Friday, March 27, 2015

Volta ao Alentejo Stage 2: The Old Hand Hits Back

Back in 2009, Manuel Cardoso was just 26 years old and had taken 7 wins in UCI races including the Portuguese RR Championship and a stage in the Volta a Portugal. His career was looking up and he signed a contract with a Footon-Servetto and in early 2010, Cardoso hit the pinnacle of his career when he launched a ferocious sprint and beat Cadel Evans and a young Peter Sagan to win a stage of the Tour Down Under. He took another World Tour win in the Volta a Catalunya with RadioShack but his career outside Portugal began to tumble after 2012 with Caja Rural.

Last year, Cardoso was relegated to the Banco BIC team and life on the continental circuit. He took 6 wins but four of them came at the Tour du Maroc along with 2 in Portugal including one in the Volta a Portugal and another that was 363 days ago in the Volta ao Alentejo.

The stage from Castelo de Vide to Mora was more or less downhill and the main breakaway featured three riders including Pawel Franczak (ActiveJet), Benat Txoperena (Murias Taldea) and Albert Torres (Ecuador). The trio had the longest time out front with nearly 35 kilometers out front but the peloton was hungry for a sprint and was not letting anything go. Breakaways went and came back but nothing was getting out of the grips of the peloton.

Cardoso taking the tight, dangerous sprint into Mora
Photo: podi1.pt
The finale was a bit nuts with the twists and turns but coming into the finale was the ex-World Tour rider Cardoso ahead of evergreen Portuguese rider Sammy Caldeira and Canadian Ryan Anderson of Optum. Lost in the shuffle was overall leader James Oram (Axeon), who was able to finish with the peloton but thanks to time bonuses he finished on the same time as Cardoso. Thanks to a stage countback, Cardoso took the jersey over with Oram on the same time in 2nd and in the youth jersey.

The stage tomorrow goes to Mertola and again is a more or less flat affair but has a slightly uphill finish. Guess who the winner on the stage to Mertola was last year? Manuel Cardoso.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Tour de Normandie: Joker strikes

Stage 3 of the Tour of Normandie will probably be the most straight forward of the stage race. The course was a mainly flat affair that saw high winds on the way to Argentan featured.

Breakaways tried to go throughout the day with varying success.

Nathan Van Hooydonck got away for about 20 kilometers early on before being brought back
photo: tourdenormandiecycliste.fr
Another group tried following the only real difficulty on the course but it wasn't until 110 kilometers gone that a breakaway was able to make an impact.

Tom Scully (Madison-Genesis) got into a move to try and get some time on his rivals
photo: tourdenormandiecycliste.fr
The group included Lennard Hofstede and Mitchell Cornelisse (Rabobank Development), Fabien Canal (Armee de Terre), Alex Peters (SEG Racing), Jeremy Cornu (Vendée U), Scully, Paulius Siskevicius (AnPost-Chain Reaction), Vegard Stake Laengen (Joker), Joachim Van Reyten (Lotto-Belisol U23), Jetse Bol and Ronan Van Zandbeek (both Join's-De Rijke).

The group was able to shake things up a bit but heading into the final city circuits the breakaway was hunted down and only made it through one circuit out of three before a reduced peloton caught up to them. The team that really made it well through the wind and splits was Joker, who had 5 riders in the front group, took to the front to keep the pace up and neutralize any attacks.

A tight sprint taken out by Hoelgaard (r) ahead of Vermeltfoort and Kruopis (c)
photo: tourdenormandiecycliste.fr
Joker put in a great leadout and redeemed themselves after their near win on Wednesday and launched their U23 sprinter Daniel Hoelgaard into a great position. Hoelgaard had a hard charging Coen Vermeltfoort (Join's-De Rijke) and ex-World Tour rider Aidis Kruopis (AnPost-Chain Reaction) on his heels but the Norwegian was able to take out his first UCI win of the year.

Dimitri Claeys held onto the overall lead while Hoelgaard vaulted to 2nd overall just 6 seconds down while former leader Tom Bohli, Tom Scully and Nathan Van Hooydonck fill out the rest of the top 5 and are all within 15 seconds.

The race continues into Bagnoles-de-l'Orne with a course that has a very undulating profile and could be very rewarding for a well-timed attacker.


Volta ao Alentejo stage 1: Axeon hot streak continues

After years of having some good but jot fantastic early season results, Axeon Cycling (formerly Bontrager) has been off to a lightning start in 2015. After homeboy Ruben Guerreiro took a stage win and the overall win in the GP Liberty Seguros - Trofeu Costa Vicentina and teammate James Oram finished in 4th overall, the team came to the Volta ao Alentejo riding high.

Alentejo is a southern region of Portugal that is the home to the famous cork oaks that make some of the finest cork in the world. One tree alone, when properly harvested, can give enough bark to produce as many as 4,000 wine corks. The cork industry of Alentejo employs 60,000 people annually and still uses fairly rudimentary tools, axes, to harvest the crop since there has not been a mechanical solution that has turned out to be more efficient.

Stage 1 went from Portalegre to Castelo De Vide, a quaint little town butted up against Spain that sits up on a hill with more nooks and crannies than a bag of Thomas English Muffins as well as some nice cobbled streets. The town itself sits under a very large castle that dates to the 14th century and features 32 chapels within the town, which only has a population of 3,400. The town also has an interesting Jewish neighborhood that has the oldest synagogue in Portugal.

A breakaway got away early that included Oscar Landa (Coop-Oster Hus), Sjoerd Kouwenhoven (Metec) and Jose Ragonessi (Ecuador). The trio got a maximum of 4 minutes but once the peloton got a concerted effort going, their advantage was clipped. The group was brought back with 84 kilometers gone and the peloton was active and wasn't letting much go. Byron Guama (Ecuador), who won the KOM sprint last year, won the two KOMs on offer.
With 15 kilometers to go, Tao Geoghegan Hart (Axeon) got into a breakaway with Alberto Gallego (Radio Popular-Onda), Frederik Galta (Coop-Oster Hus), Pawel Bernas (Active Jet) and Mikel Bizkarra (Murias Taldea) and they looked liked they were going well for a while but it would be all for naught when with 500 meters, the breakaway was swept up and the uphill sprint was on.



Oram taking an impressive win with Guerreiro celebrating like he won the damn thing (photo: podi1.pt)
James Oram has had one hell of a start to his season. The Kiwi has seemingly gotten better and better as the years have gone on but he was seemingly not living up to his junior results where he won the Tour de l'Abitibi and was 2nd in the World Championship TT. Oram has won the U23 NZ TT, the queen stage in the New Zealand Cycle Classic, 2nd in the REV Classic and 4th overall in the GP Liberty Seguros.

Guerreiro has shown to be a good signing so far for Axeon. When it was announced, I asked why they signed the 2nd best Portuguese rider instead of Joaquim Silva, who had finished 8th in the Tour de l'Avenir. It is early but the egg is being aimed for my face right now if things continue this way for Guerreiro.

The next U23 rider who came across with the lead group, which numbered 44, was USA Cycling's Colin Joyce, who finished 3rd overall in the GP Liberty Seguros. Joyce had been riding quite well this year and has been holding the USA National teams head afloat so far into this European trip.

The race continues with a 153 kilometer stage to Mora, which should be a bunch sprint.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Tour de Normadie Stages 1 and 2: Sprint & Breakaway

The Tour de Normandie rolls along Northern France in usual fashion along some small roads with rain and wind.

The breakaway slogging through Northern France (Photo:tourdenormandiecycliste.fr)

Stage 1 was the longest stage of the race and featured some wonderful "French flat", the undulous terrain that seemingly never has any flat road and is just up and down all day. The breakaway included Max Schachmann (AWT-Greenway), Tom Stewart (Madison-Genesis), Laurent Van den Bak (Leopard Development), Mads Christensen (Riwal) and Conor McConvey (3M) got a maximum gap of 4'25". With 45km to go, Christensen attacked the breakaway and went solo; keeping a gap between 30 seconds to a minute ahead of a BMC Development peloton.

Christensen hit out and was soon joined and passed by Dylan Kowalski (VC Rouen), who had a gap that was just 20 seconds but was soon brought back together. Coming into the finale, Bohli was safe in the peloton but with 2 kilometer to go, a crash swept through the peloton.

Bohli was separated from the peloton but he should have been protected by the 3 kilometer rule.



Coming into the sprint, it was Lucas Destang (Vendée U) who took the sprint ahead of Pascal Ackermann (Germany) and kermesse king Joeri Calleeuw (Verandas Willems). Instead of implementing the 3 kilometer rule, Bohli was originally scored at 13 seconds down and lost his overall lead to Kiwi Tom Scully (Madison-Genesis).
No worry, Mr. Williams, Bohli's lead was re-instated the following day and he took the yellow jersey to the road on Wednesday.
It took 50 kilometers but a breakaway of 4 got away including Stef Van Zummeren (Verandas Willems), Koen Bouwman (SEG Racing), Mike Northey (Madison-Genesis) and Jake Tanner (3M). The breakaway got a gap of 3 minutes but as the above tweet shows, BMC was the impetus in the chase that brought them back. They made it to the finishing circuits in Elbeuf-sur-Seine but made it no more than a few kilometers before Armee de Terre brought everything back together.

A counter attack went 20 kilometers from the finish including Dimitri Claeys (Verandas Willems), Alex Peters (SEG Racing) and ex-SKY rider Josh Edmondson (AnPost-Chain Reaction). The trio got a nice gap against a Joker-led peloton and following a lull by the peloton, Claeys and Peters accelerated on the final climb of the day, leaving Edmondson out in the cold.

Claeys beating out Peters for the win (Photo:tourdenormandiecycliste.fr)
Claeys and Peters motored along and even while they were in the sights of the peloton, they were not able to be brought back. Claeys, who has been bouncing around amateur and continental teams for years now, was able to easily beat out Peters from the sprint. Behind, it was Joker's Daniel Hoelgaard taking 3rd ahead of Lukas Jaun (Roth-Skoda) and ex-WT rider Aidis Kruopis (AnPost-Chain Reaction).

BMC Development wasn't able to hold onto their leader's jersey but put in a great ride. Claeys took the overall leader's jersey just 14 seconds ahead of Bohli and 16 seconds ahead of Scully, Destang, Pardini and Hoelgaard. Koen Bouwman leads the KOM jersey while Claeys and Destang are tied at 25 points for the points jersey.

Tomorrow's stage goes into Argentan and looks to be destined for a sprint finish.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Tour de Normandie Prologue: Bohli takes out a Scud Missle to win

The prologue of the Tour de Normandie is always a good test and seems to bring out the best U23 riders in the back as well as some of the older amateur riders still in the pack. The rolling Saint-Lô course has been a feature for the last four events and sets a tone for the race as many that have GC intentions for the week tend to show themselves here.

The course wraps itself around the small town of Saint-Lô, which was totally decimated in World War II, featuring a kick-up on the Rue Robert Kennedy of nearly 10% gradient before descending down the Rue Martin Luther King. The race has a small hill in the Avenue de Verdun before finishing back at the Place du General de Gaulle just meters aware from the start.

Last year, BMC Development rider Stefan Küng took the prologue win ahead of Itera's Sergey Nikolaev, who has been on fire this early season, and his teammate and U23 Tom Bohli. Küng has gone onto BMC's pro team while Bohli was back once again to line up against some of Europe's best. Standing in his way was Kiwi rider Tom Scully (Madison-Genesis), who won the prologue in 2013,  as well as teammates Thery Schir and Nathan Van Hooydonck.


Tom "Scud Missle" Scully but in a strong ride for Madison-Genesis and looked to be a winner but Tom Bohli improved upon his 3rd from last year to take the win and gave BMC Development their 2nd prologue win in a row and a good start to take their 3rd win overall here in a row.

Continental evergreen Olivier Pardini finished 3rd while U23 riders Jan Dieteren (Leopard-Trek) and BMC Devo rider Nathan Van Hooydonck finished 4th and 5th. 82 riders are within 20 seconds so the race itself is very much on still.

The GC is the same way that they finished on the stage so the only other interest from the stage was the KOM on the Rue Robert Kennedy. David Riviere of Vendee U was the quickest up the hill to take the KOM jersey followed by Peter Lenderink (Rabobank Continental) and Koen Bouwman (SEG Racing).

The action continues Tuesday with a 207 kilometer romp from Colombelles to the spa town of Forges-les-Eaux. The hilly final circuits will make it tough to see a sprint finish and will suit a solo breakaway or a small group sprint.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Algerian Grand Tour

The Algerian Grand Tour is currently halfway through yet not many have any idea that there is a series of races happening that rack up 22 days of racing within a month just a few hours south of Europe. In the month of March, Algeria plays host to 22 days of racing spread out over 10 races and 25 days from March 6th's Circuit International d'Alger to March 30th's Criterium International de Blida. The Tour of Morocco happens just a few days after the conclusion of the Algerian Grand Tour and offer another 10 days of racing. That is 32 racing days in a bit over 5 weeks time. Yet the turn out for these races is...poor.

The majority of the starters come from Algeria, which has a pretty good scene as the French did their best to impress their mores while Algeria was a colony, but Rwanda, Morocco and Eritrea send national teams while some French, British and other randoms show up.

Currently, the only rider that I have seen finish every race so far through through the Thursday's last stage of the Tour International de Setif is Eritrean Mekseb Debesay. Debesay won the Tour de Blida along with a stage, took the Criterium de Setif and a stage of the Tour de Setif. Debesay, who is riding with the Eritrean National Team, rides of the German Bike Aid team and was 18th in the Amissa Bongo Bongo Bongo in February in Gabon. The lowest finish he has had so far in the Algerian Grand Tour is 15th on one stage of the Tour Internationale d'Oranie.

Circuit d'Alger - Hichem Chabane (Algeria) wins solo
Tour d'Oranie - Chabane wins 2 stages but Azzadine Lagab (Algeria) takes the overall due to a long breakaway getting time up the road.
GP d'Oran - Janiver Hadi (Rwanda) wins a big bunch sprint
Tour de Blida - Debesay wins the first stage and proceeds to take the overall. Chabane wins another stage and U23 Adebl Barbari wins a stage and takes 2nd overall.
Criterium de Setif - Debesay wins a bunch sprint
Tour de Setif - Nabil Baz wins the opening stage in a big solo effort and proceeds to hold on through an Eritrean onslaught that included a different Eritrean winning the final three stage including Debesay. The final stage saw the Eritreans go 1-2-3-4-5 (as seen below) but Baz held on for the overall.


So if you have a continental team that is looking to get a ton of racing days and looking to bond in a foreign country, then why don't raise some funds and get your team over to the Maghreb. You might even be able to get into the Tour du Maroc and get a month's worth of racing in before going back home and destroying all-comers.

We will catch up with the conclusion of the Tour later this month.

Italian Amateur Update: A Changing of the Guard?

While we are nearly a month into the Italian amateur season but there is a much different tone to this season than there has been the past couple of seasons. Zalf-Euromobil is simply not as dominant as they have been in years' past. In 2013, the team had Andrea Zordan and Paolo Simion, who combined for 18 wins on the season and the team finished with a record 59 wins. In 2014, the team had Nicolas Marini and Daniele Cavasin, who combined for 17 wins while the team came up with 57 wins on the season.

Times change though and riders come and go. Currently, Zalf-Euromobil still leads the rankings with 4 wins, which have come from four different winners, but they have fell flat in big races. Colpack sits at 3 wins this year but have really shown themselves to be the team of the year so far, at least in my book. They did royally mess up the Trofeo Franco Balestra (check it out in case you missed it) but they have a strong sprint team in Davide Martinelli, Francesco Lamon and Riccardo Minali while Giulio Ciccone and Edward Ravasi will be coming into form soon for climbing races such as the upcoming GP San Giuseppe and Piccola Sanremo.

Another newer concept in the Italian amateur scene is the presence of Continental teams in many amateur races. This happened last year as the Italian federation loosened some restrictions for their home teams after their was just one continental team in 2013. Now 5 continental teams, many of them fill their scheduled with Italian amateur races while waiting for invites to bigger races throughout the continent. Unieuro Wilier Trevigiani, which sprouted from the Trevigiani amateur team a couple years ago, has won 2 races this year including Rino Gasparrini's big time sprint win in the 100th La Popolarissima ahead of Marco Maronese (Zalf) and Xhuliano Kamberaj (Cipollini Ale').

Gasparrini taking the big wins from the U23s (Foto: ItaliaCiclismo)
The emergence of continental teams in the Italian amateur circuit does add some professional touches to the scene but it isn't like they are getting paid anything other than a few quid here or there. So basically, the teams are paying for the right to ride a few bigger races and their presence does cut down on some of those riders that would make a career off the amateur races (looking at you Luca Benedetti) and pushing off a pro career.