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VN news ticker: Thibaut Pinot scraps Giro d’Italia, UAE-Emirates cleared for Liège-Bastogne-Liège

Here's the news making headlines for Saturday, April 24.

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Thibaut Pinot abandons plans to start Giro d’Italia

Thibaut Pinot will not start the Giro d’Italia next month. Pinot and his Groupama-FDJ team confirmed Saturday that he was still suffering from the back issue that has plagued him since last year’s Tour de France.

“I can’t hide from myself: I’m not in the medical condition to shine in the Giro. I would unnecessarily suffer and I would not be able to help the team,” Pinot said. “It’s not even a question of shape, but the pain in my back prevents me from performing well.”

The Frenchman rode the Tour of the Alps this week as a final tester of his condition ahead of the Giro only to find himself struggling throughout.

“Giving up crossed my mind but I am a competitor, I wanted to go to the end of the test, I needed to, in order not to have any regrets,” Pinot said.

“Every day I gave everything. Not racing in the Giro d’Italia is heartbreaking, we did everything to be there! We really did our utmost so that I could ride at my best. I’m disappointed but I’m focused on the next step. I am only thinking about healing myself, leaving these back problems behind me, competing at my usual level and fighting with the best.”

Also read: Pinot’s Giro start hangs in the balance

Team boss Marc Madiot said that he will continue to back his struggling leader, who has ridden with Groupama-FDJ since turning pro in 2010.

“We did everything we could so Thibaut Pinot could come back to his actual level,” Madiot said. “Thibaut is going through something, we will of course give him the necessary time to come back. We will continue to accompany him in his convalescence, he has the confidence and support of the entire Groupama-FDJ cycling team.”

Pinot’s schedule for the season is now uncertain. Groupama-FDJ is centering its ambitions around sprinter Arnaud Démare and young climber David Gaudu this summer, so the Vuelta a España may now be Pinot’s best chance of seeing grand tour racing this year.

UAE-Team Emirates cleared for Liège-Bastogne-Liège

UAE-Team Emirates has been given the green light for Liège-Bastogne-Liège on Sunday.

“On Friday the entire team undertook a COVID-19 test along with every other team as per the race protocol,” said a team representative Saturday. “We are happy to report all these tests produced negative results and the team has received confirmation from the race COVID Committee that we are all clear to race tomorrow at Liege-Bastogne-Liege.”

The team missed La Flèche Wallonne this week after pre-race COVID testing revealed positive cases in the squad’s “bubble.” Subsequent tests earlier in the week came back negative and so suggested a false positive.

Another round of testing Friday ahead of Liège again returned negative, and so UAE Emirates will be lining up for Sunday’s monument.

Tadej Pogačar, Marc Hirschi and Brandon McNulty headline the squad’s selection for Liège in what will be one of the strongest teams on the startline. Last year, Hirschi placed second and Pogačar third.

Tom Pidcock withdraws from planned Liège-Bastogne-Liège start

Tom Pidcock has pulled the plug on his planned Liège-Bastogne-Liège debut Sunday.

“Tom has not quite fully recovered from his crash at Flèche on Wednesday,” read a team statement Saturday. “He’ll now have a few days of rest before turning his attention to the first MTB race of his season next weekend in Switzerland.”

Pidcock had hit top form through this month’s hilly classics, scoring a marquee victory at Brabantse Pijl and taking second on the podium from a photo finish at Amstel Gold Race. The young Brit crashed in the final hour of Flèche Wallonne this week, but came back strong to finish sixth atop the Mur de Huy.

Ineos Grenadiers brings in Eddie Dunbar as a replacement, who will be joining a stacked lineup that also includes Richard Carapaz, Tao Geoghegan Hart,  Michal Kwiatkowski and Adam Yates

Liège-Bastogne-Liège: Julian Alaphilippe on the threat of Primož Roglič and his admiration of Alejandro Valverde

Julian Alaphilippe will be hoping dreams do come true this weekend.

Hot off the back of victory at La Flèche Wallonne this week, the world champ heads to Liège-Bastogne-Liège for the centerpiece of his spring schedule. After placing fifth following his disaster denouement at Liège last fall, Alaphilippe carries momentum and mojo into Sunday’s monument.

“Liège has been my main goal of the spring since the start of the season,” Alaphilippe said Friday. “I’ve been dreaming for a while to win it one day. I’m glad I already have a nice victory in my pocket, but we are not there yet. I am very motivated to get the most out of it.”

Last year, Alaphilippe saw his Liège sprint usurped by Primož Roglič, and had to chase down the Slovenian in the final surge to the top of the Mur de Huy at Flèche on Wednesday. Alaphilippe said Roglič will be the main man to watch at Liège tomorrow.

“Roglic will of course be one of the biggest competitors,” Alaphilippe said on a media call. “He was very strong on the Mur and already made a big impression this season. He will be hard to beat.”

Alejandro Valverde placed third at Flèche and goes into this weekend’s monument with his best form in years. Alaphilippe spoke of his admiration of the four-time Liège winner, who turns 41 on Sunday.

“I will also keep an eye on Valverde. We have always had a good relationship and I have a lot of respect for his greatness. career and what he still does at this age,” he said.

“It warmed my heart when he came to congratulate me on Wednesday [after Flèche]. We always had a lot of respect for each other, whether it was in my early years or when I finished on the podium of Flèche Wallonne behind him. He is an example. Being as efficient at that age – it inspires respect.”

Simon Yates, Team BikeExchange ‘tick a lot of boxes’ at Tour of the Alps

Simon Yates had called this week’s Tour of the Alps the ‘dress rehearsal” ahead of his season goal of the Giro d’Italia. After a dominant week in the Alps, Yates and his team are ready for the big show.

Team BikeExchange took its Giro A-listers to this week’s five-stage race and proved suitably impressive, with Yates taking a solo stage win and easing to the top of the final GC.

“In the end it was a very successful week for the team,” said sport director Matt White after seeing Yates secure the overall Friday.

“We came here with the primary goal to go through the process to get ready as a team for our major goal of the Giro d’Italia next month and I think we ticked a lot of boxes,” White said. Obviously winning the race was the objective but also to bring this group of riders together and it worked very well. It gives us great confidence going into the Giro and we have some fresh faces and old hands coming in.”

Yates has made winning the Giro d’Italia the center of his season this year. After a series of near-misses and misfortune in the past three years has seen the 28-year-old come away from Italy without a pink jersey in his suitcase, the 28-year-old now plans to hunker down ahead of the Grande Partenza in two weeks’ time.

“I feel good, now we just need to look after ourselves, try not to get sick, try not to get injured and try to arrive to the Giro d’Italia in the best possible shape,” he said.