Tony Martin and Marcel Kittel lead Etixx-QuickStep at Driedaagse De Panne
After more disappointing Classics displays last week, and with the biggest two races of the Spring coming up this weekend and next, Etixx-QuickStep turn their attentions to the Driedaagse De Panne this week, where Tony Martin and Marcel Kittel will lead the team.
Martin, who will be a key part of the team's plans for Paris-Roubaix a week on Sunday, will be among the strong favourites in the 14-kilometre individual time trial that concludes the four-stage race. Depending on how he fares on the hilly opening stage on Tuesday, the German may go into that time trial battling for overall honours.
As for Marcel Kittel, he will have marked out Wednesday's stage 2, likely culminate in a bunch sprint, as a big opportunity to take his sixth victory of the season. He will link up with Maximiliano Richeze, the lead-out man signed from Lampre-Merida shortly after Kittel's move, for the first time this season and will also be flanked in the closing stages by Fabio Sabatini.
The team can also count on 2014 winner Guillaume Van Keirsbuick, Iljo Keisse, Davide Martinelli, and Lukas Wisniowski.
“We have a competitive team for De Panne," said directeur sportif Rik van Slycke. "The first stage will be really hard, with 11 hills on the course, including a double ascent of the Muur van Geraardsbergen and another climb right before the finish line. Considering this, and the bad weather which has been forecasted, it’s very likely we will have a selective group at the finish.
"One day later, it’s going to be a sprinters’ affair, and there’s no secret that Marcel will be our man for this, while on Thursday, the race will conclude with two half-stages, and the one in the afternoon, a 14-km long individual time trial, will see Tony start as one of the favourites for the stage victory.”
Contador misses out again but pleased with form
Three stage races, three overall podium places for Alberto Contador so far in 2016. After finishing third at the Volta ao Algarve in February and second at Paris-Nice in March, the Spaniard was disappointed to miss out on top spot once again at the Volta a Catalunya on Sunday, but has no grievances about his form and fitness.
“It's a pity that I missed the win by four seconds at Paris-Nice and seven here, it would have been nice to round it off. However, if I had to choose between the form I have right now and achieving victory with worse sensations, I would definitely prefer the good sensations, especially ahead of the season's big goal, the Tour de France," said Contador in a statement from the Tinkoff team.
Contador tried to put pressure on race leader Nairo Quintana on the final stage's finishing circuit in Barcelona, but the terrain, though hilly, was not amenable to wrestling back the seven seconds required to take victory. Nonetheless, Contador, who next races at the Vuelta al País Vasco next week, is happy with his progress as he makes his way down the well-planned path to his final Tour de France in July.
“In hindsight, had my tactics on the climb to Port Ainé [stage 4] been different I might have had more chances for the GC. Instead of trying to control the two BMC riders and Nairo, I should have let him take more responsibility. However, what was done was done and on Sunday it was really complicated to build any significant time gap.
"Still, as I said, I'm overall satisfied with how I feel right now. My preparation this winter has been very good. I'm satisfied because this first block of races of the year is concluding with a very good form. My body is recovering and I look forward to more. We now have a week ahead of us before the next race, Pais Vasco."
Cattaneo breaks arm in Gent-Wevelgem crash
Mattia Cattaneo is due to undergo surgery after suffering a fractured right ulna - or forearm bone - in a crash at Gent-Wevelgem on Sunday.
The Lampre-Merida was lucky, in a way, as the crash was the same one which led to Antoine Demoitié being hit by a race motorbike and later losing his life. Cattaneo abandoned the race and was taken to hospital nearby, and will shortly return to Italy for surgery.
"Mattia underwent all the necessary medical checks: he suffered a fracture of the right ulna which will require surgery. He'll fly to Italy where he will undergo surgery and he'll immediately begin the rehabilitation," explained Lampre-Merida physician Dr Pollastri.
Lampaert out of the remainder of Classics with tendon injury
24-year-old Yves Lampaert will not start the Tour of Flanders or Paris-Roubaix after failing to adequately recover from an Achilles tendon injury caused by a run-in with a shopping cart.
The team will also miss Julien Vermote, who crashed in Milan-Sanremo and had to undergo surgery to his left knee.
"I am sad, because the Classics were the top moment of the season for me," Lampaert said. "I could say that I was very unlucky this year, first crashing in Volta ao Algarve, and now this. It's not nice to watch these races on TV, especially when you are a Belgian rider, but I want to turn the page as soon as possible and keep my focus for my next goals, because the season is still long."
Gazprom-RusVelo secure important result on Italian soil
Little over a month away from a debut Grand Tour appearance at the Giro d'Italia, the Gazprom-RusVelo team laid down a significant marker at the Settimana Coppi e Bartali last week. After the Russian team claimed their first win of the season in the opening team time trial, Sergei Firsanov won the second stage and held onto his lead to take overall honours two days later.
"We are very happy," said general manager Renat Khamidulin in a statement. "The last stage was very difficult because Team Sky maintained a high pace, but the whole team worked well and I'm happy for Firsanov - after the arrival he was very excited. He is a climber with great qualities, but in his career he was too often affected by bad luck."
The Pro Continental Gazprom-RusVelo team was something of a surprise wildcard invitee to this year's Giro d'Italia, and their performances on Italian soil can be seen as an important part of their trajectory this year.
"The success of the Settimana Coppi&Bartali tells us that we are working efficiently," said Khamidulin. "Now we will have another important test, the next Giro del Trentino. We know we have chosen the right path and we must continue in this direction."