Saturday 24 March 2012

Cyclopunk's Weekend News Digest 24-25.03.12

The Weekend's News: Gent-Wevelgem - Trofeo Binda - Volta a Catalunya Stages 6&7 - Criterium Internationale - Posthuma pukes*, Hinault breaks a wrist, Pettachi still ill, WADA praises Pro Cycling, 12 Brits finish in Normandy - This Weekend's Races
(* sorry, couldn't resist)


Tom Boonen
(image credit: DarkSideX CC BY-SA 2.0)
The weekend's most important race by far wass Gent-Wevelgem, a true Flanders Classic over 235.4km of fast flat countryside followed by positively malevolent hills. Though not officially a part of Vlaamse Wielerweek, having been shifted into its current time slot only two years ago, the tricky combination of steep climbs in the latter half of the highly selective parcours - which tends to discourage bunch sprints, despite the flat final section - has made it one of the highlights of the ten-day "week" that for many fans is the highlight of the European cycling season.

Kemmelberg was left covered in human corpses after savage fighting during the First World War. Cyclists experience nothing like the suffering of the young men who gave their lives to free Belgium almost a century ago, but with a gradient than hits 23% in one point it's a climb they dread. With that in mind, the organisers usually see to it that it's climbed twice - as is the case this year when it comes round at 179km and then rears its cobbled back once more 17km later to form the 7th and 10th climbs. Casselberg also appears twice as Climbs 1 (138km) and 2 (144km) with a different route up on each occasion. The steepest part is 10%, made more difficult by cobbles but made worth it by the castle on top. Baneberg, the race's second steepest with 20% in one part, is also climbed twice; it's the 6th climb at 168m and the 9th at 191km.

The other climbs are Catsberg, climb 3 at 161.6km; Le Vert Mont, climb 4 at 168km; Vidaigneberg, climb 5 at 173m; Baneberg, climb 6 at 174km; Schomminkelstraat, climb 8 at 187km and finally Monteberg, the 11th at 203km when there is just over 22km left to the finish line. If the sprint specialists make it in one piece over that lot, the rest of the race is all theirs. (Parcours details)

Lizzie Armitstead
(image credit: AA
Gent-Wevelgem's greatness was doubled this year due to the fact that it had a women's race too. Using a route broadly similar to the second half of the men's race, it covered 116km with the first 69 or so on the flat before heading up Vidaigneberg, then Baneberg at 70km, Kemmelberg at 78km and Monteberg at 82km. The remainder had a few small, unchallenging climbs before settling into the final flat 10km section, making a bunch sprint a more likely scenario.

If you're one of those people who thinks that women's cycling isn't as competitive as the men's, watch this video footage and see's 23-year-old British star Lizzie Armitstead sprinting over the finish line to victory, beating Iris Slappendel (Rabobank). (Full Women's results when available)

The leaders settled into a nice rhythm once the last of the hills were out of the way, various riders taking their turn up front as they concentrated on getting themselves to the bunch sprint that was by now inevitable. Meanwhile, at the back the race had enetered a state of flux, splitting into two groups with 35km to go and sending Sky into a bit of a panic when they realised Mark Cavendish was in the wrong one. Their efforts to put things right never came to fruition, and with 14km to go the gulf has windered to 49".

Though he must have realised that doing so would spell depleted batteries if he succeeded, Cav decided he was going to have to take matters into his own hands and made a brave attempt to bridge the gap himself - and chapeau to him for trying. It was too late, though; his chances of ever winning this race lying on the roadside some kilometres back the way they came.

The race ended in a rather tatty sprint with riders veering this way and that, leading to what looked like a very painful crash for Greg van Avermaet (BMC) and José Joaquín Rojas (Movistar), both of whom hit the road hard. Far more pleasant to watch was a duel between Oscar Freire (Katusha) and Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky) - the two men seemed to be in a race of their own, fighting one another 4th (Freire) and 5th. In front of them, Omega Pharma-QuickStep's Tom Boonen was the only one riding smoothly, putting down all his power and earning his record-matching third victory in Gent-Wevelgem as he out-sprinted Peter Sagan (Liquigas), leaving Matti Brescel (Rabobank) to take 3rd. (Full results when available)

Trofeo Binda's British star Emma Pooley, one of the most successful riders of her generation, was an immediate favourite for this race; but she will have been under no illusions that beating Rabobank's Marianne Vos, who is well on her way to becoming one of the most successful cyclists in the history of the sport, takes superhuman effort.

Marianne Vos - a true superstar
There are those who fear that Vos is not good for women's cycling, that her domination and victory after victory after victory will somehow reduce competition as other riders become disillusioned with fighting among themselves for second and third places. In fact, the opposite is true. Vos' incredible winning streak is due to her first-rate athleticism, and other teams are having to step up their efforts in response - which can only be good for cycling. We saw plenty of evidence to support this today with numerous riders working hard to remain in contention - by all accounts, it was a superb and thrilling race - and when she crossed the line alone, the 24-year-old superstar deserved the glory every bit as much as she deserved it in each of her other triumphs.

GreenEDGE's Loes Gunnewijk may have finished 17th, but she'd put stupendous work into a break which led for many kilometres and for many will have been the highlight of the race. Tatiana Guderzo (MCipollini-Giambenini-Gauss) also earned her spurs, finishing 34" behind Vos for 2nd place. Trixi Worrack (Specialized-Lululemin) was with her and took third, the two women part of an eight-woman group that included Judith Arndt (GreenEDGE) for 4th, Emma Johansson (Hitec Products-Mistral Home) for 5th and Pooley for 8th. (Full results)

Volta a Catalunya

Michael Albasini
(image credit: Manfred Werner-Tsui CC BY-SA 3.0)
(Live streams)

The world's third-oldest stage race moved onto its penultimate stage on Saturday, then drew to a close on Sunday. Stage 6 covered 169.4km extending between Sant Fruitós de Bages and Badalona Centre Comercial Màgic; the latter being nothing more than a shopping mall every bit as bland as ever other example in the world, despite the tempting name. Strangely, the biggest mountain along the parcours - 965m L'Estany - is uncategorised and as such offered no points, the climbing specialists instead concentrated on 540m Alt di les Vilaredes, 687m Alt de Sant Feliu de Sasserra and 355m Alt de la Conreria, all Category 3s.

Samuel Sanchez
(image credit: Petit Brun CC BY-SA 2.0)
A car crash 72km into the parcours halted the race for a while. No riders were involved and despite severe damage to the car, the driver and passenger fortunately escaped serious injury.

With so many of the favourites gone following the Stage 3 blizzard, many riders with previously little chance of victory have redoubled their efforts and want to grab what they can. With a downhill finish Stage 6 looked set to be a battle among the sprinters, as indeed turned out to be the case. However, a small hill 2km from the line proved decisive when Euskaltel-Euskadi's Samuel Sanchez used it to attack the group before accelerating downhill and keeping a small lead all the way to a 2" victory over GreenEDGE's Allan Davis; a well-deserved win for a very popular team that has seen more than its fair share of bad luck over the last few years and is still experiencing sponsorship issues. It has to be remembered that the men in orange are more than just another commercially-sponsored team - for the Basques, one of the most cycling-obsessed peoples on the planet, they are a symbol of national pride. (Stage 6 results / GC)

In this race, there's none of that time trial or flat stage nonsense and despite being the shortest at 119.8k, Sunday's Stage 7 squeezes in some tough terrain. It has three Cat 3s in the shape of Alt d'Ullastrell (400m), Alt de Castellbisbal (170m) and Alt de Valvidrera (370m), but Cat 2 Alt del Tibidabo - 490m high and very steep - is the most pressing issue before the race rolled up to the finish line in Barcelona. (Map)

Saur-Sojasun's Julien Simon took the stage after proving the best man in a mass sprint. GreenEDGE's Michael Albasini was never really in danger of losing his General Classification lead after starting the stage with a 1'30" advantage: having entered the race as nobody's favourite for overall victory, first place in Stages 1 and 2 followed by the cancellation of Stage 3's results due to heavy snow and a shortened parcours saw his team changing tactics t protect him - and his lead - throughout the rest of the race. (Stage 7 results / Final GC)

Criterium International

Cadel Evans
(image credit: Ludovic Péron CC BY-SA 3.0
The 81st Criterium Internationale kicked off on Saturday with two stages of the 275km, two-day race. Having begun in 1932, the event was for many years considered to be the French National Championship - which meant that only French riders were eligible to race until 1979 when foreigners were invited for the first time. That same year, Joop Zoetemelk became the first non-Frenchman to win and the French gradually lost their dominance; winning eight of the 33 editions since. This year, organisers have elected to change the usual format - Stage 1, an 89.5km road race and Stage 2, a 6.5km time trial, take place on Saturday, then the 179km Queen Stage 3 road race took place on Sunday and ended with a very tough 941m climb in 15km to the finish.

Florian Vachon (Bretagne Schuller) won Stage 1 after getting a 2" lead over Danilo Wyss (BMC). Christophe Riblon (AG2R-La Mondiale) crossed over one second later for third place. Jens Voigt (RadioShack-Nissan), the most successful post-1979 rider with five overall victories, was 9th; last year's overall winner Frank Schleck (RadioShack-Nissan) was 14th and the best Brit was Chris Froome (Sky) in 30th. Luke Rowe (Sky) was 37th. Australian Michael Rogers was the best Sky rider with 19th, team mate Lars Petter Nordhaug was 41st making him the best-placed Norwegian. Auber 93's Guillaume Faucon did not finish.

2011 Tour de France winner Cadel Evans (BMC) didn't surprise many people when he was victorious in the time trial - we've seen time and time again how he uses his great physical power to muscle a bike around any parcours at a speed almost nobody can match. It's probably safe to assume that Andy Schleck was keeping a close eye on proceedings somewhere and equally safe to say that with so many time trial kilometres and so few climbing metres in the Tour this year that the stage made uncomfortable viewing for him.

Pierrick Fédrigo
(image credit: Gsl CC BY-SA 2.5)
A three-man break made up of Nicolas Vogondy (Cofidis), Matteo Montaguti (AG2R-La Mondiale) and George Bennett (RadioShack-Nissan) remained out in front until they reached the mountain, at which point the peloton swept them up before beginning to fall apart as the climb took its toll. Euskaltel-Euskadi, spurred on by Sammy Sanchez's victory in Stage 6, took the driving seat for a good portion of the mountain with Igor Anton - shadowed by Cadel Evans - looked as though he might take the stage for a while; but ultimately it was FDJ-BigMat's Pierrick Fédrigo who won out. Jumping away from the pack accompanied by Rinaldo Nocentini (AG2R-La Mondiale) and Lars Petter Nordhaug (Sky) as the final kilometre came into view, he powered off as the terrain flattened out a little and fractionally beat them across the line. Evans joined them jut a little too late, recording the same time but taking fourth - however, his performance was more than enough for the General Classification which he wins by 8". Chris Froome was best-placed Brit overall with 65th place, while five-time winner Jens Voigt (RadioShack-Nissan) was a surprising 91st. (Full results)

Other News

Joost Posthuma is ill - the 30-year-old RadioShack-Nissan rider posted the following on Twitter:
Joost posthuma ‏ @joostposthuma
That was not good. My sickness starts again. #badluck
Sebastian Hinault (AG2R-La Mondiale) broke his wrist during Friday's E3 Harelbeke race, his team have confirmed. The 38-year-old Breton also damaged his shoulder.

Alessandro Pettachi (Lampre-ISD) will not ride in Gent-Wevelgem as he is still recovering from 'flu.

WADA boss John Fahey says that while sport in general needs to commit to more anti-doping blood tests, professional cycling should be congratulated for setting a good example. The Authority has set a target for 10% of all tests carried out to take the form of blood tests, which at present is the only method to reliably detect some drugs such as human growth hormones, but cycling is the only sport to have come anywhere near achieving this. "Cycling had a very bad record going back ten years or so ago," says Fahey. "They have at least stopped denying the problem; and [have] worked with a program to deal with the problem."

Five British riders - Erick Rowsell (7th), Rob Partridge (11th), Jonathan McEvoy (14th), Simon Yates (26th) and Scott Thwaites (27th) - have finished in the top 30 at the Tour of Normandy. Seven other Brits completed the eight-stage race. (Overall GC results)


Mark Cavendish ‏ @MarkCavendish
So did a recon of the last 100km of #GentWevelgem today & I can say it's mightily more difficult than the past! Should be a great race!

This weekend's races

 18/03 - 25/03 Vuelta Mexico Telmex 2.2
 23/03 - 01/04 Tour du Maroc 2.2
 19/03 - 25/03 Ciclista Volta a Catalunya WT
 22/03 - 25/03 30th Volta ao Alentejo / Credito Agric ... 2.2
 4/03 - 26/03 81st International Criterium 2.HC
 19/03 - 26/03 Tour de Normandie 2.2
 20/03 - 25/03 Settimana Coppi e Bartali 2.1
 24/03 25th Tour of the Great Veenkolonien Nat.
 24/03 49th Tour Flevo Nat.
 24/03 Rijswijk cycling race Nat.
 25/03 74th Ghent - Wevelgem WT
 25/03 Women's Gent-Wevelgem
 25/03 Trofeo Alfredo Binda - Comune Di Cit ... CDM
 25/03 Youth Tour of Dommelen Nat.
 25/03 Tour of the IronMan Nat.
 25/03 Van Esch Tour Nat.

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