» Brian Holcombe Competitive Cycling News, Race Results and Bike Reviews Fri, 18 Apr 2014 19:02:46 +0000 hourly 1 Gilbert wins De Brabantse Pijl Wed, 16 Apr 2014 15:39:11 +0000 Brian Holcombe

Philippe Gilbert held off Michael Matthews (left) at the line for his second career victory at De Brabantse Pijl. Photo: Tim De Waele |

Former world champion takes his second career victory in the Ardennes tuneup

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Philippe Gilbert held off Michael Matthews (left) at the line for his second career victory at De Brabantse Pijl. Photo: Tim De Waele |

Philippe Gilbert won De Brabantse Pijl, the final tuneup ahead of the Ardennes classics, Wednesday in Overijse, Belgium. Gilbert (BMC Racing) won the 203-kilometer semi-classic for the second time in his career, landing a confidence-inspiring victory ahead of the hilly one-day races serving as his top objectives in 2014.

Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEdge) was second, missing out by half-a-wheel in the sprint, and Tony Gallopin (Lotto-Belisol) was third in the 26-climb midweek contest, which started east of Brussels in Leuven.

“Matthews was the fastest, but I played it well because he had to close the gap to (Björn) Leukemans and (Wouter) Poels in the descent and that cost him power,” Gilbert said in a team press release. “I also saw he was closed in in the last corner, but I waited, because I knew from the last times (up the climb), I didn’t want to make the same mistake. It was perfect.”

Kiel Reijnen (UnitedHealthcare) was the last of the survivors from the day’s breakaway when a half-dozen riders ripped past the American with little more than 40km remaining.

Nathan Haas (Garmin-Sharp), Pieter Serry (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), Mathias Brändle (IAM Cycling), Björn Leukemans (Wanty-Groupe Gobert), Mauro Finetto (Yellow Fluo), and Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEdge) pushed ahead to nearly a minute’s advantage, but couldn’t cut the leash from the peloton.

Forty seconds behind the leaders with 30km to go, BMC Racing and Giant-Shimano threw all they had at the chase. The former glued the front of the race back together and with 8km to go, the bunch reset for an explosive finale.

At the back, Gallopin, who later said he was satisfied with his result, given the circumstances, was forced to chase after a flat 25km from the line.

“I had a puncture at 25 kilometers from the finish. On the same place of the course as last year,” he said. “Honestly, I thought my race was over. Because of the succession of hills the race never stopped. I had to return from behind the team cars, but eventually I could pass one group after another and that way I could take my place back in front. Thanks to the teammates, I joined the first group just before the last climb, not a moment too early.”

An onslaught of attacks ripped at the peloton over the handful of kilometers leading to the final climb at Schavei, but no rider could shake loose.

American Alex Howes led into the 700-meter final ramp for Garmin. Serry took over with 700 meters remaining, but Gilbert led out the sprint onto the 200-meter finish straight and held onto victory over Matthews.

“It was a difficult race with everyone attacking when we got to the [finish circuit] laps. I had to bide my time for the sprint,” said Matthews. “I had a good sprint in the finish, but Gilbert was quicker today.”

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Former Jamis rider Pinkham dies after apparent accidental overdose Tue, 15 Apr 2014 20:13:31 +0000 Brian Holcombe

Former Bissell rider Chase Pinkham, 23, died Sunday night. Photo: Pat Malach |

Chase Pinkham, 24, died Monday night, a family friend has confirmed to VeloNews

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Former Bissell rider Chase Pinkham, 23, died Sunday night. Photo: Pat Malach |

Chase Pinkham, a former rider for Jamis-Hagens Berman and the Trek-Livestrong development team, died Sunday night, a friend of the Pinkham family has confirmed to VeloNews.

The 23-year-old American rider died of an apparent accidental overdose, according to his family, after years of chronic pain related to a 2008 crash.

Pinkham was a rapidly rising prospect in Utah cycling when he was struck by a car while training in Canada prior to the Tour de l’Abitibi stage race in 2008. Following his recovery from the crash, which resulted in facial injuries requiring multiple reconstructive surgeries, Pinkham attracted the attention of Trek director Axel Merckx and joined the development program for the 2010 season.

From Trek, Pinkham continued onto domestic teams Bissell and Jamis, for whom he rode in 2013.

A story about Pinkham’s 2008 accident and subsequent challenges, ran in the Deseret News in February 2010.

According to a March 9 Facebook post, Pinkham dealt with chronic pain and depression related to his 2008 crash.

“Just wanted to give you an update if you have tried to get a hold of me the last few days by cell phone. I am currently seeking treatment for some severe depression caused by years of dealing with chronic pain from my accident in 2008. I am in a safe and good place, but I do not have access to a cell phone. If you need to get a hold of me please message me here,” wrote Pinkham.

“Dealing with chronic pain, years of medication and depression is something that may make you completely alone and hopeless, even when surrounded by the people that love you. Please remember that if you are suffering currently, or ever end up suffering, that you are not alone and that people love you. There is help available and asking for it only proves that you have the strength to reach out and the desire to change the state you are in. Many suffer, but so few ask for the help that so many people are willing to give.”

According to Alex Kim, a close friend of the Pinkham family, Chase underwent dozens of surgeries related to his 2008 crash and suffered from chronic pain. Pinkham was eliminating his use of narcotic painkillers, according to Kim, earlier this year when he suffered a broken leg at the Valley of the Sun Stage Race in Arizona in February. Following the crash, doctors again prescribed narcotic painkillers for Pinkham. He was house-sitting last weekend in Salt Lake City when friends discovered Pinkham’s body.

“He didn’t take his own life,” Kim told VeloNews. “He was doing well when we saw him Friday and Saturday. This was an accidental overdose.”

Kim said the Pinkham family hoped a positive legacy would come from Chase’s death.

“Chronic pain is a big problem,” he said. “They want people to know this was something he was fighting and can happen to anyone.”

An outpouring of grief followed the news of Pinkham’s death, with former teammates among those offering condolences.

Addie Levinsky contributed reporting to this story.

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Hungry for history, Cancellara says the pressure is off for Roubaix Fri, 11 Apr 2014 22:16:31 +0000 Brian Holcombe

Fabian Cancellara said Friday that the pressure is off for Paris-Roubaix. Photo: Kurt Desplenter | AFP

Tour of Flanders winner says he carries no burdens into Roubaix on Sunday, where he could win his record third Flanders/Roubaix double

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Fabian Cancellara said Friday that the pressure is off for Paris-Roubaix. Photo: Kurt Desplenter | AFP

Fabian Cancellara is hungry for a historic victory and expects Tom Boonen to be at his best come Sunday’s 112th Paris-Roubaix.

“This weekend will be a big fight. He shows again he’s ready, probably more ready than people are thinking,” Cancellara said Friday during his pre-race press conference. “In my own experience, at [Tour of] Flanders I wasn’t super 100 percent, and then the next weekend I was ready. Tom will be up there 100 percent. I believe that and I know that.”

Boonen has suffered through a classics season marred by the miscarriage of his first child and an injury to his right thumb suffered in a crash at E3 Harelbeke. The four-time Roubaix champion was a non-factor at the Ronde van Vlaanderen last Sunday, finishing seventh, 28 seconds behind Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing).

The Belgian acknowledged on Friday that pressure was building for his Omega Pharma-Quick Step team to land a major classics victory.

“I usually react well under pressure,” Boonen said. “When I feel the cobblestones under my wheels, I usually go fast.”

Cancellara, on the other hand, said he left the pressure behind with his sprint win in Oudenaarde, Belgium, last week.

“They shouldn’t watch me,” he said when asked how it feels to race with the peloton watching him. “With this situation that we saw in Sunday’s race, in Flanders, of course Roubaix is totally different, but Omega Pharma has a super, super strong team. We will also see Belkin have to put control over it, because they have the other main favorite as well for the race, so they have to take the responsibility like normally they never did, I remember from the last few races, especially Sunday (Flanders). … And then we have also Greg Van Avermaet. He shows again he’s in super good condition.”

The four-man sprint win was Cancellara’s first major classic victory from a group of that size. While some have wondered whether it betrayed a case of lacking form for the Swiss, he suggested Friday that the strength of the field was simply better than years past when “Tomeke” and “Spartacus” were heads and shoulders above their contemporaries.

“I’m not the favorite No. 1, no. There’s, like I said in Flanders, there’s lots of other favorites. There’s lots of good riders. This year we have a large field that is strong and on high condition, and that’s why we will see things change this year,” he said.

That parity considered, Cancellara and Boonen are the two men chasing history on Sunday, with the Belgian hunting his record fifth Roubaix title and Trek’s flagship rider trying for an unprecedented third Flanders/Roubaix double.

Cancellara is trying to avoid thinking much about the ramifications of a victory Sunday, however.

“It’s always special when, in your sport, you can reach history,” he said. “I’m hungry, and it’s important I’m hungry, and the rest we will see later, because you have it in the front of you, but I try to blind it out, because if you think too much on history, you make a mistake.”

And a mistake is what the field must hope for from the defending champion. This race, like no other, hinges on luck, after all. The line between brilliance and anonymity is razor thin on the 51.1 kilometers of cobbles that feature along the 257-kilometer course from Compiègne to Roubaix.

“I mean, you must have a good day, you must have a lot of luck, and the race has to go in a direction that suits for this day or suits for me and the team. Of course, things could look good, but you have to push a lot, you have to push a lot of pedals,” said Cancellara. “You have to suffer a lot, you have to get a lot of pain in you, but still, I’m looking forward to a sunny race in France, and to enjoy somehow — it sounds crazy to say enjoy because over the cobbles is not so much enjoyment, it hurts a lot — but I’m in a lucky situation to still get that out because I’ve won Flanders. On Sunday, there are just Tom, me, and [Johan] Vansummeren that has won in those last, last years this race. The rest of the peloton hasn’t won and that probably puts other teams and riders under more pressure.”

Wearing dossard No. 1, Cancellara should leave the start on Sunday relaxed and ready, as he said, to eat. Whether anyone else is up to the task of chewing up the cobbles alongside him is something we will see 164 kilometers later, when the leaders emerge from the Trouée d’Arenberg.

“They are under more pressure, because they haven’t won,” he said. “The campaign for the classics finishes on the velodrome and there are many people still hungry. Let’s go and have some great meat.”

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Video: Summerhill talks classics crashes and Roubaix debut Thu, 10 Apr 2014 17:42:11 +0000 Brian Holcombe

American Danny Summerhill is set for his Roubaix debut and describes the chaos of 60 kph leadouts into mid-race corners

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American Danny Summerhill is set for his Roubaix debut and describes the chaos of 60 kph leadouts into mid-race corners

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Sagan wins E3 Harelbeke after tactical battle Fri, 28 Mar 2014 16:09:14 +0000 Brian Holcombe

Peter Sagan overcame Omega Pharma's hardball tactics to win E3 Harelbeke Friday. Photo: Tim De Waele |

Slovak champion takes cagey victory from late escape at E3 Harelbeke after Belgian team's tandem fails to drop him

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Peter Sagan overcame Omega Pharma's hardball tactics to win E3 Harelbeke Friday. Photo: Tim De Waele |

Peter Sagan won E3 Harelbeke in Belgium Friday to open the first big weekend of the northern classics. Sagan (Cannondale) outfoxed a pair of Omega Pharma-Quick Step riders to take a cagey victory in the 212-kilometer race known popularly as “Mini-Flanders.”

Niki Terpstra (Omega Pharma) was second and Geraint Thomas (Sky) was third in the important build-up to the Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders), which takes place April 6.

Defending champion Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing) finished ninth after being caught behind a poorly timed crash late in the race.

“I am happy to win because I came here to test my form for the upcoming classics,” said Sagan. “It is good for the future, but I cannot say what will happen in the future. Maybe I will crash in the first 20km at Flanders, and the race is over. I am happy with the victory because it confirms I am in good shape.”

Early breakaways and mishaps

The race route took in 17 hellingen, or hills, including the Taaienberg (1.2km, 9.5%), Paterberg (300m, 12%), Oude Kwaremont (2.2km, 4.2%)

When the peloton rolled across the Haaghoek cobbles, just over 30km into the day, five riders made a break for it: Maxime Daniel (Ag2r La Mondiale), Jerome Cousin (Europcar), Florian Sénéchal (Cofidis), Jay Thomson (MTN-Qhubeka), and Laurens De Vreese (Wanty Groupe Gobert).

The escape took a maximum advantage of roughly seven minutes before the peloton kicked on for the chase. A series of crashes saw Ian Stannard (Sky) and Maarten Wynants (Belkin) among the riders to hit the ground.

A series of attacks saw some reshaping at the front of the peloton with 70km to go, but the real interest was at the back of the race, where pre-race favorites Sagan and Sep Vanmarcke (Belkin) suffered near-simultaneous mechanicals. With the help of two teammates each, both riders were back in the bunch within a couple kilometers.

“I just had a lot of bad luck today,” Vanmarcke said in a press release. “The team, however, supported me perfectly every time I had to chase.”

Cousin ran into trouble just after the Knokteberg, with 65km to go, but was able to regain contact with the breakaway after a hard chase. Behind, former world champion Thor Hushovd (BMC Racing) dropped out of the race, rolling off the course in his Norwegian champion’s jersey.

Hushovd’s teammate, Greg Van Avermaet, suffered a mechanical moments later, forcing a rear wheel change just 2km before the 1.1km, three-percent Rotelenberg. Steele Von Hoffe (Garmin-Sharp) appeared to puncture at nearly the same point.

They both made it back to the bunch quickly and Sky, Omega Pharma, and Trek led the peloton onto the climb 1:40 behind the breakaway.

Cancellara caught out

With 43km to go and the four-climb onslaught of the Kapelberg (900m, 4%), Paterberg, Oude Kwaremont, Karnemelkbeekstraat (1.5km, 4.9%) just up the road, BMC Racing massed at the front of the bunch. Shortly after, a large crash on a single-lane section of road tore the peloton in half. A group of perhaps 30 riders made it through the stoppage, including Sagan, Van Avermaet, and Vanmarcke.

“I was in good position in the front and was not involved in the crash,” said Sagan. “We heard the bunch had split up, but in any race, you go hard as you can, it doesn’t matter who is dropped or who is chasing or anything else. The race finishes at the finish line.”

Three-time Harelbeke winner Cancellara was among the riders caught out and the Swiss chased from behind, leaving riders to fight for his wheel as he drilled it across a long, paved section of winding road.

Up ahead, the leaders rode onto the Paterberg with a 1:05 advantage. De Vreese led the group and his pace popped Thomson and Daniel.

Vanmarcke took the bit in the peloton and pushed hard up the left gutter. Still, Cancellara gained ground.

Dwars door Vlaanderen winner Terpstra was first over the climb from the bunch and an eight-rider chase group formed on his wheel. The group swelled heading into the Oude Kwaremont, with Boonen and Sagan in the mix.

Soon, those men would see the one rider they’d hoped to have done away with: Cancellara. The four-time world time trial champion pulled a handful of riders up to the group and planted himself about six riders from the front.

Terpstra pulled up the Oude Kwaremont and by the top, a group of five men had sprung free, including his teammate Stijn Vandenbergh, Sagan, Thomas, and John Degenkolb (Giant-Shimano). The three survivors of the breakaway held just seven seconds, a gap Thomas and Co. quickly surmounted. With 28km and two climbs to go, Sénéchal, De Vreese, and Cousin tried to glue themselves to the back of the eight-man lead group.

Behind them, Boonen, Cancellara, Vanmarcke, Van Avermaet, Jürgen Roelandts (Lotto-Belisol), Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky), Tyler Farrar (Garmin), and Luca Paolini (Katusha) were among the riders to form the first chase group. Two-time Ronde van Vlaanderen champion Stijn Devolder buried himself for teammate Cancellara and got no help from the Omega Pharma and Sky riders in the group. The defensive posturing by the Belgian and British teams would pay moments later when Terpstra, Vandenberg, Sagan, and Thomas rode away from their companions on the Karnemelkbeekstraat.

Devolder continued to pull the chasers, but the gap was 45 seconds with 18km remaining. Giant started contributing once Degenkolb dropped back to the chase, but the leaders had 49 seconds when they reached the Tiegemberg (1km, 6.5%) with 16km to go.

“In the final, on the Oude Kwaremont, I was suffering a lot and when Fabian Cancellara and Stijn Devolder tried to bridge to the leaders, I was only able to follow,” said Vanmarcke. “I couldn’t really do my turns, which was of course unfortunate.”

Cancellara attacked hard on the paved climb, with Paolini, Vanmarcke, and Stybar following him. The group caught the foursome, but the surge cut the gap to the leaders down to 35 seconds.

A tactical endgame for Sagan, Thomas, and Omega Pharma

With 10km to go, the leaders fanned out across the road, having a chat. Sagan appeared upset that Terpstra was sitting at the back of the group, despite Omega Pharma’s numbers advantage in the move. The Dutchman had Stybar and Boonen behind, but the potential victory ahead.

From there, the finale would play out as a tough tactical battle accented by Omega Pharma’s nearly non-stop attacks and Sagan’s and Thomas’ resolve.

Terpstra put in the first dig 5.5km from the line, but Sagan shut him down. Moments later, Vandenbergh attacked from the back. Sagan forced Thomas to chase, with Terpstra following the two of them. Vandenbergh went again, coming off Sagan’s wheel with 4km to go. The Slovak chased him down, and the group rode together for a kilometer before Terpstra attacked from the front as Sagan and Thomas looked at each other.

Again, the surge went nowhere.

The gap to the chase extended above one minute.

Vandenbergh tried to attack on the inside of a left-hand corner 1km from the line, but Sagan easily rode onto the wheel. Vandenbergh went again, but Thomas hunted him down onto the finish straight.

With the momentum, the Welshman led out the sprint and Sagan came around on the right for the win. Terpstra came through for second, leaving a bitter taste for the Belgian squad after it loaded the group, but couldn’t solve the Sagan problem.

“It was tricky in the end because they were all looking to me for the sprint,” said Sagan. “The two riders from Omega Pharma were trying to attack me, but all I had to do was follow the wheels. Geraint was strong on the Kwaremont and he was also dangerous in the final.”

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Terpstra wins Dwars door Vlaanderen Wed, 26 Mar 2014 15:25:55 +0000 Brian Holcombe Dutchman takes cobbles opener with lone, 30-kilometer assault

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Niki Terpstra won Dwars door Vlaanderen Wednesday in Waregem, Belgium. Terpstra (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) attacked over the Paterberg with 30 kilometers to go to take victory in the 201km cobbles opener.

Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Sharp) finished second and Borut Bozic (Astana) was third.

“Of course this race is on the Flemish roads with the small hills, the pave, and a lot of wind,” said Terpstra. “This race is suited for a guy like me. The attack on the Paterberg wasn’t planned, but in the final we know we have to be in front when we reach that point. I passed the front group on the Paterberg, I accelerated, and then I was alone. I knew the team was behind me to defend my attack. So, it gave me a lot of morale. I put myself in time trial mode and went to the finish.”

The day’s long breakaway saw more than 20 riders escape the peloton: Jos Van Emden (Belkin), Gediminas Bagdonas (Ag2r La Mondiale), Dmitriy Muravyev (Astana), Stephen Cummings (BMC Racing), Paolo Longo Borghini (Cannondale), Romain Zingle (Cofidis), David Millar (Garmin-Sharp), Aleksejs Saramotins (IAM Cycling), Kris Boeckmans (Lotto-Belisol), Songezo Jim (MTN-Qhubeka), Nikolas Maes (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), Gatis Smukulis (Katusha), Daniel Schorn (NetApp-Endura), Christopher Sutton (Sky), Jay McCarthy (Tinkoff-Saxo), Kenneth Van Bilsen and Tom Van Asbroeck (Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise), Markel Irizar and Eugenio Alafaci (Trek Factory Racing), John Murphy (UnitedHealthcare), and James Van Landschoot (Wanty-Groupe Gobert). The move lasted until the final 60km.

A series of reshuffles saw two groups escape with roughly 50km to go, but Lotto-Belisol was not represented in the resulting move, and worked hard to bring the leaders back. The gap at the bottom of 380-meter, 13.7-percent Paterberg was less than 10 seconds.

The race came back together on the cobbled climb under pressure from multiple attacks out of the bunch and one man emerged at the head of the race: Terpstra. Just as he did in 2012, the Dutchman rode away on his own on the climb that will play a major role in the Ronde van Vlaanderen in 11 days.

He held a dozen seconds after the climb and was fully committed, but the peloton was organized tightly behind.

“I thought, ‘Now just go full speed, and then we’ll see where we get,’” said Terpstra. “I had already done this in 2012, but then I had a tailwind. The wind was enormously painful, but I knew I was covered by the team.”

Trek Factory Racing led the chase, but when the gap went above 30 seconds, Orica send a man to the front to share the load.

Stijn Devolder (Trek) set out in pursuit with 19km to go, and was soon joined by three other riders. Nicki Sørensen (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) were there, and Terpstra’s teammate Gert Steegmans was along for a free ride.

“I held off on my own Devolder, Søorensen, and Valverde, true, but they always had doubt because Gert was in their wheel,” said Terpstra.

With 8km to go, the foursome was 18 seconds behind Terpstra. Former Ronde van Vlaanderen winner Nick Nuyens (Garmin-Sharp) attacked from the peloton, but Omega Pharma’s Tom Boonen marked him, and the duo quickly gave up.

The chase group was finished with 3km to go, but Terpstra pushed on alone, crossing the line with arms raised as the peloton turned onto the finish straight.

Farrar took the field sprint, pumping his right fist after crossing the line.

“My heart is broken,” said Farrar. “This is the second time after 2011 that I won the group sprint in Waregem, just after the winner. I just wanted to win.”

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CrossVegas promoter says World Cup talk is premature Mon, 24 Mar 2014 18:23:44 +0000 Brian Holcombe

Sven Nys has won both U.S. races in which he's competed — the 2013 worlds and CrossVegas. Photo: Chris Case |

CrossVegas promoter Brook Watts says talk of a cyclocross World Cup in Las Vegas is premature

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Sven Nys has won both U.S. races in which he's competed — the 2013 worlds and CrossVegas. Photo: Chris Case |

Reports emerged from Europe Monday that the UCI Cyclocross World Cup would make its first foray outside the continent in 2015 with a stop at CrossVegas in Las Vegas, but the event’s promoter called confirmation of the event premature. The late-September race piggybacks with the Interbike tradeshow and has seen a flight of elite European professionals at the start.

“In September 2015 Las Vegas is part of the World Cup circuit. This is now fixed,” Van Den Abeele said, according to Het Nieuwsblad.

Two-time world champion Sven Nys (Crelan-Trek), a member of the UCI’s Cyclocross Commission, won the 2013 edition and welcomed the news on Twitter, writing, “Yes, we have a world cup in vegas!”

CrossVegas promoter Brook Watts told VeloNews via email that he was in talks with the UCI, but that nothing was firm.

“Discussions with the UCI about CrossVegas becoming a World Cup that began in 2008 are ongoing today, albeit at a more serious tone,” said Watts. “CrossVegas has proved it is a world-class race worthy of a spot among other events like the World Cup, Superprestige, or BPost series races in Europe. We continue to work toward a goal of globalizing our sport and look forward to being a part of that for many years.

“At this time our energies are concentrated toward staging a successful 2014 event, including the introduction today of a new sponsorship webpage, and working with the team in Cincinnati to present the first Pan-American ’Cross Championships for our part of the globe.”

Watts told VeloNews in August 2013 that he expected a World Cup soon in the United States, but would not commit to his race’s entry to the discipline’s top circuit.

“While I’d love to have on my tombstone having promoted the first World Cup in the U.S., I’m not going to risk economic ruin to make it happen,” said Watts. “I know there are a couple parties that are interested, but I don’t know how far along they are with their proposals. It has to be a location that can draw a reasonable crowd, close to an international airport, but a location that has natural interest to international visitors because a significant portion of the crowd will be international visitors. There will be some superfans that make the trip and want to see a World Cup.”

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Cancellara: ‘I’m not interested in attacking just to put on a show’ Mon, 24 Mar 2014 08:00:25 +0000 Brian Holcombe

Fabian Cancellara rode to second at Milano-Sanremo Sunday. Photo: Tim De Waele |

Fabian Cancellara held tight when Vincenzo Nibali jumped on the Cipressa and said he's not interested in attacking just to put on a show

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Fabian Cancellara rode to second at Milano-Sanremo Sunday. Photo: Tim De Waele |

Fabian Cancellara isn’t interested in attacking for show.

Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing), who has finished his last 10 monuments on the podium, could have followed Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) when the Sicilian launched a Hail Mary on the Cipressa, 25 kilometers from the finish at Milano-Sanremo on Sunday. The link-up would have provided an absolutely beautiful display of finesse and deft bike-handling on the two technical descents between the top of the Cipressa and final approach to Sanremo — if they made it that far.

The Swiss could have scored major points with the social media peanut gallery by hooking up with Nibali and taking up the majority of the pace-making (he is “Spartacus,” after all). He could even have come up short on the line and still ignited a fanbase as eager to celebrate his wins as accuse his rivals of wheel-sucking.

Instead, Cancellara quietly rolled over the Cipressa and Poggio in the group and sparked a late sprint to finish second in an important final tune-up for the northern classics — the races that really move the former world time trial champ.

In the recent past, he has attacked over the Poggio and finished third (2013), held tight in a small group and finished second (2011), and attacked 2km from the line to win the season’s first major classic (2008). All this in a finale he called too easy on Sunday.

“Second at Milano-Sanremo, that’s fine, but the course is not hard enough,” he said. “I hope that the course will be changed next year. Especially when weather conditions are difficult, the race is completely closed.”

When Cancellara flinches, he’s marked, and with roughly 60 riders left in the peloton on the Cipressa Sunday afternoon, a busload of men waited to jump onto his wheel — many of them motivated by the presence of teammates Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), André Greipel (Lotto-Belisol), and Peter Sagan (Cannondale).

Those poor odds didn’t stop Nibali from wondering aloud why riders like Cancellara and Sagan didn’t dare follow him.

“Maybe it was a lack of courage, a lack of legs, or maybe because of the cold, I wouldn’t know,” Nibali said. “There were a lot of sprinters still there on the Poggio, like Cavendish. I don’t know what happened behind. The word in the bunch was to try and make Sanremo a lot more difficult in the finale because there wasn’t either Le Mànie or the Pompeiana. In any case, I think I did a good race. It would have been pointless for me to wait for the sprint. Maybe if I’d known it would be like that, I could have waited for the Poggio, but it was very difficult. I was waiting for an ally and I turned around a few times to see if anyone was coming but nothing.”

It may have come down to numbers and sheer predictability. Nibali jumped into what amounted to a choreographed attack, but old-hand Cancellara didn’t bite.

At the finish, Cancellara again found the bitter taste of a lesser podium place at “La Classicissima.” The 2008 Olympic time trial champion banged his handlebars coming across the line a bike length short of Alexander Kristoff (Katusha), who immediately saw his star rise with a virgin monument victory.

“I could have finished fifth or even crashed out. I’m not a sprinter, but after 294km, I was able to beat the likes of Cavendish and other sprinters, so that’s satisfying,” said Cancellara. “There was only one rider who finished ahead of me, and unfortunately the finish came too soon for me to get past him, but Katusha deserved to win. They did a good race, too.”

Cancellara owns six winners’ trophies from the monuments — cycling’s most important one-day races. In 2010 he won Paris-Roubaix on a 50km flyer. He knows when a race is hard and when it is not, and while many riders were suffering in the wet, cold conditions Sunday, the Swiss said afterward that the race was not hard enough for him to make a difference with a long-range attack. Not without the bone-jarring cobbles or steep, bumpy hellingen of the northern classics.

“I couldn’t really make a move earlier because there were too many riders who were still fresh,” he told journalists at the finish. “I’m not interested in attacking just to put on a show, either. There’s also the descent, other climbs, the flat, and lots of attacks. Races change and end as they end. This time it was in a sprint and I finished second.”

Simply put, Cancellara has to “attack when others are tired.”

After six-and-a-half hours, Cancellara didn’t think the peloton was worn out enough for one of his motorcycle-like barrages to work. He did admit that he nearly jumped over the top of the Poggio, and that the wait-and-see approach dulled the excitement for fans in the finale.

“It was hard because it was a race where you had to be patient — to wait and wait,” he said via the Trek team’s website. “Maybe it was a little bit boring because of that. Today was not Flanders or Roubaix. I thought maybe I should go on the top of Poggio, but there were too many riders that looked fresh, so I did not make a move. Same after the descent; there was no moment to go, so the best plan was to wait for a sprint. The sprint was the only solution of today.”

Dubbing Sunday’s finish at Sanremo “boring” is a reach. Was it Cancellara, Nibali, and Simon Gerrans attacking in 2012? No. But it was classic Milano-Sanremo drama, with all the usual questions. Can the long-odds Italian climber hold off the charging peloton? Who will push the pace impossibly hard coming off the Poggio? Will the attack with 2km to go stick? And, finally, who can cut out the most noise from his failing legs after an astonishing 294 kilometers?

That man was Alexander Kristoff on Sunday, but it certainly wasn’t for a lack of cunning on the part of the man called “Spartacus.” He played the sprint in Sanremo and lost. Cancellara’s turn for putting on a show will come later this week when the world’s attention turns to Harelbeke and three weeks of racing in Flanders and northern France. By the time the peloton reaches the Roubaix velodrome on April 13, no one will be asking for harder racing.

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BMC Racing hopes to kickstart stalled monuments program, but will be without Phinney at Sanremo Fri, 21 Mar 2014 17:13:14 +0000 Brian Holcombe

Greg Van Avermaet and BMC Racing are hoping to land a major classics win at Milano-Sanremo, even without Taylor Phinney. Photo: Tim De Waele |

American Taylor Phinney is ill and may not start Sunday, but BMC Racing is hoping its powerful Sanremo squad will finally deliver a major

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Greg Van Avermaet and BMC Racing are hoping to land a major classics win at Milano-Sanremo, even without Taylor Phinney. Photo: Tim De Waele |

MILAN (VN) — BMC Racing will bring a load of firepower to the season’s first major classic Sunday at Milano-Sanremo, with hopes of kick-starting its stalled monuments program. The American team will have to do without the services of Taylor Phinney, however, after the 23-year-old came down with a fever late this week.

Despite hiring star riders like former world champions Thor Hushovd and Philippe Gilbert, the American team has largely been blanked the past two years in the spring classics.

They’ve been close, especially with Greg Van Avermaet consistently knocking on the door. In fact, Van Avermaet’s win in the 2011 Paris-Tours is the team’s last big win in the one-day classics.

This year, BMC is hoping to bring home a big one, and Sunday’s Milano-Sanremo presents the team with its first chance.

“I was good at Tirreno-Adriatico, and I like Sanremo. We are a classics team,” said Gilbert. “My dream is to win all the classics, and I am not doing Flanders or Roubaix, so it’s a dream to win. We are all dreaming about Milano-Sanremo. We all start to win.”

Gilbert will co-captain the squad with Van Avermaet, with Thor Hushovd a third card to play if it comes down to a larger group sprint. Phinney, who punched into the top 10 last year, came down with a fever Friday, and will not start.

“I had expressed a lot of love for the race over the past couple of weeks and it is definitely genuine,” Phinney said in a press release. “So it is hard for me to not be able to take the start. But I have to look forward to [Paris-Roubaix]. I’m sorry for the team that I can’t be there for them and also sorry for myself because I was definitely looking forward to this race.”

Fifth in Friday’s Handzame Classic in Belgium, Klaas Lodewyck will replace Phinney in the team’s line-up.

Gilbert, who has never won Sanremo in 10 starts, said it’s not a bad thing to have more than one card to play in a race as unpredictable as Sanremo.

“It’s always good to have more than one in the final. There is less pressure on one guy. We can also play this against other teams. If one of us goes, the other can stay back and wait for the reaction,” Gilbert said. “But we are not the only team without a sprinter. Cannondale, too, with [Peter] Sagan, he likes it to be a smaller group.”

Both Gilbert and Van Avermaet look to be in top shape. Gilbert has high hopes for this year’s classics program, while Van Avermaet is hungry for a breakout win following many close calls. Second at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad last month, Van Avermaet said he’s ready.

“This is the first big test of the year,” Van Avermaet said. “This is a good start before the Flanders classics. It’s also a race that I’ve liked since the first time I raced when I was 22. It’s a special race, with a long distance. It’s a nervous race, a fast race.”

Both riders said Sanremo would have suited them better if the Pompeiana climb had been included as expected. Road damage means the controversial addition won’t be in the cards until next year. In 2007, the last year on the “classic” course without La Maniè, Gilbert was first over the Poggio.

As Gilbert pointed out, the finish line is no longer at Via Roma, which was very near the bottom of the Poggio, but now more than 1km further away, something he said makes a big difference if small groups can stay away.

“I can be a contender with this course, with the other course, if they do this climb [Pompeiana], it’s better for me. I’ve never won this race, but I can also be deep in the final,” Gilbert said. “It’s longer to the finish line now. It’s no longer on the Via Roma. The hardest thing in this race is the distance from bottom of Poggio to the finish line.”

Both Van Avermaet and Gilbert agreed that forecasted rain and wind could dramatically alter the outcome of the race.

“The descents are very slippery in the rain,” Van Avermaet said. “It’s too far to attack from the Cipressa. If it’s raining, the descent off the Poggio is very tricky.”

For Gilbert, Sanremo remains an elusive, if alluring target.

“It’s a special race. In other races, you know with 40km if you can go deep into the final. Here, you’re never sure. This is one of these races where you can have a lot of different type of riders who can win,” Gilbert said. “You have riders like me and Greg, you have the sprinters, and even some climbers. I was looking at YouTube, and I even saw [Marco] Pantani attacking on the Cipressa. So many riders can win. It’s not like Flanders, where only a few can win. Here, we are all together.”

BMC is hoping one of its riders is the right type when the 105th edition of Milano-Sanremo barrels onto the Italian Riviera.

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Video: Andreu talks Armstrong fallout, 5-hour Energy Thu, 13 Mar 2014 21:22:50 +0000 Brian Holcombe

Team director, former TV personality says that his life has calmed down following the U.S. Postal doping investigation

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Team director, former TV personality says that his life has calmed down following the U.S. Postal doping investigation

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Betancur wins stage 5 of Paris-Nice Thu, 13 Mar 2014 14:45:02 +0000 Brian Holcombe

Carlos Betancur won stage 5 of Paris-Nice Thursday after initiating a late breakaway. Photo: Tim De Waele |

Colombian rides late escape to a stage win on day 5 of Paris-Nice

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Carlos Betancur won stage 5 of Paris-Nice Thursday after initiating a late breakaway. Photo: Tim De Waele |

Carlos Betancur won stage 5 of Paris-Nice Thursday in Rive-de-Gier, France. Betancur (Ag2r La Mondiale) initiated a late escape from which he won the 153-kilometer leg from Crêches-sur-Saône.

Bobby Jungels (Trek Factory Racing) was second and Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) was third.

“I knew it would be quite a hard stage, the last climb suited me quite well and I knew the final descent,” said Betancur. “In a three-man sprint I had a good chance. I’m pretty good when it’s a small group.

“I still need to lose weight but I’ve got power.”

Overnight leader Geraint Thomas (Sky) defended his overall lead and holds a three-second advantage on John Degenkolb (Giant-Shimano). Stage 4 winner Tom-Jelte Slagter (Garmin-Sharp) is third, at four seconds.

Five riders went on the attack early in Thursday’s stage: Sylvain Chavanel (IAM Cycling), Jan Bakelants (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), Matthew Busche (Trek Factory Racing), Gorka Izaguirre (Movistar) and Brice Feillu (Bretagne-Séché Environnement). With Chavanel just 1:10 down on GC, the group could only push out a gap of 2:30.

After the breakaway was neutralized, Laurent Didier (Trek Factory Racing) attacked from the peloton on the Côte de Sainte-Catherine. Stefan Denifl (IAM Cycling) countered 15km from the finish and Nibali bridged across with 12.5km remaining to take the front on the descent. Thomas followed into third wheel and the Sicilian’s acceleration strung the group out single-file on the rough, single-lane road down from the 12.5km-long Cat. 2 climb.

When Nibali backed off the accelerator, Betancur took the bit and rode away on his own. Fuglsang and Jungels bridged across and with 8.5km to go, the three leaders held onto a handful of seconds.

With 3.5km to go, the gap was 10 seconds and Omega Pharma was taking a major interest in seeing the group caught. It was for not, however, as the leading trio held off the chasing group, with Betancur taking the sprint from Jungels.

Paris-Nice continues Friday with the 221km sixth stage, from Saint-Saturnin-lès-Avignon to Fayence. The stage includes four categorized climbs in the final 57km and a Cat. 2 hilltop finish in Fayence.

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Slagter wins stage 4 of Paris-Nice Wed, 12 Mar 2014 14:54:52 +0000 Brian Holcombe

Tom-Jelte Slagter won stage 4 of Paris-Nice Wednesday. Photo: Tim De Waele |

Slagter lands the race's first GC blow as the race fractures over four late climbs

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Tom-Jelte Slagter won stage 4 of Paris-Nice Wednesday. Photo: Tim De Waele |

Tom-Jelte Slagter won stage 4 of Paris-Nice Wednesday in Belleville, France. Slagter (Garmin-Sharp) attacked to the stage win late in the 201-kilometer leg from Nevers.

Geraint Thomas (Sky) was second and Wilco Kelderman (Belkin) was third.

“I knew the days before were feeling really hectic, so it was hard to tell where you were at,” said Slagter. “Today was my best possibility to do something. It suited me, but to win I didn’t expect.”

Overnight leader John Degenkolb (Giant-Shimano) lost contact with the front of the race late in the stage and ceded the yellow jersey to Thomas. The Welshman now leads the GC by three seconds over Degenkolb, with Slagter third, at four seconds.

Four men comprised the day’s breakaway: Valerio Agnoli (Astana), Laurent Didier (Trek Factory Racing), Perrig Quemeneur (Europcar), and Jesus Herrada Lopez (Movistar). The group built a maximum advantage north of five minutes, but the peloton kept a tight leash ahead of a tricky final 65km that included four categorized climbs.

The gap hovered near 30 seconds with 30km remaining.

Overall contender Sylvain Chavanel (IAM Cycling) suffered a poorly timed mechanical with 25km to go, forcing the Frenchman to take a bike change. The Swiss team sent back five riders to pace Chavanel up to the peloton, and he was in the bunch with 24km to go, but he would miss out when the pace ratcheted up moments later.

Chavanel was far from the only big name to suffer a mishap in the late stages of the day. Andy Schleck (Trek Factory Racing) flatted and Tinkoff-Saxo’s Rafal Majka required three teammates to regain the peloton after a mechanical of his own.

Meanwhile, Sky pushed the pace at the front of the bunch with four riders. The British team lined out the peloton headed into the Cat. 2 Côte du Mont Brouilly, which topped out 14km from the finish.

The three escapees lost hope with 18km to go and Didier was the last of them to survive.

The pace up the 3km, 8.4-percent climb shredded the peloton to roughly 40 riders with 1km to go. The attacks came, with Carlos Betancur (Ag2r La Mondiale) and then Slagter attacking toward the summit. The latter’s solo move drew out Thomas and world champion Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida) led the chase in the bunch.

“I trained really well but to be honest, I hadn’t planned on attacking on the final climb,” said Thomas. “I was even asking myself what I was doing there!”

Degenkolb fell off the pace on the climb, putting his jersey at risk.

Thomas made contact with Slagter on the decent and the duo led a collection of fractured chase groups with 12km to go. Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale) and Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) set off in pursuit of Thomas and Slagter with 8km to go. The surge re-shuffled the chase, with roughly eight riders riding into the gap, but Slagter and Thomas continued on with 10 seconds.

The yellow jersey group was 30 seconds behind and closing with 5km to go.

Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) and Zdenek Stybar (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) were among the riders to attack the chase group, but neither could shake his companions. Wilco Kelderman (Belkin) countered under the red kite and rode across to the gap, nearly catching Slagter and Thomas.

Slagter opened the sprint, however, keeping the Dutchman at bay and leaving Thomas to second. Kelderman held on for third.

“I know Thomas pretty good and I knew he’s fast and strong as well,” said Slagter. “I knew if I wanted to beat him, I needed to wait and wait until the right moment to sprint, or I might lose.”

Degenkolb finished seconds later, but it was too late to defends his overall lead.

“It’s unbelievable,” said Thomas. “On the Friday before the team I was told I would lead the team. Paris-Nice is one of the biggest races in the world.”

Paris-Nice continues Thursday with the 153km fifth stage, from Crêches-sur-Saône to Rive-de-Gier. The stage features four categorized climbs, including the Cat. 2 Côte de Sainte-Catherine, which summits 12.5km from the finish.

Race notes

Matti Breschel did not start stage 4. The Dane is suffering from injuries resulting from a crash following the final stage of the Tour of Oman, where Breschel collided with a mattress while descending to the team’s hotel.

“Matti has done three stages in high pace and his rhythm on the bike is good, but the pain in his hand has grown worse and I think it would be wiser to abandon the race at this moment,” Tinkoff director Fabrizio Guidi said in a press release. “The race kilometers here would have been good for his form, but he has to be able to handle his bike as well, so he’s going home to get some training done instead and we can only hope for a speedy recovery.”

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Degenkolb wins stage 3, takes lead in Paris-Nice Tue, 11 Mar 2014 15:12:37 +0000 Brian Holcombe

John Degenkolb took full advantage of a commanding Giant-Shimano leadout to win stage 3 at Paris-Nice. Photo: Tim De Waele |

German sprinter wins on the motor track, takes yellow on time bonus

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John Degenkolb took full advantage of a commanding Giant-Shimano leadout to win stage 3 at Paris-Nice. Photo: Tim De Waele |

John Degenkolb won stage 3 of Paris-Nice Tuesday on the Circuit de Nevers Magny-Cours in central France. Degenkolb (Giant-Shimano) took advantage of a commanding leadout to win the bunch sprint in the 180-kilometer leg from Toucy.

Matthew Goss (Orica-GreenEdge) was second and J.J. Rojas (Movistar) was third.

“We tried it two times before and again today and it was perfect,” said Degenkolb. “Everything went really well and today everything came together.”

Overall leader Nacer Bouhanni ( finished seventh and ceded the overall lead to Degenkolb, who moved into first on the strength of the finish-line time bonus. The German leads Bouhanni by eight seconds.

Three escapees went clear moments into the stage: Perrig Quemeneur (Europcar), Julien Fouchard (Cofidis) and Romain Feillu (Bretagne-Seche). The French trio never established a large advantage, but nevertheless held off the chasing peloton into the final 12 kilometers.

Quemeneur went on his own with just over 10km remaining, leaving his two companions behind. Fouchard and Feillu gave way with 9km to go, under pressure from Astana, Movistar, and Sky from behind.

The lone leader chased the first victory of his professional career, pushing his advantage out to 45 seconds with 8km to go. With 5km to go, the sprinters’ teams pushed to the front and Quemeneur’s advantage shrank away. With 4km to go, he held 25 seconds. Giant-Shimano took control of the peloton with 3.5km to go and strung the bunch out on the motor racing track.

“We kept our nerve in the last few kilometers, taking control on the race circuit,” said Degenkolb. “We weren’t worried that the race wouldn’t come back together so we waited until the final few kilometers to hit it hard.”

With 1.5km to go, the Dutch squad pulled the bunch past its target, using every inch of the winding tarmac to keep Orica at bay. The Australian squad made a last-ditch effort on the final corner, but Degenkolb took a decisive sprint victory over Goss.

Paris-Nice continues Wednesday with the 201km fourth stage, from Nevers to Belleville. With four categorized climbs in the final 65 kilometers (three Cat. 3, one Cat. 2), the stage is ripe for an escape to make a raid on the leader’s yellow jersey.

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Hofland wins stage 2 at Paris-Nice Mon, 10 Mar 2014 14:54:30 +0000 Brian Holcombe

Moreno Hofland won stage 2 of Paris-Nice Monday. Photo: Tim De Waele |

Hofland wins second leg of "The Race To The Sun" in Saint-Georges-sur-Baulche, France

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Moreno Hofland won stage 2 of Paris-Nice Monday. Photo: Tim De Waele |

Moreno Hofland won stage 2 of Paris-Nice Monday in Saint-Georges-sur-Baulche, France. Hofland (Belkin) was fastest in the bunch sprint to close the 205-kilometer leg from Rambouillet.

John Degenkolb (Giant-Shimano) was second. Overnight leader Nacer Bouhanni ( was third.

“I’m a bit surprised because with 1K to go we were a bit too far behind,” said Hofland, who worked his way up to Degenkolb’s wheel for the finale. “With 300 meters [to go], a little bit early, I went to try and surprise him.”

The surprise worked and Hofland shot up the right side of the road for the first WorldTour win of his career.

Bouhanni defended yellow. The stage 1 winner at the 2013 Paris-Nice, Bouhanni crashed heavily in the race’s second leg a year ago and abandoned in the leader’s jersey.

“I was a little apprehensive before today’s stage. I thought a lot about the crash from last year,” he said Monday. “I really did suffer. The first 100km felt bad, but I think it will get better.”

Gianni Meersman (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) took a bonus second late in the stage, becoming the virtual leader on the road. But a late crash with Edvald Boasson-Hagen (Sky), Lars Boom (Belkin), and Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Sharp) cost the Belgian his shot at the sprint and the overall lead.

Boom suffered a fractured elbow in the crash.

“Lars Boom has a minor fracture in his right elbow,” Belkin said in a statement. “He will receive an in-dept medical check up in the Netherlands tomorrow.”

Aleksejs Saramotins (IAM Cycling) and Anthony Delaplace (Bretagne-Seche Environnement) broke away 2.5km into the stage and held off the bunch for nearly the entire day. The duo took a maximum advantage of 11:30 after 31.5km. Delaplace gave up the ghost 12km from the finish. Saramotins continued on alone, but the peloton overcame him inside the final 3km.

“I want to give my everything to the Paris-Nice,” said Saramotins. “We came here to win the overall with Sylvain Chavanel. And when I set off in the break for the day, I thought it would be a good way to relieve the team of any chasing duties throughout the stage.”

Paris-Nice continues Tuesday with the 180km third stage from Toucy to Circuit de Nevers Magny-Cours.

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Gallery: 2014 Tour de Langkawi, stage 5 Mon, 03 Mar 2014 16:41:22 +0000 Brian Holcombe

American Brad White attacks the breakaway to win a stage in Malaysia

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Route, remaining teams announced for Amgen Tour of California Thu, 20 Feb 2014 19:30:57 +0000 Brian Holcombe

The Amgen Tour of California will return to Mount Diablo, site of Leopold Konig's stage win, in 2014. Photo: Casey B. Gibson |

Teams, route detailed for the ninth edition of the California race

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The Amgen Tour of California will return to Mount Diablo, site of Leopold Konig's stage win, in 2014. Photo: Casey B. Gibson |

Organizers unveiled the route for the 2014 Amgen Tour of California Thursday in Calabasas, California. A flat time trial, a summit finish on Mount Diablo, and a new mountain finish at Mountain High mark the ninth edition of the race.

Officials from AEG Sports, owner of the race, also confirmed a slate of teams for the race. UnitedHealthcare, Novo Nordisk, NetApp-Endura, Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies, Jamis-Hagens Berman, Jelly Belly-Maxxis, and Bissell Development will join the squads already announced for the May 11-18 event. [See full list of teams below.]

“With more UCI ProTeams in the line-up than ever before [due to new regulations] and the strongest field of Pro Continental and Continental teams we have ever invited, the field this year is shaping up to be our most competitive ever,” AEG Sports senior vice president Kristin Bachochin said in a press release. “Our commitment to the fans and the competitors remains focused on fielding an exciting race for the top teams in the sport, as well as creating a climate for dynamic domestic teams to compete on an international platform and challenge the brightest talent in the world.”

Watch the live announcement >>

Stage 1 of the race will take place on a circuit that will start and finish at the State Capitol in Sacramento. The 123-mile opening leg will include a KOM climb near the American River on Highway 49 before a flat approach to three finishing circuits in Sacramento.

The stage 2 individual time trial in Folsom will unfold on a mostly flat 12.5-mile course. The race’s first two days will coincide with an invitational women’s event sponsored by SRAM.

The race’s queen stage comes on day 3 with the Mount Diablo finish. The 110-mile third stage starts on the east side of San Jose and climbs Mount Hamilton after just five miles. The 22-switchback climb will lead to the finish climb, won by Leopold Konig (NetApp) in 2013.

“The team loves to race in California. We all look forward to the Amgen Tour of California because it has beautiful scenery, it’s warm and also incredibly competitive,” Konig said in a press release. “We performed really well last year, and I’m definitely hoping to repeat the stage win at the top of Mount Diablo. That was an incredible moment last year.”

With two of the race’s most decisive stages out of the way, the Amgen Tour will head south along the coast, with the 105-mile stage 4 from Monetery to Cambrian, and the 108-mile stage 5 from Pismo Beach to Santa Barbara.

Stage 6 will head back into the mountains, with a 97-mile leg from Santa Clarita to the ski area at Mountain High. The finish comes atom a steep, 1.2-mile climb at Mountain High North.

The race closes with the 91-mile seventh stage from Santa Clarita to a circuit finish in Pasadena and the 84-mile eighth stage in Thousand Oaks. The final leg takes in the Rock Store climb on Mulholland Drive four times on a 21-mile circuit. The Rock Store climb was the site of Michael Rogers’ final-day defense of his overall lead in 2010.

UCI ProTeams:
BMC Racing
Omega Pharma-Quick Step
Trek Factory Racing

UCI Professional Continental teams:
Novo Nordisk

UCI Continental teams:
Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies
Jamis-Hagens Berman
Jelly Belly-Maxxis
Bissell Development

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Amgen Tour expands women’s events to two days for 2014 Mon, 17 Feb 2014 17:24:11 +0000 Brian Holcombe

The Amgen Tour of California will offer two days of women's racing in 2014. Photo: Casey B. Gibson |

Circuit race, time trial will run in conjunction with the men's stage race

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The Amgen Tour of California will offer two days of women's racing in 2014. Photo: Casey B. Gibson |

The Amgen Tour of California will expand its women’s racing by one day in 2014, organizer AEG Sports announced Monday. As reported by Saturday, the Amgen Tour will feature two elite women’s events in May, with a circuit race and time trial.

The May 11 circuit race in Sacramento will coincide with stage 1 of the men’s stage race. The event will take place on a 1.25-mile, four-corner course near the Capitol Building. A day later, the women will compete in an invitational individual time trial in Folsom.

“As a founding sponsor of the Amgen Tour of California Women’s Time Trial, we’re proud to again join with AEG in showcasing some of cycle sport’s fastest and most celebrated athletes on the roads of California,” SRAM’s Alex Wassmann said in a press release.

The top three finishers in the circuit race not already on the TT startlist will gain invitations for the May 12 race against the clock. Each race will offer a $10,000 prize purse.

This is the first time the Amgen Tour will offer more than a single day of women’s racing in tandem with its 10-year-old men’s race.

“Through the years, AEG has been proud to provide a worldwide platform to the top women cyclists in the world. We’ve staged a women’s criterium from 2008 to 2010, and a time trial since 2011,” AEG Sports senior vice president Kristin Bachochin said. “This year, we’re thrilled to announce not one but two days of professional women’s racing with the inclusion of a circuit race and a time trial — more opportunity for the stars of the sport to shine, and more reason for cycling fans to come out or tune in to follow the best racing event on U.S. soil.”

The Amgen Tour of California takes place May 11-18. The race starts in Sacramento and finishes in Thousand Oaks.

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Marco Pantani: Worshipped, abused, and rejected Fri, 14 Feb 2014 20:34:17 +0000 John Wilcockson

Marco Pantani died Feb. 14, 2004. Our cover story on his life and death originally ran in the April 4, 2004 issue of VeloNews.

On the 10th anniversary of the Italian's overdose, we look back at our 2004 cover story on the rocky journey from Tour de France champion

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Marco Pantani died Feb. 14, 2004. Our cover story on his life and death originally ran in the April 4, 2004 issue of VeloNews.

Editor’s note: This cover story originally appeared in the April 4, 2004 issue of VeloNews magazine.

He lived the frenetic life of a celebrated sports icon. He died the solitary death of a drug-dependent depressive. Marco Pantani’s ending echoed the star-crossed life and times of this cycling messiah. The quirky, pugnacious Italian climber was frequently alone at the end of punishing mountain stages in cycling’s greatest races, minutes ahead of the opposition. And he was alone again, tragically, when he died in the fifth-story room of an Italian hotel called Le Rose during the afternoon of a somber St. Valentine’s Day in February. Outside his window, life bustled in the streets of Rimini while waves continued to crash onto the beach of this Adriatic resort. Pantani was 34.

Some 20,000 people came to Pantani’s hometown of Cesenatico, 20km north of Rimini, on February 18. They watched and applauded his final 2km journey: from his funeral at the church of San Giacomo, where he was baptized, then alongside a Leonardo da Vinci-designed canal to his burial at the small coastal town’s cemetery. His grave will become a shrine, like that of Italy’s other tragic cycling champion who died before his time, Fausto Coppi.

Like Coppi, Pantani was revered for the transcendent manner in which he raced his celeste-green Bianchi to victories at the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France. But unlike Coppi, whose exploits straddling World War II were followed by pockets of fans huddled around crackly radios, Pantani was an electrifying presence to millions on live television.

As a consequence, fame was thrust on Pantani at a rate and in a manner that he had a hard time handling. Outwardly, he promulgated his notoriety by shaving his head, growing a goatee, piercing his left ear for a silver hoop, and wearing a knotted bandanna that bore the skull-and-crossbones emblem of Il Pirata: The Pirate.

But inwardly, Pantani was confused. At press conferences, he talked of himself in the third person, as if that public Pantani were someone else. But when the swashbuckling image of “the little guy who could” was shattered by his blood hematocrit testing above cycling’s legal limit on the eve of a second Giro triumph in 1999, Pantani was crushed. Ridiculed by those quick to jump to conclusions, humiliated in the press by accusations of doping, and subsequently hounded by no less than seven judicial inquiries into alleged crimes of “sporting fraud,” Pantani became more and more depressed.

The bicycle was his only true antidote to the personal onslaught. He rode it joyfully through the hills of Romagna to the southwest of his home. He later raced it to a pair of mountaintop stage wins ahead of Lance Armstrong at the 2000 Tour. And he came back again last summer to show vestiges of his fiery climbing style in a 14th-place finish at the Giro. But for most of the last four-and-a-half years of his life, Pantani was chained to a nighttime world of discos, disillusion and drugs. He still had the trappings of success, but the troubled champion had crashed his fast cars, abandoned his gated mansion and, a year ago, split with his longtime Danish girlfriend, Kristine. After last-minute plans failed in June to get him a Tour de France ride on Jan Ullrich’s Bianchi team, Pantani was shattered.

He checked himself into the Parco dei Tigli, a high-class mental health clinic specializing in the treatment of nervous disorders. His personal manager Manuela Ronchi said at the time: “I don’t know anything, I can only say that he must be suffering with something very private and that he doesn’t want to talk about it to anyone.”

His condition — which may have been incorrectly diagnosed — was treated with antidepressants. On leaving the clinic, he didn’t return to the bike. He became bloated: as much as 50 pounds over the sleek 134-pound climbing machine that took 36 race wins (half of them at the Giro and Tour) in 12 years of professional cycling. He was interviewed for the last time in September 2003, by a writer with the Voce di Romagna, Mario Pugliese, a boyhood friend. He told Pugliese: “The champion I was exists no more, he is far from the man that I have become.”

Pantani was also dismissive of his fans: “If they still cheer me, it’s not through affection but because they have need of a personality.” And he was tired of being that personality, Pugliese said. Four months after that interview, a 34th birthday party was thrown for Pantani by a friend, a disco owner. A dozen people came to dinner. Recalling that evening, Pugliese told French journalist Philippe Brunel: “In the middle of the meal, Marco stood up, took from his pocket a packet of cocaine in front of everyone. He went to
the toilets, followed by a friend who wanted to stop him. The two argued. The evening degenerated. On leaving, all his friends said to themselves, ‘This is the last time that we’ll see him.’ Marco had arrived at the ultimate stage of dependence.”

Pantani still had hopes of kicking his drug habit. He visited Cuba, where a friend, the ex-Argentinean soccer star Diego Maradona, has been treated for cocaine addiction. On February 27, Pantani was due to fly to Bolivia with a priest who runs a secluded detoxification center for young people. But 13 days before his departure, and five days after checking into Le Rose in Rimini, Pantani’s heart failed. An autopsy pointed to fluid on the brain and in the lungs as contributors to his death. Like rock stars Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison before him, it seemed that Pantani’s bright star had burned out on drugs.

In nine pages of notes found in his passport next to the bed at the Rimini hotel, Pantani wrote: “I’m left all alone. No one managed to understand me. Even the cycling world and even my own family.” Also included were some loving words for his estranged girlfriend — who must have been on his mind that Valentine’s Day. He then wrote about the drugs. “I want to go to Bolivia to to break this addiction,” he wrote. “I want to finish with that world, and I want to get back on the bike.”

Tragically, this was one uphill battle that not even Marco Pantani could conquer.

Marco’s moments: Memories of Pantani’s career

1994 Giro d’Italia, his favorite victory: When asked many years later which of his victories he remembered the best, Marco Pantani had no doubts in choosing the two mountain stage wins he scored at the 1994 Giro d’Italia.

Going into the 235km stage 14 between Lienz in Austria and Merano in the Italian Dolomites, over five mountain passes, Pantani was lying 10th overall more than six minutes behind race leader Evgeni Berzin. Not much attention was paid to the small, balding rider on the Carrera team when he took off from the main group in search of a break that had been up the road most of the long day. Pantani overtook all but one of the breakaways on the last climb, the Monte Giovo, then on the wet, slick descent caught and passed solo leader Pascal Richard. Pantani won the stage by 40 seconds and moved to sixth overall.

The next day, there was another seven hours in the saddle on a wet, cold stage 15 to Aprica. It first crossed the Giro’s highest peak, the 9048-foot Stelvio, before reaching its toughest climb, the Passo del Mortirolo. At 12km and averaging almost 10 percent, the Mortirolo saw Pantani split the race wide open, which allowed race favorite Miguel induráin to drop leader Berzin.

Induráin caught Pantani and his break companion Nelson Rodriguez on the descent; but the multi-Tour de France champion was helpless when Pantani attacked on the 15-percent slopes of the day’s last climb, Santa Cristina. Pantani won the stage by almost three minutes over teammate Claudio Chiappucci and 3:30 on the blown Induráin. Berzin came in sixth, 4:06 back, to just retain the overall lead over the new runner-up, Pantani.

The Tifosi was thrilled by the emergence of a new Italian climbing phenom. “On the summits, I could feel the breath of the fans, I could feel my hair stand on end,” Pantani remembered. A legend had been born.

2000 Giro d’Italia, anger in his heart: Other than a false start in February, Pantani’s appearance at the 2000 Giro d’italia was his first race since being thrown out of the event when leading the 1999 edition. Dedicated Pantani fans hoped their hero would carry on where he left off, but by the time the Giro reached its closing days, Il Pirata hadn’t been a factor in the mountains and he was more than an hour down on GC.

“This Giro d’italia is quite different,” said Pantani’s teammate and that Giro’s eventual winner, Stefano Garzelli. “We are all used to seeing Pantani attack and attack and attack. Only Pantani has made his mark on this race like that.”

And while Pantani’s chance of leaving a mark on the 2000 Giro had passed, the pirate still had something burning inside as the peloton embarked on the 19th stage, a tough 176km haul from Saluzzo to Briançon in France. The stage quickly climbed to the Giro’s highest point atop the Colle dell Agnello at 9015 feet, followed by a rapid descent and a climb over the fearsome Col d’Izoard before the finish.

With the overall contest a tight one between Garzelli and then race leader Francesco Casagrande, the day started off as expected, with the favorites responding to an attack on the Agnello by Colombia’s Chepe Gonzalez. As had been the case throughout the Giro, Pantani missed the cut … or so it seemed.

The close contest between Garzelli and Casagrande was the day’s main story, but for Italian fans lining the road to the top of the Agnello there was suddenly something more important. It wasn’t the drama at the front, but the small man riding in wild pursuit up the 12- and 13-percent grades of the Agnello. Pantani was finally making a show of it, flashing that same style, that same old panache. Pantani eventually caught and passed most of the leaders.

All of the problems of the previous year, all of the frustration, all of the embarrassment — all of it was gone for that one bright moment as the Giro d’Italia climbed into France. For the Tifosi, the pirate was back.

After nearly three weeks of bringing up the rear, Pantani suddenly showed it was his passion that drove him up cycling’s toughest peaks. “I did not ride this way today because of the strength in my legs,” he said after finishing second ahead of all the race favorites. “I rode like this because of the anger in my heart. I wanted to make a statement.” On that day, he did just that. — CHARLES PELKEY

2000 Tour de France, always the animator: Spectators lining the windswept slopes of Mont Ventoux were stunned when Lance Armstrong and Marco Pantani pedaled side-by-side up the mountain’s final kilometer in stage 12 of the 2000 Tour de France.

Just three days earlier Armstrong had put a definitive end to an attack Pantani instigated at the base of the Hautacam climb, beating him by more than five minutes and taking the yellow jersey. Until that day in the Pyrénées, Pantani — who did not compete at the 1999 Tour — was viewed as the greatest climber of the modern era. But Armstrong’s performance at Hautacam demoralized not only Pantani but also the entire peloton, erasing forever the idea that Armstrong could not climb with the best.

So when Pantani and Armstrong rode to the Ventoux finish together — with Pantani taking the stage victory after he’d drifted off the pace multiple times earlier in the climb — questions were raised. The headline in the following day’s French newspaper l’Équipe read, “The Generous King,” glorifying Armstrong’s gesture. Armstrong would later reveal he gifted Pantani the stage win because he liked Pantani and felt that he’d had a tough year since his Giro d’Italia expulsion in 1999.

But the proud Italian took a swing at Armstrong in the press, claiming, “When Armstrong said, ‘Faster, faster’ to get me to accelerate, he was trying to provoke me.”

At the start of stage 15, from Briançon to Courchevel, Armstrong was asked about his decision to grant the Italian the stage win. “It wasn’t a hard decision, but perhaps I regret that,” Armstrong said. “In hindsight, the Ventoux is too special. The strongest person should win there, and I felt like that day I was the strongest person. No more gifts.”
But after Pantani won the stage into Courchevel outright, the barbed remarks continued, with the Italian stating, “Pantani does not need Armstrong to give him a victory.”

The following day Pantani initiated a fantastic but suicidal attack on the stage from Courchevel to Morzine, opening a minute’s gap and forcing postal to spend the day chasing. Distracted by the pressure, Armstrong skipped his feeds and later bonked on the final ascent of the Col de Joux-Plane, losing almost two minutes to rival Jan Ullrich and claiming it was the worst day he’d ever had on a bike.

While Armstrong was able to contain his losses — “I thought I’d lost the Tour that day,” he would later admit — Pantani faded after being caught and lost at most 14 minutes by the finish. He did not start the next stage, claiming intestinal problems. It was the last of Pantani’s Tour appearances and a sad exit for one of the event’s greatest animators. — NEAL ROGERS

2003 Giro d’Italia, the last hurrah: At the 2003 Giro d’Italia, Pantani had regained some form, and his fans were going crazy. Every day at the start he emerged for the sign-in looking resplendent — the king ready to receive his followers. He stood with a bemused smirk on his face as he was mobbed by fans, always more than double the number of those seeking autographs from race leader Gilberto Simoni.

The daily adulation was the high point of the race for Pantani. The low point was descending the Colle di Sampeyre, in driving hail and rain. He and Stefano Garzelli crashed together while trying to bring back Simoni, Dario Frigo and Yaroslav Popovych. Pantani was badly hurt and sat for a seeming eternity on the wet grass of the steep hillside, in tears.

Eventually, after much encouragement from the people gathered around him, he got up and continued. It was the moment that Pantani became a mere human for many, rather than a bigger-than-life star. He demonstrated courage to continue with the physical pain but also the emotional pain of knowing that his last best chance to once again rise above the other riders of the Giro was gone. He would now have to endure the adulation without a hope of being able to give his fans what they wanted — a victorious Pantani — ever again. — LENNARD ZINN

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Heart condition forces Lotto rider Kaisen to retire at 30 Mon, 10 Feb 2014 23:08:30 +0000 Brian Holcombe

Olivier Kaisen was forced to withdraw from the Santos Tour Down Under in January and announced his retirement Monday. Photo: Tim De Waele |

Belgian diagnosed with condition in November, was affected during Santos Tour Down Under

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Olivier Kaisen was forced to withdraw from the Santos Tour Down Under in January and announced his retirement Monday. Photo: Tim De Waele |

Doctors have called an early end to Belgian Olivier Kaisen’s cycling career, his Lotto-Belisol team announced Monday. Kaisen, 30, has been found to have a cardiac aberration, which affected him during the Santos Tour Down Under last month.

Kaisen’s abnormal heartbeat was uncovered during tests in November, but he continued on with Lotto, making his season debut in Australia in January. A subsequent examination determined that the Belgian was not fit for professional competition.

“Last Friday I got the news I feared was coming up: I have to quit cycling,” Kaisen said via press release. “Of course I had rather seen it differently, but keep on cycling isn’t an option. After the UCI tests, half of November I was actually surprised when I heard an aberration was found, because I had never felt anything before, but luckily I got the permission to continue with cycling. At training camp in December I was able to train in perfect circumstances without any problem. Now I think my moderate season in 2013 might be caused by it.

“After the second stage at the Tour Down Under I didn’t feel well. It had been a very tiring and extremely hot day and I had ridden much at the head of the bunch for André Greipel. I did start the next stage, but immediately after the start of the third stage I felt something was wrong. I was scared and together with sports director Herman Frison I decided to quit. He said I couldn’t take any risk.”

Kaisen returned to Belgium and underwent continuous monitoring for four days. Lotto team doctor Jan Mathieu said the results clearly indicated that Kaisen could no longer continue safely in the sport.

“Each year the riders have to undergo a cardiologic examination which is made obligatory by the UCI,” said Mathieu. “In a very burdening sport as cycling that isn’t superfluous. For this we work together with the team of cardiologist Sophie Demanez and the CHC hospital in Liège. The test of Olivier half of November showed an aberration of the cardiac rhythm. Further examination by heart specialists doctor Demanez and professor Heidbuchel made clear that this wasn’t an impediment for top sport. When Olivier had hinder again in the Tour Down Under half of January — of a different nature than before — also that problem was further examined and analyzed. The results and conclusions didn’t leave any room for doubts: keep on cycling isn’t an option.”

Lotto manager Marc Sergeant said Kaisen’s health trumped the sporting implications of his diagnosis.

“This makes you put the sportive results in perspective and of course as a manager you rather not have to experience this,” he said. “Health problems are disastrous for a sportsman, but at the moment when it’s life-threatening, sport is of secondary importance and only the human side counts. ‘Oli’ has been in our team for eight years and that’s why the mutual involvement is big. On the other hand, I’m also happy that these kind of tests are obligatory. At Lotto-Belisol we even go further and within our scientific approach our riders undergo an elaborate package of tests that have to enable us to detect possible problems of all kinds in an early stage.

“Furthermore, I think this should be a plea for screening of both pro and amateur sportspeople. As a WorldTour team, we should set an example and spread the message that not any risk is worth a human life. We carry a big responsibility and have to take on that fight. In the name of myself, all staff members and all riders I deeply want to thank ‘Oli’ for all generous efforts as part of the team, for his numerous kilometers at the head of the bunch, for his personality and character within the team. We will do our best to assist him as good as possible during the next weeks and months and if possible to build the bridge to the next part of his life.”

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Tour of Utah will expand beyond the state’s borders in 2014 Tue, 04 Feb 2014 21:00:07 +0000 Brian Holcombe

The 10th edition of the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah will finish in Park City with a circuit that includes Empire Pass. Photo: Casey B. Gibson |

Seven-stage race will celebrate its 10th anniversary with a collection of new stages, including a mountaintop finish at Powder Mountain

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The 10th edition of the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah will finish in Park City with a circuit that includes Empire Pass. Photo: Casey B. Gibson |

The Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah will expand beyond the Beehive State’s borders for the first time in 2014, featuring a stage start in Wyoming midway through the seven-day race. On Tuesday organizers announced the host cities for the Aug. 4-10 race, which will start in Cedar City and finish in Park City, and confirmed that Jelly Belly-Maxxis would be among the teams to contest the 10th edition of the event.

For the second consecutive year, the Tour of Utah will start in the state’s southern reaches and work its way north toward the overall finish in the Wasatch Mountains. New stages for the race include a stage 4 mountainous run from Ogden to the Powder Mountain ski area and a penultimate stage from Salt Lake City to Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort atop Little Cottonwood Canyon. The race’s fifth stage will start in Evanston, Wyoming, and finish in Kamas, Utah.

”Each year the Tour of Utah has the opportunity to break new ground by showcasing the sport to different parts of the state, and our selection of host cities and venues in 2014 is no exception,” Miller Sports Properties president Steve Miller said in a press release. “The addition of a seventh day of racing allows us to expand to new territories like Powder Mountain and Evanston, Wyoming, as well as build upon the tremendous racing we experienced in southern Utah last year and our traditional finish in Park City. We are genuinely excited to bring the Tour of Utah to these communities and thank them for supporting the race.”

After hosting the finish of stage 1 in 2013, Cedar City will be the site of the start and finish of the race’s opening leg. Back in the race for a second year are Panguitch and Torrey, which will play host to the start and finish of stage 2, respectively.

The race will travel into the Oquirrh Mountains southwest of Salt Lake City during stage 3, with a start in Lehi and a finish at the Miller Motorsports Park, home to the team time trial in previous editions of the race.

The Powder Mountain finale for stage 4 will be of the mountaintop variety, with a finish at the ski area above the Weber Valley. The next day, the race will cross the border into southwestern Wyoming for a start in Evanston. The Uinta Mountains and Mirror Lake Scenic Highway stand between the start and the finish in Kamas, east of Park City.

The Snowbird stage will offer a new route on the race’s sixth day. With a start at the University of Utah campus in the capital city, organizers are billing the penultimate day as the race’s queen stage. The stage has previously started in Park City and Snowbasin before climbing the 6.5-kilometer, 9.2-percent Little Cottonwood Canyon to Snowbird.

Empire Pass is back on the menu for the third consecutive year, with the final stage starting and finishing in Park City.

Organizers previously confirmed the participation of five UCI ProTeams: Belkin, BMC Racing, Garmin-Sharp, Orica-GreenEdge, and Trek Factory Racing. Jelly Belly, home to U.S. champion Fred Rodriguez, is the sixth team to be named.

2014 Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah, Aug. 4-10
Stage 1: Cedar City
Stage 2: Panguitch — Torrey
Stage 3: Lehi — Miller Motorsports Park
Stage 4: Ogden — Powder Mountain
Stage 5: Evanston, Wyo. — Kamas
Stage 6: Salt Lake City — Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort
Stage 7: Park City

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