So the Tour de France is happening but if you are reading this, I'm sure you are looking at the start list for the Tour de Liege and waiting up until the wee hours of the morning for results from the Tour of Qinghai Lake. Because you are a true cycling fan and not just some fair-weather cycling fan that comes around every summer at the sight of sunflowers and plush podium lions.
Let's take a look at the week that was...
GP Minsk and Minsk Cup
Ahhh, Belarus. The Eastern European worker's paradise ruled by Alexander Lukashenko hosted two races over the weekend. The GP Minsk was more like an overblown criterium on a pan-flat course. A group of three including Russian Nikolay Cherkasov (U23) , Kazakh Nurbolat Kulimbetov and Belorussian Aleh Ahiyevich (U23) were away until three kilometers when the bunch came together for the gallop.
It was Siarhei Papok (Minsk Cycling) that won the bunch sprint for his 3rd win of the year while Sergiy Kozachenko (Kyiv Capital) and Uladzimir Harakhavik (Minsk Cycling) finished 4th and 5th.
In the Minsk Cup, it was a bit different story. A group of 6 got off the front and with most teams represented, the gap pushed out. While a chase group got away, it was 5 riders that stayed away in the finale including Ukranian Oleksandr Golovash (Kolss), Kazakhs Matvey Nikitin & Nurbolat Kulimbetov (both Seven Rivers), Zydrunas Savickas (Lithuania) and Andris Vosekalns (Rietumu). It was Golovash, who is a former European U23 TT podium finisher, who got away at the end and outsprinted Nikitin for the win. W
hile the chasers came in a few minutes led in by U23 Ahiyevich in 6th, it was mystery man Dmytro Grabovskyy who pulled away from the peloton and came in alone in 11th. It was Grabovskyy's first race in Europe in 5 years. Papok took the sprint for 11th.
Omloop Het Nieuwsblad U23
In the final kilometers of the the U23/Amateur version of the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad in Zottegem, Floris Gerts attacked his breakaway mates that included two cylcocross riders in U23 Wout Van Aert & Gianni Vermeersch along with journeyman Dimitri Claeys and danced away for his 4th win of the season. Gerts, who was apart of the day long breakaway, it certainly justifying his stagiaire spot on BMC this year. Three more U23s finished in the top 10 including Maxime Farazijn, Daan Myngheer and Kenneth Van Rooy.
Course de Solidarnosc et des Champions Olympiques
This race is a bigger spring fest than the Tour of Qatar. Johim Ariesen was easily the best sprinter and took 4 out of the 5 bunch sprints with his lone "off" stage saw him finish 8th as the finish was a little uphill. Pawel Franczak and Vitaly Buts were the closest to Ariesen on a consistent basis but even then, Ariesen had a lock on the overall. Ariesen is up to 9 wins now, which puts him tied for 6th in the UCI rankings with Richie Porte.
In terms of the U23s, there were a few that got onto the podiums inlcuding Kacper Gronkiewicz, Jakub Kaczmarek (CCC Sprandi) and Eryk Laton (CCC Sprandi). While the sprints decided some of the GC spots, many of the breakaway riders took advantage of breakaways and bonus second sprints. Toms Skujins (Hincapie) and U23 Emiel Planckaert (Lotto-Soudal U23) both got some bonuses to get 4th and 5th overall on the GC.
Maxime Vantomme played the World Tour fish in the Continental pond after sneaking away in the finale to take a super tight finish at Paris-Chauny. Vantomme was in the breakaway with his teammate and designated sprinter Rudy Barbier. With riders not working well together, Vantomme went out with 15 kilometers to go and the former Katusha and Crelan rider held off a late charge by Ronan Racault to take the win. Alberto Cecchin (Roth-Skoda) won the sprint for 3rd ahead of U23s Michael Goolaerts (Lotto-Soudal U23) and Michael Bresciani (Roth-Skoda).
A move that was originally a good tactic to protect his sprinter turned out to be a fine solo win. Kudos.
The Romanian race that heads up the Transfagarasan highway on the queen stage to Balea Lac was filled with riders that have either over stayed their welcome (Rebellin) or are cherry pickers from Continental teams. In terms of U23s, it was Giovanni Carboni (Unieuro-Wilier) who was the most consistent in 12th overall while Øiving Lukkedahl, Njal Kleiven (both Ringeriks-Kraft) and Julian Schulze (Stuttgart) finished in the top 20.
Tour of Qinghai Lake
The is a crazy race. Cash money for those that win prizes. Dodgy riders getting contracts with Iranian and Chinese teams. Example being the Beijing Yanqing team which is fielding a team full of of Uzbeks.
Marko Kump took the first two sprint stages to add to his wins total that is now at 13 for the season while Oleksandr Polivoda, who was 4th overall last year, made it three years in a row with a stage win after winning the stage today that started out with 1200 meters of climbing over the first 85 kilometers before a flat last half of the race.
I'm sure there will be at least one positive in this race announced at some point.
1st year U23 Patrick Muller won the U23 RR. Bold and underline his name for your notes as he will be popping up more frequently as the years go on.
That is all.