- Article published:
- March 22, 2013, 11:37
- Cycling News
Cold snap continues as Classics stars come out
After a rain-effected Dwars door Vlaanderen, Belgium’s cold snap continued into Friday as the Classics stars gathered for the Tour of Flanders dress rehearsal, E3 Harelbeke.
The 211 kilometre race which starts and finish in the sleepy town of Harelbeke on the outskirts of Kortrijk provides riders such as Fabian Cancellara, Tom Boonen and Peter Sagan with the chance to fine-tune their form ahead of next week’s monument, with much of today’s course featuring in next week’s race.
Fifteen bergs feature in E3, the first of which is the Leberg at 56km. However from kilometre 120 until the final 20 kilometres, the race is peppered with some of Belgium’s toughest cobbled terrain: from the Taaienberg to the Kwaremont and Kapelberg, E3 serves as a direct form guide for Flanders, and as a WorldTour in its own right, it provides competitive racing throughout.
So while the snow and rain have finally abated – temperatures rose to a blistering 4 degrees at the start - riders edged towards the startline with a little less reluctance than they did at Milan-San Remo and Dwars door Vlaanderen.
- Article published:
- March 22, 2013, 13:15
- Cycling News
UCI president secretly filmed by Vayer for French documentary
UCI president Pat McQuaid has acknowledged that his predecessor Hein Verbruggen’s first instinct when faced with cycling’s doping problems was “to protect the sport” but said that he has not followed the same philosophy during his own presidency.
McQuaid was secretly filmed in conversation with former Festina trainer Antoine Vayer as part of a France Télévisions documentary on the Lance Armstrong affair, which was screened on Thursday evening. Both McQuaid and Verbruggen had turned down requests to be interviewed for the documentary.
Vayer, who is also part of pressure group “Change Cycling Now,” met with McQuaid in October and, unbeknownst to the Irishman, filmed their conversation. In a brief excerpt screened as part of “Armstrong: The Secrets of a Godfather,” McQuaid spoke of his predecessor.
“Verbruggen did a lot for the sport, to develop the sport but his decisions were – and this is between you and me – any decisions he made in a certain period to do with doping and so forth… It certainly wasn’t that he was pro-doping or encouraging doping, but he would always protect the sport,” McQuaid said. “If he had to take a decision on something and he could see that the sport would be damaged because of that decision then he wouldn’t take the decision. I think that his was sort of his philosophy: ‘to protect the sport.’”
“I don’t fully back that but then again maybe I’m wrong,” McQuaid added.
Verbruggen was president of the UCI when Lance Armstrong reportedly recorded suspect values in doping controls at the 2001 Tour de Suisse. Armstrong was called to Switzerland the following year and reportedly told how the test for EPO worked. The American subsequently gave a two-part donation to the UCI, paid out in 2002 and 2007, totalling $125,000.
- Article published:
- March 22, 2013, 18:10
- Daniel Benson
Slovak upbeat in spite of Harelbeke defeat
Peter Sagan’s quest for a major Belgian race continues after the Cannondale rider finished second behind Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Leopard) in E3 Harelbeke on Friday. The race marked Sagan’s third major runners-up spot this season after he was also second in Strade Bianche and last Sunday’s Milan-San Remo.
Despite another lost opportunity, however, Sagan remains optimistic, with the knowledge that he can still win a Monument in next Sunday’s far more crucial encounter at the Tour of Flanders.
“Maybe the Tour of Flanders is my destiny and that will be big win next Sunday. That’s what I’m waiting for now,” Sagan told Cyclingnews after completing his regulatory anti-doping test.
In truth Sagan won second place rather than lost first. During the opening set of climbs he allowed Omega-Pharma Quick Step to control the field but he found himself on the back foot when the race split on the Taaienberg. QuickStep’s confidence in Tom Boonen was misplaced when the Belgian later cracked but Cannondale were put under severe stress as they battled to bring Sagan back on level terms.
A bike change with 44 kilometres to go made matters even more problematic for Sagan who could have easily sat up and saved his legs for another day.
Once he had made contact with the leaders, Sagan kept a low profile compared to the aggression he’d shown at Tirreno-Adriatico and when Cancellara made his race winning move on the Kwaremont – the same pitch of road he’d used to devastating effect in 2011 – Sagan could only watch as the RadioShack rider quickly established a 15 second advantage.
“I tried to go with him on the climb but I was a bit empty in my legs because I had the problem with my bike and when I managed to get back to the first group I was a little bit tired. We did the Kwaremont and it was hard because of all the work the team and I had to do in chasing but still think that my form is good.”
Sagan marshalled much of the chasing thereafter, combining efforts with Daniel Oss (Team BMC), Geraint Thomas (Team Sky), Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma QuickStep) and Sebastian Langeveld (Orica GreenEdge).
However by then the race was over, and Cancellara was heading towards his third title in four years. While the RadioShack rider confirmed to the Classics world that he is far from the spent force many had speculated, Sagan said he would relish the challenge laid down for next week’s Tour of Flanders and refused to rule out Boonen, who is still coming back to speed after a disruptive winter.
“Today Cancellara was really strong, and he has the condition but we’ll see at Flanders. With Boonen, I don’t know but you can’t count a guy like him out. He’ll be a protagonist next week too.”
- Article published:
- March 22, 2013, 18:38
- Jane Aubrey
Swiss rider romps to victory ahead of Flanders favourites
Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack Leopard) confirmed himself as favourite for next week's Tour of Flanders with his third victory in E3 Harelbeke on Friday. Slaying the demons from a crash on the same roads and spurred on by his family and a hospitalised Eddy Merckx, the 31-year-old claimed his team's first WorldTour win of the season while warning that this was only the beginning.
"I've been waiting for a victory," Cancellara said following his solo win in Harelbeke over Peter Sagan and Daniel Oss. "I've been waiting for something a little extra. It's not over. It's the start of coming to the special Christmas week next week. Now I don't say I go home and just be on the couch and doing nothing, it's going even harder now, especially mentally. The pressure will be even more.
"I saw in San Remo that I'm ready. I saw today that I'm more than ready. Whether I've scared the people or not at the end, I've done my job and what I had to do and that's bringing home a victory."
At E3 Harelbeke last year, Cancellara crashed twice and then a week later, fractured his collarbone in three places at the Tour of Flanders while riding through the feed zone. Today's race, he said, was "important" as it was his first race back on the Belgian cobbles, although it left him feeling mixed emotions. In some regards he explained, it was "like home" but his reconnaissance in the lead up brought back memories that he would rather forget.
"The goal was to win and how I was going to win was not important," Cancellara said. "It's just that I won."
Though he may protest, Cancellara's method of disposing of his rivals was so emphatic that it will set the tone for the coming weeks. With close to 150km of racing complete, Cancellara passed the first test on the Taaienberg, matching Tom Boonen’s pace-setting as he pulled a group away that featured Zdenek Stybar (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), Daniel Oss (BMC), Sep Vanmarcke (Blanco), Jurgen Roelandts (Lotto Belisol), Mathew Hayman and Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky). They were later joined by Stijn Vandenbergh (Omega Pharma - QuickStep), Sebastian Langeveld (Orica Greenedge), Vincent Jerome (Europcar), and Lars Boom (Blanco).
By the time they reached the Paterberg, Peter Sagan (Cannondale) had joined them having chased back on with relative ease - and three teammates - after a wheel change. Cancellara explained that it was important to test his rivals early.
"The Taaienberg is a special one," he said. "There were 11 riders in the front and Sagan was missing. I knew that his team was pulling on the back and we just had to keep going on the front because that's how it goes. On the Paterberg he was with us. Everyone is good. It's just the circumstances of the position or after San Remo maybe not everyone is 100 per cent fit again," he continued, refusing to critique his rivals' performance with an eye to De Ronde. "This is one day and you can have a good or bad day. I had my good day."
With 35km to go, Cancellara earned his checkmate on the Oude Kwaremont, quickly opening a gap of 15 seconds, and then rapidly stretching that out to around a minute where it stayed while Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma-Quick-Step), Sagan, Oss, Geraint Thomas (Sky) and Langeveld were left to fight it out for the minor placings. His victory in Harelbeke may not earn him the plaudits that his win at the Tour of Flanders did in 2010, but his escape was perhaps as impressive as that day on the Kapelmuur.
"I had a few situations today where you can call me lucky because there was a few moments where I saw the ground really close to me and that's why I had the luck on my side. I played the right game," he said.
"I knew it was going to be hard. When you finish a race like this today with this kind of victory, you can look back and be really satisfied."
- Article published:
- March 22, 2013, 18:55
- Brecht Decaluwé
"My motor is ok, I simply ran out of fuel"
Coming into the E3 Harelbeke on Friday the form of Belgian cycling star Tom Boonen was a major question mark. The 32-year-old Belgian champion had a troubled winter in which he almost lost his arm due to an infection. The weeks without training in January didn’t allow him to come into this key part of the season at the desired level of form.
On Friday afternoon, Boonen showed flashes of his unquestionable talent by creating the decisive breakaway move with an acceleration in the asphalted gutter of the cobbled Taaienberg climb. In high contrast to that acceleration, however, was his performance 25 kilometres later on the Oude Kwaremont when Fabian Cancellara (Radioshack) blasted away in front of the group towards his third victory in Harelbeke
Boonen was dangling at the back of it, failing to hold the wheel of men like Andrey Amador (Movistar). Usually Boonen is the one who rides away there but this time no fewer than three of his teammates rode in front of him at that stage: Sylvain Chavanel, Stijn Vandenbergh and Zdenek Stybar. Just over one week away from the Tour of Flanders it is clear Boonen still has work to do. Boonen’s Omega Pharma-QuickStep team director Wilfried Peeters agreed.
“Tom was a question mark before the race and it’s clear he will not start as the outright favourite,” Peeters said.
After the finish, Boonen took his time before talking briefly with the attending press and – by his standards – the 32-year-old kept it short, possibly to avoid the cold in these crucial days ahead of the two monuments: the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix.
“I’m seventh. If you can’t be happy with a top-10 result... We’ve been spoiled in the past and that’s the problem. I did reasonably well. I had a weak moment but came through it. Seventh in the results isn’t bad but on the Kwaremont I wasn’t going anywhere. From the moment we rode away [on the Taaienberg] I didn’t recover. I hadn’t eaten anything since and that showed on the Kwaremont. Then I took some gels and drank a bottle. I recovered a little later. All is like I expected it to be.
“Earlier, on the Taaienberg I was going smoothly but I didn’t open a big gap, that was never the case. It certainly wasn’t bad. On the Kwaremont I saw bits of the climb that I’ve never seen before; I was hitting every cobble. I climbed it really badly. You just can’t go any faster if the legs don’t want to; you’re without energy. There’s nothing wrong with the engine, I simply ran out of fuel. I managed to recover so that’s the positive side.”
Boonen stated that he wasn’t too worried about his form despite his lacklustre performance on the Oude Kwaremont, a long cobbled climb which also features in the Tour of Flanders.
“My dad always says that I need to hit rock bottom once before recovering by the next week. We shall see. I still needed this, that’s clear. It certainly wasn’t bad so there’s still moral.”
Cancellara the Flanders favourite
The domination of Fabian “Spartacus” Cancellara was in high contrast with Boonen’s own performance but that didn’t worry the Belgian champion either. Logically he named Cancellara as the sole top favourite for the Tour of Flanders.
“Yes, of course. He threw his cards on the table and it was an impressive numéro. If Fabian is good then everybody knows that he can do this, it’s not the first time he did this. Let him do his thing, I’m building in my own way so I don’t have to worry about him. I will not be like last year but that’s not necessary. You can win Flanders differently too. I have loads of experience. In 2011 I wasn’t good either and finished fourth while I could’ve won so I’m certainly not beaten yet.”
Boonen realizes he needs all the race kilometres he can get to be ready for Flanders and Roubaix, echoing the words from Roger De Vlaeminck on Thursday. “Boonen needs every race now. I think he’ll be good in Roubaix. Flanders comes too early,” De Vlaeminck told Cyclingnews. Next on his schedule is the WorldTour event Gent-Wevelgem on Sunday but although he is the defending champion, Boonen played down his ambitions for that race, deferring to the team’s fastest man Mark Cavendish.
“Gent-Wevelgem is not for me, that’s for Cavendish. Hopefully the weather’s good so that we can properly ride the race. That’s the next step. From now on everything is important. I need every second.”
Omega Pharma-Quickstep team director Wilfried Peeters agreed that Boonen had a weak moment but he was pleased with how the team raced. When asked about the weird team tactics at the Kwaremont when two Omega Pharma-Quickstep riders – Vandenbergh and Stybar - dropped out of the first chase group.
“We were always in control of the race until Boonen had a weak moment on the Kwaremont. It’s the first time he went deep. We will see next week. On top of the Kwaremont there was also a misunderstanding with Sylvain [Chavanel] who accelerated while the two others were on their limit. I didn’t have television images and I can tell you that we didn’t tell them to wait for Boonen. They were dropped, possibly due to the high amount of work they did earlier in the race. In hindsight it is clear that Stijn was very strong and that we could have used him in the finale,” Peeters said.
It will be interesting to see whether Boonen will be able to help out teammate Mark Cavendish on Sunday, provided there is a race, of course. The weather forecast looks as bad as it was for the cancelled Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne event a few weeks ago. Last week Boonen already pulled out of Milan-San Remo while his team leader Cavendish could have done with all available support as he eyed the win in San Remo.
- Article published:
- March 22, 2013, 20:09
- Daniel Benson
Thomas finishes fourth in Belgian Classic
Sky's Classics campaign continued where it left off at Dwars Door Vlaanderen with the British team providing strength in numbers but again missing out on the top step of the podium at E3 Harelbeke. Geraint Thomas was their best finisher, crossing the line in fourth behind a podium led by Fabian Cancellara and rounded off with Peter Sagan and Daniel Oss.
Unlike Dwars Door Vlaanderen where Sky took the race by the scruff of the neck, they played a more cautious hand in E3. With the calibre of competition higher and with no clear leader, their tactic of loading the front group with strength in numbers appeared to pay off when Mathew Hayman, Thomas and Edvald Boassan Hagen made the front group inside the final 50 kilometres.
Thomas was the last of the trio to latch onto the leaders having been poorly positioned on the Taaienberg.
"I lost a lot of ground just before," he told Cyclingnews at the finish.
"I got knocked off the road a bit so had to unclip and ended up right near the back of the group. I tried not to panic and just sat there and moved up through the gutter."
"Fortunately Cannondale missed a move so they chased and I got across with them."
Any numerical advantage the team had ended on the Kwaremont when Cancellara launched his race-winning move. Behind the Radioshack rider the field exploded with Tom Boonen and the other pre-race favourites struggling to keep any momentum. Boassan Hagen and Hayman found themselves in trouble with only Thomas able to join the first chase group that included Sylvain Chavanel (Omega-Pharma QuickStep), Daniel Oss (Team BMC), Peter Sagan (Canndonale) and Sebastian Langeveld (ORICA GreenEdge).
While Cancellara quickly established a healthy lead, Thomas sat on the back of the chase group as Boasson Hagen and Hayman and Ian Stannard were all within 20 seconds.
"I was taking a bit of stick off the other guys but with Edvald just behind, I sat on but once we knew they weren't coming, I worked with the guys but by then Fabian already had a minute."
"Then in the sprint I just messed it up. I thought I had lot longer than I actually did."
"I've got good form and now I'm just looking forward to next week. The legs are good I think it's just about being confident and using the boys well."
While fourth place is by no means a failure for the team Rod Ellingworth, Sky's race coach, told Cyclingnews that the team had room for improvement ahead of Gent-Wevelgem and the Tour of Flanders.
"It wasn't everything, but it was okay. We had strength in numbers but you wouldn't expect anything less," he told Cyclingnews at the finish.
"I think the guys knows they could do a little bit better. I just think with regards to being a unit out on the road and deciding who they're going to ride for in the finals. It's a hard day here though. If you give Cancellara 20 meters, you're in trouble."
Sky's policy of strength in numbers stems from the fact that they lack a game changer in the form of a Cancellara or Sagan, while the cream of the crop they do posses provide parity in talent and, bar Hayman and Eisel, experience, too.
The policy doesn't look like changing any time soon though. When asked if the team should race for one leader, Thomas said, "I don't think so. We might have our favourite but it's always good to have numbers and have options, especially in races like this if you can get riders up the road. I'm happy just to get stuck in and see how it goes."
- Article published:
- March 22, 2013, 20:58
- Jane Aubrey
Strong E3 performance bodes well for Gent-Wevelgem
Largely anonymous during the cobbled Classics in 2012, the fortunes of Orica GreenEdge are already looking up with at least one more card to play, Jens Keukeleire, along with lead rider, Sebastian Langeveld.
The latter rode to fifth place at E3 Harelbeke after having ridden in the front group of riders that were off the back of the efforts of eventual winner Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack Leopard). It was exactly the performance that the Australian team had been wanting from their designated cobbled Classics man.
"Last year in Flanders, I was right on time - in good condition but I didn't really have the confidence that the condition was there," Langeveld told Cyclingnews. "With the result of today, we can go with trust and confidence that we can do something in the race next week."
Langeveld was in elite company in the 11-rider move that went with Cancellara on the Taaienberg, Tom Boonen, Zdenek Stybar and Stijn Vandenberg (Omega Pharma - Quick-Step), Lars Boom and Sep Vanmarcke (Blanco), Mathew Hayman and Edvald Boasson Hagan (Sky), Daniel Oss (BMC) and Vincent Jerome (Europcar).
The Dutchman was left to then fight it out for the minor placings once Cancellara rode away again on the Paterberg, caught between a rock and a hard place of trying to go with the Swiss specialist, but not wanting to drag Peter Sagan to a sprint finish given he'd already fought his way back into contention.
"QuickStep was running with three guys and with the first guys like Oss and Sagan, Geraint Thomas, it's pretty hard. What can you do? I'm pretty happy with fifth place," Langeveld said.
At Wednesday's Dwars door Vlaanderen among a relatively inexperienced team line-up for Orica GreenEdge, Keukeleire stood out delivering a seventh place finishing in the lead group of riders behind winner, Oscar Gatto (Vini Fantini-Selle Italia). His sprint hindered by eventual runner-up Borut Bozic (Astana Pro Team), Keukeleire was unlucky not have finished in an even better position. It was a performance that bettered his 10th place in 2012, but the 24-year-old Belgian told Cyclingnews that he felt he was on form.
"I knew I was already good so it was nice to see that end result on Wednesday," he told Cyclingnews before the start of E3 Harelbeke. "I was really looking forward to these races so it's good."
Having played a patient waiting game, Keukeleire made his move to the lead group of riders on the Halstraat, and despite a determined chase, the final selection had been made. In his first Classics experience Leigh Howard, Tomas Vaitkus and Mitch Docker all finished the race in the bitterly cold and wet conditions, safe in the main bunch.
Speaking to Cyclingnews in December, Orica GreenEdge's other classics specialist, 2007 Paris-Roubaix winner Stuart O'Grady described the team's performance in the Classics during their inaugural year as "pretty bad," with the WorldTour debutants left trying to salvage something after Langeveld got injured.
"Sebastian was our team captain and he had a big crash and then everything was kind of thrown on to me and you don't just flick a switch and try and win the Classics, I wasn't prepared for that," he said. "Hopefully next year we can go in and be much more competitive in the cobbled Classics and even the Ardennes.
"It was our first year and we had a lot of young guys. Some hadn't even ridden Paris-Roubaix before. We were pretty green in that area and we kind of put all our eggs into Sebastian. In the end, we were trying to get the best out of a very bad situation."
Orica GreenEdge general manager Shayne Bannan is firm of the belief that it's the extra year of racing that is making the difference this time around
"I think it's just being another year older. You don't see too many young guys performing well in the Classics or apart from Sagan - he's a freak. Sebastian's got a lot of experience behind him, he's got a team that's really dedicated to him and I think another year makes all the difference," he said of the 28-year-old Dutchman whose palmares include the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.
Next up for the team will be Gent-Wevelgem which will see the return of Matt Goss following his crash at Milan-San Remo last weekend. The focus there will be on the Australian sprinter who according to Bannan is fit and ready to go.
"He was out doing a recon of the course today," Bannan said. "He's in a good frame of mind and looking forward to Sunday."
With Langeveld finishing just outside the top-20 at Milan San Remo, Keukeleire is expecting better things from Orica GreenEdge this Classics season.
"We're definitely really confident," he said. "I think Sebastian is also in a better place than where he was last year and he showed that in Milan-San Remo as well. We just have to do as good as we can and we hope we can be there in the final.
"If you're not the strongest at these races, you have to be a bit lucky. If you know your way around here, you can force it a little bit. You just have to be a little bit more lucky than the really strong guys."
- Article published:
- March 23, 2013, 08:52
- Brecht Decaluwé
BMC racer more likely to excel in Tour of Flanders
The E3 Harelbeke usually is the first one-day race in which the Spring Classics specialists collide with each other on the cobbled hills of Flanders. While world champion Philippe Gilbert (BMC) isn't a pure Classics specialist, he tends to perform well.
Gilbert is more of a man for the longer, paved Ardennes climbs. On Friday afternoon, he was never in contention for the victory and only briefly appeared in the picture.
With nine days to go before the Tour of Flanders, the world champion doesn't seem ready to take on another favorite, Fabian Cancellara (Radioshack).
"Cancellara was very strong. Personally I hope to be much stronger next week," Gilbert said to Cyclingnews.
Racing the Spring Classics is a sub-specialty of its own. There is a continuous fight to stay near the front of the peloton on the narrow roads which connect the multiple, short, cobbled climbs.
At 62 kilometres from the finish of the E3, the peloton hit the Taaienberg. In front, Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-Quickstep) powered away, with men like Jurgen Roelandts (Lotto-Belisol) and Cancellara following the Belgian champion swiftly. Gilbert was much further back.
A few kilometres further up the road after the following climb, Gilbert tried to set things straight when a group of four riders went in the counterattack. Lars Boom (Blanco), Stijn Vandenbergh (Omega Pharma-Quickstep), Vincent Jerome (Europcar) and Sebastiaan Langeveld (Orica-Greenedge) already had a good gap on the peloton when Gilbert was caught by the camera, trying to close the gap on his own.
A few moments later, it was painful to see him lose the battle to bridge up. He looked behind and sat up. The peloton swallowed him up and no more was seen from the world champion.
At the team bus after the race, Gilbert explained that he lacks a passion for the E3 race. His results confirm this. Last year, Gilbert abandoned the race. His best result came in 2007, when he finished seventh.
"This race doesn't suit me, it never did," said Gilbert. "I lack the passion for the race to perform better in it. I was always too far back in the peloton and lacked the energy to move up."
Twice finishing third in 2009 and 2010, Gilbert has the potential to perform well well in the biggest Flemish race of the year. If passion is the factor that makes the difference, then Gilbert remains a man to take into account for the Tour of Flanders next Sunday.