Dissecting the Dauphiné – Stage 5

Featured image courtesy of @ASO/Criterium du Dauphine

The 72nd edition of the Critérium du Dauphiné, shortened as it was, will go down as one entertaining showdown before a Tour de France where we have no idea who will win the yellow jersey in Paris.

Despite the pandemic causing mischief, a five stage Dauphiné has brought drama, surprises and individual glory. Every year this race acts as the best indicator of who’s in form before the biggest stage in world cycling.

EF Pro Cycling’s Daniel Martínez wins the 2020 overall after Jumbo-Visma took their 17th victory of the year with Sepp Kuss. A mixed day for the Dutch team after Primož Roglič abandoned after a crash on Stage 4.

The Tour is now two weeks away, lots to dissect from this year’s Dauphiné.

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First up, the stage winner and another win for Team Jumbo-Visma. We saw attacks everywhere across the 157 km stage, the finish on exactly the same terrain as yesterday in Megève.

Julian Alaphilippe and Pavel Sivakov found themselves caught by the main pack before the race came to life with the likes of Miguel Ángel López, Tadej Pogačar and even Sivakov, who suffered from a crash, trying his best for Team Ineos.

After leader of the race Primož Roglič didn’t start this morning, you’d think that Jumbo-Visma might rest up easy and save their legs. Forget it! Tom Dumoulin attacked on the Col de Romme and in Sepp Kuss he now adds a stage victory from the Vuelta last year. The American has not put a foot wrong over the five days – a loyal domestique, got a free hit today and delivered! Should he be off to the Tour? On this evidence absolutely!

One final climb, one final push to finish this Dauphiné on a high after some disappointment along the way – Jumbo-Visma are fully prepared for the Tour. Despite losing Steven Kruijswijk, losing Primož Roglič to rest easy – they should be satisfied.

The big question is what condition will Roglič be in for the Tour? A question that we’ll ask but three stage wins out of five at this Dauphiné – lots to smile about.

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Second, let’s look at the overall winner of the 72nd Dauphiné – Daniel Martínez. Stage winner at Paris-Nice in 2019, he’s a new talent and a worthy win, the best of his career to date. Martínez found himself isolated but that didn’t matter – EF Pro Cycling and Jonathan Vaughters will be delighted!

Credit must go to Thibaut Pinot who finishes second overall. He did look quiet in the first few days of this race but did start to pick it up – climbing quietly not attacking too much before the final two stages not necessarily a bad thing.

Pinot goes into the Tour as the big French hope. After suffering from an unfortunate knee injury last year – now is the time for redemption. He could have taken the overall today, he gave everything by attacking the race – Pinot deserves credit for having a go.

The French wait for a Dauphiné victory let alone a Tour de France goes on. Not since Christophe Moreau in 2007 has their been a French winner of the Dauphiné but there were even moments today where fellow French riders were trying to help Pinot – some might find that annoying but others might have different opinions. To make things more important for the French they’ll be pleased to see not only Pinot make the podium but also Guillaume Martin, who’s ridden consistently too.

We say it every year that not since 1985 have we had a French Tour de France champion. 35 years since Bernard Hinault in yellow – Thibaut Pinot could end the wait.

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Other names who deserve a mention include Miguel Ángel López, who rode better today and also Julian Alaphilippe seems to be getting stronger day after day.

Ride of the day belongs to Pavel Sivakov. An unfortunate crash on a descent (we’ve had a few!) but he kept going. The Russian even attacked on the final climb, great to see while nursing nasty road rash and a ripped jersey.

So what can we take overall from this year’s Dauphiné?

We’ve seen a head-to-head between Jumbo-Visma and Team Ineos where both their riders in form abandoned the race. Jumbo-Visma will come away the slightly happier and Ineos will wonder where they got some things wrong.

Youth shone brightly at this Dauphiné as we saw huge glimpses into who will be riding and targeting future Grand Tours. Lennard Kämna, Tadej Pogačar, Daniel Martínez, Pavel Sivakov and even key domestiques such as Sepp Kuss are the ones to watch in future.

On a sad note we saw some favourites crash out. Egan Bernal, Emanuel Buchmann, Steven Kruijswijk and Primož Roglič were four big casualties of the race – their prospects before the Tour has begun will be interesting to predict especially as three of the four names above were the fourth placed, third placed and defending champion from last year’s Tour.

Today’s stage also saw a slow ride protest after Kruijswijk himself suffered from a dislocated shoulder on a descent described as having a horrendous road surface. Fabio Jakobsen’s crash in Poland after a downhill sprint, both Remco Evenepoel falling off a bridge and Max Schachmann colliding with a car in Lombardy – rider safety is in an unwelcome spotlight at the moment, something to ponder.

The Tour de France is now so close. All the preparation is complete. We cannot wait until Saturday 29th August in Nice…

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Il Lombardia 2020 – Five talking points

Featured image courtesy of Tim de Weale/getty images

The 114th edition of Il Lombardia certainly provided drama, a race that usually takes place in October but this time in August. A historic day in Lombardy as Jakob Fuglsang takes the win as he prepares for the Giro d’Italia in October.

While we’re happy for Jakob Fuglsang and those who rode well, there is however a tinge of frustration, disappointment and concern in the following piece. One rider horrifically crashed into a wall falling off a bridge and another flew into a car! 

The five talking points below.

1 – Fuglsang goes into the record books

There’s something to smile about for Astana’s Jakob Fuglsang, a rider who’s in top form and preparing himself for the Giro. He now enters the history books as the first Danish rider to win Il Lombardia and joins an elite list alongside John Degenkolb, Alexander Kristoff, Dan Martin, Peter Sagan and Niki Terpstra to have won two career Monuments in the current peloton. 

35-years of age it is fair to say that Jakob Fuglsang is one of the greats. Two overall wins at the Dauphiné, last year’s winner at Liège–Bastogne–Liège and now another Monument to his name in Lombardy. The way he attacked on the Civiglio, rode alongside teammate Aleksandr Vlasov, held off a chasing Trek-Segafredo pair of Ciccone and Mollema as well as putting George Bennett in difficulty on the final climb – that was a legendary ride by the Dane.

Numerous stages have been won at Grand Tours and although he’s had some unlucky times at the Tour de France, Jakob Fuglsang has a terrific opportunity at the Giro this year. Could he possibly win it? Perhaps too early to say but you never know in cycling. 

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2 – George Bennett should be pleased with his second place

Jumbo-Visma are the form team in world cycling right now but sometimes you can’t win everything. In George Bennett, the team should be proud of how well he’s riding right now. After winning Gran Piedmonte in midweek, perhaps was one step too far today as he simply didn’t have the legs to keep up with Fuglsang on the final climb but nevertheless the Kiwi becomes the first man from his country to finish on the Il Lombardia podium.

In fact Jumbo-Visma in their current livery should be happy that Bennett’s second place is also the first time in a long while that they’ve come close to a podium place. Dutchman Michael Boogerd was the last man in 2004 to finish second when Jumbo-Visma were then known as Rabobank.

George Bennett looks set to ride the Tour de France next especially after Steven Kruijswijk suffered from a dislocated shoulder at the Dauphiné today. Bennett is in top form, he’s been a crucial domestique for the team at the Tour de l’Ain, a superb win at Gran Piedmonte and now second in Lombardy – he heads to the Tour full of confidence for sure.

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3 – Trek-Segafredo left frustrated?

Defending champion Bauke Mollema, Giro stage winner Giulio Ciccone and the ‘shark of Messina’ Vincenzo Nibali will look back on today’s race not so much as a disappointment but still some extra mileage into the legs. Nibali was dropped on the Civiglio but Mollema himself alongside Ciccone tried everything they could to claw back the three leading riders. 

Jakob Fuglsang, George Bennett and Aleksandr Vlasov could have so easily been caught if they started to look at each other but it just wasn’t to be for the Trek trio – Mollema and Ciccone even suffering from a mechanical in the finale.

Bauke Mollema should be heading to the Tour next to support Richie Porte, Giulio Ciccone could be doing the same and for Vincenzo Nibali, like Fuglsang, he’ll be heading off to October’s Giro.

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4 – Max Schachmann crashing into a car

Words cannot describe how awful it was to see Max Schachmann colliding with a car that should never have entered the road. We’ve seen so many accidents for riders in training so we don’t need it to happen on an actual race!

Young riders have died in accidents and big questions need to be asked of the race organisers RCS sport – how on earth did the car enter the road?

We’ve seen rider safety put into question after Fabio Jakobsen’s crash at the Tour de Pologne and now more questions of those in charge after Schachmann’s collision with a car that shouldn’t have been on the road.

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5 – Hoping and praying for Remco Evenepoel

Since the start of the year we’ve been saying how brilliant Remco Evenepoel has been. First overall at the Volta ao Algarve, the Vuelta San Juan, Vuelta a Burgos and an incredible solo attack to win the Tour de Pologne – what a fantastic young talent we have on our hands.

We know how dangerous cycling can be and unfortunately you never know what can happen on 231 km’s of road in Lombardy. Remco Evenepoel crashing on a descent by crashing into a wall and falling down a bridge – our hearts we’re in our mouths.

We certainly wish the young man a speedy recovery but why did RAI (the Italian host broadcaster) decide to show numerous replays of the crash and show us pictures of Evenepoel on the stretcher?

It’s never nice to see. We can see the crash once but we don’t need endless repeats of him crashing and falling off the bridge! 

A tough time for Deceuninck-Quick Step after Fabio Jakobsen suffering from a terrible crash in Poland last week and we also sincerely hope that Remco Evenepoel will return sooner rather than later. His Monument debut and sadly for all the wrong reasons he’ll never forget it.

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Don’t forget to check out our latest pieces on the Dauphiné as it reaches its conclusion. The Tour de France is also not far away too!

Dissecting the Dauphiné – Stage 4

Featured image courtesy of @ASO/Criterium du Dauphine

There are moments in sport that can surprise us out of the blue and for today’s stage of the Dauphiné we had surprises in abundance.

Stage 4 from Ugine to Megève with seven categorised climbs including the Montee de Bisanne and right at the start we got a breakaway with Jumbo-Visma doing everything they could to shut it down before letting them have the stage win.

Julian Alaphilippe, Fausto Masnada, Luis León Sánchez, David de la Cruz and other big names were always going to be threats and at one point Primož Roglič was out of the virtual lead.

With Alaphilippe in the break you’d thought it’d be his day but not to be as Lennard Kämna, young German star and one day after he had a go on yesterday’s stage. A bright future ahead and on a difficult day for BORA-Hansgrohe as they lost Emanuel Buchmann to an abandon.

Kämna rightly deserves his day in the spotlight but talking about Julian Alaphilippe, he’ll be pleased to get some more climbing in the legs. It doesn’t look as if he’ll be in the best form going into the Tour and the GC a long way off.

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It is the numerous surprises however that are the big talking points from today’s stage and it came right at the start. Egan Bernal did not start the stage due to a back injury – again throwing up more questions for Team INEOS.

With the defending champion now out of the running, what on earth happens now for the team? Bernal looked out of form yesterday and today Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas were not visible, perhaps saving themselves but in Russian Pavel Sivakov he’ll be the new option. It’s maybe not a lot to read into but Bernal suffering from a back injury two weeks before the Tour – doesn’t look good.

For Jumbo-Visma they’ve also suffered from an unlikely setback after looking so solid. A key climber and last year’s third placed rider at the Tour Steven Kruijswijk crashed dislocating his shoulder, for racer leader Primož Roglič he also suffered from a fall.

Kruijswijk now out of the race, now unlikely to make the Tour – that is a blow for the team. Jumbo-Visma also experienced a bit of a test from today as other teams decided to take it to them. Team Bahrain-McLaren rode well for Mikel Landa by putting Dylan Teuns in the break but also riding on the front up the Bisanne.

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Jumbo-Visma and Ineos have both suffered setbacks today and other teams showed their metal.

Thibaut Pinot once again looked good with Reichenbach his domestique looking better but talk about someone who has ridden like an invisible man almost as if he’s not being taken seriously – Nairo Quintana. We keep on saying that he appears to be a refreshed rider but apart from that he doesn’t seem to be putting a foot wrong. Unless anything disastrous happens, Quintana is a pre-race threat when the Tour begins in Nice.

As mentioned we saw Emanuel Buchmann sadly abandon the race. The German rider finished fourth overall at the Tour last year, so we do hope he’ll be back racing for yellow very soon.

Ride of the day of course belongs to Lennard Kämna and team of the goes to Bahrain-McLaren for taking things up on the Montée de Bisanne and doing some decent efforts for Mikel Landa. Credit also to David de la Cruz as he swept up enough KOM mountain points to move into the jersey replacing teammate and yesterday’s stage winner Davide Formolo.

One final stage to go, Primož Roglič on the cusp of taking the Dauphiné overall but knowing that he’s taken a small hit from a crash but also the loss of a key domestique. The Tour isn’t far off now as the Grand Départ gets excitingly closer.

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Il Lombardia 2020 – Preview

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Normally it would be a Autumn day on the shores of Lake Como that we’d see the Tour of Lombardy come to its conclusion. The ‘race of the falling leaves’ with its twisting turns, its famous ascents and sketchy descents is always the final Monument of the year – until 2020 came. Coronavirus means a mix up and sad as it is that Il Lombardia cannot take place in its usual slot, at least we’ve got racing going ahead.

Because the calendar serves itself a different purpose as riders prepare for all three Grand Tours jumbled up out of order, this year’s Il Lombardia has a new role to play. Riders expected to take on the Giro d’Italia this year start the race, so hopefully it’ll give us a flavour of what to expect come October 3rd.

The Route

Il Lombardia 2020 Route

In the past, it’s always been the case that Il Lombardia decides to alternate between Bergamo and Como. In the past few editions, a finish on the shores of Lake Como seems to be the set in stone finale with the Civiglio and San Fermo della Battaglia climbs making an interesting conclusion.

The overall route amounts to 231 km, the Madonna dell Ghisallo and the Muro di Sormano are the two famous climbs everyone in world cycling should know about. The Sormano is the toughest with narrow roads and a 27% gradient. To win Il Lombardia you need good climbing legs and a nerve to descend the fastest downhills. After the San Fermo della Battaglia comes a 5.3 km descent into Como, where anything could happen!

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So who are the contenders to take the 114th Il Lombardia? Picking a winner for the ‘Race of the falling leaves’ is like trying to find the prettiest leaf on the side of the road – you just cannot call who will win!

Defending champion Bauke Mollema starts for a Trek-Segafredo team that always includes a former two-times winner in Vincenzo Nibali. An Italian sponsor for the team, expect Mollema and Nibali to try and put on a show for this one!

The big name on everyone’s lips right now is a young Belgian who has won all four of the races he has ridden so far in 2020. Since resuming from shutdown, Remco Evenepoel has won Vuelta a Burgos and the Tour de Pologne, even showing support for fellow teammate Fabio Jakobsen after his awful crash by holding his number in the air – a very classy moment by the young man!

There’s no doubt that Evenepoel with all the talent that he has is a favourite this weekend but also a favourite for this year’s Giro d’Italia. This will be the first opportunity to see how Evenepoel and Nibali fare up against each other – one rider making his Monument debut the other with bags of experience. Despite a lack of experience, no knowledge of Il Lombardia or a significant age gap between the two riders – surely we should expect Evenepoel to perform well this weekend. If he wins the race, it’ll definately he his best career win to date, 20 years old don’t forget!

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One the same roads at the Giro last year we saw how Primož Roglič had a nightmare on the descent of the Civiglio up against Vincenzo Nibali, so could he do the same and add pressure to Evenepoel on the descents? The ‘shark of Messina’ could probably ride the roads of Il Lombardia with his eyes shut as he’s accustomed to winning this race before – 2015 and 2017. With young talent on the scene, lack of experience could hamper their chances and there’s every chance an old head could win this year’s race.

Fourth overall at Paris-Nice before cycling’s temporary shutdown, Nibali goes into Il Lombardia as a contender alongside defending champion Bauke Mollema. The Dutchman does seem to riding consistently in recent weeks at the Route d’Occitanie (where he finished fifth overall) and the Tour de l’Ain (finishing sixth overall). Mollema is due to ride at the Tour de France in support of Richie Porte, so he could ride in support of Nibali this weekend instead of going for it himself. Trek have their options too as last year’s stage winner and KOM jersey at the Giro, Giulio Ciccone also starts.

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Is Mathieu van der Poel a contender this weekend? He has yet to win a race this season but in all fairness he only has nine days of racing in the legs so far this year. Third place at Gran Piedmonte this week could be an indicator that he’s starting to find his mojo again. Just like Remco Evenepoel, we maybe put too much pressure on young shoulders, both making their Monument debuts. For Mathieu van der Poel, he’ll expect himself to perform but from a fans point of view perhaps we don’t expect too much just yet.

We should expect Jumbo-Visma’s George Bennett to go well this Saturday though. The Kiwi could put a stop to all the talk of youth by winning Il Lombardia and show an experienced head and surprise us all. An excellent ride to take Gran Piedmonte this week, Bennett is also expected to be in Jumbo-Visma’s Tour de France squad later this month and they’d be pretty stupid if they didn’t include him. He’s in form, he’s got the ability, he has the experience – wouldn’t it be something for George Bennett to add another one-day race to his palmarès.

One rider to keep an eye on is the winner of last year’s Giro – Richard Carapaz. 27-years-old, lots more to come, riding now for Ineos after transferring from Movistar, the big question for Carapaz is what form will he bring before the Giro starts in October? The Ecuadorian won a stage but crashed the following day at the Tour de Pologne, so the question mark is how’s the recovery going? He’s never ridden a Monument since starting out as a pro four years ago, so maybe not a contender but Richard Carapaz is one to watch.

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Astana arrive in Lombardy with two names to watch out for. Jakob Fuglsang continues his preparation for the Giro after finishing fifth at Strade Bianche and second overall in Poland last week. Similar to Vincenzo Nibali could the 35-year-old show his experience of riding Monuments and take the race to the young contenders? Fuglsang has Liège–Bastogne–Liège in the bag from last year – could he add a second Monument?

In Fuglsang Astana have experience but they also have a second option up their sleeve in Russia Aleksandr Vlasov. Third overall at the Route d’Occitanie, victory at the Mont Ventoux Dénivelé Challenge and fourth at the Gran Piemonte in the last two weeks – Vlasov looks a good talent. Only 24-years-of-age, he’s another rider with youth on his side and alongside Fuglsang they could be a threat this Saturday.

Other names to keep a watch for include Italian Diego Ulissi who was left in the wake of George Bennett at Gran Piedmonte on Wednesday. A few more metres and Ulissi might have taken the win to catch Bennett at the line so could he carry that frustration and make amends in Como?

Canada’s Michael Woods continues to recover from a broken femur he suffered at Paris-Nice pre shutdown and in current Tour of Flanders champion Alberto Bettiol, EF Pro Cycling have their cards to play.

You’d also have to include BORA-Hansgrohe’s German road champion Maximilian Schachmann as a favourite for the win too. He finished third at Strade Bianche, he’s won Paris-Nice and on a good day he can seriously climb. Schachmann starts as an outside bet to win Il Lombardia.

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Lots of contenders, loads to talk about, Il Lombardia usually takes place in October. 2020 is a year like no other and as the second Monument instead of the fifth, who will claim victory this weekend?

Strade Bianche 2020 Preview

Featured image courtesy of Gruber Images

Outbreaks of coronavirus cases on Italian soil back in March saw Strade Bianche cancelled, the first race to suffer the cut. Nothing delights cycling fans more than to see World Tour cycling back as the 14th edition of Strade Bianche gets underway. The white dirt roads, the short sharp ascents, finale into Siena’s Piazza del Campo – this is what we’ve missed! 

Having to adapt to new protocols will be evident with face masks, social distancing and sanitising materials – something we’re all getting used to. New safety measures have been successful for football, for cycling open roads mean that fans can’t be prevented from standing on the side of the road.

UCI President David Lappertient has praised the return of World Tour racing but with growing numbers of Covid-19 cases in Belgium, France and Spain – he has warned that race cancellations are still a possibility.

We all hope that everything runs smoothly. The sport is thankfully still alive and we’re now looking forward to what should be an entertaining day’s racing.

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179 days after postponement we now have a race on our hands. Dirt roads throwing up dust, riders in unknown form – all the ingredients for an exciting days’ racing.

Set among the Tuscan hills, this year’s race is of course different because of rescheduling – August instead of March, conditions won’t be the same. 184 km in total for the men with 11 gravel sectors, the Lucignano d’Asso at 11.9 km the longest section. The final sector at 12 km to go at Le Tolfe could see the opportunity for attacks before the final 16% climb entering Siena’s city walls and then a fast run to the finish.

Two years ago we had pouring rain and last year we had springlike conditions. We could see temperatures reach 34 degrees in Tuscany hence hot conditions, potential for gravel sections to be looser and dusty conditions will be inevitable, likely to cause havoc.

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Who will win the 19th edition is the million dollar question! Because of a lengthy break we haven’t the foggiest on who will shine bright and take the victory but we do know some names to keep an eye on. 

Strong climbers and classics specialists are in abundance as are former cyclocross riders. Last year saw Julian Alaphilippe take the win, Jakob Fuglsang finish second and Wout Van Aert claim third place – all three starting their careers in cyclocross.

After a stunning comeback to win Amstel Gold last year, it’s no surprise that another current cyclocross sensation starts as favourite. Mathieu van der Poel has never ridden Strade Bianche so surely he cannot finish at least on the podium! We said the same about Wout Van Aert’s debut in 2018 and look where he finished.

Riding for Alpecin-Felix, the Dutchman is a hot property in world cycling and with no place at this year’s Tour de France his focus will be all on the one-day classics. It’s his debut, he has the talent and putting your cyclocross skills to good use on dirt roads will go a long way. Winning overall with favourite tagged on your back would be a huge achievement if the Dutchman pulled it off.

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Last year’s winner Julian Alaphilippe starts as do four other former winners in Tiesj Benoot (2018), Zdeněk Štybar (2015), Philippe Gilbert (2011) and two-times champion Michal Kwiatkowski (2014 and 2017).

Deceuninck Quick-Step always make a big impression for the classics with Alaphilippe ready to kick off his revamped season ahead of the Tour de France, Štybar has the ability to win the race again and in Luxembourg road champion Bob Jungels and last year’s Ronde van Vlaanderen runner-up Kasper Asgreen, Quick-Step have options on the table.

After winning Milan Sanremo, La Fleche Wallonne back-to-back and surprising all of us at the Tour, Julian Alaphilippe has a big year ahead. Yes he’s confirmed that he won’t be targeting Tour de France GC but could that just be a way of shifting attention away from him? Who knows but there’s no doubt that the Frenchman has bags of talent and could easily win numerous classics from now until October.

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Belgian riders are in abundance with Wout Van Aert looking to go one better than 2018 and last year. The Jumbo-Visma man has finished on the podium twice and alongside rival Mathieu van der Poel, this could be a new emerging duel for years to come. 

Greg Van Avermaet has yet to score a classics win in Europe for CCC Pro Team, Dylan Teuns can climb all terrain as we saw atop La Planche des Belles Filles last year plus AG2R La Mondiale’s Oliver Naesen finished second at Milan Sanremo, so never discount the Belgians cooking up a storm on the road.

British squad Team Ineos arrive with two-times winner Michal Kwiatkowski, three-times road world champion Peter Sagan starts and although Astana arrive with last year’s runner-up Jakob Fuglsang, you might be tempted into thinking that current Kazakhstan national champion Alexey Lutsenko might try something. He finished seventh last year and as we saw at the UAE Tour back in February, Lutsenko can seriously climb!

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For the women, many of the teams have been in action already with three recent one-day races in the Basque Country.

This will be the first World Tour race in five months after Liane Lippert won the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race to secure the Women’s World Tour purple jersey. The points series restarts tomorrow so thankfully Lippert will get to wear the jersey on the road arriving with a Sunweb team featuring Coryn Rivera, Leah Kirchmann, Franziska Koch, Juliette Labous and Floortje Mackaij. Sunweb controlled much of the bunch last year and they could do the same.

136km along the white gravel roads, the women’s route is exactly the same as last year.

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Mitchelton-Scott arrive with the strongest team on paper with last year’s winner and current world champion Annemiek van Vleuten starting alongside Jessica Allen, Lucy Kennedy, Moniek Tenniglo, Georgia Williams and Amanda Spratt.

Van Vleuten might feel pressure as the favourite but she heads into Strade Bianche in good shape after winning all three recent one-day races in the Basque Country plus she’s also won Omloop Het Nieuwsblad pre-lockdown. 

Britain’s Lizzie Deignan looks set to start in Trek-Segafredo colours alongside Italian Elisa Longo Borghini, who has finished twice in third and took the win in 2017. Boels Dolmans line up with former winner Anna van der Breggen and we’ll never forget her sensational win back in 2018, so can she do it again?

One huge favourite is Canyon SRAM’s Kasia Niewiadoma. The Polish rider has finished on the podium for the last four editions, so could she take one big leap and take the overall this year?

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Whoever wins this weekend, it’ll be great to see the Women’s World Tour back in action plus the men gearing themselves up for what will be a non-stop bonanza of cycling. Hold onto your hats, make your predictions and get set for a terrific weekend as cycling returns!

Strade Bianche Donne starts at 10.55 and the race is expected to finish around 15.00. For the men, the race starts at 12.45 and the race is expected to finish around 17.00 – all UK times.

End of an era: An inevitable conclusion for Chris Froome and Team INEOS

After months of speculation, it is now no secret that seven-time Grand Tour winner Chris Froome will not be having his contract renewed with Team INEOS after 2020. So why now? Why is this big news for cycling and what next for Froome?

First things first, the talk of a mid-season transfer is now put to bed. For 2021 he’ll be riding for Israel Start-Up Nation but it’s clear that if Froome rides this year’s rescheduled Tour de France it will be his last with the British team. To enter the special club of five star winners is going to be tough but an announcement before the race has even begun will open up more speculation about team selection and internal rivalry.

Team INEOS are accustomed to media spotlight with Tour de France dominance since 2012 so the pressure will be on them to deliver as the dominant team, so could this news cause everything to fall apart or strengthen the team further?

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Let’s not hide away from the facts. 14 Grand Tour stage wins, one Giro d’Italia, two Vuelta a España and four Tour de France titles since 2011 – Chris Froome is one of the greatest tour riders of his generation.

Despite the Giro victory, 2018 didn’t go to plan with Geraint Thomas clearly the stronger rider and in 2019 Froome’s crash at the Dauphiné scuppered his plans to ride for a fifth title hence Egan Bernal’s victory and Thomas’s second place last year.

Regardless of his critics, his haters and the controversy surrounding the salbutamol case, which he was later cleared of, you cannot deny that Froome’s victories are nothing more than remarkable. Tactically spot on, overcoming difficulties and having a will to win – that has to be admired.

The turning point was 2017 with Geraint Thomas going for sole leadership at the Giro with an ambition to win Grand Tours plus Froome not at his absolute best to secure his fourth yellow jersey alongside an historic Tour-Vuelta double. Holding three Grand Tours at once in 2018 plus Geraint Thomas’s quality, certainly threw the cat among the pigeons.

To make things more complicated it was Froome’s almost career-ending crash at the Dauphiné that gave Thomas the green light for leadership only for Egan Bernal to win yellow. With Geraint Thomas not knowing how last year’s Tour would’ve finished with the weather affecting the final two stages in the Alps, Bernal’s triumph added more internal ambition.

Still with me?

Managing individual aspirations on the road will be interesting. How will INEOS deal with the situation and that’s only if Chris Froome starts the Tour. Bernal’s comments that he won’t sacrifice himself if he’s at 100 per cent and Geraint Thomas having a stake in claiming his second Tour title adds all sorts of spice to this year’s Tour de France. 

The aim will surely be to see how each rider fares up until the third week and see who is in the best shape to win overall. It’ll therefore come down to team management and tactics, in the hope that nothing unfortunate happens.

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Make no mistake this is a huge moment for cycling. It’ll signal the end of Sir Dave Brailsford’s partnership with Chris Froome and quoted from the team website, Brailsford says:

“Chris has been with us from the start. He is a great champion and we have shared many memorable moments over the years but I do believe this is the right decision for the Team and for Chris. Given his achievements in the sport, Chris is understandably keen to have sole team leadership in the next chapter of his career – which is not something we are able to guarantee him at this point. A move away from Team INEOS can give him that certainty”

I’m sure there’s a mix of sadness and pride within Brailsford’s mindset, his knowledge that he cannot guarantee leadership but joy in what he’s seen Froome achieve. The future of Team INEOS now lies in the talent of youngsters. Egan Bernal is only 23-years of age and has plans to win every Grand Tour, newly appointed 2019 Giro champion Richard Carapaz certainly won’t want to stop at just one Grand Tour, Pavel Sivakov has a bright future plus British duo Tao Geoghegan-Hart and Owain Doull could easily develop themselves as mountain goats in my personal opinion.

Rumours of Geraint Thomas transferring to other squads has always been talked out and I think that will be another inevitable outcome, unless I’m proved otherwise. The future is with new emerging talent and in INEOS their future isn’t going to rely on Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas forever. I’m certainly not writing them both off but times do change.

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This isn’t new for cycling and not new for Team INEOS but it could signal a shift in Tour de France dominance. Jumbo-Visma have competed and continue to look strong, Movistar might get their house in order, Thibaut Pinot stands the best chance in ending French pain for over 35 years plus new Grand Tour talent is emerging across the peloton. Israel Start-Up Nation under the ownership of Israeli-Canadian property developer Sylvan Adams have targets of their own after being upgraded from pro-contintental to World Tour level.

Sole leadership is what Froome seeks and he’ll certainly get that in 2021. One last chance to win a fifth Tour with Team INEOS is going to be hard. In recent years he hasn’t been in the best form at the Tour and if it wasn’t for his crash last year, who knows what could’ve been the final outcome!

In my own personal opinion this was the news cycling fans were all expecting. The end of Chris Froome’s leadership at Team INEOS and a new future for the British team. Lots of respect to him and lots of challenges for Froome still to conquer.

The big question is what will his position be if he starts this year’s Tour? After the crash, what will his physical form look like? Look out for the 29th August because this year’s rescheduled Tour de France is going to be epic.

Featured image courtesy of imago

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