De Gendt defies windy conditions for prestigious Ventoux win

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MONT VENTOUX, France (AP) Thomas De Gendt hates riding in the wind. With gusts reaching 130 kph at the Mont Ventoux on Thursday, the Belgian rider was worried he might not even reach the finish inside the time limit.

He ended up claiming the biggest win of his career.

De Gendt won the wind-shortened and chaotic 12th stage of the Tour de France on the “Giant of Provence” on Thursday after getting into an early breakaway and easily sprinting past fellow Belgian Serge Pauwels on the steep slopes.

“Usually these stages are the stages I’m the most afraid of because of the time limit,” De Gendt said. “With the wind I was afraid I could drop in the last group and miss the cut for the time limit because I can’t ride in the wind.”

Organizers moved the finish line six kilometers (3 1/2 miles) down the road to the Chalet Reynard because of the wind. It was still a grueling 10-kilometer (six-mile) climb featuring several sections with gradients exceeding 10 percent.

De Gendt, who finished third at the Giro d’Italia in 2012 after posting another prestigious victory at the Stelvio Pass that year, and Pauwels fought for victory from a breakaway group that set off only a few kilometers after the start.

They built a maximum lead of more than 18 minutes before Etixx-Quick Step riders accelerated and split the bunch. De Gendt, who rides for the Lotto Soudal team, benefited from the unexpected help of teammate Andre Greipel, a star sprinter with limited abilities in mountain stages.

After bringing bottles to De Gendt throughout the stage, Greipel attacked at the foot of the Ventoux in a move that forced other riders to show their cards.

“Immediately, we saw who the stronger guys were,” De Gendt said. “And during the stage, he also did most of the pulling in the leading group. Today, he tried to do a little bit more for me. It shows how great Andre Greipel is ready to work for smaller riders.”

De Gendt then attacked with four kilometers left and outsprinted Pauwels at Chalet Reynard to seize the best climber’s polka-dot jersey. A few kilometers behind, race leader Chris Froome was involved in crash caused by a TV motorbike but was allowed to keep the yellow jersey after the Tour race jury ruled he lost time in unfair circumstances.

De Gendt said his next goal will be to win a stage at the Spanish Vuelta in order to complete a full set of Grand Tour stage victories.

Cycling’s top riders set for Tour of California next month

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LOS ANGELES (AP) The top men’s and women’s teams will compete next month in the Amgen Tour of California, the premier U.S. cycling race.

The men will cover 645 miles over seven stages from Long Beach to Sacramento from May 13 to May 19. The women will have three of the top five teams for their three-day, 187-mile race that starts May 17 in Elk Grove.

Race owner AEG announced Thursday that Pete Sagan will ride for the BORA-hansgrohe team while Mark Cavendish will go for Team Dimension Data and be joined by Rafal Majka.

Tony Gallopin of AG2R La Mondiale is in the men’s field. So is LottoNL-Jumbo’s Nielson Powless, the race’s best young rider in 2016.

The women feature 2016 champion Megan Guarnier of USA Cycling National Team, Katie Hall of UnitedHealthcare and Kasia Niewiadoma of Canyon/SCRAM.

Niki Terpstra wins Tour of Flanders

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OUDENAARDE, Belgium — Niki Terpstra continued his fine form by winning the Tour of Flanders classic with a well-timed late attack on Sunday, becoming the first Dutch rider in more than 30 years to win the race.

Terpstra caught a mini-breakaway group of three riders on the final climb, and the Quick-Step Floors rider moved too far ahead to be caught. Danish rider Mads Pedersen finished second and Belgian rider Philippe Gilbert – last year’s winner – was third.

“It’s a dream come true. Winning Paris-Roubaix (in 2014) and now the Tour of Flanders,” Terpstra said. “Those two races were always a big dream for me when I was young kid. I was already crazy about those two races, I can’t describe how happy I am.”

The previous Dutchman to win the Tour of Flanders was Adri van der Poel in 1986, and this was Terpstra’s second classics win in quick succession. He also won the E3 Harelbeke on March 23.

As he neared the line in Oudenaarde, after 263 kilometers (163 miles) of grueling riding in tricky conditions, Terpstra looked round three times to see where Pedersen was. Finally, he knew victory was assured and raised his arms in the air as he free-wheeled the last 20 meters.

Along with the rain and chilly temperatures, riders weren’t helped by a stray car driving on the course in the Flemish town of Aalst, about 60 kilometers into the race.

Startled riders cautiously navigated around the slow-moving gray car, or moved aside. After a few moments, the driver finally managed to get off the course.

The race, also known as De Ronde, is one of five higher-profile classics along with Milan-San Remo, Paris-Roubaix, Liege-Bastogne-Liege and the Giro di Lombardia.

It features 18 short but punishing climbs and five cobblestone sections.

Terpstra caught the front three – which included Pedersen – on the final grueling Paterberg cobble climb and opened up a comfortable lead.

Earlier, a crash on a slippery road took down some 10 riders, sending one of them rolling into a roadside ditch. It was similar to a crash during last year’s race, which took down 2016 winner Peter Sagan. He was not caught up in it this time.

Sagan, who won the Gent-Wevelgem classic for the third time last Sunday, finished sixth.

With 40 kilometers left, the front trio of Pedersen and Dutch pair Sebastian Langeveld and Dylan van Baarle led by about 30 seconds.

Approaching the final 25 kilometers, Italian rider Vicenzo Nibali, the 2014 Tour de France champion, launched a surprise attack. But he did not get far before being caught by the pack.

After catching the front three, Terpstra opened up a lead of 40 seconds. Sagan attacked with 16 kilometers left, deciding it was time to chase him down. But he realized it was a futile chase and eased up with eight kilometers left.

Paris-Roubaix, known as the “Hell of the North” for its even more challenging cobbles, is next Sunday. Last year, Olympic road champion Greg Van Avermaet overtook Zdenek Stybar just before the line in a thrilling finish.

But Terpstra will be the rider to stop.