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VN news ticker: Stefan Küng storms TT at Volta a la Valenciana, Marc Hirschi sees Wout van Aert as Amstel favorite

Here's the news making headlines for Saturday, April 17.

Jasper Philipsen doubles up at Tour of Turkey

Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Fenix) took his second win in two days at the Tour of Turkey, beating André Greipel (Israel Start-Up Nation) and Mark Cavendish (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) on stage 7 into Turgutreis.

The Belgian fastman enjoyed a strong leadout going into the long final straight and kicked hard from behind his teammate to punch to the line with a number of bike lengths over his rivals. Greipel and Cavendish had marked the Alpecin-Fenix train in the final 150 meters and the two veterans both launched strong challenges, but Philipsen’s power once he came off the wheel couldn’t be matched.

The final five kilometers saw a flurry of attacks that nearly denied the sprinters as Shane Archbold (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) and then Alex Dowsett (Israel Start-Up Nation) made separate solo moves. However, with Alpecin-Fenix intent on setting up the bunch-kick, the all-or-nothing escapes were snuffed out.

Overnight race leader José Manuel Díaz (Delko) hung on to his GC lead with one sprint stage remaining Sunday.

Stefan Küng unstoppable with time trial victory in Volta a Valenciana

Stefan Küng (Groupama-FDJ) lived up to his billing as red-hot favorite for the 14-kilometer time trial at the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana, beating Nelson Oliveira (Movistar) and Thibault Guernalec (Arkea-Samsic) in Playa Almenara on Saturday.

The Swiss champion now moves into the overall lead, six seconds ahead of Oliveira.

Overnight leader Enric Mas (Movistar) punctured in the final kilometer and finished 1:27 slower than Küng’s winning time of 16:12. The Spaniard drops down to third on the podium.

The race wraps up with a short rolling stage into Valencia on Sunday. With just six seconds separating the top two on GC and Movistar sitting two-three on the podium, Küng and his team will be under pressure to defend.

Marc Hirschi sees Wout van Aert as favorite for Amstel Gold Race

Marc Hirschi (UAE-Emirates) sees Wout van Aert as the man to watch at the Amstel Gold Race on Sunday.

After scouting the route for the Dutch event in recent days, Hirschi sees a rider with a strong sprint as likely to have the upper-hand in the circuit race that opens up the Ardennes classics.

“Primoz Roglič could be a favorite, but I think it will come down to the guys with a good sprint in the end,” Hirschi said in a media call Saturday. “It could come down to a sprint, so my head has Wout or these guys as favorite.”

This year’s Amstel Gold Race will play out over repeats of a technical loop after race organizers had to pivot away from the traditional route due to COVID restrictions in the region. Hirschi forecast that the race could play out in a similar way to the critérium-style GP Montreal and GP Quebec.

“I think it will be a little bit like the Canada races,” he said. “Everyone will stay together until around three laps to go and then the race will start and the speed go up. It could also be possible for the guys who did the Flemish races to do well here. It will be quite an open race.”

Hirschi was cautiously optimistic about his form after a troubled start to the season, but is likely to share leadership with Matteo Trentin for the race Sunday rather than playing outright captain for UAE-Emirates.

Zdenek Štybar returns to training after heart ablation surgery

Zdenek Štybar (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) has been cleared to restart his training after undergoing a heart ablation procedure.

The Czech veteran was ruled out of the Tour of Flanders at the start of this month after receiving surgery for a heart rhythm problem. Some two weeks after treatment, the 35-year-old has been given the green light to return to the bike.

“I’m happy to be able to restart training again after a rest period at home with my family,” Štybar said after a check-up Friday. “I will now work towards the second part of the season, with my main goals being the Olympic Games, the world championships and the rescheduled Paris-Roubaix. I would like to thank the Deceuninck-Quick-Step medical team and Professor Brugada for looking after me, as well as all those who have sent me good wishes in recent weeks.”

Thibaut Pinot still nursing back injuries, Giro d’Italia start still in doubt

Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) is still suffering from nagging back problems sustained in a fall at last summer’s Tour de France. The Frenchman fell heavily on the opening stage of the Tour last August, and some eight months later, the injuries he sustained are putting his plans to race the Giro d’Italia next month in doubt.

Pinot struggled through the Tour as he nursed the back problem, and a few months later, was forced to quit the Vuelta a España as the injury persisted.

With the hangover of the Tour de France crash still not abating, Pinot’s plan to start the Giro in May will be subject to how he fares at next week’s Tour of the Alps.

“Physically, I’m fine, I feel good. In terms of the back, we are still in the recovery phase but I am optimistic for the future,” Pinot told l’Equipe. “In training, it’s fine, but we know that nothing replaces racing to stimulate the body, with nervousness and tension. This is why I remain cautious. The real answer will be the race and the Tour of the Alps (April 19-23), where I’m not going to think about the result but to test myself and see if it gets better.”

“I am scheduled for the Giro but I will only go if I am at 100 percent,” Pinot continued. “At 95 percent, I will not go, that’s for sure because it is the most difficult event and I don’t want to relive the last Tour de France and the Vuelta. We will take stock after the Tour of the Alps.”

Groupama-FDJ is sending its sprinter Arnaud Démare to the Tour this year, meaning that the Vuelta may be Pinot’s best chance of seeing grand tour racing if he is unable to start the Giro, beginning May 8.

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