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VN news ticker: Rally Cycling and Total Direct Énergie see wildcard invites to Tour de Suisse, Tadej Pogačar intent on finishing off UAE Tour

Here's what's making headlines on Thursday, February 25.

Rally Cycling and Total Direct Énergie to Tour de Suisse

American-based Rally Cycling and French-based Total Direct Énergie have been extended wildcard invites to the 2021 Tour de Suisse.

The 84th edition of this race, set for June 6-13, has extended automatic invites to the 19 WorldTour teams, and also to the top-ranked ProTeam Alpecin-Fenix.

Rally Cycling participated in the last running of the Tour de Suisse, in 2019, also on a wildcard invite. For this year’s edition, the squad is set to bring Robin Carpenter, Nate Brown, Ben King, and Joey Rosskopf, among others. Brown last raced the Tour de Suisse in 2019 as a member of the EF Education First (now EF Education-Nippo) squad. King is twice a stage winner at the Vuela a España with Team Dimension Data (now Qhubeka-Assos), while Rosskopf, twice U.S. national time trial champion, moved over to Rally from CCC Team.

Total Direct Énergie earned the best placement in the 2020 ProTeam series. The squad brings with it three-time Vuelta stage winner Alexandre Geniex, Pierre Latour — also a Vuelta stage winner — as well as Edvald Boasson Hagen from Norway, and Victor de la Parte from Spain.

Tadej Pogačar intent on finishing off UAE Tour

Tadej Pogačar (UAE-Emirates) didn’t win the stage Thursday, but he took definitive control of the UAE Tour with two stages left to go. Pogačar finished second in the stage, just ahead of rival Adam Yates (Ineos Grenadiers), to tighten his grip on the leader’s jersey.

“I was more focusing on GC guys and there was a lot of headwind on the final climb,” Pogačar said. “It was hard to follow all the attacks, and I decided to defend my leader’s jersey. I’m happy with the second place.

“For sure, I knew Yates would try something, but there was too much headwind to make any difference between the GC guys.” Pogačar said. “We have two more stages and nothing is finished until the last finish line, and we have to stay focused on the next two days.”

Zwift to celebrate women’s history month

Throughout the month of March, Zwift will celebrate women’s history with a series of events, challenges, podcasts, and guest panels.

“Women’s History Month on Zwift presents a great opportunity to come together and celebrate the women’s community on Zwift,” says 2016 Olympian Sarah True.

Zwift will offer regular rides led by with regular group rides and runs with some led by female athletes from cycling and triathlon. These group events will be accessible to riders of all levels.

The cycling apparel company No Gods No Masters (NGNM) is the official apparel partner of Zwift for women’s history month, and all participants in women’s history month events will have the opportunity to wear and unlock the official in-game kit. NGNM will also be selling a limited edition NGNM x Zwift Women’s Ride Series Cycling Kit.

On March 18, the Women’s Ride and Run Series Live Panel will host speakers exercise physiologist Olympic gold-medalist Gwen Jorgensen, three-time Olympic gold medalist Kristin Armstrong, sports nutritionist Gemma Sampson, and nutrition scientist Dr. Stacy Sims.

On March 28, cyclists can take on the NGNM Ven-top Challenge which will challenge riders’ climbing abilities in a group ascent of the virtual recreation of Mont Ventoux.

Zwift podcasts throughout the month will include guests such as Ayesha McGowan, Sika Henry, Malindi Elmore, and Veronica Ivy.

Event registration is available on the Zwift website.

2021 OZ Trails US Pro Cup — with Olympic qualification points — set for Fayetteville, AR

The 2021 OZ Trails US Pro Cup p/b Experience Fayetteville will host an amateur cross-country series in Fayetteville, AR April 9-11, and a pro series race April 16-18, 2021.

As of now, the local and state government and health authorities have issued permits and approvals with the cooperation of the department of parks and recreation, as well as sanctioning racing bodies.

“I think people are going to be really stoked once they see this new race venue, says US Cup event director and course consultant Ty Kady. “This facility was built from the ground up with a proper U.C.I. cross-country course in mind. And the amateur course is super-fun to ride. To my knowledge, there isn’t a pro cross-country course in the United States right now that has anything this.”

The OZ Trails US Pro Cup plans to offer Olympic UCI cross-country, and amateur racing, at an all-new venue, on a new racecourse. The pro race is part of the 2021 U.S. Cup Mountain Bike Series; the UCI event will allow racers to gain valuable UCI points needed for 2021 Olympic qualification.

Centennial Park at Millsap Mountain in Fayetteville, AR will play host to the 2022 UCI World Cyclocross Championships.

Simon Yates to start Giro d’Italia

Team BikeExhange has confirmed that Simon Yates will star the 2021 Giro d’Italia. The twin brother of Adam Yates (Ineos Grenadiers) will take on the Giro for the fourth consecutive year, to address “unfinished business.”

This year’s Giro route includes six summit finishes, seven hilly stages, and just more than 38km of time trialing.

“The 2021 Giro route looks really nice, there’s a good mix of stages and there’s even some gravel roads thrown in for good measure,” said Yates. “As always with the Giro, the final week looks hard, and with only a small amount of time trial kilometers I think that is where the race will be decided.”

In 2018, Yates lead the Giro for 13 stages — winning three stages — before ceding the overall win to Chris Froom (Team Sky) when he gave up more than 30 minutes on stage 19. The following year, Yates finished in eighth overall. In 2020, Yates was forced to leave the Giro when he tested positive for COVID-19 before the start of stage 8.

“The last two or three years haven’t gone as I would have hoped with a combination of bad luck and some mistakes along the way,” Yates commented. “All I hope for is to have a clean run in 2021 without these things and that I can show myself in the best way possible.”

Sam Bennett hits 50 career victories

Sam Bennett (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) hit a milestone with 50 career victories with his stage win Wednesday at the UAE Tour. That puts him behind only Sean Kelly, who won 193 times as a pro, as the most successful Irish pro racer in history.

“It’s a perfect way to start the season,” Bennett said. “I am proud to score my 50th victory here. It was a long, hot stage, but it now feels great to get the first bunch sprint of the year out of the way.”

Bennett and the other sprinters should see two more chances for sprints in the final two stages at the UAE Tour. Thursday’s summit finale should see a clash between race leader Tadej Pogačar (UAE-Emirates) and the other GC contenders.

George Bennett denied on national champion’s jersey design

George Bennett, the recently crowned national New Zealand champion, has seen his custom-designed jersey denied by the New Zealand cycling federation. According to Bennett, speaking on The Social Distance podcast, officials said Bennett’s design was too similar to what the New Zealand national federation had already registered with the UCI.

“Now we’ve got the great jersey debacle,” Bennett said. “We created this cool jersey that we thought was awesome. We were proud about wearing this jersey, but when we told them about it, they just said no. They said we’re too worried it will be confused for the national team jersey. They just shut it down so hard.”

Jumbo-Visma general manager Richard Plugge later posted a photo on Twitter of what the jersey would have looked like. Bennett will unveil the accepted jersey at his season debut at Paris-Nice.

Sep Vanmarcke on reasons for switch to Israel Start-Up Nation

Sep Vanmarcke opens the Belgian opening weekend in a new kit, but with the same ambitions at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. Speaking to Wielerflits, the Belgian star explained why he left EF Education-Nippo to join the Israel outfit on a three-year deal.

“I don’t want to speak negatively of EF, because it’s not necessary,” said Vanmarcke, who raced in EF colors for four seasons. “My first choice was to stay with them, but conversations started with Israel. EF wasn’t always about the results. It’s a different system. It was nice at the time, but after a number of years working that way, I wanted to get on a [different] track. Here (ISN), it is much more focused on the race and on the results.”

“I can take my chances here, and the team continues to believe in me,” he continued. “As long as I have a good level I think I have a chance of winning. I am now over 30, and I have already been written off by the media.”