Monday, October 3, 2016

Olympia's Tour: Rabobank bow out in style

From 2002 to 2009, Rabobank Continental won 9 consecutive Olympia's Tour. It should have been renamed the Rabobank Invitational at some point because they took out 16 of the 21 overall podium places during that time. While Taylor Phinney interrupted that run in 2010, Jetse Bol and Dylan van Baarle kept the name going through 2013. The talent that Rabobank put out year after year was loading the pro peloton (and the big Rabobank team) and seemed like a never ending pipeline.

Yet with all of the success and the huge amount of talent still present, Rabobank Development will cease to exist after this year. The orange kits that have been present for nearly 20 years will not be found in 2017. With many riders still figuring out their 2017 plans (or at least not announcing them yet), why not go out with a bang?

After taking some precious bonus seconds finishing 2nd on stage 5, Cees Bol (who is joining SEG Racing Academy for 2017) was finally in the yellow jersey after multiple days of chasing Pavel Sivakov. With the hilliest stage on tap for the final day, Bol was in defense mode as only a handful of riders could challenge his lead.

Riding from Margraten, multiple breakaways tried to get away from peloton including a move that included 3rd-place Harthijs De Vries (Rabobank Devo) along with Michael Storer (Australia) and Geoffrey Curran (USA) but was shut down in favor of a two-man move with Remi Cavagna (Klein Constantia) and Ole Forfang (Norway), which got a couple of minutes lead. Racing was fast with the first couple of hours around 41 km/h.

Rabobank went to the front to tap out tempo as another move went up the road with Julius Jelmer, Fridtjof Røinaas and Julien Van Den Brande making the junction but the freedom was short lived as the speed was picking up fast. Soon enough, it was in with the old and out with the new, who took off with about 20km to go.

Dewulf was the highest on GC but was over three minutes back and with only 20 kilometers, there wasn't enough road left unless Bol, Sivakov and the others pulled over and had lunch.

Going into the finish, another move of 10 riders split off the front of the GC-controlled peloton, again none of the fighting over GC. The groups were splintering on the uphill finish and after 170 kilometers in cold, rainy weather, everyone was ready for the end.

To make it a fitting end to a fitting run, Martijn Budding took the final win in the Olympia's Tour for Rabobank Development in a tight sprint over Piet Allegaert and Stan Dewulf. Dewulf and Curran jumped 4 places each to finish 8th and 9th overall, which made them the biggest movers on the GC board for the places that mattered.

To make it an even more sweet end to the bittersweet departure, Cees Bol hung onto the overall GC after coming across the line with Sivakov and 3rd place De Vries, which was the status quo from before. While the finish was a little anti-climactic as the previous stages were filled with tight racing, it capped off a great weekend of racing before heading off to Doha.

-This is by far Bol's biggest win as a U23 after coming close in races like the Paris-Arras Tour and the Ronde de l'Oise. Going to SEG next year is a big signal that he is on track for a big contract as they tend to move a lot of riders up if they do relatively well.

-This was also the final race for Klein Constantia, which started off life as Etixx-iHNed back in 2013 and was actually the subject of Espoirs Central's first ever article. Patrick Lefevere forever bitched about having to carve out money from his budget to support a healthy development team but this is a team that actually worked so it is a shame that it isn't continuing.

-Pavel Sivakov is the most versatile U23 rider at this time

-Edward Planckaert is quite deserving of his Topsport Vlaanderen contract after SO MANY top 10 finishes from February to October. Pretty incredible.

-For not being a Nations Cup and it being October now, the talent level here at the Olympia's Tour was pretty impressive. Sprints, breakaways and time trials...what is there not to like??

On to Doha...

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Olympia's Tour: Stages 1-4

The Olympia's Tour is halfway over and I have to say, the Olympia's Tour social media has been on-point for a U23 race. With no live video, they have provided a ton of updates, some small videos and  detailed previews on their website so kudos to them. Oh yes and the racing has been good too.

Stage 1 - TTT - Hardenberg

The Axeon-Hagens Berman filled American team put their team cohesion to good use by taking the opening team time trial ahead of some very strong teams from Australia, which was a mix of world class track talent and all arounders, home favorites Rabobank Development along with continental juggernauts in Klein Constantia, BMC Development and Lotto-Soudal. The USA was also unique out of the top 5 finishers as they finished with their whole team in tact.

Colin Joyce took the initial overall lead before the GC race exploded.

Stage 2 - Assen Loop

True to the Olympia's Tour, a windy day brought out a breakaway that ended up going to the line. To break up the monotony of twisting roads and crosswinds, a stretch of cobbles was used twice that shook everything up.

A large group of 22 got away from the peloton early and got nearly 2 minutes on the peloton. The breakaway had a large contingent of Dutch riders from Metec, Jo Piels, Rabobank as well as some composite teams plus overnight leader Colin Joyce, Mads Pedersen and BMC riders Lukas Spengler & Pavel Sivakov, among others. The first stretch of cobbles at Exloo saw some of the riders from the breakaway get splintered off and after the 2nd pass, they only had 11 riders left. Pavel Sivakov attacked in the final kilometers coming into the finish and only Jan Willem Van Schip, a U23 who was apart of the Dutch Team Pursuit team in Rio, was able to follow. Van Schip took the sprint from Sivakov but due to taking time from the rest of the breakaway, Sivakov slid into the 3M Yellow Jersey.

I have said it before but even as a first year, Pavel Sivakov is the most versatile rider in the U23 ranks. He was 2nd in Liege-Bastogne-Liege, he was in sprints in the Tour de Berlin, competed in the mountains in Aosta and l'Avenir and now attacking through the windy roads of Holland.

Stage 3a - TT - Herenberg to Elten TT

Miles Scotson shot to the podium in the Espoirs Cetral virtual U23 World Championship TT after stomping on an otherwise tight top 10. Geoffrey Curran, who turned in a very fast time, was beating Mads Pedersen by a second and Espoirs Central pick for the win Remi Cavagna by another two while Neilson Powless and Nathan Van Hooydonck were close behind. Scotson proceeded to come in and beat Curran's time by 27 seconds.

Scotson has been bouncing around all year with road events and team pursuit commitments but has started to build form over the last month with this being an exclamation point before Doha.

Curran has been up and down the last few years but this year has by far been his best in the U23 ranks. His time trial game has been on point this year with top ten rides all over the place but this is by far his best ride. Definitely shooting for a top 10 ride at Worlds, with this current form.

Sivakov rode well for 15th however he lost time to Cees Bol and Harthijs De Vries (both Rabobank Development) to pull the GC within 8 seconds.

Stage 3b - Ulft to Gendringen

Due to starting too late, the stage had to be shortened due to the waining sunlight and even then, the stage didn't finish until early twilight.

Espoirs Central called a Kristoffer Halvorsen win and by god, did that Norwegian eat some herring. Obviously one of the best U23 sprinters this year after winning a fucking professional 1.1 race, the GP Isbergues, which wasn't stacked with talent but hell, it was a 1.1 event. He nearly won the Nokere Koerse only to be denied by continental wonder Timothy Dupont but beat out Dylan Groenewegen. A favorite for Doha, Halvorsen beat out Chris Latham by a nose, which could be a possible result in Doha as well.

Cees Bol grabbed a few bonus seconds to bring the lead down to 5 seconds overall on Sivakov

Stage 4 - Zutphen loop

I said it in my preview but because this stage was front loaded, there was nothing special about this except for Markus Faglum getting the KOM jersey before being sucked back into the breakaway along with his break mates. Not to make the race sound easy as it never is in the Olympia's Tour. If you feel like shit, good luck holding onto a peloton that is going 50km/h in a crosswind while you are riding in the gutter. Feeling good? You could miss a split in the peloton.

Once out of the hills, the race came back together as Rabobank Development leading the charge for the bonus sprints. Cees Bol came through on both of them and taking 1st and 2nd for 5 bonus seconds while Sivakov snagged 2nd one of the sprints. Bol finished up 2 seconds behind Sivakov at the end of the stage.

Coming into the finale, it was a familiar sight with Halvorsen again leading the sprint out and just barely holding off 2nd place Fabio Jakobsen, who was a tire length or two behind the Norwegian across the line while Van Schip finished up in a close 3rd. The tight finish didn't give anyone a ton of room so some other favorites like Latham, Lecrocq, Christopher Noppe didn't have the room to contend.

With two stages to go, Rabobank Development is ravenous to get their final Olympia's Tour win while Sivakov will not go down without a fight. Stage 5 should end in a sprint as the last two kilometers are more or less a runway for a fast sprint. I picked Ivan Garcia however if Halvorsen or Latham are around, it won't be a contest. Stage 6...well that is where the real fun begins.