- Article published:
- March 30, 2012, 14:47
- Daniel Benson
Says QuickStep's dual leadership could harm their Flanders bid
Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Nissan) believes that the responsibility to control the Tour of Flanders rests with his rivals at Omega-Pharma QuickStep. The 2010 race winner held court at his team’s press conference outside Brugge and despite not wining a race on Belgian soil in over 12 months, he still attracted the cycling world’s press to the event.
Cancellara’s last win in Belgium came at the E3 Harelbeke last spring. It was supposed to be the begging of an incredible spring for the Swiss rider but he was left frustrated in both Flanders and Roubaix, as a combination of negative tactics from cannier riders out-foxed him for the wins.
This spring Cancellara is again in superb form. Two crashes and three punctures in E3 destroyed his chances of victory, while in Gent-Wevelgem he was one of the race’s most aggressive riders in the closing stages.
With the route at Flanders changing for the first time since the 1970s, Cancellara was asked about his opinion on the parcours.
“It’s going to be a new edition but it's still the Tour of Flanders. With the loops we are going to do it looks harder, but it’s up to the riders to make the race harder. With the wet conditions and the Kwaremont and Paterberg it’s going to be harder than the previous finish with the Muur and the Bosberg,” he said.
“The last 10km to the end is tough and you have to be focussed all the time. We’ve done the parcours and we’ve happy with it. It’s not just the Kwaremont and Paterberg that will make the race. You’ve got lots of other climbs that will hurt more than people think.
Cancellara also faced questions over his team. Last season they were criticised for their lack of support in major races, leaving their leader exposed to the likes of BMC and QuickStep. However, this year, the likes of Popovich and Bennati have both been able allies. The merger of RadioShack and Leopard has given him the best support from each of the two teams.
“I’m confident and I believe in them," he said. "You saw in Milan-San Remo that we did it together. Last year everything was new and now it’s 50-50 and everyone is really motivated. For a lot of the new riders this is the fist time they’ve had a real leader. I’ve seen how they are and they’re training and they’ll be ready on Sunday.
“But I have to focus on myself and the team and well see at the finish how everything went. I believe in myself and what I’ve done and I believe that my luck will come.”
Heading into the race Cancellara has been billed as the joint favourite alongside a resurgent Tom Boonen (Omega-Pharma QuickStep). The Belgian outfit head into the race with a number of options, with Sylvain Chavanel and even Nikki Terpstra also dangers. However it’s Chavanel who poses the bigger threat. The Frenchman was in scintillating form to close out victory in De Panne on Thursday and with second place last year he will surely have personal ambitions beyond supporting Boonen. Cancellara suggested that Omega would have to race with their heads to ensure they did not scupper their own chances.
“It’s nice that Tom is back - he had some back luck with a lot of things and it’s nice to have riders on a high level,” Cancellara said.
“They have the pressure, they have two leaders. They have won many races and they will be there to pull, it’s not our focus to pull at the beginning, when you have two leaders you have more possibilities. When you see how they’ve been riding and their results you have to deal with that. I had to live with that in pervious years. Maybe we can step back and say we don’t have to control the race.”
- Article published:
- March 30, 2012, 16:19
- Cycling News
McQuaid, Rumpf visit China to sign agreement
UCI officials flew to China this week to help usher another Chinese stage race, the Tour of Hangzhou, into the WorldTour.
Pat McQuaid, president of the UCI, and Alain Rumpf, director of the UCI's Global Cycling Promotion met with officials in Hangzhou to sign an agreement to launch the race, which is scheduled to follow the Tour of Beijing on the calendar.
Deputy Mayor Chen Xiaoping, in the presence of the Secretary Huang and the Director of the Hangzhou Sports Bureau Zhao Rongfu, inked the agreement to support the event.
“This agreement represents the first step in a new phase of our development strategy," Rumpf said. "After the Tour of Beijing, China offers us a second fantastic opportunity to promote the image of cycling in the world’s biggest country, and I am convinced that those in charge of this initiative are perfectly capable of meeting the other administrative deadlines necessary to obtain a place in the UCI WorldTour.”
The five-stage event is set for the Wednesday through Sunday following the Tour of Beijing in Hangzhou, which is 200km southwest of Beijing.
Rumpf and his crew did their first reconnaissance of the roads in the area. “The lay of the terrain will allow us to design a very interesting course, ideal for a high-level race wishing to become part of the UCI WorldTour,” said Rumpf.
According to the regulations, the Tour of Hangzhou must now make a request for a UCI WorldTour licence, which will be examined by the Licences Commission.
- Article published:
- March 30, 2012, 17:41
- Cycling News
Belgian team could win with Boonen, Terpstra or Chavanel
Wilfried Peeters of Omega Pharma-QuickStep has a luxury problem, with at least three riders on his team who might win the Tour of Flanders on Sunday. “We want as many riders in the finale as possible,” he told sporza.be.
The team has a stunning 23 wins so far this season, with five of them coming in the last ten days. Niki Terpstra opened the streak by winning Dwars Door Vlaanderen, followed by Tom Boonen's wins in the E3 Prijs Vlaanderen-Harelbeke and Gent-Wevelgem. Sylvain Chavanel topped things off by winning the closing time trial of the Three Days of De Panne-Koksijde to take the overall win.
Chavanel had not been feeling well earlier, which affected his performance n Paris-Nice and kept him out of Milan-San Remo. His health problems “are completely behind him,” Peeters said.
Boonen is going into Sunday's race as top favourite and team captain, but his teammates will also be very present. Peeters likes that. “I prefer a team that is strong in with.”
How might the race go, and what will the team plan? “There are 110 scenarios for Sunday. I have something in mind and Saturday night we will sit around the table. We obviously want as many riders in the finals as possible and want to make no mistakes.
"The course is also a factor. This is new for everyone," Peeters added. “"For now it is conjecture what the course will be like. Before, you knew: we take 50 (riders) to the Muur (van Geraardsbergen) and break it open. Now that can happen anywhere."
- Article published:
- March 30, 2012, 19:44
- Brecht Decaluwé and Laura Weislo
Reborn Belgian has his sprint as a weapon
It's a new Tom Boonen that walked into the overcrowded press conference at the Kennedy Hotel in Kortrijk, Belgium today - a Tom Boonen that has the confidence of not only winning two major events prior to Sunday's Tour of Flanders, but also a rider who has re-found his sprint and his spirit.
With new E3 Prijs-Harelbeke and Gent-Wevelgem trophies shining on his mantle back home, Boonen is approaching a shot at a third Tour of Flanders title with confidence and caution.
"You have to forget everything you've won before and try to race the best way you can," Boonen said. "It doesn't really matter how many races you have already won as it all depends on Sunday. We've got a good team which is ready to ride a good Ronde van Vlaanderen."
Although he won Paris-Roubaix in 2009, it's been a long six years since Boonen's last success in Belgium's most important race, De Ronde, and he underscored just how much victory means here to a native son.
"It's one of the two most important races of the season. I would really like to win," he said. "If you talk to the foreign guys they find it hard to understand why there’s that much attention, so much media coverage about one single race. It’s something that has been growing for the last hundred years. Every year it's a nice race."
Yet in the race's nearly 100 year history, no course has veered so drastically from the usual point-to-point, and three challenging circuits ending in Oudenaarde will change the tactics and the efforts for the riders, but Boonen said every year is different, and the key is to be flexible in your strategy.
"It can be a different style of racing every year on this course. If you have a strong guy or a strong team they will start racing pretty soon in the finale but it's also possible the good guys will be looking at each other in the finale and not much will change. It can happen on many spots, just like on the old course. It's a race where you have to be able to adapt and don't make too many plans in advance. Of course I know where the toughest spots are but that doesn't mean it'll happen there."
Boonen and every fan in Belgium knows that Radioshack-Nissan's Fabian Cancellara will be the rider that everyone is watching, but he said that it is hard to win the Tour of Flanders as a top favorite - something Cancellara found out the hard way in 2011.
"It doesn't really matter to me who's the favorite. [Cancellara] is a strong rider but I've never raced to beat someone specific except myself. Of course if he attacks in the finale and I see it's the decisive attack then I'll react but I'll certainly not mark every move he makes all day long."
This year, with the confidence of his bunch sprint win in Wevelgem on his side and the strength to tackle all the hellingen, Boonen knows he has an advantage that Cancellara does not have, as evidenced by Milan-San Remo: "He has to drop me because I've got the sprint as my weapon.
"Maybe he's got a slightly bigger engine but I'm a little bit faster. We're two different riders with the same objectives. If you look at it in a physical way then we're a level above the rest. with a really hard finale then we're the two riders who can decide the race although that doesn't want to say one of us will win. We've got the key to the race in our hands."
When asked about other rivals aside from Cancellara, the Belgian named his own teammate Sylvain Chavanel and Filippo Pozzato (Farnese Vinni – Selle Italia). "Pozzato is good, [Peter] Sagan is not bad. There's a lot of guys in good shape right now.
"Everybody has been talking about me and Fabian. It's not true that we're the only guys who're able to win. To me Sylvain is one of the favorites for the win because I've seen the course and know that a strong rider will win here, just like before. If Chavanel goes and Cancellara doesn't react? Then Sylvain is very lucky. We're good friends and it's no problem to me if someone else of the team wins on Sunday.
"Sagan? He can get pretty far maybe even this year. Sagan is going to be on the podium in the next three to four years. Edvald Boasson Hagen? If he's there in the sprint you have to pay attention to him but I don't count him in as one of the big favorites."
Logically it's hard to predict what is going to happen, but Boonen did offer an insight on possible scenarios. "My strongest point right now is that I don't have to be afraid of coming to the finish line with anyone," Boonen said. "I don't need to drop anyone. That's my main strength."
- Article published:
- March 30, 2012, 21:41
- Daniel Benson
American Classics rider on verge of history
His teammates are jokingly calling him Briek Schotte in training but George Hincapie knows that he has a serious chance of making history on Sunday if he finishes the Tour of Flanders. The American is currently tied with the late Schotte on 16 Ronde finishes and at his team’s press conference in Kortrijk, he played down the monumental achievement, only cracking a smile after team leader Philippe Gilbert stopped proceedings and called for a round of applause for the American.
“It’s an honour to have been around the sport for so long and from the first day I turned professional I knew I had to work hard and I was super excited to sign my first pro contract and I’ve never taken it for granted since then and I’ve done everything I can for the sport,” Hincapie said.
“There’s nothing harder than the Tour of Flanders. The first time I was super excited to be part of it. I still get goose bumps on the start line. It’s a real battle and there’s no other race like it on the calendar. Unless you do the Tour of Flanders people really can’t understand or appreciate how hard it is. So for me it’s just an honour to be part of the war and the battle so to speak. Hopefully we have a great success day on Sunday.”
Hincapie’s race is a sub-plot to BMC’s overall race. With Gilbert and Hushovd seemingly lacking form, the responsibility for a result may rest on the shoulders of Alessandro Ballan and Greg Van Avermaet but Hincapie has racked up three top ten places in Flanders – two in the last two years – and his consistency could be BMC’s saving grace come Sunday. In a team stacked with superstars it could be their 38-year-old veteran who saves their blushes.
“At the start of Tour of Flanders I always feel like I get a little bit better. I’m just so motivated for races like the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix. So I’m banking on that this year and to have a couple more percentage points in the legs and help theses guys. These guys are the best in the world at what they do. It’s a real solid squad.”
In this video Hincapie talks about Flanders, it’s important to him and his thoughts on the changed 2012 route.
- spring classic
- Article published:
- March 31, 2012, 07:52
- Barry Ryan
No signs of form from Belgian champion thus far
Twelve months ago, Philippe Gilbert was busy downplaying expectations ahead of the classics, but a year on, the Belgian champion is putting a brave face on his chances at the Tour of Flanders after a difficult beginning to life at BMC.
Stricken by illness and dental problems in recent weeks, Gilbert has appeared a shadow of his former self thus far in 2012. Dropped as soon as the pace went up at E3 Harelbeke last Friday, Gilbert quickly abandoned, and he fared little better at Gent-Wevelgem on Sunday, rolling in a distant 39th.
At the BMC pre-race press conference in Kortrijk on Friday, Gilbert acknowledged that his early-season form offered no indications of his possibilities for the Tour of Flanders. Whereas last year he entered the race bracketed among the favourites with Fabian Cancellara and Tom Boonen, this time around Gilbert insisted that he would be pleased simply to still be in contention come the finale.
"I’m not in a situation where I can say I’m coming to finish in the top 10 or top 5 or the podium. I have nothing behind me to say something. It’s just difficult to know where I am now and what I can do," Gilbert said. "My biggest hope is to be there in the final and play with the best riders. It will already be something good for the confidence also.
"I was not that good in Harelbeke and Wevelgem. I had a good week in training since, and I can only be better because I can’t be any worse than that. I can just be better but it’s hard for me to say if I can play with the best or not."
Instead, Gilbert expressed the hope that he can recover his verve of 2011 by the time the Ardennes classics roll around later in April. "I hope now that my condition will go up until Liège. That’s my goal. I hope to be 100% in Liège to defend my title there."
Gilbert’s low-key early season displays have been something of a cause célèbre in the Belgian media over the past month, and the large crowd assembled on Friday afternoon was as keen to discuss the reasons behind his travails as his chances at De Ronde.
"There are certain people who exaggerated in my favour last year and said I was the king of Belgium and it was really exaggerated," said Gilbert. "Now it’s a bit the opposite, as I’m not on the same level but the most important thing for me is my own confidence and the confidence of my team. The rest doesn’t really concern me as much."
Gilbert confessed that he has endured the most trying period of his career in recent weeks, as he balances chases his form with dealing with the fervent expectations of the Belgian public.
"I could be better because I haven’t done anything yet this year, but I haven’t lost my morale during what has been, I think, the hardest part of my career to date," he said. "But I’m motivated and experienced, and when the legs are there, I’ll be up at the front again. It’s a question of time, and I hope it starts from this Sunday."
While Gilbert is unlikely to prove to be the strongest man in the race on Sunday, the Tour of Flanders is often a race decided as much by tactical intrigue as it is by pure horsepower. With Thor Hushovd, George Hincapie, Greg Van Avermaet and Alessandro Ballan also at their disposal, BMC have a number of cards to play in the Ronde’s new, more exacting finale.
"We have a plan. It’s not the plan we were expecting to have a few weeks ago, but we will adapt," directeur sportif John Lelangue said enigmatically.
Gilbert said that he could see one of two scenarios unfolding as the race tackles its three circuits over the Kwaremont and the Paterberg. "It might be that a group of outsiders goes from distance, like Chavanel, and only a super Cancellara or a super Boonen could go across to them, or else we might see a finale with the form riders. In each case, it would be a nice race, but it wouldn’t necessarily have the same winner."
Of course, Gilbert has not been alone in his struggles to date, as BMC's expensively-assembled classics squad has thus far misfired. Three months into the season, the BMC squad boasts just two victories, both courtesy of Cadel Evans at Critérium International. A surprising statistic given the quality at its disposal, but manager Jim Ochowicz did not appear unduly concerned.
"I’m satisfied with where we are today, but we’re looking for more in the future," he said. Gilbert and BMC will be hoping the wheel begins to turn on Sunday.
- Article published:
- March 31, 2012, 08:44
- Cycling News
Monday's race his first since broken pelvis
BMC rider Steven Cummings will make his return to competitive action on Monday at Paris Vasco. The British rider has been sidelined since he was brought down in stage three of the Volta ao Algarve on February 17, a crash that resulted in a broken pelvis.
The Volta ao Algarve had previously been a happy hunting ground for the 31-year-old from the Wirral, Merseyside, who came second in last season's Tour of Britain in the colours of Team Sky. In 2011 he led for much of the race in Portugal, up until the final time trial, and finished in seventh place overall. This year's edition was memorable for all the wrong reasons though.
Now Cummings is ready to return to the road at Pais Vasco, which is known to English speaking cycling fans as the Tour of the Basque Country. The six-stage race is one of the oldest on the calendar, dating back to 1924, and received the go-ahead recently after concerns about the faltering Spanish economy. It is known for its tough mountain stages.
"I think I'm at a level now where I can survive the race and do work for the team," Cummings said. "I was off the bike for three weeks and then the first week or so was very painful because the fracture was where I sat on the saddle."
- Article published:
- March 31, 2012, 09:48
- Barry Ryan
Flecha unsure what to expect after hand injury
With the much anticipated Boonen-Cancellara duel occupying hearts and minds during Belgian cycling’s Holy Week, Team Sky has been one of a number of teams enjoying a quiet build-up to the Tour of Flanders. But with Bernhard Eisel, Juan Antonio Flecha and Edvald Boasson Hagen in its ranks, the British squad boasts a number of riders with the capacity to show themselves on the cobbles.
Flecha was in fine form in February, finishing third at the Tour of Qatar and the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, but a broken hand sustained in training has kept him away from competitive action since. He makes his return on Sunday, and he admitted that he did not know what kind of performance he would be able to deliver in a race where he finished on the podium in 2008.
“I just want to do the best I can,” Flecha said on Friday evening. “Of course I haven’t been racing for a while but there’s nothing more that I can do to try to be 100% for Sunday. That’s the only thing that I expect from myself.”
A small pocket of journalists attended a rather sombre Sky press conference in Kortrijk, where Flecha was reticent to give anything away about the set-up of his team for De Ronde. “The tactics will be whatever the plan is,” he said. “I can’t tell you yet, because we haven’t done any team meeting yet, but whatever the DS asks me I will do.”
Flecha was a little more expansive when asked about how much the team would miss Geraint Thomas in Flanders. The Welshman was one of the revelations of last year’s cobbled campaign, but he has opted to focus his attentions on the track world championships this spring, as he builds towards the London 2012 Olympics.
“He’s a great rider and he showed already last year that he can do really good on these races,” Flecha said. “Of course we miss him, but the Olympics is one time every four years. Having the Olympics in your own country is something unique. The classics are every year, so he can do really well here many times.”
One young rider who is on the Sky team for Flanders is the quietly-spoken Edvald Boasson Hagen. The multi-talented Norwegian took 5th place in the sprint at Gent-Wevelgem last Sunday, but he has yet to make a significant impact at De Ronde. “I’m not really struggling with any pressure. I just put on my own pressure. There’s always some expectation from the press, but I don’t think a lot about that,” he said.
Boasson Hagen was typically concise when assessing the new route of the Tour of Flanders, which sees the Muur and Bosberg finale removed in favour of three ascensions of the Kwaremont and Paterbeg. “It’s really hard and up and down and the new climbs are going to make changes. It’s the same for everyone,” he said. “We all have to do it and get over the climbs. The Kwaremont and Paterberg is the main patch where it’s going to be really hard.”
For his part, directeur sportif Steven De Jongh anticipated that the selection would be gradual one as the difficulty of the new circuit takes its toll, particularly if weather conditions turn inclement. “There won’t be big groups in the finale, because it’s all hard from there. It’s going to be an elimination race I think, especially when they forecast rain even if maybe in the afternoon it’s going to be dry.”
And Sky’s hopes? “For all the teams, they’re going into the unknown but that also gives some chances. If it’s hard I’m sure you will have strong riders in the finale, but if our guys are good and are with that select group over those climbs, it will be easier for them to get in a good position for the other climbs.”