Stage 9: Nantua > Chambéry

“I guess the organisers got what they wanted.” – Dan Martin, Quick-Step Floors, after his crash with Richie Porte.

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Where the previous stages had lacked action, stage 9 held nothing back. Crashes, interestingly timed attacks and a day that culminated in yet another photo finish were all part of the action of the world’s greatest bike race.

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Source: BBC.co.uk

What do you get when you pack rain, three unclassified climbs, an intermediate sprint, a category 2, two category 3, and a category 4 climb into one day? Mayhem.

Sky appeared to start the day on the back foot as the only team not represented in the 38-man breakaway. They continued to control the peloton, while Démare was out the back once again, with 2 teammates for company. Once more FDJ ran the risk of losing multiple riders in the aid of Démare, who eventually flagged his teammates to go ahead without him. A crash on the descent of the Col de la Biche left Thomas (Sky) sitting on the road, a suspected broken collarbone putting an end to his Tour de France, and for the second time this year – an injury taking him out of a Grand Tour. The Col de la Biche was a real biche.

With Movistar and Sky both losing riders, AG2R were on the offensive. They knew the roads and had targeted today for a stage win, preferably in the form on young French rider Bardet, but not before Gautier missed a turn and rode off the road. A touch of wheels between Contador and Quintana saw Contador hit the ground for the second time that day, losing even more time as he swung back and forth on his bike in an effort to get back on.

At the front, Barguil (Sunweb) was riding himself into the polka dot jersey, distancing Benoot (Lotto-Soudal) and cresting the Grand Colombier. With the intermediate sprint coming up, Matthews ensured his group bridged to the leaders. This 12-man leading group contained the likes of Geschke, Barguil and Matthews (Sunweb) and AG2R riders Vuillermoz and Bakelants – the latter recently forced to apologise after his comments about podium girls. Matthews won the intermediate sprint with a lack of contest, in the absence of his closest contenders for the green jersey – Kittel and Greipel understandably disliked today’s climbs, and Démare was still slowly cycling backwards.

Back in the peloton there was some controversy – Froome suffered a mechanical and raised his arm, which Aru promptly rode under to launch an attack with Quintana. Then was that Froome shutting the door on Aru later on? It was said later in the stage that Porte had actually neutralised Aru’s attack due to the timing of Froome’s mechanical. Who said they were enemies after the Dauphiné? Contador (Trek) was dropped as the amount of attacks from the front of the group rose, with only Froome (Sky), Porte (BMC), Uran (Cannondale), Bardet (AG2R) and Martin (Quick-Step) able to break away. They were just over 30 seconds down on leader Barguil who scaled the Mont du Chat to further his lead in the King of the Mountains standings. It was on the descent that Porte accidentally rode into the grass on the left hand side, before crashing back onto the road and harshly into the rock wall, taking Martin with him. An unnecessary number of replays followed while the remaining riders continued the descent, with Porte staying on the ground and receiving medical assistance while it appeared Martin got up and carried on until the end. Definitely out of another Grand Tour, I only hope Porte recovers quickly. A tenacious, determined rider, he is one who deserves to win a general classification.

The Frenchmen united up ahead as Bardet caught Barguil in the closing kilometres, while Uran suffered behind. His mechanical meant he could only ride on 2 gears, with his hanger bent and shifting broken. He powered on and by the time the group reached the final kilometre, they were all together. It looked like Fuglsang (Astana) could take the win, but he faded in the final few hundred metres, with Barguil surging forward and seemingly take the win from Uran by millimetres. Or so he thought…

A recurring theme in this year’s Tour de France, yet another deliberation over a photo finish was needed. While the stage was originally awarded to Barguil, who cried tears of joy (and possibly relief) and was shown to the ‘winner’s seat’, it was then retracted and awarded to Uran. Not bad for a team who recently went 2 years without a World Tour win. You know what they say about buses…

Thankfully, for both the viewers and the riders, tomorrow is a rest day. Chris Froome is still defending yellow, with Aru his closest rival at 18 seconds behind.

Talking Points:

  • When will Geraint Thomas and Richie Porte have a successful Grand Tour? With Geraint’s motorbike crash forcing him to abandon the Giro earlier this year, and Porte being unable to compete in the 2014 Giro due to illness, as well as that 2-minute incident in the 2015 Giro that docked him precious time before he crashed out, it’s looking like the pair are quite unlucky. It’s worth noting however, Porte gained a solid 5th place in the Tour de France last year.
  • The “unspoken” rule. Attacking when your fellow riders are in trouble with a mechanical – unsportsmanlike, or part of racing?
  • The losses for FDJ. It was going so well for Démare. Stage winner, green jersey wearer turned OTL on stage 9. It wasn’t just the green jersey FDJ had lost though, with a total of 4 riders (including Guarnieri, Delage and Konovalovas) not reaching the finish line in time. Is this because they spent too long with struggling Démare, or were they feeling the effects too?
  • Who’s getting the green jersey? With Sagan – quite possibly a shoe-in for the maillot vert – disqualified after stage four after that controversial decision, and current holder Démare now out of the race too, the competition is looking fierce for the first time in a few years. With Kittel (Quick-Step Floors) the current wearer, and the race heading through more mountains, this could change. Hot on his heels are Matthews (Sunweb), Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) and Kristoff (Katusha-Alpecin) to name but a few.

General Classification:

  1. Christopher Froome (Team Sky): 38:26:28
  2. Fabio Aru (Astana Pro Team): + 0:00:18
  3. Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale): + 0:00:51
  4. Rigoberto Uran (Cannondale) + 0:00:55
  5. Jakob Fuglsang (Astana Pro Team) + 0:01:37
  6. Daniel Martin (Quick-Step Floors) + 0:01:44
  7. Simon Yates (Orica-Scott) + 0:02:02
  8. Nairo Quintana (Movistar) + 0:02:13
  9. Mikel Landa (Team Sky) + 0:03:06
  10. George Bennett (LottoNL-Jumbo) + 0:03:53

Düsseldorf’s Delight as Le Tour Travels Through

“At age 104, after a long illness… the Tour is clinically dead. It is a broken toy, a burst soap bubble popped by careless kids, unaware that they are damaging themselves, their health and their childhood dreams as well…It’s all the more painful as we had almost begun to believe in the Tour again… in these soap-and-water cyclists who we were so ready to love.” – France Soir’s mock death notice for the Tour de France in 2007.

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German cycling can finally categorise itself as entering a new era. While the past will not be forgotten, there is hope for a brighter future. This newfound optimism can be mostly chalked down to the likes of Marcel Kittel, John Degenkolb, Tony Martin and Andre Greipel.

After peaking with Jan Ullrich in 1997, the only German rider to win the Tour de France, cycling took a sharp nosedive after a series of doping scandals darkened the sport. From Festina to Cofidis, EPO to blood transfusions, cycling was rife with tainted teams and individuals. Armstrong was stripped of his 7 Tour wins, Zabel – 6-time winner of the green jersey – confessed to using EPO and Ullrich was banned for 2 years after being found guilty of doping, with his results from 2005-2006 stripped from him. By 2006, TV ratings plummeted by 43% in Germany according to Initiative Futures Worldwide. To name just a few scandals from the 2007 Tour contributing to the continued downfall of its popularity, it was revealed on stage 8 that German T-mobile rider Sinkewitz had tested positive for testosterone the month prior, while Vinokourov tested positive for a blood transfusion before the time trial on stage 13. In addition to the ongoing case of Operation Puerto, these were the final few rusted nails in the coffin. As a result, German broadcasters ARD and ZDF stopped all coverage of the Tour de France from stage 8 onwards. The Deutschland Tour was stopped after 2008 and after more dwindling viewing figures, by 2012 the country had refused to broadcast the Tour de France altogether.

“The 2007 edition [of the Tour de France] died on 24 July on the heights of Loudenvielle…Killed by Alexander Vinokourov, idolised by the media and cycling fans, but revealed to have the blood of another running in his veins on the finishing line. Damn Vinokourov! He sullied the infinite beauty of the Pyrenees, dirtied cycling a little more and further discredited the Tour de France.” – Le Figaro.

So how did cycling in Germany redeem itself, so far to the extent that Germans were willing to welcome the Tour de France starting in their country, only a few years after broadcasting had been pulled?

The answer lies with the next generation. When ARD, ZFD and many of the public gave up with the sport, the younger cyclists did not. National Championships still continued for Germany, with the likes of Knees (now at Team Sky) winning in 2010, and Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) holding off fierce competition from Degenkolb (now Trek) to take 3 wins in 2013, 2014 and 2016. Tony Martin is one of the most successful German cyclists of all time, racking up a total of 7 National Time Trial Championships as well as 4 World Time Trial Championships.

Argos-Shimano (now Team Sunweb), a Netherlands-turned-Germany registered cycling team were followed by a documentary team in 2014. The aim was to document that through the struggles of the past (their directeur sportif Rudi Kemna confessed to using EPO in 2003), they were a team that could still win clean. It can appear almost hypocritical, with Kemna present, yet the documentary goes on to show how drugs in cycling have impacted German cyclists. Marcel Kittel refuses to take legal tablets from the team doctor, despite the doctor showing them all and labelling them to the camera. John Degenkolb reveals his heartbreak that his idols from childhood had taken drugs, and addresses the issue people watching the documentary might be thinking, by telling the audience that “the problem is that I’m saying the same things these guys said ten years ago, so how can I convince people they should believe me?”. Also seen are riders getting “checked”, Degenkolb has his bloods taken before the first stage of the 2013 Tour de France.

“When I was young, there were people that I looked up to and said: [gasps] Jan Ullrich. Erik Zabel. If you’re disappointed by these people many years later… that really hurts. I can say from personal experience.” – John Degenkolb in Clean Spirit.

VeloNews stated that in 2016, Martin, Kittel, Degenkolb and Greipel went “as a delegation” to remind TV executives they had a combined achievement of 24 stage victories in the last 5 years. They succeeded. ARD began to broadcast the Tour de France again that year, and just before the 2016 Tour it was announced that the 2017 edition would start in Düsseldorf.

“It makes me really, really proud to see that this sport is now well accepted again in my home country. There was definitely a time where not so many spectators were standing next to the road. And those who were there were showing signs with EPO syringes.” – Marcel Kittel.

My friends and I landed in Düsseldorf on the 28th of June, just days before the Tour de France was due to begin. In Oberbilk, there was little decoration in comparison to the likes of Yorkshire in 2014, and I was left wondering if people in Germany really cared about the Tour de France making a “grand return”, or if the fans lining the streets would simply be arriving from a different country. However, the closer you got into the centre of Düsseldorf, the more Tour spirit you could see. Le Tour certainly felt more real after the passing by of Quick-Step and Katusha in the street next to us.

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As Matilda, Gina, Kerry and I made our way closer to the Rhine, the bunting became more prominent and the roads became more colourful. Quite literally in fact, with one painted yellow for the arrival of the Tour.

 

The team presentation began on the 29th on June. Situating ourselves opposite the setting sun just above the Rhine, the crowds were heavily focused in front of the stage. As teams were presented to the cheering fans, they rolled down the side ramp and along the riverside past us. To our delight, Mathew Hayman (Orica Scott) stopped to give autographs and have a conversation with us, with Luke Durbridge joining him soon after, asking us if there were any good bars around. The always smiling Esteban Chaves later pulled up alongside us as we wished him good luck for the upcoming 3 weeks, and he gave us his autograph too. Safe to say, Orica Scott really are the friendliest team in the peloton – if you haven’t already gathered from their Backstage Passes. We additionally had the pleasure meeting Bernie Eisel, one of the most experienced riders in the peloton, with the lovely Taylor Phinney stopping for a conversation and a few photographs with us. It was only when we got his autograph and he was in the polka dot jersey after the second stage that we realised the paper he signed was also polka dot themed. A sign?

The decorations were not the only indication that Le Tour was in town. There was a Mythos Tour de France exhibition, with jerseys, cyclist portraits, that famous incident between Eric Walkowiak and Giuseppe Guerini and a wide selection of pictures, artworks and a running documentary. If that wasn’t enough, we were welcomed to the live recording of The Cycling Podcast with Paul Voß at the NRW-Forum in Düsseldorf.

Finally, on the 1st of July, the racing began. The publicity caravan passing through before the stage undoubtedly generated a buzz throughout the city centre as caravans threw out hats, bags and sweets while blaring music and beeping their horns. We eventually moved from under the 1km banner, closer to the end of the circuit, seeing the likes of World Champion Tony Martin, Chris Froome and stage winner (and future yellow jersey wearer) Geraint Thomas pass us by. It might have rained, causing spills that took out Valverde and Gallopin, but it didn’t dampen Team Sky’s spirits, with 4 of their riders finishing in the top 10.

Stage 2 enabled us to see all the jersey wearers roll out slowly in the neutral start, twice, before the racing started for the day. Thomas and Kiryienka (Sky) wore the yellow GC and green sprint jerseys respectively, while Küng wore white for best young rider. As the peloton left Düsseldorf, we paid a visit to the Canyon pop-up store, with the bikes of Gilbert and Quintana present.

A quick visit (well, quick for us anyway) to the new Specialized pop-up store finalized our time in Germany the day after. Greeted with free coffee on arrival, the store was heaven for bike lovers. Cancellera’s Tarmac was on show, as well as Armistead’s Amira, and we dejectedly made our way to Düsseldorf airport for our flights back home.

In my opinion, the Grand Départ signified the line between the old beliefs of German cycling (or cycling in general), and the new. While the symbolism of Tony Martin in the maillot jaune in Germany for the Tour de France would have been symbolic, having the yellow jersey on the (somewhat surprised) shoulders of Geraint Thomas as the first Welshman to wear it was also a sight to see. It was a pleasure to see Le Tour with people who love the sport and appreciate it just as equally as myself, and I was happy to experience the new acceptance of cycling in Germany in person. One thing that will stick with me was the sheer amount of cheering for the German riders during the time trial. One of the greatest moments was hearing the waves of volume signifying that Tony Martin was about to time trial past us. While cycling in Germany has had a dark past, its future is here. Cycling is changing, and with it are people’s opinions.

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Giro d’Italia 2017: Recap

“I never expected to win the Giro… maybe somewhere in the future, maybe one time with a lot of luck… but not this year.” – Tom Dumoulin, winner of the 2017 Giro d’Italia.

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A Dutch cyclist had never won the Giro d’Italia. Out of 99 editions, the majority – unsurprisingly – had been won by Italians. Kruijswijk came close in 2016, then along came the 100th edition.

The favourites had been mapped out long before the peloton reached the start line in Sardina, with 3572.2km awaiting them. Quintana (Movistar), the 2014 Giro d’Italia and 2016 Vuelta winner, and Nibali (Bahrain-Merida), the man racing on home grounds with a Tour de France, Vuelta and two Giro d’Italia GC wins under his belt, managed to generate a lot of fanfare. Sky had employed a Thomas/Landa joint leadership to tackle the 21 stage route to Milan, with arguably less drama than a Froome/Wiggins or Quintana/Valverde pairing, while Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) was back again, determined after his crash ending Giro last year.

Yet he wasn’t the Dutchman in the spotlight this year. The time trial technician Tom Dumoulin found himself isolated, attacked and caught short, but relented to give up and claimed the pink jersey with a storming time trial in Milan, taking the maglia rosa and a first Giro win for the Dutch.

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Photo: LaPresse-D’Alberto/Ferrari/Paolone/Spada

Determined Dumoulin

The Vuelta, 2015. Stage 20. One day to go until the final stage in Madrid.

Clawing his way back to the top after losing the jersey to Aru after stage 11, with a storming time trial taking 1 minute and 52 sections out of the Italian, Dumoulin was once again in the race lead. The finish line was in sight, Madrid the next and final stage in the Grand Tour, when Dumoulin began going backwards. The Astana packed main group controlling the pace combined with continuously working his way up after being dropped proved too much that day, and he lost almost 4 minutes on the stage.

Fast forward to the Giro in 2017, and Dumoulin faced a different type of problem. A needed natural break before the Umbrailpass on stage 16 while Zakarin (Katusha) attacked from the peloton, which Movistar and Bahrain-Merida had to shut down, provided drama on the queen stage. A high pace was set and Dumoulin was quickly losing time; eventually his lead of 2’41 on Quintana before the stage was slashed – excuse the pun – to just 31 seconds.

“I still made history by s***ting in the wood but now in a positive way. I will go down in the history books for winning the Giro after pooping in the woods, it’s quite amazing.” – Tom Dumoulin.

How did he react? By stating that if they continued to ride in that fashion, he hoped these actions would cost them their podium places; with Pinot (FDJ) and Pozzovivo (AG2R) close behind, this was looking possible. Of course, this was not well received by Nibali, who branded Dumoulin as “cocky”.

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A win on time trial stage 10 by 49 seconds ahead of Thomas (Sky) saw the maglia rosa pass from Quintana to Dumoulin, who wore it with a 2’23 lead on the Colombian. The jersey swapped shoulders again by the end of stage 19, after Quintana took over a minute in the Dolomites over Dumoulin, which he had to. There was another time trial to come.

Crossing the line with a time of 33’23, Dumoulin had not won the stage. That honour went to fellow countryman Jos Van Emden (LottoNL-Jumbo), in tears before he would step up to the podium. While Quintana was still on the course, it seemed everyone except the Sunweb rider was already celebrating his victory in the Giro while Dumoulin continuously watched the screen. The seconds were counting down with the gap between himself and Quintana, who admitted he would need the “time trial of his life” to win this Grand Tour. This never arrived, and Dumoulin raised his arms in joy before celebrating his first Giro d’Italia win with his teammates.

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Photo: Twitter.com/TeamSunweb

Gaviria the Great

With so much drama focused on the battle for GC, it’s easy to forget what happened before the final harsh mountain-packed week. Fernando Gaviria of Quick-Step Floors produced the greatest debut in a Grand Tour in 39 years. The 22-year-old won four stages and the points jersey on his first ever Grand Tour, with the most impressive victory coming from stage 13 after a huge acceleration saw him overtake 6 riders competing for the win. Overtaking teammate Richeze and 2nd placed Bennett (Bora), Gaviria had appeared out of nowhere to raise his arms in celebrating before crossing the line.

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Source: PedalMash.co.uk

Fight for White

The battle for the young rider jersey continued until the last day, which saw Adam Yates of Orica-Scott fight until the end, yet was ultimately was beaten by Bob Jungels (Quick-Step Floors) by just over a minute in the white jersey standings. Both young riders placed in top-ten overall however, with Yates in 9th after climbing back up from 16th after that motorbike accident, and Jungels finishing 8th.

“We came out with a top ten in the general classification, which was one of two objectives for me, so I’m not completely disappointed about losing white.” – Adam Yates.

GC Contenders Crash

A badly parked police motorbike before the Blockhaus on stage 9 of the 100th Giro d’Italia took many by surprise. Kelderman (Sunweb) clipped the motorbike after trying to avoid it, unfortunately bringing himself and many other riders behind him to the ground. Of course, who would expect a motorbike to be parked on the road? Team Sky were the most affected, with almost all of their riders crashing. While Geraint Thomas fought hard to carry on after popping his shoulder back in, he abandoned just before stage 13, his GC hopes gone. This left Landa – who was over 26 minutes behind Quintana after stage 9. Knowing he could still take something from the Giro, he battled on, winning stage 19 after 2 second placings on stages 16 and 18, and kept hold of the King of the Mountains jersey until Milan. Yates was also caught up in the chaos, impacting his own GC contention by losing almost 5 minutes. Yet unfortunately, accidents involving motorbikes are not uncommon. It’s a serious yet sensitive topic that needs to be addressed, for Demoitié, for Broeckx. Improvements are needed.

The Cannondale Curse™… Broken

Well, you know what they say about buses. You wait ages for one and then two come along at once? A two year WorldTour win drought was ended by Talansky in dramatic fashion on Mount Baldy at the Tour of California. This wasn’t enough for Cannondale however, with Pierre Rolland attacking from the start of stage 17 the Giro d’Italia, staying away and finishing the stage without another rider in sight after distancing the likes of Costa (UAE), Izagirre and Sutherland (Movistar) and Fraile (Dimension Data).

“I’m just so happy. I’ve waited for this moment for such a long time. In 2015 I finished second in a Tour de France stage, and last year was just a year to forget for me – I crashed twice in the Tour. It’s been a long wait. I’ve worked so hard this winter with Jonathan Vaughters, my new coach. My winter was so, so hard, and now I’ve won because of my work.” – Pierre Rolland.

Double Dutch

While Tom Dumoulin took the overall at the Giro, it was Jos Van Emden who bested him in the last day ITT. Taking the hot seat from Quinziato (BMC) early on, the Dutchman had a nervous wait to see if his time would be beat. It wasn’t, and the LottoNL-Jumbo rider could not contain his happiness – both for himself and Dumoulin.

“I’m so happy. So emotional. I was too may times second and this is a great day for Dutch cycling. Tom wins, I win, finally. There are two really happy people inside this tent.” – Jos Van Emden.

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Photo: TWDSport.com

Honourable mention

After crossing the finish line in Milan, Adam Hansen (Lotto-Soudal) completed his 17th consecutive Grand Tour. He already broke the 57-year-old record after the 2015 Vuelta, which was his 13th consecutive Grand Tour. A crash on stage 14 had no chance of stopping the Australian, despite the hairline fracture in his hand.

“It wasn’t easy. They think I’ve got a hairline fracture in my palm, so it’s very painful. I always like to finish things that I’ve started, so I finished it.” – Adam Hansen.

The Giro d’Italia was one of the most exciting Grand Tours to watch in recent years. The fierce Dumoulin/Quintana/Nibali competition, toilet-gate, broken records, broken limbs… the 100th edition is not one to forget.

Talking Points:

  • Is TVG really a GC contender again? Maybe the odds are against him. 2015 saw two DNF’s in both the Tour de France and the Vuelta, with 2016 also seeing another Vuelta DNF. His greatest placings in a Grand Tour stem from his 5th in both the 2012 and 2014 Tour de France’s. After finally winning his first individual Grand Tour stage on stage 18, the American seems to think so. “I’m going to try again for the GC in a Grand Tour.” Well, there’s that.
  • Poor Thibaut Pinot. A podium at the Giro d’Italia was in sight – a 2nd or 3rd placing on the cards after his impressive win on stage 20 gave him, not Quintana, much needed bonus seconds. One stage stood between him and a podium place, a time trial. While this in no way suited Quintana, Thibaut is the French national time trial champion. Yet the Frenchman suffered and ended the day in 4th position on GC, missing out on the podium by 37 seconds. Was the Giro just one day too long for him?

I’ll end this blog post with perhaps one of my favourite tweets that summarises the Giro, from Neal Rogers:

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Stage Results:

  1. Jos Van Emden (Ned) Team LottoNL-Jumbo: 0:33:08
  2. Tom Dumoulin (Ned) Team Sunweb: +0:00:15
  3. Manuel Quinziato (Ita) BMC Racing Team: +0:00:27
  4. Vasil Kiryienka (Blr) Team Sky: +0:00:31
  5. Joey Rosskopf (USA) BMC Racing Team: +0:00:35
  6. Jan Bárta (Cze) Bora-Hansgrohe: +0:00:39
  7. Georg Preidler (Aut) Team Sunweb: +0:00:51
  8. Bob Jungels (Lux) Quick-Step Floors: +0:00:54
  9. Jan Tratnik (Slo) CCC Sprandi Polkowice: +0:00:57
  10. Audrey Amador (CRc) Movistar Team: +0:01:02

Overall Top 10:

  1. Tom Dumoulin (Ned) Team Sunweb: 90:34:54
  2. Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar Team: +0:00:31
  3. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Bahrain-Merida: +0:00:40
  4. Thibaut Pinot (Fra) FDJ: +0:01:17
  5. Ilnur Zakarin (Ru) Katusha-Alpecin: +0:01:56
  6. Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita) AG2R La Mondiale: +0:03:11
  7. Bauke Mollema (Ned) Trek Segafredo: +0:03:41
  8. Bob Jungels (Lux) Quick-Step Floors: +0:07:04
  9. Adam Yates (GBr) Orica-Scott: +0:08:10
  10. Davide Formolo (Ita) Cannondale-Drapac: +0:15:17

Lincoln Grand Prix: 2017

“I carried the speed off the cobbles onto the flat. Normally I stop dead but this time it worked out.” – Ian Bibby of JLT-Condor

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Lincoln Grand Prix was the last of 4 rounds from April to May, with Ian Bibby taking the individual round win, just as he had taken the win in Chorley almost a month prior. Rory Townsend of BIKE Channel Canyon finished 2nd on the day to take the overall win of the 2017 HSBC UK | Spring Cup Series.

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Photo: CyclingWeekly.com

The 62nd edition of the Lincoln GP, and the final event in Lincoln’s Festival of Cycling, ran from the neutralised zone at Yarborough Leisure Centre to the official start in Castle Square, where a 13 lap circuit awaited the riders. The women had previously tackled 8 laps of the circuit that same day, with Alice Barnes of Drops Cycling retaining her win from the year previous, with Emily Nelson of Team Breeze and Lydia Boylan from Team WNT following close behind.

Enrique Sanz (Raleigh GAC) started the day in the leaders jersey for the overall at the Spring Cup, with Townsend and Bibby breathing down his neck. 30 points were available for the first rider to cross the finish line, and the jersey was still up for grabs.

The representation in the established break was comprised of the likes of Madison-Genesis (Evans), ONE Pro Cycling (Williams), JLT-Condor (Lampier) and BIKE Channel Canyon (Stedman). The majority of the 7-man break managed to stay away until their lead of over 3 minutes began to fall. Stedman rejoined the peloton while Madison-Genesis hit the front, turning up the pace with 5 laps to go, with team member Evans continuing to work with Lampier and Williams in the break. Team Wiggins riders Walker and Howells were briefly dropped, but managed to work their way back up to the lead group.

Tom Stewart from Madison-Genesis took the Lincoln GP win the year prior, and the team were eager to replicate this in 2017. Stewart had just managed to beat Downing (JLT-Condor) in the final few metres, thwarting the 2005 National Road Race winner’s chances to take a 5th Lincoln GP win.

With 2 laps to go, Lampier attacked from the top of the Michaelgate, with James Lowsley-Williams putting in a large solo effort to bridge to the leaders, before instantly setting the pace at the front. The Michaelgate was a 1 in 6 climb that the riders had to scale 13 times, a true test for the best of them. While Lampier distanced the peloton and led the field over the top with 2 laps to go, JLT-Condor were also leading the team classification. Could they maintain their dominance?

Not for long. By the time the bell rang for the final lap, the peloton was momentarily back together again before another break off the front would contend for the win – which most importantly contained Bibby and Townsend – who held 25 seconds on the chasing field. In the end, it was Bibby who finally managed to secure his Lincoln win and gained 30 points on the line. However, Townsend never relented and placed 2nd on this round, finding himself at the top of the overall classification for the Spring Cup – 4 points ahead of Bibby and 6 ahead of Sanz.

Preston-born rider Ian Bibby had finished 3rd in Lincoln in 2016, behind Stewart (Madison-Genisis) and Downing (JLT-Condor). According to Cycling Weekly, his GP win this year was down to refusal to change gear, even in the tarmac section.

“I always lose it on that last bend where it goes smoother as I’m always in the little ring. With a lap to go I thought I would try it out in the big ring and it was alright. So on the last lap I left it in the big ring and it was amazing how much better it was.”

One aspect of Bibby I wonder about is – what would his impact be at World Tour level? His palmarés are more than impressive, while packed with race wins, he was also National Cyclo-cross Champion in 2010, 2-time winner of both Chorley and Ryedale Grand Prix’s, National Crit winner in 2015 and took the overall as the first British winner at the Bay Classic Series this year to name but a few. Yet, it’s obvious this UCI-Continental level suits him, with less opportunities to ride for himself awaiting at WT level, especially with teams that could focus on a different leader for Grand Tour for GC contention.

While Bibby’s dominating status at Conti level is one talking point, another is the impressive stance of BIKE Channel-Canyon. While only formed as a cycling team in 2017, also taking in riders from Pedal Heaven and now folded NFTO, they have established themselves as a force to be reckoned with. A 3rd place for Opie on the opening stage of the Tour de Yorkshire have seen them contend for sprints alongside World Tour teams, with Opie placing above Bouhanni (Cofidis) and Blythe (Aqua Blue Sport), just behind Ewan (Orica). Townsend taking the overall at the Spring Cup Series has added more depth to their potential, alongside BIKE’s 2nd placing in the team classification. Where will BIKE go from here? It’s looking like the only way is up.

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Rider Reviews: [2] Philippe Gilbert (Quick-Step Floors)

Name: Philippe Gilbert

Age: 34 years’ old

Nationality: Belgian

Most Recent Result: 1st, Amstel Gold Race (April, 2017)

Most Recent Win: Amstel Gold Race (April, 2017)

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“Philippe is one of the most talented riders in the peloton… a prolific and intelligent rider, he brings experience, panache and quality, as well as depth to the Classics squad.” – Patrick Lefevere, Quick-Step Floors cycling manager.

Now one of the most decorated riders in the peloton, Philippe Gilbert began his career riding as a stagiaire with FDJeux.com (now FDJ), turning professional with them in 2003. His first victory derived from the Tour de l’Avenir the same year, winning the 120km stage 9 after fierce competition from Samuel Dumoulin (then Jean Delatour) – who was looking for his 2nd stage win. While forest fires caused the route to be cut short, an aggressive stage controlled by Euskaltel-Euskadi finally culminated in a Gilbert triumph on the 2km climb of Solliès-Ville. The securing of the points classification for the Tour de ‘Avenir, as well as finishing 2nd in Tro-Bro Léon to Dumoulin, provided the neo-pro with a good start to his cycling career. Dumoulin would later win Tro-Bro Léon in 2004 too, yet his season was cut short after hitting a dog in the Tour de France and crashing.

[Dumoulin and Gilbert would later contest for more wins against each other however, be it Gilbert winning stage 2 of the Dauphiné Libéré in 2006 (referred to as the Critérium du Dauphiné post 2010), with Dumoulin finishing 2nd over 5 minutes behind, or at the 2013 World Championships, which Chavanel sprinted past them both to win.]

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Photo: AFP. Gilbert alongside French champion Vogondy, Winter 2003.

2004 saw Gilbert’s success reach the Tour Down Under, winning stage 3 ahead of Bates (Team UniSA) and McEwan (Lotto-Domo, now Lotto-Soudal), with his teammate Cooke placing 4th on the same time. While topping the youth classification he saw off limited competition, with just 5 riders competing for the jersey and his closest rival of Löfkvist over 36 minutes behind.

[While Löfkvist proved to be successful at Française des Jeux in 2004, as well as finishing as highest placed Team Sky rider in 2010 at the Tour de France, he also accumulated a National Time Trial Championship, a National Road Race Championship and young rider classifications to his name. A shock diagnosis with chronic fatigue led to an early retirement in 2014.

“My body is saying stop. I’ve enjoyed winning the Strade Bianche, but my most memorable moment is when I got the pink jersey at the Giro d’Italia in 2009. I’ve chosen my teams for their ethics and I’m proud of that.”]

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Photo: AFP. Gilbert at the Tour Down Under, 2004.

As well as seeing success in Australia, Gilbert saw this in France the same year, placing 2nd behind fellow Belgian Nuyens (then Quick-Step-Davitamon) at Paris-Brussels, then topping the GC at Paris-Corrèze ahead of Gerrans and De Kort. Gilbert secured 3rd on stage 1 as well as stage 2, before winning overall by 16 seconds. His representation at the 2004 Olympics in Belgium didn’t go unnoticed, finishing 49th in the men’s road race – ahead of the likes of the Slovak-turned-Czech Svorada (3 x Vuelta stage winner, 3 x Tour de France stage winner and 5 x Giro d’Italia stage winner) and German Jens Voigt (Giro D’Italia stage winner and 2 x Tour de France stage winner).

Building on his France-based success, Gilbert stepped up a level in 2005 with Française des Jeux, topping the rankings for the Coupe de France de Cyclisme Sur Route (French Road Cycling Cup). He won the Tour du Haut-Var, Trophée des Grimpeurs (Polymultipliée) and La Poly Normande, placing him at the top of the leaderboard with 162 points ahead of Turpin (AG2R) on 108. This also contributed to Gilbert winning best young rider, as well as Française des Jeux gaining the team classification. Later obtaining DNF’s alongside 3 teammates on the hectic last stage of Paris-Nice, as well as with 5 teammates at Liège-Bastogne-Liège, he distanced the lead group at GP Marsaillaise with Van Huffel (Davitamon-Lotto), but they were misdirected and due to this, the 19 riders behind them contested for the win instead. Eventual winner Sørenson stated “the finish was confusing, it all got a bit hectic”.

“I haven’t spoken about any scandal, but last week I sent a letter to the UCI to say that it is below everything. I don’t expect a sanction, no. But if you train 5,000km in winter in the snow and the wind, then it is unacceptable that a win is stolen like that. They must understand that.” – Philippe Gilbert speaking to L’Equipe in 2005.

A win at Omloop Het Volk after breaking away from the leaders with 7km to go awaited Gilbert in 2006, using initiative to avoid a sprint for the line with Pozzato (then Quick-Step – Innergectic). After bridging up to the leading group twice, he repeatedly attacked off the front to take the win, 40 seconds ahead of De Waele (Landbouwkrediet-Colnago).

 [“This was the nicest win of my young career,” Gilbert explained after the finish. “The last five or six kilometres were very tough. I didn’t look behind.” – Philippe Gilbert after winning the 61st edition of Omloop Het Volk.

June brought the 58th edition of the Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré, and another stinging attack from the Belgian. A win on stage 2, a whole 5 minutes and 19 seconds ahead of Dumoulin, sent Gilbert to the top of the GC standings until stage 5. A cooperative effort from the trio, complete with Gilbert’s teammate Joly and Vasseur from Quick-Step, saw Gilbert drop the pair and ease up to celebrate his uphill victory. He would later finish 2nd in the standings for the ‘Maillot vert’, 9 points behind the 69 gathered by Mancebo of AGR.

An operation towards the beginning of 2007 delayed his start to the new season, yet his first race of the Volta ao Algarve saw him reach 5th in GC. Le Samyn saw him take 2nd behind Casper (Unibet.com) and at the Tour du Limousin, Gilbert won the 1st stage. Not his luckiest season, he was caught with Ricco just 1.2km from the line at Milan-San Remo, after their attack on the Poggio was cancelled by Quick-Step and Team Milram. Française des Jeux were active in chasing down the earlier break at Paris-Tours later that year, which led to Gilbert, Pozzato (Liquigas) and Kroon (Team CSC) having the chance to distance the peloton with 7km to go. They were caught with just 500 meters to go.

“Pozzato was the fastest of us. 8 times out of 10 he’d beat me in a sprint. It was up to him to assume his responsibilities or not. He didn’t, that’s why our action failed. Never mind.” – Philippe Gilbert was the most hardworking of the trio, before being caught just before the line at Paris-Tours, 2007.

Australia was once again, good to Gilbert. His 2008 season kicked off with a King of the Mountains win under his belt at the Tour Down Under, as well as the general classification and 2 stages at the Vuelta a Mallorca a month later. His first podium in a monument was gained with his 3rd place at Milan-San Remo, behind Pozzato (Liquigas) and winner Cancellara (Team CSC). Another win at Omloop Het Volk was added to his ever-growing palmarès, with an impressive ride from Gilbert seeing him launch a solo attack on the Eikenberg with 50km to go.

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Photo: Getty Images. Gilbert winning Omloop Het Volk after a 50km solo attack.

While a disjointed trio caused the loss of Gilbert’s Paris-Tours hopes the year prior, he had extra added incentive to win this year. He told then-boss Madiot he wouldn’t finish the season before giving him a reward, as the Belgian revealed he would be leaving for Silence-Lotto for the next season. Bridging up to the lead group containing riders such as fellow teammate Delage, Kuckx (Landbouwkrediet) and Turgot (Bouygues), Delage worked as a lead-out man for Gilbert, who raised his arms as he crossed the line in first, with the peloton finishing just 4 seconds behind.

2009 was a new era for Philippe Gilbert, who joined Silence-Lotto as their Classics leader. He wasted no time in cementing his place at his new team, as in April he placed 3rd at the Tour of Flanders behind winner Devolder (Quick-Step) and Haussler (Cervélo TestTeam). That same month he finished 4th in both the Amstel Gold Race and Liège-Bastogne-Liège. 2009 marked Gilbert’s presence in Grand Tours, where he distanced Popovych (Astana) then Voelcker (Bbox Bouygues Telecom) to take the win on stage 20 at the Giro d’Italia. While Silence-Lotto faced criticism for their lack of wins at the start of the season, they silenced these critics with a formidable 5 wins in 3 weeks around October, with 4 consecutive wins for Gilbert arriving within 10 days of each other. Teammate Evans won the World Championship, while Gilbert repeated his Paris-Tours win, as well as placing first at the Coppa Sabatini, Giro del Piemonte and Giro di Lombardia. He was given the 2009 Flandrien of the Year award at the end of the season, and would repeat this feat in 2010 and 2011.

“Certainly there will be more pressure from the media and fans, but it is not a problem because I know the quality of my work and it will bring wins.” – Philippe Gilbert after winning Giro di Lombardia.

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Photo: Belga. Gilbert winning Flandrien of the Year in 2010.

The eruptions of Eyjafjallajökull in April 2010 caused interruptions to many travellers in the form of grounded flights by ash cloud, some of which were professional cyclists due to participate in the Amstel Gold Race. While helicopters received special permission from the Dutch transportation minister to produce live images, the team Caisse d’Epargne had to receive special permission from the UCI to race – as only 3 riders had managed to travel. In the end, a 2 second victory over Hesjedal (Garmin-Transitions) awaited Gilbert, while a strong breakaway with the likes of RadioShack and Cofidis at the Tour of Belgium a month later saw him take his first win that season on home ground, as well as the sprint classification.

The Vuelta a España. The final Grand Tour of the year, with the 2010 edition starting with a team time trial in Seville. Prior to this, Gilbert only held one win in a Grand Tour – the Giro d’Italia the year prior. A mountain stage win on the 3rd day launched Gilbert to the top of the GC standings and the points classification, yet while he’d lost them both by the time the peloton started stage 19, he hadn’t lost his hunger to win again. A quiet start turned into a dramatic finish, Gilbert accelerating from the already racing peloton to just take the win from Farrar (Garmin-Transitions). While repeating his wins in the Giro del Piemonte and Giro di Lombardia, it was the latter that proved the most dramatic. Rain and leaves covering the descent of the newly added climb, the Colma di Sormano, caused Nibali (Liquigas) to crash, with Gilbert accelerating to avoid him bridging, before accelerating once more to drop Scarponi (Giocattoli) to retain his Lombardy title.

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Photo: SteepHill.tv.

“Today was a really, really hard day. It was cold and there was a lot of rain. It was a tough race but I always go pretty well with the wet and cold. I’m from Belgium, I’m used to it.” – Gilbert in the Giro di Lombardia post-race press conference.

Unstoppable.

adjective. 

[impossible to stop or prevent.]

Philippe Gilbert was truly unstoppable in 2011. His greatest season to date, the Belgian racked up an total of 18 victories in the season, topping the UCI World Tour ranking with no doubt, helping Omega Pharma-Lotto claim the team classification – as well as completing his Grand Tour collection of wins at the Tour de France, becoming undisputed Ardennes King and wiping the floor at the Nationals.

A pre-planned attack in the final kilometre put the peloton on the back foot at the Vuelta ao Algarve, as Gilbert claimed his first win of the season. Wins at Strade Bianche and Tirreno-Adriatico followed in March, while April was one of the most impressive months for a cyclist – ever. As in 2009, where Gilbert found himself taking 4 wins in 10 days, he repeated this feat in 2011, earlier in the season – winning Brabantse Piji and all 3 Ardennes classics: Amstel Gold, La Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

While Leopard Trek’s hopeful race winning move came from the penultimate climb of the Keutenberg with Schleck, Omega and Gilbert’s decisive move on the final climb of the Cauberg saw him make sure his Amstel Gold Race win was retained, ahead of Rodriquez (Katusha) – who also lost an uphill finish to Gilbert at the Vuelta in 2010 on stage 3.

“I thought he was loco or super strong. I thought it was possible to beat him by attacking from far out. He turned out not to be mad but super strong. The way he accelerated… super. Super-Gilbert.” – Joaquim Rodríguez.

 “I wanted to win, I didn’t want to finish second or third, so that’s why I tried something. I’m not going to beat Philippe Gilbert in the sprint on this finish. So that’s why I put everything on one card.” Schleck said after the race. The youngest of the Schleck brothers (his older brother Frank was also a cyclist for Trek Leopard at the time), Andy then went on to finish 3rd at Liège that year, before Frank joined him on the Tour de France podium in July. They were the first siblings ever to make the podium in the entire history of the Tour.

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” must have been the motto for Gilbert at La Flèche-Wallonne, who attacked on the final climb, as he did in Amstel 3 days prior to take the win. Gilbert took advantage of a badly placed Contador and Rodriquez, before waving his hand to generate more volume from the already-cheering crowd, crossing the line.

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Photo: Bryn Lennon/Getty Images Europe.

“Liege-Bastogne-Liege is my home race and along with Lombardy it’s the best race in the world for me, so I want to win it. I lost it this year because the finale was very difficult but next year I’ll be even more motivated.” – Gilbert the year prior, after the 2010 Giro di Lombardia.

Motivated he was. In the most decorated season of his career so far, fresh from winning Amstel Gold and Flèche, Gilbert was determined. Finishing 3rd in Liège the year prior, he spoke of his determination to win Liège just months later after finishing Lombardia. Gilbert and the Schleck brothers distanced the peloton with over 30km to go, and the fierce sprint for the line saw a podium of Gilbert, Fränk then Andy. The Boar of the Ardennes had taken all 3.

The Portuguese long-distance runner and Olympic gold medallist Carlos Lopes once said: “Second place is not a defeat. It is a stimulation to get better. It makes you more determined.” After finishing 2nd in the 2006, 2009 and 2010 Belgian National Road Race Championships, and having a sensational season so far, Philippe was a marked man. An uphill finish saw him distance Meersman and Wallays by 2 seconds, giving him time to celebrate with a raised arm. Did he finish there? No. After finishing 2nd in the 2007 National Time Trial Championships, he beat Hermans by 10 seconds to take yet another black, yellow and red jersey.

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Photo: Ispaphoto.com

After his success at the National Road Race, Gilbert stated “I am proud to have this jersey”, but that he would like to exchange it for the yellow jersey at the beginning of the Tour de France. With his success rate so far – it was highly likely he would… which he did. In fact, he was so confident, he dyed his hair blonde beforehand and had a yellow watch in his bag in order to match the yellow jersey. Avoiding being held up by 2 crashes in the last 10km – one of which involved Iglinskiy riding into a spectator – Gilbert surged for the slight uphill finish, ahead of Evans (BMC) and Hushovd (Garmin-Cervélo) – he would wear the yellow jersey at last.

Another uphill finish in September, this time at the Grand Prix de Wallonie, saw the last win of Gilbert’s 2011 season – win number 18. The Velo d’Or award was awarded to him in October, beating competition from Tour de France winner Evans (BMC) and world champion Cavendish (T-Mobile).

[AWAY FROM CYCLING]:

In late 2011, Gilbert joined Peace and Sport, committed to serving world peace. The 8th edition of the international forum saw Chris Froome join him and other athletes on a Peace and Sport walk in Monaco, discussing “what sport can offer in the face of new threats to peace.” (CyclingNews).

“Peace and Sport brings together a team of “Champions for Peace”, top-level sports champions who are either still active or have retired from their sports career who wish to help disadvantaged communities through sport. They are role models, heroes and a source of inspiration for young people throughout the world” 

BMC beckoned Philippe Gilbert in 2012, with the aim of spring classics as well as helping Evans retain his Tour de France title. The man who won all 3 Ardennes in 2011 however, could only place 6th in Amstel Gold, 3rd in La Flèche Wallonne and 16th in Liège. The Tour de France went to Wiggins (Sky), with teammate Froome in 2nd, with Evans finishing 7th behind teammate Van Gerderen in 5th. The loss of both his National Championships awaited him in August, yet so did the Vuelta. Despite not having a win yet in 2012, he broke away and stayed away with Rodríquez to take the win on stage 9, then beat Valverde to the line on stage 19.

Despite a somewhat quiet season in comparison to his dominating 2011, Gilbert couldn’t have asked for a better finish at the World Championships. Launching his attack on the final ascent of the Cauberg – a climb featured in the Amstel Gold Race which he attacked off and won in 2011 – he never faltered and took the rainbow jersey. The Italians struggled on the Cauberg, while the prominent Spanish team left with Valverde only finishing 3rd, with Norway’s Boasson Hagen finishing 2nd.

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Source: OASport.it. Gilbert distances Boassen Hagen and Valverde.

His year in the rainbow stripes began with a 2nd place behind Sagan (Cannondale) at Brabantse Pijl, as well as a 5th place finish in Amstel Gold. The 99th edition of Liège-Bastogne-Liège culminated in an attack by Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharp) to overtake Rodríguez and win, with Gilbert finishing 7th in the same group as Costa (Movistar) and Gerrans (GreenEDGE). The Tour of Belgium in May provided Gilbert with a toughly fought 3rd place, only 5 seconds behind winner Martin (Omega Pharma-Quick Step).

Once again the Vuelta provided Gilbert with a Grand Tour win, and once again Boasson Hagen (Sky) found himself in 2nd behind him. Despite the Norwegian looking as if he’d already had the stage wrapped up, Gilbert never relented and passed him metres before the line.

First win in Rainbows

Photo: AFP.

Back to business in the 2014 spring, the Belgian won on home soil once again at Brabantse Pijl, in a fierce bunch sprint to beat Matthews (GreenEDGE) and Gallopin (Lotto-Belisol).

“This was a particularly emotional win for me. My wife and my kids were here for the first time in two years. So to have won will be something they will never forget. I have been dreaming of this…” – Gilbert after winning his 3rd Amstel Gold Race.

A Cauberg attack and Philippe Gilbert go together like Chris Froome and a yellow jersey. Attacking at the base of the climb at the Amstel Gold Race, he left the peloton behind and the following attacks from the likes of Valverde (Movistar), Gerrans (GreenEDGE) and Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) could never bridge to him.

He took 5 wins in under a month, with the Mountains classification in the Tour de Picardie at the end of May and the Points classification in the Tour of Belgium. In addition, Philippe won the prologue, stage 4 and overall of Ster ZLM Toer in June – for the 3rd time in his career after winning in 2009 and 2011 also. A stage 2 win and the overall at the Tour of Beijing wrapped up the Belgian’s 2014 season.

“Three times I have won the race in the same way: by winning the queen stage in the Ardennes and then controlling the last day. So to do it three times with the same scenario makes it a pretty special victory.” Philippe Gilbert after the Ster ZLM Toer.

While recent Tour success mainly derived from the Vuelta, stage 12 at the Giro d’Italia in 2015 was built for Classics specialists with a short uphill finish. Up stepped Philippe Gilbert: who took the win ahead of Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo). An attack 19km out on stage 18 with no rider able to keep up with his pace secured his second stage win at the Grand Tour.

“I’m not interested in second place, third place or fourth place. That’s losing. For me it’s all about winning. Maybe in 10 years time I’ll look back and I’ll count the times I was on the podium in a big race. But at the moment I don’t care about them. I just ride to win. Of course I try to do my best and take second if I can’t win. But first of all I try to win. That’s how I try to ride a race.” – Philippe Gilbert, CyclingNews.

While 2012 saw Gilbert pass both his National Championships jerseys over, and miss the start line in 2015, he was back for the win in 2016. A man not interested in any podium place except the top spot, the Belgian was gunning for his 2nd National title, 5 years after securing his first. An combined Gilbert/Wellens (Lotto-Soudal)/de Plus(Lotto-Soudal U23) attack from 50km out to catch then drop de Gendt (Lotto-Soudal) and eventually distance de Plus saw the two leaders develop a lead which led to the ability for a tactical sprint. Compared to the likes of track sprints, the two road cyclists tried to force the other to the front – with a big enough gap to the chasers that meant Gilbert and Wellens could almost stop cycling entirely to push the other to go first. The two were weaving across the road, Gilbert constantly looking behind to see Wellens attached to his wheel. Fully committing himself with 100m to go, Gilbert had enough distance over Wellens to raise his hands in the air as he crossed the line.

Gilbert gaining his 2nd National Championship jersey was the 4th of the year for Team BMC. Australian Rohan Dennis won their time trial, as did Taylor Phinney of USA, along with the Italian Manuel Quinziato. No wonder BMC were time trial extraordinaires, winning the TTT at both Tirreno-Adriatico and the Eneco Tour and numerous team classifications.

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Photo: CorVos.

2017 – a new season and a new team for Philippe Gilbert on a one-year contact. Now riding for Quick-Step Floors (still with no sponsorship for 2018), he finds himself riding alongside fellow Belgian classics specialist Boonen, as well as Sprint King Kittel, Alaphilippe (rider review here), and Gaviria – who beat then-world champion Cavendish in two sprint stages at the 2015 Tour de San Luis.

His season has been impressive so far, with a 2nd place at E3 Harelbeke yet most impressively – his 55km solo break and win at the Tour of Flanders. Gilbert isn’t a stranger to attacking from 50km out and winning, from his 2008 Omloop Het Volk win as well as his Nationals win in 2016.  At the 2017 Tour of Flanders, he launched his attack at the Oude Kwaremont ascent and never looked back, with enough of a gap to carry his bike over the line above his head. De Ronde? Destroyed.

Not stopping there, the Boar of the Ardennes found himself in a break alongside 2017 Milan-San Remo winner Kwiatkowski (Sky) at 2017 Amstel Gold. Both winners of the race – Gilbert in 2010, 2011 and 2014, with Kwiatkowski’s win in 2015, could the Belgian make it 4?

Of course. While Kwiatkowski launched his sprint early, a headwind worked to his disadvantage, and the Belgian closed the slight gap to launch himself round, taking the win. Yet unknown until after the end of the race – Gilbert had a tear in his kidney from an earlier crash and had rode 130km to take the win despite this.

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Photo: SBS.com

Philippe is unfortunately now ruled out of the rest of the Ardennes classics, with Alaphilippe missing Liège-Bastogne-Liège with a knee injury. Yet with the form Gilbert is on – can he be riding himself into a contract for next year? Hopefully. One more year of uninjured Philippe Gilbert – or as many more as he feels fit – would be exciting to watch.

“The thing that I hate the most in cycling is giving up.” – Philippe Gilbert, taken from PodiumCafe.com

Paris-Roubaix: 2017

“Paris-Roubaix is the last test of madness that the sport of cycling puts before its participants…. A hardship approaching the threshold of cruelty.” – Jacques Goddet, former Race Director.

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The 115th Paris-Roubaix wrote its way into the history books in unforgettable style, with the fastest edition of the Monument yet, culminating in a five-man sprint won by Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) with an average speed of 45.2 kilometres per hour – the delayed start due to a three-quarter tail wind not slowing them down.

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Photo: ASO/P. Ballet.

The majority of the fanfare before, during and after the 257.5km Queens of the Classics went in the direction of Tom Boonen (Quick-Step), who placed 13th in his final race before his retirement. The Belgian announced his plans to hang up his cycling shoes in July last year, but pencilled a new contract that would take him to the finish of the 2017 Roubaix. With his last race on his home soil of Belgium just 4 days’ prior with Scheldeprijs, Boonen had been receiving ample attention recently from fans, media and various professional cyclists acknowledging his large career. He was aiming for a 5th Roubaix win, but this dream was not to be. Hindered by a lack of support with injured teammates, Terpstra crashing and abandoning with 115km to go and Declercq later reported as abandoned, and missing an important split caused by Trek, Quick-Step then relied on the experience of Štybar, 2nd placed in the 2015 edition of Roubaix.

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Source: CyclingTips.

“It was only at the 5km to go mark that I began thinking, ‘these are the last kilometres of my career’”. – Tom Boonen (Quick-Step Floors).

The first break of the day took a while to construct, and by the first hour in the saddle many riders had tried and failed to go clear of the speeding peloton. Eventually Martinez (Delko Marseille) and Wallays (Lotto Soudal), found themselves clear alongside Belgian Delage (FDJ) before the first cobbled sector at Troisville. They could never establish enough of a distance to impact the race however, and were reeled in. Many of the ‘smaller’ teams found themselves fighting at the front for sponsor airtime. Speaking of which, despite Boonen being a prominent name in Roubaix, and the recent success of Gilbert at the Tour of Flanders, Quick-Step Floors sponsorship is still set to finish at the end of the year – with no sponsors signed on for 2018. However, their manager Patrick Lefevere is sure the team will be in the peloton next year.

“Nothing is certain… I have always planned for the worst case scenario. My deadline is June 30 and I will honour that. The talks are going in the right direction. The team will be in the peloton at the start of 2018.”

While the “Hell of the North” is frequently used to discuss Paris-Roubaix, with its iconic unsmooth road surfaces and cobblestones truly a hell for riders, it did not earn this name from the beginning of its induction in 1896 – when most roads were derived of cobblestone. L’enfer du Nord was derived from the impact of the First World War, with the majority of Northern France ravaged in 1919.

To describe it as “hell” was the only word. The little party had seen the hell of the north – in this particular case, the French administrative region of the North in which Roubaix stands. And that’s how they reported it in their papers next day. But hell was the post-war condition, not the state of the roads. Nobody thought the roads were hellish because that’s just how roads were. But come 1944 and liberation from the second world war, recovery brought better, smoother and straighter roads. And something curious happened. Just as in the Tour of Flanders, people began grew nostalgic for the bad old days. What was the point of Paris-Roubaix if all it had were fine, restored highways? – Taken from Autobus.CyclingNews.com, Tales of the Peloton, April 18, 2006. The Real Hell of the North.

With the year prior seeing crashes impact favourites like Cancellara (then Trek) as well as force 2 Team Sky riders to hit the ground, the 2017 edition was expected to be just as unforgiving. A high speed crash involving the likes of Naesen (AG2R) and Dougall (Dimension Data), as well as birthday boy Durbridge later (Orica) taken down. While Bewley (Orica) abandoned after giving Durbridge his bike in true teammate fashion, Naesen dusted himself off and ferociously fought back, being a looming figure at the front of the race and finishing 31st, despite a broken derailleur, a crash and four punctures. Even a 2016 3rd placed Stannard (Sky) now found himself caught out, and with a back wheel puncture he relented to stop during a cobbled section as the peloton drove forward, refusing to lose any precious time. Most significantly, Van Avermaet found himself in trouble just kilometres before the Arenberg. A replacement bike needed after a crash just before the Wallers section of cobbles, he was stranded with a minute behind him and Boonen, who was subsequently kicking up the pace at the front of the peloton. While he was shouting down the radio desperately, conveniently for BMC, Kristoff punctured. As the peloton hit the symbolic cobbled section of the Arenberg, legendary time trialist and TT World Champion Tony Martin (now Katusha from Quick-Step) took over the reins. While they reached the other end surprisingly unscathed, Kristoff and Van Avermaet were fiercely cutting the deficit, soon reattaching themselves to the main group.

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Van Avermaet on the chase before the Arenberg. Source: CyclingTips.

Trek’s tenacity on the Hornaing cobbles saw them employ all the bodies they could to break the spirit of many riders struggling. The split they created managed to catch out Boonen, who had to utilise a lot of his energy to catch up. Acting on this, Sagan (BORA) attacked with just under 80km to go alongside teammate Bodnar, BMC’s Oss and Trek’s Stuyven. While Bora’s plans were short lived – a back wheel puncture for Sagan saw both him and Bodnar stop – Oss and Stuyven carried on. Catching them were Roelandts (Lotto Soudal) and Claeys (Cofidis) and Moscon (Sky) – the latter of this trio impressing once more at Paris Roubaix.  Whilst in the 2016 edition, “Il Trattore” saw himself crash on a cobbled section in the front group, he stayed upright this year to clinch 5th in a determined show which saw many wondering just how exciting this Italian’s future will be.

Hayman’s fairy-tale story in the 2016 Roubaix was not to be repeated this year, yet Orica had found Keukeleire in contention when Hayman missed the move on Mons-en-Pévèle, but the 27 year old from Belgium found himself in trouble after crashing into nettles and puncturing on the Mérignies à Avelin section.

“I knew I needed to be at the front there and for whatever reason … Jens [Keukeleire] made it, I think there were 15 guys. For whatever reason I missed that, I had a bad patch. Jens had a bit of trouble and then we came back to Boonen’s group, but those guys [Van Avermate and Stybar] had already gone.” – Mathew Hayman, Orica Scott.

Meanwhile, Sagan was still not finished. Attacking once more, he attempted to bridge, yet another puncture saw the World Champion unfortunately silenced. Van Avermaet rode past him to join his teammate Oss, alongside Langeveld, Moscon, Roelandts, Stuyven and Štybar. Job more than done for the day, Oss started slowing as the leading group showed no sign of relenting.

With 15km until the famed Roubaix finish line inside the Vélodrome André-Pétrieux, Van Avermaet ignited on the Carrefour de l’Arbre, with Štybar (Quick-Step) and Langeveld (Cannondale) joining before breaking and staying away, with the duo Moscon (Sky) and Stuyven behind them. The favoured Belgian Boonen was once again caught at the wrong point as this split occurred, yet stayed to the fore in the group behind Moscon and Stuyven to make sure he finished his last Paris-Roubaix in 13th place. His teammate Štybar’s persistence in refusing to work on the front while Van Avermaet and Langeveld picked up the slack for him ultimately did not pay off for either teammate Boonen or himself, as despite conserving energy, the Czech finished 2nd on the velodrome once again. It was a fierce contest, with the trio playing a dangerous cat and mouse game which saw them slow so much the duo rejoined them once more. Looking for his chance and unable to allow Boonen the chance to catch up, Moscon launched his attack with Van Avermaet crucially staying in Štybar’s slipstream to launch himself over the finish line first.

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Photo: Yuzuru Sunada.

“In the end I was a bit afraid of Štybar because he wasn’t working with us. I’m really happy to have finally won a Monument because I’ve had a long wait for this. I had a bit of bad luck before the Arenberg but the team did good work. Everybody was in the right place for me and Daniel Oss did really good work and everything came together for me.” – Greg Van Avermaet after winning the 2017 Paris-Roubaix.

As quickly as the riders seemed to finish the race, Paris-Roubaix came and went, another Monument in the cycling calendar gone. With Greg Van Avermaet having a sensational season so far – winning Omloop Het Nieuwsblad in February, E3 in March and Gent-Wevelgem just two days’ after, it is any surprise the Classics King for 2017 (so far) would snatch a Monument this year too?

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Talking Points:

  • Where would Sagan have placed if he hadn’t punctured twice?
  • If Boonen was on the right end of the split, would he have finished any higher?
  • If Kristoff didn’t need service just before the Arenberg and Martin hadn’t controlled the peloton, what would’ve happened to Van Avermat’s Roubaix hopes?
  • If Quick-Step had more riders in contention by the Hornaing cobbles, could they have challenged like Trek and split the race?
  • Where will Greg Van Avermaet go from here?

 

Rider Reviews: [1] Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors)

Name: Julian Alaphilippe

Age: 24 years’ old

Nationality: French

Most Recent Result: 3rd, Milan-San Remo (March, 2017)

Most Recent Win: Points & Young Rider classifications, Paris-Nice (March, 2017)

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“Well, what he’s done is pretty good, isn’t it?… He probably needs to develop a little bit more. He probably will, then he could be a big one.” – Brian Holm, Etixx director.

Starting in Etixx’s development team of Etixx-IHNed in 2013 (now Klein Constantia), Alaphilippe progressed from the Continental to World Tour level a year later with Omega-Pharma Quick Step (now Quick-Step Floors). He quickly became a home favourite as one the next generation of French cyclists alongside the likes of Bardet and Pinot, after the success of Rolland and the nationalism derived by the Tour de France giving the French more of a craving for representation at World Tour level.

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Alaphilippe at the Tour de l’Avenir, 2013. Photo: Getty Images Sport.

His performance in the 2013 Tour de l’Avenir truly marked him as one for the future, with his securing of the points classification and win on stage 7. Attacking with fellow Frenchman Gougeard (now at AG2R) at the base of the final climb, they caught the leading trio, and Alaphilippe set the pace so high he distanced them all, crossing the line for his most important stage win of the year. He also impressed at the Tour de Bretagne, finishing 5th overall and winning stage 4, a sprint for the line with riders such as Renault (Sojasun) and Alafaci (Leopard-Trek Continental Team), punching the air as he crossed the line. Catching the attention of Quick-Step, he deservedly progressed to World Tour level where he gained his first podium at the 2014 Volta a Catalunya, on the first stage. He obtained his first win from the Tour de l’Ain, winning an uphill finish against Dan Martin (Slipstream-Chipotle, now Cannondale), while teammate Verona finished 3rd.

“It’s a kind of dream to win in France as a French rider. It gives me an explosion of joy, this victory. At 3 kilometers to go, at the top of the small climb, I attacked and I went full gas. In the end, I won. Also, with this victory I took the jersey as best young rider and the points jersey from the shoulders of Gianni Meersman. So, I kept the points jersey in the team and that gives me satisfaction.” Alaphilippe after winning stage 4 of the Tour de l’Ain.

2015 saw Alaphilippe’s development reach new heights, with his breakthrough year being his second year at World Tour level with Quick-Step. He did not disappoint, and the 22-year-old impressed at the Amstel Gold race. When Samuel Sánchez attacked at the base of the Cauberg in 2014, his teammate Gilbert produced a secondary attack that took the race win. Channeling this the year later in 2015, Hermans (BMC) launched his scathing charge on the Cauberg, and blew the race apart for Gilbert (BMC) to then launch his attack which only a select few could follow. While in the moment, only Matthews (Orica) could stick to his wheel, the duo could not distance and with 1km to go, a select bunch were in contention. Alongside Alpahilippe was his then-teammate, World Champion Kwiatkowski, Valverde (Movistar), Van Avermaet (BMC) and Rui Costa (Lampre). Alaphilippe finished 7th while his teammate Kwiatkowski won.

Alaphilippe truly proved he was a force to be reckoned with at La Flèche Wallonne only 3 days later. When Wellens (BMC) was devastatingly caught with 1km to go on the Muur, Kwiatkowski was not to be seen, struggling on the Côte de Saint-Nicolas. Yet when Quick-Step’s directeur sportif commanded “Go! Go!” through the radio, Alaphilippe launched his sprint on Valverde’s wheel, with Albasini (Orica) also in the mix. The win was not to be, but a more than impressive 2nd place to add to his palmarès was welcomed by both Julian, and the team. Déjà vu occurred just 4 days later at Liège–Bastogne–Liège, with April providing Alaphilippe with one of the most career defining months of his life so far. Valverde again took the win, and this time Alaphilippe was 2nd behind him once more, his form showing. He was originally in the group including Visconti (Movistar) and Costa (Lampre) who were chasing down Kreuziger (Tinkoff), Fuglsang (Astana) and Caruso (Katusha). In the final kilometers, Moreno (Katusha) attempted to break away yet could not, and as Valverde won, Rodríguez slowed and Alaphillipe rode past him to take second once again, the best position for a French rider since Jalabert in 1998. His hunger showed, as he was clearly angry at only finishing 2nd on the finish line, waving his arm in frustration.

“I really felt I could have done something more” – Alaphilippe after finishing 2nd at Liège–Bastogne–Liège.

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Alaphilippe expressing his anger at finishing 2nd. Photo: JB/PN/Cor Vos.

May brought another 2nd place for Alaphilippe, this time in the Tour of California. He went one step higher on stage 7, winning the queen stage, tackling two Category 2 mountains and a Hors Category. Following Sergio Henao’s (Sky) attack which Sagan (Tinkoff) could not keep up with, he dropped Henao to win on Mount Baldy in dramatic conditions involving bad road surfaces and snow covering the sides of the road. Despite holding the general classification after this stage, he lost to Sagan by 3 seconds, as a perfectly timed bike throw from the Tinkoff rider gave him 3rd place on the last stage by inches, with the closest winning margin in the Tour’s history, yet Alaphilippe won the white jersey after holding it from stage 3 to the finish on stage 8. In June he finished 5th at the National Road Race Championships behind winner Tronet, Gallopin, Chavanel and Barguil.

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Photo: Greg K Hull. Chasing Light Media.

Towards the end of the season, he finished 8th in the clásica de San Sebastián, and 10th at the Eneco Tour, yet following a DNF in the Road World Championships, it was revealed Alaphilippe had been diagnosed with mononucleosis, ending his 2015 season.

2016 saw the return of Alaphilippe’s form, and the return of his 2nd place behind Valverde at La Flèche Wallonne in April. The month after saw one of his most impressive wins to date, finishing 21 seconds in front of Rohan Dennis (BMC) to take the overall win at the Tour of California and his stage 3 win saw him finish first on a mountain stage ahead of the likes of Ten Dam (Giant), Dennis, Sanchez (BMC) and Talansky (Cannondale). Just like in 2015 at Mount Baldy, this win cast him into the lead, yet in the 2016 edition he pulled off a large acceleration to catch, then pass Stetina (Trek). Stetina was seemingly edging closer to his first win after comeback from injury, he had crashed into a metal pole at the Tour of the Basque Country in April 2015, breaking numerous ribs and his knee cap. Yet this would not come today, as the Frenchman accelerated again to cross the line ahead of him.

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Photo: AFP.

“When we came here, on the first day, I said [Alaphilippe] is going to win California. He has had good results in other races, and everybody knew he was strong for this race.” – Peter Sagan on Julian Alaphilippe.

After successfully gaining another youth classification win to add to his ever growing list, this time at the Critérium du Dauphiné, Alaphilippe crossed the line in 5th at the National Road Race Championships. His success for France didn’t stop there, as Julian was also just beaten to the line by Sagan at the European Road Championships. He was looking incredibly likely to medal in the crash-filled Olympic Road Race at Rio, yet an unlucky timed crash on his descent of the Vista Chinesa prevented him from joining the attack from Van Avermaet and Fuglsang to bridge to then-leader Majka, and Alaphilippe crossed the line in 4th, just 22 seconds down on Avermaet. It’s interesting to think of his positioning possibilities, as Majka was surely weakened by leading on his own, and the hard work put in to chase by Avermaet and Fuglsang would’ve been divided by 3 if equal turns were taken, conserving energy. Yet we must look to the 2020 Games in Tokyo to see Alaphilippe’s Olympic medaling chances.

“It had to be a tactical win especially against Alaphilippe who is impossible to follow on a short uphill” – Vichot on Alaphilippe’s uphill advantages at the National Championships.

 “I wasn’t going to chase my team-mate and I couldn’t take the risk of bringing Alaphilippe to the line. I wasn’t 100% sure of beating him.” – Dumoulin on the risk of sprinting against Alaphilippe at the National Championships.

One of Alaphilippe’s many stand out performances in 2016 derived from his attacking in the Tour de France. Most prominently, his 4-hour breakaway. But first, his stage 13 time-trial – one of the most memorable moments for Tour de France viewers. An unexpected gust of wind blew the Quick-Step rider completely off course and into a jagged mountainside on the left of the road after going over 32 miles per hour. Surprisingly, he was left relatively unscathed and carried on regardless.

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Alaphilippe crashing at the Tour de France. Source: Twitter.com, HistoryOnSepia.

Stage 15 was described by many as the hardest stage of the Tour, and it was Alaphilippe’s to lose, being the apparent strongest out of the quartet involving Pantano (IAM), Majka (Tinkoff) and Zakarin (Katusha). Just before the final climb of Lacets du Colombier, a mechanical he suffered caused a crash, and lose the stage he did. This didn’t dampen his fighting spirit however, as the next day he was more prepared for a challenge than ever. Who better to spend 4 long hours in the saddle, off the front with, then the Panzerwagen himself: Tony Martin? Teammates at the time (now Martin has found himself at Katusha), the stage after Alaphilippe saw his Tour de France stage win hopes disappear, the duo attacked in the first 15km and weren’t caught until 145km later. Both riders gained the combativity award that day, and Julian had nothing but praise for his Etixx teammate. This wasn’t the younger of the pair’s first taste of success at the Tour either, he had been leading the youth classification and wearing the maillot blanc from stages 2 to 6. Alaphilippe’s successful season ended with a 10th place at the Grand Prix Cycliste de Montréal in September.

I suffered a lot after yesterday’s stage, and I suffered a lot in his wheel today. I don’t know how he’s that strong but these kind of days are enriching for me, and chapeau to him.” – Julian Alaphilippe on teammate Tony Martin.

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Picture: Mantey Stephane/L’Equipe.

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Source: Twitter.com

His 2017 season has begun in fine form, gaining another young rider classification win at the Abu Dhabi Tour, as well as a top 5 placing. A hotly contested Paris-Nice (which saw Sky’s Sergio Henao win by 2 seconds from Contador, Trek) saw Alaphilippe lead for 3 days before unfortunately cracking on the penultimate stage, yet ultimately finishing 5th. He held four top-5 finishes, helped Quick-Step win the team classification and won yet another young rider classification with the points classification his also. He impressed with his stage 4 win, a 14.5km time trial – his first win in this discipline. 2017’s Paris-Nice was definitely one of the highlights of Alaphilippe’s cycling career so far.

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Photos: Christophe Ena/AP, Getty Images Sport.

After Sagan’s attack on the Poggio at Milan-San Remo shook the race up, dropped favourites and left teams improvising, Alaphilippe and Kwiatkowski (now Sky) were the only ones to follow. A fierce sprint could not have brought the riders closer, and Kwiatkowski took the win, with Alaphilippe just in 3rd.

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Photo: Cor Vos, LaPresse – D’Alberto/Ferrari.

It’s no secret Julian Alaphilippe truly is a remarkable rider, yet what makes him an even more exciting prospect is the fact he is only 24. His palmarès are indeed something to brag about, but this Quick-Step rider shows no doing of that. This cyclist is only going to get better, and this will be exciting to watch – not only for the French, but cycling fans alike.

Ronde van Vlaanderen: 2017

 “I will remember every second”Philippe Gilbert, Ronde van Vlaanderen 2017 winner.

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The 101st edition of the Tour of Flanders, Ronde van Vlaanderen, De Ronde, or simply “Vlaanderens Mooiste” (Flanders’ Finest) truly produced one of the finest cycling races this season.

Flanders was Etixx’s race to lose, with their three-prong style attack providing them with 2 of the podium places at the end of the day, with only Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) separating them. Philippe Gilbert stood atop the podium, his impressive solo ride from 55km from the ascent of the Kwaremont, while the looming figures including Sagan (BORA) and Van Avermaet chased him down. A crash at 17km to go impeded any chance they had of catching him, and were only seen in the distance as Gilbert walked over the line, bike in the air, smile on his face. But where were the other favourites? How could one rider be left on his own for 55km during De Ronde?

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Source: Cycling Weekly.

The Muur

“It all started on the Muur. I was riding on Tom Boonen’s wheel and it went on from there.” – Philippe Gilbert.

After 5 long years, the Muur returned. Not in its usual, towards the end of race position, when riders are tested once again, line almost in sight, as they brave the [Flemish] “wall”, but 100km from the finish. While Cancellara attacked him on the climb in 2010 to take the win, the 2017 edition saw Boonen upping the tempo as he led the peloton over the top while teammates Gilbert and Trentin followed. A large majority of the peloton were caught out by this attack, but with the Etixx men were riders the likes of Vanmarcke (Cannondale), Rowe, Moscon (Sky) and Kristoff (Katusha). However, with 50km to the finish, Vanmarcke appeared to ride over a seam in the concrete on the road, crashing and taking down Rowe with him.

Oude Kwaremont

Philippe Gilbert launched his winning attack with 55km to go, on the ascent of the Oude Kwaremont, leaving the rest of the chasers far behind, with Sagan and Van Avermaet catching up to his teammate Boonen. What happened to Boonen? His chain slipped at the bottom of the Taaienberg climb, and his second chain on his second bike slipped moments after. When Boonen managed to gain Terpstra’s bike, this was too small, and his Flanders chances were over.

“At the end of the cobbles [Paterberg], I looked back and saw that I had a big gap. I called back to the team car, and they just said to keep going. I was worried because it was still a long way to go.” – Philippe Gilbert.

Trio’s Tumble

The last 10km of De Ronde were quite possibly some of the longest in Philippe Gilbert’s life. The trio of Sagan, the World Champion, and Van Avermaet, 2017 Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Gent–Wevelgem and E3 Harelbeke winner, as well as Naesen, 3rd placed in E3 Harelbeke the same year, were closing in behind him. It was stated that as long as Gilbert had a minute on the trio by the time they hit the last climb of Kwaremont with 17km to go, Gilbert would be very likely to win. He had exactly a minute, but disaster struck for the chasers. Sagan chose to ride to the side of the road with Van Avermaet and Naesen in tow, but he has since stated it was the jacket on the side of the barrier that brought him down. The three crashed while Cannondale’s Dylan van Baarle rode past on the other side, eventually finishing in 4th.

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Source: Cycling Weekly.

The 101st edition of the Tour of Flanders had perhaps, one of the most dramatic, eyes-glued-to-the-TV wins produced. While it can be easy to dwell on the “what ifs?”, (what if Vanmarcke attacked with Gilbert on the Kwaremont? What if Vanmarcke didn’t crash, not taking out himself and Rowe? What if Van Avermaet was further up the road when Boonen lit up the race on the Muur? What if Sagan, Van Avermaet and Naesen didn’t crash?), it is impossible to take this well-deserved win from Philippe Gilbert. After all, who else would brave an attack in De Ronde with 55km to go? With no mechanical, no crash and no bad weather impeding him, the 101st Tour of Flanders is Gilbert’s.

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Source: TDWSports.com.

2016 Season: Recap

“Cycling isn’t a game, it’s a sport. Tough, hard and unpitying, and it requires great sacrifices. One plays football, or tennis, or hockey. One doesn’t play at cycling.” –Jean de Gribaldy

As always, road cycling season kicked off Down Under, with Caleb Ewan retaining his title at the Mitchelton Bay Cycling Classic and winning the People’s Choice Classic, with fellow Orica-Greenedge teammate Simon Gerrans reclaiming his place at the top of the Tour Down Under standings. This was to be a precursor for their 2016/17 season, seeing them challenge for Grand Tour podiums and gaining more wins in the process.

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Photo: Sarah Reed.

Froome’s once-again dominating season began in February at the Jay Herald Sun Tour, with his attack on the final lap taking the final stage win and the jersey from teammate Kennaugh. Not only did Froome claim the mountains classification, but helped Team Sky win the team classification. One team lacking immediate wins were Giant-Alpecin, with six of their riders injured after a horrific head-on collision with a car on the wrong side of the road in Alicante. With Degenkolb almost losing his finger, he couldn’t defend his Milan-San Remo and Paris-Roubaix double, yet came back to take stage 4 at the Artic Race of Norway and the overall at Münsterland Giro. He announced his decision to leave Giant for Trek in August, joining Contador in their new lineup next year. Haga, the most seriously injured, was determined to not let his fractured eye socket and 96 stitches get him down, updating fans through humorous messages on Instagram and Twitter.

“That was a shit season this year. But I am still alive, life goes on.” – John Degenkolb.

March marked the start of the classics season, with Geraint Thomas taking the Paris-Nice jersey from Matthews (OGE) at the end of stage six. He was close to losing it to Contador (Tinkoff) after the next and final stage, yet support from teammate Henao ensured it remained on his shoulders for the overall win. Tirreno–Adriatico was won by Greg Van Avermaet, with Cummings (DDD) winning the longest mountain stage and Cancellara taking the final stage, a 10km time trial to San Benedetto del Tronto. The first monument of Milan-San Remo was well and truly open, with the previous winner Degenkolb out through injury, contenders Dumoulin and Greipel out with flu and broken ribs respectively, and a landslide the morning of the race changing the route. After almost 230km, a last minute crash and a mass sprint, Arnaud Démare came out on top just ahead of Ben Swift (Sky), providing FDJ with their most important win of the season. After a crash-filled 200km in the second monument of the Tour of Flanders, rainbow jersey-wearing Sagan (Tinkoff) was able to see off Cancellara (Trek) and Vanmarcke (LottoNL)

Tour of Flanders

Photo: Graham Watson.

Sometimes in cycling, there are times when a rider defies all odds, from weather, injury or opponents, giving us unexpected moments that for many end up being a highlight of the season. When Mathew Hayman (OGE) was on the team bus before Paris-Roubaix in April, his exact words were “It’ll be my 15th attempt at winning”, and when speaking on the unpredictability of Paris-Roubaix, “You can come back a lot in this race. Keep believing, keep riding, it’s not over until you get to the velodrome.” Strong words from the 37-year-old who had broken his arm 5 weeks previously, and hadn’t been racing until this day. After numerous crashes, most notably his teammate Mitch Bower and a motorbike hitting Team Sky’s Viviani, Hayman tried to break away but was reeled back in while Sagan and Cancellara, two of the main favourites, were caught out from a previous crash. Team Sky were left disjointed after a crash while setting a high pace saw Rowe, Puccio and Moscon hit the ground. While Cancellara crashed again, a group of 10 riders including Boonen (Etixx), Hayman (OGE), Rowe and Stannard (Sky), Vanmarcke (LottoNL) and Boasson Hagen (DDD) broke clear and stayed clear. In the closing kilometers, 10 was brought down to 4 as Hayman, Boonen, Stannard and Vanmarcke battled for the win.

“Hayman has won 2 professional races; Boonen has won 109. The odds are stacked against the Australian”.

Yet he was relentless and refused to give up the perfect position on Boonen’s wheel. On the final lap of the velodrome, he moved up the ramps and took advantage of the dive to build momentum. Hitting the front while Stannard edged ever closer around the top, Hayman surged towards the line, beating the sure-favourite to take his first ever Paris-Roubaix win. His look of disbelief and shock was a picture to remember, and when teammate Durbridge ran to him post-race to say congratulations, we saw just how much it meant to not only Hayman, but the team. With their frequent Backstage Passes, Orica Greenedge-turned-BikeExchange-yet-soon-to-be-Scott have given viewers a new look on cycling, with their strong team emphasis and frequent adopting of their foreign teammates into the Australian culture. (Looking at you, Esteban Chaves.)

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Source: Bryn Lennon/Getty Images Europe.

The Classics season finished with a triumph for Team Sky, with Wout Poels battling through snow and rain to win Liège–Bastogne–Liège towards the end of April, with previous champion Valverde having “his worst performance in the race since 2012”.

Grand Tour season arrived with the 99th edition of the Giro d’Italia. While winner Nibali (AST) and 3rd placed Valverde (MOV) were pre-race favourites, it was 2nd placed Esteban Chaves and his Orica teammates who deserve the biggest mention.

Whether it’s Boonen against Hayman or Froome and Sagan against sprinters on a sprint stage, everyone loves an underdog. Going into stage 19, Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL) was one of the strongest riders in the entire Giro. He held the pink jersey and had a comfortable 3-minute advantage over his nearest rival of Chaves (OGE), with Nibali trailing by almost 5 minutes. Yet Grand Tours are often unpredictable, as we saw from the 2014 Tour de France which saw Nibali take the win after both his rivals Froome and Contador crashed out. The sunny start to stage 19 was simply false hope, with snow later flanking dangerous roads as riders battled through fog. Chaves kept the jersey fight alive, attacking when he could while Kruijswijk stayed calm and followed, the pair leaving Valverde behind. Yet with just under 50KM to go, he crashed into a snow bank on the Colle dell’Agnello. This led to the jersey passing shoulders onto Esteban Chaves, and Orica thrown into even more of a fierce GC battle, only 40 seconds in front of Nibali. Stage 20 was to prove just as heartbreaking as the day previous, with Nibali attacking on the penultimate climb and Chaves desperately trying to stay with him, to no avail. Help from fellow countryman Uran (Cannondale) was sporting, channeling Richie Porte and Simon Clarke from the Giro the year before, yet proved fruitless. Though his team had tried their hardest to keep the jersey, they had all but lost it on the final day – yet this simply made them determined for more.

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Source: Sky Sports.

The Tour de France. Deemed by many as the greatest bike race on the planet, the 2016 edition proved Team Sky’s dominance once again, as Chris Froome took his 3rd Tour de France win ahead of Bardet (AG2R) and Quintana (Movistar) in July. For those who believe the Sky domination is making the race boring – there was plenty of drama this year. Through Contador’s early crashes on stage 1, 2 and his withdrawal on stage 9, to the sudden deflation of the 1KM to go banner on Adam Yates, causing him to flip over the top at speed in the white jersey, the Tour de France was as dangerous as it was unpredictable.

Who could forget this moment?

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Source: Sky Sports.

The crowd bottleneck, the stopped motorbike, the rider pileup which included the prized Maillot Jaune. Viewers could hardly believe their eyes when the camera cut back to them moments later, with Froome having to run up the mountain in order to keep his jersey hopes alive. How about when Froome also shook things up on a sprint stage, coming second behind Peter Sagan, who he had cleverly worked with to gain a slight physical, yet large physiological advantage over his nearest rivals? Or how about the moment he debuted a new, interesting descending technique, winning the stage and gaining more time over his nearest rivals?

It wasn’t just Froome that provided the Tour with some memorable moments. Julian Alaphilippe (Etixx) had already found himself in the spotlight after crashing into a mountain during the stage 13 TT at over 32mph, yet he was unscathed.

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Source: Reddit.

Alaphilippe looked ready to take the stage 15 win before a mechanical saw him crash just before the final climb, and the day after he attacked with teammate Tony Martin for 4 hours over 145km, earning them both the combativity prize. Pantano (IAM) was also a Tour-standout, who alongside Majka, was left to battle for the win on stage 15 themselves after Alaphilippe was out of contention. He finished 2nd on the later stages of 17 and 20, before being called up to replace Quintana in the Columbian cycling team for the Olympics.

While the Olympics were wild, dangerous and crash-filled (see full reports of both the men’s and women’s road races here), one man saw opportunity. Fabian Cancellara, the 35-year-old Swiss, nicknamed ‘Spartacus’, hadn’t had the greatest year despite TT success in the Volta ao Algarve and Tirreno – Adriatico. He just missed a stage win tailored for him in his hometown during his final Tour de France, before pulling out to prepare for Rio. Earlier in the season, a crash saw him lose all hope of winning another Paris-Roubaix, and to add insult to injury, while holding the Swiss flag he later crashed on his velodrome lap of honour, landing in a puddle at the bottom of the track. But the gold medal at Rio was the perfect end to his final season, when he proved himself head and shoulders above the rest, beating the likes of Chris Froome, Tom Dumoulin and Tony Martin.

“It’s pretty special, I still don’t really have the words. After the disappointment in 2012, and many other up and downs that I’ve had, and this is my last season, it’s my Olympic Games and my last chance to do something. I knew that it was going to be a tough day, a challenging one with Chris Froome, Tom Dumoulin and all the others. It was an open course for all different characteristics. I have no words. Finishing, after 16 years, with the gold, it’s not bad.”

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Photo: Urs Jaudas.

The Vuelta a España proved Orica were a team to beat once again, with Esteban Chaves not only taking 3rd place overall, but Magnus Cort winning the final stage sprint. He also won stage 18, with teammates Simon Yates and Jens Keukeleire taking stages 6 and 12, respectively. Nairo Quintana took the win by 1’23 over nearest rival Chris Froome, with a fierce fight between Chaves and Contador for the final podium spot. Where Orica prospered, others floundered, and as the race pulled up in Las Rozas for the final stage, Lotto-Soudal, Giant Alpecin, Astana, and most surprisingly, Tinkoff – in their Grand Tour swan song – had yet to win a stage.

From the Vuelta a España 2016: Recap:

[Many teams left out sprinters for extra climbers, meaning the likes of Degenkolb for Giant Alpecin and Bouhanni for Cofidis weren’t to be seen. Gianni Meersman (Etixx) profited from this to take two stages as well as having the chance to wear the Green Jersey (Points Classification) for 6 stages. Valverde fought hard to gain the jersey by Madrid, yet by stage 21 it was on the shoulders on Felline (Trek) – as the only jersey which could change holders by the end of the race. Yet Valverde didn’t contest the final sprint and Felline retained it, Quintana still held the red and white jerseys, Fraile won the polka dot jersey for the 2nd time in 2 years and BMC won the team classification. At La Vuelta, road books that didn’t quite match the profile were an issue, and the Vuelta was dubbed “insanely hard” by many riders, including Tyler Farrar (Dimension Data).]

So there we are. 2016 in a nutshell. Keep an eye out for Caleb Ewan towards the start of the season Down Under, Peter Sagan, Philippe Gilbert, Greg Van Avermaet and Stannard/Rowe for the Classics, and another Froome/Quintana battle in the Grand Tours.

Vuelta a España 2016: Recap

“This morning in my head I was a winner, but I knew I had to cross the line and until you cross it you can’t say you are a champion” – Nairo Quintana, 2016 Vuelta a España winner.

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So, there we are. La Vuelta 2016 was a fierce fight to end, be it between Froome and Quintana for the red jersey, Chaves and Contador for the 3rd place or the ‘sprint teams’ for the end stage win. In the end, Quintana won his second Grand Tour by 1’23 over Froome, with Chaves and Orica BikeExchange producing one of the rides of their season to get their Columbian his deserved podium place, while also securing the final stage win with Magnus Cort Nielsen. Eight teams were yet to win a stage or a jersey by the time the riders rolled up to the starting line in Las Rozas, surprisingly including Astana, Giant Alpecin, Tinkoff and Lotto-Soudal.

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c: sports.yahoo.com

No doubts about it, this year’s Vuelta looked especially difficult. Many teams left out sprinters for extra climbers, meaning the likes of Degenkolb for Giant Alpecin and Bouhanni for Cofidis weren’t to be seen. Gianni Meersman (Etixx) profited from this to take two stages as well as having the chance to wear the Green Jersey (Points Classification) for 6 stages. Valverde fought hard to gain the jersey by Madrid, yet by stage 21 it was on the shoulders on Felline (Trek) – as the only jersey which could change holders by the end of the race. Yet Valverde didn’t contest the final sprint and Felline retained it, Quintana still held the red and white jerseys, Fraile won the polka dot jersey for the 2nd time in 2 years and BMC won the team classification. At La Vuelta, road books that didn’t quite match the profile were an issue, and the Vuelta was dubbed “insanely hard” by many riders, including Tyler Farrar (Dimension Data). Yet they persevered until the very end. Lined on the streets of Madrid were thousands of fans, the most prominent donned in Columbian shirts, there to cheer on their two men who had battled through to take two of three podium places. One of these men was Nairo Quintana.

No Doubt for Nairo

Quintana’s debut season with Movistar at the 2012 Vuelta was spent being a climbing domestique for teammate Valverde, and the pair have been somewhat ‘inseparable’ ever since – the ‘Quintana or Valverde’ battle has been especially prominent. So prominent in fact, both were implied to lead at the 2016 Vuelta, yet with a heavy focus on Quintana. They were also told to share leadership at the 2015 Tour. And the 2015 Vuelta. A dangerous move perhaps, demonstrated by the Froome/Wiggins era for Team Sky. Yet this wasn’t unnoticed by Valverde, who once took to a press conference to state “this is nothing like Froome and Wiggins, far from it.” Is the jury out on this one? While Valverde fell from GC contention after losing over 10 minutes on stage 14 (he slipped from 3rd overall to 19th), Quintana was already holding on to the red jersey, and he held it all the way to Madrid. Despite bad luck in previous GT’s (such as crosswinds) and sudden attacks from Froome (second on a sprint stage? Is there anything he can’t do?) had hampered his GC hopes, Quintana launched an attack for the stage win on stage 10 on the Lagos de Covadonga and didn’t look back – except for when he was looking for Chris Froome.

Success for the Boys in Blue

Orica GreenEDGE BikeExchange gained Vuelta success in 2012 with Simon Clarke winning the Mountains Classification. While they have no trouble winning the overall for races such as the Herald Sun Tour (2014, 2015), the Tour Down Under (2012, 2014, 2016) and have had numerous successes in team time trials, they were yet to impact in Grand Tours fighting for general classification. This all changed with the success of Adam Yates in the 2016 Tour de France – placing 4th overall and winning the White Jersey (Young Rider Classification) – and Esteban Chaves at the 2016 Giro and Vuelta – placing 2nd overall in the Giro and 3rd in La Vuelta. To quote Svein Tuft in the stage 20 BSP – it is an exciting time for Orica. They’re winning “sprint finishes, hilly sprint finishes, mountain finishes” and are now in a position to contend with Froome, Quintana, Nibali, Valverde and Contador. Esteban Chaves finished 3rd in GC, yet Orica found themselves with two men in the top 10 with Simon Yates finishing 6th as well. Not only are they now battling for podium places in Grand Tours, they’re still continuing to win stages in them too. La Vuelta was incredibly successful for OBE, with Simon Yates winning stage 6, Jens Keukeleire winning stage 12 and Magnus Cort Nielsen winning stages 18 and 21 – the most sought after sprint stage win this GT. Where will Orica-BikeExchange go from here? It’s looking pretty definite the only way is up.

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c: publimetro.co/

Froome’s Fighting Force

Chris Froome won his 3rd Tour de France after his sudden attack on the descent of the Col de Peyresourde, sprint stage attack with Sagan and Bodnar (Tinkoff) and teammate Thomas as well as his time trial win put him 4’05 in front of second placed Bardet. As well as winning the Critérium du Dauphiné, he went on to participate in a crash filled Olympic road race and took the bronze medal in the Olympic time trial, before finishing 2nd in La Vuelta by just over a minute. Froome stated the “ambush at Formigal” was the stage he lost the Vuelta, and with the considerable amount of time Froome gained back on Quintana after his time trial, it really makes you wonder how close the final podium could’ve been. After tasting so much success in just one year, many could be frustrated with the fact they finished second in the last Grand Tour of the year, especially after essentially losing it in one stage. Yet not Froome – who “of course – would have preferred to have been on the top step in Madrid, but that’s racing. I gave it my best and I’ve got to be happy with that.”  Froome can undoubtedly be proud of his success this year, and the sportsmanlike behaviour he’s held the entire way though, most notably applauding Quintana who crossed the line just in front of him on stage 20 to secure his Vuelta win. It is obvious the both of them uphold the highest respect for each other, and it’s great to see in cycling. Long may it continue.

“He is the greatest rival there is at the moment. He made me suffer at the Tour and here I have won.” – Nairo Quintana on Chris Froome.

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c: velonews.competitor.com

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c: teamsky.com

IAM’S Grand Tour Swan Song

IAM Cycling are determined to go out on a high. After the news dropped in May that IAM Cycling team owner Thétaz couldn’t find a co-sponsor for the team, they hit back to end the rest of their season with impressive wins. Kluge won their first ever GT stage at the Giro, Devenyns won the overall at the Tour of Belgium (as well as stage 2), Pantano not only won a stage at the Tour de Suisse but went on to be a threat at the Tour de France, making the break numerous times and winning stage 15, Matthias Brändle won both the Austrian Road Race and Time Trial Championships, Devenyns again won an overall – this time at the Tour de Wallonie (as well as winning stage 5) and Naesen won at the GP Ouest-France. While at their last Grand Tour of the season, IAM were keen to continue their success. Their efforts in breakaways did not go unnoticed and they also won stage 7 with Genechten and stage 16 with Mathias Frank while Pellaud wore the first ‘red number’ of the Vuelta with the combativity award. Tinkoff are also folding at the end of the season, and riders from both teams made sure to perform at the La Vuelta for a contract at a different team next season.

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While ‘Grand Tour season’ is officially over, that doesn’t mean all road cycling season is. Mid-September marks the European Championships, followed by the Eneco Tour and Milano-Torino that same month. October is the month for Il Lombardia, the road World Championships and the Abu Dhabi Tour to name but a few.