» Andrew Hood Competitive Cycling News, Race Results and Bike Reviews Fri, 12 Feb 2016 13:50:34 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Trentin’s road to classics climbs Mount Etna Wed, 10 Feb 2016 14:02:04 +0000

Matteo Trentin, pictured here during the 2015 Tour of Britain. Photo: Tim De Waele |

The Italian is one of several Etixx – Quick-Step riders who could contend for victories in Belgium and France this spring.

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Matteo Trentin, pictured here during the 2015 Tour of Britain. Photo: Tim De Waele |

Matteo Trentin is hoping the heights of Mount Etna will give him an edge in the bergs and cobbles of the northern classics this spring.

Others have tried altitude training ahead of the spring classics, including Team Sky, with mixed results. Trentin, however, is convinced altitude will do him some good, and so the Etixx – Quick-Step rider will escape to Sicily to train on the flanks of Mount Etna ahead of the upcoming classics campaign.

“I always do altitude camp in the summer, usually about 15 to 20 days. It works really well, so let’s try if it will work for the classics,” Trentin told VeloNews. “I will head to Etna to see if it will give me a boost.”

Altitude camps have become an essential part of modern training, especially for grand tour riders heading to the Tour de France. While it has clear advantages for riders racing up the French mountain cols in July, altitude training hasn’t proven to be a major impact on the classics. Sky tried it with their riders a few years ago with mixed results, with some riders even saying the demands of the altitude camp wore them out ahead of the grueling classics. The British team has since ditched its altitude training for its classics-bound riders in its quest to win a major one-day classic.

Trentin has used altitude training before, including trips to Lake Tahoe and Livigno, Italy, and the 26-year-old Italian is hoping the effort will pay off for the classics.

As a key member of the deep and experienced Etixx classics team, Trentin knows he needs to be at the absolute top of his game to have a chance for victory. Not only does he need to beat the rest of the peloton, he has to work his way up the hierarchy at Etixx. With Tom Boonen, Zdenek Stybar, and Niki Terpstra ahead of him, Trentin accepts he is a few rungs down the ladder. But if a door opens, he wants to be ready to storm right in.

“We have the big guys, with Tom, Stybie, Niki, but even like last year, I was third in Harelbeke,” Trentin said. “Everyone is very clear about this. We all want to win, but it’s important that the team wins.”

Trentin is one of the few modern Italians who is targeting the northern classics, picking up the tradition from such riders as Michele Bartoli, Gianluca Bortolami, Andrea Tafi, and Franco Ballerini — a generation of Italians who dominated the classics in the 1990s.

“It’s always a childhood dream to win a big classic,” Trentin said. “It would be nice to win such a race just once. To win just one of these monuments would be like a dream. Being on this team, with such a big history, it’s something that I am very proud of.”

No Italian has won Paris-Roubaix since Tafi in 1999 or the Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders) since Alessandro Ballan in 2007. Yet it’s the 2001 edition of Roubaix, won by Sky sport director Servais Knaven, that drew Trentin into the classics.

“The 2001 Paris-Roubaix, that was the most epic race I’ve ever seen,” he said. “That’s when I started to love the classics. Your body is on the limit, they are very physical races. They are the big challenges in this sport.”

In fact, the dynamics of that 2001 Roubaix, when Knaven rode as a support rider for his higher-profile captains, is just the kind of scenario Trentin would need to someday win one of the classics.

“The road speaks for the riders, so if someone is feeling great, they will have their chance,” Trentin said, insisting there are no problems on the talent-rich Etixx classics squad. “We are all professional, and we are all racing for the same team. Last year, I was third at Harelbeke, so the chance is there to win something if you have a great day.”

With Boonen looking at perhaps his final season, Trentin is poised to move up. Entering his sixth campaign with the Belgian outfit, Trentin has already won two stages at the Tour de France and won Paris-Tours last fall. Though not considered a “monument,” Paris-Tours was an important milestone for the improving Italian.

“That was a nice present to win Paris-Tours. I was chasing victory in a one-day race for awhile,” Trentin said. “I made a good end of season [run]. I was well-prepared for the worlds, but I made a tactical mistake that took me out of the race. When I went home, I was mad for one week, thinking about the worlds, because you do not get too many opportunities to be there. I made a mental switch, and I used that frustration from the worlds.”

Don’t look for Trentin at the Belgian opener at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, however. He’s skipping the first weekend of the Belgian classics to head to Mount Etna instead. He’s hoping the rarified air of the Sicilian volcano will help him on the cobbles of Flanders and France.

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Van Garderen hits the reset button in Spain Wed, 10 Feb 2016 13:34:53 +0000

Tejay van Garderen will jumpstart his season in Spain this weekend. Photo: Tim De Waele |

The American will start his season at two races in Spain this weekend as he prepares for another Tour de France challenge.

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Tejay van Garderen will jumpstart his season in Spain this weekend. Photo: Tim De Waele |

Tejay van Garderen is heading to Spain to begin his 2016 season. The 27-year-old has debuted in the Middle East or South America the past three years, but this year he’s staying on European roads to open his racing calendar.

Van Garderen will click his season into gear at the Vuelta a Murcia and the Clásica de Almeria, a pair of one-day races in Spain this weekend.

“The decision to start the season in Spain is due to a number of reasons,” van Garderen said in a BMC Racing press release. “I’ve opened the two previous seasons with the Tour of Oman, but we felt it was a good idea to stay in Europe, in the same time zone, with a better climate and eliminate the travel involved. These races are competitive and will really set my season up well.”

After that, van Garderen will race the five-day Ruta del Sol, also in Spain. The remainder of his schedule is not officially defined, but it’s expected he will race Tirreno-Adriatico, the Volta a Catalunya, Tour de Romandie, and the Critérium du Dauphiné ahead of the Tour de France.

With the arrival of Richie Porte as co-leader for the Tour, the 2016 season marks a new chapter for van Garderen. BMC general manager Jim Ochowicz said the team is aiming for outright victory at the Tour this year, and van Garderen recently signed a contract extension to stay with the U.S.-registered team.

Van Garderen hasn’t raced since crashing out of the 2015 Vuelta a España in stage 8. BMC sport director Jackson Stewart said the pair of Spanish one-day races is a good way to blow out the cobwebs.

“They’re great races to start the season with,” Stewart said “We’re sending a solid GC team to the two races so that they can get a couple of good race days in their legs before continuing on to Ruta del Sol. Really anyone from the team has a shot in Murcia, and then Almeria is traditionally a sprinters’ race.”

BMC Racing for Vuelta a Murcia and the Clásica de Almeria

Darwin Atapuma (COL)
Brent Bookwalter (USA)
Damiano Caruso (ITA)
Philippe Gilbert (BEL)
Ben Hermans (BEL)
Samuel Sanchez (SPA)
Tejay van Garderen (USA)

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Classics rider Van Avermaet still chasing a classics win Tue, 09 Feb 2016 14:59:10 +0000

Greg Van Avermaet met with the media at the Tour of Qatar this week. Photo: Tim De Waele |

The BMC Racing rider has been close in recent years, but he has yet to win a northern classic — something he hopes to accomplish in 2016.

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Greg Van Avermaet met with the media at the Tour of Qatar this week. Photo: Tim De Waele |

You keep knocking at the door, and eventually it will open — at least that’s what Greg Van Avermaet is banking on for 2016.

The Belgian star doesn’t want to be remembered for the races he didn’t win, and he’s optimistic 2016 is the year he finally breaks into the winner’s bracket in the northern classics. It’s not for a lack of trying.

“I feel I have it in me to win the big races,” Van Avermaet said at a recent BMC Racing team camp. “I’ve proved it. There are small differences between winning and losing. You only have four or five chances of winning a year. It’s also a little bit of luck.”

Classics riders compete with a mix of what’s a blessing and a curse. Riders like Van Avermaet are strong enough to match the grueling, six-hour, 230km-plus demands of a monument, but they know they only get three or four chances in an entire year to make their mark. And with the likes of Tom Boonen of Etixx – Quick-Step and Fabian Cancellara of Trek – Segafredo eating up podiums for the better part of the past decade, Van Avermaet’s been chipping away patiently at the fringes.

The past two seasons have confirmed his pedigree. Second in the 2014 Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders) and third last year in both the Ronde and Paris-Roubaix proved to his team and everyone else that he’s capable of winning a big one. Van Avermaet believes it’s a matter of time.

“Before, I said there were things I could improve,” he continued. “Now I am strong enough to win any classic. I just haven’t done it yet. I was pretty happy with my year [2015], but you want to win. For a classics rider, without a big win, it’s not 100 percent.”

Van Avermaet, who is making his season debut this week at the Tour of Qatar, did manage to win a stage at the Tour de France last summer — stage 13 in a ripping battle against Tinkoff’s Peter Sagan into Rodez — to achieve another elusive goal.

Van Avermaet knows luck cuts both ways. A late-race puncture cost him a chance to challenge at Paris-Tours, and a motorcycle knocked him off his bike when he was attacking at the decisive final climb at Clásica San Sebastián.

For 2016, BMC is going all-in with Van Avermaet in the northern classics. Already two years ago, the team backed him over the cobblestones. With Taylor Phinney still working his comeback, and Philippe Gilbert keeping his eye on the Ardennes, Van Avermaet is the team’s go-to rider on the cobblestones.

“We believe Greg can win one of the big classics, and we’re supporting him,” BMC general manager Jim Ochowicz said. “It’s not easy. In the classics, you only have a week or two to win all year. I think he’s missing a bit of luck.”

Van Avermaet was cleared of doping allegations last year, and clearing that off his plate only opens the road for a solid 2016 season.

BMC brings a solid squad to the northern classics to support Van Avermaet. Perhaps it’s not one of the top teams like Etixx, but it’s very close. Behind Van Avermaet, Marcus Burghardt, Daniel Oss, Michael Schar, and Manuel Quinziato provide solid support, each capable of playing the wildcard if there’s an opening.

“I think we’re just as good as Etixx and the other teams,” Van Avermaet said. “We have a really strong team, and we’ve been together a few years already. That gives me more confidence as a leader.”

Now 30, Van Avermaet certainly isn’t afraid to make his own luck. His long-distance attack in the 2014 Ronde nearly paid off. Quick Step’s Stijn Vandenbergh marked him but the team told him not to collaborate, allowing others to link back up. Van Avermaet still had the form to ride to second, his first major podium in the northern classics. Last year, he rode with confident consistency and placed third in both the Ronde and Roubaix.

With longtime rivals Boonen and Cancellara both riding into the tail end of their careers, Van Avermaet believes he’s just the rider to fill that void.

“Tom is so special for Belgian cycling, and leaves a big space. I cannot compare myself to him, but I can try to fill that space,” Van Avermaet said. “Tom and Fabian were always the big riders of reference. Now we are more equal, with [Alexander] Kristoff, Sagan, and others, but I always try to do my own race. I don’t look too much at others.”

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With deep squad, Sky off to hot start Mon, 08 Feb 2016 15:25:40 +0000

Wout Poels won the recent Volta a Valencia. Photo: Tim De Waele |

The British team could be a threat in every stage race it starts this season, thanks to some new signees over the winter.

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Wout Poels won the recent Volta a Valencia. Photo: Tim De Waele |

The sun never sets on the growing Team Sky empire. The squad is hot out of the gates in 2016, winning races over the weekend in three time zones around the globe.

Two-time Tour de France champion Chris Froome is a favorite in any race he starts — which he proved again with a thrilling GC victory at the Herald Sun Tour to open his season — but Sky is so stacked in talent, it can be a legitimate GC threat even when Froome isn’t racing.

Just look at what happened in the opening races of 2016. Wout Poels revealed he’s more than just a climbing domestique, riding Astana’s Fabio Aru off his wheel en route to winning two stages and the overall at the rebooted Volta a Valenciana in Spain. Peter Kennaugh was second to Froome in Australia, and Sergio Henao nearly beat the Aussies on home turf, taking third at the Santos Tour Down Under to open the WorldTour last month. Elia Viviani even took a sprint at the Dubai Tour to sweeten the pot.

“I think coming here, and walking away with the overall victory is an amazing way to start off,” Froome said after his first win since last year’s Tour de France. “I am seeing the results of some hard training this winter, but this season is lining up to be one of the most eventful of my career so far.”

Froome is clearly the gravitational center at Sky, and the team will back him 100 percent as the Kenyan-born star targets winning his third yellow jersey and a gold medal at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

But there’s room for more than one star in the ever expanding Sky galaxy. If Froome wasn’t scary enough already, the squad is revealing new GC depth that could prove deadly across the entire season.

“This will be a very special year for Team Sky,” team boss Dave Brailsford said at the team camp last month. “I don’t know why we cannot go for all three grand tours.”

It’s still early days, but Sky looks to be on an even higher level going into 2016.

Already bolstered by early-season success, the team’s major off-season GC signing, Mikel Landa, hasn’t even raced yet. Brailsford tapped Landa to replace Richie Porte, who made trails for BMC Racing, and will debut next week at the Ruta del Sol in Spain. Also with new additions Beñat Intxausti and Michal Kwiatkowski, Sky is deeper than it’s ever been.

“Sky made a place for me, and that’s why I’m here,” Landa told VeloNews contributor Gregor Brown. “I’m preparing for the Giro, and the team is doing everything it can to help me for that goal.”

The team’s GC universe also extends to Kwiatkowski and Geraint Thomas, two riders who are not hiding their ambitions to target stage racing. Kwiatkowski, the 2014 world champion, and Thomas both believe they have possibilities in one-week stage races and hope to develop into grand tour contenders some day.

“It’s come to a point where I need to decide what road I want to go down,” said Thomas, confirming he won’t race the northern classics this year. “It was a hard decision to make, because E3 Harelbeke is my biggest win and I love that race. It’s hard to miss it, but you have to make the call sometime.”

Here’s how Sky’s GC aspirations are shaping up this season. Froome will race Paris-Nice, Volta a Catalunya, Tour de Romandie, and the Critérium du Dauphiné, four races he’s either already won or could win. Thomas, however, will get his chance, especially at Paris-Nice, as Froome will likely keep things on a slow simmer until aiming to hit peak form for the Tour-Rio double.

Landa, the team’s new GC ace, will debut at Ruta del Sol and will start Tirreno-Adriatico, the Vuelta al País Vasco (Tour of the Basque Country), and Giro del Trentino, three races he will target for victory as he prepares to take on the mantle of leadership before the Giro.

Behind Froome and Landa, riders such as Thomas, a healthy and motivated Henao, Poels, Kwiatkowski, Leopold Konig, and Kennaugh will get their chances to chase their own results throughout the calendar.

Anything can happen during a racing season, but Sky is poised to be competitive in every stage race it starts this year. The spring classics, however, remain a challenge. Sky still has yet to win a “monument” since its founding in 2010.

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Haga thankful, recovering after brush with death Fri, 05 Feb 2016 14:17:58 +0000

Chad Haga rode in the Giro d'Italia last year. Photo: Tim De Waele |

The Giant – Alpecin rider and five of his teammates were hit by a car head-on during a recent training ride.

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Chad Haga rode in the Giro d'Italia last year. Photo: Tim De Waele |

Chad Haga takes pleasure in the small things now. Not that he didn’t before, but after what he’s been through, the mundane, everyday tasks that are otherwise taken for granted — like walking around the park or cutting mushrooms for an omelet — take on a deeper meaning.

The 27-year-old is grateful, relieved, and almost in disbelief. Two weeks ago, a car plowed straight into a group of Giant – Alpecin riders returning from a pre-season training ride. Now, back at his apartment in Spain, not only can he walk, cook, and move around, despite some lingering aches and pain he can soon aspire to return to training and racing. He knows it could have been so much worse.

“Multiple bullets,” Haga said when asked if he dodged a bullet in the horrendous crash. “My legs are going to be OK. My head is OK. Incredibly, I just have flesh wounds. I’m very relieved. It very easily could have been much, much worse.”

Much, much worse is an understatement. Haga was among the worst off among the group of six riders involved in the horrendous crash, and he was taken by helicopter to a Spanish hospital. Barely two weeks later on Friday, Haga had the last of the nearly 100 stitches taken out of his face, neck, and limbs. Despite some heavy blows, including bruising and contusions all over and a fracture to the orbital bone above his right eye, the 27-year-old was otherwise not seriously injured. Head-on impacts with moving vehicles while on a bicycle quickly put things into perspective. To escape with the injuries he sustained is incredibly lucky, and nothing short of miraculous.

“Nothing major is broken,” Haga told VeloNews in a telephone interview. “I only broke my orbital around my right eye, nothing else. No concussion, either. I don’t know how you crash into a car with that speed and don’t get a concussion.”

‘I only have brief memories’

Haga cannot remember much. Just snapshots of a disaster that the mind would otherwise like to forget: a brisk return after a training ride, the vision of a car, the panic, the crunch of impact, the whir of helicopter blades, and the blur of the operating table.

The afternoon of January 23 unfolded like any other along Spain’s Costa Blanca for the major teams that ply the roads during winter training camps. Haga and his teammates, including classics star John Degenkolb, were riding two abreast as they were spinning back to the team hotel. It was along a road that Haga and the others had ridden dozens of times in the popular training area along Spain’s Mediterranean Coast. As the group eased around a corner, they couldn’t believe what they saw — a car in their lane driving directly at them — and no one had time to react.

“I only have brief memories,” Haga said. “I remember seeing the car coming at us in the wrong lane, and just that brief moment of panic. Is this real? What do we do? Just that feeling of panic and surreal feeling is all that I can remember.”

A 73-year-old British woman, driving a UK-style car with right-hand steering, was later charged for reckless driving. A photograph of the crumpled bikes in the aftermath of the crash revealed just how lucky Haga and the others were. No one was killed, and no one was so injured that their racing careers are in jeopardy. Degenkolb confirmed he will miss the spring classics this year, and others involved, including Warren Barguil, Max Walshcheid, and Ramon Sinkeldam, all suffered fractures and broken bones.

After a brief stay in a Spanish hospital, no major surgery was required and Haga returned to his European base in Girona, Spain. His fiancé and brother are helping him with his recovery. Simple tasks like eating, sleeping, and walking require monumental determination, but there’s light at the end of the tunnel. Doctors say he will be able to resume a normal life and begin training again in a matter a weeks or months, with the goal of returning to the peloton this season.

“The injuries are healing pretty well. My neck is getting stronger. For awhile, it was exhausting just to look down and cut my food into small bites,” Haga said. “My knees took a really big hit. Both got hyper-extended in the crash. I can walk, and I’ve been taking long walks of two or three miles a day. The more I move around, the more I loosen things up. I’ve been going to the gym, spinning on the bike a little bit. Thankfully, the team is putting no pressure on me at all. The most important thing is to get fully healed, and then we’ll see where we are.”

‘I’m not ready to let it go’

Haga is determined to return to professional racing. The accident came just as the Texan was entering his third year in the big leagues, and he was poised to step up. A college graduate and a trained classical pianist, he could easily walk away from professional cycling. Yet he’s found new resolve to come back and see how far he can go. He doesn’t want one horrific, freakish accident to take all that away from him.

“I was in such a good place mentally and physically, and I was really excited to race. I was ready to be a factor in the races, not just do the work early and set up other riders. I wanted to affect the race,” Haga said. “I’m not ready to let it go. It’s a setback, for sure. I want to get healthy and make the most of the rest of the season.”

Haga’s return will not be too fast, because he also admits there will be a mental hurdle to overcome before he can return to the open roads. Cycling is a dangerous sport and he doesn’t expect there to be a problem, especially because he’s never had any sort of training accidents before, but he doesn’t want to force anything, either. He’s at home now, safe and healthy, surrounded by loved ones, and will let his body tell him when it’s time to push a little harder. A brush with death puts everything into a new perspective.

“I hug everyone a bit tighter now,” Haga said. “It can all end very quickly. I try not to think about it too much, or think that I shouldn’t ride again. I want to live my life the best way I know how, and God will decide.”

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Farrar: ‘The stars aligned there for a few years’ Thu, 04 Feb 2016 21:18:37 +0000

Though he has had plenty of success on his own as a featured sprinter, Tyler Farrar will spend some time as a lead out man this season at Dimension Data. Photo: Tim De Waele |

Once among cycling's fastest sprinters, Tyler Farrar is happy to lend his services to his teammates as a lead out rider at Dimension Data

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Though he has had plenty of success on his own as a featured sprinter, Tyler Farrar will spend some time as a lead out man this season at Dimension Data. Photo: Tim De Waele |

Tyler Farrar is ready to slot into a helper’s role in the lead-out of the man who was once his most bitter rival, Mark Cavendish. Five years ago, the pair battled in the sprints, but Farrar is a realist and optimist at heart, and he’s excited to be part of the Cavendish Express for 2016.

Cavendish’s high-profile move to Dimension Data this season means that Farrar will become an ally to the rider who he once battled against in the sprints. During his magical run from 2009 to 2011, Farrar was one of the few sprinters who could match up against Cavendish. A half-decade later, the pair is linking up at Dimension Data as Cavendish looks to regain his crown as the king of the sprints.

Now 31, Farrar admits his fastest days are behind him, and he is more than willing to help his former nemesis turned teammate. In fact, Farrar said there’s a budding friendship replacing the sometimes bitter acrimony that once existed between the pair. VeloNews sat down with Farrar to talk about sprinting, Cavendish, and the African explosion in cycling.

VeloNews: How would you measure last year’s season both for you and for the team?
Tyler Farrar: We have to call our season last year a success. We set some high goals, and we met almost all of them; winning stages at Tour and Vuelta, putting a guy on the leader’s jersey. The team had already won Milano-Sanremo a few years ago, but last season went a long way to establishing this team. When I signed with this team in the latter half of 2014, their goal was to get into the WorldTour, so when last year went so well, it accelerated the whole process. And here we are now.

VN: You used to be the main sprinter at Slipstream, but when you came to this team, you’ve taken on the role of road captain; was it easy to make that transition?
TF: I’ve enjoyed it, but it was an interesting transition. I’ve been around for awhile now. I am 31, but this is also my 14th year as a pro. We have so much young talent, and it’s been so much fun to be part of it. These guys are going to be successful if I am here or not telling them to do that or do this, but I am happy to have the opportunity to share a bit of knowledge. I remember how much that meant to me when I was 23 or 24, to have some of the older guys on the team who were willing to lay out a plan, and not just do their own thing. It’s coming full circle, and now I can help those young guys on their progression.

VN: Who helped you when you were younger?
TF: I was lucky, and I touched on a lot teammates over the years. When I was really young, it was Gord Fraser. Those two years with him were massive in my development as a sprinter. Then I went to Cofidis, and I had Nick Nuyens, and riding with him in the classics with him was a huge learning experience. Then I went to Garmin, where I got to race with Dave Millar, Julian Dean, and Christian Vande Velde, and then Andreas Klier came onto the team. I was lucky throughout my career to always have one or two experienced guys to kind of sponge off of.

VN: Looking back at that sweet run you had from 2009-11, what happened, and can you pinpoint what went wrong?
TF: You look back on it, and try to figure out what was working, and what wasn’t. It’s tricky to say. There are so many different factors, both on and off the bike, in what makes you successful on the bike. The stars just aligned there for a few years, and I had a ton of success. When you have a run like that, when you’re really at the top of the game for three years, and when you’re not winning with that consistency, you’re always chasing it, and trying to rediscover it. When it happens, it just happens, and you fall into it, and when you try to recreate it, after you’ve slipped out of it, it’s not so easy sometimes. I’ve had moments when it’s clicked since then, and moments when it hasn’t. All things considered, I still don’t know why it worked, but it definitely worked for those few years there.

VN: You won stages in all three grand tours, and then you started coming very close, with a lot of podiums, but no wins, what’s the difference from winning or not?
TF: Sometimes it’s a very small difference between first and second, but in the world of cycling, seconds and thirds don’t count anywhere near what a victory does. You can get second or third place 15 times in a year, but one big victory can out-weigh all those. That’s the sport of cycling.

‘Cannot remember this kind of depth in sprints’
VN: How much has sprinting changed over the past decade?
TF: It’s really evolved. At least since I’ve been aware of professional cycling, I cannot remember when you have this kind of depth in the sprinting talent. Not just depth in the sprinters, but also in the teams that are supporting them. There are so many very good dedicated sprint trains. Historically, there was always been two or three teams that dominated the sprint trains, and then a handful of sprinters who would operate off those trains. You look at the sprints now, there are five or six dedicated trains now in the sprint finishes. It makes for some crazy sprints. It’s the natural progression in sport. The sport evolves, and each generation builds off what came before them. The sprinter’s today have evolved off the first guys, like Cipollini and Zabel, who were putting together the first true sprint trains, and you see the way that’s kind of evolved and dispersed into the sport. Here we are now.

VN: Is it frustrating that just as the sport sees a bounty of sprinters that the grand tours are making sprints a rarity?
TF: I remember doing grand tours early in my career, when as a sprinter, you would have eight or nine opportunities in a 21-stage race. Now, if you get five or six sprints in a grand tour, you should be happy. And of those sprints, you might have to drag yourself over 2,500 meters of climbing before you get to the sprint. That’s also part of the evolution of cycling. That’s what the organizers want, and the fans seem to like it. You have to adapt to the races as they’re designed. As a sprinter, or now as a helper to a sprinter, it was nice doing those grand tours, because if you missed out, you’d know you’d get a lot more chances. It’s not like that anymore.

‘Cav is a cool guy’
VN: In the past, you and Cavendish were bitter rivals, is there any trepidation about riding with him on the same team now?
TF: Not at all. We were down at Cape Town, and Cav and I now get along quite well. I thought, if we were teammates when we were 24-25, we would have been really good friends. It’s different when you’re sprinting against someone. You both want to win, but we’ve both grown up a lot since then. Cav is a cool guy, and I am really looking forward to this year.

VN: When did you first hear about the possibility of Cavendish joining the team?
TF: They started talking last summer. I chatted with him during a few races, but discussions were moving along pretty fast. I think it’s fantastic. This is a team that has a lot of fast guys on it, but we never had anyone who was a true, consistent closer for the big sprints. You cannot ask for much more with a guy like Cavendish, who is arguably the best sprinters of all time. I’m excited about having him come to the team, and being part of that train. On paper, we can put together one of the best lead-out trains in the peloton. I’ve certainly raced against Cav, and his leadout train, so it will be fun to be part of a that for a little while.

VN: Has the team worked out who will ride where in the lead-out for the sprints?
TF: We’ve talked about it, and bounced some ideas around. That starts in these early races. We’ll try to get the system worked out, and we’ll all be together at the Tour of Qatar. You’re going to get it wrong from time to time, but you get it wrong now, not at the important races later in the season.

VN: Any idea where you will fit in?
TF: We’ll try different things, and move guys around a little bit, to see who fits best where. I don’t think we’ll mess with the Renshaw-Cav combo, and that will stay as it is. I am excited to be part of it, and see exactly where I fit in during that whole process.

‘Worlds will be a big goal’
VN: What would be an ideal season for you?
TF: I want our team to win a classic. That was the big objective that we missed in 2015. Last year was tough, losing Edvald [Boasson Hagen] with a broken collarbone at Gent-Wevelgem. He is our main guy for the classics, so we’ll see. If we put a Dimension Data on a podium, we’d call that a success. Also, having the world championships in Qatar is a pretty big deal for sprinters. This could be the last chance for a guy like me to chase a result in the worlds. The upcoming courses look quite challenging. The worlds will be a big goal, and it’s a big honor to race for your country, so that will be important for me to make that team, and ride well. On this team, I try to slot in and do well when they need me. Whether that’s the Tour or the Vuelta, we’ll wait to see.

VN: You’re still young, but as you said, you’ve been around awhile, how much longer do you see yourself in the peloton?
TF: This is my 14th year as a professional. You cannot do it forever, but I am not hanging it up just yet. I am very happy on this team. I am very happy to be part of it, and I hope to continue for a few more years.

‘Africa has a massive talent pool’
VN: You’ve talked about how this team is different, is there a certain African flare that sets it apart?
TF: It’s a unique environment. Every cycling team is international these days, but having the African side of things, it’s so different than any other team in the peloton. We have guys coming from completely different cultural backgrounds, and it’s really been eye-opening. You hear guys talking about how hard it is to make the pros, to race as juniors in Europe and being away from home, and then you talk to a guy like Adrien Niyonshuti, who survived the Rwandan genocide, and then it puts everything massively in perspective. It’s fun to race with these guys. They have great attitudes, and they’re so talented. They’re so fired up, and so eager, and there is a lot of positive energy on this team.

VN: How long before the peloton sees a an East African Tour de France winner?
TF: Africa has a massive talent pool. They dominate endurance track and field events, so if you can win a marathon, you’ve got the engine. You just have to translate that into cycling, so once that is truly tapped into, you will see more and more riders coming out of Africa. We are not the only team with riders coming out of Africa. Before, it was just Robbie Hunter. Now there are guys on all kinds of teams. A big part of the future of cycling is Africa. The talent pool is there. I think it’s very realistic.

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The mapmakers: Creating the Tour de France route Wed, 03 Feb 2016 21:47:52 +0000

Christian Prudhomme (left) and Thierry Gouvernou design the entire Tour de France course every year. Photo: Tim De Waele |

The three-week-long, 3,500km, 198-rider, millions-of-roadside-spectators beast that is the Tour route? Just two people create the entire

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Christian Prudhomme (left) and Thierry Gouvernou design the entire Tour de France course every year. Photo: Tim De Waele |

The lights dim inside the 4,000-seat Palais des Congrès in Paris, and Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme takes center stage. It’s late October, and in one of cycling’s seasonal customs, Prudhomme is unveiling next year’s Tour de France route with the pomp that cycling’s greatest stage race demands.

As he takes the audience through each stage, Thierry Gouvenou sits a few rows back, hidden from the spotlight but glowing like a proud father. A former pro who ranks behind only Prudhomme in the Tour’s organizational hierarchy, Gouvenou is Prudhomme’s sole partner in the creation of the Tour de France route. The presentation marks the end of three years of hard work for the pair — which means that even as Prudhomme is on stage, he and Gouvenou are already deep into the planning of the 2017 and 2018 routes.

“It is curious to see the reactions to the route presentation,” says Gouvenou, who ascended to his current role in 2014. “Designing the route each year is a big challenge, and when we see the riders commenting that it looks hard, then we know we did a good job.”

The Tour de France is a sprawling beast, involving roughly 3,500 kilometers, 21 stages, three weeks, and, oftentimes, international border crossings. It is also by far cycling’s most important event. Given the scope and prestige, it seems odd that only two men should be responsible for planning each and every route. Yet that’s the reality. There is no official input from the UCI, the teams, or even ASO colleagues. What Prudhomme and Gouvenou decide is what the peloton gets.

Given the evolving intrigue and experimentation that have marked recent editions of the Tour, the pairing works just fine, in part because the two men have such different but complementary personalities.

Prudhomme, 55, is a former TV journalist and suave Parisian, comfortable in the spotlight and no stranger to controversy. He took over as Tour director in 2007, after serving for three years as assistant director under Jean-Marie Leblanc. He has the connections, experience, vision, and force of personality to help modernize the Tour.

He is the point man who secures the high-profile deals to bring the Tour to lucrative new mar- kets. He was instrumental to bringing the race to Yorkshire, England, in 2014, for what some view as the most successful Grand Départ ever.

“The fans and the broadcasters do not like predictability, and we strive to add to adventure,” Prudhomme says. “Something every day must be interesting. That is the challenge we face.” In contrast to his boss’s visionary style, the 46-year-old Gouvenou is a former journeyman pro who never won a race and is content to work in the trenches, helping to give life and texture to Prudhomme’s overarching vision. The director determines the major host cities along the route, then leaves it to Gouvenou to find the roads that connect those dots.

“We work in tandem,” Gouvenou explains. “Christian paints the big picture. He has the context and vision to be able to step back. Once the general vision is laid out, then he passes it to me with carte blanche.”

Keeping an historic sport relevant in a modern media landscape for an audience with an ever-shorter attention span is no easy feat. When Prudhomme came on board, the Tour was stuck in an increasingly predictable rut, punctuated more by doping scandals than surprising routes. He quickly moved to strengthen anti-doping efforts, then turned his attention to the route itself. He wanted to change what a stage race looked like.

“We always strive for innovation, to keep things interesting,” Prudhomme says. “Why should the Tour be predictable? I think it should be the opposite.”

The Tour’s traditional routes through the Alps and Pyrenees obviously had to stay. So where Prudhomme knew he could make the biggest difference was in the transition stages. For years the Tour would take brief forays into the mountains, connected by days and days of predictably flat sprinters’ stages. Prudhomme began adding spice to the transitions with punchy uphill finales, varied terrain, and even pavé. Sprinters were having a hard time winning stages. One trademark addition was the Mur de Bretagne, introduced in 2011. The finishing climb transformed that year’s stage 4 from a routine sprint stage to one that saw GC riders marking each other while classics specialists looked to grab a bit of Tour glory. There’s a reason the Mur was back for the 2015 Tour: It was thrilling stuff.

Once Prudhomme provides the general framework, it’s up to Gouvenou to decide on the roads, pick the climbs, designate where the sprints will be — basically, to take care of all the details that determine the race.

“I’ve always liked maps and geography, so to design the Tour is a fun endeavor,” Gouvenou says. “Many of the roads are from memory, from racing and training, but we use new technology as much as we can.” That includes not just predictable tools like GPS and Google Earth but even Strava, which Gouvenou has used to dis- cover new roads and climbs.

Of course, at some point he has to get out on the roads themselves. He spends numerous weeks traveling each year and, by September, has driven the following year’s finalized route in its entirety.

While Prudhomme and Gouvenou are the sole architects of the route itself, they do need approval from a third person, Stéphane Boury, to make the route a reality. As ASO’s coordinator of each day’s finish line, Boury has to make sure the routes are practical. With an entourage topping 5,000 people, plus hundreds of vehicles, millions of fans, and all the attendant infrastructure, the Tour is a logistical beast that is exponentially more difficult than, say, hosting a soccer match in a stadium.

“We start working one or two years ahead of time,” Boury explains. “I have to go to every candidate city or finish line for an inspection. The imprint of the Tour is very big, and every stage must meet certain criteria.” Among the requirements is that each finish needs about 10,000 square meters (2.5 acres) of space.

“There are 120 trucks that travel with the Tour,” Boury says. “We have 400 to 500 technicians on each stage, and we have to lay 10 to 20 kilometers of fiber optic cable each day for the TV, for the press rooms. It’s like a military operation.”

The space required to accommodate the finish-line apparatus rules out a lot of villages and mountain summits, though sometimes Boury can find creative solutions. In 2011, stage 18 finished atop the Col du Galibier, at 8,650 feet — the highest finish in Tour history. The podium area was squeezed onto a tiny patch of flat ground, while the remainder of the daily entourage was directed to a spot nearly 2,000 feet below.

“We had to lay 12 kilometers of fiber optic line by helicopter, but it was worth it,” Boury says. “It was spectacular!”

The first Tour de France consisted of six stages over three weeks, but each route averaged more than 400 kilometers. Tour founder Henri Desgrange made things up as he went along, adding the first mountains in 1910 and pushing further into the Pyrenees and Alps over the next few years. By the 1920s, the Tour was starting to look like what we now think of as a three-week grand tour — shorter stages, but more of them, held daily for three weeks.

In the 1970s, in an effort to make more money from cities — who pay to host starts and finishes — the Tour began running double stages, with racing in the morning and afternoon. This allowed the organization to double its fees. But it was also an obvious burden on the riders, who put a stop to the practice in 1978, when Bernard Hinault lead a now-famous strike in Valence.

By the 1990s, the UCI had codified the modern outline of grand tours. They had to run from 15 to 23 days, with two rest days, no half stages, no stages longer than 240 kilometers, and a maximum total distance of 3,500 kilometers.

But if the framework was helpful in protecting riders and providing some stability, it also became slightly suffocating. The Tour — as well as the Giro and Vuelta — became predictable and even boring, with five or six exciting days of racing surrounded by unimaginative flat stages ending in bunch sprints. The nadir came in 2003, when Alessandro Petacchi won 15 stages across all three grand tours — putting a quantity and a face to the lack of variety.

It was the Giro and Vuelta that started to rattle the cage. Looking to differentiate their races as the Tour began to overshadow everything else in cycling, the Giro added things like gravel roads and 25-percent gradients to summits like Monte Zoncolan — challenges unlike anything the Tour could offer. The Vuelta’s solution was to drastically reduce the length of its stages, to an average of just 120 kilometers each. The results were stunning. Riders attacked in the neutral starts, and the action was non-stop.

The Tour got the message. Over the past five years, the race has become decidedly more challenging and less predictable, especially in the first week. “We cannot follow a script, even if it’s a new script,” Gouvenou says. “There won’t be pavé every year, there won’t be hills every day, but there will be something new.”

Some say things have gone too far, highlighted, perhaps, by the brutally mountainous 2015 route. “The 2015 Tour was relentless,” Prudhomme told French TV at the finish line in Paris last year. “We must innovate, we must bring the sport close to the people. We must take to the roads, to the hidden corners, to the new discoveries.”

But ultimately, Prudhomme says, it’s the riders, not the course, that make the race hard: “Even if we have flat roads, they are going full-gas. They race 50kph when it’s flat, so they make it hard,” he argues. “We simply try to give the riders and the public an interesting backdrop.”

Still, for 2016, he and Gouvenou have eased off the gas, at least a bit. Sprinters will find more opportunities this year, and the reintroduction of time bonuses will enliven the fight for the yellow jersey, especially in the first week.

As always, the race will visit the mountains, but even there Gouvenou says he has some surprises. “We have 10 new climbs for 2016,” he says. “That will make the race interesting. What we aim to do is to keep spicing things up. We want to have the suspense in the race until the final moment. The rider who wins in 2016 will have to be strong for the entire three weeks.”

And only weeks after the announcement gala in Paris, Gouvenou was in Germany, the host country for the 2017 Grand Départ. “There are more than 200 cities who are wanting to be part of the Tour,” he says. “We are already looking at 2018 and 2019.”

The Tour waits for no one.

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Bookwalter looking to build on 2015 breakout season Wed, 03 Feb 2016 15:01:52 +0000

Brent Bookwalter pictured during a team training camp in Spain. Photo: Tim De Waele |

The 31-year-old American has helped his BMC Racing teammates to several wins since 2008, but he's found a way to earn his own results too.

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Brent Bookwalter pictured during a team training camp in Spain. Photo: Tim De Waele |

It’s hard to imagine a breakout season after nearly a decade in the elite peloton, but that’s what happened to Brent Bookwalter in 2015.

The 31-year-old American had comfortably slotted into a helper’s role at BMC Racing, helping Cadel Evans to victory the 2011 Tour de France and later riding to back Tejay van Garderen. Last year, however, Bookwalter got more chances, and he turned the disappointment of not being selected to go to the 2015 Tour into positives, and posted his best results in years.

“It was looking like I had a Tour start, but I didn’t get the nod,” Bookwalter said at a team camp. “I was a little frustrated, but that happens on a team as deep as BMC, and I was able to turn that into some good performances.”

Bookwalter poured that frustration and form into the pedals, performing with consistency over the mountainous Tour of Austria, with fourth overall, before returning to the United States, where he emerged as one of the main protagonists on the summer calendar. He notched seven top-3s in stages at the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah and the USA Pro Cycling Challenge, including a stage victory at Arapahoe Basin, en route to podium finishes in both races. He finished it off with a top-20 result in the world championships in Richmond, Virginia.

For Bookwalter, it was just desserts for a rider who’s been part of BMC since its inception in 2008.

“I was very satisfied with the season,” Bookwalter told a small group of journalists. “I quickly fell into that worker role … and that was amazing and fulfilling, but as I got older and more mature, I realized that I could still be a good teammate, but get my own results as well.”

As Bookwalter admits, finding those individual opportunities isn’t so easy on a team packed with big names. Van Garderen and newcomer Richie Porte require an entire squad of support riders at nearly every race they start. Philippe Gilbert and Greg Van Avermaet equally dominate the one-day classics, meaning BMC brings top challengers for victory to just about every major race on the WorldTour calendar. That leaves very little room for the team’s other 20 or so riders.

Like many top teams, however, BMC does try to give its riders a chance to lead, at least a few times during the long racing season. And last year, Bookwalter took full advantage of those opportunities. For 2016, he hopes to find a balance between working for others and taking the reins when he can.

“You have to make your own opportunities,” he explained. “I used to get frustrated with my calendar, but I had a big epiphany when I won a stage at the Tour of Qatar [stage 1 in 2013]. I realized I don’t need the perfect schedule. I can still win a stage, even when I am working for others, in the right opportunity.”

With the departure of Peter Stetina to Trek – Segafredo, Bookwalter might get a chance to lead at this year’s Amgen Tour of California, but he’s not sweating it. The team might send Rohan Dennis and instead send Bookwalter off to the Giro d’Italia. Bookwalter prefers to focus on what he can control, and that means being prepared and in top physical condition wherever he races.

“I don’t want to get fixated on any one race. My schedule changes all the time, and that’s been an asset of mine, that I can go with the flow,” Bookwalter continued. “I am trying to approach the season with that attitude.”

Bookwalter, who is an active voice for change within the peloton, said his heart is in performing well in the North American races. He does, however, want to return to the Tour de France. He’s raced three Tours, including Evans’ victorious bid in 2011. With the arrival of Porte, he believes BMC will go a long way come July with the pairing of the Tasmanian and van Garderen, twice fifth at the Tour.

“I’m very excited about Richie coming to the team,” Bookwalter said. “I think they will work very well together. It’s not going to be a burden to have two of the best guys in the Tour. Richie did it with [Sky’s Chris] Froome, so I think he and Tejay will mix it up pretty good.”

Bookwalter is hoping to be there for a front-row seat to see if the pair can live up to the BMC challenge of aiming for outright victory in the Tour de France.

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Contador can beat Froome in France, says director Tue, 02 Feb 2016 13:36:43 +0000

Alberto Contador is likely to retire at the end of the 2016 season. Photo: Tim De Waele |

With talk of his impending retirement, Alberto Contador wants to go out on a high note, Tinkoff sport director Sean Yates says.

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Alberto Contador is likely to retire at the end of the 2016 season. Photo: Tim De Waele |

While many of his rivals are already racing around the globe, Alberto Contador is on a slow simmer. In what could be his final season, the Spanish superstar is easing out of the gate in 2016.

Vincenzo Nibali of Astana and Nairo Quintana of Movistar already debuted at the Tour de San Luis, and Sky’s Chris Froome clicks into the pedals this week at the Herald Sun Tour in Australia. Of the Fantastic Four, Tinkoff’s Contador will be last to open his racing calendar this season, and he won’t compete until the Volta ao Algarve February 17-21.

It isn’t for a lack of motivation. Tinkoff sport director Sean Yates said that with so much at stake in 2016, the cycling world should expect an even more focused and intense Contador in 2016.

“Alberto is always motivated, but because this could be his final season, he’s likely to be more motivated, if that’s possible,” Yates told VeloNews. “Alberto is a fighter, and he will be committed to being in the best possible shape for the Tour.”

The 33-year-old Contador is currently on Tenerife, honing his form with a high-altitude training camp ahead of what’s a very ambitious season. Contador wants to leave the sport at the absolute peak, and that means trying to win another Tour de France. He’s also targeting a medal at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

The Olympics present a one-off opportunity for Contador, so it’s the Tour that is the central focus of his racing calendar. And Yates said trying to beat a rider as complete and dominant as Froome only motivates Contador more.

“We all know that Froome is great on the uphill, and he’s great in the time trial, but he’s not unbeatable,” Yates said. “Alberto is motivated to beat him. When Froome is good, you have to be at the top of your game to beat him. Alberto will not go for a lack of trying.”

Following his 2010 Tour disqualification for clenbuterol, Contador desperately wants to return to the top step of the Tour podium. After his attempt at the Giro-Tour double fell short last year — with victory at the Giro d’Italia and fifth at the Tour — Contador is putting everything into hitting his peak in July.

“I believe Alberto is still the only guy who starts out in the same level as Froome,” said Yates, who helped direct Bradley Wiggins to the yellow jersey in 2012. “In 2014, Alberto was in great form and Froome was not. Cycling is like that, and anything can happen, and they both crashed out. I think Froome learned from that and came back stronger last year.”

Froome has usurped Contador as the top man for the Tour, but Contador hopes to have one more yellow jersey in his legs in what he said is likely his swansong season.

“I expect a big battle this year,” Yates continued. “And when you add in [Richie] Porte, [Tejay] van Garderen, Nairo, [Fabio] Aru, Nibali, and the others, and it’s going to be a hard-fought Tour. The level is very, very high, and it’s only getting higher.”

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Analysis: UCI stuck to its guns in search for hidden motors Mon, 01 Feb 2016 13:39:24 +0000

Belgian Femke Van den Driessche was caught with a hidden motor in her bike at the cyclocross worlds. Photo: Tim De Waele |

UCI president Brian Cookson confirms the governing body discovered a hidden motor in a rider's bike at the cyclocross worlds.

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Belgian Femke Van den Driessche was caught with a hidden motor in her bike at the cyclocross worlds. Photo: Tim De Waele |

The UCI can take grim satisfaction after cycling’s first case of “mechanized doping” was confirmed over the weekend at the cyclocross world championships.

Many laughed when the UCI started showing up at races a few years ago with bulky X-ray machines to take a glimpse inside bike frames. Those fears carried over into last year’s Tour de France, with accusations leveled at Sky’s Chris Froome. The abuse of so-called motor-assisted bikes seemed too far-fetched even for a sport where cheating was part of its DNA. The technology seemed too bulky, too heavy, too unreliable, and even too noisy to be realistically applied to a sport in which every gram of weight counts.

Yet the UCI, possibly using a new detection method in Zolder, found what they say is the first documented case of illegal mechanical assistance in a major bike race. Details are still to be filled out, but officials confirmed a milestone in a sport rife with doping and cheating: a bike fitted with a banned motor.

“We have heard stories for a long time, and we have been testing at a number of events,” UCI president Brian Cookson said at a press conference over the weekend in Zolder. “We will be testing more frequently. Our message to cheaters is that we will catch up to you, sooner or later.”

Officials claim they discovered clear proof of a motor-assisted bike found in the pen of Belgian under-23 rider Femke Van den Driessche. She tearfully denied that the bike was hers, claiming someone in her entourage incorrectly placed it in her pen. How the bike showed up there, and whether it was fitted with stickers and pedals that could prove otherwise, will be revealed as part of the UCI investigation. The exact type of motor has not yet been revealed, but Cookson was emphatic that the evidence was clear.

“It was a concealed motor,” Cookson said. “No secrets about that.”

The news shook cycling to its core, and comes just as the sport was making advances on cleaning up its image as a dirty sport in the wake of decades of doping scandals. The mainstream media jumped on the story, with The Wall Street Journal dubbing it “the goofiest scandal ever.”

The first major hint of “mechanized doping” emerged in 2010 in the wake of Fabian Cancellara’s impressive attack at the Kapelmuur at the Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders), and later at Paris-Roubaix. The Swiss superstar angrily denied the rumors, but the idea gained traction when former racer Davide Cassani revealed the possibility in a report broadcast on Italy’s RAI-TV in what appeared to be a fully functioning motor that could be slotted into a frame’s seat tube. A subsequent video showing how the system might work went viral on YouTube.

Later that summer, the UCI scanned bikes for the first time at the 2010 Tour de France, and thus began what was the most divisive question in cycling: did mechanized cheating exist, and were the elite pros using it?

How the motor might work was wasn’t up to debate — technology already existed in 2010 for e-bikes, and has only improved over the past half-decade — but the big question was were motors being systematically used in the elite road racing scene? The question seemed to cut to the very essence of bicycle racing: a contest between athletes on a human-powered machine.

Riders and teams rolled their eyes at the notion, saying it was something from “science fiction,” insisting the motors, even if they could add additional watts in key moments of a race, were too heavy and cumbersome to be effective in racing. Batteries were considered too bulky to be properly hidden, and battery life was too short to be reliable in a six-hour road race.

There were suggestions that battery packs could be hidden inside water bottles, and that the motors would only be needed for a few decisive moments of a race. Mysterious mid-race bike swaps only fed conspiracy theories, and fears grew that motors had slowly worked their way into the peloton.

There are even rumors of motors being hidden inside carbon-fiber wheels. A video that went viral of Ryder Hesjedal’s spinning rear wheel from a crash during the 2014 Vuelta a España fanned the worst fears. When his bikes were checked during last year’s Giro, Hesjedal said, “it’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard of.”

Early efforts by the UCI to check for motors were sometimes clumsy and never struck gold. Mechanics were forced to disassemble bikes just before the start of races — like this video showing Tinkoff-Saxo’s mechanic taking off the cranks of Alberto Contador’s bike at the 2015 Giro d’Italia. In other cases, the UCI always came up empty when inspectors used a large, airport-style X-ray machine to check bikes.

The UCI remain determined, however. The arrival of Cookson as the new UCI president in 2013 saw renewed efforts to try to prove the myth of mechanized cheating and snip it at the bud. The UCI’s CIRC report, released last March, also confirmed underlying worries that the problem was real, with the report highlighting, “this particular issue was taken seriously, especially by top riders, and was not dismissed as being isolated.”

The UCI deserves kudos for pressing the issue, and if this weekend’s events prove to be true, what could be cycling’s most embarrassing chapter could have a very brief life. A hefty fine and lengthy ban are deterrents, but without full enforcement of the rules, the cheaters look for openings. Cookson has been consistent in his message that the UCI will be unrelenting in its hunt for cheaters, even if it’s bad for business.

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Spanish court awards Heras $1 million over 2005 EPO positive Sat, 30 Jan 2016 18:17:45 +0000

Roberto Heras had his 2005 Vuelta a Espana title stripped after a failed anti-doping test. Photo: Tim De Waele | (File).

Roberto Heras wins court battle to recoup $1 million in lost wages after failed Vuelta anti-doping test, but Spanish officials will appeal.

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Roberto Heras had his 2005 Vuelta a Espana title stripped after a failed anti-doping test. Photo: Tim De Waele | (File).

A decade-long court battle involving disqualified 2005 Vuelta a España winner Roberto Heras took a new twist in Spanish courts this month, Spanish media reported.

Despite testing positive for EPO and ceding his 2005 Vuelta victory to Russian Denis Menchov Heras keeps battling on in court. Why? His lawyers claim anti-doping officials did not follow proper protocol when testing Heras’s urine samples in that year’s Vuelta.

Heras, now 41, tested positive for EPO after finishing second in a long time trial in the Vuelta’s penultimate stage, securing him what would have been a record fourth win. Heras later tested positive for rhEPO (recombinant EPO), and was stripped of his title, and banned for two years.

His lawyers claimed that testers did not follow outlined protocol, by not storing the urine samples at the correct temperature and having the same lab worker test both A and B samples.

A former teammate of Lance Armstrong on U.S. Postal Service, Heras did not race again in the elite peloton, and has since participated in marathon mountain bike races. He took up the legal fight in Spain’s civil court rather than challenging the disciplinary ruling in the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).

In 2012, Heras won a court battle that overruled the disqualification, and re-assigned Heras’s Vuelta victory. Heras’s legal team took up another court battle, and sued Spain’s anti-doping authorities for damages.

This month, a Spanish federal court ruled again in his favor, allowing him nearly $1 million in compensation from the Spanish government that Heras claims he lost in possible earnings when he was forced to serve a two-year ban following his EPO disqualification.

Spanish anti-doping officials are expected to appeal the ruling, which could drag out the process for up to an additional two years.

Enrique Bastida, Spain’s top anti-doping official, said the ruling was ridiculous, telling the Spanish daily MARCA: “His analysis isn’t going to change. Heras doped, with EPO. With all due respect to the courts, doping is not a judicial question, but an ethical one. He will always have to carry the burden of knowing he cheated.”

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Spanish stage race Volta a Valencia returns after hiatus Fri, 29 Jan 2016 14:31:20 +0000

Stage 10 of the 2015 Vuelta a Espana began in Valencia. Photo: Iri Greco / BrakeThrough Media |

The Volta a Comunitat Valenciana has been off the calendar since 2008 because of Spain's economic crisis.

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Stage 10 of the 2015 Vuelta a Espana began in Valencia. Photo: Iri Greco / BrakeThrough Media |

Next week, the Volta a Comunitat Valenciana returns to the Spanish racing calendar despite the odds after an eight-year hiatus triggered by economic woes in Spain.

Ex-pro Angel Casero is proud to revive his “home race” — which includes five stages from February 3-7 — but he admitted it wasn’t easy. He confirmed that the price tag is nearly 1 million euros ($1.2 million), and it’s up to the organization to underwrite television production for the race. Just as the sport’s big players bicker over sharing TV rights from the major races, Casero said smaller races like his don’t receive any TV rights. In contrast, they must give it away.

“This isn’t football [soccer]. This is cycling, and that’s the way it is,” Casero told VeloNews. “We have to pay for everything, and that’s about 50,000 euros per day in TV production.”

Casero’s comments underscore the huge gap between races like the Tour de France and Giro d’Italia, which can earn millions annually from selling TV rights, to the smaller regional races that must offer a ready-made product to broadcasters if they want their races beamed over the airwaves.

Races like Ruta del Sol, Volta a Catalunya, and other second-tier races across the European racing calendar face this harsh reality of underwriting TV production costs, or having no TV coverage at all at their events.

It’s worth it for sponsors to pay for equipment, staffers, and helicopter images that are part of the television production, however, because the races are largely backed as promotional vehicles by local governments and tourism agencies. Sponsors want the images of their sunny beaches and historic villages beamed to countries across Europe and beyond. The bottom line is without TV, bike races have limited value to sponsors.

The fact that the race is back on the Spanish calendar speaks volumes about the depth of the economic recovery in Spain, where unemployment topped 25 percent at the height of the crisis. In 2015, the Spanish economy rebounded, growing faster than any nation in the European zone. Regions such as Spain’s Valencia, which sees millions of tourists each summer, finally has the money to reinvest in cycling.

The Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana dated back to 1929, but died on the vine in 2008 when public funding evaporated in the wake of the economic crisis that swept Spain in 2007-08. The recession led to major cutbacks and austerity programs across Spain, leaving regional governments with little money to back such events as bicycle races. The Spanish calendar shrunk as a result, with races such as the Vuelta a Murcia reduced from five days to one day, while others, like Semana Catalana and the Vuelta a Aragon, simply disappeared.

“This is big news for Spanish cycling,” Casero said. “It wasn’t easy, but it was a big effort by everyone involved. I am the public face because I am an ex-pro, but there is a big team working on this to bring it forward.”

For Casero — who won the Vuelta a España in 2001 and retired in 2005 — reviving the Valencia race began a few years ago. His team began reaching out to local and regional government agencies as well as private businesses to secure funding. Piecing together the 1 million euro budget was far from easy, but the race is back on the UCI calendar in its old slot in early February with five stages.

“We made a big bet to return with five stages, and maybe we could have started a little bit less, but we decided to go right from the beginning with an important race of five stages,” Casero said. “We have a mix of public and private sponsors. The governments are helping us across the region. It’s an important base.”

The five-stage race features a good mix of terrain across the Valencia region, a popular training area for the top teams in the peloton. The race opens with a 16-kilometer individual time trial and hits a summit finish to Fredes the next day. Stages 3 and 5 are ideal for the sprinters, while stage 4 tackles the short but explosive climb at Xorret del Catí, featured before in the Vuelta a España.

“We have a good mix of stages, for sprinters, climbers, and a time trial,” Casero said. “It’s like the old times. We are situated in a perfect place, right after the Mallorca Challenge and ahead of Ruta del Sol, so it fits in perfectly for the teams to train and race for one month here in the Spanish ‘sol.’”

Teams are backing the race big-time, with several squads bringing some of their top riders to the return edition. Riders confirmed to start include Tom Boonen and Daniel Martin (Etixx – Quick-Step), Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis), Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha), Pierre Rolland and Davide Formolo (Cannondale), Fabio Aru (Astana), and Nicolas Roche (Sky).

“We cannot complain about the level of participation. The teams are backing us with some big names,” Casero said. “We have Banco Sabadell onboard as a major sponsor, and that gives us a solid base to build on this year, and hopefully for many years to come.”

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Sagan on Rio Olympics: ‘I don’t see a medal here for myself’ Fri, 29 Jan 2016 14:12:23 +0000

Peter Sagan opened his season last week at the Tour de San Luis. Photo: Tim De Waele |

Peter Sagan says the road race course at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics is too hilly for him to be considered a medal contender.

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Peter Sagan opened his season last week at the Tour de San Luis. Photo: Tim De Waele |

World champion Peter Sagan might have liked the views after previewing the Rio de Janeiro Olympic road race course this week, but he admitted it’s too hilly for him.

Sagan took advantage of his trip to South America to debut his 2016 season at the Tour de San Luís and previewed the Rio course with a few Tinkoff teammates. The takeaway? It’s too hard for Sagan.

“This course is not for me,” Sagan said during a press conference, reports “This is more suitable for pure climbers. I don’t see a medal here for myself.”

Sagan rode the Rio course with Tinkoff teammates Maciej Bodnar, Pawel Poljanski, Raja Majka, and Tinkoff sport director Patxi Vila. A gaggle of Brazilian fans trailed along as Sagan took in the route. With two major climbs in the circuit course along the coast road south of Rio, the Olympic road course is attracting attention from the likes of Sky’s Chris Froome, Tinkoff’s Alberto Contador, and Movistar’s Nairo Quintana.

After his course inspection, Sagan took his name off the list of contenders. That doesn’t mean he won’t participate in the Olympics, but he admitted he doesn’t see himself as a medal contender.

“This doesn’t change anything for me,” Sagan said of his season goals. “I will keep working on preparing for the spring classics and the Tour de France.”

Sagan will make his European debut later this month ahead of a busy spring classics schedule. He will race Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne at the end of February, followed by Strade Bianche, Tirreno-Adriatico, and Milano-Sanremo in Italy, before diving straight into the northern classics.

Sagan didn’t commit to whether or not he will race in the Rio Games, but hinted he will come back to Brazil someday.

“This is a beautiful city, with a lot of mountains and greenery and beaches, but I came here to work,” Sagan said. “Maybe some day I will come back as a tourist.”

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Valverde enters new territory with Giro, Tour of Flanders Thu, 28 Jan 2016 15:43:27 +0000

Alejandro Valverde has some new goals for the 2016 season. Photo: Tim De Waele |

The 35-year-old has some new race targets this season — the Giro d'Italia and the Tour of Flanders — and wants an Olympic medal.

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Alejandro Valverde has some new goals for the 2016 season. Photo: Tim De Waele |

Alejandro Valverde is out to prove that you can teach an old dog new tricks. The world No. 1 reconfirmed his ambitious 2016 calendar that’s replete with unknown territory and new challenges for the 35-year-old Spaniard.

Rather than stick to what he knows best, Valverde is spicing up his season, with first-ever appearances at the Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders) and the Giro d’Italia, with the added goal of earning a medal at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

“Special? I don’t know, every season is special, but this year will be different, that’s for sure,” Valverde told journalists at a team presentation in Madrid. “We’ll see how it goes.”

Despite racing in 18 grand tours —a run that includes winning the overall title at the 2008 Vuelta a España and a third-place finish in the 2015 Tour de France — Valverde will make his Giro debut this year. In many ways, the Giro is ideally suited for Valverde’s aggressive style of racing. The Giro’s mix of challenging terrain, with short, explosive hilltop finales blended with longer, Tour-style mountain stages in the north, will make Valverde a five-star favorite for the pink jersey.

“Normally in May, I am resting, but this year, I will be racing in the Giro. Let’s hope the legs respond the way I hope they will,” he said. “The idea is to go for the maximum at the Giro, to aim for the podium, and maybe even more. We know it will be complicated, because the rivals are very strong. Let’s see what happens.”

A pro since 2002, Valverde is a steady grand-tour performer. Of the 15 grand tours he’s finished, he’s only once been out of the top-10 (20th in the 2012 Tour), and has scored seven podiums. Despite finishing third in France last year, Valverde decided the time was right to take on the Giro.

“It wasn’t hard to decide to race the Giro. It was almost now or never, so we decided to take on the Giro, and prepare for it the best way possible,” he said. “Later, I will go to the Tour to support Nairo [Quintana]. He’s going well, and we’ll bring a strong team for him, so why not win it?”

The Giro and the Rio Olympics are Valverde’s central targets of the season, and he will ride the Tour largely in a support role for Quintana. That doesn’t mean he might not try to win a stage, but the idea is to be ready to challenge for the medals in Rio de Janeiro two weeks after the Tour is over.

“The Olympics are a great course for me. It’s a one-day race, with only five riders per team, so to win, you also need a lot of luck as well,” Valverde said. “I am excited, motivated, and hopefully I can stay healthy. If I can be healthy, I can make good results no matter where I line up to race.”

Valverde was consistent across the 2015 season, winning Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège (and took second at Amstel Gold Race), before riding onto the Tour podium. He followed that up with third at Clásica San Sebastian, seventh at the Vuelta, fifth at the world championships, and fourth at Giro di Lombardia.

Now in his 12th season with the Movistar franchise, Valverde makes his season debut Mallorca Challenge this weekend in Spain, and will race the Vuelta a Murcia in his hometown region in mid-February before jumping into an aggressive spring classics campaign.

After getting a taste of the cobbles in 2014, when he raced Dwars door Vlaanderen and E3 Harelbeke, Valverde will make a return to Flanders. First he is scheduled to race Strade Bianche, Tirreno-Adriatico (his only stage race before the Giro), and Milano-Sanremo. After that, he will head north, racing Dwars and Harelbeke again before his Tour of Flanders debut, followed by the Ardennes classics, with Amstel Gold Race, Flèche Wallonne, and Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

“For the classics, I will arrive a little bit softer than in other years, so we’ll see how we go,” he said. “To win Flanders? That’s going to be very complicated. The race will give me extra motivation, and it would be amazing to climb the podium.”

If that wasn’t enough, Valverde hasn’t discounted possibly racing the Vuelta a España as well.

“It’s going to be a long season, because usually I do Tour-Vuelta, but this year, I will do the Giro-Tour, plus the Olympics,” he said. “After that, we’ll see how I feel, and maybe I’ll even race the Vuelta as well. If I go, I will try to do the best I can.”

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Doctor: Degenkolb could be out 3 months after crash Wed, 27 Jan 2016 14:59:16 +0000

John Degenkolb may miss the cobbled classics this season because of injuries he sustained in a crash. Photo: Tim De Waele |

John Degenkolb and some of his Giant-Alpecin teammates were hit by a car head-on during a training ride in Spain last week.

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John Degenkolb may miss the cobbled classics this season because of injuries he sustained in a crash. Photo: Tim De Waele |

John Degenkolb could forfeit his classics defense after the Spanish doctor who operated on him said he could be sidelined for three months.

Degenkolb was a victim of a horrendous head-on crash last week while he was training with his Giant-Alpecin teammates in Spain. After surgery, Dr. Pedro Cavadas said it could be up to three months before the German star could return to competition.

If true, that would put his title defenses at both Milano-Sanremo (March 19) and Paris-Roubaix (April 10) in danger.

Team officials, however, said no timeline has been set for Degenkolb, and they’re not discounting a possible return in time for the spring classics.

“We don’t know how long the recovery is going to take,” a team official said. “We don’t know what the consequences from the sports perspective are at this point. Our team doctor is leading.”

Degenkolb’s most serious injury is to his left index finger, which was nearly severed in the crash. Team physician Anko Boelens said Degenkolb will undergo a future surgery in Germany on the finger. Beolens did not give a timetable for that operation. The speed at which the finger recovers, Boelens said, will determine when Degenkolb is ready.

“As a professional athlete, [Degenkolb] needs the functionality back in his finger, and the recovery time for that is extremely difficult to predict,” Boelens said in a release.

Just days before the crash, Degenkolb told VeloNews he was optimistic about his possibilities in this year’s spring classics, saying he felt like he reached a new level in 2015, when he won both Sanremo and Roubaix.

Following the crash, Degenkolb was treated by doctors in Valencia, where they operated on a finger, a fractured forearm, and cuts to his leg. He could be released in the coming days. Of the other teammates injured by the impact, only American Chad Haga remains in the hospital.

Haga posted good news on Twitter Wednesday, saying additional surgery would not be necessary.

Officials said a 73-year-old British woman, who lives part of the year along Spain’s Costa Blanca, will be charged with reckless driving after turning onto the roadway in the wrong direction while driving in a British-designed car with right-hand drive.

Without Degenkolb, Giant-Alpecin’s classics squad will have to hit the reset button. The German is the only confirmed performer, especially in the northern classics, and without him, the team will take an outsider’s role in the major races.

Here is a Giant-Alpecin team update on all the riders involved in the crash:

Warren Barguil (FRA), Fredrik Ludvigsson (SWE) and Ramon Sinkeldam (NED) are currently home. Team physician Anko Boelens (NED) explained: “Warren will undergo surgery on Thursday for his scaphoid fracture. This won’t change our earlier estimation of six weeks of recovery needed. Fredrik has already tried his first minutes on the home trainer and is showing good signs of recovery.”

The team reported on Monday that further exams that day showed that Sinkeldam also has a fractured scapula. Surgery will not be required, but recovery will take longer than initially expected.

John Degenkolb (GER) returned to Germany today for further treatment and recovery in the hospital. Boelens said: “John’s left index finger was damaged in the accident and he will have additional surgery in Germany. As a professional athlete, he needs the functionality back in his finger, and the recovery time for that is extremely difficult to predict.”

Further examinations have shown that Chad Haga (USA) will not need surgery on his orbital fracture. “Now the swelling has decreased and surgery won’t be necessary. Chad will be able to leave the hospital and travel home to Gerona, Spain, in the next few days.”

Max Walscheid (GER) had successful surgeries on both his tibia and thumb in Germany. He will need to stay in the hospital for a few more days, and his recovery will take some months.

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Gerrans rebounds from crash-filled 2015 with fourth TDU victory Tue, 26 Jan 2016 14:39:41 +0000

Simon Gerrans won his fourth Santos Tour Down Under title over the weekend. Photo: Tim De Waele |

Simon Gerrans endured a 2015 season filled with crashes and injuries, but he hopes his Tour Down Under win is a sign of things to come.

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Simon Gerrans won his fourth Santos Tour Down Under title over the weekend. Photo: Tim De Waele |

ADELAIDE, Australia (VN) — Simon Gerrans (Orica – GreenEdge) couldn’t believe his luck. Or lack of it. After a crash-marred 2015 season, with no less than seven major crashes, Gerrans was hoping for a smooth ride in the Santos Tour Down Under last week.

But the cycling gods are never that magnanimous. Just as Orica was setting him up for a sprint in stage 2 in a grinding, rising finale perfect for his qualities, wheels touched and Gerrans was back on the ground.

“Gerro” wasn’t about to fall into another funk. He brushed himself off — just a little bark off the tree, as the Aussies like to say — and won back-to-back stages, picked up key mid-stage time bonuses, and won the Tour Down Under for a record fourth time. Instead of being on his back, he was back on top.

“This is a step in the right direction,” Gerrans said Sunday. “2015 was so frustrating. Nothing seemed to go right. With this win, I hope I am back on track for 2016.”

Last year, Gerrans did catch a few breaks, but all the wrong kind. He broke his collarbone in a training ride in December 2014, forcing him to miss his title defense at the 2015 Tour Down Under. He broke his wrist at his comeback race at Strade Bianche, but proving how much of a hard-ass he truly is, he made it back for the Ardennes, only to crash twice more.

Gerrans crashed out of both the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France, breaking his wrist in the same incident that took out yellow jersey holder Fabian Cancellara. Things got even worse when he crashed heavily in the Vuelta a España, leaving him with a bloodied face and a banged-up shoulder.

Even more frustrating was that all of those crashes, except for the training accident, were not his fault. Gerrans, who came to the road after racing motor-cross, is an excellent bike-handler but was brought down in pileups and nervous sprint finales. Despite it all, Gerrans bounced back to finish sixth in the Richmond worlds. Few in the bunch are tougher than Gerrans.

“Gerro had some bad luck, but he’s put it behind him. He wants to go from 2014 to 2016 and forget about 2015,” Orica sport director Matt White said. “Everyone knows how tough he is, and to win here, for the record fourth time, says it all.”

With his fourth Tour Down Under crown, Gerrans reconfirms his spot atop the Aussie heap of cyclists, but he’s seeing some stiff competition from below.

At 35, Gerrans by far is Australia’s most successful rider in the peloton today, especially with the retirement of Cadel Evans in January last year. A lethal stage-hunter and savvy one-day racer, Gerrans has won stages in all three grand tours as well as Milano-Sanremo in 2012 and became the first Australian to win Liège-Bastogne-Liège in 2014.

Nipping at his heels are the likes of Richie Porte and Rohan Dennis, both of BMC Racing, and teammate Michael Matthews. While Porte and Dennis are stage racers, there could be a brewing power struggle within Orica between Gerrans and Matthews. Team management is trying its best to downplay any conflicts, and Matthews and Gerrans likely won’t be at many of the same races. In an effort to spread the riches as well as ease any possible tensions, the pair will only coincide at the Ardennes classics and the Tour de France.

At Richmond last year, Australia gave Gerrans and Matthews free reign to race, with Gerrans coming home sixth and Matthews second. Some wondered if the team had backed one rider, Peter Sagan might not have stayed away.

The 25-year-old Matthews excels in the same hilly terrain as Gerrans, and both will be pressing for leadership at Sanremo and the Ardennes classics. And with the Rio de Janeiro Olympics serving up a mountainous road course, that growing rivalry could spill over throughout the season.

Right now, however, Gerrans isn’t worrying about any of that. He’s savoring his Tour Down Under victory and will race at the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race next weekend before returning to Europe. Gerrans is confident if he can stay upright, he will be back in the mix.

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Tour Down Under promises marquee names next year Mon, 25 Jan 2016 20:49:00 +0000

Gerrans won his fourth Tour Down Under. Will the race attract stronger riders next year? Photo: Tim De Waele |

Andrew Hood's takeaways from this year's Tour Down Under

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Gerrans won his fourth Tour Down Under. Will the race attract stronger riders next year? Photo: Tim De Waele |

ADELAIDE, Australia (VN) — The 2016 Tour Down Under is in the books. Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEdge) won his record fourth overall title, a testament to his durability, and his team’s commitment to race hard in January when the rest of the pack remains in mid-winter siesta mode.

Is the Santos Tour Down Under World-Tour worthy? Or is it simply an Australian race, with a lot of guys from other countries to fill out the peloton?

Here’s the Tour Down Under takeaway, with notes on plans to draw a marquee name next year to give the Aussies a run for their money, why BMC Racing isn’t crying about not defending its title, and the real story behind Tyler Farrar’s illegal bike swap.

Organizers promise bigger names in 2017

The 2016 WorldTour started last week, but with such an Aussie-heavy field, some were wondering where the stars were hiding. For only the second time in race history — and the first since 2002 when it was a much easier race — Australians won all six stages (Caleb Ewan also won the Sundaypre-race crit for good measure).

This year, the TDU didn’t have one non-Australian marquee name, which irked some fans and media. By contrast, the Tour de San Luis, a second-tier race in Argentina, attracted Nairo Quintana (Movistar), world champion Peter Sagan (Tinkoff), and Tour de France winner Vincenzo Nibali (Astana). Chris Froome (Sky) and Mark Cavendish (Etixx – Quick-Step) are coming to Australia, but not for the Tour Down Under.

Race director Mike Turtur promised that will change in 2017, and said it will happen without having to pay appearance fees to riders.

“There’s been reasons why some of the big names aren’t here (TDU) and I’ll say this now; next year there’s going to be some nice surprises coming to this race,” Turtur said Monday. “I’ll leave it at that, but there’s going to be some nice surprises.”

It seems odd that the top riders don’t want to come to the Tour Down Under. The race is among the best-organized and well-run races of the calendar. Roads and infrastructure are safe, racing distances are not too long (about 130km average), and riders stay in the same hotel every night, avoiding tedious, insufferable transfers.

The long flight to Australia presents an obstacle, and some say the TDU has become too difficult since it was given WorldTour status in 2008. A few sport directors say the top stars prefer to ease into the season at smaller races, where the pressure is less. The Tour Down Under, by contrast, is Australia’s biggest race of the year.

What vexes some is that Cavendish and Froome are coming to Australia, just not to the Tour Down Under. Cavendish, hot off racing the track in Hong Kong, will open his road season at the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Race next weekend. Froome actually arrives in Adelaide on Monday, the day after the race ends, but he will train with some select Sky teammates, and debut at the rival Herald Sun Tour in February.

UCI boss Brian Cookson paid a visit to the Tour Down Under this year, and said the race will stay where it is on the international calendar. There was some discussion that the race would fit better into the top pros’ calendars if it were closer to the major Spring European races, but local organizers view the TDU more as a tourist event — it coincides with the Aussie summer holidays and draws thousands of cyclo-tourists — and less as solely a bike race. It’s more important to fill hotel rooms than to please a few GC riders’ training programs.

The Tour Down Under is uniquely Australian, and the big crowds that turned out all week didn’t seem to mind that there wasn’t a Froome or a Sagan in the field. Having a big name or two would help, but the TDU has plenty of froth just the way it is. Now if the Aussie stars started opting out, that would be another story.

BMC’s stars taking long view on season

Rohan Dennis and Richie Porte weren’t crying in their Coopers beer after falling short against Orica-GreenEdge, at least not publicly.

Dennis was hoping to become the first rider to defend the TDU title, but when he knew he didn’t have the legs to match Simon Gerrans up the decisive Willunga Hill climb Saturday, he gave BMC newcomer Porte the green light to attack. And attack he did. Porte uncorked a beauty, riding former Sky teammate Sergio Henao off his wheel to win at Willunga for the third year in a row to give deliver BMC its first win in his new colors.

The Tasmanian also nearly gapped Gerrans, who said he had things under control, but it sure didn’t seem that way. Had Porte not lost 8 seconds in a controversial gap in stage 4, Gerrans would have won by only 1 second.

Both downplayed the Tour Down Under, pumping instead what lies ahead.

“I didn’t really expect to be second here, that’s the honest truth,” Porte said. “The real racing starts in March … so it’s nice for me to have not done that much training, and still come away with a really good result.”

While Porte is aiming to peak in July, for Dennis, the real prize comes in Rio de Janeiro in August. After donning the yellow jersey at the Tour de France and setting (at least for a few months) the world hour record, Dennis believes he has big-time chances to strike gold in the time trial.

“It didn’t end the way I wanted it to, but I am more fit in some ways than I was last year, I just don’t have the same punch,” said Dennis, a budding star Down Under. “The real goal is Rio, so to come out of here with what we got, we have to be happy with that.”

Why Farrar wasn’t kicked out

By far, the biggest story all week was Tyler Farrar’s unexpected bike swap with a fan late in stage 3 over the Corkscrew climb. The Dimension Data sprinter was caught up in a tumble in the fast run-in down a gorge toward the base of the steep climb. After pulling himself out of a ditch, Farrar remounted his Cervelo frame, rode alongside the team car as they checked his injuries, and then was left alone as the team car sped down the road.

Here’s how Farrar explained what happened next: “The crash wasn’t nearly as bad as it might have looked on TV. I got back on the bike to ride in with the other guys who crashed, and the team car sped ahead to support the guys in front. About 5km down the road, my derailleur ripped off the bike. I was standing there on the side of the road, with no hope of finishing the stage. Cars can’t come backward on the course, and neutral support had already gone past, so I was out of luck, until this really cool guy rode up and said, ‘Mate, want to try my bike work?’ I said, sure, let’s try, and we swapped shoes as well, and I kept riding. He jumped in the broom wagon. Talk about hospitality.”

It was the day’s feel-good story, except that Farrar’s actions were explicitly banned. The rules state that riders can only accept bikes from neutral support or from their teammates. Porte learned this the hard way during last year’s Giro d’Italia, when he was penalized two minutes after trading wheels with Orica-GreenEdge rider Simon Clarke.

The TDU race jury, however, didn’t yank Farrar out of the race or give him a time penalty. Citing “spirit of the sport” and “exceptional circumstances,” the race jury allowed Farrar to stay in the race. Some were quietly muttering that he should have been kicked out anyway, but the jury did take into consideration the unique circumstances of the Tour Down Under entourage.

Unlike most WorldTour races, TDU allows for just one team car. Had Farrar not taken the bike, he might still be out there trying to hitch a ride to the finish. Also, neutral support had already passed the Farrar group of stragglers, instead of staying behind all riders as they normally should.

Dimension Data sport director Alex Sans Vega explained it this way: “We were with Tyler for 2km after his crash, treating his elbow, and his bike was OK. We only have one car in this race, instead of two in other WorldTour races, so we had to leave him to go ahead to the front of the race. The hanger was off track, and his derailleur ended up a mess. Where was neutral support? Normally, there is one that stays at the back of the race, but they had passed a whole bunch of riders.”

It’s not the first time friendly Aussie fans have helped out a pro in need. In 2002, Michael Rogers crashed with a motorbike. He borrowed a similar-sized Colnago from a fan, and eventually finished the stage and won the overall. The race rules were different back then, but the Aussie hospitality remains eternal.

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Ewan chooses Giro over Milan-San Remo Sun, 24 Jan 2016 15:37:21 +0000

Caleb Ewan is just 21, but he's already one of the world's fastest sprinters. He'll make his Giro debut this May. Tim De Waele |

After his TDU dominance, Caleb Ewan will skip MSR to tackle the Giro

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Caleb Ewan is just 21, but he's already one of the world's fastest sprinters. He'll make his Giro debut this May. Tim De Waele |

ADELAIDE, Australia (VN) — There’s no stopping pint-sized Caleb Ewan (Orica-GreenEdge), who book-ended the Santos Tour Down Under with two stage victories. But Ewan won’t be racing Milano-San Remo, at least not this year.

Orica sport director Matt White said it’s too early for the 5-foot-4 Ewan to handle the rigors of the nearly 300km-long San Remo. Instead, the team is steering him for a debut at the Giro d’Italia in May.

“It’s too early for him to do San Remo. Besides, we have the favorite with ‘Bling,’” White said, referring to Michael Matthews, third last year. “That’s why we left him out of this race last year, because he wasn’t ready. The Giro is the big goal for the spring.”

The 21-year-old Aussie sensation put the peloton on notice this week, winning the People’s Choice Critérium as well as two stages in the Tour Down Under in spectacular fashion. Although none of the peloton’s major sprinters made the trip to Australia, Ewan made easy work of the sprinters who did, including the likes of Mark Renshaw (Dimension Data), Wouter Wippert (Cannondale), and Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek-Segafredo).

“This gives me a lot of confidence for the rest of the season,” Ewan said after his stage win on Sunday. “It gives me confidence to see the team working for me. I can’t wait for the rest of the season.”

Many are already comparing Ewan to Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data). The second-year pro has explosive acceleration and sprints in an aerodynamic tuck reminiscent of Cavendish. But he shows maturity beyond his 21 years. Without a doubt, he’s the most exciting sprinter in a generation.

“Caleb is a big talent, and you could see he is very savvy for a young rider,” said TDU winner Simon Gerrans. “He’s earned his right to be here. I’m excited to see what he can do the next few seasons.”

Ewan has already won seven races in the Australia calendar, including the national criterium title. He will square off next week with Cavendish in the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race, but the lumpy course likely won’t deliver a mass gallop.

Cannondale sport director Fabrizio Guidi, a former sprinter who won stages in the Giro and Vuelta a España, said he expects Ewan to be cycling’s next major sprinter.

“He’s already a great sprinter, and he’s only 21,” Guidi said. “I am expect him to be the top sprinter over the next 10 years. You can see he has explosive power and he’s very dynamic. It’s just the beginning.”

It will be interesting to see how Ewan stacks up against the likes of Cavendish, Marcel Kittel (Etixx – Quick-Step), Alexander Kristoff (Katusha), and André Greipel (Lotto –Soudal). Some question whether relatively sprite Ewan will be able to handle the bump-and-shove tussles of the major sprints, but he doesn’t seem intimidated by the prospect.

“I know there were not the best four or five top sprinters here. I cannot wait to race against them,” Ewan said. “The Tour Down Under is too hard now for them to come all the way down here. There are only two opportunities for sprints, so maybe in the future, they can give us sprinters more chances, and we will see bigger names.”

Ewan will race Tirreno-Adriatico ahead of his Giro debut in May. At last year’s Vuelta, he beat Peter Sagan and John Degenkolb in his grand tour debut, so Ewan is champing at the bit to test his speed against the best.

“Ewan wants to race everything, but it’s better to go slow,” White said. “I’d rather be holding guys back, than giving them a kick up the bum.”

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Cookson: ‘We don’t want a war with ASO’ Fri, 22 Jan 2016 23:25:04 +0000

Brian Cookson says he wants to find a way to keep ASO from turning its back on the WorldTour. Photo: Tim De Waele |

UCI president Brian Cookson is frustrated but optimistic about his organization's ongoing tiff with Tour de France organizer ASO.

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Brian Cookson says he wants to find a way to keep ASO from turning its back on the WorldTour. Photo: Tim De Waele |

ADELAIDE, Australia (VN) — UCI president Brian Cookson expressed a mix of frustration and optimism in cycling’s ongoing turf war with Tour de France organizer ASO.

Speaking to the media Saturday during a visit to the Santos Tour Down Under, Cookson downplayed the growing conflict, but expressed his frustration that ASO decided to pull its quiver of events out of the WorldTour in 2017.

“It was a surprise and disappointment after two years of talks and consensus building that one major player decided they didn’t want to be part of it,” Cookson said of ASO’s sudden departure. “We’re not about to enter into a war with ASO. The UCI’s been down that road before.”

Cookson’s comments come after ASO’s sudden decision in December to the pull the Tour de France, Vuelta a España, and its mix of one-week and one-day classics out of the WorldTour calendar. The French race organizer said it opposes the UCI’s proposed renewal of the WorldTour system that centered on giving up to 18 WorldTour teams three-year licenses. Teams say they need that three-year guarantee to be in the calendar’s major races to help provide financial stability in their quest for sponsorship backing.

“I don’t think [three-year] licenses are a big deal, but this is something that ASO has been challenged by,” Cookson said. “What we’re trying to do is encourage teams to have greater financial stability. One-year licenses are a recipe for instability.”

ASO, however, pulled the carpet out from underneath the UCI’s reforms when it decided to run its events under the European calendar, which gives it more power to decide which teams start its races, rather than having 18 guaranteed places for the WorldTour teams.

Cookson voiced his frustration at ASO’s play. “It’s regrettable that they are not being cooperative with the new plans,” Cookson said. “The latest set of proposals are not radical, but a step forward in the right direction. The other stakeholders are happy with what was proposed. ASO perhaps can be persuaded, and there could be some ground for movement. We are not ruling anything out.”

A chance to meet face-to-face was scuttled this week when Tour director Christian Prudhomme abruptly cancelled plans to make a trip to attend the Tour Down Under, citing last-minute travel conflicts. Many wondered if Prudhomme purposely canceled his trip in order to avoid meeting Cookson.

“I was hoping Prudhomme would be here this week for an informal chat. I hopeful that we can find a solution,” he said. “I wouldn’t have thought so [about Prudhomme’s cancelation]. I don’t think they’re afraid to talk to me. Let’s not put too much into that.”

Cookson is hopeful ASO can be wooed back into the WorldTour, but admitted he was puzzled by its move.

“It’s not impossible to run the WorldTour without the ASO events, but they are some of the biggest and best events. We do want them to be part of it,” he said.

“I am not sure how much movement there is about what they’re unhappy about. The teams haven’t gotten everything they wanted, and when I hear from other organizers, they’re quite happy,” he continued. “They feel their interests are threatened, but there is no proposal to challenge any of their rights. No one’s proposing to share their profits. Cycling is a pretty small cake, and ASO has the majority of slices, but we have to make the cake bigger, without taking anything away from ASO.

“I think we can work together. This kind of attitude of taking my football home with him, that’s not helpful to anybody,” Cookson said. “There are a lot of people inside ASO who want to work with the UCI. I am hopeful we can work together.”

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Cannondale’s Woods makes big splash in WorldTour debut Fri, 22 Jan 2016 14:58:27 +0000

Michael Woods rode in the People's Choice Criterium ahead of the Tour Down Under. Photo: Tim De Waele |

Michael Woods, 29, is a former competitive runner who worked in a bank before turning to professional road cycling.

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Michael Woods rode in the People's Choice Criterium ahead of the Tour Down Under. Photo: Tim De Waele |

ADELAIDE, Australia (VN) — From banking to the big leagues, Michael Woods has had an unconventional road into the WorldTour.

A former runner, the 29-year-old rookie burst into podium contention Thursday at the Santos Tour Down Under with a third-place ride over the Corkscrew climb when he dropped the top climbers in the peloton. The sun-blasted roads of Australia are a long way from working at a bank.

“I had several injuries, and I had to stop running. I spent four years, working in a bank, in a grocery store, in a bike shop, trying to figure out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life,” the Cannondale rider said. “This is a huge difference from working in a bank.”

Those banking skills might come in handy during Saturday’s decisive stage up Willunga Hill. After his thrilling ride Thursday put him one spot out of the top 3, his podium hopes took a blow in stage 4. Despite finishing in the bunch, he dipped to eighth overall at 32 seconds back after a gap opened up in the pack when a rider slipped out of his pedal.

Landing on the podium seems like a long-shot now in the tightly wound Tour Down Under, so Woods can only make the best of the situation and maximize the opportunity at Willunga Hill climb, the traditional king-maker at the Tour Down Under.

“I will have to rely upon my teammates to make sure I am in good position, and let my legs do the talking,” he said. “It’s a six-day stage race, every day you have different legs. I had good legs yesterday, and I had good legs today, and if I feel good tomorrow, I am going to have to play a tactical game and try and drop guys.”

After a spectacular WorldTour debut, Woods might be pinching himself. A year ago, he was on the U.S. domestic circuit, racing for Optum – Kelly Benefit Strategies and trying to make an impression. He certainly did that in 2015, winning three races — including a stage and second overall at the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah.

That opened the door to join Cannondale, and Woods is one of 11 new riders to join the team run by Jonathan Vaughters.

“Jonathan’s been a big supporter of mine for a long time,” Woods said. “Back in 2013, I managed to break Ryder Hesjedal’s record in the world’s longest climb in Hawaii, and since then, I’ve been on his radar. He was the first WorldTour team that approached me after the Tour of Utah, where I had success.”

After signing a two-year deal to join the new-look Cannondale squad, Woods isn’t waiting long to make an impression. He attacked in Thursday’s short by steep climb up Corkscrew, and only Sky’s Sergio Henao could stay with him.

“Last night, I was super-excited, I didn’t sleep as I normally do,” Woods said. “You’re getting all these messages from friends and that gets the heart-rate up a bit, but after today, I am settled down a bit and I am focused on the big day Saturday.”

Cannondale sport director Fabrizio Guidi said Woods is exceeding expectations in Australia.

“We believe in him, and we told him we would bring a squad to back him here,” Guidi said. “He was very strong up the Corkscrew. We hope it’s the same story on Willunga. It’s a perfect climb for him.”

Woods seems right at home in the WorldTour, but he doesn’t know how his schedule will shape up for the remainder of the season. The team wanted him to come to Australia for a baptism by fire.

“They really wanted me to race this one, and see how I adapted to the WorldTour. The goal was to knock this one out of the park,” he said. “This race is very similar to the U.S. domestic scene, shorter stages, wider roads, so that’s why they wanted me to race this one because the transition is much less intense, as opposed to going to Tour de Suisse, where it’s 200km long stages with much more narrow roads.”

No matter what happens over the weekend, it will take nothing away from what’s been a superb WorldTour debut. An injury stopped his promising athletics career — his specialty was the mile — but he picked up cycling thanks to his father. Once training rides became mini-races, Woods was hooked.

He didn’t turn pro until his mid-20s — quite late compared to the typical rider into the peloton. He’s quite a few years older than his fellow WorldTour rookies on Cannondale, but that only gives him an added sense of urgency and maturity.

“After working in the real world, it made me realize how lucky we are as athletes,” Woods said. “Sure, there are some hard moments, but I get to do what I love. And I feel very fortunate for that.”

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