- Article published:
- May 12, 2013, 16:30
- Laura Weislo
Belgian hoping for top result
With a special Bianchi-celeste jersey just for the Amgen Tour of California, Vacansoleil-DCM's Thomas De Gendt is looking for a top finish in the Amgen Tour of California to please its equipment sponsor.
Having shown his stage race abilities in the 2012 Giro d'Italia with an inspired victory atop the Passo dello Stelvio and a third place overall, the 26-year-old Belgian may not be given quite as much leash by his competitors after that display.
As a result, the Dutch team may look for a one-two punch with cagey rider Lieuwe Westra, and go for stages with notable escape artist Juan Antonio Flecha or sprinter Kris Boeckmans.
"The race is important for the team - we have special jerseys for this race and we want to show it.
"The goal is to be in the top 10 of the general classification, but we have other riders in the team that can do the same, and maybe try to win a stage," De Gendt said.
The team has been enjoying the warmth and sunshine of Southern California after a cold, rainy start to the year in Europe in its first foray into North America.
"The Tour of California is something different. Normally I would do Circuit de Lorraine, but now it's cancelled. But it was a nice opportunity to do this race, and if it works out well this year I'll try to come back in the future."
De Gendt has his eye on the mountainous stages but also the San Jose time trial as a place to put his abilities to good use.
"On first sight it's a hard race, harder than the other years, I've heard from the other riders. The time trial is going to be very hard, but it is a time trial that suits me. Mt. Diablo will be a very hard stage too."
De Gendt had a fine victory in the Volta a Catalunya stage into Barcelona, but since then dropped out of the Tour of the Basque Country and has been suffering from some knee problems and isn't sure of the state of his form.
"It's been three weeks since my last race so I don't know how the condition is. I did a training camp in Italy and I think the condition is OK but I don't know if it's good enough to win a race.
"If I can win a stage here and in the Dauphine, I will try it."
After his podium finish in last year's Giro, there has been a lot of expectations placed upon his shoulders to be Belgium's next Grand Tour contender, but De Gendt is hoping to stay under the radar for a bit longer.
"People have expectations, but also I have expectations. I don't want to have so much pressure. It's easier for me if they just let me do my thing and let me ride the races I want to ride. For now it's working out this way. we'll see in the Tour if the pressure gets to me or not."
- Article published:
- May 12, 2013, 17:15
- Stephen Farrand
BMC rider no longer an underdog after impressive first week
Cadel Evans (BMC) ended the first week of the Giro d'Italia in second place overall, 29 seconds down on race leader Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) and is now perfectly placed for the real mountain stages that begin in the north-eastern Friuli region after Monday's rest day.
At the start of the Giro d'Italia in Naples, the Australian was happy to be considered an underdog after only deciding to ride the Giro in late March.
While Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky) and Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp) have stuttered and suffered in the rain, Evans seems to have revelled in the tough conditions of the first week. He led home the group of overall contenders on the uphill finish in Piazzale Michelangelo overlooking Florence and was rewarded with the red points jersey.
"I'm well placed now and I'm very satisfied with how things have gone so far," Evans said in his ever improving Italian after pulling on the maglia rossa.
"I want to do well in the Giro. When we decided five or six weeks ago that I was going to ride, I decided I was going to give it everything.
I want to do as well as I can."
Evans' BMC team had a poor team time trial on Ischia island last Sunday but he has made up his losses and gained time on his overall rivals day by day, in the wet and in the individual time trial. Only Nibali has perhaps performed better but the Italian now has to carry the burden and responsibility of the maglia rosa.
Evans' confidence is up but experience of his success and defeat at the Tour de France has taught him to play a long game. He knows there are two more weeks of hard racing still to come and that the overall standings could change yet again very quickly.
"It's been a difficult Giro so far but it's too early to make a call on the race yet," he said.
"Let's wait for the real mountains to start. From Tuesday until the Tre Cime di Lavaredo we've got to tackle so, so many climbs. There's nothing easy about this Giro d'Italia."
"Even today was another hard day. A thunderstorm like that comes on you suddenly and you have to be quick to get ready for the rain and put on your cape. Everyone was pretty nervous and the roads were narrow too. It wasn't an easy day."
Evans and his BMC faced a 300km transfer from Florence to the northeast of Italy for Monday's rest day. He will no doubt ride a little on Monday morning but is keen to rest up after a testing but rewarding first week of racing.
"If I could, I'd stay in bed all day," he joked. "Like everyone, I need to rest and recover after this first part of the race."
- Article published:
- May 12, 2013, 17:44
- Barry Ryan
Englishman dropped on descent of Vallombrosa
Another day, another descent and yet more mixed messages for Bradley Wiggins and Team Sky on stage 9 of the Giro d’Italia. Dropped from the pink jersey group on the rain-soaked descent of the Vallombrosa, it briefly appeared as though Wiggins’ Giro challenge was about to unravel but instead the Englishman regained contact and reached Florence still in 4th place overall.
There was an added bonus for Wiggins in the finale, too, when Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp) was dropped on the climb of Vetta Le Croci and conceded over a minute to all of the other contenders. Little wonder, then, that manager Dave Brailsford was keen to view the glass as being half-full at the finish at Florence’s dramatic Piazzale Michelangelo. However Wiggins’ glaring weaknesses when going downhill must surely be a concern.
Before the start, Wiggins had joked with reporters about his descending skills, but after the finish, his thoughts, as has been the norm at this Giro, remained a mystery. With a sphinx-like air, Wiggins pedalled impassively on the turbo-trainer outside the team bus and it was left to Brailsford to field questions from a small group of reporters.
Dangling at the back over the top of the Vallombrosa, a nervous Wiggins was distanced on the way down and with 40km to go, he trailed Vincenzo Nibali, Cadel Evans et al by almost a minute after Astana, BMC and Garmin-Sharp upped the pace at the front. There was considerable urgency in the Sky ranks as they scrambled to put together a chase behind but after the event, Brailsford affected an air of calm.
“Bradley took it a bit cautiously on that big descent and then obviously was confident that the team was going to ride back. There was no problem,” Brailsford said. “He was always coming back and I was always confident he was going to come back. Even though they were riding on the front it was always going to come back, there was no problem.”
Adding to the cacophony of mixed messages emanating from the Sky camp at that point was journalist David Walsh, embedded with the team at this Giro, who tweeted that Sky had played its “Colombia card” with Sergio Henao and Rigoberto Uran instructed not to wait for Wiggins.
“No, we’re here to work for Bradley, the whole team is here for him and that’s our job,” Uran told Cyclingnews as he rolled towards the Sky team bus at the finish.
At the finish, Brailsford was keener to talk about potential weaknesses in Astana’s team rather than his own, pointing out Nibali had been left isolated at the front after he set his teammates to work on the descent of the Vallombrosa.
“It was interesting – by doing that, Nibali was down to one rider in the end,” Brailsford said. “He was isolated in the final. It was interesting and I think they’ll find that defending the jersey isn’t easy, it’s hard work. We’ve defended jerseys for many days over tough terrains and we know how hard it is to do.
“Today was interesting to see that when Bradley was coming back on they were riding hard but then they isolated Vincenzo in the end and I think they’ll have to have a look at that because it could leave the opportunities open to attack, which is what we’re going to do.”
Wiggins, however, is a rider who has operated almost exclusively from a defensive position in the mountains since he began his remarkable late-career transformation into a stage race rider. Brailsford acknowledged that it would require a collective effort for Wiggins to take the race to Nibali and Astana.
“We’ll just be aggressive. We know how difficult it is to defend a jersey and we also know what we don’t like, so we’ll know what to do to make it as aggressive as possible. This race is a long way from being over,” he said, adding that the presence of Uran and Henao in the top ten overall was a positive for Wiggins.
“It gives you options and defending against too many options is always difficult. So I think that’s the thing from our point of view, we’ve got different cards to play,” he said.
- Article published:
- May 12, 2013, 19:00
- Pat Malach
Results justify team's invitation, says Merckx
The Bontrager development team returns to the Amgen Tour of California this year with a reloaded roster and plenty of motivation.
"Those guys are here basically to try get a contract for next year," team director Axel Merckx told Cyclingnews this week. "At the end of the day, they want those managers and ProTour teams to take a look at them and see what their capabilities are and what their potential is. So they have to be aggressive and be smart about it also."
The team quickly quieted murmurs last year when the young squad got invited to the race in front of other more experienced teams. Joe Dombrowski's fourth-place finish on Mt. Baldy and a handful of top-10 finishes throughout the race easily justified the team's presence.
"There's always talk, and there are always teams that don't get selected," Merckx said. "But I think we've proved over the last five years, actually, that we are a really strong and competitive development team. So as a US domestic Continental team we have our spot here, and I think the organization recognizes that, too, and I think it's good for the future of cycling to have a development team at the start of a race like this."
The team is also coming off another successful run at the Tour of the Gila in New Mexico, where 21-year-old Gavin Mannion finished fifth on the difficult Gila Monster stage and ended up sixth overall, the best young rider in the race. Merckx said he hopes two weeks of altitude training before Gila, which is also at altitude, will have prepared his riders well for this week.
"That was the main goal and focus for the spring season," Merckx said. "So we'll see where that's going to bring us."
The Bontrager director tagged Mannion as a rider who could bring home a good result this year during some of the climbing stages, and he said Lawson Craddock and Nate Brown could perform well in the time trial. Look for Belgian Jasper Stuyven, who won the overall and points jersey at the Volta ae Alentejo earlier this year in Portugal, to be mixing it up in the bunch sprints.
"And then the other guys will really be looking for the opportunity to slip into breaks and get a result like that," Merckx said. With a tough day expected during stage 2, Merckx said, it's likely the GC will be well-established early in the week, providing potential escapees with plenty of opportunities during the intermediary stages.
"I think the first stage is going to be a little bit of a feeler about where they are in the peloton," Merckx said of his young riders. "It's going to be a hard race right away in the first two days, so they're going to find their spot right away and then later on in the week maybe try to slip into breakaways if the gaps are big enough to have potential to go for a stage win.
"I'm not going to tell my guys not to go in a break - I can tell you that," Merckx said. "That's the experience they should learn. They should learn their limits and learn what they need to improve and what they're good at also."
- Article published:
- May 12, 2013, 20:14
- Alasdair Fotheringham
Russian gets first career victory at 28
Maxim Belkov (Katusha) has had to wait four and a half years for his first victory as a professional, but there can be no doubt that the Russian scored a major bulls eye when he crossed the line at Firenze at the end of his 150 kilometre breakaway to win stage 9 at the Giro d'Italia.
Best known as a time trialist, given he was Russia's U23 TT champion back in 2006 and the European TT champion in 2007, Belkov said he had deliberately failed to try for a top performance on Saturday's Giro d'Italia time trial stage, in order to save his energy. Or as he put it, "Better first today than 20th yesterday."
Although he has three team time trial victories to his name as a pro, Firenze was the first time the 28-year-old from Izhevsk had raised his arms to celebrate an individual victory. "I had no idea that I was going to win," he said, "particularly in the last two kilometres where I had bad cramps and the bunch and the break was coming back fast on me" - to the point where Carlos Betancur (Ag2R), second on the stage, crossed the line just 44 seconds back.
"All I knew was that the guys behind were going all out, and I would have to do the same if I wanted to stay away."
Still, Belkov has a lot of experience when it comes to racing in Italy, given he has been living in the country for eight years. He was with respected Italian director Luca Scinto's squads as an amateur and turned pro for one of his teams, ISD-Neri, back in 2009. A year in Vancansoleil followed in 2011, the season in which he raced and completed his first Grand Tour, the Giro d'Italia, and then in 2012 he moved on to Katusha.
"It was a very difficult start to the Giro, I had stomach problems and I lost a lot of power," Belkov said. "And I certainly didn't know I would get into this break. But I figured I would save my strength in yesterday's time trial just in case it could work out, I thought it was possible. After that it was a question of taking things kilometre by kilometre and seeing how it all went."
- Article published:
- May 12, 2013, 23:54
- Alasdair Fotheringham
Defending champion experiences "brief loss of power"
Garmin Sharp's Ryder Hesjedal described stage nine's time losses as being due to a combination of factors, rather than any single reason like sickness or the consequences of an illness.
Hesjedal crossed the line 66 seconds behind the rest of the top Giro d'Italia favourites after he was dropped on the final climb, the fourth category Fiesole, prior to the run-in to Firenze, and is now lying 11th overall, 3:11 back.
"It wasn't even a bad day, it was a bad moment," Hesjedal told Cyclingnews after the stage. "I could already feel on the second to last climb [the third category Vetta le Croce] that something was not right, I couldn't get the power out of my legs.
"Then the last one was even steeper, and the way the race was going I had to ride tempo and limit the damage."
To have one Garmin Sharp teammate there to guide him through the final metres, Tom Danielson was crucial, Hesjedal said. "Tom did a great job and managed the situation but like I said, I didn't feel bad today, I felt pretty good."
He pointed out that the hard racing all day, the long climbs, and the speed with which the race moved up the final ascent had all contributed to his brief loss of power.
"Maybe I had a severe case of time trial butt as well" - after Saturday's very long race against the clock - "and the cold got through to my muscles as well so I couldn't find the power for those short moments. Then you've got 40 guys going full gas fighting for the stage and the classification, so it was a bad moment to have that happen.
"But it could have been worse and there's a rest day now as well."
As Garmin Sharp sports director Charly Wegelius pointed out to Cyclingnews, there is a lot of racing left to go, including all of the major mountain stages and although Hesjedal lost some time and "nobody wants to lose 66 seconds", the time gaps were not colossal.
"If this had been a 10 kilometre climb then my Giro would have been over," Hesjedal said. "You've got to look at the positive side of things."
- Article published:
- May 13, 2013, 01:14
- Alex Malone
Stage and sprint jersey scalped on final day at FKG Tour of Toowoomba
It's been a patient wait for Neil Van Der Ploeg (search2retain p/b health.com.au) to capture what had been an elusive stage victory in the Subaru National Road Series. The former mountain biker has been one of the most consistent sprinters this season, picking up podium placings at the NRS season-opener at Tour de Perth, followed by Battle on the Border and the FKG Tour of Toowoomba but it was the final day in the Queensland race that finally satisfied the victory-hunger of the search2retain p/b health.com.au rider.
Riding aggressively throughout the 50km criterium around Queen's Park, Van Der Ploeg earned enough points through intermediate sprints to overhaul the day's sprint classification leader leader Jack Anderson. At the finish he capped off what had been a tour of mixed emotions for the team, after the squad's general classification hope punctured out of the running at a critical time on the final ascent to Bunya Mountains on Stage 2, to scalp his first NRS victory.
In this exclusive video with Van Der Ploeg talks about the final day of racing and the feeling of finally taking to the top step after so many near-misses this year.
"It was really relieving to get the win," he told Cyclingnews. "I felt like I owed it to the team to finally get a win for them. They always work really hard, especially for the sprint jersey. It's fantastic."
- Article published:
- May 13, 2013, 02:02
- Laura Weislo
Riders bake on opening stage
Much of the discussion after the opening stage of the 2013 Tour of California was not about stage winner and race leader Lieuwe Westra's cagey victory but about the weather - and with good reason. After a long, dismal winter in Europe and snow just last week in parts of Colorado and the midwest in the USA, the 100-degree temperatures that baked riders throughout the 165km stage were a real shock to the system for most riders.
"It's not often your hands cramp after the stage." - Ted King (Cannondale - via Twitter).
"Nobody was out there saying 'it's a beautiful day'." - Bissell's Carter Jones.
"I had cramps at the end, but I sprinted through the cramps." - Third place finisher Peter Sagan (Cannondale).
"The temperature was unbelievable." - Stage winner Lieuwe Westra (Vacansoleil).
"It was too hot for the first day. I think everyone was no good today." - Francisco Mancebo (5 Hour Energy).
Riders went through dozens of bottles, downing as much water and electrolyte drink as they could, but the best they could hope for was to stave off the cramps and keep themselves out of a deep hole for tomorrow's stage to Palm Springs, which promises to be even hotter.
"I drank as much as I physically could. We had ice packs from the team car and it still wasn't enough," said Carter Jones, the day's mountains classification leader. "I still have a headache, feels like I'm hung over!"
"The heat was brutal. It was definitely the hardest part of the day."
That statement comes from a rider who spent 145km off the front of the race over three climbs, one of which was the 1600m summit on Palomar Mountain. Jones wasn't in the move to start, but bridged up to it and succeeded in taking the polka dot jersey. "Coming from Boulder it's still winter there. We haven't done anything like this all year.
"It was a little cooler on the climb, but coming down to the finish it was like a sauna," Jones said. He coped with the heat not just by drinking plenty of fluids - most riders took on 10-12 bottles, but also by pouring cold water over his head and getting ice bags to put on his neck from the team car. "Everytime you poured a bottle on yourself you were rejuvenated."
His breakaway companion James Stemper (5 Hour Energy) took the same strategy, but felt for his teammates who weren't so lucky to be in the breakaway with easy access to the team car.
"I had an ice pack on my neck all day in the break. I felt sorry for the guys in the back who didn't have a team car with them all day. I dumped probably 11 bottles on me."
Jones was philosophical about the heat, saying it is the same for all the riders, but isn't looking forward to having to go through it again tomorrow.
"I tell myself I'm not hot and kind of go with it. Nobody's out there saying 'it's a beautiful day'
The race organisation's medical officer Ramin Modabber said that there were no health incidents caused by the heat amongst the riders, in part thanks to the actions of the race officials who opened up feeding from the cars early and closed it late in the stage.
"The race officials are careful in stages like this because normally they won't allow feeding for 50km into the race. When it's this hot, they let them feed earlier so they can come back and get more bottles. They typically stop feeding at 20km to go, but today it was 10km, we're cognizant to keep riders safe."
With an even harder stage on tap tomorrow, and temperatures soaring to nearly 110 on the pavement, the riders will be doing their best to recover from today's draining stage and keep cool ahead of the first decisive finishing climb to the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway - 6.4km of 10% gradient in the blazing desert heat.
"We just have to get the guys back to the hotel and get them hydrated up, get them treated, and we'll start all over again tomorrow," said Optum assistant directeur Eric Wohlberg, whose rider Marsh Cooper was also in the breakaway. "Tomorrow is going to be some vicious heat out there too in the desert, so we'll see. We're just going to start the guys out with a five-pound block of ice on their back and they'll just ride with that."