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Last week’s headlines in Pro Cycling news and what’s coming up…
Evans back in Critérium International; Boonen king of Belgian cobbles; Flanders: Tom or Fabian?; NetApp making strides; Cavendish on show in Belgium; Gilbert in doubt for Flanders; Bad days for Basso; Schleck to receive 2010 Tour title; Sagan keeps on winning;
Evans back in Critérium International
Cadel Evans won the Critérium International stage race on Sunday in France, the first since his Tour de France victory and the first for an Australian.
He said in Corsica, “It’s a nice confidence boost.”
He won the second stage Saturday morning, a time trial ahead of Michael Rogers (Sky). The win put him in the lead by a fraction of a second over Rogers. Evans and his BMC Racing team successful defended the yellow leader’s jersey on Sunday, a boost and a scene he wants repeated at the Tour de France in July.
“I’m a classification rider, so of course I want to take the yellow to the end of the race. The young team rode well to protect the yellow jersey in this part of France. It was an honour. I’m happy for them,” Evans said in a press release.
“I love to race and it’s my job, it’s what I do. It’s really my life. Sometimes things go well, it all comes together. Until this point, I’ve had trouble bringing things together, but I knew, you keep working at it and it comes together. This is a good indication, but there are big races to come still. The classics in April for the team, but of course for me, the Tour in July.”
BMC Racing welcomed its first win after a rough start to 2012. Its star riders Thor Hushovd and Philippe Gilbert have under-performed for various reasons. Evans said, it’s “some good times after some bad times.”
Evans said he’ll “be a good lieutenant” for Gilbert in the upcoming Ardennes Classics and then race the Tour de Romandie. Then he’ll continue his work to defend his Tour de France title with training camps and the Critérium du Dauphiné.
Boonen king of Belgian cobbles
Tom Boonen took two important wins – E3 Harelbeke and Ghent-Wevelgem – ahead of the Tour of Flanders on Sunday. The oddsmakers now have the Belgian marked out as one of the two top favourites with Fabian Cancellara.
Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Nissan) – 2:1
Tom Boonen (OmegaPharma-Quick Step) – 2.5:1
Matti Breschel (Rabobank) – 10:1
Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) – 11:1
Sylvain Chavanel (OmegaPharma-Quick Step) – 16:1
Sep Vanmarcke (Garmin-Barracuda) – 16:1
Filippo Pozzato (Farnese Vini) – 16:1
Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky) – 16:1
Boonen won both races with team control. On Friday in E3, he attacked on the Taaienberg and led up the Paterberg. Team-mate Chavanel escaped, but after he was caught, Omega led the sprint for Boonen.
“I wanted to try to have a nice race, it’s not only important for the result, but for my head ahead of the upcoming races,” Boonen said. “That’s why I was doing a few big attacks and not saving myself for the sprint.”
He won the sprint anyway ahead of Oscar Freire (Katusha). Freire admitted “a big mistake,” starting his sprint too late.
In Ghent-Wevelgem on Sunday, Boonen relied on his team and saved himself for a small group sprint.
“We controlled the final,” Boonen said of his team’s work. After the final Monteberg climb, it pulled back a dangerous move by Cancellara and distanced top sprinter, Mark Cavendish (Sky). “It’s very important to put the knife between in your teeth for races like this. If we ride on the front, it’s easier and it’s a confidence boost.”
The next race on his agenda is the Tour of Flanders. No one – including Eddy Merckx – has ever won all three races in one year.
Flanders: Tom or Fabian?
Fabian Cancellara was the hot favourite heading into De Ronde, or the Tour of Flanders, 12 months ago. He won the E3 Harelbeke with a destructive attack on the Oude Kwaremont and rode to victory solo.
In Flanders, he suffered by spending too much energy too soon. In the final metres, Nick Nuyens (Saxo Bank) out-foxed him. This year, he seems to be more subdued ahead of the “holy week” of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix. He and Boonen are more concerned with putting the pressure on each other’s shoulders.
“Fabian is still number one, maybe I am there right behind him,” Boonen said.
“Last year, he got a little too excited: the strongest guy in the race, started out too early…. I don’t have the intention to ride solo 50K, I don’t have that possibility or that engine.”
“My team has proven ready for next week, the big Christmas Day,” Cancellara explained after Ghent-Wevelgem.
Boonen “is clearly the favourite, five stars,” he responded when asked about his rival. “Tom and his team will have to bear the weight of the race. But it’s a bicycle race, there are other contenders, other teams… This is a 260-kilometre classic, a long, hard and difficult race.”
After a shower, the Swiss headed back home to Bern “to get ready in calm. I’ll come back on Friday to Belgium, ready for the holy week.”
NetApp making strides
German second division team, NetApp is pushing towards its big objective of the season, the Giro d’Italia. On Saturday, it won the Coppi & Bartali stage race in Italy and helped prove its worth.
“With this showing, I hope to have earned myself a post on the Giro team,” said Jan Barta. “It will be difficult, but cycling allows you to dream. And all dreams, even those absurd ones, are allowed.”
The Czech won by 13 seconds over team-mate Bartosz Huzarski and 21 seconds on Diego Ulissi (Lampre-ISD).
It was a strong, week-long showing. NetApp won the team time trial, first held the lead with Cesare Benedetti, then Huzarski and Barta.
“This is a serious and organised team,” the team’s only Italian, Benedetti told La Gazzetta dello Sport. “Next year, it wants to race in the WorldTour.”
Giro d’Italia organiser gave it a spot next to 18 WorldTour teams in its race this May. It is one of only four wildcard teams and the only German one.
Giro director, Michele Acquarone said at the time that the decision was “to award youth and focus on Germany,” even if overlooking some home teams. “The team showed a lot of interest in the Giro. It also has a marketing project to relaunch German cycling. We felt the need to give them a chance.”
NetApp is a global computer hardware and software company and is headquartered in Sunnyvale, California. Its main classification rider is Leopold König, also from the Czech Republic. He placed second overall in the Tour of Austria last year.
Cavendish on show in Belgium
Mark Cavendish, despite missing out in Milan-San Remo and Ghent-Wevelgem, is star in Belgium. The World Champion received a warm welcome on the Belgian TV programme Laatste Show.
He talked about dancing, his visit with the Queen, sprints against Boonen and crash in the Dwars door Vlaanderen. Have a look: http://www.sporza.be/permalink/1.1252697
Gilbert in doubt for Flanders
Gilbert may put his dream of winning the Tour of Flanders on hold for another year. He and his BMC Racing team will decide today if he will race or rest to refocus on Amstel Gold.
“He has three options,” team sports director, Rik Verbrugghe told Belgian newspaper Sportwereld. “He can race Flanders and Amstel as planned, race Flanders with País Vasco, or skip Flanders.”
The Tour of the Basque Country, or País Vasco, runs April 2 to 7, the days between Flanders and Amstel Gold. If Gilbert does race in the Basque country, he’ll likely abandon early to start the Amstel Gold on April 8.
“I’m pretty far off my best,” Gilbert said. “I’d need a miracle to be competitive in Flanders”
He suffered and abandoned in E3 Harelbeke, and rode towards the back of the pack in Ghent-Wevelgem.
BMC signed Gilbert and Thor Hushovd over the winter to create a super team with Cadel Evans. Last year, Gilbert won many one-day races, including all three Ardennes Classics, a Tour de France stage and several other races. This year, he has abandoned more races than he has won. He pulled out of Tirreno-Adriatico with a fever and suffered a tooth problem.
Bad days for Basso
Ivan Basso’s run towards a third Giro d’Italia title has suffered a couple of setback. Last Wednesday, the Italian of team Liquigas crashed in the Volta a Catalunya and was forced to delay a high-altitude training camp.
“He’s improving in these days,” said team doctor, Roberto Corsetti. “However, he is not fully recovered yet and we must monitor his progress daily.”
He underwent MRI scans the day after on his right knee. Corsetti explained that there wasn’t major damage to his bone, tendons or ligaments.
In the same crash, Julian Dean (GreenEDGE) fractured his left femur in two places. Jakob Fuglsang (RadioShack-Nissan) broke his wrist.
It was not Basso’s first setback. He crashed in the second leg of Paris-Nice early this month. Rib pain forced him to abandon in stage six. Last year, he crashed on his face while training on Mount Etna, which ruined his run up to the Tour de France.
Vincenzo Nibali will lead Liquigas-Cannondale at the Tour this year, Basso at the Giro.
Schleck to receive 2010 Tour title
The Tour de France will officially award Andy Schleck the 2010 race title in the coming months after Alberto Contador was suspended for doping.
“We want to let the world know,” race director, Christian Prudhomme told Belgian newspaper, Le Soir. “We know that he would’ve preferred to have won on his bike.”
Contador tested positive for drug Clenbuterol at the Tour de France on July 21, 2010. On February 6, after appeals and delays, the sports high court, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) ruled in favour of the UCI’s appeal and banned Contador for two years. He was stripped of 12 wins, including his 2010 Tour and 2011 Giro titles.
Sagan keeps on winning
Peter Sagan has been a winning machine since turning professional in 2010, winning races from Oman to France, USA to Italy. Yesterday, he won his first in Belgium, stage one of the Three Days of De Panne in Oudenaarde.
He let his team-mate Daniel Oss attack in the final, on the Berendries climb, and then countered with a sprint win. The win, second place in Ghent-Wevelgem and his short, but successful history make him a Flanders favourite.
“I don’t know,” he said in Oudenaarde. “Of course, I wasn’t even thinking of winning this stage today.”
Team sports director, Stefano Zanatta said that Sagan would not try to defend his lead over the next two days, but gain experience ahead of Sunday.
The Three Days of De Panne:
Stage 1, March 27: Middelkerke – Oudenaarde, 201.6km
Stage 2, March 28: Zottegem – Koksijde, 216.1km
Stage 3a, March 29: De Panne, 112.1km
Stage 3b, March 29: De Panne ITT, 14.7km