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Rider of the week

Saturday, August 1st, proved to be a memorable day in more ways than one for Adam Yates, who claimed his maiden World Tour victory in the 35th running of Clasica San Sebastian – Spain’s top one-day race – becoming the second youngest rider to win it. The 22-year-old, who is in his second pro year, was tipped for greatness for some time now, ever since finishing on the podium of the 2013 Tour de l’Avenir, a race in which few British riders have shined over the years. Coming at the start of the Classic less than a week after completing his debut Tour de France – where he got three top 10 placings – Yates was ranked among the contenders for the victory, but truth is not many were expecting him to fly on the Bordako Tortorra climb and take a solo win at the end.

That’s exactly what the Orice-GreenEdge rider has done: attacked on the ascent, built a small lead over his rivals and then increased the gap on the same descent he crashed last year, less than five kilometers before the finish. It was a day to remember not only due to his impressive performance, but also because of the confusion that ran in the closing kilometers, a consequence of the fact that there weren’t any live images from the road until the final minutes, when the riders had already crossed the last climb of the course.

This situation, as well as the noise of the crowd that prevented him from getting any info on the situation, led to Adam Yates arriving at the finish line without knowing he’s won, a thing which he found out from his soigneur. As soon as he realized what he has done, the young Brit began celebrating his biggest victory to date, one which confirmed once and for all his huge potential that recommends him at winning a Grand Tour in the following years, when he’s expected to be, alongside his twin brother Simon, the leader of maybe the finest generation of riders Britain has ever had.

Rider of the week

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

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

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

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

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

Rider of the week

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

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

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

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

Rider of the week

He was supposed to be at the wrong side of the split caused by the crosswinds during stage two of the Tour de France, but ended up gaining time on all his rivals. One day later, he should have had problems on the narrow roads towards the Mur de Huy, but finished second and opened an ever bigger gap on his rivals. On stage four, many were expecting him to crash on the northern cobbles or just be insecure and lose minutes, however, he cruised there and even attacked at some point, before eventually finishing in the same time with the other GC contenders.

For Chris Froome, week one of the Tour de France was an amazing one, much above his expectations, that saw him pull on the yellow jersey and gradually increasing his advantage over Alberto Contador, Vincenzo Nibali, Nairo Quintana and Tejay van Garderen, the other four riders who are credited as favorites at winning the 102nd edition of the race. Due to his excellent performance on the tricky stages that took place in the Netherlands, Belgium and Nord-Pas-de-Calais, the Brit is now more confident and more relaxed with the second week and the first summit finishes looming on the horizon.

By the looks of it, Chris Froome is more powerful than he was two years ago, when he won the Tour de France, and this is a serious concern for all of his opponents, who will have to tactically outmaneuver him on the descents or by forging an alliance in order to make the Sky cyclist lose time. If this won’t happen, the general feeling is that Froome will kill the fight for the yellow jersey as soon as Thursday, when the peloton will tackle Plateau de Beille, one of the most difficult climbs of this year’s edition.

Rider of the week

It has been a tough first half of the season for Fabian Cancellara, although the start was very good, with stage victories in the Tour of Oman and Tirreno-Adriatico. Unfortunately for the Swiss powerhouse, he crashed and injured in E3 Harelbeke, missing his biggest goals of the season, the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix. Then, after coming back, things weren’t as smooth as he had hoped, the end of June finding him without a win in the three races he had been targeting: the two Tour de Suisse invididual time trials and the road race at the National Championships.

Things didn’t seem to become smooth not even once the Tour de France got underway, as he finished in third position the opening stage, a 13,8-km long individual time trial in Utrecht. But the Trek Factory Racing cyclist kept on believing that the tables will finally turn around and sensed that a first opportunity will be stage two of the race, during which heavy winds and rain were expected, as the peloton was heading towards the North Sea.

Staying all the time at the front during a stage in which the wind and rain wreaked havoc, he eventually became part of a main group that included GC contenders, sprinters and Classic specialists alike, the 34-year-old patiently waited for the last 200 meters, letting the sprinters to make their move, before responding. Then, thanks to a strong sprint (69,16 km/h) – reminiscent of the one in the 2011 World Championships, where he finished fourth – but also to a blunder made by Mark Cavendish, he came third and got himself some bonifications, which helped him climb to first in the standings.

On Monday, Fabian Cancellara will enjoy his 29th day in the yellow jersey, a record for a rider who hasn’t won the overall classification. He also ticks his sixth Tour de France in the lead, which puts him on par with André Darrigade and Eddy Merckx, with only Bernard Hinault in front of him (8 editions). Now, after adding Zeeland to the list of place where he took the most important jersey in cycling (Liège twice, London, Monaco and Rotterdam being the other), the Swiss can look with much more serenity to the second goal he has in the race: win a stage, his ninth in the Tour de France.

Rider of the week

Vincenzo Nibali claimed back-to-back victories at the National Championships, thus becoming the 14th Italian rider to do it, and the first since Giovanni Visconti (2011). Just like in 2014, the Italian opened his account in the one-day race, but this time on a different parcours. If last year’s edition took place on the course of the now defunct Trofeo Melinda, this time the riders tackled the Milano-Torino route, a race revamped by RCS Sport in 2012. The 219-km long event included two climbs, the final one being the Superga hill – 5 kilometers, 9% average gradient – where all was to be decided.

Having his Astana team at the front setting the pace once the race entered its closing kilometers, the triple Grand Tour winner decided to give it a go from the penultimate ascent, thus forcing an important selection. Caught by Francesco Reda and Diego Ulissi, the “Shark of Messina” distanced his rivals on the descent, before the two of them joined him once again on Superga. At one point, Nibali looked to have been cooked as a result of his numerous attacks, but it wasn’t so, as he pushed clear with around two kilometers left and this time left everyone behind for good.

In the end, the 30-year-old Italian won with a comfortable cushion and reassessed himself as one of the top contenders for the Tour de France, with exactly one week before the start of the event. What’s even more important is that Vincenzo Nibali looked to be very slim and in an excellent condition, after a kind of disappointing Criterium du Dauphiné, where he came just 12th in the general classification. Having won the National Championships for the second time in his career and being close of hitting top form, it remains to be seen if the Sicilian will continue on an identical road with the one of last year and take another victory in cycling’s biggest race.

Rider of the week

Simon Spilak’s Tour de Suisse campaign began on the wrong foot, as the 28-year-old Slovenian went off-course in the prologue and ended up losing 19 seconds. Fortunately for him, things were on track just a couple of days later, once the peloton hit the Rettenbachgletscher, the sole mountain top finish. There, on one of the toughest climbs the riders have had in the menu this season, Spilak attacked and although he was eventually reeled in, still hang on for a third place which brought the always so important bonifications.

In the final day of the event – a 38,4-km long individual time trial around Bern – Katusha’s rider gave his all and produced a more than impressing performance, rolling in home second, ahead of Swiss ITT champion Fabian Cancellara, but more important, concluding the race against the clock with an 18-second buffer on Geraint Thomas, his main rival for the yellow jersey. In the end, Spilak – often described as a nice enough character, but not a man of many words, focused soley on cycling – finished five seconds ahead of the Welshman in the overall classification and earned his biggest triumph to date.

A one-week race specialist, Spilak could now find himself in a significant point of his career, as he’s still young and has room for improvement, which can help him finally become a big favorite every time he enters in such races as Paris-Nice, Tour de Romandie or the Vuelta al Pais Vasco. For the moment, he’ll savour his victory, one few would have guessed a week ago. By taking the GC last Sunday, in the 79th running of the race, he became the first ever Slovenian cyclist to get the victory in the Tour de Suisse, and with it, a success that has eluded him since he claimed the 2010 Tour de Romandie (after the disqualification of Alejandro Valverde).

Rider of the week

Chris Froome rode solo towards the stage win and overall victory on Sunday, in the 67th Criterium du Dauphiné, with a display reminiscent of the ones he had on the mountains in the 2013 Tour de France. Still, the race wasn’t a walk in the park for the 30-year-old Brit, who has lost precious time in two important stages, the TTT between Rouanne and Montagny and on Pra-Loup, where everyone was expecting a one-man show, but eventually got to see a Froome which showed some uncharacteristical weaknesess.

During the week-end, the leader of Sky was at a completely different level and not only he scored two back-to-back stage wins on Saint-Gervais Mont Blanc and Modane Valfréjus, but by doing so, he rode everyone else off his back and took the overall classification for the second time, after the 2013 edition. On each of the two hard mountain stages, Froome sent his team at the front to prepair his attack and once the job was done by the likes of Ian Boswell and Wout Poels, he unleashed a fierce acceleration which couldn’t be matched by any of his opponents.

Looking behind just to make sure yellow jersey wearer Tejay van Garderen lost contact for good, Chris Froome flew on the slopes of the climbs and forged clear to win the GC of the Criterium du Dauphiné, a race in which he made a point from demonstrating that he’s very close of reaching top form just three weeks before the start of the Tour de France. On top of that, his victory in the week-long stage race will serve as an excellent and much needed psychological boost ahead of July’s top objective.

Rider of the week

Bradley Wiggins put on an insane 59×14 gear and a blistering ride in order to become the newest member of the Hour Record club, stopping the clock after 54,526 kilometers, even though the 1036mb air pressure was a huge obstacle in his path and slowed him down throughout the event. By setting a new mark on the Lee Valley Velodrome in London – where he was in the attendance at the 2012 Olympics – the 35-year-old became the sixth ever Tour de France winner to break the Hour Record, following in the footsteps of Lucien Petit-Breton, Fausto Coppi, Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx and Miguel Indurain.

If not for the high air pressure conditions in the UK capital, The Brit surely would have reached his target of 55 kilometers, that would have undoubtly put the Hour Record to bed for a couple of years. Still, his performance – which eclipsed the one of his fellow countryman Alex Dowsett (52,937 kilometers) – remains an impressive one and it will take an incredible ride from the future contenders to surpass this mark which helped Wiggins crown an outstanding career that will continue until the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

The Brit isn’t the most spectacular cyclist out there (and he never pretented to be), but for sure is the most versatile one, and his results speak on behalf of himself: Tour de France, Paris-Nice, Criterium du Dauphiné, Tour de Romandie, Tour of California, Tour of Britain, World and Olympic individual time trial champion, multiple World and Olympic track champion and now Hour Record holder, he has them all in his palmares, one of the best a rider has seen in the past decades, although many are still reluctant to asses his achievements. This matters less, so in the end, love him or hate him, Bradley Wiggins will go down in history as a real legend of the sport.

Rider of the week

On May 31st, Alberto Contador got to kiss again the Trofeo Senza Fine, seven years after his first victory in the Giro d’Italia. If his 2008 triumph came at the end of a hard-fought race, the same can’t be said about this one, because he was so dominant that his victory was basically sealed with around a week left of the event. The 32-year-old Spaniard didn’t win a stage, didn’t have the most powerful team, but neither of these prevented him from taking the maglia rosa and with it a well-deserved success, his seventh in a Grand Tour, which puts him on the same level with Fausto Coppi and Miguel Indurain, two other huge legends of the sport.

During the three weeks of the race, from Sanremo to Milan, Alberto Contador not only controlled his rivals, but showed great intelligence and tactical masterclass. Basically, he managed all the difficult moment he encountered and made sure he didn’t give his opponents any chance to come back in the game, all these while making sure he finishes the race as fresh as possible in order to tackle this July’s Tour de France at a high level, where he hopes to take his first yellow jersey in six years.

As soon as he was crowned champion, the leader of Tinkoff-Saxo announced that there won’t be any moveable feast, just a short celebration with the team and then back to altitude training before the Route du Sud, underlining his mentality which was, over the years, one of his main weapons in his fight with the likes of Andy Schleck or Chris Froome. A rider who always has a huge hunger for success, Alberto Contador is now at the halfway point in what could turn out to be his finest season yet, as he’s gunning for an historic Giro-Le Tour double.

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