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Bicycle Racing News and Opinion,
Sunday, April 9, 2017

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2017 Tour de France | 2017 Giro d'Italia

Like a welcome summer rain, humor may suddenly cleanse and cool the earth, the air and you. - Langston Hughes

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In Melanoma: It Started with a Freckle, David L. Stanley invites you to join him on an inside tour of his skin cancer. 

Tour of the Basque Country final team reports

Here's what final winner Alejandro Valverde's Movistar team had to say:

Alejandro Valverde (Movistar Team) was finally able to cross out the Vuelta al País Vasco from his list of big victories still missing in his palmarès, fifteen long years after debuting in the race as a neo-pro in 2002. The superstar from Murcia got hold at last of the 'txapela' hat awarded to the 'Itzulia' overall victor following a breathtaking individual time trial in Eibar (27km), over a course very difficult from a strategical point of view -a climb right from the start ramp, Karabieta, 7km long, followed by a fast descent, where 'Bala' exceeded 100kph; lots of ups and downs combined with long straights in the final 15km- and against incredibly talented rivals, including Ion Izagirre (TBM) and Alberto Contador (TFS).

The Trek leader put a worrying 15" on Valverde after the ascent, a serious gap which 'Bala' started making up with a crazy descent. Alejandro crossed the intermediate split (12km) as 2nd within all participants, 9" behind Contador, and started to really turn things around into the slope of Soraluze (21km). Alejandro, tied with Izagirre at that point -the Basque eventually 3rd overall- and 6" behind Contador, managed his energy to perfection to strike once and for good: 6" over Ion and 20" on Contador through the last six kilometers were his decisive comeback, short only 9" to the stage win by Primoz Roglic (TLJ).

The 106th pro win by Valverde, who has reached 19 career victories in multi-day events (the second most successful active rider when it comes to GCs), is another boost in respect for a legendary cyclist -well supported by the whole Movistar Team, with De La Parte, Gorka Izagirre, Rubén Fernández, Moreno, Sutherland, José Herrada and Pedrero- who will now focus on the Ardennes classics -he's won seven of them in his career- starting next Sunday with the Amstel Gold Race.

Alejandro Valverde

Alejandro Valverde ready to start the final stage

Alejandro Valverde: “Man, it was hard! I really wanted to win this Itzulia. I have been on the verge of success so many years, always came close without a win - fortunately, it seems like I’m on a good streak this season, and claiming overall honours at last makes for a very special success. Having no pressure before this race was possible thanks to that excellent start to 2017. It was a different País Vasco from previous editions, with lighter routes in the beginning - always demanding but not to much - and, at the end and as in every edition, it came down to the final TT. That’s where we had to give everything for the win.

“Obviously, it was a very demanding course today. Plus, it was stressful, with Ion, Alberto and myself really close to each other. I must say it was an important advantage to start as last, as I had all time splits from my rivals. I was a bit conservative into the first flat stretch after the Karabieta descent, because my team-mates departing earlier reminded me to keep some energy for the final 7km, after the Soraluze slopes, where the real difference was made. I just went on full steam from there and - well, the strategy was right

“I’m even more surprised than anyone about how things are going for me this season. Every single year, at this point of the season, I yell it’s my best start ever. But this time, you can’t have any doubts: it’s the best one. With everything that I’ve won so far, I’m heading into the classics without any stress… maybe if I win one in the Ardennes, I can skip the rest of the season! (Laughs) Seriously: I’m in very good condition and we must try and take advantage from it at the Ardennes. After that, we’ll have some rest and start preparing for the Tour.

“I want to thank the Basque fans for their support in such a spectacular, tight race. Also, my team-mates, for their continuous support, and my family, my kids and everyone who gets happy about my success - this is for you!”

Stage winner Primoz Roglic's LottoNL-Jumbo team sent me this report:

Primoz Roglic won the final day’s time trial, his second stage victory, to close out the País Vasco today in Eibar. In the 27.7-kilometre hilly stage, the Slovenian beat Alejandro Valverde by nine seconds and moved to fifth in the final standings behind winner Valverde. Team-mate George Bennett finished 10th for the day and 11th overall.

Roglic already proved to be in good form last Thursday when he won the third stage. Today, he rode a well-balanced time trial and clocked the fastest time at the intermediate check, which Valverde, Contador and Izaguirre later beat. The 27-year-old former ski jumper, however, put in a strong second half and took the win.

Primoz Roglic

Roglic wins the third stage

"It was a difficult time trial, but everything went as I wanted," Roglic said. "I won twice this week and I finished fifth in the standings.

“Today, I left the big classification riders behind me in a time trial, and that feels good. I'm so happy, also for the team because they have supported me well all week. It feels good that I can repay them. Now I’ll focus my sights on the Tour de Romandie."

"When Alberto Contador was 33 seconds faster than Primoz at the first intermediate point, I thought he couldn’t win," Sports Director Grischa Niermann said. "Also Izaguirre and Valverde were faster. But in the second half, Primoz made his move. In that part of the course, as he often does, he made his move and edged out the difference with his big gear. With pure strength, he gained almost a minute on Contador. In these cases, you have to read and balance the trial well."

It was the third victory of the season for Roglic, who already won the Volta ao Algarve overall. It underlines his quick development under Team LottoNL-Jumbo’s watch. So convinced, the team prolonged Roglic’s contract another season through 2018.

And here's Cannondale-Drapac's race news:

American Alex Howes won the mountains classification at Vuelta al Pais Vasco on Saturday. The 29-year-old pulled on the red and white-spotted jersey following a stage three breakaway and clung tight to it until the stage six finish.

The KOM jersey is the most tangible show of success for Cannondale-Drapac in Basque Country in a week that saw #GreenArgyle riders repeatedly factor into the early breakaways, late race attacks and stage podiums.

“This jersey represents a week of great teamwork and high spirits,” said Howes. “It has taken us a bit of time to find our legs this season, but things are really starting to click. Mike [Woods] and Rigo[berto Uran] are riding with the best in the world, and with a strong, motivated and well-drilled squad around them, we are really starting to believe that anything is possible.”

Howes unintentionally stumbled into a position to contest the jersey on stage three. One of several Cannondale-Drapac riders tasked with getting up the road, Howes flew the green argyle flag in the early breakaway in order to support Uran and Woods in the final.

“I passed the category two climb on that stage uncontested and then realised if I won the category one climb after that, I could take the jersey,” Howes said. “Obviously I put in a good sprint for that.”

With the team’s overall ambitions centered around Uran and Woods, any plans to chase mountain classification points would need to fit in with general classification goals. Stage four passed without any threats to the mountain classification jersey.

“For stage five, we wanted a rider or two in the break to try and place riders up to the road for our hitters,” said Howes. “If I made the break I could fight to keep the jersey. It was quite simple. That night I went to sleep knowing there was absolutely no chance I was going to miss that break.”

Simple doesn’t mean easy. Far from it. Howes emptied himself to make the breakaway alongside Toms Skujins. The fight wasn’t over yet as Howes’ closest competition for the mountains classification had also made the 18-rider move.

“With the field going full gas, the break only contested one KOM,” said Howes. “Once we were swept up, I still had to fight to take points on the category one and category three climbs from the peloton. I can tell you that neither climb was a walk in the park with how quickly the field was riding.”

With the points Howes picked up from the peloton, he had clinched the mountains classification win. The sixth and final stage of Vuelta al Pais Vasco was an individual time trial with no mountain points.

“I’m over the moon,” said Howes. “Pais Vasco is known as the hardest climbing race on the planet. To take the KOM jersey here is special. They don’t give this one out for free.”

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