Monday, May 19, 2014

The 2014 Royal Smilde Crash Fest Tour Review

Seriously, if you can come up with a race that goes through more wind, rain and road furniture for a week straight then please let me know because the Olympia's Tour ranks up there as one of the fastest, hardest and shittiest stage races out there. Crosswinds blowing at 30 mph, riders pegging it in the gutter at 45 kph and many crashes. So let's review the 2014 Royal Smilde Olympia's Tour while we scrub the asphalt out of some wounds...


The Australians, known for their track riders and time trialists, were expected to come up big and Campbell Flakemore, who was 4th last year in the U23 World TT Championships, was the early leader on the 3.4 kilometer course. His time lasted for a while before others dethroned him. Yoeri Havik took the lead. Australian Luke Davison went a little faster. Havik's De Rijke teammate Christoph Pfingsten then laid down the hammer with a 4'15, which was the fastest by a couple of seconds. Caleb Ewan didn't come close. Neither did Mike Teunissen. American Eamon Lucas, who was a top 10 favorite, has a disastrous prologue and ended up 30 seconds down when it was all said and done. The last man on course was last year's prologue winner Coen Vermeltfoort and he laid down the fastest time for the 2nd year in a row. The former Rabobank prodigy has become somewhat of a prologue specialist and averaged 48.22 kph over the course to take the win over his teammate Pfingsten and Australian U23 Miles Scotson, who was apart of the World Championship Team Pursuit earlier this year on the track.

Stage 1

This is where the race was put to bed. Yeah, there were still 5 more stages to go but when a major breakaway gets up the road and stays up the road in a race like this, it is hard to be able to turn those tables. In 2012, Berden de Vries was still a speed skater who was using cycling as fitness. After some strong rides in Tour de Loir-et-Cher, he decided to put more effort into cycling and signed with Jo Piels for 2013. In just his first year fully dedicated to cycling, De Vries put up some good results but what happened at the Olympia's Tour is still surprising nearly a week after it took place. De Vries, who rides for the Jo Piels squad which has been around for over a decade, got into a breakaway with with Christophe Sleurs (3M) and Jesper Asselman (Metec) in the beginning of stage 1 after a few early breakaway attempts didn't succeed and the trio were able to establish a nice gap ahead of their pursuers. The pace was pretty damn quick as well as the average for the stage was over 46 kph. De Vries and co. took it to the line with the Drenthe native De Vries out-kicking Asselman on the line. The peloton didn't come in until 33 seconds later. De Vries, according to an interview with cycling, was shocked with the win but he was even more so after the afternoon TTT...

Stage 2

The TTT. The team time trial is just about as Dutch as cycling gets. For decades, the Dutch were some of the best at the discipline and this Olympia's Tour just showed off their skill for riding in formation while wanting the bleed through your eyeballs. Going into this year's race, Jo Piels had never won the Olympia's Tour, which is one of, if not the, biggest stage race on the calendar for Dutch continental teams. With De Vries in the white leader's jersey heading into the afternoon TTT stage, the Dutch team was laser focused.  The Dutch teams took the top 6 placings while foreign teams such as the Australian and USA National teams, the latter of which had a very green team, took lower top 10 placings. Strong favorites Rabobank Development were looking good for the win but were clipped by Jo Piels, who was powered by De Vries along with Jasper Hamelink (former 5th place, U23 Worlds TT), Elmar Reinders, Geert van der Weijst and others. Following the 2nd day of racing, De Vries now has 21 seconds on Asselman and spirits were looking up for the scrappy continental squad.

Stage 3

Fucking flat Dutch roads. Seriously, does the speed never end? The stage averaged a healthy 44.5 kph (27.6 mph) and it didn't end up pretty for many. The stage was a big loop around the town of Hoorn, a town which I actually know from experience as I stayed in a farmhouse just outside of it for a few days when I was a teenager. Pretty area right on the coast of the Ijselmeer and I enjoyed riding the dyke road between Hoorn and Edam. Anyways, back on topic. From the beginning, the race was split by the wind and the race was in three groups early on. AnPost-Chain Reaction and the USA National team got the shitty end of the stick with over half of their teams getting caught up in incidents. The USA team pretty much had everyone hit the deck and Yannick Eckmann had to abandon while 5 out of their remaining 7 finished in the last group on the road. Chalk it up to experience?

The racing really hotted up in the last 10 kilometers when GC favorite Bert-Jan Lindeman (Rabobank Devo) attacked but was countered by race leader De Vries. When it was all brought back together, Ronan van Zandbeek (De Rijke) attacked and was able to hold out until the final kilometer when he was swept up by the peloton. Wim Stroetinga jumped off Koga teammate Jasper Bovenhuis' wheel with 150 meters out and the track man was able to hold off Johim Ariesen's (Metec) lung for the line to take his first win of the week. Caleb Ewan wasn't able to get the best position and had to settle for 5th in the chaotic sprint.

Stage 4

Probably the easiest stage of the race. When I say easy, I mean an average of 28 mph for nearly three and a half hours with wind and everything else through in for good measure. The USA National team was hurting as both Justin Oien and Logan Owen were non-starters and Alex Darville would soon join them on the scratched list. So half of their team was now out of one of the hardest stage races on their calendar...that happened.

The stage itself was a repeat of the day prior in most regards. A break got up the road. It was brought back. Another break went away and was brought back before the mass sprint. In the sprint, Stroetinga launched too early and was just inches from giving the win to Caleb Ewan but was able to hang on for his 2nd win in a row.

Stage 5

This was supposed to be one of the most decisive stages in the race, just like it was last year, but it didn't turn out as many had hoped. An early break of 13 including Coen Vermeltfoort and Mike Teunissen got away and with De Vries absent from the breakaway, Jo Piels set to the front to manage the gap. Getting some assistance from the Australian National Team, the breakaway was neutralized and a new group of 14 were able to get away. In the new group was De Vries and teammate Sjors Roosen along with Bert-Jan Lindeman, Ivar Slik (both Rabo Devo), Eamon Lucas (USA) and Ronan van Zandbeek (De Rijke). The group got 30 seconds heading into the hillier portion of the route but the Australians, who missed out on the break, were keen to get it together for Caleb Ewan and Scott Sunderland, the former World Champion track sprinter who is new to road cycling. With help from Belkin-De Jonge Renner, the break was once again neutralized. In the finale, Timo Roosen (Rabo Devo) attacked and had a gap coming into the final kilometer but was swallowed up by the swarm in the final straight. Coen Vermeltfoort led out the sprint and was looking good until Stroetinga yet again popped out, head bobbing like a mad-man, and took his 3rd win in a row.

Stage 6

The final day offered one last swift kick to the gut for the majority of the peloton as the race was ravaged with crosswinds and echelons. An early break including Bert-Jan Lindeman got away and got 3 and a half minutes but once the peloton decided to hit the gas, that gap was quickly brought down. The wind, which played a factor all week, decided to make itself known once again as a break of 5 including Ivar Slik (Rabo Devo) attacked. The breakaway got up to a minute gap but the wind just decimated the peloton. A group of 30, including Wim Stroetinga and leader De Vries, bridged to the breakaway. Like everytime this week, the Australians missed the move and were left chasing the large group but they were not bringing this back. GC favorite Mike Teunissen was left out of the 31-man strong group that would contest the finish together. Guess who won? Wim Stroetinga. this time ahead of Marco Zanotti, who has had a pretty good season so far for Parkhotel Valkenburg. Berden de Vries wrapped up his GC win ahead of Stroetinga, who got within 18 seconds on GC thanks to bonus seconds, and Jesper Asselman.

Eamon Lucas was the sole finisher for the USA National Team as 3 more riders dropped out on the last stage. It was a rough week for the team but they should bounce back stronger. Olympia's Tour can be so cruel sometimes.

Post-Race Thoughts

-Jo Piels captured their first overall win in the Olympia's Tour after years of Rabobank Continental/Development domination. Berden de Vries cemented his status as a man on the rise after capturing the Olympia's Tour overall in just his 2nd season fully dedicated to cycling. Jo Piels put 2 more in the top 10 with Elmar Reinders (5th) and Geert van der Weijst (7th).

-Wim Stroetinga could be a beast on the road if he just focused for 2 years and got more endurance under him so he could actually contest some hills.

-Rabobank Development dropped the ball this year. For the first time in over a decade, they missed the podium and Timo Roosen was their best finisher in 6th place. Arthur van Dongen will not be a happy man with that results, especially with Teunissen missing out on the final day.

-What's up Australia? Seriously, they had a talented roster but seemed to be a little flat. They missed every important split and while Caleb Ewan was close, he wasn't able to beat a man who spends most of his time dedicated to the track.

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