Sunday, March 31, 2013

l'Artois: Ludvigsson storms to overall victory

While Tobias Ludvigsson is experiencing a breakthrough year with Argos-Shimano on the World Tour level, it remains to be seen if he is even the most talented rider in his family. Frederik Ludvigsson is only in his first year as a U23 but he has already impressed greatly with strong rides in the Tour de Normandie and now Boucles de l'Artois.

The day started early for riders as the first stage of the day was a 23 kilometer time trial. Young Felix English (Rapha-Condor), a rider best known for upsetting Chris Hoy on the track, held the provisional best time for a while before being overtaken by Atlas Personal-Jakroo's Nicolas Baldo, last year's An Post Ras overall winner. Baldo only held the hot seat for 15 minutes before being knocked off by former junior world TT medalist Jasha Sütterlin (Thüringer Energie), who took an 18 second chunk out of Baldo. Eamon Frank (USA) lowered Sütterlin's time by a further four seconds but the leader's from yesterday's stage were still to come.

As the stage wore on, the wind began to pick up and while this would affect rider's times for the stage, the 26 leading riders from yesterday's stage were fighting it out amongst themselves to determine the G.C. The 18-year old Swede Ludvigsson was on a mission and quickly caught the first rider ahead of him and then caught the rider that was ahead of him and kept plowing ahead. By the time that Ludvigsson crossed the line, he nearly caught the 3rd rider ahead of him and took an outstanding 19 seconds off Franck's time. According to his DS, Ludvigsson was nearly skidding through the turns in his biggest gear, which is incredible for a rider as young as he is. With Ludvigsson's dominate stage victory, the G.C. looked like this heading into the final stage.

  1. Frederik Ludvigsson (People4You-Unaas)
  2. Berden De Vries (Jo Plies) +26"
  3. André Steensen (CULT Energy) +29"
  4. Lukasz Wisniowski (Etixx-iHNed) +1'01"
  5. Sjors Roosen (Jo Plies) +1'16"

The final afternoon stage was flat and fast affair that saw lots of attacking but none that put Ludvigsson in much danger. A breakaway of six riders controlled much of the early racing on the 132.5km stage to  Mont Saint Eloi but with 25 km to go, the move was shut down as 18 riders, including race leader Ludvigsson, moved ahead of the peloton on the ascent of the Mont Saint ELoi but they were brought back by a CULT Energy-led peloton with 12km to go. A three man move of yesterday's stage winner Louis Verhelst (Etixx-iHNed) Leonardo Pinozzotto (Nippo) and Max Schachmann (Thüringer Energie) jumped ahead and took nearly 30 seconds on the peloton. With the finish lying on an uphill of   Mont Saint Eloi, the gap began to drop significantly as the group, with the trio having just 11 seconds as they hit the final uphill kilometer. Pinozzotto was the strongest and was able to stay solo and take the win ahead of a charging group at 3 seconds led by Florian Sénéchal (Etixx) which contained an ecstatic Ludvigsson.

Leonardo Pinozzoto holds on for the solo victory over the front group

  1. Leonardo Pinozzotto (Nippo)
  2. Florian Sénéchal (Etixx-iHNed) +3"
  3. Johan Coenen (Differdange) s.t.
  4. Anthony Colin  s.t.
  5. Frederik Ludvigsson (People4You) s.t.
As Ludvigsson benefitted from the uphill finish, he was able to put more time into nearly all of his rivals. 
  1. Frederik Ludvigsson (People4You-Unaas)
  2. Berden De Vries (Jo Plies) +26"
  3. André Steensen (CULT Energy) +54"
  4. Lukasz Wisniowski (Etixx-iHNed) +1'17"
  5. Clement Lhotellerie (Colba-Superano Ham) +1'21"
Ludvigsson will continue to smash more races this season as his combination of time trialling and solid climbing is lethal in most U23-oriented races. 

Triptyque: Silvestre snatches overall victory from Craddock

The final stage of Triptyque des Monts et Châteaux had a bit of everything in it: strong attacks, great teamwork, furious climbing and strong sprinting. If I could pick a U23 stage to be broadcast, it would have been this one. But you know what? I doubt that anyone will look twice at these results because a) this is not a race talked up by the mainstream cycling media and b) the final stage was running concurrently with the much less exciting Ronde van Vlaanderen. RvV is my favorite race of the entire year but since Flanders Classics neutered the route, the racing has been less than exceptional to watch. With only one second separating race leader Lawson Craddock from Jeroen Lepla and three seconds from Fabio Silvestre, the racing was expected to be incredible and it did not dissapoint.

A group of four riders that included former US collegiate champion Alister Ratcliff (3M) Boris Vallee (ColorCode-Biowanze) Antoine Demoitie (Ventilair-Steria) and Bakhtiyar Kozhatayev (Astana CT) escaped from the peloton early in the stage and controlled the early racing. The 21-year old Kozhatayev dominated the climbs as he took an astonishing eight KOM sprints today (out of 10) as he easily racked up enough points to take home the overall climber's jersey. With a little over 75 kilometers left, a group of three that included Ruben Zepuntke (Rabobank Devo), who was just 25 seconds off the lead of Craddock, attacked and eventually bridged to the breakaway. With 55km to go, Silvestre's Leopard-Trek ramped up the pace as they were keen on bringing the breakaway back so that Silvestre could have a chance at taking the overall back from Craddock. Within 15 kilometers, Leopard-Trek shut down the breakaway and at 31 kilometers to go, Silverstre won the 4th intermediate sprint of the day, which put him level with Craddock on the G.C.

Not to be outdone by Silvestre, Jeroen Lepla (Ventilair-Steria) attacked the group and tried to get a gap for the 5th intermediate sprint but was quickly brought back. As soon as he was brought back, Lawson Craddock and three other riders attacked right before the Col de la Croix Jubaru but the gap was brought back following the descent on the backside of the climb. At the 5th sprint, Silvestre was able to gain 3rd place and was now just one second ahead of Craddock. Not satisfied with 2nd place, Craddock once again attacked before the Jubaru climb, this time solo, and was joined by two riders and they led over the climb with just 10 kilometers to go. The move was short lived as they were swept up with 8 kilometers to go. As the kilometers wound down, a sprint finish was inevitable and in the end, Color Code-Biowanze rider Florent Mottet, a rider I mentioned in my preview, was able to come out on top over Daniel McLay (Lotto-Belisol U23) and Asbjorn Kragh (Denmark)

Fabio Silvestre resplendent in yellow
Top 10 (stage)
  1. Florent Mottet (Color Code-Biowanze)
  2. Daniel McLay (Lotto-Belisol U23)
  3. Asbjorn Kragh (Denmark)
  4. Marco Benfatto (Astana CT)
  5. Dylan Groenewegen (De Rijke-Shanks)
  6. Edward Theuns (VL Techniks)
  7. Rick Zabel (Rabobank Devo)
  8. Eugenio Alafaci (Leopard-Trek)
  9. Maxime Farazijn (EFC-OPQS)
  10. Otto Vergaerde (Ovyta-Eijssen)
Top 5 (G.C.)
  1. Fabio Silvestre (Leopard-Trek)
  2. Lawson Craddock (USA) +1"
  3. Jeroen Lepla (Ventilair-Steria) +2"
  4. Tim Declercq (Topsport Vlaanderen) +6"
  5. Eugenio Alafaci (Leopard-Trek) +16"

I cannot praise the racing by both Leopard-Trek and the USA National squad enough. Leopard-Trek had three riders within the top 15 but they had their game plan of getting Silvestre bonus seconds and they stuck to it and made it happen. The USA national team did pretty much everything possible to keep Craddock in yellow but when you come up against a better sprinter, what can you do?
Other notes...
  • Craddock really impressed me this week. He changed his approach this season and started out slower than usual and focused much more on building his base. After yesterday's afternoon stage and his aggressive riding today, he really proved himself that he could be one of the big American riders for the future. 
  • Jeroen Lepla was a standout performer this weekend. After yesterday's stage, he said that he had a great winter and felt that he had jumped up another level with his training. It definitely showed this weekend as he was active in every stage.
  • Silvestre will be getting a pro contract next season. He was 4th overall at Tour de Normandie and his performance here really showed that he is ready for the next level.
  • Florent Mottet surprised me as I thought this course would be too hard for him. Mottet took his 2nd win of the year while Daniel McLay continued his impressive early season with his 2nd place here today.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Triptyque: Theuns blasts TT; Craddock solos to victory

Saturday was an action-packed day in Hainaut as the general classification was flipped on its head two times. The two stage winners today were previous stage winners at this race but perhaps not where you would have expected them...

Edward Theuns
The morning time trial provided a big surprise as Edward Theuns (VL Techniks-Abutriek) pulled off a major coup by besting Rabobank Development riders Dylan van Baarle and Ruben Zepuntke in the 10 kilometer test. Theuns and van Baarle were the only two riders to go under the 13 minute mark while Theuns averaged nearly 46.5 km/h on the technical course. Do you remember my preview of the race? Well if you were one of the amazing people that read that piece, you will notice that this isn't Theuns' first taste of success at this race. In 2010, Theuns, in his first year of riding for VL Techniks as a U23, pulled an upset on the final stage of the race by outsprinting the likes of Taylor Phinney, Jetse Bol and John Degenkolb in what is the finest victory of his U23 career. His time trial win today is surprising in that this is his first ever TT victory but after placing 6th on the first stage, it was obvious that he was in good form. I, personally, like Theuns as a rider because he has held off on turning pro because he is a full-time student right now studying physio-therapy at the University of Gent.

Top 5 (stage & GC) (Full Results)
  • 1. Edward Theuns (VL Techniks)
  • 2. Dylan van Baarle (Rabo Devo) +3"
  • 3. Ruben Zepuntke (Rabo Devo) +5"
  • 4. Jeroen Lepla (Ventilair-Steria) +6"
  • 5. Bert Van Lerberghe (Ventilair-Steria) +7"
While I know that split stages can be a pain in the ass for riders, they also provide some awesome racing, especially when the course is tough enough to cause a selection. The afternoon stage was one of those stages. The opening part of the stage was very controlled as Rabobank and De Rijke-Shanks were keen on keeping things together. No attacks were able to stick until with 35km to go, a group of four including Leopard-Trek's Fabio Silvestre was able to get a gap. The active peloton was not going to let this group go and as the race hit the hills, a group of nine was able to bridge to the leading four. The yellow jersey Theuns had bad luck as he flatted with 15km to go and was not able to join in any attacks and eventually finished the stage 3'05" down. Then as the kilometers ticked down and the group began to think of the sprint, there was an attack...

Lawson Craddock attacked with 2km to go and instantly got a gap. The Texan has had a slower build up to his season this year and after riding Alentejo last week and after only managing 20th in the TT, Craddock unleashed his fury on the run-in into Mont de l'Enclus and made no doubts about his form, adding to his advantage into the final kilometer and cruised to his first win in Europe since 2011 and with it, secured the yellow jersey.

Top 10

1. Lawson Craddock (USA)
2. Tim Declercq (Topsport Vlaanderen - Baloise) +11"
3. Fabio Silvestre (Leopard - Trek continental) all s.t.
4. Nicky Van der Lijke (Rabobank Development)
5. Eugenio Alafaci (Leopard - Trek)
6. Maxim Farazijn (EFC - Omega Pharma - Quick Step)
7. Niels Godderis (Soenens - Construkt Glas)
8. Olivier Chevalier (Wallonie Bruxelles)
9. Frederik Verkinderen (Team 3M)
10. Stig Broeckx (Lotto Belisol U23)

The main bunch ended up being 65 riders that finished 36 seconds down on the streaking Craddock.

1. Lawson Craddock (USA)
2. Jeroen Lepla (Ventilair-Steria) +1"
3. Fabio Silvestre (Leopard-Trek) +3"
4. Tim Declercq (Topsport Vlaanderen) +7"
5. Eugenio Alafaci (Leopard-Trek) +18"
6. Nick van der Lijke (Rabobank Devo) +20"
7. Stig Broeckx (Lotto Belisol U23) +22"
8. Dylan van Baarle (Rabobank Devo) +23"
9. Ruben Zepuntke (Rabobank Devo) +25"
10. Bert van Lerberghe (Ventilair-Steria) +27"

Full Results (Stage + GC)

All that I can say for certain is that tomorrow is going to be a hell of a stage. There are 10 climbs and once the race gets going, there are zero areas on the course that would allow a detente.

  • It was some shit luck for Theuns as he was active in some moves today and was keen to defend his jersey. I tell you this though, this will not be the last time you hear his name. His performances thus far this week have justified his pursuit for a national team place in bigger U23 events.
  • While Craddock pulled an amazing move today for the win, tomorrow's stage will be even more difficult because a) the additional climbs and b) his USA team will have to be attentive at the front because Jeroen Lepla and Fabio Silvestre could take the jersey off of Craddock's shoulders merely by taking some bonus seconds at an intermediate sprint.
  • Speaking of Lepla, he is perhaps the biggest surprise of this stage race so far as he has been active in every stage so far. This is perhaps a breakthrough race for the Ventilair-Steria rider along with his teammate Bert van Lerberghe.
  • The two most dangerous men, in my opinion, in the top 10 are Fabio Silvestre and Dylan van Baarle. I might sound like a homer when it comes to van Baarle but he is only 23 seconds back and after his exploits so far this season, I never count him out. Silvestre could benefit from negative racing and with his Leopard-Trek team having he, Alafaci and Sean de Bie all sitting in the top 15, they could capitalize on other teams burying themselves early in the race.

Verhelst brings in Etixx-iHNed's maiden UCI victory

Louis Verhelst
Louis Verhelst (Etixx-iHNed) sprinted to victory in the small town of Hesdin in the first stage of Boucle de l'Artois, giving his team their first ever UCI-rated victory on the road. The Czech squad benefitted by having 4 riders in a 26-man leading group that was able to separate themselves from the peloton late in the stage. The 22-year old is coming off a strong Volta ao Alentejo where he featured in multiple breakaways.

The race was animated from the very beginning where an early breakaway was out front for nearly 100 kilometers before Etixx-iHNed ramped the pace up with around 90 kilometers to go, shattering the peloton and leaving a group of 43 riders up front. With only 6 rider teams, kudos must be given to Etixx for being able to break the race up that way they did. For the rest of the race, attacks would be launched from this group but nothing was able to stick until later in the stage as the main peloton began to bear down on the lead group. With 20km to go, Florian Sénéchal attacked the lead group and was followed by nine riders (out of the 46 rider lead group). 17 more riders bridged up with 11km to go in the stage, which gave Etixx four riders (out of 6) in the front group. No attacks were allowed to get out on the final lap of the finishing circuit and with the help of his teammates, Verhelst was able to sprint to the victory. Interestingly, Gerry Druyts of EFC-OPQS, another development team connected to the OPQS WT squad, finished 2nd in the sprint.

Verhelst (l) beats his close friend Gerry Druyts (r)

Top 10

1. Louis Verhelst (Etixx Ihned)
2. Gerry Druyts (EFC Omega Pharma)
3. Alberto Checchin (Nippo De Rosa)
4. Rolf Nyborg Broge (Designa Kokken)
5. Berden De Vries (Jo Piels)
6. Sascha Weber (Differdange Losch)
7. César Bihel (Differdange Losch)
8. Giorgio Brambilla (Atlas Personal - Jakroo)
9. Alexander Kamp Egested (Cult Energy)
10. Michael Olsson (People4You UNAAS)

Other riders that made the leading selection include Etixx's Dieter Bouvry and Lukasz Wisniowski, Alex Frame (Thüringer Energie) and Oscar Landa (Oster Hus-Ridley) among others. With his win, Verhelst is now in the race's pink leaders jersey but according to a post race interview with, he said that he doesn't think he will be able to hold the jersey after tomorrow morning's time trial and the team will most likely put their overall hopes on Pole Lukasz Wisniowski.  Full results will be posted when they are available...

Friday, March 29, 2013

Carolus sprints to opening stage victory at Triptyque

Jorne Carolus taking it all in (Photo: DirectVelo)

Belgian U23 RR Champion Jorne Carolus (Lotto-Belisol U23) won the opening stage of the Triptyque Monts et Châteaux stage race Friday ahead of Marco Benfatto (Astana CT) and Justin Van Hoecke (Wallonie-Bruxelles). The race itself was dominated by early breakaway groups that took all of the KOM spots and intermediate sprints before the peloton shut things down. The group of 4 that included Tanner Putt (USA) Nurbulat Kulimbetov (Astana CT) Tiesj Benoot (Lotto-Belisol U23) and Adrian Gjolberg (Norway) remained out front for the last half of the race as Gjolberg took 3 out of 5 KOM spots to lock up the climber's jersey for tomorrow.

The peloton, who knew that today might be the only day for a bunch sprint, was keen to control the breakaway and never gave them a big gap and on the final big, flat circuit of the day, they were keen on bringing them back. The breakaway wasn't going to give it up easy either as they kept a gap into the final kilometers and going into flamme rogue, they still had 8 seconds on the peloton. Well I already gave away the thrilling conclusion...the peloton caught them with 300 meters to go and flew by them in full sprint. Carolus benefitted from having a teammate in the breakaway and was able to sit comfortably in the bunch without exerting too much. He was brought up to the front with a few kilometers to go by teammate Frederik Frison and launched his sprint with about 250 meters to go.

  1. Jorne Carolus (Lotto-Belisol U23)
  2. Marco Benfatto (Astana CT)
  3. Justin Van Hoecke (Wallonie-Bruxelles)
  4. Boris Vallee (Color Code-Biowanze)
  5. Bert van Lerberghe (Ventilair-Steria)
  6. Edward Theuns (VL Technics)
  7. Maxime Farazijn (EFC-OPQS)
  8. Asbjorn Kragh Andersen (Denmark)
  9. Nick van der Lijke (Rabobank Devo)
  10. Nicolas Bertuille (Ottignies-Perwez)

A few notes...
  • Carolus is a pretty shrewd character for his age. He was thinking about leaving Lotto U23 this past off season as he was a bit of a hot commodity with his U23 RR Championship but when they renegotiated their terms, he twisted some arms into being guaranteed a stagiaire position with the Lotto-Belisol WT squad this August. Not too bad for a 21-year old. 
  • Benfatto has been having a consistent year sprinting so far with five top-5 placings so far but has not been able to seal the deal. This is a make-or-break year for him as he is 25 this season.
  • There were a surprising amount of DNF's today including some bigger names like Wouter Wippert (3M), Oskar Svedsen (Norway) and Alex Kirsch (Leopard-Trek). Wippert gets a free pass as he just came off the Driedaagse De Panne but something seems off about him.
Tomorrow morning is the split stage that includes a 10km TT in the morning followed by a hilly road stage in the afternoon.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Weekend Preview: Boucle de l'Artois and Giro del Belvedere

You thought that Triptyque Monts et Châteaux was the only race this weekend? HA!

Les Boucle de l'Artois

Les Boucle de l'Artois is another split-day stage race that packs a whole lot of racing into a short time period. Taking place across the historic Artois region in northern France, the race has a long first day, nearly 180km, and then has a split 2nd day, with a mid-length 23km TT in the morning followed by a 132.5 km road stage in the afternoon. This race has been apart of the Coupe de France ranking the last two years but went to the UCI 2.2 ranking again for this year thus taking it off the CdF calendar, which accounts for the lack of French teams.

The region itself is interesting in that it didn't become officially French until the Thirty Years War after spending time as a part of Flanders, France, Burgundy and the Spanish Netherlands. The region was once a prosperous region for coal but that has nearly dried up thus leaving the region with a declined economy. In modern France, the historical Artois region lies within Pas-de-Calais.

Quick Hits

  • March 30-31st
  • Artois (Pas-de-Calais), France
  • 3 stages (2 road + TT)
  • 334 kilometers
  • Riders to watch: Frederik Ludvigsson (People4You-Unaas), Lasse Norman Hansen (Blue Water), Dieter Bouvry (Etixx-iHNed) Jasha Sütterlin (Thüringer Energie) Wouter Daniels (Lotto-Belisol U23) Gerry Druyts (EFC-OPQS) 
  • Startlist and Course Guide

Stage 1 Saint Pol to Hesdin (178km)

As it is northern France, there will be a lot of small roads and wind...and it is going to be cold. The stage itself has 6 mountain sprints but the last one if 40km from the finish line. This stage can go a few different ways; with the finishing circuits at the end, a breakaway could come back into the fold and lead into a bunch sprint or their gap could be significantly reduced. With the small teams, an elite breakaway could control the racing, even with the flat final 40km into and around Hesdin.

Stage 2 Croisilles to Arras (23.5km)

This time trial is pretty flat to rolling and will probably be the decider for the general classification.

Stage 3 Mont Saint Eloi Circuit (132.5km)

If there are any close gaps on GC still left, this final stage will obliterate them because of a difficult uphill finish. The stage is not entirely on the circuit and takes about 60 or so kilometers to get there but the real action will begin on the circuit as it will be raced over 6 times, which means the peloton, or what is left of it, will have to go over the climb, which hits grades of over 10%, six times. With the hilltop finish, the race will go from a select peloton to bits & pieces quite quickly.

I listed my U23 riders to watch up top already. Ludvigsson rode a stellar race in Normandie for an 18-year-old and this race should suit him quite well with the TT and some hills. Hansen and Sütterlin should be targeting the TT while Bouvry will fancy himself for the final stage. Other younger riders to watch include Giorgio Brambilla (Atlas Personal-Jakroo) and Dylan Kowalski (VC Rouen). It is hard to judge what kind of form some of these guys are on since many haven't had too many racing days.

Giro del Belvedere

  • April 1st (Easter Monday)
  • Villa di Villa, Province of Treviso, Italy
  • 154 kilometers UCI 1.2U
  • Former winners include Ivan Gotti, Gorazd Stangelj, Yarolsav Popovych & Sacha Modolo
  • Course Map w/ Profile

This race is one of the truly big spring races on the Italy U23 circuit and for good reason as it is both beautiful and difficult, which are both attributes to make a great Italian race. This race has been run continuously since 1959, though for some reason they insist on calling it the 75th edition because the first edition was technically a one-off event in 1923. In any case, this race features ten laps with a small GPM/KOM sprint followed by two bigger laps that include the difficult Montaner climb, which averages nearly 12% for a kilometer at its steepest. There will only be 10 kilometers left at the summit and only six km left once the riders finish the descent. The race the finishes on a slight uphill rise in Villa di Villa but if history is any lesson, there will not be many riders that will be contesting the victory. Historically, this race has finished with a solo victor or a small group, so there will be no big bunches sprinting for the win here.

There is going to be an awesome startlist to go along with this event...well there will be once the riders are announced. There is an incredible 34 teams listed by the organizers currently, which would mean that some teams will be coming with less than 6 riders to sneak in under the UCI limit of 200. All of the big amateur Italian teams are present including Trevigiani, Zalf-Euromobil, Colpack and Palazzago among others. There are a huge number of foreign teams present including national teams from Australia, Kazakhstan, Russia and Serbia; development teams such as BMC U23, Ag2r Chambery, Itera-Katusha U23 and continental teams such as Stölting, Radenska, Gourmetfein-Simplon, Lokosphinx among others. I do not know who exactly is going to be there but you can get on the likes of Jan Polanc (Radenska) Calvin Watson (Food Italia/Australia) Davide Villela (Colpack) last year's winner Daniele Dall'Oste (Trevigiani) Davide Martinelli (Food Italia) and more.

A couple more notes...
-The weather looks like there will be rain again but the temperature will at least be bearable this weekend compared to last weekend at the frigid Piccola Sanremo.
-There will also be delayed highlights from Italy's RAI 2 which will show the last hour of the race. If there are any available feeds, I will post them on twitter but if not, I will post the highlights on here.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Le Triptyque des Monts et Châteaux Preview

Edward Theuns (far left) upsets Jetse Bol, Taylor Phinney
and John Degenkolb at the 2010 event. 
If you are looking at a list of races that are indicative of which young riders will go onto careers in the World Tour, Le Triptyque des Monts et Châteaux will rank pretty high on that list. This 3-day, 4-stage race that twists around the Wallonian province of Hainaut in Belgium might not look like much at first glance but when you look at the results and pedigree, it sits on another level compared with most races with a lot of U23 talent. Starting from 1999, every overall winner since then is currently on a World Tour team (save one), including last year's winner Bob Jungels. So that is Matthew Hayman, Stijn Devolder, Andrey Kashechkin, Sebastian Rosseler, Thomas Dekker, Lars Boom, Tom Leezer, Thomas De Gendt, Kris Boeckmans, Jetse Bol, Tom Dumoulin and Jungels. The only winner not on a WT team is Marc de Maar, who is on Pro Continental United Healthcare.

This isn't to say that everyone who wins stages here will go on to bigger things. Remember Ivan Terenine? Perhaps Ronald Mutsaars? While virtual no names have previously won stages here, among previous winners include Tom Boonen, Jurgen van den Broeck and Taylor Phinney. Good enough for you? While this race is very popular with U23 racers because of it's proximity to the U23 Ronde van Vlaanderen, it is not strictly a U23 event with some teams bringing a few riders in their mid-20's but no one over 25 usually.

Quick Hits

  • Hainaut, Wallonia, Belgium
  • March 29th-31st
  • Kilometers: 451.5
  • 2 full road stages, one split road stage + TT
  • Participating teams: Topsport Vlaanderen, Wallonie-Bruxelles, ColorCode-Biowanze, T.Palm-Pôle, Verandas Willems, Ventilair-Steria, 3M, Soenens-Construkt Glas, VL Technics, Ovyta-Eijssen-Acrog, Lotto-Belisol U23, EFC-OPQS, Rock Werchter, Ottignies-Perwez (BEL) Leopard-Trek (LUX) Astana Continental (KAZ) De Rijke-Shanks, Rabobank Development (NED) Latvia, USA, Denmark, Germany and Norway (National Squads)
  • Startlist and Race Website
  • Prize Money: 20,180.00 Euro

Stage 1 Mouscron to Quevaucamps 178km

The first stage winds its way around Hainaut, hitting 5 climbs (one cat-1 and four cat-2s) in the early stages of the race before heading to a flat circuit around Quevaucamps. Historically, this first stage is usually where a breakaway gets time and establishes the riders that will be fighting it out for the G.C. but it all depends on how the stage is races. With small teams, it is hard to control the bunch unless you have cooperation between squads so if enough teams are represented, a break could take the day. If the breakaway isn't cooperating or enough teams are upset, this stage could easily come back all together. 

Stage 2a Bernissart to Bernissart (TT) 10km

A short TT is obligatory for Monts et Châteaux and the winner of this TT usually finishes very high on the G.C. and is usually a big time trial talent. Let us go back to last year when Dylan van Baarle won the 9km Mont de l'Enclus TT by a healthy 11 seconds overal Tim Wellens, now of Lotto-Belisol. Just an FYI, van Baarle could well repeat his TT win as he has been on some amazing form so far this season.

Stage 2b Vieux-Condé to Mont de l'Enclus 103km

After a short break, the racers will only have 103 kilometers to cover but it will be anything but flat and easy. Starting from the French town of Vieux-Condé, the race quickly re-enters Hainaut, heading north towards Mont de l'Enclus, where the race will transition to circuits, where the Côte du l'Horlitin will be climbed 3 times while the Enclus du Haut, which reached a maximum of 12 percent, is climb twice. The last ascent of the l'Horlitin climb comes just 2 kilometers from the finish line, which will implode the field as the climb briefly touches ramps of 19%. The race descends into Mont de l'Enclus quick after hitting the summit and there will be zero time for recovery.

G.C. should be decided on this stage so attacks will be going left and right, especially from those who might have underperformed in the TT. The wick will be lit, the elastic will be snapped, the screws will be turned, riders will be chewing stems and every other tired cycling metaphor, ad infinitum.

Stage 3 Château de Beloeil to Tournai 160.5km

So you remember how I said G.C. would be decided? Yeah, I lied. Well sort of. The final stage will feature 10 categorized climbs, many of which are STEEP. Take the 8th climb of the day, the Mont Saint-Laurent, which reaches grades that briefly touch 20%. Ouch. 

Lots of pain will be dealt out but how much will this impact G.C.? The last climb comes some 10km from the finish line so if one is to escape they need to be time trial abilities to be able to stay away from a charging elite selection. Last year, a group of 11 came to the line for a sprint with Wouter Wippert taking the honors while the majority of riders came in nearly a minute behind. So this stage can go about every which way possible but expect a select group finish.

I'll update this preview when someone decides to publish a full-start lists. Right now, I think Dylan van Baarle is the big favorite. He was 3rd in Tour de Normandie overall and with a little more luck, he could have won the race.

Until then, here are highlights from last year's race...

Riders to Watch:

Like I said up above, Dylan van Baarle (Rabobank Development) is a big favorite after his excellent performances so far this year. Another contender for the overall will be his teammate Ivar Slik, who crashed on stage 1 of the Tour de Normandie in the final kilometer and then suffered for it nearly the rest of the week while putting in good work for the team. Slik was 2nd overall here last year and will be looking for another good ride. Sean De Bie (Leopard-Trek) seems to be back to health this season and along with italian Eugenio Alafaci, they will be leading the Luxembourg squad. Mads Würtz Schmidt (Denmark) and Oskar Svendsen (Norway), 2011 and 2012 junior world TT champions respectively, should both be going for the G.C. Other non-Belgians to watch are Daniel Fominykh (Astana CT) Lawson Craddock (USA) and Wouter Wippert (3M)

This is the only 2.2. rated Belgian stage race so Belgian riders will be trying to go for big results here. Lotto-Belisol U23 is bringing guys like Belgian U23 champion Jorne Carolus and last year's 7th place rider Niels Reynvoet. Other Belgians I will be watching (among others) include: Frederik Verkinderen (3M) Sander Helven (Topsport Vlaanderen) Antonie Demotié (Wallonie-Bruxelles) Boris Vallee, Florent Mottet (ColorCode-Biowanze) Dylan Teuns (Ventilair-Steria) Paco Ghistelinck, Jens Geerinck (EFC-OPQS) Robin Sténuit (Ottignies-Perwez) Edward Theuns (VL Technics)

Monday, March 25, 2013

Revelations from Normandie, Alentejo and more

After a busy week of racing in Normandie and Alentejo along with multiple one-day races peppered throughout Europe, it is easy for your eyes to get glazed over when you look at results, especially if you are unfamiliar with riders and races. You probably ask "What the hell am I looking at?", as you scroll through a stage race in rural France not even knowing what the hell you are looking for. So let us sift through the results of the past week so we know who to focus on going forward.

Tour de Normandie

  • Silvan Dillier, the overall winner of the Tour de Normandie, is definitely a talent for the future but where he will end up specializing is still to be determined. Dillier (BMC Devolopment) comes from a track background and still rides for the national team pursuit squad. His biggest moment before this was his stage win in the Tour de l'Avenir last year, where he won the first stage out of a 4-man breakaway and then held the yellow jersey for the next two days. His performance in Normandie showed consistency above all as he stayed out of trouble and kept himself well place, especially on stage 4, where he took the leader's jersey from Alexander Blain (Raleigh). His win did involve a bit of luck as well like most stage race wins, i.e. keeping out of trouble and not getting caught out of sprint

  • Arguably the strongest rider of the week was Dylan van Baarle, who finished in 3rd place overall just 8 seconds back. Van Baarle (Rabobank Development) was the victim of poor timing as his prologue was ruined by rain thus pushing him well down the leader board where typically he would be in the top 10 and then got tangled up in crashes on stage 1, which saw him lose a further 30 seconds. Van Baarle showed resilience by attacking on multiple stages, taking time on stage 4 and through time bonuses. Couple this with his two wins so far this season in Ster van Zwolle and the Dorpenomloop, van Baarle has shown himself to be the most consistent and impressive rider so far this early season.

  • Another standout from Normandie was young Swede Frederik Ludvigsson. The younger brother to Argos-Shimano's Tobias, Ludvigsson put in an impressive performance for an 18-year old as he went 5th overall, losing only minimal time over the course of the week. With Normandie being geared towards sprinters and flatlanders, Ludvigsson performed beyond his years, especially as he is not a sprinter of flatland specialist. 
  • Other good performances were put in by Leopard-Trek's 23-year old Fabio Silvestre, who went 4th oveall, won a stage and only lost time on one stage, the stage that saw him lose his race lead after being separated from the leading group. Rick Zabel (Rabobank Development) got his 1st win of the year but it is still remained to be seen if he is destined for the bunch sprints like his father. Tom 'Scud Missile' Scully (Raleigh) won the prologue and after having an up and down year with the Chipotle squad last year, he got this season off on the right foot.

Volta ao Alentejo

  • Jasper Stuyven...what is there to say? He was on his A-game all week and along with some stellar team work by his Bontrager squad, he could do no wrong. While he only won one stage, he used his sprinting abilities to gain time at time bonuses and went all out on the two uphill finishes, where he finished 7th in both stages. Where does he go from here? He is trying to peak for the U23 Ronde van Vlaanderen Nations Cup in two weeks time and his future career while most likely see him focusing on the classics but with a mainly flat parcours and no TT to deal with, a stage race such as this is perfect for Stuyven. This would be a good place to mention his Bontrager teammate Tanner Putt, who rode strong the first two stages before crashing on the third stage.
  • Chad Haga (Optum) and Antonio Carvalho (LA-Aluminium) are both a bit older but at 24 and 23 years of age respectively, they are young enough because they both put in great rides. Haga, who is in his 2nd season with Optum, is a stage racer in training that likes a TT but instead he used his climbing and all-around skills to finish 2nd overall with three top-5 stage finishes. Carvalho won the final circuit stage around Santiago do Cacém with an impressive uphill sprint that saw him pass Haga with less than 10 meters left in the race.
  • Karel Hnik (Etixx-iHNed) won the mountains classification after going bananas on the last stage, taking the first four KOM sprints over his rival Daniel Silva (RadioPopular-Onda). Hnik is a converted cyclocross racer who, up until now, has never put much effort into the road. Perhaps this is a new beginning? 


  • Nicola Gaffurini (Delio Gallina) won the Piccola Sanremo in Italy, his 2nd win in two weekends. The race was truly epic with rain, wind, cold and even snow on the Vigo climb on the backside of the circuit. 3rd place finisher Davide Orrico, who has been on great form of late, put in another great performance. Team Food Italia teammates Calvin Watson and Davide Martinelli went 4th and 5th.
Cristian Cañada
  • Cristian Cañada won the Subida a Gorla (Gorlako Igoera), a Basque U23 race with more predictive capabilities than you might think. The race finishes on a super steep climb, which brings out some of the best climbers in Spain. Brace yourself for this list of past winners...Cuesta, Sastre, Garate, Purito Rodriguez and Contador just to name a few. So I think it is important that we remember Cristian Cañada's name.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Weekend Roundup: Normandie, Alentejo and Sanremo

The weather in Europe took a dive bomb this weekend as temperatures plummeted and most places were pretty miserable. Even with the horrible weather, racers still mounted their bikes and went out and raced, some racing for the win and others just trying to survive. This long winter is a reminder to us all about how dedicated these people are to the sport.

Dillier wraps up Tour de Normandie overall 

Silvan Dillier (BMC Development) secured the overall title at the 33rd Tour de Normandie after a short, albeit hectic, ride stage from Bagnoles de l'Orne to Caen. Dillier and his BMC teammates had to deal with Alexander Blain (Raleigh) and Dylan van Baarle (Rabobank Development), who started the stage five and nine seconds down, respectively. Van Baarle, who isn't a sprinter, tried his hand at the beginning of the stage by attacking with 2 others to try and get some time bonus at the first sprint. To his dismay, his group was brought back in but he had enough energy to go toe to toe with Blain with the sprint, with the Frenchman barely edging him out, which moved Blain to just 3 seconds behind Dillier.

The stage calmed down as a breakaway of six, including Anthony Charteau (Europcar) got away and the gap grew to nearly two minutes over a Raleigh-led peloton. As the stage wore on, the gap started to tumble slowly but the peloton was not able to catch the breakaway  before the 2nd sprint point, so the overall victory hinged on the final sprint. The breakaway was caught, the sprint was wound up and as they turned onto the Course Général de Gaulle, there was no dramatic last minute overhaul on G.C. Tino Thömel (NSP-Ghost) won the bunch sprint ahead of Maxime le Montagner (Roubaix Lille) and Nick van der Lijke (Rabobank Development) with Blain left steaming internally as he rolled across in 12th, as he had come so close to getting another Tour de Normandie title.

Overall (full results)

  1. Silvan Dillier*
  2. Alexander Blain (Raleigh) +3"
  3. Dylan van Baarle* (Rabobank Development) +8"
  4. Fabio Silvestre* (Leopard-Trek) +25"
  5. Frederik Ludvigsson* (People4You-Unaas) +32"
  6. Jesper Hansen* (CULT Energy) +42"
  7. Tony Hurel (Europcar) +43"
  8. Renaud Dion (Roubaix Lille Metropole) +49"
  9. Michael Olsson (People4You-Unaas) s.t.
  10. Tom Scully* (Raleigh) +51"
You see those asterisks? All young riders who are under 25. They are one of the big stories this week as these guys attacked, sprinted and won all week long and really showed what they are made of. Young riders won 3 stages along with six of them placing in the top 10 overall. Tomorrow, I will highlight some of the riders I thought were exceptional.

Stuyven seals up Volta ao Alentejo

23-year old Antonio Carvalho (LA Aluminium) sneaks by Optum's Chada Haga to take the stage honors

Jasper Stuyven sealed up the overall victory at the 31st Volta ao Algarve after riding a very proactive stage by gaining bonus seconds at sprint points and then limiting his losses to Optum rider Chad Haga, who was 2nd on G.C., on the final climb. Stuyven finished 7th on the stage, tying for his lowest stage finish all week. Stuyven was incredibly consistent all week, finishing 7th, 1st, 4th, 6th and 7th on stages this week. In addition to winning the overall, Stuyven also won the points and young rider jersey  for his efforts.
Jasper Stuyven celebrates his overall win in the Volta ao Alentejo
The stage started just before the circuit, which looped in and around Santiago do Cacém and included a climb every lap that ended on the finish line. During the early part of the stage, a battle formed between Karel Hnik (Etixx-iHNed) and stage one winner Daniel Silva (Radio Popular-Onda) for the KOM crown, as Silva was only ahead of Hnik by two points in the category. Hnik went and put on a clinic as he won the first four KOM sprints over Silva, turning a two point deficit into a two point advantage. With the KOM and sprint points being so important, no breakaways were able to get established during the stage so if there were going to be any shakeups on G.C., they would be happening on the final climb...

Stage (full results) 

  1. Antonio Carvahlo (LA Aluminium)
  2. Chad Haga (Optum) s.t.
  3. Delio Fernandez (OFM) +2"
  4. Carlos Barbero (Euskadi) s.t.
  5. Patrick Konrad (Etixx-iHNed) s.t.


  1. Jasper Stuyven (Bontrager)
  2. Chad Haga (Optum) 10"
  3. Alejandro Marque 29"
  4. Delio Fernández 52"
  5. Carlos Oyarzun 1'12"
Again, this race was kind to young riders as they won two stages, the overall, the points and mountains classification along with 4 riders in the top 10. Stuyven and his Bontrager team had an incredible week and the former junior world champion should be getting more wins as the season progresses. Just like Normandie, I will highlight some of the best young riders from this race more in depth tomorrow.

Gaffurini wins a frigid Piccola Sanremo

Normandie and Alentejo were not the only big U23 races this week as the Italian U27 circuit had the important Piccola Sanremo to race. Being absolutely nowhere near Sanremo in Sovizzo, the race started under looming skies with rain, wind and cold starting soon after. The race took in 6 flatter laps before switching to a different loop that included 7 trips of the Vigo climb. There was no breakaway that established themselves until much later in the race where a group of three, including Australian Calvin Watson, went out front, which in turn caused multiple reactions from the main group. With riders dropping out left and right, only those in contention were worried about finishing.

Davide Orrico (Colpack) was probably the best climber on the Vigo climb as he won multiple KOM sprints and forced the pace multiple times. On the penultimate trip over the Vigo climb, Orrico drew out a group of 14 from the pack. Nicola Gaffurini, who had been active on the climb with Orrico on previous laps, attacked on the snowy Vigo climb and had 10 seconds over Orrico and Andrea Vaccher. On the descent back into Sovizzo, Gaffurini was caught but he had enough in the reserves to outsprint Vaccher on the line. Only 24 out of the original 170 rides were able to finish the race. Absolutely brutal.

  1. Nicola Gaffurini (Delio Gallina)
  2. Andrea Vaccher (Marchiol)
  3. Davide Orrico (Colpack)
  4. Calvin Watson (Food Italia)
  5. Davide Martinelli (Food Italia)
Stay tuned for some more in-depth analysis on riders and performances tomorrow!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Zabel & Zirbel zoom to wins in Normandie & Alentejo

Zabel Sprint To Win in Bagnoles de l'Orne

Rick Zabel (Rabobank Development), the son of famed sprinter Erik, sprinted to his first win of the year in the 5th stage of the Tour de Normandie in Bagnoles de l'Orne. Silvan Dillier (BMC U23) kept his leader's jersey but both Alexander Blain (Raleigh) and Dylan van Baarle (Rabobank Development) were able to gain a couple seconds on Dillier, as both are respectively at 5" and 9".

The first hour of racing was blistering as the pack averaged over 49 kph and no breaks were able to be established. A break of 7 finally got away at kilometer 80 with Fothen (NSP) Zhandos (Astana CT) Krainer (Vendée U) Schoonbroodt (De Rijke) Remme (Joker-Merida) Cort Nielsen (CULT Energy) and Lodewijks (Verandas Willems) and got a maximum gap of 3 minutes. As they reached the finishing loops in Bagnoles de l'Orne, the gap was quickly reduced and the break was caught before they crossed the finish line for the first time.

The pace in the peloton quickened once again in town and the peloton was broken into multiple groups, leaving Dillier isolated in the front group. Former junior world champion Pierre-Henri Lecuisinier attacked the front group by was brought back with 2km to go. Zabel was led-out by teammate Nick van der Lijke and easily took the stage over Tony Hurel (Europcar) and Marco Benfatto (Astana CT).

Dillier retained his lead but he and his BMC U23 squad will have to be on their toes as both Alexander Blain and Dylan van Baarle could theoretically take his lead away from him with time bonuses.

Zirbel zooms to solo win in Alentejo

Picture courtesy of Volta ao Alentejo site,
Tom Zirbel (Optum) took the solo win into Odemira, the 2nd win in as many days for Optum, after attacking his breakaway mates Diogo Nunes (Carmin-Tavira) and teammate Scott Zwizanski in the final kilometers. Zwizanski dropped Nunes for 2nd place. While it was sweet victory for Zirbel in the end, the beginning of the stage was a miserable affair. Buckets of rain during the first half of the race made it a miserable affair but eventually, the rain left and the sun emerged. Bontrager was intent on keeping the race together for race leader Jasper Stuyven so that he could consolidate his lead. They did just that as Stuyven added 4 seconds to his lead thanks to winning one sprint point and getting 3rd on another.

With 20 kilometers left in the stage, Zirbel, Zwizanski and Nunes attacked the peloton and instantly got a gap. Efapel drove the peloton behind as the trio gained time on them. Zirbel put in an attack on the final rise before the descent into Odemira and Zwizanski played the good teammate, sitting on Nunes. After Zirbel gained a good gap, Zwizanski attacked Nunes and went in solo for 2nd.

Sammy Caldeira (OFM) won the bunch sprint for 4th, some 32 seconds behind Zirbel, with Unai Iparraguirre (Euskadi) and Stuyven coming in 5th and 6th. Tomorrow is the final stage of the 5 stage race and will be a circuit race around Santiago do Cacém, which will feature a category-4 climb that will be raced over 5 times, with the race finishing on the climb.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Volta ao Alentejo: Hanson storms into Mértola

Ken Hanson (left) overtakes Filipe Cardoso for the win
Ken Hanson (Optum p/b Kelly Benefits) finally got a chance to open up his sprinting legs and took the bunch sprint into Mértola for the 3rd stage of the Volta ao Alentejo. On a day that was marked with multiple breakaway attempts, the peloton shut down the last move with 10km to go and the pace began to quicken. Hanson took advantage of the sprint run-up as he was able to get into prime position and secured his victory over Filipe Cardoso (Efapel-Glassdrive) and Bruno Sancho (Carmin-Tavira). Stage 2 winner Jasper Stuyven came in 4th today and consolidated his 14 second lead over Chad Haga (Optum KBS).

Once again, racing was off to a fast start as a breakaway tried to get away early. At 27km, four riders in Luis Afonso (LA Aluminios), Raul Alarcon (Louletano), Merijn Korevaar (Rabobank Devo) and Sam Spokes (Etixx-iHNed) took to the lead. This breakaway was short-lived and after the first sprint point, the break was reeled in. While this happened, Jack Adams (Zappi's) got a gap and was left out front. 3 more in Luis Fernandes, Edgar Pinto and Lennard Hofstede (Rabobank Devo) joined him but by 50 kilometers, the peloton was once again back together. Afonso, Alarcon, João Leal and David Livramento then escaped but didn't last more than 15 kilometers.

A group of 15 riders attempted for get at 90 kilometers but a Bontrager-led peloton brought them back before 10km had been done. The most successful breakaway of the day happened when Sergio Ribeiro (Louletano) attacked after the peloton came together again and was followed by Ruben  Zepuntke, Ricardo van Dongen (Rabobank Devo) and Marcio Barbosa (LA Aluminium). Both van Dongen and Barbosa eventually faded while the former two pressed on, only to finally be caught ten kilometers before the line.

Efapel's Filipe Cardoso nearly pulled off an upset with a late race attack in the final kilometers. Optum turned up the tempo coming into the finishing straight to catch the streaking Cardoso. With about 200 meters to go, Hanson unleashed his sprint and passed Cardoso inside the last 200 meters to secure his 2nd win in Portugal this week. Cardoso barely managed to hang on for 2nd as he was caught right near the finish line.

  1. Ken Hanson (Optum p/b Kelly Benefits) 4:15'23"
  2. Filipe Cardoso (Efapel-Glassdrive) all s.t.
  3. Bruno Sancho (Carmin-Tavira)
  4. Jasper Stuyven (Bontrager CT)
  5. Louis Verhelst (Etixx-iHNed)
  6. Daniel Hoelgaard (Etixx-iHNed)
  7. Yoeri Havik (De Rijke-Shanks)
  8. Carlos Barbero (Euskadi)
Tomorrow is another flatter stage into Odemira. One possibility is crosswinds as the peloton will head along the ocean front near the end of the race. GC riders will be near the front and will look to protect their positions until the more important stage on Sunday in Santiago do Cacém.

Tour de Normandie: Van Baarle puts it on the line; Dillier rides into yellow

In what was expected to be another exciting day at the Tour de Normandie, the race was turned on its head in the first hour as a large breakaway of 16 riders escaped the peloton and put leader Alexander Blain and his Raleigh squad on the ropes. Among this group of 16 riders were riders high on G.C. such Frederik Ludvigsson (People4You-Unaas) and Dylan van Baarle (Rabobank Development). Raleigh led the peloton throughout the first half of the day but the gap still hovered around 2 minutes.

As the race entered Villers-Bocage for the four finishing loops, the peloton began to turn up the pace as  the gap between the breakaway and the peloton dropped. As the break rolled through with two laps to go, the gap was only at 1'10" and dropping fast. It should be noted that while the action was fierce today, the racers were lucky in that rain held off today, making the suffering more bearable.

The peloton rolls through the finishing straight in Villers-Bocage 
Dylan van Baarle, who started the day 51 seconds down on Blain, decided to put it all on the line and as the gap continued to drop between the two groups, the Dutchman attacked the breakaway and quickly gained 10 seconds on the rolling course around Villers-Bocage. Breakaway riders began to drop away as van Baarle turned the screws out ahead, attacking the race the same way he did when he won both Ster van Zwolle and the Dorpenomloop. Multiple riders tried to bridge up to van Baarle but any attempts to bridge only saw him push his gap further out on the chasing group.

Van Baarle carried a 20 second gap into the final lap but action was stirring behind him. A group of three riders, including Anthony Charteau (Europcar), former race leader Fabio Silvestre (Leopard-Trek) and Silvan Dillier (BMC U23), attacked the peloton and bridged to the chasing group. Charteau went straight through the chasing group and bridged to van Baarle, who was unaware of the action behind him. Charteau, a former Tour de France KOM winner, was at home on the hilly course and managed to bridge up to van Baarle with 3 kilometers left. Charteau was able to distance himself from an exhausted van Baarle and salvage the Tour de Normandie for the Pro Continental squad, who had been having a pretty horrible week up until now.

Photo by David Allais and Tour de Normandie

 The chasing group were led in by Maxime Renault (Sojasun Espoirs) at 23 seconds while the chasing peloton, which contained Blain and his Raleigh team, was led in Jérémy Cornu (Vendée U) at 43 seconds. Silvan Dillier, who had been apart of the bridging group with Charteau and Silvestre, gained enough time on Blain to take the leader's jersey off his back.

Stage Results (Full Results)

  1. Anthony Charteau (Europcar)
  2. Dylan van Baarle (Rabobank Development) +3
  3. Maxime Renault (Sojasun Espoirs) +23
  4. Tony Hurel (Europcar) all s.t.
  5. Julien Duval (Roubaix-Lille)
  6. Martin Mortensen (Concordia-Riwal)
  7. Fabio Silvestre (Leopard-Trek)
  8. Troels Vinther (CULT Energy)
  9. Pierre-Henri Lecuisinier (Vendée U)
  10. Frederik Ludvigsson (People4You-Unaas)
  11. Silvan Dillier (BMC U23)
G.C. Overall
  • 1. Silvan Dillier (BMC U23)
  • 2. Alexander Blain (Raleigh) +7
  • 3. Dylan van Baarle (Rabobank Development) +10
  • 4. Fabio Silvestre (Leopard-Trek) +24
  • 5. Frederik Ludvigsson (People4You-Unaas) +31
  • 6. Jesper Hansen (CULT Energy) +34
  • 7. Tom Scully (Raleigh) +36
  • 11. Julien Duval (Roubaix-Lille) +50

The race really was turned upside down today with Raleigh not getting into the early breakaway. The break had some great cooperation on a difficult course and really facilitated the later action. Van Baarle once again showed some immense power to get himself back into contention for the overall. He could have been considered out of it after having his prologue ruined by rain and being held up on stage one with a crash but he did what he does best and took it to his competitors. The race is really wide open with BMC U23, Raleigh and Rabobank Development having the best opportunities to take home overall honors. I am blown away by the performance of Frederik Ludvigsson this week. This is a kid that is barely out of the junior ranks and is already putting up performances like this...mega talent!

Tomorrow's route will take the peloton along the sea before they turn inland and head over another lumpy route to Bagnoles de l'Orne, the famous spa town. As Sunday is a flat route into Caen, tomorrow will be the decisive day for the GC men and we will see if anyone can wrestle the jersey away from Dillier.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Volta ao Alentejo: Stuyven & Bontrager CT dominate in Portel

Jasper Stuyven and his Bontrager team dominated the 2nd stage into Portel in the 31st Volta ao Alentejo. After finishing 7th yesterday on the uphill finish into Marvão, Stuyven and teammate Tanner Putt got into the 11-man breakaway after the first and only KOM sprint of the day that would go all the way to the line. Stuyven would then crush the technical and slightly uphill sprint into Portel and not only take the win but also take the leader's jersey from yesterday's stage winner Daniel Silva.

The race started out quick with a 43 kph average for the first hour. A group of 15 took off early in the stage that include multiple young teams in Bontrager (Stuyven, Oram and Mannion), Rabobank Development (Tusveld), Etixx-iHNed (Konrad and Verhelst) and Euskadi (Bizkarra). Stuyven took the first sprint point at Vila Viçosa. The group of 15 was brought back at kilometer 43 by the peloton but that wouldn't be the last time a break got up the road.

Stuyven took 2nd at the next sprint point and soon after another breakaway was launched, this time with 10 riders. This group, which contained riders from nine different teams, got a gap of around 40 seconds before it was shut down by Portuguese powerhouse Epafel-Glassdrive, who had missed out on the breakaway. Stuyven again sprinted to second at the next sprint points and gained more precious seconds for the general classification.

At the base of the climb into Monsaraz, a group of 11 riders broke away from the peloton that would shape the rest of the race. They included: Jasper Stuyven, Tanner Putt (Bontrager) Louis Verhelst, Sam Spokes, Dieter Bouvry (Etixx-iHNed) Chad Haga (Optum) Filipe Cardoso (Epafel-Glassdrive) Alejandro Marque, Gustavo Veloso, Delio Fernandez (OFM) and Carlos Oyarzun (Louletano). With the majority of the big teams represented, the gap grew out to nearly 2 minutes. Carmin-Tavira and Euskadi began to chase with 35km to go but it was too late as the breakaway was working well together.

Coming into Portel, Stuyven took to the front and easily won the sprint from Haga and Oyarzun. Unexpectedly, all three of the Etixx-iHNed riders were distanced in the sprint and lost time to Stuyven. In any case, the race was blown wide open today with this breakaway and the overall winner of the race will most likely come from this breakaway.
EDIT: After reading Optum DS Jonas Carney's write up of the stage, my writing needs to be edited. Chad Haga attacked the break with 2km to go and Stuyven went with him. The gap was never very big but they started to get reeled in with 500 meters to go. At 300m, Stuyven launched his sprint and won the stage while Haga hung onto 2nd.

Full Results

Stage Results
  1. Jasper Stuyven (Bontrager)
  2. Chad Haga (Optum)
  3. Carlos Oyarzun (Louletano)
  4. Alejandro Marque (OFM)
  5. Filipe Cardoso (Epafel-Glassdrive)
  6. Tanner Putt (Bontrager-Livestrong)
  7. Dieter Bouvry (Etixx-iHNed) +6
  8. Louis Verhelst (Etixx-iHNed) +8
  9. Sam Spokes (Etixx-iHNed) +10
General Classification
  1. Jasper Stuyven
  2. Chad Haga +11
  3. Alejandro Marque +16
  4. Tanner Putt +28
  5. Delio Fernandez (OFM) +29
  6. Carlos Oyarzun +38
  7. Dieter Bouvry +59
Yesterday's stage winner Daniel Silva still leads the mountains classification with Karel Hnik (Etixx-iHNEd) in 2nd. Stuyven is also in the points jersey but with his overall lead, Chad Haga will be wearing the points jersey during tomorrow's stage. 

Tour de Normandie: Blain makes his escape on Stage 3

Alexander Blain (Raleigh) took the Tour de Normandie by the scruff of the neck today and won the 3rd stage into Argentan and took the overall lead off the shoulders of Fabio Silvestre (Leopard-Trek). Blain and teammate Eric Berthou broke away from an elite selection late in the race and pulled out a 20 second gap (plus 10 seconds for winning the stage), enough for Blain to take the lead away.

Conditions riders had to deal with today on the way to Argentan

The day started out very quick as the race was plagued with rain and crosswinds. Team De Rijke-Shanks took the initiative and went to the front and blew the race apart. When I say the race started out quick, the first hour averaged 49 kilometers/hour, a pace that decimated the field and left only 20 riders in the front group, including three riders from Team Raleigh and two from De Rijke-Shanks, and split the race into three groups. Race leader Fabio Silvestre (Leopard-Trek) was left out of the first group and was stuck in the first chasing group for the remainder of the day.

The first chasing group tried to bring the leading group back but they only got as close as 30 seconds before the gap began to grow. Alexander Blain, who started the stage around 30 seconds down on leader Silvestre, won two intermediate sprints from the front group, which knocked off six seconds overall. As the race entered Argentan and hit the finishing loops, riders were shelled off the front group as the pace picked up and the chasing peloton was in high gear. As the group crossed the line for the last lap, Eric Berthou (Raleigh) attacked and was quickly followed by Blain and the two gained a quick advantage. When it was all said and done, the Raleigh duo had 20 seconds on the front group. Silvan Dillier (BMC U23) won the sprint for 3rd from the rest of the chasers, moving himself up to 2nd (tied with Tom Scully) on G.C. The big chasing pack that included Silvestre came in at 47 seconds.

Props need to be given to Dylan van Baarle, Stefan Küng and Magnus Cort Nielsen as they were the only U23 riders able to stay with the leading group to the finish today. Even more so with Nielsen as he was involved in the big high-speed crash yesterday and his bike was snapped in half.

The race is far from over as the next two stages will offer more rain and crosswinds, especially stage 5 which heads along the sea coast.

Stage Results (Results in Full)

  • 1. Alexander Blain (Raleigh)
  • 2. Eric Berthou (Raleigh)
  • 3. Silvan Dillier (BMC U23) +20
  • 4. Sergey Nikolaev (Itera-Katusha) s.t.
  • 5. Tino Thömel (NSP-Ghost) s.t.
  • 6. Tom Scully (Raleigh) s.t.
  • 8. Jesper Hansen (CULT Energy) s.t.
  • 11. Dylan van Baarle (Rabobank Development) s.t.
  • 13. Stefan Küng (BMC U23) s.t.
  • 15. Magnus Cort Nielsen (CULT Energy) +23

Overall G.C. (Results in Full)

  • 1. Alexander Blain (Raleigh) 12h26'17"
  • 2. Thomas Scully (Raleigh) +13
  • 3. Silvan Dillier (BMC U23) s.t.
  • 4. Jesper Hansen (CULT Energy) +27
  • 7. Fabio Silvestre (Leopard-Trek) +37
  • 9. Frederik Ludvigsson (People4You-Unaas) +44
  • 10. Stefan Küng (BMC U23) +45
  • 11. Ivar Slik (Rabobank Development) +47
  • 12. Dylan van Baarle (Rabobank Development) +51
  • 13. Nick van der Lijke (Rabobank Development) +57

Tour de Normandie Prologue Graphs

A friend on twitter @ncrow has started a new tumblr-style website called Cycling Graphs. It is a website devoted to turning race results into neat & clean graphs to make for interesting and quality analysis. He was kind enough to turn out some graphs for the Tour de Normandie prologue.

For bigger versions and even more graphs, go directly to Cycling Graphs website.

You can follow Cycling Graphs on Twitter or go to

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

We Are Devo: Lay-o-Pard-Trek Earning Their Spots

Leopard-Trek (pronounced Lay-o-pard...Trek) sounds familiar to most people not as the current development team but as the World Tour squad that was created for the 2011 season and formed around the Schleck brothers, the premiere cycling family in Luxembourg. Funded by Flavio Becca, the team lasted only one year under the Leopard name before merging with the former RadioShack squad to create RadioShack-Nissan. Instead of getting rid of Leopard-Trek entirely, the team was turned into a Luxembourg-based development squad (and feeder team to RadioShack) tasked with "promoting and developing Luxembourgish cycling in the world."

Bob Jungels
2012 was a big year for the freshman squad with big wins from Bob Jungels (now Radioshack) and strong performances from Julian Kern (now Ag2r), Alexandre Pliuschin (now IAM), Giorgio Brambilla (Atlas Personal-Jakroo) and Euginio Alafaci. The team graduated 3 riders to WorldTour/Pro Continental squads (Brambilla transfered to a different continental team) but was able to bolster the roster with multiple new signings.

2013 brought changes to the squad. With Bontrager-Livestrong cutting its affiliation with the RadioShack squad, Leopard-Trek is now the sole development team to RadioShack. There are a few things that make this team different than other development squads. Firstly, the team is rather diverse in nationalities where as most development squads are pretty nationally homogenous. Secondly, the majority of the riders are not U-23's, which is again different for a traditional development squad, which usually sees their riders target bigger U23 races. So while part of the team will go for big U-23 events, the rest of the riders are focusing on a big schedule filled with 1.2-2.2 races and taking every opportunity to go up against pro riders.

Let's start with some of the squad's holdovers from 2012...

Eugenio Alafaci was one of the most consistent performers on the squad last year, obtaining 22 top tens over the course of the season, mainly in sprints. Was it a one-off season? 2011: 24 top tens while riding in Italy for the Lucchini Maniva Ski team, a team that also had Moreno Moser. Hell, 2010: 27 top tens. So what is the problem? Well when we combines all three of those seasons and 73 top tens, Alafaci only had two wins as a elite/U23, both of which came in 2010. He obviously has talent but this year will be important for him to get over the hump and get a few wins as an elite.
Jesus Ezquerra

Jesus Ezquerra is a time trial and all-around talent. He first showed himself in 2011 on the Spanish amateur scene as he was 2nd overall in the Copa de España, a yearly ranking of races for Elite/U23 racers in Spain. Signing with Leopard for 2012, where he did solid work for the team throughout the year and made the most of a few chances he got. After getting a bigger role for 2013, Ezquerra took 6th overall at the Istrian Spring Trophy, going well in both the opening prologue (7th) and in the queen stage (8th).

Fabio Silvestre is good at just about everything. He has a sprint, which is obvious by his sprint win in the first stage of the Tour de Normandie, yet he is a good time trialist, as indicated by his U23 Portuguese championship and other strong TT result. He isn't one that has to sit in the bunch either as indicated by his 4th place at the U23 Paris-Tours, where he was apart of a long breakaway that went the distance. Even this season, his dual threat is evident. He was 3rd at the Dorpenomloop Rucphen and 2nd in the bunch gallop. At the Tour de Normandie now, he was 10th in the short prologue before his sprint stage win.

Other holdovers include Swiss classics man Olivier Hofstetter and a trio of Luxembourgish riders in Alex Kirsch, Joel Zangerle and Pit Schlechter. Kirsch had some injuries last year but is trying to develop as a GC man. Zangerle is a decent climber while Schlechter is trying to develop as a classics man, as evident by his 12th at U23 Paris-Roubaix.

Leopard reloaded after losing Jungels and co. to the pros and did so in a big way...

Sean de Bie has been one of the biggest hopes in Belgium since his junior days but has had injury problems in the past and had a bad crash (broken eyesocket and sinus) last August which stopped his season. Coming from a famous cycling family in Belgium can bring lots of pressure, especially when de Bie is in his final U23 season. De Bie will be shooting for high results in the classics, especially the U23 Ronde van Vlaanderen, where he went 2nd last year.

Jan Hirt is probably the purest climber on the squad after doing great rides at the queen stages of Tour de l'Ain and Giro di Padania. The Czech rider stagiaired with the team last summer after finishing 5th overall in the Tour of Slovakia (3rd on the queen stage) and 9th at the Czech Cycling Tour. Still a U23, Hirt might be targeting bigger U23 races throughout the season.

Coming from the Danish Tre-For squad, Kristian Haugaard Jensen is a punchy climber who should enjoy success on shorter, steeper climbs. Jensen finished 5th in the youth classification at the Tour of Denmark last season and finished 16th on the race's queen stage. Finishing 7th overall in the hilly Istrian Spring Tour was a solid start to the season for the U23 rider and results like that should be repeatable.

Daniel Klemme is the younger brother of IAM Cycling's Dominik and seems to take after his brother as a classics man with a fast finish.

Max Durtschi is a former US junior national champion who is a good climber but needs time to adapt to European racing before he makes a big splash.

Other new riders include Italian Piero Baffi and Luxembourger Tom Thill. Baffi, the son of team DS Adriano Baffi, is a sprinter just like his father and grandfather but has a bit more rouleur in him. Thill is an additional Luxembourger who is a rider who is a worker but gets a result here or there.

Now there is a catch-22 for the team in that RadioShack is most likely going to cease sponsorship after this season so riders won't have assured stagiaire positions past this season and won't be assured spots on a team if there were any potential for openings. (There are rumors of Danilo Hondo creating a high-level team after his retirement but as of now, they are just that.) So I postulate a question...if RadioShack folds and their is no direct feeder team for Leopard-Trek, will Flavio Becca be interested in extending the team's sponsorship?  In any case, the riders on Leopard-Trek will be busting their ass to get big results (and a spot on a pro team) so they can avoid this possibility.

Note: Photos used in this article are by Petit Brun and are used under the Creative Commons License CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

31st Volta ao Alentejo Results

I will be updating this post daily with results from the 31st Volta ao Alentejo Credito Agricola Costa Azul. If you want the short and sweet, follow me @Vlaanderen90 on twitter for results.

Stage 1 Castelo de Vida to Marvão

The first stage of the Volta ao Alentejo was perhaps the most important for the General Classification as this was the only hilltop finish of the race and only one of two stages that had any sort of hills to deal with. A group of 12 got away immediately after the start in Castelo de Vida but were brought back after the first sprint in Crato, which was taken by Louis Verhelst (Etixx-iHNed). After 35 kilometers, Florian Senechal (Etixx-iHNed) attacked and was soon joined by André Mourato (LA Aluminium) and Antoine Duchesne (Bontrager-Livestrong). 10 kilometers later, Scott Zwizanski (Optum p/b Kelly Benefits), Illart Zuazubiskar (Euskadi) and Henrique Casimiro (Carmine-Tavira) bridged up to make it a group of six. The group quickly got a big lead of 10 minutes on the peloton before the peloton began their chase. Mourato and Zwizanski both won sprints in Monforte and Degolados respectively but this was minor compared to the impending hills before the finish.

The pace was fierce during the race as over the first 3 hours the average speed was 42 kph. As the breakaway began the first climb, Zwizanski, Senechal and Mourato pulled away from their break mates and pushed on, with Senechal taking first over the climb. Three riders bridged to the leading trio on the descent but it was all for naught as the peloton bared down on them. In the end, Daniel Silva (Radio Popular-Onda) broke away on the final climb and finished 2 seconds ahead of a select group to take the win and overall leaders jersey.
  1. Daniel Silva (Radio Popular-Onda)
  2. Karel Hnik (Etixx-iHNed) +2
  3. Eduard Prades (OFM) +3
  4. Chad Haga (Optum p/b Kelly Benefits) +4
  5. Alejandro Marque (OFM) +5
  6. Delio Fernandez (OFM) s.t.
  7. Jasper Stuyven (Bontrager-Livestrong) s.t.
  8. Daniel Mestre (Tavira) +6
  9. Arkaitz Duran (Epafel Glass Drive) s.t.
  10. Carlos Barbero (Euskadi) +7
  11. Patrick Konrad (Etixx-iHNed) +10

I am very impressed with Etixx-iHNed. They rode an attacking race with Verhelst and Senechal and then on the final climb, Hnik and Konrad had great performances. Chad Haga, in only his first year on the continental level with Optum, really pulled out all the stops for 4th. Stuyven and Barbero both rode well for their teams and should keep high overall places through the week.