First year under-23 rider crowned national criterium winner
Fresh out of the junior ranks, Western Australian Bradley Linfield took on the Jayco Herald Sun Tour unfazed by the race distance - his longest since stepping up to the under-23 category this year. He finished fourth overall while riding with the revised Australian under-23 National Team and is "gee'd" for the season to come.
Less than a week following the conclusion at Arthurs Seat Linfield showed little sign of fatigue from what was his biggest race to date. He joined the winning breakaway group and duly attacked his companions before the sprint opened up to win the Australian under-23 criterium title - held along the main street of Ballarat.
Joining the Australian National Team for the coming year is a dream come true for Linfield who has followed the espoir squad since he began his cycling career. Changes to the set-up are a good thing according to Linfield who suggested that riders have to remain hungry and motivated if they are to maintain their position in the team throughout the year.
"I remember when I first started [riding] and it was SA.com and then it became Jayco-AIS and Jayco-Skins, I've always loved the program and dreamt of coming into it. For it to actually happen I really happy.
"It's changed a lot but once you are in the program it's much the same. The difference now is that if you are going bad then you will get kicked out whereas as before I think they were finding that you would get given a two-year contract and riders felt like they were safe," he said.
"Some riders maybe let their performance drop and perhaps it wasn't developing the riders as good as they could. Now there are going to be so many guys coming into the program and pushing you even more. You'll have to be a lot more motivated if you...
The UCI today announced a list of 33 women's teams registered as professional squads for 2013. For the first time, it also will require invitations for the top 20 teams to the World Cup events. Previously, those races were obligated to accept the top 15 pro teams plus the top five national teams.
The top five nations of the 2012 UCI rankings - The Netherlands, Germany, United States, Italy and Great Britain - will still be automatically invited to 1.1 and 2.1 events for 2013 along with the top 10 of the fictitious rankings.
The UCI will also roll out the new 2.HC ranking for women's stage races. The new rules for the three races granted 2.HC status will require the top 15 teams in the fictitious rankings to be invited.
Only three races have been given 2.HC status: The Exergy Tour, Internationale Thüringen Rundfahrt der Frauen and Premondiale Giro Toscana Int. Femminile - Memorial Michela Fanini.
The 'fictitious rankings' were calculated using the individual UCI points of the top four athletes from each team, plus the UCI points won at the 2012 UCI road world championships team time trial.
World and Olympic champion Marianne Vos and her Rabo Women's team lead the rankings, with Specialized-lululemon and Orica-AIS in second and third.
The American Optum and Tibco women's team made the top 15, but Exergy-Twenty16 landed outside the top 20 after the retirement of Olympic time trial champion Kristin Armstrong.
Last year's runner-up Russom ready to battle WorldTour riders
Africa's first Professional Continental team, MTN-Qhubeka p/b Samsung will make its 2013 debut at next week's La Tropicale Amissa Bongo. One of the team's Eritreans, Meron Russom, took second overall in the race in Gabon in 2012 to Europcar's Anthony Charteau by only 8 seconds.
This year, Russom and his teammates will face an even higher quality peloton, with two WorldTour teams, Lotto Belison and Lampre-Merida, and two other Pro Continental squads: Europcar and Cofidis plus the pro team Groupement Sportif Petrolier Algerie and nine African national teams.
"This year's race is a little earlier than last year so my condition isn't exactly the same but I am still happy with my preparation," Russom said. "My aim is to win a stage or finish on the podium. I am also happy to help the team if we find one of my teammates is stronger than me."
"The standard of racing is sure to be high," said MTN-Qhubeka Sports Director, Kevin Campbell. "UCI points are at a premium this year and even if some of the top teams send their less well known riders, they will still be motivated to perform.
"Meron and Jani both raced really well last year and I expect them to do well again. Tsgabu is an unknown factor to the other teams so I know he will also perform really well. Jacques, Louis and Songezo are all able to offer excellent support and obtain some excellent results themselves."
In cycling, as in politics, few stories stir passions like a leadership contest. But while the dynamics of power at Team Sky are sure to be parsed and analysed with the intensity of a presidential primary between now and July, Cadel Evans stressed that there would be no such doubts as to the hierarchy of his BMC squad at the 2013 Tour de France.
Speaking at the BMC team presentation in Nazareth, Belgium on Friday, Evans said that he expected to be the sole leader at the Tour, while last year's best young rider Tejay van Garderen would again play a supporting role. Van Garderen finished the Tour two places ahead of Evans in 5th, but even though his 36th birthday is fast approaching, Evans is adamant that he can put the health problems that blighted his 2012 campaign behind him.
"I think if I return to my normal level, it's pretty clear what the team needs to focus on and what we need to focus on: that will be one leader, and that will be me because I have the experience and the results to back up that I can win the Tour," Evans said. "For 2013, for Tejay and myself, it's important that we are honest and clear with each other. The most important for me is to get back to my good level and if that happens, the rest is obvious."
BMC manager John Lelangue revealed that, as in 2012, Evans and van Garderen would ride largely separate race programmes ahead of the Tour, with the Critérium International their only joint appearance. Evans will line up at Tirreno-Adriatico, the Tour de Romandie and Critérium du Dauphiné, while his stable mate will ride Paris-Nice, the Tour of California and Tour de Suisse.
"I don't know what races Tejay is riding. I understand he rides the Tour but for the rest, I don't know," Evans said cagily. "And as I see...
The 2013 Vuelta a España, was presented today, and will have rare summit finish in France, at Peyragudes, its first in the country since Michael Rasmussen won at Cauterets in 2003. Yet again the race is extremely mountainous, with 11 summit finishes - one more than in 2012 - and a deciding stage on the Angliru.
Although the roads of Andorra feature regularly in the Vuelta, it has rarely had finishes in France - just three in the last 20 years. According to reports in MARCA on Saturday, Peyragudes, where Alejandro Valverde won in the 2012 Tour, will come at the end of an extremely difficult mountain stage through the eastern Pyrenees.
It will also be preceded by another tough summit finish - the Coll de la Gallina in Andorra, where the three riders who made up the 2012 (Alejandro Valverde, Alberto Contador and Joaquim Rodriguez) first managed to distance fourth-placed Chris Froome.
These are just three of the highlights of an exceptionally difficult 2013 Vuelta, with the climbers once again almost certain to have the whiphand. Overall, the 2013 course will take an anti-clockwise route around Spain, starting with four stages amongst the hills and sea lochs of Galicia before heading south through Extremadura and Andalusia, eastwards into Catalonia, Andorra and France before returning to the north for the showdown on the ultra-hard Angliru - where Juan Jose Cobo effectively sealed victory in the 2011 Vuelta by dropping Sky riders Froome and the previous race leader,
Gilbert escapes crush of media obligations in Monaco
After the high-profile acquisitions of Philippe Gilbert, Thor Hushovd and Tejay van Garderen last winter, BMC owner Andy Rihs has been more restrained in the transfer market this past off-season, even if the team presentation once showcased his munificence by taking place in the newly-opened BMC Concept Store in an anonymous industrial estate near the evocatively-named village of Nazareth, in Belgium.
Resplendent in the rainbow jersey of world champion and with the home media out in force, much attention focused on Gilbert, who joked that living in Monaco had lightened somewhat the burden of being a Belgian world champion. By his own estimate, Gilbert would have lost up to two weeks of training had he stayed in Belgium during the off-season and attended the various functions to which he was invited. Instead, he logged more training miles than last winter – “in the sun, always in the sun” – and begins his campaign early at the Santos Tour Down Under.
BMC’s transfer splurge last year meant that expectations were high coming into the classics, but with both Gilbert and Hushovd struggling with illness, the team fell short in April. General manager Jim Ochowicz is expecting more from his charges this time around, with Greg Van Avermaet also featuring. “We expect out of these star races to have a BMC rider on the podium,” Ochowicz said, adding, “we also want to have a rider on the podium at the grand tours.”
The thorny question lingers as to who that will be. Tejay van Garderen outshone his ill team leader Cadel Evans in finishing 5th at last year’s Tour de France, though both men were in agreement that Evans remains the captain for 2013. “He’s the leader for sure,” van Garderen said of Evans. “I think I’ll have a bit of free role and if Cadel’s leader, it doesn’t mean that I can’t get a result myself.”
16km final climb on stage 8, 6km last ascent on stage 10
After a year in which the Vuelta completely bypassed the southern half of Spain, in 2013 three straight summit finishes in the area means Andalusia’s climbs will have a major impact.
The region also features two completely unprecedented summit finishes, the 16 Peñas Blancas climb just outside the Meditteranean coastal resort of Estepona and - after the short but brutally steep Valdepeñas ascent 24 hours later - the 6.5 kilometres of Haza Grande in the foothills of Sierra Nevada.
Peñas Blancas has two very different segments, local professional Luis Maté (Cofidis) told the Spanish newspaper ‘AS’ earlier this week. “The first part has a series of short, steep ‘ramps’ and little descents, and then the second is more straightforward, with a steady climb of around six to seven percent.”
“It’s 16 kilometres long so that’s somewhere between 40 and 45 minutes. And almost 1,000 metres of climbing, from sealevel at Estepona up to the summit.”
With the stage starting in Jerez, Peñas Blancas will inevitably be preceded by a very difficult series of climbs through the Sierra de Grazalema in Cadiz - last used in the 2002 Vuelta on a memorable stage won by Aitor Gonzalez (who would later take the race). The roads are narrow and very twisty, making accidents more likely than usual - as the now retired rider Michael Barry, run over by a motorbike and badly injured during that stage, will testify.
Although the heat and the preceding climbs will make it difficult enough, riders can take some kind of consolation in the fact that Peñas Blancas could be even more difficult.
“It’s a pity the race doesn’t go all the way up to the top of the climb, they could have added on another five kilometres” says Mate. “That’s the hardest...
With a record number of summit finishes in the 2013 Vuelta, all three top-finishing riders overall in the 2012 Vuelta agreed that the 2013 route is one of the hardest they have ever seen.
“It’s very similar to last year but with even more climbs, it’s going to be really hard right the way through,” said Katusha’s Joaquim Rodriguez. “Possibly it’s the absolute hardest, but it’s pretty close.”
“Even the opening team time trial is long enough [27 kilometres] to make a big difference. And then with that first category climb on the second stage, we’ll immediately start seeing who’s going well and who’s not. Galicia is a very hard region to race in if you’re not in good shape!”
“It will be a question of survival of the fittest, we’ll see almost immediately who’s really interested in the overall. There’s no way you can ease yourself into the race. You’ll have to be in top condition right from the very start.”
“Even the time trial will be difficult, because it’s got a climb in it,” pointed out double winner Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff). “The wind could make a big difference, it’s very exposed and coming after a rest day that’s going to make it harder too.”
“That second stage climb, for example, you’ll still have sore legs from the team time trial.It’s going tobe very difficult, a very tense, hard race.”
Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) was questioned about the return to Peyragudes, a finish with good memories for him given he won there in the Tour de France, but recognised that “there’s so much climbing it’s...