- Article published:
- April 6, 2013, 05:15
- Jane Aubrey
Sky's Norwegian Classics talent looking to salvage Classics campaign
Edvald Boasson Hagen was a shining light on a dour day for Team Sky at The Tour of Flanders last week, finishing in 17th place with the British outfit ravaged by illness and bad luck.
With the Norwegian cagey over whether the training-focussed regime in the lead up to the Classics has been ideal for his own chances, there is much hinging on his performance on Sunday at Paris-Roubaix.
"For me it's not been a really good start to the season for results, but I've been getting better and better every race," Boasson Hagen told a cosy media conference in Kortrijk on Friday evening. "Now the Classics are nearly over, there's just one race to go, but we could do a good race there and it still could be a good Classics."
Boasson Hagen's program has certainly not been race-heavy: he put the Tour Down Under and the Tour of Qatar under his belt before Sky began its Classics campaign at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, but he says that he is growing in confidence.
"I have no problems with training," he explained. "I can get fit by training and we've got a really good group. We've been training well together. I enjoy doing that as well.
"When you're racing you can be more sure about how your form is... it's not just a number."
Having fallen out of the lead group on the Cipressa at Milan-San Remo and then failing to finish on a challenging day, his form in Belgium has been solid: the 25-year-old finished 9th at E3 Harelbeke and then 20th at Gent-Wevelgem prior to Flanders. There, Boasson Hagen stuck with the powerful chase group containing eventual winner Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack Leopard) and Peter Sagan (Cannondale) but just couldn't quite match their explosiveness when the attacks came on the final ascent of the Kwaremont.
"Yeah it's a bit hard to follow them. I didn't have the legs there to follow them, but hopefully I can follow if he tries to on the flat and attack again," Boasson Hagen said with optimism regarding the flatter parcours on offer at Paris-Roubaix. "It was impressive what they did there.
"Of course you always hope to be up there when they go. It was hard to follow but I was at the right spots all the time and I'm happy with the form I had there. I didn't have the legs at the moment in the sprint, I wasn't that good either. It's a long hard race."
Boasson Hagen has made no secret of his desire to win Roubaix and he says that he prefers it to Flanders.
"It's a really long and tough race and I feel that as I'm getting older, I'm also getting stronger so it should be possible [to win]," he said.
"I like both of them and now I'm starting to know the roads well in Flanders as well, but it's Roubaix that has been my biggest goal so far and it still will be," he continued. "So I would like to win Roubaix first and then Flanders but if it's swapped around (laughs) whatever comes first."
Standing in his way is the outright favourite Cancellara, who said earlier in the day that Sky would be a team that he expects to attack the RadioShack Leopard squad. Asked how he thought two consecutive days of crashes would affect Cancellara's chances come Sunday, Boasson Hagen was doubtful of any negative impact.
"I don't know... He's really strong anyway. As long as he's on the start line he's strong. It's hard for the body when you crash and it's bad for him. But shit happens."
- Article published:
- April 6, 2013, 10:02
- Cycling News
Former one day rider to guide team around Bozic
Stefano Zanini is tasked with guiding a relatively inexperienced Astana team through Paris-Roubaix this Sunday. However with Borut Bozic in form the team has a chance of securing a top ten result.
In his riding days Zanini was one of the most underrated one day riders of his generation and raced in the shadow of an Italian generation that included Michele Bartoli and Franco Ballerini. However he managed to compile a palmares that included an Amstel Gold (1996), Milano–Torino (1995), Paris–Brussels (1998) and several top ten placings in Milan-San Remo. In 1996 he was the Mapei rider to miss out on the famous one, two three at Paris-Roubaix, crossing the line in fourth. As well as a one-day rider he was also a leadout man and sprinter, wining the final stage of the 2000 Tour de France in Paris.
On Sunday the 44-year-old will try and use his one-day experience to help Bozic and Jacopo Guarnieri. Bozic has started the spring in the better form, taking second places in both Dwars Door Vlaanderen and Gent-Wevelgem, although both races are different propositions to the pave served up at Roubaix.
"Our team captains are Borut Bozic and Jacopo Guarnieri, both strong veterans of this race. Borut is especially strong right now, and we will work to support him over the pave. The difficulties will come in the first few sectors when the peloton is racing 60km per hour to get onto the cobbles, and everyone is fighting for position. Once the selections are made and the leaders have established their groups, the real teamwork begins," said Zanini.
"The weather for the weekend is continued cold, with a slight improvement from the wintry conditions over the last three weeks of racing. We may see the sun, but the temperature will probably stay around 10C," said Astana Pro Team Director Sportif Stefano Zanini.
The Astana team includes the youthful inexperience of Evan Huffman, who was drafted in last week. The Californian-born neo-pro has net to no experience of riding on the cobbles but told Cyclingnews last week that he would embrace the challenge.
"We have four young riders this year at Paris-Roubaix, with Kamyshev, Tleubayev, Huffman and Guardini. Each of them has a specific talent on the bike that we hope to use on Sunday. This race is something special, something unique in the World Tour season, and our goal is to bring Bozic and Guarnieri to the front and support them in the finale," said Zanini.
- Article published:
- April 6, 2013, 11:41
- Barry Ryan
British team search for result to save classics campaign
Team Sky’s pre-classics training camp on Mount Teide has not borne the fruit many had anticipated but Ian Stannard denied that the squad felt under any additional pressure ahead of Paris-Roubaix on Sunday.
Stannard’s own attacking display at frozen Milan-San Remo aside, the men in black have fallen short of their lofty expectations so far this spring. The 254 kilometres over the pavé to Roubaix mark their last chance to put a different spin on their classics campaign.
“I don’t think we need a result,” Stannard said. “I think we’ve ridden really well, the training’s gone really well and there are lots and lots of positives that we can take from it. Obviously it would be nice to finish it off with a podium in Roubaix but it’s not all about this year. It’s about learning for next year as well. It’s not all about this weekend.”
Even so, this weekend is what we have come to discuss, and the man who looms large over Sunday’s proceedings is one Fabian Cancellara. The obvious question – how on earth does Team Sky plan on denying him a third Paris-Roubaix title?
“We’ve got to have numbers in front, haven’t we? Cancellara’s got to come up to us: we’ve got to be in front of him before he goes,” Stannard said, ruefully admitting that it would be easier said than done. “He was the favourite last Sunday and everyone knew what he was going to do but he rode everyone off his wheel.”
With so many pitfalls on the road to Roubaix, tactical schemes are never set in stone. After four participations in the Hell of the North, Stannard knows that the old truism holds water – the race begins at the Arenberg forest. “You have a basic plan and then take it as it comes after Arenberg forest,” he said. “We’ll see what numbers we have and see what happens then.”
Strength in numbers was the keyword at last week’s Tour of Flanders too, of course, but with Stannard one of several Sky riders suffering from illness, those plans went awry and the team’s best finisher was Edvald Boasson Hagen, in a lowly 17th place.
“I came down with a bit of a cold, I just wasn’t recovering from the little efforts and I ended up further and further back,” said Stannard. “I ended up walking up the Koppenberg which was quite soul-destroying. But we’re in better shape than last weekend: we’re all firing and ready to put a point across.”
Stannard made his Paris-Roubaix debut as a callow 20-year-old with Landbouwkrediet in 2008, but since being integrated into Sky’s culture of marginal gains in 2010, his stock has risen exponentially.
“I always believed that I could really perform in this race and it’s nice to be lining up this week with one of the strongest teams and looking to perform,” he said. “It’s a bit different to lining up with Landbouwkrediet on high pressure tyres and just taking your luck. We’ve been given everything we need to perform and it’s up to us now.”
- Article published:
- April 6, 2013, 13:03
- Cycling News
Follow the complete race on CN this Sunday
This Sunday you can tune into Cyclingnews for live text coverage from Paris-Roubaix, the third Monument of this year’s Spring Classics campaign.
Cyclingnews will be covering the race from start to finish, kicking off coverage from 9:30am CET on Sunday morning and taking you all the way to the finish on the Roubaix velodrome.
With the defending champion, Tom Boonen, out of the race through injury, Fabian Cancellara assumes the mantle as the number one favourite for the race. A two-time winner of Paris-Roubaix, the Swiss rider has been in devastating form in recent weeks with wins in E3 Harelbeke and the Tour of Flanders.
Searching for his third Roubaix win, he will be tested by Sylvain Chavanel (Omega), Sébastien Turgot (Europcar), Jurgen Roelandts (Lotto), Steve Chainel (AG2R), Lars Boom (Blanco), Taylor Phinney (BMC), Yoann Offredo (FD), and Heinrich Haussler (IAM Cycling).
- Article published:
- April 6, 2013, 13:59
- Brecht Decaluwé
Manager discusses Cavendish's sprint train problems
Patrick Lefevere sat down with the media on Friday afternoon in Kortrijk to discuss his team’s chances ahead of the 111th edition of Paris-Roubaix.
The flamboyant Belgian manager of Omega Pharma-Quickstep also looked back to Scheldeprijs, where it became obvious Mark Cavendish’s sprint train was choking.
In Wednesday’s Scheldeprijs Cavendish lacked support in the final kilometres and after missing out on that much-wanted win the Manxman was a hugely disappointed man. It resulted in a reprimand from Lefevere after the race in the team bus. Lefevere told his riders that if they were afraid or worried that it was all about Cavendish they could join the Accent Jobs-Wanty team.
“I’m not taking any words back although the interpretation from my side could have been explained better. It could’ve been Landbouwkrediet as well. If you want to be a team leader, then go there.”
“Those teams ride without a leader. If you’re good, you’re protected by the team and that’s it. It wasn’t meant in a negative way,” Lefevere said.
The arrival of Cavendish means that the team will need more riders to lead out their sprinter. Lefevere is aware that some riders who’re at the end of their contract fear for their spot but he’s convinced that his current riders are capable of leading out Cavendish too, even without his longtime sprint lieutenant Bernard Eisel.
“I invested in Cavendish. It was a late signing and I couldn’t react on the transfer market while Eisel did not want to come along. I still think that we’ve got the boys in the team who can do it,” Lefevere said.
The fact that the team was nowhere to be seen in the final kilometres worried the team manager. “It was by far the easiest race of the season. The weather was reasonable, the wind was not decisive. But they should not be euphoric and try to control the race with the whole team when there’s 40km to go, before eventually not showing up when it was needed. Especially because Blanco and Argos wanted to ride too,” Lefevere said.
“The casting needs to improve. And if the team’s overdoing it then somebody needs to tell them to stop. Mark never had to do that – and that’s no criticism but an ascertainment – as Eisel usually did that. We don’t have that type of rider who’s managing the train. He never did that, there was always someone he did it for him. Tom Boonen is somebody who commands as well. Other can’t or don’t dare to do that. It’s always good to have someone who leads the way,” Lefevere said.
After Scheldeprijs it was Cavendish himself who pledged for Boonen to be in the Tour de France. “Mark and Tom get along well. Mark looks up to Tom. Tom is a powerful sprinter and of course Mark knows that Tom would be the ideal man to launch his sprint,” Lefevere said. It was Boonen started that rumour himself at the team presentation in January.
“He surprised everybody, including us, by saying he might do the Tour. It’s still far away. First Tom needs to recover, take a bit of holiday. Then he has to check out whether the world championships are something for him. He’ll check it out with the Belgian team in May. The first day they’ll scout the big loop, the next day the local lap,” Lefevere said.
For now Gert Steegmans is dedicated as the last man in the train. Lefevere knows what the Belgian rider was capable of. “You can’t expect from Gert Steegmans that he leads the team. He can be the lead-out man. You can’t judge on him now. He’s been injured and the Spring hasn’t been normal,” Lefevere said.
Lefevere has a great record in the Hell Classic, even racking up several 1-2-3’s back in the heydays of the Mapei team. This year the odds are different as his pavé specialist Tom Boonen is injured and the classics team is lacking confidence. In contrast to the series of spring classics wins last year the team failed to repeat any of those this time around.
“I don’t want to be whining all the time but it’s clear that Tom Boonen is making the difference for us. That’s also why he’s Tom Boonen, there aren’t five other riders like him. That’s also why I told all the boys who’re supposedly held back under the yoke of Boonen: the road is free. They’re all capable of riding over the cobbles and riding the finale. Winning the race is something different though. They’re not all as fast as Tom Boonen,” Lefevere said.
When discussing tactics for Paris-Roubaix the manager pointed out he was curious to see how former cyclo-cross world champion Zdenek Stybar would fare, adding all riders were fit for the job.
“I’m confident we have the riders who can anticipate and get in a breakaway which hopefully gets underestimated, like when Vansummeren won and nobody wanted to ride with Cancellara. Late in the race much depends on who’s in the breakaway. Stijn Vandenbergh rode with Luca Paolini in the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. You know you’re beaten against him but you’re certain of the podium. Sunday will not be any different to that. With some riders you’ll go on and with others you’ll wait for the rest to come back. There’s not a lot of riders who win a race. Then again, we’re already up to 18 wins if I’m not mistaken and we’re topping the team rankings. Maybe our wins are not the biggest ones out there but who’s taking those, not a lot of riders,” Lefevere asked.
“Look at the podiums in Flanders and Roubaix of the last ten years and it gets somewhat boring. It’s always Boonen-Cancellara. There’s not a lot of riders who can win a big classic. Many riders would sacrifice their life to get that victory. Look at Vansummeren. With all respect for Johan but how many races did he win? If you win Paris-Roubaix your career has succeeded,” Lefevere said before going deeper into possible tactics.
“It’s up to the team directors to judge on tactics but a breakaway often gets far in this race. Obviously they should not jump along with a group of five but sneaking along in a group of twenty riders would be good. You have to be strong to survive of course. Last year Guillaume Van Keirsbulck was in there until a crash took him out. If that would not have happened the breakaway would have gotten really far. When Tom Steels was Belgian champion everybody said he had to ride the Tour of Flanders but I told him that he would get dropped and would not be recovered in time for Gent-Wevelgem and Roubaix. He finished third in Roubaix after surviving the early breakaway,” Lefevere said.
“Team Sky could be some sort of companion for us in the race. They have a strong team without having someone who takes the wins. They can make the race. It’s like the French say, compagnons de route. We share the same interests,” Lefevere said.
Later that day Servais Knaven played down high expectations. “A coalition with Quickstep? Certainly not before the race,” Knaven said.
- Article published:
- April 6, 2013, 17:00
- Barry Ryan
American nurturing podium ambitions at Paris-Roubaix
An American bound by team orders at a major French race is a story we’ve heard somewhere before, but Taylor Phinney insists he is happy to obey the BMC team hierarchy at Paris-Roubaix on Sunday.
On paper at least, Phinney lines up for his second Hell of the North as a supporting act rather than the leading player: Thor Hushovd tops the bill, in spite of the former world champion’s uninspired recent output.
“The team hierarchy is defined. Thor is the man, but you never know what happens on the road,” Phinney told Cyclingnews in Compiègne on Saturday. “We’ll go out there with that in mind as it’s a very unpredictable race.”
Even so, Phinney enters Paris-Roubaix nurturing distinct aspirations of his own. A double winner of the under-23 version of the race, his pedigree on the pavé is beyond reproach and he duly finished 15th in his first crack at the real thing last season. While at pains to highlight his fealty to Hushovd’s cause, Phinney has a clear idea of what he would like to achieve this time around.
“If Thor doesn’t need me and if I have my own freedom, then I’d love to be top 10 and the podium is the dream,” said Phinney, who in spite of his youth sees no age restrictions on ambition. “You can’t really come to this race and just say that you’d love to be in the front group.
“It’s like the Olympics for me last year [where he was 4th in both road race and time trial.] You go in with the goal of doing the best that you possibly can, which would be the podium. Although with team tactics we’ll see how that plays out.”
A knee injury means that Phinney has not raced since Gent-Wevelgem two weeks ago but he said that he opted to sit out last week’s Tour of Flanders by choice rather than by necessity. “I think I could have raced on it last week but I was at a point where it might have made it worse if I had done that,” said Phinney. “I’ve been thinking about Paris-Roubaix for the last five months but not necessarily the Tour of Flanders, so I just decided to go 100 per cent for Roubaix and make sure I came here healthy and fresh.”
Indeed, Phinney’s lay-off was part of Filippo Pozzato’s reasoning for labelling the American as perhaps the biggest threat to Fabian Cancellara on Sunday. “Phinney doesn’t have the fatigue of Flanders in his legs, so he’ll be dangerous,” warned Pozzato. Ahead of the London 2012 Olympics, Phinney already showed his rare ability to build and maintain form with limited racing and he enjoyed a quiet lead-in to Roubaix at his base in Tuscany.
“I took a couple of days off for my knee and I’ve been getting a lot of therapy,” said Phinney. “Then, these last five or six days I’ve been training and motor-pacing a lot with Max Sciandri. I’m in good hands when I’m in Italy.”
Phinney was coy about discussing how BMC might use its collective strength to overcome the favourite Cancellara – “We’ve got a really strong and motivated team and if we remain united then anything can happen,” he said – but he allowed himself a grin when asked if, at 22 years of age, he might be too young to win Paris-Roubaix.
“If you look at Sagan, it’s never too early to win,” Phinney said. “This is my race to shine where I can be on the same level as these guys because there are no hills so my weight is not at all a hindrance. I felt great here last year and did a lot of work, but I still finished in the second group. This year, I come back and I’m in a better place and I’m a bit higher up in team hierarchy.”
- Article published:
- April 6, 2013, 18:15
- Cycling News
Dutch team to work fo sprinter
Dutch outfit Argos-Shimano has built their team around German sprinter John Degenkolb in a bid to secure their first top 10 placing in Paris-Roubaix.
“We want to continue our upward trajectory of the last few races (De Panne, Tour of Flanders and Scheldeprijs). In those races, we really rode as a team. I think it is very realistic to aim for a top-10 place,” said sports manager Marc Reef in team press release.
The Dutch WorldTour had struggled for results in the Spring Classics this year with Koen de Kort still recovering from injury and Marcel Kittel struggling to find his fitness after a virus contracted at the end of Paris-Nice. However, the team were buoyed by Kittel’s sprint win in Scheldeprijs last week, with the German beating Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma QuickStep) and retaining the title he won in 2012.
With Kittel skipping the pave of Roubaix, the team’s attentions turn to Degenkolb.
“John has shown that he is getting into top shape after taking ninth place in the Tour of Flanders, and this course suits him even better than the Tour of Flanders. He will need the full support of the team to position him well, as positioning is one of the decisive factors in this race. He needs to be sure that he is in the front of the race entering the final cobbled sections to get a good result. If it ends up in a sprint he is a dangerous outsider.”
Degenkolb, who finished 63rd in last year’s Paris-Roubaix, said, "I will definitely be aiming for a top-10 place; the form is good enough for me to be there and reach the finale. We have done everything we could in preparation. We already started testing all the equipment in January, as you need special frames, tires and wheels. I am confident about not only my own form but also that of my teammates. They are strong enough to bring me to the finale and also to support me in the finale.
“Flanders gave me a good morale boost. Before Flanders it wasn’t easy for me; my expectations were too high, and with pulling out of Tirreno I lacked the kilometers and the effort to get in the best shape possible. Yesterday we did the last reconnaissance on the course and made the final adjustments to the equipment. I felt good and I really had the power to accelerate on the cobbles. I know I can ride a good race, but you also need a bit of luck in Paris-Roubaix. We will see how it goes Sunday.”
- Article published:
- April 6, 2013, 19:15
- Barry Ryan
Italian hopes for turn in fortune at Paris-Roubaix
The tattoo on his back says that only God will judge him, but Filippo Pozzato is aware that most of the cycling world has an opinion on him, too. "I'm used to criticism," he sighs as he leans against a barrier in the mixed zone at the Paris-Roubaix team presentation in Compiègne.
After a mixed start to life at Lampre-Merida that saw early joy at the Trofeo Laigueglia give way to insipid showings at Milan-San Remo and the Tour of Flanders, Pozzato arrives in northern France desperately seeking a result.
If Pozzato's own condition is a mystery, Fabian Cancellara's emphatic win at the Tour of Flanders has led many contenders to rate their prospects to be as glum as the slate grey skies over Compiègne on Saturday afternoon. Call it defiance or delusion, but Pozzato is determined to find a ray of light.
"I think it's possible to beat Cancellara because I'm convinced that he's not as strong as he was two years ago," Pozzato said. "He's suffering more and even if you look at Flanders last Sunday, he attacked on the last climb, so it's not like he's attacking from 60km to go. Maybe the level is a bit lower now so he's still able to make the difference, but I don't think he's unbeatable."
The buzzword all week has been anticipation. Directeurs sportifs have earnestly trotted out the same old line about sending riders up the road before Cancellara decides to open the throttle, but - perhaps typically - Pozzato begs to differ.
"Everyone's talking about anticipating, but it's hard to imagine that Cance will let certain riders just go up the road," he said. "It's obvious that you'll just have to follow him when he hits the front, although I think he's going to wait for the finale, going on how he raced on Sunday. I don't know if I'm talking rubbish here or not, but maybe he can't allow himself to attack from 60km to go.
"In any case, the real race begins at Arenberg and from there on, you weigh up who's still in front. You see how many riders Fabian has around him, see how many Sky riders are up there, and you also start to look in the faces of the other riders to see how they really are."
It's put to Pozzato that things went a little badly for him at the Tour of Flanders and he interrupts good-naturedly, "I'd say things went very badly." The Sandrigo native languished in a lowly 44th and the momentum he had in the opening weeks of the campaign seems to have frozen to a shuddering halt in northern Europe.
"I had a really very bad day last week and I'm still at a loss how to explain it," Pozzato said. "For the two weeks before Flanders I wasn't super. Some people have been saying it's because of the cold but it's the same for everybody and I usually go pretty well in the cold too. I just hope it's a parenthesis. I hope I'm better tomorrow, otherwise I'm in dire straits."
In his first Classics campaign since serving a three-month ban for frequenting Dr. Michele Ferrari - only for training plans, he told the Italian Olympic Committee - the stakes for Pozzato to perform are even higher than usual. Aside from last year, when he enjoyed a brief purple patch with Luca Scinto's Farnese Vini-Selle Italia outfit, Pozzato's spring campaigns since 2009 have been on a decidedly downward trend and his sole monument win remains the 2006 Milan-San Remo.
Twelve months ago, Pozzato's Paris-Roubaix dreams were ground into the dust at Orchies when his wheels slipped from under him shortly after Tom Boonen had launched his winning move. After his second place in 2009, Pozzato has unfinished business with the race.
"Yeah," he says with a laugh. "The account is still open alright but I need to settle one sooner or later, don't I?"