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Bicycle Racing News and Opinion,
Thursday, July 7, 2016

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Tour de France stage five team news

BMC sent this happy note:

6 July, 2016, Le Lioran (FRA): It was a dream come true for Greg Van Avermaet who put in a stunning solo effort that saw him win stage 5 and take the leader's Yellow Jersey at the Tour de France.

Van Avermaet's incredible performance sees him with a strong lead in the General Classification, 5'11" in front of Julian Alaphilippe (Etixx-Quick Step), and 5'13" in front of Alejandro Valverde (Movistar Team).

An early breakaway of nine riders including Van Avermaet formed and established a solid lead of over ten minutes in the first 100 kilometers. Van Avermaet attacked from the breakaway with Thomas De Gendt and Andrei Grivko with 120 kilometers to go.

Grivko was dropped as they approached the final four climbs, leaving Van Avermaet and De Gendt to battle it out for the victory.

Van Avermaet attacked again with 17.5 kilometers to go and powered on to solo to the second Tour de France stage win of his career and first time he has worn the Yellow Jersey.

Van Avermaet

Greg van Avermaet in his new yellow jersey.

The first day of climbing also saw Tejay van Garderen and Richie Porte jump up on the General Classification, now sitting in 12th and 27th place respectively.

Greg Van Avermaet: "It feels great. I was never dreaming about the Yellow Jersey but it is a big dream that has come true. I was happy with the stage win last year, but now another stage win and the Yellow Jersey, I think it's once in a lifetime for me and I'm going to enjoy it as much as possible tomorrow."

"I felt pretty good. Grivko was not working at the beginning, Majka was not working, so me and Thomas De Gendt did a really good job. We were the strongest guys from the break I think, and we made the race hard and we saw that the peloton wouldn't come back on this steep climb. I felt pretty good and I just went on my own because I was strong enough to hold it to the line."

"I think for my type of rider it's really hard to get the Yellow Jersey and I'm so happy that I have it. The stage win is something but wearing yellow is the most beautiful thing I think for a cyclist."

Yvon Ledanois: "It was always the plan to put Greg in the breakaway today. We knew it was a stage for the breakaway but it wasn't easy and as well as Greg we also had Amael Moinard and Michael Schar who were looking out for it. It was a fast, hard stage. When we saw the nine riders who had made it we knew it was a good, strong breakaway. The gap got out to well over ten minutes. I'm happy for Greg, I'm happy for the team, I'm happy for BMC Switzerland, and I'm happy for Andy Rihs. It's always important to take the Yellow Jersey, especially for the sponsors. Not many teams get the chance to wear the Yellow Jersey or win a stage, and to do both in the same day is really special. It's a good day for BMC Racing Team."

Richie Porte: "I was comfortable. Tejay and I have shown that we can work together and Damiano Caruso worked well and put us in a really good position. I knew that those descents were going to be crucial. At the end of the day, it's a great day for the team. It's not nice to have lost time like that [flat tire on stage 2] but you know, you just keep fighting each day I suppose. The signs are good, I had good legs and it's quite exciting."

Tejay van Garderen: "Greg certainly looked like he had good form today. It was a super impressive ride and great for the team, and great for Greg as well with the season he's had, so he really deserves it. Tomorrow I'm sure we'll help to control the breakaway but I don't even expect us to have to do much work to bring them in because the sprinters' teams will probably want to pull back the breakaway. I think we'll just enjoy the day in yellow, stay relaxed and get ready for the Pyrenees."

Thomas de Gendt of Lotto-Soudal was second today. Here's the team's report:

The fifth stage in this Tour de France was the first one that contained a few heavy obstacles. The peloton had to cover six climbs, the hard part of this stage was situated in the final 35 kilometres. The speed was very high right from the beginning so the break wasn’t formed immediately. After about twenty kilometres a few riders were able to get away. Who else than Thomas De Gendt was part of the nine-man break. The escapees obtained a nice advantage as the peloton didn’t react on it. A few moments later, the front group was reduced to three riders. De Gendt, Van Avermaet and Grivko had gone clear, their lead was more than fifteen minutes at a certain moment. The chasing group of six riders remained in between the front group and the peloton for almost the whole day.

On the first of three tough climbs in the finale, Grivko was dropped in the front of the race. Just before that, Movistar decided to pull at the front of the peloton and therefore the lead shrunk very fast. A lot of riders were dropped at that moment. After that, Van Avermaet accelerated on the penultimate climb of the day. Unfortunately, De Gendt was unable to follow him. Van Avermaet won the stage after a solo of seventeen kilometres and is the new leader on GC. Thomas De Gendt finished second, his fantastic performance was rewarded with the prize of the most combative rider. De Gendt was very attentive during the day and he managed to win three KOM sprints. Therefore he’s the new leader in that classification so he may wear the polka dot jersey tomorrow. Naturally, Thomas is very happy with his performance.

Thomas de Gendt

Thomas de Gendt on the day's final climb and headed for the finish

Thomas De Gendt: “It wasn’t clear yet whether I would join the break this morning because I thought it might be wiser to save some strengths for the final week. But it was obvious from the beginning that a few strong riders were willing to be part of the break so I decided to join them. We got a lot of advantage from the peloton because no one was a threat to the GC riders. Van Avermaet was the best placed rider at twenty seconds but the GC riders don’t expect that he will play a role in the mountain stages. The cooperation in the front group was gone after a while so we decided to continue the break with three riders. We weren’t sure whether Grivko would be good or not. Greg and I decided that he mustn’t win today’s stage because he didn’t do his part of the job. Eventually he was dropped on the fourth climb of the day. Van Avermaet accelerated on the penultimate climb and it was clear that he was stronger than me. I’m a bit disappointed of course but I realize that Greg was simply the best today. He really deserved this victory.”

“It was clear that the KOM sprints would be today's goal from the moment that I was part of the break. I was able to win three sprints and therefore I may wear the polka dot jersey tomorrow. Wearing that jersey is a big dream. I was never able to wear a jersey in a Grand Tour so I’m really happy. Obtaining the prize of the most combative rider and the polka dot jersey is a nice consolation prize. I’ll try to defend that jersey for at least one day, after that it will depend on how the Tour will evolve. Today’s stage will affect my condition as it was a very hard day. We rode more than 200 kilometres in the front of the race so I’ll need some time to recover. We’ll see if there are any other opportunities later in this Tour de France.”

And Rafal Majka of Tinkoff was third. Tinkoff sent me this update:

The only team to have had a rider in the top five of every stage of the Tour de France so far, Tinkoff continued a strong start to the race as Rafal Majka took 3rd spot as the race hit the mountains for the first time in the race. With Rafal in the top three on the stage, Alberto Contador fought bravely after a tough start to the Tour, finishing a little over thirty seconds after the Polish national road champion.

After the sprinters had dominated the first four stages, it was time for the climbers to provide the spectacle. Stage 5 saw riders cross six categorised climbs, with four of these in the final 45km. While many riders had been able to hide away in the peloton in the opening few stages, there was no hiding when the race hit the hills.

Starting out, the 216km route was fairly gentle, with only the fourth category Côte de Saint-Léonard-de-Noblat to ascend, it would be another 126km before the race hit the top of another climb. While both the distance and the climbs up until this point were bound to be felt by the riders, all eyes were on the final three climbs, which was where the major attacks of the day were expected. The Pas de Peyrol and the Col du Perthus were the hardest climbs of the day – both second category and both averaging around 8%, before the final climb before the finish – followed by a short descent before the final ramp up to the finish in Le Lioran. The question was, would the GC riders show their hand so early in the race, or would they sit back and simply avoid losing time?

After being held back by the earlier flat stages, the climbers were chomping at the bit for some action today, and the moment the flag dropped, the attacks came. In spite of this, none of the attacks stuck at first. Eventually a group of nine managed to get away, and one of the nine was Rafal Majka. Having had a successful Giro d’Italia campaign, where he finished fifth in the GC, the newly-crowned Polish road champion had some good mountain kilometres in his legs and looked comfortable from the off.

Rafal Majka

Rafal Majka

From the finish, Sport Director, Sean Yates, explained how the breakaway unfolded. “The break took a while to go and when it did we had a good situation with Rafa there, and not many of the big teams there. Naturally Rafa sat on the break as we’ve got the yellow jersey behind, but some of the guys up there weren’t happy and started to jump, and the group split and the gap grew.”

With the road relatively flat, three riders went off the front of the breakaway group, leaving Rafal’s group slightly further back. In spite of this attack, he wasn’t about to allow his group to be swallowed up by the peloton, and pushed on. The lead group was in no mood to be hanging around and quickly built up a substantial lead of thirteen minutes on the peloton, rising to fifteen with 70km of the stage remaining. While a strong lead, it was in the final 70km that the bulk of the climbing was to take place, and so that gap was expected to fall sharply as the peloton upped the pace.

As the race entered its final 50km, the GC favourites decided to reduce the gap on the breakaways. Within 20km of chasing, the gap was down to less than ten minutes and was falling sharply, although Rafal’s group was managing to hold the peloton at bay while also sitting only a few minutes back on the leaders. Yates saw that this would be tough, but while other GC riders started to lose time, Alberto kept his head. “Behind the bunch started chasing but then the gap suddenly grew to nine minutes again so the bunch panicked and put the hammer down. No one really attacked, it was just a hard tempo. Alberto only had Roman with him on the final climbs and a lot of names got dropped which shows how hard it was.”

With the parcours getting harder over the two second category climbs, the groups started to split slightly. After fighting hard in the opening four stages, yellow jersey holder, Peter Sagan, began to lose ground on the peloton, while Rafal’s group lost two of their six and the lead group of three became two, before a late attack made it a solo rider out front. These were some difficult climbs – relentlessly steep and in the heat of the French sun, everyone was finding the going hard after four days of comparative flatness. After spending much of the day riding near the front of the race, Rafal dropped the remaining riders around him to fight for third place with the GC group closing fast behind.

With Peter Sagan losing position, it looked as though the UCI World Champion would lose the yellow jersey after holding it for three days. Yates, had wondered if the day would have panned out differently, enabling him to stay in the Maillot Jaune longer. “We thought there would be an outside chance of keeping the jersey with Peter depending on how the stage panned out, if there was a break up the road that wasn't dangerous, but we knew the climbs were pretty tough so it wouldn’t be an easy stage. Also, we thought teams may put pressure on Alberto and this is what happened.”

Up ahead, it seemed certain the solo break was going to take the stage, but wile the stage winner had been crowned, the peloton was still racing, looking to take time where they could. With Rafal riding hard to take third spot on what had been a brutal introduction to the mountains, a brave effort brought Alberto to the line a little over thirty seconds behind.

While the Spanish team leader lost a little time on the stage, Alberto was pleased with how he was recovering after a hard start to the Tour. “I feel my condition improving day by day and it is better than I expected. I lost a few seconds today and I was aware Movistar would do a very hard race. I was mentally prepared for that.”

Up until the end of the stage, Alberto was riding strong against riders who had suffered none of the misfortunes he had early in the race, as Yates explained from the finish. “It was only when the attack came in the final 500m that Alberto lost ground. In my opinion when you consider how bad he was a few days ago it’s a good performance. It was a question of damage limitation today. Third on the stage is still a good result on a day, which doesn’t look good when you lose the yellow jersey and lose time with Alberto. Obviously it’s not good to lose time but it could have been a lot worse – there’s still a long way to go.”

Alberto seconded his Sport Director’s comments. “In the last part of the race the pace was so high we barely had a second to take a breath. We lost time and we have to take the race day by day and try to recover before the Pyrenees and the harder stages. I will give my best in the Alps and try to see what result we can achieve.”

An experienced GC rider, Alberto was strong mentally while he allowed his body to recover. “The morale is good. I have been through tough situations many times in my life and one has to be strong. It's true that it's difficult when you have been preparing for so long, taking care of the smallest detail to be in the best form possible and then have two crashes in a row. If this stage had taken place five days from now it would have been different. However the race is what it is and we lost time.

Peter may have lost yellow but he swaps it for green and was back on the podium today. “I actually tried to go in the break early today but the group didn’t let me go – I think they were scared of me, but it's impossible to do everything. The climbs didn’t matter for me as the break was a long way ahead at the front. I thought it was better to take it easy. The Tour de France is still very long. We will see day by day, now I’ve got the green jersey I’ll keep trying for it.”

It’s another day with some hills tomorrow, but with less severe climbs and much of the climbing done by the halfway point, a flat finish means the sprinters may have a chance to take control on this 190.5km stage.

Julian Alaphilippe of Etixx-Quick Step kept his white jersey. Here's his team's report:

A rookie in the Grande Boucle, the 24-year-old Julian Alaphilippe stayed with the best on Wednesday's stage, which teammate Dan Martin finished in 5th place.

Following a few skirmishes and fruitless attacks, nine riders got clear after the first categorized climb of a day which included six ascents and several narrow and twisty descents, with the peloton more than happy to let them go: Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal), Andriy Grivko (Astana), Cyril Gautier (AG2R), Bartosz Huzarski (Bora-Argon 18), Rafal Majka (Tinkoff), Serge Pauwels (Dimension Data), Romain Sicard (Direct Energie), Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) and Florian Vachon (Fortuneo-Vital Concept).

Julian Alaphilippe

Julian Alaphilippe

Even before the halfway point of the stage, they opened a gap of 7 minutes, which later was extended to 15 minutes, following an attack of De Gendt, Grivko and Van Avermaet, who left their fellow escapees behind and surged on the rolling roads of the Massif Central. At the intermediate sprint, Van Avermaet was first, while from the bunch Marcel Kittel – Tuesday's stage winner – took 5 points and is now just 8 points of green jersey Peter Sagan (Tinkoff).

With the pack deciding to take a day off until the final 40 kilometers of the day, when Movistar's fierce pace led to a significant trimming of the main group thus recovering time on the escapees, the trio stayed together with a comfortable lead until the two Belgians up front made a move on the penultimate ascent (Col du Perthus), leaving Grivko behind. From that duo, Van Avermaet proved to be the strongest, attacking and soloing to victory in Le Lioran, which was hosting a Tour de France stage for the first time in 41 years.

The peloton came home minutes later, strung out following an attack of Romain Bardet (AG2R), which dispatched Alberto Contador (Tinkoff), and from that group Dan Martin sprinted to 5th place. Teammate Julian Alaphilippe rolled over the line in the same time and made sure of keeping the white jersey for the fourth day in a row, a remarkable performance for a rider who's just five stages into his maiden Grand Tour. In the general classification, Julian rests in second place, while Dan has climbed to 10th, a handful of seconds behind the young Frenchman.

"Today we knew that we will face many attacks from the start and that there was a good chance for a break to go all the way to the line. In the final 35 kilometers, Movistar made the pack's life difficult, trying to test the other riders, and it wasn't easy to keep the pace, but I handled this situation well and now I'm happy and very proud for keeping the white jersey. Tomorrow, a flat stage is on the cards and we will try to set up Marcel Kittel for the sprint", said Julian of the stage which will take place between Arpajon-sur-Cère and Montauban (190.5 kilometers).

Also Daniel Martin – third in last month's Criterium du Dauphiné – was relieved to have passed this mountain test in the Massif Central, which brought the peloton one day closer to the first summit finish of this edition, after four days spent in the fields of Normandie and Bretagne: "The first mountain stage is a little bit of a shock to everybody, and today it was even more difficult because of the scorching heat, which made the road melt in some places. To be sincere, it felt like you were riding through glue all day long. It was a difficult start to the Tour de France and nobody had the legs to attack on Wednesday, because people are already tired after just a couple of days and 18 hours in the saddle. The team rode well together and I am confident for the mountain stages which will come later in the week."

Here's LottoNL-Jumbo's release:

Wilco Kelderman was able to follow the top favourites for the general classification during the tough fifth stage of the Tour de France today to Le Lioran. Team LottoNL-Jumbo’s climber finished 16th and moved up 11th in the general classification. Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing Team) soloed to the stage win and grabbed the yellow jersey.

The hilly fifth stage of the Tour de France had a relatively easy first part, but when the peloton reached the final kilometres of the race, teams pushed a high pace.

“I was expecting the top teams to tighten up the race,” Kelderman said. “It didn’t put me into trouble anyway. It was quite steep sometimes, but I was able to find a nice rhythm.”

Kelderman moved to 11th overall after staying with the best climbers. “I’m glad with that,” he continued. “I’m in a good position and it is going well. I want to keep this level.

“It’s nice that we raced the first hills of the Tour and the first differences are made. We know a little bit more about ourselves and our rivals, and that gives me a good feeling.”

Wilco Kelderman

Wilco Kelderman at the Tour presentation ceremony

“Wilco felt good today,” Sports Director Merijn Zeeman added. “He just has to follow these days. We’ll know how good he is after the Pyrenees. He’s still aiming for a stage win, but it was never our plan to lose time in the first days of this Tour on purpose. There are many stages to come in which he can make the difference and this week so far is a confirmation that he’s feeling fine.”

Wednesday’s stage was decided from the early breakaway, and some of LottoNL-Jumbo’s men wanted to be part of it. “We tried it with Bert-Jan Lindeman and George Bennett, but we failed, unfortunately,” Zeeman explained. “We’re fed up about that, but we can build on what we showed today. Wilco showed a high level and Dylan Groenewegen was in the gruppetto without any problems.”

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