AntBanter: The secret of Gallic flair

From Hinault to Chavanel, Anquetil to Voeckler, French cycling is well-known for its colourful and often controversial characters. Playing host to the world’s biggest bike race, it is not difficult to see France’s influence on the sport, and the sport’s influence on France. Cycling heroes permeate French culture in a very big way –  you even get French punks singing about Louison Bobet! Continue reading

Spanish early season races: Challenge Mallorca review


The Spanish racing season has kicked off with the 22nd Iberostar Challenge Ciclista Mallorca – four single-day races – raced around the island of Mallorca, the home of many a pro cycling training camp during the winter months.

The event is a series of 1.1 HC one day races on the UCI Europe Tour. It cannot be classed as a multi-day stage race because race rules allow riders to sit out certain days if they don’t want to race. There has been no overall classification winner since 2010.

This relaxed attitude by the race organisers makes the race popular with team managers who can bring a large squad (sometimes as many as 20 riders) and interchange them over the four days. Apart from the overall classification there are the usual mountains, points and sprints competitions, plus one for the top Majorcan based rider.

Trofeo Palma (3rd February)

Kenny De Haes wins in Palma (image courtesy of Lotto Belisol)

Kenny Dehaes wins in Palma (image courtesy of Lotto Belisol)

Kenny Dehaes (Lotto Belisol) won the sprint for the line from Tyler Farrar (Garmin Sharp) and Ben Swift (Sky) after ten laps of an 11.6km circuit around the island’s capital. An early break with Perrig Quemeneur (Europcar) and Francisco Moreno (Caja Rural)  – who subsequently punctured and was dropped – built around a four-minute advantage before being hauled back by the sprinters’ teams inside the final 20 km.

This was Dehaes’ first victory for five years  – he last won stages in the Four Days of Dunkirk and Tour of Belgium in 2008 – and builds on the team’s early success with Andre Greipel at the Tour Down Under.

On the team’s website Dehaes said:

We knew this stage usually ends with a bunch sprint, so before the race we agreed that we would give me a chance, which turned out perfectly … I felt someone was coming from the left, so I decided to start sprinting, because in the past I sometimes let others close me in. And luckily I could hold on – the puzzle pieces fell perfectly into place.


1. Kenny Dehaes (Lotto Belisol) 2:39:07

2. Tyler Farrar (Garmin Sharp) same time

3. Ben Swift (Sky) s/t

4.  Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre-Merida) s/t

5. Fran Ventoso (Movistar) s/t

6. Jose Joasquin Rojas (Movistar) s/t

7. Adrien Petit (Cofidis) s/t

8. Viktor Manakov (RusVelo) s/t

9. Yoeri Havik (Rikke Shanks) s/t

10. Arthur Ershov (RusVelo) s/t

Trofeo Campos (formerly Migjorn) (4th February)

Leigh Howard just throws his handlebars across the line first (image courtesy of Orica-GreenEDGE)

Leigh Howard just throws his handlebars across the line first (image courtesy of Orica-GreenEDGE)

In-form Leigh Howard (Orica-GreenEDGE) made use of his track skills – and some pre-race planning – to negotiate the run-in to the finish beating Tyler Farrar and Jose Joaquin Rojas (Movistar) to the line, after an eight-rider break was reeled back in the final kilometres of the 167km stage from Santanyi to Ses Salinas.

This was Orica-GreenEDGE’s third win of the season after Simon Gerrans’ stage win on Willunga Hill in the Tour Down Under and Svein Tuft’s in the Tour de San Luis time-trial.

Afterwards, Howard said:

We knew it would be a crazy, hectic and potentially dangerous sprint. I’m glad we had the preview. It allowed us to formulate a plan that we stuck to almost to a T. I came out on top because everyone did their jobs. The team has given me a great opportunity here and put a lot of faith in me. It’s nice to repay them.


1. Leigh Howard (Orica-GreenEDGE) 3:56:24

2. Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Sharp) same time

3. Jose Joaquin Rojas (Movistar) s/t

4. Egoitz Garcia (Cofidis) s/t

5. Enrique Sanz (Movistar) s/t

6. Fran Ventoso (Movistar) s/t

7. Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre-Merida) s/t

8. Kenny Dehaes (Lotto Belisol) s/t

9. Yoeri Havik (Rijke Shanks) s/t

10. Ben Swift (Sky) s/t

Trofeo Serra de Tramuntana (5th February)

Alejandro Valverde wins on third day of racing (image courtesy of Movistar)

Alejandro Valverde wins on the third day of racing (image courtesy of Movistar)

Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) put his abilities as a sprinter to good effect to beat Sergio Henao (Sky) and Robert Gesink (Blanco) on the 152km stage across the northern coast from Deia to the Monasterio de Lluc.

The stage profile suited the climbers, with the first-category Coll de Puig Major coming just 19km from the finish. Valverde was assisted by last year’s Tour de Suisse winner, Rui Costa, who finished fourth.

Sprinter Ben Swift (Sky) led home the rest. The team and Valverde, for whom this was his 70th victory, are looking good for next week’s Volta ao Algarve. After the race, Valverde said:

I knew I was strong, but I didn’t quite know how my reactions were going to be as I’m taking things more cautiously this season … I want to thank  all my teammates, the people who are always supporting me and Movistar, for their continued help so this project carries on.


1. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) 4:04:57

2. Sergio Henao (Sky) same time

3. Robert Gesink (Blanco) s/t

4. Rui Costa (Movistar) s/t

5. Ben Swift (Sky) +00:51

6. Przemyslaw Niemiec (Lampre-Merida)  s/t

7. Bart de Clerq (Lotto Belisol) s/t

8. Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) +1:13

9. Pieter Weening (Orica-GreenEDGE) +1:15

10. Ian Bibby (Madison Genesis) s/t

Trofeo Alcudia (6th February)

He wins again! (image courtesy of Orica-GreenEDGE)

He wins again! (image courtesy of Orica-GreenEDGE)

Leigh Howard (Orica-GreenEDGE) won the fourth and final stage on the lumpy 169.8km stage from Can Picafort to Playa de Muro.

A large break which included riders of the calibre of Robert Gesink (Blanco), Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEDGE), Xavier Zandio (Sky), Angel Madrazo (Movistar) and Mikel Astarloza (Euskaltel-Euskadi) dominated the day’s proceedings but everyone was back in the bunch with just 5km remaining, setting up the sprint finish which was bossed by the Orica boys.

Howard was delighted with his second win for the team:

A massive thanks to all the boys for supporting me the entire race. Without them it’s not possible and thanks to Stevo [Neil Stephens] for having faith in me again.


1. Leigh Howard (Orica-GreenEDGE) 4:15:29

2. Maarten Wynants (Blanco) same time

3. Davide Cimolai (Lampre-Merida) s/t

4. Egoitz Garcia (Cofidis) s/t

5. Jose Joaquin Rojas (Movistar) s/t

6. Angelo Tulikl (Europcar) s/t

7. Gianni Meersman (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) s/t

8. Robbie Hunter (Garmin Sharp) s/t

9.  Segio Henao (Sky) s/t

10. Rigoberto Uran (Sky) s/t


A number of the teams will leave Mallorca with smiles on their faces while a few are bound to have been disappointed. For many teams, just starting racing and getting in the mix would have been sufficient reward, but everyone likes to get an early win in the bag as it takes the pressure off the whole team and, as we know, wins are like buses – one is often closely followed by another.

The Australians generally start the season well, having spent the winter months Down Under and getting up to speed both for their national championships and their national Tour. Leigh Howard (Orica-GreenEDGE) picked up a couple of top five placings in the sprints at the Tour de San Luis, obviously came to Mallorca feeling confident and he repaid the faith placed him by the team. In addition the team picked up two King of the Mountains jerseys: one with Wesley Sulzberger on day three and one on the final day with sprinter Michael Matthews.

Movistar will have been delighted to get onto the scoresheet with Alejandro Valverde‘s win on the only real mountainous stage, ably assisted by Rui Costa. In addition, riders such as Jose Joaquin Rojas and Fran Ventoso were challenging in the sprints and others such as Angel Madrazo played their part in breakaways.

Sky are another team that will look back on their time in Mallorca with smiles thanks to the endeavours of their Colombian duo Sergio Henao and Rigoberto Uran and sprinter Ben Swift. In addition, Sir Bradley Wiggins was looking lively on a couple of the stages but it’s far too early for him to shine.

Link: Official race website

Happy birthday Elia Viviani

Elia Viviani: Buon Compleanno.

Elia’s celebrating his 24th birthday today and one or two of you might be saying Elia who? Quite understandable as his achievements on the track and road tend to have been overshadowed by his better known teammates Peter Sagan and Moreno Moser. But, with his track ambitions on the back burner after London 2012, who knows what Elia might achieve in 2013? Let’s have a look at the scores on the doors to date.

Wins on the road, but yet to beat the best sprinters

(image courtesy of Cannondale ProCycling)

Image courtesy of Cannondale

Hailing from Verona, Elia started cycling back in 1998 and initially combined it with other sports such as football, ice skating and tennis. As he racked up the victories – 40 from 1998 to 2001 – he turned towards cycling. Further success followed, as he recorded 80 wins in the junior ranks before moving up to the under-23s. A further 12 victories in some prestigious races and he joined the professional ranks with Liquigas-Doimo in April 2010.

He debuted at the Tour of Turkey, where he quickly broke his professional duck, with further victories following in the Memorials Marco Pantani and Frank Vandenbroucke. His winning ways continued into 2011, with victory at the GP Costa degli Etruschi in February followed the next week by victory over pocket rocket Robbie McEwen (RadioShack) in India and later a pair of stages plus the points classification at the USA Pro Cycling Challenge. He rounded off the season with a win in the inaugural Tour of Beijing.

Elia was quickly off the mark in the 2012 season, winning a sprint at the Tour de San Luis. He then successfully defended a chilly and foreshortened GP Costa degli Etruschi, followed a few days later by two stages and the overall of the Giro della Provincia di Reggio Calabria.

2012 was a difficult season in which he had to balance his ambitions on the track versus the road. Injury cost He him a place in his first Giro d’Italia, but he was part of Paolo Bettini’s squad in the Olympic road race where he finished 38th. He then headed to his maiden Grand Tour, the Vuelta a Espana, where he recorded four podiums but couldn’t find the speed to get round John Degenkolb (Argos-Shimano). He closed out the year with another stage win at the Tour of Beijing, after which he was somewhat bemused to see himself alongside world number one tennis player Novak Djokovic on billboards around Beijing.

On the track – plenty of gold, silverware and bronze

(image courtesy of WikiPedia)

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

I think it’s fair to say that to date he’s had greater success on the track than on the road, particularly at the national and European level. Victory at the Worlds has proven more elusive.

Elia won his first national championship in 2005 as part of the under-16 team pursuit squad. At junior level in the following two years, he added four national titles, wins in the scratch and points races at the European championships and a pair of bronze medals at the Worlds in the Madison (2006) and team pursuit (2007).

He moved up to the elite category in 2008, winning a gold and two silvers at the Italian nationals, plus two under-23 European golds (scratch and Madison). Over the next three years he went from strength to strength, padding out his palmares with back-to-back national omnium and team pursuit titles in 2009 and 2010 and a gold at the Europeans in the under-23 points race. At senior level, he added silver in the scratch at the 2011 Worlds.

In 2012 at the Melbourne World Cup, in attempting to qualify for the London Olympics he fell and was forced to retire. He did however manage to gain his Olympic qualification at the World Cup event in London. At London 2012, he took part in the omnium. He was lying second overall after the elimination race, the third of the six events, but ninth place in the kilo saw him drop back to sixth overall.

What next?

Is he a sprinter or could he develop into a Classics rider like Bettini – one of his biggest fans? Only time will tell, but keep a look out for him starting with Milan-San Remo in March.