Porte's Paris-Nice dreams over after a second day of time losses

If one was hoping for a deep analysis of BMC Racing‘s disappointing performance on stage 2 of Paris-Nice then talking to the riders wasn’t the best place to start.

Dripping wet and shivering in the cold conditions, only Nicolas Roche offered up any dialogue as he clambered onto the bus. ‘I feel dead’ the Irishman said after a brutal day of racing that saw Richie Porte‘s chances of winning the race implode after the Australian lost over 14 minutes.

During the morning briefing, BMC and Porte team knew that the weather would play its part, with driving rain and wind once again on the menu. The loss of Michael Schär, who crashed out on stage 1, was a blow but the team truly felt the effects once Porte and his teammates were scattered in the blustery conditions on the road to Amilly.

“It was a really hard day for us. Of course we lost Schär yesterday and he was an important guy for this sort of race,” Valerio Piva told Cyclingnews.

“Without this guy we couldn’t keep Richie in the front. Richie was there but in one moment he was in a bad position and no one was there for us. He was dropped and of course with this weather, and temperature it’s not the best for him.”

Piva was in the team’s second car during the stage but was aware of the team’s situation when race radio crackled into life and confirmed Porte’s predicament.

“We tried to come back, and in the feed zone it was more or less 1:30 to the leaders. But then at the front there were more attacks and we’ve lost the chance today for GC. We will continue but we’ll look forward. It was a bad day but that was the race.”

The question will inevitably be why Porte – a former winner of this race and a genuine contender for the Tour de France podium – was left isolated at such a vital moment in the race. The remaining six BMC riders rallied around their leader but the damage was already done. If stage 1 was a mini-disaster, Monday’s stage was game over in the battle for GC.

Piva pointed to the weather but also the line-up BMC chose for this race.

“This race is very hard in the final and we’ve brought more riders here who can follow on the climbs. I repeat, we had Schar here to do this job and he was there with Francisco Ventoso and Danilo [ed. Wyss] but we know the job Schar does for Greg Van Avermaet in the Classics and missing one guy was the big problem.”

“We knew in the morning that it would be a difficult day to stay at the front. A lot of leaders were a bit in trouble, and everyone was alone, but Richie was too far behind. He had a problem with the cold, and he lost too much time around the feed zone.”

With the yellow jersey out of reach BMC will be forced to turn their attention to stage wins. In Porte, Roche and Alessandro De Marchi they certainly have options.

“Stage [wins] are possible, and we’ll try for something. We’ll show that we’re still a big team.”

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The truth about cycling and asthma

As Team Sky continues to crisis manage the fallout from leaked TUE records, David Bradford hunts for the truth about the prevalence, effects and treatment of asthma among cyclists

With Bradley Wiggins and British Cycling in the spotlight over the use of Therapeutic Use Exemptions (TUE) in relation to Asthma medication, concerns over TUEs providing a grey area for some athletes to gain a performance advantage are once again in the headlines.

In April 2016, Simon Yates was banned after testing positive for terbutaline, a less potent asthma drug but one for which his team had failed to obtain the necessary TUE. All of which poses the question: what’s the deal with asthma and cyclists?

Why do so many riders appear to require medication to help them breathe, and are they really gaining an advantage?

Cycling Weekly spoke to another Olympic medallist cyclist whose asthma- related TUEs were leaked, sprinter Callum Skinner.

We also paid a visit to Dr John Dickinson, the UK’s foremost expert on asthma in sport, to find out if breathing problems really do affect as many cyclists as pro-related stats seem to imply, and if so, whether us normal riders should be getting tested too.

Getting the lowdown

Dickinson is head of the respiratory clinic at the University of Kent, and carries out breathing assessments at Medway Park Sports Centre.

He has tested Olympians and elite athletes from almost every sport, including GB cyclists and members of Team Sky.

His slightly less illustrious job today is to check the airways of CW’s art editor Dan Baines and photographer Dan Gould, while helping us understand why asthma has become such a hot topic in cycling.

The first point for Dickinson to clarify is why such a high proportion of elite cyclists apparently suffer from asthma.

Thankfully doping controls are present at races all around the world

An assessment of the British Cycling team before the 2004 Olympics showed that around 40 per cent had asthma compared to only about eight per cent of the general population. For Dickinson, this discrepancy stands to reason.

“Athletes are far more prone to asthma-related problems, mainly because of the environments they’re exposed to and the conditions required by the sport, such as the high breathing rates over prolonged periods.

“Cycling is done outdoors, often in dry, polluted air — there are lots of reasons for the high prevalence.”

Given that amateur riders are exposed to as many asthma-triggering factors as the pros perhaps even more in some cases, e.g. urban commuters breathing polluted air — we are just as likely to develop symptoms.

>>> Cyclists exposed to five times less air pollution than those in cars, experiment suggests

Does this mean that all of us should get tested? “Yes,” says Dickinson, “when we work with squads of elite athletes, we test everybody — it clears up any doubt.”

He explains that not all GPs are sufficiently equipped (or informed) to accurately assess asthma-related conditions such as exercise-induced bronchospasm (EIB), and sometimes prescribe medication without adequate investigation of the symptoms.

“[Many athletes] who have been given an inhaler find that it doesn’t stop their symptoms, and then they can get panicky and start to doubt their [athletic] ability. It might be that they don’t have asthma or not as the main cause of their symptoms. We can quantify the severity, and make them more aware of the causes.”

There is a widely held suspicion that athletes get themselves diagnosed as asthmatic in order to access medications that will boost their performance, i.e. as a shady marginal gain.

Dickinson dismisses this theory as illogical and unfounded.

“We know that therapeutic doses of inhalers don’t touch performance, so if you’re a non-asthmatic taking a couple of puffs of salbutamol, it’s not going to do anything for you. We have plenty of research proving that.”

No silver bullet

That research has shown that beta-2 agonists, the swift-acting medications that in asthmatics relieve constriction in the airways, have negligible effect on performance among non-asthmatics.

It isn’t possible to improve your ventilation or induce “super lungs” by puffing on an inhaler, adds Dickinson. “Endurance- wise, there is no advantage.”

He cites one potential marginal gain from these drugs, but it’s one he believes would be cancelled out by the inevitable side effects.

“A couple of studies have shown that if you take the maximum therapeutic doses [of inhaled beta-agonists], there is a potential to improve sprint performance but, to be honest, you’d have to take a shed-load, and the increased heart rate, shakes and palpitations would counteract the advantage.”

What about for someone who does have asthma? Presumably their performance is markedly improved by taking effective medication?

>>> Steve Cummings explains his TUE for asthma medication

“It’s difficult to say because no studies have been done,” Dickinson says, emphasising that the principal goal of asthma treatment is prevention, not performance.

“We’re all about getting athletes to manage their condition. If you have a good prevention plan in place, you should eliminate the need to have a puff on the inhaler while riding. It’s down to education. Good asthma management results in better quality training.”

The commonly prescribed inhaled asthma medications, most of which are allowed without a TUE, would not significantly enhance performance even if they were abused, insists Dickinson.

Harder to resolve are suspicions surrounding the more potent tablet and injected forms of the asthma drugs called corticosteroids (or glucocorticoids), such as triamcinolone — the substance for which Wiggins was granted a TUE before the 2011 and 2012 editions of the Tour de France.

>>> Team Sky doctor prevented Richard Freeman from applying for a fourth Bradley Wiggins TUE

There is no doubting corticosteroids can be effective and necessary treatments for asthma and allergies, but questions remain over whether Wiggins’s use of triamcinolone — a drug known to be performance-enhancing — was clinically and ethically justified.

Dickinson refrains from passing judgement on Wiggins, but admits: “I had to look up [triamcinolone] because I don’t come into contact with athletes who are using it — it is stronger than oral corticosteroids.

If inhalers alone aren’t working, you’d usually go to an oral corticosteroid; the intra-muscular forms are even stronger.”

Such potent injections are prescribed only in cases where the asthma patient is seriously unwell, explains Dickinson.

But Wiggins was nearing his competitive peak. Was he really in a bad enough state to need this medication?

“It’s difficult for me to say, not having assessed him at the time,” says Dickinson,

>>> Bradley Wiggins: corticosteroid use ‘wasn’t about trying to gain an unfair advantage’

“But sometimes I think the medics looking after those conditions think, let’s make sure he doesn’t have the problem [in subsequent training and racing] by using the strongest possible drugs available.”

Prescribing in this way inevitably rouses suspicions, admits Dickinson.

“The difficulty is, should that athlete [once granted a TUE] then be allowed to compete, because we know of the potential performance-enhancing effects of that drug, and we know [given the medication] they might not be healthy enough to compete.

>>> David Millar: ‘I took powerful, dangerous drug thanks to TUE loophole’

From a health as much as a performance point of view, maybe the rules should say, if you’re taking that, you can’t compete for two weeks.”

In Dickinson’s experience, only a tiny minority of riders with asthma-related problems apply for TUEs; nothing he has seen makes him suspect widespread foul play.

“It’s quite rare. I think sometimes stronger drugs are resorted to earlier than they’re really needed, but I’ve worked with only a handful of athletes who have needed an oral corticosteroid.”

Whether Wiggins and his advisers were just being extremely cautious we may never know.

What we do know is that respiratory issues are very common among cyclists, and suspicions over certain rare treatments should not deter anyone from seeking medical assessment and, if necessary, treatment.

And, to back up those words with actions, step forward, Cycling Weekly’s two Dans…

CW gets tested

CW art editor Dan Baines has no previous history of asthma but sometimes suffers from pollen allergies. He figured it would be worthwhile getting thoroughly assessed, if only for peace of mind.

The first test measures the amount of nitric oxide in the breath: levels above 25 parts per billion may indicate inflamed airways, a characteristic of asthma and some allergies. Dan scores 40 — no great shock, given his known allergies.

The next step is to measure the size and speed of his exhalation: the volume of each big breath and the time it takes to get it all out.

After a few big huffs, Dan hits a PB exhalation of 4.94 litres, 85 per cent of which is expelled within one second.

These are healthy numbers, according to Dickinson, well above the average for Dan’s age (40) and stature (179cm, 76kg), and giving him a ‘lung age’ of 35.

Now for the critical part: Dan must breathe piped, dry air at around 85 per cent of his maximum ventilation rate for six minutes — as though he were riding briskly up a climb.

This procedure is designed to trigger an asthma response in anyone with susceptible airways.

Once the six-minute pant-athon is completed, after a short rest Dan has his peak puff retested, and achieves 4.73 litres, 83 per cent of which is exhaled within one second — only two per cent down on the initial test.

It’s a textbook negative result, confirms Dickinson. If that latter figure (the proportion of air expelled within one second) had fallen by more than 10 per cent, Dan would have been facing an asthma diagnosis.

As it is, he’s in the clear, but there is one more round of huffing for him to do…

Just to test Dickinson’s assertion that asthma inhalers offer no advantage to those who don’t have the condition, Dan takes a couple of puffs of salbutamol, then undergoes the maximal breath test once more.

The result is just as Dickinson predicted: no change from Dan’s initial test — the salbutamol has had no effect.

Dan goes away knowing that his airways remain unconstricted even when provoked by harsh conditions — and, what’s more, the temptation to take a cheeky pre-ride toke on his daughter’s inhaler has been completely quashed!

A picture of health?

Just for fun, we coax CW photographer Dan Gould to the test bench.

He was diagnosed with asthma as a child but in recent years has foregone medication in an attempt to ‘train through’ the symptoms.

In the first test, for exhaled nitric oxide, Dan G produces a result of 100 parts per billion — four times higher than the 25 threshold, indicating significantly inflamed airways.

In the next test, establishing a baseline, he exhales 5.09 litres in total but only 3.29 litres of it, 65 per cent, within one second, which for Dickinson is a conspicuous red flag.

It’s the kind of lung function he would expect in someone in their late 50s. Dan is 28.

Not so confident about training his asthma into submission, Dan takes a dose of salbutamol and resits the test. This time, he exhales 3.71 litres of the total within one second — a 10 per cent improvement.

“This is a significant reversal of airway constriction,” says Dickinson, hiding his bewilderment that Dan has shunned treatment for so long, “and evidence of an asthmatic condition.”

He calmly explains to Dan that taking medication will have multiple benefits: keeping his airways open, improving exercise performance, and quite likely limiting the long-term damage and deterioration that can result from inflammation.

‘Let’s not forget, TUEs are for athlete welfare’

Callum Skinner, who won gold and silver medals at the Rio Games, spoke to CW about the leak of his TUEs and why he responded by publishing his NHS medical records.

Skinner’s TUE certificates, leaked after the Rio Olympics, show that he was prescribed oral prednisolone, a glucocorticoid, on November 6, 2014, shortly before the London round of the Track World Cup; and the beta-2 agonist salbutamol for two days, January 25-26, 2016.

He responded by publishing NHS records showing that he has suffered from asthma since childhood and has four times been admitted to hospital.

Was he aware of the potential performance-enhancing effects of prednisolone before taking it during competition?

“No. For me, the TUEs were purely for health reasons.”

“As my health records show, I was prescribed prednisolone on two or three occasions as a child. It was a substance that had been previously helpful for my health.”

Callum Skinner (GBR) sets a new Olympic Record in the qualifier for the 2016 Olympic track sprint – only to see it broken minutes later by compatriot Jason Kenny

Is it a substance he has also taken out of competition, when no TUE is required?

“I’d have to consult my notes, but maybe. As you can see in my childhood medical history, it was a bit of a go-to treatment, so I wouldn’t be surprised.”

Skinner is quick to point out that at the competition in question, the 2014 London Track World Cup, his performance was “one of the worst of my career” — implying that the prednisolone proved unhelpful, and supporting his reflection that “I should have been tucked up in bed”.

>>> Who is Callum Skinner, Britain’s new star sprinter?

Indeed, Skinner says that in similar circumstances the following year he opted not to compete — despite competitive pressures: “[Missing major events] is quite dangerous in an Olympic year because if you step out of that position as man-three, there is always someone there who is willing to pick it up.”

He is reconciled to the realisation that sometimes rest is the only sensible option.

“That’s the strategy now, where if my chest is compromised, we probably won’t be applying for an in-competition TUE. Unfortunately, we’ll need to step back from competition and recover.”

Is this change in approach partly to avoid further TUE controversy? “No. If there was a TUE that was genuinely needed for my health, I would have no apprehension in applying for it. I think this is where it could get a little bit dangerous for athletes going forward because these [TUEs] are fundamentally for athlete welfare, that’s their first purpose, and it’s important that is respected.”

I moot to Skinner the idea that certain TUEs should come with a stipulation that the athlete take a week or fortnight’s break from competition, for health as well as anti-doping reasons.

“That could be a good step forward,” he says, “but there are lot of complexities in the TUE system, and different people respond to these treatments very differently.

“I think ultimately it has to be at the doctor’s discretion.”

Would Skinner encourage other pro cyclists to follow his example and disclose medical records to help foreground their TUEs?

>>> Callum Skinner publishes medical records to prove his ‘asthma is real’

“I think that’s personal. I felt backed into a corner a little bit [when my TUE] documents were put out with no context attached to them…

“It’s a shame we’re at this point where we have to continually give up more and more privacy to protect clean sport, but if that’s necessary, then for me.

“Clean sport is more important than my own privacy.”

Callum Skinner collecting his Team Sprint gold medal at the Rio 2016 Olympic games

Are asthma meds performance-enhancing?

CW spoke to Morten Hostrup, assistant professor in human and molecular biology at the University of Copenhagen, who researches the effects of asthma medications on exercise performance.

What are the effects of injected corticosteroids such as triamcinolone on performance?

There are acute effects after having an injection, including a glycogen-sparing effect, which would be good in an endurance race such as a stage race, because it would boost fat oxidisation and release more glucose from the liver into the bloodstream. That would last for several hours.

These drugs have a central effect as well, inducing a feeling of euphoria or improved mood, which may blunt fatigue.

David Millar claimed that triamcinolone had a powerful effect on reducing his body fat. Is that feasible?

Yes, these substances mobilise your fat stores and increase your oxidation of fats, particularly if used in combination with other drugs such as beta-agonist asthma drugs, which boost energy expenditure.

Would Wiggins have benefited from the injections he had before major stage races in 2011, 2012 and 2013?

It depends on the way he took it and how much he took. If he did use it, it may be that he had some advantage, but it’s highly individual, so it’s difficult to say.

He followed the rules, so I wouldn’t want to speculate.

Are the current rules governing the use of asthma medications sufficient, in your view?

The current regulations are in some ways lenient, in that, out of competition you are allowed to use [glucocorticoids] as you wish.

If you want to use them in competition, a TUE is required, but it’s known from former dopers that they got a TUE to use, say, a skin cream but then just got it in intravenous or intramuscular form.

For sure, you can misuse the current regulations; this is how it will always be with doping restrictions — grey areas on the edge of what’s ethical.

What about the more common asthma drugs for which no TUE is needed, could these enhance performance?

With inhaled medications, 70-80 per cent of the drug will at some point reach the systemic circulation through the capillary network around the lungs, and will be distributed to your entire body. The effects depend on the dose you inhale.

A study we did this year showed that four puffs of a substance called budesonide, if taken daily for 14 days, causes a 17 per cent increase in skeletal muscle ion transporters, which may affect muscle endurance.

This was interesting because it showed that only four puffs was enough to induce a systemic response. It’s a misconception that when you inhale a drug it stays in the lungs.

As regards inhaled glucocorticoids, only two or three have been studied to find out if they can enhance performance. What we know is very limited.

More research is needed?

Yes, it is important for me to emphasise that there is not much research in this area. For instance, compared to blood doping, where there is maybe 100 studies [on the performance effects], there is only a handful of studies on glucocorticoids.

Are you breathing right?

Not all exercise-related breathing troubles are caused by asthma — as John Dickinson explains.

“Quite often, the problem is an athlete using too many accessory muscles to breathe; they switch from using breathing muscles in the chest to shoulder-breathing.

“This increases breath frequency but reduces the amount of air per breath and restricts chest wall movement.

“With these athletes, we work on generating a fast breath that is also a deep breath. Usually within four to eight weeks, we can correct a breathing dysfunction problem, or at least make some gains.”

Is there an optimum breathing rate?

It depends on the fitness of the individual, but even at VO2max, it should be somewhere between 45 and 60 breaths per minute, usually 50-60.

That’s at the very top end of exercise. If someone’s breathing at too fast a rate, they may experience dizziness, seeing stars — that’s an indication of over-breathing, breathing off too much carbon dioxide.

Any other common problems?

Sometimes it’s a laryngeal obstruction — when you hear people with a respiratory wheeze, that is usually the cause.

This is more to do with the way you are activating your breath. Lots of education needs to be done, more than anything.

Where to get tested

If you think you’re experiencing asthma-type symptoms during or after cycling, going to see your GP is not a bad first port of call, but don’t take it for granted that he or she will get to the root of the problem.

“Generally GPs will measure baseline lung function and sometimes just a peak- flow test,” says John Dickinson.

“Asthma can get missed. Our research suggests that going on baseline lung function alone is 50 per cent inaccurate.”

Assessing exercise-induced issues requires a respiratory test that involves or simulates exercise, adds Dickinson.

These tests can be carried out on the NHS but only in certain areas.

If you’re willing to pay, £400 gets you the full test (as detailed in this feature) plus assessment by a respiratory consultant at the Centre for Health and Human Performance, in Harley Street; email: info@chhp.com.

The test alone can be carried out for £216 at the University of Kent Respiratory Clinic, Medway Park Sports Centre, Gillingham; email: J.W.Dickinson@kent.ac.uk.

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Two days, two races, one missing bike: one rider’s hectic transfer from Strade Bianche to Paris-Nice

Orica-Scott’s Jens Keukeleire on his hectic transfer from Strade Bianche to Paris-Nice

A few weeks ago, after crashing on a training ride in Spain, it looked as if Jens Keukeleire could be out of action for much of the spring, but after he was given the all-clear on a suspected broken collarbone, the Belgian rider has been going full gas.

On Saturday the Orica-Scott rider took to the start line at Strade Bianche in Italy, and after being one of many riders to abandon the race, hot-footed it to northern France to make it to the start of Paris-Nice on Sunday.

In what perhaps wasn’t the best way of recovering from a tough race, Keukeleire took two flights on Saturday night, firstly from Florence to Rome, and then from Rome to Paris, and although the rider himself safely made it to the start line, one crucial piece of equipment wasn’t quite so lucky.

Watch: Paris-Nice stage one highlights

“Everything went very smoothly,” Keukeleire told Het Nieuwsblad before the opening stage of Paris-Nice.

“I did not have to rush and we even arrived earlier than expected in Paris. I was hoping to be in bed by 00:30, but at the baggage claim it went wrong.

“My luggage was present but not my bike. So I had to fill in many forms and still lost some time.”

Unfortunately Keukeleire’s bike is still missing, with the 28-year-old currently riding a spare bike that his team had brought to the race from Belgium.

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Geraint Thomas confirmed for Team Sky’s Tirreno-Adriatico roster

Welshman Geraint Thomas will tackle Italian seven-stage Tirreno-Adriatico (March 8-14) ahead of his tilt at the Giro d’Italia in May

Team Sky has confirmed that Geraint Thomas will ride Tirreno-Adriatico, starting on Wednesday, March 8.

Welshman Thomas has been named in Sky’s line-up for the seven-day, WorldTour race alongside fellow Giro d’Italia co-leader Mikel Landa of Spain.

The two riders spearhead a strong team for the British squad that also includes on-form Strade Bianche winner Michal Kwiatkowski of Poland, new recruit Diego Rosa and sprinter Elia Viviani.

>>> Tirreno-Adriatico 2017: Latest news, reports and info

The eight-man team is completed with Vasil Kiryienka, Gianni Moscon and Salvatore Puccio.

Thomas missed out on defending his 2016 victory in the concurrently running Paris-Nice in France to focus on his preparation for the Giro in May.

Thomas has ridden in six of the past seven editions of Paris-Nice. A change of early-season schedule to ride Tirreno will give him a chance to familiarise himself with the Italian terrain before May.

Thomas and Landa will face Grand Tour rivals Nairo Quintana (Movistar), Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida), Fabio Aru (Astana), Thibaut Pinot (FDJ), Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb) and Adam Yates (Orica-Scott).

Watch: Geraint Thomas’s greatest win, in his own words

Thomas has recently returned from South Africa, where he was training with triple Tour de France champion and Sky team-mate Chris Froome.

The 2017 Tirreno-Adriatico commences with a 22.7-kilometre team time trial in Lido di Camaiore and concludes on Tuesday, March 14 with a decisive 10.1km individual test against the clock.

Saturday’s stage four will be the key climbing test for those with aspirations of a high overall placing, with a ascent to the line on Terminillo.

Last year, the event’s key mountain stage with a summit finish in the Apennine Mountains was cancelled due to extreme weather conditions. This effectively prevented the climbers from making a dent in the general classification, and the win was taken by Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) – who returns in 2017.

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Team of the Week: Michal Kwiatkowski, Adam Yates, Elisa Longo Borghini and more

Outstanding performances in Strade Bianche, Paris-Nice and Le Samyn shape this week’s pick of the best riders

Leader: Michal Kwiatkowski (Sky)

Michal Kwiatkowski goes solo to win 2017 Strade Bianche. Photo: Yuzuru Sunada

In the thrilling slugfest that was the 2017 Strade Bianche, it was Sky’s Kwiatkowski who emerged the toughest, breaking clear from an elite leading group and soloing 14.5km to the finish line in Siena.

It was a clear sign that the Pole is back to the kind of form that saw him become World Champion in 2014, and will likely be a major protagonist in the classics throughout the spring.

>>> Five talking points from Strade Bianche 2017

Road Captain: Elisa Longo Borghini (Wiggle-High5)

Elisa Longo-Borghini wins women’s Strade Bianche 2017. Photo: LaPresse – D’Alberto / Ferrari

When Shara Gillow (FDJ-Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope) and Lucinda Brand (Sunweb) caught and flew past an unsuspecting leading quintet in the final kilometres of the women’s Strade Bianche, it looked as though they’d just snatched the race from under their noses.

But Borghini kept calm, using her racing nous to keep them in sight without over-committing to bringing them back immediately, then catching them halfway up the final climb after she’d launched her sprint for victory.

>>> Elisa Longo Borghini wins 2017 Strade Bianche as Lizzie Deignan takes third

Sprinter: Arnaud Démare (FDJ)

Arnaud Démare after winning the opening stage of 2017 Paris-Nice. Photo: Yuzuru Sunada

The first stage of Paris-Nice was a far more chaotic affair than expected, and did not culminate in a bunch sprint, but winner Démare still needed his best sprinting legs to land the result.

Having latched onto an attack from Quick-Step Floors’ Julian Alaphilippe (himself a fast finisher) 1500 metres from the line, Démare followed his compatriot’s wheel on the finishing straight, and timed his sprint perfectly to comfortably take the win.

>>> Five talking points from stage one of Paris-Nice 2017

Climber: Adam Yates (Orica-Scott)

Adam Yates wins 2017 GP Industria & Artigianato. Photo: Orica-Scott/TDW Sport

One of 2016’s major breakout stars picked up his first win of the 2017 season at the GP Industria & Artigianato in Italy, where he won a sprint between the only five riders still left after the whittling down process of the multiple ascents of the San Baronto climb.

>>> Adam Yates wins GP Industria & Artigianato for second time in four years

Watch: Highlights from 2017 Strade Bianche

Rouleur: Guillaume Van Keirsbulck (Wanty-Groupe Gobert)

It’s an oft-stated cycling truism that the strongest rider in a race does not always come out as the winner, and everything about the way Van Keirsbulck made no secret of his strength at Le Samyn and bullishly exposed his nose to the blustering wind suggested this might be one of those days.

But he made it to the finishing straight with just one rider (Alex Kirsch, WB Veranclassic Aqua Protect) for company, and the way Van Keirsbulck edged victory in painfully slow sprint to the line made it clear that Van Keirsbulck’s efforts had exhausted Kirsch even more than he himself.

>>> Wind and rain lash the Belgian cobbles as Van Keirsbulck proves the strongest at Le Samyn

Domestique: Audrey Cordon (Wiggle-High5)

Elisa Longo Borghini (Wiggiel-High5) could not have won Strade Bianche without her teammate Cordon, who gave up her bike for her leader when she crashed on one of the treacherous dirt roads.

Domestique: Christine Majerus (Boels-Dolmans)

In a post-race interview, Lizzie Deignan praised the ‘incredible job’ done by her Boels-Dolmans teammate Majerus, that put the Briton in such a good position that she opted to change her strategy and take the race on.

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Tech of the week: further disc brake controversy, kids’ bikes from Canyon and more

Last week we covered the continuing debate around racing with disc brakes. But there’s been other tech news too.

Disc brake questions rage on in the peloton

The big news in bike tech this week has been the controversy again swirling around disc brakes in the pro peloton, following Owain Doull’s cut shoe and foot which he attributed to hitting a brake rotor in a crash.

The bike industry’s representative body said that there was no evidence that Doull’s injury and that suffered by Fran Ventoso at Paris-Roubaix last year were caused by disc rotors. But that didn’t stop the riders’ union from threatening the UCI with legal action.

Tom Boonen’s bike for the cobbles – with disc brakes

Astana’s boss called for the UCI to make its mind up on whether disc brakes were going to be allowed in races or not, a view echoed by Peter Sagan, who said that the whole peloton needed to use them not just a few riders in a race. But Tom Boonen, revealing his disc-equipped Spesh bike for Omloop Het Niewsblad, rejected the suggestion that disc brakes pose a danger to riders. He later crashed out of the race and also missed Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne the next day, although neither was disc brake related.

Quick-Step Floors in their new sunnies (Photo Sunada)

Staying with Quick Step Floors, we’ve also highlighted their on- and off-bike sunglass options from French brand Ekoi.

New kids’ Canyons and a new Kask helmet

Canyon has announced its expansion into children’s bikes, with a three bike range of flat bar bikes designed for children from age three up, with prices starting from £449. They all have disc brakes too. We’ve also had a look at Alex Dowsett’s Canyon Aeroad CF SLX and Nairo Quintana’s Canyon Ultimate CF SLX and speculated on why they choose to ride the different bikes.

Team Sky ready to ride in their new Kask helmets

In new kit news, we’ve spotted a new Kask aero helmet being used by Team Sky, but not for public sale. We’ve also found seven deals on helmets for you and me as well as deals on gilets and a whole host of components. While if you’re weighing up whether to buy an aero bike or a lightweight machine, you’ll want to read our deliberations on the pros and cons of each.

And don’t forget our March Tech of the Month video, with a £500 time trial helmet, a GPS computer from new market entrant Acer, Specialized’s 1350g Roval CLX 32 disc brake wheels and our bike of the month, the Cervélo s3 Disc.

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Porte: It was a disaster but not too much of a disaster

As he stood on the start line, Richie Porte (BMC Racing) casually waxed lyrical about training, form and the desire to see a no-frills, and predictable sprint at end of the stage 1 of Paris-Nice.

“No silly business,” was his exact wish, but in the end the stage around Bois d’Arcy was anything but silly, and Porte’s ambitions of winning the overall for the third time in his career were hanging by a thread when he was caught out in a crosswind split. He wasn’t the only overall contender to miss the move as Lotto Soudal and Quick-Step destroyed the field with echelon skills straight from the Belgian textbook.

For almost two hours, Porte and his BMC Racing teammates toiled in the wind and rain as the gap to the lead group sat at more than a minute. The Australian found assistance in Trek-Segafredo and Orica-Scott as both teams missed the split for their respective leaders in Alberto Contador and Simon Yates, but up ahead Sergio Henao (Team Sky), Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors), Dan Martin (Quick-Step Floors) and Tony Gallopin (Lotto Soudal) threatened to run away with the race.

In the end, Porte rescued a slight victory from what he admitted could have been a complete disaster, as he dropped Contador and clawed back a few precious seconds on Alaphilippe and the rest. Arnaud Demare won the stage, with Porte conceding 47 seconds to the FDJ sprinter and Alaphilippe. Dan Martin and Gallopin created a 38 second buffer over the Tour Down Under winner, while Contador lost 14 seconds to his former Saxo teammate. It was bad, but it could have been much, much worse.

“It was a disaster but not too much of a disaster,” Porte said after the finish line.

“We lost some time, but in the end we took a bit more time back on some of the other favourites. The race isn’t over. Today wasn’t ideal, but my team were fantastic and they really controlled that. Tomorrow is another day.”

With more mountainous stages to come and the individual time trial suited to his characteristics, Porte will not panic after Sunday’s performance. However, the news of teammate Michael Schar leaving the race with a suspected broken collarbone will do little to improve the mood at the BMC dinner table this evening.

Scanning down the results, Porte will see that Contador and Yates have been distanced by 17 seconds and that Romain Bardet is out of the race altogether after the French GC hope was disqualified.

The Quick-Step duo of Alaphilippe and Martin are now major contenders for the overall and have to be spoken about in the same breath as Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha-Alpecin) and Sergio Henao – the latter sits just nine seconds off the lead.

“Once it splits like that and it’s such a big group it’s hard but it’s not over,” Porte said. “There are some strong guys in front but there’s still a lot of racing to go.”

Like Porte, BMC general manager Jim Ochowicz chose to see the positive side from a disappointing day, and he pointed to the fact that at one point BMC’s overall challenge looked over after less than 100 kilometres of racing.

“It was a difficult day for everyone. Richie took 17 seconds out of Contador, which was a plus and when you miss a break then you have to chase and we chased as hard as we could, all day,” Ochowicz told Cyclingnews.

“At one moment it could have gone to two minutes but they held their ground and the front guys started to hit their max. You could see that at the end. Everyone in the race went as hard as they possible could.”

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Five talking points from stage one of Paris-Nice 2017

What is everyone talking about from the opening stage of the 2017 Paris-Nice?

Nowhere is nice to ride in Europe this weekend…

Wet and windy weather is conducive to great racing, but never makes for great riding.

And this weekend, across Europe, riders have been subject to not just spring weather, but proper winter conditions. Rain, sleet, wind, gusts and temperatures that actually feel sub-zero, from Belgium to Italy to France, it’s been, just, urgh.

Not that we should have expected any different from Paris-Nice. It is, after all, nicknamed the Race to the Sun, implying that that big yellow ball of fire in the sky shouldn’t make an appearance in France’s northern departments.

…but the weather made for thrilling racing

Paris-Nice 2017

When you looked at the parcours of this morning’s race, it didn’t immediately stand out as a stage that you just had to watch. Largely flat, it was destined to end in a mass sprint.

But how wrong those assumptions were. Once the break of four riders assembled and went up the road and built a lead, the race behind them launched into life.

>>> Seven things to look out for at Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico

The race split at 40km, creating three groups of echelons and the damage was to be permanent.

What was the first chasing group soon became the lead group that contested the final, and what was originally the group that missed out when the winds split the race were a disorganised mess behind.

Dan Martin (Quick-Step Floors) and Sergio Henao (Sky) were the only two GC riders to make it into the first group, with the other GC favourites, most notably Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) and Richie Porte (BMC), stranded over a minute back down the road.

Trek and Orica-Scott attempted to inject the required pace into the group, but they couldn’t get a sustained rhythm going.

Up ahead, the leading group of 26 riders were driving a pace so furious that many of its riders couldn’t withstand the speed. One by one, riders dropped off.

Oh, we love crosswinds.

FDJ and Quick-Step deserved the top-two places

This is not meant as a slight on FDJ, but it rare that they are so instrumental to the outcome of the day’s racing. But on stage one, they were utterly excellent. They dominated and richly deserved their victory.

They were the ones who instigated the split at 40km and in the front group of 22 – that later became 26 when the breakaway were caught – there were five FDJ riders: Démare, Olivier Le Gac, Jacopo Guarnieri, Davide Cimolai and Rudy Molard.

Together, the quartet riding in support of their team leader Démare played a significant part in keeping the groups behind at a distance and ensuring that their man was sheltered and in good enough shape to be able to respond to Julian Alaphilippe’s attack on the incline in the final 1,500m.

But special mention must also be reserved for Quick-Step Floors. They had one more man than FDJ in the decisive move, and all six could quite possibly have won. If you’re going to take six riders with you to negotiate a finish that includes a steep ascent and then a flat-out sprint, these lot aren’t that bad: Martin, Alaphilippe Jack Bauer, Philippe Gilbert, Marcel Kittel, Yves Lampart.

Even though they were undoubtedly working for Kittel, it’s testament to their strength in depth that when the German fell back in the final kilometres, they didn’t remain undeterred, giving Alaphilippe the licence to make his attack that looked for a moment would hold out. But against Démare, a much superior sprinter, second was still a strong result.

Give the Belgian team Belgian weather and it’s little wonder that they’ll thrive. Chapeau, guys.

That GC carnage

Alberto Contador before stage one of the 2017 Paris-Nice

The first significant movement in the general classification stakes was not meant to be until Wednesday’s 14.5km time trial.

But with the aforementioned weather and FDJ and Quick-Step’s collaboration, we were treat to a GC meltdown.

Richie Porte (BMC) is already 38 seconds adrift of Dan Martin and Sergio Henao, while Warren Barguil (Sunweb) and Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) are 16 and 17 seconds further in arrears, respectively. Simon Yates (Orica-Scott) is 55 seconds behind, too.

Watch: Preview of Paris-Nice’s highest ever finish (video)

Considering that Geraint Thomas (Sky) won this race by a mere four seconds last year from Contador, those time gaps are likely to be hugely important.

Although Martin is likely to cede the advantage he has in the time trial, the time differences mean that Contador et al. simply have to go on the attack in the mountains.

Bad day Bardet

Photo : Yuzuru SUNADA

You had a bad day, Bardet. A very bad day.

First he failed not only to make the first group caused by the echelons, but also the second. Then, when he bridged across, he was involved in a crash late on.

Riding back to the group, the Frenchman was spotted clearly drafting vehicles as he attempted to get back in the quickest time.

He may have crossed the line alongside Porte, so in a superior time to Contador, but if he expected sympathy for his tough day in the saddle and his grazed knees, then it wasn’t forthcoming. The race jury saw his drafting and disqualified him. 

They are the rules, after all, but the UCI have struggled to enact their regulations in recent weeks. This felt, more than anything, of commissaires wanting to send out a message that they aren’t lenient and they are prepared to punish big name riders.

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Jos van Emden takes win in wet and windy Dwars door West-Vlaanderen

LottoNL-Jumbo’s Jos van Emden beat Silvan Dillier (BMC Racing) to win Dwars door West-Vlaanderen.

Jos van Emden (LottoNL-Jumbo) won the Belgian one-day semi-Classic Dwars door West-Vlaanderen on Sunday, beating Silvan Dillier (BMC Racing) in a sprint.

On a wet and windy afternoon in Flanders, the race was characterised by a number of echelons and frequent changes in the lead group.

But van Emden and Dillier attacked together inside the final 30km and were able to make it to the finishing town of Ichtegem as a duo.

>>> The weather at Dwars door West-Vlaanderen looks absolutely grim

Dillier led the pair in the final 500 metres, repeatedly looking back to check on van Emden’s intentions. With just a few hundred metres remaining, van Emden darted to the right of Dillier, opened up an advantage and crossed the line a bike length in front of him.

Conditions at the start of the day were perfect for lovers of ‘epic’ Flanderian weather. A break of 21 riders formed early on with three other groups behind, separated by the crosswinds.

Formerly a three-day race up until this year and also going by the name of the Johan Museeuw Classic, the cobbled climb of the Kemmelberg is the race’s most famous stretch of road.

Lotto-Soudal were the team at the head of the chasing peloton and brought back the leading group with 90km still to ride.

>>> Eight riders who could spring a surprise in the cobbled Classics

A group of six riders was next to form, then another large group of 20, but it wasn’t until 35km that the decisive move was allowed to go and stick.

It contained Jens Debusschere (Lotto-Soudal), Twan Castelijns (LottoNL-Jumbo), Le Samyn winner Guillaume Van Keirsbulck (Wanty-Groupe Gobert), Lasse Norman Hansen (Aqua Blue Sport), Jan-willen Van Schip (Delta Cycling), Elmar Reinders (Roompot-Nederlandse Loterij), Dillier and Vam Emden.

The latter two set off in pursuit in tandem seven kilometres later and the remaining six riders could not catch them as they rode towards the finish. Hansen, though, did his best, being in sight of the duo in the final kilometre, to take third.

It was van Emden’s ninth win of his career and the first since he won a short time trial at the Star ZLM Tour last year.

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Adam Yates wins GP Industria & Artigianato for second time in four years

Adam Yates was the fastest man in the lead group of six to win the GP Industria & Artigianato in Italy.

Adam Yates won the GP Industria & Artigianato race in Italy for the second time in four years on Sunday, winning the sprint from the six-man lead group.

Yates and five other riders, including defending champion Simon Clarke (Cannondale-Drapac), sprung clear from the peloton with just over 15km remaining and having kept the chasers at bay, the Briton was the fastest in the sprint.

Fourth and the best young rider in last year’s Tour de France, it is only Yates’ fifth professional win in his career: his last victories were in the 2015 Clásica de San Sebastián, and the GP Industria & Artigianato in 2014.

“I tried to give it some welly on the last climb, but I couldn’t get away from the other guys so I had to wait for the sprint,” the 24-year-old said afterward. “I wasn’t lucky but I am not renowned as a sprinter so it’s a good win for me.”

>>> Adam Yates: Straight talking Brit who just wants to race his bike and win

The one-day race started and finished in Larciano and climbed San Baronto multiple times. A cohesive break struggled to form, but when it did it contained Nils Politt (Katusha-Alpecin), Davide Orrico (Sangemini-MG.Kvis), Adriano Brogi (GM Europa Ovini) and Angelo Raffaele (d’Amico-Utensilnord), building a gap of over seven minutes.

Unlikely to last to the finish, though, Politt distanced the other three before being caught himself at 43km, when Rob Power (Orica-Scott) and Bora-Hansgrohe increased the pressure on the rolling Tuscan roads.

Franco Pellizotti (Bahrain-Merida) clipped off the front soon after, being joined by Davide Ballerini (Androno-Giocattoli), but their lead was short-lived.

On the penultimate climb of San Baronto – where Clarke made his race-winning move last year – a group of five went clear that included the Australian.

Caught, a new group, superior to the last one, formed, and this time Clarke’s company was teammate Rigoberto Uran, Yates, Richard Carapaz (Movistar) and Androni-Giocattoli pair, Egan Bernal and Mattia Cattaneo.

Bahrain Merida headed the chase but the lead group crested the final ascent of San Baronto as one, holding a lead of 23 seconds with seven kilometres remaining.

Benal and Cattaneo both attempted long-distance sprints as the finished line approached, but within the last few hundred metres, it was Carapaz in front. The Ecuadorian had a sizeable lead at one point but Yates came to the right and edged around him to take the win.


GP Industria & Artigianato (199.2km)

1. Adam Yates (Gbr) Orica-Scott in 4-50-00
2. Richard Carapaz (Ecu) Movistar at
3. Rigoberto Uran (Col) Cannondale-Drapac same time
4. Mattia Cattaneo (Ita) Androno-Giocattoli at 2secs
5. Egan Bernal (Col) Androno-Giocattoli at same time
6. Simon Clarke (Aus) Cannondale-Drapac at 4secs
7. Francesco Gavazzi (Ita) Androno-Giocattoli at 17secs
8. Filippo Pozzato (Ita( Wilier Triestina at 18secs
9. Paolo Totò (Ita) Sangemini-MG.Vis at same time
10. Joaquín José Rojas (Esp) Movistar at 19 secs

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