Gregor Brown – Competitive Cycling News, Race Results and Bike Reviews Mon, 24 Apr 2017 18:21:42 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Gregor Brown – 32 32 Thomas ticking the boxes ahead of biggest opportunity yet in Giro Fri, 21 Apr 2017 15:31:41 +0000 Geraint Thomas dives into unknown next month at the Giro, but Tour of the Alps win gives him confidence for his first grand tour as leader.

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FLORENCE, Italy (VN) — Welshman Geraint Thomas (Sky) dives into the unknown next month in the Giro d’Italia, his first grand tour as a leader, but is ticking the boxes along the way.

In the Italian race Tour of the Alps stage, Thomas won the stage Wednesday and took the overall lead. Today, he won the overall and confirmed he is on path for the Giro.

“This gives me confidence for my Giro ambitions, but of course it’s still unexplored terrain for me, as I still have to take a GC top-10, and I will be competing against big favorites like [Vincenzo] Nibali and [Nairo] Quintana,” Thomas said.

“For me it’s more about keeping up to my plan and focusing on myself at this point. The Tour of the Alps provides five great days of racing with long climbs, so I think this is the perfect preparation for the Giro d’Italia.”

Thomas raced on the track and won gold medals in the Olympics. He elbowed his way through the classics, winning E3 Harelbeke before switching his focus on stage races full time.

He took the Volta ao Algarve title for a second time and the Paris-Nice overall in 2016. As he says, though, riding for the grand tour overall is “unexplored territory.”

Sky, which has won the Tour de France three times with Chris Froome, gave him a chance to ride as option B last year. He learned from his successes and mistakes.

“I think the main thing with last year was over-training a bit, or under-resting really,” Thomas told VeloNews in an interview this February.

“Sometimes you end up pushing too much and going over. That is a constant thing that you need to keep reminding yourself about.”

Thomas, around 152 pounds, explained that he is also not stressing too much about his diet. Last year, he pushed his diet too much ahead of the Tour.

Sky is pushing hard for a Giro spiral trophy, though. The British super team has consistently dominated the Tour de France, but has failed to do so in the Italian grand tour.

The best result it counts so far is second place with Colombian Rigoberto Urán in 2013. It put its weight behind Bradley Wiggins, Richie Porte and Mikel Landa, but they abandoned sick or sore from crashes.

Spaniard Landa joined Sky after he placed third overall and won two summit finish stages in 2015 for team Astana. Sky thought it had its Giro winner, but Landa quit midway through the 2016 edition with stomach problems.

Now, it is sending Thomas as well as Landa in a two-pronged approach to secure its first Giro title.

“I think both Landa and I have chances for the Giro d’Italia: we will go into the third week and see who is better placed in the GC,” Thomas said yesterday at the Tour of the Alps.

“I think having two cards to play can help to take some pressure off both of us. We have a strong team, hopefully we will get more luck than the last couple of years in the Giro.”

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Why are teams winning — or not so much? Tue, 18 Apr 2017 17:37:48 +0000 All 18 WorldTour teams now count at least one victory in their books for 2017. But why are the top teams winning, or not, so much?

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FLORENCE, Italy (VN) — Team Astana, four months into the 2017 season, claimed its race win Monday. All 18 WorldTour teams now count at least one victory in their books. But why are the top teams winning, or not, so much?

For some like Astana, their stars have been waiting until the grand tours or injured, or both. Others star cyclists have been firing in their preferred classics. Many reasons go into one’s successful or dismal spring.

Teams’ riders are injured

Astana’s Italian star Fabio Aru traditionally takes time to reach top speed. His wins come in the three-week grand tours, so the team was banking on him for the upcoming Giro d’Italia. After hurting his knee in training, he called off his plans to race the Giro which celebrates its 100th edition with a start on his home island of Sardinia.

Michele Scarponi, 37 years old, gave Astana its first win in the Tour of the Alps (formerly Trentino) yesterday. “Up until now we’ve won little, nothing in fact,” Scarponi said. “Sometimes that’s how it goes, without reason, and this increases the chances of you losing morale.”

Cannondale-Drapac, also with only one win, took a blow losing Taylor Phinney and Sep Vanmarcke to crashes in the classics. Trek-Segafredo, at three wins, has been without its sprinter Giacomo Nizzolo since last year due to knee tendonitis.

Transfer loses/gains

Astana lost its big hitter Vincenzo Nibali over the winter when he went to start team Bahrain-Merida. When the Giro d’Italia begins, Astana will fill the pinch without Nibali and Aru, and Bahrain stands to gain.

Bora-Hansgrohe, however, invested massively in Peter Sagan and reaped the rewards. Sagan won three of the team’s four wins so far this season. The German team also brought in Leopold König, but instead of racing the Giro, he will sit on the bench with knee problems.

Riders improving, others waning

Some cyclists are improving while others are suffering for various reasons. Thanks to Italian Sonny Colbrelli, Bahrain-Merida counts three victories. Colbrelli successfully graduated to a WorldTour team this year, winning the icy cold Paris-Nice stage and the one-day Brabantse Pijl last week.

Norwegian Alexander Kristoff counts five wins early into 2017, but lacks the spark he showed in other years. In 2015, he had 11 by this point. It affects the bottom line in Russian team Katusha-Alpecin, which still counts only six wins.

Thanks to the sprinters

Sprinters bring home the most prizes traditionally, so one good one can make the difference in a team’s success. Quick Step leads the list with 24, which is largely thanks to the 13 wins from sprinters Marcel Kittel, Fernando Gaviria and Maximiliano Richeze. Caleb Ewan and Magnus Cort Nielsen brought in seven of Orica-Scott’s wins.

Some times you’re hot, sometimes not

Movistar can thank a red-hot 36-year-old Alejandro Valverde, who has fought his way to nine victories this spring. That haul includes the overall in WorldTour races Volta a Catalunya and País Vasco. Nairo Quintana‘s four wins helped bring the team’s tally up to 18.

In comparison to last spring, Dimension Data is not so hot. The team counts five, where they were winning around the world last year, nine times by this point, with Mark Cavendish, Edvald Boasson Hagan and Steve Cummings.

‘Tis the season

Fortunes change as do the races throughout the season. The classics men now enjoy success. Philippe Gilbert won four recent races to give Quick-Step Floors its 24 and Greg Van Avermaet four of BMC Racing’s 19. Next, the grand tour cyclists will have their turn in the Ardennes and Giro.

Expect Astana to keep improving. Last year, they placed fourth in the win tally for the 18 WorldTour teams. Cavendish should recover from mononucleosis by the Tour de France and help pull Dimension Data up.

2017 WorldTour teams win tally as of April 18

1. Quick-Step Floors 24
2. Movistar Team 18
3. BMC Racing Team 18
4. ORICA-Scott 16
6. Team Sky 8
7. FDJ 8
11. Lotto Soudal 7
12. Team Katusha-Alpecin 6
13. UAE Team Emirates 6
16. Dimension Data 5
17. LottoNL-Jumbo 5
22. Bora-Hansgrohe 4
28. Trek-Segafredo 3
29. Team Sunweb 3
32. Bahrain Merida 3
37. AG2R La Mondiale 2
58. Cannondale-Drapac 1
70. Astana Pro Team 1

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Stock points skyward for Italian Gianni Moscon Mon, 17 Apr 2017 13:19:40 +0000 Gianni Moscon, 22, finished fifth in Paris-Roubaix, and his Sky squad is bullish on his future.

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FLORENCE, Italy (VN) — Philippe Gilbert and Greg Van Avermaet take all the attention these days in the classics, but some of it should fall on the 22-year-old from the apple farms of northern Italy, Gianni Moscon.

The Sky rider surged to the leading trio in Paris-Roubaix last Sunday and placed fifth. The result is even more impressive, considering he was one of the race’s youngest competitors. You have to go down to 50th position to find a younger rider, Cannondale’s Ryan Mullen (22).

“I saw him last year on the first recon on the cobbles, [and] I said, ‘This guy has talent,'” Sky sport director and former Paris-Roubaix winner Servais Knaven told VeloNews. “How he handles the bike. He has a big engine.”

Italians love their nicknames, and so they call Moscon “Il Trattore,” which translates to “The Tractor.” He grew up in the Apple farms north of Trento in Trentino that produced Francesco Moser and Gilberto Simoni.

Bike manufacturer Fausto Pinarello saw Moscon winning amateur races and spoke to Sky sport director Dario Cioni. The Tuscan took note and the team signed Moscon for 2016.

In his Paris-Roubaix debut last year, Moscon rode deep into the final before a crash ended his chances. It wasn’t until the final 20 kilometers of this year’s race, on the famous Carrefour cobble sector, that he started to fade.

“It’s a pity that he missed a little bit on the Carrefour when the big guns went, but it’s normal. I think he has a bright future for the cobbled classics,” Knaven added.

“The most important thing in my eyes is that he loves it. He’s made for these races, and he’s still young and can learn a lot. He has to try to crash a little less and then he can win every single one of these.”

Moscon continues in Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège this week for team Sky. The British super team expects that more results will come as Moscon matures as a racer. He won the Arctic Race of Norway in his rookie season last year.

“I think Gianni still races like a U23 rider, he just rides and races. He loves racing but sometimes he can save some energy. He’s dealing well with it, but in a race of 260 kilometers, you start to feel it after 240. That’s the thing that he can work on,” said Knaven.

“And of course, he’s in a different situation because he’s not the leader, it can be different if one day he’s the leader and guys are riding for him, then he can be more tranquillo and relaxed and just ride on the moment he has to ride.”

Team boss David Brailsford told VeloNews Moscon is “100 percent” on contract with Sky for 2018. Given his age and time for improvement, it bodes well.

“I don’t think at such a young age, I don’t think too many people have performed as well as he has,” Brailsford said. “Gianni is so strong, he has that never say die attitude. He never gives up.

“Every time you see him, you see him pulling, he’s on the front, or he’s doing something, and you think, ‘Just save your energy.’ He just keeps going and going.”

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Does Paris-Roubaix suit Sagan? Wed, 12 Apr 2017 14:13:15 +0000 Opinions are mixed whether "The Hell of the North" is actually a race Sagan, the two-time defending world champion, can win.

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FLORENCE, Italy (VN) — Peter Sagan blasted over the cobbles of Paris-Roubaix but came away empty-handed, leaving some asking if “The Hell of the North” is too much for him and if he would be better off saving himself for the Ardennes classics that begin with Sunday’s Amstel Gold Race.

The two-time defending world champion on team Bora-Hansgrohe suffered two punctures when he was in a lead group and finished an uncharacteristic 38th in the Roubaix velodrome.

“My idea would be that, skip Roubaix and come back for the Ardennes classics,” Stefano Zanatta said.

Zanatta first saw Sagan mountain biking and brought him to the Liquigas/Cannondale franchise in 2009, when Sagan began to bag his first of many professional wins. With that team disbanded after merging with the Slipstream franchise, Zanatta now directs Bardiani-CSF — a team that’s racing Wednesday’s Brabantse Pijl, an appetizer ahead of the three Ardennes classics.

“He wants to try to win Roubaix, he loves it. He went strongly, though, he had some bad luck,” Zanatta said of Sagan.

“But it’s not really in his characteristics. I thought that he could have more results in Amstel Gold, Flèche Wallonne, and Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Here, it matters who has the legs, not just luck. He could make more of a difference.”

Liquigas/Cannondale did that. In 2012 and 2013, the team sat him out of Roubaix — where flat cobbled sectors and raw power make the difference — to save him for the various short, punchy climbs in the Ardennes. The move is similar to the one employed by Quick-Step Floors, which won the Tour of Flanders with Philippe Gilbert earlier this month. Quick-Step sat out Gilbert for the next few races on the calendar to give him a rest before Wednesday’s Brabantse Pijl and the Ardennes.

Sagan “could win these races more ‘easily.’ It’d be like Gilbert,” added Zanatta. “Even Liège, yes. Now, he has improved on the climbs. Look at that Tirreno-Adriatico stage he won ahead of [Thibaut] Pinot and [Geraint] Thomas. For sure, he has more chances in the Ardennes.”

The cobbles of northern France took their toll on Sagan. After the 27-year-old fought back from two punctures, he looked unusually ragged racing over the final sectors leading to the Roubaix velodrome.

Bora manager Ralph Denk said Paris-Roubaix actually suits Sagan well.

“I think yes,” Denk said. “Just look back at the race, it underlined it. He was a contender. He’ll win this race one time.”

Bora sport director and coach Patxi Vila said, “I don’t think [Roubaix] was a race too much [for Sagan].

“It’s just that he had to go deep to claw back those two times and finally he paid. I’m pretty sure [his power] numbers were pretty high and pretty good. But yeah, I’m happy he was here. I think that the racers have to be here and Peter needs to be here.”

Critics seem to criticize regardless of what happens. Many insiders questioned the decision when Sagan skipped Roubaix to race the Ardennes classics in 2013. Others called for Gilbert to continue on to race Paris-Roubaix after a successful cobbled campaign. Opinions, however, could quickly change if Gilbert wins in the coming days.

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‘A Roubaix not seen in years’ Sun, 09 Apr 2017 19:55:07 +0000 The 115th edition Paris-Roubaix offered all the thrills, chills and spills to be expected from the 'Queen of the Classics' – and then

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ROUBAIX, France (VN) — BMC Racing celebrated in the green grassy center of Paris-Roubaix’s finishing velodrome Sunday, but most were standing in the adjacent streets soaked with shower run-off scratching their heads about what they just saw.

The statisticians quickly calculated the 115th Paris-Roubaix to be the fastest in history at 45.204kph (or 28.088 mph). It topped the 1964 edition, the year Dutchman Peter Post won. That year, however, they covered fewer cobbled sectors after starting from Paris. Now, the race begins further north, closer to the run-down industrial town of Roubaix.

“It was a Roubaix not seen in many years,” Nico Verhoeven, the sports director for Dutch team LottoNL-Jumbo said in sun-soaked, 74-degree Fahrenheit afternoon.

“I haven’t seen one like that in all my years. It was always full-gas and no time to rest or re-enter after a puncture.”

“It was a Roubaix not seen in many years … always full-gas and no time to rest or re-enter after a puncture.”
– Nico Verhoeven, LottoNL-Jumbo sports director

Overnight, organizer ASO made the late move to postpone the race start by 20 minutes due to the tailwind predicted and their concern of the precious television time.

The viewers turned into see escape after escape that faded as fast as it formed. Only the first cobble sector — 97 kilometers into the 257-kilometer monument — bucked the trend. Then the lead cars and cyclists kicked up so must dust that had settled in the past dry and sunny days.

“It was very fast right from the start,” said race winner Greg van Avermaet. “A break never went away, there was never a pee break. The tailwind made for a very fast race, and a hard race.”

Ian Stannard normally stops in the Roubaix velodrome infield to rest and speak to journalists immediately. He rode head down, dust collected around his nostrils and mouth, directly to his team Sky bus for a shower.

It had been a tough Roubaix for Stannard, who placed third in 2016. He punctured and failed to see the sharp end, but felt the record speeds taking their toll.

“It was a fast race, it took a long time for the break to go and then it was only two guys,” Stannard said. “It was super fast, the fastest ever. That was probably the reason behind it, as well.”

Of course, the 115th edition will be remembered for Tom Boonen. The Belgian raced his last race today and for a record fifth win. He already had four trophies and sat tied with 1970s and 1980s star Roger De Vlaeminck.

Boonen’s Quick-Step Floors teammate Zdenek Stybar escaped with around 35 kilometers to race with Van Avermaet and others. He fought with Van Avermaet to place second. Boonen managed only 13th and left frustrated.

He saw what many noted: short-range shots instead of long missile launches from the stars. Boonen went long in other years, like in 2012 from around 55 kilometers out.

“Some guys were always on my wheels…,” Boonen said with a shake of his head. “I think that John Degenkolb did the most cowardly race by only focusing on me.”

Quick-Step team boss, Patrick Lefevere added, “Some men rode like such little children that they could only lose.”

“We never knew what to do with our leaders John Degenkolb or Jasper Stuyven,” Trek-Segafredo sports director Dirk Demol said.

Demol did not blame his rider Degenkolb for following at times, but the whole of the ragged peloton that soldiered over the dusty cobbles into Roubaix,” because everyone was looking at Tom Boonen.”

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Sagan needs Roubaix win to continue path to classics greatness Thu, 06 Apr 2017 15:34:37 +0000 Peter Sagan is largely empty-handed in this spring's classics season. He has one last chance to earn a victory in Paris-Roubaix.

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GENT, Belgium (VN) — The northern classics draw to a close Sunday and Peter Sagan has little in hand. A crash in Tour of Flanders ruined his opportunity to win and put his Paris-Roubaix chances in doubt. With just two days to go before his final clash with Tom Boonen (Quick-Step Floors), Sagan has everything on the line for his quest to become the new king of the classics.

The UCI world champion snagged a fan’s jacket as he raced dangerously close to the barriers in last Sunday’s Tour of Flanders. He crashed on his hip and watched his chances of winning the race slip away.

Aside from victory in Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, a smaller classic in Belgium, he has little to show so far this season. It all comes down to Paris-Roubaix on Sunday. Sagan not only needs to recover from his Flanders injuries, but to win in the Roubaix velodrome if he intends to one day become a classics great.

“He rode the Scheldeprijs [on Wednesday] to test himself with his mind on Sunday,” Bora-Hansgrohe sport director Enrico Poitschke told VeloNews. “We are going in a good way. For sure, he has some pain, but in the moment, everything is fine when he is on the bike.”

Sagan hobbled off the bike, but appeared fine on it in the mid-week race. He pulled his Bora team through the carnage of a crash four kilometers out and set up for Pascal Ackermann to place fifth.

As Poitschke said, Sagan’s mind is on Sunday. Sagan claimed two UCI world titles, but has few victories and many near misses as a classics man. To become one of the classic greats like Boonen, who retires after Paris-Roubaix, he needs more big wins soon.

Belgian Tom Boonen may not have danced in a “Grease” video or ridden wheelies, but he racked up four monuments already by the age of 27. Fabian Cancellara, who retired last year, had also won four before turning 27. Sagan, now 27, counts only one from last year’s Tour of Flanders.

If near-misses counted, Sagan would be an all-time great, but they do not. Sagan lit up Italian monument Milano-Sanremo with ferocious Poggio attack that sent vibrations as far as the Via Roma. He did all the work to arrive to Sanremo’s famous street, where rival attacker Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky) sprinted past to victory.

“I know how it is,” said 2014 world champion Kwiatkowski. “He has big pressure on him, wearing the rainbow jersey puts you in a hard situation.”

Kwiatkowski attacked with Sagan but had his Sky teammate Elia Viviani waiting behind in the chase group to sprint at Sanremo. Though Sagan showed strongest, tactics won the day. A similar theme repeated itself over the weeks leading to this Sunday’s Paris-Roubaix.

Quick-Step’s Niki Terpstra refused to work with Sagan in Gent-Wevelgem. One week later, Sagan was sleeping ahead of the Muur and lacked team options when the race rode away toward Oudenaarde. His crash on the Oude Kwaremont distracted most followers from the bigger team strength issue.

Bora-Hansgrohe spent most of its money on signing Sagan from Tinkoff in the off-season. Little remained to buy four-star, or even three-star cyclists. Boonen’s Quick-Step, however, is loaded with them: Terpstra, Zdenek Stybar, Matteo Trentin, and Yves Lampaert.

“We where not stressed with the attack at 95 kilometers remaining [on the Muur],” said Poitschke. “If he didn’t crash, it would’ve worked out for him.

“The same for Paris-Roubaix, we have our tactics and for sure, we’ll be looking to other teams, but in the end, we have our own tactics and we don’t look too much to Quick Step, Trek or other teams.

“It’s important on the pavé sectors that you stay in good position. You need to start the sectors in very good position, that’s the important thing. And we will have to understand in the race on which sector we will try something, or just follow.”

When the dust settles Sunday, followers will know if Bora’s tactics succeeded and if Sagan is on a path to classics greatness.

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BMC disappointed after underestimating Muur move Mon, 03 Apr 2017 16:55:01 +0000 BMC Racing rues a moment of inattention on the Muur plus an untimely crash late in Tour of Flanders, though Van Avermaet finished second.

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OUDENAARDE, Belgium (VN) — BMC Racing says that the team and its star Greg Van Avermaet “underestimated” the early racing-winning move on the Tour of Flanders’s cobbled Muur climb. Van Avermaet, one of the pre-race favorites, left the race “disappointed” Sunday with second place.

Van Avermaet — winner in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, E3 Harelbeke, and Gent-Wevelgem — began as one of the top favorites with Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) and eventual winner Philippe Gilbert (Quick Step Floors).

“I began with the win in mind, so I’m disappointed to finish runner-up,” the Belgian star said Sunday as the last rays of sun shined on Oudenaarde and the fields in Flanders.

“You have to be disappointed. With the crash and the way things happened. Fine, chapeau to Gilberto [Philippe Gilbert] for winning solo like that.”

Van Averment made up ground on Gilbert, riding with Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Oliver Naesen (Ag2r La Mondiale) in the closing kilometers. They had him at 59 seconds with 16.9 kilometers, and just the Paterberg climb, left.

However, disaster struck. Sagan clipped a fan’s jacket propped on the barriers, crashed and caused a following Van Avermaet and Naesen to tumble as well.

“And the race was over,” Van Avermaet added. “We shouldn’t have been there in the left gutter, but you take risks in a race final. We were getting close to Philippe, and if I had remained with them we could have moved closer on him.”

Those two stars, Sagan and Van Avermaet, remained on the back foot after BMC “underestimated” an early move on the re-introduced cobbled Muur climb. With 95 kilometers to race, Tom Boonen caused a split and pulled away a group of 14. Boonen looked around after they passed the chapel on top and counted two Quick-Step teammates, Matteo Trentin and Philippe Gilbert. Sagan failed to make it, but he had his teammate Maciej Bodnar. BMC was not in the move.

“We were a bit distracted and we underestimated the situation at that point,” BMC’s sport director Fabio Baldato explained.

“We tried to take the course in hand and recover, and we almost pulled it off. We thought that Greg could re-enter with Sagan and Naesen. It was all up for grabs, Gilbert didn’t have it won. But the crash … Luckily, Greg could restart and make the podium in second place.”

BMC Racing’s cyclists arrived to the red and black team bus. Baldato congratulated them, but remained bitter.

“This race remains a nightmare for me,” he added. “I finished twice second as a rider, never a winner, and now twice second as a sports director.”

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Sagan Kwaremont crash raises questions Sun, 02 Apr 2017 20:32:42 +0000 Questions surround what caused world champ Peter Sagan to crash on the Oude Kwaremont while he fought to defend his Flanders title Sunday.

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OUDENAARDE, Belgium (VN) — Questions surround what caused world champion Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) to crash on the Oude Kwaremont while he fought to defend his Tour of Flanders title Sunday.

Television footage and photographs fail to clarify what let to the Slovakian’s fall with 16.9 kilometers remaining. Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing) and Oliver Naesen (Ag2r La Mondiale), immediately behind, collided immediately and fell too.

“I hope again that all those phones that are around can show something new bring some light to what happened,” Bora sports director Patxi Vila said.

“Nothing will change, but we can understand what happened.”

Philippe Gilbert (Quick Step Floors), who went on to the eventual win, led the race with 59 seconds at 16.9 kilometers to race. Sagan raced along the left gutter and fell suddenly.

A black jacket remained in Naesen’s bike and he ripped it out. Van Avermaet jumped to his feet the quickest and tried to catch his rivals.

“It was my fault, I don’t know,” said Sagan, who finished 27th at 3:30 minutes. “I was near the barrier, yeah, but I was controlling the space, how close I was.

“I was a little to the left, but… Every year, if you are doing it alone, you can do it. I was alone ahead and they were following me, but then I snagged on a pullover or I don’t know, some flag. Then the barrier was afterwards, I went towards the barrier.”

Cyclists riding close to the edge suffered because of fans over the years. Lance Armstrong’s handlebars caught a spectator’s bag in the Tour de France. In a Tour sprint, a green hand cut Thor Hushovd. Recently in Paris-Roubaix, a fan on a cobble sector caused Zdenek Stybar to crash.

“I think Peter Sagan was close to the barrier or the people and maybe he hit somebody on the side of the road,” Van Avermaet said.

“I was just behind so I couldn’t avoid the crash. That was the moment when maybe we could have still done something with Peter and Olivier Naesen. We could have worked together but then you stop, you crash, and you lose another 30 seconds, and then the race is over.”

Bora is unsure if Sagan was too close to the barriers. Vila wants to see more video footage, like the fan’s footage that showed Sagan body-check Maxime Vantomme (WB Veranclassic-Aqua Protect) on the Kemmelberg in Gent-Wevelgem last Sunday. Footage emerged four days later.

Sagan rode along the edge where the cobbles continue on the flat sector and the white VIP tents sit off to the side. He explained that he gave himself amble distance.

“I don’t know [if he was too close],” added Vila. “When you have a guy going full gas trying to win Flanders, then probably he’s trying to get every millimeter out of the road and every watt out of his legs, just pushing and trying to find the best line and that was probably too close, I don’t know.”

What is certain, at that point, Sagan’s chance of repeating his 2016 Flanders win ended. The team helped him with a new bike, but as Van Avermaet said, Gilbert already gained around 30 seconds more.

“I’m for sure not happy, no one is happy from the team,” Vila added.

“I think that nothing really happened to him. I hope not. What I saw in the last 10 kilometers, he was fine. Nothing is broken or nothing to worry about.”

“I don’t know,” Sagan explained when riding his bicycle from the anti-doping control to the hospital next door for check. He pointed to his right hip. “I have a problem here.”

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How to beat Sagan? Rival teams mull Flanders tactics Sat, 01 Apr 2017 16:59:39 +0000 Rival teams tactics will have to be perfect to overcome an on-form Peter Sagan who is hamstrung by his modest Bora team.

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GENT, Belgium (VN) — With a super Peter Sagan lining up to defend his Tour of Flanders title Sunday, teams are tweaking their tactics in order to manage and have a chance at victory.

World champion Sagan won the race last year with multiple attacks over the final 35 kilometers. His final on the Paterberg cobbled climb left him with a 13.2-kilometer solo ride to Oudenaarde. This year, Bora-Hansgrohe’s Slovak begins as the favorite ahead of Belgians Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing) and Philippe Gilbert (Quick-Step Floors).

“Sagan is so explosive and if he gets a gap with 10 seconds, with a few others, it’s really hard to catch them,” Sky sports director Servais Knaven told VeloNews. “That’s why teams try to move beforehand and make it hard.”

Knaven said that the breaking move could happen on the second time up the Kwaremont with 54.6 kilometers to race.

“Last year and this year, they went early in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. I don’t know what will happen in Flanders; normally it happens on the final two climbs of Kwaremont and Paterberg [the final 17 kilometers], but I wouldn’t be surprised if it happens on the second time up the Kwaremont climb and it leaves already the strong riders going full-gas and behind everyone is left looking at each other. It’s going to be interesting.”

Many will look to Sagan, who could be forced to work early since his German Bora team is not one of the strongest. Sagan will be forced to decide to ride or wait.

In the classics, starting with last season, teams appear to be attacking earlier. Last year’s Paris-Roubaix kicked off with 110 kilometers to go. In E3 Harelbeke this year, the winning move went clear with 70 kilometers left.

“Before, it always seems like Quick-Step would try to control the race and nobody got away, but now Quick-Step is going on the attack and you see other big guys follow,” Knaven added. “That’s a big change. The reason could be that Sagan is super-strong and they want to make the race is hard as possible. And you see that it works.”

Quick-Step counts five big guns heading into Sunday’s Flanders: three-time winner Tom Boonen, Niki Terpstra, Zdenek Stybar, Matteo Trentin and Philippe Gilbert.

“It’s not so hard, you need to drop him,” Quick-Step sports director Wilfried Peeters said with a smile. “Or you need to follow, you saw in Gent-Wevelgem that the two strongest [Sagan and Van Avermaet] were away on the Kemmelberg. If you wait to the Kwaremont and Paterberg, it’s hard to drop those guys. You need to find a good way. What’s the way? I don’t know.”

The way could be for Quick-Step to start attacking with 55 kilometers to race with Boonen, Terpstra, and Trentin. BMC Racing could send Daniel Oss along too. Sagan would have to gamble: assume it is not the winning move and wait, or join.

“The danger is team Quick-Step, which has five men who can all lead the team,” Bora sports director Patxi Vila told Het Nieuwsblad newspaper. “And Van Avermaet and his team, which rides well.”

“We are going to race the way we did in the past races, attractive, offensive, and then we’ll see who’s left in the group,” Terpstra explained. “If we have more riders in the front then that’s perfect.”

Boonen won the race already in 2005, 2006, and 2012. If he wins again, he would set the record with four titles. With so many years of experience, he should be able to help the team plan on how to deal with the more explosive Sagan.

“In all the years I’ve been a pro, I’ve never watched anyone else in the race, we make up our own plan,” Boonen said. “I never plan the race following anyone else or trying to put someone against another rider, I don’t see the point of it. I don’t think we have to make a plan to ride against these two riders, but a plan to win the race.”

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Flanders Classics hegemony threatens De Panne tradition Thu, 30 Mar 2017 17:03:02 +0000 Driedaagse De Panne, a traditional Flanders warm-up may be strong-armed into changing its dates by powerful Belgian race promoter.

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GENT, Belgium (VN) — Driedaagse De Panne celebrated Philippe Gilbert’s overall victory along the unseasonably warm Belgian coast Thursday, but this may also be the end of its 41-year chapter as the warm-up race for Tour of Flanders.

Gilbert, along with past greats like Michele Bartoli, Johan Museeuw, and George Hincapie, used Three Days of De Panne as final Flanders prep. That tradition could stop in 2018.

According to several in the cycling-mad area, organizer Flanders Classics is pushing out the three-day race to have the Wednesday spot free for its one-day race Dwars door Vlaanderen. In 2018, it could have a run of events: Gent-Wevelgem on Sunday, Dwars door Vlaanderen on Wednesday and its crown jewel, the Tour of Flanders, on Sunday.

Of course, Flanders Classics also has the Scheldeprijs the Wednesday after Flanders and Brabantse Pijl the next Wednesday following Paris-Roubaix, run by Tour de France organizer ASO.

Yves Lampaert (Quick-Step Floors) won this year’s Dwars door Vlaanderen, which ran March 22, the Wednesday two days before E3 Harelbeke.

The Flanders Classics power-play leaves little space for the Three Days of De Panne, organized by KVC Panne Sportief and for 41 years, sitting in the precious pre-Flanders spot.

“It’s pure tradition,” director Bruno Dequeecker told Belgian daily Het Nieuwsblad last month. “I don’t see how another organizer from the same country, the same region and with the same type of race can suddenly claim our date.”

De Panne could perhaps swap with Dwars door Vlaanderen, moving to the Tuesday through Thursday prior to Friday’s E3 Harelbeke and Gent-Wevelgem on Sunday. It would need to come to an agreement with the E3 Harelbeke, which KWC Hand in Hand organizes.

The smaller De Panne and E3 Harelbeke organizers are seemingly at Flanders Classics’s mercy. The Belgian organizer is one of cycling’s big three, alongside ASO and RCS Sport.

The E3 Harelbeke at least has leverage thanks to its WorldTour status. De Panne sits just a level below as a 2.HC race and suffers somewhat as a result. Teams are either too busy with other races or their riders too tired between WorldTour events to bother with De Panne. It is not only the classics, but teams must prepare for major races like País Vasco starting the Monday after Flanders.

The 2017 De Panne start list looked like a colander with its many holes. Orica-Scott began with only six men. Its star Jens Keukeleire, second in Gent-Wevelgem behind Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing), pulled out after the first day to prepare for the Tour of Flanders. Other big teams like Sky, BMC, and Dimension Data did not bother to attend.

Teams must conserve their energy for the top races, specifically the ones with valuable WorldTour points. This year, the UCI added 10 new WorldTour events to its calendar. Reportedly, part of the reason Flanders Classics applied for, and received, WorldTour status for Dwars door Vlaanderen was so that it could make its push for the pre-Tour of Flanders Wednesday date.

BMC Racing said that its star Van Avermaet is cherry-picking top WorldTour events for points and resting wisely in the week between.

“He’s not wasting energy [racing and winning Gent-Wevelgem] because we still have a week to rest before Flanders,” sport director Fabio Baldato told VeloNews.

“With the new UCI rules, races like Harelbeke and Gent-Wevelgem are very important just like Flanders and Paris Roubaix. And that’s with all respect to Flanders and Roubaix, because they are something special.”

Cycling’s governing body will announce the 2018 calendar this fall, but the unseasonably warm breeze seems to have blown in a change across the Flemish fields. Flanders Classics, according to some insiders, already made the deal with the Belgian cycling federation.

The Three Days of De Panne must find a new date or fight Goliath. It may go with the latter as Dequeecker said that he would take the rival organizer to court if necessary to protect his race’s pre-Flanders date.

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Gilbert ‘is back where he belongs’ on the cobbles Wed, 29 Mar 2017 15:45:43 +0000 On a new team for 2017, Philippe Gilbert reignites his love for the Flanders cobbled classics and heads to the Ronde as a favorite.

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ZOTTEGEM, Belgium (VN) — Philippe Gilbert is an endangered species in pro cycling. It is rare that a rider can win in both the cobbled classics and the Ardennes.

Gilbert rode alone from the Quick-Step team bus in Zottegem Wednesday morning ahead of the second stage of Driedaagse De Panne-Koksijde. The Belgian champion, winner of stage 1 at the Flemish stage race, already counts all three Ardennes classics in his palmarès. If he wins the biggest cobbled classic, the Tour of Flanders on Sunday, it would be quite rare.

“Only a few can ride both the cobbles and Ardennes, and one is Phil,” team sport director Rik Van Slycke told VeloNews. “A few before, like Paolo Bettini were a little the same. He rode the Flanders races and could win Liège-Bastogne-Liège.”

Italian Michele Bartoli last managed in the 1990s to win a cobbled monument (Tour of Flanders 1996) and the Ardennes monument, Liège-Bastogne-Liège in 1997. Around that same time, Rolf Sorensen won Liège in 1993 and Flanders in 1997. Ireland’s Sean Kelly did so as well, winning both Paris-Roubaix and Liège in 1984.

Gilbert, 34, followed an odd path to reach this point. After placing third in Flanders twice, he focused strictly on the Ardennes classics. His peak shifted away from the cobbled classics, from late March through early April and to the Ardennes in the south, later in April. He last raced a full cobbled campaign in 2012.

He won the Amstel Gold Race in 2010, 2011, and 2014, and all three Ardennes classics — Amstel, Flèche Wallonne, and Liège-Bastogne-Liège — in 2011.

BMC Racing took him to the Ardennes classics instead of the cobbled ones because it had an improving Greg Van Avermaet who needed his space. After five years, Gilbert wanted to switch.

“He is motivated now. He’s in the tricolor [Belgian champion’s] jersey and wants to show he’s still good and useful. A few said that he’s getting old and is not motivated,” continued Van Slycke. “That’s why he made the choice to come to team Quick-Step. He said, ‘If I go there, I can do what I want to do.’ He wanted to ride the cobbled classics. We made a spot for him.”

Team boss Patrick Lefevere stood behind the team’s blue and white bus. He had just finished an interview with the local television broadcaster.

“[Gilbert] switched to the Ardennes in the second part of his life, but now he is back where he belongs,” Lefevere said. “I don’t think it’s that rare for a rider to perform well in both of them. Besides, he’s been coming to Flanders to race since he was 15.”

Lefevere first scouted Gilbert and the country’s other top star Tom Boonen in their junior years. They were “unfortunately” in the same age bracket as his son when he raced as a 13- to 15-year-old so he would see them regularly in the weekend races.

“It’s a mentality switch for Phil. But if a rider loves and lives on the cobbles, you adapt, and if you don’t, or you don’t try them, then you fall behind. It’s as simple as that.”

We may no longer see riders like Gilbert in cycling due to the changes the organizers are making to their courses.

“It’s harder to do well in both because the Ardennes are becoming harder and more suited to the GC riders, 60kg riders like Alejandro Valverde, Julian Alaphilippe, Wout Poels …” Lefevere continued.

“The others like Gilbert, who could win the race before are a little excluded. It’s not smart for organizations to make these new parcours because many riders say, ‘What can I do in Liège now? We can’t win, so we don’t race.'”

Gilbert only has a contract through 2017, but Quick-Step could keep him on to replace Boonen as a mentor to its young riders.

Van Slycke added, “For the future, you have to look to Alaphilippe, Gaviria, and Bob Jungels. But you still need the experience of Tom, Phil and the champions.”

“This has always been a motivation for me, yeah. I wasn’t always allowed to do it in the past and now I’m happy to be on the start,” Gilbert said of his first Ronde start in five years. “When you join this team, you hear the words Tour of Flanders or Paris-Roubaix like 50 times a day! Everyone is speaking about this, the riders are always are talking about it. Other teams only talk about the Tour de France, but here’s about the classics. It’s in the DNA of the team.”

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Humble but confident Van Avermaet warns he’s got more for Flanders Mon, 27 Mar 2017 13:31:31 +0000 The Belgian has won Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, E3 Harelbeke, and Gent-Wevelgem ahead of next Sunday's Tour of Flanders.

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WEVELGEM, Belgium (VN) — Greg Van Avermaet, or “King Greg” as the Belgian newspaper headlines read Monday morning, is firing every warning shot possible heading toward the Tour Flanders on Sunday. He said he “feels stronger” and has “something extra” this 2017 season.

The Belgian Olympic champion of team BMC Racing won the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad last month, the E3 Harelbeke on Friday, and Gent-Wevelgem Sunday afternoon. After Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, those races are cycling’s biggest cobbled classics. And no one before Van Avermaet has ever won all three in one season.

“I feel like I’m stronger, like I’ve got something extra for the final,” he said Sunday evening in Wevelgem.

The 31-year-old pedaled his silver BMC bicycle to the pressroom in a nearby gymnasium. He had just accepted the winner’s flowers after storming away on the Kemmelberg with Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) chasing and sprinting ahead of Jens Keukeleire (Orica-Scott) next to the town’s main square. He climbed off his bike and spoke with the journalists. “King Greg” listened politely to every question and responded at length.

“On the Kemmelberg, it was clear that I was a level above the others,” he explained. “I’m simply somewhat stronger, somewhat fresher. It’s just going my way, too.”

He raced on a similar high in 2016 but crashed and fractured his collarbone in the Tour of Flanders. He redeemed himself in the Tour de France with a stage win and a yellow jersey ride, and later with the Olympic gold medal after winning the road race in Rio de Janeiro.

The 2017 season is off to an even better start. The Van Avermaet train is speeding toward Sunday’s Tour of Flanders at increasing momentum.

“Things couldn’t have gone any better. Everybody wants to ride the build-up [to Flanders] that I’ve ridden,” he added. “Flanders should suit me even better. I’m starting with a bag full of confidence.”

Greater confidence in Van Avermaet is warranted. Much attention falls on world champion Peter Sagan and Tom Boonen in his final stretch before retirement, but Van Avermaet’s star is burning brighter.

Van Avermaet was once a second-tier classics challenger along with riders such as Lars Boom, Sep Vanmarcke, and Heinrich Haussler, but he has developed into what the newspapers call a cycling “koning,” or king. Still, he remains humble as he showed sitting with journalists Sunday.

“I nearly can’t believe it myself,” Van Avermaet continued. “I think it’s a dream for me to win these three races. I’ve been trying for so long to get on the podium and now I’m winning all three of them. For me, it’s a dream. After the finish I had to pinch myself to check if it was true.”

Van Avermaet tries to remain modest. Perhaps he should because the stronger teams could dictate Flanders. Quick-Step Floors has several options, which it tried to play Sunday by holding Niki Terpstra and forcing Peter Sagan to work.

“Once you start to think you’ve won, then you start to lose. You always need to remain modest and try to improve every time,” he said.

“I’m starting [Flanders] with much confidence but certainly not with the attitude that it can’t go wrong. I need to keep doing what I’m doing. If I don’t run into trouble then I’ll be very close next week.”

His palmarès now includes the biggest cobbled classics just one level below professional cycling’s moments Flanders and Roubaix. Before thinking too much about those, he is enjoying the moment.

“It’s my dream [to win Flanders], but this is unbelievable. If you told me this morning that I would win Gent-Wevelgem then I would’ve told you something’s just not right!” he added.

“It’s just a dream for me, winning such hard races. Now it’s all working out. It’s actually fun because my best race still has to come up.”

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It’s not, ‘How can I win a race?’ It’s, ‘How can I beat Peter Sagan?’ Sun, 26 Mar 2017 19:19:22 +0000 Peter Sagan's Bora-Hansgrohe team says that rivals ride more against its ace than they for victory itself.

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WEVELGEM, Belgium (VN) — Peter Sagan‘s Bora-Hansgrohe team, after Niki Terpstra (Quick-Step Floors) refused to pull today in Gent-Wevelgem, says that rivals ride more against its ace than they for victory itself.

The Dutch Paris-Roubaix winner eased off with 16 kilometers left and let Jens Keukeleire (Orica-Scott) and eventual winner Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing) ride clear to victory.

Bora’s directors climbed out of their team cars in Wevelgem’s busy center and, shaking their heads in disbelief, waited for Sagan to arrive.

“And Terpstra! Yeah, maybe it’s like I said before. It’s not, ‘How can I win a race? It’s more, ‘How can I beat Peter Sagan?'” Jens Zemke told Velonews.

“Peter was leading that five-man group, he pulls off and was going to the back, and then they leave a gap in front of him for him to close. That’s something you don’t do normally.”

Sagan pulled off and left Van Avermaet to lead Keukeleire, Terpstra and young Dane Søren Andersen (Sunweb). Sagan looked over to see Terpstra’s legs stop turning and the space between Terpstra’s front wheel and Keukeleire’s rear increasing.

They raced away and Sagan eventually had to chase. After winning E3 Harelbeke on Friday, Olympic champion Van Avermaet added the Gent-Wevelgem trophy to his case by sprinting ahead of Keukeleire.

World Champion Sagan salvaged third place in Belgium’s WorldTour classic that he won last year and in 2013. He pulled back his long hair under a baseball cap and sat in the mixed zone afterwards, where journalists leaned in closely to hear what he had to say.

“I just don’t know what Terpstra wanted to do,” Sagan explained.

“He attacked to go in the breakaway and afterwards he doesn’t want to work. This is just one example of how you can lose the race against me.”

Fans saw a similar story unfold last weekend in Italy, where Julian Alaphilippe (Quick Step) and eventual winner Michal Kwiatkowski (Sky) forced Sagan to work in Milano-Sanremo.

“It’s normal that they watch Peter, he’s super strong and the man to watch. He’s the main to beat,” Zemke continued.

“Maybe Greg should wear the Olympic jersey because everyone is watching the rainbow one and Greg keeps winning.

“You’ll have to ask Quick-Step what they were thinking.”

Quick-Step’s bus sat further down Wevelgem’s main street. Former cyclist and sports director Wilfried Peeters walked around the back while Terpstra spoke at the door.

“It’s like a game, some times you win, sometimes you lose,” Peeters said.

“Just that initial reaction, that reaction cost the victory. To close that gap is hard when it’s opened.”

Quick-Step’s game, however, was to force the pre-race favorite Sagan to tire himself while Terpstra said that he had Fernando Gaviria, Tom Boonen, and Matteo Trentin behind. Andersen played similar tactics, naming Sunweb teammate Michael Matthews.

“The option was not to go full-gas in the break when we had strong riders behind,” Peeters said. “I like Sagan and he’s there every time there, but we don’t need to pull like an animal in the front when you have the fastest sprinter behind.”

Sagan will try to revenge the “cheap game” in next Sunday’s Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders), a race that he also won in 2016.

“It’s not disappointment, but I’m more motivated,” Sagan said. “If you win always, then maybe you lose motivation.

“Now, I’m motivated to take some victory, but this is not sport, just a very cheap game.”

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Van Avermaet’s E3 win boosts BMC’s morale Fri, 24 Mar 2017 20:30:39 +0000 After a forgettable day at Milano-Sanremo, Greg Van Avermaet's E3 Harelbeke win gives him and his BMC team renewed confidence.

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HARELBEKE, Belgium (VN) — The E3 Harelbeke victory was not needed, but gladly welcomed. Greg Van Avermaet says that this Belgian trophy will boost BMC Racing’s morale heading toward the one-day monuments.

The Belgian astutely marked attacks by Quick Step’s Tom Boonen and Philippe Gilbert over the Taaienberg and beyond, and rode away with the latter. The two ditched their other rivals on the Oude Kwaremont and rode into the final 35 kilometers with only fellow Belgian Oliver Naesen (Ag2r La Mondiale) for company.

“It’s not a monument, but it’s a nice win,” Van Avermaet said. “I was only on the podium once in 2008; that says enough. Every year, I come back with high expectations, and I wanted to win here.”

“Golden Greg” as the Belgians call him after his Olympics win in Rio de Janeiro last August, rode to the pressroom on a silver BMC bicycle. He leaned it on a nearby wall and climbed on a small podium to speak with journalists.

He smiled under his dark eyebrows. The mood easily eclipsed that along the Italian coast in Milano-Sanremo last weekend, when BMC lacked options while rival teams moved their various chess pieces.

“It was much better than Milano-Sanremo. That was bit of disappointing. Only two guys after the Cipressa, and I made a mistake not to be there at the bottom of the Poggio,” Van Avermaet said.

“Daniel Oss was there today, he’s a strong guy. I believe in him, he’s just has to show it.”

Van Averment already had a strong showing this year. He won the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad cobbled classic in late February in Belgium and placed second to Michal Kwiatkowski (Sky) in Strade Bianche in Italy before Tirreno-Adriatico and Milano-Sanremo.

“The win helps today, but the guys know that I’m good. It’s not that they have to say it 10 times,” Van Avermaet said.

“When you win, the team gets stronger and more confident. It’s good to start [the monuments] with confidence. They known I’m ready, when the team leader is strong, the helpers are strong.”

BMC Racing rode a similar big wave toward the Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders) and Paris-Roubaix in 2016, but that crashed when five of them fell in Ronde. Van Avermaet broke his collarbone and, there on the driveway of a Belgian’s home, pulled the plug on his classics campaign.

This year, the wave appears stronger and able to carry through the following two weeks. The classics men race Gent-Wevelgem on Sunday, and then on the two following Sundays, the monuments, Ronde van Vlaanderen and Paris-Roubaix.

Young teammates like Silvan Dillier, 26, and Loïc Vliegen, 23, will truly sense the team’s power after Friday’s ride to Harelbeke, just about 50 miles west of Brussels.

In the race’s final kilometers, Van Averment rode toward the town with former teammate Gilbert and his training partner Naesen. Naesen began the sprint, Van Avermaet reacted and held off Gilbert.

“It was nice to be riding with Phil. We are the same type of rider. It wasn’t easy to make the right decision in the team [together] sometimes, but you see today Phil is a big champion. He gives it all when he rides with you, 100 percent. If he was riding in my team, I couldn’t jump after him, but I could today,” said Van Avermaet.

“It wasn’t that fun when Gilbert attacked on the Tiegemberg [at 20 kilometers to race]. I really had to fight to stay with him there.

“But it was special to be in that three-man group with a former teammate and a friend, plus I train with Oliver [Naesen] everyday — we do sprints together every day.”

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Why Kwiatkowski is not defending his E3 Harelbeke title Thu, 23 Mar 2017 16:55:38 +0000 Former world champ Michal Kwiatkowski opts out of defending E3 Harelbeke title in favor of a race schedule focused on winning Liège.

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GENT, Belgium (VN) — Michal Kwiatkowski is trying to avoid spreading himself too thin this 2017 season. The Sky rider who won Milano-Sanremo on Saturday, will miss an E3 Harelbeke title defense Friday so that he can tune his engine for his “dream race,” Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

The Polish cyclist escaped with world champion Peter Sagan last year and sprinted ahead of him into cycling-mad Harelbeke. However, he is turning his back on the cobbled classics west of Brussels this spring for the one-day races in southern Belgium and the Amstel Gold Race, over the border in the Netherlands. It leaves Sagan, racing for Bora-Hansgrohe, to wear bib number one in E3 Harelbeke.

“I’d like to, but it’s difficult to achieve all the things in your life,” Kwiatkowski said. “The race program this year has me skipping the cobbles and aiming for the Ardennes. It’s a speciality for me, I know I can climb well, time trial well, and do well in those classics.”

He usually parachutes in for one or two cobbled classics. Not since 2014, has he skipped them completely.

In 2014, Kwiatkowski placed third in the Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège, and gave Poland the worlds title. The following spring, he won the Amstel Gold Race.

In those years with Quick-Step, the team and Kwiatkowski experimented in different races. Team boss Patrick Lefevere said in 2015, “I figured it out, he’s not a classification rider.”

Sky worked with Kwiatkowski after it signed him for 2016. Last year, even with the E3 Harelbeke victory, its efforts mostly failed. He fell sick or suffered back problems and abandoned races often.

“There are plenty of reasons,” Kwiatkowski explained after winning Strade Bianche earlier this month. “I had health problems, but I was pushing my limits. I wanted to impress everyone in training and everywhere. I’m not like a machine, sooner or later you pay the bill.”

It led to a re-think and a specialized 2017 program, which is similar to the one he followed in 2014.

After winning Milano-Sanremo, Kwiatkowski backed off and “reset” ahead of the Ardennes. After a two-week race break, he will start in País Vasco on April 3. From there, he will travel to the Ardennes for the Amstel Gold Race, Flèche Wallonne, and Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

“Liège-Bastogne-Liège is a race of my dreams; if I could pick one monument to win, I think it’d be Liège,” Kwiatkowski told Sporza television.

“Now, I have Milano-Sanremo in the pocket, which is great, but now the focus is Liège. I’m sure I can go well if I’m well and not sick. We already won last year with Wout Poels, that was great to be a member of the team and to help him going into victory. I hope this year we’ll have a strong team and be ready to fight again.”

Kwiatkowski’s build does seem adapted to all five monuments. He has not tried Paris-Roubaix, but already placed 27th in Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders).

“I think if I was aiming for Lombardia or Liège, I think I could win them, but Roubaix and Flanders are something different. You need to put all those ambitions apart. I have to specialize.

“I won E3 Harelbeke and I’ve done well in the other races, but to win them you need something special.”

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No regrets for Bora after Sagan’s silver in Sanremo Mon, 20 Mar 2017 14:44:31 +0000 Peter Sagan's team director admits Bora-Hansgrohe had no other cards to play at Milano-Sanremo, faced with Quick-Step and Team Sky.

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FLORENCE, Italy (VN) — Peter Sagan made the right moves in the Milano-Sanremo final Saturday despite placing second, says Bora-Hansgrohe’s general manager, Ralph Denk.

The Slovakian world champion attacked with 6.3 kilometers to race, 900 meters before reaching the Poggio hilltop village, and pulled most of the way down and into Sanremo. Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step) and Michal Kwiatkowski (Sky) hitched a ride, and in the final 20 meters, Kwiatkowski powered up the left and passed Sagan by 20 centimeters in the sprint.

“It was a great ride,” Denk told VeloNews with the team bus’s motor running and the riders arriving to shower. Sagan stood on the podium’s second-highest step nearby on the Via Roma finish straight.

“He was the strongest rider in the bunch in my opinion. Maybe he was too aggressive in the last three to five kilometers, [and] in the end, we missed the big victory.”

Frenchman Alaphilippe pulled some and Pole Kwiatkowski appeared at the front twice. Afterward, Kwiatkowski, 26, planted himself on Sagan’s rear wheel for the final kilometer and came to the front when the line neared.

Some suggested Sagan, already second in 2013 to Gerald Ciolek, should have raced more with his head than with his heart. Perhaps if he eased up more, since they had around a 15-second advantage, he could have forced his rivals ahead.

“It wasn’t possible,” said Denk. “The tactic for Quick-Step was to wait for Fernando Gaviria. They had more options. We were focused on Peter, and I think it was the right decision to take the race in hand. But it was a bit unlucky.”

Via Roma’s shop windows rattled from the fans screams when Sagan blasted away on the Poggio after Tom Dumoulin and team Sky’s work. It is as though he fronts a rock band called cycling and stepped on stage following a 280-kilometer warm-up act.

In the days leading up to the race, local newspapers and those abroad built him up as the favorite. Sagan earned the status with his two world titles and a season start that already included a Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne victory and two stages in Tirreno-Adriatico.

Italian sports daily Gazzetta dello Sport on Saturday morning rang the early alarm bells, though. The pink newspaper ran a front-page photograph of long-haired Sagan dressed in a rainbow jersey with the title: “Tutti Contro Sagan” or “Everyone against Sagan.”

Given what Denk said were Bora’s limited options, Sagan was always going to have to beat the numbers to win in Sanremo. His teammates kept the race together after the Cipressa, but offered no plan B.

“Quick-Step has second options, Sky had second options, and we don’t have second options, we were focused on Peter. This is the reason why he pulled so hard,” Denk said.

“We have a strong team, but we have just one option; Sky and Quick-Step had strong teams but with more options. Finally, it was Peter who made the most of the work in the final descent and the final flat 2.5 kilometers. It was the right decision, but it was not enough in the end.”

Off of the podium, Sagan told a group of reporters, “We’ve only really started today. Next weekend, we’ve got Harelbeke and then Gent-Wevelgem, then Flanders, and Roubaix.”

Those races could be different for Sagan, as the Ronde van Vlaanderen was last year when he won. With the cobbles and multiple short climbs, the cream rises to the top sooner and the stars remain to battle from small groups.

“For us, it’s important that Peter is in good shape,” Denk added. “We have to take care of him. The classics in Belgium will be completely different.”

Listen to our discussion of Milano-Sanremo on the VeloNews podcast:

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Kwiatkowski: ‘When you have a few cards to play, you can go for the win’ Sat, 18 Mar 2017 20:57:56 +0000 In Italy's famous casino city, Michal Kwiatkowski (Sky) played the better numbers and refused to gamble in Milano-Sanremo.

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SANREMO, Italy (VN) — In Italy’s famous casino city, Michal Kwiatkowski (Sky) played the better numbers and refused to gamble in Milano-Sanremo.

After 291 kilometers, he edged ahead of double world champion Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) in Sanremo. He had the secure hand thanks to Sky’s sprinter Elia Viviani in the chase group, where Sagan risked it all on a Poggio attack.

“It’s all about winning, not being second or third,” said the 26-year-old Polish cyclist.

“We came here with two leaders, and I’m always happy to have that excuse of having a good sprinter behind. I could wait and not go on the front.”

Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step) followed Sagan’s attack at 6.3 kilometers from the finish. Kwiatkowski latched on to Alaphilippe, and they caught Sagan before the top of the Poggio at 5.4 kilometers out.

“Alaphilippe was the same, waiting for what Sagan was going to do. I don’t think Sagan was thinking about Sam Bennett [team Bora], he was making his effort,” added Kwiatkowski.

“That’s the thing in the classics when you have a few cards to play, you can go for the win.”

The double world champion strikes fear in many with his sprints and attacks. It helped him collect 92 wins — including the Ronde van Vlaanderen in 2016 — but also left him with 78 second places.

As a result, rivals aim for his weak point: his team. Sky did so today and on Monday, it was Quick-Step in Tirreno-Adriatico.

Sagan already won two stages in the Italian stage race leading up to Milano-Sanremo, but was hungry for more. Quick-Step’s Niki Terpstra launched on a climb leading to the finish in Civitanova Marche. Sagan chased and in doing so, he used energy that he needed against Quick-Step’s Fernando Gaviria when the race re-grouped for a sprint. Sagan placed second in what was an ominous sign for Milano-Sanremo.

“Luckily the best doesn’t always win and unluckily, sometimes the best doesn’t win,” Boonen said of Sagan during the week.

“It’s going to be very difficult for him to win in the classics. Why? Because he’s the best and he doesn’t have the strongest team.”

Quick-Step’s Philippe Gilbert closed down a move by Tony Gallopin (Lotto) after the Cipressa and Boonen rode for Alaphilippe leading to Sagan’s Poggio attack.

Sagan had Cesare Benedetti and Maciej Bodnar lifting some heavy weight for him, but he lacked playing piece when the trio began its mind-games in Sanremo.

“It was brilliant,” Sky’s Luke Rowe said. “We led into the Cipressa and the Poggio for Kwiatkowski. Viviani gave him the freedom to follow attacks, and if that didn’t work, Viviani could sprint.”

“It’s better to have two cards to play,” continued Kwiatkowski. “Elia was impressive today on the Cipressa and Poggio. And we talked a lot on the radio, and he told me I had to follow any move. He gave me the wake up call.”

The new German WorldTour team Bora-Hansgrohe left the casino town with a bitter-sweet taste. Its best hand placed second, but left a rainbow over the Poggio hilltop town.

“We wanted to win,” General Manager Ralph Denk said. “Peter didn’t want to just win, though, he wanted to paint a masterpiece doing so. I think we saw that with the world champion attacking on the Poggio and fighting to Sanremo.”

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Boonen at MSR: ‘Sagan doesn’t have the strongest team’ Fri, 17 Mar 2017 13:05:27 +0000 The Belgian speaks ahead of Saturday's race and says Peter Sagan's squad isn't as strong as the powerful Quick-Step Floors lineup.

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World champion Peter Sagan stands above his rivals but he lacks a strong team, says Tom Boonen.

Sagan’s Bora-Hansgrohe team fell short in Monday’s Tirreno-Adriatico when Quick-Step Floors launched from multiple angles. Teams could repeat the scenario in the upcoming monuments, starting with Milano-Sanremo on Saturday.

“Everyone is beatable, it’s bike riding, and luckily the best doesn’t always win and unluckily, sometimes the best doesn’t win,” Boonen said of the double world champion.

“We can be sure that it’s going to be very difficult for him to win in the classics. Why? Because he’s the best and he doesn’t have the strongest team.

“It’ll be open. The race finals will start a little earlier than normal and everyone will try to isolate him and get away in front of him. I am only saying what the tactics will be for everybody else. They will be aware that he’s there and he’ll be the main guy to beat.”

Boonen is retiring after Paris-Roubaix on April 9 following a long career. The 36-year-old Belgian won the 2005 world title, six Tour de France stages, and dominated the classics. He has three wins in the Tour of Flanders and four in Paris-Roubaix. If he wins either one again, he will set the record for the most victories. In Milano-Sanremo, he placed third in 2007 and second in 2010.

For most of his career, save for 2002, Boonen has ridden for the Quick Step franchise. The team has been one of the most tactically smart in the peloton due in part to its strength in numbers. It showed that with the finish in Civitanova Marche. Niki Terpstra attacked solo and forced Sagan to chase and Fernando Gaviria waited for the eventual sprint, edging out Sagan.

Similar tactics will be needed to beat Sagan in Milano-Sanremo, who bagged two stage wins in Tirreno-Adriatico.

“Every race is different. The way you can adapt to situations, that shows the strength of the team. It’s not having one plan and having that one plan pushed through at all costs, then you get predictive and everyone sees what you’re doing, and you just act to the way they think you are going to do the race. Being unpredictable makes it harder for the others,” Boonen said.

“We’ve got a lot guys going well, so we’ve only got to find the right way to the results. We can all see that Sagan is flying. So it’ll be difficult to beat him and so we have to plan how to beat him and the others.”

Quick-Step will start Milano-Sanremo with an A-list of riders that includes former world champions, Tour stage winners, and classic stars. Gaviria and Matteo Trentin will lead the sprint, Boonen, Terpstra, and Philippe Gilbert will try elsewhere, while Jack Bauer, Fabio Sabatini, and Julien Vermote will fill support roles.

“Yeah,” Boonen said if the team is key to beating Sagan Sanremo and races like Flanders and Roubaix. “It’s not only our team, but all the other teams in the world. Everyone is going to have the same tactic and try to get rid of him.”

When asked directly if Sagan’s team is not as strong as the others, Boonen added, “He has a very good team, but we have to be fair, guys. I mean, you can’t make up the math, eh?”

Sagan’s team includes Sam Bennett, Maciej Bodnar, Marcus Burghardt, Gregor Mühlberger, Aleksejs Saramotins, Cesare Benedetti, and Sagan’s brother Juraj.

Boonen’s team will likely put “all the cards” on Fernando Gaviria in the sprint. As a 21-year-old in his debut last year, the Colombian was positioned for the win but crashed in the final 300 meters.

“I hope to be in the top 10 to 15 positions on the top of the Poggio, where everybody wants to be. Then see if I can put Fernando in a good position. For us right now, he’s the main rider for Milano-Sanremo,” added Boonen.

“If we look back at last year too, he’s good. He’s a young guy but he’s got the talent that he doesn’t need a lot of experience in races. He just feels the race really well, so we put all our cards on him.”

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Van Avermaet ‘more solid and confident’ as monuments start Thu, 16 Mar 2017 14:04:33 +0000 Olympic champion Greg Van Avermaet heads to the spring's biggest races with newfound confidence and an appetite for a big win.

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FLORENCE, Italy (VN) — Belgian classics star and Olympic champion Greg Van Avermaet is “much more solid and confident” heading into the 2017 monuments compared to 2016, says BMC Racing.

Van Avermaet already won the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad (which he did in 2016 as well) and placed second in Strade Bianche. He starts the monument classics Saturday with Milano-Sanremo and continues with the Ronde van Vlaanderen and Paris-Roubaix, April 2 and 9, respectively.

“He’s Greg from last year but much more solid and confident,” BMC Racing sport director Fabio Baldato told VeloNews.

“The victories gave him that. He didn’t lack it, but maybe he was more nervous before. This is a security for the team and for him.”

He began his 2016 campaign similarly with a win in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, the Tirreno-Adriatico overall and fifth place in Milano-Sanremo. He was the hot favorite, but the BMC crashed en masse in Belgium’s big one, the Ronde van Vlaanderen or the Tour of Flanders, and Van Averment broke his collarbone.

All looked lost, but Van Avermaet was victorious elsewhere. He won stage 5 in the Tour de France and wore the yellow jersey for three days. Then he went to Rio de Janeiro and struck gold in the Olympics road race.

“I made a big step and want to do same this year,” Van Avermaet said in Tirreno-Adriatico last week. “I was one of strongest in rankings in the WorldTour. I’m one of best classics riders and accept my responsibility. I want to win races.

“I want to win one of the big classics. I was once always there in the big monuments, taking second and third, but now I want to win one of them.”

The early monuments — Sanremo, Flanders, and Roubaix — are different without Fabian Cancellara, winner in all three, who retired last year. BMC Racing now must take more of the responsibility with teams like Quick-Step for Tom Boonen and Bora-Hansgrohe for Peter Sagan.

“The team may end up being one of the favorites, and if we need to, we can take that weight on our shoulders,” Baldato continued.

“It’s better to have the confidence that you can make the race. The other teams will try to put us in danger, but we must race well. We have riders who can go in anticipation. We showed that we can handle those situations.”

The team changes slightly this spring. Taylor Phinney now races for Cannondale-Drapac and Michael Schär sits out with a broken collarbone suffered in Paris-Nice.

“But we have Stefan Küng; he was up there in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Strade Bianche. The team has the same equilibrium.

“Unfortunately, we lost Schär. He was truly a big reference point for us. But we have Martin Elmiger, with much experience. He knows the races well and he can substitute Schär. So we have the team and we have the captain,” Baldato added.

Van Avermaet will captain the team in Milano-Sanremo with Elmiger, Damiano Caruso, Silvan Dillier, Daniel Oss, Manuel Quinziato, Miles Scotson, and Francisco Ventoso.

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Bora director: Canny tactics could expose Sagan’s weaknesses Tue, 14 Mar 2017 20:36:53 +0000 Peter Sagan's trainer admits that the world champion may be tactically out-played at Milano-Sanremo by rivals with deeper teams.

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SAN BENEDETTO DEL TRONTO, Italy (VN) — Peter Sagan could suffer if teams launch multiple attacks against him in Saturday’s Milano-Sanremo, says his Bora-Hansgrohe team.

Rock music blasts and signals Sagan’s arrival at the Bora team bus, but fans see little beyond the world champion. Rival teams recognize this, too. On Monday in Tirreno-Adriatico, Quick-Step attacked Sagan from different angles and weakened him for Fernando Gaviria’s stage win.

“We have other options if you look at our roster, we have good riders but probably not winners,” Sagan’s trainer and Bora sports director, Spaniard Paxti Vila told VeloNews of Milano-Sanremo.

“Of course, we’d like to have a team like Quick-Step, but we don’t. Still, we have to do the best with our team.

“If I was racing against Peter, for sure, then I’d try to do different stuff and try to mix him.”

Vila spoke as the speakers outside the Bora bus pushed tunes like AC/DC out harder and harder. The team’s other cyclists like Cesare Benedetti tried to concentrate while they prepared for their time trial around Italy’s coastal town, San Benedetto del Tronto. Sagan descended from the bus, climbed on his bike and pedaled away with his long hair pulled in a tight ponytail. Most of the crowd followed the 27-year-old Slovakian.

Vila is considering every option so that the double world champion can win Milano-Sanremo. Sagan, who won the Belgian monument Ronde van Vlaanderen in 2016, already placed second and twice fourth in the seaside town of Sanremo.

Sagan may have been duped by Quick-Step on Monday in stage 6, but he won the first sprint stage Friday and blasted away from grand tour cyclists uphill to win in Fermo on Sunday.

“That was his limit, and we knew that before his race. I told him, ‘It’s going to be hard, but it’s worth trying.’ You can think of it of just a pure training prospective, a big load that’s similar to a classics. We had two objectives together, going for the win and for the training effort,” Vila explained.

“He was upset with me afterwards, he said, ‘Are you playing PlayStation with me or what?! I was pushing him to the limit, but that’s something he needs if he wants to be ready for the big classics.

Sagan and Vila need to play the right game if Bora is to win Milano-Sanremo. When rivals attack on the Poggio climb with around six kilometers to race, Sagan cannot afford to follow and expect to also have energy to sprint if the race regroups.

“Sanremo is a tricky race. In the final, the speed is so high that you can’t just be one step above, but two or three, otherwise they will catch you with a Poggio attack. You have to see how we arrive to the Cipressa, and afterwards we will decide there if we will go right or left,” added Vila.

“We can look at the different scenarios, if this or that happens, this or that is the best, but in the end, he’s on the bike and must decide.

“I try to have those hypothetical answers, the logical solutions.

“It’s PlayStation? No, he’s an artist that you cannot play. He’s an artist on the bike. Just like the win of Flanders last year, that was so great. Let’s look to the artist and see what he produces in Sanremo.”

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