- Article published:
- July 12, 2013, 01:00
- Cycling News
Argos-Shimano looking for a fourth victory in Saint-Amand-Montrond
Argos Shimano sprint lead-out man Tom Veelers has said teammate Marcel Kittel is the fastest pure sprinter in the peloton at the Tour de France– a title that has been the uncontested property of Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) for the last five years.
“I think at moment he’s the fastest,” Veelers said matter-of-factly outside the team bus after Kittel took his third stage win. “I think it’s clear and you saw it. It was a straight-up sprint and Marcel beat him.”
Veelers’ sentiment was echoed by his teammate John Degenkolb, who rode with Cavendish at HTC-Highroad in 2011. Asked if Kittel is the best sprinter at the Tour, he said simply: “I think he’s the fastest."
So far this year, Cavendish has one stage to his name. From 2008 to 2012 Cavendish won 23 stages, an average of 4.6 stages a year.
Struggling after clashing with Cavendish
Veelers is currently struggling with injuries from a crash three days ago in a typically fraught sprint into Saint-Malo. The crash happened after making contact with Mark Cavendish. Veelers said recovering from injuries while riding "a bloc" had been tough and he was yet to regain full power.
“I hope my crash was enough for the whole team,” he said. “Physically I feel that body needs to recover and it’s working for that. When you’re riding on your limit it’s really hard to hang on and you feel that you
don’t have the full power yet.”
Friday's stage to Saint-Amand-Montrond will also likely end in a bunch sprint, with Kittel and Cavendish going head to head, with Andre Greipel (Lotto Belisol) and Peter Sagan (Cannondale) also expected to be fighting for victory.
The stage is an opportunity for Kittel to surpass his compatriot Erik Zabel’s Tour record. Zabel took three stages in the 1997 and 2001 editions of the race. Kittel could take win number four, further laying down a claim to fastest sprinter in the 2013 Tour de France.
- Article published:
- July 12, 2013, 10:21
- Cycling News
Kelly, Moncassin and Guimard defend the Manxman after he loses to Kittel
Marcel Kittel's third stage victory at the Tour de France and Mark Cavendish's defeat by the German rider has sparked a multitude of comment, debate, analysis and also suggestions that a change in the sprinting hierarchy in the peloton may be underway.
Cavendish has dominated the sprints at the Tour de France and elsewhere for the last five years but now Kittel and his Argos-Shimano lead-out train have taken over and are stacking up the stage victories, while Cavendish remains with just one win in Marseille.
There seem to be a multitude of reasons why.
The Manx Missile left Team Sky due to a lack of sprinting support but his Omega Pharma-QuickStep team has been hot and cold this year. They played a key role in Cavendish winning five stages and the points jersey at the Giro d'Italia but have struggled against the powerful well-drilled lead-out trains of Argos-Shimano and Lotto Belisol, that have both peaked for the Tour de France.
It has been suggested that Cavendish has lost some of top end speed and maybe even be past his best at 28. It is only fair to include factors in the debate that can explain why Cavendish is not at his best in this year's Tour de France.
Cavendish is the only big-name sprinter here to have finished the Giro d'Italia. He was also ill coming into the Tour but only took antibiotics after winning the British national championships. Cavendish perhaps knows he is not at his best and has so far sportingly accepted defeat, shaking hands with Kittel after Thursday's sprint in Tours and praising him on Twitter. However he is no doubt looking to win in Saint-Amand-Montrond and on the Champs Elysees in Paris.
Kelly, Moncassin and Guimard give their opinion
Sean Kelly, the green points jersey winner at the 1982, 1983, 1985 and 1989 Tours de France suggested to L'Equipe that it is Kittel who is at his best and slightly faster than Cavendish, rather than the Manxman losing his speed.
"With 150m to go I thought he'd win (in Tours). Because as usual, thanks to his acceleration, he'd got a lead of a bike length and a half, proving that he is still fast. He's still got his pure speed. It's not Cavendish that is slower, it’s Kittel who has that extra power to pass him in the last 50 metres as Cavendish used to do," Kelly said.
Frenchman Frederic Moncassin, two-time stage winner in 1996, suggested that Cavendish's real problem lies with his lead-out train and the lack of a real poisson pilote.
"Cavendish is still fast but he was dropped off too early. The other day (at Saint-Malo) Cav didn't follow Steegmans and got on Veelers wheel instead. I've got the feeling that he hasn't got full confidence in Steegmans and that's why he wants Renshaw back. He's missing a true leadout man," he told L'Equipe.
"I also think he's still looking for the right strategy in his team. The real problem isn't his maximum speed, it's when Kittel gets on his wheel."
Former sprinter, directeur sportif and now television commentator, Cyril Guimard suggested that Cavendish is being forced to go too deep before he launches his sprint, costing that bit of decisive finishing speed.
"Cavendish hasn’t lost his speed but the race situations have played against him," Guimard said.
"I also think his legs were tired after making too many efforts before the sprint. Perhaps he has been in the wind (due to poor positioning), while Kittel is more patient. He's riding like a track sprinter."
Bet on the Tour de France with William Hill and get a £25 free bet
- Article published:
- July 12, 2013, 14:20
- Cycling News
Greipel's lead-out man looks forward to more time in the sprint train
Greg Henderson extended his agreement with the Lotto Belisol team for two years. The 36-year-old New-Zealander plays an important role in the team as the final man in the lead-out train for sprinter André Greipel.
"The sprint train is team work, and we want to keep that core train together," said Henderson. "I'm happy that I can stay part of it for the next couple of years. I'm really dedicated to that job as final lead-out man; I've put a lot of time, effort and thought into it."
"To me, the lead-out train is not just about getting to the race and seeing what we have to do. I am always thinking of other ways that we can improve the lead-out, it's part of my training. It's definitely a job that I enjoy. The priority in the next years is to keep the train on the rails and help André Greipel to the victory."
Henderson, who is also appreciated on the team for his sense of humor, also has the goal of passing on some of his 12 years of professional experience to the team's younger riders.
"We have a lot of young talented bike riders. I can teach them how to work as a team and to prepare a sprint so that they can develop further and set up their own train in the future."
- Article published:
- July 12, 2013, 14:57
- Daniel Benson
German riders enjoying highly successful Tour de France
With five stage wins in this year's Tour de France German cycling is on a roll with Andre Greipel, Marcel Kittel and Tony Martin leading the line. Just one more win for the Germans and they will have broken a record dating all the way back to the 1970s, but despite the results Hans-Michael Holczer cannot see a German WorldTour team forming in the near future.
"It's an unbelievable Tour and to be honest, yesterday when I was with our sprinter Kristoff, I was still very satisfied and smiling for Marcel Kittel. That's now three in a row and we've never had this," Holczer told Cyclingnews at the start of stage 12.
"It's just amazing that this is all taking place against a backdrop in Germany where not everyone understands what this success means. The only live television of the Tour in Germany is through Eurosport and in my eyes that's amazing because in Germany a lot of fans aren't satisfied with the level of coverage they have."
Cycling in Germany has taken a battering in the last decade. After the euphoria of Jan Ullrich's win in 1997 the nation had to watch as doping case after doping case exposed the myth of clean cycling. Even when Milram and Holczer's own Gerolsteiner teams were competing on the biggest stage doping related cases dominated the headlines. Both teams departed with Holczer moving to Katusha.
"The German written press are pretty distant from cycling at the moment," Holczer said when asked how Kittel and company were being received back home.
"They are really appreciative of how someone like Marcel Kittel handles himself with the media, with his level of transparency, but in the end they're still not 100 percent convinced about cycling. What you can read in the press is a little bit negative and not really as enthusiastic as they should be with the results the country has had.
"Journalists are still frustrated from the Ullrich era," Holczer said before adding food for thought for a number of other nations.
"They thought we were a nation without problems and without any doping and in the end it was a little different."
No German WorldTour Team for the future
Holczer's Gerolsteiner team crumbed at the end of the 2008 season. Struggling to find a sponsor the team was hit by a number of high-profile doping cases including that of Stefan Schumacher who won two individual time trials in the Tour that year.
Within the current WorldTour scene Germany ranks highly in terms of expertise and talent. Holczer is the only German to ever hold a WorldTour licence but standing by him at the Katusha bus is director Torsten Schmidt. Erik Zabel is also involved in the project, while one bus along Rolf Aldag is in discussion with Tony Martin.
Despite the depth in talent Holczer can't see past the issue of doping how much it has dent a blow to a German sponsor entering the sport.
"I'm very, very skeptical because in the boardrooms of the big German companies, the ones that could afford the sort of budget I had at Gerolsteiner, there are people who are distant from the sport because of the experiences and what they've read in the media about the sport. I don't want to say I'm convinced but I can't see a German WorldTour team happening in the next four or five years," he told Cyclingnews.
"I hope I'm wrong but at the moment I don't see any potential company that could really do that. They would need to invest at least eight to ten million Euro and that's just difficult to invest into one single project."
"After Gerolsteiner, I gave up all ambitions of a German team. We sold everything and you can see the light blue colours on the edge of the Katusha bus. That's my old bus. There's been no approach from a German company since 2008 and I've not been looking for it either."
The scars of the past are still visible and even now Ullrich makes headlines due his confessions of doping under the tutelage of Fuentes.
"In Germany, like no other country, cycling is linked to doping and you can't talk to anyone in the country about cycling without mentioning doping. There's no doubt, though, of the marketing value, there's no doubt about the revenues and return on investment in cycling. It's the best sport ever. I'm still convinced of that but the deciding people in German companies don't want to have another Telekom."
- Article published:
- July 12, 2013, 17:15
- Sam Dansie
Omega Pharma Quick Step wins most combative award of the day
Mark Cavendish said his Omega Pharma Quick Step team rode like animals to help him clinch the 25th Tour de France stage win of his career.
An elated Cavendish heaped praise on his Omega Pharma-QuickStep squad, which split the peloton in crosswinds early on the 173km stage 13 from Tours to Saint-Amand-Montrond.
And when Saxo-Tinkoff Bank sensed an opportunity to distance yellow jersey Chris Froome (Sky) with a second critical selection with 30km to race, Cavendish rode across a growing gap to join them and remain in contention for the win against green jersey Peter Sagan (Cannondale).
If feels incredible it really does," said the rider after collecting his stage win and the award for most combative rider, which he dedicated to his team. "I actually did more watts in the sprint over to the front group than I did in the finish. I just managed to get around last man and we were away. It was touch and go, but it was nice to do."
The win comes a day after he was narrowly beaten by Marcel Kittel (Argos-Shimano) in Tours at the end of stage 12. Cavendish said the team didn't have a grand plan to take today's stage in hand but sensed an opportunity to fatigue the peloton after about 60km of racing.
"They rode like absolute animals. They rode with 100 percent commitment yesterday, and I let them down, so for them to come out today and ride even harder, even sooner, shows what a special group people this team is."
"There wasn't really a master plan. We just felt the wind was in the right position so we just started to ride a bit harder, and we did it more to make the peloton tired and finally it broke."
In the final kilometre, Mark Cavendish had teammates Sylvain Chavanel and Niki Terpstra in the 14-man group. Terpstra attacked under flamme rouge, forcing Peter Sagan's only remaining teammate Maciej Bodnar to chase. The move exposed Sagan to the headwind with Cavendish on his wheel. The 28-year-old Briton easily out-sprinted Sagan.
In 2009, Cavendish won a similarly dramatic crosswind-affected stage on the road to La Grande-Motte.
- Article published:
- July 12, 2013, 18:00
- Barry Ryan
Spaniard loses ten minutes after breaking wheel
The Tour de France waits for no man, as Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) discovered on the exposed plains of the Indre and Cher on Friday afternoon. When the Spaniard broke a wheel with 85 kilometres to go, the speeding peloton took no pity in his plight and by the time he reached the finish in Saint-Armand-Montrod, he had lost almost ten minutes and all hope of a place on the final overall podium.
The day's stage had been expected to a tranquil one – further calm before the anticipated storm atop Mont Ventoux on Bastille Day – but instead the Belkin squad of Bauke Mollema and Mark Cavendish's Omega Pharma-QuickStep outfit found common cause in the crosswinds that buffeted the peloton in the second hour of racing.
Their combined efforts split the field into three distinct groups, and while Valverde initially sat snugly with his fellow podium contenders in the front echelon, his Tour began to unravel when he halted to change a wheel after a rider behind had brushed against it.
"It was a day marked by bad luck," Valverde said as he sat disbelievingly on the steps of Movistar bus after the stage. "We rode in front all day, just like we should have done, but I had bad luck when one of my wheels broke. With my teammates, we tried to get back to the first group but there were a few teams who accelerated in front."
Belkin were already driving on the front at the time of Valverde's mishap in a bid to help Mollema put his fellow podium contenders in difficulty. While Valverde had no issue with their efforts, he claimed that other teams with seemingly no reason to ride had helped to distance him.
Although a cadre of Movistar riders, including Rui Costa, Ruben Plaza and Imanol Erviti, dropped back to aid Valverde, a slow wheel change meant that he was already almost a minute down when he began to chase. It soon became apparent that the gap was unbridgeable and Valverde ultimately rolled home 9:54 down.
"I can understand why Belkin were riding but Europcar, I don't know why," Valverde said darkly. "I didn't know they were riding for general classification. But that's cycling. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. I'd really like to avoid bad luck at the Tour, but something always happens to me."
Injury forced Valverde to abandon his first two Tours, in 2005 and 2006, while he endured bad luck of another sort two years later when a blood test carried out by the Italian Olympic Committee during the race's brief sortie over the border to Pratonevoso eventually led to his suspension for his implication in the Operacion Puerto doping investigation.
With Valverde now lying in 16th place overall, 12:10 down on Chris Froome (Sky), the mantle of Movistar leadership falls to Tour debutant Nairo Quintana, who finished in the yellow jersey group and sits in 8th place.
"We're going to try and help Nairo, who is still well-placed ahead of a very hard week," Valverde said. "We'll try to take advantage of this hard final week – maybe not to win the Tour, but to create some gaps. We'll see how we'll adapt our strategy but he's certainly the best-placed rider on the team."
- Article published:
- July 12, 2013, 18:25
- Daniel Benson
Sky "definitely weaker" without Boasson Hagen, Kiryienka
Chris Froome (Team Sky) saw his rivals shave over a minute off his race lead in the Tour de France on stage 13 from Tours to Saint-Amand-Montrond after a surprise attack from Saxo-Tinkoff.
Sky was put on the back foot, when, with 30 kilometres to go, Saxo-Tinkoff split the lead group in the crosswinds that littered the 173-kilometre stage. Froome was left isolated at the front and could only radio through for support as Alberto Contador, Bauke Mollema and Laurens Ten Dam slipped clear in a 14-man move.
Sky could only limit their losses as up ahead Saxo-Tinkoff drove the break and eventually clawed back 1:09 on the yellow jersey. There was at least some light for Froome who has eliminated Alejandro Valverde from the overall race after the Movistar man stopped for a wheel change and was unable to return to the peloton after Belkin ramped up the pace.
"There were people who lost time today and some that gained time today. Personally I lost time to Contador, Mollema and Ten Dam in terms of general classification," Froome said at the finish.
"I'm just happy that I still have an advantage of over two minutes keeping in mind that we've got a really difficult weekend coming up with the mountains.
"Teams like Saxo Bank today saw their opportunity in the final 30 kilometres and hats off to them. They rode a really good race today, and for that they've been rewarded with a minute's advantage on GC."
Froome's buffer in the race remains relatively healthy. Mollema is at 2:28 and Contador at 2:45 and with another time trial still to come Froome could regain the time lost today. However, Sky was unable to control the peloton and with Saxo-Tinkoff vowing to take the fight to the British squad, Froome and his team will need to stretch their lead at every opportunity.
The loss of Edvald Boasson Hagen and Vasili Kiryienka leave the team short of numbers, while those that remain at Froome's side have looked vulnerable.
"Eddy is a huge part of the team and we could have really done with him on a stage like today and the same can be said for Kiryienka who we lost a few days ago. They're both really strong engines and the team is definitely weaker without those guys," Froome said.
- Article published:
- July 12, 2013, 19:40
- Barry Ryan
Dutchman up to second after splitting race in crosswinds
The morning carried no auguries of what was to come. Outside the Belkin team bus on Tours' Rue de Tanneurs before the start of stage 13 of the Tour de France, Bauke Mollema wore the relaxed air of a man anticipating a transitional day as the race slowly edges back towards the mountains.
"I'm just hoping to do my best next week, where every stage is going to be hard," Mollema told Cyclingnews, almost as if the race for the podium places had been suspended until the Alps.
Certainly, there was nothing to Mollema's words or demeanour that suggested what his Belkin squad would unleash on the peloton after it left the banks of the Loire, and no indication that he would finish the day in second place overall after regaining over a minute on yellow jersey Chris Froome (Sky).
The brush of a crosswind has the tendency to quicken Dutch pulses, however, a tradition that stretches back beyond the halcyon days of Peter Post's TI-Raleigh squad. When word filtered through that there was enough strength in the afternoon's westerly breeze to make things interesting, the dynamic of Belkin and Mollema's stage altered immediately.
Shortly after swinging right at Nouans-les-Fontaines after 55 kilometres, Belkin surged to the front of the peloton and almost immediately, they found a very powerful ally of circumstance in Omega Pharma-QuickStep, who were working for Mark Cavendish to distance Marcel Kittel.
"We knew the first 55 kilometres was in a forest but then after that, there was a crosswind and we knew that we had to go there," Belkin directeur sportif Nico Verhoeven said. "QuickStep had the same idea and so we worked together. At that moment it was lucky for us that Kittel was dropped because that meant QuickStep wanted to go full."
Their combined forcing split the peloton into three groups, although initially all of Mollema's rivals for the podium places were present and correct in front. When second-placed Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) stopped to change a wheel with 85 kilometres to go, however, there was suddenly scope to move Mollema up a spot on general classification.
While yellow jersey Chris Froome admitted his unease at Belkin's decision not to reduce their speed at the head of the bunch, Verhoeven was of the view that the sharp end of an echelon is no place for the wringing of hands over issues of morality.
"We couldn't wait. Remember there were a lot of crashes last year and nobody waited for us," Verhoeven said. "This is the Tour de France and I heard always that the Tour waits for no-one and that's the same for Valverde, eh? I'm really sorry for him that he got a puncture but we were racing at that moment."
Tracking the Saxo attack
The end result was that Valverde reached the finish at Saint-Amand-Montrond almost 10 minutes down and Mollema moved from third to second place overall, but the Dutchman's day of surprise gains did not end there.
When Alberto Contador and five Saxo-Tinkoff teammates jumped at the front of the bunch with 30 kilometres to race, Mollema and his teammate Laurens Ten Dam were among the happy few alert to the danger. A powerful fourteen-man group formed, and with Sky unable to control matters in the crosswind behind, they quickly gained a lead of a minute and held their advantage all the way to the finish, where Cavendish won the stage.
"In the final, we were there when Saxo went full, and I think the result is really nice," a smiling Mollema said as he was swarmed by reporters at the finish. "Everybody had the same goal and that was to go as fast as possible to the finish and the guys from Saxo were pulling really hard. There were behind us when we were pulling all day, so they were still fresh. We were happy they were riding so fast."
The beleaguered bunch came home 1:09 down and Mollema lies 2:28 down on Froome in second place overall, while Ten Dam has moved back up to 5th overall, just over three minutes behind the Sky rider.
"No, for sure I wasn't expecting this," Mollema said. "It was a really hard day from start to finish and there was a lot of stress. I'm really happy with this result of course and I think as a team we did a great job."
"As Dutch riders we know that wind can have a big effect on a race, and it went well for us," said Ten Dam, although he insisted that the maillot jaune remained on another level to the rest of the field. "We took our chance today but I think Froome is still the strongest."
Belkin directeur sportif Verhoeven concurred, although Sky's flagging efforts in the finale contrasted sharply with the collective strength of Belkin and Saxo-Tinkoff, and he refused to be drawn on whether second place would be the summit of Mollema's ambition.
"I think Froome is still the best rider but today again his team was not that strong in the crosswinds," he said. "Froome had to work very much alone and that's really hard for him."