Giro di Tom

31 May 2017

Did we not all think that he was a specialist? A time trial specialist. That Dutch guy from Maastricht, he could not possibly climb the mountains with the best climbers of the peloton. At least, that is what I thought a couple of years ago. It was in the Vuelta a España that I was forced to change my mind. In a mountain stage Tom Dumoulin beat the most steady climber of the peloton: Chris Froome. You could still say that this was just a ‘one time thing’, but he came so close to winning the Vuelta. If it was not for that bad day in the last week, then he would have won the Vuelta in 2015.

The Vuelta in 2015 made Dumoulin more ambitious. He began to think about his goals. Could it be possible that he was not just a time trial specialist? Could he change his goals and focus on mountain stages? Or even the general classification? Wearing the pink jersey in 2016 made him think even more about it. He decided to come back a year later, with an ambitious goal: a place in the top-ten of the general classification. 

We all know how that played out. He showed us, the other riders and himself that he was one of the strongest riders in the mountains. He made the 100st edition of the Giro d’Italia a special one. The rivalry with Quintana and Nibali, the ‘poo-accident’, and not to forget the time trial on the last day. The organisation could not have wished for a more nervous-wrecking finale. He made it through the finale and rode an excellent time trial. Enough to take back the pink jersey. A Dutch guy from Maastricht wins the Giro d’Italia. Now on to the next ambition.

Colombia’s New Hope

21 May 2017

Fernando Gaviria. He was born on the 19th of August, 1994. He grew up in La Ceja, Colombia. As a teenager he started to race on the track first and made quite an impression by winning the omnium and madison events at the 2012 UCI Juniors Track World Championships. In the year 2013, he signed for the Coldeportes-Claro team, the Colombian continental team with a lot of Colombian talents. In 2014, he won the omnium at the UCI Track World Championships. In 2015, he participated in the Tour de San Luis, a race early in the season. He won two sprint stages, beating Mark Cavendish twice. Cavendish stated that he never heard of Gaviria before, but he thought that it was impressive that such a young guy could beat him twice. He won the omnium at the UCI Track World Championships again and some European cycling teams started to follow him. By the end of 2015, the Etixx – Quick-Step team signed him for three months as a trainee. He directly showed that he was not just a ‘talent’ by winning a stage in the Czech Cycling Tour and a stage in the Tour of Britain. Of course, Etixx – Quick-Step signed him up for the next two years.
In 2016, Gaviria was on his way to win his first monument in Milano – Sanremo. He was about to sprint for the victory, but lost focus for two seconds and touched another wheel with his front wheel. He was on the ground before he knew it. He claimed that it was his own fault and he was in tears after the crash. But this also showed that he could manage to stay with the favorites after more than 250 kilometres of racing. Nevertheless, this year was a year with a lot of beautiful victories with a stage win in Tirreno – Adriatico and winning Paris – Tours.
In 2017, his team decided that it was time for his first Grand Tour and they let him start at the Giro d’Italia. Stage one went to André Greipel, stage two to Caleb Ewan, but after that the ‘Fernando Gaviria show’ began. He won stage three and even wore the pink jersey for one day. He won stage five and a couple of days ago impressed again by winning stage twelve and thirteen. He can become one of the best sprinters of the peloton if he goes on like this. Still, the young guy is not only dreaming of the Tour de France. He has shown in Milano – Sanremo that he is capable of winning a classic someday. In Gent – Wevelgem he ended in the top-ten twice. This means that he is a lot more than just a sprinter. And he stated that he always wants to win something new. Who knows what the future holds for him? Fernando Gaviria. He is on his way to become Colombia’s new hope.

© David Powell and Brakethrough Media

The Legends Of The Giro d’Italia

The Giro d’Italia takes place for the 100th time. It is hard to grasp that for over 108 years so many riders participated in this race and have ridden the roads in Italy. The first years were only covered in the newspapers, later it was broadcasted on the radio, today we watch the race on television and follow it through social media. There were heavy battles between riders, long sprints, scary descents and tragic moments  during all these years. Of course there are some memories that we should never forget and those memories are beautiful stories from 100 years of cycling in the Giro d’Italia.

The Giro started in the year 1909, when the owners of the local newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport thought that it was a good idea to promote their newspaper a bit more by organising a cycling race. In that first year, 115 riders took off for eight stages. Only 49 riders made it to the finish in Milano. The first winner of the Giro d’Italia was Luigi Ganna. Riding a bike was easy for him, because he worked as a bricklayer and to get to and from his job he had to ride almost 100 kilometres every day. The Italian fans called him the ‘the King of Mud’. In that time, Italy was a poor country and the roads were not paved yet. Luigi Ganna proved time after time that he managed to get over these roads fast, no matter how hard it rained or how dirty the roads were. Sadly enough he only won the Giro this one time.

Another more known legend of the Giro d’Italia was Alfredo Binda, who won the Giro five times. He dominated cycling in the twenties and thirties of the last century. Sometimes he was asked not to come to the start of a race. People were afraid that he would win again and that it would take all the excitement away. Alfredo Binda first worked as a plasterer, but he would spent his free time on the bike. Together with his brother they explored the roads around their town on their bikes. Binda started racing in the south of France, but soon returned to Italy. He won the Giro d’Italia for the first time in 1925 and the Italian fans soon called him ‘the Champion of the Champions’. He was an excellent climber, but also showed that he could ride a good time trial and had the power to beat the sprinters. He has won 41 stages in the Giro d’Italia. That is a lot, but he does not hold the record. His second win came in 1927, the third and fourth in 1928 and 1929. His last victory was in 1933. This was also the year that the Giro added a time trial to the race for the first time. Of course, Alfredo Binda won the time trial. He dominated the Giro again, wearing the pink jersey for thirteen out of the seventeen days. He did not manage to win the Giro again after this. Young boys were getting stronger and he was not getting any younger. He quit cycling in the year 1936 and became a cycling manager. He eventually was the manager of two other legends: Fausto Coppi and Gino Bartali.

Just like Alfredo Binda, Fausto Coppi managed to win the Giro d’Italia five times. Coppi was born in the industrial north and worked as a delivery boy for a butcher. He was the one that delivered the meat to the customers and made a lot of kilometres on the bike. As soon as he started as a professional rider, he became very popular. In that day and age, he was a modern rider. He followed a strict diet and introduced the nowadays well-known training schedules. His first victory of the Giro was in 1940. He was only twenty years old. After this year, the Giro was not held until after the second World War. Some say that Fausto Coppi could have won a lot more races, if the War did not happen. Still, it did happen and after the War was over, Coppi made up for the lost years. He won the race again in 1947, 1949, 1952 and 1953. He has won 22 stages in the Giro d’Italia. He died tragically in 1960, the reason was an untreated malaria infection. In 1965 there was named a prize after him in the Giro, the ‘Cima Coppi’. It is the highest point of the Giro and the rider who will pass this point first, wins the prize. The prize still exists and is awarded every year. Fausto Coppi is also still the youngest rider to ever win a grand Tour.

His greatest rival during his career was Gino Bartali. It literally split Italy in two. While Fausto Coppi was a modern rider from the north, Gino Bartali was the catholic and conservative rider from the south, eating pasta for breakfast and racing every race he could. He first worked in a cycling shop and so he spent his days around bicycles. He has won the Giro three times, in 1936,  1937 and 1946. He has claimed 17 stage wins during his career in the Giro. Gino Bartali sometimes suffered from mental breakdowns and at those times he sometimes lost a lot of time on the other favorites. But he was a genius at times on the bike as well, leaving all the others behind and finishing solo. The rivalry with Fausto Coppi made him and Coppi better riders. During his career, he never trusted Coppi and even accused Coppi of cheating sometimes. In 1954 he ended his career and strangely enough, became good friends with Fausto Coppi.

We can call the Passo dello Stelvio also a legend. Fourty-eight corners, 2758 metres high, and the first introduction to this mountain in the Giro d’Italia took place on the first of June, 1953. The next day the race would finish in Milano. Hugo Koblet, Fausto Coppi and Gino Bartali could still win the race and started to climb the Stelvio together. Coppi attacked and neither Koblet or Bartali could follow. Coppi won on the top of the Stelvio and took more than three minutes on Koblet. The next day Coppi claimed his fifth victory of the Giro. This year the Stelvio will be a part again of the Giro d’Italia.

Who would have thought that many years later a Belgium rider would dominate the Giro five times? It is Eddy Merckx. He has won the Giro in 1968, 1970, 1972, 1973 and 1974. Five times. Claiming 18 stage wins. He wore the pink jersey for 78 days in total and that record still stands.

Mario Cipollini is a sprint legend for the Italians. On and off the bike. It was almost impossible to beat him in the sprints. Until 2003, Alfredo Binda held the record for most stage wins in the Giro, but it was Mario Cipollini who took over that record, claiming 42 stages in total.

The Giro d’Italia. Some say it is the hardest race of the year. Some say it is too hard. Some say that they cannot live without it. All this is true, but the Giro is the Grand Tour with passion and excitement. It is the first big race of the year and we are always keen to see the ‘big’ riders work for a good classification, to see riders sprint for the first place and to discover a new talent and watch him grow during the race. The Giro isn’t just ‘good practice’ for the Tour de France. It became clear over the years that it is a unique race with beautiful climbs and fantastic views. No wonder the Italian people are so proud of having this race in their country. They should celebrate and they do this by covering every city and little town in pink and by going out into the streets to cheer the riders on. It shows that the Giro is in the heart of the Italians. And although most of us were not born in Italy, there is a little bit of Giro in our hearts too.

Photos Amstel Gold Race 2017

Amstel Gold Race 2017 / 16 April / Maastricht-Vilt

The Amstel Gold Race always starts at the Grote Markt in Maastricht, a beautiful place in the south of the Netherlands. But this time the presentation on the podium was pretty special, because for the first time in years, the women were present too. A lot of classics have been added to the women’s calendar in the past years and this year the Amstel Gold Race was added as well. A lot of female riders were psyched about riding this race, because they had asked for it for so long. The winner of the women’s edition of the race was Anna van der Breggen.

The breakaway of the day consisted of 12 riders: Lars Boom (TLJ), Tim Ariesen (RNL), Stijn Vandenbergh (ALM), Pieter Vanspeybrouck (WGG), Kenneth Van Rooy (SVB), Nikita Stalnov (AST), Mads Würtz Schmidt (KAT), Michal Paluta (CCC), Brendan Canty (CDT), Johann van Zyl (DDD), Vincenzo Albanese (BAR) and Fabien Grellier (DEN). This group was able to stay away for almost 200 kilometres, but Team Sunweb, Lotto and BMC fought hard to get them back.

Then a new group was formed with Philippe Gilbert (QST), Michal Kwiatkowski (SKY), Sergio Henao (SKY), Michael Albasini (ORS), José Joaquím Rojas (MOV), Ion Izagirri (TBM), Nathan Haas (DDD) and Bert-Jan Lindeman (TLJ). At the Bemelerberg, Kwiatkowski and Gilbert were the ones who got away and got to fight for the victory. It was Philippe Gilbert who won the sprint à deux.

So the 52nd edition of the Amstel Gold Race was exciting to watch until the very end, where Philippe Gilbert managed to secure his fourth Amstel Gold Race victory. Gilbert also won this year’s Ronde van Vlaanderen, so this was already the second classic that he added to his palmares this year. Michael Albasini (ORS) became third and was a bit disappointed about his result, because he had hoped for a bunch sprint. Kwiatkowski wasn’t able to beat Gilbert in the sprint. “He fought and came back in those final metres. Gilbert is a champion, we must not forget that.” Unfortunately after the race it turned out that Gilbert had a serious kidney injury due to a crash and has to take some time off to recover.


Dear Greg

9 April 2017

Dear Greg,

How does it feel? How does it feel to win one of the monuments? It was not your favorite, I know. But it is Paris-Roubaix, so you should be grateful. It is one of the hardest races of the season. I don’t have to tell you that. The dust, the cobbles, the dirty French roads. It is the hell on earth and today you became one of the legends of the ‘Hell of the North’.

It was a nervous race. All eyes were on Tom Boonen and on you. After your second place in last week’s Tour of Flanders you became one of the favorites for the win today. You were patient. You waited for a chance to get away from the other favorites. With six other riders you entered the Carrefour de l’Arbre. Immediately you placed an attack and only Zdenek Stybar and Sebastian Langeveld were able to follow. The three of you stayed together until the Velodrome. Although Jasper Stuyven and Gianni Moscon returned in the last hundred metres, because you and the other two started to look at each other. None of them had a chance. Stybar took off for the final sprint, but you came after him with way more power in your legs. He knew that. The whole season, you are unbeatable in the sprints. Today was no difference.

They will never ask you again when you will win a big monument. The pressure is off. Although you will keep putting pressure on yourself, because the job is not done yet. Next year there is another Tour of Flanders to ride, another Paris-Roubaix. Now that you know how it feels to win a monument, I am sure you are eager enough to win more. And I am sure that those wins will come.

© Photo News

© Paris-Roubaix

Three Out Of Five

2 April 2017

He was ascending the Oude Kwaremont. There was still 55 kilometres to go in the 101st edition of the Tour of Flanders. Boonen told him to to take the lead and he did. When he looked over his shoulder, there was no one in his wheel. Panic. What to do next? Should he wait for the others? Or should he continue on his own? Without any help, just his own legs to count on. In the final there is still the Oude Kwaremont and the Patersberg to climb again. Hesitation. He screamed in his earphone.

“What should I do?”

When they told him to continue on his own, he did. How was he supposed to know that it would become the biggest time trial of his life? He was nervous, he was asking more than once how many seconds the others were behind. Meanwhile, his legs were doing the job.

Woosh, woosh, woosh, woosh.

There goes the national champion of Belgium. His last monument was in 2014. The Amstel Gold Race. This is Flanders. This is different. This is climbing, bad roads, cobblestones, heavy lungs beating in his chest. This was one of the monuments that he was still dreaming about. He suffered on the climb of the Oude Kwaremont. Thousands of people along the road were cheering for him. “You can do it, Gilbert.” He looked over his shoulder again. What happened? How many seconds? He shouted to the man on the motor…

Combien de secondes?
Dis moi, je veux savoir!

Fourty-five seconds. Fourty-five seconds. Sagan crashed, Van Avermaet crashed too and was hurt, but still chasing. He knew he had to keep going. If Van Avermaet got to him, he was not sure about the victory anymore.

Woosh, woosh. Woosh. Woosh.

He suffered, but he kept going. There was not another option. He could almost feel his heart beating in his throat. All those people along the roads waving with the Belgium flag. For him. Only one kilometre to go. Another look over his shoulder. There was no one in his wheel. The finish line was getting closer and closer. It was only a few metres away when he got off his bike. He held it above his head and stepped over the finish line.

The winner of the Tour of Flanders is named Philippe Gilbert, 34 years old. Going to Quick Step Floors was his last chance to win a monumental race again. Last week he already showed that he was not an outsider, but one of the favorites for the win. The victory of today has proven that he was the strongest of them all.

© Joris Knapen