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Rider of the week

Paris-Tours, the most underrated Classic in terms of prestige, was won this year by Matteo Trentin, one of the most underrated one-day riders of the current peloton, who found a great way to end his season, during which he raced 78 days, for a total of more than 13 000 kilometers. The 26-year-old cyclist was in a fantastic shape now that the season was reaching its conclusion, with a stage victory in the Tour of Britain, as well as two podiums in Coppa Bernocchi and Gran Piemonte, where he was each time among the most strongest riders in the race.

As always, the 231 km-long Paris-Tours was a fast and eventful race right from the start, with attacks galore and a thrilling finish, which saw a two-man battle between Trentin and Tosh Van Der Sande, after Greg Van Avermaet, the other rider to attack in the group, had a flat tire that took him out of contention. In the end, despite leading out for the last kilometer, the Etixx-Quick Step cyclist still had enough left in the tank to outsprint Lotto-Soudal’s Belgian and score his first win in a one-day race.

Besides the victory he landed on Sunday, Matteo Trentin also received the Ruban Jaune, which rewards the cyclist who records the fastest average speed in a cycling race of over 200 kilometers, this being for the ninth time in history that this honour goes to the winner of Paris-Tours (49,641 km/h in 2015). More important, after confirming he has what it takes to be a protagonist and taste success in the Classics, the Italian could now become one of Etixx-Quick Step’s protected riders for the 2016 Spring campaign, when he could get a chance to confirm last week’s victory by adding a Monument to his growing palmares.

Rider of the week

He’s only 30-years-old, but Vincenzo Nibali already can be regarded as a cycling legend, considering he’s won all three Grand Tours and the Giro di Lombardia, thus becoming only he fourth rider in history to do this feat, following Felice Gimondi, Eddy Merckx and Bernard Hinault. Going into the season’s final Monument with high ambitions and an excellent form, underlined by his recent victory in Tre Valli Varesine, just 24 hours after returning from the Richmond World Championships, the Italian champion was keen on doing everything he could to finally land a victory that has eluded him in the past seasons.

The overwhelming favourite at the start of the 109th Giro di Lombardia, Vincenzo Nibali made an excellent race, especially tactically, and ended his season on a high note, helped by an incredible team of Astana, with Mikel Landa and Diego Rosa ready to chase down every opponent and pull for him on the arduous climbs of a parcours which was dubbed by many as the toughest and the most thrilling in the history of the Classic.

Maybe Nibali wasn’t the best on the uphill, but he surely was by far the best descender in the group, making the most out of his skills once the Civiglio ascent was over, with 16 kilometers to go, and pushing himself to the limit on each hairpin. After giving it all on that terrain and extending his lead to more than 40 seconds, the Astana rider begin to lose some of this chunk on San Fermo della Battaglia, but his victory was still assured, as he entered the last three kilometers with a 15-second advantage over Daniel Moreno.

By winning the “Classic of the Falling Leaves” the way he did, Vincenzo Nibali – who took Italy’s first Monument victory in seven years – showed again his class, because even when on a day he wasn’t the strongest one out there, he was still capable of inventing something to surprise his opponents and take a Monumental triumph, which proved, once again, that he’s the most versatile Grand Tour cyclist of the current peloton.

Rider of the week

A big win has eluded Peter Sagan for a couple of years now. Ever since turning pro, he was destined to greatness, but he seemed to miss on the big opportunities, as was the case in Milan-Sanremo, the Tour of Flanders or Tour de France stages. He had all that it took to land a memorable victory, but for some reason the pieces of the puzzle never came together, and this situation led to seeds of doubt being planted in his mind and developing into a huge frustration which eventually put its tool for some time on his ride and results.

Besides that and the criticism coming from his team’s owner, people were starting to question the Slovak’s ability to go all the way in a 250 km-long race and began to dub him the “Perennial Second”. Things didn’t change after the first half of the season, inspite of his Tour of California win, the main reason being his near misses in the same Spring Classics and the Grande Boucle, but a more than encouraging sign came in the Vuelta a España, where he scored a stage victory and showed to be at a very high level, before being taken out by a TV moto.

Coming into the World Championships, Peter Sagan was seen as one of the biggest contenders for the rainbow jersey on the technical and inner-city road circuit of Richmond, despite the fact he had only two teammates and that his best result in the race was a sixth place, at the 2013 edition, in Firenze. But this time, in contrast to other events in which he started as a top favourite, he had a different approach, more commonly known in the peloton as the “ninja strategy”: the 25-year-old stayed “invisible” all day long, but always in the top 20, without chasing the attacks of others and spending his energy in futile actions.

Then, in the final lap, he pounced on the penultimate ascent of the day – the cobbled 185 m-long 23rd Street – and got clear from the pack, leaving behind the only two riders who tried to join him, Edvald Boasson Hagen (the 2012 runner-up) and Belgium’s Greg Van Avermaet. Pushing hard in the closing kilometers and never looking back, Sagan managed to increase his lead and hold off the frantic chase, before enjoying his biggest triumph up-to-date, one that he was waiting for too long and which will give a whole new dimension to his career.

After storming to this impressive and spectacular win, which proved he is more mature and down to earth than he was in his first seasons as a pro, Peter Sagan will now have to deal with the huge pressure the world title will bring next year, when he is going to try and earn his place in the elite club of world champions who haven’t been touched by the “rainbow jersey curse”.

Rider of the week

Expelled from the Vuelta a España after being towed by Astana’s technical car on stage two and having to stay outside of races by the UCI rules which prohibit riders eliminated from a stage race from competing in any other event until that race is over, Vincenzo Nibali was under huge pressure since then, with criticism coming from all over the place. On top of that, the Italian was overshadowed by Fabio Aru’s triumph in the last Grand Tour of the season, which made many say that the young Sardinian is now going to be Astana’s main rider for the stage races, as he’s six years younger than the “Shark of Messina” and still has room to improve.

Ironically, his countryman’s victory has helped Nibali escape the media pressure in the past weeks and get outside the spotlight, as he began his preparation towards the World Championships in Richmond. Eager to prove he still has something to say in the season’s finale, the 30-year-old trained hard in Sicily and this helped him line-up in an incredible form for the series of one-day races which usually takes place in the second half of September, where he eventually bounced back from his Vuelta disappointment.

Second in Coppa Agostoni, first in Coppa Bernocchi, third in Memorial Marco Pantani and fifth in Gran Premio Industria e Commercio di Prato were the results Nibali scored in the span of just five days, each time the three-time Grand Tour winner attacking from far, digging deep and putting on an impressive display which not only has helped him get the confidence he was missing, but also recommends him now as the prime pick for the 109th edition of the Giro di Lombardia.

However, before going to the “Race of the Falling Leaves”, Vincenzo Nibali will race the World Championships; it’s true that the Richmond course isn’t as selective as he would have liked, but Italy – which comes at the start with a very strong team – can make the race hard, in order to prepare an attack of his leader, preferably before the last lap. If this happens and Nibali has the form showed thus far, there’s a fair chance the gold medal will go to the “Squadra Azzurra” for the first time in seven years.

Rider of the week

Italy has a new darling: Fabio Aru, the winner of the 70th Vuelta a España. Coming at the start of the race as one of Astana’s three leaders, alongside Mikel Landa and fellow countryman Vincenzo Nibali, Fabio Aru emerged in just a couple of days as the team’s sole captain, once Nibali was expelled from the race and Landa lost important time before the race hit the big mountains. As a result, the expectations surrounding the young Sardinian grew, in his country, but also in his team, considering he was Astana’s best bet at winning a Grand Tour this season, after the Kazakh outfit missed on both the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France.

In the second week of the race, Aru took the leader’s jersey, but despite this, he wasn’t regarded as the main favourite at the overall victory, due to the fact that Tom Dumoulin was looking more and more impressive in the mountains, going at his own pace and limiting the losses, a tactic which made many find similarities between his style and the one of Miguel Indurain, the five-time Tour de France winner. On top of that, once the Vuelta left behind its last mountain top finish, Aru had 1:50 on his Dutch rival, a gap most considered too small before the 39 km-long individual time trial in Burgos.

There, people were expecting Dumoulin to smash his rivals and put minutes into them, and the scenario went according to plan with just an exception: Aru – who worked hard in the wind tunnel last winter – made the time trial of his life and at the end of it he was sitting just three seconds adrift of his Dutch rival. A couple of days later, in Avila, the Giant-Alpecin rider doubled his advantage and the Italian’s chances of turning the tables in his favour were looking slimmer and slimmer. But Aru didn’t gave up and decided to play all his cards on the penultimate stage, which had four hard climbs on the menu.

Supported by a very strong and motivated squad on the road, the 25-year-old played it smart since the beginning of the day, sending two teammates in the breakaway and then putting the hammer down on the third ascent, a move which turned out to be decisive, as Tom Dumoulin was dropped before the top of the Puerto de la Morcuera and without any teammate to help him, he ended up losing almost four minutes in Cercedilla.

By winning the Vuelta and becoming one of the youngest rider in the past decade to have a Grand Tour triumph under his belt, Fabio Aru made the Italians dreaming of a bright future in stage races once Vincenzo Nibali will be past his prime. After finishing second in the Giro d’Italia and winning the last Grand Tour of the season, a new challenge looms on the horizon for Fabio Aru: the Tour de France, where he’s very likely to make his debut next season – his fourth as a professional – when the pressure put on his shoulders will be bigger than anything he faced so far.

Rider of the week

Asked a couple of years ago what races he dreams of winning, Joaquim Rodriguez replied almost in the blink of an eye: the World Championships, Liège–Bastogne–Liège and a Grand Tour. Up until now, he came close of scoring a memorable win in each and everyone of these: in 2013, he was 500 meters short of taking the rainbow jersey, after being caught by Rui Costa on the finishing straight in Florence. It was a remake of the scenario seen earlier in the season at “La Doyenne”, where he came agonizingly close of landing the victory, before being surpassed by Daniel Martin. As these defeats weren’t enough, one year earlier, “Purito” also lost both the Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta a España during his prime, after wearing the leader’s jersey and being the overwhelming favourite with just a couple of stages left to go.

It’s true, in the same period of time, the Katusha rider has built himself a nice palmares, winning Grand Tour stages, the Vuelta al Pais Vasco and the Volta a Catalunya, finishing first in the 2012 Flèche Wallonne, as well as taking back-to-back triumphs in the Giro di Lombardia (one of cycling’s Monuments), but the general impression was that once he came short of greatness on a regular basis, another big opportunity will never return, especially as he was getting older.

Lining-up for the 70th running of the Vuelta as one of the second-tier contenders, Joaquim Rodriguez has had a slow start and missed some important chances of making amends, two of these being Cumbre del Sol and Cortals d’Encamp, the latter being a stage he designed last year, at the organisers’ request. As a result, many were beginning to think the race will go down as another one in which the Catalan cyclist will disappoint and end up outside the podium.

Surprisingly, this time, there was more than meets the eye regarding “Purito”, who preferred to have a slow start and build up his condition in the second half of the race, instead of going all in from the first mountain stages. As a result, he steadily climbed in the overall classification, up until the point that the final week of the race finds him second in the general rankings – with a spectacular stage victory in the bag – and very confident that he can finally win a Grand Tour and fulfill one of his biggest dreams.

Rider of the week

More than two years ago, in February, Esteban Chaves crashed hard in the Trofeo Laigueglia and sustained a number of injuries, one of the most important being a lesion in his brachial plexus which affected the movement in his right arm, were two nerves needed to be repaired. The surgery performed in his home country went well, but even so, he could recover only 80% of movement to the affected limb. Forced to stay more than three months out of the races, the 2011 Tour de l’Avenir champion began a long way to coming back in the sport and fulfilling his huge potential.

At the end of that season, he left Colombia-Coldeportes and signed with Orica-GreenEdge, where he slowly started to show glimpses of his talent in the form of two beautiful victories, in mountain stages of the Tour of California and the Tour de Suisse. But people were expecting more from him, as the pocket-climber had enough material to be a Grand Tour protagonist. After making his debut in a three-week stage race in 2014, at the Vuelta a España, and completing the 2015 Giro d’Italia (where he got to wear the white jersey), he returned to the Spanish Grand Tour with a point to prove and a name to make for himself.

It didn’t take Esteban Chaves long to lay his mark, as stage two finishing in Caminito del Rey saw him trade blows with fellow attackers, before taking the biggest win of his career so far and pulling the red jersey on his shoulders. It was an ecstatic feeling for the South American, who kept the lead for a couple of days, until he lost it on the stage to Malaga, won by his teammate Caleb Ewan. Then, just 24 hours later, on Sierra de Cazorla, Chaves showed panache and strength, as he found the perfect timing to attack with three kilometers to go and nail another win, relinquishing the red jersey he lost one day earlier.

A brilliant and spectacular rider, Esteban Chaves is on the top of his game and sees his star shining brightly in what is his best race to date. After these victories and almost a week in the red jersey, results which confirmed his potential, he now needs to find out the answer to another important question: is he a rider made for a Grand Tour, a rider who can fight for the general classification? The answer will come in the next two weeks.

Rider of the week

At first glance, it could seem strange that my pick comes from a 2.HC race United States race, giving that last week-end saw the 20th edition of the Vattenfall Cyclassics take place, as well as the first two stages of the Vuelta a España (the season’s third Grand Tour), but the truth is that Rohan Dennis’ masterful display in the USA Pro Cycling Challenge couldn’t go unnoticed, because it was one of the most impressive seen this year in a stage race, albeit one should mention that only four World Tour teams came at the start of the Colorado event.

Interesting enough, BMC’s plan before the race was for Rohan Dennis to be Brent Bookwalter’s domestique and guide the US cyclist to a GC win. During the first stages, the 25-year-old Aussie did a good job for his teammate, pulling all the time at the front and protecting Bookwalter, before becoming the team leader’s after a great attack on stage four’s Moonstone climb, that put him in the yellow jersey, which he kept until the end, in Denver. Even more outstanding than his two stage victories – both which came in Breckenridge – was to see his versatility on the flat, mountains and in the ITT, a sign of improvement and sheer power.

Two years after showing glimpses of his great potential at the Criterium du Dauphiné, where he wore the yellow jersey before finishing 8th in the overall standings, the rider from Down Under found the consistency that has elevated him in the eyes of his team and repayed the trust put in him last August, when BMC decided to transfer him from Garmin-Sharp. On short term, Rohan Dennis will look to the World Championships in Richmond, where he has a fair shot at the gold medal in the individual time trial race. Then, in the future, there should be no surprise if he’ll line-up in the Tour de France as one of the big contenders for the overall victory.

Rider of the week

So far, 22 neo-pro managed to claim at least a win in the 2015 season, with Pierre-Roger Latour being the most recent to do this feat, in the last – and most difficult – stage of the Tour de l’Ain. After attacking on the penultimate climb of the day and giving it all, Latour kept enough in the tank to accelerate one more time on the final ascent and leave his countryman Fabrice Jeandesboz behind, thus taking home a big victory, on Lélex-Mont Jura, which helped him finish third overall, as well as notching up the U23 classification.

But who is this 21-year-old who made himself noticed long before the Tour de l’Ain? Born in the Drôme department, Pierre-Roger Latour showed his potential from early on, winning no less than four races in his first season as a cadet. Then, during his two-year spell in the Junior ranks, the lanky Frenchman scored ten wins and with each one of these confirmed that he’s poised to have a great future in the sport. For this reason, it wasn’t a surprise to see Chambéry Cyclisme Foundation – AG2R’s feeder team – offering him a contract and with it the opportunity to further develop.

As an U23 rider, Latour made steady progress and nabbed important top-10 placings in strong races as Ronde de l’Isard, Tour de l’Avenir, Tour des Pays de Savoie and even the Tour de l’Ain, where he raced as a stagiaire for AG2R, which soon put a pro contract on the table, not wanting to miss on one of the most talented young cyclists on the market. Even though is his first pro season, Latour didn’t waste time and besides the stage win in the Tour de l’Ain, he made a powerful impression in the Route du Sud, where he finished third overall, after staying with Alberto Contador and Nairo Quintana on the tough Port de Balès.

Now, after a season which can be easily labed as excellent, it will be very interesting to watch Pierre-Roger Latour’s development in the years to come, as well as the way he’ll manage – hopefully, with the help of his team – the extra pressure he’ll get from the French media, now that it’s a certainty he has all that it takes to be a Grand Tour contender in the future.

Rider of the week

In 2012, after taking the overall classification in the Girobio ahead of Fabio Aru, Davide Formolo and Ilnur Zakarin, Joe Dombrowski was widely regarded as the next big thing of US cycling, many tipping him for a Grand Tour victory in the years to come. After that season – in which he got other impressive results in the Tour of California and USA Pro Cycling Challenge, racing agains the pros – the 21-year-old was signed by Sky, but the move didn’t turn out to be a match made in heaven, the main reason being a medical problem (iliac artery endofibrosis) that hampered his two-year spell with the British outfit.

With Sky not extending his contract beyond 2014, Dombrowski had to search for a new team, and it didn’t took him too much to find it, as Cannondale-Garmin was eager to take him aboard and came with an offer. The young climbing ace didn’t weigh too much on this, as he saw the transfer to the US-based squad as an excellent opportunity to relaunch his career and find the form that has helped him shine in the seasons spent as an U23 cyclist with Bontrager-Livestrong.

The signs that Joe Dombrowski started to regain his legs were there early in the year, at the Tour de San Luis, where he finished 7th. Then, the beginning of the Spring wasn’t very satisfactory, but the tables eventually turned around in the Tour of California, where the former Girobio winner came home 4th, a result reminiscent of his 2012 season. Finishing just outside the podium left Dombrowski very confident ahead of his next appointments and hungry for more, a big result looking to be just around the corner.

Cannondale-Garmin’s leader at the start of the Tour of Utah, the rider from Virginia stayed safe during the first stages of the week-long event and made sure of not losing any time to his rivals, before storming away on Snowbird (10,8 kilometers, 7,5% average gradient), in the penultimate stage, putting on a fantastice surge with more than six kilometers to go, that let all the other GC contenders in the dust.

Thanks to an impressive cadence (which didn’t overshadow his elegant style), Dombrowski claimed his maiden pro victory, which confimed the huge potential that heralded him when he turned pro, in 2013. Getting also the yellow jersey on his shoulders, the 24-year-old put on another dominant display one day later, on Empire Pass – one of the toughest climbs in the US (12,7 kilometers, 7,7% average gradient) – marking all his opponents and sealing the overall classification win in Park City, where he became the 7th US cyclist to triumph in the Tour of Utah.

With the Vuelta a España ready to hit it off in less than two weeks – a race that will provide opportunities galore to the climbers – and taking into account his superb form, Joe Dombrowski can be one of the revelations there, despite making his debut in a Grand Tour. After all, he’s not the future of US cycling anymore; he’s the present of it.

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