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LIEGE, Belgium (AFP) — Specialist puncher Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) is feeling positive for the remainder of the Ardennes classics despite crashing out of the Amstel Gold Race.
But it wasn’t such good news for former Tour de France winner Andy Schleck (Trek Factory Racing), who hurt his knee in the same incident.
Spaniard Rodriguez, known as “Purito,” crashed out of Sunday’s race after going down about 80 kilometers into the first of the three Ardennes classics. The 34-year-old complained of feeling dizzy and was taken to hospital to have his chest X-rayed.
But Rodriguez took to Twitter to say he expects to race both the Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège races this week and, more importantly, that he will be fully fit for next month’s Giro d’Italia.
“It seems that there is nothing broken,” he tweeted Sunday night. “Thank goodness, it will possibly be difficult these next few days in the Classics but I’ll definitely start the Giro!”
Rodriguez would be one of the favorites if he starts Wednesday’s Flèche Wallonne, which he won in 2012. The final climb of the Mur du Huy is tailor-made for his explosive capabilities.
Schleck, who won the Tour de France in 2010 after Alberto Contador was stripped of his win for doping, was less positive about his chances of competing at the Flèche Wallonne or Sunday’s Liège race.
“I did the work I had to do to start the classics on good form,” he told Luxemburger newspaper Wort.lu. “I hope to show it in Flèche Wallonne and in Liege but I have doubts.
“Our Trek Factory Racing Team has competent people so I hope that we manage to resolve this problem.”
The 28-year-old was brought down in the same incident that took down Rodriguez when Tinkoff-Saxo’s Niki Sorensen crashed.
Schleck gamely got back on his bike and caught up with the peloton but 40km later he abandoned due to the pain.
His is due to be Trek’s team leader for the Liege race, which he won in 2009.
Schleck is desperately searching for some confidence ahead of July’s Tour de France when he should lead Trek alongside brother Frank. However, his last top 10 finish in a grand tour was in 2011, when he finished second in the Tour.
Schleck missed the 2012 Tour due to a broken pelvis and has never since recaptured his earlier form.
The post Rodriguez expects to race Fleche Wallonne, Liege despite Amstel crash appeared first on VeloNews.com.
VALKENBURG, Netherlands (VN) — Orica-GreenEdge rode strongly in the final moments of the Amstel Gold Race Sunday and used its cards. It kept Michael Matthews for a small bunch kick and attacked with Simon Gerrans, who took third for the third time in four years.
“But no one could stop Philippe Gilbert,” general manager Shayne Bannan told VeloNews. “It’s hard to look at it another way, he just rode away from us and had a super day.”
A TV helicopter circled overhead to film the finishing straight where Gilbert (BMC Racing) just rode away from his rivals. He climbed the second half of the Cauberg solo and arrived five seconds ahead of Jelle Vanendert (Lotto-Belisol). Gerrans, this year’s Aussie road champion, placed a further second back ahead of Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-Quick Step).
Further down the hill, Orica rode impressively. Along with BMC and Omega Pharma, it put on one of the most united performances. The Australian team in white and blue strung out the group after the remnants of an escape were caught with 7 kilometers remaining.
Tall Dutchman Pieter Weening motored on the front with teammates Simon Clarke, Gerrans, and Matthews in tow. Omega took over at the foot of the Cauberg. And, as the helicopter TV shots showed, BMC won with Samuel Sánchez’s attack and Gilbert’s counter-attack.
“We couldn’t have done much more,” Bannan said. “The guys — Pieter Weening and Clarke — were exactly where they needed to be. They did what they needed to do earlier in the race. So the race panned out as we thought it was going to, but when Gilbert went on the climb, Gerrans could not react, not because he’s not a good rider but because Gilbert was having a super day.”
Gerrans looked like he might have had more in him than a third place. He and Kwiatkowski jumped to follow Sánchez’s wheel with 3km to race. They held an advantage but Gilbert quickly closed it and fired away solo. Bannan explained that Gerrans did not hesitate but chased and evaluated his situation.
“When you are on a climb you know your capabilities,” Bannan added. “I don’t think it was hesitation, just a matter of sussing the situation out and looking at who was behind. Was there a possibility to get a group together to minimize the distance? Which Gerro did.”
Belgium’s Vanendert gained some ground and took second. Gerrans placed third to match his 2011 and 2013 results. His 23-year-old teammate Matthews placed 12th. Matthews’ result, after earning two wins this season to go along with a runner-up to Gilbert in Brabantse Pijl (Brabant Arrow) on Wednesday, gave Bannan further reason to smile.
“Mike Matthews was behind Gerro coming into the climb. He backed off trying to get his own group going up the climb in anticipation of the group coming together for a sprint,” Bannan said. “He’s been progressing well and we are happy with the way he’s gone. He had a possibility to get a good result but if anything, it adds to his progression.”
Bannan walked the 500 meters to the finish line where the organizer rewarded Gerrans for his third place.
“I turn my back on this Amstel Gold Race pleased,” Bannan said. “We came with the goal to win, we didn’t do that, but we took third and rode well. I walk away pretty satisfied.”
The post Orica satisfied with Gerrans’ Amstel Gold Race podium result appeared first on VeloNews.com.
John Degenkolb (Giant-Shimano) is cooling his jets after a breakout northern classics campaign that saw the 25-year-old German confirm his status as a contender for monuments season.
Victory at Gent-Wevelgem and a second at Paris-Roubaix proved to everyone that Degenkolb has the chops to battle for victory in the most grueling conditions.
“We are very content with John’s performances during the classics,” Giant sport director Marc Reef told VeloNews. “The whole team rode great throughout all the races. Even with some bad luck in a few races, we got the big results we were looking for. John is already at a high level, and will only improve in the coming years.
Coupled with Marcel Kittel’s emphatic victory at Scheldeprijs for a third consecutive time, Giant was one of the top performers across the northern classics.
The team hopes to continue its success across the Ardennes, but the success on the cobblestones of Belgium and France only fuel motivation for the future.
Reef said Degenkolb should only improve in the coming years.
“His strength and maturity will continue to evolve. Experience counts a lot for these races. And he took a big step forward this year,” he said. “These are the races that he is excited about. These performances will motivate him even more.”
After Roubaix, Degenkolb is taking a recovery break before resuming racing in May.
Giant officials confirmed he’s scheduled to race on home roads at the Rund um den Finanzplatz-Frankfurt on May 1, which he won in 2011, before heading to the United States for the Amgen Tour of California, where he will square off against the likes of Peter Sagan (Cannondale) and Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick Step).
Of course, the California start means he won’t be riding to help teammate Marcel Kittel in his debut at the Giro d’Italia.
Degenkolb will likely race the Tour de Suisse in June before linking up again with Kittel for the Tour de France in July.
Degenkolb and Kittel form a formidable pairing for the Tour, when Degenkolb works to set up his big compatriot for the pure sprints. Degenkolb also has freedom to race for results in hillier, more challenging finales.
For Degenkolb, these cobblestone results only fuel his ambitions for the future.
“These monuments are the races I really love, and the ones that I want to focus on in the future,” Degenkolb said. “We can be really proud in second place. It’s the next step in growing to be on the podium of a monument. I hope someday to win these races.”
The post Degenkolb emerges from classics as a monuments contender appeared first on VeloNews.com.
VALKENBURG, Netherlands (VN) — The soft morning light bounced off the city hall, into the main square in Maastricht, and Andy Schleck said in this moment these were his favorite races of the year.
It wasn’t hard to see why. The square was loud and the sun was shining and the roads the peloton would soon flow over dissected this tiny country in one-lane cuts across fields and through orderly and straight-walled Dutch towns.
And then, a short time later, Schleck (Trek Factory Racing) crashed and later pulled out of the Amstel Gold Race, a victim of a pileup that also drowned the hopes of Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha). It was an indication how quickly things can change in bike racing, no matter the rider or the route, though there’s a much greater chance of an incident in Amstel or even La Flèche Wallonne. One of his favorite races put him on the ground.
A broadcaster referred to Amstel Gold as an elimination race on Sunday, and he couldn’t have been more right. Rodriguez was a sure bet to factor in the late fight on the Cauberg. Geraint Thomas (Sky) also crashed out when “someone decided he wanted a wee and just turned 90 degrees right,” he said on Twitter. Tony Martin clipped wheels with an Omega Pharma-Quick Step teammate and had a long and lonely chase back on, to finish in 72nd place, more than six minutes down.
They wasted no time at all, these cruel hilly classics, in their dream-ending. And though at first blush these don’t feel like the iconoclasts the classics to the north have become, these Ardennes week races are special and edgy, built for riders who manage the left-right-left-up-down-up calculation. For six hours.
“It’s like back and forth and up and down. I crashed last year in one of the big crashes, and I still loved it,” said Tinkoff-Saxo’s Rory Sutherland. “It’s just a really cool feeling and the people out there and the fact that the sun is shining — it’s a beautiful area to ride a bike.”
And, here’s this from the yet-to-crash Schleck:
“These are my three favorite races of the year. Many years I try to do good — I did good in Flèche, and I won Liège. Amstel I always came close but never really made it to the podium. So of course everybody wants to go to the podium, but I’m really motivated. Especially for today and next Sunday. I believe the team is ready. We did good races and good preparation before. We hope the best.”
They always do, though it seldom happens. That’s racing, but that’s also racing the thin and bendy Amstel. Up next is Flèche, on Wednesday — not as harrowing as Amstel, but still very much a racer’s race.
“They’re kind of nasty races. The sort of races that it really takes a full package,” said Garmin-Sharp’s Alex Howes.
“You’ve got to know how to drive your bike real well. You’ve got to be a pretty strong climber but also have to have a pretty sound understanding of how the tactics are going to work out. It takes a bit of luck — knowing how you’re going to play your cards. And very often the weather is not good.
“So it’s a full race, from beginning to the end you’ve got to be switched on. And each one is like six and half hours of full gas.”
BMC Racing showed Sunday it has brains and brawn. The team rode a clean, forceful race, using the right riders to reel in the break, and then playing its cards — cards most teams would call aces — to perfection late in the race. Greg Van Avermaet leapt into the Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) attack. Samuel Sanchez burnt his book of matches low on the Cauberg, making the race thin instantly. And then, pop, Philippe Gilbert reminded the sport he was still Philippe Gilbert. Being strong wouldn’t have been enough. At least according to the riders.
“You have to think. If all you’re thinking about is right turn left turn up down this that, you’re not going to get very far,” Howes said. “You’ve got to be thinking two steps ahead the whole time. ‘Okay. Who’s playing this, who’s playing that, where are we going, what’s coming up here, can I sag this climb if we’re coming on to a big road after that? Do I really need to put the effort in here? Is it going to save my ass 5k down the line?’”
And though he abandoned Sunday, Garmin’s Dan Martin will return to fight for the next two, in Flèche and Liège.
“I just love the one-day races. It’s same as Lombardia, also one of my favorite one-day races. I just love that. Starting completely fresh, everything you’ve done to prepare properly for it. The two or three days before you’re just tapering. You probably feel as good as you can possibly feel at the start line of these races. Especially Liège, after the four days. Flèche, you always feel Amstel a little bit, but Liège, it’s always you’re super fresh and it’s everything on the line. One tactical mistake, you lose the race.”
Or, one crash. But, ask any rider or director and, to a man, they will all tell you that it’s just part of the game.
“I will never say it’s too dangerous. … It’s dangerous, we know. We are professional,” said Sky director Nicolas Portal. “Maybe because I come from the mountain bike, you know, sometimes you take some risks. You have nothing on the right side, but if you want to win the race, you need to be strong on the climb, and technically strong, too. On the road it’s the same.”
Before he abandoned, Martin said the peloton was particularly well mannered. Asked if there’s a reprieve from the tension, he wasn’t sure. He’s crashed out of Flèche twice.
“The peloton showed a lot of respect today,” he said. “I wasn’t there for the final, so I don’t know how hectic it got then, but from what I saw it was a lot more relaxed than previous years.
“For sure there’s a lot of road furniture here in Holland. It’s the left right up down. It’s a lot more about positioning. It’s natural the guys are going to fight for position a lot harder. Whereas Flèche and Liège, it’s definitely more, the legs do the talking. Especially at Liège.
“Flèche is still a big fight for position at the bottom of the Mur, but even then, it’s not just that last steep part. It’s a hard climb into the bottom of the Mur. … At the same time, I’ve crashed two or three times in Flèche. I think I’ve crashed out of the race twice in Flèche.
“So it’s — it’s cycling. Accidents can happen anywhere, you know?”