» Andrew Hood Competitive Cycling News, Race Results and Bike Reviews Sat, 30 Apr 2016 21:04:52 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Degenkolb returns from crash with realistic ambitions Sat, 30 Apr 2016 14:51:56 +0000

Injuries sustained in a training crash have relegated him to the sidelines for the past few months, but John Degenkolb will get back to racing Sunday. Photo: Tim De Waele |

John Degenkolb is finally returning to racing this weekend, three months after the crash that derailed his early-season campaign

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Injuries sustained in a training crash have relegated him to the sidelines for the past few months, but John Degenkolb will get back to racing Sunday. Photo: Tim De Waele |

John Degenkolb returns to racing Sunday for the 56th edition of the Eschborn-Frankfurt race, the latest of the Giant – Alpecin riders to return to competition following a horrific training accident in January.

On January 23, the classics star was among six Giant teammates who were struck head-on by a car during a training ride in southern Spain. Injuries across the six ranged from broken bones to severe contusions, but Degenkolb was among the worse off, suffering deep cuts to his face, arm, and leg, and nearly losing his left index finger. After a long recovery with surgeries in Spain and Germany, Degenkolb will finally toe up to the line Sunday.

“I am really happy to pin my race number on again, and to be at the starting line,” Degenkolb said in a team release. “I am certainly not here to win. Let’s not forget what I have been through the last few months, and keep it all in perspective. For Sunday, I hope I can finish the race in a good way.”

Degenkolb is the latest to return to competition. Chad Haga fractured his eye socket, returned in March, and is scheduled to start the Giro d’Italia next week. Warren Barguil broke a scaphoid, and came back for the Volta a Catalunya in March. Max Walscheid is still recovering from a fractured hand and tibia, and has not raced so far in 2016.

“We could have all been killed,” Barguil said. Roman Sinkeldam and Fredrik Ludvigsson were also involved, but were not seriously injured, and have resumed racing.

Spanish authorities confirmed that the 73-year-old English woman involved in the accident will be charged with reckless driving after she crossed into on-coming traffic, and struck the pack of riders returning for a training ride.

The accident sidelined Degenkolb, the defending champion at Milano-Sanremo and Paris-Roubaix, and took the air out of Giant – Alpecin’s northern classics campaign. After some promising results in the Ardennes classics, the team is hoping to be hitting its stride going into the Giro and other major races this summer.

“It has been a challenging few months, but we saw in the Ardennes classics that the results started to get better and I hope we will continue in the same direction,” said sport director Mattias Reck. “It’s great to have John back in the team since the training accident. It’s been a long period of recovery and working hard on his comeback. For Sunday, it’s just about regaining the feeling of racing again with no immediate pressure on him for results.”

Degenkolb hasn’t revealed his upcoming racing schedule, but he’s hoping to be in top shape in time for the Tour de France in July.

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Giro: North American crew includes a champ, four rookies Fri, 29 Apr 2016 16:24:31 +0000

Svein Tuft wore the first maglia rosa of the 2014 Giro d'Italia. Photo: BrakeThrough Media |

The eight North Americans starting the 2016 Giro range from a former champ to four debutants at the Italian grand tour.

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Svein Tuft wore the first maglia rosa of the 2014 Giro d'Italia. Photo: BrakeThrough Media |

Eight North Americans — three Canadians and five Americans — line up next week for the 99th Giro d’Italia.

From a former winner to Giro newbies, the breadth of experience coming into Italian grand tour is as diverse as the continent they represent. Ryder Hesjedal (Trek – Segafredo), a winner in 2012, will be among four former winners of the corsa rosa, while Joe Dombrowski (Cannondale), Larry Warbasse (IAM Cycling), Ian Boswell (Sky), and Joey Rosskopf (BMC Racing) all start the Giro for the first time.

Ambitions run the gamut as well, from Hesjedal hunting for the podium, to riders like Dombrowski, Svein Tuft (Orica – GreenEdge) and Boswell riding on teams with GC leaders, to Hugo Houle (Ag2r – La Mondiale), Rosskopf, and Chad Haga (Giant – Alpecin) on mixed squads with the green light to hunt for stages.

Michael Woods (Cannondale) will miss his highly anticipated grand tour debut after breaking his hand in a crash at Liège-Bastogne-Liège

Ryder Hesjedal (Trek – Segafredo)

Age: 35
Giro history: 7th start; 1st 2012, 5th 2015, 9th 2014
Goals: Podium and stage win
Hesjedal is the only Canadian to win a grand tour, and his dramatic, 16-second margin of victory over Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha) was the fourth-narrowest in Giro history. Experience and patience are his strong suits. Time trialing is his lone handicap, but the Giro is always decided in the mountains, where Hesjedal comes into his own. Trek brings a mixed squad, with Fabian Cancellara and sprinters Giacomo Nizzolo and Boy Van Poppel, but Hesjedal will get help in the mountains with Laurent Didier and Riccardo Zoidl.

“I am a former winner, I feel like I owe the Giro a lot,” Hesjedal said. “The Giro is always tough. There’s always a lot more to it than what it looks like in the race book. A piece of paper doesn’t tell the tale. It will be a good race. The Giro always is.”

Ian Boswell (Sky)

Age: 25
Giro best: First appearance
Goals: Help team captain Mikel Landa deep in the mountains
In his fourth year with Sky, Boswell is poised for a breakout season. A strong Vuelta a España in his grand tour debut in 2015 confirmed his quality, which included an impressive breakaway — third in the queen stage across Andorra. Sky will be riding for Mikel Landa to win the franchise’s first Giro, so Boswell will be one of the Basque rider’s key helpers deep in the mountains.

“I’ve been a reliable teammate working my way up the pecking order. My goal was the Giro, and it’s awesome to be able to have a chance to race it and support Landa,” Boswell said. “I am able to ride on the flats if needed for [sprinter Elia] Viviani, but also I’ll be there in the mountains for Landa. I know the last stages well from my training camps at Isola 2000.”

Hugo Houle (Ag2r – La Mondiale)

Age: 25
Giro best: 2nd start; 113th in 2015
Goals: Support rider for Jean-Christrophe Péraud and Domenico Pozzovivo
Houle has made steady progress on the French team, and will return to the Giro after a busy spring. He will be riding in the trenches to help the team’s push for the final podium.

“He discovered the race last year and he successfully finished his first Giro. Now he is coming back with more experience. He is making constant progress, especially in time trial stages,” said Ag2r sport director Laurent Biondi. “He went to his hometown in Canada to rest a little and now he is ready to compete again. He is a valuable rider that will protect and support his leaders by all means.”

Joey Rosskopf (BMC Racing)

Age: 26
Giro best: First appearance
Goals: Support rider, breakaways
A strong performer on the U.S. circuit, Rosskopf made a strong impression in his first full WorldTour season in 2015, riding to Madrid in his grand tour debut at the Vuelta. He will be on domestique duty for BMC, helping Philippe Gilbert for stage wins. Like others on the team, he will get chances to ride into breakaways.

“I was super-glad that I was able to finish the Vuelta last year,” Rosskopf said. “It was very satisfying, because it was a big goal. I didn’t know if I could finish. I made it a lot longer into the Vuelta with decent legs before I really started to fall apart.”

Joe Dombrowski (Cannondale)

Age: 24
Giro best: First appearance
Goals: Support rider, mountain breakaways
After a big 2015, with overall victory at the Tour of Utah as well as riding into the top-50 at the Vuelta, Dombrowski wll be one of Rigoberto Urán’s key helpers in the mountains.

“I’m looking forward to coming into the race with a clear leader and clear objective, with the experience of having ridden my first grand tour last year,” Dombrowski said. “I’m hoping to be a good support rider for Rigo, particularly in the mountain stages later in the race. Additionally, I’m looking forward to the stage over Col de la Bonette. I’ve spent a lot of time training at altitude in that area because it is close to where I am based in Nice. The riding is stunning, and I have friends and family that are going to be out on the road watching.”

Larry Warbasse (IAM Cycling)

Age: 25
Giro best: First appearance
Goals: Support rider, breakaways
Warbasse has been making steady progress in each season in the bigs, and is poised to step up in this year’s Giro. With a mixed IAM squad of stage-hunters and sprinters, Warbasse will get his chances to try his luck in breakaways. In last year’s Vuelta, he was active in several attacks, scoring an eighth in a final-week breakaway across the brutal mountains of Asturias. The Giro could suit him even better.

“I had good legs, and for the first time, I was able to show it,” Warbasse said of his Vuelta performance. “It was nice to get the confirmation that I was able to do a good ride in a grand tour. I am more confident for the future.”

Svein Tuft (Orica—GreenEdge)

Age: 38
Giro best: 5th start; pink jersey in 2014 with TTT victory
Goals: Support rider, road captain
Tuft is as tough as they get, and will be an anchor for Orica’s Giro squad. With Esteban Chaves aiming for the podium, Tuft will be road captain throughout the race, riding to protect the punchy Colombian climber on the flats. In 2014, he wore the pink jersey following Orica’s win in the opening team time trial, and was only one of two Orica riders to finish that grueling edition.

“I think the Giro is my favorite race,” Tuft said. “I love racing there, with the passion of the fans, and how hard the race is. You have to be good to win the Giro.”

Chad Haga (Giant – Alpecin)

Age: 27
Giro best: 2nd start; 99th in 2015, with 9th in stage 18
Goals: Support rider, breakaways
Haga’s return to the peloton following the horrendous team training crash in January is nothing short of miraculous. The piano-playing Texan was among the worse off from the head-on collision with a motorist, suffering a mix of broken bones, contusions, and bruising. Tom Dumoulin will be aiming for victory in the opening time trial, so Haga and others on the team will have their chances to hunt for a stage.

“Our target is to go for a stage victory,” said Giant sport director Marc Reef. “We’ll have different opportunities in the time trials and sprint stages. On top of that, we will apply an offensive strategy to aim for stage results from possible breakaways that survive until the finish.”

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Despite dark past, Zakarin gives Russians hope for grand tours Thu, 28 Apr 2016 19:28:35 +0000

Ilnur Zakarin's finish line salute was the extent of his celebration Thursday at Tour de Romandie, as he was later relegated to second place. However, the Russian again showcased his brilliant climbing talents in stage 2. Photo: Tim De Waele |

Ilnur Zakarin is Russia's young hope as a grand tour contender, but he has a controversial past that many can't ignore.

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Ilnur Zakarin's finish line salute was the extent of his celebration Thursday at Tour de Romandie, as he was later relegated to second place. However, the Russian again showcased his brilliant climbing talents in stage 2. Photo: Tim De Waele |

Some might not like him, but Katusha’s Ilnur Zakarin could well be the stage racer Russia has been waiting for.

Russians have won grand tours before — with Evgeni Berzin, Pavel Tonkov, and Denis Menchov winning one Vuelta a España and three Giro d’Italia titles between them — but none has ever won the Tour de France. It’s still too early to say how far Zakarin could go, but Katusha is betting its found Russia’s next big winner in the 6-foot-2, blond-haired 26-year-old.

“He has big potential in the grand tours,” Katusha general manager Viatcheslav Ekimov said last year. “In 2016, he will try for the Giro. If he can make improvements, maybe the Tour can be possible in a few years. Let’s see what he can do.”

Despite carrying an asterisk for a two-year doping ban after testing positive for an anabolic steroid at age 19, Zakarin’s been a surprise at every turn since joining the WorldTour in 2015. In his first full season in the bigs, he won the Tour de Romandie, claimed a stage at the Giro d’Italia, and notched a handful of top-10s.

And he’s going just as strong in 2016, with a stage win at Paris-Nice and fifth at Liège-Bastogne-Liège, as well as top-10s at both Paris-Nice and Volta a Catalunya, results that bode well for his assault on the Giro next month.

“I am putting a big focus on the Giro this year,” Zakarin said in March. “It’s a good race to start with. I need to make more improvements, but I hope one day to become a true grand tour contender. Who knows, maybe the Tour as well.”

Tall and lean, Zakarin looks to be the complete package. He can time trial well, winning the 2013 Russian elite national title, and it was his strong performance in last year’s closing-day race against the clock, including a mid-stage bike change, that delivered his upset win against Chris Froome (Sky) and teammate Simon Spilak at the 2015 Romandie. And he clearly has the racing chops, punctuated by his stage victory in a rain-soaked breakaway on a hilly day into Imola in stage 11 in last year’s Giro. He still needs to prove he can climb with the best deep in a grand tour, something he’s working toward in this year’s Italian tour.

Nagging questions remain about what happened when he tested positive as a teenager in 2009. Speaking last year after winning the Giro stage, Zakarin said, “It was a bad mistake, and I hope to forget about it, and start my career anew. I don’t care what people say about it. I am a different rider now, and for me, it’s all in the past.”

Lost in Thursday’s finish line polemics following his relegation was yet another impressive display by Zakarin. Midway up the first-category summit, he gapped an elite group, including many of the peloton’s best Tour de France riders, bridged to the attacking Nairo Quintana (Movistar), and then out-sprinted the Colombian.

Zakarin will have a chance Friday to put himself in the pole position and defend his Romandie title in a time trial showdown against Quintana on a 15km course featuring a stiff climb halfway through. The Colombian star starts with an 18-second lead, and with such strong TT riders as Geraint Thomas (Sky) and Tom Dumoulin (Giant – Alpecin) languishing at nearly a minute back, it could be Quintana and Zakarin battling all the way to Sunday.

Zakarin is a boon for the sometimes-beleaguered Katusha franchise. Team backer Igor Makarov has spent tens of millions of euros since Katusha’s formation in 2009, with a major mandate to develop Russian cycling and bring it back to its Soviet-era heyday. While the team has enjoyed successes with such riders as Joaquim Rodríguez and Alexander Kristoff, there has been little to cheer about among its Russian riders.

Katusha is firmly backing Zakarin, and will continue to groom him throughout the season with the hope that he can develop into the grand tour rider the team’s been looking for nearly a decade.

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Porte pulls out of Romandie with illness Thu, 28 Apr 2016 12:45:39 +0000

Richie Porte rode through the cold rain in the Tour de Romandie prologue. Photo: Tim De Waele |

The Australian was zapped with a stomach bug Wednesday and the team decided to pull the plug after two days of racing in cold weather.

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Richie Porte rode through the cold rain in the Tour de Romandie prologue. Photo: Tim De Waele |

Richie Porte won’t have a chance to show his form at the Tour de Romandie after an illness forced him to abandon.

The Australian was part of BMC Racing’s one-two punch with Tejay van Garderen, but he was zapped with a stomach bug overnight, taking him out of the Swiss WorldTour race ahead of Thursday’s first test in the mountains.

“He developed some gastro-intestinal problems and a fever overnight,” BMC team doctor Dario Spinelli said. “He is showing signs of a virus and has lost his appetite.”

Looking to avoid making the illness worse in inclement conditions at Romandie, which has been hampered with snow, rain, and cold in the opening two days, BMC decided it was more prudent to pull the Tasmanian out of the race. Third at Paris-Nice and fourth at the Volta a Catalunya, Porte would have been in the thick of the battle in what’s a major clash between some of the peloton’s top GC riders, including Sky’s Chris Froome and Movistar’s Nairo Quintana.

“Of course it’s disappointing to stop, but I trust the doctors,” said Porte, who is scheduled to race the Criterium du Dauphiné in June ahead of the Tour de France.

Teuns re-ups

In other team news, BMC extended the contract with promising Belgian rider Dylan Teuns.

“It was an obvious decision to keep a rider like Dylan Teuns in the team,” general manager Jim Ochowicz said. “He has showed very good results, especially lately in the Ardennes classics, and he has a great future ahead of him in BMC Racing Team.”

Teuns is among six riders who’ve made the jump to the WorldTour from BMC’s development team. BMC does not reveal details of rider contracts, but it’s clear the team is hoping the 24-year-old can step up in the coming years. A strong run through the Ardennes classics, with top-20 finishes in both Amstel Gold Race and Liège-Bastogne-Liège, bodes well for the future.

With the contract future of superstar Philippe Gilbert still to be decided, BMC is clearly covering its bets to keep Teuns in-house.

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Sitting in with Marcel Kittel Thu, 28 Apr 2016 11:00:08 +0000

Photo: Tim De Waele |

Marcel Kittel talks about the split with his old team, Giant – Alpecin, Tom Boonen as a role model, and the revival of German cycling.

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Photo: Tim De Waele |

He still has the hair and the high-wattage smile, but does Marcel Kittel still have the kick that made him cycling’s top sprinter in 2014? Etixx – Quick-Step made a big bet that he does.

The 27-year-old German made an acrimonious departure from his longtime home at Giant – Alpecin after illness and poor training knocked him out of the fast lane. With just one victory in 2015, Kittel went sailing straight into the open arms of Etixx.

He began the 2016 season with a bang, winning four stages and the Dubai Tour overall in his first 10 days of racing, but went off the rails at a cold, wet, and difficult Paris-Nice. Kittel bounced back with a stage win at Driedaagse De Panne-Koksijde and also claimed victory at Scheldeprijs, less than a week later. His ultimate goal is to regain the top spot as the fastest sprinter of them all, and he’s confident he’ll be king of the finishing kick at the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France.

VeloNews joined a small group of journalists to catch up with the German this spring to chat about his dismal 2015 campaign, his confidence, and why he admires Tom Boonen.

Question: Last year was very difficult for you. What happened?

Marcel Kittel: The main reason was that I was sick for a very long time. Everything developed from that point onwards. I couldn’t train like I normally do, and then I couldn’t race much because I didn’t have the correct preparation. I missed that base that you get from racing a grand tour, and everything went backwards. I started to feel better at the Tour of Poland, but by then it was too late.

Q: After only one win in 2015, how important was it to get back to your winning ways early this season?

MK: After a hard season last year, I was incredibly happy to win again. There was pressure, but there is always pressure when you are a sprinter, so it was important to win as soon as possible. Victories always give you confidence. And more important was how the team is working. They gave me great lead-outs in Dubai and at Volta ao Algarve. There are always doubts after not being on the bike for so long. It was my worst season ever, so of course there are doubts.

Q: Was it easy to turn the page on 2015?

MK: Maybe it would be easier just to forget it, but I have tried to learn some lessons from it. I look at what happened and see how things went wrong, and try to take something positive from it. Well, I don’t want to get sick again!

Q: How did the decision unfold to leave Giant-Alpecin?

MK: It just came to a point where it wouldn’t work out for either party. It was a feeling that was growing within me along the year. In the end, we agreed to make it work out like this, and we can make a fresh start — everyone can go their own way. I think it was good for myself, and for the team.

Q: Do you come to Etixx as a replacement for Mark Cavendish?

MK: No, it’s not about comparing to each other. Every time there is a new sprinter, someone asks, “Are you the new Cavendish? The new Kittel?” You are just yourself, and you make your own way. I am not the replacement of Cavendish or anyone else; I am just myself. Every team has its own character, and I want to fit in here as best I can. So far, it’s been great.

Q: What attracted you to join Etixx?

MK: Well, it happened quickly. I wanted to leave Giant, and Etixx had an opening. This team has a big tradition in the classics, and Giant was focusing more on the GC, so there is room here for me to have riders to support me in the sprints in the grand tours. Every team has its own way of working. Here, everything is very professional, and very well organized. Everyone knows what his job is.

Q: Was there any bitterness about how things ended with Giant after being there since 2011?

MK: I cannot say everything was great. In every good relationship that ends badly, you can still have good memories, and be a bit sad about it. I had very big victories with that team, and we worked together very good for a long time. Now each of us is going in a different direction. We can still say hello to each other.

Q: What is your impression of racing with Tom Boonen?

MK: He is like a role model for me. If you look at how long he’s been racing his bike, he is still so motivated, and he still enjoys the work. I hope to have the same joy of riding six hours a day when I am at that point in my career. You can see Tom really enjoys it. He is having fun, and not everyone can do that every day.

Q: Will Boonen be helping you in the bunch sprints?

MK: I know Tom doesn’t have any problem with that. He already showed he could do that, riding with Cavendish before. He is a team player, but everyone knows he is the big captain, and he is going to race his races to win.

Q: Are sprinters getting frustrated by organizers who continue to make flat stages more difficult?

MK: Guys like me who are pure sprinters have a harder time. I don’t want to complain, because the Tour still has a few flat stages for the sprinters, but when you look at the Vuelta a España, it’s gotten so hard that it almost doesn’t make any sense to go there. Even Milano-Sanremo — the race is so fast and hard, it’s guys like Peter Sagan who have chances to win there.

Q: What are your views on the improvements to German cycling?

MK: Well, we have the Grand Départ of the 2017 Tour now, so that is very positive. Many people in Germany ride bikes and follow the sport, but the media doesn’t pay much attention to us. The other German riders and I are happy that German TV is back, and that was an important step. But all is not perfect, because Bayern Rundfarht, our last big professional stage race, will not be held in 2016 because there are not sponsors. And now they say the Deutschland Tour is coming back — that is good, but I wouldn’t say that everything is great in German cycling. We still miss a big German sponsor.

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April snow showers shorten Romandie stage 1 Wed, 27 Apr 2016 12:35:29 +0000

Tuesday's Tour de Romandie prologue featured cold and snowy weather conditions. Photo: Tim De Waele |

The first road stage of the six-day race is shortened by about 69 kilometers because of cold and snow at higher elevations.

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Tuesday's Tour de Romandie prologue featured cold and snowy weather conditions. Photo: Tim De Waele |

Foul weather continued to wallop the Tour de Romandie on Wednesday, forcing organizers to reroute the opening road stage of the Swiss WorldTour race.

Overnight snow made it impossible to safely negotiate the first major climb of the planned 169-kilometer route from La Chaux-de-Fonds to Moudon, the Cat. 2 Col des Etroits at 48km into the stage, topping out at 1,152 meters.

A meeting between race organizers, the UCI, representatives of the CPA, teams, and medical staff resulted in a decision to shorten the stage and route it at lower elevations not affected by snow, ice, and cold.

Riders signed in as planned in the start village, and then drove about 60km to a new starting point, cutting the length of the stage to about 100km. The second half of the stage remained as it was planned.

Teams and riders were already on edge following snowy and cold conditions for Tuesday’s opening prologue. Roads eventually cleared in the afternoon and allowed the race to unfold as expected, though the final dozen or so riders raced under intensifying rain mixed with snow. Movistar’s Ion Izagirre won on the 3.95km course.

After a mild spring, winter-like weather swept into northern Europe over the weekend. Flèche Wallonne, held a week ago in Belgium, featured warm, sunny skies, but Sunday’s Liège-Bastogne-Liège was plagued by cold, rain, and snow.

Forecasters are calling for clearing skies Thursday and Friday, with a chance of more cold weather over the weekend.

The decision to shorten Wednesday’s stage comes as riders and teams are pressing for stronger implementation of extreme-weather protocol rules reinforced over the past season. Stages at both Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico were canceled in March due to snow and cold, reviving the debate of when and how the protocol should be implemented.

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Uran dreams of winning Giro-Olympics double Tue, 26 Apr 2016 14:39:04 +0000

Rigoberto Uran is riding in Cannonade's green argyle kit this season. Photo: Tim De Waele |

Rigoberto Uran says he's tired of finishing second. He wants to win the Giro d'Italia's pink jersey and an Olympic gold medal this year.

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Rigoberto Uran is riding in Cannonade's green argyle kit this season. Photo: Tim De Waele |

Rigoberto Urán has grown tired of being second. Twice a runner-up at the Giro d’Italia and a silver medalist in the 2012 London Olympics road race, the 29-year-old Colombian is plotting an ambitious 2016 season.

The goal is to step on the top spot of the podium. He’s taking aim at the races he knows he can win.

“My dream season? To win the Giro and the gold medal in Rio,” Urán told VeloNews. “I’ve been close before, and this year, both races are perfect for me. That’s what we’re working for.”

Urán switched from Etixx – Quick-Step to Cannondale for 2016 in large part because he knew he needed more support in the mountains. Cannondale is overflowing with young, talented climbers, and Urán will have support from riders like Davide Formolo, Joe Dombrowski, and Michael Woods deep in the Dolomites, where he was often left to his own devices at Etixx and Sky.

“I was in a good place in Etixx, but it lacked a little bit in the mountains,” Urán said. “On the flats and the team time trial, they were strong. It’s a team that had a strong tradition in the classics. Last year wasn’t my best Giro, to be fair, but I didn’t see a lot of support in the deep mountains. Here, I will surely get that help I need in the high mountains.”

In 2013, Vincenzo Nibali won the Giro in dominant fashion, but the following year, Urán was caught out in the fiasco over the snow-bound Stelvio. Eventual winner Nairo Quintana of Movistar bounded clear over the snowy summit while Urán, believing the descent was neutralized, stopped to put on more clothing to cover up his pink jersey. Quintana claimed the maglia rosa at the finish line and Urán took second once again. Surprisingly, he said he doesn’t hold a grudge against his compatriot.

“For me, the past is the past. I don’t waste time thinking about what could have happened, should I have won the Giro,” Urán said of the Stelvio debacle. “For me, what happened is what happened, and I ended up second. And now we are thinking about the Giro of 2016.”

After the Giro, the Olympic Games will be waiting like a piece of ripe fruit. A mountainous route favors Urán much more than the sprinter-friendly route of London four years ago. He’s expecting even more in Brazil, where he knows he will be a favorite for gold.

“To be in the Olympics is already special, and to reach that podium, it’s like a climber winning the final sprint in Paris at the Tour de France,” Urán said. “It was huge for me and for Colombia to medal in London. It was Colombia’s first road racing Olympic medal in history.”

Urán races this week at the Tour de Romandie, where he will have a chance to test his racing legs before the Giro. A strong performance will bolster his odds ahead of the pre-Giro favorites such as Astana’s Nibali, Movistar’s Alejandro Valverde, and Sky’s Mikel Landa. Urán said the team is ready to deliver.

“Everything is going well in Cannondale. Everyone knows their role, and we have big expectations for the season,” he said. “I am here for the big tours. The most important thing is to respond.”

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Rogers retires due to heart problems Mon, 25 Apr 2016 16:57:25 +0000

Michael Rogers led Alberto Contador on stage 3 of the 2015 Giro d'Italia. Photo: Tim De Waele |

Due to a congenital heart defect and bouts of arrhythmia, Australian Michael Rogers cuts his pro racing career short.

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Michael Rogers led Alberto Contador on stage 3 of the 2015 Giro d'Italia. Photo: Tim De Waele |

Tinkoff’s Mick Rogers made it official Monday, pulling the plug on his 16-year career due to ongoing heart problems.

The 36-year-old Australian cited arrhythmia as the cause behind his mid-season decision. He started the Dubai Tour in February and has not raced since.

“Recent cardiac examinations have identified occurrences of heart arrhythmia that have never been detected beforehand,” Rogers wrote Monday. “The latest diagnosis, added to the congenital heart condition which was diagnosed in 2001, means my competitive career must end.”

More on cycling and heart problems >>

Part of the hyped “class of 2000” at Mapei that also included Fabian Cancellara and Filippo Pozzato, many touted Rogers as a potential Tour de France winner. A pro since 2001, he won three consecutive world time trial titles from 2003-2005, but he could never follow through on his grand tour potential. Ninth in the 2006 Tour de France, and sixth in the 2009 Giro d’Italia were his only GC top 10s.

Rogers cited a bout with mononucleosis for a dip in form, but then he won the 2010 Amgen Tour of California with the High Road franchise.

He morphed into a super-domestique role in a switch to Team Sky in 2011, becoming a key helper in Bradley Wiggins’s history 2012 Tour win. A move to Saxo – Tinkoff saw Rogers hit his stride again, finding a new peak in 2014, winning two climbing stages at the Giro, and another in the Pyrénées at the Tour.

He also was awarded an Olympic time trial bronze medal after winner Tyler Hamilton was disqualified for doping.

“Whilst I’m disappointed to miss my 13th Tour de France and a chance to compete at my fifth Olympic Games, I’m not prepared to put my health in jeopardy,” Rogers wrote. “The opportunity of being a professional cyclist is that after retirement the challenge of a whole new career beckons. And even more importantly, I married the woman of my dreams 11 years ago, and together we are raising three particularly animated daughters.”

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Cobbles, cold weather cost Valverde history at Liege Mon, 25 Apr 2016 12:38:59 +0000

Like everyone else in the peloton, Alejandro Valverde was bundled up during Sunday's Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Photo: Tim De Waele |

Alejandro Valverde was a favorite to win a record fourth Liège-Bastogne-Liège title Sunday, but a mix of several factors did him in.

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Like everyone else in the peloton, Alejandro Valverde was bundled up during Sunday's Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Photo: Tim De Waele |

The fourth time was not a charm for Movistar’s Alejandro Valverde in Sunday’s Liège-Bastogne-Liège. His run for a fourth win was derailed by a one-two punch of winter-like weather and a new cobblestone climb late in the spring classics closer.

The new, grueling Cote de la Rue Naniot — just 600m long at 10 percent grades over bumpy pavé with under 2.5 kilometers to go — proved the kingmaker. Four riders pulled clear despite Movistar’s dominance throughout most of the race, and Valverde could only watch as Wout Poels delivered Sky’s first monument victory in franchise history.

“It was disappointing because I thought that the cobblestones wouldn’t be decisive,” Valverde said of the new climb. “Later, it was too late to get back into the winning sprint.”

Just days after winning a record fourth Flèche Wallonne, Valverde lined up as a five-star favorite Sunday. The elements and a course tweak conspired against him.

Individually, the foul weather or the new climb probably would not have made such a big difference. But the combo of rain and cold mixed with snow and sleet on top of the minor, but important change of the Liège course doubled up to spoil Valverde’s hopes of winning a fourth trophy in the Belgian monument.

“It was a really difficult race,” said Valverde, who finished 16th at 12 seconds back. “I ended the race with a strange feeling, mixed with good sensations, because once again I’ve seen that my legs are good going toward the Giro d’Italia.”

Conditions were brutal in the oldest race on the UCI’s World Tour calendar. Riders wore layer after layer of cold-weather clothing, with IAM’s Larry Warbasse saying he even covered his entire body in Vaseline in a vain attempt to stay warm. Despite the frigid conditions, Movistar looked to have things under control, with “los blues” controlling the pace of the race until the closing 20km. Movistar helped to reel in the day’s main breakaway, and then sent the revived Carlos Betancur on late surges to neutralize aggression.

Valverde remained in ideal position right until the pack hit the new Naniot climb up a bumpy, urban-cobbled road. Though not long, the punchy climb proved decisive as Michael Albasini (Orica – GreenEdge), Rui Costa (Lampre – Merida), Poels, and Samuel Sánchez (BMC Racing) peeled clear. They opened up a promising, yet decisive gap. Chilled to the bone, Movistar and the other teams simply didn’t have the legs to shut down the attack. Albasini buried himself once the course hit the final 1.5km on the last hump up to Ans to assure the leading quartet would make it to the finishing straight ahead of the chasers.

Valverde remained optimistic despite the rough ride. His recent victories at Vuelta a Castilla y León (two stages and the overall) and Flèche bode well for the upcoming Giro d’Italia, which he will race for the first time of his career.

“I am still in optimum condition for the Giro,” Valverde said. “My confidence in my legs remains, and now we’ll take a few rest days, and then start thinking about the big challenge of the Giro.”

The 99th Giro starts May 6 in Apeldoorn, Netherlands, and concludes May 29 in Torino, Italy.

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Liege: Valverde looks unbeatable Thu, 21 Apr 2016 14:25:10 +0000

Dan Martin (left) and Joaquim Rodríguez (right) are two riders who could upset Alejandro Valverde this weekend. Photo: Tim De Waele |

A few riders could upset favorite Alejandro Valverde in Liège-Bastogne-Liège, but the weather could really throw a wrench into the mix.

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Dan Martin (left) and Joaquim Rodríguez (right) are two riders who could upset Alejandro Valverde this weekend. Photo: Tim De Waele |

The 2016 classics season concludes Sunday over the frothy hills of the Ardennes at Liège-Bastogne-Liège with one talking point: who can beat Alejandro Valverde?

The Movistar veteran reconfirmed his status as King of the Ardennes Wednesday with a master class on how to race the Mur de Huy to clinch a record fourth victory at Flèche Wallonne, setting himself up for an unprecedented third Ardennes double in the 253-kilometer race.

Sunday’s 102nd Liège could deliver epic conditions as well, with forecasters calling for wind, rain, and maybe even snow, perhaps setting a stage for a repeat of the classic 1980 edition won by Bernard Hinault through the snow that was dubbed, “Neige-Bastogne-Neige.” Sunday’s race has all the trappings of another classic edition.

Valverde tops list of favorites

Look no further than Wednesday’s Flèche to see who has legs to win Sunday. Liège rarely delivers an outside victor, with Maxim Iglinskiy in 2011 the last rider who wasn’t a marquee name to win in more than a decade. The demands of the course, the distance, the pace, and the intensity of the final 40 kilometers mean only the fittest and most experienced riders have a shot at the podium.

Without question, Valverde is the top favorite. He has the team, the experience, and the form to win. Wednesday’s resounding win at Flèche erased any doubts that he might be a touch off his top form because he’s aiming for the Giro d’Italia this year for the first time, meaning he wants to peak in mid-May, not late April. Someone’s going to have to pull off a superb ride to beat him.

Alaphilippe and Martin: Second and third at Flèche, Julian Alaphilippe and Dan Martin form a formidable duo within the deep Etixx – Quick-Step squad. Their one-two punch could work in Liège better than it did at Flèche, forcing others to chase and opening up a chance for one of them to win. Martin knows what it’s like to win in Ans, and he looks to be in great form.

Alaphilippe, too, wants to improve on his breakthrough second last year. Will Etixx’s first major classics win of the year come in the Ardennes?

Gerrans and the Yates brothers: By not covering Enrico Gasparotto’s winning surge, Orica – GreenEdge missed a chance to win Amstel Gold Race last weekend. Liège is still too hard for Michael Matthews, giving former winner Simon Gerrans clear leadership. The Yates brothers will be there too. Clearer roles within the race will also mean a better final result.

Rodríguez: Aging veteran Joaquim Rodríguez of Katusha could still deliver a surprise. “Purito” has never won Liège, but he went too early on the Mur to reveal that his ambitions might outstrip his form this spring.

The year for an outsider?

Despite the depth of the confirmed favorites, there is a baker’s dozen of riders nipping at their heels. Liège’s longer distance and harder pace typically sees more selection than at either Amstel Gold or Flèche, but there are several riders clearly on good form. Gasparotto cannot be overlooked. Second at Brabantse Pijl and a winner at Amstel Gold, he was fifth Wednesday up the Mur. Pouncing to fourth Wednesday was Wout Poels of Sky, who’s been on a good run all spring.

Tony Gallopin (Lotto – Soudal), Michael Woods (Cannondale), Rui Costa and Diego Ulissi (Lampre – Merida), and Vincenzo Nibali and Luis León Sánchez (Astana) are all riders capable of going deep into the race. And why not Chris Froome? Sky confirmed the two-time Tour de France champion will race.

Falcon’s Rock is the decider

With a long string of short but demanding climbs, the battle kicks off in the final hour. La Redoute, at 218km in, is too far away to serve as the launching pad as it once did, though the selection certainly begins there.

Since its inclusion, Roche-aux-Faucons at 234km is the new race-breaker at Liège. Its steep pitch sees the decisive split in the pack, and the false-flat leading to a long descent to the final major climb at Saint-Nicolas is where the attacking groups form.

In today’s more balanced and deeper peloton, the winning surge might not come until 500m to go on the final run up to Ans.

Weather will be a factor

After mild spring weather throughout the northern classics, rain and colder temperatures are forecasted for Sunday. There’s even a chance for snow, perhaps setting the stage for an epic battle against the elements. The sudden shift in weather will certainly impact the race. Whoever can fight through the meteorological mash-up will have an edge over the rest of the suffering peloton.

History lesson

The oldest of the old Liège is called “la doyenne” for a reason. As far as bike races go, this is among the oldest. Dating back to 1892, the race celebrates its 102nd edition this year. Belgians, naturally, hog the record books with 59 wins, including Eddy Merckx’s record five victories. If Valverde wins Sunday, he will be the first rider to win the Flèche-Liège double three times.

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Valverde writes his name into Fleche record books Wed, 20 Apr 2016 19:48:03 +0000

Alejandro Valverde now holds the record for most wins in the men's edition of La Flèche Wallonne. Photo: Tim De Waele |

Alejandro Valverde breaks a four-way tie for most wins in men's Fleche Wallonne, but the race has changed a lot over the years.

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Alejandro Valverde now holds the record for most wins in the men's edition of La Flèche Wallonne. Photo: Tim De Waele |

Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) carved his name in the record books with a fourth Flèche Wallonne victory Wednesday, surpassing such greats as Eddy Merckx and Moreno Argentin, who only have three wins apiece.

With a master class on how to race the Mur de Huy, Valverde bested the Etixx – Quick-Step duo of Dan Martin and Julian Alaphilippe becoming the best rider in the history of the men’s race.

With four victories, Valverde is unquestionably the king of the Mur, but comparing him to other former winners can be tricky business.

Dating back to 1936, the “Walloon Arrow” is long considered a major feather in anyone’s cap. Just below “monument” status, the Belgian classic was once part of the Ardennes weekend, with Flèche held Saturday, followed by Liège-Bastogne-Liège on Sunday, with the race’s date and course evolving over the years.

It’s interesting to note that Marcel Kint’s victories came right in the middle of World War II, making it one of the few that was not cancelled during the European conflict, winning three on a trot from 1943-1945. Merckx’s first win came in 1967, and he added more in 1970 and 1972, two seasons when he also pulled off the Giro d’Italia-Tour de France double.

Kint’s and Merckx’s wins are significant because the finish line was on the flats, in the cities of Marcinelle or Charleroi (in 1945), meaning that the race was decided in breakaways or reduced-bunch sprints.

The race’s character was forever changed when the emblematic Mur de Huy hilltop finale was introduced in 1983. The race then became a much more tactical chess match up the brutal Belgium hill with ramps as steep as 26 percent.

At 1.3km, with an average grade just under 10 percent, the Mur wall has since become one of cycling’s most famous finishing climbs. Grand tour climbers like Chris Froome (Sky) are never going to win up the Mur de Huy (though he was close, with second to Joaquim Rodríguez in the Tour’s stage 3 last summer that finished atop the Mur), but the explosive, intense effort is perfectly suited for riders like Valverde, whose climbing legs and finishing speed are a deadly combo.

With the Mur as the finish, a different kind of rider started to win Flèche. Bernard Hinault won the first edition up the Mur, adding a second title to his victory on the flats in 1979.

Moreno Argentin won three — 1990, 1991, and 1994 — and the final victory by “il capo” came as part of the infamous and unprecedented Gewiss podium sweep, with Argentin, Giorgio Furlan, and Evgeni Berzin riding away from the entire peloton, a performance that confirmed that something odd was happening inside the sport of cycling. Michele Ferrari, then the team’s doctor, made his famous orange juice comparison to EPO in a post-race press conference. Lance Armstrong became the lone American winner two years later, just months before his cancer diagnosis.

Davide Rebellin won three — 2004, 2007 and 2009 — with his third win coming just days before Italian Olympic officials announced he tested positive for CERA after winning silver in the 2008 Beijing Games. He eventually served a two-year doping ban, and continues to race at 44, but hasn’t race Flèche Wallonne since 2009. His CCC – Sprandi team was not among the wildcard invites this year.

It could be argued that Valverde’s first win in 2006 might also deserve an asterisk. He later served a two-year ban in 2010 after being linked to a blood bag kept in a freezer managed by Spain’s infamous doping doctor Eufemiano Fuentes. Since his comeback in 2012, Valverde has simply gotten better with age.

Why is Valverde untouchable on the Mur? There are a few reasons.

Even more so than a decade ago, the strength of teamwork is key. To win Wednesday, Valverde counted on his teammates to control breakaways, and then cover late attacks, with Ion Izagirre following a move with Bob Jungels (Etixx – Quick-Step). Movistar then perfectly positioned him at the front for the day’s third and decisive assault up the Mur. Valverde wasn’t nose to the wind until the final 600 meters of the race.

And even more important in today’s peloton is measuring efforts, opening the throttle with tactical precision. Attacks even 200 meters too soon can peter out, such as Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha) and Martin’s early accelerations. Valverde clearly is a master at measuring his efforts, and knows how to hit his power on the Mur to perfection. And experience counts, too. With 11 career Flèche starts, Valverde now knows the Mur as well as anyone in the peloton.

However, when talking of records, it’s worth remembering that the real record-holder up the Mur is Marianne Vos, who has won the Flèche Wallonne Feminine five times. Valverde promises to return in 2017 for one more try.

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Betancur thriving again after weight issues, depression Wed, 20 Apr 2016 13:11:45 +0000

Carlos Betancur is thriving in the Movistar kit this season. Photo: Tim De Waele |

The Colombian and Movistar rider struggled as a member of Ag2r La Mondiale, but this year he's happier and healthier.

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Carlos Betancur is thriving in the Movistar kit this season. Photo: Tim De Waele |

Carlos Betancur is back from the brink with a morale-boosting return to form last week.

The once-promising Colombian notched his first victory in two years with a stage win Friday at the Vuelta a Castilla y León. Dogged by weight issues, bouts with depression, and conflicts with his former team Ag2r La Mondiale, Betancur said he’s much happier with his move to Movistar this season.

“After everything that happened, I am once again happy on the bike,” Betancur said. “I really don’t know how to do anything else than cycling, and it’s what I like most. At a certain point when I realized it was going to be a hard road, I was sad, but now I am going to enjoy it to the maximum.”

The 26-year-old is racing this week in the Ardennes to help team captain Alejandro Valverde, but he admits he’s still nowhere near the form he had in 2013 when he bolted out of relative obscurity to finish third at Flèche Wallonne. That same year he was fifth overall and won the best young rider classification at the Giro d’Italia. At the time, many expected big things from the feisty Colombian.

A move to Movistar for 2016 after Ag2r booted him mid-season last year is helping Betancur get back on track.

“The team follows you in everything, and they see that I am improving, in the power, the fat, the weight,” he said. “I am motivated as if I were a junior racer again. At the end of the day, the head is the most important thing. I am super good right now.”

That’s encouraging news for Betancur, who was once one of the shining lights of a new wave of Colombian riders to hit the peloton over the past five years.

Despite a big win at the 2014 edition of Paris-Nice, however, Betancur failed to meet expectations as he struggled with his weight and feuded with his managers at Ag2r. The French team dropped him from a planned Tour de France debut in 2014, in part from delays in requesting a visa, and when he returned to competition later that summer, he was clearly overweight and out of shape.

Things looked to be on the rebound last year and he raced a busy spring calendar — which included a 20th-place finish at the Giro d’Italia with more than 60 days of racing — but he went MIA once again. An exasperated Ag2r cut him from the team last August. Movistar offered him a lifeline with a two-year deal.

Betancur struggled in early races and did not finish his first four in which he started, but he got through the Circuit de la Sarthe in early April with improving form. He won the opening stage at Castilla y León but was gapped on the final mountaintop finale, settling into ninth overall as Valverde dashed to the overall victory.

For Betancur, his mental happiness was the essential element for him to get back making the sacrifices that come with being a professional bike racer. He seems to have found the right place at Movistar.

“The most important thing right now is that I am happy,” Betancur said. “I am on a team where everyone is very professional, and they like what they do, and they always do what is best for the rider … I am motivated because I am enjoying the bike again. This is a very hard and demanding sport, and you have to enjoy it to be able to do it.”

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Q&A: Dan Martin on new team, rediscovering his Ardennes touch Tue, 19 Apr 2016 20:24:08 +0000

Dan Martin was looking for new surroundings, and Etixx – Quick-Step has given him that and more. The Irishman has two wins to his credit already this season. Photo: Tim De Waele | (File).

With a new team, Martin aims to return to the aggressive racing style that he embraced at the outset of his career.

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Dan Martin was looking for new surroundings, and Etixx – Quick-Step has given him that and more. The Irishman has two wins to his credit already this season. Photo: Tim De Waele | (File).

Daniel Martin returns to the Ardennes this week, the setting of some of his biggest successes and bitter disappointments.

His breakout victory in the 2013 Liège-Bastogne-Liège confirmed his status as a man made for the pressure and prestige of the one-day monuments, backing that win up at Giro di Lombardia in 2014, which he also won.

The steep hills of eastern Belgium have also served up a few disappointments, too, with second at the 2014 Flèche Wallonne, and fourth in the Tour de France stage last summer finishing up the Mur de Huy. And then there was the tire slip on the final corner of the 2014 Liège, when he crashed on the final left-hander, right on the wheel of Joaquim Rodríguez.

Despite those highs and lows, and perhaps because of them, Martin returns to the Ardennes this week with a new team, and new ambitions. Up first is Wednesday’s Flèche Wallonne, a race he’s never won.

“The atmosphere on the Mur de Huy is one of the best of the year. It’s such a beautiful finish,” Martin told VeloNews. “To win? I need to be a little bit faster.”

The 29-year-old Irishman will lead Etixx – Quick-Step, a Belgian team steeped in classics history, but almost all of its successes have come on the pavé. The team signed Martin after eight seasons with the Slipstream organization in part to revive its chances in the hillier Belgian classics. He will co-captain the team with Julian Alaphilippe, the young breakout rider who was second last year at both Flèche and Liège. Martin hopes the move pays dividends for both Etixx and for himself.

“It’s been awhile since they’ve done well in the Ardennes, and hopefully we can bring some success back to the team in that respect,” Martin said. “Flèche is very tactical, and maybe I was a little too far back when I was second. Now I will have a really strong team to help me.”

Martin notched two early season wins, but was shook up in a crash that took him out of the Vuelta al País Vasco earlier this month. He lines up Wednesday as one of the favorites for victory.

VeloNews sat down with Martin earlier this season to talk the Ardennes; here are excerpts from that interview:

VN: Why the change after so long at Cannondale?
Dan Martin: I needed a change. Eight years is a long time. It was an accumulation of the past two years not going as planned, for whatever reason. I had a high on 2013, but since then, it just didn’t happen as I expected. Perhaps I had become a bit stale, and I think I needed to change the environment, to see how far I can go in this sport.

VN: How did it come together with Etixx – Quick-Step?
DM: Patrick [Lefevere] was always interested in me, and he tried to sign me before. There were a number of teams who were interested, and it all went through my agent, but as soon as I met with Patrick, I had a good feeling straight away. I felt very relaxed in his presence, and I felt like I could talk to him, and I could work with him.

VN: Has it been difficult to fit in?
DM: Not at all. There is a lot of professional respect between everyone. It’s funny, because I am the only English-speaking rider, and it’s an English-speaking team.

VN: Are the Ardennes classics the first big goal?
DM: It is a goal. There are a lot of races before that. If I go into the Ardennes with two or three wins already, they don’t seem as important. I want to get into that habit of winning early, because that’s a very good habit to get into. I want to get back into how I was racing at the beginning of my career, just race hard, and race aggressively. This team prefers to try to win the race or lose, than just to hang on for second or third. That really fits into my style. I needed to get back to that.

VN: Will you share leadership with Alaphilippe?
DM: It’s going to be good fun to race with him. He’s faster than me in the sprints, and I am a better climber. And we have other options. In the Ardennes, we are very deep. Julian is still very young, and he knows he has a lot to learn. If I wasn’t on the team, all eyes would be on him for the Ardennes. We can share the load a little bit, and we’ll see what happens.

VN: Do you love the Ardennes?
DM: I am a big fan of cycling. I love all the big races, and I really love one-day racing especially. You start the day, you empty the tank, and you need everything to go your way. It’s the poetic part of racing, it’s the magic of racing. The classics inspire the most dramatic stories that make cycling such a beautiful sport. I think it’s incredible that the courses are more or less the same courses, so you’re testing yourself against history. The fans embrace that as well.

VN: Do you do any special training for Ardennes?
DM: Nothing beyond the recon and the race. I’ve done it eight times, so I’ve done the major climbs 16 times. I know the course very well. I know where I am going on those roads. Maybe it’s not as important as with the cobblestone races to know every inch of the roads. I know the key climbs.

VN: You’ve had some bad luck with crashes, does that get into your head?
DM: I only crashed four times last year. It was wrong time and wrong place. Maybe this is something how this team can help me, because they can keep me in the right place. I’ve noticed the respect you get in the peloton with an Etixx jersey. I’m not going to start the race thinking that I am going to fall off today. If you start living like that, you might just stay in bed all day. I did Liège six times without crashes before what happened in 2014.

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Preview: Who will master the Mur de Huy? Tue, 19 Apr 2016 12:56:22 +0000

The men will tackle the Mur de Huy three times, while the women will take it on twice. Photo: Tim De Waele |

Wednesday's Flèche Wallonne ends on the famed Mur de Huy, and the puncheurs of the peloton will be there fighting for a win.

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The men will tackle the Mur de Huy three times, while the women will take it on twice. Photo: Tim De Waele |

The peloton’s puncheurs take center stage Wednesday for the 80th edition of Flèche Wallonne. Tweaks to the course introduced last year, including a new climb within the final 6 kilometers, did little to change the outcome on the explosive finale up the emblematic Mur de Huy.

The Mur’s official numbers — 1.3km at 9.6 percent — defy its true menace. With ramps as steep as 23 percent, conquering the “Wall of Huy” is all about timing. Go too soon, and riders come over the top. Wait too long, and it’s too late to bring back the attackers. Experience counts on the Mur, with most of the winning moves coming at a sweet spot with about 400 meters to go.

Last year, Movistar’s Alejandro Valverde was victorious for the third time of his career, setting the stage for victory in Liège-Bastogne-Liège in his second career Ardennes double. On the women’s side, with the race now part of the UCI WorldTour calendar, Anna van der Breggen of Rabo – Liv kicked to an impressive win in 2015.

Valverde tops long list of favorites

More than a dozen riders start Wednesday with realistic chances for victory in a wide-open race. Movistar will have several cards to play, with two-time defending champ Valverde coming off two stage wins and the GC at the Vuelta a Castilla y León over the weekend. The Spanish outfit also brings former winner Dani Moreno and an improving Carlos Betancur, who was third in 2013.

“The field of contenders is completely different to what I had to face this weekend,” Valverde said. “Now it’s all about Flèche and Liège. The win? Well, we’ll see.”

Orica – GreenEdge will try to regroup after letting the Amstel Gold Race slip away Sunday. Simon Gerrans is skipping the race to save his matches for Liège, leaving Michael Matthews and consistent Flèche performer Michael Albasini leading the way (with Paris-Roubaix winner Mat Hayman to race in support).

“I don’t get many opportunities to ride for the win myself during the year,” Albasini said. “Flèche is one, and in general, I manage to score one or two wins per year with the team.”

Veterans such as Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha) and Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing), both former winners, hope to be up to the challenge coming from younger riders. Gilbert struggled in Sunday’s Amstel Gold Race, but he hopes to rebound.

“Amstel Gold didn’t go as I would have liked, but I’m taking things day by day with my fractured finger … I know the race well, I’ve won it before, and I’m hoping to have a better race Wednesday,” Gilbert said.

There are plenty of others who could win, including Etixx – Quick-Step’s Dan Martin and last year’s runner-up Julian Alaphilippe, who looks to be back on form after struggling with mononucleosis earlier this season. Etixx is also bringing Bob Jungels and Brabantse Pijl winner Petr Vakoc. Tim Wellens and Tony Gallopin lead Lotto – Soudal, while Sergio Henao looks sharp at Sky. Amstel Gold winner Enrico Gasparotto leads Wanty – Groupe Gobert, with Wilco Kelderman (LottoNL – Jumbo), Roman Kreuziger (Tinkoff), Rui Costa and Diego Ulissi (Lampre – Merida), and Tom-Jelte Slagter (Cannondale) could all deliver a podium ride.

Who can stop Boels – Dolmans?

Dating back to 1998, La Flèche Feminine has emerged as one of the thrilling races on the women’s calendar. The race is 40km longer than it was in its debut and contains 11 climbs — compared to six in 2002. Big names are associated with the race, including five-time winner Marianne Vos, Pauline Ferrand-Prévot, and Nicole Cooke.

The big question this year is who can stop Boels – Dolmans? The team is stacked with former winner Evelyn Stevens, Megan Guarnier, and world champion Lizzie Armitstead, who’s back in the saddle after winning the Tour of Flanders two weeks ago.

A big challenge will come from Rabo – Liv, which starts with defending champion Breggen, Ferrand-Prévot, and Vos. Emma Johansson is hot off a victory in Spain and will try to add the race to her palmares in her swansong season.

Minor tweaks to the course

At 196km, Flèche Wallonne isn’t as long or as hard as Liège, and it opens up the possibilities for more riders to dream of success. The addition of a new climb at Cote de Solières with 40km left, coupled with last year’s new climb at Cote de Cherave with 6.5km to go, make the race a touch more difficult. The race starts in Marche-en-Famenne and quickly steers into loops around Huy. The men tackle the Mur three times, with the finish atop the third ascent. The women finish on a second climb up the hill.

Ardennes double: A rare feat

Only eight riders have pulled off the Ardennes doubles, with victories in both Flèche and Liège. Four riders have done it over the past decade — Davide Rebellin in 2004, Valverde in 2006 and 2015, and Gilbert in 2011. Rebellin and Gilbert also won the Amstel Gold Race in their respective streaks. Ferdi Kubler is the only rider to do it two years in a row, in 1951 and 1952. Stans Ockers managed it in 1955, Eddy Merckx in 1972, and Moreno Argentin in 1991.

Weather: Sunny, clear skies

Forecasters are calling for ideal racing conditions, with sunny skies, highs in the mid-60s, and northeasterly winds up to 15kph kicking up in the afternoon.

History lesson: Lots of Belgians, and two Americans

Flèche Wallonne (the Walloon arrow) is a relatively new addition into the spring classics schedule, with roots dating back to 1936. Belgians lead the palmares on the men’s side with 38 wins. Italians are second with 18, but Spain has won four in a row: Rodríguez in 2012, Dani Moreno in 2013, and Valverde in 2014 and 2015. Vos has won a record five times. The lone Americans? Lance Armstrong in 1996 and Stevens in 2012.

80th Fleche Wallonne

Marche-en-Famenne to Mur de Huy, 196km

19th Fleche Feminine

Mur de Huy circuit, 137km

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Ardennes classics: Popularity waning, but why? Mon, 18 Apr 2016 20:23:12 +0000

The Ardennes classics are brutally hard and deep with tradition, but they don't seem to match the broader appeal of the cobbled races held not far away in Flanders. Photo: Tim De Waele |

The growing pull of the cobbles seems to have sucked the life out of the season’s other classics, especially the Ardennes.

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The Ardennes classics are brutally hard and deep with tradition, but they don't seem to match the broader appeal of the cobbled races held not far away in Flanders. Photo: Tim De Waele |

Classics season reaches well beyond the windswept flats of Flanders and northern France. But these days, you’d hardly know it.

The growing pull of the cobbles seems to have sucked the life out of the season’s other classics, especially the Ardennes. If you throw in Brabantse Pijl and Amstel Gold Race, the so-called “Ardennes week,” anchored by Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège, should be a natural extension to cobbles week.

It once was. Liège rightfully ranks as one of cycling’s monuments, with epic editions that have included Eddy Merckx’s solo attack in 1971 through 92 kilometers of rain and snow, and Bernard Hinault’s battle through the snow in 1980.

Yet the Ardennes races have lost their luster in recent years. It could be because these races lack the unpredictability that has made the cobbles such crowd favorites. The hillier, demanding courses of the Ardennes have fallen victim to the growing collective strength of teams. In a way echoing the GC style of racing — with a few big squads controlling the pace to set up their captains for the finale — the Ardennes follow familiar scripts each year. In 2015, Movistar was so strong that Alejandro Valverde was able to sit back and watch his teammates cover the moves, then simply ride off everyone’s wheel with less than 400 meters to go to win Liège.

It’s rare for a rider in this era to uncork a Merckx-style, long-range attack in the Ardennes and have it stick. At Liège, the winning moves used to happen at the Côte de la Redoute, at about 40 kilometers to go. But over the past 10 years, as the peloton has changed gears, nothing has been able to stick from so far out. Race organizers added a new climb — La Roche aux Faucons, at 20 kilometers to go — in hopes of livening things up, but even that has proven a touch too far out to tempt riders into solo moves.

There’s also a cultural difference that adds another dimension. Cycling reaches levels of national obsession in Flanders, where an estimated one million people line the roadside for De Ronde, rain or shine. In contrast, in the French-speaking, less-populated Wallonne region, cycling simply doesn’t have the same penetration, so the races draw smaller crowds. There’s also the simple fact that the bleak industrial landscape of Liège cannot match the photogenic beauty of places like Bruges, host of the annual start of Flanders.

But if the Ardennes don’t draw the same thick roadside crowds, for the riders, they still hold plenty of allure.

“The Ardennes are still special,” says Trek – Segafredo’s Fränk Schleck, winner of Amstel Gold in 2006. “It seems true that the media is paying a lot of attention to the cobblestones, but inside the peloton, I know these races are still very important. For me, and riders like me, they’re the biggest goal of the year behind the Tour.”

In 2016, even if the Ardennes can’t quite match the buzz of the northern classics, they’ll boast equally deep fields. Joining the list of favorites will be 2014 world champion Michal Kwiatkowski, who’ll try to deliver Sky’s first monument victory. Dan Martin and Rigoberto Urán swap places at Etixx – Quick-Step and Cannondale, and both will be hungry for success, especially at Liège. Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha), winner of Flèche Wallonne in 2012, leads the crop of Spaniards that also includes Valverde. The occasional GC rider, such as Sky’s Chris Froome or BMC’s Tejay van Garderen, will parachute in, as will the Yates brothers (Orica-GreenEdge). There’s also last year’s breakout rider in the Ardennes, Julian Alaphilippe (Etixx – Quick-Step), second in both Flèche and Liège in 2015.

Then there’s Philippe Gilbert, who grew up at the base of La Redoute. Winner of the rare Ardennes treble (Amstel Gold, Flèche Wallonne, and Liège) in 2011, he says nothing can take away from the prestige of these events. “Oh, for me, Liège is the biggest win of my career, along with the worlds title,” he says. “I think for anyone in the peloton, they would like to have Liège in their palmarès. It’s a special race.”

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Puerto scandal’s Fuentes appears in leaked Panama Papers Mon, 18 Apr 2016 14:33:19 +0000

Eufemiano Fuentes was part of the “Operación Puerto” doping scandal. Photo: Tim De Waele |

An account owned by Eufemiano Fuentes is linked to a transfer of 900,000 euros in the mid-2000s.

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Eufemiano Fuentes was part of the “Operación Puerto” doping scandal. Photo: Tim De Waele |

Eufemiano Fuentes, the Spanish doctor at the center of the “Operación Puerto” doping scandal a decade ago, appears in the “Panama Papers,” a Spanish daily reported Monday.

The international finance scandal has touched dozens of high-profile sports figures, including soccer star Leo Messi, but Monday’s allegations made in “El Confidencial” and Spanish TV’s “La Sexta” include Fuentes as the first major link to cycling.

According to reports in Spanish media, Fuentes opened an offshore account in 2005 using the offices of Mossack Fonseca, the international law firm at the center of the hacked documents that reveal how the world’s richest companies and individuals divert money offshore.

According to reports, Fuentes and an associate closed the account just weeks after he was detained as part of the Puerto scandal in May 2006. The documents revealed that Fuentes is linked to a transfer of 900,000 euros as a payment via “Trout Investment Corp.,” registered in Panama, but it is not known if those funds came from his illicit activities as part of the Puerto doping ring, or from other sources.

Several other Spanish officials and public personalities have been linked to offshore accounts via the “Panama Papers,” including Spanish movie director Pedro Almodovar, the sister of the former king of Spain, and a government minister, who resigned four days after his name appeared in the papers.

There was no comment from Fuentes, who was found guilty for endangering public health in the long-running Puerto trial. He is currently appealing the ruling and has returned to medical practice in his native Canary Islands.

Officials are awaiting an appeal ruling in the Puerto case that will determine if anti-doping officials can finally get their hands on up to 200 bags of blood and other evidence currently in the hands of the Spanish courts. Officials were hoping for a decision by early April, but there is still no news from the Spanish appellate court.

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Valverde taking Giro debut very seriously Mon, 18 Apr 2016 12:48:02 +0000

Alejandro Valverde has six Ardennes classics wins. Photo: Tim De Waele |

Alejandro Valverde has six wins in the Ardennes classics, but this week he's focused on staying safe and fit for his Giro d'Italia debut.

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Alejandro Valverde has six Ardennes classics wins. Photo: Tim De Waele |

Alejandro Valverde downplayed his chances ahead of the Ardennes classics despite roaring to victory at the three-day Vuelta a Castilla y León over the weekend in Spain.

The Movistar rider won two stages and the overall at Castilla y León, but he admitted things will be tougher when he faces off against a much deeper, WorldTour field as he defends titles at both Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège later this week.

“The field of contenders is completely different to what I had to face this weekend,” Valverde said in a team press release. “Those are races I’ve really enjoyed for years, but my main goal at the moment is staying safe and keeping my form going up before the biggest goal of the early season for me, which is the Giro [d’Italia].”

Those remarks only reconfirm that Valverde is taking his Giro debut very seriously. In fact, he tweaked his spring racing calendar, bypassing the Tour of Flanders and Amstel Gold Race, to train and race to better hone his approach to the Giro.

Valverde is usually a major player in the Ardennes classics. Why? The courses are not only perfectly suited for him, but in a typical year, Valverde hits his spring peak form for the Ardennes before taking a break ahead of the Tour de France. This year is different, and the team is hoping Valverde can hit top strength in May to challenge for the Giro’s pink jersey. That means he won’t be at his absolute best this week.

Valverde will be in the mix in the hilly Ardennes races, however. He’s won Liège and Flèche three times each, and he’s twice pulled off the double (2006, 2015). Spanish riders have won Flèche the last four years: Joaquim Rodríguez, Dani Moreno, and Valverde the past two seasons. At Liège, Valverde’s been on the podium in every year’s he’s raced dating back to 2006, except in 2009 when he finished 19th.

Racing in Spain over the weekend, Movistar dominated the peloton with a mix of smaller teams, winning all three stages and the overall. Carlos Betancur won his first race in two years with the flowers in the opening stage Friday. Valverde won the second, with Betancur still in the leader’s jersey, but the Colombian couldn’t hold the pace in Sunday’s mountaintop finale, opening the door for Valverde’s overall triumph.

The victory was Valverde’s 95th of his career, and the 12th for Movistar in 2016. The overall was also Movistar’s fourth stage race win of the year, along with Dayer Quintana at the Tour de San Luís, Nairo Quintana at the Volta a Catalunya, and Valverde at Ruta del Sol and Castilla y León.

“The race couldn’t have gone better, and this is an excellent way to get the racing pace and start building up before the Giro, which I am so excited about,” Valverde said. “Now it’s all about Flèche and Liège. The win? Well, we’ll see.”

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Contador puts Tour rivals on notice Fri, 15 Apr 2016 14:06:25 +0000

Alberto Contador finished second overall at Paris-Nice last month. Photo: Tim De Waele |

The veteran Spaniard is currently taking some rest after a solid spring season that netted him three victories.

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Alberto Contador finished second overall at Paris-Nice last month. Photo: Tim De Waele |

Alberto Contador is taking a few days of well-deserved rest after a highly successful spring, but his rivals should be on notice if they are not already.

The Spanish veteran is clearly back at his best, capped by a fourth overall victory at the Tour of the Basque Country last week, and he is comparing his form to how he felt two seasons ago.

“I feel like I did in 2014,” the Tinkoff rider told the Spanish daily MARCA. “I hope to have better luck.”

The 2014 season was a good one for Contador, perhaps his best since his controversial disqualification of his 2010 Tour de France win due to traces of clenbuterol discovered in his system. In 2011, he raced the Tour in what was a chaotic season, only to have that result erased due to his backdated racing ban. He was sidelined from the 2012 Tour as part of that ban, and returned the following summer only to be blasted out of the water by a superior Chris Froome.

A motivated and fit Contador looked to be back in top shape in 2014, only to crash out in the Vosges without having a chance to race the decisive mountain stages. Last year, after winning the Giro d’Italia as part of a double attempt, Contador later admitted the Italian effort fatigued him more than he expected, and could only muster fifth overall in Paris.

“[2014] was the only year of the past few seasons that I’ve truly arrived in top form to the Tour, and then I had that fall,” Contador said. “This could be a year similar to 2014, and I am doing everything in the best possible manner, excited to arrive to the Tour like I did then, and have better luck.”

The 33-year-old won’t return to racing until the Critérium du Dauphiné in June, when he said he hopes to be even stronger than he is now.

Things are looking good for Contador coming out of the early spring races, and he’s optimistic he can hit top form this summer to challenge for the yellow jersey and then the gold medal at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in August.

“Now I will take a break, so that my next peak of form will be even higher,” Contador said. “It won’t be very long before I return to working, and I will return at the Dauphiné before the Tour and to take advantage of the long climbs at the Olympic Games that’s for climbers. I will be excited to represent my country and try to do something beautiful.”

This year, he’s putting everything on arriving to Paris in top form in what was supposed to be his last shot at the Tour. He’s feeling so good that he announced last week that he’s putting off retirement plans for at least one more season, hinting that he will start his own team in 2017.

Contador’s strong spring campaign put him into No. 2 in the WorldTour rankings, just behind teammate Peter Sagan.

“He’s in great shape and deserves this win after his second places in Algarve, Paris-Nice, and Catalunya,” Tinkoff sport director Sean Yates said in a team release. “The stage win [in the time trial] was icing on the cake.”

Here’s how Contador’s 2014 and 2016 spring seasons compare:


— Volta ao Algarve: Stage win and second overall, 19 seconds behind winner Michal Kwiatkowski
— Tirreno-Adriatico: Two stage wins and first overall, 2:05 ahead of Nairo Quintana
— Volta a Catalunya: Second overall at 4 seconds behind Joaquim Rodríguez
— Vuelta al País Vasco: Stage win and first overall, 49 seconds ahead of Kwiatkowski

2014 total: 25 race days, six victories


— Volta ao Algarve: Stage win and third overall, 26 seconds behind winner Geraint Thomas
— Paris-Nice, second overall, 4 seconds behind winner Thomas
— Volta a Catalunya: Second overall, 7 seconds behind winner Nairo Quintana
— Vuelta al País Vasco: Stage win and 12-second victory over Sergio Henao

2016 total: 25 race days, three victories

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Valverde skipping Amstel Gold for Giro prep Fri, 15 Apr 2016 13:12:56 +0000

Alejandro Valverde is serious about going for the pink jersey at the Giro d'Italia next month. Photo: Tim De Waele |

The Spaniard has never won the opening Ardennes classic, and this year he's racing at Vuelta a Castilla y León to prep for his Giro debut.

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Alejandro Valverde is serious about going for the pink jersey at the Giro d'Italia next month. Photo: Tim De Waele |

If there was any doubt about how serious Alejandro Valverde is for his Giro d’Italia debut next month, just look at how he’s taking on the spring classics.

Earlier this month, the Movistar captain pulled the plug on a planned start at the Tour of Flanders to train at altitude as he sharpens his pre-Giro form. And instead of racing Amstel Gold Race this weekend, the only race of Ardennes week he’s never won, he’s racing the three-day Vuelta a Castilla y León.

Valverde will return to the Ardennes next week to defend his titles at Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

“Tirreno-Adriatico and the pace of the race made Alejandro look toward the Giro even more excited than he already was,” Movistar general manager Eusebio Unzué said in a team release. “That’s why we both agreed it was better to change his race program, so he tackles the first grand tour of the year with focus and calmness, with the best physical condition possible, yet not avoiding two races — Flèche and Liège — where we both have got great results during the last decade.”

The Vuelta a Castilla y León across northern Spain starts Friday and ends Sunday with a summit finish to Alto de Candelario in the mountains west of Madrid.

The Spanish tour will give Valverde a few days of race speed in his legs before returning to the Ardennes, where he won both Flèche and Liège last year in dominant fashion.

This year, Valverde is taking on the Giro for the first time of his career, and he’s showing signs that he’s going all-in for a shot at overall victory. The Giro should see one of its deepest GC fields in a while, with 2013 winner Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), Mikel Landa (Sky), Tom Dumoulin (Giant – Alpecin), Jean Christophe Péraud (Ag2r La Mondiale), Esteban Chaves (Orica – GreenEdge), Rigoberto Urán (Cannondale), 2012 winner Ryder Hesjedal (Trek – Segafredo), and Rafal Majka (Tinkoff) all lining up with podium ambitions.

With Valverde targeting the Giro, the road is open for Nairo Quintana to take over full leadership at the Tour de France in July. Valverde might start the Tour as well, but he said he would ride to support Quintana. After placing third in last year’s edition, Valverde said he would also use the Tour to prepare for the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

On Friday, Movistar released its long list for the Giro, with 11 names that will be trimmed to nine starters after the Tour de Romandie and Vuelta a Asturias in early May.

Joining Valverde will be eight of these 10 riders: Andrey Amador, Giovanni Visconti, Alex Dowsett, Jasha Sütterlin, Rory Sutherland, Antonio Pedrero, JJ Rojas, José Herrada, Javi Moreno and Rubén Fernández.

No matter who gets selected, Valverde will start the Giro with one of the strongest teams in the peloton.

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Emotion on the infield: Roubaix hides nothing, reveals all Mon, 11 Apr 2016 14:40:48 +0000

Few can realize their dreams of winning Paris-Roubaix, but Matthew Hayman did just that on Sunday, stunning Tom Boonen and other top favorites. Photo: Tim De Waele |

Sunday’s epic Paris–Roubaix battle was one of the best in years, fueled by pure power and raw emotion in cycling’s most honest race.

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Few can realize their dreams of winning Paris-Roubaix, but Matthew Hayman did just that on Sunday, stunning Tom Boonen and other top favorites. Photo: Tim De Waele |

ROUBAIX, France (VN) — Paris–Roubaix is cycling’s most honest race. There’s no hiding. Apart from one rider each year, the cobbles always win. Even the strongest of men can be reduced to tears, sometimes of joy, but usually of anguish.

Sunday’s epic battle was one of the best in years, fueled by pure power and raw emotion. Team politics didn’t ruin the race. No one was sitting in. It was full-gas from the gun in Compiègne, rider against rider, and the suspense held until the five-up sprint on the velodrome at Roubaix. It was one-day racing at its absolute best.

The infield lawn of the Roubaix velodrome is like a cycling theater-in-the-round. Its large expanse at the center of the 750-meter oval is where riders regroup, reflect, and recover after a Sunday in hell. Sacred ground for a sacred race.

Each rider pedals onto the velodrome’s lawn with a mix of relief and disappointment, a few with smiles, and nearly all collapse in exhaustion. Arriving to the finish line and the green warmth of the oval is victory enough.

Each brings tales laden with dread and joy, and exalt and exasperation. From cagey veterans, like Movistar’s Emanol Irviti, who rode into the top-10 after 12 career starts, to Paris-Roubaix rookies. First-timer Wouter Wippert of Cannondale rode into the velodrome dusty and tired, long after Mathew Hayman collected his pavé trophy, but ready with a joke — “Why can’t we just race on normal roads?”

Roubaix is a cold and ruthless arbiter, and the superstars are not immune to disappointment. World champion Peter Sagan, who electrified the public with his acrobatic save, bunny-hopping over a crash, rode in a small circles on the lawn after crossing the line 11th, lost in his thoughts, demonized by what might have happened had he not been caught behind the race-breaking crash that split the bunch before the Arenberg Forest.

BMC’s Taylor Phinney ended a long, painful journey back to Roubaix’s oval in quiet repose. Nearly two years after a horrific crash almost ended his career, he sat alone on the infield grass after kicking to second in his bunch sprint, soaking in the enormity of his achievement: “I have more of an appreciation of how hard it is to finish this race now. I’m happy that I was able to make it here.”

In the post-race protocol, which is so familiar to Tom Boonen (Etixx – Quick-Step), he proudly bowed to the cheering crowd, but from the wrong step on the podium. One bike-length short of a record fifth Roubaix trophy, which will haunt him for a long time, and just might keep him in the peloton for another year.

Moments later, Fabian Cancellara bounded into the velodrome, bruised and dusty, but not beaten despite three crashes that knocked him out of contention. He collapsed into the arms of his parents, wife, and children waiting for him as fans from Switzerland applauded their hero from the grandstands. Even an awkward fall on the velodrome while brandishing a large Swiss flag couldn’t ruin his Roubaix farewell. Journalists mobbed “Spartacus” for his reflections on his final stampede, but almost no one noticed Yaroslav Popovych quietly celebrating with Trek soigneurs in what was his final race after a 15-year career.

Despite what appears to be an intrinsic cruelty, Roubaix gives much more than it takes away. More dreams are shattered than realized over the impartiality of the stones, but nearly everyone keeps coming back for more. The pain triggers an addiction that can span a career. Hayman raced 15 Roubaixs before winning Sunday.

“All the guys who are here, they love it,” Hayman said. “This has always been my favorite race. The crowds encourage every single rider, from the front to the back. It’s a special race for me, and always has been, and always will be.”

Of the 198 starters, only 119 finished. Seven were transported to local hospitals, including Sky’s Elia Viviani, who was lucky to avoid more serious injury when struck by a motorcycle in the treacherous Arenberg sector, posting on Twitter: “Today I was unlucky, but also the most lucky of the world!”

Four made it to the velodrome — Matthias Brandle (IAM), Sam Bennett (Bora – Argon 18), Marco Coledan (Trek – Segafredo), and Ryan Anderson (Direct Energie — only to be cruelly eliminated by the time cut. Surely the “hors délai” rule can be softened for a race as grueling and painful as Roubaix? Riders race Roubaix out of love and respect, and no one should be denied a chance to earn an official result because they were a few minutes short of some arbitrary time percentage. At Roubaix, there is no tomorrow.

Just one minute behind his compatriot’s fairytale victory, IAM’s Heinrich Haussler lay strewn on the grass, a lush green bed so much more inviting than the harsh pavé. Sixth place was his best since his breakout 2009 season, the year he was second at both Milano-Sanremo and the Tour of Flanders, a time when everything seemed possible. That seems so long ago, but Haussler keeps fighting for something that may never come true: “I’m really, really happy. To pull out a top-10, with sixth place, is un-f—king-believable.”

Groups of riders still trickled in long after the podium ceremony was completed. Fans cheered each one to the last.

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