Strade Bianche 2015 Preview

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Strade Bianche LogoStrade Bianche is Italy’s version of a Spring Classic and a relatively new addition to the calendar. It takes place on regular roads with gravel tracks thrown in to make things interesting. The race gets its name from these sections as the white roads give it a distinctive look.

 

Strade Bianche

White roads

The race suits punchy one-day riders, with a climb in the last 1km of 9% peaking at 16% before a quick drop to the finish, it requires contenders to be relatively light rather than just powerful. It’s this climb that has seen Sagan come second twice in the last two years whereas a flat finish would see him walk it.

Strade Bianche 2014 Finale

Strade Bianche 2014 Finale

2015 sees a strong field line up at the race. Two time winner Fabian Cancellara will be aiming for a third win, one-day race king Alessandro Valverde will be racing and Peter Sagan will aim to go one better.

There is a lot of strength in depth aiming for a win too. Omloop winner Ian Stannard will race, although the final climb may not suit him, so will Niki Terpstra who was one of the Quickstep triplet that allowed Stannard to win.

Greg van Avermaet and Vincenzo Nibali race despite off the bike problems, and Sepp Vanmarcke will fly the flag for LottoNL. Simon Gerrans returns after breaking his collarbone to start his season and Carlos Betancur starts his European season for AG2R.

Strade Bianche

Strade Bianche

For those looking for a more left-field option for a good result, Sonny Colbrelli for Bardiani always seems to do well in Italian races like this, Adam Yates can do well and is suited to the final climb but his finish will depend on how well Gerrans does. Peter Kennaugh can also do well if released from Sky teamwork duties.

Top 3 Prediction

1 – Valverde

2 – Sagan

3 – Cancellara

An even better weekend for the Brits…

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Cav wins Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne

Cav wins Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne

It only seems like last weekend when I posted about the impact Brits have had so far this season, but they’ve done it again during the first week of the Spring Classics season winning both Omloop het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne Brussels Kuurne.

On Saturday, Ian Stannard managed to win Omloop het Nieuwsblad for the second year running and again managed to beat off favourites on the run-in to the finish. Despite being ganged up 3 to 1 by the Etixx-Quickstep team, he managed to have enough strength to respond to their late attacks and beat Niki Terpstra, Tom Boonen and Stijn Vandenbergh. In theory their team work should have seen them drop Stannard without too much trouble and they were heavily criticised afterwards.

Quickstep kept an eye on Stannard, but still lost

Quickstep kept an eye on Stannard, but still lost

Fellow Brit Luke Rowe also got a respectable 9th place, winning the bunch sprint.

Stannard wins Omloop het Nieuwsblad

Stannard wins Omloop het Nieuwsblad

My tips for the top 3 came in 6th, 5th and 11th in the end.

Stannard gets ganged up by Quickstep

Stannard gets ganged up by Quickstep

Sunday saw the Kuurne Brussels Kuurne race take place, a cobbled race for the sprinters. Mark Cavendish won to make up for Quickstep’s miss the day before. He took up Kristoff’s wheel and came round him for the win with Sky’s Elia Viviani in third place

The chasing pack at Kuurne - Brussels - Kuurne

The chasing pack at Kuurne – Brussels – Kuurne

Nacer Bouhanni was positioned well at the front but a close coming together saw him have to take evasive action and come in down in 18th. He’s not showing the same form as last year currently and it looks like Cofidis’ decision to keep Demare is still the right one.

Things we’ve learnt

Stannard is definitely a classics contender if he can stay injury-free

Cavendish has a decent shot at Gent-Wevelgem and Milan-San Remo

Kristoff is still a force this season

Vanmarcke is still consistent but doesn’t have the killer instinct

Van Avermaet will be in the mix but has off the bike issues fighting his corner against rumours he doped in 2011.

2015 Team Kits Part 4 (and last…)

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You’ve seen all the WorldTour teams’ designs for 2015, there’s always a few teams in the Pro Continental division that we see on a regular basis, usually as wildcards into the Grand Tours (e.g. Cofidis who get invited for being French or Caja Rural for being Spanish and so on).

Bardiani-CSF-Pro-Team-2015Bardiani will make an appearance in the Giro as always, they always look to attack or breakaway so it’s a jersey we’ll see a lot of during Italian races. It’s simple and green is qute rare but there’s too many logos for it to look truly good.

Bora-Argon-18-2015The new guise of Netapp-Endura have gone for black, black and more black. Boring!

Bretagne-Seche-Environnement-2015Frustratingly so have Bretagne-Seche Environment who we’ll no doubt see come Tour de France time. Unusually you’d think a smaller team would want to be seen…recommend they fill the void and go orange next year.

Caja-Rural-Seguros-RGA-2015A different colour and some originality, finally! Caja Rural will do their thing during the Vuelta and recently have been good value for a mountains stage win, luckily they’re easy to see the rest of the time too.

Cofidis-Solutions-Credits-2015Standard Cofidis fare here.

MTN-Qhubeka-2015MTN have gone for a referee approach, there’s enough white here and the flash of yellow should make them stand out. Trouble is they’ve now got a bunch of riders who have underwhelmed the last few years.

Team_Colombia-2015Black with a Colombian flag across the chest, no massive changes here.

Team-Europcar-2015We know Europcar don’t want to pump in too much more money into this team and re-using last year’s design in its entirety backs this up.

Topsport-Vlaanderen-Baloise-2015Expect to see a lot of this jersey during the Spring and then forget all about it until next season. The Topsport-Vlaanderen guys know how to do breakaways in the Spring classics but tend not to get invites to many other races.

 

Vincenzo Nibali’s Astana bind

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Astana-Pro-Team-2015We’ve been here with Astana before, some time ago.

Way back in 2007 in their first proper season Astana had big names such as Vinokourov, Kashechkin, Kessler and Mazzoleni suspended for doping (it’s not hard to see the link to the Deutsche Telekom team either). These actions saw them not receiving an invite to the 2008 Tour de France (and other ASO events) despite having defending champion Alberto Contador in their lineup. Not racing in the biggest events of the cycling season can only have had a massive hit to their finances and without state financing would surely have seen them go under.

Vinokourov

Vinokourov

2009 saw the return to racing of Vinokourov and the unretirement of Lance Armstrong who came third one his return to the Tour de France before it was expunged for his own doping exploits.

2010 saw Contador stripped of his Tour de France win due to the infamous tainted beef clenbuterol positive. Yet another doping positive and result taken away from Astana.

Contador

Contador

The period of 2011-2014 however was relatively quiet with any scandals coming later and being backdated.
Levi Leipheimer admitted that he doped whilst on the team back in 2008-9, Remy di Gregorio was taken into custody due to doping in 2011 with Astana, Roman Kreuziger was placed under investigation for anomalous blood values in 2011-2012 and Paolo Savoldelli admitted to working with Dr. Ferrari in 2007.

Nibali

Nibali

Which brings us to the winter break leading into the 2015 season. 5 Astana (2 full Astana riders and 3 from the junior Astana team) riders were banned for doping, a massive spike and a sign of a wider problem.
First off was Valentin Iglinsky who had a positive doping test in the Eneco Tour race, closely followed by his brother Maxim, both for using EPO. The three riders on the Pro-Continental development team were Artur Fedosseyev, Victor Okishev and Ilya Davidenok who were all caught having used steroids.

Today we’ve learnt that Astana stand to lose their racing licence for 2015 which puts certain high profile riders such as 2014 Tour de France winner Nibali in a certain bind.
Cataldo

Cataldo

Those riders such as Dario Cataldo must be regretting their decision to move to Astana and face this uncertainty, as it stands there could be a firesale but with team budgets already confirmed and presumably full for 2015, there’s only so many who will be able to find other rides this year. The likely bet would be that Oleg Tinkov could free up some funds to sign Nibali for his Tinkoff-Saxo team but some of the old guard would probably be forced into retirement.

With the UCI’s plan to reduce team numbers and Europcar’s decision to finish at the end of 2015, having many more riders than available places will cause more issues than it solves, cycling is currently much too transient and unstable financially to support their plan of 20 WorldTour teams without an ongoing battle.

Ultimately we could eventually see a situation such as Formula One, where those with high talent and good results at junior level find it impossible to attain a spot in a decent team at the highest level due to drivers managing to pay their way with sponsorship and a fear of failure.

2015 Team Kits Part 3

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The final batch of Worldtour teams.

Team-Katusha-2015Keeping the Russian flag motif but in a more interesting style than last year’s fairly boring pure white affair. Katusha can always be spotted amongst a bunch of riders and this year won’t be any exception.

Team-LottoNL-Jumbo-2015New team, new jersey. Following the recent history of Rabobank’s orange and Belkin’s green, the rebirth under LottoNL has seen them go yellow for the most part. They should be very noticeable and hopefully won’t cause too much confusion come Tour de France time.

Team-Sky-2015Not much of a change here again, touch more blue in the collar but really it’s same old black with a Rapha stripe. Get used to identifying most of the them from the GB national champion stripe on the sleeve.

Tinkoff-Saxo-2015A slightly different shade of yellow this year and a Russian flag on the sleeve for good luck. Not one of my favourite designs.

Trek-Factory-Racing-2015Trek have changed things up a little bit, going with a white top half after being mainly black. It’s a small change but it’s one that should see them easier to see, not that they have too many riders to be near the front with anyway this year.

 

Omloop Het Nieuwsblad 2015

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2015 Omloop het NieuwsbladSpring is here! The Spring Classics season begins this Saturday with the Omloop het Nieuwsblad race in Belgium.

Omloop is often used a warmup event for the Tour de Flanders later on as it uses a fair number of the same short, sharp, cobbled climbs. Not quite a classic in its own right, it’s a good indicator for how riders will fare in the major races.

Traditionally Belgians always do well on home turf, however they’ve only the one victory in the last 6 years as other nations have started to improve. Last year’s winner was Brit Ian Stannard for Team Sky, beating BMC’s Greg van Avermaet in a tactical two-up sprint.

Stannard beats Van Avermaet in 2014

Stannard beats Van Avermaet in 2014

This year, many of the usual favourites will be in attendance. Ian Stannard returns for Sky, with Bradley Wiggins eyeing up a final attempt at Paris-Roubaix before switching back to the track. Wiggins may aim for the win or alternatively act as an elite domestique for Stannard who has the number 1 on his back. Luke Rowe has been in good form recently and may be a left field choice.

A strong BMC team sees Philippe Gilbert, Greg van Avermaet and Dylan Teuns feature. All three have a realistic chance but expect van Avermaet to receive most attention. Etixx-Quickstep have countless riders suited for this sort of race, Tom Boonen, Zdanek Stybar and Niki Terpstra will be their main men. Boonen has never won this Belgian race so would love to add it to his palmares.

Alexander Kristoff has a decent chance for Katusha as a powerful sprinter, as does LottoNL’s Sep Vanmarcke. Vanmarcke is normally there or thereabouts in this sort of race and should manage at least a top 10.
It’s hard to see anyone else not mentioned seriously having a chance of winning the race unless they have a very lucky perfect race.

Front of the Peloton during last year's Omloop het Nieuwsblad

Front of the Peloton during last year’s Omloop het Nieuwsblad

Top 3 Prediction:

1 – Greg van Avermaet

2 – Alexander Kristoff

3 – Sep Vanmarcke

 

2015 Team Kits Part 2

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Following on from yesterday’s post, more of the 2015 team jerseys.

Lampre-Merida-2015Not as extravagantly pink as they used to be, there’s no huge changes compared to last year, the green has been toned down a touch so it’s less bright lime and more subtle.

Lotto-Soudal-2015Lotto are keeping up their slightly retro take on their jerseys. The red bar in the centre logo makes it slightly less clear on the chest, but they’re dead easy to see and it’s nice to see something different.

Movistar-Team-2015Same old Movistar, there may be a tiny change on the collar but it’s the easiest designer job there is.

Orica-GreenEDGE-2015No discernible changes here, ironically my favourite jersey of theirs was the black 2012 version.

Team-Cannondale-Garmin-2015The merged Cannondale and Garmin teams have concocted this. Using Garmin’s trademark argyle pattern with black (boo!) and Cannondale’s standout green. You can’t help but feel a reversed colour version would’ve been better.

Team-Giant-Alpecin-2015This is a reversed colour scheme from Giant-Shimano’s jersey last year, however from white to black. Hopefully the new Alpecin logo and its red areas will make them stand out.