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First Edition Cycling News, Thursday, February 20, 2014

Date published:
February 20, 2014, 0:00 GMT
  • Steels: Cavendish is still the fastest sprinter

    Mark Cavendish congratulates Marcel Kittel after the finish
    Article published:
    February 19, 2014, 11:33 GMT
    Daniel Benson

    Belgian backs his sprinter ahead of Algarve

    Tom Steels believes that Mark Cavendish and his Omega Pharma-QuickStep leadout train needed time to gel this season, but has backed the British rider as the best sprinter in the world.

    Cavendish is set to take part in the Volta ao Algarve which starts today but he has not won a race since the final stage of last year's Tour of Britain. He used the Tour de San Luis to hone his form at the start of this season but came away without a win at the Dubai Tour earlier this month due to a combination of factors including Marcel Kittel's exceptional form, positioning in the sprints and what every rider fears, bad luck.

    "Mark is in good form and he's really improving. Everyone always says that they need an extra race to get ready but Mark is there. At the moment Kittel is flying and he's a good rider but Mark is getting better. It's all about getting into a flow though and there's still no doubt from me that Cavendish is still the fastest one," Steels told Cyclingnews.

    In his day Steels was one of the fastest sprinters of his generation, winning stages in the Tour and his national championships. He understands, more than most, the complexities within sprinting. At a training camp in Spain last month Cavendish told Cyclingnews that it can take three seasons for a leadout train to gel into a cohesive unit.

    "He's always performing when he needs to. He won 20 races last year and you can’t do that if you don’t respect your own abilities and work hard," Steels added.

    "Everyone on the team respects Cavendish. In cycling it's about whether you perform or not and with Cavendish everyone on the team works for him and really rides for him. He’s a leader and we're committed to him,...

  • Boonen: I could be the leader at Milan-San Remo

    Tom Boonen on the podium, Stage 4 Tour of Qatar
    Article published:
    February 19, 2014, 14:38 GMT
    Cycling News

    Belgian believes he can win if the Pompeiana is removed

    Tom Boonen says that he will be the Omega Pharma-QuickStep leader at Milan-San Remo, if the Pompeiana is removed from the race.

    "I will start anyway. If the Pompeiana is in, then Milan-San Remo is 99% not for me. Otherwise, I am one of the leaders," he told Het Nieuwsblad.

    Boonen is currently using the race as a build-up to his bid for the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix a few weeks later. He has taken second and third, but has never won La Primavera. "Maybe I'll get another chance, the last. Because if the Pompeiana is not in it now, they'll be there next year."

    The Pompeiana was introduced to this year's race, making it much more of a climber's course. Many sprinters have opted out of San Remo, but that could change after it was reported earlier this month that the climb's inclusion was under threat, due to landslides.

    Boonen's teammate, 2009 winner Mark Cavendish, could return to the race and a number of others have suggested they may reconsider their programme. No official statement has been made by the organisers on whether or not the route will stay as planned.

    Boonen believes that while many sprinters will not have prepared fully for the event, his current form could help him take victory.

    "The organiser must take a final decision as soon as possible. To me it does not change my program, but some riders have their programs adapted to it. Milan-San Remo is not a small course and, a week in advance, it picks who are in shape."

    He is not overly hopeful that the course will alter in his favour, saying, "do not tell me that a month is not enough...

  • Tour of Oman riders remember Kristof Goddaert

    Eddy Merckx offers his condolences to the IAM team in memory of Kristof Goddaert
    Article published:
    February 19, 2014, 15:30 GMT
    Stephen Farrand

    A minute's silence held before the start of stage two

    The tragic death of Kristof Goddaert overshadowed the racing on the second day of the Tour of Oman, causing everyone at the race to reflect on the fragility of life and the risks of racing or simply training near home.

    The sun shines bright almost every day in the Sultanate but the grey skies at the start in Al Bustan seemed to have gathered to silence the mood in a sign of respect and mourning.

    Many riders had posted moving messages and tributes to Goddaert on Twitter before going to bed and were clearly saddened and emotional to have lost one of their own the morning after as they bravely tried to put thoughts about the risk of cycling aside and race for another day.

    Last week many of the riders in the Oman peloton had rubbed shoulders with Goddaert in the echelons at the Tour of Qatar. Many were his friend and enjoyed spending time with him. He was well liked in the peloton. It was especially hard for the IAM Cycling riders, those from his former teams Ag2r-La Mondiale and Topsport Vlaanderen, and the many Belgian riders in Oman.

    The IAM Cycling riders bravely decided to stay in the race despite being in shock. They wore black armbands and stood at the front of the peloton as a minute's silence was held to remember Goddaert before the stage began. Heinrich Haussler was good friends with Goddaert and was understandably in tears before the race. He had later revealed he had swapped messages with Goddaert just a few hours before his accident. He would have preferred to head home but explained that he knows Goddaert would have wanted him to carry on.

    Italian IAM Cycling rider Matteo Pelucchi revealed to Gazzetta dello Sport that he had shared...

  • Consistency leads to Oman race leadership for Howard

    Race leader Leigh Howard on the podium
    Article published:
    February 19, 2014, 16:28 GMT
    Stephen Farrand

    Orica-GreenEdge sprinter takes three leaders jerseys after stage two

    Leigh Howard may have missed out on a stage victory for the second day at the Tour of Oman on Wednesday, but his consistency and the excellent support of his Orica-GreenEdge teammates paid off, with the young Australian securing the race leader's red jersey, the green points jersey and the best young rider's white jersey.

    Howard was beaten by Andre Greipel (Lotto Belisol) on stage one and by Alexander Kristof (Katusha) on stage two. He used his track skills to survive in yet another hectic sprint, with the head wind causing the sprinters to fight for position. He now leads Kristoff by two seconds thanks to the two six-second time bonuses he picked for his placings. Greipel dropped his chain in the sprint and finished 25th, slipping to third overall, also at two seconds.

    "It's always nice to have a leader's jersey but of course, if I could choose, I'd go for having a stage win instead of two second places. Winning is always more important for a sprinter," he told Cyclingnews after doing a series of media interviews after pulling on his hat-trick of leader's jerseys.

    While Nacer Bouhanni ( went on the right of the road in the headwind sprint, Howard opted for the left, where there was more room to manoeuvre and so find space to move up.

    Kristoff managed to avoid any disruption by starting his sprint early and holding his power to the line. Howard moved up late. He couldn't close the gap on the Norwegian but had to speed to beat Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) and the other sprinters who opted for the right side of the road.

    "It was pretty crazy in the end," Howard explained.

    "The whole team did a perfect job again looking after me again. There was a head wind in the sprint and so we all...

  • Valverde off to flying start in Vuelta a Andalucia

    Alejandro Valverde is honored as the first race leader.
    Article published:
    February 19, 2014, 17:55 GMT
    Alasdair Fotheringham

    Unzué: "All we need for Alejandro is a little bit of luck"

    For the third year in a row, Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) looks to be in very strong form as he starts the season, taking a knock-out victory on Wednesday in the prologue of the Vuelta a Andalucia.

    Last year's prologue victory for Valverde, in the same race, was followed up by both a stage victory and his second outright triumph in Andalucia in two years.

    It all seemed so promising. But then after four wins in February 2013 alone, for the remainder of the season, Valverde garnered a series of top results - second in Amstel Gold, the Clásica San Sebastian and the Giro de Lombardia, third in the Vuelta, Liège-Bastogne-Liège and the World Championships, to name but a few -  but no victories. For a rider who was once known as El imbatible - Mr. Unbeatable - that was surprising.

    What can Movistar do, then, to prevent history from repeating itself for their co-leader in 2014 and for Valverde to go on scoring goals in the rest of the match, to use a football metaphor, rather than hitting the goalposts so often?

    "The most important and the most difficult thing to do is to be in a position where you can keep on hitting the goalposts, as you call it," Eusebio Unzué told Cyclingnews as he leaned on the barriers keeping the fans back from the winner’s podium in Almería and watched Valverde, now in his 14th year as a pro, don the leader's jersey.

    With consistency undoubtedly one of Valverde's strongest suits, Unzué believes that "very often it's just a slightest little bit of luck that could have made the difference. In Alejandro's...

  • Voeckler happy to be racing again

    Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) at the start
    Article published:
    February 19, 2014, 21:15 GMT
    Cycling News

    Frenchman has no complaints about his shoulder after Algarve opener

    Seeing Thomas Voeckler's name at the very bottom of a stage result would be very surprising most days. But the Frenchman was all smiles as he rolled in more than two minutes down on winner Sacha Modolo to complete the opening stage of the Volta ao Algarve in Albufeira.

    Exactly five weeks after the training ride crash that left him with a broken collarbone prior to the Tour Down Under, Voeckler came to Portugal aiming to ease himself back into racing. Europcar have put no pressure on him to perform or even help out his teammates during the five-day race. Consequently, claiming 158th place was job done for the Frenchman.

    "It was a very good day and very good weather which is nice," Voeckler told Cyclingnews at the stage 1 finish. "It's really good for me to be here and be able to get a bit of form after being injured in Australia."

    Voeckler had already been sitting at the back of the pack when the peloton swept down the hill and through the very high-speed finish outside Albufeira's town hall for the first time. He looked comfortable but was clearly determined to keep a distance from the riders barrelling along at the front of the bunch with the three-man breakaway very much in their sights.

    "For me, the objective I came here with has been achieved," he said. "I wanted to get some kilometres under my belt and for my shoulder to be fine as well. I didn't have any issues at all with the shoulder. It's just the legs that are the problem now. I've got to sort them out next."

    Thursday's second stage running 196km through some very lumpy territory between Lagoa and Monchique will provide a sterner test. But it is exactly the kind of day...

  • Craig Lewis retires after Lampre deal falls through

    Craig Lewis (Champion System)
    Article published:
    February 19, 2014, 21:53 GMT
    Laura Weislo

    American "lucky to make it out of cycling alive"

    Craig Lewis did not plan to retire from cycling at the age of 29, and up until January he was fairly sure he would be the American to ride for the Lampre-Merida team. But when the team opted to sign Vuelta a España winner Chris Horner instead, Lewis had no back up plan to continue in the sport, and so he decided to hang up his race wheels.

    "I didn't think my career would end so soon," Lewis told Cyclingnews. "I thought I would race into my 30s. But it's probably for the best for a number of reasons. I had been talking with Lampre since October, but I never had a great feeling that they would look after my best interests. When it fell through, I didn't have any other options."

    Lewis, however, has no regrets about leaving the world of competition.

    "I would have liked to have gone in a different way, or out on my own terms, but I'm lucky to make it out alive."

    When Lewis says he is lucky to make it out alive, he means it. As a fresh-faced 19-year-old kid racing in one of his first big professional events, the Tour de Georgia, Lewis was riding in the safety of the race enclosure, behind a lead motorbike, when a driver pulled onto the course suddenly, right in front of him. He crashed face first into the side of the car, punctured both lungs, suffered multiple fractures, and had internal bleeding. His career and his life very nearly ended that day in 2004.

    He rallied back, riding as a strong support rider first for Slipstream and then HTC-Columbia for four seasons. The hard work culminated in a trip to a Grand Tour podium when the team won the team time trial in the Giro d'Italia in 2011. But the long, gradual...

  • Greipel: the gentleman sprinter of his generation

    Andre Greipel in the bunch
    Article published:
    February 19, 2014, 23:10 GMT
    Stephen Farrand

    German accepts defeat on day two in Oman

    Andre Greipel carefully checked his bike after reaching his Lotto Belisol team car following stage two of the Tour of Oman. The German national champion had won the opening stage and pulled on the first red race leader's jersey. But 24 hours later, the sprinter's wheel had turned the other way and he finished a disappointed 25th.

    Greipel asked the team mechanic to check his front chain ring, revealing he had dropped his chain in the final part of the race and so had lost any chance of success in the sprint. He suggested that the problem could have been caused by hitting a pot hole in the road. Whatever the reason, Greipel missed out on the sprint and lost the race leader's red jersey to Leigh Howard (Orica-GreenEdge).

    He was clearly not happy but brushed off major disappointment.

    "What can you do? That's racing. You either have the right luck, the right moment to win, or you don't," he said, using simple sprinter's philosophy.

    "It was a bit of a mess with the block headwind. There were riders everywhere and there was nowhere for me to go after I had my problem."

    Before the stage Greipel made a special effort to offer his condolences to the riders of the IAM Cycling team following the death of Kristof Goddaert. He stood just behind the IAM Cycling riders during the minute's silence before the start of the stage.

    "He was a nice guy but we have to keep on going, even if it's hard…" he told Cyclingnews, summing up many people's thoughts at the Tour...