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Monday, February 27, 2023

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UAE Tour stage seven reports

We posted the report from GC winner Remco Evenepoel's Team Soudal-Quick-Step with the results.

Here's the report from stage winner Adam Yates' UAE Team Emirates:

Jebel Hafeet is once again the playground for UAE Team Emirates: after two wins in two years by Pogacar, it has been Adam Yates’ turn to celebrate a victory at the top of the iconic climb.

Adam Yates enjoys his stage win.

The British rider won the 7th and final stage of the UAE Tour, preceding Remco Evenepoel (Soudal-Quickstep) for what is his first success since he joined UAE Team Emirates.

Perfect team performance by the Emirati squad: Yates’ teammates set a very high pace since the bottom of the climb, breaking down the peloton. After the huge contribution by Brandon McNulty, Yates attacked first at -6 km and only Evenepoel could follow him.

The British athlete attacked once again at 2 km to go: this time it was the winning move (Evenepoel reached the arrival with a gap of 10″), that allows Yates to give to UAE Team Emirates the 11th seasonal victory and to jump to the lower step of the final podium (+1′ from Evenepoel).

Adam Yates: “This victory is for the team, they always had confidence in me and this is my way to thank them. We knew it was necessary to keep a high pace since the bottom of the climb and my teammates were amazing in achieving this task.

"It was a very hot day, it was not easy but I managed to attack and to reach the arrival taking the stage victory, which was today the goal. Moreover, I am on the final podium, so I even happier“.

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Here's the UAE Tour report from GC second place Luke Plapp's Team INEOS Grenadiers:

Luke Plapp capped off a superb week of racing by holding on to secure second place overall at the UAE Tour.

The Australian champion dug deep on the slopes of Jebel Hafeet, finishing sixth on the queen stage with an inch perfect ride which saw him retain his GC position by a single second.

Luke Plapp was the GC leader after stage two.

Stage winner Adam Yates (UAE Team Emirates) attacked with six kilometres to go, forcing Plapp to quickly settle into his own rhythm. In the end he was able to finish on the wheel of his closest rival Pello Bilbao (Bahrain Victorious), and that was enough to ensure a first WorldTour podium finish.

Second on the stage was also enough for Remco Evenepoel (Soudal Quick-Step) to wrap up the overall title, 59 seconds ahead of Plapp.

The foundations for the podium were laid in the race’s opening days, with a crucial effort to ride across a widening gap in the crosswinds on Monday ensuring Plapp made the lead group and put key seconds into his GC rivals. Also key were the five bonus seconds he picked up on the way, along with Tuesday’s impressive team time trial performance from the Grenadiers.

Here's the closing UAE Tour report from Sepp Kuss' Team Jumbo-Visma:

Sepp Kuss has finished fourth in the final stage of the UAE Tour. As a result, the 28-year-old American of Team Jumbo-Visma climbed from seventeenth to fifth in the final standings. 21-year-old German Michel Hessmann was part of the day's breakaway. Adam Yates won the stage.

Stage seven had a formidable finishing climb.

A challenging conclusion of the UAE Tour awaited the riders. The final stage included the 10-kilometre climb up Jebel Hafeet with an average gradient of around seven percent. Five riders - including Hessmann - broke away from the pack shortly after the race began, gaining a six-minute lead.

The peloton moved swiftly in the direction of the foot of the Jebel Hafeet while the leaders began the ascent with a 2.5-minutes advantage. As the leader of this lead group, Hessmann rode away from three of his fellow escapees while a group of favourites closed in behind him. "Michel wanted to be in the early breakaway”, sports director Maarten Wynants said. "He delivered a brilliant performance. When the depleted peloton caught him, he did a good job for Sepp and Tom.”

For Hessmann, this UAE Tour was very instructive. “After a knee injury, I did not know how I would feel at the start of this week. But, the knee felt immediately right and my shape was also better than expected. Every day, it went better and better.”

For a long time, Kuss stayed close to Yates and general classification leader Evenepoel. With 4.5 kilometres to go, he had to give in. Together with Bouchard, the American battled to catch up but ultimately had to settle for fourth place. In the final standings, Kuss moved up from seventeenth to fifth place. According to Kuss, the team was very motivated for the last stage. “Michel was riding amazing up front, while Tom and I were guided perfecty to the bottom of the climb by the team. My goal was to follow the best guys as long as possible. It was a confidence boost to be there with riders like Yates and Evenepoel for a while. I still have some work to do to be in my best shape, but I had already a nice feeling.”

Wynants reflected on the previous week with satisfaction, even though he had hoped for a better result. "It's a shame we don’t go home with a stage win. Olav was close a few times. Tom didn't have a good day due to the heat, but we were strong again.”

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Here’s the closing UAE Tour report from Ignatas Konovalovas’ Team Groupama-FDJ:

On the last stage of the UAE Tour, the Groupama-FDJ cycling team was active at different levels. Ignatas Konovalovas first entered the day’s breakaway and led the race until the last six kilometres. On the final climb to Jebel Hafeet, Michael Storer fought well to take tenth place at the top. The Australian finished twelfth in the general classification won by Remco Evenepoel.

On Sunday, the riders of the UAE Tour still had to complete 153 kilometres, but above all, they had to tackle the final and decisive climb of Jebel Hafeet. In this perspective, the Groupama-FDJ obviously focused on its Australian climber Michael Storer, but some also had the opportunity to hit the front.

“We wanted to enter the breakaway on this last day of racing,” confirmed Sébastien Joly. Ignatas Konovalovas eventually took the right move after a few minutes of racing. The Lithuanian took the lead with Jaakko Hänninen (AG2R-Citroën), Maurice Ballerstedt (Alpecin-Deceuninck), Michel Hessmann (Jumbo-Visma) and Sam Welsford (DSM). “It was very fast”, testified Sébastien again. “They rode strong and made a nice gap”. Their lead grew to over six minutes at one point and then the peloton gradually accelerated in the final third of the course. “Kono” kept on going nevertheless with his escape companions and they still had a three-minute margin at the bottom of the climb of Jebel Hafeet (10.7 km at 6.8%).

“It was a great breakaway for Ignatas, and he also did well on the first kilometres of the climb”, added Sébastien. “He did a nice ride with Hessmann and even managed to give Michael a hand when he came back on him”. Within the bunch, the final battle did not take long to occur. From the first slopes, UAE Team Emirates set a very high tempo, which both created damage at the back and hugely reduced the lead of Konovalovas and Hessmann. When the two men were caught by the main favorites six kilometres from the top, the peloton was already broken up, and Michael Storer had just been distanced. The Australian nevertheless managed his effort well to reach the top 1’24 behind winner Adam Yates.

“The group worked well on the bottom to position Michael,” said Sébastien. “Then, Michael did a very good climb to enter the top-10 (10th). In the final general classification, that puts him in twelfth position. He put up a good fight and the team was solid around him”. The native of Perth just missed nine seconds to enter the top-10 overall and will now, like all of his colleagues, return to Europe for the rest of the season.

Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne team reports

We posted the report from winner Tiesj Benoot's Team Jumbo-Visma with the results.

Here's the report from seventh-place Arnaud De Lie's Team Lotto Dstny:

Arnaud De Lie has ended his first full opening weekend with a 7th place at Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne (1.Pro). After a second place at the Omloop, the 20-year-old Belgian took his second consecutive top ten spot at the start of the Belgian spring Classics.

It was Tiesj Benoot who won the race.

In the 75th edition of Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne, the race already exploded 100 kilometres from the finish. In the hilly part of the Pays des Collines, a front group of five managed to get away including Wellens, Mohoric, Benoot, Van Hooydonck and Van der Hoorn. Leading the chase, it was Lotto Dstny who took the initiative for its sprinter Arnaud De Lie, part of a heavily reduced bunch together with multiple teammates. In a long battle between attackers and chasing group, Lotto Dstny did everything to inch closer but eventually the winner came out of the front group. Tiesj Benoot rode to victory with Arnaud De Lie only beaten by Christophe Laporte in the sprint for sixth.

“A seventh place at Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne and a second place in Omloop of course gives me a satisfied feeling after my first full Belgian opening weekend. When the race split in the hilly part, I had some heavy legs at first. If I had felt strong enough I would certainly have tried to join the attackers on Le Bourliquet, but I was limited to following there. Eventually, I came into a good rhythm and the legs only got better as the race progressed”, said Arnaud De Lie.

“Everyone looked a bit at us in the chase, but my teammates did again an amazing job. That we were still with five guys part of the reduced bunch shows another solid collective performance today. Arjen Livyns, Brent Van Moer and Frederik Frison pulled a lot at the front and Florian Vermeersch made sure I could start the sprint in good position. Unfortunately, it wasn’t for the win but I end this opening weekend definitely with a good feeling. I took another step forward and there are some nice things to come with this shape.”

Also sports director Nikolas Maes was satisfied with the performances at the opening weekend. “We were working towards a podium place at the Omloop for quite a while and with also a solid race at Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne, we can look back to a successful start to the Classics. Of course, there is a really strong Jumbo-Visma, but we took up our responsibility and left a mark on the race. Which does not mean that we need to carry the entire weight of the race on our shoulders, the other teams need to realise that as well. Arnaud still is 20 years old and in his second pro year. Naturally, there’s still room for improvement, but if we can continue on this, there’s still a lot of nice things to come.”

Here's the K-B-K report from Team Soudal Quick-Step:

Our team entered the 75th edition of Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne with high hopes, especially as it had in its ranks the defending champion, Fabio Jakobsen, who had shown a good form in the beginning of the season. But everything changed 80 kilometers from the finish, when a crash that took place in the middle of the bunch isolated half of our team, the riders caught behind the pile-up kissing goodbye to any chance of making it back in the main group.

Fabio Jakobsen (shown winning in 2002) was ninth in 2023.

The European Champion, together with Davide Ballerini and Florian Sénéchal, remained Soudal Quick-Step’s only men in what was left of the peloton, from where five riders attacked with more than 70 kilometers to go, opening a gap that in the end proved to be insurmountable, despite the best efforts of our team, who aided by just one other squad chased hard to reduce the quintet’s advantage.

The leaders remained at the front until the finish, and Tiesj Benoot (Jumbo-Visma) took the victory, while from behind Fabio Jakobsen sprinted to ninth place: “Today I felt quite good, but we were unlucky with the crash that basically left half of our team out of the peloton. The rest of us gave our best, but it was difficult against such a strong leading group. It wasn’t our day, but the important thing is that we fought hard and that the condition is there for the upcoming races.”

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Here's the Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne & UAE Tour report from Team Bahrain Victorious:

Opening Weekend concluded on Sunday with Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, 193 kilometres over Flemish hills & cobbles, finishing on the outskirts of Kortrijk.

With just over 80km to go, Matej Mohorič followed a 3-man Jumbo Visma move, which eventually formed a group of 5 from which the day’s winner came.

“We learned from yesterday and rode even better.” says the Slovenian. “Today, we really stuck together in the crosswinds, and the boys helped me out to save energy. When I saw TJV pulling, I knew they were probably trying to split the race early, and when they went full on one of the climbs, I saw it immediately and jumped straight on their wheel.”

From then on, there were two games of cat and mouse on the road: first was the perennial question in bike racing of whether the peloton would catch the escapees, and second: two Jumbo riders playing with their numerical advantage over the others in the break.

Mohorič continues the story:
“There was no other option than staying together, pacing up the climbs. I would have preferred a hillier race because I was feeling super-strong on the climbs, but we had to stay together.”

Their gap to the bunch hovered around 1’20” as the sprinters’ teams went all out on the front of the peloton to bring them back, without success. But only with less than 20km remaining did it become clear that they would stay away.

As the men in yellow (Tiesj Benoot and Nathan van Hooydonck) took turns to attack off the front, Mohorič covered every move, with Tim Wellens (UAE) and Taco van der Horn (Intermarché) just passengers, leaving Matej to burn his matches in the hope that they could overtake him at the death to take a podium place. It was a plan that backfired.

“I hoped to be strong enough to be able to attack and pull away in the final kilometres, but it’s not easy when you have two Jumbo Visma guys who, of course, work for each other.”

Eventually it was one reaction too many for Bahrain’s leader, who finished in third, holding off those who had tried to use his strength to their own advantage. Benoot soloed to victory in the end, with a single second gap to his teammate and Mohorič.

“I had to dig quite deep to close the gap when Van Hooydonck attacked because everyone was looking at me, and then I didn’t have the legs to also close to Tiesj, because I would have brought someone with me who would have flicked me as well. So I decided to gamble a little bit to make sure of the podium.”

Last year’s Milan-Sanremo winner was full of praise for the weekend’s victors (they also took victory on the previous day at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, where Andrea Pasqualon finished a more than creditable 8th), but also for his Classics teammates.

Matej Mohorič winning Milano-Sanremo in 2022

“Chapeau to them; they proved they are the strongest team at the moment, but we also have a strong team, so I am very confident for the rest of ‘The Classics’, and maybe we’ll win a big race again this year.”

Meanwhile, in UAE, Pello Bilbao narrowly missed the GC podium by three seconds, taking fourth place, while Wout Poels managed a top-ten result finishing sixth overall.

Over the seven stages, Bahrain Victorious brought the opening stage to life with five riders splitting the peloton into pieces in the echelons, where Bilbao was rewarded with a minute advantage over some of his GC competitors. However, on the final stage of Jebel Hafeet, Adam Yates (UAE Emirates) attacked to take the stage win and clinch the final podium place.

Bilbao reflects on his fourth place:
“In the end, it didn’t go as we expected. I think I did a pretty big mistake in the end. I was so sure that the podium was in my hands, and with 5km to go, I was feeling strong and wasn’t worried, I felt the race was under control.

"Obviously, Yates and Remco were riding strong, but I saw Plapp was going from the front to the back, and I tried to push him to go for the second place (overall) because we raced all week aggressively. The team deserved it, and the idea was to improve the third position.

"I put Plapp to the limit in a moment, and he dropped from me, so I pushed hard to keep the distance with him until the part that was less steep and tried to connect with the riders in the front, but there was one point at 3.5km to go that I started to feel week and just couldn’t hold the rhythm and the heat affected me too much.”

La Drôme Classic team reports

We posted the report from third-place Andrea Bagnioli's Team Soudal Quick-Step with the results.

Here's the race report from team Bora-hansgrohe:

On the second race day in France a quite hilly parkour was waiting for the riders. With strong winds also hardening the race, it was a battle all over the day. Already with more than 100km to go the decisive split was made in the bunch and unfortunately only Victor Koretzky was able to jump into the first group. As a result, the early break was caught already with 80km remaining and the first bunch battled for the win. Victor was dropped on one of the last climbs and when Anthony Perez secured the win, no BORA – hansgrohe rider was within reach of a top result today.

Anthony Perez finishes alone. Sirotti photo

From the finish line:
“There is not a lot to say. We missed the decisive split in the crosswinds and only had Victor in front. He is still recovering from a little flu, and it was super hard for him in front in such a tough race. We tried to come back with a final effort when we hit the last hilly part. At one point it looked promising when the gap came down to 45 seconds, but it wasn’t enough and then our day was over. It was an epic battle out there I must admit.” – Rolf Aldag, Sports Director



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