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Bicycle Racing News and Opinion,
Thursday, March 30, 2017

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2017 Tour de France | 2017 Giro d'Italia

If people never did silly things nothing intelligent would ever get done. - Ludwig Wittgenstein

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Author Les Woodland talks about Belgium's most brutal, yet most important day of bicycle racing, the Tour of Flanders. The Belgian spring classic is known to the bike-mad Flemish as the Ronde van Vlaanderen.

Teams preview Ronde van Vlaanderen

Here's the update BMC sent me:

29 March, 2017, Santa Rosa, California (USA): After winning Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Record Bank E3 Harelbeke and Gent-Wevelgem - In Flanders Fields this season, Greg Van Avermaet is targeting a fourth win on home soil when he lines up at the Tour of Flanders (Ronde van Vlaanderen) on Sunday.

Van Avermaet is embracing his position as the favorite following his three UCI WorldTour wins this season.

"My win on Sunday at Gent-Wevelgem was incredible and as I said then, I don't think I can pretend that I'm not the favorite anymore for the Tour of Flanders. I've had the best start to the season possible and what gives me even more confidence is knowing that my favorite race, the race that suits me the most, is still to come," Van Avermaet said.

"Lining up on Sunday will be a really special feeling. I know I'm the strongest I've ever been in Spring and this year the race passes my house. I say it every year; I know the roads so well, I train every day on the parcours, and this year I feel like it's my turn. I'm going to race aggressively and I have seven riders completely dedicated to helping me win. There's nothing more I can do to prepare. I'm ready."

Greg van Avermaet

Van Avermaet wins this year's E3

Sports Director Fabio Baldato said Van Avermaet's string of victories puts him in the best-possible position. "Greg has proved time and time again this year that he is strong, he is a champion. We know that every team will be looking at us on Sunday but when you have a leader as strong as Greg that doesn't matter. Greg knows how to race, when to make a move, and as we have seen at Record Bank E3 Harelbeke and Gent-Wevelgem, he can sprint against anyone at the end of a long, hard race," Baldato explained.

"We will do everything possible to put Greg in a good position in the finale and let him do what he does best. I think the whole team is excited to race this Sunday, it's the most important race for us this Spring."

Tour of Flanders / Ronde van Vlaanderen (2 April)

Rider Roster: Silvan Dillier (SUI), Jempy Drucker (LUX), Martin Elmiger (SUI), Stefan Küng (SUI), Daniel Oss (ITA), Manuel Quinziato (ITA), Greg Van Avermaet (BEL), Francisco Ventoso (ESP).

Sports Directors: Fabio Baldato (ITA), Valerio Piva (ITA).

Here's Lotto-Soudal's Ronde van Vlaanderen preview:

Sunday, the 101st edition of the Ronde van Vlaanderen takes place. There has been an important change to the course. The race doesn’t start in Bruges anymore, but in Antwerp, which means the road towards the hill section is different than previous years.

At half past ten, the peloton leaves the centre of Antwerp and rides to Burcht, where the 260.8 kilometres long WorldTour race officially starts. Then the peloton enters the province of East-Flanders. Via Sint-Niklaas, Hamme, Dendermonde, Aalst and Erpe-Mere the peloton heads to Zottegem where the first cobblestone sections occur after more than eighty kilometres of racing: the Lippenhovestraat and Paddestraat. The first of eighteen hills is the Oude Kwaremont, which lies thirty kilometres further down the course. After the fourth hill, the peloton rides over the cobbles of the Holleweg and Haaghoek towards the Leberg from where the route takes them over the Berendries and Tenbosse to the Muur van Geraardsbergen. From the top of the Muur, 95 kilometres are left to cover. In the next forty kilometres there are only two hills before the peloton gets to the Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg. Afterwards, it’s time for the Koppenberg and the cobbles of the Mariaborrestraat, immediately followed by Steenbeekdries and Taaienberg. Then only the Hotond is left, before the riders get back to the Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg. After the top of the Paterberg it is still thirteen kilometres to go till the finish in Oudenaarde.

Lotto Soudal has a preselection of nine riders for a team of eight. Tiesj Benoot will definitely ride his third Ronde van Vlaanderen. At his début in 2015, as a 21-year-old, he claimed the fifth place. Last year, he had to abandon the race after a crash. What does he expect of his third Ronde van Vlaanderen?

Tiesj Benoot

Tiesj Benoot

Tiesj Benoot: “Since I was a neo-pro, the Ronde van Vlaanderen has been the main goal of the spring for me. Of course I would have loved to set a top result beforehand, but I can’t be anything but satisfied with my condition. If I would have been spared from bad luck I could have set better results. Now I got fourth in Kuurne, eighth in Strade Bianche and seventh in Dwars door Vlaanderen. At E3 Harelbeke I got fourteenth after I punctured at a bad moment.”

“I am not the absolute leader of the team, we have different strong riders. Unfortunately, Tony Gallopin crashed at E3, but also he was very good last week. If Tony has fully recovered, he can do very well in the Ronde. We have a strong team for Sunday, I don’t feel any pressure.”

“I want to ride the finale on Sunday and set a top result. It is difficult to put an exact place on it. Gilbert, Sagan and Van Avermaet are the strongest riders at this moment, with Sagan being the top favourite. I hope it will be an aggressive race. That will be necessary to challenge the big three.”

Today, Tiesj did a last recon of the Ronde, together with Nikolas Maes, Jürgen Roelandts and Jelle Wallays. Sports director Herman Frison followed in the team car.

Herman Frison: “The recon went very well. We did the loop around Geraardsbergen, which is new. The finale has stayed the same, but it’s good for the guys to ride over the hills and cobbles. In theory we couldn’t have selected a better team. It is a dream to go to the Ronde with all these big riders. It’s true that we had better times, but it doesn’t put extra pressure on us. I am convinced that Tiesj will ride a good race on Sunday if he is spared from bad luck.”

“Three riders are better than the rest at the moment: Gilbert, Sagan and Van Avermaet. Then there is a large group of riders that are in a good shape and Tiesj is one of them. He can set a very good result. We can’t only rely on Tiesj, but have different riders that can do well in the Ronde. It’s up to them to grab the opportunity. Not everyone can wait until the last ascent of the Paterberg, there are many riders in the peloton who have to attack early in the race.”

Preselection Lotto Soudal: Tiesj Benoot, Jasper De Buyst, Jens Debusschere, Tony Gallopin, André Greipel, Nikolas Maes, Jürgen Roelandts, Marcel Sieberg and Jelle Wallays.

Sports directors: Herman Frison and Frederik Willems.

Philippe Gilbert maintains lead at 3 Days of De Panne

Here's what Gilbert's Team Quick Step Floors had to report:

On a day marred by strong crosswinds, the Philippe Gilbert made another step towards winning the overall classification.

An eventful stage unfolded Wednesday afternoon at Driedaagse De Panne-Koksijde, when the riders rolled out from Zottegem – where Philippe Gilbert took a spectacular victory one day earlier – aware that not the presence of Montenberg and Kemmelberg will make the stage difficult as will the crosswinds expected in the final two hours of racing.

It was with around 50 kilometers left that the bunch was split when several teams accelerated and rode hard in the crosswinds, hoping to catch as many riders as possible off-guard. Echelons formed, but Quick-Step Floors remained alert and moved to the front with six men, including Marcel Kittel and race leader Philippe Gilbert, who helped the group establish a 30-second margin on second-placed Luke Durbridge (Orica-Scott) and the other general classification contenders who were distanced in the wind.

Besides doing some long turns at the front and helping the front group put more than a minute between them and the other riders on this entertaining and thrilling stage two, the Belgian Champion also got involved at the intermediate sprints, grabbing six important seconds on the finishing circuits in Koksijde.

In the final two kilometers, Matthias Brändle (Trek-Segafredo) attacked and tried to solo to the win, but Gilbert chased him down and closed that move before the others came back. Still, organizing a lead-out train turned out to be impossible in these conditions and on the uphill drag to the line Alexander Kristoff (Katusha-Alpecin) took advantage of this messy situation and sprinted to victory ahead of Edward Theuns (Trek-Segafredo) and Marcel Kittel, who placed in the top 3 for the sixth time this season.

Philippe Gilbert

Philippe Gilbert will start Thursday in the leader's white jersey

Quick-Step Floors' aggressive riding not only earned plaudits, but it also helped Philippe Gilbert increase his gap in the standings ahead of the final day of Driedaagse De Panne-Koksijde, which schedules two half-stages, one for the fast men of the peloton and one for the time triallists.

"This stage was very nervous, but we stayed at the front and were well-positioned at all times. I knew Chavanel or Brändle will try something in the finale, so when the latter went, I responded immediately. Unfortunately, his surge meant everyone lost their position there, so the sprint became pretty hectic", said Philippe, who looks with optimism to Thursday's stages: "Tomorrow we will be again at the front to help Marcel get the victory, while in the afternoon I'll try to do my best against the clock."

Eddy Merckx Cycles hit by strong decline in road race sales

Bike Europe sent me this news:

ZELLIK, Belgium – Eddy Merckx Cycles is looking back at a multi-million loss over 2016. “The market for road race bike dropped by 25% last year and as specialist in this category we were hit unexpectedly hard,” explains Bart Van Muylder chairman of the board of Eddy Merckx Cycles and CEO of owner Diepensteyn NV.

“We were not able to compensate in other bike categories as we are hundred percent dedicated to road race,” Van Muylder says. “Our turnover was stable although we anticipated on a growth in sales. Still we are proud we could double our sales over the past two years and we still believe in the future of Eddy Merckx Cycles.”

You can read the entire story here.

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