Thursday, July 24, 2014

Know your DS: Olivano Locatelli

There were few riders in recent memory that were more highly prized than Ukranian Yaroslav Popovych. It is kind of hard to wrap my head around how dominant Popovych was during his final U23 years when he won an astonishing 35 races in two year with the Zoccorinese-Vellutex. The high mountains? He won the Giro della Valle d'Aosta twice in a row. The classics? He won the Paris-Roubaix Espoirs in 2001 in a massive solo breakaway. He was the U23 World RR Champion in 2001 in Lisbon after coming 2nd the year before in Pluoay. He won countless races and was head and shoulders above his competition. This wasn't taking advantage of easy fields. This was annihilation that is not seen very often.

There were some reasons for his dominance. His team was incredibly strong his riders such as Volodymr Bileka, Lorenzo Bernucci, Giampaolo Garuso and Domenico Pozzovivo, among others. Okay, I'm really beating around the bush here. A big part of his success was his preparation. By preparation, you should know what I'm referring to. Popovych was trained by Olivano Locatelli, a somewhat obsessive and very detailed director from Bergamo who wanted to win at all costs. At least one article has referred to him as "The Boss" because of his demanding, dictatorial nature with his riders but while his past actions, which we will be getting to, are unforgivable, he is a master tactician; obsessing over details just mere kilometers into a race.

As a rider, Locatelli wasn't by any means amazing. Just a decent amateur rider but his skills of reading a race and training riders were what made him one of the best directors in all of Italy. His favorite race of all is the Giro della Valle d'Aosta. He has been present for 35 Giri della Valle d'Aosta across the last 4 decades and has produced 9 winners during that time including the likes of Yaroslav Popovych (x2), Ivan Gotti (x2), Alessandro Bisolti, Wladimir Belli and most recently Fabio Aru, who won the race overall in 2011 and 2012. Other riders under Locatelli's coaching include Tomas Vaitkus, Giovanni Lombardi, Fabio Casartelli and ex-U23 World Champion Leonardo Giordani.  Just read this article from 2002 about Locatelli and mostly about "Locatelli's Boys" that included Frigo, Savoldelli, Guerini, Mazzoleni. Basically a lineup of some of the most successful Italian racers of the late 90s and 00s but behind all of this success is a very present and obvious dark side.

After grooming Popovych for 2 years with Zoccorinese-Vellutex, Locatelli moved with the Ukranian talent to Landbouwkrediet along with Volodymyr Bileka, Yuri Metlushenko, Lorenzo Bernucci, Claudio Lucchini, Sergey Avdyeyev and Santo Anza. Basically, Locatelli was able to come to an agreement with Landbouwkrediet to bring on the majority of the team and because of his Italian ties, they would get a Giro invite and such. There were definitely two sides to the team though with the Belgians (mostly) sticking to the northern countries and Locatelli's Italian crew getting the bigger invites and most of the Giro spots. Locatelli still split time between the pro team and his amateur team, which switched names to Palazzago.

During the era when these riders were coming up with Locatelli, it was the dirtiest of the dirty times. More or less, doping was common place in the U23 peloton but it wasn't an accepted fact. Case in point, Volodymyr Bileka. According to the affidavit Bileka provided during the whole truth and reconciliation process, Bileka wasn't privy to any doping until he was on Landbouwkrediet and didn't make any attempts to try and dope until later on Discovery. Obviously, Bileka's case is anecdotal but it does shed a bit of light onto the situation. Bileka and Popo came from the same Ukranian village and while growing up and until the came to Italy, Bileka was always the stronger of the two. Popo started to make big gains and then when joining Vellutex with Locatelli, those gains kept coming because of EPO and other drugs.

Locatelli was the DS for Landbouwkrediet at both the 2002 and 2003 Giro when Popovych's star really began to shine. In his first grand tour at the ripe age of 22, Popovych went 12th overall. In 2003, he was blowing the doors off of people. Popo went 5th in Coppi e Bartali and 7th in Romandie before starting his 2nd Giro in as many years. Popovych was just incredible in the Giro. Only 3 times was he outside the top 25 on any stage and he clocked 8 top-10's on the way to a 3rd place overall behind superman Simoni and just 5 seconds behind Garzelli.

Just days after the Giro ended, Locatelli was arrested along with another DS for charged with supplying doping products to athletes. He was recorded on some wiretaps talking about how to circumvent doping controls  Locatelli resigned from Landbouwkrediet with immediate effect while rider Santo Anza and former rider Domenico Romano were also snared in the investigation. So you would think that a disgraced director that was essentially caught red-handed would be banned from being around developing riders and not be able to involved with cycling, right? Uhh..well...I mean, it was the 2000s after all and just you know...fucked up times.

Within a year, Locatelli was back with U.C. Palazzago and directing riders. Locatelli's demanding style and nearly psychotic drive for success might have been the downfall for many of his riders. Once Popovych left his training, the Ukranian was never able to hit the heights that he achieved as a U23 or an early pro. Yeah, doping had something to do with it but Popovych went on to work with Ferrari and never lived up to his promise. Popovych wasn't the only one that Locatelli pretty much wrecked. Denys Kostyuk? He was the top rated U23 in 2003 when riding for Locatelli's team. And look where he is now. Riding with Kolss in a bunch of shitty races. I could list many more burnouts. Branislau Samoilau left the team in 2005 to ride with the Belarus National Team...I mean, how bad must Locatelli have been to go back to riding with your national team, which is also a brutal dictatorship. Luigi Sestili? He was one of the best U23s in 2004 and 2005. After he went pro? *Crickets*. These riders got off relatively lucky as there was a story of an ex-Locatelli rider that was basically doped to the gills in the 90s and have multiple heart attacks before being ending his career.

In more recent years, Locatelli has softened a bit and some of his riders have been able to transfer their talents much more successfully into the pro ranks instead of just being burnout shells of their former selves. Locatelli has nurtured Stefano Pirazzi, Fabio Aru and Diego Rosa through the U23 ranks. In the case of the latter two, Locatelli went and found them and trained them into some damn fine racers. Locatelli found Aru at a 'cross race while Rosa was a MTB racer that transitioned to the road.

Currently, Locatelli is still the director at Palazzago, now known as Pala Fenice this year. He was just recently at his 35th Giro della Valle d'Aosta but he wasn't leading the team to get his 10th overall victory. While not being in contention for the overall win, Locatelli was able to find some solace. Marco Chianese won the sprints classification while Simone Ravanelli won the first year U23 classification. Besides Valle d'Aosta, Pala Fenice has both of the Sterbini brothers, who are bound for Bardiani, as well as Marlen Zmorka, yet another Ukranian under Locatelli's tutelege who has been one of the strongest time trialists in the U23 ranks.

Locatelli is now in his 60s and the riders that he brought up in the 90s and early 00s are now retiring and some are getting into the director cars themselves. The cycle continues. Locatelli never had to serve any time for doping his riders and allowing them to avoid doping controls. Many of his riders have been doped for doping or been caught up in huge investigation yet Locatelli got off scot free. Even in the early 2000's, Locatelli was "applauding" the anti-doping effort but this was director double-speak that wiretaps and anyone involved with him would have known.

We sit here and applaud the U23 ranks being the clean generation yet the next time you look at a startlist, take a look at the name of the DS. Some are a fresh of breath air while others are just the same bullshit that got us into the doping situation in the first place.

Olivano Locatelli

Location: Bergamo
Teams: Vellutex/Palazzago/Pala Fenice (amateur)
Mercanto Uno, Saeco and Landbouwkrediet (former pro teams)

Riders: Yaroslav Popovych, Lorenzo Bernucci, Domenico Pozzovivo, Stefano Pirazzi, Tomas Vaitkus, Giampaolo Caruso, Volodymyr Bileka, Wladimir Belli, Ivan Gotti, Fabio Aru, Diego Rosa, Fabio Casartelli, Leonardo Giordani, Paolo Savoldelli, Giovanni Lombardi, Giuseppe Guerini, Alberto Elli, Toto Commesso, Stefano Zanini, Alessandro Bisolti, Branislau Samoilau, Alberto Loddo

Pros: Training methods; methodical nature; tactical nuance

Cons: Pushing riders so hard that they are shells by the time they turn pros; history of doping riders and helping them evade testing; no remorse for prior actions

Monday, July 21, 2014

Giro della Valle d'Aosta Wrap Up

While the racing has finally settled in the Western Alps of Europe, it is time to do a little bit of reminiscing as well as some analysis.
-Bernardo Suaza was the first Colombian to win the Giro della Valle d'Aosta overall since Alex Cano won the race in 2007 and is just the 2nd to win the race overall. Suaza is still a bit of an unknown quantity to me because of his lack of experience but is obviously capable in the mountains and while Colombia will be absent from l'Avenir thanks to some stupid administrative squabbling, Suaza should be active at some late season stage races.

Speaking of his team, 4-72 Colombia was very strong throughout the race. Diego Ochoa won the prologue and they put 3 in the top 10. While Ochoa couldn't hang on during the first stage, Suaza took up the slack and defined his leader role. Juan Felipe Osorio also rode well for a first year. This race was essentially their l'Avenir this year and while not all of the big names were here, they did what they set out to do. Win. Now if team manager Saldariagga would patch up relations with the Colombian Cycling Feds, then we could see them back in l'Avenir where they deserve to be.

-Odd Eiking really showed his true colors as a scalatore here after finishing 2nd overall and being near the front on every uphill finish. The lanky Norwegian looked very strong throughout the week and lost time to Suaza in the time trials and the opening stage but Eiking is an aggressive racer. I like (smart) aggression in racing. Also, Eiking is young at just 19 years old and I'm curious to see what kind of interest he is getting from the pro ranks.

-Colpack was impressive for most of the week but they were on the ropes on the final road stage. The trio of Manuel Senni, Edward Ravasi and Giulio Ciccone put on a great display on the first two road stages where Senni won the first two stages and Ciccone was raking in the KOM points. This isn't even mentioning Iuri Filosi and Davide Martinelli, both of whom were putting themselves into multiple escape moves. It seems like they had put in a bit too much energy on those stages and were caught out on the final road stage to Les Esserts. Senni was in yellow and got dropped by both Eiking and Suaza while his teammates didn't fair any better. If they were that strong the first couple of stages then the whole race could have been planned differently.

-A new name for me this past week was Paolo Bianchini. The Delio Gallina rider was riding with the front group on the biggest mountain stages and while he seemed to lose some steam on the final two stages, he was fighting it out with the big riders.

-Silvio Herklotz had a fairly anonymous race. The German wunderkind was fairly silent for the early part of the race but started to come around towards the end. He finished 9th on the last road stages with the remnants of the lead group and then went 6th in the ending uphill time trial.

-Oskar Svendsen...not too shabby. I'll go with a thumbs up. Okay he wasn't spectacular but he showed some glints of that mega-talent we all expected.

-Etixx was one of my bigger disappointments of the week. Besides Alexis Guerin's breakaway on stage 3 (he didn't win), the "Czech" team was fairly anonymous.

-Daniel Pearson looks like an interesting prospect. Pearson rides for the Zappi's Team, which is a full British roster that races almost exclusively in Italy. Pearson won the British Junior RR Championship in 2011 ahead of the likes of Jon Dibben and Owain Doull as just a first year junior. Racing for Zappi's, he has had some successful results this year in hillier races. He was 2nd in the Coppa della Pace and 9th overall in Peaches and Nectarines. He was never spectacular but he was always hanging around the leading group and his consistency paid off with an 8th overall.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Valle d'Aosta: Suaza secures overall victory in Morillon

In just his first year racing internationally, Bernardo Suaza (4-72 Colombia) has adapted beautifully to racing against international fields. Suaza's lithe stature is at home in the mountainous regions of the bike racing world but he is a pretty solid all-around rider, especially for a Colombian climber.

Suaza took the leader's jersey after stage 1 after finishing in the lead group with a trio of Colpack riders but lost in on stage 2 when Manuel Senni went on a daring attack on Les Marecottes to take over the lead. While a breakaway ruled the day yesterday in terms of the stage victory, Suaza struck on Senni to take back the leader's jersey. While Dylan Teuns (BMC Development) took the stage win after a brilliant solo attack, Suaza came in with Norwegian Odd Christian Eiking 15 seconds ahead of Senni. Suaza was able take back yellow while Senni was back into 2nd place with Eiking in 3rd.

The decider was going to be the final stage, which was this morning's time trial in Morillon, Savoie, France. While just a little over 5 kilometers in length, the course was straight uphill to the Morillon hamlet of Les Esserts and would be deciding the overall winner for the race.

Rain was on tap for the uphill test but after nearly a whole week of burning legs, the rain probably felt nice on the skin. I find myself lacking when it comes to writing about time trials. I've ridden a few. They hurt like hell and I felt like all of my muscles were slowly roasting while my lungs were burning to keep up the pace. Adding that this is an uphill course, I'm sure everyone was suffering properly.

Simone Andreetta was originally the quickest rider on the day but there was a good reason for that, which the judges found out just after the finish. Andreetta, at some point, cut the course and while he had won by 20 seconds it was obviously by cheating, whether intentional or not. Andreetta was DQed and now shows as a DNF for the race, which is a shame.

Ildar Arslanov is turning out to be a bit of a uphill time trial specialist. The Russian clocked a time of 13'57", which was just over a blazing 23 km/h. The Russian, at least to me, was a bit disappointing here. He had shown such promise at the Ronde de l'Isard, where he was 5th on the 1st stage, but had to caddy for his leader Alexander Foliforov, who had bit the dust the next day in the sleeting rain to Bagneres de Luchon. This certainly makes up for the rest of his race here and hopefully he can string a few more good races together this year.

In 2nd, Oskar Svendsen came in 6 seconds down on Arslanov. Svendsen has had an okay race. The first two mountains days, he was back in the pack a bit but he came out for 14th on stage 3, which was right behind Manuel Senni, the overall leader. Svendsen is a major work in progress. Obviously his engine is huge but when he doesn't have good pack skills and is pretty inexperienced. It would be like having a 600 horsepower Mercedes yet you have to stay in 3rd gear and always seem to be stuck in traffic. So getting 2nd here...a good sign.

Our leader Bernardo Suaza, who was top 10 in the opening uphill prologue, was able to slot into 3rd place just 9 seconds behind Arslanov. There is no better way to win the GC than winning at the front and Suaza extended his lead on 2nd place. Speaking of 2nd overall, Manuel Senni put in a good time trial by his standards for 13th place but Odd Eiking, sitting in 3rd, blew him out of the water by 26 seconds, dropping the Italian to 3rd overall.

Stage Results (Full Results)
  1. Ildar Arslanov (Russia)
  2. Oksar Svendsen (Norway) +6"
  3. Bernardo Suaza (4-72 Colombia) +9"
  4. Odd Eiking (Norway) +19"
  5. Giulio Ciccone (Colpack) +21"
  6. Silvio Herklotz (Stolting) +29"
  7. Felix Grossschartner (Gourmetfein-Simplon) +32"
  8. Bram Van Broekhoven (VL Technics) +39"
  9. Juan Felipe Osorio (4-72 Colombia) s.t.
  10. Edward Ravasi (Colpack) +42"
Final Overall Results (Full Results)
  1. Suaza
  2. Eiking +33"
  3. Manuel Senni (Colpack) +46"
  4. Ravasi +1'15"
  5. Sindre Lunke (Norway) +1'41"
  6. Ciccone +2'29"
  7. Paolo Bianchini (Delio Gallina) +2'31"
  8. Daniel Pearson (Zappi's) +4'05"
  9. Bakhtiyar Kozhatayev (Astana CT) +4'34"
  10. Floris De Tier (EFC-OPQS) s.t.
KOM: Giulio Ciccone (Colpack)
Points: Manuel Senni (Colpack)
Sprints: Marco Chianese (Pala Fenice)
Youth (1st year): Simone Ravanelli (Pala Fenice)
Team: Colpack

Stayed tuned for another wrap-up post on the Giro della Valle d'Aosta with some more thoughts on the race within the next day or so.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Valle d'Aosta: Senni soars to 2nd stage win; takes overall lead

Coming into today's stage in the Pennine Alps in the Valais region of Switzerland, Team Colpack was in the driver's seat. They won stage 1 with Manuel Senni while putting 3 out of 5 in the front group and taking 2nd-4th place overall on the GC with Giulio Ciccone, Edward Ravasi and Senni. To make it even better, Ciccone had a grasp on the KOM classification. So while Bernardo Suaza had the overall lead, he was going to have an uphill fight with the Italians.

The first half of the stage was mainly flat with a couple of small kickers to keep everyone honest. Multiple attacks were launched during the flat section to try and get an advantage before the three big climbs in the last half of the stage but none were really successful. Marco Chianese, the intermediate sprints leader, broke away to take the first sprint while Davide Martinelli, 2nd in the classification, won the 2nd sprint with Chianese in 3rd.

Once the town hit the hamlet of Saxon, Simone Andreetta (Zalf-Euromobil) took off at the foot of the Col du Lein and was the carrot for a group of chasers all the way up the climb. Felix Grossschartner (Gourmetfein-Simplon) was solo behind Andreetta while a group including Alexey Vermeulen (BMC Development), Giulio Ciccone (Colpack), Patrick Bosman (Tirol) and Alexis Guerin (Etixx). Andreetta led the group over the Col du Lein and even through the descent, he kept a gap on the groups behind him.

On the Col des Planches, things got interesting. While Andreetta plowed on ahead, the chasing group behind him was morphing. Thanks to attacking the descent and the bottom part of the climb, overall leader Bernardo Suaza and Manuel Senni bridged to the chasing group, proceeded to bust through it. Senni and Suaza brought with them Ciccone and Bosman. As the riders went off the descent and through Martigny, Manuel Senni bridged up to Andreetta just before the final summit finish to Les Marecottes.

Senni and Andreetta arrived on the final climb together and were working together but Andreetta was going to learn that there are no fucking gifts. With 8 kilometers to go, the kilometers caught up with Andreetta and Senni began to accelerate and he distanced the Zalf-Euromobil rider. Thanks to the chase losing some impetus, Senni's gap back to the fairly large chasing group was 1'45" with 5 kilometers to go. The chasers had really messed around but Senni's leg were burning and the gap began to tumble.

Bernardo Suaza (4-72 Colombia) was suffering like a dog on a hot day. He saw Senni ride away from him on the climb previous and now he was making up for his mistake. Suaza was in the chasing group with the Norwegian duo of Odd Eiking and Sindre Lunke, Patrick Bosman, Paolo Bianchini, Bakhtiyar Kozhatayev and Edward Ravasi. Manuel Senni was riding away with the lead but the gap was falling rapidly and Suaza was seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. While Senni topped out over the KOM point with 50 seconds, there was still a kilometer left and while he was pedalling squares, the chase was speeding up.
Senni was able to hold on to take his 2nd stage win in a row while Odd Eiking led in the furious chase at 20 seconds back with Bosman and Lunke in 3rd and 4th. Suaza fell off in the last kilometer and rode in 33 seconds down. His 28 second lead on Senni became a 5 second deficit heading into the final 2 stages. While he lost the yellow jersey, Suaza could have been a lot worse off and is around to fight another day.

Once again, Colpack was putting on a clinic and now they have 2 stages wins thanks to Senni, the overall lead (Senni), the KOM jersey (Ciccone), the points jersey (Senni) and the lead in the team's classification.While Senni has been brilliant so far, he is by no means in the clear. Suaza is just 5 seconds back while Eiking is just 30 seconds back. Ravasi, Bianchini and Lunke are all within one minute of the lead so with a "transitional" stage and an uphill time trial, no one is in the clear.

Stage (Full Results)
  1. Manuel Senni (Colpack)
  2. Odd Eiking (Norway) +20"
  3. Patrick Bosman (Tirol) +21"
  4. Sindre Lunke (Norway) s.t.
  5. Paolo Bianchini (Delio Gallina) +26"
  6. Bakhtiyar Kozhatayev (Astana Continental) +30"
  7. Bernardo Suaza (4-72 Colombia) +33"
  8. Edward Ravasi (Colpack) +41"
  9. Tilegen Maidos (Astana Continental) +1'12"
  10. Matvey Mamikin (Russia) +1'38"
Overall (Full Results)
  1. Senni
  2. Suaza +5"
  3. Eiking +30"
  4. Ravasi +37"
  5. Bianchini +42"
  6. Lunke +57"
  7. Giulio Ciccone (Colpack) +2'00"
  8. Mamikin +2'13"
  9. Daniel Peason (Zappi's) +2'49"
  10. Maidos +3'07"

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Valle d'Aosta: Colpack dominates; 4-72 Colombia holds onto yellow

While there is only one road stage in the Aosta Valley during this year's Giro della Valle d'Aosta, it turned out to be a cracker of a stage. Favorites went down while others made themselves known. Even though the race only had a live ticker through a separate website, I was on the edge of my seat with the racing. I know there is no infrastructure to broadcast U23 races at this time but damnit, this is one of the races that deserves more coverage.

The race took off with 123 riders this morning with only 1 DNS, Xandro Meurisse of Lotto-Belisol U23, who broke his wrist in a crash in the prologue. Meurisse will heal up and hopefully be back for his stagiaire spot with Lotto-Belisol. A group of 23 got away early in the stage and included such names as TJ Eisenhart (BMC Development), Maxat Ayazbayev (Astana CT), Marlen Zmorka (Pala Fenice), Davide Martinelli (Colpack), Yuriy Vasyliv (Stölting) and many more. Nearly every team was represented and the gap on the breakaway got a gap of nearly 6 minutes on the mainly flat area of the course.

With 70 kilometers to go, the gap began to tumble as a 6 minute gap became a 4 minute gap and in the run up to the Col de St. Pantaleon, the gap was just 1'20" as the peloton, led by the Norwegian National Team, was getting ready to attack the two big climbs on the day. Luca Chirico (Mg.Kvis-Trevigiani) went out solo once the breakaway hit the St. Pantaleon climb with Eisenhart, Martinelli and Brecht Ruyters (Lotto-Belisol) chasing ahead of the peloton. Halfway up the climb, Chirico was brought back into the fold and a leading group of 25 was carved out. Giulio Ciccone (Colpack) led the leading group over the top of the St. Pantaleon climb, taking full GPM points ahead of Bernardo Suaza  (4-72 Colombia) and Tilegen Maidos (Astana CT).

On the descent off of the Col de St. Pantaleon, Iuri Filosi (Colpack) said toodaloo mothafuckas and went solo on the descent into Antey-Saint Andre. From there, it was straight up for the next 18 kilometers, while the final climb proper didn't technically start until the race hit Valtournenche. Filosi was the leader on the rode while being chased solo by Tilegen Maidos, roughly 40 seconds behind, with the remnants of the front group chasing behind him. Filosi, the winner of the Peaches and Nectarines overall and 2nd in last weekend's European U23 RR Championship, was going for broke but the move was in vein. First, the peloton picked up Maidos with 3.5 kilometers to go while Filosi lasted until 3 kilometers to go.

The lead group, which was 17 with 4 kilometers to go, detonated once the catch was made with a group of 5 splitting off the front including Manuel Senni, Giulio Ciccone, Edward Ravasi (all Colpack), Bernardo Suaza (4-72 Colombia) and Matvey Mamikin (Russian National). Over the GPM points, Ciccone led the group over to sew up the mountains jersey while the group set it up for an uphill sprint. In the sprint, Manuel Senni beat out teammate Ciccone ahead of Mamikin and Suaza. 23 seconds in arrears, Floris De Tier (EFC-OPQS) led the remnants of the leading group including Sindre Lunke (Norway), Bram Van Broekhoven (VL Technics), Odd Eiking (Norway) and Daniel Pearson (Zappi's). Race leader Diego Ochoa came in soon after at 1'28" behind the leaders.

While Ochoa lost the leader's jersey, 4-72 Colombia was able to hold onto the leader's jersey as Bernardo Suaza took over the yellow jersey ahead of a trio of Colpack riders.

Stage (Full Results)

  1. Manuel Senni (Colpack)
  2. Giulio Ciccone (Colpack)
  3. Matvey Mamikin (Russian National)
  4. Bernardo Suaza (4-72 Colombia)
  5. Edward Ravasi (Colpack) +3"
  6. Floris De Tier (EFC-OPQS) +23"
  7. Sindre Lunke (Norway National)
  8. Paolo Bianchini (Delio Gallina)
  9. Bram Van Broekhoven (VL Technics)
  10. Andrea Garosio (Zalf-Euromobil)
  1. Bernardo Suaza
  2. Ravasi +22"
  3. Ciccone +24"
  4. Senni +28"
  5. Odd Eiking (Norway National) +38"
  6. Bianchini +44"
  7. Van Broekhoven +50"
  8. Mamikin +1'03"
  9. Lunke +1'04"
  10. Daniel Pearson (Zappi's) +1'06"
Colpack is obviously in the driver's seat with 2 more road stages and an uphill time trial. Suaza has proved his proficiency in the mountains with his ride in the Ronde de l'Isard, where he was 5th overall. Eiking and Lunke will be a two-headed threat for the Norwegian National team. Van Broekhoven was 2nd overall in the Course de la Paix (Peace Race) earlier this year and arguably one of the best climbers in the race. Mamikin is an unknown quantity to me as he was not the favorite compared to his teammates Foliforov and Arslanov. There are still 15 riders within 2 minutes of Suaza so the race is still wide open.

Some riders that weren't able to hold onto the front group today including TJ Eisenhart and Alexey Vermeulen (BMC Development), Silvio Herklotz (Stölting), Sam Spokes (Etixx), Oskar Svendsen (Norway), Simone Sterbini (Pala Fenice) and Bakhtiyar Kozhatayev (Astana CT). Some were in the early breakaway like Eisenhart while others weren't on top form but all of these riders are definite threats for stage wins even if they are out of the GC hunt.

Speaking of spectacular blow-ups, Alexander Foliforov, who I have mentioned previously having spectacular blow-ups, finished 27'16" down. Foliforov was listed as being with the front group with 30 kilometers to go. While that might have been mis-reported, that would have been pretty spectacular to go from the front to all the way to the back in 30 kilometers. Perhaps a crash or some other issue happened but it seems like Foliforov just can't keep his shit together for a stage race.

The race transfers to the Valais region of Switzerland for stage 2 and while just 120 kilometers, it has 5 categorized climbs with 3 category 1 climbs in the final 55 kilometers. It is going to be fun.

Giro della Valle d'Aosta: Ochoa storms to prologue win

The Giro della Valle d'Aosta, one of the premiere U23 stage races, kicked off on Wednesday in the heart of Italy's most remote region with a 5.1 kilometer time trial that while not the be all end all, it was certainly an important first test for the riders.

The course itself started from Arvier, the birthplace of Maurice Garin. For people that are unaware and more importantly didn't read my preview, Garin won the first Tour de France and while originally born in Italy, he moved to Northern France at a young age.The course had a small descent out of the gate before slightly rising for the remainder of the course to the hamlet of Valgrisenche.

The bar was set quite early. Elias Van Bruessegem (VL Technics) was the 7th rider out of the gate and he laid down a time of 9'28"98, which was a pretty good time because he ended up getting 14th overall when the day ended. Setting off just 4 minutes later was Diego Ochoa (4-72 Colombia). Ochoa proceeded to blow the doors off of everyone. There was still 111 riders still to set off after Ochoa but he proceeded to put down a time of 8'59"63. Everyone else would be trying to touch that time the rest of the day.

The next favorite to go off was Silvio Herklotz, who opted for an early start time. Herklotz, who is by no means a great time trialist, put in a time of 9'55", which would be good for 55th in the end. Italian U23 time trial champion Davide Martinelli would be one of the only ones to come anywhere near Ochoa. Decked out in his Italian stripes on a blacked-out Pinarello with a 12-spoke Lightweight front wheel, Martinelli rode in witha 9'05"16. I'm sure the future SKY stagiaire is a bit disappointed but it was a strong ride.

Ochoa's 4-72 teammate Juan Felipe Osorio and Bernardo Suaza both proceeded to put in top 10 rides to cap off a great day for the Colombian squad. Speaking of teammates putting in strong rides, Ildar Arslanov and Alexander Foliforov went 6th and 5th and went a long way to putting at least one of them in the top 5 at the end of the race.

The only rider to make Diego Ochoa truly sweat was TJ Eisenhart (BMC Development), who was in the last wave of riders with many of the GC favorites. Eisenhart, who was recently crowned the USA U23 TT Champion in Madison,Wisconsin on July 4th, laid it on on the course and with his 3T disc wheel whirring away, the Utah native clocked in a time of 9'00"73, just 01"10 off of Ochoa. While a little hard to come that close and lose, it does set him up beautifully for a GC run.

To those that read my preview for the race, I was lazily wondering if Oskar Svendsen could make a run at this race like he did the Tour de l'Avenir last year. Well he went 4th place in the prologue just 7 seconds behind Ochoa. So obviously he is on some decent form but the biggest test will be how he handles the peloton and if he is able to hang around until the end. Some other GC favorites that did well include Odd Eiking, Iuri Filosi and Bakhtiyar Kozhatayev, all of whom finished between 11th and 13th. Really no one did too bad because these mountains can see some large time gaps but a 25 second head start is definitely a boost for those in the top 10.
  1. Diego Ochoa (4-72 Colombia)
  2. TJ Eisenhart (BMC Development) +1"10
  3. Davide Martinelli (Colpack) +5"53
  4. Oskar Svendsen (Norwegian National) +6"79 
  5. Alexander Foliforov (Russian National) +7"20
  6. Ildar Arslanov (Russian National) +8"58
  7. Felix Großschartner (Gourmetfein-Simplon) +9"72
  8. Bernardo Suaza (4-72 Colombia) +17"36
  9. Juan Felipe Osorio (4-72 Colombia) +19"38
  10. João Marcelo Gaspar (World Cycling Centre) +25"59
Full Results

Gaspar is a new revelation to me. He was 3rd overall in the Tour of Brazil earlier this year and after that performance, he accepted a role at the UCI World Cycling Centre and in just a few short months in Aigle, Gaspar has managed to win two smaller French races.
 The race continues on Thursday with a 170 kilometer ride to the mountain-top finish at Breuil Cervinia, just outside of Valtournenche.
^^Seriously? The organizers need to decide what century that are in based on the wide range of dress on the podium. The two teenage looking podium girls are in jean shorts and then Ochoa is getting a small trophy (that looks like a mini-keg) from a woman that is in a period dress from roughly 1890. Gold.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Cascade Cycling Classic Prologue

While Valle d'Aosta is going to be taking up the vast majority of my attention the next week, it wouldn't be smart of me to just ignore one of the biggest events on the USA Cycling calendar, at least in terms of stage races. The Cascade Cycling Classic is a fixture on the US calendar and every year, showcases the stunning high desert around Bend, Oregon. They bill it as the North America's longest running stage race, which is highly debatable but what can you do.

Getting off my Bend Tourism Board soapbox, the race always brings out the best professional and amateur talent across the country and in more recent years, teams like Bissell, Hincapie and BMC Development have brought some stacked teams here. Lots of U23 talent that isn't in Europe is here.

Tuesday kicked off the race with a 4km (2.5 mile) prologue in Bend. Sorry, I should be more official. Tuesday kicked off the race with the Worthy Brewing prologue, a scenic 2.5 mile course right off the beautiful Cascade Lakes National Scenic Byway at the exclusive Tetherow Golf Resort. Now that I'm ready to throw up in my mouth, let's just talk about the race.

Tom Zirbel (Optum) laid down the early best time of 4'23"38"' that was to be the carrot for the rest of the field. Another strong early time came from U23 Robin Carpenter (Hincapie Development), who slotted into 3rd place at the time. Carpenter has been riding a strong wave of time trial rides and has been very proficient the last few months in the disciplines. The times kept creeping nearer towards Zirbel. National Elite TT Champion Tim Rugg (Marc Pro Strava) put down a 4'30". Travis McCabe (Smartstop) lowered it to 4'29". U23 Dion Smith (Hincapie Development) took it down by a few fractions of a second but nothing substantial.

The biggest challenge came by U23 Ruben Zepuntke (Bissell), who put down a time of 4'25"59"'. Really, Zirbel isn't the best domestic time trialist for nothing. Ignazio Moser (BMC Development), who has been fraught with motivation problems in the past, came close but could only manage 3rd on the night.

While Zirbel took the win and yellow into tomorrow, it was a great showing by the U23s in the peloton by putting 4 in the top 10 with best young rider Zepuntke, Moser, Smith and Carpenter. Hincapie Devo was by far the strongest team in the test by putting 6 out of their 8 riders into the top 20. Other U23s that got inside the top 40 (withing 14 seconds of Zirbel) include Bas Tietema (BMC Devo), Dan Eaton (Canyon Bicycles-Shimano), James Oram (Bissell), Ben Wolfe (Cal Giant), Logan Owen and Tao Geoghegan Hart (both Bissell).

A large forest fire has re-routed the 1st stage so they will be doing a couple of loops around Mount Bachelor, which they will be doing pretty much again later in the week. Throw in a time trial, criterium and a hard circuit race and there is going to be some tired legs by this Sunday.