Saturday, April 26, 2014

Italian Sprint Opera: Marini shakes off bad mojo for 7th win

Okay, so Nicolas Marini might have a little stage fright. The Italian sprinter, who took 6 victories in his first 11 races, has been having a rough go of it in the last couple of weeks. After getting a call up for two of the U23 Nations Cups in Northern Europe, he proceeded to go outside the time limit at La Côte Picarde and then crash at the ZLM Tour, where he finished 4'24" behind winner Thomas Boudat. His initial return to Italian racing wasn't much better as he DNFed Friday's GP Liberazione with a whole host of others. Chalk it up to some fatigue from his foray into international racing or just some bad mojo but Marini was looking to turn it all around at the GP Memorial Carlo Valentini.

The race is in the city of Camponogara, which is roughly equidistant between Venice and Padua in the Veneto region. The city is known for its production of Cabernet and Merlot grapes as well as shoes. The race was the sight of a rather bad incident where Zalf-Euromobil's Federico Zurlo was assaulted after the finish by a pissed-off Massimo Coledan, who has since retired from the sport. Zurlo's win was vacated and given to them teammate Paolo Simion (now Mastromarco). With Zalf-Euromobil's headquarters located about 45 minutes away, it was a must win for the team.

The pan-flat race, which is in its 16th edition, took off like a bottle rocket and never let up. Averaging over 48 km/h, the race sped along the while only a few breakaways were able to get any time. Eugert Zhupa (Zalf-Euromobil) was the last one out before being swept up by the peloton with a handful of kilometers to go. The Zalf train was full speed ahead and it was the faithful Davide Gomirato who once again piloted Nicolas Marini into the final 250 meters. Marini lept off the elder Gomirato's wheel and got his chest to the handlebars and off he went. Marini had a clear bike-length advantage before raising his hands in victory with Alessandro Forner just behind in 2nd, Marco Gaggia 3rd and Gomirato posting up in 4th place.
"I'm flying...I'm flying" (Photo:ItaliaCiclismo)
So while it was Marini's 7th win of the year and Zalf-Euromobil's 16th, this is just another example of the point Davide Cassini made in a recent Cyclingnews article about the demise of Italian cycling. Cassini recently took over the Italian national team post and noted how Italian cycling is not as dominate as it once was and looks directly at the development system for the answer.

"We've got lots of easy regional races where riders become big fish in little ponds but we've lost international stage races like the Giro delle Regioni and the GiroBio, where our riders could face the best international competition. Now I fear Italian riders don't have the best possible development and so then struggle when they become professionals."

Marini's victory today is a perfect example of this. The Lombardian sprinter has won 7 races this year but they were more or less all regional events and when he stepped up a level to UCI races, he was not prepared for the uptick in the level. Paolo Simion commented on the Italian team being unprepared for the Nations Cup before the GP Liberazione by saying that while the team was fine on a physical level, they were not prepared for the crosswinds, tight roads and full-gas nature of the races. With UCI races for U23 becoming a premium in Italy, the current system is failing riders. The best Italian riders, usually on amateur teams, are not getting the kilometers they need against the best international talent.

While the race problem is yet to be solved, there could be a different solution to the problem. The number of continental teams in Italy went from 1 to 6 between 2013 and 2014. The huge uptick included two amateur teams, Team Idea and Trevigiani, that took the leap to the continental level so that they would be able to ride in more UCI races in and around Italy. The answer for the Italian development system might be elevating more teams to the continental level, getting out of Italy more and allowing riders to get their teeth get kicked in a bit more. It will expedite the professional teething process and allow teams to better identify talent before signing guys to neo-pro contracts. Andrea Zordan is a great example of this; he signed with Androni this year but has DNFed the majority of his races and not had a meaningful finish all year. Zalf-Euromobil is looking to go up to the continental ranks for 2015, which would be an interesting move as it would most likely mean a dip in their record win total but would improve the value of their riders.

I could continue on about the Italian Federation's laziness on the matter but that can be left for another time.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Shalunov breaks away to GP Liberazione victory

Former RadioShack stagiaire Evgeny Shalunov decided to venture out solo at the short but very sweet GP Liberazione in Rome on Friday and his gamble came up spades. The Russian Shalunov with Lokosphinx was apart of a breakaway that went away with 8 laps left in the race and with 25 kilometers to go, went solo.

Behind, an amalgam of Italian teams along with some like Radenska were chasing in vain behind the solo Russian, who had previously won the UCI 1.1 Vuelta a la Rioja in 2012 in a similar fashion. Shalunov was able to make it over the bump on the circuit for the last time with a gap of over 30 seconds and he was able to hold that to the line, where he celebrated with reaching up towards the sky. 25 seconds in arrears, the peloton came in lead by Colpack's Simone Consonni ahead of Liam Bertazzo (Mg.Kvis-Trevigiani) and Paolo Simion (Mastromarco).

Shalunov is the 2nd Eastern European rider in a row to win the famed Rome race, which commemorates the fall of Mussolini's fascist republic in 1945. Far Right-wing Italians, including Francesco Moser and the Lega Nord party, are quick to criticize the race because of the race allowing Eastern Bloc riders to race as early as the late 60's and see it as a veneration of Communism. In any event, the race is one of the only chances we get to have a proper cycle race in the heart of Rome and it should be cherished for what it is, a celebration of cycling.

More to follow...

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Herklotz's Redemption: GP Palio del Recioto

Streaking down the final twisty descent with just 3 kilometers left, 18 year-old Silvio Herklotz went flying off the road. Crashing hard, the Berliner scrambled out of the ditch and set off again, his small lead now evaporated. Rounding the last corner in the leading group of 9, Herklotz was still surprisingly fresh for being out front on his own but Caleb Ewan bested him in the sprint to the line. It was a bittersweet taste in Herklotz's mouth, especially after he came 2nd just the day before in the Giro del Belvedere in another close sprint. That was 2013. He would take revenge in 2014.

2014 didn't start out very well for Herklotz after crashing at 60 km/h thanks to a parked car at Trofej Umag and then he developed bronchitis at the Istrian Spring Trophy, which caused him to DNF the final stage. We saw the beginnings of form at Triptyque Monts et Chateaux and then finally a somewhat return to form at Circuit des Ardennes, where he finished comfortably in 13th overall. He experienced a near repeat from 2013 at the Giro del Belvedere, where he finished 2nd in a two-up sprint with Simone Andreetta. Would Palio del Recioto be different?

Leaving from Negrar, a breakaway of 19 was able to get away early on the eight circuits of 18.2 kilometers. The breakaway, including Alexey Vermeulen (USA/BMC Devo), Christian Mager (Stolting), Campbell Flakemore (Australia), Simone Velasco & Giacomo Berlato (Zalf-Euromobil), Giulio Ciccone (Colpack) and Raimondas Rumsas' son, Raimondas Rumsas. The break got a maximum of 5 minutes but that was still with 100 kilometers to go, long before the peloton really got going.

Notably, Astana Continental missed out on the early breakaway so they felt obliged to chase...and chase...and chase some more. Seriously, the Kazakh squad, who was riding for Michele Scartezzini, just put themselves on the front for the next 50 kilometers and rode the breakaway down until the group came all back together with 50km to go.

With just 52 riders left in the main group, the race headed onto the final 34 kilometer loop that included the tough Corrubio climb, which has two different summits and included a technical downhill to the finish. On the lower slopes of the climb, Iuri Filosi (Colpack) attacked and drew out teammate Manuele Senni, Silvio Herklotz (Stolting), Robert Power (Australia) and Stefano Nardelli (Gavardo-Tecmor). The quintet raced up the Corrubio climb with no rider able to get any distance on the other. It was on the descent where the drama began.

Filosi, who was the impetus that created the breakaway, had a mechanical at the beginning of the descent. Then, in a carbon copy of 2013, Herklotz attacked on the downhill with 6 kilometers to go. Riding like he was in MotoGP, Herklotz was throwing the bike throw the corners and absolutely railing it. Heading into the final kilometer, Herklotz's lead was unassailable and the German U23 champion was able to raise his hands as he crossed the line solo. Redemption is so sweet. Herklotz admitted to some fears about the descent post-race, especially after his tumble in 2013, but he turned off his brain quickly and put his fears out the window. Herklotz's bike handling skills are very high and is one of the best descending riders, not to mention uphill, in the U23 class.

Coming in behind Herklotz was 18-year old Robert Power, who lead in the small group sprint for 2nd ahead of Nardelli and Senni. Lukas Spengler, the 19-year old with BMC Development, has been riding very well over the last two weeks and attacked out of the chasing peloton to take 5th ahead of Filosi. Spengler was 7th at Monday's Giro del Belvedere and 5th at Saturday's ZLM Tour in the Netherlands. Quite a tear for the young Swiss rider. While Luka Pibernik attacked for 7th place, Michele Scartezzini, whose Astana Continental team did all of that work in the build-up to the finale, lead in the sprint for 8th. Woohoo.

Other riders who finished well on both days include Gianni Moscon (Zalf-Euromobil), who finished 6th in Belvedere and 9th in Palio del Recioto, Luca Chirico (Mg.Kvis-Trevigiani), who finished 3rd and 13th respectively, as well as Alessandro Tonelli (Zalf-Euromobil) and Alexey Vermeulen (BMC Development), who both finished in the top 20 on both days of racing.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Andreetta beats Herklotz for Giro del Belvedere win

While Zalf-Euromobil has been on quite the roll this year, pretty much none of their victories up until now have meant anything. I went on about Nicolas Marini winning 6 races this spring but the competition was just the best in Italy and while Zalf won some hillier races as well, this race was the Treviso-based squad's first properly big result of the year. Just a mere 1 hour from the team's home base of Castelfranco Veneto, the Giro del Belvedere went around the surrounding area of the hamlet of Cordignano; Villa di Villa to be exact.

Homeboy did it (Photo: Italiaciclismo)

While this was a home race for the team, it was something even more to Simone Andreetta. Andreetta is from the town of Vittorio Veneto, which is just 10 kilometers from the start/finish line of this race, and if he is like any other young kid growing up on a racing bike, he went out and did the hardest climbs in his area, ad nauseam. This includes the Montaner climb, which is just a short spin outside of his childhood door and features prominently on the Belvedere course; being hit twice over the final two circuits. It was a trip in the way back machine for Andreetta; back to a simpler time when it was just between the hill and himself.

The peloton clipped in and set off to tackle 10 laps of a 12.1 kilometer course, which included the Conche climb, before hitting two circuits of a longer 16.5 kilometer course, which featured the Montaner climb. 154 kilometers in all and just mere kilometers into the race, the main breakaway was formed. A group of 17, including the like of Davide Martinelli (Colpack), Giacomo Berlato & Gianni Moscon (Zalf-Euromobil) and Phil Bauhaus (Stölting), got away and got a maximum gap of just 1'40" as the peloton was keen on not letting things get too out of hand.

With 45 kilometers to go, the breakaway was shutdown and nothing was able to get away while the race was preparing for the difficult Montaner climb. Zalf controlled it over the top of the first passage, lead over by Moscon and Andreetta, while everyone seemed to be waiting for the final passage of the climb to do anything. A group of roughly 40 reached the bottom of the climb for the 2nd and final time but that number was soon to be reduced. Stölting took the initiative and three of their riders including Silvio Herklotz, Yuriy Vasyliv and who I think was Christian Mager, just decided to ride of the front and try and pound everyone into submission while launching Herklotz. Andreetta lept out of the chasing group as was able to bridge up to the Stölting trio. By the time they summited the climb, it was just Herklotz and Andreetta left for the descent and flat finish. The duo just released the breaks and bombed the descent, getting a gap of nearly 30 seconds by the time they hit the bottom.

With 1 kilometer to go, the duo had 20 seconds but they decided to dick around for a little while until Herklotz opened up the sprint but it was the hometown Italian who was able to come around to take the victory with some ease. It was Andreetta's first big international win since he won a stage of the Giro della Lunigiana as a junior in 2011 and it was Zalf's first international win of the year, which always makes the bosses happy. Herklotz was denied the win here for the 2nd year running, messing up the sprint yet again after losing to Stefan Küng last year. It is a return to form for the young German who had been a bit off the torrid pace that he set last year in his 1st U23 season. Leading in the chasing group for 3rd a couple seconds later was was Luca Chirico (Mg.Kvis-Trevigiani) ahead of Luka Pibernik (Radenska) and Vasyliv.

Andreetta has been close before in major races, going 2nd last year in Trofeo Piva Banca, and is being touted as one of the best Italy has to offer for the future. He is the class of '93 so he still has another U23 season left, if he chooses so, and he rode Tour de l'Avenir last year really well and won the Memorial Gerry Gasparotto earlier this year in a solo breakaway. So if he ends up turning pro, I would be surprised if the Italian Federation tries to get a Worlds bid for Treviso that ends up going through Vittorio Veneto.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Weekend Update: Gomirato recompensed in Cimetta; Arden Challenge & everything else plus more

While the weekend was dominated by two bigger events on Saturday, that was by no means everything that happened. With Easter Sunday, it was a much lighter racing calendar as many of the races were pushed to Easter Monday, which is still celebrated in Europe but for many in the USA, it is just another work day.

Circuito del Termen

The contrast between Gomirato (c) and Mareczko (green, l) is quite amusing.
(Photo: ItaliaCiclismo)
While Nicolas Marini, Davide Martinelli and the rest of the Italian National Team was still getting their heads kicked in up in Northern Europe, it was business as usual on Sunday for Zalf-Euromobil. While head hunter Jakub Mareczko (Viris Maserati) was present, the ever faithful lead-out man Davide Gomirato and Daniele Cavasin held down the fort with aplomb for the Veneto-based team.

While the race was pretty short at just 98 kilometers, Zalf-Euromobil and Viris-Maserati kept it together for the big bunch sprint. Gomirato, who usually is the last man on the Zalf-Euromobil train and drops off Marini on a regular basis, had the favor returned to him by Cavasin and the older Venetian, who is 26 this year, was able to topple Mareczko, who had beat both Caleb Ewan and Marini in the last couple of weeks. It was Gomirato's first win in nearly 4 years and it was well deserved after all of the work he puts in on the sprint train. Mareczko was definitely grumpy in 2nd place as he thought he would easily take the sprint while Cavasin was in 3rd ahead of Romanian Andrei Voicu.

G-Skin Arden Challenge

Why do i get the worst images in my head when I read the word, G-Skin? Seriously, I've tried acting like an adult but obviously that doesn't keep me from shaking my head and chuckling. Anyways, the Arden Challenge is a series of four one-day road races in the Luxembourg province of Belgium. Last year, Simon Yates won the overall competition (based upon points) and past winners include David Boucher, Thomas Rabou and Niels Albert.

I do not have many details because there was no live ticker and next to no coverage. Stage 1 was won by Jan Lof, who I have never heard of before now. I see he finished 14th in the Elite Men's National TT for the Netherlands last year and has raced throughout Europe, Asia and Africa. American U23 Dan Eaton, who was a sensation this spring in the US, finished 5th, which was good enough for best U23.

Stage 2 was dominated by the USA National Team as Jeff Perrin won the 136 kilometer race while Dan Eaton finished in 3rd while Niels Vandorsselaer (Baguet Bicycle Center) was sandwiched between the two for 2nd.

Eamon Franck thought he won stage 3 on Sunday but inside the last 30 meters, Nathan Van Hooydonck (Bissell) came through to take the victory while Jasper Dult (CT 2020) finished 3rd to make it the 2nd-all U23 podium of the weekend.

The Arden Challenge finished up today with Antoine Warnier taking the victory while American Jeff Perrin (USA National) took 3rd place overall to secure the overall classification as well as the best U23 competition.

Other Results

-While he missed out at the Liege-Bastogne-Liege U23, Pierre-Roger Latour took out his fury on peloton at Saint Lye, located in the Champagne region, on Sunday. Latour got away with his Chambery CF teammate Nans Peters and  Bruno Chardon (ASPTT Nancy) and they got a lead of over 6 minutes ahead of the chasing peloton before Latour dropped the hammer and went solo to take the victory 48 seconds ahead of Peters and 1:34 ahead of Chardon with the peloton remnants coming in 6:43 down.

-Russian and Ukranian teams were messing around in the 5-stage GP Adygeya. U23 Alexander Foliforov won the queen stage to Lago Naki outside of the provincial capital of Maykop, which featured a finishing climb of ~14 kilometers and nearly 900 meters of elivation gain. Ilnur Zakarin (RusVelo) won the overall (you might remember Zakarin as the doper who came back in 2012 as a U23 and went on to start his pro career with RusVelo) while Oleg Zemlyakov (Vino!4Eva) was the best U23 rider, finishing 11th overall at 4'33" behind Zakarin. I do have to say that it would be fucking hell to be a Ukranian racing in Russia right now, especially if you were not in favor of Putin. Some people say sports should transcend politics or whatever but I'm sure there were some terse moments in the peloton.

Coming later: Giro del Belvedere report

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Anthony Turgis takes shocking win in U23 Liege-Bastogne-Liege

Why do I have this pang of dread somewhere inside me that the peloton is going to get really fucking French here in the next couple of years. I admire the French but really, can some other nation start churning out young riders like The Hexagon is? I only say this because it seems like everything the French have been touching lately has been turning to gold in terms of rider development and they have been winning a lot on the U23 side. After Thomas Boudat's win in the ZLM Tour, of course just an hour or so later Anthony Turgis (CC Nogent-sur-Oise) lept off of Tao Geoghegan Hart's wheel to win the Liege-Bastogne-Liege U23. Greedy French.

The U23 edition of L-B-L is basically the 2nd half of the pro course; starting in Bastogne, the race winds around lower Wallonie before heading back towards Liege, hitting 9 climbs including La Redoute, Saint-Nicolas and the Cote d'Ans before finishing in the Ans velodrome in Alleur, which sits on the northern outskirts of Liege.

A breakaway of 6 went away early in the race before many of the climbs and got a maximum of 6 minutes. To be honest, I was still sleeping during the first half of the race so I couldn't really tell you much that happened. Mathieu Le Lavandier (CC Etupes) crashed with 60 kilometers to go in the race and broke his collarbone. The race really began to touch off at this point as TJ Eisenhart (BMC Development) attacked and was joined quickly by Antoine Warnier (Color Code-Biowanze). The duo set off in pursuit of the breakaway, whose gap was plummeting. As the race hit the mythical La Redoute, Warnier went right past the breakaway and went solo over the top of the climb. Warnier's bid for freedom was short-lived as he was brought back into the fold by the pack, which was now split due to La Redoute, shortly after with 40 kilometers left in the race. Between La Redoute and the Cote de Tilff, multiple attacks were launched by riders including Loic Vliegen & Dylan Teuns (BMC Development), Magnus Cort (CULT Energy) and Paco Ghistelinck (Etixx) but all were brought back before the Tilff climb.

On the Tilff with 21 km to go, Louis Vervaeke (Lotto-Belisol U23) launched a solo move and quickly got a gap of 20 seconds. Tao Geoghegan Hart (Bissell) tried to bridge briefly but was brought back into the fold. Vervaeke held out for another 8 kilometers before being brought back in with 13 km to go. At the base of the Saint-Nicolas, Pierre-Roger Latour (Chambery CF) attacked but was quickly passed by Derk Abel Beckeringh (Croford), who puttered out right as he summited the climb.

Just as there was a lull in the peloton after the summit, Dylan Teuns (BMC Development) attacked solo and pulled out an advantage over the bunch. A counter-attacked was launched by Geoghegan Hart and Anthony Turgis (CC Nogent-sur-Oise) and the duo was able to latch onto Teuns, who was 5th in the same race last year, with 6 kilometers left.  On the Cote d'Ans, the trio had 11 seconds on a small group of favorites and the gap was just beginning to wane ever so slightly.

Safely over the final climb, Loic Vliegen took a flier and was able to latch himself onto the group just before they were getting ready to enter the velodrome. The peloton was right on their ass so Geoghegan Hart took the initiative to keep the pace high before the sprint. The Hackney rider lead the sprint from way out, starting at around 400 meters to go, just to ensure the breakaway was not caught by the chasing peloton. Turgis, who was last wheel, popped out from behind and powered away for the victory, the first French victory here since Christophe Kern in 2002, ahead of Teuns, Geoghegan Hart and Vliegen. Just behind Vliegen, Espoirs Central pick for the win Tiesj Benoot (Lotto Belisol U23) won the sprint for 5th, which he was very frustrated with simply because he had the legs to do better than 5th but after problems with his chain on La Redoute and being shuffled out during key times, he had to deal with his place.

1. Anthony Turgis (CC Nogent sur Oise)
2. Dylan Teuns (BMC Devo)
3. Tao Geoghegan Hart (Bissell)
4. Loic Vliegen (BMC Devo)
5. Tiesj Benoot (Lotto Belisol U23)
6. Sam Spokes (Etixx)
7. Frederik Ludvigsson (Giant-Shimano Devo)
8. Floris De Tier (EFC-OPQS)
9. Tanner Putt (Bissell)
10. Derk Abel Beckeringh (Croford)

It was a great day for the class of '94 as both Boudat and Turgis took wins in the two biggest races of the weekend. Turgis himself was even surprised with his win as he was just looking to get a top10 result but after a strong ride at the Ronde van Vlaanderen U23 Nations Cup one week prior, the form was there. Turgis excels in cyclo-cross but he is no stranger to the road as he was a very strong junior and will be looking to join his brother, Jimmy (Roubaix Lille Metropole), in the pro ranks soon.

The youngsters from '95 were showing there talent with Geoghegan Hart, who was originally down for being a worker for Tanner Putt, taking 3rd. Sam Spokes (Etixx) has been riding very well as of late (14th in RvV U23) and his 6th place is definitely a big result.

It was a big group who came to the line together so many big names such as Magnus Cort, Pierre-Roger Latour, Jens Wallays and Louis Vervaeke finished rather anonymously in the bunch.

Many of the big one-day races for the U23 races, at least for spring, have now passed and the stage races with actual mountains will begin to pop up. The one gem that many future classics stars are looking forward to is Paris-Roubaix Espoirs, which is back after a one-year hiatus and will be taking place on June 1.

Bou-Bou-Bou Ya: Thomas Boudat wins the ZLM Tour Nations Cup

France has been spoiled with talent the last few years and that is not about to stop anytime soon. Chalk it up to doping or some weak development years but until a few years ago with Romain Sicard and Tony Gallopin, the French had been turning out some weak classes but ever since 2009 they have been pure gold. Bardet, Barguil, Bouhanni, Coquard, Demare, Pinot...need I say more?

That tradition is continuing with a one Thomas Boudat. Boudat should be familiar to those that have watched any track racing in the past couple years as he is the current World Champion in the omnium discipline and possesses similar skills to Bryan Coquard, who is a friend (the two won the 2013 European U23 Madison together). The Vendée U rider is just a 2nd year U23 but he possesses some devastating speed that even those that are somewhat familiar with are nervous about. For evidence, just look to the La Côte Picarde Nations Cup from earlier this week; Boudat was marked out by his breakaway mates after Jens Wallays attacked because they didn't want to tow him back just so he could take the sprint. He isn't just a sprinter though and is able to get over a few hills.

The ZLM Tour, which features a twisting loop around the coastal province of Zeeland in the Netherlands, kicked off on Saturday with a furious pace. Within 10 minutes of the start, the races was in pieces. Welcome to the Netherlands, kids. If you weren't already aware, you were going to eat shit in the gutter for the next 4 hours. After the first hour, a group of nearly 20 got off the front including riders from France, Italy, Australia and the USA and were able to get a lead. With just nearly 100 kilometers to go, the chasing peloton was able to fuse itself back to the big breakaway but for those caught out, it was a going to be a long day. A group with Jon Dibben, Loïc Chetout, Davide Martinelli, Artur Shaymuratov and Przemyslaw Kasperkiewicz were able to get off the front and they actually got a nice gap that extended to over 1 minute but there was a severe communication breakdown. Chetout was covering moves for his teammates Marc Sarreau and Boudat while Martinelli also had a sprinter in the peloton. Dibben was the impetus in the group but once the cooperation failed then the gap began to plummet. That is where the race truly broke open.

The peloton had turned on the accelerator mainly thanks to the Danes, who had missed the move, and once they got close to the breakaway, attacks started to fly off the front. Lukas Spengler (Switzerland) moved off the front to bridge and while the breakaway was being caught, a reshuffling occurred. Chetout was able to stay with Spengler and they were joined by Sarreau & Boudat (France), Mads Würtz (Denmark), Evgeny Shalunov (Russia), Ryan Mullen (Ireland), Justin Oien (USA), Sven Erik Bystrøm (Norway) and Tomasz Mickiewicz (Poland). The group of 10 seemed to be a good combination of riders and while a few nations missed out including Australia, GB and the Netherlands but France had the numbers in the breakaway and the horsepower to drive it. With the final two-17 kilometer circuits to go, the gap was already at 45 seconds and holding steady. The peloton was led by various nations including the Dutch and Slovenians but nobody was bringing back the breakaway.

Chetout was doing the work of 3 men keeping everything under control and marking counter-attacks in the breakaway as the kilometers ticked down. Inside the last kilometer, Würtz attacked and Boudat was able to latch onto his wheel and while the others were clamoring to get back on terms, Boudat launched his sprint to take the victory while Würtz managed 2nd ahead of Sarreau in 3rd and Shalunov in 4th. Spengler lead in the rest of the break for 5th. Behind the group, doper Kirill Sveshnikov (more on him later) came in ahead of the peloton for 11th while Lorenzo Manzin capped off a great day for France by taking the bunch sprint for 12th.

Boudat's victory is just another confirmation of his talent while Würtz landed his first major podium as a senior after a promising junior career. Both are from the class of '94, which also includes breakaway mates Mullen, Spengler and Mickiewicz. Boudat rides for Vendée U on the road and while he will be focusing on the track at least through Rio 2016, he will be making his presence known on the road in the meantime. If 2nd and 1st in your last two Nations Cups were proof enough...

Justin Oien's 8th place is very promising for the first-year U23 from California and is a sign of huge things to come for the American, who was 10th last year in junior Paris-Roubaix.

Ryan Mullen's 6th place was a big boost for Irish hopes in the UCI rankings. The Irish missed out on places in the U23 Worlds RR last year and Mullen was able to get valuable points for his nation in hopes of getting a berth for the Worlds in Ponferrada, Spain. 

Side Note: Kirill Sveshnikov just sort of snuck back in under the radar after it was announced that he failed a doping test at Russian Track Nationals. He was set to race in Cali, Colombia for the World Track Championships before the announcement but he has re-appeared in the last week by taking the start at Klasika Primavera on the 13th of April, followed by La Côte Picarde and ZLM Tour. Now his coach on his trade team Lokosphinx Alexander Kuznetsov, the father of tennis grand slam winner Svetlana Kuznetsova and former coach of Vyacheslav Ekimov, stated that the positive test came from a minute amount of Clenbuterol and that it must have been from tainted meat at one of the World Cups in Mexico. There was no announcements that he was cleared but he just magically started to appear at races again so unless the UCI or the Russians have something to tell us then I guess Mr. Sveshnikov is back racing again. Oh joy.

While the French celebrated Boudat on Saturday, they would be jumping for joy again after Lige-Bastogne-Liege U23...

Friday, April 18, 2014

Prize money from GiroBio 2012 to be paid out

Remember that kerfuffle that I talked about briefly last year when the was GiroBio fighting to stay alive and there were some teams unhappy because they had not received a cent of their prize money from the 2012 event? Well nearly two years later, the issue is finally coming to an end...maybe. At the annual meeting of the FCI (Federazione Ciclistica Italiana) that had just finished, it was confirmed that teams and riders from the 2012 GiroBio will finally be receiving their prize money.

Race Director Giancarlo Broci was desperate last year to try and continue the GiroBio even though he owed people money for the 2012 edition and he was way behind in securing sponsors for the 2013 edition. Broci offered a plan to have teams pay 5,000 euro for a place in the race, which would secure the race, but the teams shot that plan down instantly because of the bad precedent it would set between them and race promoters. The race was postponed indefinitely while Broci sought after sponsors to somehow revive the race. At last year's FCI meeting, there were talks of team's non-payment from the 2012 edition of the race and the federation ordered Broci & the organizers to pay out. Well it turns out that the mandate fell on deaf ears because Broci and the GiroBio just decided not to pay out any of the money for the prizes and since this is common place with many races, many just forgot about it. Until now...

The FCI, who was unaware of the non-payment up until now because they believed that Broci and co. would follow through with their ruling from the year prior, were informed by Italian amateur teams of the non-payment and according to VP Daniela Isetti, will be giving money directly to riders and teams, which should have been taken care of in 2012. It is an embarrassing case for the FCI because of their lack of enforcement and complacency in assuming the money would get to where it needed to go. Hopefully there is a follow-up this year to make sure riders are actually paid and it is not just assumed once again.

The 2012 GiroBio was won by Joe Dombrowski (now SKY) ahead of Fabio Aru (Astana) and Pierre Paolo Penasa (retired).

Credit to for breaking the story on the Wednesday including an update on Thursday.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Welcome to Wallay World!: Jens Wallays wins La Côte Picarde Nations Cup

Vive le France! The Griswolds arrived at Wally World Europe! Just in time to see Belgian Jens Wallays to attack his breakaway mates with one kilometer to go and take out the 23rd La Côte Picarde ahead of a sprinting Thomas Boudat and Soren Kragh Andersen. To those of you who are new, Wallays might sound familiar because Jens' big brother is Jelle Wallays, who rides for Topsport Vlaanderen. Jens is no slouch either as he is the current Belgian U23 RR Champion but let's get back to the race...

A breakaway of 5 spent the majority of the race off the front that included Ryan Mullen (Ireland), Luka Pibernik (Slovenia), Jon Dibben (GB), Mario Gonzalez (Spain) and Sergiy Kozachenko (Ukraine). The group got a maximum of 7 minutes over the opening flat kilometers before the race hit a few bumps. With over 80 kilometers to the line, the wind and tight roads were already wreaking havoc on the peloton with riders including Ignazio Moser (Italy) being dropped away. Kozachenko dropped away from the breakaway, who continued to chug along to the tune of "I think we can, I think we can...".

With 50 kilometers to go, the gap was down to 3'25" and it would begin to drop like a stone. When the race crossed the finish line for the first time to do two finishing circuits, the breakaway began to blow up. First it was Ryan Mullen quickly followed by Jon Dibben to leave just Pibernik and Gonzalez out front. Gonzalez, who rides on the Polish Active Jet team, was putting in a great ride with Pibernik, who is slated to join Lampre for 2015 as a neo-pro. While Gonzalez was strong, Pibernik was stronger and the Slovenian pulled away from the Spaniard with 30 kilometers to go on one of the two uphills on the finishing circuit. When he crossed the line to take the final 18.6 kilometer lap, Pibernik only had 55 seconds on the peloton, who was in full buzzsaw mode, spitting riders out all over the place.

With just 9 kilometers to go, the feisty Slovenian was brought back by the peloton but just because the race was back together with a group of nearly 50 did not mean that it was headed towards a bunch sprint. With about 6 kilometers to go on a rise in the course, 9 riders were drawn out including Jens Wallays (Belgium), Thomas Boudat (France), Soren Kragh Andersen (Denmark), Simon Pellaud (Switzerland), Mikel Aristi (Spain), Bakhtiyar Kozhatayev (Kazakhstan), Jan Dieteren (Germany), Gregor Mühlberger (Austria) and Kirill Yatsevich (Russia). It was a strange amalgam of riders with some sprinters, some climbers and some rouleurs thrown in there but they worked well together as the race entered the final kilometers. In the final kilometer, Wallays attack out of a roundabout and nobody in the group was taking up the impetus to chase the Belgian with a few looking at Boudat, the current omnium World Champion on the track, because of his big turn of speed and not wanting to drag him to the line.

In the end, it was Wallays who was able to enjoy the final meters to take an impressive victory while Boudat and Kragh lead in the remnants of the breakaway. Right on the breakaway's coattails were the peloton, lead in by French Basque Loïc Chetout, who finished on the same time as the riders in the breakaway. Full results of the race can be seen on DirectVelo. With the win, Belgium took over the lead in the Nations Cup classification by 11 points over the Dutch and 17 over the Suisse.

It would be important to note some of the riders who came in way down and were time cut that included wunder-sprinter Nicolas Marini, Ignazio Moser, Mads Pedersen, Dieter Bouvry and Marc Soler. Marini was involved in a crash with one-lap to go and injured his hand, which was not seriously fortunately.

1. Jens Wallays (Belgium)
2. Thomas Boudat (France)
3. Soren Kragh Andersen (Denmark)
4. Simon Pellaud (Switzerland)
5. Mikel Aristi (Spain)
6. Bakhtiyar Kozhatayev (Kazakhstan)
7. Kirill Yatsevich (Russia)
8. Jan Dieteren (Germany)
9. Gregor Mühlberger (Austria)
10. Loïc Chetout (France)

The spring Nations Cups end this Saturday in Zeeland, the Netherlands with the ZLM Tour, which will included some dykes, wind and gutter racing, just in case anyone hasn't had their fill yet.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Weekend Review: Everything else that happened plus more

Circuit des Ardennes

While many of the U23s on the national teams were away in Flanders, some of the GC oriented riders including Silvio Herklotz (Stolting/Germany) and Frederik Ludvigsson (Giant-Shimano/Sweden) opted to go with the 3-day Circuit des Ardennes instead.

Stage 1 features a few rolling hills but Vini Fantini-Nippo basically cheated by having two ex-professionals in Pier Paolo De Negri and Grega Bole taking 1-2 ahead of Loic Vliegen (BMC Devo) and Kristian Haugaard (Giant-Shimano Devo).

Stage 2 was another hilly rolling stage but a duo in Troels Vinther (CULT Energy) and big hitter Lukasz Wisniowski (Etixx) were able to escape and after Vinther crossed the line for the stage win, they had a gap of 25 seconds back to the peloton, which ended up in a reduced sprint won by Grega Bole.

Stage 3 and 4 on Sunday were split stages that featured some more reduced bunch sprints. Stage 3, that featured some more small climbs, was won by none other than Bole, who was in his first race back after not being able to find a contract after being dropped by Lampre. Vinther was dropped and Wisniowski assumed the leader's jersey for the afternoon. Stage 4 saw former Rabobank rider Coen Vermeltfoort (De Rijke-Shanks) take the bunch sprint ahead of Eduard Grosu (Vini Fantini-Nippo) and Daniel Klemme (Synergy Baku). With no time bonuses, Wisniowski was able to take the overall win ahead of Bole and Haugaard, who both finished at 25 seconds back. Frederik Ludvigsson won the U23 classification simply because he placed better on some stages than 8 others who finished on the same time including Felix Großschartner, Herklotz, Ildar Arslanov, Robert Power, Louis Vervaeke and Alexander Foliforov.

This race needs to define itself. It did have a worthy winner because Wisniowski went on the attack but 3 other stages ended in sprints and while the courses were tough, they ended in this middle area where they sorted only some of the wheat from the chaff and a big group would still come to the line together. Perhaps a shorter stage with more climbs to blow the thing to bits? Some time bonuses perhaps? Because this edition was rather forgettable. Cheers to Bole for finding his groove again.

Trofeo Edil C and Memorial Gasparotto

While the sprint boys had it out on Sunday, some serious racing was also done on Saturday including the UCI ranked Trofeo Edit C and the Memorial Gerry Gasparotto.

A breakaway decided Trofeo Edil C, which entailed 149 kilometers around the city of Collecchio. While it is a UCI race, it isn't one of the bigger Italian one-day races such as Trofeo Piva Banca. A breakaway of 6 attacked and took the race to the line and after some cat and mouse in the final kilometers, it was Andrea Vaccher (Marchio) who took out the sprint ahead of young first year U23 Simone Velasco (Zalf-Euromobil), who left the sprint a bit too late and ran out of room to do much. 3rd was Damiano Cima. In the bunch sprint just 25 seconds back, Daniele Cavasin (Zalf-Euromobil) beat out Davide Martinelli (Colpack) and Thomas Pinaglia (Gragnano) for 7th.

Memorial Gerry Gasparotto basically boiled down to a Zalf-Euromobil vs. Colpack duel. On a hillier course than Edil C, Simone Andreetta broke away solo and took his lead into the final lap against a chasing group that included his teammates Giacomo Berlato and Andrea Toniatti as well as Manuele Senni and Iuri Filosi (both Colpack) and Stefano Nardelli. Andreetta held a small advantage over the final hill and extended it in the final kilometers with Toniatti winning the sprint behind for 2nd ahead of Filosi and Senni. Zalf-Euromobil DS Gianni Faresin was happy with his squad's performance and is looking for ward to hillier races with this group as he thinks they have a lot to offer. I do have to say it is good to see Colpack getting back into form with Filosi and Senni on the hills while Martinelli has been mixing it up in the sprints and attacks.


-Bosnia was the host to 2 one-day races over the past weekend in the Banja Luka Belgrade I & II. Saturday's race went from Banja Luka to Brcko and only featured a few difficulties in terms of any hills before a flat finish. Slovenian U23 Martin Otonicar (Radenska) was able to take the bunch gallop out ahead of Fabian Schnaidt (Vorarlberg) and Mattia Gavazzi (Christina Watches). Sunday's race from Bijeljina to Belgrade saw some fucking drugdealer win the race ahead of Greek Georgios Bouglas (SP Tableware) and German Stefan Schafer (LKT Brandenburg). The top U23 from Sunday was Otonicar down in 8th place. I, myself, do enjoy the Central European racing scene and wish it could grow into something that could really feature the difficult terrain of the region but I'll take what I can get at this point.

-Also in Italy, Zalf-Euromobil's Alessandro Tonelli took out Tuesday's Coppa Fiera di Mercatale after breaking away with Mirco Maestri from a group of 7 in the finale and winning the two-up sprint for Zalf's 12th win of the season. Just 10 seconds behind, Sunday's winner Simone Andreetta won the bunch sprint for 3rd ahead of Luca Benedetti, teammate Gianni Moscon and Iuri Filosi (Colpack). As of now, Zalf is a leviathan in Italian amateur cycling that only a select few seem to be able to topple. I'm still uncomfortable by the fact that they are helmed by Gianni Faresin, who was on Lampre, Mapei and Gerolsteiner among other teams that were definitely not the cleanest. Times change and what not but doping in Italian amateur racing is still present so while I am impressed by Zalf's dominance, I still have that skeptical bit in my mind.

Stay tuned for tomorrow's La Cote Picarde U23 Nations Cup, which should be an exciting race that of course you can't see any live because cycling's development system is busted and the funding system is pretty shitty. And I'm only talking about U23 men because, of course, the situation for women racers is even worse. But I probably should just shut up about it like the UCI would like and just smile and and wave.

Italian Sprint Opera: Mareczko beats Marini

In fair Veneto, our story continues. The house of Zalf-Euromobil has dominated the racing up to this point with nearly every race they enter coming up as a win. The houses of Colpack and Viris-Maserati have been trying to launch a counter to the blue-green-red leviathan but to no avail until this past Saturday, where on home soil, an upset occurred for the heavily-favored Zalf-Euromobil team.

The Italian Sprint Opera: Mareczko beats Marini at Vicenza-Bionde

Mareczko is becoming a master of the "sprint face" (Photo: Italia Ciclismo)

Jakub Mareczko, the young sprinter with Viris Maserati, has had a very good last two weekends and seems to have finally broken through after beating Caleb Ewan and now Zalf-Euromobil's super sprinter Nicolas Marini, who had won 6 races already this year coming into Sunday's Vicenza-Bionde. Marini had finished 2nd in the race a year prior behind a solo Marlen Zmorka.

Marini came into Sunday's race having not lost a proper sprint yet this year; with his only non-wins coming in races where the race didn't catch the breakaway (and he won the sprint behind) or there was a long breakaway out front and his team usually won. Zalf-Euromobil and Viris Maserati kept the race together of the few climbs on the course, which sealed the sprinter's dual. Coming into the finale, it was the ever-faithful Davide Gomirato leading out Marini for the sprint and Marini opted for a longer sprint, launching with over 300 meters to go. While Marini usually has knockout speed, after 170 kilometers in the legs his speed was not the sharpest it had been and in the final meters, it was Mareczko, whose chest was just an inch of his handlebars, that came around him to take a stunning win. Mareczko pulled a similar maneuver on Caleb Ewan just the other week by ducking underneath him within the last 15 meters to take the win. Mareczko took his 3rd win of the year while Marini was disappointed with 2nd place but will find solace with the U23 Nations Cups races this week. A new face on the podium was Albanian Xhuliano Kamberaj (Cipollini Ale' Rime), who had previously been down with a virus, while Andrei Voicu (Pala Fenice) finished 4th and Gomirato in 5th.

The next big objective for the Italian sprinters will be at the GP Liberazione, the annual race that commemorates the fall of Mussolini's republic. Last year, Ilya Koshevoy attacked Adam Phelan on the last lap to run away with an impressive solo win. Now while the race is short and not necessarily the toughest race, many Italians see this race as a very important event and put everything on the line. Others, like Francesco Moser, this GP Liberazione is a big Communist plot. Zalf and Viris-Maserati will be there will full squads to challenge along with Colpack and many others.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Dylan Groenewegen wins Ronde van Vlaanderen U23

Dutchman Dylan Groenewegen was able to better his 2nd place from last year and took the reduced group sprint to take the win at the 2014 Ronde van Vlaanderen U23 ahead of Norwegian Kristoffer Skjerping and Belgian Tiesj Benoot.

The race began with a 5 man breakaway quietly with a 5-man breakaway getting nearly a 6 minute gap before the peloton decided to start racing. Marc Soler (Spain), Jeremy Leveau (France), Mihkel Raim (Estonia), Tomasz Mickiewicz (Poland) and Ioannis Spanopoulos (Greece) plodded along for the first 100 kilometers while the peloton rubbed the sleep out of their eyes and got over the first few climbs without any major events. Following a crash by Tanzo Tokuda (Japan), which saw him drop out of the race, the peloton started to up the pace. In the breakaway, Spanopoulos lost contact and began his very long drift back towards the group. The peloton saw a few different attacks by some including Soren Kragh (Denmark) & David Per (Slovenia) as well as Mads Pedersen (Denmark) & Robin Carpenter (USA).

The next serious attack came by Maxat Ayazbayev (Kazakhstan) on the entrance to the finishing loop, which was 23 kilometers in length and was to be completed twice. Ayazbayev, who has been on great form this spring, went solo and spent a while in no man's land trying to get up to the remnants of the breakaway. While Ayazbayev chased, the breakaway tried to ups it pace on the loop which included a trio of climbs in the Steenbeekdries, the Taaienberg and the Eikenberg. Soler, in his first international race outside of Spain, fell away from the group and was quickly followed by Mickiewicz. Ayazbayev was joined by Soler but both were swept up by the peloton, whose buzzsaw was on overdrive by that point. Leveau and Raim continued on but early in the final finishing loop, they were briefly joined by an attacking Jens Wallays before being picked up by the peloton. Robert Jon-McCarthy and Ruben Zepuntke both flatted on the incoming to the final loop and dropped out of contention.

Heading over the final three climbs, riders began to be shot out the back as the buzzsaw of Flemish bergs was in full effect. By the summit of the Eikenberg, the lead group was only at 25 riders and on the ride into Oudenaarde, Daan Myngheer (Belgium) and Tao Geoghegan Hart (Great Britain) attacked and got a gap of nearly 10 seconds but they were unable to hold to gap and the reduced front group came back together for the final sprint. Mike Teunissen did another brilliant lead-out, this time for Groenewegen, and propelled his national teammate to victory in the final sprint ahead of Kristoffer Skjerping (Norway) and Tiesj Benoot (Belgium). Owain Doull (Great Britain), who was the winner of Triptyque Monts et Chateaux, finished 4th while Teunissen grabbed with. There was a crash in the final sprint but the details, as of this time, are still unclear. Coming in 18 seconds down, Jan Dieteren (Germany) lead home the chasing group.

According to post race comments on directvelo, the sprint was a bit chaotic. Skjerping launched his sprint too early with 400 meters to go and with 200 meters he had to get back down in the saddle and that is when Groenewegen went around him. Benoot had a similar story about launching too early but he doesn't have the same speed as Groenewegen on a flat course. As of now, I know that Ryan Eastman (USA) and Dieter Bouvry & Bert Vanlerberghe (Belgium) were involved in the crash that occurred in the final sprint with roughly 200 meters to go.

Andrea Zordan started the pro Ronde van Vlaanderen last week and promptly DNFed it, just like the vast majority of the races he has done with Androni so far this year. He finished a fabulous 75th, many minutes down.

If anyone has any more information regarding the crash or about the race from other language sources, feel free to tweet me @Vlaanderen90 or leave a comment.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Ronde van Vlaanderen U23 Preview

So a 6 days after the professional men and women got to duke it out of the best that Flanders had to offer, it is the U23 men's turn to ride across the stone-covered roads in search of glory. While their race is 94 kilometers shorter than the pro men edition this year, the U23 men will still have to contend with 14 cobbled climbs including twice around a loop that includes the Steenbeekdries-Taaienberg-Eikenberg right in a row.

The race finished in a reduced bunch sprint last year, where Rick Zabel beat Dylan Groenewegen and a surprise Magnus Cort, and the big question is if it will come down to a sprint one again. Before last year's course redesign, the U23 race followed the tradition of the men's race where a rider or very small group would go to the finish and it would be decided in either a solo break or a little sprint. Last year's bunch gallop came about because of some ill-timed mechanicals as well as no one being quite strong enough to stay away from the combined effort of teams banking on a sprint. Belgium tried their best to get Stuyven away for the win but it wasn't to be. You can bet the home team will be wanting to get the glory again this year.

The Course

Full course, turn by turn.

The course will feature 165.7 kilometers of cobbles, wind and hilly terrain reeking of cow shit. Unlike the professional men, there really is no 100 kilometer flat section that deadens the legs because the first climb, the Kluisberg, comes in just 20 kilometers into the race. The race will then dip into Wallonie for a brief second to Mont de l'Enclus, which featured in Triptyque Monts et Chateaux. 8 kilometers later, the Knokteberg will be summited quickly followed by the Muziekbos and the Pottelberg.

The race kicks off in earnest on the Valkenberg, which starts off at 77 kilometers to go. After another climb, the cobbled Molenberg at 60 kilometers to go will kick off the heavy cobbles, which will feature prominently the rest of the race. Following the Molenberg is the Kerkgate, which is a 3000 meter section of cobbled that is quite jarring from experience and are not the flattest section from my memory. Rough times. After more cobbles on the Kattenberg, the race enters into Oudenaarde and begins the two city loops featuring the Steenbeekdries, Taaienberg and Eikenberg. Within 8 kilometers, the race will go over all three times and then hit the Kattenberg cobbles again through Ename before doing the 23 kilometer loops again. After doing the climbs once again, the race will just have another 8 kilometers before heading back into Oudenaarde for the finale.

How will it play out?

Now that is up to the racers. Last year, Alexis Gougeard went out on an all-day escape and was the main impetus for the majority of the race. Last year's course was hard but there was no rider that was able to lead a breakaway without eliciting a strong reaction from the chasing group. I could see a breakaway with 1 to 4 riders making it to the line or I could see some negative racing with teams trying to keep it together for a sprint and a bunch sprint for the finale.

The Contenders

Well let's see what we can come up with here...

Full startlist can be found here courtesy of Flanders Classics. Due note there are some scratches on the list as of now.

-Magnus Cort was leading out Kristian Haugaard here last year and when Haugaard wasn't able to come around him, Cort held on for 3rd place on his own. Then he went on a complete tear for the last 11 months. He is a big favorite to break away on the final climbs or win a small sprint with a reduced peloton. Probably my pick for the win.

-Ignazio Moser has been seen as the next Italian classics man for some time now but it is put up or shut up time for the son of Francesco and he will need to deliver on Saturday. The Italians will have a good team with Liam Bertazzo and Paolo Simion, amongst others, and have options for a breakaway or sprint.

-Owain Doull has been on fire as of late and his Triptyque win was a big exclamation point. Doull has ability to use his pursuiting skills to time trial away from people as well as sprint amongst the best in the U23 class.

-Tanner Putt finished in the front group at the Volta Limburg Classic and was also the youth classification winner at the Volta ao Alentejo. His USA team will be rather strong with some young blood coming in along with some experienced riders.

-Tiesj Benoot was on form at Triptyque Monts et Chateaux with two 2nd place finishes as well as being a player in the final stage breakaway, where he ended up 7th. Benoot is a strong favorite alongside Dieter Bouvry, U23 RR Champ Jens Wallays and Bert Van Lerberghe.

-Sondre Holst Enger hasn't raced much this year and he really only has one results, a 3rd place on a stage in Normandie, but he is very dangerous and I wouldn't turn a blind eye to him. I have been informed that Enger will be out for RvV because of illness and will be replaced by Daniel Hoelgaard (Etixx). Norway will probably be led by Sven Erik Bystrom, who was on strong form in Volta ao Alentejo, and Kristoffer Skjerping, who was strong in Normandie and would be a good option for a sprint.

-Dylan Groenewegen will be looking to improve on his 2nd place from last year but will most likely be banking on a sprint. The Dutch will also have Mike Teunissen, who will be a good asset in the attacks later in the race.

-Ruben Zepuntke will lead the German charge into Belgium under DS Ralf Grabsch with Jan Dieteren there if it comes down to a sprint.

I'll do an updated preview when I can get a full start list but it looks like it is going to be a thrown-down in Oudenaarde come Saturday.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Weekend Review: Mulhberger wins Piva Banca; Oram 2nd overall in Redlands

While there was a huge amount of U23s racing in Triptyque des Monts et Chateaux this weekend, that was not the only racing going on by any means. There was racing across every which pond and with spring finally sprung, many are finally peaking for their spring objectives.

Mühlberger climbs to Trofeo Piva Banca win

Repeating last year's breakaway outcome, the 66th edition of the Trofeo Piva Banca also came down to a breakaway deciding the winner while the peloton sprinted it out for the lower placings. The race, taking place in Col San Martino in Treviso, featured a hilly circuit that acted as a buzzsaw; slowly trimming down the peloton until a breakaway got away to decide the race.

The race was marked by a two man breakaway including Gianni Moscon and Luca Chirico, who spent the majority of the day out front, but they were never endangering the favorites. The circuit featured a big climb, the Col San Martino, and that is where the race was decided as 1st year Australian Robert Power attacked on the slopes of the climb and drew out Austrian Gregor Mühlberger (Tirol), Alexander Foliforov (Helicopters), Manuele Senni (Colpack) and Felix Großschartner (Gourmetfein). The early breakaway duo was not able to hang onto their wheels for long. In the finale, it was Power who was taking the initiative on the climb and attacked his breakaway companions but it all came back together for the final sprint where Mühlberger took it ahead of Foliforov and Power. Behind, it was Caleb Ewan (Australia) who took the sprint for 6th ahead of Michele Scartezzini (Astana) and Marco Chianese (Pala Fenice). Ewan, who was beaten by Jakub Mareczko last weekend, has not gotten a chance to properly face the Italian sprinters yet but he did show off his climbing chops by getting 6th here as he was also 8th here a year ago.

Mühlberger continued a strong spring campaign that has included a prologue win and 4th place overall at the Istrian Spring Trophy and now this impressive win. Power, who was in his first European race as a U23, put on quite a display and he should be making waves later this year and in years to come. Luka Pibernik? Not so much. The Slovenian who is down to join Lampre as a stagiaire later this year and full-time in 2015 finished way down in 34th place nearly 7 minutes off the pace of Mühlberger. His season hasn't been bad but not exactly a pro level.

Oram finishes 2nd overall in Redlands Classic

Kiwi James Oram (Bissell) attacked on the Sunset Loop stage of the Redlands Classic with Joey Rosskopf (Hincapie Development) to try and get the overall lead from Travis McCabe (Smartstop). The duo worked well together and they were able to pull of the coup on the young Arizonan with Rosskopf taking the overall win and Oram 2nd overall along with the best young rider. On the final stage, young riders that made the front group included ex-Garmin Jacob Rathe (Jelly Belly), Mexican Eder Frayre, Kiwi Dion Smith and Ty Magner (Hincapie Development), Daniel Eaton (Canyon Bicycles-Shimano), Torey Philipp (Cal Giant) Clement Chevrier (Bissell) and junior wunderkind Adrien Costa (Hagens Berman U23).

While Oram finished 2nd, Dion Smith finished 6th overall, which capped off a successful week that included a stage win, while Daniel Eaton finished 8th overall, which is his 5th top 10 GC overall already this year. Eaton is headed to Europe for a few months this summer and he will be one to watch. Also, if you are not aware of Adrien Costa then make yourself aware. The Hagens Berman rider is just 17 years old but his talent is on an unreal level. He has won 5 races already this year and finished 19th overall in Redlands, which is incredible for a first year junior going up against most of the American pro peloton. If he can keep progressing at this rate, he is the future for American cycling.


-Nicolas Marini did not win...2 races in the weekend. Zalf-Euromobil Marini, who has had the golden touch so far this year, won his 6th race of the year (out of 8 starts) at Saturday's Milano Busseto by coming out of the final corner with about 200 meters to go and promptly hitting the jets to blow by the late attacker Davide Martinelli, who hung on for 2nd, and his  Through just 1.5 months of racing, Marini is on track to go after Andrea Guardini's record for wins by a U23 in a season, which stands at 19, and it looks like a doable feat once he starts to race more frequently. While Marini was absent from racing on Sunday, Zalf-Euromobil was not. While they only managed 9th in Trofeo Piva with Giacomo Berlato, the team was able to take the top four placings at Coppa Caduti di Reda with Albanian Eugert Zhupa taking his 1st win of the year, the 10th for Zalf-Euromobil, in a solo breakaway ahead of a group of 10 riders that included four Zalf-Euromobil riders. 32 seconds after Zhupa crossed the line, Daniele Cavasin crossed the line ahead of Davide Gomirato and Gianluca Milani. So while they didn't dominate the UCI race, they did take the 2 other races they were focusing on during the weekend.

-Boucle de l'Artois took a step back from being a UCI stage race this year but it was still an important date on the French national calendar as it was the 3rd stop on the Coupe de France DN1 calendar. Saturday included 2 split stages including a morning TT and afternoon road stage. Some Nuns won the first TT stage...well Thibault Nuns of Océane U. He took out the 23 kilometer time trial by 4 seconds over Nico Denz (Chambery CF) and 5 seconds over TT stud Bruno Armirail (Armée de Terre). UC Nantes has a family reunion on the afternoon stage when Lorenzo Manzin from tiny Reunion Island won the mass bunch sprint ahead of teammate Fabien Schmidt and Jeremy Lecroq (CC Nogent-sur-Oise). Sunday's stage ended up being decided by a small non-threatening GC breakaway while Nuns, Denz, Armirail and others high on GC like Thomas Boudat were just behind them. It was Australian transplant Nick Schultz (CR4C Roanne) who won a tight sprint ahead of experience Benoit Daeninck (CC Nogent) with Hugo Hofstetter in 3rd. The yellow jersey group came in 12 seconds down with no changes on GC which allowed Nuns and his Océane U team to take the GC overall with Denz and Armirail in 2nd and 3rd.

One thing that is interesting about the Coupe de France classification for the amateur rankings is that while individual performances are good, it is the team rankings that are important for teams and having multiple riders that can score points is sometimes better than having one rider get the win and no one else get in the points. Let's use Boucle de l'Artois as an example. Océane U, with Nuns win, got a total of 60 points over the weekend but Vendée U, who put 5 riders in the top 10 of the final stage as well as the overall, amassed 107 points. So smaller teams that don't have a team roster have to try and find points anywhere they can while big teams with deep rosters like Armée de Terre, Vendée U and UC Nantes just vacuum up points.

-Cristian Cañada, the stunning climber with Mutua Levante, won the Memorial Valenciaga, the Copa de España's 5th round. Cañada won a three-up sprint ahead of Alberto Gallego Ruiz (Extremadura) and Antton Ibarguren (Tel'com). Cañada, who won the Subida al Gorla hillclimb last year, has been on good form this spring and is hoping to secure a professional contract. He only started focusing on the road seriously a couple of years ago after initially focusing on MTB. Lizarte had their best performance of the year so far in the Copa de España by going 4th, 5th and 7th, which included U23 Marc Soler. Unai Intziarte (Gipuzkoa) finished 15th and was able to hold onto his lead in the classification by 33 points over Sergio Miguez and 65 points on Ibarguren. The next round of the Copa de España will not be until April 27 at the Memorial Rodríguez Inguanzo.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Doull takes last Triptyque stage and overall; thwarts Teunissen's last stand

With just 40 kilometers left in the Triptyque Monts et Chateaux, it was looking like Owain Doull's overall lead was in trouble. A breakaway of over 20 riders, spearheaded by Mike Teunissen (Rabobank Development), Tiesj Benoot (Lotto-Belisol), Bert van Lerberghe  and three other EFC-OPQ riders as well as contingents from the USA National Team and Astana Continental, was carrying a 1'15" lead on the group containing the yellow jersey Doull as well as Alex Kirsch (Leopard). The breakaway's lead was not set in stone.

The day started off with a 9-man breakaway including KOM leader Maxime Anciaux (Wallonie Bruxelles) as well as Walt De Winter (Verandas Willems) and Laurent Evrard (Wallonie Bruxelles), who had started the day just 17 seconds down on leader Doull. Anciaux was only concerned about KOM points and was eager on the early climbs, winning 4 out of the 5 first climbs to ensure his victory in the classification.

While Anciaux was upfront battling for points, the peloton had exploded behind with 75 kilometers left. Mike Teunissen, who was sitting at 23 seconds behind leader Owain Doull, attacked along with 7 others including Rick Ottema (Veranclassics-Doltcini), Tim Van Speybroeck (3M) and Bejamin DeClercq (EFC-OPQS), all of whom were within a minute of Doull on GC. The group accelerated rapidly and within 10 kilometers, they joined the breakaway up the road and had opened up a gap of nearly 1'30" on the yellow jersey group.

With 50 kilometers to go, a dangerous counter-attack move leapt off the front of the peloton and contained the likes of Benoot, Dieter Bouvry, Floris De Tier, TJ Eisenhart, Frederik Ludvigsson and Bakhtiyar Kozhatayev, among others, and they moved with urgency up to the front group to join Teunissen and company. With 42 kilometers to go, the junction was made. Danger, Danger Will Robinson.

Even after Doull had a small crash, the peloton began to get a head of steam on itself and began to real in the breakaway. With 30 kilometers to go, the gap was down to just 40 seconds. Benoot won the intermediate sprint for 3 seconds ahead of Teunissen, who won another intermediate sprint, and Eisenhart. Coming into the finishing circuit that would be done twice including the Croix Jubaru climb, the gap had fallen and the breakaway began to split at the seams, with stragglers being left for broke as other surged ahead. Van Lerberghe lead Benoot and Rick Ottema over the line for the 1st time to signal one lap to go for the race but following the sprint, a counter attack was launched including Van Speybroeck, Serge Dewortelaer (Veranclassics) and Loic Pestiaux (Wallonie Bruxelles). The trio was able to get a gap of 12 seconds on the remnants of the breakaway, which had a further 15 seconds on the yellow jersey group. The lead was still remotely in danger and Doull and his Great Britain team were on a mission.

On the Croix Jubaru for the final time, Dewortelaer went all out and attacked his breakaway mates and went solo down the descent to the finish. Inside the final 5 kilometers, Dewortelaer was holding out was holding out solo but the breakaway including Mike Teunissen, who had been away for the over half of the day, was finally taken back with 3 kilometers left by a select group of riders. With 2 kilometers left, Dewortelaer was brought back into the fold of a 40-rider peloton.

In the sprint, it was race leader Owain Doull who took the sprint victory in Tournai ahead of the resilient Mike Teunissen and Kazakh Vadim Galayev (Astana Continental). Doull capped off a strong day by the Great Britain squad to not get caught out under pressure and allow the track team pursuit rider to head to victory. It was a strong effort by Teunissen, who tried his best to take the race by the scruff of the neck but it was to no avail.

Doull took the overall by 17 seconds over Tiesj Benoot and Alex Kirsch, with Benoot taking the tie breaker due to better stage placing. Patrick Konrad came in 4th overall with Frederik Ludvigsson in 5th and Teunissen in 6th, on the same time as Ludvigsson. My original pick for the overall, Ruben Zepuntke, finished down in 22nd place, 52 seconds back. USA National dominated the youth classification rankings, which is for first year U23s in this race, by placing 3 in the top 4 with Geoffrey Curran taking the white jersey ahead of Justin Oien, who finished on the same time. Lotto-Belisol finished with 3 riders in the top 15 and was able to take out the teams classification.

This race was quite a indication of form leading into next week's Ronde van Vlaanderen U23. Owain Doull is looking like a very strong bet for the victory but Kristian Haugaard, Mike Teunissen and others have put in their name for a strong result here while Tanner Putt and Magnus Cort indicated their strong form at the Volta Limburg. Look for a breakdown of the race later this week.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Dibben, Konrad take Triptyque split stages; Doull takes lead

On a day with non-stop action, it was Owain Doull (GB National Team) that slipped into the yellow tunic to take over the lead at Triptyque des Monts et Chateaux after two split stages shook up the GC. Doull, who was in the breakaway on stage one, placed 2nd in the morning time trial and then 7th in the afternoon road race.

The time trial in the morning was taken out by GB National's Jon Dibben. Dibben, who splits his time between the road and the track, laid down a stout effort on the technical 10 kilometer course with a time of 12'42", which was 2 seconds better than his teammate Doull, 7 seconds on Alex Kirsch (Leopard) and 8 seconds on Kristian Haugaard (Giant-Shimano). Frederik Ludvigsson was experiencing a problem with one of his legs in the final kilometers of the time trial and ended coming in down 13 seconds.

Dibben took the overall lead heading into the final stage on nearly the exact same time as Doull with Haugaard 4 seconds back. It was on for the afternoon stage.

From the beginning, there were attacks being launched left and right but for the first half of the stage, nothing was getting a significant lead. Riders would attack up a hill and grab some KOM points but then they would not have the power to keep it going on the descent and on the flats. With 25 kilometers to go, Walt De Winter (Verandas Willems) launched an attack with Tim Vanspeybroeck (3M) and Antoine Demoitie (Wallonie Bruxelles). De Winter was riding like a man possessed; driving the breakaway along with some fury. Going over the Mont de l'Enclus, De Winter attacked his break mates and after a few kilometers, he was joined by ex-cyclocrosser Floris De Tier (EFC-OPQS) and the pair made it over the Cote du Horlitin before being joined by a select group including Patrick Konrad (Gourmetfein).

With just 6 kilometers left, the remnants of the peloton came back together for the mad dash to the line. In the uphill finish, the peloton (or what was left of it) blew up and a select group of 11 were left on the top of the climb. In the kick up to the finish, it was Patrick Konrad who emerged of stage 1's runner up Tiesj Benoot (Lotto-Belisol) and the ox-strong Walt De Winter. Owain Doull was able to hold onto the front group and took over the yellow jersey from his teammate Dibben. There were some losers on the day including Kristian Haugaard and Mike Teunissen, who both came in at 13 seconds down and would need some divine intervention to come away with a GC victory.

Doull starts tomorrow with a 7 second lead on Luxembourger Kirsch and 11 seconds on Konrad with Benoot, Ludvigsson and Rob Leemans (Lotto-Belisol U23) just behind them. There will be multiple intermediate sprints on tap tomorrow along with the bonus seconds at the finish. Doull has been strong through 2 days and will be hard to overcome tomorrow and he looks to be in fine form for the upcoming Nations Cups.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Looij sprints to 1st U23 victory at Triptyque Monts et Chateaux

I told you it would be a sprint. And it was. If everyone would just listen to me about everything, things would just go much more smoothly.

On what was the easiest day of the Triptyque, Rabobank Development's Andre Looij used his leadout by Mike Teunissen to sprint to a comfortable ahead of Tiesj Benoot and took the opening stage of the 2014 edition. The Dutchman took out the sprint by a comfortable 2 bike lengths over Benoot and Michael Goolaerts (Verandas Willems).

The day started out with a breakaway of four riders that took off after the first climb including Owain Doull (GB National Team), Maxime Anciaux (Wallonie-Bruxelles), Stef Van Zummeren (3M) and Francesco Van Coppernolle (Verandeas Willems). Anciaux and Van Zummeren, the winner of the KOM competition in Tour de Normandie, were battling for the rest of the hill points on offer while Doull was getting the majority of the intermediate sprint points. While they were able to fight it out for a little while, the group was sucked up with over 50 kilometer to go, which included three laps of the finishing circuit.

On the 1st passage of the finish line, Mike Teunissen (Rabobank Development) took the sprint ahead of Bert Van Lerberghe (EFC-OPQS) and Kristian Haugaard (Giant-Shimano). Teunissen got 3 seconds bonus while the others for 2 and 1, respectively. On the 1st circuit, there were a few attacks including a solo one from Michael Goolaerts but everything was brought back because of the bonus seconds on offer. Haugaard won the final intermediate sprint for a 3 seconds bonus ahead of Daan Myngheer (EFC-OPQS) and Rob Leemans (Lotto-Belisol U23). While some attacks tried to get away on the final circuit, Astana Continental and Color Code-Biowanze shut everything down and the sprint was imminent.

T.Palm-PCW was amassing on the front for their sprinter Andrew Ydens but in the finale, it was Mike Teunissen who beautifully set-up Andre Looij with a brilliant leadout and with 200 meters to go, Looij lept off the Limburg man's wheel and was able to win by 2 bike lengths over Lotto's Benoot and Gollaerts. It was a brilliant win for Looij, who is a 1st year U23 with Rabobank, and a confirmation of his good form that he showed at Ster van Zwolle. Benoot definitely helped his GC chances with his strong sprint to take a 6 second bonus headed into tomorrow's TT and hard RR.

There were only a few riders that finished off the back of the peloton and only 6 DNF's but one of those did include Lotto's sprinter Dan McLay.

Tomorrow will start off with a 10 kilometer time trial in the morning, which should pick out those GC men that are on form, and will conclude with a 95.5 kilometer stage in the afternoon that is back-loaded with 7 climbs in the final 45 kilometers. Benoot, Teunissen and Haugaard all looked good today but many riders could have been using today to play it coy and go all out tomorrow.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Triptyque des Monts et Châteaux Preview

This is the race that began my slow descent into obsession with the U23 ranks. When I started to geek out on European racing in my late teens, I followed the USA National Team, which at that time included guys like Taylor Phinney, Ben King and Andrew Talansky. In 2010, Phinney was beginning his march through Europe at Triptyque des Monts et Chateaux and was on some blazing form. He was looking to get a 2nd stage win after taking the time trial but on the long drag-race style sprint in Tournai, Edward Theuns surprised him, Jetse Bol and John Degenkolb to take the win. That euphoric look Theuns had, who was then a more-or-less unknown, cemented this idea in me that no matter how strong a rider might look, they are not unbeatable.

This year, Triptyque will be serving as a major test for any rider with GC ambitions as well as those that have an eye on the classics. Just look at the race pedigree if you doubt me. Jungels, Dumoulin, De Gendt, Boom, Devolder...and these were just the riders that I picked because I could have included riders like Rosseler, Kashechkin, Dekker and Boeckmans. Located in the Hainaut region of Wallonie, the race features a lot of tight roads, wind cobbles and short punchy climbs.

Friday's Stage 1 starts at Castle Antoing, which was revamped in the 19th century but includes areas dating back to the 14th century, and winds its way around the country side including three separate loops before hitting the finishing town of Quevaucamps, which is unsurprisingly apart of a finishing loop. The course does feature 5 KOM climbs albeit the last of which is with 90 kilometers to go. In the finale, the last turn is with 2.5 kilometers to go, onto the Chaussée de Brunehaut, and it is an flat arrow straight until the finish line. Unless someone is able to launch a massive attack, it looks to be set up for a bunch gallop. Last year, Jorne Carolus (Lotto-Belisol U23) won the sprint on this same stage ahead of Marco Benfatto and Justin Van Hoecke. Carolus will be back this year but it could be his teammate Dan McLay that takes the victory here.

The 2nd day will include a split stage with a 10 kilometer time trial in the morning and a 96 km afternoon stage. The morning time trial in Bernissart is fairly technical and has a few slight elevations changes that will require the winner to be a explosive rider. The course sheet officially says 13 different corners but if you include some turns that might be taken at higher speeds, that numbers comes up to nearly 20. Riders like Bert Van Lerberghe, Ruben Zepuntke, Eamon Franck and Frederik Frison could triumph.

The afternoon stage on Saturday could be the most decisive road stage of the week. The Belgians love to include circuits on their courses and this stage is no different. Taking off from Château de Bourgogne in Estaimbourg, the stage doesn't kick off officially until about 45 kilometers when it hits two climbs right in a row, the Mont de l'Enclus and Cote de l'Horlitin, that will be done twice more. The finish on the stage will also go up the Mont de l'Enclus climb and the finish line will be right after on a slight uphill. This means that there will be 45 kilometers that will include 7 climbs and there will be some bombs dropped by GC favorites including Tiesj Benoot, Silvio Herklotz, Mike Teunissen and others.

The final stage on Sunday will be a toss-up between a mass sprint, as it was last year, or a chance for a breakaway to make one last impression on the race. The course is peppered with 10 KOM points, with the last one being the Col de la Croix Jubaru at 10 kilometers from the finish, but there are only 2 KOM points in the last 60 kilometers, which could mean that fresh legs prevail. The finish in Tournai is flat and similar to last year, which ended in a sprint won by Florent Mottet over Dan McLay and Asbjørn Kragh.

Based upon the course, the overall winner is either going to be a sprinter that can lay down a pretty good TT or a rider that can put in a strong TT and perhaps breakaway on one of the hillier stages.

As of now, Directvelo are the only ones with a full startlist. I'm fairly certain the race organizers are waiting to publish their list until they have 100% confirmation on the starters. I know Jef Van Meirhaeghe of Lotto-Belisol U23 won't be in the line-up and I'm sure a few others will be swapped in and out. My favorites for the overall include Silvio Herklotz & Ruben Zepuntke (Germany), Tiesj Benoot (Lotto-Belisol U23), Jeroen Lepla (VL Technics), Maxat Ayazbayev (Astana Continental), Frederik Ludvigsson (Giant-Shimano), Mike Teunissen (Rabobank Devo) and perhaps Dieter Bouvry (EFC-OPQS). The USA National team is really young with 5 first year U23s, at least according to the startlist that I've seen, but they are stronger than they look. Eamon Franck could win the TT while Miguel Bryon is a strong sprinter (2nd in Ronde van Vlaanderen Juniors last year) and Logan Owen, Geoffrey Curran and Jeff Perrin should be strong.

Here is the link to the organizers website that includes all of the course layouts as well as other technical information. This race does suffer a bit from racing on the same weekend as the granddaddy of them all, the Ronde van Vlaanderen, but hopefully, the Sporza guys will announce the winner of the race during a lull in the action.