Philippe Gilbert was still gasping for air a few seconds after finishing fourth on the uphill sprint in Arezzo on stage 3 of Tirreno-Adriatico but he was happy to stop and talk about his intense effort after finally showing an impressive flash of spring form.
The BMC team management had been left perplexed by Gilbert's modest results in the Tour of Qatar and the Tour of Oman but his attack on the uphill finish on the cobbled streets of medieval Arezzo indicated his form was finally blooming just in time for Milan-San Remo.
BMC's poor team time trial result was a blow to Cadel Evans' overall hopes of overall success but perhaps resulted in Gilbert having the freedom to target the stage victory in Arezzo. Evans lost a further 12 seconds to Kwiatkowski but Gilbert rediscovering his form is good news for the American team.
The BMC team rode to protect Gilbert and then teammate Danilo Wyss set him up for a played attack, aimed to catch Sagan off guard before the sprint to the line.
"That was intense effort," Gilbert explained just past the finish area as he sipped on a drink.
"I had a perfect lead out from Danilo Wyss because we know each other so well and he knows what to do to help me. I knew that if I waited too long then maybe it would be hard against Sagan in a straight line sprint. I tried to go faster into the corner so that I could choose the best line. I tried everything but it didn’t quite work."
Gilbert insisted he had never been worried about finding his form for the spring Classics.
"I've been saying that I'd be okay for months. I knew I knew I was heading in the right direction. This result is good for my confidence."
Gilbert is not expected to challenge during the weekend's mountain stages....
Team Sky regrets losing 27 second in the team time trial
Riche Porte (Team Sky) lost a further 12 seconds to Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) on the climb to the centre of Arezzo but warned that Saturday's long mountain finish could see far bigger gaps open up and so produce a shake-up on the overall standings at Tirreno-Adriatico.
Porte slipped to 16th overall, 39 seconds down on Kwiatkowski. Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) is only three seconds closer to the young Polish rider and is widely expected to attack to try and win the stage and try to grab the overall lead.
Porte is convinced Saturday's 240km and the 14km to the finish will be more important than Sunday's short but 22 per cent climb to Guardiagrele.
"I've seen the video of tomorrow's stage (Saturday) and it's going to pretty decisive, even more so than Sunday," Porte predicted.
"Sunday's finish is steep but the time you can loose on a short climb like that is not usually the same as the long climb up to the finish at Selvarotonda.
The flip side is that you can gain more time on climbs like that. I'm confident. It'd be nice to claw back some time. 27 seconds in the team time trial is a fair bit to loose. But there's not much we can do about that. We can only take it as it comes."
Porte was expected to lead Team Sky at Paris-Nice and try to defend his 2013 victory but made a late switch to Tirreno-Adriatico after Chris Froome pulled out due to a back problem. Tirreno-Adriatico has a far harder parcour than its French rival but Porte is quietly confident about his climbing form.
"My training has been going really well recently. I've been based in Monaco, doing some longer climbs, so I'm quite happy with where I am at for this year," he said.
Tirreno-Adriatico is an important test for Porte and Team Sky before this year's Giro d'Italia. Porte will lead the British squad in Italy this year, hoping to follow on from Rigoberto Uran’s solid second place overall and avoid the problems...
On stage 5, Betancur initiated the crucial three-man break that saw him claim his first, but the Colombian believes that the win in Fayence is his best yet. “Last year, we didn’t have such a strong team. For the team and for me, this victory is great. In my track record, I think this is the greatest victory,” he told L'Équipe.
The Colombian looked out for the count when he was hanging onto the back of the peloton in the closing kilometres, but his team ably shepherded him back to the front allowing him to use the punchy power he’s become known for. Betancur left it later than the previous day to make his move, but it was no less decisive. He out-sprinted World Champion Rui Costa to take his second straight victory at Paris-Nice and put himself into the race lead, eight seconds ahead of Geraint Thomas (Sky).
“I knew it would be a finish that would suit me very well. In the first climb, the passage on the line, I do not feel so good but I could always count on my team,” he explained. “The guys were around me at key moments. In the midst of the final climb, they relocated me to the front. Before falling into the last corner, Alexis Vuillermoz did a fantastic job.”
Two tough days in the saddle come between Betancur and the overall victory, but the absence of a time trial will be a comfort to him. A small mistake could cost him dearly with 31 seconds separating the top 10 riders. If he were to hold on to the lead all the way to Nice, he would be the first Colombian to win in the race’s 81-year history,...
Van den Broeck was sent into a ditch, along with teammate Bart de Clercq, in the closing kilometres stage 2 after an Astana rider crashed in front of him. His knee was too swollen to asses the full extent of the injuries after the stage. He travelled back from the race to Herentals, Belgium to undergo further examination, which revealed that there was no internal damage.
"Relief is the correct word,” he said in a team press release. “After a crash like that one yesterday and last year's crash in mind, the past 24 hours all possible scenarios have gone through my head. I was a bit scared to go to the hospital. You think of what you could have done better or differently.”
Van den Broeck fell on the same knee as last year’s Tour de France crash, which put him out for the remainder of the season. He was able to complete the stage, but the big worry for the team was that he had done something similar to his knee. However the scans showed that he had only suffered some minor bruising to the bone and inflammation.
Team doctor Jan Mathieu is positive that the Belgian can return to training by the middle of next week. “The injuries he incurred in the Tour 2013 have been spared,” he explained. “There's no infection on the cuts, which can further heal in the following days. Van den Broeck has to rest the next few days; on Monday he'll have a new check-up and if he's been given the green light he can slowly restart training that day.”
If Van den Broeck is able to get back to training next week he shouldn’t miss out on any more...
Garmin-Sharp rider hoping for victory at Tour de Romandie
This year’s Tirreno-Adriatico has one of the strongest fields it’s had in years, with a string of grand tour contenders that includes Rigoberto Urán, Alberto Contador, Richie Porte and Cadel Evans.
Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharp), is one of the riders that has chosen to leave Paris-Nice behind and head to Italy for his early season programme. He finished second and won a stage at the French race last year, but was turned off by the parcours. Tirreno-Adriatico marks his official start to the season, after a couple of days racing at the Mallorca Challenge in February. With little racing in the legs, Talansky can’t be too sure as to where his form really is.
“I guess we’ll see tomorrow,” he told Cyclingnews ahead of stage 3. “Training’s been good, everything’s good. This is just the start of the season. It’s the first real race of the year to kick off the build-up to the Tour; I’m feeling good so far.”
Talansky didn’t have the greatest start to Tirreno, with his Garmin-Sharp team losing just over a minute to Omega Pharma-QuickStep in the team time trial on day one. He lost an additional 14 seconds on stage 3, leaving him 1:24 behind race leader Michal Kwiatkowski. A good result is still within his grasp, but Tirreno is just a build-up for Talansky’s bigger target of the Tour de Romandie next month.
The Spaniard finished the stage and started the next day, but subsequently dropped out due to the pain. Initial examinations showed no fractures, but yesterday he announced via Twitter that a break was found.
"Finally, a broken left wrist as a result of yesterday's crash. Thank you to everyone for the encouragement. I'll be back soon," Pardilla wrote.
The 30-year-old Pardilla was part of the same crash that took out Lotto-Belisol's Jurgen Van Den Broeck, who injured his knee.
"I'm happy to win but the GC is going to be hard to crack"
Although Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) failed to take the overall race lead on stage 4 of Tirreno-Adriatico, his impressive and aggressive performance to win the stage indicated that the Spaniard is nearly back to his best.
Contador hesitated in the final three kilometres when he could have perhaps attacked to gain time on race leader Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-Quickstep). He clearly wanted the stage victory and saved his effort for the final surge to the line instead. Finishing one second ahead of Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and 10 seconds ahead of Kwiatkowski, Contador also secured a 10-second time bonus. He is now just 16 seconds behind Kwiatkowski in the overall standings.
"It's a great win, it gives me confidence and confirms that all the work that I've been doing in the winter is paying off. I'm happy to win but the GC is going to be hard to crack. I'll try though," Contador said.
"The time bonus at the stage finish was important because we know that Tirreno-Adriatico always comes down to a matter of seconds.
"Perhaps I could have attacked one kilometre from the finish but they might have come back to me and someone else might have taken the stage win, and I'd have had the same time as everyone else. It was better to take the time bonus. Given the stage finish, I thought the more intelligent option was to wait for the final sprint."
Contador dismissed suggestions that he's made some kind of comeback.
"Sometimes you win, sometimes you don't. I think I've just carried working as I always have. I'm focussed on doing my job as well as I can."
Roman Kreuziger deserved a share of Contador's success after his attack allowed the Spaniard to save his legs for his winning move. The Czech rider rode in...
Chris Horner (Lampre-Merida) quickly ate an energy bar before descending from the finish of stage 4 on Tirreno-Adriatico on his bike and later tweeted that he had lost count of how many Snickers and Cokes he had consumed to make it through the 244km stage.
Yet despite his unorthodox fuelling regime, the 42-year-old seemed fresh at the finish and was able to critically analyse the stage better than most.
"It was a hard stage," he told Cyclingnews.
"To a normal person the last climb perhaps looks like a big climb but it's actually not that steep and we used the big chain ring for most of the way up."
"The climb was really fast and a lot of guys are good on climb like that. There was a block headwind on much of the climb too. We were doing 25km/h and Quick Step had some riders there, so you'd need to do 35km/h to get away."
"It eventually blew up but by then nobody had any power left, everybody was done. You could see it with the attacks, everyone was creeping. It was like 'Oh, I can't follow that. It was only five watts more but I can't do it."
Horner finished ninth on the stage, 11 seconds behind Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo), who danced on the pedals in the final kilometre to win and take a precious 10-second time bonus. Horner raced more cautiously, staying on the wheels into the headwind that blow down the climb. He is now 11th overall, 1:06 behind race leader Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-QuickStep).
He explained that he needs real mountain stages, packed with climbs, to be able to emerge and create a real selection.
"I need something like Catalunya or Basque Country, where it's climb after climb, then I can get better and better and the other guys get tired. When it's one climb all these guys can do it," he said, insisting that his form is good...