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Cycling News February 17, 2020

Vuelta a Andalucia Ruta Ciclista Del Sol (Ruta del Sol)

The Ruta del Sol began with a lumpy stage culminating in the Category 1 ascent of the Puerto de las Palomas. Mikel Landa (Bahrain-Merida) jumped away from the peloton on the climb, and only last year’s Ruta del Sol winner, Jakob Fuglsang (Astana), could follow the Spaniard. With both Bahrain-Merida and Astana having teammates in the chase group behind, Fuglsang and Landa extended their advantage to a minute by the climb’s crest which came at 7 km to go. The duo stayed together until the final meters where Fuglsang unleashed an incredible uphill sprint to finish six seconds ahead of Landa. Dylan Teuns (Bahrain-Merida) led home a small chase group twenty some seconds later to take third on the stage.

Gonzalo Serrano (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA) attacked from the peloton with just over a kilometer to go on the final climb, and held off the chase to win Stage 2 in Iznajar. A series of late climbs saw a flurry of attacks, including one from Brandon McNulty (UAE Team Emirates) and Stefano Oldani (Lotto-Soudal) which was reeled in with just over 5 km to go. As the reduced peloton hit the steep slopes of the final 1.1 km climb, Serrano took off and there was little, if any, response from behind. Churning a big gear and swaying back and forth in the drops, Serrano held off the bunch which was led home by Juan Jose Lobato (Fundacion-Orbea), and Dylan Teuns (Bahrain-McLaren) who finished third for the second consecutive day. Fuglsang finished on the same time as the chase to maintain his overall advantage ahead of Landa.

Fuglsang doubled up on stage wins when he overcame the unfortunate duo of Teuns and Haig who nearly missed the final corner on a technical finish in Cuberga. Once again, the riders were greeted with plenty of climbs along the 177-kilometer route, and a steep finishing climb with multiple turns inside the final kilometer. Teuns has launched an attack which only Haig was able to follow, but the Australian nearly crashed as Teuns slammed on the brakes to avoid hitting the barriers in the final turn. Fuglsang was able to take full advantage, and sprinted across the line ahead of Pello Bilbao (Bahrain-McLaren) and Brandon McNulty (UAE Team Emirates). 

The mountainous roads to Grenada proved decisive in the fight for the overall at this year’s Ruta del Sol. Fuglsang attacked off of Bahrain-Merida’s leadout on the final climb – the Alto del Purche – and soon the lead group was down to just five in Fuglsang, Landa, Haig, McNulty, and Ion Izagirre (Astana). The American attacked with just a few kilometers to go to the summit, but paid for his efforts and was soon distanced along with Izagirre. The remaining trio stayed together until the final sprint, where it was the Australian Jack Haig (Mitchelton-Scott) who took the stage win ahead of Fuglsang and Landa. Haig’s result also launched him into third place in the General Classification heading into the final stage. 

After a week of near misses, Dylan Teuns (Bahrain-McLaren) finally won the closing time trial on a hilly and technical course in Mijas. Stage hunter Alex Edmondson (Mitchelton-Scott) set the early mark, but was eclipsed by GC men Teuns and Fuglsang, the latter of which came within eight-tenths of a second from snatching the stage victory, but can be more than happy with the Overall win as a consolation. Brandon McNulty put in another stellar ride to finish 5th on the day and moved up to 7th Overall. 

Mikel Landa (Bahrain-Merida) had a poor showing in the TT, and dropped to third overall, while Jack Haig (Mitchelton-Scott) moved up into second in GC behind Fuglsang. The Dane also took home the Points Classification, Floris De Tier (Alpecin-Fenix) won the Mountains Classification…

Volta ao Algarve

Fabio Jakobsen (Deceuninck-Quickstep) won the opening stage of the Volta ao Algarve in a bunch sprint that was far from guaranteed in the final kilometers. A series of climbs and rollers in the final 30 km saw major splits and favorites, such as Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Ineos) and Remco Evenepoel (Deceuninck-Quickstep), attacking off the front. But inside the final 5 km, it was all back together. Cyclocross World Champion made his highly-anticipated road debut on the day, but likely due to a very recent skiing vacation, the Dutchman was on domestique duty for his Corendon-Circus teammates. In the end, Jakobsen won by a clear margin after launching late and beating an all-star sprinter’s cast of Elia Viviani (Cofidis), Matteo Trentin (CCC Team), and Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates). 

The peloton continued to shrink as the riders approached the final climb, the Alto da Fóia, at the finish of Stage 2. Big names dropped as the road continued to climb, with Geraint Thomas and Rohan Dennis (Team Ineos) among the biggest losers. About 20 riders still remained in contention at 3 km to go, but it was the stinging attack from Remco Evenepoel (Deceuninck-Quickstep) inside the final kilometer than tore the group to shreds. The 20 year-old Belgian immediately opened up a gap, and was only challenged in the end by Maximilian Schachmann (Bora-Hansgrohe) who just caught Evenepoel’s back wheel on the line. Dan Martin (Israel Start-up Nation) claimed the final spot on the podium, while big names such as Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana Pro Team), Vincenzo Nibali, and Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) rounded out the Top 10. Evenepoel’s win also gave him the Overall leader’s jersey heading into Stage 3.

Another bunch sprint greeted the riders as they motored across the majority flat roads towards Tavira. Team Sunweb set up their leadout train from a few kilometers out, and their efforts were rewarded when Cees Bol (Team Sunweb) crossed the line first ahead of Sacha Modolo (Alpecin-Fenix) and Stage 1 winner Fabio Jakobsen (Deceuninck-Quickstep). Evenepoel finished in the bunch to retain his overall lead.

Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) powered away from a select group to take the win on Stage 4 in Malhão. Daniel Martin (Israel Start-up Nation) was the rider nearest to Lopez’s wheel, but had to settle for second the same number of digits behind the Spaniard. The seemingly unbeatable Evenepoel was beaten, as he could do little to match Lopez’s acceleration inside the final 500 meters. Nevertheless, Evenepoel finished third on the stage and maintained his overall lead heading into the final stage, a 20 km Time Trial around Lagoa.

Evenepoel sealed the Overall victory in style by winning the final day’s time trial ahead of World Champion Rohan Dennis (Team Ineos). The 20 year-old Belgian blitzed the course in record time, beating Geraint Thomas’s mark from two years ago, and putting over 30 seconds into his GC rivals, namely Schachmann, Lopez, and Costa. Is there anything Evenepoel cannot do? 

Evenepoel stood on the top step of the GC podium ahead of the trio listed above, and comfortably took home the Best Young Rider’s jersey as well. Fabio Jakobsen (Deceuninck-Quickstep) won the Points Classification, Dries De Bondt (Alpecin-Fenix) won the Mountains Classification off the back of a few successful breakaways, and Team Ineos – somewhat surprisingly, considering Kwiatkowski was their best-placed rider in 14th Overall – won the Team Classification. 

Vuelta Comunidad Valenciana Feminas

Emma Norsgaard Jørgensen (Bigla-Katusha) won from a reduced group at the end of Stage 1 of the Vuelta Comunidad Valenciana Feminas in Cullera. Arlenis Sierra (Astana) take second on the stage, while Jip Van den Bos (Boels-Dolmans) rounded out the podium in third. Former World Champion Anna Van der Breggen (Boels-Dolmans) finished 6th on the day after avoiding the crashes that plagued the final kilometers and left just 13 riders sprinting for the win. 

Van der Breggen showed off her early season form by soloing to the win on the road to Finestrat in Stage 2. After a hilly, 126-kilometer day with multiple classified climbs, Van der Breggen attacked on the final one, the 8.3km-long Alto de Tudons. The Dutchwomen quickly cut out a strong advantage over the chasing duo of Demi Vollering (Parkhotel Valkenburg) and Clara Koppenburg (Bigla-Katusha), who got within 15 seconds of closing the gap, but couldn’t quite make the catch and had to settle for the second and third spots on the podium, respectively. Van der Breggen’s win saw her carry the overall leader’s jersey heading into Stage 3. 

Lizbeth Yareli Salazar Vazquez (Astana) won the third stage out a two-rider breakaway that finished more than two and half minutes ahead of the peloton. Brit Elizabeth Holden (Bizkaia-Durango) finished second, while Sierra and Stage 1 winner Norsgaard Jørgensen led home the peloton in third and fourth, respectively. The breakaway was no threat to Van der Breggen’s overall lead, and so the Dutchwoman kept the leader’s jersey heading into Sunday’s final stage. 

American riders went 1-2 out of the breakaway on the final stage, with Leah Thomas (Bigla-Katusha) crossing the line first ahead of Katie Hall (Boels-Dolmans). Van der Breggen finished 10th on the day and sealed the GC victory ahead of Clara Koppenburg (Bigla-Katusha) and Demi Vollering (Parkhotel-Valkenburg). Greta Martuano (Top Girls Fassa Bortolo) won the Best Young Rider Classification and finished 18th Overall, and Ane Sentesteban (Ceratizit-WNT Pro Cycling) won the Mountains Classification. Margarita Victoria Garcia Cañellas of Spain won the tie-breaker to take home the Points Classification, and Bigla-Katusha won Best Team bolstered by Koppenburg’s second place finish in the Overall.

Tour des Alpes Maritimes et du Var (Haut Var)

The mountainous, three-day race attracted a number of big names in 2020, among them: last year’s winner Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ), Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale), Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo), and Nairo Quintana (Arkéa-Samsic). But a day-long breakaway foiled the favorites on Stage 1. Anthony Perez (Cofidis), Anthony Turgis (Total Direct Energie), Reinardt Janse Van Rensburg (NTT Pro Cycling) and Nigel Ellsay (Rally Cycling) went clear of the peloton in the race’s early goings, and maintained a five-minute gap just inside 40 km to go. Eventually, Ellsay was dropped, then Van Rensburg with less than 2 km to go. With the peloton hot on their heels, Perez attacked in the final few hundred meters to take the stage win ahead of Turgis. A few seconds later, Michael Storer (Team Sunweb) and Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) lead a reduced peloton across the line. 

Nairo Quintana (Team Arkea-Samsic) put on another brilliant climbing display by soloing to the win on Stage 2 of the Haut Var. The Colombian attacked part-way up the final climb of the Col d’Eze, with only Pinot able to follow. Another acceleration dislodged the Frenchman and sent the flying Colombian on his way to an emphatic victory. Simon Clarke (EF Pro Cycling) won the sprint out of a 22-rider group to finish second on the stage, while Lilian Calmejane (Total Direct Energie) claimed the final podium spot in third. 

Julien Bernard (Trek-Segafredo) won Stage 3 of the Haut Var out of a breakaway, while Nans Peters (AG2R la Mondiale) and Lars Van den Berg (Groupama-FDJ) rounded out the podium. But the story of the day was Quintana, who won his second stage race in as many weeks, and looks almost unbeatable in the mountains so far this season. The Colombian distanced everyone but Romain Bardet (AG2R la Mondiale) and Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo) on the final climb, sealing the Overall victory 40 seconds ahead of the same pairing. 

Quintana also won the Haut Var Points Classification, while Bernard took home the Mountains Classification. Hungarian rider Attila Valter (CCC Team) won the Best Young Rider Classication by finishing 10th Overall, ad Trek-Segafredo won Best Team. 

GP Leuven

Cyclocross fans were treated to a exhilarating three-way battle to close out the final weekend of the Elite men’s 2019/2020 European Cyclocross season. Toon Aerts (Telenet Baloise Lions) prevailed over Michael Vanthourenhout (Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal) and Lars van der Haar (Telenet Baloise Lions) in Leuven, Belgium. World Champion Mathieu Van der Poel chose to forgo the final few weeks of CX season, first taking a ski holiday, and then starting his 2020 road campaign at the Volta ao Algarve. 

After serving her highly controversial, six-month suspension which forced her to miss the majority of the Elite women’s 2019/2020 CX season, Denise Betsema (Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal) returned to the top step of the podium by defending her title in Leuven. Annemarie Worst finished second – again, after so many close calls this season – and former World Champion Sanne Cant (IKO–Crelan) finished her disappointing season on a high by finishing third.  

Internationale Sluitingsprijs Oostmalle

Belgian Champion Laurens Sweeck (Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal) made up for a poor showing on Saturday to end the season on a high by winning the Internationale Sluitingsprijs Oostmalle. Sweeck topped the all-Belgian podium ahead of Toon Aerts (Telenet Baloise Lions) and Michael Vanthourenhout (Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal). 

Finally, Annemarie Worst (777) finished on the top step of the podium, switching places with Denise Betsema (Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal) who had won on Saturday. Dutchwomen Inge Van der Heijden (CCC-Liv) rounded out the podium in what is probably the last big cyclocross race of the season – many riders have called an end to their 2019/2020 season, with top names such as Mathieu Van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) and Wout Van Aert (Team Jumbo-Visma) already making the transition to road – but rumor has it that there may be more cyclocross action coming up soon in Waregem.

Upcoming Race Schedule

The Classics season begins this weekend in Belgium with Omloop Het Nieuwsblad Elite where Zdeněk Štybar (Deceuninck – Quick Step) will look to defend his title from 2019. In the women’s race, the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad-vrouwen elite, Chantal Van den Broek-Blaak (Boels – Dolmans Cycling Team) will make her season debut and don #1 as defending champion. 

The week-long UAE Tour continues this week, with many eyes of Chris Froome who is making his 2020 debut following his recovery from a traumatic crash in 2019. A world-class sprinter line-up will contest the bunch sprints in the UAE, including Pascal Ackermann (Bora-Hansgrohe), Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal), Sam Bennett (Deceuninck-Quickstep), and Dylan Groenewegen (Team Jumbo-Visma). 

Many of those who forgo Omloop Het Niewsblad will instead head to the 20th Faun-Ardèche Classic, a hilly one-race in France won last year by Lilian Calmejane (Team Total Direct Energie).

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