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2015 Giro di Lombardia Preview

Lombardia_14_alt

It’s that time of the year again, the time for the last Monument of the season, the Giro di Lombardia, which also counts for the final World Tour event of 2015. Held for the first time in 1905, it soon turned into one of the most important races of the calendar; a huge contribution to its growing prestige came as a result of the likes of Costante Girardengo, Alfredo Binda, Gino Bartali and Fausto Coppi and their memorable victories, as well as the presence of Madonna del Ghisallo, an iconic climb of the sport and home to cycling’s most famous museum.

Even though other races are taking place after Giro di Lombardia (Coppa Sabatini, Paris-Tours, Tour of Abu Dhabi), the Italian Classic is still regarded as the most fitting ending of the year, a race in which riders say goodbye to a great or disappointing season, while others draw the curtain on their career and think about a new beginning in their life. On top of that, it’s an excellent opportunity for many cyclists to save their year or cape off the season with a huge victory, one for the history books.

The course

In 2015, the 245 km-long race sets off from Bergamo, with the revamped route initially leading through the Bergamo plain and then up along the Val Cavallina, all the way to Casazza, for the first climb of this race: Colle Gallo (7,1 kilometers, 6% average). A fast-running descent leads back from Val Seriana to Bergamo; here, the course goes back on flat roads and eventually arrives in Brianza. The course passes briefly across Colle Brianza and descends into Pescate, then heads for Valmadrera and Oggiono. Finally, it rolls past Pusiano and Asso, and drops down into Onno, heading for Bellagio, where the Madonna del Ghisallo (8,5 kilometers, 6,2% average) climb begins.

The ascent has a maximum gradient of 14%, on a wide road, with several hairpins. The descent runs quickly on long, straight stretches up to Maglio, where the Colma di Sormano climb begins abruptly. After a few kilometres with a moderate gradient, a few hundred metres past Sormano, the route turns left to tackle the Muro di Sormano, the hardest section of the Sormano climb (2 kilometers at a 15% gradient), which was introduced in the race half a century ago. The road is tight and very steep, and it runs partly through the woods, with very narrow hairpins and sharp gradients exceeding 25% and reaching almost 30%, after about one kilometer.

After clearing the Colma, the road climbs down into Nesso (initially on apparently flat ground, followed by a very technical descent with several hairpins on a narrowed roadway). Here, the route takes the coastal road that leads to Como. A harsh climb up to Civiglio follows (4,2 kilometers), with steady 10% gradients, which provide an excellent platform for a late attack; the route then descends, runs through Como again, and heads for the final climb in San Fermo della Battaglia.

The last 10 kilometers begin in urban Como and run along wide avenues, up to the railway underpass, where the final climb towards San Fermo della Battaglia begins. The punchy 3,3 km-long hill has a gradient of nearly 7,2%, on a narrowed roadway with a rough road surface and several hairpins, that lead all the way up to the summit (around five kilometers from the finish). The fast and challenging descent runs along a wide and well-paved road, with two well-lit tunnels and two wide roundabouts, and it ends one kilometer before the finish. One last, wide left-hand bend can be found 600 meters before the finish.

The favorites

It’s been a couple of years since a rider lined-up for the “Classic of the Falling Leaves” as the overwhelming contender for the victory, such as is the case this season with Vincenzo Nibali, but truth being told, the triple Grand Tour winner deserves to be considered the prime pick, because he is in great form – maybe his best in 2015 – and is very motivated to take his maiden Monument, and the first of Italy’s in the past seven years.

Second in Coppa Agostoni, first in Coppa Bernocchi, third in Memorial Marco Pantani, fifth in Gran Premio Industria e Commercio di Prato and first in Tre Valli Varesine – this is Nibali’s palmares in the five races he rode on home turf this Autumn, races in which he had a point to prove following his disqualification in the Vuelta a España. Supported by a very strong Astana outfit, which includes Mikel Landa and Milano-Torino winner Diego Rosa, Vincenzo Nibali – who is one of the finest tacticians of the peloton – will more than sure put on a great attack which he hopes to land him a memorable success in Como.

Two-time Lombardy winner Joaquim Rodriguez appeared to be at a high level for the last World Tour appointment of the season, but he injured his right knee in training on Friday, the scans revealing a big hematoma, and will have to miss the race. Despite this setback, the Russian squad still has a good card to play, the in-form Daniel Moreno, who will get the opportunity to ride the season’s fifth and final Monument as team leader for the first time in his career.

Another good bet for a win looks to be Alejandro Valverde, one of the most consistent riders of the year, and already 2015 World Tour champion. Twice second in the “Classic of the Falling Leaves” at the past two editions, Movistar’s leader comes here after finishing fifth at the Richmond World Championships and hopes to carry that form into the last Classic of the season and thus score a fourth victory in a Monument, following his Liège–Bastogne–Liège treble (2006, 2008 and 2015).

33-year-old Philippe Gilbert – who is lining-up with a team that includes Darwin Atapuma, Dylan Teuns and Samuel Sanchez, the rider he defeated in 2010 – is also expected to make a move in the finale, the Belgian being the last rider to win in Como. 2012 world champion, Gilbert will be happy to see the race return to a hillier terrain, one which is much to his liking. On top of that, people shouldn’t forget he has a good sprint, so if he makes the final selection, Philippe Gilbert can take the victory from that reduced group.

Other riders to look out for in their bid to deliver a big result are Tim Wellens, Adam Yates, Rafal Majka (who is coming here after finishing second in this week’s Milano-Torino), Thibaut Pinot, Jan Bakelants (the impressive winner of Gran Piemonte), Bauke Mollema, Alexis Vuillermoz, Tom-Jelte Slagter (who was enjoying a great run before the World Championships) and 2014 champion Daniel Martin.

Race stats

– Fausto Coppi is the rider with the most wins, five, between 1947 and 1954

– When it comes to the number of podiums, Gino Bartali is first, having finished nine times in the top three

– 11 countries have had a champion so far, with Italy topping the nations standings (67 victories)

– No rider from outside of Europe has ever won the race

– Longest dry spell of the hosts was recorded between 1988 and 1994

– Paolo Bettini is the last world title holder to win the race (2006)

– Since Damiano Cunego, in 2008, no Grand Tour champion has won the the Giro di Lombardia

– Shortest edition took place in 1942 (184 kilometers), while the editions held between 1964-1975 and in 1978 were the longest ones, 266 kilometers

– Milan, Como, Monza, Varese, Cantu, Bergamo, Mendrisio and Lecco are the cities who got to host the start or the finish of the race

– Biggest ever winning margin was recorded in 1905, when Giovanni Gerbi and Giovanni Rossignoli were separated by 40 minutes and 11 seconds

– Giovanni Gerbi is also the youngest winner (20 years and 176 days), while Gaetano Belloni is the oldest one (36 years and 69 days in 1928)

– Four winners of the Piccolo Giro di Lombardia went on to take the victory in the pro race: Gaetano Belloni, Diego Ronchini, Sean Kelly and Moreno Argentin

– 25 teams (17 World Tour and 8 Pro Continental) will be at the start of this year’s race

– Damiano Cunego, Philippe Gilbert and Daniel Martin are the former winners lining-up for the 109th edition

– The 2015 Giro di Lombardia will mark 2542 days since the last Italian victory in a Monument

– 19-year-old Daniel Martinez is the youngest rider at the start; Davide Rebellin (44 years) is the oldest one

– Eduard Grosu will go down in history as the first Romanian cyclist to race the “Classic of the Falling Leaves”

 

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

2015 Liège–Bastogne–Liège Preview

Liege-Bastogne-Liege 2015

The Spring Classics are ready to draw the curtain on the 2015 season, but not before “La Doyenne” – the last race of the Ardennes triumvirate – gets its time in the spotlight. Created in 1892, which makes it the oldest of the Monuments, Liège–Bastogne–Liège was a race for amateuers until 1894, when Leon Houa got his third win in a row. The next two decades were on and off, with the Classics not being run for 13 years after which it was sometimes open only to amateurs and semi-professionals. World War l was another reason for Liège–Bastogne–Liège being put on hold, before finally resuming in 1919.

Throughout the years, Belgium established itself as the dominant nation of the race, thanks to the victories nabbed by the likes of Fred De Bruyne, Alfons Schepers and Eddy Merckx, who holds the record for the most wins. But in the past four decades, “La Doyenne” became a more open affair to riders outside of Belgium, a consequence of the emergence of some huge cyclists in other countries, all this while the host struggled to find a new star to lay his mark on the race.

Also, thanks to its hilly parcours, the race became one of the Grand Tour contenders’ favorite, alongside the Giro di Lombardia, so the line-up always saw a nice mix of climbers and puncheurs who battled it out on the tough, long, double-digit climbs of Wallonie. This year, they will all fight to join the illustrious roll-call of the race, where we can find the names of such riders as Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Roger De Vlaeminck, Bernard Hinault, Moreno Argentin, Michele Bartoli or Paolo Bettini.

The course

The forecast for Sunday says heavy rain, so although the race is 10 kilometers shorther than the 2014 one, it should be much more difficult. The opening half of the Classic isn’t very hard, with just one categorized climb along the way – Côte de La Roche-en-Ardenne (2,8 kilometer-long, 6,8% average gradient). After 107 kilometers, the peloton will reach Bastogne and will prepare to turn back to Liège, and this change of roads will signal the real start of the race. Côte de Saint-Roch, Côte de Wanne and Côte de Stockeu should lead to a selection, with the top favorites keen to send their teams at the front and up the rhythm before the decisive part.

After a leg-sapping 216, 5 kilometers of racing (which will include seven climbs), the pack will hit Côte de La Redoute (2 kilometers, 8,9% average gradient), where is impossible not to have any attacks, considering its strategic importance. A change from last year’s edition comes from the fact that Côte des Forges – which used to play a decisive part in the race’s outcome more than three decades ago – isn’t on the parcourse anymore – and this should give the cyclists some time to catch their breath before they hit the penultimate obstacle of the day, which comes after 16 kilometers from La Redoute.

First introduced in 2008, Côte de la Roche-aux-Faucons – the climb where the race can be won or lost – has played a big role in the outcome of the race, with the contenders choosing it to launch what often ended up being the decisive attack. In the past, Andy Schleck (2009) and Alexandr Vinokourov (2010) made their move on the Côte de la Roche-aux-Faucons (1,5 kilometers, 9,4% average gradient), while Vincenzo Nibali (2012) waited for the descent to attack and build a good gap, before getting caught with 1,2 kilometers before the finish.

If the last 10 kilometers will see a group at the front, then the riders will have one last opportunity to go clear and take a solo win on the Côte de Saint-Nicolas (1,2 kilometers, 8,6% average gradient), the “Italian hill”. After a short descent, the road will rise again in the last 1,5 kilometers, where the average gradient is of 5,5%. There are two scenarios here: either a cyclist has enough power for one more attack, as Daniel Martin did in 2013, catching Joaquim Rodriguez and nabbing the win, or a small group will go together to the line, where the winner will emerge after a sprint, as was the case last year, when Simon Gerrans brought Australia its first success here.

The favorites

On Wednesday, Alejandro Valverde made it back-to-back victories in Flèche Wallonne, controlling the finale and powering away from his opponents. Just like last year, the Spaniard has entered the Ardennes week in top shape and will start Liège–Bastogne–Liège as the outstanding favorite, a win putting him on par with Fred De Bruyne, Leon Houa and Alfred Schepers, the other riders who scored three victories. Valverde has it all: he can climb, accelerate and sprint from the peloton, but there’s one thing he is missing – the willingness to go at the front and be aggressive, thus shaping the race to his own liking. In too many occasions, he lost big wins because he decided to stay in the defensive, and this scenario could repeat on Sunday, if the winner of the 2006 and 2008 “La Doyenne” will not change his tactics.

Katusha was left empty handed after Amstel Gold Race and Flèche Wallonne, two of the team’s most important goals this Spring, and the Russian squad will be keen on making amends for those disappointments in Liège–Bastogne–Liège. In Giampaolo Caruso, Daniel Moreno and Joaquim Rodriguez, Katusha has a strong team, with the latter being the absolute leader, as the parcours suits him and he has a good record here, with two second places, in 2009 and 2013. Although he was below par in the past days, “Purito” Rodriguez shouldn’t be ruled out by this rivals, because he is capable of a big move that can land him the win.

Vincenzo Nibali is aiming at the Tour de France, but his form over the past days has been improving significantly and the rider they nickname “Il Squalo” will start the race as a top favorite, hoping to get a first Monument under his belt after years and years of being in the hunt for one. A very likely scenario for Nibali is to send a teammate at the front somewhere in the last 50 kilometers, before finally attacking from afar, on the Côte de la Roche-aux-Faucons or on the subsequent descent, and then flying solo, as he has to avoid a sprint finish.

For four years now, Philippe Gilbert is dreaming of another “La Doyenne” win, especially as this is his home race and he knows the route as the back of his hand. Unfortunately for the former world champion, he crashed heavily in Flèche Wallonne and was left out of contention, so there’s a big question mark concerning his fitness. Another problem for Gilbert is that he’ll be heavily marked by the other contenders, but on the other hand, this could play into BMC’s advantage, which can try to send Ben Hermans or Samuel Sanchez on to the attack and thus give the slip to the other riders.

Michal Kwiatkowski saved Etixx-Quick Step’s Spring by winning Amstel Gold Race, but things didn’t go as planned a couple of days later, on the Mur de Huy, where he struggled and was off pace, although it is true that the finish didn’t quite suit him. It should be a different affair in Liège–Bastogne–Liège, where the world champion will look to become Poland’s first Monument winner. What works in his favor is that he has many options for the finale, which include an attack on one of the last climbs, as well as waiting for the sprint, the Pole being one of the fastest riders in the race. Another thing worth mentioning is that Michal Kwiatkowski will have a very strong team alongside, which includes Julian Alaphilippe, Maxime Bouet and Zdenek Stybar.

Who else can be in the mix at the 101st edition of Liège–Bastogne–Liège? One name that comes to mind is Sky’s Sergio Henao – 2nd in the Vuelta al Pais Vasco and 7th in Flèche Wallonne – who has a strong chance of notching Colombia’s first win here. Also Lotto-Soudal should be among the protagonists, as it lines up three powerful cyclists – Tony Gallopin, Jelle Vanendert and Tim Wellens – capable of attacking and lighting up the race, and also very dangerous if given some rope, especially as they aren’t the top contenders and have nothing to lose.

On Wednesday, Daniel Martin hit the deck and sustained some injuries which will make his life tough on the arduous climbs of the Ardennes. Because of this, he’ll start as an outsider, just as his Cannondale-Garmin teammate Tom-Jelte Slagter, who can provide an important option to the US squad, which is in desperate need of results after a poor start to the season. In the Giro del Trentino, Domenico Pozzovivo took an impressing win in stage three, that ended in Fierozzo, and this makes him a dangerous cyclist for Liège–Bastogne–Liège, a race he came close to winning last year. Finally, other riders to be watched are Roman Kreuziger, Romain Bardet, Jakob Fuglsang, Bauke Mollema (who has improved on this type of climbs in the past year), Julian Alaphilippe, Rui Costa and Enrico Gasparotto, although they all need a little bit of luck and also to be underestimate by the peloton in order to succeed.

Race stats

– The first edition took place in 1892 and was won by Leon Houa

– Eddy Merckx holds the record for the most wins: 5, between 1969 and 1975

– The same Merckx has the most podiums: 7

– Belgium leads the nations standings, with 59 victories, followed by Italy (12) and Switzerland (10)

– Seven riders have won both Flèche Wallonne and Liège–Bastogne–Liège in the same season: Moreno Argentin, Philippe Gilbert Ferdi Kubler, Eddy Merckx, Stan Ockers, Davide Rebellin and Alejandro Valverde

– No U23 winner went on to take the victory as a pro

– Four cyclists from outside of Europe nabbed the win: Simon Gerrans (Australia), Tyler Hamilton (U.S.A.), Maxim Iglinskiy (Kazahstan) and Alexandre Vinokourov (Kazahstan)

– Since Bernard Hinault (1980), no other reigning Tour de France champion has won the Belgian Monument

– Moreno Argentin, in 1987, was the last rainbow jersey wearer to finish first

– Biggest winning margin was recorded in 1893, when Leon Houa came home half an hour ahead of his fellow countryman, Michel Borisowski

– The inaugural edition had 33 riders at the start, with only 17 of them getting to the finish

– Besides Belgium, only Italy got to place three cyclists on the podium, at the 2005 edition of Liège–Bastogne–Liège

– The race has been affected by snow in 1919, 1957 and 1980

– Until 1973, ten editions have finished on the Stade Vélodrome de Rocourt, a 40 000-seat arena

– Since 1992, the race ends in Ans, a suburb of Liège

– Longest dry spell without a Belgian victory was between 2000 and 2011

– In 1957, the win was awarded to two riders: Germain Derycke and Frans Schoubben

– Youngest ever winner is Victor Fastre (18 years and 362 days); oldest one is Alexandr Vinokourov (36 years and 221 days)

– 25 teams (17 World Tour and 8 Pro Continental) will line-up for the 101st edition

– Three of these teams haven’t scored a win this season: Cult Energy, LottoNL-Jumbo and UnitedHealthcare

– Four former winners are at the start of the 2015 race: Philippe Gilbert, Simon Gerrans, Daniel Martin and Alejandro Valverde

– The cyclists who will ride the 2015 edition have won a combined total of 6 Monuments, 3 world titles, 6 Grand Tours and almost 90 Grand Tour stages

– France is the country with the most riders in the race – 31 – followed by Belgium (26) and the Netherlands (21)

– Matej Mohoric (20 years) is the youngest rider who will line-up in Liège, while Bjorn Leukemans is the oldest one (37 years)

– Liège–Bastogne–Liège marks 2381 days since the last Italian win in a Monument

– Five winners of the U23 race will ride the 101st edition: Jan Bakelants, Rasmus Guldhammer, Anthony Turgis, Michael Valgren and Tosh Van der Sande

– 12 neo-pros will make their debut in “La Doyenne”: Simone Antonini, Emanuel Buchmann, Clement Chevrier, Floris De Tier, Huub Duyn, Alex Kirsch, Patrick Konrad, Christian Mager, Dylan Teuns, Anthony Turgis, Sjoerd van Ginneken and Louis Vervaeke

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

2015 E3 Harelbeke Preview

E3 Harelbeke 2015

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

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

The course

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

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

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

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

The favorites

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Race stats

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

2015 Milan-Sanremo Preview

Milano-San Remo 2015

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

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

The course

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

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

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

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

The favorites

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Race stats

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

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

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

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

– Italian cyclists have taken the first three positions 34 times

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2015 Tirreno-Adriatico Preview

Tirreno-Adriatico 2015

Held for the first time half a century ago, Tirreno-Adriatico was overshadowed for a couple of decades by Paris-Nice, the other important stage race scheduled at the beginning of March. Still, this did not prevent the “Race of the Two Seas” to create its own legends and stories, thanks to the triumphs of such riders like Franco Bitossi, Italo Zilioli, Roger De Vlaeminck, Giuseppe Saronni, Francesco Moser, and more recently, Fabian Cancellara, Cadel Evans, and Alberto Contador.

For a couple of years now, since the organizers have decided to change the profile of the event and make it more appealing to the climbers, Tirreno-Adriatico became one of the most important stage races of the calendar and now enjoys a more impressive startlist than the one of Paris-Nice. This season’s line-up is a real stellar one as well, which makes the race a mini Tour de France. Three of the four main contenders for the yellow jersey will be in Italy, as well as the best sprinters and Classics riders of the world, all ready to put on a great show in the next days, that will take them from Lido di Camaiore to San Benedetto del Trento.

The course

Due to bad weather in Tuscany, the team time trial in Lido di Camaiore – which hasn’t hosted a stage before – has been replaced with a 5,4 km prologue, with just a couple of corners, that should suit not only the specialists, but also the sprinters. Stage two will be almost flat and will provide an important opportunity for the sprinters, who can’t miss this chance, while one day later, the course will bring an interesting mix of small climbs (with a 5% average gradient), urban cobbles and technical finale that will favor the puncheurs or late attackers, cyclists willing to give it all on the last lap of the circuit.

A lumpy stage comes to the horizon on Saturday, when the peloton will head towards Castelraimondo, a town in which the Tirreno-Adriatico bunch will come back after four years since its previous visit. The last 23 kilometers will bring Crispiero – 3,2 km and 9,3% average gradient – which will be climbed twice. This means the GC guys will come at the front, as the terrain can give them some ideas for an attack. From the top of the last climb there are only six kilometers left until the finish, which is in a slight uphill (4% average gradient).

Stage five will be a very demanding one, covering 197 kilometers and three important climbs, with the cherry on the top coming at the end, when the bunch will tackle Monte Terminillo. The demanding ascent – 16,1 km, 7,3% average gradient – has been climbed in the past in the Girobio (2012 – Joe Dombrowski) and the Giro d’Italia (2003 – Stefano Garzelli, 2010 – Chris Anker Sørensen), but never before in the Tirreno-Adriatico. Terminillo is a steady climb, but comes early in the season, so if one of the overall contenders has the legs there, he can do some significant damage and seal the GC win.

The penultimate day of the race will be a rolling one in the first half, but things will be much calmer later, so the sprinters are expected to fight one more time for the win, this time in Porto Sant’Elpidio, near the sea’s shoreline. Then, on Tuesday, for the fifth year in a row, Tirreno-Adriatico will come to an end with the San Benedetto del Trento individual time trial, a 10-km-long exercise for the powerful specialists of the discipline, that will create small gaps. The roads are long and flat, and only the wind can trouble the riders who will go for a strong result.

The favorites

For the second year in a row, Chris Froome is out of the race because of an illness, which means Alberto Contador will start as the huge contender for the overall win. Last year, the Spaniard emerged as overall victor after back-to-back wins on stages four and five, and coming now here from the Ruta del Sol, where he was in a good shape, he should take a second consecutive victory. With a strong team alongside, which includes Ivan Basso and Roman Kreuziger, Contador hopes to forget about the Vuelta a Andalucia defeat he suffered at the hands of Froome and continue improving his preparation towards the Giro d’Italia. Although he doesn’t know Monte Terminillo, Alberto Contador shouldn’t have any problem in dispatching his opponents on the climb and get the win.

Nairo Quintana hasn’t raced since last months, after an injury sustained at the Colombian National Championships, and this casts some doubts on his form. In 2014, he didn’t stand a chance against Contador and the same scenario is very plausible also this year, a podium placing being more at hand for Movistar’s cyclist. A top three looks to be what Vincenzo Nibali can take out of this race, despite the Italian underlining his wish to finish first in his home race for the third time. With the Astana rider targeting the Tour de France again, Tirreno-Adriatico comes too early in the season, especially as he didn’t impress in the Tour of Oman, where he finished 20th.

Despite the fact Contador, Quintana and Nibali aren’t at the same level, with the Tinkoff-Saxo leader way ahead, it will be very interesting to see this first clash of the titans between three of the riders that will fight for the yellow jersey in July. Of course, the result in the Italian race isn’t relevant long-term, but a win remains a win, and also brings an important psychological advantage to the rider in cause.

Another GC protagonist should be Joaquim Rodriguez, a rider who has earned one of his nicknames – “Murito” – thanks to his fantastic wins on the double-digit climbs of Tirreno-Adriatico. Katusha’s leader will also hope to put on a fine display on the Terminillo and emerge as the strongest cyclist there, thus taking his first win in almost a year, but it won’t be an easy task. Another interesting rider for the overall will be Bauke Mollema, who embarks on his second stage race of the season, after Ruta del Sol. The 28-year-old Dutch will be supported by Julian Arredondo and is going to tackle the Italian race with optimism being aware that he has an important shot at a podium placing.

In the absence of Chris Froome, Leopold König will lead Sky, which is sending a powerful and well balanced team in the “Race of the Two Seas”. For the Czech, this will be the first time he’ll ride Tirreno-Adriatico, an event in which he looks to find the consistency that will elevate him in the eyes of his team, after not such a great start ot the season, during which he shined in the Challenge Mallorca, but failed to make an impact on the Tour of Oman. If Leopold König will not rise to the expectations, watch out for Mikel Nieve, who continues to emerge from the shadow of more illustrious teammates, despite usually having to play a secondary role in bigger races

Which other riders can be among the protagonists in the overall classification? AG2R’s Domenico Pozzovivo should have a fair chance, as well as Rigoberto Uran, the Colombian ITT champion, who comes here after being 7th in Strade Bianche and can take some important seconds in the two time trials. Thibaut Pinot is an interesting dark horse, while Przemyslav Niemiec and Tsgabu Grmay will try to get a good result for Lampre-Merida. Also, watch out for the ever-improving British rider Adam Yates, from Orica-GreenEdge, who is poised for a top 10 finish.

There are many quality sprinters at the start, but without Marcel Kittel here – who was forced to take a break and recover after being hit by a virus– Mark Cavendish will be the hot favorite in the flat stages, despite being sick a couple of days before the start because of a stomach bug picked up after visiting South Africa last week. The Brit scored six wins this season and is determined to keep the streak going and get at least one victory in the “Race of the Two Seas”. With Mark Renshaw and Fabio Sabatini in the team, Cavendish will hope that the flat stages will pan out in his favor, while also using the Italian race to get his lead-out train shipshaped ahead of the season’s big battles: the Classics and the Grand Tours.

On paper, Cavendish’s main challengers will be Italy’s Sacha Modolo, Elia Viviani and Matteo Pelucchi (who surprised all the top sprinters last year in Cascina), Sam Bennett, the talented Irish rider of Bora-Argon 18, and Luka Mezgec, winner of a stage in last year’s Giro d’Italia. MTN-Qhubeka will be another team to watch, but it’s difficult to say if the South African will count on Edvald Boasson Hagen, Kristian Sbaragli or Gerald Ciolek in the flat stages. When it comes to the young sprinters, Nicola Ruffoni and Magnus Cort are two who are worth following.

Tirreno-Adriatico will not be only about the climbers and the sprinters, as the top Classics riders of the peloton will line-up for the 50th edition. Triumphant in the 2008 Tirreno-Adriatico, Fabian Cancellara will tune-up his form in Italy, where he’ll meet many of the riders against he’ll fight in Milan-Sanremo, Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix: Peter Sagan, Niki Terpstra, Zdenek Stybar (the Strade Bianche winner), Greg Van Avermaet, Ian Stannard and Sep Vanmarcke. Cancellara will also be one of the favorites in the two time trials, where he’ll cross swords with Adriano Malori, Matthias Brändle, Michael Hepburn and Luke Durbridge.

Race stats

– Dino Zandegu won the first edition of the race, which was called “The Three Days of the South” (1966)

– Roger De Vlaeminck has the most overall victories, six, between 1972 and 1977

– The Belgian is also the rider who got the most stage wins, 15

– Italy leads in the nations classification, with 24 triumphs, the last one being scored by Vincenzo Nibali, in 2013

– Nibali is the only cyclist who has won Tirreno-Adriatico and the Giro d’Italia in the same season

– Only one non-European rider took home Neptun’s Trident: Australia’s Cadel Evans

– 1997 saw the longest edition, 1437 kilometers; the shortest one came in 1973, just 582 kilometers

– With one exception (1966), all the editions have finished in the same town, San Benedetto del Tronto

– In 2003, Filippo Pozzato became the youngest ever winner (21 years and 193 days); the oldest winner is Stefano Garzelli, 36 years and 252 days in 2010

– Spain’s Oscar Freire is the only world champion who finished first in the overall classification (2005)

– In two occasions, the first and the second rider in the GC came home in the same time (1966: Dino Zandegu – Vito Taccone; 2010: Stefano Garzelli-Michele Scarponi)

– Biggest gap between the winner and the cyclist who came in second was recorded in 1990, when 2:31 separated Tony Rominger and Zenon Jaskula

– In 2015, Italy will be the nation with the most cyclists at the startline, 39

– Youngest rider in the race is Lampre-Merida’s Luke Pibernik (21 years); oldest one is Tinkoff-Saxo’s Matteo Tosatto (40 years)

– The line-up of the 50th edition includes three former winners: Fabian Cancellara, Alberto Contador and Vincenzo Nibali

 

Paris-Nisa 2015

Paris-Nisa 2015

Aşa cum Turul Down Under anunţă startul sezonului de World Tour, iar Omloop Het Nieuwsblad deschide stagiunea clasicelor, Paris-Nisa este sinonimă cu primăvara. Cursa din Franţa, una dintre cele mai importante din calendar, se bucură de o tradiţie uriaşă, la care au contribuit din plin victoriile obţinute de legende ca Jacques Anquetil, Tom Simpson, Eddy Merckx, Raymond Poulidor, Sean Kelly, Miguel Indurain, Laurent Jalabert sau Alberto Contador.

Pentru mulţi, o victorie de etapă aici sau una la general este suficientă pentru a le asigura un sezon reuşit. Pe lângă palmares, cursa contează mult şi prin prisma punctelor UCI puse în joc, care la finalul anului se iau în calcul pentru acordarea licenţelor World Tour. Tocmai de aceea, Paris-Nisa ar trebuie să fie foarte deschisă şi spectaculoasă, aspecte la care va contribui şi faptul că de la start va lipsi un rutier care să o sufoce prin statutul de ultrafavorit.

Traseul

A 73-a ediţie a cursei va debuta cu un prolog, ce revine pe traseu după doi ani. Traseul din Maurepas are doar 6,7 kilometri, nici nu este tehnic, aşa că diferenţele vor fi mici între favoriţii la clasamentul general. O zi mai târziu, tricoul alb cu buline roşii îşi va cunoaşte primul purtător, deoarece o căţărare de categoria a treia e plasată chiar la start, urmând ca finalul să îi aibă ca protagonişti pe sprinteri. Aceştia vor lupta pentru victorie la Contres, acolo unde Greg Henderson s-a impus în 2010, când i-a învins pe Grega Bole şi Jeremy Galland.

Saint-Amand-Montrond şi Saint-Pourçain-sur-Sioule le vor oferi oamenilor rapizi din pluton alte oportunităţi, înainte ca rutierii de general să iasă la rampă într-o etapă a patra ce se anunţă nebună. Pe traseu vor fi plasate nu mai puţin de opt ascensiuni repertoriate, ultima apărând chiar la final. Mai întâi, aceasta va fi o zi favorabilă pentru cicliştii interesaţi de clasamentul căţărătorilor, care le vor face apoi loc favoriţilor la tricoul galben. Aceştia sunt aşteptaţi să dea o bătălie pe cinste odată ce vor ajunge pe Croix de Chaubouret, o căţărare în lungime de zece kilometri, cu pantă medie 6,7%.

Etapa a cincea îi poate reveni fie unui sprinter, fie unui atacant, în vreme ce penultima rundă ar trebui să îi aparţină unei evadări, ale cărei şanse de reuşită vor fi mari, datorită traseului valonat, ca un montagne russe. În fine, etapa finală va readuce în prim-plan tradiţionalul contratimp invididual ce se va termina pe Col d’Eze. Căţărarea în lungime de 9,6 kilometri, cu pantă medie 4,7%, poate duce la diferenţe de zeci de secunde, iar asta înseamnă că ierarhia generală se va juca până în ultima clipă.

Favoriţii

Cum toate numele cu adevărat mari din pluton au decis să meargă în Tirreno-Adriatico, Paris-Nisa va reprezenta o afacere mult mai deschisă. Cu toate acestea, există un rutier care iese mai mult în evidenţă decât ceilalţi. E vorba despre Richie Porte, campionul Australiei la contratimp. Aflat într-o formă foarte bună încă de la startul sezonului, Porte este avantajat şi de traseu, oarecum similar cu cel din 2013, când s-a impus la general. În plus, se va bucura de o echipă foarte solidă, ce îi va avea în componenţă, printre alţii, pe Nicholas Roche şi Geraint Thomas, câştigătorul Turului Algarve.

Un alt ciclist care a impresionat în 2015 e Tejay van Garderen, ocupantul locului secund în Turul Omanului. Sezonul acesta va fi unul foarte important pentru american, care va trebui să arate că a făcut acel salt calitativ ce îi permite să fie socotit un favorit pentru toate cursele pe etape în care participă. Tocmai de aceea, Paris-Nisa va reprezenta un test extrem de important, pe care cel mai bun tânăr din Turul Franţei 2012 nu trebuie să îl rateze.

Anul trecut, Wilco Kelderman a atras atenţia prin evoluţia sa şi prin maturitatea arătată, ce i-au adus un loc şapte în Turul Italiei. Olandezul va fi liderul lui LottoNL-Jumbo şi va fi un candidat serios pentru tricoul galben, la fel ca un alt rutier tânăr, Rafal Majka. Polonezul, câştigător a două etape şi al tricoului alb cu buline roşii în Le Tour 2014, este aşteptat să fie unul dintre cei mai puternici ciclişti pe Croix de Chaubouret, acolo unde poate lua o opţiune importantă la victoria generală.

Oarecum ciudat, Fabio Aru a decis să îşi înceapă stagiunea abia acum, iar asta ridică nişte întrebări cu privire la nivelul său. Italianul în vârstă de 24 de ani, deşi tânăr, e unul dintre cei mai buni căţărători din lume, dar lipsa unor zile de cursă (în ciuda faptului că s-a antrenat mult în această perioadă) e posibil să îl coste. În ceea ce îl mai priveşte pe rutierul Astanei, va fi interesant de văzut ce progrese a făcut la contratimp, în condiţiile în care s-a axat mult pe acesta în timpul iernii.

Câştigător al Criteriului Dauphiné în 2014, Andrew Talansky este un alt ciclist care îşi începe sezonul în Paris-Nisa, iar asta îl face un outsider, dar unul periculos, lucru ce se poate spune şi despre Michal Kwiatkowski, campionul mondial. Movistar nu vine cu un lider clar, ci cu trei rutieri puternici – Beñat Intxausti, Ion Izagirre şi Ruben Fernandez – fără a se putea spune despre vreunul dintre aceştia că face figură de favorit. Primul se pregăteşte pentru Turul Ţării Bascilor, Izagirre nu are constanţă, în vreme ce Ruben Fernandez, chiar dacă a impresionat în Turul Down Under şi Turul Algave, va întâlni aici un pluton de un cu totul alt nivel. Pe de altă parte, Fernandez pare cel mai îndreptăţit om de la Movistar la ierarhia generală.

Când vine vorba despre sprinturi, cel mai puternic în debutul de sezon a fost Alexander Kristoff, norvegianul care a adunat deja patru victorii în 2015. André Greipel se recuperează după câteva probleme de sănătate, dar ar trebui să fie acolo, la fel ca John Degenkolb, compatriotul său. Paris-Nisa va reprezenta un test important pentru Nacer Bouhanni, aşteptat să bifeze primul succes în tricoul lui Cofidis, dar şi pentru Arnaud Démare, liderul lui FDJ la sprinturi în actualul sezon. Alţi protagonişti ar mai trebui să fie Moreno Hofland, Bryan Coquard şi Giacomo Nizzolo, dar supriza s-ar putea să apară de la tânărul italian Niccolo Bonifazio, recent învingător în Gran Premio di Lugano.

Date statistice

– Sean Kelly a obţinut cele mai multe victorii la general, şapte, între 1982 şi 1988

– Franţa conduce în clasamentul naţiunilor, cu 21 de succese

– Eddy Merckx a petrecut cele mai multe zile, 57, în tricoul de lider

– Tot belgianul ocupă primul loc într-un clasament al etapelor câştigate, cu 21 de victorii

– Recordul pentru cele mai multe succese bifate la o singură ediţie îi aparţine lui Freddy Maertens (6 etape) şi a fost stabilit în 1976

– Zece rutieri au condus cursa de la început până la final; ultimul care a reuşit asta a fost Jörg Jaksche, în 2004

– În 20 de ocazii, câştigătorul nu s-a impus în nicio etapă; cel mai recent, asta s-a întâmplat în 2008, cu Davide Rebellin

– În 1959 a avut loc cea mai lungă ediţie, 2033 de kilometri; cea mai scurtă a fost consemnată în 1973, 850 de kilometri

– Cea mai ridicată viteză medie a fost înregistrată în 2010, atunci când a câştigat Alberto Contador: 43,118 km/h

– În 2008 a fost consemnată cea mai mică diferenţă între primul (Davide Rebellin) şi al doilea clasat (Rinaldo Nocentini): trei secunde

– La polul opus, cel mai mare ecart l-a avut Maurice Archambaud, la ediţia din 1939, când l-a învins pe Frans Bonduel, pentru nouă minute şi 33 de secunde

– René Vietto e cel mai tânăr câştigător din istorie, doar 21 de ani în 1935; cel mai vârstnic este Raymond Poulidor, 36 de ani în 1973

– Aşa cum era de aşteptat, Franţa este naţiunea dominantă şi la această ediţie, cu 37 de ciclişti

– În 2015, cel mai tânăr rutier prezent în cursă va fi Nicolo Bonifazio (21 de ani), în vreme ce Greg Henderson va fi cel mai vârstnic (38 de ani)

– La start se vor afla patru foşti câştigători: Tony Martin, Richie Porte, Luis Leon Sanchez şi Bradley Wiggins

 

2015 Strade Bianche Preview

Strade Bianche 2015

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

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

The course

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

This part of the route includes five more unpaved sectors (in total, there are ten sectors covering 45,4 kilometers), the most difficult being Monte Sante Marie, Vico d’Arbia, Colle Pinzuto and La Tolfe. The first of these isn’t a regular climb, having flat parts and descents, but also gruesome gradients of 20%. The last three obstacles will provide some important opportunities to the riders that have strong legs and are willing to attack from far, thus avoiding a last-minute fight for the win in the Piazza il Campo. Vico d’Arbia, Colle Pinzuto and La Tolfe all have double-digit gradients, which ramp up to 15% and even 18%. If there’s a group on the last unpaved sector, a rider who launches an attack can make it explode and tear everyone else to pieces, thus soloing to the win.

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

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

Favorites

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

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

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

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

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

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

Race stats

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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