Road – Competitive Cycling News, Race Results and Bike Reviews Sat, 25 Jun 2016 19:19:59 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Rojas claims Spanish national title Sat, 25 Jun 2016 18:32:35 +0000 José Joaquín Rojas solos to his second career Spanish national championship title

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José Joaquín Rojas nabbed his second career Spanish national road race championship Saturday, marking the seventh straight year a rider from the Movistar organization has claimed the win.

Five years removed from his 2011 national title in Castellón, Rojas found himself back in the champion’s jersey after an aggressive day of racing in Alicante. Launching multiple attacks on the last of six 34-kilometer laps on a hilly circuit, the 31-year-old jumped clear of the lead group for good in the final 5km.

He managed to hold on out front to cross the finish line four seconds ahead of Katusha’s Ángel Viciso, with Jordi Simón (Verva – ActiveJet) taking third.

Rojas, who mostly rides as a domestique now after several years contending for sprint wins, has been with Movistar (or its previous iteration Caisse d’Epargne) for more than a decade, racing in all seven of the team’s consecutive national championship-winning starts. This year, it was his turn to go for the victory again.

“Should today’s race situation have happened years before today, I’d have probably saved all my energies for the sprint, because I often came out as the fastest at them,” Rojas said. “However, things have changed for me: I just couldn’t wait, because I had the legs to win solo, and I couldn’t reach the finish with Vicioso, either. Despite Ángel getting a bit old, he’s always a very dangerous rider, who can play his cards well. I tried to make things hard into my group, create splits and attack as much as I could.

“I also tried to make my team-mates ride calm behind and avoid any potentially dangerous contenders bridge across. I attacked lots of times into the final lap: I couldn’t make a gap on the first one, then Vicioso was the only one to keep my wheel on the second, and with 5-6 kilometrs to go, I could leave him behind and go for the win.”

The win marks Rojas’s first victory of the season.

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Broeckx in vegetative state, prognosis unknown Sat, 25 Jun 2016 13:57:06 +0000 Stig Broeckx incurred severe brain damage in a fall at the Baloise Belgium Tour in May

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BRUSSELS (AFP) — Belgian Stig Broeckx, who suffered a cerebral hemorrhage following a heavy crash on May 28, has not regained consciousness nearly a month after the motorcycle-involved incident.

“The past days the neurosurgical team of the hospital in Genk has reduced the medication of Stig in an attempt to get him out of coma. Unfortunately Stig doesn’t respond to stimuli like sound or movement,” said his Lotto – Soudal team in a statement Saturday.

“The doctors confirm that Stig has incurred severe brain damage, in the brain stem and different brain regions. He is now in a vegetative state. At the moment it is difficult to predict if the consciousness can partially come back.”

Broeckx, 26, had been the main victim of a fall caused by a crash of two motorcycles at the penultimate stage of the Baloise Belgium Tour.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Carter Jones will retire in July Fri, 24 Jun 2016 13:48:33 +0000 27-year-old American Carter Jones is retiring from the pro peloton

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American Carter Jones (Giant – Alpecin) will retire at the end of July to pursue a career off the bike.

The decision comes after a second bad crash in as many years, which forced the 27-year-old to rethink his future as a professional.

“It is a personal decision related to two accidents, one last year and one recently, and I am now ready to move on to the next step in my life,” Jones said. “I have to thank my family for expecting me to complete my college education before fully pursuing a cycling career.”

Jones is the second American to retire from Giant-Alpecin mid-season, a month after Caleb Fairly hung up his wheels in California. Giant-Alpecin “respects the decision and offers its full support and cooperation,” the team said in a statement.

Jones holds degrees in integrative physiology and sociology from the University of Colorado. He hopes to pursue a career in sports marketing and event production.

A win at the Tour of the Gila and the climbers jersey at the Amgen Tour of California in 2014 set Jones on a course for the WorldTour. He finished 14th overall at the USA Pro Challenge the same year, and signed with Giant-Alpecin for 2015.

“Carter has been a valuable member of the team, and we respect his decision,” said coach Rudi Kemna. “Carter’s dedication and professionalism cannot be faulted, and it has been a pleasure to have worked with him. We want to thank Carter for his commitment to the team, and we wish him all the best in his future endeavors.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Contador out of Spanish nationals with illness Fri, 24 Jun 2016 13:18:59 +0000 Alberto Contador pulls out of Spanish national road race with unspecified illness

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MADRID (AFP) — Tour de France hopeful Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) has pulled out of this weekend’s Spanish road race championships citing health concerns just a week ahead of the start of cycling’s top tour.

“Hello everyone! I’m sorry to say that because of health concerns I won’t be taking part in the nationals this weekend (Saturday). I hope it’s a good race,” the double Tour de France winner Contador said via Twitter on Friday.

Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) are among the big names lined up to take part.

On Thursday, Movistar’s Ion Izagirre won the Spanish national time trial beating teammate Jonathan Castroviejo by 22 seconds, while Valverde was third three seconds further back to give Movstar a podium sweep.

The Tour de France 2016 starts July 2 from Mont Saint Michel, where Contador will lead the Tinkoff team, before he represents Spain at the Rio Olympic Games.

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Don’t call it a comeback: France is back on top Fri, 24 Jun 2016 12:53:25 +0000 Arnaud Démare won Milano-Sanremo, and along with results from other up-and-comers, is it time to stop writing off French wins?

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Before Arnaud Démare could make the U-turn back toward the podium, pundits and fans alike were already tying the weights around the ankles of his Milano-Sanremo win. “Gaviria would have won if he hadn’t crashed.” “Sagan would have won if Gaviria hadn’t crashed.” “The course isn’t difficult enough to weed out pretenders.” And, inevitably, the old reliable, “Is he worthy?”

Worthiness is a usefully subjective measure, a rhetorical tool deployed against unpopular wins by upstart, unknown, or disliked riders.

Is Démare worthy? The 24-year-old sprinter from Picardie is no grand champion, not yet on the level of recent Sanremo winners like Eric Zabel, Mario Cipollini, or Oscar Freire, much less the giants of the road who preceded them. His palmares has grown mostly by winning stages of weeklong races held in his backyard, in the flats of Northern France and neighboring Belgium. But he’s also finished third in a Tour de France stage, behind Marcel Kittel and Alexander Kristoff, and second behind John Degenkolb and ahead of Peter Sagan at last year’s Gent-Wevelgem. Until that day in Sanremo, however, he had not quite broken through.

Over the last few decades, cycling has developed a special lens through which it views French success.

Objectively, though, Démare’s Via Roma victory was sound, particularly in the context of a chaotic crapshoot of a finale that closed this and many other editions of Sanremo. Michal Kwiatkowski’s attacks did not drop him on the way up the Poggio, and three of the sport’s most fearsome descenders — Vincenzo Nibali, Fabian Cancellara, and Sagan — didn’t unhitch him on the way down. He didn’t crash inside the red kite like Colombian sensation Fernando Gaviria, nor get caught up in the aftermath like Sagan and Cancellara. He positioned himself perfectly to launch a long drag to the line, playing to his strength.

So why wouldn’t Démare be worthy? There were rumblings from Italian riders that he held onto a team car up the Cipressa, but that complaint emerged only after the initial pooh-poohing of his victory and came to nothing. Is he not a big enough champion for such a prize? Not yet, but how are big champions made if not by winning big races? Maybe the problem, then, is that he’s just too … French?

Over the last few decades, cycling has developed a special lens through which it views French success. A 217-kilometer break-away to win the Ronde van Vlaanderen? If Jens Voigt had done it in 2014, it would have birthed Internet memes and a rush order of celebratory T-shirts. When Jacky Durand actually succeeded in doing it in 1992? That was a mathematical and tactical error by the favorites, not a well-executed escape by two of the peloton’s long-raid specialists, Durand and Thomas Wegmüller. Nothing more than a lucky roll of the dice by a Frenchman whose luck held out long enough to also win Paris-Tours, a couple of French national championships, a few Tour stages, and a yellow jersey.

And what about Thomas Voeckler’s 20 days in the golden tunic? Just attention-whoring opportunism by a no-hoper who grabs the spotlight before the real contenders come out to play. Fabian Cancellara’s 29 yellow jerseys? Those are shrewd pieces of tactical riding by a true pro who seizes every opportunity to race aggressively and fly the colors. Never mind that Voeckler has won four Tour stages and the polka dot jersey, finished fourth on GC in 2011, and won a handful of stage races and semi-classics.

Three years after Voeckler’s fourth place, Frenchmen Jean-Christophe Péraud and Thibaut Pinot both made it onto the box. Yet the first French podium presence since 1997 was framed mostly by absence. Yes, the French were there, but Froome and Contador had crashed out, and Quintana didn’t start. Two DNFs and a DNS managed to elbow the Frenchmen from the photo.

France Among the Big Four

So it goes for the French, seemingly stuck in the lovable loser role, results be damned. The 30-year drought of Tour de France wins hangs like an albatross around the neck of the French peloton, with its last champion, Bernard Hinault, giving it a tug now and then to make sure the rope holds fast.

With the French filter removed, however, Démare’s Sanremo win looks more like a breakthrough than a fluke. At 24, Démare is just coming into his prime, and a big win was a logical next step for a rider with a U23 world title to his name and progressive results since he joined the WorldTour ranks at the age of 19. He followed up his Sanremo with fifth place at Gent-Wevelgem, winning the field sprint. A tough rider without the outright speed of a Gaviria, Cavendish, or Kittel, Démare could ultimately turn in his finest performances in the classics.

He hasn’t been FDJ’s only bright spot this season. At Critérium International, Pinot, still only 25, won the time trial to take the leader’s jersey, then broke away alone on the race’s mountainous final stage to seal the overall victory.

France’s other 25-year-old GC hopeful, Ag2r-La Mondiale’s Romain Bardet, finished second to Vincenzo Nibali at the Tour of Oman and showcased his versatility in the process. He was third amongst the rouleurs and classics specialists on the third stage, then finished second to Nibali on the queen stage to consolidate his podium spot.

So it goes for the French, seemingly stuck in the loveable loser role, results be damned.

While Pinot and Bardet can hope for high GC placings in the Critérium du Dauphiné and Tour, France’s best hopes for outright wins could come in the sprints. Cofidis’s Nacer Bouhanni, another 25-year-old, opened his 2016 account with a stage win at the Vuelta a Andalucía before his pugilistic sprinting put him in the headlines at Paris-Nice. He crossed the line first in the stage 1 sprint but was relegated to third for nearly putting prologue winner Michael Matthews into the barriers. (The stage win passed to Démare.)

Two days later, Bouhanni bounced back with a convincing — and clean — win in stage 3 to Romans-sur-Isère, beating Edward Theuns, André Greipel, Alexander Kristoff, and Matthews in the process. He followed up with two wins at Catalunya before finishing a strong fourth behind Démare at Sanremo, where a chain skip ended his shot at the win.

Beyond the crop of 25-year-olds now in the spotlight, more talent is flowing through the pipeline. Direct Energie’s Bryan Coquard, 23, barely missed at the semi-classic Dwars door Vlaanderen when he began to celebrate too early. Ag2r’s Alexis Gougeard, also 23, finished a promising fifth at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad before illness sank the rest of his classics campaign.

Is French cycling poised to return to its heights of the early 1980s? No. There is not yet a French Boonen or Cancellara in the wings, ready to dominate the classics. And in the era of Froome and Quintana, it is hard to envision an end to the French Tour-win drought quite yet. But the beginnings of a revival are there. The new class is winning, not just on the French circuit but on the international stage against top competition. Results beget results. And sooner or later, if those results continue to mount, they will have to be accepted for what they are: credible wins by young riders from one of the sport’s most storied nations.

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Degenkolb, Barguil, Dumoulin headline Giant Tour squad Thu, 23 Jun 2016 20:40:21 +0000 Barguil will lead Giant – Alpecin's GC campaign at the Tour de France, with Degenkolb, Dumoulin, and Geschke aiming for stage wins

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Giant – Alpecin announced a nine-man Tour de France roster Thrusday that should allow the German squad to contend on a variety of stages in July, with a potential general classification contender making the start as well.

Now several months removed from the training crash that derailed his early-season ambitions, John Degenkolb will lead the team in the sprints. The speedy classics star has never won a stage in the race, but counts five career runner-up stage placings across his three previous Tour de France appearances.

Simon Geschke, who nabbed an emotional stage win at the 2015 Tour, is another option in the battle for stages, particularly on the days that prove a bit too hilly for Degenkolb.

24-year-old Frenchman Warren Barguil will lead the team’s GC campaign. He made his Tour debut last year, finishing 14th overall in Paris, and will make the start fresh off a podium performance at the Tour de Suisse.

According to a team release, Barguil won’t need to worry about any GC leadership questions despite the presence of Tom Dumoulin — the versatile Dutchman is headed to France with stage wins on his mind. Preparation for the upcoming Rio Olympics is his main objective in racing the Tour next month.

Giant – Alpecin for the Tour de France

Warren Barguil (FRA)
Roy Curvers (NED)
John Degenkolb (GER)
Tom Dumoulin (NED)
Simon Geschke (GER)
Georg Preidler (AUT)
Laurens ten Dam (NED)
Ramon Sinkeldam (NED)
Albert Timmer (NED)

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ASO and UCI come to terms, averting 2017 crisis Thu, 23 Jun 2016 19:59:12 +0000 A wide-ranging agreement will keep the Tour de France and other top races on the WorldTour for 2017

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Cycling’s international governing body, the UCI, and its most powerful race organizer, the ASO, came to an agreement Wednesday that will avoid what could have been a very messy separation in 2017.

At a meeting of the Professional Cycling Council in Geneva, Switzerland, the sport’s major stakeholders hashed out a plan for reforms agreed to by both the ASO and the UCI, as well as approving a WorldTour calendar for the coming season.

The ASO had threatened to pull races from its coveted portfolio — among them, the Tour de France — off the WorldTour, but according to a UCI press release, all existing WorldTour events will remain on the top-tier calendar for 2017. That includes ASO properties.

The WorldTour will also see an influx of new events next year, with an announcement on the full calendar to come shortly.

“This marks another important step in the reform of men’s professional cycling, and I am very pleased that we now have our stakeholders behind what represents the future of our sport,” said UCI president Brian Cookson in the announcement.

“I am delighted that we can build on the heritage and prestige of the UCI WorldTour, while also welcoming newer but already successful events taking place in and outside Europe. We are committed to continuing the consultation with all stakeholders on various details of the reform.”

Wednesday’s agreement also contains new provisions for a slightly altered approach to team designations. “WorldTeams,” the squads currently competing at the highest level, will receive two-year licenses for 2017 and 2018, with a plan to ultimately reduce the current total of 17 teams to a permanent 16-team baseline. A new “annual challenge system” will create the framework for relegation and promotion within the top tier.

“From the end of the 2018 season onwards, there will be an annual challenge system, based on an overall annual sporting classification, between the last ranked UCI WorldTeam and the top Pro Continental Team to enter as a UCI WorldTeam in the following season,” the UCI said in its statement. “In the event that a UCI WorldTeam drops out of the top tier, that team will have the right to participate in all the following season’s UCI WorldTour events, meaning that UCI WorldTeams will have stability for the three seasons 2017 to 2019.”

For 2017, all existing WorldTour events will require the participation of all WorldTeams, while the Professional Cycling Council plans to agree on rules at its next meeting to ensure the participation of a minimum of 10 WorldTeams per new event.

“I am delighted that an agreement could be found that will help the sport of cycling as a whole,” said Christian Prudhomme, director of the Tour de France and president of the AIOCC, the International Association of Race Organizers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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BMC’s Tour squad includes van Garderen, Porte, Bookwalter Wed, 22 Jun 2016 18:21:35 +0000 BMC has built its Tour de France roster around Tejay van Garderen and Richie Porte. The team will bring Brent Bookwatler, Rohan Dennis,

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Team BMC Racing will enter the Tour de France with a squad of climbers, stage hunters, and flat-stage specialists who will ride in support of team leaders Tejay van Garderen and Richie Porte.

On Wednesday the team unveiled its nine-man Tour squad, which is comprised of Marcus Burghardt, Damiano Caruso, Rohan Dennis, Amael Moinard, Michael Schar, Greg Van Avermaet, Brent Bookwalter and co-team leaders van Garderen and Porte.

“We have a diverse group of riders, from seven different nationalities, all of whom will play their role,” said Sports Director Yvon Ledanois in a release.

Ledanois said Van Avermaet and Dennis will go for stage wins, while Burghardt and Schar will protect the team leaders on the flat stages, Ledanois said. Bookwalter, Caruso, and Moinard will help BMC in the mountains.

Porte will act as the team’s road captain, said team general manager Jim Ochowicz. The team’s riders, however, will give equal support to both Porte and van Garderen.

“Richie and Tejay will both receive equal support from the staff and riders within the team structure during the race itself,” Ochowicz said.



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Talansky will skip Tour due to poor spring and “personal issue” Wed, 22 Jun 2016 18:12:07 +0000 Cannondale rider Andrew Talansky will skip the Tour de France, citing a bad Spring that saw him battle illness and personal issues.

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American Andrew Talansky will not ride in the upcoming Tour de France, his Cannondale team said in a release. Instead, Talansky will focus on the Vuelta a España.

Talansky, 27, recently finished fifth at the Tour de Suisse after riding as high as second in the general classification. In the release, Talansky cited bad health during the spring, as well as an unnamed “family crisis” for his decision to skip the Tour.

“It was not always the plan to skip the Tour,” Talansky said. “I had a very personal issue — you could call it a family crisis — in February, shortly after arriving to Europe. It was a very traumatic and difficult few weeks, and it basically meant that for three weeks the bike was the last thing I was thinking about. Family always comes first.”

Talansky suffered through a forgettable spring, which saw him crash at Paris-Nice and then fall ill. Over the next few weeks, Cannondale’s medical staff performed a sinus scan, which showed blockage and chronic inflammation, he said. He also went on an antibiotic cycle in April, which left him unable to race or train at his highest level. During that time, Talansky said, he decided to target the Vuelta a España instead of the Tour de France.

Talansky rebounded from the bad spring at the Amgen Tour of California, where he finished fourth overall. He followed up that performance with a strong ride at the Tour de Suisse. Despite the result, Talansky said, he decided to maintain his focus on the Vuelta.

“While I was able to race well in Suisse, I was still not at my best – I was lacking the foundation that a solid spring of racing and training provide,” Talansky said.

Team owner Jonathan Vaughters said Talansky is still not at his best, and said the rider has hit “a bump” in his career. The team, however, has re-signed Talansky. Details of the contract were not available.

“Rather than rush him into the Tour based on the Suisse result, it’s best to allow him to target the Vuelta and ride for the podium there now that his sinus issues have cleared up,” Vaughters said. “The Vuelta always gets a few extra contenders from the Tour de France fallout, but we know Andrew can do well in Spain.”

Cannondale has not announced its Tour de France roster, but Talansky’s absence will likely shift the team’s general classification hopes onto Frenchman Pierre Rolland. Rolland also struggled to grab results in the spring, but appears to be coming into form for the Tour de France. He finished 15th at the Tour of Romandie in May and recently finished 10th at the Criterium du Dauphine.



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Tour rookie Groenewegen to sprint for LottoNL in France Wed, 22 Jun 2016 13:56:06 +0000 Dylan Groenewegen takes Robert Gesink's place on the squad after Gesink's recent crash at the Tour de Suisse.

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PARIS (AFP) — Dutch cycling team LottoNL – Jumbo is betting on sprinter Dylan Groenewegen at the 2016 Tour de France after Robert Gesink was involved in a heavy fall last week.

Senior rider Gesink has failed to get over his crash at the Tour de Suisse, Lotto NL said Wednesday. Groenewegen, a 23-year-old Dutchman, was named to the team in his place.

“This will be good for his development, although we hadn’t been considering giving him his Tour debut just yet,” said team manager Nico Verhoeven.

“We’d like to win a stage on this Tour however,” said Verhoeven, who hinted his strongest chance of that might be climber Wilco Kelderman.

Lotto NL – Jumbo for the Tour de France

George Bennett (NZL)
Dylan Groenewegen (NED)
Wilco Kelderman (NED)
Bert-Jan Lindeman (NED)
Paul Martens (GER)
Timo Roosen (NED)
Sep Vanmarcke (BEL)
Robert Wagner (GER)
Maarten Wynants (BEL)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sky announces strong Tour team to support Froome Wed, 22 Jun 2016 13:12:21 +0000 The 31-year-old Chris Froome is seeking to win his third Tour de France title in four years.

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LONDON (AFP) — Defending champion Chris Froome will make his challenge for a third Tour de France title in four years with the support of a strong, climb-minded Team Sky lineup.

Froome will be joined on the starting line at Mont St.-Michel on July 2 by British riders Luke Rowe, Geraint Thomas, and Ian Stannard, Sky confirmed on Wednesday.

The 31-year-old Froome won the Tour last year and in 2013, while British-based Sky also triumphed in 2012 when Bradley Wiggins took the title.

With Astana and Movistar providing tough competition, Froome will enjoy top-class support on the crucial mountain stages.

With the proven climb ability of Spanish duo Mikel Landa and Mikel Nieve, Colombia’s Sergio Henao and Dutchman Wout Poels, Froome is unlikely to find himself isolated in either the Pyrenees or the Alps.

Belarusian time trial specialist Vasil Kiriyenka has been picked for his all-round ability and to lead the drive along the flat sections.

Froome will go into the Tour in fine form after winning his third Critérium du Dauphiné and he can’t wait to get started.

“The Tour de France will always be the pinnacle of our sport,” Froome said.

“I feel in good shape coming into the race and am fortunate to have a strong team around me — both on and off the bike.

“Every rider obviously starts every new Tour equal and what has gone before counts for nothing. This year I am hungrier than ever for success.

“There is not a trace of complacency in the team. We know how hard this race will be and how much we will have to give if we want to win it again. But we have trained hard.

“We’re ready for the challenge and can’t wait to get back racing in front of the millions of people in France who make the race so special.”

Team principal Dave Brailsford believes Froome can win again. He told Sky Sports News: “Froome has been here before and he knows how to deal with this experience.

“He’s confident, ready to go and is very hungry and wants to win.

“I’m absolutely confident this team will pull together and give everything to win this race. They will be completely together as a unit and there will be no squabbles.

“Their feedback will be fantastic and they will be very blunt with each other. In terms of support for Chris, they will optimize his chances of winning.”

Sky for the Tour de France

Chris Froome (GBR)
Sergio Henao (COL)
Vasil Kiryienka (BLR)
Mikel Landa (ESP)
Mikel Nieve (ESP)
Wout Poels (NED)
Luke Rowe (GBR)
Ian Stannard (GBR)
Geraint Thomas (GBR)

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Zakarin to make Tour debut this July Tue, 21 Jun 2016 21:13:55 +0000 Ilnur Zakarin, Joaquím Rodríguez, and Alexander Kristoff headline Katusha's 2016 Tour de France squad

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PARIS (AFP) — Russia’s Ilnur Zakarin is set to make his Tour de France debut next month, his Katusha team said on Tuesday.

Zakarin, who served a doping suspension from 2009 to 2011 after testing positive for a banned steroid, made a stunning breakthrough last year by winning the prestigious Tour de Romandie, beating Sky’s Chris Froome amongst a stellar field. He went on to win a stage at that year’s Giro.

The 26-year-old was sitting fifth overall in the 2016 Giro when he crashed out of the race with a broken shoulder in stage 19 last month. He has not raced since.

Zakarin will have former Tour podium finisher Joaquím Rodríguez for company on the climbing stages this July. The Spaniard won stage 12 at last year’s Tour, though his best result this season has been a fifth-place finish at the Vuelta al País Vasco (a race he won in 2015).

Alexander Kristoff will lead the Russian squad in the sprints. The Norwegian nabbed two sprint stages in 2014.

Katusha for the Tour de France

Jacopo Guarnieri (ITA)
Marco Haller (AUT)
Alexander Kristoff (NOR)
Alberto Losada (ESP)
Michael Morkov (DEN)
Joaquím Rodríguez (ESP)
Jurgen Van den Broeck (BEL)
Angel Vicioso (ESP)
Ilnur Zakarin (RUS)

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Rio selection looms large for women’s peloton Tue, 21 Jun 2016 20:50:08 +0000 American women await this week’s announcement of the Olympic road team after months — or even years — of preparation for Rio

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This week, USA Cycling will make its road squad selections for the Rio Olympics. For America’s female pro cyclists, it will be an announcement awaited with bated breath, one for which many riders have been preparing for years.

Prestige, personal goals, and even paychecks are riding on USA Cycling’s decision, because for women’s cycling, the Olympics is the top.

“I think for women’s cycling specifically, it’s the pinnacle for us,” said Cervélo – Bigla’s Carmen Small.

USA Cycling will name four riders to the team, two of which will compete in both the time trial and the road race. The long list consists of Small, Evelyn Stevens (Boels – Dolmans), Coryn Rivera (UnitedHealthcare), Kristin Armstrong (Twenty16), Mara Abbott (Wiggle – High5), Amber Neben (BePink), Shelley Olds (Cylance Pro Cycling), Lauren Stephens (TIBCO – SVB), and Tayler Wiles (Orica – AIS). The only automatic team qualifier is Megan Guarnier (Boels – Dolmans), who earned her spot by finishing third at the 2015 UCI world championships in Richmond.

The importance of the Olympics to female cyclists is tied to the sport’s structure. There is no women’s Tour de France, and the high-profile stage races exist on shaky financial ground. Female racers are accustomed to participating in a sport where one-day events, such as the Tour of Flanders and La Flèche-Wallonne carry outsized importance. The struggle for sponsorship dollars and the constant reshuffling of the racing calendar means the Olympics are a rare constant in women’s cycling. They are also an opportunity to reach a wider audience of fans.

“I think the women definitely look to the world championships and the Olympics as big, big, big goals. More so than the men,” Guarnier said. “Because the men have the bigger grand tours that I think end up overshadowing those single-day races. For the women I do think it’s a bigger deal.”

It’s a sentiment echoed by Small, who also emphasized that the once-every-four-years aspect only further serves to set the Olympics apart.

But it’s about more than childhood dreams coming true. Small said an Olympics berth could impact her future occupational ambitions. The 36-year-old hopes to develop young riders and mentor other professionals in an effort to give back to the community that has given her so much. Even if she never races again as a pro, an Olympic selection can further that aspiration.

“Sponsors like being associated with Olympians,” Small said. “It can only benefit anyone that I’d be involved with after my career would be over.”

Small is among a handful of riders who are “on the bubble” for making the four-rider team, and she has personal pressure riding on the selection. Small considered retiring two years ago, but decided to stay on in an effort to make it to Rio.

“Two years ago I decided to go for it,” she said. “So it’s been a long process, trying to get here where I’m at right now.”

She says she’s confident that she’s put her best foot forward with the selection looming. A win at TT nationals is a strong selling point. Beyond that, it’s all about showing she can be a contributing teammate on what she describes as the most challenging course in Olympic history.

The other riders on the bubble have also spent the last few years proving that they belong on the Olympic team. Rivera believes she’s in “a good position” due to her success as a sprinter and support rider. For a rider who may be one of the world’s fastest in a sprint, there will still be plenty of opportunity to put a big engine to work in Rio.

“I think I’ve proved that I’m the best or second best American to Megan, who is already going,” she said. “I’ve showed my strengths, and I can be a team player like I showed at Richmond last year.”

Abbott, who is one of the world’s best climbers, seemed happy with her performances so far this year as well, and comfortable with the decision being in the hands of the selection committee. The Rio course includes one ascent of the Vista Chinesa climb, which is 8.5km long with an average gradient of 5.7 percent.

“I’ve proven exactly what my skills are, everyone knows what my talents are, and if that’s the talents they need on the Olympic team, then I’ll get the call,” Abbott said.

The presence of the Vista Chinesa climb, as well as the punchy climb up Grota Funda, will definitely create a challenge for the USA Cycling coaches assigned with choosing a team. A hopeful winner must be able to climb, sprint, and survive attacks from other strong squads, namely the Dutch and the British teams. And the team must also choose riders who are willing to sacrifice themselves for whichever rider proves to be strongest.

At the moment, that rider is Guarnier, who currently leads the UCI WorldTour, having won both the Amgen Tour of California and the Philadelphia International Cycling Classic. Guarnier, 31, said she’d love to win in Rio.

“Winning a gold at the Olympics is the pinnacle,” she said.

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Etixx Tour squad includes stage hunters for all terrains Tue, 21 Jun 2016 20:18:09 +0000 Marcel Kittel, Tony Martin, Dan Martin, and Julian Alaphilippe give Etixx – Quick-Step plenty of options in the battle to win stages at

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PARIS (AFP) — German sprint king Marcel Kittel returns to the Tour de France next month with his new Etixx – Quick-Step team.

Kittel won four stages in each of the 2013 and 2014 editions but injury and illness ruled him out of last year’s race. He has since moved to Etixx from Giant, replacing the man another top sprinter in the process, Mark Cavendish (now with Dimension Data).

Etixx picked a Tour de France team with a view toward winning stages, and the result is a squad with the potential to contend on range of profiles. Beyond marquee sprinter Kittel, the team will field punchy climbers Dan Martin and Julian Alaphilippe, who can both deliver results on hilly or mountainous days.

Three-time world time trial champion Tony Martin will also make the start at Mont-Saint-Michel on July 2. The German is a five-time Tour de France stage winner, and two of those came on road stages — the TT specialist used his big engine to nab the mountainous ninth stage of the 2014 Tour and the cobbled fourth stage of the 2015 Tour.

Etixx – Quick-Step for the Tour de France

Julian Alaphilippe (FRA)
Iljo Keisse (BEL)
Marcel Kittel (GER)
Dan Martin (IRL)
Tony Martin (GER)
Maximiliano Richeze (ARG)
Fabio Sabatini (ITA)
Petr Vakoc (CZE)
Michel Vermote (BEL)

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

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Just call them the super-duper domestiques.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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