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Favors, and results, are traded all the time in the pro peloton, but it’s not usually as obvious as it was at the GP Minsk over the weekend. The path to unlocking the Vuelta a España heads uphill. Fabio Aru heads to the Vuelta, a race he won in 2015, seeking redemption. After a disappointing season, Dimension Data heads to the Vuelta seeking just about anything, really.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“I have always good memories in all my races. Always I enjoy every day in all my races.”
— EF Education First-Drapac’s Rigoberto Uran, asked for his best memory at the Vuelta a España. Uran will be the team’s GC leader in Spain, backed by Simon Clarke, Mitch Docker, Sebastian Langeveld, Dani Moreno, Pierre Rolland, Tom Van Asbroeck, and Mike Woods.
STORY OF THE DAY: ‘There was no bribery’
Details are sketchy, with contradictory statements coming from those involved, but something very unusual took place Sunday at the finish of the UCI 1.2 Grand Prix of Minsk, in Belarus. Alone at the front of the race, Polish rider Marek Rutkiewicz (Wibatech Merx 7R) held a large gap 1 km before the finish, but then nearly slowed to a stop, waiting for Belarusian rider Nikolai Shumov (Minsk Cycling Club) to catch him. The two rode to the line together, where Shumov won unopposed.
Oh, and this all happened on camera, during a live stream broadcast of the race.
Marek Rutkiewicz i dzisiejszy finisz Grand Prix Minsk (UCI 1.2). Bardzo ciekawe, na czym polega?a taktyka Wibatechu na ten finisz.
— Olek Sieradzki (@oleksieradz) August 19, 2018
Sources have told CyclingTips that it was poorly kept secret at the race that Wibatech and Minsk would orchestrate a victory for the Belarusian team. After the race Rutkiewicz admitted that the result was a gift to the Belarusian squad — but he denied that any money had exchanged hands, as reported by German outlet Radsport-news, which claimed that a source overheard Rutkiewicz and Minsk’s riders speaking about money.
“Last weekend we had to start in Poland on the Defense Ministry’s race, but it was canceled,” Rutkiewicz said. “A week before important starts we were left without competition. Then the Minsk racer Bronislaw Samoilov offered us the opportunity to take part in two classics in Belarus. The team from Minsk helped us settle everything, so we wanted to repay the favor.
“On the first day [the Minsk Cup], Maciej Paterski won, and Samoilov finished second, on Sunday it was the opposite. In the last kilometers, when I was driving at the head, I saw Nikolai Shumov chasing me on solo. I waited for him and we went to the finish in two. There was no bribery, we just helped each other.”
The general manager of Minsk, Alexei Ivanov, denied Rutkevich’s claim. “Where are the guarantees that the Pole did not have any health problems or just did not have enough strength to finish?” Ivanov said. “Which athlete will want to show his weakness? It’s better for him to say, ‘I was stronger, but I gave the victory, and made a gift to the hosts.'”
UCI rule 1.2.081 prohibits “any collusion or conduct aimed at disrupting or infringing the image of the competition.” If a rider is found to have violated this rule, they may be stripped of their result and fined 200 Swiss francs.
— Minsk Cycling Club (???????? "?????") (@minskcycling) August 19, 2018
RACE RADIO: ALL ABOUT THE VUELTA
Eight summit finishes at this year’s Vuelta a España
Summit finishes are a trademark of La Vuelta in its modern era. This year, there are eight, with dozens of climbers in contention.
As early as Stage 2, the day after the opening 8km time trial in Málaga, La Vuelta returns to the Caminito del Rey, the climb where Esteban Chaves won a stage classified as an uphill finish in 2015. It’s not the same this year. “This time, the finish line will be located in front of the Visitor Centre and not on the river dam,” explained technical director Kiko Garcia. “The race will end a bit further down, after three to four kilometres of an uphill at 4 to 5%. We can expect a group of 50 to 60 riders to contest the stage victory. If he’s on good form, Peter Sagan can give it a try. It also suits riders with the same characteristics as Alejandro Valverde.”
The first uphill finish is relatively short but seriously steep at Alcafar on day 4. On stage 9, Dan Martin will return to La Covatilla where he claimed his first Grand Tour victory in 2011. Stages 13, 14 and 15 in the Asturias province will surely shake up the race. La Camperona, a gruelling summit in the province of León, saw victories by Ryder Hesjedal in 2014 and Sergey Lagutin in 2016. Les Praeres is an unprecedented finale with gradients up to 20 to 21%. Lagos de Covadonga is very well known — 20 stages of La Vuelta have finished there since 1983, the most recent winner being Nairo Quintana.
Another novelty of the 2018 La Vuelta is the Balcón de Bizkaia, a recently paved road on Mount Oiz in the Basque country. The final part of the mountainous program is located in Andorra. Stage 19 is flat, but set to be concluded at La Rabassa where Alessandro Ballan was the last winner, in 2008, just two weeks before he won the world championship in Verona. Stage 20 is the big one, on the eve of the final parade into Madrid, featuring three Category 1 climbs before the HC Coll de La Gallina, expected to designated the overall winner of the 73rd La Vuelta.
“It’s debatable whether Stage 15 or Stage 20 is the queen stage,” Garcia said. “They’re both very complicated with several difficulties before the uphill finish.”
Among riders at the Vuelta considered to be climbers: Nairo Quintana, Rigoberto Urán, Miguel Ángel López, Richard Carapaz, Vincenzo Nibali, Fabio Aru, Richie Porte, the Yates twins, the Izagirre brothers, Wilco Kelderman, Steven Kruijswijk, Igor Antón, Rafal Majka, Ilnur Zakarin, David De La Cruz, Michal Kwiatkowski, Alejandro Valverde, Pierre Rolland, Michael Woods, Dan Martin, Sepp Kuss, Jai Hindley, Bjorg Lambrecht, Jack Haig, Herman Pernsteiner, Nic Schultz, and Edward Ravasi.
Aru for GC, Martin for stages at Vuelta a España
Fabio Aru will attempt to change course on what has been a quiet season, with the Italian named as GC leader for UAE Team Emirates at the Vuelta a España. Aru went into the Giro d’Italia as the team’s captain but was far off his best form, dropping out on stage 19 while sitting 27th overall. Since then, he finished 10th in both the Tour de Wallonie and the Tour de Pologne, building towards the Vuelta. Aru will now have his chance to try to repeat his overall victory of 2015.
“It will be a tactically open Vuelta, the [eight] summit finishes will lend themselves to attacks,” Aru said. “And I must beware of short stages, they will have a big impact on the general classification.”
Team manager Joxean Matxin defined the team goals, plus the respective roles Aru and Dan Martin will play. “We will have the chance to aim for outstanding results with high-calibre and experienced riders and, at the same time, to help some make a step ahead in their careers,” he said. “Aru will be our man for the general classification. In addition we will be able to count on Daniel Martin, back from an excellent Tour de France and looking for more good results in some stage finishes particularly suited to him.”
The team will be completed by Valerio Conti, Vegard Stake Laengen, Sven Erik Bystrøm, Simone Consonni, Simone Petilli, and Edward Ravasi.
Meintjes trying to turn things around at Vuelta
It’s been a year to forget for Dimension Data, due to injury and illness affecting many riders, including star sprinter Mark Cavendish. Louis Meintjes has also struggled, but the South African climber is seeking to get things back on track in the upcoming Vuelta a España.
“It’s been a challenging year for the team and for me personally too, but we have worked hard to prepare well and build up nicely ahead of La Vuelta,” Meintjes said. “At Vuelta a Burgos I think we definitely showed that we were on the right track as the entire team was riding really well. With the same team as in Burgos now heading to La Vuelta, we have some positive momentum going into the race.”
Meintjes has long been seen as a major African talent for Grand Tours. After finishing 10th at the 2015 Vuelta a España, he was eighth at the Tour de France in both 2016 and 2017. His results have been below par this year and he struggled in the Giro d’Italia, dropping out in the final week. More recently he was ninth overall in the Vuelta a Burgos and, according to directeur sportif Alex San Vega, he is on course for a big ride.
Meintjes will be joined by Igor Anton, Merhawi Kudus, Ryan Gibbons, Steve Cummings, Ben King, Johann van Zyl, and Amanuel Ghebreigzabhier in the Spanish Grand Tour, which begins this weekend.
Rodrigo Contreras to Astana
Astana Pro Team has signed a one-year contract with young Colombian rider Rodrigo Contreras, who will join the team in 2019. Conteras, 24, recently he won a prologue and a 42km ITT at the Vuelta a Colombia. During the 2018 season, Conteras won an individual time trial at the Central American and Caribbean Sports Games and at the South American Games. On the national level Rodrigo won two overall victories, at the Vuelta al Valle del Cauca and Vuelta al Tolima. In 2017, he was second at the Colombian National Time Trial Championships and Pan American Games individual time trial.
Patrick Bevin to continue with BMC/CCC
After one of the most successful seasons of his career, New Zealander Patrick Bevin has extended his contract with Continuum Sports beyond 2018, meaning he’ll wear CCC colors next year. In 2018, the 27-year-old Bevin placed second in time trials at the Vuelta al Pais Vasco and Amgen Tour of California.
“In the eight months since Patrick Bevin joined us at Continuum Sports, he has impressed with his time trialling, teamwork, and professionalism, so we knew we wanted to keep him in the team when we secured CCC as our title sponsor for the 2019 season,” said General Manager Jim Ochowicz. “Patrick’s strength in the time trial has seen him play a crucial role in our team time trial success, most notably at the Tour de France, which was a key reason for his selection.”
Cycling in the news
Grieving father warns of sharp handlebar edges
A Washington man is mourning the loss of his six-year-old son due to a freak cycling accident that resulted in the boy being impaled in a crash by the razor-sharp edge of his handlebar, which had worn through the rubber end of his grip.
Keith Curran’s son Denny was riding in the town of Pullman with his older brother, Michael, when he crashed on a slight incline section of road. Though he was airlifted to a nearby hospital, he died of internal injuries.
“For some reason — and I don’t know yet — the bicycle handlebars turned ninety degrees and impacted the asphalt and impaled him in his abdomen,” Curran told NBC’s KNDO/KNDU in Yakima, Washington. “This bicycle’s handlebar tubes, they have some serration on the end of them, and through normal operation of the bike it saws off the rubber on the grips and they poke through. I looked at the bicycle afterwards and I see that the grip had been moved forward. I don’t know if that was from the impact of his body hitting it or if that was from operational use.”
Curran says he wants to see something change, to ensure nothing like this happens again. “Hold your child a little tighter today,” he said, “and then go out and take a look at the bicycle that they ride, and investigate the handlebars and the grips.”
TWEET OF THE DAY
Taken from a helmet cam. Hashtag “incoming.”
— Daniel Spring (@fatsculler) August 20, 2018