Tag Archives: Tour of California

A Dutchman back in pink as a Colombian contender takes the stage

Day-by day, climb-by-climb, one-by-one the contenders for this Giro d’Italia have fallen by the wayside as the number with the potential to win dropped from double figures, to half a dozen to five, four and today perhaps just three as the race entered the Dolomites and the general classification was turned upon its head.

It was a 210km epic from Alpago to Corvara, crossing six climbs in total, five of which had an altitude of more than 2,000 metres for a collective 5,000 plus metres of total altitude gain by the riders who spent upward of six hours in the saddle.

And by the time all was said and done we had a Colombian stage winner in Esteban Chaves, another Dutchman in the pink jersey in Steven Kruijswijk, an Italian hanging on for grim death in Vincenzo Nibali, and the likes of Alejandro Valverde, Andrey Amador, Rafal Majka, Ilnur Zakarin and Rigoberto Uran all in real trouble.

It was the kind of stage made for action and drama and while there is always the fear that such a stage might be too hard for the favourites, and without a summit finish, that they simply mark one another out of the game, that certainly wasn’t the case here. A huge break of stage hunters went clear early and build a large lead. At first it was Ruben Plaza who took up the challenge from that group, going clear and summiting the third and fourth climbs of the day before being caught and dropped by John Atampuma and Kanstansin Siutsou.

Behind the pink jersey group was reducing in number by the kilometre and soon the pink jersey of Amador was himself in trouble. Fighting to keep in contact the elastic snapped on the crippling Passo Giau and Amador was left watching his overall ambitions disappear up the road. But not so fast. The Costa Rican with an entire nation behind him as the first ever leader of the Giro from his country, turned to his descending skills for a second straight day and pulled back almost a minute on those in front, joining up before the final categorized climb. It was an incredible effort, but it always felt like it would be in vain once the road turned upwards again on the Passo Valparola, and so it proved to be.

It was also proving to be trouble for a lot of other men in the top ten overall too. At first Nibali stretched his legs before the two quiet men of the top ten thus far, Kruijswijk and Chaves attacked. Content to have spent the first 13 stages hanging tight, keeping out of trouble and monitoring their rivals; ensuring they remained close for when this key stage arrived, it was the Dutchman who made the first move and the Colombian who reacted. Nibali lost the wheel and was in trouble; Valverde and the rest were blown away.

By the top of the Passo Valparola we had stage hunter Atapuma off alone but his time coming down rapidly to the two pink jersey hunters riding hard behind, with Nibali doing his level best to limit his loses. The gap appeared to be hovering around 30sec between each group, but by the top of a short-sharp little climb near the finish that wasn’t categoriesd, Kruijswijk, Chaves and Georg Preidler — another remnant from the days early break — had Atapuma in their sites, and with just a few clicks to ride, he was caught. The Colombian from the BMC team must have felt dismayed though all it served to do was hand the stage glory from one Colombian to another as Chaves out sprinted the other three to take the stage win and the small time bonus as Kruijswijk rolled in second and into the pink jersey.

All eyes were on the stopwatch now and it was Nibali who came in next, 37sec down. Further back was Zakarin and Majka at 2min 29sec; Uran at 2min 50sec; and Valverde in a small group at a staggering 3min. The pink jersey of Andrey Amador finished 3min 52sec down and, if you’re still counting, Bob Jungles rolled home at 6min 21sec.

Coming into this Giro if you’d been told after this queen stage, with 13 days of racing completed, that a Dutchman was in the race lead, you’d have assumed it would be Dumoulin given his Vuelta last year, given the expectations on him, and certainly given how he started the first few days. But Dumoulin is back home now, long since abandoned and Dutch dreams are now very much on the shoulders of Kruijswijk. It’s been a long time since the Dutch had any viable GC contender, never mind one taking over from another in the same Giro. Indeed it has been 36 years since the last Dutchman won a Grand Tour: Joop Zootemelk at the 1980 Tour de France. They’ve never had a winner of the Giro.

But while Kruijswijk contending to this degree is a bit of a surprise, it’s not as if he’s someone without pedigree. He’s had two top ten finished at this race in the past and in reality his odds should probably have been shorter than Dumoulin’s. A top 5 was always a possibility; all the LottoNL-Jumbo rider has done here is take it up a notch; rider smarter than in the past and put himself in the right place at the right time.

Only two men are now within a minute of Kruijswijk: Nibali at 41sec, who despite looking vulnerable today, is still very much in the reckoning ahead of tomorrow’s uphill time-trial and will remain confident in the knowledge that the longest climbs are still to come and those should still play into his favour; and Chaves at 1min 32sec. Valverde is 4th at a distant 3min 6sec.

There’s a long way to go, but now, at last, we truly have our small handful of real contenders to win here. The winner should come from one of three men, baring something spectacular. Everyone else has either abandoned or fallen by the wayside as the intensity, climbing and grind has been ramped up.

It’s only going to get harder.

Giro d’Italian 2016, stage 14 result:

1. Esteban Chaves (Orica GreenEdge)

2. Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo)

3. Georg Prediger (Giant-Alpecin)

4. John Atapuma (BMC)

5. Vincenzo Nibali (Astana)

6. Kanstantsin Siutsou (Dimension Data)

in 6h 06′ 16″

all s.t.

@ 6″

@ 37″

s.t.

General classification after stage 14:

1. Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo)

2. Vincenzo Nibali (Astana)

3. Esteban Chaves (Orica GreenEdge)

4. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar)

5. Andrey Amador (Movistar)

6. Rafal Majka (Tinkoff)

in 60h 12′ 43″

@ 41″

@ 1′ 32″

@ 3′  06″

@ 3′ 15″

@ 3′ 29″

 

Over at the Tour of California…
Following Julian Alaphilippe’s victory in the queen stage a few days ago that gave him the race leader overall, Peter Sagan took another stage win, Toms Skujins won a stage in the mountains, Rohan Dennis took the individual time-trial stage, and Alexander Kristoff pipped Peter Sagan for first today. Overall Alaphilippe maintains his GC lead ahead of Dennis by 16sec with Brent Bookwalter in third at 38sec.

Ulissi wins again but Jungels remins king of the Giro

So much for that being a sprinters day on what looked on the profile like a pan-flat stage with a couple of little bumps near the end. Turns out those hilly were harder than they looked and enough to shake virtually everyone not in GC contention from the final shootout for the stage win.

Vincenzo Nibali turned up the pressure on the descent of one of those hills and split it up nicely. For a moment it looked like himself, Alejandro Valverde and Esteban Chaves might take time on everyone else with 15km to go, but the leading duo on GC — Bob Jungels and Andrey Amador — soon bridged across…and then attacked. It was an attempt by Amador to take the jersey from Jungels, but the young Etixx – Quick Step rider had more in his legs than they thought and it was soon about the two putting time into the rest with Jungels looking the strongest of the two. With 4.5km remaining Diego Ulissi, he of one stage win to his name in his Giro being quickly dominated by Italian stage winners, sprinted across the small but holding gap to join the attack and set up the potential three man sprint and with the Italian then present it should have been obvious who would win the stage.

The gap held and Ulissi took the win, sprinting around Jungels who was more focused on keeping the chasing group at bay with a huge effort in the final kilometre that resulted in him finishing third of the three. The result gave the Luxembourgian four bonus seconds, though his lead of the Giro was reduced by 2sec with Amador finishing in front of him and gaining 6sec overall. Still the limited bunch that contained the other GC contenders trailed in behind Giacomo Nizzolo at 13sec thus improving Jungels advantage over the likes of Nibali and Valverde by 17sec.

Ulissi will no doubt steal the local headlines for his superbly timed effort, but Jungels is the story now. What is the limits to this 23 year olds potential? In many ways he is replacing the feel good, likeable, newcomer-on-the-GC-contention block, Tom Dumoulin (who incidentally abandoned the Giro this morning) by putting in the kind of performance we seen from the Dutchman at last years Vuelta.

This Giro is only Jungels third Grand Tour, the first of which (the 2014 Vuelta) he abandoned, but he did finish 27th overall at the 2015 Tour de France (including three top 10 stage finishes in the mountains) so the potential is there. He was 3rd at Tirreno-Adriatico this year (albeit a race in which the queen stage was culled due to weather) and 9th at the 2014 Critérium International, but this Giro is very much proving to be his breakout party, and how enjoyable it is to watch.

Of course, the high mountains have all still to come so a lot can and probably will change, but a lot of people will now be rooting for the rider from an Etixx team who surely never imagined they’d be fighting the GC battle this far into the race.

Long may it continue.

Notes: Tom Dumoulin abandoned the Giro this morning citing saddle sores, making it two days in-a-row that a pre-race contender has dropped out following the withdrawal of Mikel Landa through illness. The Sky rider has since said he would be willing to turn his attention to aiding Chris Froome at the Tour in July.

2016 Giro d’Italia, stage 11 result:

1. Diego Ulissi (Lampre)

2. Andrey Amador (Movistar)

3. Bob Jungels (Etixx – Quick Step)

4. Giancomo Nizzolo (Trek-Segafredo)

5. Sonny Colbrelli (Bardiani CSF)

6. Matteo Trentin (Etixx – Quick Step)

in 4h 56′ 32″

all s.t.

@ 13″

all s.t.

General classification after stage 11:

1. Bob Jungels (Etixx – Quick Step)

2. Andrey Amador (Movistar)

3. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar)

4. Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo)

5. Vincenzo Nibali (Astana)

6. Rafal Majka (Tinkoff)

in 45h 16′ 20″

@ 24″

@ 1′ 07″

s.t.

@ 1′ 09″

@ 2′ 01″

Elsewhere, in California, Julian Alaphilippe won the queen stage over the climb of Gibraltar Road and moved into the race leaders yellow jersey ahead of Peter Stetina, who also finished second on the stage, by 19sec. Alaphilippe won the queen stage of the Tour of California last year too but had Peter Sagan to contend with in the GC battle, a battle he lost to the Slovak on the final day when Sagan over turned a 2sec defecit. This year Alaphilippe won’t have Sagan to worry about as the world champion trailed home 21min 52sec down and well out of contention to retain his title.

Tour of California GC after 3 stages:

1. Julian Alaphilippe (Etixx – Quick Step)
2. Peter Stetina (Trek-Segafredo)
3. George Bennett (LottoNL-Jumbo)
in 12h 49′ 47″
@ 19″
@ 31″

Notes from rest day 2, Giro 2016 edition

A pretty decent first week of racing with a little bit of everything and a general classification that is still completely wide open heading towards the mountains. You cannot really ask for much more than that and so I suppose, with a kind heart, those fine athletes deserve a day of rest! Still, there’s plenty to muse about both at the Giro and beyond.

Kittel abandons

Let’s start with the German sprinter who lit up the first two road stages in the Neterlands with mighty victories in which nobody else came close. On stage four he arrived in Italy for the first time in his Giro racing career but only lasted a further five stages before failing to take the start at yesterday’s time-trial. As a result Kittel leaves the Giro with his record intact of having won four career Giro stages without ever having won the race on Italian soil.

Maybe it was the weather he didn’t fancy yesterday or maybe he’s satisfied with his two early victories and will now rest up and turn his ambitions to stage wins at Le Tour in July. Still, with Andre Greipel in the assendency it would have been nice to see them go head-to-head a few more times, and perhaps even fight out the red points jersey all the way to a conclusion. Stages 11 and 12 coming up this week look ideal for the sprinter so it’s a surprise he didn’t hang around a few more days.


Katusha disqualify their own rider

Russian team Katusha took the unusal step of furthering a race officials punishment to one of their riders by adding one of their own. Alexey Tsatevich was handed a small fine and a 7min time penalty for drafting during yesterday’s time-trial, but feeling the punishment was too lenient, Katusha boss Dmitry Konyshev pulled Tsatevich from the race saying that the way his rider tode the stage “was absolutely unacceptable”. Who knows whether this is a wider move by Russian sport to try bolster its image ahead of its bid not to end up banned from this summers Olympics following a numbers of doping scandals and allegations across multiple sports, or just good old fashioned sportsmanship?

Canucks at the Giro…mostly Hesjedal

As a Canadian, I’m always interested in the fortunes of Canuck riders at this Giro. Naturally Ryder Hesjedal is the big name with big expectations given his overall win back in 2012, but it’s been far from a comfortable start for the new Trek-Segafredo rider. He has coughed up time on a couple of stages, missing splits or struggling for his top form, and with more time lost in yesterday’s time-trial, Hesejdal now finds himself 3min 29sec off the pink jersey, or for better reference, 2min 36sec behind Vincenzo Nibali. To some that gap could already be seen as disasterous, but we all know how well Hesjedal rides in the later stages of Grand Tours, getting stronger with each passing week, so don’t rule him out quite yet. Last year he was even further back and still finished in the top 5 overall.

As for other Canucks: Hugo Houle is 89th @ 39min and Svein Tuft, the perennial Lanterne Rouge contender, is 170th @ 1hr 4min 13sec down (or 16 places out of last!)

One Canadian missing is Mike Woods, the young Cannondale rider in his first year at the World Tour level. He’s been a bit of a revelation on the hills and it would have been great to see how he handled his first Grand Tour, with a few stages this past week clearly suited to his talents, but he was unable to start when he picked up an injury at Liège–Bastogne–Liège a few weeks ago.

Cancellara abandons

It was a tough Giro for Cancellara who in his final season had hoped to show up and take the pink jersey in the opening time-trial and then win again at yesterday’s long TT, but the Trek-Segafredo rider took ill the day before the race began in the Netherlands and failed in his first goal. He slowly recovered and entered yesterday with desires to still take the stage win, but could only manage 4th, 28sec behind stage winner Primoz Roglic. With no targets in front of him and the mountains looming, Cancellara bowed out and will now, like Kittel, look to recover ahead of the Tour in July.

Sagan winning as usual in California

Make it 14 career stage wins at the Tour of California by Peter Sagan who must surely love this race more than any other outside the Tour de France. The Slovak won a bunch gallop, that included the likes of Alexandre Kristoff and Mark Cavendish (neither of whom featured), and with it the race lead — a race lead he won overall last year and will have ambitions of repeating again this year. More on this race throughout the week as the Giro continues too.

Rider of the week:

This wasn’t easy. Several riders have had good openings weeks at the Giro. Kittel and Greipel both took two stage wins with the former also having a day in pink before Gianluca Brambilla won a stage in style and took the race leaders jersey. There’s also been fine performances by Diego Ulissi, Tim Wellens and yesterday, Primoz Roglic, but I had to go with Tom Dumoulin. It may no longer look like his GC ambitions will sustain, but he did what was expected of him: He won the opening time-trial, took pink, retained it on stage 4 and took time on his rivals on stage 6 before his legs finally gave way on the weekend. It was still a solid effort by a very classy rider.

Meanwhile in California … Sir Wiggo comes alive

Despite not yet being two years removed from winning the Tour de France and an Olympic time-trial title, a lot of people have been quick to write off Sir Bradley Wiggins. His disappointing 2013 season — highlighted by his withdrawal from the Giro and failure to make the Sky team (injured) for the Tour — have been used as reasons for thinking his best has come and gone and that he’s on the descent down into retirement. And there was also the thinking that he had enjoyed 2012 too much and was simply paying for it in 2013, that a year removed from that success might yet spark a fire within him to try and find that old form. Suddenly this week a few signs have emerged to suggest that it may well be returning.

Wiggins and reigning Team Sky Tour de France winner, Chris Froome have had a rocky relationship and last year we were getting set for an inter-team head-to-head across France only for Wiggins not to ride. After Froome’s victory, Sky looked correct to have put their eggs in the Froome basket, and when word came out of camp that the two had reconciled it seemed Wiggins had accepted his new role on the team: Time-trial specialist who would become a super-domestique to Froome.

Now I don’t know about you, but even after Wiggins came out admitting that Froome was the top-dog on the team and that he would indeed ride for him, I couldn’t help but wonder whether someone with the ego of Wiggins would have it in him to put aside his past success in the Tour and simply ride for Froome, even in spite of Froome’s 2013 season. Sometimes I cynically questioned whether Wiggins had merely buried the hatchet in order to win back a place on their Tour de France roster.

I’ve nothing of course to suggest that all is the case, and maybe it all is genuine, but the way Wiggins has been racing of late, I’m starting to really think that he has designs of his own come July’s big race.

He came into the season looking a new man. A good winters training and a race program different from the past that would see him tackle — and target — the Paris-Roubaix first before thinking about Grand Tour racing. Had the man that had dominated the track before coming across to win the Tour de France before winning an Olympic time-trial title, now decided to add a Monument classic feather to his cap?

It looked that way and while he was probably a little disappointed inwardly to have finished 9th in Roubaix, there was no doubt that those who doubted his ability to adapt to one of the toughest and most rugged of spring classics were left amazed at his ability to hang in and mix it with the best in the classics business just as he had done when he integrated himself from a track rider to a full-time Grand Tour rider, winning the Tour in 2012.

But what next? Wiggins said he would be back for more in Roubaix in 2015 and no reason not to believe him anymore, but was his goal in the short term of this season now to shed a few pounds and make himself a respectable deputy for Froome by July? Well, the first test of how that was going is coming this weekend at the Tour of California. And it sure as heck looks to me as though he’s gone further than any of us might have thought he would.

The old fire in him appears to be burning again.

On Monday’s individual time-trial across 20.1 kilometres, Wiggins didn’t just win, but shattered the opposition. He beat a very good time-trialist in Rohan Dennis by 44 seconds over that 20.1 km, and took 52 seconds out of American Taylor Phinney in third.

But can he climb again?

Well, speculation is that Wiggins has shed 5 kilograms since the Paris-Roubaix and to look at him he looks like a Grand Tour rider again as opposed to a more bulky classics man. The test of his climbing came yesterday, a day after the time-trial victory.

On the days final seven kilometre assent to the finish at Mount Diablo, that included gradients touching 17 percent, Wiggins led from the front. He went all Miguel Indurain and simply let the others ride on his wheel as he pounded his way towards the top shedding men as he went. An exercise in hard training within a race as much as a tactic to simply win the race, or so it seemed, Wiggins obliged those that could sit on his wheel by setting the tempo. Few could sit with him, though one who did was Dennis who finished second to him the day before, and in the final kilomtre he jumped clear to win the stage. Wiggins hit a wall, somewhat, and lost 20 seconds thus reducing his lead over Dennis in the GC to 24 seconds, but had laid down another marker as to his new found form.

You have to think Wiggins is only going to get stronger as the days tick down towards the Tour. No longer can his selection for Team Sky be in doubt. And what is Froome thinking? What is Wiggins now thinking? Will he take this form and suddenly think, what if? What if he can keep close to Froome in the mountains, maybe even steal some time. What if he’s in contention come the Tours loan 54 kilometre time-trial? Could Wiggins shock his rivals — if indeed a former Tour winner just two years removed from that win would be considered a shock?

I’d say the odds are still against him and a lot of this might be me hoping that he can get himself into the mix to really spice up what is looking like a very competitive Tour. Maybe this is simply all part of Wiggins effort to get ready to help Froome, maybe this is all part of Sky’s big plan. After all, Froome was immense last July and is singularly targeting the Tour once more, Alberto Contador looks better than he’s been for years and last years Giro winner, Vincenzo Nibali is coming back to France for another bite at the cherry. But the odds against Wiggins must be reducing by the week, like his weight, and in direct contrast to his form and confidence. And beware someone like Wiggins when he gains some confidence.

A break succeeds in Italy while someone else wins in Cali

It only took twelve stages worth of racing but at long last a good old fashioned domestique filled breakaway got clear, stayed clear and decided the result of yesterday’s Giro stage. Did the peloton have their team radio’s switched off or did the sprinters figure it was only fair to give their minions a day in the sun?

Probably the later but you won’t hear Lars Ytting Bak complain as he crossed the line himself 11 seconds ahead of Sandy Casar in second with a group of five others. It didn’t change the race lead but Casar did leap right up into third place and for a while was the virtual leader on the road.

With a flat stage tomorrow we can expect a bunch sprint. No way they let the grunts in the bunch another day clear of the field… Can’t have them getting ahead of themselves.

Over in California…the riders dawned their skin suits, Stormtrooper type helmets and futuristic bikes to race against the clock. Dave Zabriskie was a favourite coming in and lived up to it with a big win which also seen him move into the yellow-ish jersey when Peter Sagan, the man who won the first four stages straight, barely got himself up the final climb never mind retaining his jersey.

The GC is tightly packed with two summit finishes coming up and it’s going to make for fascinating racing before on the final stage they cruise through Hollywood disrupting the Ferrari driving celebrities afternoon for a finish in the heart of LA in which Sagan will get back to winning ways.

Everyone else goes home to let Sagan win alone

It is believed that all riders not named Peter Sagan packed up their bags and left California yesterday morning ahead of the fourth stage of the Tour of California. With the Slovak having won the first three stages everyone else on the tour pondered the point of suffering on only to watch the same man win again. The result was Sagan riding stage four alone to yet another victory. He’ll set off today in the individual time-trial and, given the circumstances, is expected to tootle to victory.
Continue reading Everyone else goes home to let Sagan win alone

Three in-a-row for Sagan … a change in pink at the Giro … Le Tourde Scotland

When was the last time, if ever, that someone started a Tour of any reputable standing by winning the first three stages in a row? Step forward Peter Sagan of Slovakia, who at just 22 years of age he fast becoming the finest young talent in world cycling. With the time-bonuses that come for crossing the line first, the Liquigas-Connondale rider has built a 12sec lead over Henrich Haussler despite each of the wins coming in bunch gallops.

Which brings us to the second question: When was the last time, if ever, that someone started a Tour of any reputable standing by coming second in the first three stages? Step forward Haussler who if it wasn’t for Sagan’s parents moment of romance twenty-two years ago plus nine-months, he would be the man everyone was talking about winning three stages to start the Tour of California.

As it is, Sagan has made Haussler his whipping boy, while Haussler has made everyone else his. Stage four will bring about the obvious question: Can it happen again? Can Sagan win for a forth time, can Haussler finish second once more? It’s highly unlikely but we’ll all be hoping for it, right? Well, those running the event, those looking for a bit of variety, perhaps also the podium girls sick of the sight of Sagan, will all hope for a shake up to the result on the line this evening.

Rodriguez adds a stage win and minor time gap to his continued accumulation of time bonuses

You have to hand it to Joaquim Rodriguez. Like everyone else he has known about the time bonus’ available on the line from the beginning and he has been trying to go after them as much as possible to close his gap to the top of the general classification. Then yesterday, he got a gap on his rivals just before the line to win the stage and to add not just the time bonus, but also some genuine time and move into the Pink jersey.

Ryder Hesjedal came in six seconds back but it wasn’t enough though I dare say he’ll be content enough not to have to defend now. The key here for him is to remain as close to Rodriguez as possible on the climbs then try blow him away in the final time-trial.

Le Tour de Scotland

Reports have surfaced that Scotland would like to host the opening stage of the 2017 Tour de France in Edinburgh with subsequent stages running through the country and down into England before they would gave the race back to the French. The Tour hasn’t been on the British mainland since it opened in London in 2007 with previous stops in 1994 and 1974.