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Bicycle Racing News and Opinion,
Monday, March 13, 2017

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2017 Tour de France | 2017 Giro d'Italia

We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop. - Mother Teresa

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Paris-Nice final team reports

Here's the news from Quick Step Floors:

David de la Cruz nailed the win on a day in which Dan Martin sealed a top 3 overall finish, while Julian Alaphilippe took the green and white jerseys.

Quick-Step Floors has been one of the dominant forces at the 75th edition of Paris-Nice, a race which can easily go down as one of the best of 2017, despite being still early in the season. Crosswinds, crashes, spectacular finishes and dramatic racing, these were the ingredients of an incredible week, at the end of which Quick-Step Floors made a significant jump in the World Tour standings, confirming its status as one of the best outfits in the world.

The cherry on the cake came on the final day of the French event, a short but intense one around Nice, which awaited the riders with five classified climbs: Côte de Levens, Côte de Châteauneuf, Col de Calaïson, Côte de Peille and Col d'Èze. Early on the day, David De La Cruz went into the break, which formed before the first ascent and contained no less than 24 riders. Together, they opened a 3:10-gap over the peloton, which decided to ramp up the chase before the penultimate climb of stage 8.

On Côte de Peille, with 52 kilometers to go, Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) attacked and the race exploded. The peloton fragmented and soon the Spaniard had half a minute over the group which included Julian Alaphilippe, Dan Martin and Paris-Nice leader Sergio Henao (Team Sky). Not long after, Contador caught the front group of David De La Cruz and by the bottom of Col d'Èze, the lead was extended to almost a minute.

Col d'Èze, the legendary climb at the top of which Eddy Merckx won in 1969, shredded the front group to pieces, and with two kilometers remaining to the top, only David De La Cruz, Marc Soler and Contador were still up the road. Soler was the first to attack and get a gap, but David dug deep on the descent and almost dropped the two-time winner of Paris-Nice, before reeling in the Movistar rider.

Inside the last 2500 meters, as the gap to the yellow jersey group was shrinking, Contador had another go, pilling on the pressure and putting some distance between him and his countrymen, but David didn't give up and came back, before outsprinting the seven-time Grand Tour winner on Quai des États-Unis, for his maiden victory of the year.

David de la Cruz

David de la Cruz takes the final stage

"It's a really nice victory. The plan was to go in the break, and once Alberto bridged over, I knew there was a strong chance this move will stick. It wasn't until the final three kilometers, when I realized we still had a healthy gap on the chasers, that I began thinking of taking the victory. It was a tough day out there, I suffered a lot, but kept my composure on the descent and now I'm very happy. It's one of the best days of my career", said David De La Cruz, the first Spaniard in five years to take a stage win at Paris-Nice.

The first chasers arrived less than 30 seconds behind David De La Cruz, and Julian Alaphilippe sprinted to fifth place; that result was enough for him to secure the green jersey, which he won in addition to taking the white one, for best young rider of the race, which he wore from the opening stage.

"You can't imagine how happy I am! It was another tough day from kilometer zero, but we had a good strategy, sending David in the front, while Dan and myself stayed with the GC contenders, keeping an eye on what was happening. David deserved to win, he did a great job for the team throughout the week, and I'm very happy for him. It's been a fantastic race for Quick-Step Floors and I am very proud of what we have achieved", said Julian, fifth in the overall standings, and at the same time the first rider in history to win the green and white jerseys at a single edition of the "Race to the Sun".

Since joining Quick-Step Floors, Dan Martin made significant improvements and these could be seen in last year's Volta a Catalunya and Critérium du Dauphiné, two prestigious races in which he concluded on the podium. Now, he finished again in the top 3, half a minute down on the Paris-Nice winner, confirming his good form in this first part of the season.

"I couldn't follow Alberto when he attacked, so from that moment on it was a case of dropping Sergio, which I did on Col d'Èze, but the others chased me back immediately. When I realized the GC victory was out of the question, I said in the radio that David should go and seeing him win this stage is really great. I am extremely happy for him, he gave everything this week for us and deserves to be there", explained Dan Martin at the finish.

"Third in the general classification at such a big as Paris-Nice is an important result in my career, solid proof of how much I have developed since joining Quick-Step Floors, especially as I didn't arrived here in the best condition. Finally, I am also satisfied and super glad to see the entire squad on the podium at the end of this race, as this fantastic team spirit is what brought us at the top", concluded the 30-year-old Irishman after Quick-Step Floors won the team classification at Paris-Nice for the second time.

Overall winner Sergio Henao's Team Sky posted this report:

Sergio Henao dug deep on the final day to win a thrilling edition of Paris-Nice by just two seconds. The Colombian was pushed hard after a long-range attack from Alberto Contador forced the yellow jersey to chase over the day's final two climbs above Nice.

A frantic run back to the finish saw the maillot jaune finish inside an elite group of chasers, 21 seconds back on the Spaniard and eventual stage winner David De La Cruz (Quick-Step Floors).

Bonus seconds were not enough for Contador (Trek-Segafredo) who missed out by the narrowest of margins, just two seconds back after a brave ride.

Henao wrapped up Team Sky's fifth victory in six years at the prestigious stage race, laying the foundations with a battling performance in the cross-winds in the opening pair of stages.

Henao was supported by his Team Sky team-mates across the eight days, with Sebastian Henao and David Lopez playing key late roles on the final day, helping to close the gap ahead of the Col d'Eze. After the race a thrilled Henao explained: "I suffered a lot. I want to thank everyone who made it possible, my team-mates and my wife. This is the greatest victory in my career and to win it like this at the last metre of Paris-Nice is simply unbelievable.

"Paris-Nice is such a great race and there were so many great rivals like Alberto Contador. It was tough, but I didn't ask myself any questions. I knew I had to suffer until the last minutes but I had to do it for myself and for the greatness of Colombian cycling."

Henao headed into the day with the yellow jersey on his shoulders and a 30-second advantage over Dan Martin (Quick-Step Floors). Contador lay a further second back.

Sergio Henao

Sergio Henao started and finished the day in yellow.

A big breakaway group pushed on up ahead, and as the peloton gave chase on undulating terrain, the race tore itself apart. With the lead group reduced to just 30 riders Henao still looked comfortable, with six team-mates standing firm around him.

Decisively the group split further on the Cote de Peille under intense pressure from Trek-Segafredo. Off the back of this Contador made an early move with some 50 kilometres still to race. Henao was immediately onto his wheel, but began to slip back.

As the gap spun out to just over a minute it looked like the win could be slipping away. But with cousin Sebastian and Lopez returning to the fold the advantage was pegged. Henao then doggedly shut down attack after attack on the final climb, but as the gap slowly came down the momentum formed, with a thrilling conclusion on the Quai des Etats Unis.

Here's What Alberto Contador's Trek-Segafredo team had to say:

Alberto Contador gave a classic 'never-say-die' performance for stage eight at Paris-Nice, attacking on the penultimate climb and riding his heart out in the final 50 kilometers only to fall short of the overall victory by two seconds.

Race leader Sergio Henao (Sky), who was behind Contador by a minute at the top of the last climb, gradually clawed his way back in the 15-kilometer run-in. 

Contador gained eight seconds in time bonuses, taking second in the intermediate sprint and to David De La Cruz (Quick-Step Floors) on the stage, and as the Henao group flew into the last kilometer, the clock ticked down. Henao needed to finish within 22 seconds to keep yellow.

It was a nail-biter.

Then a heartbreaker.

When the dust settled and the tally taken, Contador was two seconds shy of claiming his third Paris-Nice title. The closest margin in the history of the prestigious WorldTour race. Despite the disappointing news, a more thrilling finish could not have played out: it was cycling at its best. All thanks to a rider who throws caution to the wind and rides with a passion and flair found only in legends. Pure panache.

PAris-Nice podium

The final podium, from left: Alberto Contador, Sergio Henao & Daniel Martin

"Yeah, I gave everything," said Contador, who paused and collected his breath, "and my team gave everything today, they were incredible. On the one hand, I am very happy because everyone knew I would attack when (Jarlinson) Pantano was pulling hard, and I had to be strong. It's difficult to go alone because every rider is looking to me to do the work. But on the other hand, it is hard to lose by two seconds again and another second position."

Jarlinson Pantano for the second straight day set up the attack by Contador by pulling full gas and putting the hurt on everyone on the penultimate climb. When he finally blew and pulled aside, Contador accelerated. No one could match the move as Contador continued to put pressure on, catching some of the breakaway riders ahead, then using the group until the final climb.

"Pantano for me is incredible," said Contador. "He not only a teammate but also a very good friend, and when you enjoy each other's company off the bike after you go more faster on the road. We are very motivated to work together, and he will be for me crucial in the Tour de France. With him, I can play with different options. I am very happy that he is with me in the team and I can only say to him: thanks, thanks, and thanks!"

Henao, who looked to be in trouble behind, never panicked.  Slowly his chase group swelled, giving him much-needed support, while Contador – who only had Soler and De la Cruz with him at the end – faded under his effort. 

"De la Cruz worked hard, Soler did not help much, but that is normal; each rider has his own interests," explained Contador about the last kilometers. "I am very happy for De la Cruz, and I say thanks to him giving me help in the false flat.

"Of course, if I don’t lose the time the first stage the tactics are very different. For example, yesterday I could have been concentrated for the stage win and not the GC. But okay, sometimes you are in the front, sometimes you are not, and then each day you must look at your position [in GC] and try to be more in front when you finish the stage. This is cycling.

"In the end, it was a good day, a beautiful day of cycling, and this is also important. Okay, I prefer a win of course, but this is the sport. Now I only think about rest and recovery before the next races."

Touché.

And Lotto-Soudal sent me this report:

In Paris-Nice, the riders had a short but hard last stage of 115.5 kilometres ahead of them today. Thomas De Gendt reacted well to an escape early on in the race and was part of the break of the day. It was at 50 kilometres from the finish that Trek-Segafredo set a deadly pace uphill. They wanted to make the race hard so Contador would still be able to take the overall win. Tony Gallopin and a lot of others had to pass. Not much later, Contador attacked and got Sergio Henao, the leader in the GC, into trouble. Contador jumped in no time to the group of Thomas De Gendt and rode to the finish with De La Cruz and Soler. Contador attacked in the penultimate kilometre but couldn’t get away from De La Cruz. It was David De La Cruz who won the two-man sprint from Alberto Contador. Marc Soler became third. Sergio Luis Henao won the GC with only two seconds lead on Contador.

Tony Gallopin: “The goal for this Paris-Nice was a stage win for the team and a top ten place for me. André Greipel won a nice stage and I finished in the top ten so the goal is achieved, but I am disappointed. This Paris-Nice started well for me. After two days on roads in my own region I was in a good position. After my good performance in the individual time trial, past Wednesday I dreamt of more. Especially because Friday night I was still second in the GC. I am disappointed I fell back to the tenth place this weekend, but I was wrecked. The goal is achieved but I had hoped for more. This Paris-Nice was murdering. If you look at the other riders in the top ten, it are all guys who play a role in the Grand Tours. So I stand proudly amongst them. I was completely empty today. If it wasn’t for the great support from my teammates, I wouldn’t even be in the top ten because my tank was completely empty.”

Andre Greipel

André Greipel did win stage 5

Stage five of the Tirreno-Adriatico was a really tough 210 kilometre-long race. The riders rode from Riena to Fermo over a hilly course. After 25 kilometres of racing, the first breakaway was formed. Eleven riders were upfront and Maxime Monfort represented Lotto Soudal. The break lasted until 70 kilometres from the finish. It didn’t take long for another break to be formed and this time it was Tim Wellens who attacked for Lotto Soudal. He joined three others and they stayed ahead of the bunch until fifty kilometres from the finish. Afterwards, it was a nervous race with a lot of attacks, but no one got away. The stage win was decided at the uphill finish. Nairo Quintana attacked and ripped the bunch apart. A group of eleven riders rode to the finish line together and it was Peter Sagan who won the stage. Thibaut Pinot became second, Primoz Roglic third. Tiesj Benoot finished as the first Lotto Soudal rider on the thirteenth place. Quintana remains the leader in the GC.

LottoNL-Jumbo's Tirreno-Adriatico report:

Primoz Roglic placed third in Tirreno-Adriatico’s stage to Fermo, Italy, behind Peter Sagan today. In an uphill sprint, only world champion Sagan and Thibaut Pinot slipped by, but by fighting for third, he moved from seventh to fourth place overall at 1-15 minutes behind leader Nairo Quintana.

Peter Sagan

Peter Sagan won stage 5

“We’d hoped, but certainly did not expect this from Roglic,” said Sports Director Jan Boven. “A big compliment to the team, which worked great all day for Roglic on a difficult course. He once again rose in the standings. Now, it is important to hold on to it until the time trial on Tuesday and see how far he can go.''

In the stage, 11 riders broke away and gained four minutes on the peloton. With 90 kilometers to go, the breakaway was reeled in. In the hectic final, Roglic stood his ground on the ramps into Fermo and sprinted uphill elbow-to-elbow with Sagan.

Tomorrow, the team will face a relatively flat stage to Citivanova Marche. Boven added, “Perhaps Battaglin or Lobato can race for a good result. Lobato’s first concern is to boost his fitness towards the rest of the season.”

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