- Article published:
- February 23, 10:06
- Cycling News
Colombian still 6kg over ideal racing weight
Carlos Betancur claimed a surprise victory on the opening stage of the Tour du Haut-Var on Saturday when he out-paced John Degenkolb (Giant-Shimano) and his Ag2r-La Mondiale teammate Samuel Dumoulin in the bunch finish at La Croix-Valmer.
It was Betancur's first win since signing for Ag2r at the start of last season. The Colombian climber came close at Flèche Wallonne last spring and on three separate occasions at the 2013 Giro d’Italia [where he finished 5th place overall] and it was notable that he eventually broke his duck on what was ostensibly a day for the sprinters.
"We were anticipating a very fast finish but it turned out to be more difficult than expected and I felt at ease on that terrain," Betancur said, according to his team website.
Betancur began his 2014 season with a decidedly low-key showing at the Tour de San Luis in Argentina, where he freely admitted that he was still some way over his optimum racing weight. Since returning to his European base in Italy, however, Betancur said that he has been training consistently.
"I'm not surprised by my good sensations because the form came back very quickly after I started my season at the Tour de San Luis," he said. "I'm coming from a good training camp with the team and I've felt very good for a few days.
"I often finished in second place in 2013, and I really wanted to bring a win to the team very quickly this season, so this victory is for the whole group."
Ag2r-La Mondiale directeur sportif Julien Jurdie explained that the team's original plan was for Betancur to lead out Dumoulin in the sprint, but the Colombian proved so strong that he was able to continue his effort all the way to the line.
"It was a finale for strong men and not for pure sprinters," Jurdie told L’Équipe. "Betancur was leading out the sprint for Samuel and he ended up winning. He was very strong."
For Jurdie, the surprise was not so much that Betancur beat Degenkolb in the sprint but that he won in spite of carrying some additional weight. "He still has 6kg to lose, but at the Tour of the Mediterranean, I realised that his sensations were good. He’s on the right track," Jurdie said.
That weight might yet prove a more significant handicap on the second, hillier stage of the Tour du Haut-Var, and Jurdie was circumspect about Betancur's prospects of holding on to the overall lead in Draguignan on Sunday.
"If he was 100 percent, I would optimistic," Jurdie said. "If gets over the top of the Tuilières in front, then it's possible. But above all, I think with Bouet, Chérel and Dumoulin, we have the collective ability to do something good on this race."
- Article published:
- February 23, 11:40
- Cycling News
Spaniard takes first win in over a year
It had been a long time coming, and the news emanating from Oman perhaps made it seem even more imperative, but Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) finally broke his thirteen-month winless streak with victory on stage 4 of the Volta ao Algarve on Saturday.
Hours after Chris Froome’s impressive win atop Green Mountain at the Tour of Oman, Contador was the first to the summit of the Alto do Malhao, his first triumph since he won a stage of the Tour de San Luis in January 2013.
A winner on the Malhao in 2010, when he took the second of his overall victories at the Volta ao Algarve, Contador knew what awaited him on the short but sharp finishing climb. With the yellow jersey of Michal Kwiatkowski all but out of reach, Contador opted to bide his time until the final kilometre before striking.
“It’s true that I already had some references on this climb, which has been good to me before,” Contador said, according to L’Équipe. “Today I was really concentrated on winning this stage more than on the general classification because I knew there wouldn’t be big gaps at the finish.”
Contador reached the summit three seconds up on world champion Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida) and ten clear of Kwiatkowski, and he now lies second overall and 16 seconds down ahead of Sunday’s final stage to Vilamoura.
“It’s not the most important thing,” Contador said of the overall win. “I’m happy because the team did remarkable work and I was able to finish it off. My physical condition is improving day by day. The work I’ve done this winter is starting to bear fruit.”
The Volta ao Algarve is Contador’s first race of the season and he has enjoyed a very different winter to the one that prefigured his disappointing 2013 campaign. A trip to London in December to announce the purchase of his team by Oleg Tinkov aside, Contador has kept his off-the-bike engagements to a minimum in recent months, something Tinkoff-Saxo directeur sportif Philippe Mauduit believes has made a significant difference.
“Alberto realised that he was spending more time on planes that he was training,” Mauduit told L’Équipe. “He knows that success is the result of training and rest. We’ve found again the Alberto Contador who knows how to win. You could already see that in his face, his attitude, his voice and his legs. Alberto needs to win.”
- Article published:
- February 23, 14:30
- Peter Hymas
Men's and women's teams wrap up California training camp
Both the men's and women's Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies teams were presented on Friday evening in Irvine, California at a facility of team title sponsor Optum. All 14 members of the men's Continental team were in attendance while nine of the 11 women were on hand (Canada's Joelle Numainville plus New Zealand's Courteney Lowe were absent), all looking fit, tan and trim as their pre-season camp conducted further north along the California coast in Oxnard since February 13 would soon be coming to a conclusion.
There was first a celebration of what was accomplished in 2013, with the men's and women's teams combining for 76 victories including seven national titles (Tom Zirbel-US pro time trial, Eric Young-US pro criterium, Jade Wilcoxson-US pro road, Joelle Numainville-Canada road and time trial, Leah Kirchmann-Canada criterium and Courteney Lowe-New Zealand road race).
Executives from title sponsors Optum, Kelly Benefit Strategies, Acura and new bicycle sponsor Diamondback were all present as well as 1984 Olympic medalists Nelson Vails and Steve Hegg, with Vails relating how he and Hegg cut the ribbon at a Diamondback warehouse in southern California some 30 years ago.
After each of the riders were introduced a select few fielded questions from the evening's emcee Todd Gogulski, with Alex Candelario revealing that 2014 will be his final year in the professional peloton.
"I though a lot about it this fall and I think it's time for me to move on," said Candelario, just a few days of his 39th birthday.
"It's been a great career, and I definitely would have liked to win a lot more races. But we've won a lot of races as a team and that shows a lot about our program. I'm really excited and looking forward to the season. We have tremendous depth and talent on our team. It's going to be hard to make the Tour of California roster."
Fan favorite Mike Friedman fielded questions about his burly beard plus his nickname, Meatball ("I ride in a compact style, and I'm round and I'm shorter"), followed by new women's team director Kevin Field, who discussed the squad's plans for the upcoming season.
"It's important to be on top of the NRC and to retain our national championship jerseys, that's mission number one," said Field. He then discussed the team's European ambitions, with a spring block of racing highlighted by The Women's Tour, the first women's UCI stage race in Great Britain, for which they've just received an invitation. Their second European block is built around the team time trial at the world championships, with the squad hoping to improve on their 8th place result from 2013. "They can create a big surprise in Spain in September," said Field.
Finally, men's director Jonas Carney discussed the men's team's goals for the 2014 season.
"We just try to set the bar extremely high for these guys and give them the confidence that they can win any race we start," said Carney.
"This past year we had a lot of success in the big races - podiums in Europe, USA Pro Cycling Challenge and the Tour of California - and we just need to turn those second and third place efforts into first place efforts. It's just a matter of getting a little bit better, executing a little bit better, and the guys know they can do it."
The men will make their season debut shortly at the Vuelta Mexico, a UCI 2.2-ranked stage race taking place March 5-9.
- Article published:
- February 23, 16:24
- Stephen Farrand
BMC rider studies Team Sky's race tactics and readies for Paris-Nice
Tejay van Garderen (BMC) joined Chris Froome (Team Sky) and Rigoberto Uran (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) on the final podium at he Tour of Oman, happy to have completed his first stage race of the season with a good performance. It was a display that suggests he is starting arguably the biggest season of his career in excellent form and proves to himself that he is on track for his gradual build-up for the Tour de France.
The talented 25-year-old American has yet finish on a Grand Tour podium but his fifth place in the 2012 Tour de France and victories at the Amgen Tour of California and the USA Procycling Challenge in 2013 rightly earned him team leadership at BMC for this year's Grand Boucle. We are still five months from knowing who will stand on the Tour de France podium in Paris but van Garderen acknowledges he was in the good company on the Tour of Oman rostrum.
"I'm between two pretty big names in cycling: a Tour de France winner and a Giro d'Italia podium finisher. I'm honoured to be next to these guys," van Garderen told journalists present at the race.
"If you look at the names here, there are definitely some big contenders, so I'm happy to be in the mix with these guys. But I'm also trying to not get too high or not get too low. I'm trying to see this race as a good indicator for form and of things to come.
"We're a long way from July. You can't put too much emphasis on Green Mountain, that was a five kilometre climb. We're going to be tackling much longer, much harder and much steeper climbs than that.
"I wasn't really out to prove any points. I just go and do my best. Having had a good ride perhaps makes me a marked man for Paris-Nice but that would have been the case anyway. It's just nice to add another result to the resume and keep moving forward."
Responding to Team Sky untraditional tactics
Van Garderen got a taste of Team Sky's new aggressive race tactics during the Tour of Oman. Froome produced an attack on each of the three hilly stages and Team Sky opted to send Sergio Henao up the road in the final two kilometres of the stage to Green Mountain and early on during stage six to test their rivals' reactions. Last year Team Sky seemed to use a near robotic, power-metre inspired style of racing.
Under the watchful eye of Tour de France directeur sportif Nicolas Portal and team manager Dave Brailsford, however, the riders in Oman tried out several different race strategies and tested the riders in its roster including new signing Mikel Nieve and expert teammates such as Henao, Danny Pate, Dario Cataldo, David Lopez and Kanstantsin Siutsou.
"They've definitely been adopting a more aggressive style of racing. It makes it interesting," van Garderen revealed.
"Henao was jumping in breaks today, which makes some other GC guys jump too because if he gets up the road, then we have to ride. They're following an untraditional tactic, which makes it a bit more stressful for us but more exciting."
Racing is often compared to chess for its multiple strategic options. Van Garderen made it clear he and BMC had been ready to counter any specific end-game strategy Team Sky may try and devise.
"It almost didn't play out in their favour," he warned. "When Henao jumped, me and Kreuziger were careful too and so we jumped with him. The next thing you knew, there was a 15-rider breakaway and even Uran was in there. But Froome was back (in the peloton) and if we'd been more organised, it could have cost him the race. Tactics are tactics, they don't always play out as you plan."
Next goal: Paris-Nice
Van Garderen heads home to his new base in Nice after the Tour of Oman, to rest up and prepare for his next race and his next goal: Paris-Nice.
"I'll talk to my coaches and my (sports) directors and just get settled, try to be pretty low key and get in a few blocks of good training in, put the finishing touches on the form. I'm happy where I am right now," he said of his plans for the next two weeks.
Van Garderen is a strong time trialist and a strong climber, but this year's Paris-Nice route has no time trial or high mountains, making it wide open.
"I'd have liked to have a time trial or a mountain top finish to try to separate things out a bit. It seems like going there, there could be 80 guys lining up thinking they have a chance to win. It'll be interesting," he predicted.
- Article published:
- February 23, 20:33
- Stephen Farrand
Belgian turns his attention to Omloop Het Nieuwsblad
Tom Boonen headed home to Belgium with fatigue in his huge legs but a smile on his face after completing the Tour of Qatar and Tour of Oman.
He and his Omega Pharma-Quick Step teammates have racked up two solid and very successful weeks of racing in the sun. Boonen won two stages at the Tour of Qatar and finished second behind teammate Niki Terpstra. He secured two placing in sprint stages in the Tour of Oman but headed home confident that he is on form ready to face the cobbles and bergs on home roads at next Saturday's Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.
"I'm very satisfied how the two weeks in the Middle East have gone," he told Cyclingnews.
"I've already raced 19 days this season and it's a great way to get ready for the rest of the season. We've almost got a Grand Tour in our legs."
Boonen had a disastrous 2013 season. He spent a week in hospital with a serious infection after injuring his elbow and then crashed out of the Tour of Flanders and was unable to ride Paris-Roubaix. He won a stage at the Tour de Wallonie but a saddle sore in August put an end to his season. He started training for 2014 very early, doing 12 weeks of special gym work and plenty of training on the bike to get his career back on track.
"If you look back at my career, if I had a bad season, it was always due to some injury, not because I wasn't good," he pointed out.
"Last was a stupid series of problems. At the start of training I was going good and then I ended up in the hospital. Then I was trying to catch up and improve but I crashed in the Classics. It was a year to forget."
"I started training very early and now I think my form base is very solid and so there's no need to panic anymore."
Back to Belgium for the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad
Boonen's elbow kept the Belgian media on edge last year, but 12 months on his smile and confidence are back and his worries have been forgotten. His results were reassuring for the millions of Boonen fans in Belgian and the man himself.
"I'm satisfied with how I felt in Qatar and Oman, so overall, I think I can be happy," he told Cyclingnews.
"In the last few years we've always tried to do well at the Tour of Qatar. With Rigoberto Uran in the team for the Tour of Oman it was naturally to go for the overall classification and third place is a good result for him and for us. I tried to contest the sprint stages. It didn’t really work out like in Qatar; we made a few mistakes in the lead outs and they were complicated sprints, but I got a fifth and a third place. That's still good."
Boonen's excellent early season makes him an automatic favourite for next Saturday's Omloop Het Nieuwsblad race.
He is quietly confident, but has his sights fixed on April and the Ronde van Vlaanderen, rather than the season opener and cobbles shake down.
"It's going to be very different to racing in the sun that's for sure, even if they're forecasting pretty good weather for Belgium at the weekend. Winter hasn't really started and lets hope it stays like that," Boonen said, apparently as pleased with his suntan as his early season form.
"Of course I've always tried to win it, every time I've ridden Omloop. It'd be nice to win it again but it's not a race I 'have' to win to prove myself."
"I think the most important races are a few weeks later but even then, I try to give 100% from the start and if a result comes and if I even manage to win, then I'll be happy. I don’t need to prove anything to anyone anymore and that makes it all more enjoyable and possible."
- Article published:
- February 24, 00:25
- Cycling News
Australian happy with Giro d'Italia preparation
Having started his 2014 season in Australia with third place in the national road championships, Richie Porte (Sky) has continued his good start to the season with second overall at the Ruta del Sol behind Alejandro Valverde (Movistar).
Team Sky had looked to seize the initiative on the final stage which was won by Moreno Hofland (Belkin) and set Porte up for the overall victory but a fast finish laid to rest any plans the Tasmanian had to improve his gc position.
The final margin between Porte and Valverde was 31 seconds with Luis Leon Sanchez (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA) two seconds behind Porte in third place.
"The whole week the guys have been absolutely incredible," Porte told TeamSky.com. "There's a lot of horsepower in the team. We've had guys like Xabi Zandio on the front all day yesterday. Geraint (Thomas) and Pete (Kennaugh) doing a brilliant job.
"Everybody was fantastic. It was a shame we couldn't win a stage between us but it was good that it was such a hard race and everyone is going to come out of it stronger than when they went in."
Having won the queen stage at the Tour Down Under on his way to fourth overall, Porte admitted he is happy with his growing form despite coming up against stiff opposition in the form of Valverde.
"The uphill finishes suited him down to the ground and hat's off to him he's in great shape. For us it's good to see where we're at. I know where I'm at and I'm nowhere near at 100 percent. So to come away with second this week is a nice indication of what I can do this season."
Vasil Kiryienka crashed hard following a collision with a rock just 17km into the final stage and was praised by Porte for persevering.
"He lost it on a corner attacking at the start," Porte said. "In Kiryienka versus a rock I guess the rock was always going to come off second best. He was quickly back in the peloton. He's a legend."
Porte heads to Paris-Nice next with the aim of defending the race he won overall last year. Paris-Nice starts on March 9.
- Article published:
- February 24, 01:30
- Cycling News
Stage win set up third place overall at Haut Var
BMC Racing Team continued their good start to 2014 as Amaël Moinard notched their sixth victory of the season by taking out Stage 2 of the Tour de Haut Var. Capping off the stage was Cadel Evans winning the sprint for fourth place. Moinard bettered the overall winner of the race, Carlos Betancur (Ag2r-La Mondiale), in a two man sprint after the duo had broken away on the final climb of the day’s stage.
After claiming his first win since 2010, which came at Paris-Nice on Stage 7, Moinard explained on the team’s website that local knowledge meant he rode the Côte des Tuilières ascent "perfectly" and waited until it flattened out slightly with 500 meters to go.
"Then I jumped and made it pretty hard," he said. "Betancur came up to me and we went full out on the downhill. I didn't touch the brakes – I just went full gas. He was interested in winning the GC (general classification) and I wanted the stage, so it was perfect to go together to the line."
Betancur, the winner of Saturday's Stage 1, won the race overall ahead of his teammate Samuel Dumoulin. Cadel Evans placed fifth overall in the final standings.
Helping set up the stage win for Moinard was the presence of Thor Hushovd in the eight-man breakaway which was caught with 55km left to race.
"With Thor in the breakaway, it was easier for the team," BMC Racing Team Sport Director Yvon Ledanois said. "I also think it was a good for Thor because it was good preparation for the classics. I am also very happy for Amaël. He is always working for the leader and now he is a winner himself."
- Article published:
- February 24, 09:48
- Cycling News
Former winner Rebellin returns to race ten years later
Androni-Giocatolli, Topsport Vlaanderen, IAM Cycling and CCC Polsat have been handed wildcards for Amstel Gold Race, which takes place on April 20.
Italian team Androni-Giocatolli signed two Dutch riders for this season, Kenny van Hummel and Dutch champion Johnny Hoogerland helping their chances of gaining a place. The latter will show his Dutch championship's jersey on the roads through Limburg. Belgian team Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise and Swiss formation IAM Cycling were also present in 2013.
IAM Cycling's captain Sylvain Chavanel lines up or his tenth participation in the race with a 16th spot in both 2010 as 2011 as his best results.
The fourth wildcard was given to the team of former winner Davide Rebellin. The Polish CCC Polsat already received wildcards for the Tour of Catalunya, Tour de Suisse and the Tour of Poland and now add a fourth WorldTour race to their calendar. Rebellin won the Amstel Gold Race in 2004 and returns to Limburg aged 42.
In 2013 25 teams lined up for the Amstel Gold Race: 19 WorldTour teams and six ProContinental teams. According to local broadcaster L1, race director Leo van Vliet will announce the other wildcards later to complete the field for this year's event.
Roman Kreuziger won the race in 2013. The Czech Tinkoff-Saxo rider will return to the Netherlands to defend his crown in 2014.