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Illness scuttles Cannondale’s classics plans

ZOTTEGEM, Belgium (VN) — Cannondale’s ambitions ahead of the important northern classics season have been swamped by illness. Battered by flu and stomach bugs, none of the team’s eight starters finished Gent-Wevelgem on Sunday. Others are in the sick bay just days ahead of Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders).

“Our whole team is either down with the flu or food poisoning, and it’s really shown over the past week in the racing,” Cannondale’s Jack Bauer told VeloNews ahead of stage 2 at Driedaagse De Panne-Koksijde. “Other teams have similar problems, but it doesn’t seem as bad as we have it.”

The U.S.-registered team isn’t the only team struggling with sickness. Sky’s Ian Stannard and defending Flanders champion Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) both skipped Sunday’s Gent-Wevelgem with hopes of being healthy going into the historic 100th edition of the Flanders monument. Pre-race favorite Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing) did not start E3 Harelbeke on Friday as a precaution, while French classics hope Alexis Gougeard (Ag2r-La Mondiale), also down with the flu, announced Wednesday he won’t race either Flanders or Paris–Roubaix.

“I’ve had a bit of a cold, and I still feel a bit ropey, but it’s not getting any worse, so I’ll just get on with it,” Sky’s Stannard told VeloNews. “That’s why I missed last weekend. I was at that point if I had raced quite hard, I might have gotten very sick, so it was more of a precaution.”

The culprit? Cold, wintry weather at Paris–Nice and Tirreno–Adriatico earlier this month pounded the peloton. Snow and cold forced stage cancellations at both races, and riders suffered through horrific conditions that sent a flu bug ricocheting around the peloton.

“I felt like shit,” Kristoff said Tuesday about his sensations early in stage 1 at De Panne, which he later won. “I had a bit of a cold and fever after Paris-Nice, and I missed some training, so I wanted to race here [De Panne] to get in some racing before Flanders. I hope I am OK, but maybe I will be a little off my top form for Flanders.”

After Sunday’s rough ride at Gent-Wevelgem, Cannondale saw half of its starters abandon in Tuesday’s first stage at De Panne. Among the stricken is Danish veteran Matti Breschel, a key off-season signing for the spring classics. Just a few weeks ago, Breschel was optimistic about the monuments, now he’s hoping to recover in time to be a factor Sunday at Flanders.

“Breschel has been one of the worst guys hit on the team. He just can’t pedal, and he was going to be one of our top guys for the classics,” said Bauer, shaking his head in disbelief. “We are struggling to get one person across the line in the front group. At Gent-Wevelgem, we couldn’t get anyone across the finish line. It’s disappointing, but it’s a bad season for illness.”

On Wednesday, Ryan Mullen abandoned, leaving Cannondale with just three of its eight starters in the mid-week race. Bauer, however, managed to punch into the top-20 on Wednesday, and he, Alan Marangoni, and Alberto Bettiol, 14th on Tuesday, vow to pedal on.

“I finished Tirreno in good shape, but I spent the next 10 days in my bed with the worst flu I ever had in my life,” Bauer continued. “I couldn’t train, or ride the bike, and the next race I did was Wevelgem. That was a bit rough.

“All we can do as get as many hard days as we can before Flanders,” Bauer said. “It’s impossible to go into these big races on the back foot. You cannot hide in Flanders, or any of these races in Belgium. First, with positioning, and with Flanders, of course, with the climbs. There is no surprise winner. The strongest wins, and when you’re sick, you’re not strong.”

All is not lost. Cannondale sport director Eric Van Lancker said Breschel and Sebastian Langeveld are both on the mend, and pointed out that the team’s third classics captain, Dylan van Baarle, has so far avoided the sick bay.

“It’s bad, and we have so many sick riders right now. We’ve also had some crashes,” Van Lancker said. “That’s what happens sometimes. They’re skinny, and it goes quickly around the peloton. Every team is having some problems. The good news for us is that Sebastian is better now, and he will start on Sunday, so we’ll see what kind of job he can do. Matti is also getting better, and Dylan is OK. Let’s hope it keeps that way until Sunday.”

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