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Reports compiled by: Alicia Moyo, Rémi Massart

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April

Race report – Williams and Niewadoma tame the weather and the Mur de Huy

Men’s race

Apocalyptic. It is surely the best word to describe the men’s edition of the Flèche Wallonne. 175 riders at the start in Charleroi, only 44 at the finish at the summit of the Mur de Huy, almost 200 kilometres later. When the riders started this morning, the thermometer read 5 degrees. In addition, they had to face the rain, the wind, and even the hail causing some incredible scenes of riders having to stop, due to hypothermia. With these horrendous conditions, only a warrior could come out on top. Stephen Williams (Israel-Premier Tech) was undeniably the best of all warriors today and his win is fully deserved.

The morning breakaway escaped almost immediately after the official start, under a sunny sky. It was composed of seven men: Lilian Calmejane (Intermarché-Wanty), Alan Jousseaume (TotalEnergies), James Whelan (Q36.5), Txomin Juaristi (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Igor Chzhan (Astana-Qazaqstan) and Johan Meens (Bingoal WB). They had approximately 3 minutes of advantage when the rain started to pour down heavily and UAE Team Emirates decided to pull in the peloton. The first passage in Mur de Huy saw the poor Jousseaume having to let his companions go, due to the cold that saw him completely seize up.

The French rider was only the first victim of the horrific rain. Indeed, with 75 kilometres to go, some big outsiders were surprisingly incapable of following the rhythm of the peloton. Pello Bilbao (Bahrain-Victorious), Dylan Teuns (Israel-Premier Tech), Andrea Bagioli (Lidl-Trek) and David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ) lost the race just as the last survivors of the morning breakaway were caught. 10 kilometres later, the peloton, led by the riders of Groupama-FDJ climbed the Mur de Huy for the second time. The hail pouring down on the poor riders marked the end of the race for Mauri Vansevenant (Soudal-Quick Step), Marc Hirschi (UAE Team Emirates), Mattias Skjelmose (Lidl-Trek) and Tom Pidcock (INEOS Grenadiers), among many others. At the top of Huy, Alpecin-Deceuninck’s Soren Kragh Andersen took advantage of the confusion of what remained of the peloton and attacked. The Danish rider went on an amazing solo raid, having at some point 1’20” of advantage over the group of favourites.

The third ascent of the Mur allowed to a group of 5 riders to escape behind the man in lead. Stephen Williams, Kévin Vauquelin (Arkéa-B&B Hotels), Santiago Buitrago (Bahrain-Victorious), Richard Carapaz (EF Education-EasyPost) and Maxim Van Gils (Lotto-Dstny) were hoping to fight for victory but behind them, Uno X-Mobility had some strength in reserve and their amazing collective resulted in a general grouping on the Côte d’Ereffe. With no more breakaway at the front, the Scandinavian team tried to anticipate with the attacks of Andreas Leknessund and Tobias Johannessen but it was vain because of the great attention of Tim Van Dijke (Visma-Lease a Bike).

It was a packed group of around 30 riders who arrived on the slopes of Huy for a final time. Bruno Armirail was the first to enter the terrible climb, working for his leader Benoît Cosnefroy (Decathlon-AG2R La Mondiale). The favourites were marking each other when Stephen Williams came from behind and surprised everyone. The attack from the British rider was sharp and no one was able to follow his wheel. Behind, Vauquelin took a long time to react and wasn’t able to exceed the winner of Tour Down Under in the final metres. Behind this duo, Van Gils managed to overtake Cosnefroy and Buitrago to take the last place on the podium. Johannessen, Romain Grégoire (Groupama-FDJ), Dorian Godon (Décathlon-AG2R La Mondiale), Tiesj Benoot (Visma-Lease a Bike) and Guillaume Martin (Cofidis) completed the top 10.

Women’s race

Finally, after almost 5 years of waiting, Katarzyna Niewadoma (Canyon//SRAM Racing) returned to winning ways in the Flèche Wallonne. A perfectly managed final climb allowed the Polish rider to raise her arms for the first time since the Tour of Britain 2019.

Having to start in the afternoon was a real advantage for the riders of this 27th Flèche Wallonne Femmes. Indeed, even if they had to endure the capricious Belgian weather in the first part of the race, it had stopped raining when the riders entered the second half of the race. This led to a quite calm race until the last climbs with a breakaway of three riders who escaped in the first kilometres. Sara Martin (Movistar), Julie Van de Velde (AG Insurance-Soudal) and Elena Hartmann (Roland) opened the road for the majority of the day.

The first attacks in the peloton happened 40 kilometres from the finish line, with Grace Brown (FDJ-Suez) and Pauliena Rooijakkers (Fenix-Deceuninck) anticipating the first ascent of the Mur de Huy. Among the favourites, no movement was made on the Mur but the World Champion Lotte Kopecky tried to accelerate the pace at the summit. The SD Worx-Protime’s rider was immediately followed by Elisa Longo Borghini (Lidl-Trek) and she didn’t persist. With 16 kilometres to go, all the escapees were caught and some riders tried to trick the strongest riders. Katarzyna Niewadoma along with Riejanne Markus (Visma-Lease a Bike) had a small gap but the main favourite Demi Vollering (SD-Worx-Protime) closed the gap and once again it was Rooijakkers who went on a solo raid.

At the moment when the Dutch rider came back on the opening group, Vollering’s teammate Niamh Fisher-Black crashed, preventing her from helping her leader in the last kilometres. As soon as Rooijakkers was caught, Elise Chabbey attacked for Canyon//SRAM but she was countered by Riejanne Markus, who escaped solo and presented herself under the flamme rouge with 15 seconds of advantage over the peloton. During the climb, reigning champion Demi Vollering set the pace, eliminating riders one by one, but she was not able to follow the attack of Niewiadoma 200m from the line.

The Polish rider won one of the biggest victories of her career, the first one since 2019, rewarding her good start of the season. Behind her, Vollering and Longo Borghini finished on the podium, just ahead of Evita Muzic (FDJ-Suez) and Ashleigh Moolman (AG Insurance-Soudal). An impressive race from Pauliena Rooijakkers led her to 6th place while Juliette Labous (dsm-firmenich), Fem Van Empel (Visma-Lease a Bike), Marta Cavalli (FDJ-Suez) and Ane Santesteban (Laboral Kutxa-Fondacion Euskadi) rounded out the top 10.

Preview of the week – Mountains in Italy and hills in Belgium

Monday

Tour of the Alps (Stage 1)

Traditionally, the Tour of the Alps is one of the main races of preparation for the Giro. Five stages across the Italian Alps and more than 14,000 metres of positive ascent, this race is promised to the climbers, to riders who will compete for the maglia rosa in May. Last year, former Giro d’Italia winner, Tao Geoghegan Hart (former INEOS Grenadiers, now Lidl-Trek) won the general classification ahead of Hugh Carthy (EF Education EasyPost) and Jack Haig (Bahrain-Victorious). This race is one of the hardest and maybe the most prestigious outside of World Tour, with big names among its former winners. This year, the start list is not as impressive as it was last year but there are still some very good climbers such as the former Tour de France winner Geraint Thomas (INEOS Grenadiers) but also Romain Bardet (dsm-firmenich), Ben O’Connor (Decathlon-AG2R La Mondiale) and Hugh Carthy (EF Education-EasyPost).

The first stage of this Tour of the Alps only has three difficulties but it’s unlikely that we will see a bunch sprint in Cortina. Indeed, the riders will begin with a very long climb, the Andalo (15.5km, 5.1%). After that, they will enter the final circuit with the Penone (4.4km, 9.4%) to climb twice. This climb is not very long but its very steep slopes could be the theatre of attacks from the best climbers. After the descent of this climb, the riders will have to ride 13 flat kilometres to reach the finish line, which could lead to an unpredictable finale.

Tuesday

Tour of the Alps (Stage 2)

The second stage of this Tour of the Alps presents a very hilly route, with very few flat roads. The race will be exhausting for the riders and the last difficulty, the Ghadenwald should be the decider. This climb is not as long as some others in the Alps (4.6km) but it’s quite steep with 7.4% of positive gradient. This climb happening after more than 170km of racing could see some favourites for the general classification lose time, even if the summit is placed 16 kilometres from the finish line.

Wednesday

La Flèche Wallonne Féminine

The 27th Flèche Wallonne Féminine will take place on Wednesday, opening the Ardennes classic in Belgium. 146 kilometres around Huy and the traditional finish at the summit of the Mur de Huy will decide the successor of Demi Vollering (SD Worx-Protime), who won her first Flèche Wallonne ahead of Liane Lippert (Movistar) and Gaia Realini (Lidl-Trek) in 2023.

This year, the title holder will be here to try to make the double. Her main rivals should be the riders from Lidl-Trek with Gaia Realini but also the Italian champion Elisa Longo Borghini. However they are not alone with riders such as Juliette Labous (dsm-firmenich), Katarzyna Niewadoma (Canyon//SRAM Racing) and former winner Marta Cavalli (FDJ-Suez) who should also be one’s to watch on the Belgian roads.

La Flèche Wallonne

Like the women’s race, the Flèche Wallonne men’s edition will finish, as usual, on the slopes of the Mur de Huy. Even if there are some difficulties to climb during the 195 kilometres of the race, the decision should, as it is every year, be made on the Mur de Huy, 1.3 kilometres at around 10% of average gradient, Last year, Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) won the race ahead of Mattias Skjelmose (Lidl-Trek) and Mikel Landa (former Bahrain-Victorious now Soudal-Quick Step). This year, Pogačar is not here, neither is Van der Poel, and it could be the chance for several riders to take their first Flèche Wallonne. Indeed, only two former winners will be at the start in Charleroi on Wednesday, Marc Hirschi (UAE Team Emirates) and Dylan Teuns (Israel-Premier Tech).

It is a very open race so it is very hard to sort out one or two main favourites. Mattias Skjelmose, second last year, will want to upgrade this result but he will have to face Tom Pidcock (INEOS Grenadiers) who is in very good shape as demonstrated by his win on Amstel Gold Race. Tiesj Benoot (Visma-Lease a Bike), Maxim Van Gils (Lotto-Dstny), Benoît Cosnefroy (Decathlon-AG2R La Mondiale) and Romain Grégoire (Groupama-FDJ) are also riders capable of winning on the slopes of the Mur de Huy.

Tour of the Alps (Stage 3)

The third stage of the Tour of the Alps takes place around the Austrian city of Schwaz. The first half of the race is approximately flat but it’s 38 kilometres from the finish line that things should start to be interesting. Indeed, the riders will have to climb twice the Weerberg (3.2km, 9.5%) and the Pillberg (3.2km, 9.9%). These two difficulties are not long but they are extremely steep and hard with horrendous percentages. The best climbers should be able to make great differences here, before the queen stage on Thursday. The finish line being after a descent, some riders at ease with this exercise such as Romain Bardet could also make a difference or close a gap here.

Thursday

Tour of the Alps (Stage 4)

The queen stage of the 47th Tour of the Alps should be very interesting to watch on Thursday. Only 141 kilometres to ride but more than 4200m of ascent to climb for the riders. They will start the day on the Passo di San Lugano (15.2km, 5.3%) where the climbers who lost some time in the general classification should form a breakaway. After that, a little bit of valley before passing by the very steep Sveseri (2.9km, 9.2%) and Passo del Redebus (4.5km, 8.9%). After the descent, the two main climbs of the day will follow one another with the Passo del Compet (10.2km, 8.1%) and the Passo del Vetriolo (9.3km, 8.7%) at the top of which the peloton should be reduced to only the leaders. The long descent that will follow will lead the riders to the final difficulty of the day: Colle de San Marco (5.3km, 7.1%) where the decision between the best riders of the day should be made.

Friday

Tour of the Alps (Stage 5)

The final stage of the Tour of the Alps 2024 is also the shortest, with only 118 kilometres to ride around Levico Terme. Despite this stage being very short, it is also very hard with the Palu del Fersina (12.5km, 6.1%) to climb twice. This last day in the Italian Alps is definitely not the hardest but it could make the difference if the gaps in the general classification are small.

Sunday

Liège-Bastogne-Liège

Liège-Bastogne-Liège, the doyenne of classics, the fourth Monument of the season, the race to conclude the classics season. The first edition was held in 1892, 11 years before the first Tour de France and ever since, it has a particular place in the hearts of all cycling fans. 254 kilometres, more than 4000 metres of positive ascent, some well-known hills such as Côte de la Redoute and Côte de la Roche-aux-Faucons. The rider who raises his arms in Liège is often the strongest, due to the hardness of this race. The first half of the race should be quite calm, excepted from the battle for the breakaway. The race will really start with 80 kilometres to go, on the Côte de Wanne. From then, the route will be a succession of ups and downs, never stopping. The hills on the road of LBL never exceed 3 kilometres but they are very steep and you have to be a really good puncheur to dream of a win on the streets of Liege.

Last year, Remco Evenepoel (Soudal-Quick Step) did an incredible show going solo with 30 kilometres remaining and never being seen again. The Belgian rider will not be able to defend his title this year due to his crash on the roads of the Basque Country but his fellow companions on the podium Tom Pidcock (INEOS Grenadiers) and Santiago Buitrago (Bahrain-Victorious) will have to face a great adversity. Indeed, the World Champion Mathieu Van der Poel (Alpecin-Deceuninck), already winner of two Monuments this season, and Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates), the 2021 winner, will aim to succeed the Belgian. Despite some other very good puncheurs such as Mattias Skjelmose (Lidl-Trek), Tiesj Benoot (Visma-Lease a Bike) and Ben Healy (EF Education-EasyPost) being on the start list, it seems very hard to beat the two previously mentioned, so great is their dominance.

Liege-Bastogne-Liege Femmes

As with the men, Liège-Bastogne-Liège Femmes will conclude the season of the classics 2024 in women’s peloton. This race, whose first edition took place in 2017, has seen 6 Dutch winners in 7 editions. The most recent one is the title holder, the national champion Demi Vollering (SD Worx-Protime) who won the two-woman sprint against Elisa Longo Borghini (Lidl-Trek) to win her second LBL. This year, the reigning champion will try to keep her title and raise her arms once again after the 153 kilometres between Bastogne and Liège. The Italian champion and last year's second place Elisa Longo Borghini is also one of the favourites, even more after her win on De Brabantse Pijl. The World Champion Lotte Kopecky (SD Worx-Protime) will participate for the first time and could be an additional weapon for her team. Silvia Persico (UAE Team ADQ) and Katarzyna Niewadoma (Canyon//SRAM Racing) can also be named among the biggest outsiders.

Written by: Rémi Massart

15/04/2024

Recap of the week – Lutsenko wins in Abruzzo, impressive weekend for Groupama-FDJ

Giro d’Abruzzo

Alexey Lutsenko (Astana Qazaqstan) managed the race perfectly and took the GC win ahead of Pavel Sivakov (UAE Team Emirates) and George Bennett (Israel-Premier Tech).

Stage 1

Enrico Zanoncello (VF Group-Bardiani) dominated a bunch sprint to take the first European win of his career in Pescara.

The first stage of these four days in central Italy was the flattest and the only one to finish in a bunch sprint. Nevertheless, there were some difficulties for the riders to overcome which cost some of the favourites their place in the peloton. Indeed, Itamar Einhorn (Israel-Premier Tech), Niccolo Bonifazio (Corratec-Vini Fantini) and Daniel Skerl (CTF Victorious) were among those who couldn’t keep up with the first group. Despite some attackers in the last kilometres including Jan Christen (UAE Team Emirates) and George Bennett, it was a group of approximately 80 men that arrived for the win in Pescara. Enrico Zanoncello came out on top, only a few centimetres ahead of Matteo Malucelli (JCL Ukyo). Manuel Penalver (Polti-Kometa) rounded out the podium.

Stage 2

Jan Christen (UAE Team Emirates) won the first of his professional career after attacking on the last descent.

This second stage had just over 250m more ascent compared to the previous day’s route but with the summit of the last climb being only 15 kilometres from the finish line, the sprinters couldn’t compete for the win in Magliano de Marsi. The last survivor of the morning breakaway Alessandro Tonelli (VF Group-Bardiani) was caught on the last climb, with 19 kilometres to go. At the same time, his teammate and leader of the race Enrico Zanoncello was dropped from the peloton along with the others sprinters.

Jan Christen launched his first attack with 16 kilometres remaining, causing reactions from Lutsenko and Bennett. With the multiplication of accelerations, splits appeared in the peloton and 12 men took the lead. 6 kilometres from the finish line, Christen attacked once more but this time he created a gap, leading him to victory. Behind the Swiss rider, Alexey Lutsenko won the sprint for second place ahead of Thomas Pesenti (JCL Ukyo). Christen took the leader's jersey, with 20 seconds of advantage on Lutsenko.

Stage 3

The third stage of this Giro d’Abruzzo was the queen stage and Alexey Lutsenko succeeded in tricking the riders from UAE Team Emirates to win solo at the summit of Prati di Tivo.

Marco Tizza (Bingoal WB) and Filippo Fiorelli (VF Group-Bardiani), the last riders riders of the morning breakaway, were caught just before the beginning of the last climb, Prati di Tivo. Since the beginning of the stage, Astana Qazaqstan and UAE Team Emirates were the two teams pulling in peloton. An elimination from the back in the first kilometres of the climb cost several outsiders their place such as Sébastien Reichenbach (Tudor) and Matthew Riccitello (Israel-Premier Tech). The leader of the general classification, Jan Christen, was also dropped from the first group 7 kilometres from the summit.

The rhythm set by Diego Ulissi (UAE Team Emirates) reduced the favourites group to only 8 riders before the first attacks started. The first one to try escaping from this group was Pavel Sivakov, immediately countered by Lutsenko. The battle between the strongest of the day resulted in riders dropping one after another, leaving only Lutsenko and Adam Yates (UAE Team Emirates) at the front with 2 kilometres to go. Even though Ulissi managed to come back to the duo, creating a two versus one situation, Lutsenko was the strongest of the day and he took the win ahead of the two UAE Team Emirates riders. Along with the win, the Kazakhstan’s champion took the leader jersey from Christen, who lost 2’30” on the climb.

Stage 4

Pavel Sivakov took his first win of the season while Lutsenko ensured his success in the general classification.

The fourth and last stage was a succession of non-stop ups and downs, resulting in a very hard race. The morning breakaway included some very good climbers and puncheurs with the likes of Jan Christen, Sébastien Reichenbach and Matthw Riccitello. However, Lutsenko’s team, Astana Qazaqstan, was very vigilant and this group never got more than 2 minutes' lead. They were caught with 60 kilometres to go and not long after Lutsenko decided that the best way to defend his jersey was to attack and he escaped from the main group along with Sivakov and Bennett. This group managed to complete the 50 remaining kilometres without being caught and arrived for the win in L’Aquila. Sivakov came out on top of a sprint in which Lutsenko did not take part.

The Kazakh rider won not only the GC but also the mountains and the points jersey. The youth classification was won by Marco Brenner (Tudor). Pavel Sivakov and George Bennett were on either side of the podium thanks to their breakaway on the last stage, whereas Adam Yates and Yannis Voisard (Tudor) rounded out the top 5.

De Brabantse Pijl (Men)

Benoit Cosnefroy (Decathlon-AG2R La Mondiale) took the win in a magnificent race full of suspense.

The first breakaway of the day was composed of 6 riders: Alan Riou (Arkéa-B&B Hotels), Nicolas Debeaumarché (Cofidis), Jens Reynders (Bingoal WB), Dylan Vandenstorme (Flanders-Baloise), Lorrenzo Manzin (TotaleEnergies) and Anders Johannessen (Uno X-Mobility). Unfortunately for them, these riders never stood a chance against the peloton and they did not have the chance to go far in this Brabantse Pijl. The attacks from outsiders started 60 kilometres from the finish line with Antoine Huby (Soudal-QuickStep) and Andreas Leknessund (Uno X-Mobility) creating a small gap.

From then, attacks multiplied with a lot of riders going at the front but not with much success. With 31 kilometres to go, a Belgian duo, Dylan Teuns (Israel-Premier Tech) and Tim Wellens (UAE Team Emirates) opened a gap at the front. Despite all the accelerations in the peloton, they succeeded in keeping an advantage until the last 10 kilometres, when 5 riders managed to join them. Benoit Cosnefroy, Joseph Blackmore (Israel-Premier Tech), Jefferson Alveiro Cepeda (Caja Rural), Quinten Hermans (Alpecin-Deceuninck) and Marijn Van den Berg (EF Education EasyPost) along with Wellens and Teuns formed a group destined to go for the win in Overijse. Van den Berg tried escape the group 2 kilometres before the line but he was caught in the last metres by the rest of the group.

In the sprint, Cosnefroy came out on top ahead of Teuns and Wellens. It’s already the fourth win this season for the Frenchman, who is showing great form before the Ardennes classics. It's also important to notice the amazing race of Joseph Blackmore who sacrificed himself for Teuns in the last kilometre and still managed to finish fourth. The British rider is only 21 and ride usually with the Devo team of Israel-Premier Tech. Since the beginning of the season, he won three general classifications, in Tour of Rwanda, Tour of Taiwan and Circuit des Ardennes. In addition, he also won Liege-Bastogne-Liege U23 last weekend, showing once again that he is a great talent to follow in the future.

De Brabantse Pijl (Women)

Elisa Longo Borghini (Lidl-Trek) won her first De Brabantse Pijl after an 8 kilometres solo raid.

Unlike the men’s race, the morning breakaway of the women’s edition of De Brabantse Pijl went a long way and had the opportunity to fight with the peloton. This group was composed of 4 riders: Laura Molenaar (VolkerWessels), Karin Soderqvist (Lifeplus Wahoo), Coryn Labecki (EF Education-Cannondale) and Emily Watts (Chevalmeire). Behind them, the first attacks in the peloton came during and after the Holstheide, 65 kilometres from the finish line. SD Worx-Protime tried to create a race of movements with the attacks of Femke Gerritse and Demi Vollering but this didn’t affect the race and the peloton remained complete.

With 40 kilometres to go, an Italian duo composed of Sofia Bertzzolo (UAE Team ADQ) and Alessia Vigilia (FDJ-Suez) managed to come back on the first group, at the same time as Emily Watts was dropped. 10 kilometres later, Longo Borghini and Vollering escaped from the peloton and joined the first group, where Karin Soderqvist had been outpaced. The Dutch and the Italian imposed a great rhythm at the front, dropping their escape companions one after another. Finally, with 8 kilometres to go, Elisa Longo Borghini managed to drop the Tour de France’s winner and finished the race solo, winning with 40 seconds of advantage on Vollering. In the peloton, Alexandra Manly (Liv Jayco AlUla) won the sprint for third place ahead of Femke Gerritse and Shirin Van Anrooij (Lidl-Trek).

Classic Grand Besançon Doubs

Lenny Martinez (Groupama-FDJ) won his third race of the season at the summit of the Côte de la Malate.

The first attacks from the peloton happened with 40 kilometres to go, with Marco Frigo (Israel-Premier Tech) and Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Dstny) trying to escape the pack. Their attacks were in vain and it was a lone rider, the last of the morning breakaway, Adne Holter (Uno X-Mobility) who began the last climb of the day at the front. Even if some riders such as Jonathan Couanon (Nice Métropole Côte d’Azur) attacked with the objective to join the man in lead, it became an elimination from the rear until the acceleration of Lenny Martinez, with 3 kilometres to go.

The young Frenchman came back and immediately dropped Holter, increasing the gap with his chasers to almost 10 seconds. However, behind, Victor Langelotti (Burgos-BH) attacked with Martinez’s teammate, David Gaudu on his wheel. The rider from Monaco was very strong and he managed to drop Gaudu and to come back on the leader 400m from the finish line. Unfortunately for him, the winner of Trofeo Laigueglia had kept some strength for the sprint and won his third of the season, starting a beautiful weekend for his team.

Tour du Jura

David Gaudu was the strongest on the slopes of the Mont Poupet and took his first win since 2022.

The two riders opening the road for the longest time on the Jura’s roads were Marco Frigo (Israel-Premier Tech) and Adne Holter (Uno X-Mobility). They had one minute of advantage over a reduced peloton of approximately 25 riders when the last climb began. Just as the previous day, Groupama-FDJ took the race into their own hands and put Reuben Thompson at the front of the peloton, causing the reduction of the gap between the peloton and the first group.

The first attacker was Kenny Elissonde (Cofidis), immediately countered by Gaudu. However, the first rider who came back on the breakaway was Felix Gall (Decathlon-AG2R La Mondiale), one of the better climbers of the race on paper. The Austrian was soon joined by Gaudu, Guillaume Martin (Cofidis) and Jefferson Cepeda (Caja Rural). The last two kilometers saw riders going one by one due to the very steep slopes and Gaudu attacked under the flamme rouge. Despite Cepeda trying to follow him, the rider from Brittany was never seen again and won for the first time since the Critérium du Dauphiné 2022. Behind him, Jordan Jegat (TotalEnergies) finished the climb wonderfully and managed to beat Guillaume Martin in a sprint for second place.

Tour du Doubs

Lenny Martinez won his second in three days in Le Larmont, the third consecutive win for his team.

The morning breakaway, composed of 9 riders, saw its last representative, Samuel Leroux (Van Rysel-Roubaix) being caught only 3.6 kilometres from the finish line, on the slopes of the last difficulty of the day. As with the days before, Groupama-FDJ assumed the chase behind the first group, until the first attack from José Manuel Diaz (Burgos-BH), immediately chased by Lenny Martinez and Clément Berthet (Decathlon-AG2R La Mondiale). This French duo isolated again just before the flamme rouge and Martinez won the two-up sprint, securing his fourth win of the season and the third in three days for his team. The young French climber who is rumoured to ride for Bahrain-Victorious next year showed once again that he is one of the greatest young riders in the world.

Written by : Rémi Massart

15/04/2024

Race Report – At the Amstel Gold Race, Vos snatches the win from Wiebes, and Pidcock finally takes the victory after an action-packed race

Men’s Race

Tom Pidcock (INEOS Grenadiers) finally won his first Amstel Gold Race – after coming close twice before – in a small-group sprint after an exciting and unpredictable race, ahead of Marc Hirschi (UAE Team Emirates) and Tiesj Benoot (Visma Lease-a-Bike).

The first breakaway group of the day formed with around 210km to go, and included Tosh Van der Sande (Visma Lease-a-Bike), Enzo Leijnse (DSM-Firmenich PostNL), Alexander Hajek (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Zeb Kiffin (TDT-Unibet). They managed to stay out in front for most of the day, but with 76km to go, Van der Sande dropped back, and two kilometres later, the rest of the group was caught.

With 62km to go, there was an attack from Louis Vervaecke (Soudal Quick-Step). He was followed by riders from Intermarché-Wanty and Groupama-FDJ, before the move was closed down by the peloton. This didn’t stop him for long, however, as Vervaeke attacked again with 59km to go. This time, he was followed by Mikkel Honoré (EF Education-EasyPost) and Paul Lapeira (Decathlon-AG2R La Mondiale), and the group got away from the peloton, and began to build a gap.

The World Champion, Mathieu Van der Poel, then moved up to the front of the peloton alongside Pidcock and Matteo Jorgenson (Visma Lease-a-Bike), and with his Alpecin-Deceuninck teammates, started to pull the peloton forward. Vervaecke’s day was done with 36km to go, as he dropped back and left the other two riders out in front, with the peloton in hot pursuit. Hirschi then decided to attack, and he was followed by Bauke Mollema (Lidl-Trek), Roger Adrià (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Valentin Madouas (Groupama-FDJ). Quentin Pacher (Groupama-FDJ) and Mauri Vansevenant (Soudal Quick-Step) then joined this chasing group, as did Pidcock and Benoot. Notably, Van der Poel failed to join the move, and made no attempt to chase.

The chasing group caught the two riders in front with 28km to go, and Hirschi and Benoot began to pull at the front of the group, to increase their gap to the peloton. A few riders in the peloton recognised that they had missed the decisive move of the day, and so attempted to bridge across, but all were eventually unsuccessful. They kept trying to reduce the gap – with Mattias Skjelmose (Lidl-Trek) taking a huge turn on the front to pull the peloton up the Cauberg – however the peloton just wasn’t strong enough, and neither was Van der Poel, who, with only one teammate left, wasn’t keen to help, so the gap to the front group remained steady.

With around 12km to go, Hirschi accelerated, followed only by Benoot, Pidcock and Vansevenant. Bilbao, and later Lapeira, each tried to bridge across, but both were unsuccessful. The front four worked together flawlessly until they reached the flamme rouge. Benoot led them through, and they began to nervously look at eachother. In the end, it was Vansevanant who began his sprint first, leading out the others with 300m to go. Benoot and Pidcock then launched, with Hirschi following.

Pidcock managed to hang on for first place, Hirschi came through for second, and Benoot took third. Vansevenant, Lapeira, Madouas, Mollema, Pacher, Bilbao and Michael Matthews (Jayco-AlUla), rounded out the top ten.

Women’s Race

The Amstel Gold Race Ladies Edition was clinched by Marianne Vos (Visma Lease-a-Bike) in a bunch sprint, just ahead of Lorena Wiebes (SDWorx-Protime), who was unfortunately already prematurely celebrating the win.

In the early stages of the race, there were a few attacks off the front of the peloton, but around an hour in, the race was neutralised, due to a road traffic accident. When the race started again, the peloton was altogether, and the route had been altered so that the riders would only race the final three laps of the finishing circuit.

The peloton continued to ride as one for a while, until Elisa Longo Borghini (Lidl-Trek) attacked with 39km to go. She was followed by Elise Chabbey and Kasia Niewiadoma (both CANYON-SRAM), Amber Kraak (FDJ-SUEZ) and Anna Henderson (Visma Lease-a-Bike), and a few moments later, Demi Vollering (SDWorx-Protime) latched onto the back. This group was caught shortly afterwards, however, on the Geulhemmerberg, with 35km to go.

Soon after, there came another attack from Eva Van Agt (Visma Lease-a-Bike), who was followed by Yara Kastelijn (Fenix-Deceuninck) and Ricarda Bauernfeind (CANYON-SRAM), and they managed to create a decent gap to the peloton. With 31km to go, Anouska Koster (Uno-X Mobility) then tried to bridge across to this front group. There were a few more attacks from the front of the peloton, from the likes of Amanda Spratt (Lidl-Trek) and Henrietta Christie (Human Powered Health), however they were immediately closed down by the rest of the peloton.

With 21km to go, Longo Borghini attacked, followed by a small group including Fem Van Empel (Visma Lease-a-Bike), Demi Vollering, Kasia Niewiadoma (CANYON-SRAM) and Shirin van Amrooij (Lidl-Trek), amongst others. They managed to catch Koster as they crossed the finish line and heard the bell indicating the start of the final lap, however the peloton then caught this group soon after, before they could catch the trio in front.

Ellen van Dijk (Lidl-Trek) came to the front of the peloton to help drive the pursuit of the three riders, however the front group kept increasing their gap. Kastelijn eventually couldn’t keep up with the high pace of the other two, and so dropped back with 11km to go. A few more Lidl-Trek riders then hit the front with around 4km to go, and by 1.9km to go, the front group was caught, and the peloton was back together again.

Niewiadoma tried a few attacks, but each time she was followed by the peloton, and they began to prepare for a bunch sprint. Inside the flamme rouge, Vollering led out the peloton. Longo Borghini then launched first, and Wiebes followed, coming around her on the right-hand side. Vos, however, was coming up behind, and whilst Wiebes celebrated, Vos kept sprinting and threw her bike, taking the win.

Ingvild Gåskjenn (Liv-AlUla-Jayco) took the third and final podium spot, and Pfeiffer Georgi (DSM-Firmenich PostNL), Longo Borghini, Eleonora Gasparrini (UAE Team ADQ), Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (AG Insurance-Soudal), Kraak, Kastelijn and Soraya Paladin (CANYON-SRAM), rounded out the top ten.

Written by: Alicia Moyo

14/04/2024

Preview of the week – Time for the Ardennes

Tuesday

Giro d’Abruzzo (Stage 1)

On Tuesday, the 6th Giro d’Abruzzo begins. This race makes its return in the calendar for the first time since 2007, when the Italian Luca Ascani won it. The general classification should be decided at the end of the week with two mountainous stages that should make difference between the leaders. There are only two World Tour teams engaged and the main favourites for GC are in their ranks. Indeed, Adam Yates (UAE Team Emirates) and Alexey Lutsenko (Astana Qazaqstan) seem to be the two strongest climbers on the startlist. Nevertheless, they will have to be careful about other riders such as George Bennett (Israel-Premier Tech) and Sébastien Reichenbach (Tudor).

The first stage between Vasto and Pescara is 161 kilometres long and is, on paper, the easiest. However, the riders will have to climb 2048 metres of ascent, making it difficult for the few sprinters on the start list to compete for the win and the first leader's jersey. In case of a bunch sprint, Niccolo Bonifazio (Corratec-Vini Fantini) and Manuel Penalver (Polti-Kometa) are supposed to be the fastest but, even if they pass the main difficulties among the peloton, their teams will have to face a lot of attacks from puncheurs, trying to foil their plans.

Wednesday

De Brabantse Pijl (Women)

De Brabantse Pijl marks the beginning of the Ardennes classics, leaving the cobbles for constant ups and downs across Belgium. Last year, Silvia Persico (UAE Team ADQ) beat Demi Vollering (SD Worx-Protime) and Liane Lippert (Movistar) in a three-women sprint in Overijse. With an uphill last kilometre, a rider must have a good punch in order to compete for the win in this race.

This year, Persico is here to defend her title but will have to face great adversity including the 2022 winner and last year's second place Demi Vollering. As always in the Belgian races, the weather will be an important factor for the race scenario by creating echelons or crashes. It could be important to notice that 2021 and 2020 winners (Ruth Edwards for Human Powered Health and Grace Brown for FDJ-SUEZ) will be at the start on Wednesday, along with Elisa Longo Borghini (Lidl-Trek) who will aim for a first success here.

De Brabantse Pijl (Men)

Like the women’s race, De Brabantse Pijl men’s race is the transition between the Flanders and the Ardennes classics. This race, composed of 195 kilometres, includes 22 hills, 8 of which are cobbled. The finish in Overijse being hilly, could allow some riders to come back to the front if the first group’s members look at each other too much. Last year, Dorian Godon (Decathlon-AG2R La Mondiale) and Ben Healy (EF Education-EasyPost) resisted to the pack by only a few seconds after a fantastic breakaway of more than 35 kilometres. The Frenchman won the sprint of two and took the biggest win of his career, concluding a beautiful race for his team, with his teammate Benoit Cosnefroy finishing 3rd.

This year, Godon will aim to defend his title with Cosnefroy on his side. However, it will not be easy with some others teams very well armed that will try to go for the win on the Belgian roads. Among them, Israel-Premier Tech (Stephen Williams and Dylan Teuns), Alpecin-Deceuninck (Quinten Hermans and Axel Laurance) and UAE Team Emirates (Marc Hirschi and Antonio Morgado) seems to have the weapons to raise their arms in Overijse.

Giro d’Abruzzo (Stage 2)

The second stage of the Giro d’Abruzzo has a quite unusual profile with two first difficulties 60 kilometres after the start in Alanno, including Monte Urano (4.5km, 9.3%). After these climbs however, the riders will have almost 60 kilometres of flat, allowing a little rest before a last climb of 8 kilometres with approximately 4% of average gradient. The riders will then dive in the downhill before arriving in Magliano de Marsi. The stage is quite difficult to predict as it can suit a lot of different riders, going from sprinters comfortable over climbs to puncheurs who could make the difference at the top of the climb before speeding off in the descent to victory.

Thursday

Giro d’Abruzzo (Stage 3)

The third stage of the Giro d’Abruzzo is the queen stage. The arrival is situated on the top of the infamous Prati di Tivo (14.7km, 7%) where no one will have the possibility to hide. Before this last climb, the route is not flat at all with a lot of difficulties that will tire the bodies. The pure climbers will be favoured on Thursday and we should see the men aiming for the general classification compete for the win. Adam Yates is the biggest favourite but he will have to watch riders like Lutsenko and Bennett. This stage will also be the opportunity to see Domenico Pozzovivo (VF Group-Bardiani) who will be determined to shine with his new team.

Friday

Classic Grand Besançon Doubs

The fourth edition of the Classic Grand Besançon Doubs kicks off a triptych in Eastern France. The race can be classified as medium mountain with a finish in Montfaucon, after a 3.8km climb at 9.1%. Last year, Victor Lafay, who rode for Cofidis at the time, took the best over Lenny Martinez (Groupama-FDJ) in a two-man sprint.

This year, Lafay, now racing for Decathlon-AG2R La Mondiale, has not taken part in any races due to injury at his knee. For now, he is planned for the race but it could change. The main favourites for the race are from the French teams with David Gaudu and Lenny Martinez for Groupama-FDJ, Clément Champoussin and Cristian Rodriguez for Arkéa-B&B Hotels and Guillaume Martin for Cofidis.

Giro d’Abruzzo (Stage 4)

The fourth and final stage of this Giro d’Abruzzo is not a summit finish but presents more than 3400m of ascent. From the beginning in Montorio al Vomano to the finish in L’Aquila, the road will only be composed of ups and downs, with not a single kilometre of flat. After the queen stage the day before, this last stage will be the last opportunity for riders aiming for general classification to try to shake up the rankings. With such a difficult route, the riders who have not recovered well from the previous day’s efforts will struggle to hold and could lose precious time.

Saturday

Tour du Jura

Second leg of the three days in Eastern France with the Tour du Jura. Like for Classic Besançon Doubs, the finish is at the summit of a climb, this time the Mont Poupet. In 2023, Kévin Vauquelin (Arkéa-B&B Hotels) arrived solo and won ahead of Thibaut Pinot and Guillaume Martin (Cofidis). This year, Vauquelin is not expected at the start in Domblans and, of course, neither is Pinot. The provisional startlist is almost the same as for the day before but one favourite is added: Michael Woods (Israel-Premier Tech). The Canadian likes to race in France and should be a man to watch along with those already mentioned for Classic Besançon Doubs.

Sunday

Amstel Gold Race Ladies

The tenth edition of Amstel Gold Race Ladies will officially open the week of the Ardennes classics. The riders will have to ride 158km between Maastricht and Berg en Terblijt, in a succession of ups and downs with no flat in the last 100 kilometres. Last year, SD Worx-Protime realised an amazing one-two with the solo win of Demi Vollering and Lotte Kopecky winning the sprint of the peloton. The winner of the Tour de France Femmes had countered an attack from Liane Lippert (Movistar) and had isolated herself 1.8km from the finish line, never to be seen again.

This year, the formidable duo of the Dutch team is of course present to try to make the same performance again. However, their rivals are ready and determined to beat them. Among them, the Lidl-Trek team, very strong since the start of the season, may be the most well-armed with the likes of Elisa Longo Borghini and Shirin Van Anrooij. The other teams are not to be outdone with serious outsiders such as Silvia Persico (UAE Team ADQ), Pfeiffer Georgi (dsm-firmenich) and former winners Marianne Vos (Visma-Lease a Bike) and Katarzyna Niewadoma (Canton//SRAM Racing).

Amstel Gold Race

Exactly like the women, the men’s peloton starts the Ardennes classics in the Netherlands with Amstel Gold Race. 33 listed climbs and a never flat route, this is perfectly the definition of what makes these races so particular. Last year, Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) completely dominated the race by winning solo with 38 seconds over a surprising Ben Healy (EF Education EasyPost) and more than 2 minutes ahead of a group from which Tom Pidcock (INEOS Grenadiers) sprinted his way to the podium.

This year, things will be different as Pogačar is absent, preserving himself for Liege-Bastogne-Liege. However, World champion Mathieu Van der Poel (Alpecin-Deceuninck) has announced his participation. If the Dutchman has the same shape as during the Flanders classics, it will be very hard for his opponents to beat him. Nevertheless, cycling can often be surprising so maybe some outsiders can succeed to defeat Van der Poel. Among those riders who will have to try and trick the World champion, we can find the likes of Tom Pidcock, Ben Healy, Benoit Cosnefroy (Decathlon-AG2R La Mondiale) and Mattias Skjelmose (Lidl-Trek). If their task will be extremely difficult, they will have to make things move if they want to have a chance to succeed to Pogačar.

Tour du Doubs

The third and final race day in Eastern France looks like its two predecessors: a hilly route with a finish on top of a climb. This last climb is not very steep with 6.4km at 5.4% but the accumulation of the ascents will make the legs heavy for the majority of the peloton. In 2023, a group of 9 riders sprinted for the win in Le Larmont and it was Jesus Herrada (Cofidis) who came out on top, ahead of Thibaut Pinot and Nans Peters (Decathlon-AG2R La Mondiale).

For now, some of the favourites of the days before (Gaudu, Woods) are not planned to start on Tour du Doubs but Jesus Herrada should be here to defend his title and try to bring to his team their first win of the season. Against him, Lenny Martinez and Clément Champoussin are the two main favourites but there are some other very good climbers on the provisional startlist who could take advantage of the hard finish to compete for the win. Jordan Jegat (TotalEnergies) and Sylvain Moniquet (Lotto-Dstny) could be one of them.

Written by : Rémi Massart

08/04/2024

Recap of the week – Impressive Marijn Van den Berg, Wiebes and Merlier dominant in Belgium.

Ronde de Mouscron

Daria Pikulik (Human Powered Health) won her first of the season in Ronde de Mouscron.

This traditional Belgian race, with constant ups and downs, saw a group of seven riders competing for the win in Mouscron. The Polish rider Daria Pikulik was the strongest of the day and took the win ahead of Aniina Ahtolaso (Uno-X Mobility) and Martina Fidanza (CERATIZIT-WNT). Marthe Truyen (Fenix-Deceuninck) and Maggie Coles-Lyster (Roland) rounded out the top 5.

Région Pays de la Loire Tour

Marijn Van den Berg (EF Education-Easypost) delivered an incredible performance in the region of the medieval castles and won the first GC win of his professional career, along with 2 stages.

Stage 1

Marijn Van den Berg started perfectly his week by winning a bunch sprint in Saint Jean de Monts.

This first stage was almost perfectly flat and the scenario turned out to be very classic. Indeed, the morning breakaway never stood a chance against the peloton and almost every team seemed to agree with the idea of a bunch sprint. The few who tried to escape from the peloton were caught with 7 kilometres to go and Van den Berg took the win ahead of Jon Aberasturi (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and David Dekker (Arkéa-B&B Hotels).

Stage 2

The second stage was much more open that the first and Ewen Costiou (Arkéa-B&B Hotels) escaped from the first group and took the first win of his career, confirming his excellent start to the season.

The finale of this stage took place in Saumur and included a little hill of only 400m but with 12.2% of average gradient. With 40 kilometres remaining, Mathis Le Berre (Arkéa-B&B Hotels) attacked but never succeeded to come back on the morning breakaway. As soon as he was caught, 20 kilometres from the finish line, attacks multiplied in the peloton. Benoit Cosnefroy (Decathlon-AG2R La Mondiale) created a small gap along with 7 riders with 12 kilometres to go. Collaboration in this group was not perfect and some riders such as Samuel Watson (Groupama-FDJ), Cosnefroy and Van den Berg, tried to isolate themselves, in vain. Right under the last kilometre banner, Costiou attacked and no one was able to follow him. Behind, Sam Bennett (Decathlon-AG2R La Mondiale) won the sprint of the peloton ahead of Emilien Jeannière (TotalEnergies). Costiou took the lead in the general classification, 8 seconds ahead of Van den Berg.

Stage 3

Alberto Dainese (Tudor Pro Cycling) took his first win of the season in a bunch sprint ahead of Van den Berg and Sam Bennett.

 The morning breakaway once again never stood a chance against the peloton and was caught 17 kilometres from the finish line. As soon as the peloton was compact again, Groupama-FDJ tried to make a race of movement with the attacks of Samuel Watson and Ronan Augé. Unfortunately for them, the sprinters' teams were too strong and it was a complete peloton who arrived for the win in Château-Gontier. Dainese was the fastest of the day ahead of Van den Berg and Bennett. Jérémy Lecroq (St Michel-Mavic-Auber 93) and Bryan Coquard (Cofidis) rounded up the top 5. Costiou kept the leader's jersey but only 1 second ahead of Van den Berg.

Stage 4

Van den Berg raced perfectly to take the stage win and the general classification in Le Mans.

This last stage of the Region Pays de la Loire Tour was decisive with only one second between Costiou and Van den Berg at the start. In the final circuit, Watson, Coquard and Cosnefroy took their chance but EF Education-Easypost controlled the race perfectly, allowing Van den Berg to win the stage ahead of Cosnefroy and Clément Venturini (Arkéa-B&B Hotels).

In the overall classification, Marijn Van den Berg took the win ahead of Costiou and Fredrik Dversnes (Uno-X Mobility). Van den Berg also took home the points jersey whereas Matisse Julien (CIC U Nantes Atlantique) won the KOM jersey and Ewen Costiou won the young classification. EF Education-Easypost finished first in the teams classification.

Scheldeprijs

Women’s race:

Lorena Wiebes (SD Worx-Protime) continued her incredible domination at Scheldeprijs and won the race for the fourth time in four editions.

One rider alone escaped from the peloton and formed the morning breakaway, the Dutchwoman Anneke Dijkstra (VolkerWessels). She was joined by Wilma Aintila (Lotto-Dstny Ladies and the duo still had a minute of advantage on the peloton with 10 kilometres to go. The spectacular chase ended 1700m from the finish line and an almost complete peloton entered the final stretch for the win in Schoten. The best sprinter in the world, Lorena Wiebes, confirmed her status by dominating the sprint ahead of Charlotte Kool (dsm-firmenich) and Martina Fidanza (CERATIZIT-WNT). Sofie Van Rooijen (VolkerWessels) and Mirre Knaven (AG Insurance-Soudal NXTG) rounded up the top 5.

Men’s race:

Tim Merlier (Soudal-Quick Step) won a royal sprint in Schoten to win his first Scheldeprijs.

The morning breakaway was composed of 5 riders, Liam Slock (Lotto-Dstny), Tord Gudmestad (Uno-X Mobility), Mirko Bozzola (Q36.5), Bram Dissel (BEAT) and Peder Dahl Strand (Tarteletto-Isorex). Unfortunately, with only 15 kilometres ridden, the two sprinters of Intermarché-Wanty, Gerben Thijssen and Arne Marit crashed and had to abandon the race. With 15 kilometres remaining, one of the biggest favourites had to change his bike and had to inflict a chase on himself to come back and contest the sprint. In the same time, Liam Slock, the last survivor of the morning breakaway was caught by the peloton. In the last kilometres, Szymon Sajnok (Q36.5) suffered from a crash and couldn’t defend his chance in the sprint. At the end, Merlier, who managed to come back at the front, took the win ahead of Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Deceuninck), Dylan Groenewegen (Jayco AlUla), Cees Bol (Astana Qazaqstan) and Hugo Hofstetter (Israel-Premier Tech).

Race Report – Yet another solo victory for the Men’s World Champion, as he picks up his second Paris-Roubaix win

Mathieu Van der Poel (Alpecin-Deceuninck) wins Paris-Roubaix for the second year in a row, with another solo attack – this time with 60km to go.

The race began with a few unsuccessful attacks, but by around 230km to go, a breakaway group had formed, which included Kasper Asgreen (Soudal Quick-Step), Per Strand Hagenes (Visma Lease-a-Bike), Marco Haller (Bora-Hansgrohe), Rasmus Tiller (Uno-X Mobility), Kamil Małecki (Q36.5), Liam Slock (Lotto-Dstny), and Gleb Syritsa (Astana Qazaqstan). Dusan Rajović (Bahrain-Victorious) then attacked off the front of the peloton in order to join the breakaway, followed by Dries De Bondt (Decathlon AG2R La Mondiale).

Unfortunately, not long after, there was a large crash, which involved Tim Merlier (Soudal Quick-Step), Laurenz Rex (Intermarché-Wanty), Jonathan Milan (Lidl-Trek), and Elia Viviani (INEOS Grenadiers) among others – and resulted in the latter two abandoning the race. With 178km to go, De Bondt and Rajović managed to join the breakaway, but 10km later, Van der Poel and his team decided to hit the front and drive the peloton forward. It was at this point that Christophe Laporte (Visma Lease-a-Bike) picked up a rear wheel puncture. He had to drop back from the peloton, and after that, never made it back to the front groups. He wasn’t alone, however, as lots of riders dropped off the back of the peloton as Alpecin-Deceuninck kept upping the pace.

By 150km to go, the ‘peloton’ had really reduced, and a clear chasing group had formed – notably, without Mads Pedersen (Lidl-Trek). With 144km to go, Rex fell again – this time due to a traffic island in the middle of the road – and he abandoned the race shortly after. The breakaway was then caught by the chasing group with 140km to go, and Pedersen managed to get back to this front group after putting in a huge effort. At this point in the race, the front group included many major players, such as Van der Poel, Mick and Tim Van Dijke (both Visma Lease-a-Bike), John Degenkolb (DSM-Firmenich PostNL), Stefan Küng and Laurence Pithie (both Groupama-FDJ), Nils Politt (UAE Team Emirates), Tom Pidcock (INEOS Grenadiers), and Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Deceuninck).

Meanwhile, Joshua Tarling (INEOS Grenadiers) was disqualified from the race, for allowing himself to be pulled along by his team car whilst taking too long to take his bottle. The race was then relatively peaceful for a while, with no major moves occurring, and the riders moved safely through the controversial ‘chicane’ that had been added to the route. There were, however, several punctures, with riders such as Politt, Tim Van Dijke, Philipsen, and Degenkolb, suffering mechanical issues and having to drop back.

Van der Poel tried a mini-attack with 94km to go, but he was followed by Pedersen, Mick van Dijke, and Philipsen, and they were caught by the rest of the front group with 90km to go. Then it was Pedersen’s turn to pick up a puncture, and following this, Gianni Vermeersch (Alpecin-Deceuninck) attacked, pursued only by Politt and Küng. These three managed to create a 30-second gap, but Pedersen was determined to chase, after having resolved his puncture issue. With 69km to go, the three front riders were caught. A few more attacks followed, but all were unsuccessful, as Vermeersch refused to let any riders escape from the group, in preparation for his team leader’s incoming attack.

With 60km to go, Van der Poel attacked on the Orchies cobbled sector. Pedersen tried to chase, but without any assistance, couldn’t follow. Finally, with 46km to go, a chasing group formed with Pedersen, Philipsen, Pithie, Küng, and Politt – however Pithie later crashed with around 28km to go, and was distanced from the group. Vermeersch then decided to try to join the chasing group, with around 23km to go, and bridged across to Pithie. A short time later, Küng found himself dropping back from the chasing group, as Philipsen set a hard pace at the front.

Things stayed the same over the final kilometres of the race, with Van der Poel increasing his lead, and riding away to an easy victory. Then Pedersen entered the velodrome with Philipsen and Politt in his wheel, and the trio passed the ringing bell altogether. Politt launched his sprint first, and Pedersen followed, but Philipsen stayed behind, and came out late to sprint to second place behind his teammate. Pedersen took third place, and Politt, Küng, Vermeersch, Pithie, Tim Van Dijke*, Jordi Meeus (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Søren Waerenskjold (Uno-X Mobility), rounded out the top ten.

*Van Dijke was later relegated for drifting off the track in the sprint for the final top ten places.

Written by: Alicia Moyo

07/04/2024

Race Report – The World Champion charges to her first victory at Paris-Roubaix Femmes avec Zwift

Lotte Kopecky (SDWorx-Protime) won Paris-Roubaix Femmes Avec Zwift for the first time, ahead of Elisa Balsamo (Lidl-Trek) and Pfeiffer Giorgi (DSM-Firmenich Post NL).

In the early stages of the race, a few riders attempted to break away from the peloton, but most of the attacks were unsuccessful, until around 130km to go, when Victoire Joncheray (Komugi-Grand Est) attacked off the front of the peloton, and was able to create a gap. No one else could follow her, and she stayed alone in front, until she was caught by the peloton with 111km to go. The peloton stayed together for the next 40km, but as the pace picked up, splits began to form as more and more riders began to drop off the back of the peloton.

With 70km to go, Kopecky hit the front, and only a small group could follow, including Giorgi, Balsamo, and Lorena Wiebes (SDWorx-Protime), among others. A few more attacks ensued, but they were all closed down fairly quickly, and the front group grew bigger again, as some of the riders who were distanced on the cobbles were able to come back on the flat. With 54km to go, Kopecky drove the peloton forward again, and was followed by Marianne Vos (Visma Lease-a-Bike), Christina Schweinberger (Fenix-Deceuninck), Giorgi and Wiebes – although the latter was quickly dropped, and the group was eventually caught with 48km to go.

Between 45-34km to go, there were a series of attacks, many of which were initiated by Ellen Van Dijk (Lidl-Trek), however each one was closed down quickly. Then, Jade Wiel (FDJ-SUEZ) attacked solo with around 33km to go. Despite Kopecky attempting to chase, followed by a small group, Wiel increased her gap to 30 seconds from the chasers. Van Dijk then took to the front with 25km to go, and caught Wiel two kilometres later. She then attacked with Amber Kraak (FDJ-SUEZ), and both riders went off in front.

With 19.4km to go, Kopecky attacked on the cobbles, followed by Balsamo and Vos, and the trio caught the duo out in front with 18.3km to go, whilst Giorgi attempted to bridge across to the group on her own. With 16km to go, Balsamo dropped back behind Giorgi, but the two managed to make it back to the front group with 11km to go.

The front group stayed intact for the rest of the race, and Van Dijk led the group as they entered the iconic velodrome and heard the bell ring, with Giorgi on her wheel. The group began to gear up for a sprint, and Kopecky was momentarily ‘boxed-in’ as Balsamo attacked first, followed by Vos. She wasn’t held up for long, however, as she quickly came around the outside and charged to victory, ahead of Balsamo and Giorgi – with the latter just managing to squeeze ahead of Vos, and take the final podium place on the bike throw. Kraak, Van Dijk, Wiebes, Victoire Berteau (Cofidis), Marie Le Net (FDJ-SUEZ) and Kimberley Le Court (AG Insurance-Soudal), rounded out the top ten.

Written by: Alicia Moyo

06/04/2024

Race Report – After a race filled with many ups and downs, Ayuso comes through to win Itzulia Basque Country

Stage 1

Primož Roglič (Bora-Hansgrohe) showed the cycling world that he was back in top form on Stage 1 of Itzulia Basque Country, winning the individual time trial ahead of all the other race favourites, including Jonas Vingegaard (Visma-Lease-a-Bike) and Remco Evenepoel (Soudal Quick-Step).

The opening stage ITT was 10km long, with a few small, steep inclines, and a category 3 climb, and for much of the race, the conditions were sunny and dry. However, unfortunately for the final few riders, rain began to fall towards the end of the day, resulting in slippery cobbles and corners, and a few errors from the riders affected.

Roglič was one of the earlier riders, and – despite taking the wrong turn at one point, and losing time turning around – he put in a dominant performance, and took the hot seat from Juan Ayuso (UAE Team Emirates). He remained in the hot seat for the rest of the afternoon, as none of the other riders succeeded in dethroning him. The other favourites performed well, but weren’t strong enough to beat his time. His former teammate Vingegaard, finished in fifth, with a time of 12:49, and – after crashing on the second corner – Evenepoel finished fourth, with a time of 12:45. Mattias Skjelmose (Lidl-Trek) put in a particularly impressive performance, taking third place, with a time of 12:44. As did Jay Vine (UAE Team Emirates), who took second, with a time of 12:41.

After this stage, Roglič led the general classification (with a lead of 7 seconds over Vine), points classification, and mountain classification (after scoring the three mountain classification points on the category 3 climb, ahead of Ethan Hayter (Ineos Grenadiers) and Vine). Ayuso led the youth classification.

Stage 2

On stage 2, Paul Lapeira (Decathlon-AG2R La Mondiale) took his first win at World Tour level in a bunch sprint, ahead of Samuele Battistella (Astana-Qazaqstan) and Louis Vervaeke (Soudal-QuickStep).

The breakaway of the day escaped from the peloton only 6km after the start in Irun. It was composed of five riders: the two Azparren brothers (Enekoitz for Euskaltel-Euskadi and Xabier Mikel for Q36.5), Ivan Cobo (Kern-Pharma), Jeste Bol (Burgos-BH) and Alexis Vuillermoz (TotalEnergies). However the breakaway was caught with 12km to go, by a peloton driven by Movistar and Alpecin-Deceuninck.

The finale took place under heavy rain, which caused a few crashes. Among the riders involved were some of the team leaders, who fell and lost time – such as Tao Geoghegan Hart (Lidl-Trek), Oscar Onley (Dsm-Firmenich Post NL) and David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ) – and some of the others who didn’t fall lost a few seconds, due to splits in the peloton following these crashes.

2.5km from the finish line, Lorenzo Germani (Groupama-FDJ) took the lead of the group, to position his leader, Romain Grégoire. Unfortunately, the latter slipped and crashed, losing his chance to win the stage. By the last kilometre, 40 riders were in the front group for a bunch sprint, and it was Lapeira who took the win ahead of Battistella and Vervaeke.

Roglič kept his lead of the general classification (with Skjelmose moving up to second place, ten seconds behind), points classification, and mountain classification. Ayuso kept the lead of the youth classification.

Stage 3

Quinten Hermans (Alpecin-Deceuninck) won the uphill sprint on stage 3 – his first win with the team – ahead of Edoardo Zambanini (Bahrain Victorious) and Alex Aranburu (Movistar).

In the early stages of the race, a few riders – including Louis Meintjes (Intermarché-Wanty) and Davide Formolo (UAE Team Emirates) – attempted to break away from the peloton, however it wasn’t until 137km to go, that the ‘official’ breakaway group formed. This group included Alan Jousseaume (TotalEnergies), Antonio Eric Fagundez (Burgos-BH) and Tom Paquot (Intermarché-Wanty), and James Fouché (Euskaltel-Euskadi) joined around 50km later, after he bridged across solo.

It was an interesting day for those going for the King of the Mountains classification, as the breakaway attackers fought tirelessly for points over the first few climbs. However, the majority of the breakaway group was then caught by the peloton with 47km to go, and the final breakaway rider, Paquot, was caught soon after, with 42km to go.

Unfortunately, then, with 39km to go, Roglič, the race leader, crashed. Despite looking dazed, he was cleared by medical staff to continue, and he was eventually brought back to the peloton by his Bora-Hansgrohe teammates, as the peloton slowed to wait for him.

The battle for King of the Mountain points continued, as Meintjes attacked on the final, second category climb, claiming six points, and the overall lead. Then, with 9km to go, came the final intermediate sprint of the stage. Evenepoel crossed the line first, followed by Isaac Del Toro (UAE Team Emirates), and Vingegaard.

Shortly after this, Marc Soler (UAE Team Emirates), Gorka Izagirre (Cofidis), and Nelson Oliveira (Movistar) tried to attack, but they were brought back with 3.2km to go. As the peloton approached the flamme rouge, Ayuso and Carlos Rodríguez (Ineos Grenadiers) were amongst a group of riders who crashed, but despite the chaos, the peloton kept moving, and Hermans sprinted to his first win since the 2022 Baloise Belgium Tour.

Roglič managed to hold on to his lead of the general classification (with Evenepoel moving up to second place, seven seconds behind). Hermans took the lead of the points classification, and Meintjes the mountain classification. Ayuso kept the lead of the youth classification.

Stage 4

Meintjes won stage 4, after the race was neutralised.

Unfortunately, with 36km to go, there was a large crash, involving all three of the race favourites – Roglič (the race leader), Evenepoel, and Vingegaard – who all abandoned the race, as well as several others. All riders involved were announced to be conscious and moving, however Vine, Evenepoel, and Vingegaard, were amongst those who were escorted to hospital.

After this incident, the race was neutralised, and general classification times were not taken, however the six riders who formed the ‘official’ breakaway group of the day – Meintjes, Reuben Thompson (Groupama-FDJ), Mathieu Burgaudeau (TotalEnergies), Mikel Retegi (Equipo Kern Pharma), Joseba Lopez (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA) and Karel Vacek (Burgos-BH) – were allowed to continue racing the last 20km. Burgaudeau, López and Retegi dropped back on the final climb, with 11.6km to go, after Meintjes, Thompson and Vacek attacked. By 10km to go, Meintjes was attacking solo, and crossed the line in first, followed by Thompson and Vacek.

Stage 5

Romain Grégoire (Groupama-FDJ) took his first WorldTour victory on stage 5, in a reduced bunch sprint ahead of Orluis Aular (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA) and Max Schachmann (BORA-hansgrohe).

Within the first 45 km of the race, riders attempted to break away from the peloton, however most of the attacks were brought back easily. Then, unfortunately, there was another crash, as the peloton approached the first category 1 climb of the race, which led to Mikel Landa and Gil Gelders (Soudal-QuickStep), and Gonzalo Serrano (Movistar), abandoning the race.

Just after the 90km to go mark, Sepp Kuss (Visma Lease-a-Bike) and Del Toro attacked, and were able to create a gap, until they were eventually caught a short while later. A larger group then went on the attack, with around 60km to go including Ivan Cobo (Kern Pharma) Jimmy Janssens (Alpecin-Deceuninck), Martijn Tusveld (DSM-Firmenich PostNL), Johannes Staune-Mittet (Visma Lease-a-Bike), Mauro Schmid (Jayco-Alula), Harrison Wood (Cofidis), Burgaudeau, Enekoitz Azparren and José Manuel Diaz (Burgos-BH). This group was eventually caught on the Muniketagaina climb.

On the descent, a few riders managed to distance themselves from the peloton, and a small group formed with 34km to go, including Staune-Mittet, Michał Kwiatkowski (INEOS Grenadiers), Remy Rochas (Groupama-FDJ), Mark Donovan (Q36.5), and Ibon Ruiz (Kern Pharma). However, this group was eventually caught. Many attacks ensued in the final stages of the race, but all were unsuccessful, and the peloton was altogether at the flamme rouge. Del Toro tried to go again, but was followed by Rodríguez, and subsequently Schachmann and Gregoire. The stage ended in a bunch sprint, and Gregoire just about managed to clinch it ahead of Aular and Schachmann.

After the abandons of the day before, Skjelmose moved into the lead of the general classification (two seconds ahead of Schachmann). Aranburu moved up to lead the points classification, and Meintjes and Ayuso kept their leads of the mountain classification and the youth classification, respectively.

Stage 6

Carlos Rodriguez won stage 6 of Itzulia Basque Country ahead of Ayuso, who took the overall win.

In the early stages of the race, around 21 riders escaped from the peloton. This front group included Janssens, Kuss, Stephen Kruijswijk and Milan Vader (Visma Lease-a-Bike), Oscar Onley (Team DSM-Firmenich PostNL) and Brandon Rivera (Ineos Grenadiers), to name a few – but, notably did not include Skjelmose, the race leader – and they managed to create a gap of around 3 minutes.

However, by the Krabelin climb, only eight riders – Kuss, Kruijswijk, Onley, Gregor Muhlberger (Movistar), Esteban Chaves and James Shaw (EF Education Easypost), Bauke Mollema (Lidl-Trek), and Igor Arrieta (UAE Team Emirates) – were left in front. Then, William Junior Lecerf (Soudal Quick-Step) attacked off the front of the peloton, in an attempt to bridge across to the groups in front. He was soon followed by Soler, and the two drove forward together, until Lecerf dropped back with 69km to go.

Soler managed to catch up with Group 2, which included his teammate Sjoerd Bax, and stayed with the group for a while to rest his legs, before attacking again with 48km to go. Only Lucas Hamilton (Jayco-AIUIa) could really follow as they went up the Trabakua ascent, and Soler’s teammate Arrieta then dropped back from the front group, to work with the duo, and bring his teammate to the fore.

Soler kept driving forwards, whilst Lidl-Trek at the front of the peloton tried to play catch-up. The gap between the peloton and the front group began to decrease slightly, and with around 30km to go, Skjelmose then realised that he needed to attack. He was followed by Rodriguez, however, who rode past and away from him, and Ayuso followed. The two distanced Skjelmose on the Izua climb, and joined up with a few riders that had dropped back from the front group.

Onley was the only rider left out in front, but he was eventually caught by Ayuso, Soler, Chaves, Skjelmose and Rodriguez, with around 20km to go – forming a group of six. Ayuso then attacked with 17km to go, only followed by Rodriguez. The two worked together, and created a gap of around 30 seconds. As they rode towards the finish, it was clear that it had already been decided: Rodriguez would take the stage win, and Ayuso the overall race victory.

Ayuso moved up to win the general classification (42 seconds ahead of Rodriguez in second place, with Skjelmose dropping down to third place), as well as the youth classification. Aranburu kept his lead of the points classification, and Kuss moved up to win the mountain classification. UAE Team Emirates won the team competition.

Written by: Alicia Moyo (with the Stage 2 section written by Rémi Massart)

06/04/2024

Preview of the week – Hills in Basque Country to wait for Roubaix

Monday

Itzulia Basque Country (Stage 1)

The second Spanish World Tour race of the year starts on Monday. As usual, the puncheurs and the climbers will be waited for as the course is perfectly suited to them. The start list is very attractive with some of the best riders in the world and former Grand Tours winners. Indeed, Jonas Vingegaard (Visma-Lease a Bike), Remco Evenepoel (Soudal-Quick Step) and Primoz Roglič (Bora-Hansgrohe) are the favourites for the general classification, along with Juan Ayuso (UAE Team Emirates). Last year, Vingegaard dominated the race whereas Mikel Landa finished second and Ion Izagirre finished third. The two Basque riders are also present this year.

All these riders should have a chance to express themselves from the first day, with a time trial in the streets of Irun. The goal for them all will be to avoid losing time on their rivals and maybe even gain some before the first difficulties of the week.

Ronde de Mouscron

This typical Belgian race will also take place on Monday, around the city of Mouscron. Some hills placed all around the course make hard to predict the scenario of the race. Last year, Martina Fidanza (CERATIZIT-WNT) won the sprint of a small group, ahead of Anniina Ahtolaso (Uno-X Mobility) and Valentine Fortin (Cofidis). This year, the Italian rider is present to defend her title but will face competition with riders such as Daria Pikulik (Human Powered Health) and Marthe Truyen (Fenix-Deceuninck).

Tuesday

Itzulia Basque Country (Stage 2)

The second stage of Itzulia Basque Country does not include one metre of flat for 160 kilometres. The riders will start in Irun and will have to climb a total of more than 2312 vertical meters before crossing the finish line in Kanbo. Despite all this elevation, there is no climb longer than 2.7km on the road, it’s an accumulation of ups and downs that will tire the riders. The finish is a false flat uphill that can suit fast riders in the case of a large group arriving for the win. For example, Ethan Hayter (INEOS Grenadiers) and Orluis Aular (Caja Rural) could compete for a great result on Kanbo.

Région Pays de la Loire Tour (Stage 1) 

Another stage race takes place this week, Région Pays de la Loire Tour, in Western France, the region of medieval castles. The general classification should be for puncheurs with some hilly finishes. Last year, Alexander Kamp (Tudor) won it ahead of Fredrik Dversnes (Uno-X Mobility) and Valentin Ferron (TotalEnergies). This year, Kamp won’t defend his title and the main favourites to succeed him are Benoît Cosnefroy (Decathlon-AG2R La Mondiale), Ben Healy (EF Education-EasyPost) and Ewen Costiou (Arkéa-B&B Hotels).

The first stage is completely flat and should go to the sprinters. There is a lot of fast men on the race and those who stand out are Sam Bennett (Decathlon-AG2R La Mondiale), Alberto Dainese (Tudor) and Bryan Coquard (Cofidis), already winner of the first stage last year.

Wednesday

Itzulia Basque Country (Stage 3)

Despite the last 20 kilometres being flat, the third stage of Itzulia Basque Country is far from an easy one. The riders will start the day with the climb of Otxindo and this is where the breakaway should form. After that, they will have to overcome five difficulties and more than 3000 vertical metres before arriving in Altsasu. The finish does not feature any difficulties, which could make it possible to group together and to see a small group sprinting for the win on Wednesday.

Région Pays de la Loire Tour (Stage 2) 

The second stage of Région Pays de la Loire Tour is already more difficult than the day before. Indeed, in the final 30 kilometres, the riders will have to climb four times the Côte de Rue Chevre, only 400m but with 12.2% of average gradient. This could allow the strongest puncheurs to escape from the peloton and to take the win in the streets of Saumur.

Scheldeprijs (Men)

This one-day race between the Netherlands and Belgium does not present any hills but only 5 cobbled sections in the last 60 kilometres. Unless some very strong riders succeed in making a difference on these sectors, the victory should be for the sprinters, as it was last year. However, wind is predicted in Belgium for Wednesday so the fastest of the peloton will have to be cautious about potential echelons. In 2023, Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Deceuninck) won a bunch sprint ahead of Sam Welsford (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Mark Cavendish (Astana Qazaqstan). This year, Philipsen is present but Alpecin-Deceuninck also bring Kaden Groves. As their main rivals, Welsford, Dylan Groenewegen (Jayco-AlUla) and Arvid De Kleijn (Tudor), will be serious outsiders for the win.

Scheldeprijs (Women)

As for the men’s race, Scheldeprijs women seems promised to the sprinters. Only 4 cobbled sections are on the menu and only the wind seems able to prevent a bunch sprint from happening. The first three editions were won by the same rider: former European champion Lorena Wiebes (SD Worx-Protime). This year, the Dutchwoman will be aiming for the quadruple with a team dedicated to her cause. Her main rivals will be last year 2nd and 3rd Charlotte Kool (Team dsm-firmenich-Post NL) and Chiara Consonni (UAE Team ADQ) but also Martina Fidanza (CERATIZIT-WNT).

Thursday

Itzulia Basque Country (Stage 4)

The fourth stage of Itzulia Basque Country is maybe the easiest of the week with “only” 2146 verticals metres to climb. Nevertheless, it will be hard for the few sprinters present on the race with the climb Leintz-Gatzaga, 3km with 8.5% average gradient, whose top is only 9 kilometres from the finish line. The general classification contenders should fight on the slopes of this very difficult climb, in order to gain time on the other favourites.

Région Pays de la Loire Tour (Stage 3) 

The third stage of Région Pays de la Loire Tour is the one with the most positive gradient. Indeed, if the riders won’t gain any elevation between Segré and Chateau-Gontier, they will face a succession of ups and downs all the way to the finish line. However, the last climb is not very hard and could allow some sprinters who handle the hills well to pass and to go sprinting for victory. An urban circuit is always tricky and the riders will have to be very cautious in order to avoid falling.

Friday

Itzulia Basque Country (Stage 5)

Another day in the Basque Country and another hilly stage. This time, the start will be easier with the first and main difficulty of the day, the Urkolia, taking place after 67 kilometres. After the downhill, what will remain of the peloton will enter the final circuit and will have to climb Muniketagaina (3.4km at 7.3%) twice before crossing the finish line. This typical Basque climb, not long but very steep, should make the difference between the best climbers of the race.

Région Pays de la Loire Tour (Stage 4) 

The fourth and final stage of Région Pays de la Loire Tour is the one where the general classification will be decided. Indeed, the peloton will arrive in the city of Le Mans and climb for the first time the Cote de Gazonfier with 55 kilometres to go. They will repeat this circuit five times before crossing the finish line. The previous stages not being too hard, the gaps in the general classification should not be significant, offering us a very interesting last stage to crown the winner.

Saturday

Itzulia Basque Country (Stage 6)

The final stage of this week in Basque Country is as usual the hardest. The riders will only have to do 138 kilometres around Eibar but will have to climb almost 3500 vertical metres. There is no Arrate this year but some difficulties are just as hard. For example, the Krabelin (5km at 9.5%) should sort out the pack, leaving the strongest climbers between on their own. The decisive climb should be the Izua, whose top is 27 kilometres from the finish line. The 4.1 kilometres with 9.1% of average gradient will allow the strongest to put an attack, and maybe decisive for the general classification. The last climb of the day, Urkaregi, is much less difficult and there should not be too many differences here. It’s important to notice that the finish line is not at the top of a difficulty but after a downhill and a little less than 10 kilometres of flat. A group of riders could benefit from this situation by reducing the gaps made on the ascents.

Paris-Roubaix Femmes

The fourth edition of Paris-Roubaix Femmes will open the weekend in the North of France. The riders will start from Denain and will have to go through 149 kilometres and 17 cobbled sectors before arriving in the Velodrome in Roubaix. The meteorologists predict rain in Roubaix the entire week but the weekend should be sunny. The cobbles will be very muddy with the rain and it will be even harder for the riders. The difference should be made on the most difficult sector of the race – Carrefour de l’Arbre. This cobbled section takes place 16 kilometres from the finish line and is situated between Camphin-en-Pévèle and Gruson, two difficult sectors.

Last year, the race had an amazing scenario with the victory of Alison Jackson (EF Education-Cannondale) from the breakaway. She, along with five other riders made the impossible possible and resisted the best riders in the world. With the group of favourites finishing only 12 seconds behind, the suspense was incredible and the race will stay in the memory for years.

This year, the bigger teams in the peloton should have learnt their lesson and it would be a surprise to see the breakaway going for the win again. The biggest favourite is the World champion, Lotte Kopecky (SD Worx-Protime) who has never won the race and will want to correct that. For Canyon//SRAM Racing, the duo of Soraya Paladin and Elise Chabbey, along with cyclocross specialist Zoe Backstedt could also have a chance to figure. Finally, the Lidl-Trek team seems also very strong, even if the presence of Ronde van Vlaanderen winner Elisa Longo Borghini isn’t announced yet, with riders like Ellen Van Dijk and Elisa Balsamo.

Sunday

Paris-Roubaix

The last Flandrian classic, the Hell of the North, 260 kilometres of suffering for the riders, 260 kilometres of an amazing show for the viewers. Paris-Roubaix, one of the best races in the calendar, even the best for some, and one of the five Monuments of cycling. The riders will race between Compiègne and Roubaix and will have to pass by 30 cobbled sections. The first one, Troisville isn’t very hard but from then, there will be no pause, one sector will follow another until the very end, in the Velodrome of Roubaix.

The main points of the race will be the two most difficult sectors. The first one is Trouée d’Arenberg, 90 kilometres from the finish line but the race can already be lost here. Indeed, last year, Christophe Laporte (Visma-Lease a Bike) suffered a puncture in Arenberg and never had the opportunity to come back to the front after that. The second one is the Carrefour de l’Arbre. Tradition says that the rider who comes out in first place after Carrefour de l’Arbre wins in Roubaix 15 kilometres later. The riders are so tired arriving here and the cobbles are so horrible that a fall could happen easily, by lack of lucidity.

Last year, Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Deceuninck) won ahead of his teammate Jasper Philipsen. The Dutchman attacked with Wout van Aert (Visma-Lease a Bike) in the Carrefour de l’Arbre but, unfortunately, the Belgian had a mechanical problem and had to change his bike, causing him to lose the race. In Paris-Roubaix, in order to win, being the strongest is sometimes not enough. Indeed, the number of crashes and mechanical problems is astonishing due to the cobbles, the dust and sometimes even the mud everywhere on the course.

This year, Wout van Aert is absent after his terrible crash in Dwars door Vlaanderen. Van der Poel is considered the biggest favourite, even more after his impressive win on the Ronde van Vlaanderen. However, Paris-Roubaix is known for always having surprises. Taking the breakaway on the Hell of the North is often a very good way to anticipate the battle behind and it’s not rare to see some riders at the front since the morning finishing in the top 10 on the Velodrome. The main rivals of van der Poel will be Visma-Lease a Bike, with Matteo Jorgenson, Dylan van Baarle or maybe Christophe Laporte if he is back from sickness, and Lidl-Trek with Mads Pedersen and Jonathan Milan. Nevertheless, some riders such as Stefan Kung (Groupama-FDJ), Oier Lazkano (Movistar) and Alberto Bettiol (EF Education-EasyPost) could be tempted to anticipate to trick the bigger teams.

Written by: Rémi Massart

01/04/2024

Summary of the week – McNulty and Cosnefroy confirm their good form

Paris-Camembert

Benoît Cosnefroy (Decathlon-AG2R La Mondiale) took his third win of the season and continued his team's good momentum in Coupe de France rounds.

In a race marked by the rain and the wind, things started to become interesting with 50 kilometres to go, where the attacks from outsiders started. Ewen Costiou (Arkéa-B&B Hotels) emerged from the pack, taking advantage of the climb Cavée de Crouttes. The rider from Brittany did a wonderful solo raid, only being caught on the last climb of the day, the Butte des Fondits, with 9 kilometres remaining. A group of 8 riders arrived first at the summit and Cosnefroy won the sprint ahead of Clément Venturini (Arkéa-B&B Hotels) and Alexandre Delettre (St Michel-Mavic-Auber 93), taking his second win on his native roads after 2019. Martin Marcellusi (VF Group-Bardiani) and Fredrik Dversnes (Uno-X Mobility) rounded off the top 5.

Route Adélie de Vitré

Jenthe Biermans (Arkéa-B&B Hotels) won his first of the season in a race full of suspense.

French Cup rounds often offer us very interesting races to follow, with hilly routes and dense start lists. Route Adélie de Vitré was the perfect example of this kind of race, with an uncertain result until the very last metres. With 50 kilometres to go, things began to unravel with the first attackers coming out of the peloton. Unfortunately, Benoît Cosnefroy, the winner 2 days previously, suffered a fall and was unable to come back to the front of the race.

35 kilometres from the finish line, a group of 23 riders took the lead, relegating the main peloton 30 seconds behind. With all the top teams represented at the front, no one was chasing behind and the group flew away. With 15 kilometres to go, attacks started to multiply at the front with Jordan Labrosse (Decathlon AG2R La Mondiale) and David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ) trying to escape. The two of them succeeded in creating a gap along with Alexandre Delettre and Xaber Berasetegi (Eustaltel-Euskadi) and had an advantage until the very last meters. They were caught on the line by a group including Jenthe Biermans who took the win ahead of Sandy Dujardin (TotalEnergies) and Delettre.

Volta NXT Classic

Men’s race

Timo Kielich (Alpecin-Deceuninck) emerged victorious from a two-men sprint again Pascal Eenkhoorn (Lotto-Dstny) in Eijsden.

The race was very intense from the beginning with a first breakaway including outsiders such as Gianluca Brambilla (Q36.5), Francesco Busatto (Intermarché-Wanty) and Frank Van den Broek (dsm-firmenich). The peloton never came back entirely and only small groups of riders were able to close the gap. The Dutchman Huub Artz (Intermarché-Wanty) tried to profit from the disorganisation of the race and attacked with 45 kilometres to go. He continued solo for approximately 15 kilometres before being caught. From then, every rider tried to escape the group and attacks multiplied. When Pascal Eenkhoorn took his chance, 20km from the finish line, only one man was able to follow him, Timo Kielich. The two riders worked together until the finish line, where the Belgian got the better of the Dutchman. Behind them, Kielich’s teammate Henri Uhlig won the sprint for third place ahead of Busatto and Johan Meens (Bingoal WB).

Women’s race

Femke Markus (SD Worx-Protime) benefited from a good team strategy to take her first win of the season.

SD Worx-Protime’s riders were the favourites for Volta NXT and they assumed this status by having 4 riders in the first 6 to cross the line. Femke Markus escaped from the peloton along with her teammate Niamh Fisher-Black and Julia Kopecky (AG Insurance-Soudal NXTG). The two SD Worx-Protime riders couldn’t outrun the Czech rider but Markus was the fastest and won the sprint ahead of Kopecky and Fisher-Black. Behind them, Sofie Van Rooijen (VolkerWessels) won the sprint of the peloton.

Gran Premio Miguel Indurain

Brandon McNulty (UAE Team Emirates) got the better of Maxim Van Gils (Lotto-Dstny) and won Gran Premio Miguel Indurain amidst horrible weather.

The first half of the race was pretty calm with an early breakaway of 7 riders leading. It was when the rain started to pour down that the action really started. A lot of splits appeared in the peloton as one climb followed another. Some crashes happened on the downhills with Mike Woods (Israel-Premier Tech) and Frederik Wandahl (Bora-Hansgrohe) among those to fall.

Finn Fisher-Black (UAE Team Emirates) was the first favourite to attack, followed by Jon Barrenetxea (Movistar). Even if this movement was vain, UAE Team Emirates was decided to take the race in hand with the accelerations of Pavel Sivakov and Brandon McNulty. The American began the last challenge of the day, Alto Ibarra, alone, but was then caught and dropped by Maxim Van Gils. However, the winner of the Volta Comunitat Valenciana earlier in the season managed to come back on the downhill and won the two-man sprint to add another success to his trophy cabinet. Behind the two leaders, Oscar Onley (dsm-firmenich), Ion Izagirre (Cofidis) and Archie Ryan (EF Education-Easypost) completed the top 5.

Written by : Rémi Massart

01/04/2024

March

Race Report – A three-woman sprint and another Van der Poel solo win at the Ronde van Vlaanderen

Men’s Race

In this year’s edition of the Ronde van Vlaanderen, Mathieu Van der Poel (Alpecin-Deceuninck) raced to victory solo for the second time this season, ahead of Luca Mozzato (Arkéa - B&B Hotels) and Michael Matthews (Jayco-AlUla), who sprinted to second and third place.

There were a few attacks early on in the race, but the ‘official’ breakaway group – including Bert Van Lerberghe (Soudal Quick-Step), Luke Durbridge (Jayco AlUla), Elmar Reinders (Jayco AlUla), Stanisław Aniołkowski (Cofidis), David Dekker (Arkéa-B&B Hotels), Damien Touzé (Decathlon AG2R La Mondiale), Lionel Taminiaux (Lotto-Dstny) and Jelle Vermoote (Bingoal WB) – began to form with 266km to go, and eventually created a four-minute gap.

The peloton followed behind at a high pace, and shortly before the Wolvenberg, Jonas Abrahamsen (Uno-X) attacked, with Van der Poel’s teammate Axel Laurance sticking to his wheel. However over the Wolvenberg, Matteo Jorgenson (Visma-Lease-a-Bike) took up the chase at the front of the peloton, and the two were brought back with 112km to go. Mads Pedersen (Lidl-Trek) then began to push the pace further, along with Jorgenson and Van der Poel.

The next big attack came with 96km to go, and included Tiesj Benoot and Dylan van Baarle (both Visma-Lease-a-Bike), Pedersen, Ben Turner (Ineos), Oliver Naesen (Decathlon-AG2R La Mondiale), Brent Van Moer (Lotto-Dstny), Nils Politt (UAE Team Emirates) and Gianni Vermeersch (Alpecin-Deceuninck). This group managed to catch the breakaway group with 92km to go and created a gap to the peloton, however with 87km to go, Van der Poel made sure to bridge across. Pedersen then attacked again, and was only followed by Vermeersch. The two managed to maintain a small lead, until 55km to go, where they were caught by Van der Poel and Oier Lazkano (Movistar).

Van der Poel decided to attack immediately over the top of the front group, and was joined by Lazkano, Tim Wellens (UAE Team Emirates), Pedersen, Laurence Pithie (Groupama-FDJ) and Dylan Teuns (Israel Premier Tech). A few more riders joined them, and Ivan Garcia Cortina (Movistar) then attempted to attack, but he soon slowed, and Van der Poel took his opportunity to try a final, decisive solo attack, with 44km to go. Jorgenson tried to pursue him, as did Pedersen and Teuns, however most of the peloton weren’t able to ride up the slippery Koppenberg – instead having to get off and walk – and so the gap to Van der Poel grew.

The ‘Flying Dutchman’ was never caught by the others, and so was able to ride across the line solo, and celebrate with his bicycle in the air. Jorgenson, however, was caught - by a group including Teuns, Wellens, Garcia Cortina, Alberto Bettiol (EF Education-EasyPost), Pedersen and Laurenz Rex (Intermarché-Wanty). With around 28km to go, Bettiol and Teuns tried to race ahead for the podium places, but they were caught by a small chasing group right before the line, and Mozzato and Matthews were able to sprint for second and third (however Matthews was later relegated, and so Politt was upgraded to third place).

Mikkel Bjerg (UAE Team Emirates), Antonio Morgado (UAE Team Emirates), Magnus Sheffield (Ineos Grenadiers), Naesen, Teuns, Bettiol and Toms Skujins (Lidl-Trek), rounded out the top ten.

Women’s Race

Elisa Longo Borghini (Lidl-Trek) won the Ronde van Vlaanderen for the second time in her career, in a sprint against Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM) and Shirin van Anrooij (Lidl-Trek).

The race unfortunately began with a crash on the first cobblestone sector, the Lange Munte, which forced Marlen Reusser (SD Worx-Protime), Lizzie Deignan (Lidl-Trek), and Monica Greenwood (Team Coop-Repsol) to abandon the race. A breakaway group then formed with around 150km to go – including Justine Ghekiere (AG Insurance-Soudal), Gladys Verhulst-Wild (FDJ-SUEZ), Elena Pirrone (Roland), Josie Talbot (Cofidis), and Mieke Docx (Lotto Dstny Ladies) – and they created a gap of over three minutes. Camilla Rånes Bye (Team Coop-Repsol) tried to follow, but was ultimately unsuccessful.

A few riders from the peloton attempted to attack, however none of these attacks lasted. As the peloton was about to catch the breakaway group, Ghekiere attacked off the front of the breakaway group, but she too was eventually caught. On the Koppenberg, with 44km to go, Puck Pieterse (Fenix-Deceuninck), Marianne Vos (Visma-Lease-a-Bike), Silvia Persico (UAE Team ADQ), Lorena Wiebes (SD Worx-Protime), Longo Borghini, and Letizia Paternoster (Liv-AlUla-Jayco) were in the lead, with Niewiadoma and Karlijn Swinkels (UAE Team ADQ) following close behind.

With 28km to go, Longo Borghini tried an attack, but was quickly caught by the rest of Group 1. In the chasing group, Vollering and Van Anrooij dropped Fem van Empel (Visma-Lease a Bike), Pfeiffer Georgi (DSM-Firmenich PostNL), and Kopecky. With 24km to go, Vollering bridged to the front group, and Van Anrooij followed a few kilometres later. Van Anrooij immediately attacked off the front of the group, and was followed by Swinkels. Pieterse also attempted to join, and bridged to Swinkels. Pieterse dropped Swinkels, but was eventually caught a few moments after Swinkels by the chasing group, with Van Anrooij still at the front of the race, pedalling off into the distance.

Niewiadoma then attacked with Longo Borghini, and both managed to bridge across to Van Anrooij, with 12km to go. By the flamme rouge, they had built a healthy lead over the chasing group, and so it seemed as though the race would come down to a three-woman sprint. Van Anrooij launched her sprint first, but Longo Borghini quickly took the lead, and came over the line clearly in first.

Niewiadoma and Van Anrooij came in second and third, and Vos, Kopecky, Pieterse, Persico, Vollering, Paternoster, and Swinkels, rounded out the top ten.

Written by Alicia Moyo

31/03/2024

Race Report - A contrasting day for Visma-Lease a Bike in Dwars door Vlaanderen

Women’s Race

Marianne Vos (Visma-Lease a Bike) rode to victory in the Dwars Door Vlaanderen women’s race, in a reduced sprint ahead of Shirin van Anrooij (Lidl-Trek).

Despite a few attempts in the beginning of the race to form an initial breakaway group, there was no clear ‘lead group’ of the day until around 90km to go, when the peloton began to split up into smaller groups. The first group eventually managed to create a gap of almost a minute to the riders behind, after the Volkegemberg, with around 70km to go.

Then came an attack from Puck Pieterse (Fenix-Deceuninck) with 66km to go. This move was followed by Vos, Lotte Kopecky (SD Worx-Protime), Niamh Fisher-Black and Mischa Bredewold (both SD Worx-Protime), Elisa Longo Borghini and Lizzie Deignan (both Lidl-Trek), Audrey Cordon-Ragot (Human Powered Health), Arlenis Sierra (Movistar) and Thalita de Jong (Lotto Dstny Ladies), and they managed to distance themselves from the chasing group, which was around 17 seconds behind.

However, the race was then neutralised with 62km to go, due to an incident that had occurred on the route ahead, which led to a pause in racing. When the race was restarted, the route was shortened, and no longer included Knokteberg-Trieu and Hotond.

Soon after the riders started up again, Yara Kastelijn (Fenix-Deceuninck) attacked over the Ladeuze, followed by Lizzie Deignan (Lidl-Trek), Fem van Empel (Visma-Lease a Bike) and Pieterse. A few more riders joined the move, however, and by 30km to go, the first two groups were together again. A new move then drove forward, thanks to the high pace set by the Lidl-Trek riders, with six riders – Vos, Longo Borghini, Van Anrooij, Emma Norsgaard (Movistar), Letizia Paternoster (Liv Jayco AlUla) and Pieterse. However Norsgaard began to drop back as Kopecky worked to bridge the gap – the latter eventually joining the front group with 25km to go. Gradually, the group increased the gap between them and the group behind to over 30 seconds.

Van Anrooij then launched an attack, and Vos immediately followed. With 12km to go, they led by 15 seconds. Kopecky tried and failed to close the gap to the two riders in front, as Longo Borghini, and Paternoster refused to work with her, and Pieterse ran out of steam. While Van Anrooij and Vos extended their lead, Longo Borghini attacked with just under 5km to go, however Paternoster, followed by Kopecky and Pieterse, managed to close the gap. Kopecky then tried to attack, and Paternoster followed, however the two were caught relatively quickly.

A few seconds up the road, Vos rode past the flamme rouge with Van Anrooij in her wheel, and launched her sprint with just under 200m to go. Van Anrooij came in second, and Paternoster won the sprint behind to take third place, ahead of Kopecky, Pieterse, and Longo Borghini. Chiara Consonni (UAE Team ADQ), Sierra, Lucinda Brand (Lidl-Trek), and Julie de Wilde (Fenix-Deceuninck), rounded out the top ten.

Written by: Alicia Moyo 

Men’s race

Matteo Jorgenson (Visma-Lease a Bike) took his first win in a World Tour one-day race by winning Dwars door Vlaanderen. However, the race was marked by a massive crash, including Wout Van Aert (Visma-Lease a Bike), Mads Pedersen (Lidl-Trek) among others.

The breakaway formed 50 kilometres after the start of the race in Roseleare. It was composed of eleven riders: Casper Pedersen (Soudal-Quick Step), Dries De Pooter (Intermarché-Wanty), Mathias Norsgaard (Movistar), Donavan Grondin (Arkéa-B&B Hotels), Dries De Bondt (Decathlon AG2R La Mondiale), Niklas Markl (dsm-firmenich), Amund Grondahl Jansen (Jayco-Alula), Pascal Eenkhoorn (Lotto-Dstny), Jonas Abrahamsen (Uno-X Mobility), Thomas Gachignard (TotalEnergies) and Victor Vercouillie (Flanders-Baloise).

Once these riders were gone, the race was pretty calm, the only noticeable incident being the DNF of Jan Tratnik (Visma-Lease a Bike) whose sickness added to his team's already full infirmary. Everything started to accelerate when the peloton arrived in the Cote de Trieu. At the top of this climb, Groupama-FDJ decided to increase the rhythm at the front. Unfortunately for them, one of their best cards for today, Laurence Pithie, suffered a puncture right at that very moment. The Kiwi never came back to the front of the race, ruining his hopes of victory. In the Berg den Houte, 15 kilometres later, the first attacks from outsiders took place with riders like Magnus Sheffield (INEOS-Grenadiers), Victor Campenaerts (Lotto-Dstny) and Marc Hirschi (UAE Team Emirates) trying to break away from the pack. The only effect of these accelerations was to blow up the peloton into a lot of small groups, causing the loss of Yves Lampaert (Soudal-Quick Step) and Alexander Kristoff (Uno-X Mobility).

The turning point of the race happened with 67 kilometres to go, just before the Kanarieberg. In a straight line, the approximately fifty riders who composed what remained of the peloton were travelling at a high tempo. First, two riders, Laurenz Rex (Intermarché-Wanty) and Cédric Beullens (Lotto-Dstny) hung on and fell, without too much damage. However, only a few meters further, a more massive crash sent ten riders to the ground. Among them were some favourites for the Dwars but also for the Ronde on Sunday: Wout Van Aert seemed to be the first one to fall, bringing with him Mads Pedersen, Jasper Stuyven (Lidl-Trek), Biniam Girmay (Intermarché-Wanty) and Anthony Turgis (TotalEnergies) among others. Unfortunately, Van Aert had to withdraw along with Girmay, Stuyven and Michele Gazzoli (Astana-Qazaqstan). After the fall, five men took advantage of the confusion to escape in the Kanarieberg. Alberto Bettiol and Michael Valgren (EF Education-Easypost), Matteo Jorgenson and Tiesj Benoot (Visma-Lease a Bike) and Stefan Küng (Groupama-FDJ), later joined by Joshua Tarling (INEOS-Grenadiers) took a nice gap from the others favourites and came back on the riders distanced from the breakaway. The junction between the counter-attack and the last survivors of the morning group took place during the climb of Ladeuze.

With 27 kilometres remaining, Stefan Küng attacked, dropping Gachignard, De Pooter, Eenkhoorn, Pedersen and Valgren. Tarling and Benoot also faced difficulties but managed to came back at the front. The next climb and the last one with cobbles was the Nokereberg, where Bettiol placed his attack. Küng and Jorgenson, who seemed the stronger of the race, jumped in his wheel immediately along with Abrahamsen and De Bondt. Only 5 kilometres later, as Benoot and Tarling made their return, Bettiol suffered possible cramp and had to let the lead group go.

From there, a tactical game was played between the Visma-Lease a Bike pair and the other riders. Benoot multiplied the attacks, with the objective of tiring his rivals and in particular Küng, who continued to close the gaps each time. When Jorgenson attacked 7 kilometres from the finish line, no-one was able to hold his wheel and the American flew to victory. Behind him, Abrahamsen concluded a beautiful race by winning the sprint for second place ahead of Küng, Benoot and De Bondt. Tarling finished 6th while Jonathan Milan (Lidl-Trek), Valgren, Norsgaard and Gachignard rounded out the top 10.

Written by Rémi Massart

27/03/2024

Preview of the week - Ronde Van Vlaanderen we’re coming!

Wednesday

Dwars door Vlaanderen (Women)

The first race of the week will take place on Wednesday and will be the 7th Dwars door Vlaanderen Ladies. 130 kilometres around Waregem and some cobbles to crown a successor to Demi Vollering (SD Worx). Last year, the Dutchwoman won it by escaping alone during the last cobbles sections. This year, the defending champion is once more among the favorites with her teammate Lotte Kopecky, the reigning world champion but also Marianne Vos (Visma-Lease a Bike) and Chiara Consonni (UAE Team ADQ) who have both already performed here in the past. Elisa Balsamo (Lidl-Trek), the winner of Gent-Wevelgem and Classic Brugge-De Panne is absent but her compatriot Elisa Longo Borghini could be a solid outsider for Lidl-Trek.

Dwars door Vlaanderen (Men)

The last race before the Ronde, not as hard of course but still a very good Flandrian classic, often with an unexpected outcome. The riders will start from Roeselare and will cover 189km in the Belgian hills and cobbles before the finish line in Waregem. There is no Oude Kwaremont or Paterberg but some really tough hills are on the programme, for example the Knoteberg and the Kanarieberg. Last year, Christophe Laporte (Visma-Lease a Bike) won solo after attacking in the finale. Unfortunately, the Frenchman is sick and won’t be able to defend his title. Given Mathieu Van der Poel’s absence, Wout Van Aert (Visma-Lease a Bike) seems to be the biggest favourite for the win. Nevertheless, he will have much to do to escape from Lidl-Trek's excellent team, boosted by Mads Pedersen’s victory at Gent-Wevelgem. After his impressive performance of last year, Oier Lazkano (Movistar) should be a man to watch along with Laurence Pithie (Groupama-FDJ), one of the strongest on last Sunday's race.

Paris-Camembert

Wednesday will definitely be a busy day for all cycling fans. In addition to Dwars, Paris-Camembert, a race taking place in Normandy, in western France will be on the menu. This race is very hilly in the final circuit and often allows puncheurs to win. Indeed, with 2000m of ascent, it’s very rare to see a big group sprinting for victory. Last year, Valentin Ferron (TotalEnergies) took the win over Ewen Costiou (Arkéa-B&B Hotels) in a two-man sprint. This year, the title holder is aiming for a new win here but will have competition. Benoît Cosnefroy (Decathlon-AG2R La Mondiale) will want a second title after 2019 and Guillaume Martin (Cofidis) will chase his first win since August 2022. Ewen Costiou and Fredrik Dversnes (Uno-X Mobility), both on the podium last year, will try to compete for the win during this French Cup round.

Friday

Route Adélie de Vitré

On Friday, another round of the French Cup will take place, this time in Brittany, around the city of Vitré. This race is much less hilly than Paris-Camembert but still not flat with an accumulation of ups and downs that could put pure sprinters into difficulty. Last year, Fredrik Dversnes won solo ahead of two riders from Arkea B&B-Hotels (then Arkea-Samsic): Kévin Vauquelin and Louis Barré. This year, Dversnes is aiming to keep his title but will have to compete with riders like Bryan Coquard (Cofidis), Benoît Cosnefroy or Arne Marit (Intermarché-Wanty).

Saturday

Gran Premio Miguel Indurain

Grand Premio Miguel Indurain is the classic type of Spanish race with ascent and few flat roads. This race, taking place in northern Spain, is for good climbers or puncheurs and the race is likely to be decided on the last climb, Alto de Eraul. This climb is not very long or particularly hard (4km at 5.4%) but arrives after almost 200 kilometres of non-stop climbing so the strongest of the day could make a difference here. Last year, Ion Izagirre (Cofidis) attacked on Alto de Eraul with Sergio Higuita (Bora-Hansgrohe) and went to win the race. We could guess at a similar scenario in this year’s edition. Even if the start list isn’t complete yet, the names of Jai Hindley (Bora-Hansgrohe), Maxim Van Gils (Lotto-Dstny) and Stephen Williams (Israel-Premier Tech) are announced to race on the Spanish roads next Saturday.

Volta NXT Classic

Another race happening this Saturday is Volta NXT Classic, formerly known as Volta Limburg Classic. This Dutch classic could turn for the sprinters but the climbs all over the road make a wonderful playground for attackers. Last year, in extreme weather conditions, Kaden Groves (Alpecin-Deceuninck) defeated Maxim Van Gils (Lotto-Dstny) in a two-man sprint. The Australian sprinter is not planning to defend his title but his teammate Axel Laurance could be one of the favourites. With him, Rune Herregodts (Intermarché-Wanty) and Paul Magnier (Soudal-Quick Step) should be ones to watch on the Dutch roads.

Sunday

Ronde Van Vlaanderen (Women)

Finally, the moment every cycling fan around the world is waiting for, Ronde Van Vlaanderen. The women’s edition will be 163 kilometres long around Oudenaarde. The serious business will start with 90km remaining and the Wolvenberg. From here, the race will never slow down and one hill will follow another. The Koppenberg and the Taaienberg will make what’s remaining of the peloton explode and the final decision should be made in the last two hills: Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg, at the top of which only 14 kilometres will remain, all flat, to return to Oudenaarde and crown the winner. Last year, we witnessed an SD-Worx one-two with Lotte Kopecky winning ahead of Demi Vollering, with Elisa Longo Borghini completing the podium. This year, the three riders are of course here and have arguably the two best teams in the startlist. Apart from them, Katarzyna Niewiadoma (Canyon//SRAM Racing), Silvia Persico (UAE Team ADQ) or Arlenis Sierra (Movistar) could be named as outsiders.

Ronde Van Vlaanderen (Men)

One of the best races in the world, one of the five Monuments of cycling, Ronde van Vlaanderen always meets expectations. As a rider, it’s one of the hardest, as a spectator, one of the greatest. Ronde van Vlaanderen is this Sunday and promises us an incredible show. The riders will leave from Antwerp in the morning and will ride 270km around the region of Flanders, to arrive in Oudenaarde.

The true start of the race will be the first Oude Kwaremont passage, with 140 kilometres to go. From here, the road will only be ups and downs, across the cobbles. Wolvenberg, Berendries, Valkenberg… are places where the Ronde can be lost. A puncture, a fall, a split in the peloton combined with bad timing and the dreams of victory in Oudenaarde could be over already. The second ascent of the Oude Kwaremont is where the Ronde can be won. Indeed, from here, all the hardest climbs are one after another. If a group of riders is strong enough to make a difference here, they could never be seen again. Paterberg, Taaienberg, Oude Kruisberg and then again Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg. After that, 17 kilometres to join Oudenaarde and win one of the greatest success possible in cycling.

Last year, Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) showed that he was one of the most complete riders in the world. His attack on the final ascent of the Oude Kwaremont allowed him to get rid of Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Deceuninck), Wout van Aert (Visma-Lease a Bike) and Mads Pedersen (Lidl-Trek). Unfortunately, Pogacar chose not to race in this year’s edition, focusing on the Giro. Nevertheless, the race seems open, with van der Poel, van Aert and Pedersen standing out as favourites to win the Ronde. In addition, they seem to have the better teams on the races with teammates such as Jorgenson and Benoot for van Aert, Stuyven and Skujiņš for Pedersen and Kragh Andersen and Philipsen for van der Poel. Apart from them, some outsiders can have their chance if race conditions are favourable. For example, Biniam Girmay (Intermarché-Wanty), Stefan Küng (Groupama-FDJ), Tim Wellens (UAE Team Emirates) or Alberto Bettiol (EF Education-Easypost) could take advantage of a marker between the three big favourites.

Written by: Rémi Massart

26/03/2024

Recap of the week - Philipsen and Balsamo king and queen of De Panne, Bouwman wins in Italy…

Classic Brugge De Panne Men’s race

Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Deceuninck) won his second consecutive Classic Brugge-De Panne, dominating a bunch sprint.

After only three kilometers, a breakaway of three riders escaped from the peloton. Luca De Meester (Bingoal WB), Victor Vercouillie (Team Flanders-Baloise) and Thomas Gachignard (TotalEnergies). Unlike last year, the weather was fine and the race was calm. Gachignard, the last survivor of the morning attack was caught with 10 kilometres to go and the sprinters were ready to fight for victory. Philipsen took the win ahead of his compatriot Tim Merlier (Soudal Quick-Step) and Danny Van Poppel (BORA- Hansgrohe). Behind them, TotalEnergies managed to score big UCI points with both Jason Tesson (4th) and Emilien Jeanniere (9th), Stian Fredheim (Uno-X Mobility) repeated his good performance of last season by finishing 6th and Consonni (Lidl-Trek), Molano (UAE Team Emirates), Bauhaus (Bahrain-Victorious) and Mozzato (Arkea – B&B Hotels) also finished among the ten fastest of the day.

Classic Brugge-De Panne Women’s race

Same as for the men, Classic Brugge-De Panne Women ended with a massive sprint, in which Elisa Balsamo (Lidl-Trek) succeeded for the second time on this race, after 2022.

The flat race was destined for the sprinters but that did not stop the breakaway contenders trying to escape the peloton. The first breakaway formed after more than 45 kilometres and was composed of only one rider: the Belgian Nathalie Bex (Chevalmeire). Unfortunately for her, her attempt did not last long and she was caught with 96 kilometres remaining. From here, we witnessed a festival of attacks. First, Alessia Vigilia (FDJ-Suez) and Lisa Van Helvoirt (VolkerWessels) opened up a small gap but not for long. As soon as they were caught, attacks multiplied with the likes of Alison Jackson (EF Education-Cannondale), Christina Schweinberger (Fenix-Deceuninck) or Gladys Verhulst-Wild (FDJ-Suez) going at the front. The attackers never took more than half a minute’s lead and it was a complete peloton that arrived in De Panne for victory. The former world champion Elisa Balsamo was the fastest and she took the win ahead of Charlotte Kool (dsm-firmenich), Daria Pikulik (Human Powered Health), Chiara Consonni (UAE Team ADQ) and Georgia Baker (Liv AlUla Jayco).

Settimana Inter Coppi e Bartali

While all eyes were on Catalunya, Koen Bouwman (Visma-Lease a Bike) took the first GC win of his career in Settimana Internazionale Coppi e Bartali.

The first stage around Pesaro saw a finale full of attacks with Jefferson Alexander Cepeda (EF Education-EasyPost) and Paul Double (Polti Kometa) taking their chance in the last kilometres. If these two were unsuccessful, Marco Brenner (Tudor) was not as his attack with 4 kilometres to go allowed him to take the first win of his young career, depriving the sprinters of a chance for success. He took the lead in the general classification with 5 seconds of advantage over Matteo Malucelli (JCL Team Ukyo) and 7 over Jenno Berckmoes (Lotto-Dstny).

The second stage was raced on a more demanding profile, with the finish at Sogliano al Rubicone. With the breakaway being caught with 29 kilometres remaining, a very tactical race took place. After the vain attempt of Johannes Staune-Mittet (Visma-Lease a Bike), a group of 10 riders went out, including Hartthijs De Vries (TDT-Unibet) who ended up isolating himself with 14 kilometres to go, only to be caught by what was left of the peloton 4 kilometres from the finish line. Diego Ulissi (UAE Team Emirates) took the best of this group, winning his first of the season and continuing his incredible series of winning at least a race every year since 2010. With this performance, he also took the lead of general classification from Brenner, who lost 11 minutes.

The third stage was another hilly day where Koen Bouwman came out on top. The Dutchman followed Louka Mathis (Bingoal WB) in an attack which turned out to be the winning one. Behind them, the attempts to come back from Archie Ryan (EF Education-Easypost) and Johannes Staune-Mittet were ineffective and Bouwman got the best of Mathis to win his first of the season and to take the leader's jersey from Ulissi.

The fourth stage consisted of a circuit around Brisighella, with a hard to guess outcome on paper. The breakaway believed in their chance to win it but the last two survivors, Brenner and Alec Segaert (Lotto-Dstny) were finally caught in the last ten kilometres. The young Archie Ryan took his chance and took the first win of his career, in his first year as a pro, resisting the return of Berckmoes and Toupalik (TDT-Unibet). Bouwman kept the lead in GC but with only 9 seconds over of Ryan before the last stage.

The last stage around the town of Forli saw the victory of the Belgian Jenno Berckmoes, who confirmed his good form. Despite a hilly route, no one could escape from the peloton long enough to go for the win and the Belgian took the win on the velodrome of Forli. No changes were seen in the top 10 of the general classification and Bouwman brought the trophy home, Ryan and Ulissi on either side of him on the podium. The Irishman won the youth classification, Berckmoes took the points jersey and Manuele Tarozzi (VF Group-Bardiani) the KOM jersey.

Roue Tourangelle

La Roue Tourangelle, French Cup round, also took place last Sunday. The route could suit the attackers but it’s the sprinters who had the last word in the streets of Tours. Unfortunately, the first part of the race was marked by a massive fall, which caused the neutralization of the race for a few minutes. After that, the riders entered the final circuit and attacks were launched by some riders such as Thibaud Gruel (Groupama-FDJ), Valentin Retailleau (Decathlon AG2R La Mondiale) or Alexandre Delettre (St Michel-Mavic-Auber 93). All these attempts were unsuccessful and the sprinters had the chance to fight for the win. At the end, it was Jason Tesson (TotalEnergies) who confirmed his good result in De Panne by beating Gerben Thijssen (Intermarché-Wanty) and Jenthe Biermans (Arkéa-B&B Hotels). Rory Townsend (Q36.5) and Clément Venturini (Arkéa-B&B Hotels) completed the top 5.

Written by: Rémi Massart

25/03/2024

Race Report - Pogačar destroys the competition, Laurance takes his first WorldTour win, and Bernal makes a comeback, at the Volta Ciclista a Catalunya

Stage 1

Nick Schultz (Israel-Premier Tech) sprinted to victory on the first stage of the Volta Ciclista a Catalunya, ahead of Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) and Stephen Williams (Israel-Premier Tech).

The initial breakaway formed with 160km to go, just before the stage’s first categorised climb: the Alt de la Ganga. The five riders – Kenny Elissonde (Cofidis), Simone Petilli (Intermarché-Wanty), Alex Baudin (Decathlon AG2R La Mondiale), Adne Holter (Uno-X Mobility), and Mikel Bizkarra (Euskaltel-Euskadi) – opened up a gap of three minutes to the peloton behind. Elissonde managed to take eight bonus points from being the first to ride over the Alt de la Ganga and the Alt dels Angels, however the peloton eventually caught the breakaway group with 32km to go.

Just before the final climb of the day – the Alt de Sant Grau – Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers) sprinted for three bonus seconds, ahead of Pogačar and Laurens De Plus (Ineos Grenadiers). Riding up the climb, the pace was high, and Pogačar was well-placed near the front. However Schultz launched a surprise attack 500m from the finish line – which Pogačar was unable to catch – and took the first WorldTour win of his career.

Shultz took the lead of the points classification and the general classification, holding a lead of two seconds on Pogačar. Kenny Elissonde (Cofidis) took the lead of the mountain classification, and Axel Laurance (Alpecin-Deceuninck) led the youth classification.

Stage 2

Pogačar took the win on stage two of the Volta Ciclista a Catalunya, as well as the overall race lead, on the Vallter 2000 mountaintop finish.

The initial breakaway formed with 180km to go, including Jimmy Janssens (Alpecin-Deceuninck), Kevin Colleoni (Intermarché-Wanty), Samuel Fernández (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA), Alex Jaime (Kern Pharma), Jambaljamts Sainbayar (Burgos-BH), and Xabier Isasa (Euskaltel-Euskadi), and managed to create a gap of 5:30. Pogačar tried a few attacks from the front of the peloton, however he was caught both times. Some of the breakaway riders also attempted attacks – Fernández went solo, followed by Janssens, and the two held a gap of 40 seconds from the rest of the breakaway group behind. Janssens then attacked solo, with 20km to go, and held a 50-second gap.

However, by the time the race reached the base of Vallter 2000, the teams aiming for GC success pushed hard at the front of the peloton, in an attempt to close the gap. Pogačar attacked with 6.5km to go, passing Janssens, and taking the lead. A chasing group formed – including Bernal, João Almeida (UAE Team Emirates), Cian Uijtdebroeks (Visma-Lease a Bike), Mikel Landa (Soudal-QuickStep), Lenny Martinez (Groupama FDJ), Aleksandr Vlasov (Bora-Hansgrohe), Chris Harper (Jayco AlUla) and Harold Tejada (Astana Qazaqstan) – following around 35 seconds behind Pogačar. Uijtdebroeks and Tejada were eventually dropped, and Pogačar increased his lead to 1:23, as he crossed the line in first, with Landa in second, and Vlasov in third.

Pogačar took the lead of the points classification, mountain classification and the general classification, holding a lead of 1:35 over Landa. Martinez led the youth classification.

Stage 3

Pogačar won again on stage three with another solo finish, this time atop Port Ainé.

After a few unsuccessful attempts to form a breakaway group within the early kilometres of the stage, at the Port de Toses, Jack Haig (Bahrain Victorious) and Andreas Leknessund (Uno-X Mobility) were joined by Tejada, Mauri Vansevenant (Soudal-QuickStep), Juan Pedro López (Lidl-Trek), Hugh Carthy (EF Education-EasyPost), Ethan Hayter (Ineos Grenadiers), Iván Sosa (Movistar), and Andreas Kron (Lotto-Dstny). However, the group was brought back with 65km to go, ahead of the second climb of the day. On the climb, Tejada raced to the front to gain 26 points in the mountain classification, and at the intermediate sprint following the descent off the Port de Cantó, Vlasov took three bonus seconds to level his time with Landa.

UAE Team Emirates and Soudal Quick-Step set a hard pace on the final climb, which caused many riders to drop back. With 7.5km to go, Landa attacked, and Pogačar immediately followed, quickly passing him. Sepp Kuss (Visma-Lease-a-Bike) managed to bridge across to Landa, and they were later joined by Harper inside the final 4km, however Landa attacked once more at 3km to go solo in pursuit of second place, and so the other two dropped back to the group behind.

Inside the final kilometre, Enric Mas (Movistar) attacked for third, but was followed by Kuss and Antonio Tiberi and Wout Poels (both Bahrain Victorious). Pogačar finished first, 48 seconds ahead of Landa, who came in second. Tiberi finished in third, ahead of Poels and Kuss.

Pogačar kept the lead of the points classification, mountain classification and the general classification, holding a lead of 2:27 over Landa. Martinez kept the lead of the youth classification.

Stage 4

Marijn Van den Berg (EF Education-EasyPost) sprinted to victory on stage 4, ahead of Emils Liepins (DSM-Firmenich-PostNL) and Arne Marit (Intermarché-Wanty).

A small group broke away from the peloton at the start of the race, including Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Dstny), Urko Berrade (Equipo Kern Pharma) and Idar Andersen (Uno-X Mobility), and created a gap of over three minutes to the peloton. However, the peloton began to close the gap after the Port d'Àger summit. Berrade dropped back from the group with 60km to go, and De Gendt and Andersen were then caught with 30km to go.

A few more attacks followed – Poels claimed three bonus seconds at the intermediate sprint, ahead of Kuss, and when they were brought back, Luis Ángel Maté (Euskaltel-Euskadi) then launched his attack – however he was caught with around 8.5km to go. It therefore all came down to a bunch sprint. Brian Coquard (Cofidis) opened up his sprint first, but Van den Berg was faster, and came past for the win. In the end, Coquard had to settle for fourth.

There was little change in the leaders classifications: Pogačar kept his lead of the points classification, mountain classification and the general classification, holding a lead of 2:27 over Landa. Martinez kept the lead of the youth classification.

Stage 5

On stage 5, Laurance managed to outsprint Van den Berg to take his first ever WorldTour level victory, in his debut season in the WorldTour.

Many different groups attempted to break away from the peloton in the first 40km of the race, but all were unsuccessful – although at the intermediate sprint, Iván Garcia Cortina (Movistar) claimed three bonus seconds, followed by Mas who took two seconds, and Kuss who secured one. A five-man breakaway finally formed on the descent, with 85km to go, consisting of Oscar Rodríguez (Ineos Grenadiers), Jacopo Mosca (Lidl-Trek), Enzo Paleni (Groupama-FDJ), Georg Steinhauser (EF Education-EasyPost) and Christopher Juul-Jensen (Jayco-AlUla).

However, the breakaway’s lead decreased to one minute by the final climb – the Alt de la Creu d'Aragall – and was caught shortly afterwards. With 14km to go, a few riders tried some attacks, but by 5km to go, the peloton was intact at the front. Laurance narrowly managed to sprint to first place, ahead of Van den Berg and Coquard.

Once again, there was little change in the leaders classifications: Pogačar kept his lead of the points classification, mountain classification and the general classification, holding a lead of 2:27 over Landa. Martinez kept the lead of the youth classification.

Stage 6

On stage 6, Pogačar won solo on the hardest stage of the race after attacking with 30km to go, taking his third victory of the week.

The initial breakaway formed within the first two kilometres of racing – including Bauke Mollema (Lidl-Trek) and Hugh Carthy (EF Education-EasyPost) – however the peloton began to close in after the Collet de Cal Ros. Mollema was caught first, and then Carthy, and that was the end for the breakaway with 72km to go.

The pace was high at the front of the peloton, which caused more and more riders to drop back, including Kuss – one of the main favourites for this stage. By two kilometres from the top of the Coll de Pradell, fewer than 20 riders remained at the front, including Pogačar, Bernal, Martínez, Landa and Harper. On the descent, these riders managed to open a gap to the chasing group behind, but they were eventually caught with just over 30km to go.

However, as they reached the Collada de Sant Isidre, the pace increased again, and soon after, Pogačar began his attack. By the time he reached the top, he was leading Landa (who was attempting to chase solo) by 30 seconds, and Bernal followed another 30 seconds behind. Landa and Bernal began to work together with 15k to go, but they remained 50 seconds behind Pogačar. Pogačar crossed the line solo, with a lead of 57 seconds, Bernal claimed second place – which allowed him to move up to third place in the general classification – and Landa came third.

Whilst this stage led to a few switch-ups in the general classification positions, overall there was little change as to who led each classification: Pogačar kept his lead of the points classification, mountain classification and the general classification, holding a lead of 3:31 over Landa. Martinez kept the lead of the youth classification.

Stage 7

Tadej Pogačar took his fourth win of the week, and cemented his position as the winner of the overall race, in a bunch sprint on stage 7 of the Volta Ciclista a Catalunya.

A group of five men – including Jimmy Janssens (Alpecin-Deceuninck), Georg Steinhauser (EF Education-Easypost), Harrison Ward (Cofidis), Idar Andersen (Uno-X Mobility), and Ander Okamika (Burgos-BH) – broke away from the peloton at the start of the race, with Janssens winning the two intermediate sprints after the de la Creu de l’Ordal. With 40km to go, Steinhauser and Andersen raced ahead of the rest of the breakaway group for several kilometres, and Soler then attacked from the front of the peloton with Valentin Paret-Peintre (Decathlon AG2R La Mondiale) and Louis Barré (Arkea-B&B Hotels), catching the left-behind breakaway riders.

With 28km to go, Steinhauser attacked, and dropped Andersen, carrying on solo. Soler’s group were then caught by the peloton just before 20km to go, and by 14km to go, Steinhauser too was caught, and the bunch was back together. Pogačar launched an attack on the penultimate climb, followed by a small group of riders, however on the descent, the majority of the peloton managed to catch up. De Gendt attempted to attack with 7.8km to go, however he too was caught. In the end, Pogačar sprinted to first place, followed by Dorian Godon (Decathlon AG2R La Mondiale) and Guillaume Martin (Cofidis).

Pogačar kept his lead to win the points classification, mountain classification and the general classification, holding a lead of 3:41 over Landa, with Bernal in third. Martinez won the youth classification, and Bahrain-Victorious won the team competition.

Written by: Alicia Moyo

24/03/2024

Race Report - A Lidl-Trek masterclass, and a bunch sprint photo finish at Gent-Wevelgem

Men’s Race

Mads Pedersen (Lidl-Trek) won Gent-Wevelgem for a second time, ahead of Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Deceuninck), in a sprint to the line.

At the beginning of the race, a group of riders – including Michael Mørkøv (Astana Qazaqstan), Johan Jacobs (Movistar), Kelland O'Brien (Jayco AlUla), Hugo Houle (Israel-Premier Tech), William Blume Levy (Uno-X Mobility), and Cyrus Monk (Q36.5) – broke away from the peloton after 30km, and over the next 20km, Dries De Bondt (Decathlon AG2R La Mondiale) and Mathis Le Berre (Arkéa-B&B Hotels) bridged over to join the group with 210km to go.

Unfortunately, with 160km to go, there was a crash, which took Jan Tratnik (Visma-Lease-a-Bike) out of the race, and by 148km to go, the strong winds resulted in echelons forming. The first echelon included many race favourites – including Van der Poel and Pedersen – however the peloton was determined to chase, as teams such as Lotto Dstny, Bahrain-Victorious and Jayco AlUla aimed to get their main riders – Arnaud de Lie, Matej Mohorič and Michael Matthews – into the front group. The leading group caught up with the breakaway with 120km to go, and Johan Jacobs (Movistar) and Max Walscheid (Jayco-AlULa) both attempted attacks off the front, but were unsuccessful. With 94km to go, the peloton closed in on the front group, and then extinguished the attacks in front.

Van der Poel attacked on the Kemmelberg with Pedersen and Jonathan Milan (Lidl-Trek) following. Jasper Stuyven (Lidl-Trek) also managed to join the group, as did Tim Van Dijke (Visma-Lease a Bike), Laurence Pithie (Groupama-FDJ) and Rasmus Tiller (Uno-X Mobility). A series of attacks then ensued. Milan attacked off the front, and after he managed to create a sizeable gap, Van der Poel had to chase. Stuyven then dropped back, due to a puncture. Once Milan was caught, his teammate Pedersen attacked, and by 60km to go, only Van der Poel, and Pithie could follow.

However on the final pass of the Kemmelberg, Pithie dropped back to a small group behind – including Ben Turner (Ineos Grenadiers), Hugo Page (Intermarché-Wanty) and Anthony Turgis (TotalEnergies) – and so the two world champions were left alone with around 34km to go. The aforementioned small group was soon swallowed up by the peloton with 13km to go.

At the flamme rouge, Pedersen was in the lead. Van der Poel tried to come around him, but wasn’t strong enough, and Pedersen crossed the line triumphant in first. The chasing group followed behind, with Jordi Meeus (Bora-Hansgrohe) taking third place, followed by Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Deceuninck), Jonathan Milan (Lidl-Trek), and Olav Kooij (Visma-Lease a Bike). Biniam Girmay (Intermarché-Wanty), Tim Merlier (Soudal Quick-Step), Dylan Groenewegen (Jayco AlUla) and Matteo Trentin (Tudor Pro Cycling), rounded out the top 10.

Women’s Race

Lorena Wiebes (SD Worx-Protime) won Gent-Wevelgem Women ahead of Elisa Balsamo (Lidl-Trek) in a photo finish, with Chiara Consonni (UAE Team ADQ) taking third place.

The initial breakaway group had formed and gained a two-minute lead by around 150km to go, and included Julie Van de Velde (AG Insurance-Soudal), Giorgia Vettorello (Roland), Lieke Nooijen (Visma-Lease a Bike), Anniina Ahtosalo (Uno-X Mobility), Amandine Fouquenet (Arkéa-B&B Hotels) and Laura Molenaar (VolkerWessels). Yet despite holding a relatively large gap to the peloton behind for a long time, the group was caught with 76km to go.

On De Moeren, the strong winds separated the peloton, but it soon came back together again. Lotte Kopecky (SD Worx-Protime) then launched an attack on the Baneberg, and Christina Schweinberger (Fenix-Deceuninck), Elisa Longo Borghini (Lidl-Trek), Pfeiffer Georgi (DSM-Firmenich PostNL), Emma Norsgaard (Movistar), Puck Pieterse (Fenix-Deceuninck), Consonni, and Wiebes, Marlen Reusser and Christine Majerus from SD Worx-Protime, followed – however after a few kilometres, the peloton caught up. Kopecky attacked again on the first Kemmelberg ascent, with seven riders following, including Pieterse, Wiebes, Reusser, Georgi, Silvia Persico (UAE Team ADQ), Balsamo and Elisa Longo Borghini (Lidl-Trek). The leading group didn’t stay intact for long, however, with some riders dropping back, and others joining, after a few more attacks. With 26km to go, the group was eventually caught.

The Movistar duo of Norsgaard and Floortje Mackaij then took turns attacking a few times, but they were caught each time. Grace Brown (FDJ-Suez) attacked with 2.5km to go, but was unfortunately caught 500m from the finish.

As the sprint began, Kopecky followed the wheel of Georgi, and then came out with around 300m to go, to drop off her sprinter, Wiebes, 200m from the line. Balsamo came out of Wiebes’ wheel and was leading in the last 100 metres, however Wiebes kept pushing, and took the win with a perfect bike throw.

Written by: Alicia Moyo

24/03/2024

Race Report - A dominant solo victory for Van der Poel at the E3 Saxo Classic

Mathieu Van der Poel (Alpecin Deceuninck) wins this year’s action-packed edition of the E3 Saxo Classic, and is now finally able to add the race to his already impressive palmarès.

Race Start and Break Formation

The race began with a handful of unsuccessful early moves, and then unfortunately, a crash involving quite a few riders - including Per Strand Hagenes (Visma-Lease-a-Bike), Łukasz Owsian (Arkéa-B&B-Hotels), Clement Russo (Groupama-FDJ), Timo Roosen (DSM-Firmenich-PostNL), Christophe Noppe (Cofidis), Alberto Bettiol (EF Education-EasyPost) and Dimitri Peyskens (Bingoal-WB) – which resulted in some of the riders abandoning the race.

The race itself was incredibly fast-paced, with the average speed in the first quarter reaching 51.3kph, and with 150km to go, no solid breakaway had been able to form. Eventually a group of 10 riders formed at the front of the race: Jannik Steimle (Q36.5), Emil Herzog (Bora-Hansgrohe), Lorenzo Milesi (Movistar), Mathis Le Berre (Arkéa-B&B-Hotels), Niklas Märkl (DSM-Firmenich-PostNL), Rémi Cavagna (Movistar), Sander De Pestel (Decathlon AG2R La Mondiale), Ivo Oliveira (UAE Emirates), Jonas Abrahamsen (Uno-X Mobility), and Jelle Vermoote (Bingoal WB).

The Attacks Begin

With around 90km to go, the peloton split, with Van der Poel and his main rival, Wout Van Aert (Visma-Lease-a-Bike), making it to the front. Then within that front chasing group, a series of attacks ensued. Van der Poel attempted an attack on the Taaienberg, which was caught by Mads Pedersen (Lidl-Trek). Then came attacks from Alex Kirsch (Lidl-Trek) and Julian Alaphilippe (Soudal Quick-Step) in quick succession, the latter being chased down fairly quickly by Mads Pedersen, who then went on to attack solo himself.

The group eventually came together again after a small group led by Van der Poel – with Van Aert and Biniam Girmay (Intermarché-Wanty) chasing – successfully closed the gap. Yet the attacks within Group Two continued over the next 20km, with many involving Van der Poel and the riders from Lidl-Trek. Just as the breakaway was about to be caught, with 47.5km to go, Oier Lazkano (Movistar) launched an attack off the front, and held a gap for a few kilometres until he was eventually caught by Van der Poel, who was leading the front group.

Van der Poel’s Solo Attack

It was at this moment that disaster struck for Van Aert, as he fell at the beginning of the Paterberg after Van der Poel launched yet another attack with 43km to go. Van Aert found himself held up at the back of the group whilst Van der Poel sped off into the distance, creating a gap. It wasn’t over just yet, however, as Van Aert quickly rode back to the front of the chasing group, and went solo in pursuit of his rival, as a small group – including Girmay and Matteo Jorgenson (Visma-Lease-a-Bike) – followed a short distance behind.

Van Aert’s Chase

Over the next 10km, Van Aert managed to reduce the gap to Van der Poel to around 11 seconds, before the latter launched another acceleration on the Karnemelkbeekstraat that proved too much for the Visma-Lease-a-Bike rider. After this, Van Aert began to lose time on Van der Poel, and a chasing group consisting of Jorgenson, Girmay, Jasper Stuyven (Lidl-Trek), Tim Wellens (UAE Emirates) and Jhonatan Narváez (Ineos Grenadiers) began to close in.

Van Aert Caught by the Chasing Group

With 6.5km to go, Girmay was dropped from the chasing group, and Stuyven launched a solo attack to chase Van Aert. He managed to catch Van Aert with 4.8km to go, and the two continued to ride together towards the line.

Race Finish

Van der Poel crossed the line emphatically in first, taking his first ever victory at the E3 Saxo Classic. Jasper Stuyven kept riding to second place, and Van Aert took third. In the last two kilometres, Jorgenson attempted to attack Wellens and Narváez, but in the end, Wellens finished fourth, ahead of Jorgenson, followed by Narváez.

Nils Politt (UAE Emirates), Toms Skujins (Lidl-Trek), Vincenzo Albanese (Arkéa-B&B Hotels) and Kirsch rounded out the top 10.

Written by: Alicia Moyo

22/03/2024