Andrew Hood – Competitive Cycling News, Race Results and Bike Reviews Thu, 30 Jun 2016 22:34:42 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Andrew Hood – 32 32 Vaughters makes ‘Moneyball’ bet on French underdog Rolland Thu, 30 Jun 2016 19:31:34 +0000 Jonathan Vaughters thinks he's found an untapped talent in Pierre Rolland. The Cannondale – Drapac team hopes to set the Frenchman up for

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SAINT-LÔ, France (VN) — How do you take on the big-money teams like Sky and Astana when your budget is less than half of theirs? Play cycling’s version of “Moneyball.”

That’s what Cannondale – Drapac manager Jonathan Vaughters is doing with his unconventional bet on French climber Pierre Rolland in this year’s Tour de France. Twice in the top-10, Rolland could be this year’s Tour surprise, or at least Vaughters is betting on it.

“We have to play a bit of ‘Moneyball’ here, when your budget is one-third of the top teams,” said Vaughters, referring to the baseball bestseller. “I had to look at statistics, to look for that diamond-in-the-rough. I think we’ve found that with Pierre.”

In baseball’s “Moneyball,” Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane used statistics and averages to search for under-valued, overlooked players to field a championship squad on the small-market team.

Vaughters’s cycling version isn’t much different. He knows he can’t match the salary muscle offered by powerhouses such as Team Sky (with an estimated annual budget of $30 million), so he dug into the results sheet to find some hidden gems in the peloton. One of his top 2016 signings for a new-look Cannondale team was French climber Rolland.

What he discovered was that Rolland, a steady climber who’s won stages at Alpe d’Huez and La Toussuire and twice finished in the top-10, would continually lose time on the flats. Vaughters noticed that once he hits the mountains, Rolland usually could stay pretty close to the favorites. In 2011, he won the best young rider’s jersey, and in 2013, he held the mountain’s jersey until the penultimate stage, losing it to Nairo Quintana due to the new rule of having double points on mountaintop finishes.

Vaughters’s hunch is that if you can bring Rolland into the mountains without major losses in the opening week, who knows how far he could go.

“This Tour de France is like an 18-round fight, with no knock-outs,” Vaughters said. “With this parcours, it’s hard and it’s back-loaded with a brutal final week, and we have a guy who is capable of surviving a slow and nasty slugfest. Pierre is perfectly suited for that.”

Whether the Rolland, 29, can defy the odds, and live up to Vaughters’s enthusiastic expectations remains to be seen. This spring, 15th at Tour de Romandie and 10th at the Critérium du Dauphiné, suggest he’s on track for a potentially strong and consistent Tour. He’s trimmed down from 71kg to 66kg (145 pounds), ready for the Tour’s unforgiving steeps.

To back his hunch, Vaughters isn’t afraid to defy convention, and brought several classics-style riders to chaperone Rolland through the first week of what many are calling the hardest Tour route in decades.

“We’ve brought a lot of big, mean Dutch guys to keep him safe, and put him on par with the others for the mountains. Then it’s up to him to be with the strongest,” Vaughters said. “If we can prevent him from losing time on the flat stages, he won’t be 10 or 12 minutes behind when he hits the mountains.”

For the flats, Rolland will see help from experienced hands such as Matti Breschel, Kristijan Koren, Sebastian Langeveld, Ramunas Navardauskas, and Dylan Van Baarle. Once the road tilts up, Lawson Craddock, Alex Howes, and Tom-Jelte Slagter will pace him in the mountains.

Rolland is quietly confident he can surprise the favorites, and perhaps ride into the top-five if things go well. After attending altitude camps this season for the first time in his career, Rolland is ready to deliver on the bet the team has placed on him.

“I have a great team for the crosswinds,” Rolland said. “I am looking for the GC in this Tour, and maybe a stage win, too. I hope to get past the flat stages and go well in the mountains.”

If the “Moneyball” bet pays off on Rolland, it would a new chapter in the franchise’s record of squeezing out impressive victories against some of the peloton’s biggest hitters. The team has won a grand tour (the 2012 Giro d’Italia with Ryder Hesjedal), one-day classics (the 2011 Paris-Roubaix with Johan Van Summeren; 2013 Liège-Bastogne-Liege and 2014 Giro di Lombardia with Dan Martin), and one-week stage races, including the 2014 Critérium du Dauphiné with Andrew Talansky. All those wins have cut against convention.

“Sometimes we leave people scratching their heads, but our tactics are never conservative,” Vaughters said. “We’ll never out-horsepower everyone, but we can try other things. We’ll be looking for a sneak attack. This Tour is ideal for that.”

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Contador says Tour might not be decided until stage 20 Thu, 30 Jun 2016 18:49:24 +0000 Alberto Contador confirms that he'll race for two more years. But right now, the two-time Tour de France champion is scheming a way to beat

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SAINT-LÔ, France (VN) — Feeling fresh and motivated as ever, Alberto Contador is cautiously optimistic ahead of the 2016 Tour de France.

The 32-year-old reconfirmed Thursday he will race for two more seasons (with a possible move to Trek—Segafredo to fill the hole left by soon-to-be retired Fabian Cancellara), but said his mind is on the here and now.

“My future is still open, but I will race for two more seasons,” Tinkoff’s GC man confirmed during a pre-Tour press conference. “Right now, I am focused on the Tour. I’ve worked very hard to try to win another title.”

Last year, Contador was out-gunned after coming into the Tour weary from winning the Giro d’Italia, riding to fifth in Paris. This July, the Spanish superstar has shrugged off a pre-race cold that kept him out of the Spanish national championships last weekend and said he’s ready to win.

“I feel fresher, stronger than last year,” Contador said. “I was able to prepare the way I wanted. I feel good and I am confident. In 25 days, we’ll see if it’s my Tour or not. I have the condition to win it.”

After a strong spring, Contador also shrugged off his loss to Sky’s Chris Froome at the Critérium du Dauphiné, saying he “lacked leg speed” during the June warm-up, and said he’s ready for the Tour.

Contador is on a quest to claim another yellow jersey. A winner in 2007 and 2009, his 2010 title was taken away as part of his clenbuterol case, meaning he has two yellow jerseys on his official palmares. He missed the 2012 Tour, and was out-classed by Sky’s Chris Froome in 2013. The following season, he crashed out in the Vosges, while in 2015, he attempted the Giro-Tour double.

Contador admitted that Froome is the man to beat, though he has edged the two-time Tour winner in other races, including the Vuelta a España. But so far, he’s been unable to seriously challenge Sky’s stranglehold on yellow in July.

“Froome is the top favorite, because he’s won before, and his team is incredible,” Contador said. “You cannot overlook Nairo [Quintana], due to his quality and his team, but Froome is surrounded by big champions at Sky.”

Contador said he would continue with his trademark attacking style, saying, “It’s complicated to change the way one races,” and said the Tour could come down to who can recover best throughout the endless string of climbing stages.

“Recovery will be key in this Tour,” Contador said. “You have to be attentive in the first week and not lose any time, but the decisive part will come in the final week, and perhaps it won’t be decided until stage 20.”

Like last year, Contador will share the team with world champion Peter Sagan, who will be chasing the green jersey as well as stage victories. And like last year, Contador doesn’t see that as a problem.

“It’s a pleasure to share this team with Peter,” Contador said. “He is the rider with more pure class than I’ve ever seen in my career. At any given moment, he can shake up the Tour, so to count on him is an advantage, not an inconvenience.”

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Who is Nairo Quintana? Thu, 30 Jun 2016 12:44:57 +0000 Nairo Quintana's story is woven with a mix of myth and incredible truth. The man who hopes to become South America's first Tour winner is a

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At the end of the 2015 Tour de France, after three weeks and 3,000 kilometers of intense racing, it all came down to the 21 switchbacks of cycling’s most famous climb. A new rivalry was reaching its apogee: Chris Froome and Nairo Quintana were locked in an intense duel for the yellow jersey on l’Alpe d’Huez.

The two riders from two different worlds were separated by just 2:38. Africa’s first Tour winner, Froome only had to hang on to win his second maillot jaune. Quintana, the fearless Colombian climber, wanted South America’s first.

Their styles, backgrounds, and personalities couldn’t be more contrasting. The prototypical modern racer, Froome was educated at private school and then molded to physical perfection by Sky’s computer-generated training program. Quintana, by contrast, was born in the shadow of the Andes into poverty. He had clawed his way to the top of the peloton on pure talent and raw ambition.

Sharing the same mental fortitude and physical blessings, the two men converged on cycling’s greatest climb in front of 400,000 screaming witnesses.

Quintana’s opening salvo came before the first switchback. A second surge came moments later, distancing Alberto Contador. After each effort, Sky teammates Richie Porte and Wout Poels reeled in Quintana, but Froome was put on the ropes.

“It’s not a pleasant feeling, believe me,” Froome says about the pain Quintana can inflict. “You know he’s going to attack, and you know it’s going to hurt.”

Tim De Waele |
Tim De Waele |

With Movistar’s Winner Anacona waiting higher on the mountain, the team sent Alejandro Valverde on the attack, and the trap was set. Quintana eased next to Froome as if to say, “Here it comes. Can you follow me?” He catapulted a third time, and the elastic snapped. Ten seconds grew to 20, then to 45, and finally more than a minute. Froome was weathering a barrage unlike any he had seen before.

Quintana kept pouring it on, squeezing tremendous power from his 5-feet-6, 130-pound frame. Froome was reduced to a mess of wobbling shoulders, elbows, and knees.

“I was dying a thousand deaths. I wouldn’t lie. There was a moment there when it could have gone the other way.”
– Chris Froome

It took 39 minutes and 22 seconds for the tiny Colombian to cross the line (the 14th fastest time in Tour history and the only rider in the post-biological passport era to make the top 20), but in the end he simply ran out of road. Froome held on to the lead by just 1:12. There was no stage win (that went to Frenchman Thibaut Pinot), no yellow jersey, but no regrets, either.

Ever the disruptor, Quintana is re-writing the rulebook of modern racing. With his unorthodox background in cycling, his immense talent, and his ambition to be the best, he’s primed to once again challenge Froome at the 2016 race. Only a handful of pure climbers have won the Tour and this audacious Colombian seems to have destiny on his side.

“Nairo is the best pure talent I’ve seen in 25 years,” says three-time Tour winner Greg LeMond. “He could be the Eddy Merckx of South America.”

A CYCLIST’S HOME DEFINES him, both physically and spiritually, and Quintana’s journey to last summer’s battle on the Alpe is unlike any in the peloton. Much of his background is cloaked in mystery and misconception, and separating myth from reality requires some scrutiny. This much we know: Quintana was raised in a two-story adobe home his father built in a village called Vereda La Concepción, perched above Cómbita, the region’s main city, along the sub-tropical edge of the Colombian Andes. At nearly 10,000 feet, it’s so far off the grid you can’t even find it on Google Maps. Some journalists have painted a picture of Third World misery, but Quintana says that’s far from the truth.

“I don’t come from some lost little village in the mountains. We don’t live in the jungle,” he said after winning the 2014 Giro. “We were never rich, but we never were for want of something. That’s the ignorance of people who do not know what exists on the other side of the world.”

Quintana’s parents raised their five children with dignity on a small land holding. His father sold vegetables in local markets, and his mother ran a strict, Catholic household, making sure her five children all graduated high school. In the stratified Colombian society, the rich live in the valleys, and the poor on the upper slopes. In today’s peloton where pros seek out altitude camps at Tenerife and Mount Etna, Quintana’s birthplace is his first marginal gain.

“Where Nairo can cause the most damage is on the long, steep climbs,” Movistar trainer Mikel Zabala said in a Canal+ documentary. “That’s where his power-to-weight ratio gives him a huge difference to the others. Living at altitude his whole life gives him a huge advantage.”

“Nairo is the best pure talent I’ve seen in 25 years.”
– Greg LeMond

Without giving away his secrets, Movistar suggests Quintana’s sustained power output to be around 6.4 to 6.5 watts per kilogram. And in Europe, where the highest climbs top out at about 8,750 feet, that’s still well below where Quintana was born and raised.

Those close to Quintana say he learned at an early age to stand his ground, an important lesson for a small cyclist in a peloton overflowing with testosterone. During one race early in his debut season, a big classic specialist was grappling with Quintana for position. Quintana responded by punching him in the gut. Team Movistar director Eusebio Unzué laughs at such stories, and says it’s the kind of mental and physical fortitude that Quintana needed to overcome the hurdles of his childhood.

“He has the mindset of a big champion,” Unzué says. “I have never seen a rider so confident in himself as Nairo.”

Another popular myth of the Quintana origin story is that he rode a clunky, second-hand mountain bike up and down a 15-kilometer pass to school every day because his family was too poor to afford bus tickets. The part about the mountain bike, the pass, and the school is true. But he chose to ride his bike so the bus fare could be used for other things.

As a scrawny 12-year-old, hefting a backpack full of books and wearing cut-off jeans and sneakers, he made the daily 20-mile round-trip over the equivalent of a second category climb and would occasionally link up with groups of trim cyclists donning Lycra and riding carbon fiber frames. Quintana quickly discovered that the bicycle served as a great equalizer in life.

“I would never get dropped,” Quintana recalls with a smile. “One day, when I beat them to the top of the climb, I went home and told my father I wanted to become a cyclist.”

In a family where every peso counted, Quintana’s quest to race his bike became a family affair: His father saved $40 to buy a second-hand, steel-frame road bike with drop handlebars. His mother stitched together a patchwork of clothing to resemble a racing jersey. His sister gave earnings from her work as a nanny to help him buy better tires. Years later, the first thing he did with his first major prize money from a European race was to buy his mother a washing machine.

Nairo Quintana and his mother after winning the 2014 Giro d'Italia. Tim De Waele |
Nairo Quintana and his mother after winning the 2014 Giro d’Italia. Tim De Waele |

With the pragmatism of his rural upbringing, the bicycle was a tool to create a better life, but it soon became an extension of his identity. On the bike, he was no longer little “Nairito” but big, bad Quintana. He could smash everyone.

“For me, cycling is a passion that has given me a good life, and because of that I enjoy it even more,” Quintana explains. “At first, it was almost an obligation, and I didn’t have fun. Only later did I really enjoy it, and slowly it went from being an obligation to my passion.”

At 18, Quintana caught his first big break when he joined the local semi-pro team called Boyacá Es Para Vivirla (Boyacá is for enjoying it). The team gave him his first carbon fiber frame, an Orbea with racing wheels. That opened the door to Europe, and he earned a spot on the Colombian national team to race the 2010 Tour de l’Avenir, a seminal step in Quintana’s trajectory.

That year’s Avenir start list was riddled with names that came out of the legendary “Class of 1990.” Taylor Phinney and John Degenkolb won stages, with Michael Matthews and Romain Bardet also racing. Andrew Talansky was second, but Quintana smashed the final two mountain stages to secure the overall. Everyone was blown away by the unheralded Colombian.

Esteban Chaves, Orica’s Colombian climber, was roommates with Quintana at the race. “He was very determined to win,” says Chaves, who won the race in 2011. “We were all very proud to show that we could race against the Europeans.”

“For me, cycling is a passion that has given me a good life, and because of that I enjoy it even more.”
– Nairo Quintana

It was during that stage race that another tale of the Quintana legend would be written. The European riders were pushing and elbowing the Colombians in the peloton, brake-checking them in corners, and pulling on their jerseys to get them out of the way. Some riders even spat on them and cursed them as “fucking Indians.” Quintana took matters into his own hands and drove one of the most vocal bullies into a ditch. After that, everyone gave the Colombians more space.

QUINTANA’S OTHERWORLDLY RESULTS — he now has two Tour podiums and a win at the 2014 Giro d’Italia — have transformed him into Colombia’s top sports celebrity. He’s made three trips to Colombia’s presidential palace, and has surpassed Real Madrid striker James Rodríguez in terms of national popularity.

Cycling fans might see an extraordinary climber, but for Colombians, Quintana is a transcendent figure. In a culturally diverse nation, Colombia boasts 48 million inhabitants that range from indigenous peoples in the Andes and the Amazon, to descendants of ex-slaves and caribeños along the coasts, and urban European descendants in the cities. Quintana’s rise is akin to Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in baseball.

“Nairo is a hero of the people,” explains Matt Rendell, a cycling journalist and Quintana confidante. “Nairo represents the rural memory of a modern nation. He is self-reliant, a self-starter, confident, but also vulnerable. In many ways, he embodies the diversity of a modern Colombia.”

Quintana’s rise also parallels Colombia’s political and economic revival, following decades of political turmoil and cocaine-fueled violence. Quintana personifies modern Colombia and has emerged as an icon of a peaceful, robust nation.

“Nairo is the idol of Colombia,” Chaves says. “For me, he is the best of what Colombia is today.”

By his own admission, Quintana has struggled to come to terms with his unexpected and sudden fame, but he is finding a way to put his high-profile status to use. He is collaborating with NGOs — one to promote infant health and another to combat violence against women — and he’s backing a cycling development team. He’s also a budding entrepreneur and is working with associates to build his name and image into a brand across Colombia and the rest of Latin America.

“Nairo is the idol of Colombia. For me, he is the best of what Colombia is today.”
– Esteban Chaves

As remarkable as Quintana’s life has been, he almost didn’t survive infancy. He was born sickly, malnourished, and underweight. In the rural, agricultural mountain communities of Colombia, locals believe in a condition called “tiento de difunto.” Translated as “touched by a corpse,” it’s a belief that if a pregnant mother touches a dying person, the death spirit can be passed on to the unborn infant.

Knowing of this condition is essential to understanding the Quintana narrative. Fearing for their son’s life, his parents brought him to a local curandero, a type of shaman or healer, who used local herbs and natural medicines to revive their baby.

In an interview with the Spanish daily El País in 2013, Quintana elaborated: “These are diseases that do not occur everywhere in the world, but that doesn’t mean they are not real. My parents had to really fight to save me, to resuscitate me, or even revive me, because there were days when they said I was a cadaver.”

Tim De Waele |
Tim De Waele |

LAST FALL, IN THE shadow of the Spanish Pyrenees, Quintana gathered with his Movistar squad at team headquarters to map out the 2016 season. It’s all about one goal: the yellow jersey. Enzué says Quintana thinks of nothing else.

“You can see details in his vision, his ambition, how he carries himself,” Unzué says. “You see that he is not a normal rider.”

Now 61, with his floppy bangs still hanging low over his forehead, Unzué is the Phil Jackson of Spanish cycling. He won one Tour with Pedro Delgado and five with Miguel Indurain. He’s been in and around the elite peloton for more than 30 years, but admits he’s never seen anything like Quintana.

“On equal conditions, Nairo is the world’s best climber,” Unzue said.

To win the Tour takes more than a good motor. It also requires bike-handling skills, determination, ambition, and a strong character. Quintana has it all.

When team captain Valverde lost 10 minutes in the first week of the 2013 Tour, Quintana was thrust into the leadership role. Movistar sport director and ex-pro José Luís Arrieta, who’s emerged as Quintana’s righthand man, was taken aback by how well his pupil handled the situation. Within days, Quintana attacked up Mont Ventoux, with Froome eventually taking the win. Pushed beyond his limits, Quintana finished second and collapsed into the arms of a soigneur on top of cycling’s most famous mountain.

“He was a Tour rookie riding like he’d done 10 Tours,” Arrieta says. “Most riders would have cracked under the pressure, but he handled it as if it was just any other bike race.”

In 2014, Unzué convinced Quintana it was better to race the Giro d’Italia to win than to face off against a superior Froome at the Tour and likely lose. Quintana accepted the challenge. He overcame a blizzard on the Stelvio and a bout of bronchitis in the first week to become the first Colombian to win the Italian grand tour.

Quintana’s rise is akin to Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in baseball.

Quintana looks back at the 2015 season with mixed feelings. In his mind, he “lost” the Tour in the opening road stage, when a tempest blew off the North Atlantic in the transition stage across the dykes of Holland. A late crash split the bunch, and Quintana was caught out. He lost 1:28 to Froome. Nearly three weeks later, that would be 16 seconds more than his losing margin in Paris.

“The most important thing is to avoid a setback like last year,” Quintana says. “The Tour would have ended differently [last year] if we hadn’t had that bad luck.”

More importantly, Quintana discovered how to successfully attack Froome. To get to the Brit, Quintana knows that he needs to get past Sky’s support team of Poels, Thomas, and likely Mikel Landa. Quintana tweaked his training to emphasize short, intense efforts. The strategy is to put Sky’s lieutenants in the red, thus isolating Froome. It worked on l’Alpe d’Huez last year, and Movistar believes Quintana can do it again.

But Movistar’s all-in bet for the mountains could expose Quintana’s soft underbelly. Movistar has multiple climbers, but it lacks Sky’s brawny trio of Ian Stannard, Luke Rowe, and the versatile Geraint Thomas, who can control the flats. Quintana’s top rouleur, Adriano Malori, may never race again after suffering head injuries during a crash at the 2016 Tour de San Luís.

Movistar signed Portuguese time trialist Nelson Oliveira to help. But even with Jonathan Castroviejo and classics strongman Imanol Erviti by his side, Quintana’s flank is open in the crosswinds. Movistar knows that Sky will attack this weakness.

The Tour’s time trials will also test Quintana, who traditionally loses time to Froome in the race against the clock. The first 37-kilometer time trial comes after the Pyrenees and Mont Ventoux, which could fatigue Froome. The second time trial, a 17-kilometer climbing course to Megève, will simply suit the strongest rider in the race.

The Tour’s final week is laden with three consecutive summit finales, as well as the climb up the Joux-Plane into Morzine. Quintana won a stage of the 2012 Critérium du Dauphiné on this route.

“We know that Froome will have the advantage in the time trials,” Unzué says. “Nairo is a climber, so our tactic is pretty simple: We protect him and then let him attack.”

“I think after the way I suffered so much as a baby, maybe God gave me another chance to do something good, to excel in something.”
– Nairo Quintana

BY LATE MAY, QUINTANA sounded confident with his Tour ambitions. He will line up with 32 days of racing in his legs, about the same as his principal rivals. He also won the Tour of Romandie, which has been a bellwether for Tour de France success. Cadel Evans, Bradley Wiggins, and Froome all won the Swiss race en route to winning the Tour. Quintana saw that as a good sign.

“Let’s hope the myth remains true, and that my dream of winning the Tour can come true,” Quintana says. “I know what’s working for me, and I don’t pay too much attention to the others. The goal is to arrive in top condition for the Tour.”

The rider that shows up at Mont-Saint-Michel for the 2016 Tour de France is dramatically different than the shy rookie who took the peloton by storm in 2013. Last winter, he started using a new personal hashtag on social media, #sueñoamarillo (yellow-jersey dream), and it perfectly sums up his mindset and aspirations. An entire nation shares his dream, and he doesn’t want to let them down.

When the infant Nairo was fighting for his life, the healer told his parents that if he survived he would go on to achieve great things.

“I think after the way I suffered so much as a baby, maybe God gave me another chance to do something good, to excel in something,” Quintana told El País. “Here I am.”

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Greipel’s lead-out man reveals the secrets of the sprint Wed, 29 Jun 2016 14:54:12 +0000 Tour de France sprints are carefully choreographed high-speed battles. Lotto – Soudal's Marcel Sieberg explains how he helps teammate

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SAINT LO, France (VN) — Ever notice how sprinters celebrate after they win a stage? It’s a volcano of unbridled emotion and joy. The peloton’s fastest riders hug their teammates as if they’ve just been released from prison for a crime they didn’t commit.

Why are they so thankful? Perhaps more than anyone in the peloton, sprinters win or lose depending on their teammates. Without a solid lead-out, a steady wheel, or a strong train, the sprinters know that freelance victories are hard to come by in the law-of-the-jungle world of the mass sprints.

In the 2015 Tour de France, André Greipel (Lotto – Soudal) won four stages to confirm his status as one of the best and most consistent sprinters in the game. After winning three stages at the Giro d’Italia, Greipel has won at least one stage in nine straight grand tours he’s started since the 2008 Giro.

For 2016, Greipel returns to the Tour to pick up on his career-best of last season. Leading him out will be his well-oiled and finely tuned “Gorilla Express” at Lotto – Soudal.

When André wins, it’s a win for me, too. He is also one of my best friends. It’s something special when you can work for a really good friend, who is also a teammate.
– Marcel Sieberg

A few weeks before the Tour, VeloNews talked with Marcel Sieberg, one of Greipel’s longtime teammates and key lead-out men in the highly successful Lotto train. Without a GC option, Lotto – Soudal brings a team stacked with lead-out men who can also hunt for breakaway stage victories deeper in the race. On the sprint stages, however, it’s all hands on deck for Greipel.

At 34, Sieberg has been with Greipel since their days at the High Road organization. The six-foot-six German has sacrificed much of his career so that Greipel can win (134 victories).

Sieberg talked us through what it takes to win a sprint stage at the Tour de France:

Building a unit:

“We’ve had a nice group of guys together for quite a few years. A few of us came across from High Road [Greipel, Greg Henderson, Sieberg, Lars Bak, and Adam Hansen all raced together at HTC]. We know each other well, and we each know how to do our jobs. It’s a good unit, with a lot of experience, but we’re also all good friends. This year, we will have Jurgen Roelandts, and our train will be even better.”

Setting realistic goals:

“We always go to the Tour with the goal of winning one stage. It’s very hard to win at the Tour, because the sprinters’ level is very high. Once you have one, you go for a second, and a third. To win last year on the Champs-Élysées was something special. For a sprinter, that’s like winning on top of Alpe d’Huez if you’re a climber.”

Andre Greipel stormed to his fourth Tour stage win of 2015 on the most famous boulevard in the world, the Champs-Élysées. Photo: Jim Fryer | BrakeThrough Media |
Andre Greipel stormed to his fourth Tour stage win of 2015 on the most famous boulevard in the world, the Champs-Élysées. Photo: Jim Fryer | BrakeThrough Media |

Targeting stages:

“All the teams know when there is going to be a sprint, so it’s pretty obvious, especially in the first half of the race. It’s harder to control the breakaways, especially in the second half, because the legs are getting tired from the mountains. There are not many opportunities for sprints these days, so when the stage looks good for the sprinters, all the teams are working together for the same goal.”

Assigning roles:

“Everyone on the team has a role to play in the sprint. A lot of it depends on what’s happening in the breakaway. Like last year, we will have Thomas De Gendt controlling the group. He will go to the front and set a strong tempo. Sometimes the peloton is going so fast, you don’t even need to pull. When the GC guys are at the front, the speed is already very high.”

Final 10km:

“The break is usually caught, and we keep the speed is high to keep other riders from attacking late. We have Lars Bak to bring us into position as we get closer to the line. He makes sure everyone is together, usually on one side of the road. Most teams do that these days, so it’s not as complicated to keep everyone together as it used to be.”

3km to go:

“Lars rides as long as possible, and then we have Tony Gallopin take over with 3km to go. He sets a high pace, and then Adam Hansen takes us over and brings us close to the flame rouge.”

Red kite:

“I start just before 1km to go. The speed is very fast. At this point, the most important thing is to keep position. Everyone is really fighting hard at this point. There is a lot of bumping. Most of the riders know how far they can go, but some take too many risks that are a problem for everyone. André is very respectful, and sometimes I wish he would fight even more. He prefers to let his legs do the talking.”

André is very respectful, and sometimes I wish he would fight even more. He prefers to let his legs do the talking.
– Marcel Sieberg

500m to go:

“It then happens very fast. I usually peel off with 500m or 600m to go, and I try to drop them off on a good wheel. Last year, we had Jens Debusschere go behind me, and he is very good at positioning, especially on finishes with cornering. Roelandts will also be there for the final, and we will see where he fits in. Henderson is usually the last to pull for André, and they know each other very well. Hendy knows where to drop André, or lead him out to the line. Hendy usually can tell straight away if André is going to win. When I see Hendy’s arms going up, I know we’ve done our job.”

Final sprint:

“André is always searching for a fast wheel. It’s always chaotic in the final sprint, and you have to adapt. You have to improvise depending on the stage. The Tour is always a bit different than other races because there are so many trains fighting for position. When André has a clean shot to the finish line, we know he is very hard to beat.”

Power numbers:

“It’s a bit different every day, and it depends on the conditions, but I am usually at 900 watts to 1,000 watts for 20 to 30 seconds. The final sprint can be double that.”


“When André wins, it’s a win for me, too. He is also one of my best friends. It’s something special when you can work for a really good friend, who is also a teammate. It’s easy to ride for him. André knows that he needs a team to win, and we have a nice group that’s been together a few years now.”


“We get a small bonus when he wins, but it’s not about that. It’s more about doing your job, and doing it the correct way. There is a professional satisfaction, but we are also like a family on this team.”

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Tour route: Five ways the race will be won — or lost Tue, 28 Jun 2016 21:54:14 +0000 The 2016 Tour de France route is exceptionally difficult in unexpected ways. Andrew Hood considers the perils of the Pyrenees, Mont

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Make no mistake about it. The 2016 edition is the hardest route the Tour de France has served up in a long time.

The old saying goes that every Tour is hard, but don’t get misled by the fact there are “only” four summit finales. This Tour packs more punch than any route in recent history, with the mountains coming early in stage 7, leaving barely any breathing room all the way to Paris. With Sky’s Chris Froome, Movistar’s Nairo Quintana and Tinkoff’s Alberto Contador lining up as five-star favorites, the course should deliver a wildly unpredictable race worthy of such a deep GC field.

Froome put it best when he said, “The winner will need to be able to do a little bit of everything.”

This will be a dynamic, engaging Tour route that will require the absolute best from the GC contenders.

A few things to consider: First, there is no prologue, individual time trial, or a team time trial in the first week, so there will be no major differences among the GC favorites until the peloton hits mountains. Unless, of course, someone crashes, and that means an even more stressful first week as GC riders fight for position and the sprinters try to get their wins. Fans will love it, the racers won’t.

Second, the mountains come early, and hang around all the way to Paris. If you don’t count the Massif Central, the first major climbs hit in stage 7, early compared to Tour tradition. And with Mont Ventoux sandwiched in between three stages in the Pyrénées and five in the Alps, there is almost no time for recovery. The climbers know this is their best chance to win the Tour.

And third, the time trials don’t favor the specialists, meaning the lumpy course in stage 13 and the mountain course in stage 18 will tip the balance away from Froome, and toward the climbers who will be desperate to limit their losses.

And finally, just to add another twist to an intriguing route, a few of the key mountain stages end with descents.

The upshot? This will be a dynamic, engaging Tour route that will require the absolute best from the GC contenders.

So what is the best tactic? Attack early, like Froome did in 2015, and hold on? Or keep the powder dry for the brutal final week, and pin everything on late-race aggression, much like Quintana tried at Alpe d’Huez? Teams will need to improvise as well as have a strategy in mind on such a dynamic course.

Here are the key moments when the 2016 Tour de France will be won (and lost):

Stress test

The 2016 Tour opens with a real road stage, and unfolds in the first week in a series of classics-like stages that will present plenty of traps for the GC favorites. There is not one particular stage where the booby trap could be waiting. Instead, the whole first week is something to survive for the podium contenders. And the worse part is that disaster can strike at any moment — a touch of a wheel mid-stage, the clash of bodies in the bunch sprint, or an echelon in the crosswinds. Sprinters will have their opportunities, but there are some punchy finales where positioning and strength will create some fractures in the bunch. The verdict? A stressful first week.

“No way will all the GC favorites arrive to the Pyrénées on the same time,” said Trek – Segafredo’s Markel Irizar. “The first week is so stressful, and everyone will be at the front, trying to keep their GC leaders in good position. There will be crashes, and leaders will get caught out. It’s even worse because there are no time trials before the mountains.”

Pyrénées, a chance to attack early

The first major climb in the 2016 Tour comes early, with the Col d’Aspin in stage 7. From there, three days across the Pyrénées simply get harder with each passing kilometer. Stage 8 to Bagnères de Luchon features two first-category climbs as well as the HC Tourmalet mid-stage, while stage 9 dips into Andorra, ending atop the HC Arcalis climb for the Tour’s first summit finish. Will Sky repeat its successful tactic from last year’s Tour, when Froome blew everyone out of the water on the first uphill finale? It can try, but the stages unfold differently this year, with downhill finales in both stages 7 and 8, meaning the stages will be harder to control, especially with riders attacking over the top of the climbs onto the descents. The uphill finale to Arcalis will be the first real test of the GC contenders, and anyone with good legs will want to take advantage if they can. Though not decisive this year, three days across the Pyrénées will certainly set the tone among the GC contenders. Will it put the kibosh on the race like last year? Probably not.

“I like the mountains in this year’s Tour, especially the summit finales,” Quintana said. “Andorra will already be hard, and there will be some gaps.”

2013 Tour de France - Bastille Day on the Ventoux

Ventoux, TT combo: important turning point

What a nasty combo Tour organizers have thrown at the peloton with stages 12 and 13. At least the peloton will have a few days to blow out the cobwebs coming off the first rest day before sweating up Mont Ventoux in stage 12. With a few bumps along the way, the peloton will head straight up the Géant de Provence at full speed. In 2013, Froome and Quintana had an epic battle on the flanks of the Tour’s most famous mountain. With the time trial on tap the next day, the climbers will be under pressure to crack Froome. The Tour’s first of two TTs immediately follows with the 37.5km challenging test. It opens with a 360-meter climb in the first 7km, and tackles another 180 meters in the final part of the course, meaning riders like Contador, Quintana, and Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) should limit their losses to Froome.

If Froome can come out of the Ventoux-TT combo with a firm grip on the yellow jersey, the race could be on for the podium. If it’s still close, of if someone else is in the maillot jaune, the final week has the makings of a classic.

“The time trial after Ventoux will be very tough,” said Tinkoff sport director Stephen De Jongh. “All the mountains are hard in the Tour, so it’s hard to say which ones will be decisive. The final week will be very challenging.”

Kingmaker in the Alps

Five brutal days across the Alps will decide the 2016 Tour. Two summit finales, a climbing time trial, and two more trap-laden stages set the stage for a potentially explosive battle for yellow. Stage 15 delivers the HC Grand Colombier, one of France’s most deceptively difficult climbs, and then the first-category Lacets du Grand Colombier before a wild descent to the line. Two stages later, the HC summit finale to Finaut-Emisson will see a brutal fight among the GC contenders, likely thinning the yellow jersey candidates to just two or three riders.

The 17km climbing time trial to Megève, at more than 600 vertical meters, will favor the strong, but likely won’t deliver major differences unless someone is completely cooked. Two more days across the Alps should put a punctuation mark on the GC fight. Stage 19 ends atop the first-category Le Bettex, while the penultimate stage crests the HC Joux Plane before a descent into Morzine.

“The back-ended nature of the Tour favors his [Pierre Rolland] qualities perfectly,” said Cannondale manager Jonathan Vaughters. “He might not be the most explosive rider, but in the final week of the Tour, he will surprise a few folks.”

Perhaps that’s what this Tour will be about — holding on, and then making some pointed attacks in the third week. Such a hard course could tempt some to hold back, wait, and simply try to out-grind their rivals. With so much climbing, it’s doubtful anyone will have enough in the tank to attack every day, so riders and teams will need to gauge their efforts, dole out effective attacks to take gains, and then ride defensively to protect a lead. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen. With ambitious riders like Quintana and Fabio Aru (Astana), and old-warrior Contador knowing this could be his best last chance, the attacks will come. And there are another half-dozen favorites waiting in the wings to step up if the GC stars tumble.

It will be a wild, three-week ride, and whoever stands on the top spot in Paris will be a worthy winner.

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Will one of these five Americans take a win at le Tour? Mon, 27 Jun 2016 17:55:42 +0000 The 2016 Tour de France will see five American starters. That's an increase over last year, but some significant names, like Andrew

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Five is better than three, but it’s still a relatively thin field of Americans racing the 2016 Tour de France.

With Cannondale confirming its Tour roster Monday, naming Alex Howes and Lawson Craddock among its nine starters, the U.S. presence in the Tour peloton sees a slight bump from a near-record low of three last year, to five U.S. starters. It appears Tour rookie Antoine Duchesne (Direct Energie) will be Canada’s lone starter.

Several high-profile North Americans are missing this year’s Tour de France, including Ryder Hesjedal (Trek – Segafredo), Tyler Farrar (Dimension Data), Andrew Talansky (Cannondale), and Taylor Phinney (BMC Racing).

What happened? Like every year, a mix of injuries, team dynamics, and season goals came into the equation.

That’s the case for Farrar, 32, who was the odd man out at Dimension Data. In 2015, Farrar, a winner of a Tour stage in 2011 (the last by an American), slotted into the role as team captain at MTN – Qhubeka, a position he embraced after admitting that his best sprinting years were behind him. With the arrival of Mark Cavendish, who brought Mark Renshaw and Bernard Eisel (who took over Farrar’s road captain role) to help in the sprints, there was no room left for Farrar. The team wanted to bring at least three Africans — Daniel Teklehaimanot, Reinardt Van Rensburg, and Tour rookie Natnael Berhane — and it also had stage-hunters Edvald Boasson Hagen and Steve Cummings, with Serge Pauwels assuming a GC role.

“This was a really tough decision to make,” said Dimension Data principal Douglas Ryder. “All the riders on the squad have stepped up, and shown their potential to be in the Tour de France squad.”

Trek – Segafredo’s Ryder Hesjedal posted a picture of himself on Twitter at the beach, writing, “The Tour just wasn’t in the cards this year,” meaning that Duchesne is likely to be the only Canadian rider in this year’s Tour.

Cannondale’s Andrew Talansky already announced last week he would be missing this year’s Tour, citing unspecified personal reasons and a goal of taking on the Vuelta a España, while Olympics-bound Taylor Phinney was also nudged from a spot at BMC Racing.

“If we could have selected 11 riders, we would have,” said BMC Racing sport director Yvon Ledanois. “In the end, I think we have chose a fantastic group of riders.”

So who’s in? For the Stars and Stripes, there are five Tour-bound riders. All hail from the three U.S.-registered WorldTour teams.

Last year, only three Americans raced (Farrar, van Garderen, and Talansky), the lowest number in two decades. With five, the participation inches up, but is still short of the record number of 10 Americans in a Tour (in 1986 and 2011, see below).

Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing) returns to his sixth Tour with a new role sharing the GC load with Richie Porte. Twice fifth, van Garderen was forced out of last year’s Tour with illness. A stage win at the Tour de Suisse confirmed he’s on form, but it will be interesting to see who takes over leadership of the team.

Brent Bookwalter, who is also Rio-bound in August and who signed a contract extension for 2017 on Monday, returns for his fourth career Tour start, and his first since 2013. Following a solid spring, with third at the Amgen Tour of California, eighth at Ruta del Sol, and 12th at Strade Bianche, Bookwalter will be one of the team’s key workers for the hilly transition stages and early climbs.

In one of the best comeback stories in the peloton, Trek – Segafredo’s Peter Stetina is back in the big dance following his horrific crash at the 2015 Vuelta al País Vasco (Tour of the Basque Country). After a solid spring to confirm he’s back in top shape, he will slot in as a key helper for Trek’s GC man Bauke Mollema.

Cannondale brings Howes for his second Tour start while Craddock makes his Tour debut. Canadian Michael Woods, who missed a planned Giro d’Italia start with injury, and Ben King did not make the cut.

American riders in Tour de France by year:
2016 — 5
2015 — 3
2014 — 9
2013 — 6
2012 — 8
2011 — 10
2010 — 8
2009 — 7
2008 — 4
2007 — 6
2006 — 8
2005 — 9
2004 — 7
2003 — 6
2002 — 9
2001 — 8
2000 — 9
1999 — 8
1998 — 6
1997 — 6
1996 — 3
1995 — 2
1994 — 3
1993 — 3
1992 — 5
1991 — 5
1990 — 7
1989 — 5
1988 — 6
1987 — 7
1986 — 10
1985 — 2
1984 — 2
1983 — 1
1982 — 1
1981 — 1

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Unzué: ‘Nairo is ready to win the Tour’ Mon, 27 Jun 2016 12:45:45 +0000 "Nairo is the peloton’s best climber right now," says Movistar manager Eusebio Unzué

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Movistar boss Eusebio Unzué believes the third time will be a charm for Nairo Quintana, who says his young protégé is “ready to win” the Tour de France.

Sometimes it’s hard to remember that Quintana has only raced two Tours — each time second to Sky’s Chris Froome in 2013 and 2015 — and for the Colombian’s third crack at the yellow jersey, Unzué says the peloton will see an even better Quintana this July.

“This will be the best version of Nairo,” Unzué said. “He’s now more confident, more prepared, with a higher level of experience. Now he is ready to win the Tour.”

How is he better? The Colombian is already considered the most dangerous pure climber in the peloton, but Unzué said Quintana has matured both on and off the bike. For one, he believes Quintana will surprise in the time trial stages during this year’s Tour, but Unzué also sees a wiser, more experienced racer than the one who exploded onto the international stage in 2013 as Tour runner-up.

“To be close to victory makes you want it more, to work harder, to really realize what you have to do to win the Tour,” Unzué told VeloNews in an interview. “Nairo now is more meticulous, he’s more professional. We know he has the class, but there is more to win the Tour. Now there is nothing holding back Nairo.”

The veteran Spanish sports director has worked with some of the biggest names in Tour history, including Pedro Delgado and Miguel Indurain. In a career that spans four decades, Unzué admits that Quintana is something special.

“Nairo is convinced that when he races, he is going to win,” Unzué continues. “He has the mind of a big champion. He is very confident. That’s why it was almost a blessing in disguise to have finished second.”

It was Unzué who made the controversial call to keep Quintana out of the 2014 Tour de France, and slotting him into the Giro d’Italia instead. Unzué could never have guessed that both Froome and Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) would have both crashed out, but Unzué is unapologetic.

“Nairo needed to know what it took to win a grand tour, and the 2014 Giro was perfect,” he said. “He’s only raced the Tour twice, but those two years have served like a ‘masters degree.’ Now the next exams will be able the chance for him to show that he can win something as big as the Tour. He is ready.”

Unzué is a key figure in Quintana’s entrée to Europe. After he won the 2010 Tour de l’Avenir, Unzué invited this plucky Colombian to undergo physiological testing at Movistar’s base in Pamplona, Spain. Technicians wired up Quintana, but they thought the power numbers had to be a mistake, and ran the tests again. After the third try, the technician called Unzué with the results. At 18, Quintana was putting out power equivalent to a seasoned pro, and soon had his first professional contract.

When Quintana hit Europe in 2012, he was intent on proving his value. He won his third pro race, the two-stage Vuelta a Murcia in February, and then won a mountain stage at the Critérium du Dauphiné across the French Alps ahead of Cadel Evans, Bradley Wiggins, and Froome. Unzué was convinced he had something special when Quintana rode to 36th in his grand tour debut in that year’s Vuelta a España.

“It was in his first year, in the last week of his first grand tour at the Vuelta, is when I realized that he is a big rider,” recalls Unzué. “He was only 21, but the way that he was capable of finishing off the race so strong. You can see details in his vision, his ambition, how he carries himself, you see that he is not a normal rider.”

Quintana’s been on a tear this spring, winning the Volta a Catalunya and Tour de Romandie, and the Route du Sud last week in his return to Europe. Movistar will bring a strong squad to back Quintana, with Alejandro Valverde, third last year, completed committed to helping his younger teammate. Unzué said they are not in any way intimidated by Sky’s superstar team: “We have full respect of Froome and Team Sky. He is the strongest rider in grand tours the last five years. To beat him won’t be easy.”

Many think the additional time trial kilometers in this year’s Tour could torpedo Quintana’s chances against the superior Froome, but Unzué’s not among them.

“For his size and weight, he’s actually a very good time trialist,” he said about Quintana. “Against the specialists, he will lose time like a rider like Froome, but against the others, not so much, and even he can win time. We believe this Tour will be won in the mountains, and Nairo is the peloton’s best climber right now. We have reason to be optimistic.”

Movistar confirms Tour roster
Also Monday, Movistar confirmed its Tour roster. As expected, Valverde will slot in as a super domestique, with an eye on building form for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games. Also tapped are Portuguese roleur Nelson Oliveira, Colombian climber and Quintana confidante Winner Annacona, as well as Spanish riders Imano Erviti, Gorka and Ion Izagirre, Dani Moreno, and Jesús Herrada. Notable names left off are Andrey Amador, Alex Dowsett, Fran Ventoso, Jonathan Castroviejo, and new Spanish road champ JJ Rojas.

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Contador suffering from cold with one week until Tour Sat, 25 Jun 2016 13:34:20 +0000 Alberto Contador is skipping Spanish nationals with a minor cold, but his Tinkoff team says it's nothing to worry about

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Better safe than sorry. Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) isn’t taking any risks before the Tour de France, and after coming down with a minor cold, he pulled out of the Spanish national championships this weekend as a precaution.

Tinkoff team officials confirmed Contador has come down with a “resfriado” — a minor cold — and won’t be racing until the Tour starts Saturday next weekend in Normandy.

“Nothing serious,” a team spokesman said. “It’s better not to risk. We expect everything to be perfect for the start of the Tour.”

The announcement came as a surprise because Contador rarely competes in Spanish nationals, and the course was a good one for him. Jesús Hernandez, a Tinkoff teammate and helper, also pulled out.

Any health problems ahead of the Tour can raise red flags, but officials insist it’s nothing serious. Contador was training at altitude at Livigno, Italy, following the Critérium du Dauphiné.

The two-time Tour winner enjoyed his best spring in years, but couldn’t match archrival Chris Froome (Sky) at the Dauphiné. The veteran remains optimistic he will be even better for the Tour.

Tinkoff will announce its final Tour lineup Tuesday, via a live webcast from Moscow with team owner Oleg Tinkov. Contador should see strong support from such riders as Hernandez, Romain Kreuziger, and Rafal Majka, with world champion Peter Sagan chasing another green jersey.

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Explainer: ASO wins again in latest reform agreement Fri, 24 Jun 2016 13:42:55 +0000 The ASO comes out on top in latest reform agreement

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Thursday’s announcement of a detente between the UCI and cycling’s most powerful player was big news short on detail.

Reading between the lines, it was easy to see that the Amaury Sports Organisation (owners of Tour de France and a large chunk of the WorldTour calendar) came up the big winner.

The long-running effort to “reform” elite men’s cycling has been watered down so much that its latest incarnation is little more than status quo on how elite men’s professional cycling looks today. Anyone hoping for a major restructuring of the sport will be disappointed. There are no permanent licenses for teams looking to create NFL-style franchises. There is no streamlined racing calendar without overlapping races. No new rights for teams or racers. And certainly no restructuring of the economic model, and sharing of TV rights and other revenue streams.

The agreement approved by the UCI’s Professional Cycling Council averts a potentially disastrous “war,” but at a relatively high cost to teams and even the UCI itself. ASO comes out even stronger, with its position at the top of the sport more consolidated.

Here is a quick explainer of the key points of the agreement, and what it means for teams, the UCI, ASO, and fans:

What does this agreement do?
In the short-term, it avoids the immediate threat of a permanent break between ASO and the UCI. There are several key points. First, it maintains, and expands the WorldTour calendar, with the presence of all of ASO’s events. That right there is huge, especially in light of ASO’s threat to pull its races out of the WorldTour. Another key point is that it also trims the WorldTour league to 16 teams by 2018, and also creates a “challenge” system in that the top-ranked second-tier team bounces up to the WorldTour, and the bottom-ranked WorldTour team drops down. The more radical ideas in the initial reform were already long off the table. This is “reform light,” with ASO coming up aces.

Who wins?
ASO is the clear winner here. The French company gets largely what it wanted, and sees a tighter grip over its catalogue of races. (ASO’s portfolio includes the Tour de France, Vuelta a España, Paris-Nice, Critérium du Dauphiné, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Paris-Roubaix, Arctic Race of Norway, Worlds Ports Classic, and Tour of Yorkshire, among others, and has links to the Amgen Tour of California, Santos Tour Down Under, and the Tours of Oman and Qatar). The agreement gives nothing away, other than agreeing to continue to allow the WorldTour-level teams entry into all of its races and for ASO to remain under the guise of the UCI. With this agreement, ASO effectively neutralizes all threats to its monopoly-like control of its races. After all, ASO is a private, for-profit business, and with this deal, it will continue to operate that way unchallenged.

What does the UCI gain?
The UCI can take satisfaction in that it avoids a costly and potentially disastrous stalemate or even a split with ASO. New races will be added to the WorldTour calendar (no official list yet, but likely the Amgen Tour of California, a new Tour of Germany, perhaps one or two of the Middle East races, and some key European events). The biggest surprise is the inclusion of a “challenge” system.

Who loses?
From the teams’ perspective, they do. Under the latest agreement, teams are guaranteed two-year licenses through 2018, and even if a team is relegated in the first challenge season going into 2019, it will have a “soft landing” and be allowed to race in all WorldTour events. That means today’s top teams will have, according to Thursday’s announcement, “stability for the three seasons from 2017 to 2019.” Teams certainly won’t be happy about that clever wording, however. Teams quietly sense they’ve been sold out, and as one team manager posted on Twitter, “business interests and entrenchment of monopoly won out over athletes’ rights and team stability.”

Why cap at 16 teams?
Another major point is to cap the WorldTour-level teams at 16 by 2018. That’s down from the original idea of 20 teams initially floated a decade ago when the “ProTour wars” started with then-UCI president Hein Verbruggen. The number of 16 also reflects the economic reality that it’s more difficult to find sponsors to pony up at least $15 million per season to underwrite a title sponsorship of a major team. (Teams will argue the current structure undercuts their ability to engage long-term sponsors). With such teams as IAM Cycling and Tinkoff folding at the end of this season, and other teams barely hanging on, it could prove difficult to keep the WorldTour at its current level of 18 without eroding the quality and depth of the “super-league” concept, at least how the sport is being run now. Sixteen teams also gives race organizers plenty of room for wild-card invitations, opens up more space for new team structures to have entrée to the sport, and provides some wiggle room on reducing the size of the peloton for safety reasons.

What does the “challenge system” mean?
The details will be fleshed out about points allocations and rankings, but this is another major coup for ASO. It’s been one of their sticking points for years. In their view, permanent licenses block future investment in the sport from new sponsors (an idea that teams vigorously renounce), but that rationale is also a backhanded way of clipping the wings of stronger unity among teams. How it even got into the final agreement remains unclear, but for the WorldTour teams, the idea of relegation is nothing short of a disaster. It not only means it cannot guarantee its sponsors a place at the top races over the long-term, but it also sets up the nightmare scenario of having one bad season presenting a risk to a sponsorship deal. More than anything, teams want stability, and relegation/promotion is the antithesis of that. An argument can be made that a challenge system could pump a new dimension into the racing season. Much like in European soccer leagues, teams at the back-end of the standings always have something to fight for in order to remain in the top tier. The news must certainly be a delight to Gianni Savio, the veteran Italian manager whose teams are always near the top of the pro-continental standings. Many say the same concept cannot be fairly applied to an endurance sport prone to injuries and illnesses. Critics say look no further to the season-threatening crash involving Giant-Alpecin this winter during a training ride. A half dozen riders were sidelined, and it could have been even worse, yet the incident had nothing to do with performance. Could a team be relegated due to injuries and illnesses to a few key riders? The rules are still to be determined, but the prospect of delegation is maddening to team owners. Teams will be under the gun to race for points, putting riders under all kinds of pressure to perform, and potentially open the boogieman of doping yet again.

Why doesn’t the UCI stand up more?
It can’t. This latest round of negotiations is another reminder of just how little real power the UCI wields. Despite its role as an international governing body, the UCI has little leverage over large private interests such as ASO. Cycling’s organic roots that date back a century manifest themselves in odd ways. Every time the UCI has tried to create something new, ASO has simply threatened to walk away. It played the same tactic with the ProTour concept a decade ago. The only real card the UCI can play is that it could revoke athletes’ Olympic status if ASO did pull its properties, but that would punish athletes, not the backers of a breakaway league. The UCI has little recourse than to govern by consensus, and that means largely singing to the tune of ASO’s demands.

Why does ASO want to stay within the UCI anyway?
From ASO’s perspective, the UCI provides a lot of worthy services, especially with the implementation of rules, regulations, doping controls, and administration within the sport. ASO doesn’t want to walk away entirely, because it would have to assume many of those costly responsibilities if it created a breakaway league or tried to operate under a European calendar. ASO isn’t opposed to the UCI as an institution, but rather is opposed to what it views as over-reach and threat to its business model and profits.

What about riders?
In the short-term, they won’t be impacted. For better or worse, riders operate under a free-market system with limited regulation, and this agreement does nothing to change that (no salary caps, no increased minimum wage). There are no new guarantees for riders, but there are no limits, either. Top riders will continue to draw big-money contracts, so long as the sponsorship is there to support ever-growing salary demands. Lower-level riders and domestiques, however, are getting pinched as top stars take ever-larger chunks of team salaries. Most contracts are still only for one or two seasons for the majority of racers. Riders are starting to flex their collective muscles, however, and are pushing hard on such issues as rider safety and weather protocols. Some believe that the real game-changer could come some day if riders collectively threaten to act as a group. This agreement does little to alter the landscape from a riders’ perspective.

What changes will the fans see?
From the outside, almost none at all. There will be no disruption to the racing calendar, in fact, it will be expanded, which is good for anyone wanting to watch top-level pro racing. The behind-the-scenes tug-of-war between race organizers, teams, and the UCI of who controls the money in sport remains a simmering issue, but beyond a few headlines and intrigue for fans of “inside baseball,” the season’s major races will roll on.

So what’s the takeaway?
The UCI averts a disastrous split with ASO, and takes some satisfaction in expanding the WorldTour calendar. The latest round of negotiations staved off disaster, but also at a certain cost. The last thing the UCI wants is a war with ASO, but its negotiating position could be weakened in the future, and the UCI will see an erosion of its credibility among teams. For ASO, its monopoly-like hold on its racing properties remains unchallenged, so this is nothing short of a major coup. ASO gains a lot, including its cherished notion of promotion/relegation, and gives almost nothing away. The latest compromise further weakens the teams’ position, and riders remain largely at the whims of the marketplace. The ultimate takeaway? Business as usual, with ASO stronger than ever before.

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Analysis: To crack ‘Fortress Froome’ will require something extraordinary Thu, 23 Jun 2016 13:13:55 +0000 It will be a tall order for anyone to stand up to a formidable Sky lineup in this year's Tour de France

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In order to beat Chris Froome at the Tour de France, rivals have to isolate him, attack him, and then drop him. That’s a very tall order, one that is made even more complicated by the almost-frightening depth and experience Team Sky brings to France next week.

Flanked by powerful cobble-bashers on the flats, and swarmed by agile climbers when the road tilts up, two-time Tour champ Froome will start with the confidence of knowing he has a huge advantage against rival teams trying to take his Tour crown.

Most of the major teams have already revealed their Tour lineups, and though everyone is still waiting to see whom Movistar and Tinkoff brings, Sky is looking stronger than ever. To beat Froome, his rivals will have punch through a “Fortress Froome” that looks all but impenetrable.

“We have selected a talented group of riders with Chris as the leader once again. I know they will do everything they can to help him try to win yellow,” said Sky principal Dave Brailsford. “Every Tour is different, so that means choosing the team we believe is best-equipped to deal with the many different challenges of this race.”

Now 31, Froome undoubtedly sees his strongest Tour team ever. A quick glance at whom Sky left at home — Nicolas Roche, Michal Kwiatkowski, Leopold König, and Peter Kennaugh — confirms just how good this team is.

In what must be daunting to his rivals, “Fortress Froome” reveals no soft underbelly or a hint of a crack along its exterior.

No chinks in the armor
Sky brings brawn and experience for every facet of the race. On the flats, Froome can count on Ian Stannard, Luke Rowe and Vasil Kiryienka. The best place to avoid the costly crashes that can wipe out a year’s worth of work in an instant is at the front of the race, and the confirmed classics specialists have the muscle to fight for position to keep Froome in the safest position at every moment of every stage. Kiryienka is a beast of a rider who is capable of pulling in every scenario. A veteran of 15 grand tours, and part of Froome’s first win in 2013, his work during last week’s Tour de Suisse was beyond words.

The prospects are even more frightening in the mountains, where Sky brings five top-flight climbers who not only throttle Froome’s rivals, but perhaps even challenge them for the final podium in Paris. These riders would be leaders on any other team.

Once again, Sky tapped into its rich seam of Hispanic climbing talent its been mining over the past several years. Mikel Landa and Mikel Nieve, two Basque climbers from the steep hills of northern Spain, and Colombian Sergio Henao, making his Tour debut, will be setting a brutal pace on all the key climbs. It will be interesting to see if Sky doles out the work load, perhaps saving one or two these riders from any hard work until going into the final brutal week.

Behind these “three amigos,” there’s Wout Poels, who continues to evolve into a champion in his own right. After a hot spring that included victories at the Vuelta a Valencia and Liège-Bastogne-Liège, the big Dutchman will be standing tall for Froome, going deep into the hardest climbs to chase down any would-be aggression.

Filling the hole of the departure of key helper Richie Porte (now a principal rival at BMC Racing) will be Geraint Thomas. Though he didn’t look at his sharpest at the Tour de Suisse, Thomas will be a versatile all-rounder who will be at Froome’s side at every step of the race. Now focused on stage racing, Sky will save Thomas for the most decisive moments, keeping his powder dry for the most critical moments, and perhaps even pushing him high in the GC.

And the man himself? After eking out an economical, very tactical victory at the Critérium du Dauphiné in June against Contador and Porte, Froome also looks like the best version we’ve seen yet for July.

“I feel in good shape coming into the race this year, and am fortunate to have a strong team around me,” Froome said. “This year, I am hungrier than ever for success.”

In short, Froome sees his strongest, deepest and most experienced team he’s ever seen at the Tour. Add the fact that there is a longer time trial back in the Tour menu this year, Froome is the five-star favorite to win a third yellow jersey.

Teams must constantly chip away
To get to Froome, teams will have to take it to Sky right from the beginning of the race, trying to provoke echelons, and setting a high tempo with aggressive racing in the transition stages in the first week simply to tire the legs of his supporters. Once into the mountains, teams know they cannot wait until the final climb. Rivals will have be tactically aggressive, and perhaps even take high-risk, long-range attacks (something teams are loathe to do at the Tour) to try to disrupt Sky’s rhythm, and expose cracks early in Froome’s flanks.

Which teams have the firepower to do it? Froome’s top four rivals — Movistar, Tinkoff, Astana and BMC Racing — bring equally impressive teams to the fray.

On paper, Movistar has similar firepower to Sky. Though it hasn’t confirmed its Tour Nine, team captain Nairo Quintana will see impressive help on the flats from Jonathan Castroviejo, Imanol Erviti and Fran Ventoso (one of Quintana’s trusted allies), and then in the mountains, he will count on Dani Moreno, Ion Izagirre, Jesus Herrada, Winner Anacona, and Alejandro Valverde. Last year, Movistar was the only team strong enough to unmask Froome, and attack him one-on-one. Quintana’s three-surge attack on Alpe d’Huez — with Anacona waiting up the road and Valverde countering late — is a playbook on how to get to Froome. Two early accelerations by Quintana put Froome’s goons into the red, and then a final acceleration shed everyone except Porte. It was the Tour’s final climb, and Froome was nursing a minor chest cold as well as a comfortable lead, but Quintana and Movistar take confidence from last year’s Tour. Sky certainly has taken lessons as well, and that’s why Froome keeps insisting he’s been on a slow boil in the first half of 2016 in order to hit top form for the final week of the Tour. Twice runner-up to Froome, Quintana believes his “sueño amarillo” is closer than ever to coming true, but he will need to get to Froome earlier in this Tour than he did last year if he seriously hopes to win.

Tinkoff always bring a solid team to the Tour, but the bigger question mark is Contador himself. Despite taking an early lead at the Dauphiné, Contador couldn’t fend off Froome, who methodically dismantled the veteran Spaniard via positioning and a few pointed attacks. Contador will stubbornly attack during the Tour, and Froome is loathe to give Contador any serious rope (he’s learned how hard it is to take back time from their battles in the Vuelta a España), but so far, it seems Contador simply cannot match Froome’s unrelenting rhythm in the decisive climbing stages in July. Contador’s bested Froome at the Vuelta, but he’s never done it when it counts at the Tour. At 33, this could be Contador’s final serious challenge for the Tour, so maybe he will be willing to risk everything rather than race conservatively. If anyone can do it, Contador is the rider who could be the big disrupting factor in Sky’s playbook.

Astana brings Fabio Aru as its leader in what is his Tour de France debut. The precocious Italian is quickly building an impressive grand tour record (never worse than fifth since his Giro debut in 2013), and last year, he came close to the Giro-Vuelta double as runner-up at the Giro and winner at the Vuelta. The Tour, however, is another kettle of fish. Despite one stage win, he was the Dauphiné’s nowhere man, and will be under huge pressure to consistently match his more experienced rivals in the 24-7 pressure-cooker of the Tour. He will be backed by enviable support, including Jacob Fuglsang and 2014 Tour winner Vincenzo Nibali. Aru packs plenty of self-confidence, and he’s proven a dangerous rivals in the climbs. A win seems like a stretch.

And finally there’s Porte, the Tour’s great unknown who is at the center of the powerful BMC Racing team. One of the few squads that knows what it takes to win the Tour, BMC is spreading its bets between Porte and Tejay van Garderen. Neither has been able to deliver in the Tour. On paper, van Garderen’s two fifth-places are better than Porte’s track record, but there’s a sense that Porte could be Froome’s top challenger, especially if Quintana somehow goes off the rails. The scrappy Tasmanian largely matched Froome at the Dauphiné, and as a close friend and former teammate, he might have the key to get inside “Fortress Froome.”

In the Tour, the strongest rider almost always wins, but having a near-impenetrable wall around you certainly helps. That certainly doesn’t mean it will be a cakewalk, and the Dauphiné proved that the competition is tighter than ever, but someone will have to do something extraordinary to beat back Team Sky and take down Froome during the 2016 Tour.

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Sepúlveda returns to Tour after unceremonious DQ Wed, 22 Jun 2016 13:22:14 +0000 Eduardo Sepúlveda was booted from the 2015 Tour de France for riding 100 yards of the route in a race vehicle.

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It was one of those items buried in the jury’s report hours after the stage had completed. In stage 14 of the 2015 Tour de France, Eduardo Sepúlveda was expelled from the race after taking a ride inside a team vehicle.

Huh? Inquiries later confirmed the real story behind the Tour rookie’s unlikely exit. The Argentine climber suffered a mechanical near the end of the stage, but his team car had missed him and stopped further up a climb. In a panic, he jumped into the back of a rival car, which dropped him off 100 yards up the road. Rules explicitly ban riders taking rides, no matter how long the distance. A race judge saw Sepúlveda take the ride and he was gone.

Returning for his sophomore effort next month, Sepúlveda is back from injury and hoping to make it all the way to Paris — without getting into a team car until after each stage.

“It’s a pleasure that I am back at the Tour. It’s a dream for me,” Sepúlveda said in a Fortuneo – Vital Concept release. “Despite my injury, the team expressed confidence in me, and the objective will be at the front in the high mountains.”

The 25-year-old Sepúlveda could be the GC rider that Argentina has long been waiting for. South America’s second largest nation has produced some quality track riders and sprinters, including the Haedo brothers and Max Richeze, who is heading to the 2016 Tour with Etixx – Quick-Step, but Argentina is still waiting for a top climber similar to who has come out of Colombia. JJ Haedo made history in 2011 as the first Argentine to win a stage in a grand tour, taking stage 16 at Vuelta a España. He started the Tour de France the following season.

Sepúlveda won’t be a revolutionary rider like Nairo Quintana has become to Colombia, but he could do well. He’s shown promise in shorter stage races and he fends well in the deep, high mountains. Whether he can continue to develop will be tested during this Tour.

“I just don’t know how my body will hold up for three weeks,” Sepúlveda said. “Two years ago, I missed the Tour due to a knee injury. Last year, what happened, happened, so I hope to get a result that will help me forget about all of that. Someday I hope to smile and take something out of the race.”

His first two Tour attempts haven’t gone well. In 2014, a planned debut was derailed with a knee injury. Last year, well, you know how that story ended.

After riding at the UCI’s World Cycling Center, he was a stagiaire in 2012 with FDJ and then linked up with Bretagne – Séché (now Fortuneo – Vital Concept) in 2013 to post some promising results. In 2014, he was fifth at Critérium International and took his first pro wins in 2015 — first at the Classic Sud Ardeche ahead of Julien Loubet (Marseille 13 KTM) and Fabio Felline (Trek – Segafredo) and the Tour du Doubs, once again ahead of Loubet.

This season started off well, with a stage and second overall at the Tour de San Luís, when he out-climbed the Quintana brothers. He crashed, however, on February 28 at the Drome Classic, sidelining him with an injury until the Tour of Luxembourg in June.

Despite the injury, team boss Emmanuel Hubert said Sepúlveda is their man for the GC.

“Eduardo is our natural leader, and our ambitions are with him,” Hubert said. “Chris-Anker [Sorensen] has a lot of experience, and is an ideal support rider for Eduardo in the mountains.”

Sepúlveda will join Danish climber Sorensen, Florian Vachon, and Anthony Delaplace as anchors as the French team returns to the Tour as a Pro Continental invitee.

“We’ll support Eduardo for the GC,” said Sorensen, back for his fifth Tour start. “We will attack and take our chances in hunting for a stage. For me, it would be a dream to win a stage.”

A spell in the climber’s jersey or perhaps even a stage win would be huge for the small French team. It won’t be easy. The last time a non-WorldTour team won a stage was the 2010 Tour de France.

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Valverde and Nibali, the Tour’s ‘super-duper’ domestiques Tue, 21 Jun 2016 19:21:53 +0000 Despite having multiple grand tour victories between them, Vincenzo Nibali and Alejandro Valverde are lining up for this year's Tour as

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Just call them the super-duper domestiques.

Most Tour de France contenders will have at least one “super domestique” at their side next month — Sky’s Chris Froome will have Mikel Landa, Wout Poels, and Geraint Thomas — but Astana’s Fabio Aru and Movistar’s Nairo Quintana will see support from two of the peloton’s confirmed superstars.

Rather than racing to win in July, Alejandro Valverde and Vincenzo Nibali are racing to win in August, and will be taking on unprecedented helper’s roles during the month when they usually shine.

The reason? The lure of Olympic gold is too strong to ignore. Both see a chance of a lifetime to race for medals on a climber’s course in Rio de Janeiro, and for at least this year, the Tour de France takes the back seat.

“The course is ideal for me,” Nibali said in an interview earlier this season. “And the Tour de France is the perfect preparation for the Olympics.”

Domestiques unlike any other
A domestique is defined as a cyclist who rides in support of their team or captain, pulling on the flats, blocking the wind, and fetching water bottles, while a super-domestique is top-flight climber there with the GC contenders at the end of the key climbs. Think Richie Porte (now BMC Racing) to Froome.

Valverde and Nibali are taking the helper concept to new dimensions. Both are usually at the center of their teams’ gravity, but not this July. Both have won grand tours — Valverde the 2009 Vuelta a España and Nibali the 2014 Tour, 2013 and 2016 Giros, and 2010 Vuelta — and are still at the height of their powers, yet a combination of the arrival of unbridled talents coupled with a rare climber’s course on tap for the Olympic Games means they will step into the helper’s role.

Valverde’s position is a little easier to get your head around. Although he’s one of the peloton’s most consistent performers — racking up wins during the Ardennes classics and a record six world championship medals — he never could crack the Tour. Last year, he rode onto the podium for the first time with third, so changing into a purely helper’s role behind Quintana is not such a hard decision to make.

“Nairo has a better chance of winning the Tour than I do, that’s obvious to everyone,” Valverde said in an interview earlier. “My season is focused on the Giro and the Olympics. Nairo is ready to lead at the Tour.”

Movistar has already been working behind the scenes to ease the way for Quintana to take over sole leadership at the powerful Spanish team. In 2013, Valverde started as outright captain, but lost 10 minutes in a transition stage, opening the door for Quintana’s breakout second-place in the Colombian’s Tour debut. In 2014, Movistar sent Quintana to the Giro to learn what it takes to win a grand tour, and last year, Quintana and Valverde shared leadership duties, with Quintana taking second and Valverde third. For 2016, there will be no confusion over roles.

“Alejandro is the most humble champion I’ve ever worked with,” said Movistar manager Eusebio Unzué. “He accepts his role with professionalism, and I have no doubt he will help Nairo in every moment. The time is right for Nairo to lead at the Tour.”

Things are a little different for Nibali. Unlike Valverde, who is under contract through 2017 with Movistar, Nibali is expected to join the upstart Bahrain team next season, so this likely will be his final Tour in an Astana kit. Like Quintana, Aru has already won a grand tour, with the 2015 Vuelta a España, but he’s never even raced the Tour de France yet, while Quintana has finished second in two starts. Nibali’s decision to ride in support for Aru isn’t as altruistic as Valverde’s support for Quintana, and should be seen through the lens of his departure from Astana and his dream of winning the Olympic medal.

“I have already won all three grand tours,” Nibali said. “The course is Brazil is perfect for my characteristics, and winning an Olympic medal would be something larger than sport. It’s the next milestone that I want to achieve.”

Both teams, however, are equally pleased with the arrangement that avoids a possible conflict on the road, and allows their budding superstars room to roam in the Tour. And both Valverde and Nibali know that an Olympic medal would shoot their profiles even higher.

All for gold
The elite men’s road race is two weeks after the conclusion of the Tour de France, and Nibali and Valverde believe they will have better chances to strike gold if they are not racing with the pressure and stress that comes with the GC for three weeks at the Tour. Quintana, Froome and Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) are also talking up their chances in Rio, but all three are putting the Tour first, meaning they will have to go deeper to fight for GC.

It’s a big bet, and it remains to be seen how Valverde and Nibali will handle their respective helper roles. These were not forced demotions, so there should not be major acrimony within either team. In fact, Valverde has said he’s looking forward to racing without the stress of GC hanging over him, and vowed he would sit up to wait for Quintana if the situation presented itself. One wonders if Nibali would do the same thing. The Italian has had a sometimes-rocky relationship with Astana boss Alexander Vinokourov and it’s whispered that Nibali and Aru don’t get along that well.

No matter what happens, it will be odd to see either rider doing the pacing on a major climb for their much younger captains.

Nibali is among cycling’s “Cuatro Galacticos” — the peloton’s collection of four big GC stars that also includes Quintana, Froome, and Contador — and it’s hard to imagine he will be bringing up water bottles for Aru.

Both Valverde and Nibali are usually in the thick of the battle in July, but next month, they’ll be super-duper domestiques. Their payoff could be golden.

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Healthy again, Castroviejo seeks Tour spot to help Quintana Tue, 21 Jun 2016 14:12:25 +0000 After breaking vertebrae in a February crash, Jonathan Castroviejo now wants to help Nairo Quintana in the Tour de France.

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One of Nairo Quintana’s key pieces of his rear-guard will be ready to race to win at the Tour de France.

Jonathan Castroviejo suffered a horrible crash in February, but he has since bounced back and finished the recent Tour de Suisse on a high note. He’ll defend his Spanish national time trial title this weekend before heading back to France, where he hopes to be a key helper for Quintana on the flats and transition stages.

“We’ve been right at the doors of victory on two occasions, each time with the sensation it could have been more, and perhaps we could have even won,” Castroviejo said. “This time we hope it’s the one.”

He’s one of 11 riders on a long list for Movistar’s Tour Nine. The 27-year-old was on the bubble on whether or not he could return from injury in time to make the Tour squad. Last year, Castroviejo played a key role in limiting Quintana’s losses in the stage 2 echelons that split up the GC contenders, with differences that haunted Quintana all the way through the Tour last year.

With Adriano Malori also recovering from a heavy crash at the Tour de San Luís, there will be even more pressure on Castroviejo. Movistar is also likely to bring Imanol Erviti, who shined during this year’s northern classics, and Fran Ventoso to help guide Quintana through the transition stages.

Castroviejo crashed after the final stage at the Volta ao Algarve in February when he collided with a fan while riding back to the Movistar team bus.

The collision left him with a double fracture in his C7 vertebra and a crack in his neck. He was forced to wear back and neck braces until early April, so even making it back into condition to complete the demanding Tour de Suisse is a testament to how far he’s come.

“I really made a lot of sacrifices the past few months to try to get ready,” Castroviejo said. “I would be the first to say if I wasn’t ready for the Tour that I wouldn’t want to go, but I saw that I could handle the pace at the Tour de Suisse. If I manage to go to the Tour, it will be a small payback for what I’ve gone through this season.”

If he races the Tour, he’s also hoping to make the Spanish Olympic squad, where he will be a candidate for medals in the time trial.

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Colombians break out in Switzerland Mon, 20 Jun 2016 18:46:15 +0000 Colombian compatriots Miguel Ángel López and Jarlinson Pantano put talents on display at Tour de Suisse

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Colombians keep coming out of the woodwork, and this weekend’s closing stage at the Tour de Suisse saw confirmation for two more “escarabajos” on the world stage.

Miguel Ángel López (Astana) secured the overall title with aggressive riding while Jarlinson Pantano (IAM Cycling) won the ninth and final stage Sunday. Nairo Quintana (Movistar), Esteban Chaves (Orica – GreenEdge), and Rigoberto Urán (Cannondale) are already at the elite of the sport, but they may have to make room for more of their compatriots.

For the highly touted López, nicknamed Superman back in Colombia, the overall was confirmation that the 22-year-old seems destined for great things.

The spritely climber grabbed the leader’s jersey following Saturday’s time trial, and held a slender eight-second lead on Andrew Talansky (Cannondale) going into Sunday’s weather-shortened stage. Rather than wait for attacks, López bolted out of a dwindling GC group to catch everyone off-guard. He soloed over the summit, and was eventually caught by Pantano and other chasers. He came across the line fourth, and widened his final GC margin to 12 seconds to Ion Izagirre (Movistar) and 18 seconds to Warren Barguil (Giant – Alpecin). Talansky lost contact, and slipped to fifth at 1:04 back.

“I knew all my opponents would try to attack me, so then I decided to attack myself,” López said. “It worked out well.”

For López, the final-stage throw-down was typical of a rider who is not afraid of anyone or anything in the elite peloton.

The pint-sized climber is even smaller than Quintana and Chaves, and perhaps even more explosive. He won the 2014 Tour de l’Avenir — following in the footsteps of both Quintana and Chaves — and turned pro with Astana in 2015. He didn’t waste any time, winning a stage at the Vuelta a Burgos, and finishing seventh at the Tour de Suisse in his rookie season. This year, he’s posted steady results, including a third overall at the Tour of Langkawi, building his form to take leadership at the Tour de Suisse.

López won’t be heading to the Tour de France, at least not yet. He’ll race at the Tour of Austria in July, then he’s part of Colombia’s “dream team” selection of five riders for the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games, and will make his grand tour debut at the Vuelta a España in late August.

Astana boss Alexander Vinokourov is convinced that López has the right skillset to get even better, adding, “I believe he can win a grand tour in the future.”

Sunday was also a milestone for Pantano, a 27-year-old who’s been knocking around a few years. In 2015, he landed with IAM after solid results, but no wins, with Colombia-Coldeportes.

After descending the cold and frigid pass to link up with López, Pantano kicked to his first win in Europe as a pro, nabbing fourth overall as well.

“I must be dreaming, because on the descent, I could not feel my hands,” Pantano said. “I am the happiest man right now because I was able to give the team such a success after these difficult times.”

The victories will have immediate implications. Astana announced Monday it’s keeping López in their uniform for two more seasons, and it will help Pantano in his search for a new team as IAM is shuttering at the end of the season.

Their wins also confirm that the new wave of Colombian success in the peloton over the past half-decade or so just keeps getting deeper. There are now more than a dozen Colombians spread across the peloton, and there are more in the pipeline.

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Cannondale team finding greener pastures Mon, 20 Jun 2016 12:37:51 +0000 How Jonathan Vaughters turned the Cannondale team around by taking his whole organization back to its young, quirky, argyle-clad roots.

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Something funny started happening in the early days of the 2016 racing season: Cannondale’s lime-green jersey began to pop up in the most unexpected of places. From grueling stage races, like the Vuelta al País Vasco, to the cobbled bergs of the Tour of Flanders, the team was in the mix. For a franchise that had become almost anonymous, being ubiquitous was something to cheer.

It was also confirmation that an entirely new strategy was bearing fruit.

Following a tumultuous 2015 campaign, when Cannondale came on as a new title sponsor and the team ended the season with only 11 victories and ranked 16th out of 18 WorldTour squads, everyone knew something had to change. Being the peloton’s “clean team” and America’s longest-running WorldTour squad wasn’t good enough. The novelty had worn off, and fans and sponsors expected more than just good PR.

“Last year was a hard time for us,” team founder and manager Jonathan Vaughters says. “We were caught in the middle, with one foot with older, veteran riders who’ve been around 10 years, and the other with really young guys. In the summer of 2015, I decided to take a full leap into a whole new generation and really embrace changing the team.”

There is something special happening to these guys this year.
– Andreas Klier

That meant Vaughters — a former pro who’s weathered plenty of storms throughout his high-profile and sometimes controversial tenure as the head of the Slipstream organization — had to roll up his sleeves. He stepped back from the frontline of cycling’s governance wars, where he’s been a vocal presence, and dove back into the job of running an expansive WorldTour operation with 30 riders from 16 nations and a support staff that includes up to 40 people.

In what he described as a “heart-wrenching” process, he dropped (or at least did not match contract demands) of franchise riders Dan Martin and Ryder Hesjedal. He then made a heavy bet on youth and balanced it with overlooked veterans, such as Rigoberto Urán, Pierre Rolland, and Matti Breschel.

Cannondale’s mash-up is paying dividends. WorldTour rookie Michael Woods started things off at the Santos Tour Down Under with a fifth overall. Lawson Craddock, the promising 24-year-old Texan, grasped his chances to lead, with a top-20 finish at Paris-Nice and then an even more impressive ninth overall at the Tour of the Basque Country. Dylan Van Baarle, a budding 23-year-old Dutch classics specialist, delivered on expectations with sixth at Flanders and 16th at Paris-Roubaix. Not only was Cannondale in the mix, it actually won a few races, too.

“There is something special happening to these guys this year,” says Cannondale sport director Andreas Klier with a gleam in his eye. “There is a new energy, a new spark. These guys want to race their bikes.”

Coming out of the northern classics, Cannondale was ranked 12th out of 18 teams. After a couple of years lost in the peloton, the team seems headed in the right direction.

Photo: Cannondale/Graham Watson
Photo: Cannondale/Graham Watson

IT’S EASY TO CHEER — some might say deride — Vaughters and his sometimes oddball iconoclasts and quirky underachievers who have always done things their way. Despite possessing none of the clockwork, almost militaristic perfection of some teams, Vaughters and his merry band have been able to cook up some incredible victories over the years. With non-conformist, science-based, and sometimes contrarian methods, the team has delivered a grand tour win (2012 Giro d’Italia), monuments (Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Il Lombardia, and Paris-Roubaix), stage victories in all three grand tours, and major wins on both sides of the Atlantic.

The air seemed to go out of the tires, however, midway through last season. Something wasn’t working.

Determined to hit the reset button, Vaughters dropped his biggest winners in Hesjedal and Martin. Instead of marquee riders, he signed promising youngsters like Kiwi Patrick Bevin and Norwegian Kristoffer Skjerping, both 22. Craddock is still only 24, and Germany’s Ruben Zepuntke is 23.

“As hard as that was, as chaotic as it can be, it’s been worth it,” Vaughters says. “It was hard to give up on guys who you were counting on for 10 years. Sometimes it was heart wrenching. But it’s also been fun to give a whole new set of guys an opportunity.”

The 2016 roster is certainly a diverse group. There’s Woods, a WorldTour rookie at 29 who used to work in a bank. Wouter Wippert, another WorldTour rookie at 25, adds speed for the sprints, replacing Tyler Farrar, who departed at the end of 2014. For the tours, Vaughters tapped Urán and Rolland, two under-achieving veterans who he believes can surprise.

From the 2014 squad, only eight remained going into 2016. Of the current lineup, the most veteran riders on the team are Ramunas Navardauskas and Andrew Talansky, who both joined in 2011. “We’ve gone out of Gen X, and now we’re into the Millennials,” Vaughters says. “I think it’s the best team we’ve had in awhile. Let’s give these guys a shot, give them a chance to live their dreams, and be a true underdog team.”

CANNONDALE IS THE LATEST INCARNATION of the Slipstream organization, a team Vaughters built in the darkest days of cycling, based on the then-revolutionary idea that riders could win races without doping. After a few years at the amateur and domestic level, the team hit the 2008 season with high hopes and very modest expectations. While the team shone brightly, Vaughters, by his own admission, got sucked into energy- and morale-sucking battles between the UCI, ASO, team organizations, and rider groups over the direction of the sport.

“I think it’s the best team we’ve had in awhile. Let’s give these guys a shot, give them a chance to live their dreams, and be a true underdog team.”
– Jonathan Vaughters

By 2015, after the team had merged with the former Cannondale squad, Vaughters sensed it was time to step away from the frontlines of cycling’s wars and focus more on his team. “I think my time is more productive focusing on my guys. I am not worrying about AIGCP and all those battles anymore,” he says. “When I look back, do I need those nasty-grams from [ex-UCI president] Pat McQuaid? Or angry phone calls from ASO? I don’t need that anymore. We’ve got Velon, and it’s a very strong group now. I don’t need to be the frontline guy in all the political BS anymore.”

Everyone agrees the merger in 2015 went a lot more smoothly than when Garmin joined with Cervélo in 2011 (which included a nasty fallout with then-world champion Thor Hushovd). Eight riders stayed on from the Italian outfit, and to help forge a new sense of identity and unity, Cannondale worked together at altitude training camps over the winter. At the camps and early races, riders swapped out as roommates in hotel rooms and practiced English over the dinner table.

“It was a merger last year between two teams with difficult cultures,” says sport director Fabrizio Guidi. “This year, we start with our own culture, and we bring some quality riders. It was not easy for us last year, but let’s look to the future and not look backward.”

There’s plenty of promise, including 23-year-old Davide Formolo, who can watch up close how riders like Urán and Rolland prepare for the major races.

“I feel like I am in cycling school, watching these big riders every day in their training,” says Formolo, who notched the team’s only WorldTour victory last year with a stage at the Giro d’Italia. “Now I feel really good here at Cannondale. Last year was a new situation, with a new structure, but everyone now is working together very well.”

Photo: Cannondale/Jake Hamm
Photo: Cannondale/Jake Hamm

Another key arrival for 2016 is the highly touted Craddock. After two years at Giant – Alpecin, Cannondale offers him a chance to lead. He’s already surpassed expectations with a strong spring, and said he feels right at home on Cannondale, especially after linking up with longtime friend Nathan Brown, also 24.

“Cannondale had a program that I was interested in since I was a junior,” Craddock says. “I had some friends on the team, and I could see how they run a team. It seemed like Cannondale and I saw eye to eye on cycling. They’re an American team, and I’m really excited to join.”

When it went big in Europe in 2008, the squad had a strong U.S. presence, with 15 Americans among the 26 riders. Today, just as with about every team in the WorldTour, the lineup is more international. In 2016, the 30 riders hail from 16 different countries, and only seven are American (which is still more than any other team in the WorldTour).

“The last two years, we’ve really rebuilt the organization,” Vaughters says. “We want to find super talented young riders who are super motivated, who are funny, maybe a little odd, but who have great potential. If you’re looking to redefine yourself as an organization, that’s what we’re going to be.”

To help shepherd all the new and young riders coming on board, the team also signed 29-year-old Aussie veteran Simon Clarke, who wore the pink jersey in last year’s Giro with Orica – GreenEdge.

“My main role is road captain,” Clarke says. “We have the youngest team in the peloton, and we have some young guys who are really keen, but they want to listen. We’ve got a young and brand-new group, so the goal is to gel together and try to create that family group like I had at Orica.”

One can also sense a new identity coming out of the team in 2016. There’s not only renewed exuberance on the road but some fresh fun that’s catching on with the public. Social media is today’s new playground. When Phil Gaimon was tapped to help fill out Cannondale’s illness-ravaged Paris-Roubaix squad, Twitter started its own #PrayforPhil hashtag. Alex Howes donned a new jersey, with his “spirit animal” the coyote, as the mascot.

Cannondale is having fun again, and so are its fans.

IN MANY WAYS, Vaughters’ latest lineup is eerily similar to his first groundbreaking group that hit Europe in 2008. That team included Christian Vande Velde, Dave Zabriskie, David Millar, Farrar, Hesjedal, and Martin, and was more of a band of merry pranksters than a well-oiled machine.

“We were so far in over our heads in 2008,” remembers Vande Velde, a TV commentator who retired in 2013. “Back in 2008, only a few of us had any experience in the races. Most of us were fighting just to finish the stages.”

The team was born on the then-preposterous notion of racing and winning without popping pills, taking EPO, or re-injecting blood. Those were dark days in the peloton, and Vaughters didn’t escape untarnished, later publicly admitting his own use of PEDs. After retiring in 2003, Vaughters was wondering what he could do to fight the rampant doping culture that still held a tight grip on the peloton. There were small hints of change, and Vaughters wanted to be part of that movement. A key moment came in 2005, when he had dinner with Danny Pate, then a promising talent who had won the under-23 world time trial championship but was considering quitting cycling because it was too dirty. Something clicked inside Vaughters, and his quest to create a new kind of cycling became a mission.

“Pate said he didn’t care about bike racing anymore, and I remember telling him that in three years he could succeed — that we were going to get him there, that he wouldn’t have to dope,” Vaughters recounts. “I said, ‘Believe me, I swear it can happen.’ And little by little, it happened. That dinner was the inflection moment: ‘I owe it to this kid to make sure he gets the chance to race and fulfill his dreams.’”

Vaughters lived up to his end of the bargain, signing Pate in 2006 to TIAA-CREF and then bringing him to Europe as the team stepped up its ambitions in 2008. Pate raced in the WorldTour until 2015 and even scored a podium finish in a Tour de France stage.

No one expected much from Vaughters’ oddballs, but as the team continued to evolve, they scored a stunning victory at the team time trial at the 2008 Giro d’Italia. (The win was such a shock that Vande Velde had to take a taxi back to the team hotel after he donned the pink jersey because team staffers forgot him at the podium.) That was just a start. Vande Velde floored the peloton by riding to fourth overall at the 2008 Tour, an accomplishment considered unfathomable for cycling’s “clean team.”

The peloton was quickly changing, especially with the introduction of the biological passport in 2008 that came on the heels of a seemingly endless string of doping scandals. Other teams adopted a cleaner approach to cycling, including the High Road franchise and Team Sky in 2010. Vaughters’ team notched another fourth at the 2009 Tour with Bradley Wiggins, who later broke his contract to join Sky in 2010, eventually becoming the first British rider to win the Tour de France in 2012. Vaughters’ unlikely crew also won Paris-Roubaix, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Il Lombardia, and the 2012 Giro with Hesjedal.

“Winning the Giro was almost incomprehensible,” says Vande Velde, a key helper to Hesjedal. “When we started in 2008, we didn’t even think it was possible to win a grand tour. That Giro was really a litmus test for clean sport, and how far cycling has come.”

The biggest surprise is being able to survive for a decade. In cycling, people put up brave faces, but it’s a hard game — a very, very hard game. I’ve had to stare over the abyss over and over again.
– Jonathan Vaughters

RUNNING A WORLDTOUR-LEVEL team isn’t without its stresses, especially when Vaughters also took on the high-profile role of trying to nudge the sport into the modern era. Along with other team owners, he wanted to shake up cycling, and that put him on a collision course with the UCI and powerful Tour organizer ASO.

Another long-running battle with Lance Armstrong reached its apogee in 2012, when three of Vaughters’ riders provided key witness testimony that helped put the final nail in the Texan’s coffin.

Incredibly, in the middle of it all, Vaughters got his pilot’s license and earned an MBA. Controversy still dogs him occasionally, including when he decided to flick an ill but popular Millar from what would be his final Tour in 2014, and the positive test of long-time rider Tom Danielson in 2015. Vaughters retreated on his public pledge to fold the team if one of his riders ever tested positive, in part, he says, because he didn’t want to put 60 people out on the street. The Danielson case remains unresolved, and Vaughters vows to keep the team despite the errors of one rider.

“I hope that’s part of my legacy, but I am not really concerned about what my legacy is,” he says of his efforts to clean up the peloton. “The biggest surprise is being able to survive for a decade. In cycling, people put up brave faces, but it’s a hard game — a very, very hard game. I’ve had to stare over the abyss over and over again.”

Today, a battle-scarred yet optimistic Vaughters is more realistic. Part of his new-found enthusiasm for youth is grounded by pragmatism. He knows his Cannondale budget — estimated at about $15 million annually, compared to Sky’s $40 million — means he cannot get into bidding wars for the Peter Sagans of the peloton.

“From 2009 to 2014, I was always trying to fight that,” he says. “I didn’t want to let Wiggins go. Once, I sold a team bus to keep guys on the payroll. I just decided I am sick of fighting that fight. It’s an unwinnable battle.”

Today, Vaughters takes satisfaction in watching his young riders pop up on the results sheet. When Howes got into the day’s breakaway at the Amstel Gold Race in April, Vaughters tweeted: “If there is one accomplishment I’m proud of during my 30 years of being in pro cycling, it’s: Helping @alex_ howes do his thing. #loyalty.”

For Vaughters and Cannondale, 2016 is about continuation, renewal, winning more bike races, and adding a chapter to a story that began a decade ago. He hasn’t totally retreated from cycling’s wars, but he won’t be on the frontlines anymore. Now he’s focused on shoring up the home front and winning more battles on the road. It’s about rediscovering the love of racing and leaving all the controversial battles in the rearview mirror.

“I want a team that produces young riders that can kick ass, and give riders an opportunity who were overlooked by others,” he says. “That’s all I do, and go fishing sometimes, too.”

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As Tour looms, Quintana proves form with Route du Sud win Sun, 19 Jun 2016 18:06:32 +0000 "I’ve improved a lot in the time trial," says Nairo Quintana after an overall win at the Route du Sud

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Nairo Quintana (Movistar) leaves the Route du Sud with another win in his pocket, and his confidence flying sky high.

With the Tour de France getting underway in less than two weeks, the Colombian climber put the finishing touches on his form with a time trial stage win and overall victory during the four-day Route du Sud. Arnaud Démare (FDJ) won a bunch kick Sunday, and Quintana coasted across the line to secure his third stage-race victory this season.

“It’s a very important victory,” Quintana said Sunday. “The two wins here are very important for my career and my preparation, because it’s the last race before the Tour. It’s the return after having made a good preparation in Colombia, and as I’ve always said, for the Tour de France.”

Any doubts that Quintana would be ready for the Tour were erased during the four-day race in southern France. He attacked on the opening day to stretch his legs, and then won a time trial stage against French rider Sylvain Chavanel (Direct Energie), and was so strong in Saturday’s queen stage he could let Movistar teammate Marc Soler attack to take the stage win.

Granted, the competition was hardly what the rest of the Tour favorites faced at the Critérium du Dauphiné or Tour de Suisse, but Quintana was sure he made the right choice to race the Route du Sud instead.

It was an ideal, low-stress re-entry into the European peloton. Quintana unveiled a new time trial bike, and was able to race without too much stress ahead of the Tour. Soler was second overall at 36 seconds back, while Nicolas Edet of Cofidis took the final podium spot as Hugh Carthy (Caja Rural) crashed late in Sunday’s stage to drop from third to 22nd.

“I am in good form, and I’ve improved a lot in the time trial,” Quintana said. “This proves that the hard work is paying off.”

Nairo Quintana in 2016
4th at Colombian national championhips
3rd overall at Tour de San Luís
1st at Volta a Catalunya
3rd at Vuelta al País Vasco (Tour of the Basque Country)
1st at Tour de Romandie and stage win
1st at Route du Sud and stage win

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Colombia confirms dream team for Olympics Fri, 17 Jun 2016 18:35:54 +0000 Nairo Quintana, Esteban Chaves, Rigoberto Urán, Sergio Henao, and Miguel Angel Lopez are a formidable group to contest the Rio Olympics

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Colombia confirmed its dream team Friday for the Rio de Janeiro Olympic men’s road race, and anything less than a medal will be viewed as a major disappointment.

Colombia is packing its maximum five-man allotment with firepower. Nairo Quintana, Giro d’Italia runner-up Esteban Chaves, 2012 Olympic silver medalist Rigoberto Urán, Sergio Henao, and Miguel Angel Lopez fill out what will be a five-star favorite outfit for gold in Rio.

The mountainous road race course in Rio has Colombia dreaming of gold, and the team will be aiming to make history in the first Olympic Games held in South America.

“We chose these riders for their trajectory, the moment, and their experience,” said Colombian national coach Carlos Mario Jaramillo. “It’s a climber’s course, and a rider like Lopez can really help us out.”

The 256.4km circuit includes 11 climbs, including four passages up Grumari (1.2km at 7%) and Grota Funda (2.1km at 4.5%) on the first circuit, and three passages up Vista Chinesa (8.9km at 5.7%) in the second circuit.

Urán checked out the course earlier this week, and said in a previous interview that the route is ideal for the Colombians. One challenge will be designating team leaders ahead of the race, or the team could disintegrate between five riders racing for their own chances.

“We will have to be open with each other, and make sure we ride as a unit,” Urán said. “It’s an historic opportunity for Colombia to win the gold medal. We have to be very united.”

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Quintana takes morale-boosting TT win, lead at Route du Sud Fri, 17 Jun 2016 17:47:54 +0000 Nairo Quintana's Tour de France prep at Route de Sud continues to hum along as he wins the time trial and takes GC lead.

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OK, it’s not the Tour de France, but a time trial victory anywhere is a big deal when you’re a Colombian climber.

A day after his heroic breakaway effort, Nairo Quintana (Movistar) won a short but morale-boosting race against the clock Friday to take the overall lead at the four-day Route du Sud in southern France.

“I was a bit tired, but my legs really went well today,” Quintana said. “I hadn’t really worked that much for TTs, just what I thought I needed to reach the two time trials in the Tour de France in a good position. Let’s just hope these efforts don’t do bad on me before tomorrow’s mountains.”

As Quintana mentioned, the course turns into the high Pyrénées in Saturday’s queen stage that should decide the GC. If the opening two days of racing have been an indication, Quintana is the favorite to win again.

On Friday, Quintana beat French time trial specialist Sylvain Chavanel (Direct Energie) by six seconds in a 13km course in Albi. The win sets him up nicely for the Tour, which features more time trial miles than last year’s climb-heavy course.

Quintana will carry a comfortable lead into Saturday’s stage, with 11 seconds ahead of Chavanel. His closest real threat is Eduardo Sepulveda (Fortuneo – Vital Concept) at 34 seconds. Hugh Carthy (Caja Rural) will be aiming for the stage win, but he’s 56 seconds adrift, and Quintana won’t be in a generous mood for his final race ahead of the Tour.

Saturday’s 185km route tackles the Col du Tourmalet ahead of the summit finale at the Cat. 1 Couraduque.

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Quintana rips up Route de Sud with stage 1 attack Thu, 16 Jun 2016 17:16:52 +0000 Nairo Quintana delivered a surprise early attack in stage 1 of Route du Sud, and though he didn't win, the Colombian showed that his Tour

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Welcome back, Nairo, we’ve missed you.

Colombian climber Nairo Quintana (Movistar) channeled in his inner Claudio Chiappucci on Thursday, attacking from the gun in the opening stage at the Route du Sud.

It didn’t matter if it eventually ended in a bunch sprint. The two-time Tour de France runner-up wanted to test his legs, and what a ride it was.

“It was some good training,” Quintana said at the line. “And we had some fun, too.”

Here’s what happened: Early in the 196km stage 1 from Saint-Pons-de-Thomières to Bessieres in the shadow of the Pyrénées, Quintana was a surprise figure in the day’s main breakaway. A couple of early, relatively easy climbs proved too enticing for Quintana, who hasn’t raced since winning the Tour de Romandie in May, and he pounced.

Only Quentin Jauregi (Ag2r La Mondiale) could keep pace as the Colombian powered a gap of 11 minutes ahead of the furiously chasing peloton. The final half of the stage was flat, and the sprint teams, led by Direct Energie, combined to reel in the sortie with about 45km to go. Direct Energie’s Bryan Coquard won the bunch sprint, but Quintana got what he was looking for.

“I was very animated at the start,” Quintana said. “A break went, and we followed it, and once it got a gap, I kept going to make a test for the legs. It turned out well until they caught us.”

Quintana’s hot opening shot was a preview of what lies ahead later this weekend. Friday features two stages, with a short sprinter’s stage in the morning followed by a 13.4km rolling time trial around Albi. Saturday’s 185km climbing stage tackles the Tourmalet before ending atop the Cat. 1 Col de Couraduque, ideal for Quintana. Sunday features a circuit course over hilly terrain in another opportunity for the sprinters.

The Route du Sud is Quintana’s only tune-up before his run at the Tour de France next month. Who knows? Maybe he’ll be aiming for the most aggressive rider’s jersey as well.

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Van Garderen gets defensive over Tour de Suisse offensive Thu, 16 Jun 2016 12:35:20 +0000 Tejay van Garderen attacked during Wednesday's stage 5 in Switzerland and nearly caught his teammate and stage winner Darwin Atapuma.

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BMC Racing’s Tejay van Garderen took to Twitter to defend his tactics in Wednesday’s climbing stage at the Tour de Suisse.

With eventual stage winner and teammate Darwin Atapuma nursing a slender and rapidly decreasing lead, van Garderen attacked behind him with two intense surges that simultaneously put his GC rivals in the red and trimmed Atapuma’s margin.

In the end, BMC came up spades, with Atapuma hanging on to take an emotional victory following close calls at the Giro d’Italia and van Garderen solidifying his GC position.

A few commentators questioned why van Garderen was aggressive in the GC group when he had a teammate up the road racing for victory. Van Garderen countered on Twitter ahead of Thursday’s stage:

Van Garderen rarely engages so directly on Twitter, but he clearly wanted to set the record straight. BMC sport director Fabio Baldato said having Atapuma up the road was part of the plan if a big group went away in the Swiss tour’s first major test in the mountains.

“If Tejay wanted to attack and was in the position to do so, then Darwin would be there,” Baldato said in a team release. “Team Sky set a tempo but there wasn’t a really strong chase, which worked well for Darwin. For Tejay, this was also a great result. He had good legs and gained a couple of seconds back on some of the GC guys, so he is well positioned going into the next mountain stages.”

The stage couldn’t have ended better for BMC, which has strong connections to Switzerland via team owner Andy Rihs. Atapuma’s stage win was the team’s first in the Swiss tour since 2010, and Van Garderen finished fourth on the stage at 9 seconds back, climbing from 18th to fifth, now 18 seconds behind overnight race leader Pierre Latour of Ag2r La Mondiale.

Van Garderen, racing at the Tour de Suisse with big ambitions, will have another chance to attack Thursday in the two-climb, summit finale to Amden. The final 10.6km climb will see movement among the GC favorites in the second of three consecutive mountaintop finales ahead of Saturday’s decisive time trial.

Atapuma, meanwhile, celebrated an emotional stage victory after chasing in vain a win during the Giro d’Italia last month. The victory was Atapuma’s third career win, and his first since 2013.

“The fact that I missed out on a stage win [at the Giro] gave me more motivation and kept me focused for this win,” Atapuma said. “I knew that there were two possible scenarios that were good for the team. If Tejay attacked from behind, then I would be there to help him. Or, in case I got close to the finish as we eventually did, I would attack for the win.”

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