If the past two weeks are any indication as to what can be expected in the next two, then cycling fans had better buckle up for an exciting, albeit bumpy, ride over the sport’s most iconic cobbled races.
Olympic champion Greg van Avermaet (BMC Racing) and reigning double world champion Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) continued their burgeoning rivalry last week with an epic showdown at Gent-Wevelgem with Van Avermaet coming out on top just two days after winning E3 Harelbeke for an unlikely Classics hat-trick.
It was the 31-year-old Belgian’s third win on the cobbles in the last month having also won February’s Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.
However, even in defeat Peter Sagan continued to dominate the headlines. The 27-year-old Slovakian was vocal about his frustrations following his third-place finish behind Jens Keukeleire (Orica-Scott) and ahead of 2014 Paris-Roubaix winner Niki Terpstra (Quick-Step Floors), who refused to help Sagan chase the lead duo in Flanders Fields.
“Terpstra rode more to make me lose the race than to try to win it himself,” claimed Sagan.
Fans saw a similar story unfold the previous weekend at Milan-San Remo, where Terpstra’s Quick-Step teammate Julian Alaphilippe and eventual race winner Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky) forced Sagan to do all the work in the lead-up to the final.
“It’s not disappointment, but I’m more motivated,” he said. “If you win always, then maybe you lose motivation.
“Now, I’m motivated to take some victory, but this is not sport, just a very cheap game.”
Sagan will need the extra incentive, as Van Avermaet admittedly enters the second-highest ‘Monument’ race of the season as the man to beat.
“I can’t hide it any longer, I will without a doubt be the man to beat – the favourite,” admitted Van Avermaet, who finished second in 2014 and third in 2015 before breaking his collarbone in a crash with four team-mates in the race last year.
“I’m starting [Flanders] with much confidence but certainly not with the attitude that it can’t go wrong. I need to keep doing what I’m doing. If I don’t run into trouble then I’ll be very close next week.
“It’s my dream [to win Flanders], but this is unbelievable,” he added. “If you told me that I would win Gent-Wevelgem then I would’ve told you something’s just not right!
“It’s just a dream for me, winning such hard races. Now it’s all working out. It’s actually fun because my best race still has to come up.”
Lotta Lepistö backs up Dwars Door Vlaanderen with Gent-Wevelgem win…
Gent-Wevelgem also crowned its sixth women’s champion as Finland’s Lotta Lepistö backed up her recent Dwars Door Vlaanderen win with an impressive sprint victory in Flanders Fields on Sunday.
The two-time Finnish road race champion claimed her eighth professional win with Belgian Jolie D’Hoore (Wiggle-High5) in second and American Coryn Rivera (Sunweb) in third.
“This race was my goal,” said the 27-year-old Cervélo-Bigla rider. “I was focused on winning it. It’s a race that suits me and last year I was close but made a mistake and I told myself that won’t happen again. So today I made sure I was in the front. Flanders is Flanders and anything can happen but this was my goal, and we agreed to target today and I got it. I am really satisfied.
“Three weeks ago I told [teammate Christina Pertchold] I want to win this race, she texted me [Saturday] and said keep your promise.”
Lepistö’s win marked her team’s first UCI Women’s WorldTour victory and fourth of the season.
The race was also the fourth Women’s WorldTour event of 2017, with the Tour of Flanders up next (April 2).
Valverde continues successful Spanish run in Catalunya…
The seemingly ageless Alejandro Valverde has enjoyed a bit of a hot streak as such over the past two months in his native Spain.
Most recently the 36-year-old capped a near-perfect week of racing at the Tour of Catalunya with a final stage win – his third of the seven-day UCI WorldTour event – to clinch both the general classification over Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) and the mountain jersey over Chris Froome (Team Sky).
Not even early race drama, which saw his Movistar teammate José Joquín Rojas stripped of his overall lead following an incident on the stage 2 team time trial, could derail Valverde’s destiny.
“Inside the team we knew it was an injustice,” said Valverde. “They deprived us of our great time trial. I wanted to win (before) but I wanted to win even more after what happened.”
Valverde’s victory continues a stellar start to the season after also beating Contador by a second to win Ruta del Sol for and winning the Tour of Murcia.
It’s the 2009 Vuelta a España winner’s best string of race victories since winning Fleché Wallone and Liége-Bastogne-Liége in April 2015.
“I started well, but every day that went by I felt better,” he said. “Even today in a demanding short stage with a very tough finale I felt even better than in the previous days.”
Questions continue to swirl around British Cycling and Team Sky…
British Cycling and Team Sky are still under fire as former world champion Wendy Houvenaghel has joined fellow British rider Jess Varnish in calling for a change in British cycling.
Houvenaghel said the federation created a “culture of fear” and accused the organisation of ageism, adding that coaches had "zero regard" for her welfare and that she felt "oppressed" by former performance director Sir Dave Brailsford and former technical director Shane Sutton.
Meanwhile, the elite funding agency UK Sport has told British Cycling’s board it has "serious concerns" about its handling of “sexist” allegations made by Varnish last April against Sutton and has still not received key information about the case.
While British Cycling continues to cop backlash from former women’s riders, the governing body, along with Team Sky, are still under the microscope for a “mystery package” delivered to team doctor Richard Freeman at the 2011 Critérium du Dauphiné and administered to eventual race winner and 2012 Tour de France champion Bradley Wiggins on the team bus.
Freeman, who was forced to miss his original committee hearing date on March 1 due to health reasons, gave a nine-page response to the Department of Culture, Media and Sport select committee regarding the controversy in which he admitted that neither Team Sky nor British Cycling had any written “medicines-management policy” or “stock-taking system” at the time.
He regrettably also stated that while the team was aware of Wiggins’ Triamcinolone use, there had been no backed-up medical records of Wiggins’ treatment in 2011, but denied there had been any unethical behaviour by either the team or the federation.
Even with the extensive written response and astonishing admissions, the DCMS committee is still looking for answers.
“Once again, this new evidence leaves major questions outstanding for Team Sky and British Cycling,” said Damian Collins MP, Chair of the Committee.
“In particular, why were no back-up medical records kept for Bradley Wiggins in 2011, beyond those on Dr Freeman’s laptop computer? Why were there not more formal protocols enforced on recording keeping, and whose responsibility was it to make sure that Team Sky’s own stated policies were being enforced.”
As for Wiggins, who recently attended a JLA corporate breakfast event in London on Friday, the 2012 Tour de France champion and key rider in question regarding Sky’s apparent abuse of the TUE system took to the stage to distance himself from the team’s general manager Brailsford.
"At the end of the day, chimp theories and marginal gains and all these buzz words – a lot of the time, I just think you have got to get the fundamentals right: go ride your bike, put the work in, and you’re either good or you’re not good,” Wiggins told event host and Sky News presenter Sarah-Jane Mee.
“Sometimes in life or in sport, whatever, you’re either good at something or you’re not,” he continued. “That’s what makes you a better athlete: your physical ability and whether you’ve trained enough – not whether you’ve slept on a certain pillow or mattress."
Tour of Flanders (1.UWT), April 2
Women’s Tour of Flanders (1.WWT), April 2
Paris-Roubaix (1.UWT), April 9
Brabantse Pijl (1.HC), April 12
Amstel Gold Race (1.UWT), April 16
Women’s Amstel Gold Race (1.WWT), April 16
Read the original article on Eurosport: Backspin: ‘Cobbled Classics’ contenders all set for Flanders, Roubaix