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Archive for the month “aprilie, 2015”

World Tour standings after Paris-Roubaix


1 – Richie Porte – 303 points

2 – Alexander Kristoff – 237 points

3 – John Degenkolb – 232 points

4 – Geraint Thomas – 184 points

5 – Nairo Quintana – 168 points

6 – Zdenek Stybar – 152 points

7 – Greg Van Avermaet – 148 points

8 – Niki Terpstra – 140 points

9 – Domenico Pozzovivo – 136 points

10 – Peter Sagan – 136 points


1 – Sky – 629 points

2 – Etixx-Quick Step – 590 points

3 – Katusha – 527 points

4 – Movistar – 423 points

5 – BMC – 380 points

6 – Giant-Alpecin – 302 points

7 – Tinkoff-Saxo – 278 points

8 – Orica-GreenEdge – 236 points

9 – Astana – 221 points

10 – Lampre-Merida – 217 points


1 – Australia – 588 points

2 – Spain – 457 points

3 – Netherlands – 435 points

4 – Colombia – 428 points

5 – Italy – 359 points

6 – Belgium – 346 points

7 – Great Britain – 266 points

8 – Germany – 241 points

9 – Norway – 237 points

10 – Czech Republic – 156 points

Conclusions after the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix

With Fabian Cancellara and Tom Boonen absent, a new rivalry seemed to emerge in the Spring Classics, one which has John Degenkolb and Alexander Kristoff as protagonists. The German rider showed his potential since making his debut in the Monuments, netting a 5th place in Milan-Sanremo and a 19th place in Paris-Roubaix. A couple of years later, he took the wins in both, helped not only by a very strong team, but also by a great tactic, a courageous one that led to him attacking and taking his faith in his own hands. As for Kristoff, he too has two wins in the Monuments and the past month showed that he’s one of the strongest cyclists around and has the potential, just like Degenkolb, to be one of the dominant riders of the following years in the first three Monuments of the Spring.

“Always a bridesmaid, never a bride” – is an idiom that seems to apply to two of the most strongest Classics rider in the peloton, Greg Van Avermaet and Sep Vanmarcke. At the beginning of every season, both are among the favorites to land a big win, but this doesn’t come, so Van Avermaet and Vanmarcke are left thinking of what went wrong. With Tom Boonen close to retiring from the peloton, his countrymen are seen by many as the riders who should replace the Belgian legend, but the task is tougher than expected. This is why, at the moment, is back at the old drawing board for Greg Van Avermaet and Sep Vanmarcke, whose winter will again revolve around the cobbled races. For them to succeed, it will be important not to put too much pressure on them, because this, combined with the failures they endured in the past two years, could finally get to them and create a mental block which will be very difficult to overcome.

For Peter Sagan, 2015 marked another disappointing Spring campaign, as he failed to win the Monument he desires so much. Sagan has had a below par display in all the important races – Milan-Sanremo, E3 Harelbeke, Gent-Wevelgem, the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix – his best result being a 4th place he got in De Ronde, but even that came after a poor finale. What was even more striking than seeing the Slovak without any energy left in the key moments of the races was that he lacked the killer instinct that became his trademark in the previous seasons. At 25, Sagan is still young, but has many things to improve, from his physical attributes to the tactics he should deploy in the big races, because he is still far from fulfilling his potential. Until then, he needs an excellent Tour de France – with stage wins and another green jersey – in order to save this season.

A couple of weeks ago, Patrick Lefevere asked for patience, saying that his team should be judged only after April 12th. Now the time has come and all that Etixx-Quick Step has after these past two months is the victory of Mark Cavendish in Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, a race many have already forgot. In the Monuments, the Belgian outfit scored two second places – with Niki Terpstra and Zdenek Stybar – but the general impression is that it missed on the wins because of its poor and sometimes awkward tactics, especially as it had the most powerful squad. Failing to win the Ronde will be a cause for inquest in the Etixx-Quick Step team and people shouldn’t be surprised if decisions will be taken concerning some of the riders in the near future.

Paris-Roubaix was Bradley Wiggins’ swan song, but it just wasn’t made to be for the time trial world champion, who had hoped to go out with a bang in his final race for Sky. The “Hell of the North” has a special place in his heart since he was a child, so his wish was to win it and get a place among the honor book, but all that the 34-year-old Brit could do was to attack with 30 kilometers remaining, a move that didn’t have a future, as the others bridged up to him. Then, in the later part of the race, Wiggins ran out of steam – which was kind of surprising considering the way he prepared to peak for this Classic – and he eventually had to settle with 18th place, half a minute behind the winner.

Many were intrigued by the fact that the “sprinters” are laying their mark on the Classics, but they’re wrong, because both John Degenkolb and Alexander Kristoff have done more than just sit in the pack and wait for the finish. The German and the Norwegian came at the forefront, attacked and shaped the race according to their view and plans. This is what the other contenders didn’t do. Every time they had the opportunity, they looked like they were scared of this and even after accelerating and getting a gap, they slowed down and allowed the others to come back and neutralize the race. Actually, there’s a feeling that there are just a few hard men left in the peloton for the Classics, and two of them are Kristoff and Degenkolb. This should give food for thought to the others.

The Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix are races for experienced cyclists, and we can see that looking over the riders who finished on the podium. Still, there are some young ones who have impressed and delivered some outstanding results, despite not being their team’s prime picks for these Classics. Who are they? Tiesj Benoot, Alexis Gougeard, Yves Lampaert, Florian Senechal, Jens Debusschere and Luke Rowe, all cyclists that made themselves noticed during the past two week-ends and found the consistency that has helped them elevate in the eyes of the teams and other riders, making the 2015 Spring campaign a turning point in their career. All these are reasons to watch them in the future, as they are coming strong from behind and could play a major role from now on in De Ronde and Roubaix.

Rider of the week

He’s not the leader of the World Tour ranking, he’s not even the cyclist with the most wins in 2015, but without any doubt, John Degenkolb is the best rider of this Spring up until this point. After taking his first ever Monument victory in Milan-Sanremo, three weeks ago, he made one of the rarest doubles in cycling history, winning Paris-Roubaix, and thus becoming only the third cyclist to do that in one season, after Cyrille Van Hauwaert (1908) and Sean Kelly (1986).

As in Sanremo, the leader of Giant-Shimano played once again to perfection the role of the “invisible man”, staying all the time with the other contenders and following all the key moves, but without coming at the front, up until the point he decided time has come to make his own move. Finally, Degenkolb launched an attack with less than 15 kilometers to go, joined his teammate Bert De Backer, and then went on his own after Greg Van Avermaet and Yves Lampaert, who were leading the race. With the two Belgians reluctant to share the work and just clunging on to his wheel, the German pulled by himself, just as Alexander Kristoff did last week, at the Tour of Flanders.

Eventually, in the closing kilometers of the race, before the last cobbled sector, the three were caught by a four-man group that included another fast man, Zdenek Stybar. This worked out in Degenkolb’s favor, because Etixx-Quick Step’s Yves Lampaert came at the front to work for his teammate, while the German got to keep the remaining energy he had and look for the best position in the sprint.

On the André-Pétrieux velodrome, the Milan-Sanremo winner waited for the Czech champion to open his sprint with half a lap going, before accelerating and roaring across the line victorious to add his second Monument in less than a month, a success he scored because he was prepared to risk it all and even fail, as long as he was at peace with himself for giving it everything. To put it short, he was the strongest, the bravest and the smartest rider in a race during which he had a flawless performance.

Only the second German to win Paris-Roubaix, after Josef Fischer in 1896 (the inaugural edition of the Monument), John Degenkolb is one of the main reasons why cycling is on the rise again in his country (the effects of this progress will be soon seen). Just 26-year-old and in his fifth pro season, Degenkolb is already one of the top riders of the peloton and if things will go like this in the following years, he has every chance of becoming a legend. The first step has been made last Sunday, thanks to the win he got in Paris-Roubaix, a race of which the German said four years ago, right before making his debut, that is the one he loves the most, because heroes are born there.


2015 Paris-Roubaix Preview

Paris-Roubaix 2015

The dust is ready to settle on the 2015 cobbled Classics, but not before the Queen takes part in the last ball, the most awaited one. Who’s this Queen? Easy answer, one that everyone knows, thanks to the many attributes itpossesses: the Queen of the Classics is the famous and infamous Paris-Roubaix, a race with a unique identity, that was born to become a legend more than one century ago. In its first years, the cobbles were everywhere and in a perfect condition, so Paris-Roubaix wasn’t known as the most toughest Classics of them all, although the cyclists still had a hard life while riding a race for which they needed more than nine hours to complete.

After World War l, when the North of France was living a nightmare after being left in ruins, Paris-Roubaix got its nickname of “L’Enfer du Nord” after the journalists of L’Auto, accompanied by Eugène Christophe came from Paris to see if the course can host the Classic in 1919, thus wanting to put an end to a four-year hiatus. This nickname sticked over the decades, because it sums up the race perfectly: Paris-Roubaix really turned into hell for the ones that came at the start, without making any distinction between the contenders who wanted to tame the cobbles and win, and the faithful “lieutenants”, whose only desire was to get over this ordeal and finish safe.

Many are saying that Paris-Roubaix is a lottery, but it isn’t quite like that. It’s more a thing of precision and attention: to know how to prepare the bike, where the tricky stones are, how to take the corners and get out of them, and how to make sure you always choose to ride over the smoothest roads so that you don’t puncture. During the 253 kilometer-long race in Northern France, if you are gunning for the win, you need to forget about the stress and the tension, have a strong psyhique, stay out of trouble, find that perfect chemistry with the bike and the cobbles, get over the patches of slippy, sandy mud, and just have that perfect day you dream of, without one single error.

This is how Octave Lapize, Henri Pélissier, Rik Van Looy, Roger De Vlaeminck, Eddy Merckx, Francesco Moser, Bernard Hinault, Sean Kelly, Marc Madiot, Gilbert Duclos-Lassalle, Franco Ballerini, Johan Museeuw, Tom Boonen and Fabian Cancellara did it, entering the hall of fame thanks to their wins, but also to the memorable moments that built those victories in a race that creates mix emotions, a race for hard men and heroes.

The course

There’s a dry and warm forecast for this week-end in Northern France, which means we will see a dusty and fast Paris-Roubaix (253 kilometers, 52,7 kilometers of cobbles). On Sunday, 200 riders will line-up in Compiègne and they’ll have a quiet time for the first 100 kilometers, until they hit the first of the 27 cobbled sectors, Troisvilles. There, not far of Cambrai – a town which hosted two stage finishes in the Tour de France – the peloton will clatter over the first pavés of the day, and knots will start to form in stomachs and muscles.

The Quiévy (longest one in the race, alongside Hornaing – 3700 meters), Saint-Python and Verchain-Maugré sectors follow shortly afterwards, and will also feature on stage four of this year’s Tour de France, on July 7th, when they are expected to create some significant gaps between the yellow jersey contenders. Then, the pack will pass over the four-star Haveluy cobbled road, or the “Bernard Hinault sector”, which is sometimes used in the Quatre Jours de Dunkerque, at the beginning of May.

The first true picture emerges at kilometer 158, as the cyclists will tackle the first five-star sector: the Trouée d’Arenberg, a brutal place were dreams are broken to pieces. It was first used in 1968, after a tip that Albert Bouvet got from former world champion Jean Stablinski, who worked in the coal mines below Arenberg as a teenager. The road is 2400 meters long and is one of the most difficult on the course, dropping slightly at first, then rising. The cobbles are extremely difficult to ride because of their irregularity and pose a real threat to riders, who can crash at any moment, giving that there will be a huge fight for the best positions at around 60 km/h. Johan Museeuw and Philippe Gaumont are just some of the big riders that fell heavily here in the past and had to abandon.

Another thing worth mentioning is that Arenberg isn’t a wide road, so if a cyclist punctures, he has to hope there will be a teammate or a soigneur around, because the cars are way behind in the long caravan, and until his sports director helps him with that much needed change, the race can be lost. And as if this wasn’t enough, when the riders exit the forest there’s a strong crosswind coming from the left, which can create some big gaps between the first group and the chasers. These are the reasons for which everyone knows – from riders to fans and journalists – that you can’t win the race in the infamous Arenberg, but you can surely lose it there.

There won’t be time for respite after Arenberg, because the cyclists will soon hit the three-star Wallers-Hélesmes “Pont Gibus” sector (1600 meters), named after double winner Gilbert Duclos-Lassalle, followed soon afterwards by another important obstacle, Hornaing (3700 meters), first used in 1983, when Hennie Huiper won, after one of the most thrilling editions ever. The “fun” will continue with Warlaing-Brillon (2400 meters), Tilloy-Sars-et-Rosières (2400 meters), Beuvry-la-Forêt-Orchies (1400 meters), Orchies (1700 m) and Auchy-lez-Orchies-Bersée (2700 meters), all these coming in the space of just 23 kilometers.

Next key point is Mons-en-Pévèle (3000 meters), a five-star sector where the riders are expected to come in full throttle and force a big selection, especially as the last 2000 meters aren’t in the best condition. If things go according to plan, then the winner will come from the first group that emerges after Mons-en-Pévèle. The next cobbled roads shouldn’t be so difficult, that is until the riders hit Camphin-en-Pévèle (1800 meters), which will provide the warm-up for Carrefour de l’Arbre. After making the recon of the parcours, Thierry Gouvenou said that this last five-star sector is much harder then in the past and that in terms of difficulty, it’ll be right up there with the Arenberg Forest.

Carrefour de l’Arbre (2100 meters) – the site of the Battle of Bouvines eight centuries ago – was first used in 1958 and is the last chance of a big attack. Marc Madiot, Tom Boonen and Fabian Cancellara are just three of the cyclists who powered away there in the past and got a gap that was enough for them to land the win. On the other hand, Carrefour de l’Arbre is also one of the most dangerous sectors of the race, with some important riders – Thor Hushovd, Leif Hoste, Stijn Vandenbergh – crashing here in the previous editions, because of the sharp cobbles or the fans that put up for an insane atmosphere.

Three more sectors remain from that point on, with the last being the one in Roubaix, which has two names: “Road of the Giants”, because it leads the way to the velodrome, and “Charles Crupelandt”, after the two-time winner of the race. If more riders are together at the front once the André-Pétrieux velodrome – a place of cheers and teers – looms at the horizon, than the finale will be very thrilling and a surprise can occur, as it often happened when the victory was decided in a sprint after one and a half laps.

The favorites

Alexander Kristoff has a record of five starts and just two finishes in Paris-Roubaix, a 9th place in 2013 being his best result. In addition to that, he said after his Flanders win that the cobbled climbs suit him much better than the cobbled stretches of the North. Inspite of these facts, who is ready to bet against him on Sunday, especially after winning also Scheldeprijs a couple of days ago? Is not that the Norwegian has a great form, but he looks so strong that it give the shivers to his rivals, who don’t seem to have any real chance of leaving him behind. Precisely for this reason, it will be important for Kristoff to have a teammate alongside in the closing moments of the race, so that he won’t get outsmarted in a tactical move. A victory will help him achieve legendary status, as he will become the 11th cyclist to take both Flanders and Roubaix in the same year.

John Degenkolb had some problems in De Ronde, but things should change in his favor in the last cobbled Monument, where he comes well-rested, after deciding to skip Scheldeprijs on Wednesday. As he proved in Milan-Sanremo, Degenkolb excels over long distances and he shouldn’t have any problem in making the selection in the key moments of the course, even more now that Fabian Cancellara and Tom Boonen, two riders capable of a decisive attack, are missing the race. Besides that, he also has a big and impressive engine, which can allow him, at some point, to launch a counter attack, if he needs to cover a move made by one or more of his opponents. Germany awaits a Paris-Roubaix win for 119 years, and Giant-Alpecin’s cyclist – who was second one year ago – has a big chance of putting an end to this dry streak.

Sky made a big mistake in the Tour of Flanders, coming at the forefront too early and trying to control the race as it usually does in the Grand Tours, but the result was different and Geraint Thomas was left all by himself on the final hills. Another problem was that the Welsh rider missed some extra watts and didn’t have the legs to follow the attacks, which showed another minus of Sky: the lack of a Plan B. It shouldn’t surprise anyone if Sky will play more cards now, with Bradley Wiggins being an important one, as he can go to the attack with 30-40 kilometers to go and use his time trial skills to get clear. In the past weeks, the 34-year-old Brit has said in more than one occasion that a victory in Paris Roubaix – one if his childhood’s dreams – would mean more for him at this point than the yellow jersey he has won three years ago in the Tour de France, so the motivation is there for his last race with Sky. If the race doesn’t pans out in his favor and the world time trial champion will be reeled in, then Geraint Thomas or Ian Stannard (if he is fully recovered) will have their chance.

Paris-Roubaix is Etixx-Quick Step’s last chance of saving a disappointing Spring campaign that left the team with a bitter taste and with just a win, in Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne. Niki Terpstra, Zdenek Stybar and Stijn Vandenbergh all have a strong shot at winning the “Hell of the North”, with the defending champion coming here in a great shape and with a huge hunger, after he was beaten by Alexander Kristoff in the Tour of Flanders. Once again, Terpstra can put in a crafty attack earlier than expected and solo to the win, but for this to happen, he needs to have a teammate in the main group. On the other hand, Zdenek Stybar also wants to try his luck after he had to stay in the pack last week-end and get his first career win in a Monument. The Czech champion is better than Terpstra in a sprint, but after Flanders there isn’t any clear indication that he’s just as strong as his Dutch teammate. Summing it up, it remains to be seen what will be the consensus in the Etixx-Quick Step squad and if the sports director will manage the ego of his riders and lead them to a much-desired victory.

Greg Van Avermaet was one of the strongest cyclists in the Tour of Flanders, but he was left to rue the missed opportunity, after BMC made a tactical mistake when Terpstra and Kristoff got clear immediately after the Kruisberg. With every chance that slips from his hands, Van Avermaet loses some of his confidence, so he needs to act fast and get the most out of the next Monuments. It’s very likely to see the Belgian going on to the attack again and hoping to break clear of the other favorites or at least force a serious selection, that will not include the sprinters. Although Roubaix suits him less than Flanders, Greg Van Avermaet is still one of the most consistent men on the cobbles in recent years and will go all in on Sunday, hoping to finally convert an opportunity into a win.

Sep Vanmarcke came just 5th in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, but everyone was very impressed with his display and how strong he looked, so the general consensus among the pundits was that he will be the man to beat in both Flanders and Roubaix. But soon afterwards, something changed and the Belgian cyclist failed to win a one-day race from the three he rode (E3 Harelbeke, Gent-Wevelgem, Tour of Flanders) in the previous weeks. The most worrisome part for Vanmarcke was what happened in De Ronde, where he was left behind before the crucial hills of the race, because he had an empty tank and couldn’t follow, despite the fact that he desperately tried to close the gap on the main group. Although he got a lot of criticism from the Belgian media, the LottoNL-Jumbo rider left behind the 53rd place in the Tour of Flanders and now looks forward with optimism and confidence to Paris-Roubaix, where he’ll have a point to prove. The team that will support him isn’t as strong as Sep Vanmarcke would have liked to, but if he regains his early March form, then anything is possible for the rider who came second in the 2013 edition.

Peter Sagan’s form has been a mystery so far this season – although Stuart O’Grady had some interesting things to say when questioned about the Slovak’s lack of results – so a win here would be a much needed lift for Tinkoff-Saxo’s rider. The 25-year-old is finding for the first time in his career what winning is hard to do, but yet he remains one of the favorites. Endurance seems to be one of Sagan’s big problems at the moment, with the three-time winner of the Tour de France green jersey coming up empty in the final kilometers of the Monuments, as well as not being able to take the best decisions in the flashiest of seconds. Another issue for him is that he struggles a bit more on the cobbled stretches, feeling insecure about his positioning and amount of power he has to use. On the other hand, not being one of the top contenders will allow him to play the race more defensively, which can help him, with a little bit of luck, save his first half of the season.

Who are the outsiders for this race? One name that quickly comes to mind is that of André Greipel, who was outstanding in the Tour of Flanders, where he put the hammer down on the hills in more than one occasion. Greipel really wants a good result in Paris-Roubaix and has a strong chance of getting it, considering his excellent form. More than that, his team is prepared to put on an aggressive display once again, which means Jurgen Roelandts and Tiesj Benoot will try to be among the proeminent figures in the “Hell of the North”. Another good bet is Astana’s Lars Boom, 6th in the Tour of Flanders. The Dutchman wasn’t very visible at the front last Sunday, but still got a top 10 finish and now has the confidence he needs that he can do a great race on Sunday.

Beside the riders mentioned above, Filippo Pozzato and Sylvain Chavanel are two other men with a good shot in Paris-Roubaix, although both seemed to lack some power in the closing kilometers of Flanders. There’s also the possibility that some of the teams without a top contender, but also the ones who will want to enjoy a free ride, will send their riders at the front, most likely in the second half of the race, somewhere after Arenberg and before Mons-en-Pévèle. If this will be the scenario, look to cyclists like Bjorn Leukemans, Dylan van Baarle, Daniel Oss, Jasper Stuyven, Mathieu Ladagnous, Luca Paolini, Florian Senechal (who knows the cobbles like the back of his hand, as he comes from a small village to the east of Cambrai), Yoann Offredo, Damien Gaudin, Jelle Wallays and Jens Keukeleire.

Race stats

– The first edition took place in 1896 and was won by Germany’s Josef Fischer

– Paris-Roubaix was the first Classic to be shown live on TV, in 1960

– Two Belgians – Tom Boonen and Roger De Vlaeminck – share the record for the most wins, 4

– Roger De Vlaeminck is also the rider with the most podium finishes, 9

– Belgium leads the nation standings, with 55 triumphs in 112 editions

– Frédéric Guesdon holds the record for the most starts, 17

– Raymond Impanis and Servais Knaven have the most races completed, 16 each

– Ten riders have won the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix in the same year: Tom Boonen, Fabian Cancellara, Fred De Bruyne, Roger De Vlaeminck, Romain Gijssels, Raymond Impanis, Gaston Rebry, Heiri Suter, Rik Van Looy and Peter Van Petegem

– The longest edition never exceeded 280 kilometers, while the shortest one had 244 kilometers

– Marc Madiot is the only cyclist who has won Paris-Roubaix in the U23 ranks and subsequently as a pro

– In 1949, the victory was awarded to two riders: Serse Coppi and André Mahé

– Australia’s Stuart O’Grady is the only cyclist from outside of Europe who nabbed the win in Paris-Roubaix (2007)

– The longest successful breakaway was recorded in 1988, when Dirk Demol won after being for 222 kilometers at the front

– Last rainbow jersey wearer to emerge victorious is Bernard Hinault (1981)

– Five riders have won Paris-Roubaix after taking the victory in the Tour de France: Louison Bobet, Fausto Coppi, Felice Gimondi, Bernard Hinault and Eddy Merckx

– In 1936 – when Georges Speicher was victorious – the race ended on a hippodrome

– Between 1986 and 1988, Paris-Roubaix finished in the town, because the velodrome was undergoing some repairs

– First year in which riders were allowed to get a spare wheel from their teammates was 1965

– Youngest ever winner is Albert Champion (20 years and 362 days in 1899); oldest one is Gilbert Duclos-Lasalle (38 years and 229 days in 1993)

– Last French success was brought by Frédéric Guesdon, in 1997

– In 1990, Eddy Planckaert and Steve Bauer sprinted for the victory and the Belgian won for just 1 cm

– Biggest winning margin dates from 1898, when Maurice Garin finished 28 minutes ahead of Auguste Stephan

– 1968 was the first year in which the start was given from Compiègne

– First time when the champion received a cobblestone trophy was in 1977

– Highest average speed – 45,130 km/h – was recorded in 1964, while the lowest one was in 1922 – 22,857 km/h

– 25 teams (17 World Tour and 8 Pro Continental) will line-up in Compiègne for the 2015 edition

– Two of these teams are winless this season: LottoNL-Jumbo and UnitedHealthcare

– Belgium has the most cyclists (39), followed by France (31) and Germany (20)

– Two former champions are at the start of this year’s race: Niki Terpstra and Johan Vansummeren

– Three U23 winners (Koen De Kort, Damien Gaudin, Ramon Sinkeldam) and five Junior winners (Andrew Fenn, Florian Senechal, Jasper Stuyven, Geraint Thomas, Guillaume Van Keirsbulck) will be in the race

– Three sectors will feature in stage four of the 102nd Tour de France: Quiévy, Saint-Python, and Verchain-Maugré

– Alexander Kristoff can become the first ever rider to win the Three Days of De Panne, the Tour of Flanders, Scheldeprijs and Paris-Roubaix in the same season

– Quentin Jauregui (20 years) is the youngest rider at the startline, while Matteo Tosatto (40 years) is the oldest one

– Paris-Roubaix 2015 marks 2367 days since the last Italian win in a Monument

– 18 neo-pros will make their debut in Paris-Roubaix: Shane Archbold, Simone Antonini, Maxat Ayazbayev, Tiesj Benoot, Magnus Cort, Tom Devriendt, Quentin Jauregui, Stefan Küng, Kevin Ledanois, Daniel McLay, Julien Morice, Oliver Naesen, Luka Pibernik, Tanner Putt, Marc Sarreau, Kristoffer Skjerping, Ruben Zepuntke and Federico Zurlo

– There are 6 071 040 cobblestones on this year’s parcours






Stuart O’Grady, guest of the week at Cafe Roubaix

April 15th 2007. Dust is flying everywhere and the peloton is experiencing one of the hottest days in the history of Paris-Roubaix. A huge breakaway, of 32 riders, gets a gap in the 105th edition of the “Hell of the North”. It’s still early in the race, with around 240 kilometers to go, so the group doesn’t pose a real threat to the big favorites. After the Arenberg Forest, the escapees have a five-minute lead, which isn’t much, but somehow, the peloton misjudges the move and so, with around 25 kilometers left of the race, the riders at the front start realizing they have a real chance at winning the race.

That’s the moment when one of the cyclists decides to attack before the Bourghelles cobbled sector and powers away from his opponents, who don’t respond. He looks strong and the gap grows to more than a minute with just ten kilometers left until the finish, so he gives it all and keeps the chasers at bay. When he reaches the Roubaix velodrome, he’s up for the lap of honor, because nothing can change anymore. Under the eyes of the people gathered there, history is being written, as Stuart O’Grady becomes the first non-European cyclist to win the “Queen of the Classics”.

The Australian is already a Tour de France stage winner and world and Olympic gold medalist on the track, but this victory is one of the biggest of his career, after a great performance that leaves him speechless. Eight years after this moment and retired in the meantime, Stuart O’Grady anxiously awaits the start of the 113th edition of “Hell of the North” – this time in front of the TV.

It’s the race he loves and which gave his career a totally new dimension, so when contacted by Cafe Roubaix, he didn’t hesitate to preview it and have his say on the contenders.

– Mister O’Grady, what’s your take on the Tour of Flanders?

I thought Flanders was a great race to watch. Without Tom Boonen and Fabian Cancellara, the race was as wide open as it has been in ten years. Every team director would’ve changed their tactics to be much more aggressive, and many more riders would’ve started the race believing they could win. Sky put 100% faith in Geraint Thomas to win, but they probably did too much work, and then when it became crucial, Thomas had no more teammates. Eventually, the strongest and smartest rider won.

– Were you expecting such a strong ride from Alexander Kristoff?

Yes, absolutely. After he won three stages and the GC in the Three Days of De Panne, he proved his form was incredible. He has the power. He has a great team, probably the strongest in the world at the moment, and he is full of confidence.

– Did something surprised you in the tactics of his rivals?

If anything, they were too aggressive and made too many silly small attacks. Big attacks win bike races. They needed to isolate Kristoff, and make much more solid attacks. Once a “sprinter” smells the finish , there is no way they will drop him.

– Is Alexander Kristoff the new Classics star of the peloton?

It’s hard to say. Without the main two riders, I cannot say that. He is the best at the moment, he’s certainly making the best of the situation.

– Many consider him the top favorite for Paris-Roubaix, although he said he prefers the climbs of Flanders to the cobbled stretches of Roubaix. What do you think?

Etixx, Sky and BMC have to be a lot smarter than they were last week. They cannot take him within 25 kilometers from the finish. I did not have him as my favorite, but after seeing his ride, I must say he is definitely sure of a podium if he keeps going like this.

– Who can be his biggest rivals for the win?

I have Zdenek Stybar as my favorite, Niki Terpstra second and Alexander Kristoff third. Why? Because I think Etixx will ride a lot smarter. They have more riders capable of going a long way from the finish: Vandenbergh, Terpstra, Stybar. But watch out for Luca Paolini. He is not the strongest, but he’s very cunning. Also Thomas should be up there again, and how good would it be if Wiggins won solo? That would be my dream for the race! But if Wiggins wants to win, he has to hang in there until 30-25 kilometers to go, wait for the other teams to panic and chase, then counter attack and go solo. Wouldn’t that be a great way to see off your road career?

– Do you see Sep Vanmarcke capable of redemption after a lackluster display last Sunday?

Vanmarcke races with his heart on his sleeve. This can be good and bad! I definitely think he is capable of winning, but his team isn’t the strongest and he has to remain calm and keep his cool, something he is yet to do. He needs some more experience. He will win Flanders and maybe Roubaix in the future.

– Another contender who disappointed was Peter Sagan, again in the finale, just like in E3 Harelbeke. What do you think is happening to him?

Sagan is obviously under the strain of a not very good team environment. When there is trouble in the water, the boat never sails smoothly. With Tinkov firing Bjarne Riis, there would be a lot of stress and tension around the team. This feeds down through the staff and onto the riders. There’s nothing you can do about it. He has just signed a very big contract for three years, so automatically he doesn’t have that same “killer” instinct that he had the last few years.

– There are 27 sectors of paves, three of which have 5 stars. The last of these is Carrefour de l’Arbre, of which the organizers said it’s going to be rougher than in the past. Can you please describe this sector?

Every sector is difficult, but the Carrefour is extremely difficult because it comes so late in the race, your body is wrecked already, your hands numb, every muscle in your body is aching. Now it’s up to your mind over your body. It’s a long sector with many sharp cobbled sections and very rough edges. It all hurts!

– The forecast for Sunday says it will be sunny and dusty. What kind of race do you expect?

I like sunny and dusty. Rain is a complete catastrophe. When it’s wet it is hardly a bike race anymore. It’s too much to chance and ridiculously dangerous. Dry and dusty makes for a better race.

– Many riders will come at the start with the win in their mind, but only one will get his hands on the trophy. What does it mean for a cyclist to stand in the center of the Roubaix velodrome and raise the cobblestone trophy?

To be honest, there are maybe ten guys who can actually win Paris-Roubaix. There are many that “dream”, but with the first stroke of bad luck will be looking at making that their excuse. Just to finish the race is a massive achievement. To lift the rock is the best moment a cyclist can ever wish for. Greater than a World Championships, it is the best feeling a cyclist can hope for. That and the Olympic Gold or winning a Tour de France, these are the moments everyone dreams for, but only a lucky few make it happen.

Paris-Roubaix 1983: victorie incredibilă pentru Hennie Kuiper

Un olandez, Jan Raas, era deţinătorul trofeului în Paris-Roubaix acum 32 de ani, însă ciclistul echipei TI-Raleigh a fost nevoit să abandoneze înainte de jumătatea cursei, din cauza unor probleme de sănătate, dar şi a formei fizice sub aşteptări la acea vreme. A fost cel mai interesant eveniment din prima parte, una lipsită de acţiune, exceptând evadarea formată devreme, în care se aflau nu mai puţin de 20 de rutieri.

Apoi, înainte de intrarea în Pădurea Arenberg, Francesco Moser a atacat şi doar trei oameni (între care şi Gilbert Duclos-Lassalle) au putut să îl urmeze pe triplul câştigător din Paris-Roubaix. Imediat, în urma acestuia s-a dat alarma şi un grup format din Hennie Kuiper, Marc Madiot, Paul Sherwen şi Stephen Roche a plecat după italian. Ultimii doi au căzut, în timp ce Kuiper şi Madiot au evitat în ultima clipă capcanele, au tras tare şi au făcut joncţiunea.

Parcă supărat pe venirea acestora, Moser a continuat să impună un ritm înfiorător, pentru a îi obosi pe ceilalţi. Rutierul echipei GIS a fost foarte aproape să scape de un adversar, când Kuiper a căzut pe o porţiune cu piatră cubică. Fără să fie afectat de acest incident, olandezul s-a ridicat, a accelerat uimitor şi i-a ajuns pe cei din faţă, pentru ca apoi să mai cadă o dată. Nici acest incident nu l-a descurajat pe campionul mondial din 1975, care a avut nevoie de doar doi kilometri pentru a-l ajunge pe un Moser de-a dreptul uluit.

Apoi, cu aproximativ 20 de kilometri înainte de sosire, Kuiper a decis să atace pe o porţiune cu pavate şi nimeni nu s-a luat după el. De fapt, oamenii din urma lui sperau ca Francesco Moser – cunoscut pentru aptitudinile sale de contratimpist – să fie din nou cel care să îi aducă lângă ciclistul grupării Aernoudt Meubelen, însă peninsularul nu mai avea forţe după imensul efort depus până atunci.

Până ca adversarii să se dumirească, Kuiper a dezvoltat un avans de aproape două minute şi se pregătea să devină doar al patrulea batav din istorie învingător în Paris-Roubaix, după Peter Post (1964), Jan Janssen (1967) şi Jan Raas (1982). Soarta, însă, a vrut ca acesta să aibă parte de o cursă pe care să o ţină minte pentru totdeauna. Astfel, cu numai şase kilometri rămaşi până la velodrom, când Kuiper se afla din nou pe piatră cubică, la Hem, a decis să meargă pe marginea drumului, pentru a evita un eventual pericol.

A fost o idee neinspirată, deoarece campionul olimpic din 1972 a spart după ce a trecut pe o porţiune neasfaltată. Disperarea l-a cuprins pe Kuiper, dar şi pe mecanicul acestuia, venit în grabă să repare problema, fără succes. Secundele treceau, iar salvarea a venit, până la urmă, de la managerul echipei, care i-a adus rutierului său o altă bicicletă, l-a împins aproape o sută de metri, până s-a terminat sectorul de pavate, iar acesta a putut continua cursa.

A fost ultimul obstacol aflat în calea lui Hennie Kuiper, iar batavul a ajuns singur pe velodromul din Roubaix, unde a avut timp suficient pentru a-şi savura succesul, venit la a 11-a participare în “Infernul Nordului”. În urma lui, la un minut şi 15 secunde diferenţă, au sosit Moser şi Duclos-Lassalle, cu francezul pe locul al doilea, după ce l-a învins la sprint pe italian, care s-a clasat pentru ultima oară în carieră pe podiumul cursei sale favorite.

Who is Tiesj Benoot?

When the Tour of Flanders was over, not all the journalists who were attending the race rushed to take an interview to Alexander Kristoff, the winner of the 99th edition. The Belgians, left without a top contender for this year’s race after Tom Boonen’s injury, were more interested in getting a reaction from Tiesj Benoot. And why not, considering that Lotto-Soudal’s rider (just 21 years and 25 days at the start of the race) wrote a little piece of history, by becoming the best placed neo-pro in the last 41 years of Flanders, as well as the youngest rider since 1973 to finish in the top 10 of De Ronde.

As it often happened with many cyclists, Benoot didn’t discover the sport immediately, his first passion being football, which he played for five years, until he was 11. A goalkeeper (same position as Greg Van Avermaet, to whom he compares when it comes down to the skills he has), was at some point scouted by KAA Ghent, but the Belgian team eventually decided to back off, once the young Tiesj switched his focus to cycling, although his parents didn’t agree with this.

When he was just 15, he scored his first important result – 3rd at the Provincial Championship Oost-Vlaanderen, in the Novices race – but had to wait until 2012 before nabbing the first victory in the Junior ranks, which came in stage two of the International Junioren Radrundfahrt Oberösterreich, ahead of Matej Mohoric, as well as finishing second in the GC. Just a couple of months later, he took another win, this time in the prestigious Keizer der Juniores, and the feeder team of Lotto-Belisol noticed his potential and signed him for the 2013 season.

Under Kurt Van de Wouwer’s tutelage, he took three wins, the biggest of these being the overall classification at the Tour de Moselle, but most important, he made some significant improvements and emerged as one of the most versatile young riders in the U23 races, smooth on the cobbles and with a great punch on the short climbs. If there’s any need for some proof, then it’s enough to look at the outstanding results he has had in 2014: 3rd in the Tour of Flanders, 3rd in the Ronde de l’Isard d’Ariège GC, 4th at the World Championships, 5th in Liège-Bastogne-Liège and 5th in Flèche Ardennaise.

But Tiesj Benoot didn’t stop here and went on to mix it with the pros, finishing 8th in Binche-Chimay-Binche and 16th in Paris-Tours, where he pulled for Jens Debusschere. These placings came while racing as a stagiaire for Lotto-Belisol, and the team was so impressed by his display that it came up with a two-year contract. Benoot – who studies economic at the Ghent University, but is allowed to skip classes – needed only a couple of weeks once the new season kicked-off in order to underline his potential, with the one-day races providing him the opportunity to shine: 4th in Le Samyn, 3rd in Handzame Classic, and 6th in both Ronde Van Zeeland and Dwars door Vlaanderen.

Then, last Sunday, in the Tour of Flanders, he launched a late and surprising attack, with about 2,5 km to go, that netted him 5th place, just 36 seconds behind the winner, after a 264 km-long battle of attrition. The Belgian press was extatic after this result and dubbed him “the new Museeuw”. But they’re wrong, because he’s the first Tiesj Benoot and has every chance of becoming a cycling legend in the following decade, as almost every one-day race is within his reach.


Rider of the week

Two weeks ago, Alexander Kristoff was left disappointed after missing on a second consecutive win in Milan-Sanremo, despite the fact that Luca Paolini came up with an excellent lead-out in the finale and he looked to be strongest sprinter. Then, at both E3 Harelbeke and Gent-Wevelgem he didn’t get to fight for the victory, but made up for that a couple of days later, when he won the GC as well as three stages in De Panne, in what was one of the most impressive performances seen this year.

That display made him one of the top favorites for the Tour of Flanders, although many were wondering if can keep his rhythm and fresh legs for one of the toughest tests of the season. After playing it cool for about 240 kilometers, the 27-year-old rider made his move as soon as Niki Terpstra had attacked after the Kruisberg climb. Coming into the Dutchman’s wheel, Kristoff worked with him and did some strong pulls at the front, in order to keep the gap growing before the Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg.

Everyone was waiting for Terpstra to accelerate on one of these hills, but it didn’t happen, maybe because Etixx-Quick Step’s cyclist just didn’t have the legs or because he felt that his effort would net help dispatch Kristoff. Then, in the last five kilometers, when there was a gap of 28 seconds between the two of them and the chasers (Peter Sagan and Greg Van Avermaet), the Paris-Roubaix champion decided not to help his opponent anymore, being aware that the Katusha rider will outsprint him at the finish.

Having no other option, Alexander Kristoff stayed at the front and did all the work, ensuring they will keep a gap that was becoming slimmer and slimmer. With 200 meters to go, Terpstra launched his sprint, but had no chance against a powerful Kristoff, who was calm all the way, knowing he has the upper hand. This landed him the victory and assured the Katusha leader a place in the history books, as the first ever Norwegian winner of the Tour of Flanders, after a race in which he did everything: got the corner kick, sent the ball into the box and scored a goal with his head.

Now he’ll take a rest and then prepare for Paris-Roubaix, the last Spring Monument which suits him. Although he doesn’t have a great record there, with three abandons, a 9th and a 57rd place in five starts, is difficult to bet against him for the “Hell of the North”.

Vuelta al Pais Vasco Stats

Historical stats

– The first edition took place in 1924 and Francis Pélissier was the winner of what has known by the name of Gran Premio Excelsior

– The race was mentioned in Ernest Hemingway’s acclaimed novel “The Sun Also Rises”

– At first, the leader’s jersey was red, it then changed to blue, and finally to yellow

– Jose Antonio Gonzalez Linares is the rider with the most GC victories, 4, between 1972 and 1978

– Spain leads the nations standings, with 23 triumphs, followed by Italy (7) and Switzerland (5)

– Sean Kelly and Domingo Perurena share the record for the most stage wins, 11

– Laurent Jalabert has the most days spent in the leader’s jersey, 12

– Only riders from outside of Europe to take the overall are Chris Horner (U.S.A.) and Nairo Quintana (Colombia)

– No world champion has ever won the Vuelta al Pais Vasco

– Biggest winning margin between the first and second was recorded in 1924, when Francis finished 14:54 ahead of his brother, Henri

– 1989 saw the smallest gap, just one second between Stephen Roche and Federico Etxabe

– The first Tour de France champion to win the Vuelta al Pais Vasco was Jacques Anquetil, in 1969; the last one was Alberto Contador, in 2009

– Youngest ever winner is Jose Luis Laguia (22 years in 1982); oldest winner is Chris Horner (38 years in 2010)

2015 stats

– 19 teams (17 World Tour, 2 Pro Continental) will make-up the startlist of the 55th edition

– 4 of these teams haven’t scored a victory in 2015: Caja Rural, Cofidis, FDJ and LottoNL-Jumbo

– Two former winners will line-up in Bilbao (from where the race will depart): Nairo Quintana and Samuel Sanchez

– The peloton of the 2015 race has won a combined total of 7 Monuments, 2 Grand Tours, 6 World Titles and more than 60 Grand Tour stages

– Spain has the most cyclists at the start, 26, five more than France

– Matej Mohoric, the former Junior and U23 World Champion, is the youngest rider in the Vuelta al Pais Vasco (20 years), oldest one is Sky’s Xabier Zandio (38 years)

– The climb to the Santuario de Arrate will be a stage finish for the seventh year in a row

2015 Tour of Flanders Preview

Turul Flandrei 2015

Created in 1913 by Karel Van Wijnendaele, a sports journalist who was inspired by Henri Desgrange, the Tour of Flanders was a Belgian affair for many years, not only because it was scheduled on the same day as Milan-Sanremo, but also because the weather and the difficult course weren’t appealing to the foreign riders. So it’s not surprise that the first 31 editions had only one non-Belgian winner, Switzerland’s Henri Suter, at that time one of the finest Classics cyclists.

As the years went by, De Ronde grew in prestige and became one of the most important one-day races of the calendar, entering the famous club of the so-called Monuments, alongside Milan-Sanremo, Paris-Roubaix, Liège–Bastogne–Liège and the Giro di Lombardia. As expected, some of the biggest riders came at the start and made Flanders one of their prime goals, but only few achieved it, because the Belgian race is one of the toughest out there and to win it you have to be strong, intelligent, but also lucky.

Looking over the history book of the Tour of Flanders, we can find the names of Briek Schotte, Fiorenzo Magni, Rik Van Looy, Eddy Merckx, Johan Museeuw, Tom Boonen and Fabian Cancellara among the ones of the winners, but there’s also room for Hugo Koblet, Francesco Moser, Sean Kelly and Phil Anderson, some of the most famous cyclists who failed to take the victory they were dreaming of. This year, around 200 riders will line-up at the start, but only one of them will get to join the likes of Merckx, Boonen and Cancellara, while the others will think of the missed opportunity and count the days until the following edition.

The course                 

For a couple of years now, the organizers seem to be playing a game in which they are trying to make the route harder and harder. This is why the 99th edition (264,2 kilometers) will have two extra climbs, a decision which was criticized by team managers and riders alike in the past months. Basically, they are accusing the race officials that in their desire to get a more spectacular and exciting course all they will really get is a boring race, giving the fact that the riders will not be willing to attack early on such a difficult parcourse.

As was the case in the past, the peloton will line-up in Brugge, the birth city of Guydo Reysbrouck, one of the best Classics riders of the ‘60s, with victories in Amstel Gold Race, Züri-Metzgete and Paris-Tours (three times). From there, the cyclists will have a long section of flat roads for more than 80 kilometers, before hitting the first hill of the day, Tiegemberg (which was the last climb in E3 Harelbeke). 30 kilometers later, the riders will face the legendary Oude Kwaremont for the first time (2200 meters, 4% average gradient, 11% maximum gradient) – a climb which starts with asphalt before switching to cobbles – and the real fun will begin from that point on.

Kortekeer, Eikenberg and Wolvenberg will follow, before a series of three flat cobbled sectors: Ruiterstraat, Kerkgate and Holleweg. The sixth hill of the race will be Molenberg (463 meters, 7% average gradient, 14,2 maximum gradient), where Fabian Cancellara and Tom Boonen left behind all the other riders at the 2010 edition, although back then Molenberg came much later in the day, with 40 kilometers to go.

The cobbled stretches of Paddestraat and Haaghoek are next, leading the way for Leberg, Berendries (which is returning on the route after a two-year absence), Valkenberg, Kaperij and Kanarieberg, which will all make for a very hectic race and trim the peloton before the second passage on the Oude Kwaremont. There will be no rest for the bunch, as Paterberg (360 meters, 12,9% average gradient, 20,3% maximum gradient) – one of the toughest hellingen out there – is tackled immediately, in less than four kilometers.

Number 14th on the menu will be the infamous Koppenberg (600 meters, 11,6% average gradient, 22% maximum gradient), and the battle for position will be a fierce one, because every meter counts on this hill. Koppenberg isn’t the oldest of the climbs, as it was brought into the attention of the organizers around 40 years ago, by Hubert Hoffman, but is the toughest one. Some riders call it “the torture chamber”, because of its steep gradient and irregular cobblestones, and it remains famous after the 1987 edition, when Jesper Skibby crashed and a race car drove over his bike. That incident led to Koppenberg being taken out from the parcourse until 2003, before being dropped again in 2007. After the Oudenaarde municipality underwent some significative repairs to the climb, it returned in 2008 and since then it’s making the riders’ life a living hell.

The ones left behind won’t have a chance of coming back in the pack, as Steenbeekdries, Taaianberg (which can give ideas to some cyclists) and Kruisberg/Hotond will follow up shortly, making for a race of attrition, before the final circuit on the Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg. From the top of the Paterberg there are just 13 kilometers left on big, flat roads, so if a rider is at the front he’ll need a lot of power to stay there, especially with the forecasted headwind, as the ones coming from behind will put up a strong chase. Then, in Oudenaarde, where the race finishes for the fourth year in a row, we will find out the name of the cyclist who will get his place in history for winning the 99th edition of the race.

Expert’s view

George Hincapie: “17 climbs was probably enough. The race is one of the hardest in the world anyway, I think the addition of the two hills may just make the earlier climbs perhaps a bit slower. On the other hand, although I feel like the old course perhaps had more historical significance, the new course is more spectator friendly. The fans can almost get a stadium like atmosphere going on the circuit. Either way, the race is going to be brutally hard and the favorites have to attack at some point, otherwise they may risk getting beaten by a sprinter at the end.”

The favorites

Both Tom Boonen and Fabian Cancellara – each a three-time winner of Flanders – are sidelined after getting injured in March (the Belgian in Paris-Nice, the Swiss rider in E3 Harelbeke), and even though the race certainly has lost some of its glamour and shining because of their absence, it will serve as a preview for the time when the two of them won’t be in the peloton anymore and an heir will be expected to rise and take the vacant throne as king of the cobbles.

Expert’s view

George Hincapie: “The absence of those guys will affect some of the tactics. I would envision a lot more Trek guys trying to get in breakaways rather then just staying in the bunch. Tom’s team already has a few guys that can win the race, so their tactics may not change too much. They will want to control the race from the start.”

Etixx-Quick Step has the numbers on Sunday, and Patrick Lefevere’s boys are expected to control the race and play it in their favour with an aggressive approach. On the other hand, having numerical superiority doesn’t mean you’ll win, which we could see last year: the Belgian team placed six riders in the top 60, while Trek had just one, but it was the winner. On the other hand, it’s important to mention that Etixx-Quick Step also has one of the main favorites: Zdenek Stybar. The Czech winner of Strade Bianche comes at the start in a great shape and with a high morale, and is expected to get that breakthrough win in a Monument on a course that really suits him.

On the other hand, it won’t be all about Stybar, because Etixx-Quick Step also counts on Niki Terpstra, the Paris-Roubaix champion. Terpstra was discrete in E3 Harelbeke, but showed that he is slowly getting into shape two days later, at Gent-Wevelgem, where he finished second. He will be another important weapon for the team, just as will be both Guillaume Van Keirsbulck and Stijn Vanderbergh. Basically, all that Etixx-Quick Step has to do is to play its cards right and find the mojo of the past, when it made the decisive move at a moment when the others were less expecting it.

After his great Flandrian week-end (in which he won E3 Harelbeke and came third in Gent-Wevelgem), Geraint Thomas is considered by pundits and fans alike the premium contender for the victory, in a race which previously saw just one British winner (Tom Simpson, 1961). Sky’s leaders isn’t just one of the strongest men in the pack, but also one of the most intelligent, sensing when it’s the proper moment to launch the attack, as shown last Friday. Having finished eight at last year’s Flanders and supported by a solid team, Thomas has the consistency and confidence that it takes to win this time. Question is: after his recent feats, will he also have the freedom?

With Tom Boonen out of the race, Belgium’s biggest hopes in a win lie in Sep Vanmarcke, a rider who many are seeing as the rightful heir of “Tommeke” in the Monuments. Ever since the end of last season, the 26-year-old rider of LottoNL-Jumbo is training and making plans for the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, 2015 being his big opportunity to lose the “nearly-man” tag that he is carrying on his back for some time now. Vanmarcke is in an excellent condition, knows how to position himself on the climbs, is strong, but lacks a fast finish, so he has to attack on one of the bergs and make sure he’ll leave everyone else behind.

Second last year, Greg Van Avermaet will lead BMC, with one goal in mind: get the win that has eluded him in the past seasons. Unfortunately for Van Avermaet, he crashed at E3 Harelbeke and finished Gent-Wevelgem just in 36th position, but he is poised to shrug off the disappointment and put on an aggressive display in a race where he came three times in a row in the top 10. If Van Avermaet – who you can be sure that he’s willing to attack and shape the race – fails to rise to the expectations, then watch out for his teammate, Daniel Oss, who is very strong this Spring and has the advantage of being an outsider, and thus surprising the big guns of a peloton in a moment they’ll look at each other.

In The Three Days of De Panne, Alexander Kristoff has had one of the most impressive rides of the season, winning three stages in a row, as well as the general classification, after an incredible individual time trial, which helped him cap a perfect race. Kristoff isn’t as explosive as some of his rivals, but he can hang on in there and even if he gets distanced on the Paterberg, he can come back on the flat roads that go to Oudenaarde, where he’ll be a favorite in a sprint. The stats aren’t in his favor though, as only two riders who won the GC in De Panne went on to conquer Flanders (Peter Van Pettegem – 1999 and Alessandro Ballan – 2007).

It’s important not to forget that Katusha also has an important joker, Luca Paolini, who can go at the front, in order to give his teammate a free ride in the bunch. But Paolini, who added Gent-Wevelgem to his palmares last Sunday after a wonderful and gutsy ride, is very dangerous and can be an useful decoy, so if the bunch ignores him in case of a late tactical move, then he can ride solo to the finish and become the oldest winner of the race.

Another very good sprinter who can climb is Giant-Alpecin’s John Degenkolb. Supported by the likes of Koen De Kort and Zico Waeytens, the 26-year-old German wants to take his revenge after being hit by bad luck in E3 Harelbeke and Gent-Wevelgem, and thus continue his excellent run in the Monuments, after winning Milan-Sanremo. Degenkolb isn’t in the same league as the very best on the bergs, but depending on how the race pans out (especially if there’s a bad weather that will not favor the attackers), he can hope for a sprint finish, where he’ll start as one of the big favorites.

Despite his poor form and run, which netted him just a victory in 2015 (stage six of Tirreno-Adriatico), Peter Sagan remains a contender for the second Monument of the season, that could turn out to be a pivotal race for his first year with Russian outfit Tinkoff-Saxo. Things didn’t go smooth in the semi-classics for the Slovak, who missed the win in both E3 Harelbeke and Gent-Wevelgem, and looks to be overtrained, while also having a mental block. On the other hand, maybe this uncharacteristic role of underdog will help Sagan surprise his rivals and nab the win in Oudenaarde, where he came second two years ago.

Stijn Devolder provided an emphatic display in the 39th edition of the Three Days of De Panne, although he came second in the overall standings, and he is looking very sharp before De Ronde. The result he got mid-week was a massive boost of confidence for the rider who took back-to-back victories in Flanders more than half a decade ago and Devolder will be keen to have one more shot at glory on home turf, especially as he s the roads better then 90% of the peloton. Clearly, the 35-year-old Belgian won’t be a top contender, but he remains a very dangerous man and if the others will underestimate him and he gets a gap, then there’s a big chance they won’t see him again until the finish.

Expert’s view

George Hincapie: “Greg Van Avermaet is one of the big favorites. He has had an incredible form in the first part of the season. He’s been quiet the last few races due to crashes and bad luck, but his form and motivation to make up for last year’s second place will be there on Sunday. Peter Sagan will be looking for a change. He’s been there in all the big ones this year, but hasn’t pulled one off. We all know he is capable. Zdenek Stybar is also very strong, a complete contender with perhaps the deepest team. He will be among the protagonists at the end. Gerraint Thomas is in the form of his life and it was very impressive watching him over the last few months. If his team plays it right, he can for sure win. Kristoff was there in the second group last year, and he seems to be even stronger this year. You don’t want to bring him to the finish line with the favorites. If he is there, he will be hard to beat.”

Other cyclists who will go for a strong result on Sunday are Bjorn Leukemans (who, despite of his age, is always approaching the Classics in great form and is capable of a top 10), Lars Boom, Filippo Pozzato – who hopes to end Italy’s drought of 2360 days in the Monuments – Edward Theuns, Sylvain Chavanel, Heinrich Haussler, Jelle Wallays and Jurgen Roelandts, who had a strong and impressive ride in Gent-Wevelgem, where he showed he is on the right track for the Tour of Flanders, a race he finished third in 2013.

Expert’s view

George Hincapie: “Daniel Oss is my outsider. He is showing great form. If he is in the breakaway, the team will want him to conserve energy in case Greg comes back to them. He could take advantage of that at the end if they don’t get caught.”

Race stats

– Six riders share the record for the most wins: Tom Boonen, Achiel Buysse, Fabian Cancellara, Eric Leman, Fiorenzo Magni and Johan Museeuw

– Belgium leads in the nations standings, with no less than 68 victories

– Five of the 98 editions didn’t have a Belgian cyclist on the podium: 1951, 1961, 1981, 1997 and 2001

– Briek Schotte and Johan Museeuw share the record for the most podiums (wins included): 8

– The legendary Briek Schotte is also the rider with the most starts (20 in a row) and the most finishes (16), but the latter is shared with Frederic Guesdon

– Youngest ever winner is Rik Van Steenbergen, 19 years and 206 days (1944); oldest one is Andrei Tchmil, 37 years and 71 days (2000)

– 1920 – when Jules Van Hevel took the win – saw the lowest average speed: 26,105 km/h

– Highest average speed – 43,576 km/h – was recorded in 2001

– The first edition was also the longest one: 324 kilometers

– Only once throughout history De Ronde had less than 200 kilometers, in 1941 (198 de kilometers), when Achiel Buysse won the race for the second time

– Last rider to nab the victory while wearing the rainbow jersey was Tom Boonen (2006)

– 1919 saw the largest winning margin: 14 minutes between Henri Van Lerberghe and Lucien Buysee

– The only cyclist to take three wins in a row is Fiorenzo Magni (1949-1951)

– Five riders have won the amateur, as well as the pro Tour of Flanders: Roger Decock, Edward Sels, Eric Vanderaerden, Edwig van Hooydonck and Nick Nuyens

– Gent is the only city that has hosted both the start and the finish of the race

– Brugge is a start city since 1998, the year of Museeuw’s third and final win

– 1944 was the last year in which the Tour of Flanders ended on the velodrome

– In 1984, only Phil Anderson and Jan Raas got to the top of the Koppenberg without walking, the main reason being the deteriorating state of the cobbles

– Trek’s Stijn Devolder is the only former winner (2008, 2009) who will be at the start of this year’s edition

– John Degenkolb can become the second rider, after Eddy Merckx (1969 and 1975), to win Milan-Sanremo and the Tour of Flanders in the same season

– The youngest cyclist in the race is Quentin Jauregui (20 years); the oldest one is Matteo Tosatto (40 years)

– 18 neo-pros will make their debut in a Monument: Simone Antonini, Jesper Asselman, Tiesj Benoot, Sven Erik Bystrøm, Magnus Cort, Dylan Groenewegen, Quentin Jauregui, Tim Kerkhof, Oliver Naesen, Alberto Nardin, Luka Pibernik, Marc Sarreau, Kristoffer Skjerping, Ivar Slik, Sjoerd van Ginneken, Brian van Goethem, Bert Van Lerberghe, Ruben Zepuntke




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