World Ports Classic review

The King of Belgium, Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) reigned supreme in this inaugural two-day race. He powered to victory on the first stage after omnipresent coastal winds had split the peloton and exhausted most of the competition who’d had to chase back to the leading group. None of the commentators had fancied Boonen for the win, so he was spared their ‘kiss of death’. To be fair though, even he had downplayed his chances in the pre-race press conference. Tom was sandbagging: he was just gagging for another win. His last had been his national road race championship. Wearing the red, gold and black kit does make him easier to spot among his teammates but Tom always stands out in a crowd whatever he wears.

Allegedly not interested in the overall, Tom showed his hand – and his appetite for victory – on today’s second stage when he went for the bonus seconds on offer at the first intermediate sprint. He then finished third behind Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol), his nearest challenger, to retain the overall royal blue and the points jersey. Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) was the best placed young rider while Topsport Vlaanderen-Mercator were top team.

Boonen looking magnificent in royal blue (image courtesy of OPQS)

Here’s what Boonen had to say after the stage:

I’m happy about this victory and these two days of races. I knew that to get a good result it was important to finish in the top three two times, and that’s what happened — we made it. The team was great in those two days. It was a special race with a lot of wind. We built the GC victory yesterday and today we protected and kept the jersey.

I have to say that it wasn’t so easy, especially yesterday. If you look at the result, it seems like we had two bunch sprints, but it’s not exactly what’s happened. If you talk with some guys in the peloton, they can tell you that yesterday it was the hardest race of their life because of the wind and the high speed. Now this is done and I’m happy about the result. It’s a good race in this moment of the season. Riders who didn’t race the Vuelta were all here, so the level was high.

Stage 1: Rotterdam to Antwerp, 201km

Boonen beat off  Greipel and Kristoff in the bunch sprint for the line in what he later called a four-hour time trial. Boonen and his teammates had ridden hard from the start which, combined with the strong cross-winds, had reduced the leading group to around 40 riders.

Aided by the autumnal, windy conditions, the peloton split into three pretty much from the get-go in the first running of this ASO-organised event. Boonen, Mark Renshaw (Rabobank), Marcel Kittel (Argos-Shimano) and Oscar Freire along with team-mate Kristoff were in the leading group. Meanwhile Greipel and Theo Bos (Rabobank) were in the second group some 30-40 seconds back for most of the stage, thanks to the strong crosswinds, although they did manage to bridge before the finish, but chasing had taken the sting from their legs.

OPQS rider Andrew Fenn had been in a two-rider break until 2.7km remained, attacking out of the front group with 32km to go. He and Michael Morkov (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank) had about a 30-second gap over the Boonen chase group. Eventually, a second chase group that included Greipel caught the Boonen group, setting up an exciting final sprint into Antwerp. Boonen was able to demonstrate his strength in front of a jubilant home crowd to take the win ahead of Greipel.

Tom and his magnificent Boonens win stage 1 (image courtesy of OPQS)

Stage 2: Antwerp to Rotterdam, 163km

Today’s stage was much more of a pure sprinter’s stage and this time it was Bos’ turn to delight the home crowd with a powerful surge for the line in the anticipated bunch sprint. Yesterday’s stage was covered at an elevated pace and so too was the first 50km of this sunny stage in the reverse direction, albeit over a different and shorter parcours. The leading teams whose sprinters were in with a chance of the overall kept the pace high for the first intermediate sprint 15km into the race, where Greipel beat Boonen in a photo finish thereby gaining a precious second over him.

The break was finally established after 45km and it included Lieuwe Westra (Vacansoleil-DCM), Jaroslaw Marycz (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank) and Kevin Claeys (Landbouwkrediet-Euphony), all of whom were well down on the overall, posed no GC threat and gained valuable exposure for their team sponsors. Their lead never extended beyond four minutes as the sprint teams were keen not to extend them too great an advantage and they were caught within 15km of the finish.

All the teams worked hard to get their men into position through a series of roundabouts and turns on the run into the finish. Today it was Rabobank’s turn to shine and, profiting from home advantage and their knowledge of the route, they perfectly positioned Bos, who beat Greipel, Boonen and Kristoff to the line to record his sixth win of the season.

Theo Bos was the strongest on stage 2 (image courtesy of Rabobank)

Closing thoughts

The sprinters who are more likely to be working for compatriots more adept at getting over the Cauberg at the forthcoming World Championships are coming nicely into form. Take a few minutes to check out a few names in the lower half of the top ten – you’ll be hearing more about these youngsters in the coming seasons. VeloVoices has already had its collective eyes on Steele Von Hoff –  Jonathan Vaughters knows how to pick ’em. Guillaume Boivin shared a bronze medal with Taylor Phinney in the under-23 World Championship road race in Melbourne in 2010.

Race result

1. Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma Quickstep) 7:26:47

2. Andre Greipel (Lotto Belisol) +0:01

3. Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) +0:11

4. Tom Veelers (Argos-Shimano) +0:13

5. Mark Renshaw (Rabobank) +0:14

6. Steele Von Hoff (Garmin-Sharp) +0:16

7. Guillaume Boivin (Spidertech-C10) same time

8. Jonathan Cantwell (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank) s/t

9. Michael Van Staeyen (Topsport Vlaanderen-Mercator) s/t

10. Benjamin Verraes (Accent Jobs-Willems Veranda) s/t

Link: Official website

Vuelta a España: Stage 14 review

Stage 14: Palas de Rei to Puerto de Ancares, 149.2km

Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) took his third stage win to extend his lead over Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank) to 22 seconds. The red jersey made a devastating late surge within the final kilometre of the Puerto de Ancares to sweep past Contador and take the win.

A long breakaway went away initially, before it was eventually whittled down to its strongest climbers. Ben Gastauer (AG2R La Mondiale), Amets Txurruka (Euskaltel-Euskadi), David Moncoutie (Cofidis), Serge Pauwels (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), Alberto Losada (Katusha), Javier Moreno (Movistar), Jan Bakelants (RadioShack-Nissan), Simon Clarke (Orica-GreenEDGE), Juan Manuel Garate (Rabobank) and Dario Cataldo (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) made up the shrunken group.

The gap fell quickly as Contador’s Saxo-Tinkoff team set the pace in the peloton. It was evident that El Pistolero meant business, despite a quick stop for a wheel change. As the race entered its last 10km and hit the final climb, it was Losada who offered the last resistance, while riders were put into difficulty back in the bunch. Rabobank’s Robert Gesink was one such rider who cracked under the Saxo Bank pressure.

Rodriguez continues to prove his doubters wrong (image courtesy of Katusha)

With the Danish outfit grinding down Losada’s advantage to nothing, it was something of a phony war behind, with none of the favourites willing to make a move. That was until 3.3km to the finish, when Contador finally fired out of the bunch. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) stayed firmly locked on to his wheel, whilst Daniel Moreno (Katusha) did well to aid race leader and teammate Joaquim Rodriguez across to his compatriots.

Valverde took it upon himself to do the lion’s share of pace making, while Chris Froome (Sky) struggled in the group behind. Contador attacked again in his inimitable style with 2½km to go, but couldn’t shake his fellow escapees, trying again half a kilometre later.

It was a move which did damage, opening up a gap of five seconds almost immediately. But the three Spaniards behind stayed calm, with Moreno continuing to set the pace for his leader. Marshaled by teammate Rigoberto Uran, Froome clawed his way back to the Rodriguez trio, before attacking himself.

Unsurprisingly he wasn’t allowed to escape, and the real concern for the group of four was the 11-second gap Contador held with a kilometre remaining. Seconds later, Rodriguez made the decisive move. Sending Froome flying out of the back of the group, the race leader motored up to Contador before surging past for yet another win.

VeloVoices rider of the day

There’s only one rider on whom this award could be bestowed today: Joaquim Rodriguez. A rider who isn’t meant to cope on the longer climbs has so far done so emphatically. When Contador made his final attack it looked like a classic Pistolero move. But Rodriguez judged the situation perfectly, and is looking increasingly comfortable in the jersey of race leader.


It was nice to see David Moncoutie in the break today – he’s gunning for a record-equaling five Vuelta mountain classifications. After today he sits on nine points, 25 behind new leader and fellow escapee Simon Clarke. However, it’s far too early to write the quiet Frenchman off, with tough stages to come.

Tactical analysis

After today’s stage Alberto Contador is 22 seconds behind Rodriguez, with Froome and Valverde on exactly the same time, 1:41 in arrears. Barring a miracle performance, this race will now be fought out between the two Spaniards at the top of the general classification.

Tomorrow we will see the first highest category summit at the finish, with an equally tough finish to the following stage. There’s little doubt the next two stages will prove decisive, and don’t be surprised to see Saxo Bank working hard on the front once again in a bid to destroy the Katusha team on those climbs.

Rodriguez has an advantage in having Daniel Moreno alongside him – the only one of the three leading Spaniards to have such a strong teammate. Moreno himself is right up on GC in fifth place, and could prove the decisive factor.

VeloVoices will bring you previews of each day’s stage every morning, live coverage of as many stages as possible on Twitterreviews in the evening and in-depth analysis after selected stages.

Link: Vuelta a España official website

Friday Feature Extra: 10 things I love about cycling – Ant Beal

After the last few weeks, we at VeloVoices were feeling a bit jaded about all the news from the US. So we decided to revisit why we love the sport in the first place – a renewal of vows, so to speak. Over the course of the weekend, we’ll be posting up our ten reasons why we love cycling – and we’ve asked you for your list as well! Here is a list from Ant Beal, a planner from Derby, who regularly participates in AntBanter with VeloVoices on Twitter.

1. It’s not a straightforward sport, is it? From different types of race, to races within races, to the seemingly endless variables that can affect any race, the season has something for every rider and for every fan.

2. The lone escapee. Your heart goes out to them, wills them on, and for that one time in a hundred that they succeed, it’s a beautiful thing to behold. Any kind of breakaway carries that poetic drama, the plight of the underdog. It’s the most compelling drama, and it works in cycling because it is possible for the underdog to have his day.

3. The only constant in cycling is pain, but from that pain comes moments of raw emotion, guts, genius and glory. I read somewhere that it doesn’t get easier, you just go faster. There’s always somebody prepared to put the hammer down. Usually that somebody is …

The pain and pleasure of Jens Voigt (image courtesy of KreischelAG)

4.  Jens Voigt.  Jens for me is the human embodiment of everything that is great in cycling. He has a sense of honour and loyalty, determination, and above all, a lust for his sport and his life. I don’t think you ever get too old to have role models and heroes, and Jens is mine (no matter how short I fall from the mark).

5.  We can all jump on a bike and ride the same roads as the pros. It’s highly unlikely I’ll ever play football at Wembley, but it’s very possible that one day I will attempt to climb Alpe d’Huez (badly).

You can ride the same switchbacks as the pros and make Alpe d’Huez your own (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

6. We can stand on the roadside and watch our heroes hiss by at speeds I can only read about. We can get close to them too, Pedro Delgado and Miguel Indurain grinned at me on a TT reccy on the Tour, Sean Kelly once ran over my foot, and I can even say (with a little pleasure) that I once accidentally tripped Bjarne Riis up post Paris-Tours. And all that is FREE!

7.  In fact, it doesn’t end there. Twitter has helped create a level of interaction and accessibility that is unprecedented. I’ve had brief conversations with pros, and seen some really open discussions take place. That makes you feel part of the sport, and you feel like these guys are as committed to the fans as much as the fans are committed to them. It’s mutual.

8. It’s not about the bike? Actually, that’s wrong. I love the bike, from the graceful to the demonic, I’m a sucker for bike-porn. The precision that goes into bike engineering is mindblowing, and from functional to beautiful, past to present these machines have got it all. And we can all own our own, and tinker with them to our hearts content.

9. It’s the most photogenic sport. Cycling photography is an art form in its own right. Capturing the intense human effort, endeavour and emotion in the most dramatic of settings.

The beauty of cycling photography (image courtesy of Davide Calabresi)

10. Above all, it’s a community, our community. From the friends I’ve made on Twitter, to the guy that I share a nod and a smile when we pass each other on our daily commute, him thinking he’s Tommy V, me thinking I’m Jens Voigt. We’re all part of it as much as it’s part of us. #livejens

You can follow Ant on Twitter at @AntBeal. He’s funner than a fun thing from Fun Town.