What a weekend!!! Belgium hits the spot with excitement on both days

Without even touching on the Giro D’Italia starting this weekend saw the best racing of 2020 by far.

Saturday

After a stop start race with a missed day and re-route thanks to the new Netherlands Covid protocol, Mads Pedersen looked to be in a good place to win the Binck-Bank Tour.

However with 2 full and 1 partial ascent of the fearsome Muur to go (see my attempt below!) Mathieu Van der Poel took flight.

The Dutch champion was a bit more rapid over the 17% cobbles than I was and soloed away.

A select group of chasers formed behind but still VdP pressed on getting all of the maximum bonus seconds in the golden kilometer, an innovation that this race has stuck with over the years.

Soren Kragh Andersen got himself in prime position to win the race overall but only if Van der Poel was caught.

As the race headed in Geraardsbergen for the final time and a finish just above the market square it was clear that wasn’t going to happen and the boy wonder hung on for the final metres and took the overall race win along with the stage.

It was a really exciting finish and shows that wind, rain and cobbles makes for the best racing. Full Stop.

Sunday

After Marc Hirschi winning Fleche Walloone in the week the man of the summer (c) was part of the key break in Liege-Bastogne-Liege.

So much happened though that I had to make notes and here they are showing my disbelief as the race unfolded.

  • Not too far after halfway a crash takes out Greg Van Avermaet, he looks badly injured. Maybe no Flanders? The likes of Sep Vanmarkce and GvA won’t ever win it.
  • La Redoute is the big climb of the race but its fairly neutral with Quick Step setting the pace.
  • Julian Alaphillippe crashes.
  • Alaphillippe attacks on the Roche aux Faucons climb. Only Michal Kwiatkowski, Hircshi, Primoz Roglic and Tadej Pogacar can go with him.
  • Van der Poel is leading the chase behind… he couldn’t get across could he?
  • Kwiatkowski is dropped.
  • Into the last KM and they are playing a few games with each other. Matej Mohoric is flying across from the group behind.
  • Mohoric goes past and opens up the sprint. Alaphillippe and Hirschi collide and the Swiss pulls his foot out ending his chances.
  • Alaphillippe throws his hands in the air but Roglic goes past him to win!!!
  • Van der Poel wins the bunch sprint for 5th.

First up, I am sure some of you will be surprised that there are notes written ahead of blog posts!

Secondly, it was a terrible mistake by Alaphillippe in sight of the line but with him relegated for his wonky sprint into Hirschi it didn’t affect the outcome of the race as Roglic would have won anyway.

Thirdly, after the manner of his defeat in the Tour de France, no-one could begrudge Primoz his win in this race and I have to admit that despite having nothing against Alaphillippe I did punch the air and cheer when it was clear the Slovenian had got the win.

Right Flemish semi classics this coming week… beat that!

‘Chasing Rainbows’ – 2020 World Cycling Championships…

The last minute, re-arranged World Cycling Championships were very good considering all of the stress and alterations to the venue in the run up.

Naturally it was a shame not to see U23 competitions and the team time trial (especially seeing as how controversial it was when it came in). But the events we did get to see where entertaining and with deserving winners.

RnkRiderTeamUCIPntAvgTime
1 VAN DER BREGGEN AnnaNetherlands35010047.15740:20
2 REUSSER MarlenSwitzerland2507046.8670:15
3 VAN DIJK EllenNetherlands2004046.5610:31
4 BRENNAUER LisaGermany1503046.2960:45
5 BROWN GraceAustralia1252545.9981:01
6 NEBEN AmberUnited States1002045.6481:20
7 NORSGAARD Emma CecilieDenmark851545.6121:22
8 KRÖGER MiekeGermany701045.4481:31
9 STEPHENS LaurenUnited States60945.2321:43
10 BUSSI VittoriaItaly50845.1781:46

Anna Van Der Breggen was a narrow winner of the Womens TT with Marlen Reusser at only 15 seconds and Ellen Van Dyke only a second away from a 30 second blanket being able to be thrown over the podium.

RnkRiderTeamUCIPntTime
1 VAN DER BREGGEN AnnaNetherlands6002004:09:57
2 VAN VLEUTEN AnnemiekNetherlands4751701:20
3 LONGO BORGHINI ElisaItaly400140,,
4 VOS MarianneNetherlands3251302:01
5 LIPPERT LianeGermany275120,,
6 DEIGNAN ElizabethGreat Britain225110,,
7 NIEWIADOMA KatarzynaPoland175100,,
8 LUDWIG Cecilie UttrupDenmark150902:41
9 BRENNAUER LisaGermany125803:08
10 REUSSER MarlenSwitzerland10070,

The road race was less close with Van Der Breggen doing the double. Special mention must go to her team mate and rival Annamiek Van Vleuten who came home for a silver medal despite recently suffering a fracture of her wrist.

As with the womens events, the mens were dominated by the big names of the sport with Fillipo Ganna winning the time trial ahead of Wout Van Aert (who bagged a pair of silver medals) and Stefan Kung who had left the Tour de France early to prepare for this event.

The weather was unpredictable with howling wind and cloud closing in and pulling out all through the event. At one point a cloud burst looked inevitable and this would have given an advantage to the early starters. But it didn’t materialise.

It was interesting to see that despite a pretty bland circuit and shortened distance the riders made the event and that was exactly what the championships needed to be successful.

RnkRiderTeamUCIPntAvgTime
1 GANNA FilippoItaly35025052.98135:54
2 VAN AERT WoutBelgium25019052.3490:26
3 KÜNG StefanSwitzerland20014052.2770:29
4 THOMAS GeraintGreat Britain15011052.0860:37
5 DENNIS RohanAustralia12510052.0380:39
6 ASGREEN KasperDenmark1009051.8490:47
7 CAVAGNA RémiFrance858051.8260:48
8 CAMPENAERTS VictorBelgium707051.7320:52
9 DOWSETT AlexGreat Britain606051.4051:06
10 DUMOULIN TomNetherlands505051.2211:14

The final event of the weekend was the mens road race which I settled down to watch with a beer after 80km of hard, windy riding of my own Sunday morning.

The breakaway were kept at a suitable arms length going into the latter stages of the race before Tadej Pogacar rocketed out of the front of the pack with a lap and a half to go.

He managed to get a good distance before fading, but it was a clear plan to soften the race up for his team mate Primoz Roglic.

Whether Roglic didn’t feel too great I don’t know. But he didn’t seem capable of getting out of the wheels when the likes of Tom Dumoulin and Greg Van Avermaet went off up the road.

The attack that did stick came from Julian Alaphillippe who went clear on the penultimate climb before following the Pogacar blueprint from previous laps and digging in on the plateau and rolling section of road.

He then made good on the decent into the Formula 1 circuit before stretching his narrow lead in the final kilometer as the chasers started to disfunction and settle for the lower places.

RnkRiderTeamUCIPntTime
1 ALAPHILIPPE JulianFrance6003506:38:34
2 VAN AERT WoutBelgium4752600:24
3 HIRSCHI MarcSwitzerland400190,,
4 KWIATKOWSKI MichałPoland325150,,
5 FUGLSANG JakobDenmark275130,,
6 ROGLIČ PrimožSlovenia225110,,
7 MATTHEWS MichaelAustralia1751000:53
8 VALVERDE AlejandroSpain15090,,
9 SCHACHMANN MaximilianGermany12580,,
10 CARUSO DamianoItaly10070,,

Van Aert came home second as previously mentioned with man of the month Marc Hirschi finishing off the podium places.

We now have a really short break before the Eneco Tour this week, Ardennes Classics on Wednesday and Sunday and the Giro starting Saturday.

Bring it on!

Tour ’20 – Stages 18&19 – Kwiatkowski gets his reward

Polish domestique deluxe Michal Kwiatkowski got due reward for his years in service of Tour de France winners when he took stage 18 after a long breakaway.

With team mate Richard Carapaz, they took flight from the days break along with serial escapee Marc Hirschi of Sunweb.,

The most active rider of the race was keen to add to his stage win last week but crashed on a descent leaving the Ineos pair alone at the head of affairs.

With the gap big enough and the favourites not interested in attacking they had the luxury of sorting out who was going to win on the run in to the finish. It was brillant to see a clearly emotional Kwiatkowski cross the line for a rare, but really popular win.

Stage 10 saw Soren Kragh Andersen win the stage after a day that was only brightly animated by Remi Cavagna in a long lone breakaway that was always doomed but was entertaining enough to avoid switching the TV off.

Late in the stage a breakaway did escape including a number of good classics riders. Luke Rowe , Nils Pollit, Tim DeClercq and the king of Flanders Greg Van Avermaet made the split.

However Andersen was able to repeat the feat as he did on the way into Lyon escaping to win his 2nd stage of the Tour.

All eyes now move to the final weekend of the race and its opening and only time trial.

It’s been a really decent Tour so far so let’s hope for an exciting final weekend of action.

Tour ’20 – Stages 5&6 – The race takes a rest.

…and breathe.

After all of the drama and controversy in getting the 2020 Tour de France up and running, its been a case of the event and its entourage settling down over the last couple of stages.

Stage 5 saw no breakaway for the first time I can remember in a while and whilst the big teams with GC riders waited for a mistral to blow and create some echeleons, it was more of a headwind and nothing happened (apart from in the referees caravan).

Wout Van Aert added bunch sprinter to cyclo cross star, mountain domestique and classics winner to his CV with a well timed finish.

However despite crossing the line en masse the yellow jersey was awarded to Adam Yates following an illegal bottle for Julian Alaphillippe in the last 20kms.

The rules are clear about feeding inside the races final. It is there for safety reasons as it’s the part of the race that the bunch is moving most rapidly. So whilst its harsh that a mechanic parking on the wrong side of the banner can result in a 20 second penalty for the rider, I agree with the decision and the Frenchman just has to suck it up and use it as fuel for the coming stages.

Stage 6 was brilliant for fans of cycling novel “The Rider” by Tim Krabbe.

The Rider

The book is biographical and Krabbe charts his performance in a bike race describing in great detail the tactics, fatigue and pain of trying to win in the Cervennes mountains.

There was a high quality breakaway today and for a couple of hours I was really excited at the thought of Greg Van Avermaet getting another spell in the yellow jersey. But whilst the favourites never really got to attacking one another they did enough to get the break back to a reasonable distance. Shame!

Alexey Lutsenko was the most patient and strongest in the group attacking and going clear on one of the steps up to the finish at Mont Aigoual. The favourites were shadow boxing behind with only Alaphillippe sprinting clear for one second of advantage.

So a sleepy couple of days on the road in the main with give or take a few seconds, not too much to seperate the favourites.

 

 

Lockdown sees strange times for sponsors

The procycling model is broken… I hear that statement on podcasts and read it in articles continually.

But is it?

The fact that our sports has carried on for over a century, most of that with sponsored trade teams, and continued to provide value and exposure for sponsors whilst remaining free to fans is something that should be admired.

In these times, I am not sure I even know what a “stable funding model” is. But not many teams and organisations in any sort of sport will have it. ,

Budgets are clearly going to be cut and sponsors that remain will have their finance departments casting an ever more critical eye over that key “return on investment” calculation to make sure that for every £1 spent, more than that can be attributed to incoming revenues.

There are a couple of teams at cyclings World Tour level with changes in the offing.

Mitchelton-Scott have been looking for a main sponsor for quite some time and have recently announced a link up with Manuela Fundacion. Its not been without drama and controversy with both the new sponsors and existing CEO claiming they are the teams owners.

But this does show that in Europe there is still a desire to back the sport.

CCC have an altogether more pressing situation with their sponsor being in the retail sector and being hit hard by the lockdown. They are now getting out of their deal a year early leaving the team with a big gap to fill.

There are hopeful noises coming out of the CCC Camp with a number of names linked and their main man confident something will be announced ahead of the Tour de France. Let’s hope so as I still want to see a Van Avermaet/Trentin classics combination in full effect.

There could be more changes ahead or some tweaks to jersey’s as the pandemic carries on. In the meantime we are edging nearer actually seeing some of the 2020 teams in action and we must hang on to that positive in these wretched times.

Stay safe.

Team CCC likely to be the first of a few?

There has been confirmation from a fair few sources the the CCC mens pro team is definitely without a sponsor from the end of the season.

It’s riders are currently on 50% of their full salaries and a number of team staff have been laid off.

There are conflicting reports on the fate of the womens team as it appears their deal has been negotiated separately.

The likes of Greg Van Avermaet and Matteo Trentin will have plenty of suitors if no new sponsor is found and the teams contracts all end. But there will be some riders deeper down their roster who might find its the end of their career.

Giant Bicycles are reported to be staying on and they have been title sponsor of a team before so maybe there is still hope.

I fear that if the teams ownership were going to have to look into the corporate market for a brand to take on the lead sponsor position now, they would likely be unsuccessful.

One other point of note surrounds a team no-one would have thought might have sponsorship issues, that being Team Ineos.

The piece about their owner asking the UK government for support for one arm of the business has been latched on by Cyclingnews who, in my view, don’t always report with objectivity about that particular team. So I am going to bear that in mind when judging the story.

What is clear and key, is that cycling needs a resolution to the pandemic as much as any individual business or sport.

Virtual Flanders fills a gap

As Sunday afternoon viewing goes it was an interesting experiment seeing the RVV Lockdown edition.

The “race” followed the classic last hour of the race route that is used on a number of platforms. I have ridden it on Tacx and even my best effort shipped over 13 minutes to the lead rider yesterday!

I am blaming the resistance on my trainer being higher than the pros… maybe.

The Lockdown version of RVV was run on BKool for reference.

The event had a bit of technical difficulty getting off the line and there was a virtual rider from the organisers who was left on the start line and was just sat there throughout.

The first climb of the day saw Remco Evenepoel break away before hitting the main road to Oudenaarde at the top. As with the real thing the riders then turn left before getting back towards the main road to the Oude Kwaremont.

There is a nasty little road climb here through a forest and I remember struggling up it when I rode out there. In fact it was one of the points that Niki Terpstra put the hammer down in his Ronde winning ride, so there is a strategic element to its positioning.

Evenepoel faded here and was joined and then passed by Greg Van Avermaet, Nicholas Roche, Thomas De Gendt and Oliver Naessen.

Alberto Bettiol was part of this group before getting dropped on the lower slopes of the Kwaremont.

The group stayed clear on the climb and the resulting main road drag before heading off down to the Paterberg.

GvA got clear on the climb and was able to ride a’la Sagan and Bettiol on the flat and fast run in to the finish.

I have to say it was interesting in a strange sort of way despite some glitches in the graphics and the roadside not being wholly accurate of the Flemish countryside I wanted to see who won.

Its a worthy winner as well in Van Avermaet. I hope that he goes on to win a ‘real’ one before his career is over and that his CCC team survive their current plight.

RVV2016

Just a few words from the 100th Tour of Flanders. 

What a race it was. There was action more or less from the start and in Peter Sagan and Lizzie Armistead we had worthy winners and world champions for both events. 

The course is cruel and demanding, shown especially in the way that the legs of Sep Vanmarcke folded beneath him on the last possible metres of the Paterberg. 

It was there he lost the race. 

What a classy touch by Sep, though, to let Fabian Cancellara cross the line alone on his final appearance in the race. Let’s hope that’s a favour that can be repaid somewhere along the roads this season as Vanmarcke is long overdue a big win. 

One negative element was the crashes which didn’t seem more prevalent than usual, just more severe. Greg Van Avermaert and Tom Boonen denied starring roles by falls a long way out. 

We move on to Paris Roubaix this weekend and the podcast tomorrow will preview that in more depth along with a bit more on the Tour of Flanders.