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Bicycle Racing News and Opinion,
Thursday, July 21, 2016

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Tour de France news

Stage 17 winner Ilnur Zakarin's Katusha team had this to say about the day's racing:

With a stunning backdrop of the Swiss Alps, Team KATUSHA’s Ilnur Zakarin soared to his first Tour de France stage win in stage 17 on Wednesday, taking on the steep slopes of the HC finishing climb of Finhaut-Emosson. Attacking from the break to bridge across to two leaders with less than 8 km to go, Zakarin, age 26, accelerated again at 6,5 km to go and once more at the 6 km mark to distance all others and earn a solo victory by a gap of 55-seconds. A small fist pump was the most celebration Zakarin could muster on the finish line where the gradient was 12% in the last half kilometer.

"It’s been 3 weeks that I’ve been focused and motivated to win here in the Tour de France. After the crash in the Giro I was so disappointed. First of all because I was aiming for the final podium and to lose all of that in the last few days was very hard. So I began to think of the Tour so perhaps I could win a stage here, - said Ilnur Zakarin. Zakarin was in fifth place with only two stages to go in May’s Giro d’Italia when a high-speed crash sent him home with dashed hopes and a broken collarbone."

Joining Zakarin on the daily podium were Jarlinson Pantano of IAM Cycling at +0.55 and Rafal Majka (Tinkoff) at +1.26 for the 184 km stage from Bern to Finhaut-Emosson.

Ilnur Zakarin

Ilnur Zakarin wins stage 17

"This is a very important result both for me and for the team. I would like to thank my team and our main sponsor and team owner Igor Makarov, who has made a huge contribution to the team and our results. I am really happy with this victory. It means a lot for me, especially after my crash at the Giro d'Italia. I wanted to build up my form for the last week of the Tour and I did it. I feel good. But also, I wanted to prepare for the Olympics in Rio. Now I am really happy! I know this is the first Russian victory since 2009, so now it is time to renew old records and achievements. I am happy take my place," continued Zakarin, who was close to a victory two days ago, but missed the possibility to fight for the stage because of contact lens loss.

The first real stage in the Alps saw a change in the time gaps on the general classification. Chris Froome (Team Sky) still wears the yellow jersey, but has widened his gap by 40-seconds to 2:27 to Bauke Mollema of Trek-Segafredo. Third place is held by best young rider Adam Yates (ORICA-BikeExchange) at 2:53.

"My emotions are over the top today, especially for Ilnur and his daughter Kristina, who was born on the first day of the Tour de France. He hasn’t even seen her in person yet, only on Skype. I’m really happy, because Ilnur is the result of the hard work for the last few years of Team KATUSHA. Our owner Mr. Igor Makarov and all of our sponsors are very proud. We’ve been waiting and looking for this day and we did it," said general manager Viacheslav Ekimov.

"After my crash at the Giro, honestly, mentally, I was ready to come back on the bike after just two days. Such a big motivation I had. So when it was possible I started my training and did my best to build on my form again for the third week of the Tour. I believed I had a chance to win a stage here and the dream came true," said Ilnur Zakarin.

Asked about the recent scandal in Russian Sports, the story about possible disqualification of the Russian Olympic Team after a report few days ago, Zakarin sees himself removed from the current events while racing at the Tour de France.

"I don't have any comments about it, since I am at the race, the biggest race in the world and all of my thoughts are only about this race. I just hope everything will be ok, and we will take part in the Olympic Games. All I can do – just to be prepared for the Games and to get a strong result there," said Ilnur Zakarin.

GM Ekimov did touch on the subject, however. "Speaking of the Russian scandal and, in particularity, the samples from the sport of cycling – currently no one knows if those samples are from the track, mountain biking, from women’s cycling, from men’s cycling so we can’t really comment on that. Ilnur is Team KATUSHA’s most tested rider. Since last November he has had 12 out-of-competition tests and all of the results were tested by European labs, in particular Lausanne, Paris and Barcelona. We do our own internal testing too. Also he has been tested at least once in every race he has participated in this year – every single race," explained Ekimov.

Four stages remain to be raced in the 2016 Tour de France. Stage 18 on Thursday brings the second individual time trial, this one a 17 km mountain route beginning in Sallanches. The uphill course includes the climb of the Côte des Chozeaux to a height of 1219 meters before the brief descent into Megève.

Talking about plans of Ilnur Zakarin in the next season, the general manager of Team KATUSHA said: "The Tour de France is the most important race of the season and Ilnur only had a short time to prepare for this. After this season we will take time to analyze his races to pinpoint where the best part of his season could be and which Grand Tour should be his first as a team favorite. Of course, the Tour de France is the number one race, but that could be for the future for him," concluded Ekimov.

BMC had a day of mixed fortunes. Here's their report:

20 July, 2016, Finhaut Emosson(SUI): Richie Porte dug deep to attack just before the final kilometer on the summit finish of stage 17, crossing the line in tenth place and moving up to sixth on the General Classification.

The first stage after the rest day proved to be a tough battle on the climbs and of the elements, with high temperatures making the stage even more difficult. Greg Van Avermaet chased his way into the day's breakaway mid-race and hung on until the second to last climb. Solo stage winner Ilnur Zackarin (Team Katusha) came from this breakaway, managing to out-climb Jarlinson Pantano (IAM Cycling) and Rafal Majka (Tinkoff).

Behind Van Avermaet, the battle of the yellow jersey group kicked into gear on the final Hors Categorie climb.

Porte waited for the right moment to attack, with only race leader Chris Froome able to hold his wheel to the line. Porte gained time back on his other riders and now sits in sixth, 4'27" off Froome.

Richie Porte and Chris Froome

Richie Porte leads Chris Froome across the finish line

It wasn't the day for Tejay van Garderen who lost time on the climb and slipped out on the top ten on the General Classification.

Richie Porte: "I really want to be on the podium so they're the moves that you have to pull. I felt strong today and I'm happy with how it all went. I'm with BMC Racing Team now and I'm riding for myself so it's a bit different to the role I've had before. But I'm enjoying it, taking it day by day. The team has put some confidence in me and I'm happy with how today went. I know there are three more hard stages to come until Paris. So we'll just take it day by day."

"I spoke with the Sports Directors this morning and they said just use your head and if you feel like it, attack them. I have to anyhow. The tempo was not so fast there and it was a good time to get a gap there. They chased hard I suppose so it's a good sign. I quite like uphill time trials so I think it's a crucial one tomorrow. I know I need to have a good time trial and take some time. I think I've shown today that I'm climbing well so I take confidence out of today."

Tejay van Garderen: "In other years I've crashed or been sick, but this year I don't know, it's not responding. There's really no excuse, I wish I had one but I don't know. I guess I'm going to have to sit down with our performance team and see what we did in the build up. I've raced against a lot of these guys before in other races and I've been able to be there with them, and for some reason this year it's not happening."

"I think I'll use the TT tomorrow as a recovery day, as much as I can anyway. And then I'll do what I can to help Richie. Maybe if the legs rebound and I'm down enough on time they might let me sneak into a breakaway and go for a stage win. Richie, from what I heard on the radio, had an amazing ride so we're really going to put everything behind him. It's definitely tough. You work the whole year and you think you you're doing all of the right things. Form's a funny thing. Sometimes you have it, sometimes you don't. I know I have it in me to do this, I just need to get all of the pieces together. With 5km to go I was on the limit. I'm not going to say that I gave up but when I realized that clearly I don't have it, it's not worth fighting and fighting and fighting for 15th place."

Yvon Ledanois, Sports Director: "Today was a good day for the team. Richie showed how strong he is on the climbs which gives us a lot of confidence going into the final three tough stages before Paris. He has the legs, he has the form and I think there is a lot more to come from him. For Tejay it wasn't the best day but his attitude shows that he is in a good place. He definitely has the potential to win one of the remaining mountain stages and he will be an asset to the team and to Richie in the coming days. All in all, I think we can take confidence from stage 17 and take things day by day until Paris."

Here's the Tour news from LottoNL-Jumbo:

Team LottoNL-Jumbo showed itself in the first hour of the 17th stage of the Tour de France today. Despite many attempts, the team did not manage to get a rider in the decisive breakaway heading towards the summit finish at Finhaut-Emosson. Russian Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha) broke away and won the stage.

"In the first 70 kilometres there was a big fight, and we did well as a team, but we had no one in the main escape," said a disappointed Wilco Kelderman. "I tried four or five times. Three kilometres from the first summit, I was caught and Bennett was ready to go. But the peloton closed to him before he could bridge up."

The peloton raced at full speed from Bern. In the first hour, they covered 52 kilometres. "I think every sports director told their riders to be in the breakaway. It was chaos in the first hour," Sports Director Merijn Zeeman said. "I heard Kelderman numerous times over the race radio and also Lindeman, Bennett and Roosen tried. When Kelderman was in a group with Rolland (Cannondale), we thought it was successful, but unfortunately, the peloton came back and a new group drove away."

"Once the peloton eases up, you know it's over and there is a lot of swearing in the car. I saw a combative team and that is good sign for the next stages.  Kelderman is back on the right track."

"My legs felt good, so I could attack. I wanted to make the escape, but maybe I tried too much," Kelderman added. "It’s disappointing to attack, but still miss the good group. I must have more patience. Friday, I will go for it again. My legs are certainly a lot better."

"To finish in time was another goal for our team," added Zeeman. "It was especially important to get Dylan Groenewegen and Robert Wagner in a good group. Groenewegen had a very good day and was never in trouble. That's a good sign for the coming days."

Tinkoff is having a good Tour. They sent me this:

After more than two weeks of racing, and even after a second rest day, the effort was beginning to show for a lot of teams. With Peter Sagan and Rafal Majka holding both the Maillot Vert and Maillot à Pois, and Roman Kreuziger sitting just outside the top ten on GC, there's still much to fight for. By the end of a tough stage, Peter increased his lead in the points competition, while Rafal took another top three finish, adding to his climbers’ points total in the process.

With the rest day allowing the riders a chance for a little recovery, it was back to full gas racing for stage 17 of Le Tour. The 184.5km stage, which took place entirely in Switzerland, saw riders cross three categorised climbs before a Hors Catégorie finish. While these two final climbs were where the action was likely to take place, the previous 150km would wear riders down, the parcours making the most of what the Swiss terrain had to offer.

After several early attacks, as well as a crash, the attack of the day went out after 80km. With two Tinkoff riders in the break – Rafal Majka and Peter Sagan – it was clear that points were the plan for today’s stage, with Peter looking for the intermediate sprint points at the foot of the Col de la Forclaz and Rafal on the hunt for points to strengthen his position as King of the Mountains. The break quickly built up a strong advantage, with Rafal taking points on each of the day’s climbs, and Peter adding to his lead in the Maillot Vert contest taking the full 20 points in the sprint. Peter’s job done, he dropped away from the breakaway, while Rafa’s group became a trio as the Hors Catégorie climb put the hurt into the break.

Peter Sagan

Peter Sagan on stage 17's final climb

Sport Director, Steven De Jongh, saw the efforts made to support each other to gain the points – and the UCI World Champion pulled hard to support the Polish national road champion. “We saw a super strong Peter who helped Rafa in the break. Peter did a terrific job, as did the rest of the team, with everyone committed to get Rafa out front to pick up more points for the mountains jersey.”

It was a team effort – by the team and for the team – as the riders wanted to show their appreciation to Oleg Tinkov for his support, as Rafal explained after Peter’s huge effort. “Today, Peter brought me into the breakaway. He's a machine and was pulling on the climbs so that I could take the points too. He was so strong today, respect to him and also to my teammates who helped me a lot. I need to win this jersey for my teammates, my team and for Oleg - he has supported us for five years and we want to take these jerseys to Paris for him.”

The UCI World Champion was eager to work for his teammate today, Peter explained after the stage. “We wanted to try today, I told him 'we will see if I can do my best to get you in the break'. We were trying for the first 60km on the flat but then the breakaway went after the first climb, so it was hard for me to control the race on the flat and then also the climb. But I'm very happy he got some points for the mountains jersey, and I got some more points for my jersey too.”
With the escape building a 10-minute lead on the peloton, it seemed clear that the break was aiming to stay out for the rest of the day. Behind them, Roman Kreuziger was staying with the Yellow Jersey group. As the pace rose and the final 10km passed, the attacks came and towards the end of the day the effort was beginning to show on the face of the Czech national road champion. Coming home in 23rd position, Roman maintained his 11th spot in the GC.

Ahead, having done his job to take the climbers’ points, Rafal set about climbing at his own pace, securing a podium finish and the associated points on the line. The 10.4km-long climb at 8.4% was tough on all the riders, and with the steepest sections at the top, riders crossed the line one by one.

At the finish, the King of the Mountains couldn’t help but smile about how his Tour had gone. “I'm happy, not disappointed - I've been in the break six times now this Tour de France which isn't easy already. Maybe I've often lost the victory but I have now a lot of points for the KOM jersey. Congratulations to Zakarin, he was stronger today, and I'm always suffering after the rest day. There are still two hard stages for me and I'll try everything.”

While Rafa was unlucky not to take the win, De Jongh noted, he extended his lead in the KOM contest to 83 points. "Of course Rafa was desperate to win the stage but the other two were too strong and it was a climb where you had to have the legs. He may not be super happy with it but he can be very proud of what he did, and he's taken a comfortable lead in the jersey.”

Praising the stage winner, De Jongh was confident that the team’s GC leader, Roman Kreuziger could claim back time in the coming days. "Zakarin is a deserving winner today, and we can be happy with our result. Peter also extends his lead in the green jersey to make that safer. For Roman, I think this was a hard climb for him. He couldn't follow when the pace went up but in the last few kilometres he set his own rhythm and didn't lose a major amount of time, I'm confident that in the coming days he can continue to make time up."

Tomorrow sees the race’s second time trial, but this being the Tour de France, it’s another tough one. The climb starts 4km into the 17.5km route, ascending then for 11km, before a short descent to the finish in Megève. The steepest ramps come at the foot of the climb – a punchy 3km section with gradients of up to 11% but there’s no section of the stage riders will be able to settle into a rhythm, with the ever-shifting gradient.

Fabian Cancellara will not start Tour stage 18

Here's the news from his Trek-Segafredo team:

Fabian Cancellara won’t take the start in stage 18 of the Tour de France. After careful deliberation between Cancellara and the team management, a decision was made to allow the Swiss rider to rest and recover in preparation for the Olympic Games.

Fabian Cancellara

Fabian Cancellara finishing Tpour stage 6

Fabian Cancellara: “This was not an easy decision to take, but I feel it is the right one. I don’t like withdrawing from a race, especially not when our GC leader is in second place at four days from Paris. With some really hard stages ahead of us my support would naturally be more limited so we took the decision together to withdraw. It was a hard Tour for me: a lot of stress and I feel tired. If I want to be good at the Olympics I need rest.”

“The Tour has given me a lot in the last twelve years and I don’t say this lightly. I gave a lot of thought to this decision to withdraw from the race. Today was very emotional for me - more than I expected it to be, and more than when I finished the Classics in the Roubaix velodrome: the stage to Bern, the start there this morning and the gift they presented me; everything. Right now knowing that these were my last kilometers in the Tour de France is hard. I want to thank the organizers for all those years, and for the trophy of my final Tour stage. I will treasure that forever. I’m drawing a line under a big story of my life.

"I wish the team, and Bauke in particular, a fantastic last four stages. I will be following the action from home.”

General Manager Luca Guercilena: “Fabian has ridden a tremendous Tour de France. He was our designated road captain and in this capacity led the team through 17 stages in a very composed way. Bauke Mollema is currently in second place overall - in part through strong teamwork by the whole team."

“This is why we decided to allow him to rest up and prepare for the Olympic Games. We all know he is eyeing the time trial and a rider like Fabian needs sufficient recovery. The heat of the last days has taken a toll on a 'bigger' guy like him, and his fatigue level is high. He will go home now and take it easy for a few days before starting some specific training for Rio."

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