Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Let's Catch Up, Shall We?

With interviewing Marc Garby, keeping up on transfers and with trying to keep my life in some type of order, there are a lot of results that I haven't talked about that need to be talked about.

Cort takes two Tour of Denmark stages

Photo: @BritSorensen

Un-fucking-real. Sitting at my desk on Wednesday, boredom had set in and I opened up twitter to try and get a reprieve from my data entry purgatory. Within 5 seconds, I see Magnus Cort's name. I assume that he was in the breakaway and got the sprint or KOM jersey. Scrolled down further and I see more congratulations. Then I see...

In the biggest U23 win against the pro peloton this year, Magnus Cort (CULT Energy) survived a whole day in the breakaway and even after Lars Bak (Lotto-Belisol) bridged up to Cort and Nikola Aistrup (Concordia Forsikring - Riwal), Cort was still strong enough to hold off the duo in the three-up sprint. Cort has a 1 second lead on Aistrup and 7 seconds on Bak while the peloton, which was neutralized time-wise because of multiple crashes in the finale, is 21 seconds back.

Cort was not done either. On the short morning stage before the GC deciding afternoon time trial, Cort took advantage of the sharp run-up to the finishing line. After passing one kilometer to go banner, Cort shot out of the peloton and went past a burned-up Sacha Modolo with 500 meters to go and the young Dane was able to sit up with time to spare to soak in his 2nd professional win in a week. Cort ended the race 9th overall.

I am still puzzled as to why the Tour of Denmark seemingly hates TV coverage of their race. Next to no updates and no live stream in a day and age where that should be almost a requirement for a race of this magnitude.

As far as I understand, the plan is still for Cort to stay with CULT Energy for 2014 before making a jump to a higher level. There is also a possibility that the team might move to the Pro Continental ranks next year, according to my source.

Van der Lijke takes Kreiz Breizh Elites

While Dylan van Baarle might be the most talked about rider on the Rabobank Development squad, Nick van der Lijke has had quite a consistent year, especially when it has come to stage racing. Van der Lijke went top 10 in four stage races before Kreiz Breizh including two podiums in Tour de Bretagne (2nd) and Tour de Gironde (3rd).

The 1st stage of the four-stage, three day race around central Bretagne (Brittany) separated the wheat from the chaff. On a lumpy stage, a group of six including van der Lijke, Tom Vermeer (Jo Piels), Belgian  U27 Topcompetitie leader Nicolas Vereecken (AnPost-ChainReaction), Mike Terpstra (3M), Tomasz Olejnik (USSA Pavilly Barentin) and Romain Matheou (Top 16) were the survivors of an early breakaway attempt. Matheou won the group sprint ahead of a much reduced leading group that came in at 37 seconds.

Stage 2 saw van der Lijke put in his best time trial of the season on another rolling course where he beat out Alexis Guerin (Entente Sud Gascogne), Bretagne-Seche Environment duo Vegard Stake Laengen and Eduardo Sepulveda along with Rabobank Development teammate Dylan van Baarle. While van der Lijke has been a competent TTer in the past, this was a ride that had not been seen before.

Now leading Laengen by 28 seconds and Vereecken by 32, van der Lijke was able to somewhat relax on stage 3, the 2nd half of a Saturday split stage, and keep ensconced in the peloton. Erwann Corbel (Bretagne-Séché Environment) beat Dutchman Wouter Wippert (3M) convincingly with Corbel's teammate Gael Malacarne coming in 3rd.

Van der Lijke's lead was still tenuous heading into the final stage and the threat was compounded when 2nd place overall Vegard Stake Laengen joined the breakaway very late in the race and was the virtual leader on the road with just 20 kilometers left. Van der Lijke joined a counter attack and was able to bridge the gap and eliminate the threat just kilometers later. With just 5 kilometers left in the race and the gap on the breakaway dwindling, Mike Terpstra (3M) and Geert van der Weijst (Jo Piels) the break and quickly got a gap. While the others were swept up by a peloton keen on a bunch sprint, Terpstra and van der Weijst, a stage winner in the Tour de Gironde, worked well together and took it to the line where van der Weijst easily won the sprint over the lithe Terpstra. Cyclocross star Kevin Pauwels won the bunch sprint for 3rd and van der Lijke sewed up the overall win after he crossed the line in 5th place on the stage. 

Nick van der Lijke is in his final year as a U23 and it will be interesting to see who goes after him this year. With van Baarle heading to Garmin, van der Lijke could head to Belkin but he could end up in a situation where he would be crowded out of big results. With Vacansoleil likely closing up shop at the end of the season, it will be tight for Dutch riders trying to make it to the big time. My two bitcoins is on Belkin.

Now where else to look...

-Giro delle Valli Cuneesi nella Alpi del Mare (Piemonte)

While this is a race that next to no one has heard of, it has been more important in recent years with overall winners such as Fabio Aru (Astana) and Edoardo Zardini (Bardiani Valvole). Like most Italian amateur stage races, the race was reduced for 2013 and it is now just three days. This race offered a few treats.

Stage 1 was a team time trial, a rarity in Italian amateur cycling, that was won by the Mastromarco team of future Lampre-Merida rider Valerio Conti and Antonio Nibali, who is brother of Vincenzo, ahead of the Russian National squad of Alexander Foliforov and Team Colpack, that included Davide Villella, Gianfranco Zilioli and Davide Orrico.  

Stage 2 finished on the fearsome Colle del Preit, a 14 kilometer climb that averages a tough 8%. Colpack's Gianfranco Zilioli, who is one year out of the U23 ranks, stormed to an impressive solo victory on the scenic mountain top finish by 5 seconds over Matteo Busato (Trevigiani) and Luca Benedetti at 10 seconds. Mathieu Le Lavandier (Chambery CF) showed signs of life with a 6th place finish. Zilioli took impressive wins last year at Bassano-Monte Grappa and GP Capodarco, the best Italian one-day race on the calendar but he has gone on a tear this season. This mountain top finish was his 6th win of the season, the majority of which have come within the last 5 weeks.

Stage 3 saw a breakaway rule the day and Zilioli consolidate his lead thanks to a ravenous teammate in Davide Villella. The stage started gradually uphill before taking on two climbs, a category one climb that averaged over 9% gradient and a category 2 uphill finish. Alessio Taliani was able to stay away to take the solo victory for his Futura Team Matric while Villella and Zilioli, along with a few others, came in just behind Taliani. Villella won the bunch gallop while Zilioli took the overall win and his 7th victory of the season.

With the way Zilioli has been riding as of late, it seems that he is due for a pro contract next year. One of the hot names right now is Eritrean Merhawi Kudus, who has been climbing extraordinarily well. Zilioli dropped him and Colpack teammate Manuel Senni like rocks in the Ciriè-Pian della Mussa, an uphill race near Torino. When I say drop, he put nearly 1'20" on them in three kilometers. He toyed with them. Let's put it this way, if he doesn't get a contract then I will be suspicious. Speaking of Kudus...

-Vuelta a Leon

Ever since the prodigious Daniel Teklehaimanot came to Europe in the last 00's, Eritrean cycling and the talent coming out of the small heterogenous nation along the Red Sea. That isn't to say that Eritrean cycling is by any means a new phenomenon because cycling has been one of the most popular sports since it was colonized by the Italians. With riders such as Teklehaimanot, Natnael Berhane and others now penetrating Europe, a new rider has emerged. Merhawi Kudus made himself known at last year's Tour of Rwanda where at just 18 years old, the young Eritrean won a stage and lead the race before being unseated by a South African juggernaut.

This season saw Kudus move to Europe, where he has predominately stayed at the UCI Cycling Centre and participating in amateur events in France and Italy. Kudus has been proclaimed as the next big African climbing talent and was noted as possessing a super high cadence in the mountains, in the range of 100-110 rpm. The high cadence and climbing style makes him reminiscent of famed Luxembourgish climber Charly Gaul. With four wins to his name so far this year and a stagiaire position with Bretagne-Séché Environment starting at this week's Tour de l'Ain, Kudus toed the line at the Vuelta a Leon.

The short and sweet three day race was full of redemption. After Andalucia collapsed this year, nearly the whole team of riders was left stranded and promising talents were left to their own devices in a Spanish economy that has been utterly devastated. Jordi Simon was one of Spain's biggest talents as a U23; placing in the top 10 of Tour de l'Avenir in 2011 along with three top five stage finishes. After a bad neo-pro year in 2012, Simon was left without a pro team for 2013 and had to revert to the Coluer amateur squad in 2013. To say that he has a chip on his shoulder would be a gross understatement.

Breaking away with over 60 kilometers to go, Simon had to sit up when he had a 50 second gap over a group of 16 riders because of a brutal headwind. No matter for Simon as once he was re-integrated into the fold, Simon controlled the attacks and in the finale, Simon formed a group with Kudus and Ever Rivera (4-72 Colombia). Multiple probing attacks were launched but nothing was able to stick and when Kudus lead out the sprint, Simon easily went by for the win. With no time bonuses on offer, the GC would be tight.

Stage 2 saw a large breakaway get away. Rather uneventful in terms of any GC shakeup as Simon, Kudus and Rivera all stayed together. Jose De Segovia, the Spanish elite w/o contract national TT champion, won the stage over Diego Ochoa (4-72 Colombia).

Stage 3 was a reminder that time bonuses should be a fixture in most races. When you have a race with no TT, no time bonuses and courses that are hard but ultimately come back together in the end, having no incentive to make a suicide attack in the final kilometer makes the race anti-climactic. The racing was animated but Lokosphinx and others kept it together for the final uphill sprint. 4th place GC Sergei Shilov took out the sprint ahead Jonathan Gonzalez (Construcciones Paulino) and Ion Pardo (Entente Sud Gascogne), who had taken out the majority of sprint points on the course. Simon, Kudus and Rivera finished safely in the front group and the GC finished just as it did on stage 1 with Jordi Simon taking a big win and another step back to the professional ranks.

Biggest takeaways from this race are obviously Merhawi Kudus but also the strong team performance of 4-72 Colombia, who will form the majority, if not all, of the Colombian Tour de l'Avenir squad, which will be featured around Juan Ernesto Chamorro, who finished 9th in this race.

Other races

-The Antwerpse Havenpijl wrapped up the Belgian U27 Top Competitie on Sunday. With some big teams having an open weekend, the race featured Pro Continental squads Topsport Vlaanderen and Crelan-Euphony, which broke the racing up. Topsport rider Preben van Hecke took the final breakaway sprint over Stef van Zummeren (Lotto-Belisol U23) and Stijn Steels (Crelan-Euphony). Nicholas Vereecken (AnPost-ChainReaction) wrapped up the overall Top Competitie title over Jerômé Baugnies (ToWin-Josan). 

-Like the Tour de Liege (which was won by Tom David of Ovyta-Eijssen and regrettably not covered by Espoirs Central), Tour de Namur is unheralded simply because it is on the Belgian amateur circuit and even though it is a legitimate 5-stage race, there is no English coverage of the race and not much other than blurbs outside of Belgium. Not that I did much to help that fact but the results were somewhat interesting.

Stage 1 saw Dutch sprinter Wouter Wippert (3M) take his first win of the season in a bunch sprint over Walt de Winter (Lotto U23) and Robin Stenuit. While Wippert has ammassed a large amount of top 5 placings this year, he wasn't able to break through until last week. He was on the verge of signing with WT Lotto-Belisol last season but due to injury he was forced to stay on the continental level. While having a good season, it is unclear if he will be making the jump for next year.

Stage 2 saw New Zealander Tom David take the win in impressive breakaway style over Jens Adams (Belgium National) and Jasper Ockeloen (Parkhotel), both at 8 seconds in arrears. At 14 seconds was an important group including Floris de Tier (EFC OPQS) and Gregory Daniel (USA National/Bontrager). The peloton was led home by Stenuit at 32 seconds. David, who has been tearing it up this season in Belgium with Ovyta-Eijssen, will be a stagiaire with Crelan-Euphony this fall.

Stage 3 was another breakaway that shook up the GC. Doltcini-Flanders stagiaire Bram Nolten took out the stage in a solo move after dropping Floris de Tier and the rest of the front group on a brutal day. Nolten took the leader's jersey.

Stage 4 was yet another breakaway, this time a non-threatening one, that saw EFC-OPQS David Desmecht attack with 10 kilometers to go and take the solo win over Xandro Meurisse (Lotto-Belisol U23) and Toon Aerts (Crelan-KDL). Bram Nolen was dropped from the peloton and lost the leader's jersey to Sjoerd van Ginneken (Parkhotel), who was tied on time with Floris de Tier. It was down to a final day showdown on the Namur Citadel.

Stage 5 was the Thrilla in...Namur. A breakaway of 21 got away early and van Ginneken was not included. The gap swelled to four minutes at one time before the leader's Parkhotel squad, who only had Peter Schulting in the breakaway, took over on the front. The gap was steadily reduced to one minute but by then, the pace up front started to go faster. The breakaway, which included Floris de Tier, was racing for the win and punched it up the twisting climb to the Citadel. Having had the benefit of doing no work in the lead up to the climb, it was Schulting who put the pressure on and took the sprint over Ludwig de Winter (Color Code-Biowanze) and Brecht Dhaene (VL Techniks). Floris de Tier finished in 4th and sewed up the overall victory.

De Tier is an unknown quantity because this is his first year focusing on the road after announcing that he would quit focusing on cyclocross to pursue a career on the road. De Tier had some solid rides in Valle d'Aosta and with this win, he should definitely turn some heads. He hasn't had a proper off-season to build for the road so De Tier should be one to watch for 2014.

- The Trofeo Internazionale Bastianelli lived up to it's breakaway hype and saw Maxat Ayazbayev go for a little stroll off the front and take the win by a huge margin, 1'13" over 2nd place Corrado Lampa. Ayazbayev has been one of the stronger riders for Astana Continental this year and while his results might look sparse to some, he has consistently attacked in nearly every race he has been in. He still has another year in the U23 ranks and looks to be World Tour material.

I missed some races but this is the meat of the last two weeks that I've missed. Look for stagiaires in the Tour de l'Ain and the Arctic Tour of Norway, both of which start later this week. Tour of Utah and Volta a Portugal both have a bevy of young riders so look for more performances from there. 

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