Rui Costa surprised many by signing a contract with Italian team Lampre-Merida, but he is happy with his choice. “This team fits me,” he said at the team presentation on Mallorca. “I feel honoured that Lampre-Merida welcomes me as their captain.”
The Portuguese rider started his career with Benfica, when the famous football club had a cycling program, later moving to Spain to ride with Caisse d’Epargne and Movistar before signing a one-year contract with the Italians.
“Italy feels lucky for me, because I won big races as an U23-rider there. I love the country and it’s where I became world champion,” said Costa. “I am improving my Italian too and I fit in the team. They warmly welcomed me and I feel honoured that they want to have me as their captain. It’s a good team with good, young riders.”
The 27-year-old from Porto doesn’t plan on changing much this season. “I improve a little bit year after year, so I’ll keep doing what I do.”
“Normally I start my season in Mallorca but this year we started in Dubai. I had never been there, but it was a nice opportunity because of the great weather. For an early season race, everything went very well.”
Last year Costa crashed out of Paris-Nice, when he was feeling really well. This year the WorldTour race consists of eight stages and no time trials. For the multiple Tour de France stage winner and reigning Tour de Suisse champion, the race in France is an...
"We were out training and it happened super fast," Nizzolo said of his crash. "It was in a turn. I must have hit something and before I knew it I was on the ground. It happened in a blink of an eye.”
"I fell with my whole weight on my shoulder. I don’t even have a scratch besides the fracture Danilo (Hondo) called an ambulance straight away and they took me to a hospital in Palma."
Nizzolo is now due to have surgery in Mallorca on Saturday, but his team is not sure when he will be able to return to competition. It was confirmed that Nizzolo will miss his next scheduled races, the Vuelta a Andalucia Ruta Ciclista Del Sol (February 19-23) and Paris-Nice (March 9-16).
Nizzolo, 25-years-old, began his season in good form, winning a stage in the Tour de San Luis over Francisco Ventoso (Movistar) and Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-Quickstep).
For Chris Froome (Sky), this season is about removing doubts about the veracity of his results and to show that his Tour de France victory wasn’t just luck.
“I want to back up my results for the next five years, at least, to prove that nothing was a fluke. My results will stand the test of time and I want to erase any doubt about them – that’s a massive motivation,” said Froome on the Team Sky website.
Froome accepts that fans will still have questions, but he hopes that he can continuing success can add credence to his status as a clean cyclist. “I want to back up everything I achieved last season and prove to people that I am a legitimate champion,” says Froome.
“Especially in this era of cycling, there’s so much doubt around what we’re doing and I sincerely want to prove to people they can believe in this sport again, believe in me, and believe in Team Sky. I hope last year’s not going to be a one-off for me because that would raise doubts.”
Froome has spent much of his off-season in South Africa, where the weather has allowed him to get some decent training in. However it took it’s toll too, with Froome getting some nasty sunburn on his back. The 2013 Tour de France champion spoke about the now infamous picture, posted on twitter.
If two years ago it was something of a surprise, this time around it was merely a confirmation. Arnaud Démare (FDJ.fr) is now two for two on the final stage of the Tour of Qatar, but though similar in execution, his two victories on the Corniche came from very different places.
In 2012, Démare was taking his first steps as a professional, and while he was the reigning under-23 world champion, he was decidedly unsure of his place in the hierarchy of sprinters led by the elite rainbow jersey, Mark Cavendish.
Victory on that occasion, after less than a week in the peloton, offered the Frenchman some important early reassurances about his worth. Démare’s win on the final day of this year’s Tour of Qatar on Friday, by comparison, was simply a welcome indication of a solid winter’s work.
"I had good legs from the start of the week, so I’m not surprised," Démare said, admitting that while his base condition was good, it had initially been a struggle to get up to speed and match the pace laid down by Omega Pharma-QuickStep.
"The wind is very particular here, and this was our first race, unlike the guys who’d done the Tour Down Under or Tour de San Luis," he said. "When it’s your first race of the year, you still have to get back into the swing of things a bit, but fortunately we rounded off the week well."
Fortune was something in scant supply at FDJ.fr on the preceding five stages. Three of their number – Matthieu Ladagnous, David Boucher and Johan Le Bon – were forced out by crashes, while every time race radio crackled into action during the week, it seemed to be to avert the FDJ.fr team car that Démare had punctured.
Cyclo-cross world champion hits the road in Mallorca
Current world cyclo-cross champion Zdenek Stybar has made the spring classics his major priority for the opening half of the season.
The 28-year-old, who recently complete the Challenge Mallorca – his first road race since claiming his third world cyclo-cross title – where his Omega Pharma team impressed with a number of strong performances.
Stybar had a breakthrough season on the road in 2013 with the overall title in the Eneco Tour, a stage of the Vuelta, and 6th in Paris-Roubaix. It was that final result that demonstrated the Czech rider's ability to adapt for major success in the classics.
This season he will target the spring races once more with the Tour of Flanders and Roubaix taking centre stage. Stybar’s role for those races will also depend on the form of Tom Boonen and Niki Terpstra, who have both impressed in the Tour of Qatar, and in this exclusive video for Cyclingnews Sytbar discusses his transition from cross to road and the challenges that lie ahead.
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Omega Pharma-QuickStep’s pre-eminence all week was total. The team’s most bankable star, Tom Boonen, claimed two stage wins and second place overall, while there was a breakthrough showing from Guillaume Van Keirsbulck, who finished as best young rider.
The Belgian squad also claimed three stage victories and the team classification, and – perhaps most impressively – all eight of their number were part of the winning echelon of 23 riders on stage 2. It was Terpstra, however, who topped the billing by claiming victory on the opening day, putting in a solid time trial midway through and coolly defending his gold jersey throughout.
"It's important because it's the first time in my career that I’ve won a short stage race," Terpstra said after descending from the podium on Doha’s Corniche. "I was already on the podium of Eneco Tour, Three Days of De Panne and other races but this is quite a new experience. I learned a lot this week."
Terpstra joins the roll call of QuickStep riders to claim overall victory in Qatar, following in the wheel tracks of Boonen, Wilfried Cretskens and last year’s winner, Mark Cavendish. As he hinted afterwards, a strong showing in the Persian Gulf is virtually company policy.
"The whole team was motivated here. I think since the first Tour of Qatar, QuickStep was good here, so we’ve got a name to keep up," Terpstra said, adding that their aggressive tactics in the crosswinds earlier in the week were born of...
Local authorities refuse permission for the climb due to safety concerns
Recent bad weather and doubts about safety mean that the new Pompeiana climb is unlikely to be part of the route of this year's Milan-San Remo.
Race organiser RCS Sport added the five-kilometre climb to the finale of the traditional race route in an attempt to shake-up the outcome of the race and avoid the traditional sprint finish. Mark Cavendish, Marcel Kittel and other sprinters have announced they will not target Milan-San Remo but could now have a chance of victory in the first monumental Classic of the season.
A report in the La Stampa newspaper suggests that recent land slides and safety concerns have caused the local authorities to refuse to issue a permit for the race to climb the Pompeiana. The local authorities appear unwilling to find the finances to make the Pompeiana safe for the race and the thousands of spectators expected on the roadside on Sunday March 23.
"We took a decision before the bad weather of the last few days. We'd pointed out a series of problems linked to safety. Our negative decision was decided with a official act," Michele Russo –the Provincial engineer for transport and road infrastructure told La Stampa.
It seems the authorities are concerned about road safety on the narrow, twisting roads, that includes long sections without guard rails and a critical section near Castellaro on the difficult descent back to the main coastal road.
RCS Sport has yet to make an official statement regarding the Pompeiana. However with the race just over a month away, it seems a return to the traditional race route is likely, giving the sprinters a shot at victory.
With An Post-Sean Kelly three years ago, the young Scot was part of a team simply glad of the chance to rub shoulders with some of the aristocrats of the peloton and ship a few hard lessons in the process. This time around, Fenn was an integral member of Omega Pharma-Quick Step, the very team dealing out cycling's facts of life by drilling on the front and splitting the bunch virtually every time that the conditions allowed. This has been, Fenn conceded to Cyclingnews, a rather different desert experience.
"We were lucky to get an invitation that year, it was really because Pegasus folded and so we got in," Fenn told Cyclingnews. "It was good experience though and I knew what to expect a bit this year."
His fellow An Post alumnus Sam Bennett - who also returned to Qatar this week, with NetApp-Endura - joked that three years ago, he was often glad simply to make it to kilometre zero without being dropped. Fenn acknowledged that the black jersey of Omega Pharma-QuickStep meant that he was given a little more respect in the bunch, even if, ultimately, that still had to be earned by performances on the road.
"Obviously, there's always a bit of respect to the team, and we've had the gold jersey on top of that," Fenn said. "You've got to ride as a team in these kinds of races anyway, and when people see a couple of jerseys coming up, they know there'll be more following through and maybe make space. But then there comes a point where that stuff goes out the window, because it is racing."
The opening two road stages saw Omega Pharma-Quick Step wreak havoc on the peloton, and their...