» Andrew Hood Competitive Cycling News, Race Results and Bike Reviews Mon, 27 Apr 2015 14:57:23 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Preview: Liege could close spring classics season in dramatic fashion Fri, 24 Apr 2015 13:07:07 +0000

Alejandro Valverde, Michal Kwiatkowski, and Philippe Gilbert are three of several riders who could win Sunday. Photo: Tim De Waele |

Sunday's Liège-Bastogne-Liège could cap the spring classics season in dramatic fashion, pitting young guns against experienced veterans

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Alejandro Valverde, Michal Kwiatkowski, and Philippe Gilbert are three of several riders who could win Sunday. Photo: Tim De Waele |

The 2015 spring classics season wraps up Sunday with what should be a dramatic exclamation point on a campaign full of aging warhorses and emerging stars.

Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) and John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin) emerged as major forces in the northern cobbles, with huge wins at Flanders and Roubaix, respectively, while world champion Michal Kwiatkowski (Etixx-Quick-Step) scored a major coup at the Amstel Gold Race. All are young, talented, and poised to become the riders of reference across the spring classics.

Some aging veterans still had something to say, with Luca Paolini (Katusha) taking a win at Gent-Wevelgem and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) at Flèche Wallonne, to prove that experience and guile still have a place in the peloton.

Sunday’s 101st Liège-Bastogne-Liège should see a showdown between youth and experience in the hilliest of the northern classics. With its long distance — 253 kilometers — and series of ever-more-difficult climbs, the Ardennes monument tips a rider who can go the distance, have the nose to follow the moves, and then the legs to finish it off out of a reduced bunch.

A dozen or so favorites line up with realistic chances to win. Two-time winner Valverde is clearly on spectacular form, and will be the man to beat. Anything can happen in the final hour of racing, but if this year’s previous races are anything to go by, expect to see a fairly large group to hit the base of the final slog up to the finish line in Ans. A winning move could come just before the final right-hander. Last year, Daniel Martin (Cannondale-Garmin) looked to have another win in the bag, only to slip out, opening the door for Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEdge).

The favorites: The Spanish armada

As a nation, Spain has won Liège just twice, both of them coming thanks to No. 1 favorite Valverde, but the Spanish armada will be out in force Sunday. Spain’s “Green Bullet” will see excellent support from Movistar, and is clearly on top form from his impressive win Wednesday at Flèche Wallonne. The Spanish mountain goats always fare better in the Ardennes than they do over the punishing pavé, so watch for Joaquim Rodríguez and Dani Moreno (Katusha), Luis León Sánchez (Astana), and Samuel Sánchez (BMC Racing) to mash it up. Valverde and Rodríguez have the best chances to deliver another Spanish win.

“Liège is a beautiful race, and perhaps the one I like most and the one that suits me best, and I dream of being in the mix again Sunday,” Valverde said. “We have high morale, but we’re also going into the weekend with tranquility. We won one, and second in the other [Amstel Gold Race], that gives us confidence for Sunday.”

The other top favorites

World champ Kwiatkowski will be looking to forget his disappointing Flèche (33rd) and remember his winning ways from Amstel Gold Race. Zdenek Stybar (Etixx) will be making his Liège debut, and his teammate Julian Alaphilippe, the 22-year-old phenom who was second to Valverde up the Mur de Huy, will give the squad several cards to play.

Two former winners — Philippe Gilbert (BMC, 2011) and Martin (2013) — both hit the deck Wednesday at what was a very nervous Flèche. Both should be back for the fight Sunday, but could be a touch off their best. The added distance and demands of Liège require a potential winner to be at the top of his game, so it’s hard to say just how rattled they will be until they’re deep into the race Sunday.

Bolstered by the news that it will not lose its WorldTour license, Astana will likely be charged up for a big ride Sunday. Vincenzo Nibali has been close before, and he’s a prototypical rider who can go the distance and have the kick at the end to seriously challenge for victory. Fabio Aru, who pulled out of the Giro del Trentino due to a stomach bug, is also slated to start his first Liège.

Bauke Mollema (Trek Factory Racing), Wilco Kelderman (LottoNL-Jumbo), Roman Kreuziger (Tinkoff-Saxo), and Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida) could all easily ride into contention if they can stay upright and save their legs for the final decisive moves.

Orica-GreenEdge returns as the defending champion, but Simon Gerrans will still likely be short of contending for a second consecutive win. Michael Albasini, third at Flèche, Daryl Impey, and Simon Yates give the team added depth.

Orica sport director Matt White said he expects another fairly large group to arrive to the final kilometer of the race.

“It’s the most demanding one-day classic of the lot as far as climbing is concerned,” White said. “I think the general trend at all of the classics is that you are seeing bigger and bigger groups closer to the finish. The style of racing in one-day racing has changed.”

A course for climbers

Of cycling’s five monuments, Liège is the one that’s best suited for pure climbers. GC riders stand a chance to win here, with the palmares including such names as Merckx and Hinault, but in modern cycling, a fast finishing kick is also needed to go along with the legs to go the 253km distance of the Belgian out-and-back.

There is no shortage of climbs in the looping route around the Belgian Ardennes, with 10 major ascents in the six-and-a-half-hour race. Though none are terribly long — Col du Rosier at 194km is the longest at 4.4km — what they lack in distance they make up for in punch. The famous Cote de Stockeu is 12 percent, while the final three climbs, including the Redoute, Roche-aux-Faucons, and Saint-Nicolas, all hover around nine percent. Ideal terrain for the puncheurs to pounce.

The race typically sees a fairly large breakaway form in the first hour of racing. Up to a dozen riders can pull clear, often building a sizable gap as the pack pushes south toward Bastogne at 107km, the turnaround point and when the real racing begins.

In today’s peloton, the Stockeu, at 175km, is way too far to make a Merckxian-style attack. The real action begins at the Redoute at 218km. Although the steep, narrow climb is no longer the launching pad for winning moves, it still serves to fracture the peloton and see the first real aggression of the race among the favorites. The relatively new climb at Roche-aux-Faucons at 234km is now the reference point for riders looking to make long, solo moves. The steep climb is followed by a false-flat that provides ideal terrain for riders such as Nibali to make long-distance forays.

The final major climb at Saint-Nicolas will see the front pack whittled down if it’s not already, but the final run up to the Ans is where the winning moves can be made. In today’s much more balanced and equal peloton, the winning surge might not come until 500m to go, and even then, it could be a reduced-bunch sprint.

Weather: Could be sloppy

The race could see some sloppy weather, with a 50 percent chance of showers, temperatures in the low 60s, and 10 mph southerly winds that pick up during the afternoon. If it’s rainy and windy, expect to see more selection in the final hour of racing, and crashes.

History lesson: The oldest of the old

Liège is called “la doyenne” for a reason. As far as bike races go, this is one of the oldest. Dating back to 1892, the race celebrates its 101st edition this year. Belgians, naturally, hog the record books, with 59 wins as a nation — which includes a record five victories courtesy of Eddy Merckx. Moreno Argentin won four times, helping to give Italy the second-most victories per nation with 12.

Valverde could match history

Valverde could match history if he wins Liège on Sunday. Coupled with his win Wednesday at Flèche Wallonne, he could become the second rider to win both races in the same year twice in their career. Ferdi Kubler is the only rider to pull off the Ardennes double twice, in 1951 and 1952. Valverde did it in 2006. Others who achieved the milestone include Stan Ockers (1955), Merckx (1972), Argentin (1991), Davide Rebellin (2004), and Philippe Gilbert (2011).

VeloNews’ pick: Valverde

When it’s long, hard, and a fast finish, there are few in the peloton who can match Valverde’s depth and speed. He’s twice mastered the finale into Ans with victories, and finished on the podium four additional times, including second last year and third in 2013. Valverde just keeps getting better with age and he’s hitting the Ardennes in even better condition than last year. With the backing of a strong Movistar squad, Valverde should be able to avoid trouble, let his team control late-race aggression, and then tee it up in the decisive final kilometers. After a second at Amstel Gold, and a victory at Flèche Wallonne, Valverde will be looking to close out his classics season with a huge ride Sunday.

Our outsider pick: Pozzovivo

Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r La Mondiale) won’t bubble onto many favorite’s lists, but he’s been riding consistently over the past month, notching a stage win at the highly contested Volta a Catalunya in March, and giving Richie Porte (Sky) a run for his money Thursday with a stage win at the Giro del Trentino. Fifth last year in his Liège debut, Pozzovivo could surprise the favorites. To win, he will need to ride everyone off his wheel, because others are faster than he is in a reduced bunch sprint.

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Porte’s Trentino stage win bolsters Giro d’Italia creds Wed, 22 Apr 2015 19:32:53 +0000

Richie Porte was clearly the strongest rider on the day in the second stage of the Giro del Trentino. Photo: Tim De Waele |

A convincing victory in stage 2 of the Giro del Trentino has Richie Porte looking well-positioned for success at next month's Giro d'Italia

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Richie Porte was clearly the strongest rider on the day in the second stage of the Giro del Trentino. Photo: Tim De Waele |

Richie Porte (Sky) continues to barnstorm through the spring calendar, notching his seventh win of 2015 Wednesday, with an emphatic stage victory at the second stage of the Giro del Trentino high in the Italian Alps.

The 30-year-old Tasmanian has clearly stepped up big-time in 2015, and with his climbing-stage victory Wednesday, he takes control of the overall leader’s jersey in the key warm-up race ahead of his season’s major goal at the Giro d’Italia, less than three weeks away.

Porte attacked with 2km to go to open up a sizable gap over his rivals, and maintained the advantage to take a convincing stage victory and grab the overall leader’s jersey by 24 seconds.

“It’s nice to come here and win a stage like today,” said Porte after the race. “It was such a hard stage. It was great to see Bora honor the jersey and do the work they did. But credit to my team and especially Kosta Siutsou, he was incredible today. I’m really happy with how it turned out. I’m here to win this race.”

Last season was a bit of a bust for Porte, who saw his chances of shining at the Giro d’Italia and later at the Tour de France undermined by illness. Following recovery, Porte admitted he went back to the drawing board, and realized he had to dedicate himself fully to being a professional cyclist if he wanted to fulfill his highly touted potential.

So far, things could not have gone better for Porte this year. He won the overall at both Paris-Nice and the Volta a Catalunya, two highly contested back-to-back World Tour-caliber races in March. In his first European stage race in February, he won a stage and was fourth overall at the Volta a Algarve.

After training at altitude on Tenerife, Porte and has come roaring into the four-day Trentino race clearly firing at all cylinders, with his team working like a well-oiled machine in support of his bid for victory.

In Tuesday’s 13.3km team time trial opener, Team Sky tied on time with Bora-Argon 18, but the German squad took the win and jersey on a tiebreaker.

On Wednesday, Sky rode the 168.2km stage from Arco to Brentonico as if they were in the leader’s jersey. Sky set a brutal pace to thin the peloton, with Porte safely protected by riders he’ll be bringing to the Giro with him next month. No one could match Porte’s firepower up the final summit finale, with Mikel Landa (Astana), a winner of a stage at the Vuelta al País Vasco (Tour of the Basque Country) earlier this month, taking second 16 seconds back and Damiano Cunego (Nippo-Vini Fantini), a former three-time winner at Trentino, leading a group of four across the line at 32 seconds adrift.

“I didn’t feel at my best today. I came down from altitude on Friday, but to win with legs like I had today is a massive confidence booster,” Porte said. “But it’s a team sport and the work the guys put in today for me was the cherry on top of the icing on the cake. … Ian Boswell has really stepped up this year, and he attacked at the beginning of the penultimate climb, which helped force the selection. Then it came back and it was the Kosta show. He paced the whole climb. We talked on the bus this morning that we wanted to have four guys at the bottom of the last climb, and we had that. That’s what set me up for the win. There was no other team with as many numbers there as we had.”

The victory puts Porte in the driver’s seat going into Thursday’s three-climb, uphill finale in stage 3. If he can hold onto the lead, Friday’s rolling stage shouldn’t present major problems for what would be his third stage race victory of the season.

Another GC victory would provide Porte with another huge boost going into the Giro. The Trentino field is hardly world-class, even less so after Fabio Aru (Astana) was a late-hour scratch due to stomach problems, but the overall would reconfirm Porte’s Giro credentials in dramatic fashion.

Of the pre-Giro favorites, Porte has been the most prolific so far in 2015. Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) has only one win all season, with a stage victory at the Ruta del Sol in February, followed by less-than-spectacular rides at Tirreno-Adriatico (fifth overall) and the Tour of the Basque Country (fourth). Contador is taking aim at the Giro-Tour double this year, and has continually said he does not want to peak too early, so he’s been holding back with an eye on riding into winning form at the Giro, and then keeping enough in the tank for an assault at the Tour.

Rigoberto Urán (Etixx-Quick Step), two years running as the Giro runner-up, won the Colombian time trial title in January, then finished a solid third at Tirreno behind Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and fifth at Basque Country. He’s traveled home to Colombia to train at altitude before a return to Europe next month ahead of the Giro.

Aru, who was out-gunned by Porte at both Paris-Nice (39th) and Catalunya (sixth), will be hoping that his stomach bug isn’t more than a temporary setback before the Giro. He’s penciled in to race Liège-Bastogne-Liège on Sunday, but will miss the four days of hard racing in his legs as he approaches the Giro as the top Italian favorite for the pink jersey.

Porte’s stock is clearly on the rise ahead of the corsa rosa, and he’s been by far the best performer of the pre-Giro favorites. The only question is whether will he have the legs to hold out the inevitable assaults from Aru and Contador in the Giro’s high climbs. Those two know they will need to take important gains out of Porte before the 59.2km individual time trial in stage 14.

“It’s the last big hit out for me before the Giro,” Porte said Wednesday. “I’m happy with where my form is going into the Giro d’Italia.”

The Trentino tour has long been a springboard to Giro success for such riders as Ivan Basso, Cunego, and Vincenzo Nibali. Will history repeat itself in 2015? Porte will certainly be hoping so.

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Fleche Wallonne: New climb adds twist to Mur finale Tue, 21 Apr 2015 13:08:18 +0000

The peloton will climb the Mur de Huy three times in Wednesday's Flèche Wallonne. Photo: Tim De Waele |

Flèche Wallonne organizers added a new climb near the finish of Wednesday's race, but the race could still be decided on the Mur de Huy

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The peloton will climb the Mur de Huy three times in Wednesday's Flèche Wallonne. Photo: Tim De Waele |

The Amaury Sports Organisation is often accused of being stodgy, out of touch, arrogant, and, if you believe the complaints of team owners trying to get a piece of their TV revenues, the main impediment holding back the evolution of cycling.

But the owner of the Tour de France and a mix of one-day and week-long stage races has done more than its fair share to prop up cycling, saving such races as Paris-Nice and the Critérium du Dauphiné from oblivion. ASO has continued to add new twists to its respective races, while trying to respect the traditions of the sport without forgetting the modern audience — never an easy balance. Think cobblestones in the first week of the Tour de France and the climb-fest that is now synonymous with the Vuelta a España (ASO purchased the Vuelta in 2008 and took full control in 2014).

As the owner of a trio of spring classics — Paris-Roubaix, Flèche Wallonne, and Liège-Bastogne-Liège — ASO has helped to promote the recent boom and interest in the one-day races. While Roubaix remains eternal, ASO hasn’t been shy about shaking up both Flèche and Liège to keep things interesting. In 2008, it added the Roche aux Faucons at 17 kilometers from the Liège finale to open up the Belgian monument.

For 2015, ASO is tweaking the formula at Flèche Wallonne in a bid to add another layer of surprise, the Cote de Cherave with 5km to go, into what’s become a predictable road map to the approach to the decisive Mur de Huy.

The short but steep climb will certainly keep the favorites on their toes, meaning that it might not all come down to the final charge up the Mur de Huy. It might not change anything, but no one can accuse ASO of resting on its laurels.

Fresh twist: A new climb before the Mur

Flèche Wallonne is synonymous with the Mur de Huy, the emblematic “wall” on an escarpment above the riverside town of Huy deep in the Belgian Ardennes. The finish line is on the third passage up the Mur in a series of loops. The roadway is nothing spectacular, passing through a residential neighborhood and a series of chapels to a church atop the hill, but what it lacks in setting it makes up for in steepness. Its average grade of 9.6 percent is deceiving, because the 1.3km climb features ramps as steep as 17 percent, with one sector on a switchback at 26 percent.

Timing is everything on the explosive Mur. If a rider attacks too soon, he will inevitably run out of gas and get reeled in. Leaving too late is also a danger. The decisive surge comes in a sweet spot after a steep corner with about 450 meters to go.

The Flèche route has evolved over the years, and organizers have thrown in a few new hurdles over the past decade or so to try to spice up the finale. The race invariably comes down to the final assault of the Mur, but the addition of the new climb could throw a wrench in the traditional game plan. The Cote de Cherave (1.3km at 8.1 percent) could give wings to early breakaways as well as serve to bust up the main pack. Riders will be desperate to stay at the front and avoid getting gapped in the approach to the Mur.

The favorites: Usual suspects

Take a glance at the results sheet from Sunday’s Amstel Gold Race, and you’ll quickly have an idea of who will likely win Flèche.

Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) returns as defending champion, and looks to be on top form, but right behind him is another dozen riders who will be elbowing their way to front position at the base of the Mur.

World champ and Amstel Gold winner Michal Kwiatkowski (Etixx-Quick-Step) will be trying to become the first world champion to win since Cadel Evans in 2010. Cannondale-Garmin brings a strong squad, with last year’s runner-up Daniel Martin poised for a win.

Bauke Mollema (Trek Factory Racing) will be hoping to shed some bad luck from the Vuelta al País Vasco (Tour of the Basque Country), and will want to capitalize on his good form. Former winners Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing) and Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha) will need to be on their best to have hopes of winning.

It will be interesting to see how Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEdge) can handle the Mur. After podiums at Milano-Sanremo and Amstel Gold, he’s clearly taken a step up, but the Mur might be a touch too explosive for his style of riding. Orica also brings Michael Albasini and Simon Yates for its solid Ardennes squad.

The Ardennes see the appearance of a few GC riders, such as Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), Tejay van Garderen (BMC), and Chris Froome (Sky). The hillier terrain favors them, but Nibali is the top rider of these three when it comes to one-day racing. Sunday’s Liège is even better for these types of riders, but they could deliver a surprise Wednesday.

Ardennes double: A rare feat

Only seven riders have pulled off the Ardennes doubles, with victories in both Flèche and Liège. Three riders did it over the past decade, with Davide Rebellin in 2004, Valverde in 2006, 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.

And Kwiatkowski? He’s done well at Flèche, and will now have the experience to know not to go too soon on the Mur de Huy. Perhaps it’s the start of a new Ardennes run.

Women’s race: No Vos

With the absence of five-time Flèche Wallonne winner Marianne Vos (2007, 2008, 2009, 2011, and 2013), the race could be wide open when the best of the women’s peloton takes on the World Cup-level race. Without her prolific Rabo-Liv teammate, world champion Pauline Ferrand-Prévot will have to defend her 2014 title with one less arrow in the quiver.

Wearing the rainbow jersey, the 23-year-old Frenchwomen will be marked from the start. England’s Lizzie Armitstead (Boels Dolmans), runner-up last year at the top of the Mur de Huy, has already notched three wins this season. Armitstead’s American teammate Evelyn Stevens, winner of the 2012 Flèche, could also pose a threat, though she has yet to win a race this season, aside from the team time trial at the Women’s Tour of New Zealand.

Perhaps Italian rider Elisa Longo Borghini (Wiggle-Honda) will pose the most formidable challenge to the Boels-Dolmans ladies. She’s on good form, having won the women’s Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders) in a solo move earlier this month. Plus, she knows how to ride well at Flèche, placing second in 2013 and third in 2014.

Weather: No rain, light wind

The mild weather enjoyed so far through the spring classics continues Wednesday, with forecasted highs in the mid-60s under mostly sunny skies. Light northerly winds of about 6 mph will pick up in the afternoon, meaning a slight tailwind on the run onto the final assault of the Mur de Huy.

History lesson: Lots of Belgians, and one American

Flèche Wallonne (the Walloon arrow) is a relatively new addition into the spring classics schedule, with its first edition in 1936. While not on par with such monuments as Liège-Bastogne-Liège or Milano-Sanremo, the race is still considered quite prestigious among the peloton. The distinctive Mur de Huy has been the race finale since 1983.

Belgians lead the palmares of most victories, with 38. Italians are second with 18, but Spain has won four of the last nine editions, including the past three: Rodríguez in 2012, Dani Moreno in 2013, and Valverde last year. Australian Cadel Evans won in the rainbow jersey in 2010. The lone American? Lance Armstrong in 1996.

VeloNews’ pick: the Green Bullet

Valverde looks to be hitting peak form just in time for the Ardennes. His close second in the bunch sprint at Amstel Gold Race on Sunday confirmed his condition. Always a consistent performer in the hilly classics, Valverde has the experience and depth to know when to attack. Timing is everything on the Mur, and as defending champion, he knows when to open up the legs. Martin will be right there as well.

Outsider: A breakaway?

Breakaways almost never stick at Flèche, but one just might this year with the new approach to the Mur. Smaller teams will be slotting in riders, so watch out for attackers such as Luis Maté (Cofidis), Enrico Gasparotto (Wanty), or Pierrick Fédrigo (Bretagne-Seche Environnment) to slip away early. It’s a long shot a break would stay clear of the chasing might of the WorldTour teams, but someone’s going to try.

79th Fleche Wallonne

Waremme to Mur de Huy, 205.5km — 25 teams, 200 starters (men’s race)

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With second at Amstel Gold, Valverde confident for remaining Ardennes races Mon, 20 Apr 2015 12:36:42 +0000

Alejandro Valverde rode to second place in Sunday's Amstel Gold Race. Photo: Tim De Waele |

Valverde registers his third career Amstel Gold Race podium to start Ardennes week

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Alejandro Valverde rode to second place in Sunday's Amstel Gold Race. Photo: Tim De Waele |

Perhaps Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) will never win the Amstel Gold Race. It’s not for trying. And for the third time in his career, he was on the final podium Sunday, behind a superb Michal Kwiatkowski (Etixx-Quick-Step), who relegated Spain’s “Green Bullet” to second in the Dutch classic.

“I couldn’t ask for a better result than second,” Valverde said Sunday after the second Amstel Gold Race runner-up finish of his career. “It’s a more open finish than right at the top of the Cauberg, with a field sprint like today. We did everything we could.”

The 34-year-old Spaniard confirmed yet again he is one of the most consistent performers across the hilly classics in Belgium and the Netherlands. Sunday’s podium was his 11th top-3 in the Ardennes of his career.

Valverde overcame a mechanical problem with 45 kilometers to go to remain in the elite group. Movistar helped reel in late-race attacks to deliver Valverde in ideal position at the base of the last of three assaults up the Cauberg climb that would decide everything.

Since organizers moved the finish line in 2013 to more than one kilometer past the top of the Cauberg, the finale has become more complicated, changing the way the peloton attacks the short but steep climb that typically decides the race.

Valverde said he was boxed in near the bottom of the Cauberg, but followed a gap opened up by the attacking Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing), who gassed it midway up the climb.

“I saw Gilbert open up a big gap, and I had legs to follow. I was hoping to leave Gilbert and [Orica-GreenEdge’s Michael] Matthews behind, but they didn’t let me go,” Valverde said. “I was one of the strongest today, and I came second, again really close, so we have to be happy with that.”

The Cauberg is a climb he has yet to master. On the same finale during the 2012 world road cycling championships, Valverde also finished third, behind winner Gilbert and runner-up Edvald Boasson Hagen.

Confirming that he’s in top shape, Valverde now turns his attention to Wednesday’s Flèche Wallonne, where he will line up as defending champion. But it’s Sunday’s Liège-Bastogne-Liège, which he won in 2006 and 2008, where he believes he has the best chances for another big victory.

“Liège is the race of the three where I have the best chances, the route that favors me the most, but we cannot rule anything out Wednesday,” he said. “The new climb with 5km to go should change the race and force the peloton to ride faster, but I think there are many riders in similar condition. I don’t see anyone standing out. The battle will be close Wednesday and again on Sunday.”

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Casino in the Limburg: Amstel Gold Race Fri, 17 Apr 2015 15:04:24 +0000

The final climb up the Cauberg to the finish of the 2014 Amstel Gold Race showcased the decisive move by eventual race winner Philippe Gilbert. Photo: BrakeThrough Media |

Dozens of favorites line up for Sunday's Amstel Gold Race, where a string of climbs and narrow roads makes for a tense day of racing

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The final climb up the Cauberg to the finish of the 2014 Amstel Gold Race showcased the decisive move by eventual race winner Philippe Gilbert. Photo: BrakeThrough Media |

The Netherlands’ most important one-day race is named after a beer, and with a course packed with so many turns, climbs, and curves, at the end of the 258km test of nerves and legs, most riders might need a drink.

Anyone who thinks the Netherlands is flat has never been to the Limburg region, tucked in the southeast corner of the country. The Amstel Gold Race loops over a seemingly endless string of short but steep climbs around Valkenburg, with no less than 33 numbered climbs, totaling more than 13,100 vertical feet in climbing. Held over a mix of narrow farm tracks and urban roads loaded with traffic furniture, Amstel Gold Race is one of the most tense, nerve-wracking days of racing. Avoiding trouble and having strong team support are key for any of the aspirants to reach the last of three ascents up the decisive Cauberg climb.

The favorites: Take your pick
There are close to a dozen riders pedaling into Maastricht with realistic chances of winning. It’s hard to pick one favorite when nearly every major team brings a legitimate candidate for the podium. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) has never won Amstel Gold, and will be shooting for the stars. Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing) is defending champion, and has put renewed focus on the Ardennes this season, with eyes on a fourth career victory at Amstel Gold. Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEdge), Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha), and world champion Michal Kwiatkowski (Etixx-Quick-Step) are all capable of victory.

Other former winners include Frank Schleck (Trek Factory Racing), Roman Kreuziger (Tinkoff-Saxo), Enrico Gasparotto (Wanty), Damiano Cunego (Nippo-Vini Fantini), and Davide Rebellin and Stefan Schumacher (CCC Sprandi-Polkowice).

“The big objective are the Ardennes,” Kwiatkowski said, who remains winless in the rainbow stripes. “It would have been nice to have gotten results at Basque Country, but you have to remember to arrive fresh for these classics, because there are many who have prepared very well for them, like Valverde, [Sergio] Henao, Gilbert, or Purito [Rodriguez]. I’d love to win Liège, but Flèche or Amstel would be just as good.”

Astana brings a loaded team, with Tour de France champion Vincenzo Nibali, Lars Boom, Jakob Fulgsang, and Luís León Sánchez.

Additional contenders include Jan Bakelandts (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Bauke Mollema (Trek Factory Racing), Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida), Tony Gallopin (Lotto-Soudal), Dan Martin and Ryder Hesjedal (Cannondale-Garmin), Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin), or Sky’s Henao and Mikel Nieve.

How to pick a winner? Throw a dart at the startlist.

The course: Lots of climbs, lots of nerves
Two things mark the Amstel Gold Race; its endless string of climbs (33 in total), and a very nervous day of racing. The race starts in the central market of Maastricht, a bustling college town along the Meuse River. Until 2003, the race used to finish in the city center, or just south of town. Organizers moved the finish to the Cauberg climb to provide a more climactic finale, and since 2013, to a finish line just over one kilometer past the Cauberg summit, in the same place where the 2012 world championships finished.

The race consists of a series of loops. After rolling out of Maastricht, the course swings north, then east, covering the upper reaches of the Limburg region. It barrels through Valkenberg, where fans pack bars and the roadway for an all-day party, in what’s the first of three passages up the Cauberg. More loops take in an ever-tightening string of climbs. There’s almost no time for recovery, and once the race kicks up in the final hour, it’s very difficult to regain contact for anyone who’s blown out the back. Long-range attacks from 20km out have stuck, but since the finish line was moved to the Cauberg, the climb has proven to be the decisive part of the race. Teams will be working to position their leaders at the sharp end of the peloton at the base of the Cauberg, and then sit back while the contenders turn on the turbos. Anyone who starts too soon can get reeled in. Timing is critical up the Cauberg, with the ideal attack coming on the upper third of the climb, with hopes of having the legs to drive it home through the false-flat finish.

Steady winds that invariably kick up in the afternoon can also be a factor, especially for riders trying brave, solo moves in the closing kilometers.

Amstel Gold Race is also known as one of the most nervous and tense races of the year. The race is held over a mix of very narrow, uneven farm roads, and on modern urban roadways littered with an endless array of chicanes, traffic islands, roundabouts, and other traffic furniture designed to slow down vehicle traffic. Concentration and positioning are critical, as pileups and crashes are inevitable.

Geography lesson: Not the Ardennes
Though often bundled into Ardennes week for the convenience of headline writing, the Amstel Gold Race is not part of the Ardennes. Geographically, the race is held in the Limburg region. The nearby Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège are fought out over the steep escarpments of the Belgian Ardennes, but Amstel Gold Race is held in the geographically and geologically separate region of Limburg. That doesn’t quite lend to tight headline writing, does it?

Cauberg, Gilbert’s favorite
The emblematic climb of Amstel Gold Race is without a doubt the Cauberg. In terms of altitude or distance, it hardly ranks up there with the major cols of the Pyrénées or Dolomites. Far from it. By any measure, it’s little more than a large hump. Just 1,200 meters long, with a maximum grade of 12 percent, the pros can grind up it in the big ring. But the otherwise non-descript hill has seen some major drama in world championships and during Amstel.

“I love the Cauberg. It’s my favorite climb in all the world,” Gilbert said. “If the finish was in Maastricht, I would have never won. You can take the climb in the big ring. It’s a power climb, with big speed, and then the finish is perfect.”

It’s easy to understand why he loves it. He’s won Amstel Gold three times, and the 2012 world title after attacking up the climb.

Weather: Spring, with afternoon wind
Mild, spring-like conditions will continue to hold over Limburg through the weekend. Temperatures should be ideal, with a forecasted high of 63 degrees for the afternoon with mostly sunny skies. There is little chance of rain, but northeasterly winds could kick up in the afternoon, with gusts up to 9mph, which would give the pack a tailwind heading up the final assault of the Cauberg.

History: Half-century of racing
The Netherlands has a deep history in cycling. In fact, the country boasts more bikes per capita than almost any nation on earth, and the bike is an everyday part of the fabric of life. Despite producing some big champions, the country never had a major, one-day race on par with the monuments in nearby Belgium and France. In 1966, locals decided to organize the first edition of the race. Now a half-century later, it’s not quite a “monument,” but it’s secured its place as Holland’s most important one-day race as well as a high degree of prestige inside the peloton. Jan Raas holds the record with five victories, with defending champion Gilbert sits behind him with three.

The Limburg is also hotbed for cycling. In addition to the Amstel Gold Race, the region has hosted the world road cycling championships no less than six times, including the last in 2012. And who won that? Gilbert, who called the Cauberg his favorite finishing hill in Europe.

VeloNews’ pick: Matthews
Brabantse Pijl is always a good barometer of who’s going well coming into the hilly classics. Based on the season he’s had so far, with big wins at Paris-Nice and the Vuelta al País Vasco (Tour of the Basque Country), and third at Milano-Sanremo, we’re going with Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEdge). He’s clearly upped his game, and he’s due for a big win. He should be able to get up and over the Cauberg with the fleetest, and will have the finishing kick to win out a reduced bunch. Close seconds are Gilbert and Valverde.

Outsider pick: Rebellin
Rebellin … Why not? The 43-year-old Italian, blemished by a two-year doping suspension after the 2008 Olympics, keeps hanging around, and he keeps posting good results. He was fifth at Brabantse Pijl, and this could be his last hurrah. There are whispers that the Giro d’Italia organizers do not want him nor scandal-tainted teammate Schumacher to be part of the team’s Giro-bound squad, so Rebellin will do everything he can to win now, with the outside hope of convincing the Italians otherwise. That’s what an outsider is, right?

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Peter Stetina: ‘I am lucky to be alive’ Thu, 16 Apr 2015 17:15:25 +0000

Peter Stetina's 2015 season has been thrown into disarray after a catastrophic crash in Vuelta al Pais Vasco. He had planned to be BMC's protected rider for GC in the Amgen Tour of California, but now he is simply focused on rehabbing from multiple injuries. Photo: Tim De Waele | (file)

In an exclusive interview, Peter Stetina speaks to VeloNews about his horrific crash, outrage over rider safety, and plans for a comeback

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Peter Stetina's 2015 season has been thrown into disarray after a catastrophic crash in Vuelta al Pais Vasco. He had planned to be BMC's protected rider for GC in the Amgen Tour of California, but now he is simply focused on rehabbing from multiple injuries. Photo: Tim De Waele | (file)

BMC rider speaks out about horrific crash

Peter Stetina (BMC Racing) prides himself on being a safe racer. You never see him taking risks in the sprints or doing anything crazy on the downhills. Probably that’s why he’s never been in the hospital in his 10-year pro racing career. Until now.

On April 6, in the final sprint to the finish line in the opening stage of the Vuelta al País Vasco (Tour of the Basque Country), it didn’t matter how careful Stetina — or anyone else — was in the peloton that day. Just 400 meters from the finish line, on the right side of the finish straight, two metal poles, about one meter high, remained in the roadway. In images that later went viral on the Internet, the only safety measure to highlight the danger were small, orange traffic cones sitting on top of the poles.

Stetina, 27, was riding safely in the middle of a reduced lead group of about 60 riders. It wasn’t his type of finale, so he was tucked in, content to ride in with the lead group. Without warning or even time to react, he struck the first metal pole at full speed. He estimates his speed was about 60kph (37mph). His right leg took the full impact with the pole, and he catapulted over his bike, breaking three ribs as he crashed onto the pavement. Stunned, he immediately felt the searing pain in his leg. He tried to get up, as bike racers always do, but he couldn’t. The next morning, outraged cyclists protested in a pre-stage strike.

Nearly two weeks later, Stetina remains in a Spanish hospital. He’s undergone surgery to repair a broken tibia and patella. Gone in an instant are his primary season goals of the Amgen Tour of California podium and a return to the Tour de France. Instead, he’s facing months of rehabilitation and painful recovery. With luck, he’s hoping to be on a flight back to the United States in the coming days.

Stetina took a call from VeloNews to recount the crash, the extent of his injuries, and his reflections on how two metal poles were left unattended and unmarked at a WorldTour-level race. Here are excerpts from the interview:

VeloNews: Peter, thanks for taking our call. First, can you update everyone on where you are and how you are doing?
Peter Stetina: I am still in Spain. I am still in the hospital. I’ve been here since my crash last Monday. It was a pretty bad break and pretty heavy duty surgery. The doctors, they’ve been pleasant, and every day it’s been a bit better. The doctors are surprised at the recovery rate of an elite athlete, but it was a big one. I’ve been bed-ridden for 10 days in a hospital in Bilbao. After the crash, they whisked me through, the whole flashing, searing pain, and trying to deal with everything. The hospital has been really good. They’ve been keeping me on pain medication. The crash happened last Monday, and by Thursday, I was stable enough to undergo surgery. Since then, the pain has started to subside. It’s been the worst week of my life.

VN: Any idea when you might be able to return to the United States?
PS: The problem is trying to fly internationally. I’ve got to be a bit more patient. The plan is to go Friday to Charles De Gaulle in Paris. It’s a short flight, and they have a Sheraton inside the terminal, so I can have a layover to sleep without having to move around, then Saturday, a long flight from Paris to Park City, Utah, where I meet up with Max Testa and Erik Heiden [Park City Medical Center], and begin my rehab.

VN: Do you have anyone with you at the hospital, anyone from the team, family or friends?
PS: My wife is here now. This [BMC] has got to be the best team in the world, with the insurance they have, the doctors they have. They’ve been dealing with insurance, with ambulances, flights, all the hospital details. Dyanna, my wife, flew out. The good thing about the Basque Country race is that there were no hotel transfers, so the team was just 10km from hospital, so someone from the team was always coming by to visit.

VN: So how did the surgery go, and what are the prospects of recovery?
PS: It was a very big, invasive surgery. One minor ligament was torn, and that needed reattachment. I have a plate in my tibia, and my kneecap was reconstructed. The kneecap was shattered. The good thing, if there is a good thing in all of this, is that it was all bones. There was no tendon damage. Bones heal faster, and they’re more durable. No one is saying this means a career-ending injury.

VN: That’s good news. Looking back at the accident, what do you remember of the crash?
PS: We came over a climb, and there were about 60 guys in a select group. I was in the middle of the group, 30th or 40th wheel. We rounded a bend with about 400 meters to go, and a lot times in sprints, the peloton will serpentine from side to side. Then there were green metal parking poles, poles placed so that people cannot park in front of garbage containers. They’re about one meter high. Sometimes they can be removed or lowered into the ground, but no one had done anything. I don’t know what’s going to happen legally. There is a lot of outrage about this incident. Someone put an orange cone on the tip of the pole. There was no protection, nothing. Obstacles in the middle of a field sprint with 400 meters to go? A few guys got around it. At 60kph, I didn’t have time to even react. I looked up, and plowed knee-first right into the metal pole at 60kph. Some guy clipped one in front of me. We couldn’t believe it. Even if they had had padding or hay bales, or a moto-referee waving flags, or even had cars parked on the side of the road. Two poles in the middle of the road. There was open road before them, and open road after them.

VN: What happened immediately after impact? Did you remain conscious?
PS: I was fully conscious the whole time. I slammed into the pole, and maybe I hit the other pole, because I also broke three ribs. I was on the ground, and I tried to get up. There’s so much adrenaline after a crash, I could move my arms and upper body, but my leg wouldn’t move. My team director was there, and he was holding me down, holding my head, telling me not to move. It was just searing pain. The tibia fractured, and my knee cap was shattered. It was instantaneous pain.

VN: Have you ever experienced anything like this before?
PS: Nothing like this has happened during my career, no. This just shouldn’t happen in a bike race. This was blunt-force trauma. I am known as one of the more cautious riders in the bunch. I am not taking risks, and I don’t crash at all. By far, this is the worst injury of my career. I’ve never even been in the hospital before.

VN: Have you had any contact with the race organizers or anyone from Spain?
PS: I cannot talk about that right now. I am just trying to get out of the hospital, and get my recovery going. Those are issues for agents, team managers, the UCI, officials; I just want to start my recovery.

VN: What happens once you return to the U.S.?
PS: Once I am out of the hospital, and back in Utah, we can make further evaluation, and make a comeback plan. I plan on racing again, hopefully by the end of this season. We will see. Nobody has said this is a career-ending injury. This is a comeback.

VN: What are your emotions considering that California and the Tour de France were on your radar this season?
PS: California was my big goal. The team was giving me 100 percent support for it. I was so excited about the race. In fact, today I was supposed to be doing recon of the Mount Baldy stage. The way the course lended itself to a high-altitude time trial and a true climber’s finale, I really felt this was my year to challenge for the overall. Everything we did so far this season was working to peak for California. There will be more Californias, more Colorados. I am not yet 30.

VN: So right now you’re hoping to be able to race by the end of the year, but it’s too early to say when?
PS: I’ve got to get to Utah, and we can start rehabbing. Start with bending the knee, then starting to train, but initially, it will be six- to eight-weeks of no weight-bearing on the leg. But every day it changes. Things are almost fluctuating by the hour. The rehab plan will be more definitive once I can meet with doctors in Utah.

VN: Were you aware of the public outrage via social media about how fans reacted to the crash and the fact the poles were left in the roadway?
PS: It was pure outrage. Even the nurses in the hospital were saying something like that should never happen. There’s been a lot of movement in terms of a riders’ union becoming stronger, with things like extreme weather protocol and rider safety. If we’re bumping bars in little more than glorified underwear, we don’t need things that risk human safety. Sport is not supposed to be dangerous. It’s about entertainment, about who’s the strongest. Protocols need to be taken more seriously. I think things are moving in the right way, but I hope what happened to me, and others, is not just thrown out the window. I hope people learn from this, and use it as an example, and make serious changes.

VN: Is there anything you would like to say to fans?
PS: It’s been unbelievable how many people have reached out, and the outpouring of support from thousands of people. Och [BMC general manager Jim Ochowicz] made a surprise trip to visit. We have been so appreciative of everyone’s thoughts and messages. We have read every message, be it from Facebook, Twitter, emails, it’s been incredible. I am lucky to be alive. Something like this could have been a lot worse. Bones heal. I still love cycling too much to give it up.

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Valverde, Quintana take on Ardennes classics Thu, 16 Apr 2015 14:01:22 +0000

Alejandro Valverde won Flèche Wallonne in 2006 and again last year. Photo: Tim De Waele |

Both Movistar riders will race in Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège this month

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Alejandro Valverde won Flèche Wallonne in 2006 and again last year. Photo: Tim De Waele |

Movistar will bring its superstars to the Ardennes classics, with Alejandro Valverde and Nairo Quintana poised to take on Flèche Wallonne (April 22) and Liège-Bastogne-Liège (April 26).

The Spanish “blues” confirmed that both will race Flèche and Liège, while Valverde will be racing for the podium in Sunday’s Amstel Gold Race.

Valverde, 34, has been a consistent performer across the Ardennes, with two victories in Flèche (2006, 2014), and two at Liège (2006, 2008), but Amstel Gold has proven elusive, with a second in 2013.

“The Ardennes are races that fit my characteristics perfectly,” Valverde told VeloNews in an earlier interview. “They will be my major early-season goals. I’d love to win Amstel Gold, because it’s one that’s gotten away from me so far.”

Quintana, meanwhile, only raced Liège once, finishing 50th in 2013. All but one of Quintana’s 21 career wins have come in stage races. His lone one-day race victory was the Giro dell’Emilia in 2012, but he hopes to expand his repertoire to include more classics.

“It’s true, the focus for me has been on stage races, but I also like the classics,” Quintana said in an interview. “Races like Liège are part of the history of cycling, and I would like to add my name to the palmares sometime during my career.”

Movistar doesn’t have the firepower to legitimately challenge the cobble-bashers over the northern classics, but its fleet of sleek climbers and puncheurs tends to shine in the hillier terrain of the Ardennes.

The Spanish team brings a strong squad in support, with Imanol Erviti, José Herrada, Gorka Izagirre, JJ Rojas, Rory Sutherland, and Giovanni Visconti. John Gadret will race Amstel Gold on Sunday in place of Quintana.

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Van Avermaet provides testimony against doping allegations Thu, 16 Apr 2015 13:19:08 +0000

Greg Van Avermaet rode to third place in Paris-Roubaix last Sunday. Photo: Tim De Waele |

Greg Van Avermaet told his side of the story Thursday before the Belgian cycling federation against allegations of doping violations

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Greg Van Avermaet rode to third place in Paris-Roubaix last Sunday. Photo: Tim De Waele |

Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing), just days after riding onto the Paris-Roubaix podium in third place, appeared Thursday before the anti-doping commission of the Belgian Cycling Federation (RLVB).

Van Avermaet, 29, is under the spotlight for links to doctor Chris Mertens, who has been dubbed the “ozone doctor” in the Belgian media.

The Belgian media reported Thursday that Van Avermaet appeared with lawyers before the commission and maintained his innocence.

“It’s awful having to defend yourself against this type of thing,” Van Avermaet said. “It’s a stain on my reputation. And I’m an honest man and I’m hoping for a just decision.”

In question is whether or not Van Avermaet used products that are not prohibited, but could still draw a suspension.

He is suspected of having procured the cortisone Diprophos between 2009-2012 from Belgian doctor Chris Mertens. The product is banned during competition but not out of competition, if administered with a medical certificate from the UCI. There are also questions as to whether Van Avermaet used Vaminolact, a recovery product that could be employed as a masking agent; athletes may also use this, under certain conditions.

Belgian prosecutor Jaak Fransen, from the federation, is asking for a two-year ban and a fine of $275,000 as well as disqualification of all results since 2012.

Sporza, the Belgian TV sports channel, reported the foundation of the case is email communication between Van Avermaet and Dr. Mertens. Despite headlines, Van Avermaet is not being accused of undergoing ozone gas treatments, a controversial practice when blood is extracted, injected with ozone, and re-injected into the body.

Van Avermaet is not sidelined from competition, and is expected to start Sunday’s Amstel Gold Race in the Netherlands.

In a statement, BMC said it was aware of the hearing and will not keep Van Avermaet from racing.

“The BMC Racing Team is aware of today’s hearing by the Belgian Cycling Federation, Koninklijke Belgische Wielrijdersbond, in which Greg Van Avermaet appeared in relation to the investigation of Dr. Chris Mertens.

“Based on information currently available to the BMC Racing Team, Van Avermaet will not be withheld from competition.

“No further statements about the case will be made by team officials prior to a decision being rendered by the Belgian Cycling Federation on May 7.”

Belgian cycling officials will now consider the case before deciding whether or not to move forward with formal disciplinary action that could lead to a possible racing ban. That decision could take several more weeks.

“This was about riding on cortisone, not about healing an injury,” claimed Franzen. “The tone of emails shows a typical attitude of performance enhancement that was prevalent at the time.”

BMC had been aware of the investigation of Dr. Mertens from various stories published in the press, but until Friday, February 27, had not confirmed that one of the team’s riders would be required to appear.

An ongoing internal investigation is being conducted by the team, and at the present time, BMC says that no information has been obtained that indicates rules have been violated. The team is aware that Van Avermaet was treated by Dr. Mertens, but is unaware of any treatments that would be in violation of any rules.

Speaking to journalists last month at the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Van Avermaet insisted on his innocence. “I am a clean and pure rider,” he said. “I haven’t done anything that was not allowed, so I am not worried.”

Agence France-Presse contributed to this report.

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Gilbert back to defend title at Brabantse Pijl Tue, 14 Apr 2015 15:22:01 +0000

Philippe Gilbert (BMC) is aiming for his third win in a row at Brabantse Pijl on Wednesday. Photo: Tim De Waele |

With a course that favors climbers who can sprint out of a small bunch, Wednesday's race should favor riders who live for the Ardennes races

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Philippe Gilbert (BMC) is aiming for his third win in a row at Brabantse Pijl on Wednesday. Photo: Tim De Waele |

With John Degenkolb and the rest of the cobble-bashers cooling their jets following two weeks of hard racing across the pavé, a different profile of rider steps to center stage — leaner, lighter, and faster for when the grade pitches upward. It’s time to switch gears into the Ardennes classics.

Sunday’s Amstel Gold Race is backed up by Flèche Wallonne on Wednesday, and Liège-Bastogne-Liège, the “doyenne” of the hilly spring classics, the following weekend.

To ease the transition from cobbles to the hills is Wednesday’s Brabantse Pijl, a one-day battle geographically located, appropriately enough, between Flanders and Wallonia.

Two-time winner and defending champion Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing) headlines a solid start list that blends WorldTour and second-tier teams.

The 55th edition of the race, also called Flèche Brabançonne, officially closes the Flemish classics. The route features a finishing circuit and is far from flat, with 26 climbs along the 205.4km course that winds from Leuven to Overijse.

The race starts in the bar-lined Grote Markt in the region’s capital of Leuven, a bustling college town. There are a dozen climbs until the peloton hits three, 23.4km circuits, with five climbs per lap.

The race favors a fast kicker who can get up the climbs and win out of a reduced bunch sprint, so it’s no surprise that such riders as Oscar Freire and Peter Sagan have won here over the past decade.

“The race is a pretty predictable race, especially because the weather forecast is optimistic. In the first loop, there shouldn’t be an escape of a big group or a group with teammates of the favorites. Probably the peloton will be still big and racing at high speed at the beginning of the circuit. From that moment on, it will be an elimination race. Because of all the climbs on the route, it will be hard to get back in the race once you had to let go,” said Lotto-Soudal sport director Bart Leysen. “I think there is only one favorite: Philippe Gilbert. BMC will have to control the race and he will be the man to beat. Besides Gilbert, Belgians like [Jan] Bakelants, [Gianni] Meersman and foreigners [Michael] Matthews and [Thomas] Voeckler will be present.”

Lotto-Soudal will line up with Tony Gallopin, and as Leyden mentioned, riders such as Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEdge), Jan Bakelandts (Ag2r La Mondiale), and Wilco Kelderman (LottoNL-Jumbo) will be in the mix.

Ten WorldTour teams start out of the field of 25 squads, meaning that the professional continental teams will be riding for a big result ahead of the Ardennes classics.

In 2011, Gilbert won Brabantse en route to sweeping all three Ardennes classics. Last year, he won again ahead of claiming another victory at Amstel Gold. Will three times be a charm for Gilbert?

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BMC hopeful Phinney returns to racing ‘before end of summer’ Tue, 14 Apr 2015 14:24:10 +0000

Taylor Phinney has been on the mend since a career-threatening crash last May. Photo: Tim De Waele |

BMC Racing officials are cautiously optimistic the 24-year-old can resume racing late this summer after a serious crash nearly a year ago

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Taylor Phinney has been on the mend since a career-threatening crash last May. Photo: Tim De Waele |

ROUBAIX, France (VN) — BMC Racing scored a podium at Paris-Roubaix with Greg Van Avermaet, but the team was missing the rider whom many believe could win a cobblestoned classic one day: Taylor Phinney.

Far away from the drama of the pavé, Phinney continues his rehab in the wake of his career-threatening crash at last year’s U.S. national championship road race. It’s a slow road, but Phinney is back on the bike, making steady progress. He’s been riding for hours in the mountains around Boulder, Colorado. BMC officials told VeloNews they are cautiously optimistic the two-time Olympian can return to racing before the end of the 2015 season.

“We’re not putting a date or a number on [a comeback], but he continues to make progress,” BMC general manager Jim Ochowicz told VeloNews. “According to the trainers, he’s able to put out more watts, more hours on the bike. He’s on the road, not on the turbo-trainer. We’re hopeful if he continues the way he’s going, we’ll see him racing before the end of summer.”

As Ochowicz said, it’s still too early to tell exactly when Phinney will be able to return to competition. Ideally, he could be able to race again sometime by August, but that remains to be determined by his progress.

What’s sure is that he will not be racing at the Amgen Tour of California nor defend his U.S. national time trial title next month. There’s a glimmer of hope he might be able to compete in the other major date on the U.S. racing calendar: the world championships in Richmond, Va., slated for September.

“No, we’d love to have him there, but it’s not going to happen,” Ochowicz said of California. “Worlds? Well, we don’t select the worlds team, but if he’s riding well, we have the world team time trial, so we’d love to have him to help defend our title. He’s going to have to race; he just can’t show up at the worlds. He would have to be in Canada, and do something before that, maybe Colorado or the Tour of Poland.”

It’s nearly been a year since Phinney crashed in the U.S. national road race on May 26. The 24-year-old continues to make progress from what was a very complicated injury, and BMC officials are hesitant to put a date on a possible return just yet.

“There is no way to predict a timeline of him coming back. It was a complicated injury, and everyone knew it would take a lot of rehab, and a lot new ideas,” Ochowicz said. “A lot of people have been involved, not only from our team, but people in Boulder, where he’s doing his PT.”

Just two days after winning the U.S. individual time trial title, Phinney crashed on the descent of Tennessee’s Lookout Mountain. He suffered compound fractures to his tibia and patella on his left leg, and, in an injury even more complicated for a cyclist, ruptured the patellar tendon at the left knee.

Like any major, complicated injury for an elite athlete, there remains a question if Phinney will be able to return to his previous high level of performance.

Ochowicz remains hopeful Phinney can resume his place at the elite of the peloton. At 24, Phinney was emerging as a major U.S. star, the kind of rider who could have fan and media interest in any race he started.

There are no guarantees, and Phinney is at a crossroads, but Ochowicz was quick to shoot down suggestions that Phinney’s career could be over.

“Nobody’s made that [possible retirement] official. Those are just rumors. In the end, it will be up to him, and how does he feel about his progress. About his ability to be able to race at this level,” Ochowicz said, just moments after Paris-Roubaix finished.

“This is his race [Roubaix], this is where he belongs,” Ochowicz continued. “I’d like to have him come back to race some time before the end of the year, so he can do a strong winter program, and then he can start thinking about Flanders and Roubaix [in 2016]. It’s important that he races before the end of the year for that purpose.”

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Late problems deflate Roubaix hopes for Sagan, Vanmarcke Mon, 13 Apr 2015 13:33:36 +0000

Peter Sagan suffered some bad luck late in Sunday's Paris-Roubaix and finished 23rd. Photo: Tim De Waele |

The two riders entered the spring classics as top favorites but leave with nothing

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Peter Sagan suffered some bad luck late in Sunday's Paris-Roubaix and finished 23rd. Photo: Tim De Waele |

ROUBAIX, France (VN) — They both came into the spring classics as top favorites. Two weeks later, they’ve both left with nothing.

Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Sep Vanmarcke (LottoNL-Jumbo) each lined up in Compiègne with hopes of salvaging their spring campaigns at Sunday’s Paris-Roubaix. Both rode into the velodrome hoping for more and wondering what had gone wrong.

Sagan looked to be in good position in the final decisive throes of Roubaix. With about 6 kilometers to go, however, Sagan suddenly pulled off the road, threw his bike into a ditch, and was forced to change bikes.

He eventually regained contact with the chase group but was in no position to counter the race-making attacks so deep into the race.

Sagan crossed the line dusty and frustrated, 23rd at 31 seconds back. He was overheard at the velodrome infield speaking to a soigneur, cursing his luck, saying he could not change gears.

“An unknown issue with his shifters meant that he couldn’t move up to the big chain ring to make a move,” Tinkoff sport director Lars Michaelsen said in a team release. “We had to change the bike in the very finale, and we ended up with close to nothing if you look at the pure result.”

Perhaps nothing reflected Sagan’s classics woes than an emergency bathroom stop at sector 19 near Wallers, at just over 100km to go, right before the decisive Arenberg cobbles. The Slovak had to run into a ditch and take care of an urgent call from Mother Nature.

Sagan came into the spring classics with high hopes. After signing a multi-million-euro contract with Tinkoff-Saxo, he was expected by many to improve this season, but instead, he’s fallen short of victory. He was fourth at both Milano-Sanremo and Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders), just missing podium spots, but was 30th at E3 Harelbeke and 10th at Gent-Wevelgem.

With just one win so far this season, Sagan will regroup and is expected to race at the Amgen Tour of California in May before returning to the Tour de France in July. By then, he will be hoping to forget his spring classics drama.

Things were equally as grim around the LottoNL bus. Team leader Vanmarcke also has been missing that winning kick so far through the spring classics, and the team had its fingers crossed the big Belgian could deliver victory.

Things looked promising enough, especially when Vanmarcke opened up an attack at sector six at Wannehain with under 30km to go. After a wheel change, two of his teammates towed him back to the front group, but he didn’t have the legs to follow the race-making moves. He was second in the bunch sprint behind Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) to finish 11th, but grumbled about his bad luck.

“I flatted exactly when my finale started. I’d just split up the group with an attack and felt strong,” Vanmarcke said. “I wanted to give my everything one more time and I thought that not many would be able to go with me, but destiny decided otherwise, and not for the first time
this spring.”

Vanmarcke had hoped to get in the mix for a classic victory prior to the season, but every time, it seemed something went wrong.

“Every time when it was crunch time this spring, something happened to me. It’s actually been a very annoying spring, and it’s been a spring of bad luck. I’ve become stronger, but I haven’t been able to show it,” he said. “I tried to make the most of the sprint, and there isn’t much shame finishing behind Kristoff. I left with my head held high.”

After two solid spring classics campaigns in 2013 and 2014, Vanmarcke was expected to step up and fill the void left by Tom Boonen (Etixx-Quick-Step) and Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing), both out with injuries. Instead, it was Kristoff and Roubaix winner John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin) delivering the big wins. Though he was fifth at Harelbeke and sixth at Gent-Wevelgem, many are wondering if
Vanmarcke sees enough support at the Dutch-based LottoNL squad.

Unlike Sagan, who can win in sprints and other types of terrain, Vanmarcke is a pure classics rider and might have to wait another 12 months before he can try to pedal back onto center stage again.

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From Sanremo to Roubaix, Degenkolb makes history Sun, 12 Apr 2015 17:40:48 +0000

John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin) spent much of 2014 rueing his second place at that year's Paris-Roubaix. In 2015, he moved up to the top step on the podium, earning himself a cobblestone trophy. Photo: Tim De Waele |

John Degenkolb revels in his second monument win of the season, one year after rueing a near-miss second place in Paris-Roubaix

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John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin) spent much of 2014 rueing his second place at that year's Paris-Roubaix. In 2015, he moved up to the top step on the podium, earning himself a cobblestone trophy. Photo: Tim De Waele |

ROUBAIX, France (VN) — John Degenkolb (Giant-Shimano) spent the winter reliving last year’s Paris-Roubaix. His 2014 second-place haunted him as he trained at altitude and spent evenings watching the highlight reel over and over to see how he might have come out on top.

A year later, he found the answer: attack and make the race unfold on his terms.

On a windy, fast Roubaix on Sunday, it was Degenkolb who was on the move. And the new-found aggression and confidence paid off with a historic Milano-Sanremo-Roubaix double, just the third time in cycling history that the same rider has won both monuments in one season.

“I watched [the video] of Roubaix many times, and thought about what I could have done better. If I would have waited today, probably my result would have not been much better than last year,” Degenkolb said. “I attacked with 10km to go. I felt, ‘This is the moment.’ I felt like I had something left in the tank. It was all or nothing.”

In 2014, the 26-year-old German followed wheels, and was out-gunned when Quick-Step had three riders in a 10-man group, and Degenkolb could only watch as Niki Terpstra powered to victory. He salvaged the day by winning the reduced bunch sprint for second, but being so close only made him want more.

Flash forward one year, and Degenkolb was determined to forge his own destiny on a Sunday that featured Bradley Wiggins’ final race in a Sky jersey. In conditions that were similar to 2014, with a brisk tailwind and dusty cobbles that served up a high-speed race, all the major moves packed into the final hour of racing. Degenkolb was set on not seeing a replay of archrival’s Etixx-Quick-Step’s domination.

Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing), another rider determined to make the race rather than wait, surged clear with Belgian Yves Lampart (Etixx-Quick-Step) in tow with about 11km to go. Degenkolb calmly waited, and then bridged out alone. Eventually, a group of seven settled at the front to challenge for Roubaix’s unique cobblestone trophy. As one of the fastest riders in the pack, Degenkolb made easy work to relegate Zdenek Stybar (Etixx-Quick-Step) to second, with Van Avermaet earning third to match his third at Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders) last weekend.

“I knew I had to react to every move, and that was the key to success today. I really cannot believe it,” Degenkolb recounted. “On the track, I sprinted fully to the line. I didn’t want to risk, this sprint is something special, if you’ve never done it before, you have no idea what you’re talking about. You try to accelerate, try to go out of saddle, then you realize you legs are like gum.”

Degenkolb had enough to handle the potentially complicated sprint, and roared across the line victorious to add his second monument inside of a month.

Stybar was quick to praise Degenkolb, who has emerged as a new classics powerhouse, alongside Norwegian sprinter, Alexander Kristoff (Katusha), who won Flanders and Scheldeprijs.

“John was too strong,” Stybar said. “In cycling, winning is the only thing that counts. I hope to come next year, or the years after, and fight again for the win. That’s the only thing that counts.”

Van Avermaet, too, knew he was going to be out-gunned by the speedier Degenkolb, and tried a longer attack to catch out the sprinters.

“It’s going to be hard to beat these guys [Kristoff and Degenkolb], because they know they can follow the wheels, and then win in a sprint,” Van Avermaet said. “I was not feeling as good as I was last weekend at Flanders. I was really just hanging on. Roubaix is the hardest race of the year for me. I suffered into the velodrome. I did my best race here today. If you go with Degenkolb to the sprint, he’s hard to beat.”

Degenkolb’s grown into a legitimate classics powerhouse over the past few years. His earlier successes came in bunch sprints, but he was quick to remind journalists going into last season that he doesn’t consider himself a pure sprinter, like his Giant-Alpecin teammate Marcel Kittel. Instead, he prefers to win on tougher finales, out of small groups, and in the long, punishing classics.

He called his move to join start-up Giant-Alpecin in 2011, then a second-division team, the “best decision I’ve ever made.”

“We’ve grown up as a team, and we’ve all worked hard over five years to get here,” he said. “This win is just as much as the team’s as mine, from my trainer, my teammates, to the bus driver. We can all share in this victory.”

In 2014, he was ready to step up, but he punctured at the base of the Poggio, and couldn’t challenge in Milano-Sanremo, but won Gent-Wevelgem, and was second at Roubaix. This year, he won San Remo, roaring past defending champion Kristoff in a perfectly-timed sprint, and then doubled at Roubaix. It’s historic stuff.

He becomes just the second German to win the cobblestoned classic — Josef Fischer won the very first Roubaix in 1896 — and just the third rider to win the San Remo-Roubaix double in the same season.

“Two monuments!” Degenkolb just smiled and shook his head. “This double with MSR and Roubaix is means so much to me. I am just running out of words to describe it. I can relax, lean back, now I will take a couple days to really believe it. You are the winner of Paris-Roubaix. Amazing.”

Amazing, indeed. Degenkolb’s classics season is now over, and he can take a few days to savor the victory.

“I will have to find a sturdy bench in my apartment to put that trophy,” he said. “It’s not going to be easy. It’s a big one.”

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Joaquim Rodriguez takes title at 2015 Vuelta al Pais Vasco Sat, 11 Apr 2015 16:09:00 +0000

Joaquim Rodriguez en route to winning the Vuelta a Pais Vasco. Photo: Tim De Waele |

Katusha’s amazing April run continues as Joaquim Rodriguez takes the title at the Vuelta al País Vasco

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Joaquim Rodriguez en route to winning the Vuelta a Pais Vasco. Photo: Tim De Waele |

What a week it’s been for Joaquim Rodríguez. With two stage victories and the overall at the Vuelta al País Vasco (Tour of the Basque Country), it’s everything that his injury-plagued 2014 season was not.

The veteran Spaniard struggled through last year, marked by a heavy crash at the Giro d’Italia, and endured another season of close calls, nearly winning the climber’s jersey at the Tour de France, and finishing just off the podium with fourth at the Vuelta a España.

Illness kept him out of defending his title at the Volta a Catalunya in March, but he roared back with a vengeance at the Basque Country tour this week, considered by many to be the hardest one-week stage race in Europe.

“Not in my wildest dreams did I think I would win,” said Rodriguez. “The other guys made it very difficult. This is a race I have great feelings for because I rode a lot as an amateur cyclist in the Basque Country.”

The 35-year-old out-kicked Sergio Henao (Sky) and Nairo Quintana (Movistar) in stage 3, and then rode to another victory in the “queen stage” in stage 4. He started Saturday’s final time trial tied on time with Henao, but a steep climber’s course tipped in his favor.

Rodríguez usually folds against the clock, but a hilly course, with the steep Aia finishing wall, allowed him to hold on. Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) won the stage, but Rodríguez was second, just four seconds slower.

Henao ceded too much time, and slotted into second overall, at 13 seconds adrift.

“We knew it would be difficult, Rodriguez was stronger and he won,” said the Sky rider. “I am very happy, in 2013 I was third, this time second, so I hope that one year I will win.”

Ion Izagirre (Movistar) rounded out the podium with third, at 29 seconds back. Quintana, who won Tirreno-Adriatico last month, could not repeat his 2013 victory, and ended up fourth overall, at 38 seconds back.

“This tour hasn’t been very good for me, I tried with all I had but sometimes when you aren’t at your best, you can’t do any more,” said Quintana. “It is not an excuse, but a pollen allergy was giving me a lot of problems.”

The victory is a boon ahead of the upcoming Ardennes classics. A winner of Fleche Wallonne in 2012, Rodríguez has always dreamed of victory at Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

It also will bolster Rodríguez’s confidence heading into the summer racing season. With a mountain-heavy course in July, Rodríguez will be hoping to improve on his career-best third in 2013.

And it continues Katusha’s amazing run across April. The team has dominated the northern classics, winning Gent-Wevelgem with Luca Paolini, and Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders) and Three Days of De Panne with Alexander Kristoff, who lines up as a favorite for Sunday’s Paris-Roubaix.

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Paris-Roubaix: By the numbers Sat, 11 Apr 2015 14:55:41 +0000

Any race is a tale of the tape. Here is Paris-Roubaix, by the numbers

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COMPIEGNE, France (VN) — Cycling’s most spectacular and brutal one-day race clicks into gear Sunday. Paris-Roubaix has been called many things: the “Hell of the North,” the “Queen of the Classics,” and the “Longest Sunday.” No matter its moniker, Paris-Roubaix is a spectacle unequaled on the cycling calendar. Its winners become idols, yet even the last-place rider has an heroic tale to tell by the end of the day. Any race is a tale of the tape. Here is Paris-Roubaix, by the numbers:

1 – Smallest winning margin, in centimeters, or about 0.39 inch, when Eddy Planckaert beat Steve Bauer in 1990. How close was it? Finish-line officials had to study the photo for more than 10 minutes before declaring the winner.

3 – Number of sectors from Sunday’s race that will be featured in stage 4 of the 2015 Tour de France. The Quiévy, Saint-Python, and Verchain-Maugré sectors (numbered 25, 24, and 22, respectively, in decreasing number as the race runs from start to finish) will be part of this summer’s race.

4 — Most wins: Roger De Vlaeminck (1972, ’74-’75, ’77) and Tom Boonen (2005, ’08-09, ’12).

5:21 — Largest winning margin, in minutes, when Eddy Merckx beat De Vlaeminck in 1970.

7 — Number of Roubaix titles won during past 10 years between Boonen (4) and Fabian Cancellara (3). The other winners in the past decade were Stuart O’Grady (2007), Johan Van Summeren (2011), and Niki Terpstra (2014).

9 — Best career finish by Bradley Wiggins (Sky), in 2014, his seventh Roubaix appearance. Sunday will be the 2012 Tour de France winner’s final major race.

10 — Number of riders to pull off the Flanders-Roubaix double on 12 occasions (Boonen and Cancellara have each done it twice). Curiously enough, it’s one of the few milestones that Eddy Merckx was unable to achieve during his career. Boonen did it in 2005 and 2012, while Cancellara was a double-winner in 2010 and 2013. Roger De Vlaeminck pulled it off in 1977, and no one could repeat the double until Peter van Petegem in 2003.

12 — Slowest Roubaix, 12 hours and 15 minutes, when Henri Pélissier won in 1919 on roads destroyed by World War I.

16 — Most races completed: Raymond Impanis (1947-63), Servais Knaven (1995-2010).

25 — Number of teams.

27 – The number of sectors of cobbles, which are numbered in reverse order, meaning the first cobbles the peloton hits at Troisvilles are number 27.

38 — Oldest winner, Gilbert Duclos-Lassale in 1993.

45.129 — Fastest average speed, in 1964: Peter Post, on a slightly different course.

52.7 – Total kilometers of cobbles.

55 — Wins by country, with Belgium leading the way. France is second with 30. Riders from 11 nations have won Roubaix, an elite club if there was one. No North American has ever won Paris-Roubaix, though Bauer was second in 1990 and George Hincapie was second to Boonen in 2005.

113 – This year will be the 113th edition. The race debuted in 1896, with Josef Fischer of Germany winning. The race was disrupted by World War I, from 1915-18, and again by World War II, from 1940-42.

158 – Kilometer marker of the Trouée d’Arenberg, one of three five-star-rated cobble sectors. Added in 1968 at the recommendation of Jean Stablinski, who once toiled in the nearby coal mine. Nearly 100km from the finish, the 2,400-meter-long sector typically sees the first major selection of the race, and has since become a symbol of Paris-Roubaix.

200 — Number of expected starters.

222 — Longest winning breakaway in kilometers. Dirk Demol, now a sport director at Trek Factory Racing, won in 1988.

253.5 — Total number of kilometers in this year’s race. Despite its name, since 1968, the flag has dropped in Compiègne, about 80km north of Paris.

2100 – Total distance in meters of the decisive Carrefour de l’Arbre cobbles at about 20km to go. Winning attacks are often played out over the rough, uneven, often wind-blasted sector, the last major cobbles of the race.

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Peter Stetina likely sidelined for months following surgery Sat, 11 Apr 2015 13:56:53 +0000

It will be a good long while before Peter Stetina is ready to race the road again. Photo: Tim De Waele | (file)

Injured in a crash at the Tour of the Basque Country, Peter Stetina faces months of rehabilitation and training before he returns to racing

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It will be a good long while before Peter Stetina is ready to race the road again. Photo: Tim De Waele | (file)

Peter Stetina (BMC Racing) will be sidelined for “months” following surgery in the aftermath of his harrowing crash at the Vuelta a País Vasco (Tour of the Basque Country) this week.

The American climber underwent surgery Thursday in a Spanish hospital to repair injuries sustained in the crash, when he and others hit two metal poles that were in the final stretch of Monday’s opening stage. Riders protested in the wake of the accident, and the UCI has promised to investigate the incident.

Stetina broke his right leg in two places and four ribs. Teammate Darwin Atapuma cut his left knee, but was able to start the next day. BMC doctor Max Testa said Stetina is recovering well after undergoing surgery to repair his broken tibia and patella.

“The surgery was successful,” Testa said. “The knee specialist who performed the surgery was very happy with the result. At this point in time, we are expecting approval from the treating medical team to move Peter back to the United States. His first stop will be at the Park City Medical Center, where he will be reassessed by Dr. Eric Heiden before starting his rehab program toward full recovery.

“However, we all know that given the nature of the injury, it will take a few months of rehabilitation and training before he will return to competition.”

That means Stetina will not be able to race the Amgen Tour of California, where he was targeting a strong performance in the overall classification. It’s too early to say if Stetina will be able to return in top condition to race the Tour de France, where he rode to 35th overall in his Tour debut in a support role for team captain Tejay van Garderen.

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‘Hell of the North’ set for epic battle across the pave Fri, 10 Apr 2015 16:44:18 +0000

The Paris-Roubaix field is more open this year than in past editions. Photo: Tim De Waele |

Can Alexander Kristoff pull off the Flanders-Roubaix double, or will someone else emerge from the dusty cobbles as Sunday's winner?

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The Paris-Roubaix field is more open this year than in past editions. Photo: Tim De Waele |

GENT, Belgium (VN) — The northern classics end Sunday with a crescendo over the pavé. Paris-Roubaix caps the end of the cobblestone classics, a fitting finale to what’s been a transitional year, with new riders elbowing their way to supremacy. The “Hell of the North” will crown a new winner, and perhaps open a new era on the pavé.

The plot lines couldn’t be thicker. Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) is on a Merckxian-style run, quickly filling the void left by Tom Boonen (Etixx-Quick-Step) and Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing), both out with injuries. Behind him is a platoon of favorites, all of them anxious to end Katusha’s stranglehold on the cobblestone classics. Nearly every major team is desperate to save their respective classics campaigns with a big ride Sunday.

The backdrop is one of cycling’s most dramatic arenas. The Flemish classics might have the passion, and the worlds, a touch more prestige, but there is nothing that compares to the rough, unpolished pavé across the flat, windswept farm fields of northern France.

Paris-Roubaix is one-day racing at its brawniest. Luck, both bad and good, can often determine the winner. Crashes, punctures, and even collisions with rowdy fans have dashed dreams of victory in an instant. Both Stijn Vandenbergh and Zdenek Stybar (Etixx-Quick-Step) collided with fans on the Carrefour de l’Arbre sector when they were in the front, four-man group in 2013. Cancellara and Sep Vanmarcke stayed upright, with “Spartacus” taking his third career Roubaix trophy.

Mild weather forecasted for Sunday could see a repeat of last weekend’s high-speed, controlled race at Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders), but Roubaix’s rough cobbles, added with gusting winds as high as 20kph (12.4mph), will certainly deliver a wild ride in the final hour or so of racing.

Roubaix has it all: high drama, fearless racing, more than a century of history, and ambitious, young riders in the peloton ready to stake their claim as new kings of the cobbles. It should be an epic day of racing.

Top faves: Kristoff and Terpstra

Two names stand out coming into Sunday’s battle: Kristoff and defending champion Niki Terpstra (Etixx-Quick-Step).

Like a Viking marauder, Kristoff has proven unbeatable across the northern classics, winning six races in the course of nine days, with his dramatic Ronde victory bookended by three stages and the overall at Dreidaagse de Panne-Koksijde, and Scheldeprijs on Wednesday. Add Luca Paolini’s tactically perfect victory at Gent-Wevelgem, and only Geraint Thomas (Sky), winner of E3 Harelbeke, and teammate Bradley Wiggins, who won the time trial stage at De Panne, have been able to break the Katusha stranglehold.

Kristoff is the first to admit Roubaix is a different creature (his career-best is ninth in 2013), but he also knows he’s on the form of his life.

“Of course, I dream of winning, who doesn’t? If I get podium, I would be very happy,” Kristoff said. “We will give it a try, of course. I have great form right now, and you have to take advantage of that, because it might not come back.”

Terpstra will have huge pressure to deliver a victory for Etixx, Belgium’s king of the classics. So far, the team has come up empty. A few times, they’ve botched their tactics, and a few others, they’ve simply run into stronger opponents. Paolini at Gent-Wevelgem and Kristoff at Flanders both relegated Terpstra to second place.

“Second at a race like Flanders is a big result, but what I want now in my career is to win,” Terpstra said. “I hope to be at my best at Roubaix, and not have any bad luck. I think I can have the legs to win again.”

Since World War II, only six riders have defended their Roubaix titles. History is not on Terpstra’s side, but he’s clearly on good form. He and Kristoff will start as the top favorites.

Long list of contenders and pretenders

There is no shortage of favorites behind Kristoff and Terpstra, with nearly a dozen riders who have realistic chances to win.

Top among them is last year’s runner-up and reigning Milano-Sanremo champion John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin). The German has come into his own during the past two seasons, and will be motivated to finish off what’s been a somewhat stymied northern classics campaign. He couldn’t quite follow the key moves at Harelbeke and Flanders, and did not finish Gent-Wevelgem, but the flatter, wide-open roads of Roubaix suit his stocky style even better. If he can ride into the lead group, just like Kristoff, rivals will have to attack him to drop him, because he will have a very good chance in a reduced bunch gallop to the line.

It will be interesting to see if Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) can salvage his classics campaign with a podium ride Sunday. The Slovak has been catching grief for not living up to expectations, and this year has gone even worse. He was popped from the winning move at Harelbeke, and rode to a face-saving fourth at Flanders, but Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing) was grumbling that Sagan didn’t have the legs to help close the gap. Sagan rode into the winning group last year, but he doesn’t appear to have the same form as in 2014. Anything less than a podium will certainly raise the ire of team owner Oleg Tinkov, who recently sacked Bjarne Riis.

Two Belgians will line up with something to prove. Van Avermaet and Sep Vanmarcke (LottoNL-Jumbo) both want to shake the Belgian characterization of them as being “nearly men,” but Roubaix favors Vanmarcke, second to Cancellara in 2013, better than Van Avermaet. A third place at Flanders helped confirm Van Avermaet’s credentials, and after a heavy crash at Gent-Wevelgem, he could be firing on all cylinders Sunday.

“They are predicting dry conditions, which should be good for me, so I am looking forward to it,” Van Avermaet said in a team release. “I have recovered pretty well from Flanders and my shape is still there, so I hope to do a good result Sunday. For me, Roubaix is one of the hardest races of the year. I always suffer a lot in the last kilometers towards the finish. It is a special race where big engines and heavy guys can go from far away all the way to the finish.”

Vanmarcke’s collapse at Flanders, when he finished a distant 53rd after being dropped on the Taaienberg, has raised alarms at LottoNL. Vanmarcke is hoping that was a one-time occurrence, but anything less than a podium for both of these Belgians will leave them with an asterisk.

Etixx will bring a loaded squad. Even without Boonen, the Belgian powerhouse has been animating the races as it always has. Just like the rest of the peloton, the team has run into a super-strong Kristoff, but it’s been able to pull off Roubaix success before to stave off a disastrous classics season. Zdenek Stybar and Terpstra are the team’s two protected captains, but others, such as Stijn Vandenbergh and Matteo Trentin, will get their chances. It will be a national scandal if Etixx cannot deliver a Roubaix podium. Talk about pressure.

A few more names will nudge to the front, such as Thomas, Lars Boom (Astana), and Jurgen Roelandts (Lotto-Soudal). There’s a vacuum waiting to be filled with the absences of Boonen and Cancellara, who have won a combined seven of the past 10 Paris-Roubaix editions.

“Without Tom, Cancellara, it’s more open. It will be less controlled during the race,” Astana sport director Stefano Zanini said. “Roubaix is very long, so hard, I have seen riders go in a breakaway to arrive to finish on the podium. Everything is possible in Roubaix. It is a magical race.”

A surprise winner?

Is it the year of the outsider? It could well be. Every few years, Roubaix will serve up a surprise winner. Think Stuart O’Grady in 2007 or Johan Van Summeren (Ag2r-La Mondiale) in 2011. Not that those guys didn’t deserve it, but they certainly didn’t start with five-star favorite status in Compiegne. This year, “sans Tom-Fabs,” a lot more riders will believe in their chances. And more than any race of the season, Roubaix has its casino factor where luck and good fortune go a long way toward winning.

Behind the front-line favorites, there are another dozen riders who start with realistic ambitions. Teams with numbers, such as BMC and Etixx, could see some of their second-tier riders go in early breaks, and then hang on when the moves come from behind. Daniel Oss and Trentin fit that tactic perfectly.

Others who’ve shown hints of good things over the past few weeks could pop for big rides, such as Sylvain Chavanel (IAM Cycling), Bjorn Leukemans (Wanty-Groupe Gobert), Jack Bauer (Cannondale-Garmin), or Filippo Pozzato (Lampre-Merida). Or what about Tiesj Benoot (Lotto-Soudal), the youngest Roubaix starter at just 21, who made a headline-grabbing fifth-place debut at the Ronde?

Orica-GreenEdge is banking on a surprise ride, counting on Australian veteran Mat Hayman to come through after twice finishing in the top-10 in 13 previous editions.

“Mat is feeling very good this year, it’s one of the better years he’s had form-wise,” Orica sport director Matt Wilson said. “Roubaix is a race that always throws up some surprises. Every few years you get a surprise winner or podium up there. It’s one of those years, and Hayman is one of those guys who find himself on the podium.”

The Wiggins factor

And then there’s Bradley Wiggins (Sky), the legendary British superstar who is hoping for a fairytale ending to his road career on the cobbles of Roubaix.

It’s been 34 years since a Tour de France winner has won Roubaix. That was Bernard Hinault, back in 1981, who hated Roubaix, but showed up once, won it, and never came back again. Wiggins is now 34 and has added up to 8kg (17.6 pounds) of bulk to his frame since winning the world time trial championship in September to prepare for Roubaix. Sky has taken some of its scientific approach to Roubaix, studying the power efforts he will need to post across the key cobbles sectors, in an effort to try to make the unpredictable predictable.

Wiggins has been known to crack when things don’t go his way, and he’s been far from impressive over the past two weeks, but more than a few think Wiggins could pull off a cobble miracle. Gent-Wevelgem winner Paolini thinks Wiggins can win, and so does Cannondale sport director Andreas Klier.

“There are chances he can win. It’s not a no-go. So far in his career, he’s always reached his personal goal. If he thinks he can win, then I believe him, too,” Klier said. “It’s good for us, because we know who to follow. He will go very fast on the asphalt, and I do not doubt his skills on the pavé. Roubaix is more than a monument. If you win Roubaix, going from 40km to go, in the wind, it’s something special. It doesn’t matter how many gold medals in his closet. If he wins, it’s a nice way to say goodbye.”

For Wiggins to win, he’ll need a few things to happen. First, he cannot suffer any mishaps, get caught up in crashes, or puncture. When things go his way, Wiggins is hard to beat, but he’s had a tough time dealing with adverse race conditions throughout his career. Lucky for him, it’s not expected to rain Sunday. Second, and most important, he will almost certainly need to arrive alone to have any chance of winning.

“As a team, we are strong, but we are not the favorites, so that can be to our advantage. For Bradley to win, he’s going to have to finish on his own,” Sky sport director and 2001 Roubaix winner Servais Knaven said. “It’s a problem for Bradley, and many other guys, if you finish a group with Degenkolb or Kristoff, because those guys can win in a sprint. I think Bradley is similar to BMC. He cannot wait for a sprint.”

That sets the stage for a dramatic, long-range attack from Britain’s first Tour de France winner. If he pulls it off and pedals into the velodrome alone, he will enter the true pantheon of cycling gods. It’s a long shot, but as Klier said, Wiggins has had an uncanny ability to pull off most goals that he’s seriously targeted. One thing is true; there’s no hiding on pavé.

A bumpy ride, the cobbles never disappoint

The 113th edition of the “Queen of the Classics” is one of the longest races of the season, at 253km, and it’s certainly one of the most demanding.

Roubaix, of course, is known for its pavé. The French version is much rougher and jagged than the well-worn, smoother stuff the peloton races over in Belgium during the Flemish classics. The cobbles in Belgium are almost nearly part of everyday roads, and typically have smoother, rounder edges, making them a bit easier to ride and less prone to punctures. In Roubaix, most of the pavé are held over rural farm roads that were largely abandoned over the past half century as modern, paved roads were built following World War II. What makes Roubaix so unique is the poorer quality of the pavé. There is more maintenance of the roads, including the “Les amis de Paris-Roubaix,” group that protects and restores the pavé roads, but they are infinitely more difficult than many of the Belgian cobbles.

Of the total distance of 253km from Compiègne to the Roubaix Velodrome, there are 52.7km of cobbles spread over 27 sectors (some 1.6km more than last year).

The battle begins near Troisvilles and the 100km mark, when the peloton clatters over the first pavé of the day. The first major selection comes at 158km at the first five-star sector at the Trouée d’Arenberg, or Arenberg Forest. About 46 kilometers later, the peloton reaches the next five-star sector, Mons-en-Pévèle. The always-decisive Carrefour de l’Arbre, at 236.5km, often crowns the winner.

Click here for a breakdown of the cobbles.

Heavenly weather for a day in hell

Forecasters are calling for a perfect spring day for Sunday, so none of the hellish conditions of mud, rain, and wind should be part of the narrative. Instead, the peloton should race under sunny skies, with highs in the upper 60s. The wind typically kicks up in the afternoon, and there could be gusting southwesterly winds up to 20kph (12.4mph), adding a twist to the unfolding events, especially over the decisive closing hour of racing. There is a chance of showers Saturday, however, which means there could be some puddles and soggy sectors along the way.

Unique trophy

Scheldeprijs might award diamonds to the winner (Alexander Kristoff received one Wednesday worth $25,000), and Tirreno-Adriatico has its trident, but as far as unique winner’s trophies go, Paris-Roubaix stands apart. Since 1977, winners have received a mounted chunk of cobblestone, one of the most revered trophies in the sport.

Flanders-Roubaix double

Only 10 riders in cycling history have pulled off the Flanders-Roubaix double on 12 occasions (Boonen and Cancellara have each done it twice). Curiously enough, it’s one of the few milestones that Eddy Merckx was unable to achieve during his career. Boonen did it in 2005 and 2012, while Cancellara was a double-winner in 2010 and 2013. Roger De Vlaeminck did it in 1977, and no one could execute the double victory again until Peter van Petegem in 2003. Can Kristoff pull it off? His track record at Roubaix would not suggest it. In five starts, he did not finish on three occasions, including last year, He was 57th in 2012 and ninth in 2013.

Tour de France pavé

This year’s Tour de France will include three sectors of pavé that will be featured Sunday as well as in stage 4 this summer. The Quiévy, Saint-Python, and Verchain-Maugré sectors (numbered 25, 24, and 22, respectively, in decreasing number as the race runs from start to finish) will be part of this summer’s race. Last year, Boom won the stage and Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) cemented his grip on the yellow jersey, laying the foundation of his overall victory.

The cobble sections included in both Paris-Roubaix and the fourth stage of the Tour de France 2015:

— Quiévy (107.5km – 3,700m)
— Saint-Python (112.5km – 1,500m)
— Verchain-Maugré (130km – 1,600m)

VeloNews’ pick

Kristoff. He’s clearly the strongest rider right now, and Roubaix always favors the strong. When someone’s a touch off top form or struggling on the bike, they make mistakes, they miss the line, they puncture, and they crash. Riders have always said when you’re strong, you float over the pavé. Kristoff is on a Merckxian-style run, and he could pull off the double. Why? Because he’s strong enough to follow all the key moves, and he’s no longer afraid to be the aggressor. He has absolutely nothing to lose and everything to gain, but he has the nose of a winner. And if he’s in a small group on the velodrome track, he has the kick to win a reduced-bunch sprint.

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Kristoff downplays chances of winning on the Paris-Roubaix pave Fri, 10 Apr 2015 12:51:02 +0000

Alexander Kristoff and his teammates previewed the Paris-Roubaix course Thursday. Photo: Tim De Waele |

The Katusha rider will attempt to win both the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix in the same season, a rare feat

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Alexander Kristoff and his teammates previewed the Paris-Roubaix course Thursday. Photo: Tim De Waele |

GENT, Belgium (VN) — Will the Alexander Kristoff express keep on rolling?

After a tremendous run that includes victories at the Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders), Scheldeprijs, and three stages and the overall at the Three Days of De Panne, the 27-year-old Kristoff enters Sunday’s Paris-Roubaix as a five-star favorite.

Despite his obvious strength, Kristoff (Katusha) is downplaying his chances in Sunday’s “Hell of the North.”

“I’ve always gone better in Flanders. I’ve never gone that good in Roubaix. I think I was ninth two years ago, but I hope to improve it. I should be fine for Sunday,” Kristoff said. “Of course, I dream of winning, who doesn’t? If I get podium, I would be very happy. We will try, of course, but the whole team is in good form. We will give it a try, of course.”

That’s Norwegian-modesty speaking. Kristoff is clearly one of the strongest, if not strongest, rider right now in the peloton. Few can match him in the sprint, with the possible exception of John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin), who nipped him at Milano-Sanremo in March. And almost no one can stay on his wheel. He nearly rode defending Roubaix champion Niki Terpstra (Etixx-Quick-Step) off his wheel late in Flanders on the Paterberg climb.

“I cannot describe how good it feels. It was a childhood dream come true,” Kristoff said of winning Flanders. “It will be one of the best memories of my career. Like my bronze medal in the [2012] Olympics, when I look back at it, it wasn’t so big, but it’s a big moment in my career and my life. I am sure Flanders will be the same way.”

Kristoff and Katusha have no time to be nostalgic, at least not yet. They’ve been the revelation of the 2015 northern classics. Add Luca Paolini’s dramatic victory at Gent-Wevelgem, and the Russian-backed team has won every major race, except E3 Harelbeke, when Geraint Thomas (Sky) took the flowers.

Kristoff pointed to Terpstra and Bradley Wiggins (Sky) as two rivals to watch Sunday on the pavé.

“Sure, Terpstra won last year, so he better not slide away again, because it’s difficult to catch him,” Kristoff said. “And Wiggins? I don’t think he lacks the strength. For sure, he really should be ready. He can be dangerous. He showed last year he can do this race. He can be one of the favorites Sunday.”

Kristoff has other ambitions this season, and he confirmed he will make a run for the green jersey at the Tour de France, and then prepare for a run at the world title in Richmond, Virginia.

“Those are the main goals. I will train once I get home, and work for the Tour. We have Purito [Joaquim Rodríguez] for yellow, and we will try for green. In the end, we will see how many points I have. I want to win stages like last year,” he said. “After this, the worlds course can suit me, I will try to get me into shape again in USA.”

Up first is his date with destiny, and a rare shot at the Flanders-Roubaix double. Only 10 riders have won both monuments in the same year.

“First, I must win Roubaix. There is a lot of suffering, and I must do everything right to win,” he said with a smile. “It’s not impossible, I will try. With this [Scheldeprijs] victory, I am very happy. No matter what happens in Roubaix, I can be happy with my classics period.”

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Gallery: Looking back on Wiggins’ diverse road career Fri, 10 Apr 2015 12:20:19 +0000

Bradley Wiggins is closing out his professional road career on the Paris-Roubaix pavé. The diversity of his palmares is unrivaled

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Into the deep end, BMC’s Rosskopf keeping head above water Thu, 09 Apr 2015 12:30:21 +0000

In his first year in the big leagues, Joey Rosskopf is taking his European experience to heart and looking forward to the Amgen Tour of California. Photo: Andrew Hood |

The American is making the most of his racing experience in Europe, and hopes to be a player at the Amgen Tour of California next month

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In his first year in the big leagues, Joey Rosskopf is taking his European experience to heart and looking forward to the Amgen Tour of California. Photo: Andrew Hood |

GENT, Belgium (VN) — Getting thrown into the deep end. It’s part of the story of every young professional. Sink or swim.

Through his first two months in the treacherous European waters, BMC Racing’s Joey Rosskopf is doing more than keeping his head above water. And he hopes to make his own waves later this season.

“Until three weeks ago, I had never raced in Belgium, except as a junior. It’s been an adventure,” Rosskopf told VeloNews last week. “I’ve been trying to figure out [how] to save energy. I am trying to do something helpful in the race. When it gets hard, I get spit out the back, but I can help earlier in the race.”

The 25-year-old has been seeing some quality race days in Europe since joining BMC this season. He debuted at some French races in February, and spent most of March racing the bumpy Belgian roads, including the Three Days of De Panne, where VeloNews caught up with him last week. Now he’s at the Vuelta al País Vasco (Tour of the Basque Country), considered by many the hardest week-long stage race in Europe.

Rosskopf is diving in head first.

“That’s the goal, to learn, to race. I don’t think they’ve sent me here because they think I am going to win,” he said with a smile. “ I’m here to learn, to race, to get used to this style of racing. The task is to help.”

BMC picked him up following some big results on the North American circuit last year, including second behind Cadel Evans in a major climbing stage at the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah, which helped him secure the climber’s jersey as well.

At 25, he’s not your typical neo-pro. He’s already raced four seasons in North America, with two seasons at Team Type 1 in 2011-12, and the past two years with Hincapie Sportswear Development Team.

BMC sporting manager Allan Peiper decided to take a chance on Rosskopf, comparing him to other pros, such as Lotto-Soudal’s Greg Henderson, who turned pro relatively late.

“It’s been a big jump for him, to go from racing in North America to Europe. He’s a big kid, at 24, and he’s at a point where we can throw him in, and he can survive,” Peiper said. “We’ll see how he can develop. It’s nice to have a challenge and think outside the box. He’s not like a 22-year-old, straight from the federation. He’s a bit like Henderson. At High Road, we gave him an opportunity, and he’s still racing at the top level. I think he has good potential.”

BMC sport director Jackson Stewart said the team considered Rosskopf’s extensive racing experience when mapping out his racing season in Europe this spring.

“So far, so good. He is a little bit older and a little bit more experienced and has more years riding his bike. So he is on the ‘accelerated plan’ when it comes to the WorldTour,” Stewart said. “He is a little bit smarter and maybe more physically adapted than a younger guy. He has stepped right in and has been able to ride at a good level to be a good teammate. He has also quickly figured out how to be a good teammate, what the guys need, and to do what the team asks of him.”

Last April, Rosskopf erased a 22-second deficit en route to winning the final stage and overall at the Redlands Bicycle Classic. Fast forward one year, and now he’s bumping shoulders with the likes of Nairo Quintana (Movistar) at the Basque Country tour this week.

“The biggest difference in Europe is the energy you have to use for positioning before you even get to the hard sections,” he said. “You have the cobbles and climbs written down, but half the time, those are almost easier than the 10km before them, just trying to stay at the front, because you use so much energy.”

Rosskopf has settled into an apartment in Lucca, Italy, where other Americans are also based. He won’t return to the United States until the Amgen Tour of California in May. With the recent injury to Peter Stetina, the team could be leaning on him even more.

“I think the Amgen Tour of California will be the perfect race for him. He will be motivated, he will be racing in his home country, and I see him racing it like he did last year,” Stewart said. “He is an opportunist. In the right races, he can be very dangerous in the break. Especially in California or maybe in Yorkshire. Last year, when we saw him at the Tour of Utah and the USA Pro Challenge, he would have been one of the strongest guys in the break, except we had a guy in there. So now he is racing for us, instead of against us.”

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Knaven’s Roubaix winner: A bike too good to wash Wed, 08 Apr 2015 14:46:26 +0000

Knaven's bike is now on display in the Amsterdam Rapha store, along with the grimy jersey from the day he won a cobblestone in Roubaix. Photo: Andrew Hood |

Mechanics never washed the mud off of Servais Knaven's winning bike from the 2001 Paris-Roubaix. It's on display at Rapha's new Dutch store

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Knaven's bike is now on display in the Amsterdam Rapha store, along with the grimy jersey from the day he won a cobblestone in Roubaix. Photo: Andrew Hood |

SCHOTEN, Belgium (VN) — The mud of Paris-Roubaix is eternal. And in the case of Servais Knaven and his winning Eddy Merckx frame, he’s hoping it stays that way.

Moments after crossing the line victorious in the 2001 Paris-Roubaix, a euphoric Knaven passed off his bike to Domo-Farm Frites mechanics, and was swept up in a media hurricane.

Hours later, back at the team hotel for a post-victory celebration, a mechanic pulled Knaven aside, pointed to the Eddy Merckx frame propped up against the wall. The mechanic, veteran wrench Chris van Roosbroeck, didn’t wash it, and nearly 15 years later, the same mud and grime from Knaven’s greatest professional moment remains caked onto the frame.

“It was the mechanics who chose not to wash it. After the podium, the bikes are always washed, but I am thankful they didn’t clean it,” Knaven told VeloNews. “I didn’t even think about the bike. Moments after winning Roubaix, my mind was elsewhere.”

Flash forward 14 years, and Knaven’s muddy Roubaix bike is now hanging on the wall at Rapha’s concept store in the heart of Amsterdam’s trendy “Nine Streets” district.

The 44-year-old is now the lead sport director for Team Sky at the spring classics, but back in 2001, he was a cog in Domo-Farm Frites cobblestone wheel. Superstar Johan Museeuw was leading the team, yet Knaven took advantage of a numbers game, attacking with about 10km to go out an elite group to take the most important victory of his 17-year racing career that spanned from 1994 to 2010. Horrendous conditions, with driving rain, mud, and wind, made that year’s Roubaix one to remember.

“Winning Roubaix, that was the highlight of my career, of course,” Knaven explained. “It was raining from the start. It was really muddy, and there were many crashes on the first sectors. The group kept getting smaller and smaller, and in the end, I think there were 30 of us left. It was a huge day.”

Domo-Farm Frites swept the podium, with Museeuw and Romans Vainsteins second and third, respectively. George Hincapie was fourth, and Wilfried Peeters, another Domo rider, was fifth.

Knaven’s muddy bike became something of celebrity in the months following Roubaix. Racing legend Eddy Merckx, whose name is emblazoned on the frame, displayed it in Compiegne to celebrate the centenary of the “Hell of the North,” and later had it on display at the company’s headquarters in Belgium. After about a year, Merckx gave the bike back to Knaven.

“It was a special bike for me. I only rode it twice; once in the recon, and then in the race,” Knaven recalled. “I kept it in the basement, where the kids played, but the mud stayed on the frame. It was nice to look at. You can still see where the water sprayed up on the frame. You can also see where I had a puncture, and they had to change the wheel in neutral support. It brings back the memories of that day.”

Of course, historic bikes hanging on the walls of museums and bike shops are nothing new. Belgium is chock full of such places. Oudenaarde has a museum dedicated to the Tour of Flanders while Roeselare hosts the Wieler Museum, dedicated to all things on two wheels.

Knaven’s bike ended up in the Rapha’s new Amsterdam store, which opened two weeks ago, at the behest of the UK-apparel company.

“Rapha is a sponsor of the [Sky] team, and they asked me if I would put the bike in the new café in Amsterdam,” Knaven said. “I said sure, so long as you protect the bike, and if no one can touch it.”

The bike hangs securely on the wall, along with Knaven’s winning jersey, also still muddied from the wild day across the pavé.

“It’s my lucky bike,” Knaven said. “Now that I have stopped racing, it’s nice to see people’s reaction when they see the bike. I am glad the mechanics never washed off the mud!”

Rapha Cycle Club Amsterdam
Wolvenstraat 10, 1016 EP Amsterdam, Netherlands
+31 (0) 20 341 5082

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