By Andrew Hood
Only at the northern classics would people hope for bad weather.
While Americans were wrestling with the possibility of cancelling a snow-boundU.S. Open, northern Europe was basking under temperatures in the 70s, clear skies and almost no wind. For many, it seemed Sunday’s weather was too nice – at least according to several protagonists queried by VeloNews after the Tour of Flanders.
“It might have been great for fans and some of the racers, but today’s race was kind of flat and it lacked the spark that makes Flanders such a great race,” said Fabian Cancellara (CSC), who tried to break things open with two attacks in the final 50km. “Usually when it’s rainy or windy, three-quarters of the guys are afraid. Today, three-quarters of the guys thought this was their big chance.”
Nice weather has been blessing the northern classics for the past several years and it’s been a long time since the peloton has had to endure nasty rain, wind, cold and even snow that have made the classics cycling’s most legendary battlefields.
“I was hoping to have bad weather,” said Discovery channel sport director Dirk Demol. “It was a very fast first hour. Then the break of the day went away and the weather was too nice and the group stayed together too long. I think we went over the Muur with like 80 riders – that’s not normal. Because the weather was not bad enough, we saw a lot of riders still with the lead group that normally aren’t there.”
Team CSC was especially frustrated by the large peloton that played a huge factor late in the race. The team sent Cancellara and Stuart O’Grady on the attack, but they couldn’t shake the hard-chasing peloton that swarmed their every move.
“As nice as the weather was for spectators and as comfortable as it was for the riders, it worked against us and probably a few other teams today because we ended with too big of a group there at the end. It was too easy for the riders to keep going back,” said Team CSC sport director Scott Sunderland. “Unfortunately it just wasn’t hard enough for Fabian and Stuey, even though they really tried to break the race. It wasn’t really hard until the Muur, when things started going hard to make a dent, but then there was only 15K left.”
Discovery satisfied with Flanders performances
Discovery Channel was more than happy with how its cadre of young riders performed in Sunday’s Tour of Flanders. The team put two into the top 10, with Vladimir Gusev fifth at five seconds back and Tomas Vaitkus sixth at 13 seconds adrift.
Both are fine performances for a team that raced in the northern classics for the first time in eight years without the services of the now-retired Viatcheslav Ekimov or the team’s reliable classics captain George Hincapie – KO’d with a wrist injury at the Tour of California.
“We were hoping to have at least one in top 10, and we finished with two in the top 10, so we thought the boys did very good today,” Discovery Channel sport director Dirk Demol told VeloNews. “We were expecting that Gusev and Vaitkus were going to be there, Stijn [Devolder] just missed the move by five meters to be in that break with Cancellara. Anyway, we are very happy.”
Vaitkus tried to bridge across with Karsten Kroon (CSC) in a late chase after Alessandro Ballan and Leif Hoste attacked on the Gammont and then Gusev made a late charge to finish in the lead chase group with the same time as third-place podium man Luca Paolini (Liquigas).
“When they went, they had 20 seconds, but you never know when they start to gamble in the front, maybe we can come back,” Demol said. “I think the two best guys were up front, because the Muur never lies. I think the two best guys were first and second.”
Demol said the team was forced to reassess its expectations following the unfortunate California crash by Hincapie, a perennial favorite on the cobbles who was third last year at Flanders.
“I talked to George earlier this week and told him the positive influence you always bring to the team and that we miss him,” Demol said. “He’s a real leader and with Eki retired, it’s a big difference. But again, the boys really stepped up today. We’re proud of them.”
Zabel forced out of Ghent, Roubaix; others banged up
German sprinter Erik Zabel has been forced to pull out of this week’s two cycling classics in Belgium and France after falling during Sunday’s Tour of Flanders, AFP reported.
Zabel will not compete in Wednesday’s Ghent-Wevelgem race or Paris-Roubaix four days later. Zabel was forced to withdraw from Sunday’s race after suffering serious bruising to his elbow and hip.
“Erik has been ordered to rest,” Milram sporting director Gianluigi Stanga said Monday.
Vicente Reynes (Caisse d’Epargne) crashed hard at 150km and suffered a hard contusion on his coccyx. Team doctors said if the pain persists, he will undergo further exams and X-rays.
X-rays revealed no broken bones for Matti Breschel (CSC), who was writhing on the ground in pain and holding his wrist. He’s hoping to be ready for Ghent-Wevelgem and Paris-Roubaix. T-Mobile’s Lorenzo Bernucci crashed at a railway crossing, forcing him to retire from the race. “Lorenzo hurt himself but it’s nothing serious,” said T-Mobile sport director Tristan Hoffman on the team’s web page. “I was pleased with Andreas Klier’s performance. If he hadn’t crashed he might have been able to give more help to Marcus. Andreas has other aims this month where he can shine.”
Words of wisdom from Konyshev, Ekimov
Tinkoff Credit Systems sports director Dmitri Konyshev had a nice summary on the team’s web page on how the action went Sunday.
“I talked with our riders just after the race, for most of them it seemed to be too much for words. The Russian youngsters have definitely not seen anything like that in their career, in terms of hardness of the route, pure danger of peloton’s being squeezed in a two meters-wide road, incredible speed along cobblestones, innumerable falls and cheers from the crowd the size of which was simply impossible to fathom,” Konyshev said.
“For the debutants it felt something between a super show and a war. They definitely needed to go through it, and now they say they know what real cycling in the raw is. I’d say that to ride one Tour of Flanders is equal to finishing in a dozen of other races.”
Retired Discovery Channel rider Viatcheslav Ekimov was also contacted by the team for his perspective: “During the Three Days of de Panne, I met with the guys from St Petersburg, the graduates of the same cycling school as mine, and I advised them not to get scared of Belgian races. If you learn how to do them, you’ll feel comfortable everywhere. It’s really a high school of cycling to graduate from.”
Haedo wins Tour de Cologne
Argentinian Juan Jose Haedo (CSC) scored his first success in Europe Monday by winning the 92nd Tour de Cologne in Germany.
The 26-year-old speedster outkicked sprinters Graeme Brown and Alessandro Petacchi (Milram) at the conclusion of the 203.2km race around Cologne.
“It is my first victory in Europe, it is an important day for me,” exclaimed Haedo, who joined the Danish formation this season and won two stages of the 2007 Amgen Tour of California.
Meanwhile, the finale was marred by a crash in mid-pack. Among the fallen was under-23 world champion Gerald Ciolek (T-Mobile), who was apparently not seriously injured. —Agence France Presse
92nd Tour de Cologne
1. Juan Jose Haedo (Arg), CSC), 203.2km in 4:50:09
2. Graeme Brown (Aus), Rabobank, same time
3. Alessandro Petacchi (I), Milram, s.t.
4. Ciaran Power (Irl), Navigators Insurance, s.t.
5. Markus Zberg (Swi), Gerolsteiner, s.t.
Cobo opens Basque tour with win
Spanish rider Juan Jose Cobo (Saunier Duval-Prodir) won Monday’s first stage of the Tour of the Basque Country.
Cobo finished 10 seconds ahead of Constantino Zaballa (Caisse d’Epargne) to win the 139km stage, which started and finished in Urretxu. Oscar Sevilla (Relax-Gam) crossed third. —Agence France Presse
Tour of the Basque Country, Stage 1
1. Juan José Cobo (Sp), Saunier Duval, 139km in 3:43:05
2. Constantino Zaballa (Sp), Caisse d’Epargne
3. Óscar Sevilla (Sp), Relax-Gam
4. J. Angel Gómez Marchante (Sp), Saunier Duval
5. Tadej Valjavec (Slo), Lampre
Efimkin wins Lombarda
Russian Alexander Efimkin (Barloworld) won the 37th edition of the Settimana Ciclista Lombarda on Monday.
Italian Alessandro Vanotti (Liquigas) won the fifth and final stage and last stage, outsprinting countrymen Daniele Pietropolli (Tenax) and Eros Capecchi (Liquigas) after 162km of racing into Bergamo. —Agence France Presse
Settimana Ciclista Lombarda, Stage 5
1. Alessandro Vanotti (I), Liquigas 3:44:34
2. Daniele Pietropolli (I), Tenax, same time
3. Eros Capecchi (I), Liquigas, s.t.
4. Borut Bozichz (Slo), Team LPR, s.t.
5. Jure Kocjan (Slo), Radenska PowerBar, s.t.
1. Alexander Efimkin (Rus), Barloworld, 15:13:15
2. Sylvester Szmyd (Pol), Lampre-Fondital, at 0:27
3. Domenico Pozzovivo (I), Ceramica Panaria-Navigare, same time
4. Luca Pierfelici (I), Aurum Hotels, at 0:31
5. Daniele Pietropolli (I), Tenax, at 0:32
Unibet.com gets stiffed again
Unibet.com has been excluded from two more classics run by Amaury Sports Organization (ASO).
The ProTour team,. which was denied participation at last month’s Paris-Nice and Sunday’s Paris-Roubaix, has also been barred from Flèche-Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège, both scheduled at the end of this month.
ASO said that the exclusions are due to laws banning betting sponsorship and advertising in France and Belgium. The Belgian-Swedish team is sponsored by a betting website.
Although the laws against betting sponsorship in both countries have existed for some time, they have not been applied until this season.
Unibet.com has already offered to display alternative sponsorship on their kit when racing in France, to no avail. The team raced in Sunday’s Tour of Flanders in Belgium, where the authorities seem indifferent to enforcing the ban. —Agence France Presse