Ruta del Sol. Kicking his year with yet another win, as well as a convincing display on the mountains will sure boost the 29-year-old’s confidence before his future goals. After the success he has had in Spain, Froome now lies in 6th place in an all-time list of British pro winners, with 23 victories, ahead of such riders as Barry Hoban, Robert Millar and Sean Yates.

Speaking of stats, Chris Froome now leads Alberto Contador 5-4 in stage races in which they both finished, and this only makes their next appointment – Tirreno-Adriatico, in March – even more exciting. There, on Italian soil and on the long and difficult climb of Monte Terminillo (21 km, 6,6% average gradient), Contador and Froome will battle for the 50th edition of the “Race of the Two Seas”, which will mark another episode of one of the best rivalries cycling has seen over the last years.

Concluzii după Turul Andaluziei

Zece luni au trecut de la precedentul triumf al lui Chris Froome într-o cursă pe etape (Turul Romandiei), perioada de secetă fiind oprită de rutierul lui Sky în Turul Andaluziei, unde a devenit primul britanic învingător la general. Aflat la un nivel mult peste aşteptări pentru startul stagiunii, ciclistul lui Sky a avut o sincopă în prima rundă cu finiş la altitudine, dar o zi mai târziu a fost într-o formă devastatoare, ce i-a permis să îl distanţeze pe Alberto Contador şi să treacă pe locul întâi la general, unde a rămas până la final, trecându-şi în palmares al optulea succes al carierei într-o cursă pe etape. Prin victoria obţinută, Froome a arătat că va fi omul de învins pe munţi în 2015, cel la care se vor raporta Contador, Vincenzo Nibali şi Nairo Quintana.

Forma lui Alberto Contador a fost contradictorie în cursa de pe teren propriu: după o victorie entuziasmantă, pe Alto de Hazallanas, spaniolul în vârstă de 32 de ani a surprins în mod negativ cu înfrângerea fără drept de apel suferită o zi mai târziu, când pur şi simplu s-a scufundat la momentul atacului dat de Froome. Tocmai de aceea, pentru iberic nu înfrângerea a durut atât de mult, cât felul în care a pierdut în faţa adversarului său. Evident, până la Tirreno-Adriatico, următorul său obiectiv al sezonului, Alberto Contador are suficient timp pentru a mai pierde din greutate şi a ajunge la un nivel mai bun, însă va trebui să se asigure şi că nu va rămâne din nou izolat între mai mulţi ciclişti de la Sky, aşa cum s-a întâmplat pe Allanadas.

Movistar a făcut o afacere excelentă atunci când a decis să semneze cu Juan Jose Lobato, rămas fără contract după desfiinţarea lui Euskaltel. Spaniolul a crescut enorm în ultima vreme şi a ajuns un rutier redutabil în cursele valonate, mai ales dacă acestea au sosirea în uşoară urcare. La doar 26 de ani, Lobato traversează cea mai bună formă a carierei, iar forma excelentă arătată în primele competiţii din această stagiune îl transformă pe ciclistul originar din Andaluzia într-unul dintre marii favoriţi la victorie în Milano-San Remo, clasică în care doar doi spanioli s-au impus până acum: Miguel Poblet şi Oscar Freire.

Cum toată lumea s-a concentrat pe lupta dintre Chris Froome şi Alberto Contador, rezultatele altor rutieri au trecut neobservate. Aşa a fost cazul şi cu talentatul Alexander Foliforov, de la RusVelo, care este neo-profesionist. În vârstă de doar 22 de ani, acesta a terminat pe locul 15, un rezultat solid pentru un ciclist aflat la prima cursă pe etape în compania unor rutieri de World Tour. Autor al unui sezon 2014 impresionant, cu două victorii în Ronde de l’Isard şi un loc patru în prestigiosul Tour de l’Avenir, rusul este un ciclist de care avem toate şansele să mai auzim în următoarele luni.

Who is Rayane Bouhanni?

First of all, he’s the younger brother of Nacer Bouhanni, winner of three stages and the points jersey at the 2014 Giro d’Italia. At the moment, people tend to remind this every time they are talking about him, but it won’t take long before they will speak of Rayane alone, because at just 19 he is one of the most talented riders in the U23 peloton, a very versatile cyclist, capable of making a name for himself from his first season at this level, which finds him in the roster of AWT-GreenWay (formerly known as Etixx-Ihned).

Rayane Bouhanni started cycling four years ago, inspired by his older brother, and the determination that characterizes also Nacer has helped him during his first season, when he got a victory and a 3rd place in the first two events he raced. After a quiet 2013 – which saw him getting just a handful of top 10 results – the French cyclist emerged on the Junior scene one year later, with an incredible run, during which he won five races and scored six more podiums, in some of the most prestigious junior races of the calendar.

One of the best moments of Rayane’s career was winning the French Championships, after a 139,5 km race, at the end of which he beat Léo Danes. That triumph came less than a month after taking the yellow jersey in the Tour de l’Abitibi, where he also won a stage along the way, ahead of Magnus Bak Klaris, from Denmark, the same rider who defeated him in the Course de la Paix (where Rayane made his debut with the national team), thanks only to time bonuses. Beside the killer instinct, all the races in which he went last year showed that Rayane Bouhanni isn’t similar to his brother, being more an all-rounder (fast in a sprint, but also very strong on the hills), who has the potential to become one of the best riders in the pro peloton in the years to come.

A natural born winner, the French cyclists received many offers for 2015, and finally chose to pursue his career in Belgium, with AWT-GreenWay, where he’s ready to learn, to gain experience, but also to prove himself in races like Paris-Roubaix or Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Many questioned his decision to leave France and go to a foreign team, but this move underlines Rayane Bouhanni’s bold character and his motivation for having a big season this year.

Ruta del Sol Stats

Historical stats:

– The race was created in 1925, by the secretary of the Union Velocipedica Española, Miguel Arteman

–1986 went down in history as the year in which the peloton visited Gibraltar for the first time

– Alejandro Valverde is the rider with the most GC wins (3), while Spain tops the nation standings, with 35 victories so far

– Besides Spain, only five other countries got at least one win: Australia, Belgium, Germany, Italy, and Netherlands

– Freddy Maertens is the rider with the most stage wins, 13, between 1974 and 1981

– The only cyclist to finish first in the GC while wearing the rainbow jersey was Belgium’s Jean-Pierre Monseré, in 1971

– That edition was the shortest, only 674 kilometers; the longest one came in 1959, and had a total of 1342 kilometers

– Youngest ever winner is Angelino Soler, who had 21 years and 86 days in 1961; oldest champion is Francisco Cabello Luque, 35 years and 273 days in 2005

2015 stats:

– 22 teams will race this edition (10 World Tour, 11 Pro Continental, one Continental)

– 13 of these teams haven’t scored a win in 2015: AG2R, Burgos-BH, Caja Rural, CCC Sprandi Polkowice, Cofidis, Colombia, FDJ, LottoNL-Jumbo, Roompot, RusVelo, Tinkoff-Saxo, Topsport Vlaanderen, UnitedHealthcare

– The riders who are at the start have won a combined total of 9 Grand Tours, 3 Monuments, and more than 70 Grand Tour stages

– Of the 153 cyclists, only five have won at least a stage in the Ruta del Sol: Jimmy Engoulvent, Moreno Hofland, Danilo Napolitano, Sergio Pardilla, and Giovanni Visconti

– Youngest rider in this years’ race is Roman Kustadinchev, 19 years and 199 days; oldest one is Italy’s Matteo Tosatto, 40 years and 280 days

– None of the four former winners (Pablo Lastras, Michael Rogers, Markel Irizar, Alejandro Valverde) who are still in the pro peloton will take part in the 61st Ruta del Sol

– 25 countries will have at least one rider in the race, with Spain topping the list (25)

– Alberto Contador, the most successful cyclist who will be at the start of the Vuelta a Andalucia, will make his debut in this race

Rider of the week

Rein Taaramäe never had an easy road since turning pro. After an excellent 2008 – during which he won the Tour de l’Ain, the mountains classification at the Vuelta al Pais Vasco and finished 3rd at the Tour de Romandie – he was being tipped as a future Grand Tour champion. But nothing materialized in the following years, his best result coming in the 2011 Tour de France, where he was 11th and missed the white jersey for 46 seconds. What were the reasons because of which the Estonian rider didn’t fulfill the huge expectations people had?

First of all, the pressure was too big for Taaramäe, who seemed to lack the mental strength that usually makes the difference at a top level. Another cause were the health problems he endured before finding a solution last Spring, when he underwent a larynx operation to remove an obstruction that was inhibiting his breathing. But besides that, there was another thing that hammered Taaramäe’s GC hopes: he always had a bad day during a three-week race, which lead to him losing a handful of minutes and thus getting out of contention for a top 10 in the GC.

At one point, Rein Taaramäe considered quitting cycling, but eventually shrugged off the disappointments he has had in 2012 and 2013, and decided to give the sport another shot. Last April, he came back stronger, won the queen-stage of the Tour of Turkey and finished 2nd in the overall classification. Then, in the final weeks of the season, the Estonian landed another victory, this time in the Tour du Doubs, followed by a move to Astana, his first World Tour team.

In 2015, Taaramäe opened his campaign in February, with the Vuelta a Murcia being his debut race for the Kazakh outfit. So last Saturday, Rein Taaramäe rode into a large break which got shape after a mid-race attack and then soloed in the last 40 kilometers, putting aside the huge pain he was feeling in his legs after that big effort and holding off the peloton on the last climb, the Alto Fortaleza del Sol (1600 meters, 6% average gradient).

After his first victory in the Astana kit (which was also the team’s first win of the season), it will be interesting to see what does Rein Taaramäe holds in his sleeve for the rest of the year. A couple of months ago, he said he came to the Kazakh team because he wanted to ride pressure-free, which is exactly what happened in the Vuelta a Murcia. Very likely, he will mix this role with the one of lieutenant for the team’s GC riders. Logical, this means Taaramäe – who looks to have found the perfect environment in Astana – has to put aside his Grand Tour ambitions, at least for 2015. On the other hand, it’s almost certain he won’t mind this, as it will allow him to find a new niche, which could see the Eastern European rider focus on one-day races and week-long stage races from now on and getting more wins under his belt.

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