Dwars door Vlaanderen review: Gatto by a whisker

Dwars door Vlaanderen logoOscar Gatto timed his finish to perfection, sprinting past a tiring Thomas Voeckler and taking him just metres before the line in Waregem. Slovenian Borut Bozic and Aussie Mattew Hayman were second and third as a devastated Voeckler faded to fifth.

While not quite as thrilling as Sunday’s epic Milan-San Remo, it did reinforce the ambitions of a number of teams and riders. And it’s yet another race won by a ProConti team: Kitty’s beloved glow sticks, Vini Fantini. I thought it appropriate that, despite the cold and wet weather, the Italian victor was wearing just a short-sleeved jersey and shorts. I wonder if the spectators were chanting “Are you Belgian in disguise?”

2013 podium l to right Bozic, Gatto, Hayman (image courtesy of Sky)

2013 podium (l to r) Bozic, Gatto, Hayman (image courtesy of Sky)

Race summary

Dwars door Vlaanderen is a race of two halves: the first one flat, the second hilly and cobbled. It’s one of the warm-up events – a semi-Classic – for the forthcoming cobbled Belgian Classics. Niki Terpstra (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) was back wearing the number one bib and with plenty of firepower on his team to help defend his title.  Not so a number of other one-day specialists who, still suffering from the exigencies of Milan-San Remo, had opted out of competing in the cold, wet conditions so typical in Belgium at this time of year.


Probably in an effort to keep warm, the attacks came thick and fast in the opening kilometres of the race. Initially 13 riders, all from different teams, made the initial break but the peloton was in no mood to let anyone off the leash. A number of those riders persisted and eventually a group of 14 slipped the reins on the Nieuw Kwaremont.

Cofidis’ Romain Zingle led solo over the Berendries, then a group from the original break including Gert Steegmans (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), Aleksejs Saramotins (IAM) and Mathew Hayman (Sky) – bridged, steadily buiulding an advantage of around 90 seconds with 70km left to ride. With no one taking control of the bunch and its pace disrupted by a number of minor crashes, a couple of counter-attacking salvos were fired, largely by Europcar.

Steegmans launched what he hoped would be the decisive attack on the Steenbeekdries. Hayman and then Saramotins joined him. The leading threesome were still about a minute up the road as the peloton approached the Knoteberg for the second time.

Hayman took a flyer from the leading trio and built a small advantage on to the Oude Kwaremount with 25km to go. Behind him, Maxim Iglinskiy (Astana), showing no after-effects from his endeavours at the weekend, had launched an attack from the chasing bunch and was followed by a group including Gatto, Borut Bozic (Astana), Thomas Voeckler (Europcar), Stijn Vandenbergh (OPQS), Ian ‘Hard as Nails’ Stannard (Sky) – another protagonist from Sunday – and Jens Keukeleire (Orica-GreenEDGE). Vandenbergh took charge of the pace-setting only to end up pursuing Hayman on his own as riders were shelled out the back of this chasing group.

With teammate Hayman up front, Stannard initially tried to block the chase but finally led the small chasing pack in pursuit of the leading duo who were soon to be joined firstly by Gatto, then the remaining seven riders making it a ten-man leading pack with 14km still to race and only a 30-second advantage over the peloton.

After the final climb, the Nokereberg, both Keukeleire and Stannard tried unsuccessfully to distance the others. Finally, Voeckler launched one of his trademark attacks amid much face-pulling and he managed to gain just under 20 seconds on the hotly pursuing nine-man pack with only 3km on the flat remaining. Was Tommy home and dry? Vandenbergh and Stannard had other ideas. They slowly whittled away at his lead, providing Gatto, Bozic and Hayman with the perfect launchpad in the dying metres.

After the race, the victor Gatto admitted:

Coming into the last kilometre, I thought Voeckler would make it, to be honest. I took Stannard’s wheel because I had seen how strong he was at Milan-San Remo on Sunday. He went to the front inside the final kilometre which meant that I had to launch my sprint from a long way out.

While a disappointed Voeckler explained:

I started getting cramps in the last 100 metres. I thought I was going to make it, but I could see Stannard pulling in the last kilometre. It’s a pity but that’s racing.

Indeed it is, Tommy!

Analysis & opinion

This is typically one of those races where a rider who’ll be expected to ride in support of his team leader in the upcoming Classics is given an opportunity to ride for himself. Coming so close after an epic Milan-San Remo, and also held in inclement conditions, is it any wonder that the hard men of the peloton prevailed? While it was something of a war of attrition, the podium did feature a rider (Hayman) who had been in the break for most of the day. The other two had remained alert to the possibilities and joined what was to prove the decisive break engineered by Iglinskiy. Many of those who animated the race also figured prominently at the weekend and one would have to conclude they’re in fine form for the forthcoming challenges. Bring on more of those cobbles!

Decisive attack led by Maxim Iglinskiy, look out for him in forthcoming races (image courtesy of Astana)

Decisive attack led by Maxim Iglinskiy. Look out for him in forthcoming races (image courtesy of Astana)


1. Oscar Gatto (Vini-Fantini) 4:43:22

2. Borut Bozic (Astana) same time

3. Mathew Hayman (Sky) s/t

4. Mirko Selvaggi (Vacansoleil-DCM) s/t

5. Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) s/t

6. Nikolas Maes (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) s/t

7. Jens Keukeleire (Orica-GreenEDGE) s/t

8. Maxim Iglinskiy (Astana) s/t

9. Ian Stannard (Sky) +0:05

10. Stijn Vandenbergh (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) +0:12

Link: Official website

Paris-Nice review: Porte slams the door shut for historic win

Paris-NiceRichie Porte became the first Australian winner of Paris-Nice and continued Sky’s show of force with intelligent racing and a well-drilled squad. The race was an absorbing contest between young gunslingers such as runner-up Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharp) and more experienced riders such as Porte and third-placed Jean-Christophe Peraud (Ag2r La Mondiale).

The podium l to r Talansky, Porte, Peraud (image courtesy of Sky)

(l to r) Talansky, Porte, Peraud (image courtesy of Sky)

Race summary

Before the prologue, no one picked 26-year old Frenchman Damien Gaudin (Europcar) as a potential winner. Better known as a track rider, he had yet to enjoy an individual professional win – but win he did. The podium was completed by more fancied riders: French national champion Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) and Dutch champion Lieuwe Westra (Vacansoleil-DCM) both finished a second down on the 2.9km course.

French riders continued to shine on stage one, where Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ) bested the Italian duo of Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre-Merida) and Elia Viviani (Cannondale) in the bunch sprint in a race beset by crosswinds and nervous crashes. Bouhanni adroitly rode Chavanel’s wheel, then came around him with 200 metres to go and held off Petacchi to win the stage – his second of the season – and take the leader’s jersey.

Marcel Kittel (Argos-Shimano) notched up his second victory of the season the following afternoon. The 24-year old German was the strongest and fastest on the uphill finish, well ahead of Viviani and Australian Leigh Howard (Orica-GreenEDGE). Thanks to time bonuses, Viviani took over the leader’s and points jerseys to add to his best young rider’s one. Erstwhile race leader Bouhanni fell with 57km to go and abandoned. After the day’s breakaway was caught, the peloton remained pretty much together and Tom and his magnificent Boonens (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) spent a fair time leading the bunch and protecting the team’s overall contender, Chavanel.

A stage win and a (clean0 leader's jersey for Andrew Talansky (image courtesy of Garmin- Sharp)

A stage win and a (clean) leader’s jersey for Andrew Talansky (image courtesy of Garmin- Sharp)

Andrew Talansky took an emphatic victory (Garmin-Sharp’s first of the season) on stage three’s lumpy parcours to Brioude. The 24-year old American had ridden away in the pouring rain on the treacherous, steep, twisting descent of the Cat 2 Cote de Mauvagnat with Sky’s David Lopez and Richie Porte, bridging up to a quartet who’d attacked over the climb’s summit. The seven co-operated over the final 7km, and managed to withstand a concerted chase from behind to finish seven seconds clear. Davide Malacarne (Europcar) was runner-up just ahead of Gorka Izagirre (Euskaltel-Euskadi).

The initial four-man break of the day was never allowed more than a four-minute lead and they were reeled in with just under 25km left to ride. The peloton upped the pace on the approach to the last climb on the final circuit, 15km from the finish. Andriy Grivko went clear over the summit to be joined by Sky’s Vasil Kiryienka before the latter crashed on the slippery, wet road. The six other riders went across to Grivko in two separate moves and made it all the way to the finish line. Race leader Viviani was dropped on the final climb, lost almost three minutes and handed over the yellow jersey to Talansky, the fourth rider in as many days to lead the race.

Michael Albasini (Orica-GreenEDGE) won the fourth stage by several lengths, with a perfectly timed late sprint. The Swiss rider was part of the leading bunch in the final stretch of a lumpy 199.5km stage. Kazakh Maxim Iglinskiy (Astana), who’d been a major protagonist in the final kilometre or so, was runner-up, with Slovakian Peter Velits (OPQS) third.

The day’s seven-rider break was never allowed to build a winning advantage and while two French riders, Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) and Hubert Dupont (Ag2r), slipped away in the final 25km, everyone was caught with 15km remaining. The catch prompted a flurry of counter-attacks but no one was able to make one stick and about 40 riders, including most of the GC contenders, came to the finish together. Iglinskiy jumped first only to be easily overtaken by Albasini, to record his first win of the season. Talansky finished a comfortable sixth to retain his yellow jersey.

One for the collection, Richie Porte winner of queen stage in Paris-Nice 2013 assumes leader's jersey  (image courtesy of Sky)

One for the collection, Richie Porte winner of queen stage in Paris-Nice 2013 assumes leader’s jersey (image courtesy of Sky)

Richie Porte (Sky) rode a tactically astute race on Friday’s queen stage, launching his decisive attack just over a kilometre from the summit finish. The Tasmanian, whose teammates had managed the procession up La Montagne de Lure, responded to all the attacks, including several from race leader Talansky, before launching his own.

The day’s break included veteran German hard-man Jens Voigt (RadioShack-Leopard) who attacked solo at the foot of the final climb but was reeled in by the Sky-led peloton with 7km remaining. Attacks then came thick and fast but only Denis Menchov (Katusha) was able to jump away. However, he was unable to respond as Porte sped past him and onto his solo win, but held on to finish runner-up while Talansky finished third 33 seconds down. The result shook up the GC, with Porte now leading by 32 seconds over Talansky and 42 seconds over Westra.

Sylvain Chavanel sprinted to victory (his third overall in this race) on Nice’s Promenade des Anglais, outmanoeuvring world champion Philippe Gilbert (BMC), who looked to be home and dry, and Spaniard Jose Joaquin Rojas (Movistar) on the penultimate stage six.

An 11-man break was established but was never allowed more than a three-minute advantage by the Sky team of race leader Porte. Despite an attack by Chavanel, his teammate Peter Velits and Andriy Grivko (Astana) to grab bonus seconds at the second intermediate sprint, everyone was safely back in the peloton before the final descent and fast run into Nice. Sky retained its firm grip on proceedings until the dying kilometres when BMC and Ag2r took over to set up Gilbert and the diminutive Samuel Dumoulin, who finished fourth. Chavanel’s win moved him into an unassailable lead in the points competition and up into third place overall. Johann Tschopp (IAM), who was one of the 11 out front, locked down the King of the Mountains competition.

Sunday’s final stage saw Porte take his second stage win – and with it the overall – in the time trial on the mythical Col d’Eze. He was 23 seconds faster than Talansky who rode well to defend his second place and the jersey of best young rider. Colombian Nairo Quintana (Movistar) finished in third place, four seconds behind Talansky. The only major change on GC was occasioned by Jean-Christophe Peraud (Ag2r) who, after falling at the start, finished fourth on the stage, leapfrogging from fifth to third overall, his best result ever in a WorldTour event.

Porte was delighted with his historic win:

I never had a nice experience here other than helping Bradley win last year and to come here and to win it is incredible. It will take time to sink in. I don’t really understand why I was so stressed for the last couple of days because I know this climb like the back of my hand. I’ve done it many times in training but it’s always a bit of pressure to perform when it counts. It’s great for me and for the other seven guys to come and win this Paris-Nice.

Analysis & opinion

Before the race started, there was a long list of potential contenders for the overall. But with each passing day the list grew smaller. Sky might not have sent their A-team, but their B-team proved to be better than anyone else’s. Vasil Kiryienka and David Lopez, both prominent in riding in support of Porte, are showing to have been astute acquisitions. Are they going to dominate all this season’s stage races? Only time will tell but the portents are ominous.

It was good to see young American riders such as Andrew Talansky (second overall) and BMC’s Tejay van Garderen (fourth) being given an opportunity to lead but their forces were not a match for those of the deadly stealth-like Sky-train.

Will he be doing this at any of the Classics? (image courtesy of OPQS)

Will he be doing this at any of the Classics? (image courtesy of OPQS)

Stage six winner Sylvain Chavanel slipped to fifth overall after a noteworthy ninth place in the uphill time trial – not his forte – but his overall form augurs well for the upcoming spring Classics.

It was also a very good race for the home teams with wins for Damien Gaudin (Europcar), and Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ), and a podium place for Jean-Christophe Peraud (Ag2r).

As the battle for the three Tour de France wild-cards hots up, Johann Tschopp (IAM), winner of the King of the Mountains jersey, demonstrated that his team are worthy of consideration.

General classification

1. Richie Porte (Sky) 29:59:47

2. Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharp) +0:55

3. Jean-Christophe Peraud (Ag2r La Mondiale) +1:21

4. Tejay Van Garderen (BMC) +1:44

5. Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) +1:47

6. Simon Spilak (Katusha) +1:48

7. Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida) +1:54

8. Lieuwe Westra (Vacansoleil-DCM) +2:17

9. Andreas Kloden (RadioShack Leopard) +2:22

10.Peter Velits (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) +2:28

Links: PreviewOfficial website

Happy birthday Vincenzo Nibali

Birthday boy Mr Nibbles (image courtesy of Liquigas-Cannondale)

Buon 28° compleanno allo Squalo (Happy 28th birthday to the Shark). It’s been quite a year for Vincenzo Nibali (pronounced: NEE-ba-lee and not Nib-BA-lee). He’s nicknamed the ‘Shark of Messina’ because he originally hails from Sicily, though we affectionately refer to him as ‘Nibbles’.  In the space of nine months, he’s experienced three of the five most stressful events: moving house – from Tuscany to Lugano – getting married and changing jobs.

Vincenzo moved as a junior from Sicily to Tuscany to further his cycling development. He finished third in the Junior World Championships time trial in 2002 and third in the same discipline in the under-23 category in 2004. He turned professional the following season with Fassa Bortolo. In 2007, he rode his maiden Giro d’Italia and finished 19th overall. In 2008, that early promise was confirmed with a tenth place in Liege-Basogne-Liege, 11th overall in the Giro and 20th on general classification in his first Tour de France. He’s stated that he’d like to win all three Grand Tours and already has the 2010 Vuelta a Espana in his pocket.

If we look back on his 28th year, we’ll see he hasn’t fared too badly.Vincenzo started the year as runner-up in the Tour of Oman, having won the queen stage. He finished first overall in Tirreno-Adriatico, after winning stage five and the points classification. In March, he finished third in Milan-San Remo, his first podium finish in a monument. He launched a solo attack in Liege-Bastogne-Liege on the descent of the Cote de la Roche aux Faucons and dropped his main challengers with 20km to go, but was overhauled by future teammate Maxim Iglinskiy (Astana) within the last kilometre and finished runner-up.

Vincenzo’s that rare beast, a rider who attacks on descents and he’s assumed the mantle from ‘Il Falco’, Paolo Savoldelli, of best descender in the peloton. Here he is giving us a bit of a master class on how to descend hairpin bends:

He demonstrated this skill time and time again this year, most notably in France. Vincenzo skipped his home tour to concentrate on the Tour de France and, after a solid first week, he finished fourth on the first summit finish on stage seven to rise to third in the overall standings, 16 seconds behind leader Bradley Wiggins (Sky) and six behind defending champion Cadel Evans (BMC). However, he conceded over two minutes to Wiggins in the time trial on stage nine, where he placed eighth, and slipped to fourth overall, behind Wiggins’ teammate Chris Froome. On stage ten, Vincenzo attacked on the descent of the Col du Grand Colombier and linked up with his teammate Peter Sagan, but were eventually caught by the Sky-led peloton.

We then had a spot of handbags at dawn when Vincenzo accused Wiggins of dissing him, prompting another attack on the following stage finishing atop La Toussuire, which moved him up to third overall. He attacked once more on stage 16 on the Col de Peyresourde where he was ultimately caught by the Froome-Wiggins combo and the trio all finished together. Vincenzo lost time to the pair on subsequent stages but retained his third place. Indeed, he was the only non-Sky rider to finish within ten minutes of Wiggins.

He also bagged the Giro di Padania, racked up a total of 400 points and fourth overall position in the UCI WorldTour individual rankings. A very useful points haul that was no doubt appreciated by Astana management. Finally in early October, just a week shy of his wedding, Vincenzo demonstrated his grasp of politics when he finished third behind his new boss in the Jubile Vinokourov in Monaco.

Podium at Jubile Vinokourov (image courtesy of RDW)

His move to Astana was allegedly agreed early in the year and one assumes it was prompted by a desire for a bigger pay packet [well, he needed to pay for the new house and the wedding – Ed] and a greater leadership role. However, our friends over at Cyclismas had another theory. 

Best wishes to the happy couple (image courtesy of Vincenzo Nibali)