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Archive for the month “iulie, 2015”

Keegan Swirbul: “Winning the Nationals was the best moment of my life”

Three years ago, a lanky teenager defeated Lance Armstrong at the Power of Four 36-mile long mountain bike race that took place in Aspen, Colorado. Surprised, but also impressed by what he’s seen and the potential of that kid, the 1993 world champion gave Axel Merckx – Bontrager-Livestrong’s sports director – a call and told him to keep an eye on the 16-year-old. Just one and a half year later, Merckx offered the young rider a place in his team and so Keegan Swirbul embarked in a new adventure, with one of the best development teams in the world.

Stoked, but at the same time nervous about being a newcomer to road racing, Keegan Swirbul took each thing at a time, his first races providing him a massive learning experience. Once things began to fall into place, the Colorado native began to show his talent by finishing second at the National Championships, in 2014, following a great ride. One season later, he won the title after an excellent race, taking his biggest result to date and thus confirming his huge talent, which makes him one of the most interesting prospects of the U23 scene.

Despite this success, Keegan Swirbul – who is a natural born climber – remains with his feet on the ground, as he knows he’s just started the road leading towards a pro career in the years to come. That’s why now he’s focusing on improving and making sure he’ll add other big wins to the victory he notched in June. Before the first big appointment he has in the second half of the season – the Tour of Utah – Axeon’s cyclist sat down and talked for Cafe Roubaix about his results so far and his future goals

– Keegan, what do you feel you’ve improved since coming to Axeon?

I’ve improved in every aspect as I was starting from scratch, but I’d say my biggest improvement would be my general strength power wise. I am now able to ride harder, longer and recover quicker than I expected. When I was first offered the place on Axeon in the fall of 2013, I wouldn’t have even been able to complete even the lower level American races, so I actually made pretty crazy progress that winter and similar percentage gains during the 2014 off-season. I have also made some progress with my pack skills, but I’m still working on that aspect.

– Last month you won the U23 national title. Were you expecting such a great result?

Nationals was a good memory for me. Going in, I was confident as I had been feeling consistently good during training the weeks before. I am more happy with the long climbs, and the final one at the Nationals was under two minutes, so I wasn’t thinking of myself as the top favorite at all. But, I attacked hard in the finale a few times and no one was able to follow.

– What did it mean for you to take the victory?

I was seriously stoked on that win. Probably the single best moment of my life, if I’m honest. I have dreamed of that jersey for years.

– When it comes to stage races, which was your highlight so far?

Stage race wise, my favorite moment was probably the fourth stage of the Tour of Utah in 2014. The first few days of the race I was hanging for dear life and I was questioning my place at this level of the sport, so to have a decent ride that day really helped my moral.

– Besides road cycling, you’re also into mountain bike and cross country from time to time. How do these three get along?

I had been into mountain biking and building trails and all that jazz for a long time. It was good fun, and honestly I didn’t take it too seriously really. I was interested in a lot of other summer time activities that made being a top rider impossible. During high school, I quit freestyle skiing and began XC skiing. My junior year, I stopped screwing around and set the goal of winning the Nationals and I ended up doing it. I stopped skiing after that.

– Giro della Valle d’Aosta was your first European race. With what thoughts did you go there?

Heading into Aosta, I was pretty stoked. It was the first time that I would do a true mountain race. I trained pretty dang hard for a good while before the race, and I was feeling way good. Numbers were way higher than I had ever seen, so I was very confident. When I arrived to Europe, something was missing though. I felt bad in the training the week before and couldn’t produce the same numbers at sea level that I was producing at altitude a week earlier. I went terribly the first days of the race and I was very upset with myself. The last few days I somewhat found my legs, but still not the level I know I’m capable of. Not the best way to start in Europe, but I certainly am incredibly motivated to try and do everything perfectly this winter to hopefully avoid these bouts of inconsistent form next year.

– And what’s next for you?

Next up for me is Tour of Utah. I’m heading into Utah with questionable form. Utah has always been a big target for me, and I hope to be going well. But after the bad sensations in training and a bad performance at Aosta, I’m not sure what kind of shape I will arrive with. Regardless, I’m sure Axeon will have some riders up there on GC, so hopefully I’ll be going well enough to help them do a good ride.

– I know it’s still early, but did you give a thought what races would you like to win?

I really have no idea what races I’d like to win. Winning any race is massive for me. But certainly, I would love to win any race in the mountains. Hopefully, next season I can try to target as many European mountain races as I can. Also, I’d really like to try and get in some races that aren’t my speciality, in order to learn the ways, but in the end of the day, my program is not designed by me, so who knows. If I were to say one country in which I dream of taking a big win, that would be Italy, because I really love the races there. The mountains of Italy are the most spectacular I have ever seen, and the roads are very appealing to my characteristics as a rider.

2015 Tour de France Conclusions

Chris Froome did a textbook race and although he didn’t look as strong as two year ago, when he scored his maiden Tour de France victory, his second victory is much more impressive, as the Brit overcame all the obstacles of the first week and gave proof of solid and flawless tactics, something which he looked to be lacking until this season. No one can argue that Froome – who also took the polka dot jersey – was the strongest cyclist out there, a man on a mission who took time out of his opponents on every type of terrain: flat, time trial and mountain. Once he did that, the 30-year-old Sky rider made his life much easier and could afford to lose a big chunk of his advantage on the last two mountain stages, before arriving in Paris with a second Tour de France trophy in the bag, which makes him one of the most successful riders in the race’s history since the end of World War ll.

This triumph was not just one of Froome’s, but of the whole Sky team, who made its homework before the race and played it perfectly during July, helping its leader gain time in a tough first week and in the end delivering a win expected since 2013. Sky came at the start with arguably its best and most powerful Tour de France line-up since the inception of the team and every single cyclist had a contribution to Froome’s overall victory, with the likes of Richie Porte, Geraint Thomas – who was one of the race’s revelations – and Wout Poels deserving an extra mention for their job on the mountains and for how they closed almost all the attacks. Precisely for this reason, it will be interesting to see what the three of them will do next year, when Porte and Thomas are poised to be Grand Tour leaders, while Poels will have to fill in the shoes of the Tasmanian, who’s leaving Sky on a high note at the end of this season.

Nairo Quintana – one of the most gifted climbers the world has ever seen – was sad at the end of the race, as he arrived at the conclusion that he has lost the overall victory in the first week, when he missed the split caused by the crosswinds in the Zelande stage and finished 1:28 behind Chris Froome. At a closer look, he’s half-right, because after that moment he had many opportunities to turn the tables on his favourite terrain, the mountains, but failed to deliver until the last two Alpine stages, which was too little, too late. Besides that, the Colombian paid dearly for having Alejandro Valverde in the team, the Spanish champion being more interested in securing his place on the podium, than helping his leader. If he’s to win the race in 2016, Quintana needs to be sure that he’ll be the sole captain of Movistar next year, although it will be difficult, considering the long and special relationship between Valverde and Eusebio Unzue, the general manager of the team.

Peter Sagan was the nearly-man of the race, finishing five times in second place and missing a stage win for the second season in a row. It was a major disappointment for the Slovak champion, who partially made up for it by taking the green jersey for the fourth time since 2012. Not even the change of regulation in the points standings made by the organizers could stop Sagan from winning the maillot verte with an incredible ease, a nice reward for one of the most consistent and talented riders in the Tour de France. More than sure, July left the 25-year-old Slovak hungry for more, so look out for him in this second half of the season, as he’ll try to add some important victories to his already impressive palmares.

Only the sixth rider in history to win all three Grand Tours, Vincenzo Nibali hoped to repeat his 2014 feat and take another overall victory in Le Tour, but it looked to be an almost impossible mission since the beginning of the race, as the Italian champion wasn’t on the top of his form and struggled in the first half of the competition, all these adding to the time he has lost in the second stage and to the failed attempt of clawing back some precious seconds on the northern cobbles. Despite falling short in his attempt of defending last year’s trophy, Nibali can still find reasons to be happy for his ride, as he put on the same aggressive spirit for which he’s known and appreciated, and surged away to take an epic win on La Toussuire, that eventually propelled him to fourth overall.

Alberto Contador was hoping at the start of the race to deliver that Giro-Tour double that is obsessing him for a couple of years now, but the Tinkoff-Saxo leader failed once again, the main reason being that he left too much energy on Italy’s roads in May, when he took his second Trofeo Senza Fine. Winning the Grande Boucle after a hard ride in the Corsa Rosa was a daring attempt from the 32-year-old Spaniard, who fought more with his heart than his legs, which couldn’t respond when Froome or Quintana attacked. To his credit, Contador tried to lit up the race and put pressure on his rivals, but it was obvious he can’t be a major protagonist. Still, people shouldn’t rush in writing him off, despite his below par performance, as 2016 we’ll see “El Pistolero” returning for one final shot at glory in the race that made him a star, almost a decade ago.

With Marcel Kittel out of the race, many were expecting a Mark Cavendish show in the sprints, but it wasn’t to be for the Manxman, who took only one stage, for the most part of the race staying in André Greipel’s shadow. A rider who made his Tour de France debut late in his career, when he was 29-years-old, the German cyclist of Lotto-Soudal proved to be the most powerful sprinter in the peloton, and helped by an excellent form, a perfect timing and a great team, he catapulted himself to four stage wins, making the 2015 edition of the race his best ever, which is even more impressive considering he’s now 33. It was an outstanding run for a rider of whom people began to think that his best sprint years were behind him, at least in Grand Tours.

MTN-Qhubeka made its debut in the Tour de France and had three excellent weeks, during which the team got itself noticed on the big scene every single time it had the opportunity. Best climber of the Criterium du Dauphiné, Daniel Teklehaimanot fought hard in the first days of the event and got to wear the polka dot jersey, a beautiful reward for a rider who loves cycling and is commited to working hard in order to succeed in this sport. Norwegian champion Edvald Boasson Hagen got himself involved in breakaways and some sprints, Serge Pauwels finished in 13th place, while the cherry on the cake was brought by Stephen Cumming, with a cunning and extraordinry win in stage 14, at Mende, on Mandela Day. On top of all these, the main news is that MTN-Qhubeka is here to stay and this means we can expect many great exploits from the South African team in the years to come, regardless of the structure going World Tour or not.

The home nation had two riders on the podium of the previous edition, but not even the most optimistic French supporters thought this scenario will repeat in 2015. Despite not finishing with a cyclist in the top three, France can be satisfied with the Tour its riders have had this year: Alexis Vuillermoz (Mur-de-Bretagne), Romain Bardet (Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne) and Thibaut Pinot each took a stage win, the latter of the three conquering the mythical Alpe d’Huez after a brave action, which showed that persistence does pay off. Besides these wins, Bardet and Pierre Rolland finished in the top 10 overall, while Warren Barguil – a debutant – made waves until the races hit the Alps and came home 14th, proving he has what it takes (grith, determination, tactics and enough room for improvement) in order to be a contender in the years to come.

Besides Geraint Thomas and Warren Barguil, there were also other cyclists to make a name for themselves in July. One of these was Bob Jungels, the Luxembourg champion who worked hard for Bauke Mollema, went into escapes and still managed to finish in 27th place, a great result for a cyclist who hasn’t raced the Tour de France until this year, and even more important, a result which gives him the confidence he can be back one day to make a bigger impact on the race. Two other young cyclists, Adam and Simon Yates, kept the flag high for Orica-GreenEdge, performing at a level well beyond their years, going in breakaways and scoring a couple of impressive top 10 finishes. Finally, a special mention deserves also Emanuel Buchmann, the German champion from Bora-Argon 18, who was third in Cauterets, after a long escape, and thus confirmed the potential he already highlighted last year, in the U23 ranks.

World Tour standings after the Tour de France


1 – Alejandro Valverde – 482 points

2 – Chris Froome – 422 points

3 – Alberto Contador – 407 points

4 – Nairo Quintana – 365 points

5 – Richie Porte – 314 points

6 – Joaquim Rodriguez – 292 points

7 – Geraint Thomas – 283 points

8 – Rui Costa – 274 points

9 – Simon Spilak – 259 points

10 – John Degenkolb – 265 points


1 – Sky – 1219 points

2 – Movistar – 1092 points

3 – Katusha – 1038 points

4 – Etixx-Quick Step – 891 points

5 – Tinkoff-Saxo – 777 points

6 – Astana – 663 points

7 – BMC – 568 points

8 – Giant-Alpecin – 482 points

9 – AG2R – 479 points

10 – Orica-GreenEdge – 456 points


1 – Spain – 1410 points

2 – Great Britain – 903 points

3 – Colombia – 785 points

4 – France – 742 points

5 – Australia – 696 points

6 – Italy – 694 points

7 – Netherlands – 670 points

8 – Germany – 455 points

9 – Belgium – 410 points

10 – Czech Republic – 306 points

2015 Tour de France – Third week stats

– Chris Froome became the 20th rider to win the race at least twice

– He’s also the first cyclist since Eddy Merckx (1970) to win the GC and the mountains classification at the same edition

– Chris Froome now has 30 yellow jerseys, making him the rider with the most days in the lead

– The 30-year-old Brit became the second cyclist to win the Criterium du Dauphiné and Tour de France in the same year twice, following Bernard Hinault (1979, 1981)

– Chris Froome is the first rider to win the polka dot jersey having not actually worn it during the race

– Chris Froome is the sixth cyclist to win the overall and the mountains classification, following Sylvère Maes, Gino Bartali, Fausto Coppi, Federico Bahamontes and Eddy Merckx

– The 72 seconds separating Chris Froome and Nairo Quintana is the tenth smallest gap between first and second

– Nairo Quintana is the first Colombian rider to finish in the top three of the Tour de France twice

– The South American has a total of 21 days in the white jersey; only Jan Ullrich (54), Phil Anderson (37) and Andy Schleck (30) are ahead of him

– Alejandro Valverde finished for the first time on the podium of the Tour de France

– 2015 is the first year ever when the top five in the Tour de France are all Grand Tour winners

– For the first time since 1989, two Dutch cyclists finished in the top 7 of the Tour de France

– Mathias Frank is the first Swiss cyclist in the past 16 years to notch a top 10 overall

– Only 16 riders finished within an hour of the Tour de France winner, fewest since 1997

– Peter Sagan became the first cyclist to finish second in five Tour de France stages in one year since Alex Zülle, in 1999

– Same Sagan came ten times in the top five. He is first rider to achieve this feat in a single Tour de France since Sean Kelly (1985)

– The Slovak equalled Charles Pélissier on sixth place for most second places in Tour de France stages (16)

– Peter Sagan jumped to second in an all-time standings of the most days spent in the green jersey, 71

– Sagan is only the third cyclist to win the green jersey at least four times

– Ruben Plaza brought Lampre-Merida its first stage win in the race since 2010

– In Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne, Romain Bardet became the first rider from Auvergne to win a stage in the past 54 years

– Simon Geschke became the second German to win a stage with a mountain top finish, following Jan Ullrich in 1997 (Ordino-Arcalis)

– After abandoning in stage 17, Michal Kwiatkowski became the 14th reigning world champion to retire from the Tour de France

– Of the riders who made their Tour de France debut, Warren Barguil got the best GC result: 14th

– For the first time since 2012, French riders have won at least three stages in one edition

– Thibaut Pinot became the fourth French rider to win on Alpe d’Huez, following Bernard Hinault (1986), Pierre Rolland (2011) and Christophe Riblon (2013)

– 12 teams have scored at least one stage victory: AG2R, Astana, BMC, Etixx-Quick Step, FDJ, Giant-Alpecin, Katusha, Lampre-Merida, LottoNL-Jumbo, MTN-Qhubeka, Sky and Tinkoff-Saxo

– Lotto-Soudal was the team with the most stage wins: 4

– Seven out of the 19 stages in line were won from a breakaway

– Adam Hansen completed a record-equalling 12 straight Grand Tour

– Nine riders have retired during the third week, making it for a total of 38 abandons

– Thomas De Gendt is the cyclist with the most kilometers spent in a breakaway: 679

– Europcar and LottoNL-Jumbo are the only teams to complete the race with all nine riders

– Romain Bardet was voted the most combative cyclist of the race, becoming the 30th Frenchman to receive this prize

– Robert Gesink is the first rider since Sean Kelly (1983) to finish in the top 36 of every Tour de France stage

– Germany was the nations with the most stage wins at this edition: 6 – Sébastien Chavanel was the lanterne rouge of the race, after coming last in the general classsification

– Pinarello is now the most successful brand in Tour de France history, with 11 overall wins

– After Rohan Dennis and Tony Martin got to lead the race, there are now 280 cyclists who wore the yellow jersey since 1919

– Sky topped the money classification, with a total of 556 630 euro; Orica-GreenEdge was the last team in the standings, with just 10 940 euros

– In the individual money classification, Chris Froome leads, with a total of 503 530 euros

– The average speed of the race was of 39,567 km/h


Rider of the week

On July 26th, Chris Froome joined Gino Bartali, Ottavo Bottecchia, Alberto Contador, Fausto Coppi, Laurent Fignon, Nicolas Frantz, Firmin Lambot, André Leducq, Sylvère Maes, Antonin Magne, Lucien Petit-Breton, Bernard Thevenet as a two-time winner of the Tour de France, taking Great Britain’s tally of wins to three, just as many as the US has.

It wasn’t an easy task for Froome, who had to overcome the crosswinds, the cobbles, the unruly crowds and the doping insinuations, as well as as two spirited attacks of Nairo Quintana on La Toussuire and Alpe d’Huez, thanks to which the pint-sized Colombian managed to cut two thirds of the huge deficit he had in the overall classification before the Alps.

As he did in 2013, the 30-year-old Brit has build his triumph in the first half of the week, surprising everyone with his performance in the flat, tricky stages, before powering away from all his rivals on La Pierre-Saint-Martin, the first summit finish of this year. With that impressive display in the Pyrenees and the cushion he had over all his rivals, Froome had the luxury of staying in the defensive in the days to come, with an eye of Nairo Quintana, Alejandro Valverde, Alberto Contador and Vincenzo Nibali, who were still posing a threat in the GC.

It wasn’t a one-man job, but a team one, as the Sky leader had an incredible squad as his disposal, with the likes of Geraint Thomas, Richie Porte, Wout Poels or Ian Stannard doing a tremendous work during the three weeks of the Tour de France, controlling the race and making sure of helping Chris Froome in the key moments of the race, as well as in the (rare) occasions in which he showed some weaknesses during the final stages, where the Kenya-born cyclist began to fade after three tough weeks.

Now, Chris Froome is a two-time Tour de France winner and is widely considered as one of the best riders in the race’s history. It remains to be seen how his legacy and victories will be regarded in the years to come.

2015/2016 Transfer rumours


Romain Campistrous


Nikitin Matvey

Bora-Argon 18

Alex Kirsch

Caja Rural

Rinaldo Nocentini


Jose Serpa, Cameron Wurf

CCC Sprandi Polkowice

Maximilian Schachmann

Dimension Data

Adil Barbari, Jayde Julius

Etixx-Quick Step

Warren Barguil, Angelo Tulik


Sergey Nikolaev

IAM Cycling

Rinaldo Nocentini


Marcin Bialoblocki, Eduardo Estrada, Filippo Ganna, Andrea Guardini, Rinaldo Nocentini, Stefano Pirazzi


Chad Haga, Thomas Sprengers, Kenneth Vanbilsen


Pawel Bernas


Merhawi Kudus

Nippo-Vini Fantini

Cesare Benedetti, Emanuele Onesti

ONE Pro Cycling

Jonathan Tiernan-Locke


Alessandro Ballan, Franco Pellizotti, Martijn Tusveld


Alessandro Ballan


Philip Deignan, Preben Van Hecke

Wanty-Groupe Gobert

Kevin Callebaut, Romain Feillu

Loïc Vliegen: “I’m happy to turn pro with BMC”

Born in Rocourt, a suburb of Liège, Loïc Vliegen didn’t need too much time to put his cards on the table, standing out from his early days as a Junior, before signing with BMC Development, a team that nurtured his talent and helped him develop his qualities, thanks to which many began talking about Loïc as the new gem of the Belgian cycling for the hilly one-day races.

After a strong first half of the season in 2014 – during which he won a stage and the GC in the Triptyque Ardennaise – BMC offered him a role as a stagiaire and he didn’t disappoint, scoring top 10 placings in both Ride London Classic and the Arctic Race of Norway, both races being known not only for their tough course, but also for the weather which always makes an impact on the final classification.

Fast forward to 2015, and Loïc Vliegen’s palmares for this season already includes Flèche Ardennaise, stage wins at the Tour de Bretagne, Course de la Paix and the Tour des Pays de Savoie, as well as runner-up spots at the Tour de Bretagne and Course de la Paix, all these results (four victories, three podiums and seven top 10 placings) making him one of the most successful and consistent U23 cyclists of the year.

An impressive puncheur, Loïc Vliegen is also a very versatile rider, who seems to have an unlimited potential that allows him to make further developments in the years to come and turn into a protagonist also on the mountains. Until then, he’ll have a busy summer, as the 21-year-old recently became the third cyclist to be promoted from the US-registered team to BMC, after Silvan Dillier and Stefan Küng, and awaits his pro debut with a lot of confidence, especially after his string of successes in the U23 ranks.

– Loïc, how did you start cycling?

I come from a family of cyclists. My father and my grandfather were good amateurs and my granduncle was a pro in the ‘50s. So it was logical for me to become a cyclist.

– How were your first years, what do you remember from that period?

I began racing when I was 14-years-old and I scored four victories back then. I have nice memories of my first race, which took place in Achene (Namur), where I came fourth. It was really exciting and I was happy for coming so close of winning the race.

– As an U23 rider, you joined BMC Development. How was your spell with the team?

It was a good choice for me in 2013 to go to BMC Devo. You can’t wish for a better staff and equipment. I had the perfect environment to improve as an amateur and I learned a lot in races like the Tour du Normandie and Tour de Bretagne. Another important step for me was becoming a stagiaire last year, because by doing this I got to gain valuable experience in pro races.

– In the first half of 2015, you scored many important results, stage wins and GC placings alike. Which was the most important for you and why?

I’d have to say that the best victory of the year was Flèche Ardennaise, because it was really special for me. It was my home race, with the finish taking place just 500 meters from my house. A lot of supporters and people were waiting me to win this race, I had a lot of pressure on my shoulders and I showed that I can win this race as the favorite. This is important for me if one day I will encounter a similar pressure in a pro race. I have good memories of this event, because I’ve never seen so many people supporting me during a race. It was a really nice feeling to get the win.

– You’ve now turned pro with BMC. What does this transfer mean for you and your career?

I’m really happy to turn pro with the BMC Racing Team, because I’m in my third year in this structure and I’m content to see they have confidence in me for three years now.

– With what hopes are you embarking on this adventure?

I would like to learn a lot and to see how things are going at World Tour level. If I’ll ride with a leader in such a race, I’m sure I’ll gain experience, which will be very good for the years to come. Also, if the team will give me some freedom, I’ll try to get results in smaller races.

– And in which races will you go in the next weeks?

I’ll do the Grand Prix Pino Cerami, the Tour de Wallonie, Clasica San Sebastian and the Eneco Tour.

2015 Tour de France – Second week stats

– Chris Froome’s 2’52” lead at the start of stage 11 was the biggest a Tour contender has had after the first summit finish since Lance Armstrong led Jan Ullrich by 4’14”, in 2000

– Same Chris Froome was the ninth rider to win twice on 14 July, a record for the event

– On Pierre-Saint-Martin, Sky became the first team in the race’s history to record a 1-2 on a mountain finish twice

– For the first time in the Tour de France, three British riders finished in the top 10 of a stage (Chris Froome, Geraint Thomas and Adam Yates)

– Rafal Majka became the first rider since Laurent Fignon (1984) to win three Tour de France mountain stages before turning 26

– The Pole is also the first cyclist to take a victory from a breakaway at this year’s edition

– Six riders have retired on stage 11; last time this has happened was in stage 15 of the 2012 edition

– Etixx-Quick Step’s Michal Kwiatkowski is the first cyclist to receive the most combative prize twice

– After winning on Plateau de Beille, Joaquim Rodriguez became the active Spanish rider with the most Grand Tour victories, 13

– 14 cyclists have abandoned during the second week, one more than in the previous week

– Thanks to Stephen Cummings, MTN-Qhubeka scored its maiden Grand Tour victory

– The South-African squad is also the first Pro Continental team to take a stage at this year’s edition

– At 34 years and 121 days, Stephen Cummings became the third-oldest Tour de France stage winner for Great Britain

– Great Britain climbed to 7th place in an all-time victory ranking, with 59 stage wins

– André Greipel nabbed his third stage victory at this year’s edition and equalled his feat from 2012 edition

– He also became the active German cyclist with the most Tour de France stage victories

– Tinkoff-Saxo leads in the money classification, while Orica-Green-Edge lies at the bottom of the ranking

Rider of the week

With 1500 meters left of stage 14 of the Tour de France, it looked like the win will be a 100% French affair between AG2R’s Romain Bardet and FDJ’s Thibaut Pinot, third in last year’s edition. They were the strongest on the Côte de la Croix Neuve, the climb leading towards the Mende Aerodrome and after their attacks ended up with a stalemate, the victory should have been decided in a two-way sprint, 20 years after their countryman Laurent Jalabert made this finish famous in the race, with a win which came following a very long break.

It wasn’t another dream scenario for the French last Saturday, but a nightmare one, as 34-year-old Brit Stephen Cummings timed his effort to perfection and catched Bardet and Pinot just before the top of the climb and created a gap of just a couple of meters, that allowed him to soar to his second career Grand Tour victory, after the one in the 2012 edition of the Vuelta a España (stage 12, Santiago de Compostela-Ferrol), when he was part of another successful breakaway.

Although Côte de la Croix Neuve wasn’t a territory to his liking, Cummings clenched his teeth once he was distanced and then pulled hard to get in touch with his opponents, showing a huge fighting power which basically can be considered a trademark of his personality during a career in which he was forced to get over a series of injuries that took him off the track on too many occasions.

Stage 14 of the Grande Boucle wasn’t just Cummings first Tour de France win, but also MTN-Qhubeka’s maiden Grand Tour victory, one which fittingly came on Mandela Day, the special anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s birthday. A great moment for the South-African team, which will go down in history and will serve as a foundation for the Qhubeka charity, that aims to improve the life of African children and get more and more of them on the bikes, the prime target being not to find the continent’s first Tour de France winner, but to change destinies.

Tao Geoghegan Hart, guest of the week at Cafe Roubaix

Tao Geoghegan Hart

20-year-old Tao Geoghegan Hart is riding his second season with Axeon Cycling, the team managed by former pro Axel Merckx, which throughout the years has put many riders on the World Tour map. Since joining the US-based squad, the Hackney-born rider – touted by many to be a future Grand Tour winner – got to take part in big events, like the Tour of California, the Tour of Utah and the Tour of Britain, as well as in some of the most prestigious U23 races out there: Paris-Roubaix, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Tour de l’Avenir.

Each time, the British cyclist – who remained down to earth, despite his impressive showing – has made the most out of it, gaining experience, strengthening his confidence and scoring some nice results, which more than sure brought him on the radar of the important Pro teams. Recently, I caught up with Tao Geoghegan Hart and got to ask him a couple of questions about his 2015 campaign and the targets he has for the second half of the year.

– Tao, you’re halfway into your second season with Axeon Cycling. How was this experience?

It has been a good year so far. We have some new riders from last year, but developed a really good group straight away, which I think showed as we had results right from the first race of the season. The biggest difference has been the return of our brilliant Head Soigneur Reed McCalvin. He works tirelessly for his riders and I really enjoy being able to work with him.

– How did Axel Merckx and the Axeon project help you develop since joining them?

The team exposes its riders to a very high calibre of racing, for instance this year with California, Utah and the US Pro Challenge, we will have 24 days of 2.HC racing. This is combined with 2.2 and U23 races in Europe to give us a great variation of races in which to develop. From the climbing races to something like the U23 Paris-Roubaix, we have the opportunity to experience a wide variety of race days.

– What are the differences you’ve noticed between the European peloton and the US one?

The obvious difference is the size of the roads and how this affects the peloton. The racing in the States can be more relaxed, but not always, with some Criteriums and also tighter circuits in the American NRC races.

– You raced many big races, so I’d like to know what caught your attention while riding against the pros?

It is a very different style of race. I think switching between the U23 races and big Pro races is something that keeps us on our toes and shows us how different races can be, not necessarily in the terrain, but in the way that they are ridden and controlled.

– What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learnt so far?

I don’t think there is one thing to pinpoint. It’s all a lesson and I think the most important thing is to constantly try to absorb both experiences and information. There is always something to learn, so it is an ongoing process.

– In terms of results, which would you say that was your highlight?

I was pleased with my top 20 in the individual time trial of the Tour of California. My TT isn’t something I have had a huge opportunity to develop and I feel I have a lot of room for improvement with my position and training on the TT bike. However, my TT’s in races are improving almost every time I race, so that is reassuring for me.

– In what races will you go in the following weeks?

The first week of July I took a mid-season break. I will have a training block through the remainder of July and then race the Tour of Utah in August.

– And what goals do you have?

To keep improving. I would like to continue to target the GC in big stage races and improve upon my results so far in 2015.

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