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Bicycle Racing News and Opinion,
Monday, March 12, 2018

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2018 Tour de France | 2018 Giro d'Italia

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Paris-Nice final team reports

We'll start with GC winner Marc Soler's Team Movistar report:

Big glory at age 24. Marc Soler has confirmed on Sunday he’s one of the biggest riders in the WorldTour peloton by winning the 2018 edition of Paris-Nice. The Catalan rider from the Movistar Team completed a supreme exhibition on the final day of the French event -110km starting and finishing in the capital city of the Côte d’Azur-, a brutal effort that earned him a place in the prestigious palmarès of the ‘Course to the Sun’.

In a day thoroughly covered in rain and with impressive pace over the hilly route, including no less than six rated ascents, Soler launched an attack with 45km remaining in company of fellow Spaniards David de la Cruz (SKY) and Omar Fraile (AST). The attempt always kept a gap between 30 seconds and one minute over the group of favourites, containing a strong Richard Carapaz, who kept an eye on all dangerous moves.

The battle for overall success stayed alive until the very finish line. Soler’s effort, pushing hard alone at the front of the trio for the final 2km, was enough for him to take the last yellow jersey, with four seconds on Simon Yates (MTS) and 14″ on former team-mate Gorka Izagirre (TBM), who rounded out the overall podium.

Soler’s remarkable success is the 8th win of the 2018 season for the Movistar Team, as well as the third UCI triumph for Marc –he had ‘only’ notched up the overall classification of the 2015 Tour de l’Avenir and the Queen stage of the 2016 Route du Sud-, and puts the Catalan allrounder up to second in the UCI WorldTour individual standings.

Marc Soler

Marc Soler won a big one.

Marc Soler:
“I can’t believe it yet. All my team-mates worked hard for me all week, and happily we were able to finish this off for them in such a great way. I wasn’t expecting to take this one, especially after the time I lost on Saturday’s finish. However, we reset our minds, planned a good strategy with our team-mates and sports directors, choosing to launch a long-range attack. We thought there would be a big breakaway like in last year’s final stage, but it didn’t happen. Fraile was already ahead and I jumped into the third-to-last climb – the point where I had planned to move – to leave the bunch behind. De la Cruz and Ion joined me there, we, David and myself opened a gap – and it was just full-gas until the finish.

“I hadn’t won a WorldTour event before, and it’s a big dream come true for me. Joining such big names on the palmarès of this prestigious race is amazing. Now we must go step by step – it’s not like you must change things after such a win, you must remain calm and keep things coming to you. The most important thing now is to keep on progressing and doing things right. I feel a little bit stronger with every year passing. I’ve got used to the pace of pro cycling and I just think about working hard to continue improving. My next race will be the home one for me, the Volta a Catalunya, where I’ll be supporting Alejandro and Nairo.”

Stage winner David Da La Cruz's Team Sky posted this summary:

David de la Cruz finished Paris-Nice off in style with a rousing victory on the final stage. The Team Sky rider set out to make the day’s breakaway and did just that, eventually pushing clear of a strong lead group on the Col de Peille.

Following another strong burst on the final climb, De La Cruz plunged back into Nice in a group of three riders, after combining well with Marc Soler (Movistar) and Omar Fraile (Astana).

Narrowly getting the better of Fraile in the two-up sprint, the Spaniard made it two victories in a row on the Promenade des Anglais after winning the same stage 12 months ago. The win also elevated him to an impressive ninth overall.

David de la Cruz

Sky's David De La Cruz just wins stage seven.

For Sergio Henao there was sadly no repeat of last year’s victory, with the Colombian slipping out of an elite general classification group on the final climb – the Cote des 4 Chemins. He eventually came home 12th overall after eight hard days of racing.

As is now traditional the race saw a thrilling conclusion to the GC battle, with the yellow jersey again decided by a handful of seconds across the short 110km finale. Third place on the stage and the accompanying time bonus was enough to give Soler the overall victory, taking the race win by just four seconds over Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott).

After the stage De La Cruz talked us through the stage, which played out in soaking conditions. "I was very motivated, I won last year, I felt good and I wanted to win another time. I had the goal this morning to take the victory but I didn’t know how to do it. I was really focused and I felt quite good.

"It was a really hard and hectic day. We knew it would be, and the most important thing was to stay focused and be ready for a fight. The tempo was full gas from the beginning to the end. I’m really happy I can win again for the second year in a row. To win just one stage here is hard, so to do it two years in a row is really special for me."

Victory was all the more sweet for De La Cruz with a number of welcome faces at the finish. The win also helped finish a tough race on a high. He added: "Here I have my family, my girlfriend and my friends. It’s good for all the work we have done with the team this week. Unfortunately, we had the crash of Wout who was well positioned to win the overall, but we wanted to finish the week well and show that Team Sky is always strong here at Paris-Nice. Luckily, we’ve got the victory today.”

Sport Director Gabriel Rasch was also a happy man, and reiterated just how tough the conditions were. He said: "It was super hectic from the first climb after just 14km. It was raining really hard and there was water running everywhere, stones in the road and generally pretty chaotic from the start. De La Cruz went with some guys from the break and he worked perfectly from there. We didn't see he'd won the sprint until he raised his arm. It's a great way to end the race."

Team Bora-hansgrohe sent me this report:

Another cruel stage forced the riders to push their boundaries today. Patrick Konrad and Felix Großschartner showed a brilliant performance again, stayed with the best until the final and finished 7th and 10th in the GC. Konrad outsprinted his rivals in the chasing group to take strong 4th place today. M. Soler took the win from S. Yates in a thrilling final by just 4 seconds, while D. De La Cruz won the last stage of Paris – Nice 2018.

The Stage
Just 110 kilometers around Nice, but with non-less than six categorized climbs and two intermediate sprints – that the final stage of Paris – Nice. With narrow and twisty roads in wet conditions, a cruel final awaited the peloton at the Cote d’Azur, as is was an action-packed race from kilometer 14 until the end, with absolutely no time to take a breath.

The Team Tactics
After yesterday’s queen stage BORA – hansgrohe was in a comfortable position. Patrick Konrad in 6th overall, was well placed in the GC, while Felix Großschartner was just outside the top ten in 12th place. It was expected that riders like J. Alaphilippe, who lost time yesterday, may try and make an early move in today’s last stage. As there was nothing to hold back anymore, this was also a chance for Felix to take some risk and try to move up into the top ten again. His task was to follow early breaks, if they were big enough to have a chance to succeed, while Patrick should just follow the GC leaders, and may take advantage of any weaknesses on the final climb. For the rest of the BORA – hansgrohe guys the goal was to stay with Patrick and Felix until the second downhill, where a first split was expected. In an ideal scenario, both could secure a top ten GC result at the end of the day, but as the race was still close, there was also a chance that none of them does, if their leg weren’t there today.

The Race
Directly from the sharp start, the teams formed lead out trains like in a sprint finish to position their leaders in front of the first climb. Also BORA – hansgrohe was at the head from the bunch, before attacks started to fly on the climb. But the pace in the bunch was too high, therefore nobody was able to build a proper lead. Instead, a selected group of just 24 riders, including all favorites was in front after just 23 km and BORA – hansgrohe was up there with Konrad and Großschartner. On the second climb of the day, three riders - Alaphilippe, Fuglsang and Fraile – attacked to gain around 40 seconds, while Mitchelton-Scott was pulling in the first group. In the following downhill, Fuglsang crashed, and on the next climb Alaphilippe lost the wheel of Fraile, who was solo in the lead now. At this stage of the race De La Cruz and Soler attacked from the chasing group, while Konrad and Großschartner were still riding with the Yellow Jersey. When the three came together, they entered the penultimate climb one minute ahead of the Yellow Jersey group. On the final climb it came down to the expected fight, but Yates struggled a little when Wellens attacked. Felix was dropped and had to ride his own rhythm, while Patrick was able to stay with Yates. On the decent, Yates and Konrad closed on the Wellens group again, but they were not able to catch the three leaders. In the end De La Cruz took the stage and Soler the overall victory. Patrick Konrad outsprinted his rivals to take 4th today, while both BORA – hansgrohe leaders finished in the top ten in the final general classification, Konrad in 7th place and Großschartner in 10th.

From the Finish Line
“It was again a really tough day. We didn’t expect that big split already on the first climb, but it was a good situation for us, because the two of us were up there. In the end it was a real fight again. I struggled a little because I suffer from a cold the last two days, so I was happy to stay with Yates. It’s a pity that we didn’t catch the break because I was strong on the home straight. But I think we can be really happy with the results we achieved this week. This was an amazing team effort and I want to thank all my team mates.” – Patrick Konrad

“When I was dropped on the last climb I knew I was fighting for the top ten, so it was like a 10k time trial for me. But fortunately I still had something in my legs and was able to limit my losses. I am super happy with this result, for myself, but also for the team. We are a really cool bunch of guys.” – Felix Großschartner

“It was an epic stage and an historic result. To have both, Patrick and Felix, in the top ten is more than we hoped for. We had a team here with no big name on paper, but we knew that the guys are strong and that we can achieve a lot. Everybody did his best, and our team spirit is extraordinary. I think this is our key to success, and I am proud to be part of that.” – Christian Pömer, Sports Director 

And finally, here's Lotto-Soudal's final Paris-Nice report:

Paris-Nice ended today with an exciting stage of only 110 kilometres with start and finish in Nice. Tim Wellens got fifth overall. As winner of the points classification he can take home the green jersey. Thomas De Gendt won the KOM classification and thus the polka dot jersey.

After seven stages, seven riders were all standing at the top of the GC within forty seconds of each other. In today’s short mountain stage with six climbs the overall victory was still at stake. Soon after the start 24 riders rode away from the bunch. Thomas De Gendt and Tim Wellens were part of the front group. De Gendt was the first to cross the top of the first climb and fourth on the second climb of the day, securing the polka dot jersey.

David de la Cruz, Omar Fraile and Marc Soler attacked from the group of Wellens and managed to stay ahead till the finish. De la Cruz won the stage ahead of Fraile. Soler got third, but became the overall winner of Paris-Nice. Tim Wellens crossed the finish line 38 seconds after de la Cruz, as fifth. The Lotto Soudal rider is also fifth on GC, sixteen seconds down on Soler.

Tim Wellens: “My teammates and I had the ambition to claim the overall victory of Paris-Nice when we left to the start. Unfortunately, we didn’t achieve that goal, but if you had told me before Paris-Nice that I would finish fifth overall I would have been very happy. The green jersey is a consolation prize, but it also proves how consistently I performed the past week.”

“Two times I came very close to the stage win: when I got fourth in the uphill sprint last Sunday and when I got second in Vence on Friday. Both yesterday and today I finished fifth in a very hard stage and in Wednesday’s time trial I set the eighth time. That are all wonderful results. This morning I was still in the running for the overall victory, but unfortunately I didn’t make it.”

“At a certain moment the Izagirre brothers and Simon Yates were distanced and I though they wouldn’t close the gap anymore, but they did. Gorka Izagirre beat me at the first intermediate sprint of the day and that one second I missed out on, made the difference between becoming fifth or fourth on GC. But, I am fifth at sixteen seconds and that shows that it was a very exciting battle. This result is definitely a step forward in my career. Now I will take some rest before racing Volta a Catalunya and the Walloon Classics.”

At Tirreno-Adriatico Tiesj Benoot set another great performance. The fifth stage finished in Filottrano where the riders had to climb the Muro di Filottrano three times. Adam Yates won the stage. Seven seconds later first Sagan and then Kwiatkowski crossed the finish line, followed by Benoot on the fourth place. Benoot is now eighth on GC at 39 seconds of new leader Michal Kwiatkowski. Benoot remains the best young rider on GC.

Tirreno Adriatico stage five team updates

Stage winner Adam Yates' Mitchelton-Scott team sent me this report:

The fifth stage of the 53rd Tirreno-Adriatico was dubbed the 'the stage of the walls', with the parcours dotted with short, but steep climbs and Mitchelton-SCOTT went into the stage with a plan to win, a plan they executed perfectly with Adam Yates taking the victory.

After suffering some misfortune on stage two when he got hit from behind when trying to avoid a heavy crash, Yates had been trying to claw back some time on the general classification and today's stage win sees him back in the top six.

A challenging day unfolded over 178kilometres in Marche and as the race hit the last of the challenging finishing circuits of Filottrano Mitchelton-SCOTT took over with Luke Durbridge and Michael Hepburn leading the charge.

Jack Bauer and South African champion Daryl Impey were lined out behind and as the road inclined for the final time Yates attacked, gaining a gap he held all the way to the line for a memorable victory.

Adam Yates

Adam Yates gets the big win.

Decisive moments:
A wet start got underway in Castelraimondo with the peloton heading straight onto a long, fast descent for the first 45killometres. Attacks came thick and fast before the first climb of Montelupone.

A five-man breakaway got the jump on the peloton over the first ten kilometres and quickly gained a six-minute advantage. The gap fell significantly with around 50kilometres to go after the GPM in Osimo and finally the group were caught on the closing circuits of Filottrano.

Make way for The Mitchelton-SCOTT express:
On the last lap of the race Durbridge and Hepburn blew the front of the peloton apart, heavily reducing the bunch before Bauer and Impey took over to position Yates in a prime spot to attack on the steep final climb.

Accelerating without looking back Yates powered away over the final four-kilometres, creating a gap and holding his rhythm all the way to the line for the win.

Adam Yates - Stage winner:
"I've been feeling really good on the climbs, especially the steeper sections and with the situation on the general classification we knew that we needed to race intelligently to get a stage win and try to move back up the overall."

"The guys were absolutely brilliant today and we went in with a plan that was executed perfectly, they really ramped the pace up on the closing circuit and dropped me off in a great position on the climb.

"All I had to do was attack I've been feeling really good and I knew if I could get a gap that I had as good chance of holding it. After starting the race so well and then getting some bad luck it is great that we could turn it around and get the result today."

Head Sport director Matt White:
"There has been three days in a row that have really suited Adam's characteristics and today was the last opportunity and we wanted to give him the best chance of making the most of that opportunity. The boys did a very good job of positioning him and his from and legs did the rest."

"We came into the race wanting to podium and when we lost our chances of that it switched to trying to win a stage and we've ticked that box now. Anything we get from general classification is a bonus and with a sprint stage and a time trial to come we're happy to have got that stage win."

New GC leader Michal Kwiatkowski's Team Sky posted this update:

Michal Kwiatkowski rode his way into the race lead at Tirreno-Adriatico following a strong third place on stage five. The Pole battled it out on a tough finishing circuit in Filottrano, eventually finishing amongst an elite group of overall contenders. Bonus seconds for third were enough to ensure the Team Sky rider pulled on the Maglia Azzurra with a three second lead.

Michal Kwiatkowski

Michal Kwiatkowski is the new GC leader. Sirotti photo

Once again Team Sky demonstrated strength in numbers across the 178-kilometre stage. Hitting the front to ensure the race came back together ahead of the third and final ascent of the Muri di Filottrano, Kwiatkowski was ideally placed along with teammate Geraint Thomas.

Sixth on the stage saw Thomas also jump up a place on the leaderboard to fourth overall, 29 seconds behind his teammate. Chris Froome was unlucky to puncture with 5.6km to go ahead of the run-in, while Vasil Kiryienka did strong work to pull the race back together 11km from home.

Thomas followed the moves as the final attacks began, but no one was able to follow the acceleration of Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) who pushed clear to take a solo victory by seven seconds.

Despite overnight leader Damiano Caruso (BMC Racing) also finishing in the chasing pack, Kwiatkowski was able to turn a one-second deficit into a slender three second lead, with two days still to race.

After the stage Sport Director Nicolas Portal talked about how the team's GC plans have evolved during the race, and how the riders approached another tough stage. He said: "In our plan we started out with four riders to protect. The plan was always to protect G and Froomey, and to keep Kwiato and Gianni in contention. We knew with four top guys sometimes you can use these cards and readdress the situation.

"It's not something you want to do but yesterday that's what happened. G was super strong but he had a mechanical issue. It's put him just out of the fight for victory. But Kwiato is not here by luck, he's here because he's strong and this morning he was second on GC, one second behind Caruso.

"The plan was for him to just follow the main GC teams. We wanted to support Kwiato to see if he could take some bonifications. We know he's fast and he knows how to handle his bike on a tricky circuit like this. When it's raining it's good for him too. We know every second will count ahead of the time trial.

"G did a good job too and he tried to follow the move of Yates. That was also a plan so Kwiato didn't need to ride. Froomey did a good job until he had his puncture. Everyone did well today - because yesterday was a hard stage for us. Today is a good a good payback for the guys."

Wilco Kelderman abandons Tirreno-Adriatico with broken collarbone

Team Sunweb sent me this bad news: Team Sunweb's early season misfortune continues as Wilco Kelderman (NED) is forced to abandon Tirreno Adriatico after it's fifth stage following a crash which resulted in a fractured right collarbone. The crash came on a descent, and despite finishing the stage, an x-ray taken at the finish displayed the fracture which ultimately ended his race.

Team Sunweb doctor Chris Jansen (NED) explained: "Wilco has fractured his right collarbone from the crash which will require surgery. Because there was an older fracture with a plate already in place, the injury becomes more complex, so the exact plan from here will be made by an orthopedist. Wilco will now return home to the Netherlands where he will undergo surgery."

After the crash, Kelderman said: "This is very disappointing after such a good start of the season up until today. I was feeling very strong here and had a good position in the overall, but crashed twice today and fractured my collarbone. Similar to last year I will miss the upcoming racing period yet again, which is sad, but hope surgery goes well so that I can be back on the bike soon."

Team Sunweb coach Marc Reef (NED) added: "The bad luck for the team has come all at once; first with Søren falling sick, then Simon's broken collarbone and Tom's abandon yesterday. Now Wilco also leaves the race with a fractured collarbone. The crash happened on the local lap on the descent, despite feeling good beforehand and some solid support from the team. Our focus now turns to the ITT where we hope to have a better day with Chad, Nikias and Lennard all being able to deliver a decent time trial." 

And here's the report from Peter Sagan's Bora-hansgrohe team:

On a stage dedicated to Italian rider, Michele Scarponi, one would expect a parcours filled with hard, punchy climbs, and that was certainly the case, with no fewer than five categorised climbs spread out over the stage. The Filottrano was the climb where the race came to life, sapping the riders’ energy reserves each of the three times it was ridden, while proving to be the launch pad for the late attack that won the stage. Staying in contention while the peloton split multiple times as the day went on, UCI World Champion, Peter Sagan, was ably supported to the line by his BORA-hansgrohe teammates to take second in the race for the remaining podium places.

The Stage
The final climb of stage 4 was brutal, so the 45km downhill section at the start of today’s 178km stage was most welcome. While none of the remaining stages would be as hard as the Queen Stage, day five was never going to be easy, with an undulating parcours that would cover five categorised climbs – the climb of the day being the Filottrano which, if it wasn’t hard enough being ridden once, riders would be forced to ascend three times before the finish. It wouldn’t be out of the question for a strong all-rounder to take the win today, but it was going to be hard.

The Team Tactics
The punchy parcours with short and sharp climbs would definitely make the going tough in the peloton. While the hills weren’t suited to the specialist climbers, it was difficult terrain for the all-rounders and classics specialists as well. The team’s aims, therefore, were to stay in touch as the going got tough, avoiding splits in the bunch and to make sure there was support at the front to bring Peter into position to go for the stage win. With Davide Formolo starting the day 8thin the GC race as well, the team would be making sure the Italian rider arrived at the finish safely, without losing any time.

The Race
The downhill start made for some fast riding, and the day’s break took advantage of this, a group of five building a lead of more than five minutes after only 15km, only to exceed six minutes at its peak. In the wet weather conditions the peloton was happy to allow the break to stay up front, but as the clouds cleared up, the peloton began upping their pace to bring the escape into a more manageable distance. By the final 50km, the gap was down to a little over three minutes, with the catch being made with 11km to go, and the race for the finale started immediately with attacks and attempts to break away on the final ascent of the day. The steepness of the Filottrano made for an excellent launch pad for a late attack, and while the BORA-hansgrohe riders shifted the bunch into gear to try to reel in the solo rider on the front, their attack had been timed just right, this rider taking the win, with UCI World Champion, Peter Sagan, the first of the chasers to cross the line after to take second. Davide Formolo finished well, moving up to 7th in the GC race.

From the Finish Line
"It was a special stage today at the Tirreno-Adriatico. We would have liked to dedicate a victory to Michele Scarponi, his widow and children but it wasn't the case. I felt I had good legs today and the team worked well, so I'm confident about the big goals of the season ahead." – Peter Sagan

"The plan was to go for the stage victory with Peter. The team did a stellar job but in the final kilometres, Yates attacked in a good moment and took the win. He was the strongest today. Of course, we wanted to score a victory but that’s cycling. Davide moved up seventh in the GC which was also a goal for us, so, all in all, I think we can be satisfied." – Enrico Poitschke, sports director

BMC Racing Team set for a trio of one-day races

The team sent me this schedule:

11 March, 2018, Santa Rosa, California (USA): BMC Racing Team is set to line up at three semi-classic one-day races next week in Belgium and France with Danilith Nokere Koerse on Wednesday (14 March), followed by Handzame Classic on Friday (16 March), and Grand Prix de Denain on Sunday (18 March).

BMC Racing Team will be lining up with multiple cards to play across the three days of racing, Sports Director Klaas Lodewyck said.

"First of all, for Danilith Nokere Koerse we have a young team alongside Francisco Ventoso who can play a road captain role. The parcours has changed this year, and the local laps have more cobbled sections now so, I think we will have a lot of options going into the race, and everybody will get the opportunity to try to move in the final as normally it ends in a bunch sprint."

"Then, for Handzame Classic there is also a new parcours, but we have a good group of riders with Danilo Wyss also coming in for this race. Again we will try to do something going into the final, but if everything comes back together, Danilo will be a key rider as I think he can do a good job in a bunch sprint."

"Finally for Grand Prix de Denain, Stefan Küng will be our leader, and he is a specialist on the cobbles, and together with Nathan Van Hooydonck and Francisco Ventoso, I think he can go pretty far in this race. We will be looking to take the opportunity to go for the win, and I think Küng is in good shape and I'm sure he is motivated and ready to try to do that," Lodewyck explained.

Wyss is looking forward to heading back to the start line at Handzame Classic: "It has been a long time since my last race, so I will have to see how I feel on the day. I think it will be important for me to get back to riding at race pace and getting that feeling back in my legs. I feel in good condition right now though, and while this is a sort of warm up to the next part of my season, I am motivated to take the opportunity to try and go for a result," Wyss said.

Küng is aiming to produce a good result at the French one-day race on Sunday: "We will have to see what my condition is like coming out of Tirreno-Adriatico but initially, I am really looking forward to this race. It looks like a nice parcours, and if everything goes well and I go into the race in the shape that I want, then I will be ready to really go for it on the day," Küng added.

Danilith Nokere Koerse (14 March)

Rider Roster: Tom Bohli (SUI), Joey Rosskopf (USA), Miles Scotson (AUS), Nathan Van Hooydonck (BEL), Francisco Ventoso (ESP), Loïc Vliegen (BEL)

Sports Director: Klaas Lodewyck (BEL)


Handzame Classic (16 March)

Rider Roster: Tom Bohli (SUI), Joey Rosskopf (USA), Miles Scotson (AUS), Nathan Van Hooydonck (BEL), Francisco Ventoso (ESP), Loïc Vliegen (BEL), Danilo Wyss (SUI)

Sports Director: Klaas Lodewyck (BEL)


Grand Prix de Denain (18 March)

Rider Roster: Tom Bohli (SUI), Stefan Küng (SUI), Miles Scotson (AUS), Nathan Van Hooydonck (BEL), Francisco Ventoso (ESP)

Sports Director: Klaas Lodewyck (BEL)

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