French Pro-Continental squad Fortuneo-Samsic has confirmed its team for Paris-Nice with Warren Barguil as its leader. Barguil finished eighth overall at the 'race to the sun' in 2017 and with a trio of French races in his legs so far this season, he is confident of a repeat result.
The 26-year-old added the caveat that with a number of changes over the off-season, namely changing teams from Sunweb, he is unsure exactly how he'll fare.
"Paris-Nice is the first big event of the season. There have been many changes this winter, a new team, a new coach, many requests, but I quickly found my bearings in this Breton squad," said Barguil. "The races (Tour de Provence and Boucles Drôme Ardèche) allowed me to find rhythm. I'm not an expert in the early season, but the form is coming back. I know what will be expected in Paris Nice, but I will not change my way of riding. There are some nice stages at the end of Paris-Nice, by then you have to concentrate and make the right choices."
Paris-Nice is the first major race of the season for the Breton squad with July's Tour de France the main objective for the season. The opening French WorldTour stage race is therefore an important test for the team as general manager Emmanuel Hubert explained.
"We would have preferred to arrive at Paris-Nice with a better-balanced squad, but that does not take away all the good things we put in place and who will ride," said Hubert. "I believe in my staff and my riders. We arrive with a new status in the World Tour races, with a strong and charismatic leader. Our project is based on three years with the objective: to accompany Warren to the highest."
Former U23 world champion Kevin Ledanois is also aiming for a strong performance and will be one rider to support Barguil later in the race. Maxime Bouet will also be a key rider for Barguil, along with new signing Amael Moinard. The team for the eight-stage race is completed by Anthony Delaplace, Laurent Pichon, and Pierre-Luc Périchon.
Paris-Nice starts with a 135-kilometre stage from Chatou to Meudon and concludes with the traditional Nice-Nice stage.
Fortuneo-Samsic for Paris-Nice: Warren Barguil, Amael Moinard, Anthony Delaplace, Laurent Pichon, Maxime Bouet, Pierre-Luc Périchon and Kévin Ledanois.
Van Keirsbulck misses the split in Le Samyn defence
The task of setting out to defend his title at Le Samyn against the dominant Quick-Step Floors showing seemed impossible but that didn't stop Guillaume Van Keirsbulck (Wanty Groupe-Gobert) from trying. Despite eventual winner and runner-up Niki Terpstra and Philippe Gilbert essentially riding away with the podium, Van Keirsbulck gave one solid effort to try and bridge to the winning move but he came up short in the end, finishing 12th at just over two minutes back.
His teammates Tom Devriendt and Boris Vallée represented the team in moves up the road during the 200km race from Quaregnon to Dour. Quick-Step Floors led a team chase that split the field and Van Keirsbulck was caught back in the crosswinds. He tried several times to close the gap and ended up with chasers Adrien Petit (Direct Energie) and Gediminas Bagdonas (AG2R La Mondiale). They almost made it across but the Quick-Step duo along with third placed on the day Damien Gaudin (Direct Energie) took the podium places.
"I missed the QuickStep echelon that was created after 80 kilometers. I was positioned a bit too far away and the peloton immediately broke into several pieces. I myself have tried to set the chase in motion by attacking several times. We always got clear, but the gap with the leaders was never closed," he said.
"In the final lap I got a knock of all the previous efforts in combination with the extreme cold. I completely parked. The condition is good and that is the most important. I hope I can continue this line and not let myself be surprised anymore. Sunday I ride West Flanders, then I go on training camp."
Kirsch in the top 10 at Le Samyn
Runner-up last year, Alex Kirsch (WB Aqua Protect Veranclassic) again finished in the top 10 on Tuesday. The Luxembourg rider featured in a chase group behind the winner breakaway of Niki Terpstra, Philippe Gilbert (both Quick-Step Floors) and Damien Gaudin (Direct Energie).
Quick-Step forced a split in the echelons of the 200km race that allowed a chase group of 10 -six from Quick-Step- to bridge up to an original breakaway of 6 that included Kirsch. That group split over the cobblestone sectors on the four circuits in Dour, but Kirsch stuck with the front group until Terpstra and Gilbert started attacking.
From the main field, Adrien Petit (Direct Energie), Gediminas Bagdonas (AG2R La Mondiale) and defending champion Guillaume Van Keirsbulck (Wanty - Groupe Gobert), among others, bridged up to Kirsch, who had been dropped, but the group could not get across by the finish line.
"I quickly realized that I made a mistake on the pavement by taking the lead group and taking the wind," Kirsch said after finishing sixth on the day. "The Quick Step had also understood and, with their great experience, they took advantage of this error. Anyway, I would not have won because Terpstra was the strongest.
"I played a place of honor and finishing 4th or 6th does not change anything for me. I was very nervous deep down before Samyn GP because it was a reference race of 2017. I think I did a better performance than last year, against great champions. I was only dropped because of an error on my part. I was certainly dead at the end, but everyone was dead. I can be happy with my day."
Livyns signs for Veranda's Willems-Crelan
Arjen Livyns will make the move from his Continental Beat Cycling team to Pro-Continental Veranda's Willems-Crelan squad from March 1. The Belgian has previously ridden as a stagiaire with the team and now makes the move permanent from 2018.
"On March 1 I will switch from my current club, BEAT, to Veranda's Willems-Crelan, where I will finish my first professional season as a neo-pro," said Livyns. "For me, it's a boy's dream that is coming true, and I am glad that I can achieve it. I really hoped to become a pro at the end of last season after my internship with them, but there was no follow-up, so the plans fell apart. The chance that has arisen now is a turn that I had not anticipated but I've always dreamed of."
The 23-year-old expressed his gratitude to the management at Beat for the time spent on his development and the opportunity to move into the Pro-Continental ranks.
Beat co-founder Geert Broekhuizen explained the purpose of the team is to help riders and staff "realize their ambitions" and was therefore an easy decision to let Livyns make the move. Broekhuizen added the team will replace Livyns in the coming weeks with a new rider.