Friday 23 March 2012

Cyclopunk's News Digest 23-24.03.12

 Today's News: Julian Simon wins Volta a Catalunya Stage 5 (video!) - Boonen wins E3 (video!) - Kevin van Impe announces retirement - Tiernan-Locke out of Coppi e Bartali, Ulissi takes Stage - Provisional Critérium International start list released

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Volta a Catalunya Stage 5

The Volta a Catalunya never really leaves the mountains, but no stage this year can replace what would have been a spectacular Stage 3 - spectacular, that is, had it not have been cut short by heavy snow. Stage 5 came closest, meanwhile; with 207.1km, a 930m Category 2 and a 650m Cat 1 it could be considered a substitute Queen.

The start line was in Ascó on the Ebre river, a village made famous by two things - the excellent local fishing and a nuclear power station; the latter being the site of a radiation leak in November 2007 (which wasn't reported to the Spanish Nuclear Safety Council until April the following year), then after a very short downhill section in the first few kilometres, the terrain swung upward and then upward some more, reaching the 552m summit of La Granadella after 40km. Another short descent followed, then the riders headed into the sky again for that Cat 2, Villanova da Prade. A much longer descent encouraged high speeds down to Montblanc, at 390m considerably shorter than its namesake and in fact the lowest point for the next 50km or so, then they were heading upwards once more on the uncategorised 725m Sant Coloma de Queralt before more downhilling into a 45km section between Igualada and Monistrol de Montserrat with just a few small (but reasonably steep) climbs.

Cat 1 Alt de Montserrat was next and the point where the final outcome began to take shape. Cyclopunk's choices today were Michael Albasini (GreenEDGE), Denis Menchov (Katusha) and Rigoberto Uran (Sky). It was the 25-year-old Colombian from Sky who came closest to expectations, looking very much as though he was going to take a second consecutive win until Julien Simon (Saur-Sojasun) got the better of him in the final sprint and took the glory.

GreenEDGE continued as they did yesterday, rallying together around Albasini who, due to the decision not to count Stage 3's results towards the General Classification, unexpectedly remains race leader. With two stages left to race, it makes sense - with just one Cat 2 and six Cat 3s remaining, the Swiss rider's luck looks increasingly as though it might last. (Full results when available)

E3 Prijs

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If mountains aren't your thing (there are, apparently, a few cyclists out there who don't like 'em), then some down 'n' dirty cobbled Flanders action is probably what you're after - in which case, the legendary E3 Prijs Vlaanderen - Harelbeke on Friday was almost certainly right up wour cobbled street.

The UCI 1.HC-rated race that started in 1958 is for many fans a Monument in all but name, the latter half of its 203km studded with plenty of the near-vertical grinds that characterise Flanders races. The 2012 edition appears little changed from 2011; which is a good thing, because it means the riders faced some of the  some of the most dreaded hills in the region: De Muur with a maximum gradient of 19.8%; La Houppe, which at its steepest is "only" 10% but extends for 3.44km; Berg Stene, max. 17%; Boigneberg, max. 15%; Eikenberg, max. 11% but cobbled for 1.2km; Taaienberg, max. 18% and cobbled for 1.25km; Paterberg, the toughest of them all at max. 20% with cobbles for almost 0.4km; then Knokteberg and Tiegemberg, max. 13.3% and 9% in the final 25km. There are various cobbled sections thrown in for good measure too, such as Holleweg and the (in)famous Paddestraat. (Course guide)

Tom Boonen scores a record 5th E3 win
(image credit: DarkSideX CC BY-SA 2.0)
Cyclopunk was predicting a win for RadioShack-Nissan's Cancellara and the Swiss rider would certainly have liked one after coming so close at Milan-San Remo the day before his birthday last week, but it was not to be. His day got off to a bad start with a crash soon after the race began - fortunately he was unhurt and lost little time; but in the next few kilometres he was seen on at least two occasions to dab a foot on the road in order to stay upright, evidence perhaps that he might have been a little off-colour. In the Flanders Classics, the parcours has as much of a say in deciding the winner as riders' strength and skill and does - when the 31-year-old got a puncture not much further up the road it began to look as though today wasn't going to be his day. A second crash and two more punctures confirmed it and he had to settle for 22nd place.

Bad luck also befell Garmin-Barracuda's David Millar - a rider who has known more than his fair share of bad luck over the years. The 35-year-old crashed and broke the same collarbone he broke in the 2009 Paris-Nice. Second breaks often being more complicated, he may now need to undergo invasive surgery to repair it. Carlos Barredo (Rabobank) was also hurt. The 30-year-old collided with Cancellara who was changing a wheel on Oude Kwaaremont. As tends to be the way in a collision with Spartacus, who is 1.86m of solid bone and muscle, Barredo came off second best - he landed heavily on his arm and was confirmed to have broken it by his team some time after the race.

Things went much better for Tom Boonen of Omega Pharma-QuickStep, a team that is enjoying a phenomenal start to the season. Having spent the race concentrating on getting through with a good time, he waited as team mate Sylvain Chavanel recruited Astana's Dmitriy Muravyev into a two-man escape as the race entered the final 7km - a clever move which sent Sky and Vacansoleil into a flurried, successful attack to catch them and bring them back to the pack. One or two others had a go but got nowhere as the top teams began to ready themselves in the last 3km, then Sky stepped up the tempo going into the sprint. Boonen seemed to have left it too late but then outsprinted sneaky Oscar Freire who had been patiently lurking among the pack with an impressive display power, throwing himself over the line to a record fifth victory. Freire took a deserved second, followed by Sky's Bernhard Eisel in third. (Full results when available)

Kevin van Impe retires from racing

Kevin van Impe - nephew of Lucien, winner of the 1976 Tour de France - has announced his retirement after what his Vacansoleil-DCM team called "years of bad luck" when revealing the news via Twitter.

"Kevin approached us this winter to ask if he'd be able to help the team leaders in their Spring Classics campaign," says manager Daan Luijkx. "It's unfortunate that he won't be doing that, but his happiness is more importnat. I think he is wise to take this decision and I wish him all the best with his family."

"I feel relieved to have made the decision," the 31-year-old says. "I'm very pleased with the support the team have given me in recent months and happy that they respect my choice." 

Van Impe was at the centre of a controversy in 2008 when anti-doping officials demanded he provided a sample after approaching him at a crematorium where he was making funeral arrangements for his son, then threatened to sanction him if he refused. Shocked at the insensitivity, riders mounted protests at Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico that year and no charges were brought.

Other News

Britain's best hope at the Settimana Coppi e Bartali, 27-year-old Jonathan Tiernan-Locke, has been forced to abandon the race after contracting a stomach complaint. Currently leading the UCI Europe Tour, the Endura Racing rider will not concentrate on making a full recovery as soon as possible to preserve his advantage. Diego Ulissi (Lampre-ISD) won a second consecutive stage victory in Friday's Stage 5 after beating Danilo di Luca (Acqua&Sapone) over the line, while NetApp's Bartosz Huzarski took a sufficiently good time in third place to go to tomorrow's final stage time trial as race leader, 10" ahead of di Luca. Neither man is especially well-known for their TTs, so at this moment the outcome is impossible to predict.

Critérium International organisers have released a provisional start list. The famous event is due to take place over three stages and 275km this weekend.


Koen de Kort ‏ @koendekort
Having no skin left on your entire right side of the body looks like this (all bandaged up) 

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