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Archive for the month “mai, 2015”

Ivan Basso: “I’m prepared to help Contador win the Giro”

A two-time winner of the Giro d’Italia – a race in which he took six stage victories – Ivan Basso is one of the most successful Italian riders of the past 15 years. A pro since 1999, he raced for such teams as Fassa Bortolo, CSC and Liquigas, before eventually signing a two-year contract with Tinkoff-Saxo, where he joined Alberto Contador in his quest of making the legendary Giro-Le Tour double. Although he was the leader of his previous squads, Basso isn’t unsettled by the fact that he’ll now ride as a “lieutenant” of Contador in the mountains, where he’s expected to play a key role.

A couple of days ago, I had the opportunity to interview the 37-year-old cyclist from Gallarate and find out more about his preparation for the Corsa Rosa, his best memories from here and Alberto Contador’s chances of winning the Trofeo Senza Fine for the second time, after the 2008 edition.

– Ivan, the 2015 Giro d’Italia is your 9th since turning pro. Were you nervous before the start?

The days before the start are always nervous, because I feel like I’m ready to make my debut here. I’m focused to be at 110% and give everything, both for my fans and my team.

– You’ve won the trophy twice: in 2006 and 2010. Which of these triumphs you rate higher?

It’s impossible to pick one of the two trophies, considering the wins came în different moments of my career. What’s for sure is that each time I was very touched and the feelings I had are unforgettable.

– And how about your stage wins? Which is the most important one?

One of the victories of which I can say it means a lot for me is the one I got on the Monte Zoncolan, back in 2010, because it came on one of the most toughest climbs in Europe, and also because it came after a very difficult moment of my career. It was a turning point, one which I’ll never forget.

– How did you prepare for the race?

I trained for this race like I was going for the general classification, in order to be ready to give everything in case the team needs me. I’m very motivated for the Giro and fueled by the support I get from my fans. I also went on the recon of a couple of stages, like the Valdobbiadene individual time trial (ed. – stage 14) and the Monte Ologno, which comes in stage 18. Anyway, in a Grand Tour you always have to stay alert, because anything can happen, even on a flat stage.

– Is Alberto Contador the main favorite for the overall victory?

Alberto is prepared, both from a physical and a mental point of view. He didn’t leave anything to chance, he studied the profile of the race and wants to win this race. Il Giro is one of his biggest goals of the season. He has a huge talent, he’s very determined and ready to give everything in order to succeed, and I’m happy to help a champion of his tally

– Who is his biggest rival: Richie Porte, Fabio Aru or Rigoberto Uran?

All three are powerful rivals and we have to watch out for them in every single moment. They proved themselves in the past and they can be dangerous in many of the stages. It would be a huge mistake to underestimate them.

2015 Giro d’Italia – Stage 7 Preview

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What happened on stage 6

After a textbook lead-out of Greg Henderson, André Greipel claimed his 13th career win in a Grand Tour, and his third in the Giro, following the ones of 2008 and 2010. By doing this, he climbed to fifth in an all-time list of German stage winners in Grand Tours, behind Erik Zabel (20), Rudi Altig (18) and Marcel Wüst (14). It was a crazy finish, which led to a crash festival because of a spectator trying to take a photo. Many riders hit the ground, including Rigoberto Uran (with no serious consequences), Nippo-Vini Fantini’s Daniele Colli – who fractured his arm – and race leader Alberto Contador, who ended up with a dislocated left shoulder, and although he is in pain, will try to be at the start of Friday’s stage.

What comes now

With a length of 264 kilometers, this is the longest stage of the 2015 Giro, and the longest in any edition of the Corsa Rosa of the last 15 years. Its profile features no really challenging points, but the final part of the route is quite wavy. The first 70 kilometers run along the Aurelia highway, the route then enters the Maremma region past Montalto di Castro. Rolling along gentle undulations, the route hits the towns of Tuscania and Vetralla, and skirts around the urban agglomeration of Rome.

The sole categorized climb of the day is set in Monterotondo (4th category, 2,5 kilometers, 5,1% average gradient), on top of a shorspurt. After rolling past Tivoli, through the hamlet of Ponte Lucano, the peloton will be confronted with the last 60 kilometers, wavier and more complicated, in terms of both course and profile, that lead to the finish in Fiuggi, along Via Prenestina.

After the town of Piglio, some 15 kilometers from the finish, a U-turn leads to a short descent (where the road is slightly narrower at points); from here, the stage course takes the new Via Anticolana. The last 10 kilometers run gently uphill. After crossing the Monte Porciano tunnel (672 meters – straight and slightly uphill), 5 kilometers from the finish, the route reaches Via Prenestina through large, well-paved roads, still climbing slightly. Upon entering urban Fiuggi, the road turns left, and climbs at a gradient of 2% up to the last kilometer, where the route becomes slightly steeper. The home straight is 350-m long, on 7-m wide asphalt road, with a gentle 3-4% gradient.

Having such a long stage and a testing finish will sure lead to a nice breakaway going ahead up the road, with the hope of giving the slip to the sprinters. If the cyclists that are at the front are caught, then attacks will come on the undulating roads to the finish, before the last climb. In case none of these goes to the end, Michael Matthews will become the main favorite for the win, the 24-year-old Australian having a big opportunity to take his second victory at this year’s edition, after the one in Sestri Levante.

Orica-GreenEdge can play at two heads, with Simon Gerrans attacking in the finale and paving the way for a sprint of Matthews if he gets caught. Philippe Gilbert is another rider who is very likely to go full gas in the last kilometers, same thing applying to Giovanni Visconti. On the other hand, if it will all play out at a sprint, besides Matthews, other cyclists who have a fair chance of nabbing the win are Fabio Felline, Enrico Battaglin, Grega Bole, Francesco Gavazzi and Juan Jose Lobato.

It will be for the ninth time that a Giro d’Italia stage will end in Fiuggi. At the previous visit, in 2011, Alessandro Petacchi was in a perfect position coming into the last 500 meters, but he launched his sprint to early and was overhauled by Francisco Ventoso, who took his first victory in the race. Back then, the top 10 consisted of a mix of sprinters and GC riders, with Danilo Di Luca and Michele Scarponi also fighting for a good place.

2015 Giro d’Italia – Stage 6 Preview

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What happened on stage 5

For the second day in a row, the breakaway went all the way to the finish, where Jan Polanc won his first race. A 23-year-old who turned in pro in 2014, the Lampre-Merida cyclist became the second Slovenian to take a stage in this race, after Luka Mezgec. Behind him, Alberto Contador attacked from the peloton with four kilometers to go and only Richie Porte and Fabio Aru were able to follow him from the favorites group. The three launched an exciting sprint in the last 500 meters, with Aru finishing third and taking bonifications thanks to which he’s now just two seconds behind Contador, the new leader of the Giro d’Italia.

What comes now

On Thursday, the peloton will line-up at the start in Montecatini Terme, one of the towns that have hosted the 2013 UCI World Championships. This stage is almost entirely flat, except for a short, central sector where the categorized climb is set. The first 80 km roll along mainly level roads across the Pisa territory. Just past Saline di Volterra, the route reaches the Colline Metallifere and goes ahead, passing through Pomarance (KOM climb), Larderello and Castelnuovo Val di Cecina.

A final, level stretch leads to the finish, on largely straight roads.The last eight kilometers are on a perfectly flat road and feature only two bends, 2,7 and 2,3 kilometers from the finish, followed by a long, slightly bending stretch up to 1,000 meters from the finish, where the home straight begins, on 7,5-m wide asphalt road. 1,500 meters from the finish there is a speed bump that can be cleared following a straight trajectory. There, in the Castiglione della Pescaia – a town which makes its debut in the Giro d’Italia – the sprinters are expected to fight for victory.

André Greipel came to the Corsa Rosa with the goal of taking a win, and after failing to do it in Genova where he “didn’t read” the finale as he should have, the German rider of Lotto-Soudal has a big chance to make up for that in stage six, which totally suits him. On the other hand. Elia Viviani looks to be in a great shape, but the leader of the points classification will not be underestimated now, after his rivals made that mistake a couple of days ago.

Sacha Modolo will also be eager to bag a victory and make it two out of two for Lampre-Merida; for this, Modolo will count on the likes of Maximiliano Richeze and Roberto Ferrari, two cyclists that can prove very important in the last kilometers. Finally, Giacomo Nizzolo (who has had some health problems), Matteo Pelucchi and Moreno Hofland will be other sprinters hoping to cross the line first in Castiglione della Pescaia, but they’ll start as outsiders on Thursday, so a win of one of them will count as a semi-surprise.

Serghei Tvetcov: “I want to finish the Giro”

One of the two Romanians to ride the 98th Giro d’Italia, Serghei Tvetcov came at the start of the event with confidence, after blending in the pro peloton of the European scene during his first four months with Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec, the team for which he signed after having an impressive season in the UCI America Circuit in 2014. With the Italian outfit he got to ride some of the most important races of the calendar, and even scored a strong result in the Tour de San Luis individual time trial, where he came fourth.

Last week, before coming at the start of the Giro d’Italia – where he’s the only non-Italian cyclist of Androni – I got to talk to Serghei about his time so far with Gianni Savio’s squad and his goals for the Corsa Rosa, which marks his debut in a Grand Tour.

– Serghei, how were your first months with Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec?

They were amazing. The way the team is organized is really great and I got to do a lot of big races. I feel great with this group of people. The guys are nice, the sports directors are doing an excellent job, people are serious, but also know how to have fun. Of course, I need to gain a lot of experience in terms of racing, culture, nutrition and training, because every little detail counts, from your weight to your recovery and bike position. In my opinion, in Europe it’s impossible to have results if you have an extra 1-2 kg, you really can’t be at the top and can’t recover between races. Here you have to carefully choose in which events you are going to get a good result and in which just to train. So, coming back to the question, I think that this team really fits me and I can become a much stronger rider here, and for this reason I’m very glad that I decided to sign with Androni.

– What was the best racing experience up until this point of the season?

When it comes to one-day races, I must say Strade Bianche and Milan-Sanremo, especially as I want to do good in these races in the future. As for stage races, my prime pick is the Giro del Trentino, which has some great roads and views.

– Are you nervous before the Giro d’Italia, your first Grand Tour?

Actually, I’m not. I am pretty calm and I’m really looking forward to do the best I can for the team. A Grand Tour is a race that separates the boys from the real men.

– And how did you prepare for this?

I had a pretty busy racing schedule since January, because in my opinion, the best preparation is to race. Besides that, I focused on losing weight, while keeping my power.

– Did you get do a recon of some stages?

Yes, I had the chance to see the 18th stage (ed. – Melide-Verbania), but of course, in order for this to help me, I first need to get to the third week.

– What are your goals for the race?

My main goal is to finish the 21 stages, then to support our captain Franco Pellizotti and to learn, to get experience, which will help me in the future to get nice results. Besides that, I want to feature in some breakaways.

2015 Giro d’Italia – Stage 5 Preview

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What happened on Stage 4

Davide Formolo took a memorable victory in La Spezia, after a thrilling day which saw the peloton being shattered to pieces by Astana, the strongest team in the race. It was a stage of attacks and counterattacks, a chaotic and crazy one, at the end of which the 22-year-old Formolo won his first race since turning professional and by doing this, he underlined his huge talent. Also on Tuesday, Simon Clarke became the 8th Australian rider to wear the pink jersey, while Rigoberto Uran and Jurgen Van Den Broeck came home 42 seconds behind Fabio Aru, Alberto Contador and Richie Porte.

What comes now

Stage 5 takes place almost entirely in Tuscany and is dedicated to the great Gino Bartali, who was first on the Abetone twice, in 1947 and 1948, although back then the stages didn’t finish on the climb, like it will be the case now. The stage which starts from La Spezia is quite short – 152 kilometers – and features just two obstacles, whose gradients are not too steep. The first part of the route is basically flat; past Aulla, the road starts to climb up to Foce Carpinelli (10 kilometers, 5% average gradient), then runs down to hit the short Barga climb and reaches the foot of the final ascent (17,3 kilometers with a 5,4% gradient).

The Abetone climb starts in La Lima. Gradients only slightly exceed 2% over the first 4,5 kilometers. The following 8 kilometers are steeper, with gradients around 7%, with the maximum gradient (14%) coming with around 7 kilometers left of the ascent. The route then levels out slightly – 5% – up to the finish, on wide and well-surfaced roads. The uphill home straight, with a gradient of 5%, is 100-m long (on 5,5-m wide asphalt road).

Fabio Aru has the strongest team in the race and will be keen on showing that he left all his health issues behind and that he’s a big contender not only for the podium, but also for the overall win. Besides the stage victory on this mythical climb of the race, Aru will have another stake: take as much seconds as possible to his opponents before the individual time trial that comes at the end of the second week, where everybody expects him to bleed minutes.

Alberto Contador doesn’t want the pink jersey, but he wants to prove to his rivals that he is in an excellent shape and Abetone should provide him with an excellent opportunity to fire the first “bullet” at this year’s edition. Of course, Richie Porte will also be there and can attack on the last part of the climb to score the win, but an even more interesting rider than the Aussie is Rigoberto Uran, who has to take back time to these three in order to keep his pink jersey ambitions alive.

Other cyclists to watch out for on Wednesday are Jurgen Van Den Broeck, Damiano Caruso, Esteban Chaves (the Colombian cyclist of Orica-GreenEdge, who can become the new leader of the Corsa Rosa), Stefano Pirazzi and Damiano Cunego, who doesn’t pose any threat in the general classification.

Introduced on the route in 1928 (when Domenico Piemontesi was the first rider to cross it), Abetone was a stage finish three times in the Giro d’Italia – 1956, 1959 and 2000 – the most memorable being the one from 56 years ago. In 1959, Abetone came at the end of stage three and Charly Gaul, nicknamed the “Angel of the Mountains”, a rider who used a high cadence on the ascents and is widely considered as one of the best climbers of all time, attacked and distanced all his rivals, the victory giving him the pink jersey, which he eventually won in Milan, 6 minutes and 21 seconds ahead of Jacques Anquetil.

2015 Giro d’Italia – Stage 4 Preview

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What happened on Stage 3

Race leader Michael Matthews has capitalised on a perfect team ride by Orica-GreenEdge, edging  Fabio Felline and Philippe Gilbert, to win the third stage of the Giro d’Italia in the pink jersey and nab his fifth victory in a Grand Tour. If the 2010 U23 world champion had a perfect day, the same can’t be said of AG2R’s Domenico Pozzovivo. The pocket climber crashed hard on the last descent of the stage to Sestri Levante, sliding out on a right-hander, and was forced to abandon. Fortunately, after being taken to the hospital, the team’s officials confirmed that the Italian is doing well and has no broken bones.

What comes now

The riders will line-up in  Chiavari for a short – 150 kilometers – but very technical and intricate stage that ends in La Spezia. It features an unceasing series of climbs, descents and winding roads among the mountains, on mainly narrow roads. After the first few kilometres on level terrain, the route takes in the Colla di Velva ascent, enters Val di Vara and tackles the Passo del Bracco climb. A few technical stretches then lead to the Cinque Terre. The route rolls past Levanto, and then climbs up Passo del Termine (6,1 kilometers, 8,8% average gradient); after Riomaggiore, the “Biassa” tunnel (over 1 kilometer in length) leads to the Gulf of La Spezia. Here, after passing the finish line, the route takes a lap on a 17,1 km-long circuit.

The final circuit, rolling partly on city roads, is very challenging and intricate. The first part (around 4 kilometers) runs through the urban area, and is marked by straight roads and 90-degree turns (watch out for a slight uphill sector on cobbles, stretching about 1 kilometer in length). The following Biassa ascent (third category) rises with a 5% gradient over 3,5 kilometers, and with ramps always exceeding 10% over the last kilometer, with peaks topping out at 14%. A long, panoramic descent begins 10 kilometers before the finish, and ends with 3 kilometers to go. The final kilometres run on straight and level roads, with the home straight being a 700-m long one.

Orica-GreenEdge can make it three victories in four days, after winning the team time trial in Sanremo and the bunch sprint in Sestri Levante. This time, Orica’s man to watch out for is Simon Gerrans, the first pink jersey holder at the 2015 edition, although Michael Matthews said before the race that he’s capable of being at the finish to fight for the win. After missing on the victory on Monday, Fabio Felline and Philippe Gilbert will try to make up for this disappointment, with the mention that former world champion has to attack in order to dispatch the likes of Gerrans and Matthews.

Third in last month’s Giro dell’Appennino, Damiano Cunego (who did a recon here last week) is an interesting rider for this stage, the most likely scenario being to see “Il Piccolo Principe” trying to force a selection on the Biassa climb. His fellow countryman Giovanni Visconti can also go on to the attack, while the likes of Enrico Battaglin, Francesco Gavazzi, Grega Bole and even Ilnur Zakarin can wait for a sprint from a reduced peloton, that is if a breakaway doesn’t make it all the way to the end.

1989 is the year of the previous stage finish in La Spezia (the birth town of Alessandro Petacchi, one of the best sprinters in history, with 48 wins in Grand Tours). Back then, the stage was 220 km-long and saw Laurent Fignon take a memorable victory, his only one at that edition, ahead of Maurizio Fondriest and Phil Andersonn. Two days later, the Frenchman won the Corsa Rosa, his last triumph in a three-week stage race.

2015 Giro d’Italia – Stage 3 Preview

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What happened on Stage 2

Elia Viviani timed his sprint to perfection in Genova and overhauled Moreno Hofland on the last meters to score his maiden victory in a Grand Tour. Thanks to this win, Viviani is now first in the points classification, while Michael Matthews is the new leader of the overall standings, ahead of his fellow countryman, Simon Gerrans. Otherwise, it was a tough day for AG2R’s Domenico Pozzovivo, who was caught behind a crash and came to the line 69 seconds behind the pink jersey contenders, his podium ambitions receiving a tough blow early in the race.

What comes now

This stage has a mostly challenging and rough course (with a total difference in altitude of nearly 2 300 meters over 136 kilometers), with the exception of the last 10 kilometers. The first 110 kilometres feature a never-ending series of curves switching in both directions, undulations, climbs and descents on narrow mountain roads. The route starts in Rapallo and first takes in the Ruta di Camogli climb, just a few kilometres after the start, followed by Colle Caprile (second category climb, 6,5 km, 4% average gradient).

The course then clears the Scoffera climb, runs across Torriglia and skirts around Lago del Brugneto. It plummets down into Montebruno, with some technical sections, then climbs up again to the Barbagelata summit (second category climb, 5,7 km, 8% average gradient), followed by a very long descent (with a technical first half, up to Passo della Scoglina) leading to Chiavari and, eventually, to the finish.

The final seven kilometres of the stage course roll along via Aurelia. The route is mainly flat, with the classic undulations of coastal roads. Two kilometres before the finish in Sestri Levante (a town mentioned by Dante Alighieri in Canto 19 of “The Divine Comedy”), a tunnel protecting against rockfall (almost entirely open, with “windows” along the side facing the sea) leads to a short descent, which ends some 1 200 m before the finish. With 850 m to go, a roundabout causes a slight offset in the route. The home straight is 850-m long, on 6.5-m wide asphalt road.

Looking at the profile, it’s obvious that this is a stage in which Michael Matthews can shine, the Aussie having a big chance to bag his second Giro d’Italia victory, after the Montecopiolo one, in 2014. Very strong on the climbs and with a fast finish, Matthews also counts on a team that can control the last kilometers of the race, when it’s all going to become hectic. After having a great Spring so far, which saw him finishing on the podium in the Criterium International and taking a win in Vuelta al Pais Vasco (ahead of Matthews), Fabio Felline is another important contender, as he shouldn’t have any problems making it over the climbs, all while staying fresh for the finale.

Etixx-Quick Step has had a pretty poor start to the Giro, missing on the podium in the team time trial and losing Pieter Serry, who crashed and broke his collarbone, so the Belgian team needs a good result fast, and the man who can bring it is Gianni Meersman. Besides these three, other cyclists who can be in contention on Monday are Grega Bole, Juan Jose Lobato, Luka Mezgec and Simon Gerrans (if anything is to happen to Michael Matthews).

It will be for the 5th time that a Giro d’Italia stage will finish in Sestre Levante, after 1960, 1962, 2006 and 2012. At the previous visit, Lotto-Belisol’s Lars Ytting Bak took the win, after being in the breakaway all day. Sandy Casar came second, Costa Rica’s Andrey Amador was third, while Joaquim Rodriguez stayed in command in the general classification.

2015 Giro d’Italia – Stage 2 Preview

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What happened on Stage 1

Orica-GreenEdge put on an impressive performance, winning the team time trial in Sanremo, just as it did in 2014, at Belfast. 34-year-old Simon Gerrans became the 7th Australian rider to wear the pink jersey, after Cadel Evans, Bradley McGee, Brett Lancaster, Robbie McEwen, Richie Porte and Michael Matthews. If Etixx-Quick Step came second last year, this time Tinkoff-Saxo was runner-up, which allowed Alberto Contador to gain time on all his rivals: Fabio Aru, Rigoberto Uran and Richie Porte.

What comes now

This first mass-start stage has a mainly level route, but features a wavier and more challenging profile in the first part, with the Testico climb just a few dozen kilometres from the start, followed by constant gentle undulations, and the “Capi” on the Aurelia road, along the coast of the Western Riviera. On their journey, the riders will also pass through Savona, the town in which Eddy Merckx was announced that he tested positive for the stimulant fencamfamine, at the 1969 Giro d’Italia.

The Pratozanino ascent (4th category) will be the first categorized climb of the 2015 Corsa Rosa, which means that there will be a big fight there between the riders in the breakaway, as the blue jersey automatically guarantees extra publicity. Then, after reaching Genova, the route takes the 9,5 km-long city circuit, which will be covered twice. The course runs through Piazza de Ferrari, then goes down to Piazza Brignole, where the road slowly starts to rise, up to Piazza Verdi. Here, a 1-km dash with a 4% gradient leads to Albaro, followed by a false-flat drag and the descent down into Boccadasse, where the route reaches the seafront. The course runs flat up to the last kilometre (completely straight), where the road climbs steadily, with gradients of around 2%.

Because of this, Michael Matthews is seen as one of the top favorites for Sunday. Not only that he enjoys a finish which isn’t pan-flat, but he has a very powerful team, which can control the bunch to perfection. There’s also the fact that Orica-GreenEdge likes to swap the leader’s jersey between its riders when it has the opportunity, so it could well be the case now. Returning to the race after five years, André Greipel will be another strong contender, although the German doesn’t have the best lead-out, with only Greg Henderson to help him. The Italians will hope Giacomo Nizzolo, Sacha Modolo and Elia Viviani will be in the mix as well, ready to bring the home country an early victory, while Luka Mezgec and Juan Jose Lobato know they have a fair chance on this type of finish, and will look to prove they didn’t came here just to check a Grand Tour participation.

It will be for the 42nd time that Genova – the city of Niccolo Paganini and Christopher Columbus – will host a Giro d’Italia stage. The previous visit here was in 2004, when Bradley McGee won a 6,9 km-long prologue, ahead of Olaf Pollack and Yaroslav Popovych.

2015 Tour of California Preview

Tour of California 2015

It’s a big year for the Tour of California – maybe the best stage race in the US – which celebrates a decade since its inception. Starting from Sacramento before finishing eight days later in the shadow of the Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena (the ninth-largest city in the Los Angeles County), the event follows a north-south route and promises to be give every type of rider in the peloton an opportunity to shine, as it has flat stages, some lumpy ones, an individual time trial and a big altitude finish.

After two days for the sprinters, in Sacramento and Lodi, the race will enter the mountains in stage three, when the peloton will tackle five categorized climbs (including Mount Hamilton), which could lay their mark on the pack, although you shouldn’t expect to see big gaps, a likely scenario being a breakaway that will go all the way to the uphill finish in San Jose. One day later, it will be another opportunity for the sprinters, in Avila Beach, where Jens Voigt took an impressive solo victory two years ago, while stage five should have the fast men of the peloton once again in the spotlight.

Big Bear Lake returns on the map this year, not with a road stage, but with a 24 km-long individual time trial, which should create some important gaps between the GC contenders, as the course – which is pretty much flat – favours specialists. One of the hardest ascents in the US, Mount Baldy, will give the pure climbers a chance to turn tables around and make their point on Saturday. The 20,8 km-long climb with a 7,4% average gradient featured at the 2001 and 2012 edition, when Chris Horner, respectively Robert Gesink won, and should provide a great show, before the race concludes in Los Angelest, with a pan-flat stage.

24-year-old Andžs Flaksis – former ITT national champion and 3rd at the 2011 U23 Tour of Flanders – is a fine connoisseur of the stage races that make up the America Tour, so I’ve asked the Latvian rider of Hincapie Racing Team to preview the course of the 10th Tour of California.

“I have been staying in the area of Sacramento for a week before the race, so I got chance to see stages 1 and 3. I think there are going to be three crucial days for GC guys for sure: first one is stage 3, with Mount Hamilton and the tricky descent that comes afterwards, so we might see the first time splits between the overall classification contenders there. Then there’s stage 6, with the Big Bear Lake ITT, and stage 7, which has the mountain top finish at Baldy. So these will be three key stages for the GC riders. Other stages might come to a sprint finish, but you can’t relax for a moment, because in the first two stages there’s a big chance of crosswinds, so you never know what can happen! That’s what is going to make this race really exciting, the posibility of having some splits and breaks in moments when this kind of things are not expected.”

The favorites

On paper, Sky looks to be the strongest team, having two options for the overall classification: Sergio Henao and Peter Kennaugh. The Colombian has returned in the peloton in March after more than 10 months without any racing, following his knee injury in the Tour de Suisse. Although he never exceled in the time trial and risks losing some important seconds at Big Bear Lake, Henao can recover the time lost one day later, when the race hits Mount Baldy. If he’ll not be up to the task, then Kennaugh – the 2014 Tour of Austria winner – will be ready to step in and fight for the yellow jersey.

Andrew Talansky has never before finished on the podium of his home race, but this year he starts with a big chance of taking the victory. The 26-year-old American leads a very strong Cannondale-Garmin team, which also includes 2012 Girobio winner Joe Dombrowski, and is poised to finish first and show he’s on the right track for this summer’s Tour de France. He’s not the best on the climbs, but a solid result in the time trial can give him the upper hand over his rivals.

An injury has prevented Robert Gesink from racing for about two months this season, but the Dutch cyclist came back in April, at the Tour de Romandie, and his 15th place gave him the confidence he needed that he can return back to the top after the problems he has endured. A cyclist who always had good results in North America, even more often than he did in Europe, Gesink can fight for the podium at this year’s Tour of California, especially as he’ll be supported by Laurens ten Dam, whose help on the climbs can prove to be very important.

Another interesting team is BMC, which decided to go with Ben Hermans (who will get some precious help from neo-pro Joey Rosskopf) for the GC, after the Belgian has had an impressive ride at the inaugural edition of the Tour de Yorkshire, where he finished 6th, after tooking a stage win along the way. Trek Factory – the last US-based World Tour team on the startlist – has former US champion Matthew Busche and Riccardo Zoidl for the overall standings, but it will be very difficult for either of them to clock up a podium, a top 5 being more likely.

Who else can be a protagonist in the race? Well, Giant-Shimano has the depth to fight for the overall classification thanks to the likes of Warren Barguil (the 2012 Tour de l’Avenir champion) and Lawson Craddock, the latter – 3rd at the previous edition – prevailing over his teammate (at least on paper) thanks to his superior time trial skills. UnitedHealthcare comes with an in-form Janez Brajkovic, who can think of a top 5, Jamis-Hagens has a very strong and spectacular duo – Gregory Brenes and Daniel Jaramillo – capable of lighting-up the race on the mountains, while Hincapie Racing Team will hope Robin Carpenter, a stage winner at last year’s USA Pro Cycling Challenge, can take another memorable victory.

Last, but not least, there’s also Axeon Cycling Team, the squad managed by forme pro Axel Merckx. Don’t be fooled by the fact Axeon is a Continental team, as it has the depth to lay its mark on the race and get an impressive result in the overall standings. Winner of three races this year, James Oram is one of the squad’s leaders, and his time trial should place him in a nice position before Mount Baldy. Besides him, there’s also Tao Geoghegan Hart, a future Grand Tour champion, who comes here after finishing 8 th at the Tour of the Gila, last week.

In the sprints, Mark Cavendish will start as the big favorite and he’ll look to add to his tally of already nine wins this season. So far, the former world champion has won five stages at the event, which puts him on second place in an all-time winners list, and considering his current form, he should have no problem in taking at least two victories. At the start there’s also Peter Sagan, anxious to kick off his second half of the season with a couple of victories, and the California course can help him reach his target.

Other sprinters who can have a go in the flat stages are Danny van Poppel, Gerald Ciolek, Guillaume Bovin, Theo Bos, Ty Magner, Jure Kocjan and Lucas Sebastian Haedo. Finally, other riders who can fight for a stage win are Ruben Zepuntke, Alex Howes, Daniele Ratto (who comes here after a very strong Tour of Turkey), Julian Alaphilippe – the revelation of the Ardennes Classics – Jean-Pierre Drucker, Daniel Oss and Jasper Stuyven.

Race stats

– The race was created in 2006, and the first winner was Phonak’s Floyd Landis

– The record for the most GC victories – 3 – is held by another US rider, Levi Leipheimer, who is also the cyclist with the most days spent in the leader’s jersey: 22

– Only three riders from outside of the US have won the race: Robert Gesink (Netherlands), Michael Rogers (Australia) and Bradley Wiggins (United Kingdom)

– Peter Sagan has the most stage wins – 11 – the Slovak being the only cyclist to take at least a victory in five consecutive editions

– The closest winning margin in the race’s history came in 2010, when only 9 seconds separated Michael Rogers and David Zabriskie

– The largest winning margin was recorded in 2013, when Tejay van Garderen won for 1’47’’

– Youngest ever winner is Tejay van Garderen (24 years), while Chris Horner is the oldest one (39 years in 2011)

– There will be 18 teams (8 World Tour, 4 Pro Continental and 6 Continental) at the start of the 10th edition

– Two of these are winless in 2015: Hincapie Racing and Jelly Belly

– Robert Gesink is the only former champion to line-up for this year’s edition

– Most riders coming at the start are from the USA: 44

– Geoffrey Curran (19 years) is the youngest cyclist in the race, while Fred Rodriguez (41) is the oldest one

Eduard Grosu: “I’m confident ahead of the Giro”

In 1936, four Romanian riders lined-up in Paris for the 30th edition of the Tour de France: George Hapciuc, Virgil Mormocea, Nicolae Tapu and Constantin Tudose. They were all amateurs and under the age of 30, and the Tour de France was their career highlight in terms of events raced, but it  didn’t turn out to be a nice memory, as the weather, the crashes and the fast pace of the professional riders made their life a living hell in the first days of the race. Because of that, all four came after the time limit at various points during the race and were eventually disqualified.

Fast forward eight decades and Romania will again feature in a Grand Tour – the Giro d’Italia – where it will have not one, but two cyclists. One of these is Eduard Grosu, a 22-year-old coming from the town of Zarnesti, who rides for Italian Pro Continental outfit Nippo-Vini Fantini. One of the seven neo-pros who are at the start of the Corsa Rosa, he didn’t have the season he has planned so far, a cytomegalovirus and a mononucleosis hampering his preparation and race schedule. Despite of these problems, Edi Grosu fought hard to come back at a proper level and eventually made the team for the Giro d’Italia, where he hopes to help the squad, but also to make himself noticed during some stages.

– Edi, how was the Tour of Turkey?

It was a good race, very well-organized, and an important preparation ahead of the Giro. Overall, I really enjoyed the time spent there.

– What were your thoughts at the start of the race?

I wasn’t confident that I will have a strong week, as there were some question marks concerning my health, but soon I realized that all my problems were gone. I have some small regrets because I’m now aware that I could have had better results, but truth is it was my first race in a long time and it took a while to find my pace.

– You got a top 10 in stage two and went in a long breakaway on the last day. Looking back, what do you think of your display in Turkey?

In my opinion, I could have finished on the podium in the stage which finished in Antalya. After pulling for Daniele Colli in the finale, I went to the back of the pack with around three kilometers to go, and when we hit the last kilometer I was far in the bunch, somewhere around the 45th position. I just wanted to sprint to see how I would feel, and in the end I was very surprised to find out that I finished in the top 10. In the last stage, the team gave me “carte blanche”, as they wanted to go with Colli for the finish. So I went in the break and we were just four riders and there was a pretty strong headwind, so eventually we got caught with five kilometers to go, but it was pretty tight. During the stage I noticed that I have good legs, which gave me a lot of confidence for the Giro d’Italia.

– Now you’re heading to the Corsa Rosa. Did you get to look over the stages?

Yes, I know the parcours and I’m aware of the fact that it won’t be easy at all, but I hope that everything will be ok and that I can get over the difficult mountain stages.

– And what are your goals for the race?

I’m at about 60% of my potential now and if everything goes well, I will try to do something in the last week. At the beginning of the year I was focused on the first week of the race, but due to my health problems I had to change my targets, so now I will try to help the team and find my form, and eventually do something in the last stages.

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