Bora-hansgrohe ready for 2017 Giro d'Italia challenge

German WorldTour Bora-hansgrohe line out for its debut Giro d’Italia Friday in Sardinia with its two leaders Sam Bennett and Patrick Konrad ready to challenge for stage wins and the GC.

Bora-hansgrohe have ridden the Tour de France and Vuelta a Espana as a wild card team with the Giro it’s first Grand Tour as a WorldTour team. As the Pro-Continental NetApp squad, the team also rode the 2012 edition of the Giro.

Christian Pömer, chief sports director for Bora-hansgrohe at the Giro, will be aiming to deliver Bennett to stage wins across the three-week race while balancing the GC aspirations of Konrad in his second Grand Tour.

“Our goal for this 100th edition of the Giro d’Italia is to go for stage victories, for the GC we will take it day by day. I think we have some really good opportunities with Sam Bennett and Matteo Pelucchi in the sprints,” Pömer said. “Sam proved in Paris – Nice that he is an excellent sprinter and some stages in this year’s Giro suit him very well. But we will also try to win stages with Patrick Konrad in the mountains. Patrick had a good preparation for this Grand Tour and he is very motivated to make his mark in this 100th edition of the Giro d’Italia.”

Bennett comes into the race off the back of a training camp and 22nd place in a wet and cold Eschborn-Frankfurt. With his confidence boosting Paris-Nice stage in the pocket, the Irishman is looking for an early win.

“I am looking forward to this Giro d’Italia, it’s the 100th edition which is very special to be part of,” Bennett said. “My preparations went pretty good with the altitude camp in the Sierra Nevada, where I could do my training very individually this time. Of course, my goal is to win a stage. After my first WorldTour win in Paris-Nice, I am ready to take my first stage in a Grand Tour.”

Like Bennett, Konrad has only previously ridden the Tour but with a seventh place at the Vuelta al Pais Vasco the 25-year-old is excited by the challenge.

“I am here as the team’s leader, which is a new situation for me. I hope to adapt well to this challenge and show that I have the potential to be a Grand Tour contender in the future,” said Konrad who was 65th at last year’s Tour.

“In this Giro, our big goal as a team is to take a stage win and I will also focus on that. I’ll try to take every opportunity that occurs. At one day, this may means I’ll struggle, but this is a risk I have to take. I don’t have any result in my mind for the GC, I want to ride aggressive and also try something in the high mountains in the last week. Then we’ll see the outcome.” 

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Which North American riders will take to the Giro d’Italia start line?

We take a look at the eight riders to line-up in Italy from Canada and the United States

Starting this Friday, May 5 six American riders and two Canadians from five different teams will be on the start line for the grande partenza of the 100th running of the Giro d’Italia in Alghero, Sardinia.

>>> Giro d’Italia odds: Who are the bookmakers tipping for victory?

For the BMC Racing Team, Tejay van Garderen will co-lead with Australian Rohan Dennis after finishing strong at the Tour de Romandie last week with a third in the final time trial, catapulting him into sixth overall by day’s end.

Tejay van Garderen (Sunada)

Van Garderen has never started the Giro, but will look for some success as he’s had disappointing Grand Tour performances at the Vuelta a España and Tour de France in the past few years.

Joey Rosskopf finished last year’s Giro in 85th and is coming off good climbing form that nabbed him fifth in the mountains classification at last week’s Tour de Yorkshire.

99th Giro d’Italia, Stage 15 : Castelrotto – Alpe di Siusi ITT, ROSSKOPF Joseph (USA) BMC, Photo : Yuzuru SUNADA

Van Garderen will look to him for support in the mountains during the final week of the race if he’s still in contention.

The Cannondale-Drapac squad hopes to build off a strong spring Classics campaign in the season’s first Grand Tour. They’re sending the young Joe Dombrowski and Alex Howes, competing in their second and first Giro’s respectively.

22 May 2016, 99th Giro d’Italia, DOMBROWSKI Joseph Cannondale Photo: Yuzuru SUNADA

Dombrowski finished 34th in the general classification, 12th in the mountains jersey and fifth in the young riders competition as well as taking third on the penultimate, mountainous day into Sant’Anna di Vinadio in the 2016 edition.

The team is heading into the race without a designated leader, so this could be a great opportunity for Dombrowski to take the reins.

Michael Woods and Miguel Angel Lopez in the 2016 Milano-Torino

Canadian Michael Woods (Cannondale-Drapac) has had a very successful season thus far and will being ride in his first Grand Tour, likely with the opportunity to go for key stage wins.

Peter Stetina (Trek-Segafredo) will be riding in his fourth Giro since 2011. He finished 21st in the general classification that year and has slipped into a domestique role for the Dutch rider Bauke Mollema, who has his eyes set on an elusive Grand Tour podium in only his second Giro appearance.

Peter Stetina in the 2016 Liege-Bastogne-Liege

The German registered Team Sunweb features American Chad Haga, starting his third consecutive Giro and riding in support of pink jersey hopeful Tom Dumoulin.

71st Vuelta a Espana, Stage 17 : Castellon – Llucena. Camins del Penyagolosa, TUFT Svein (CAN) Orica – BikeExchange. Photo: Yuzuru SUNADA

Canadian veteran Svein Tuft (Orica-Scott), riding in his sixth Giro, will assist the young sprinter Caleb Ewan seeking stage wins in the first week as well as help Adam Yates aim for the white jersey and top-10 in the general classification during the final, mountainous stages heading into Milan.


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Cyclist hit in Boston dies hours before police locate suspect’s car

Police continue to hunt for driver who struck 29-year-old Rick Archer in Back Bay, Boston

A cyclist involved in a hit and run that saw him dragged underneath the fleeing suspect’s car has succumbed to his injuries.

According to friends, 29-year-old bike messenger Rick Archer was cycling home to his apartment in South Boston at around 3:19 AM after attending a screening of “Point Break” at Brookline’s Coolidge Corner Theatre during the early hours of Sunday April, 30th.

The collision occurred near the intersection of Clarendon Street and Commonwealth Avenue in the Back Bay neighborhood of Boston. Boston Police Commissioner Bill Evans said the two cyclists were heading eastbound towards the Boston Public Gardens when a silver Toyota Camry clipped Archer.

>>> San Francisco Bay Area cyclist suffers life-threatening injuries in collision

Tuesday morning, only hours after Archer passed away, the Boston Police Department found a car that matched the description of the vehicle in the Boston Common Garage, a few blocks from the intersection where the accident occurred. CBS Boston reports that the car had New York license plates and a smashed windshield. They are still searching for the driver of the vehicle.

Family and friends described Archer as an adventurous and kind spirit, always on his bike.

“He was really something,” Leanne Greenman, Archer’s ex-wife and close friend told the Boston Globe. “He was an explorer, he was curious, and he always wanted to know more about people and to help people. He had this unbelievable heart.”

Becca Wolfson, the Executive Director of the Boston Cyclists Union, believes better bicycle infrastructure could have prevented Archer’s death.

“We are definitely frustrated at the pace of change on our street,” she said to WBUR, Boston’s NPR news station. “And a fatality like this could have been prevented. Ask any resident of the Back Bay if speeding is a problem, and they’ll overwhelmingly say absolutely.”

Boston’s Vision Zero plan aims to end fatal crashes in the city by 2030.

Archer is the fourth cyclist to die in the state of Massachusetts in 2017, according to the local bicycle coalition. Our condolences go out to the friends and family of Archer.


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Vincenzo Nibali’s team more wary of Mikel Landa than Geraint Thomas at Giro d’Italia

Bahrain-Merida say Team Sky’s Mikel Landa will flourish more in the mountains than Geraint Thomas in their joint leadership bid

Vincenzo Nibali and his Bahrain-Merida team worry more about Team Sky‘s Mikel Landa than Geraint Thomas ahead of the Giro d’Italia, starting Friday in Sardinia.

Nibali, a two-time winner, named Nairo Quintana (Movistar) as his number one rival today and behind the Colombian, Landa and Thomas.

>>> Nairo Quintana’s complete guide to the Giro d’Italia 2017

“Quintana is the first rival, then Landa, I saw that he’s on the rise, slowly,” Nibali said. “Then Geraint Thomas, and after him, all the others who are improving.

Sky, after trying to win their first Italian Grand Tour title with Rigoberto Urán, Bradley Wiggins and Richie Porte over the years, will start with two captains in Thomas and Landa. Nibali already counts two victories in his home tour from 2013 and 2016.

52nd Tirreno – Adriatico, NIBALI Vincenzo (ITA) Bahrain – Merida
Photo : Yuzuru SUNADA

Nibali sat back in a brown leather chair to speak to journalists. Outside the windows of the Villa Las Tronas, sun reflected off the Mediterranean’s emerald waters.

“Sky’s double leadership? It depends how that role works in the team if there are really two captains, or one working for the other,” he said. “In the past, I was at Ivan Basso’s side. It doesn’t matter if you have a good feeling between the two.”

Nibali’s trainer Paolo Slongo walked through the green gardens after the press meeting. He thought back to 2015, the year before Landa signed with Sky and when the Spaniard helped then Astana teammate Fabio Aru to second (and himself third) behind Alberto Contador at the Giro and later to victory at the Vuelta a España.

“When Landa doesn’t have the pressure of the race, he is able to give more of himself,” said Slongo.

“In Astana, he suffered from the weight of the responsibility, but when he had a team-mate he could race better without the total weight.



“We said that it was better two have captains than one. If there is a good feeling between them, it gives an advantage. So it’s an advantage, when there are only a few riders up front, you can send Landa up the road, or visa-versa.”

“So he is more worrying on the big climbs, more so than Thomas. Even with the time trials, the Giro is better for Landa.”

Brent Copeland, Bahrain-Merida’s manager from South Africa, just finished talking with Bahrain’s tourism official who flew to Sardinia for the team’s debut and agreed that Landa would be the bigger threat in the mountains.

“It can work to have two cards to play as long as it unrolls each day so its fair to each rider, and the roles are explained from the beginning. Then it can work out,” Copeland said.

“Is Thomas or Landa a bigger threat? It’s more Landa. The Giro climbs are suited to him more than Thomas.”


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Best bike saddlebags for cycling essentials

Great for carrying tools and provisions, saddlebags vary in size depending upon the amount of kit you deem essential – we round up the best

The humble saddlebag is one of those items in cycling that really didn’t need to become controversial – but has somehow managed to do so.

Like sock length, and the orientation of cycling cap peaks – everyone has an opinion and there are some individuals that will tell you that you shouldn’t have a saddlebag for cycling. That same individual will probably be the one asking you for a chain tool at the crucial moment.

Thoroughbred roadies will, more often than not, forgo the saddlebag – instead using the three rear pockets provided in most cycling jerseys. For many riders, this is indeed more than sufficient – but if you’re heading out for a long day on the bike, you might wish for more space. That’s where the saddlebag comes in.

What goes into a cycling saddlebag?

Common items found nestled within a saddlebag include: an inner tube (un-used, unless you’ve been unlucky), inner tube patch kit, two tyre levers, Co2 inflator and canisters (at least two), multitool.

Those using larger saddlebags will also be able to cram in their phone, some cash and keys, and super sized versions can manage arm warmers and other light layers.

Saddlebag size and weight

Scicon Compact 430 Saddle Bag

For many riders – smaller is better

One of the most crucial elements to come into play when choosing a saddlebag is the size – or in this case, volume. Saddlebag size is often listed in terms of capacity in litres – as per backpacks and other travel bags, though some brands provide dimensions instead.

Those intending to stow away the bare essentials for a short ride around their local lanes probably don’t need a huge capacity. A small, lightweight saddlebag will fit an inner tube, CO2 canisters and inflator, plus tyre levers and a multi tool.

Anything else can be chucked into your pockets, and a small saddlebag will maintain the streamlined appearance of your (no doubt otherwise immaculate) bike whilst also being more aerodynamic and lighter.

The Blackburn Outpost seat pack is in a class of its own

At the largest end of the scale, super sized saddlebags – called saddlepacks and capable of carrying loads in the region of 15 litres – are used by some bike packers in place of traditional panniers. This is becasue they’re often lighter than a rack and pannier bags, and less obtrusive since they don’t increase the width of the bike.

Of course, there are many options in between – each affecting weight, aerodynamics and aesthetic appeal. The right option for you will be the best compromise between space and size.

Saddlebag attachment and closure

The size and weight of the saddlebag you opt for will affect the ideal attachment system. Small, lightweight options may simply fasten with a thin strip of Velcro – and this should be more than adequate if kept in good condition.

Heavier options of course will need more support – and these may have plastic mounts to be attached to the saddle, or hooks that fit to the seat post itself for additional security. These added fixing will, in turn, increase the weight – but if you’re travelling with a tent and sleeping bag, a couple of extra grams are probably a minor concern.

Traditional saddlebags use a zip to secure their contents. However, most saddlebags face a hard life ahead, and zips can fail in time – so other solutions have been sought such as roll-up cases, clasps and even buckles. This said, the vast majority of models still feature a zip, which in most cases will outlive the accessory itself.

8 of the best saddlebags for cycling

Lezyne M-Caddy QR saddle bag

lezyne m-caddy qr saddle bag

Lezyne M-Caddy QR Saddlebag

Available in a range of sizes, the Lezyne QR Caddy fits to the saddle rails – holding the bag solidly in place, with no rattling or rubbing of frame or clothing. The base material is a durable nylon, and water resistant zippers help to keep the rain out, alongside a neoprene pocket in the Medium size.

An aero shape will please those concerned with counting the seconds – though ‘QR’ does not appear to stand for ‘Quick Release’ and you’ll need time  to remove and refit this bag properly if swapping between bikes.

Storage capacity is 0.5 litres, with a weight of 115 grams.

Read our full review of the Lezyne M-Caddy QR Saddlebag

Buy now at Evans Cycles for £18.69

Evoc saddlebag

evoc saddle bag

Evoc saddlebag

Evoc also offer a ‘Race’ and ‘Tour’ model, but with a capacity of 0.65 litres, the simple ‘Evoc Saddlebag’ is the middle of the road choice that can contain the basic essentials with ease – we filled it with two inner tubes, a set of tyre levers, a multi-tool and a chain tool.

Velcro loops keeps this one in place, with a further attachment at the seat post to prevent any wobbling. Out only quibble was with the lack of waterproofing. We clocked the overall weight of this one at just 66 grams.

Read our full review of the Evoc saddlebag

Buy now at Tredz for £16.95

Radial Cycles Porter Saddlebag

Radial Cycles Porter Saddlebag

Radial Cycles Porter Saddlebag

A super compact version that fits to the saddle rails using two Velcro strips, with a zipped front and two compartments internally. The narrow shape of the bag meant that the Velcro wasn’t in danger of interfering with the pedal stroke (or vice versa), which can be a negative to this design style.

In our small (there’s also a medium option) saddlebag, we could fit an inner tube, tyre levers, and multi-tool into the main compartment, using the other pocket for keys and loose change.

There’s also a ‘pro’ version, with a twist lock fastening, if you don’t fancy Velcro.

Read our full review of the Radial Cycles Porter saddlebag

Buy now at Radial Cycles for £7.99

Scicon Compact 430 Saddlebag

Scicon Compact 430 Saddle Bag

Scicon Compact 430 Saddle Bag

A mid-sized version from the Scicon range, the Compact 430 features a ‘roller 2.1 system’ – once the mount is attached to your saddle rails, removal and replacement is quick and easy on the ride – though this will make swapping between bikes more difficult. An internal Velcro strap keeps everything together, with an external zip. The capacity is 0.43 litres at a weight of 144 grams.

Buy now at Wiggle for £19.49

Arundel Dual saddle bag

arundel dual saddle bag

Arundel Dual Saddlebag

The ‘Dual’ sits in the centre of Arundel’s offerings – the ‘Uno’ being the smallest and the ‘Tubi’ the largest.

Sitting nearly beneath the saddle using Velcro fastenings, this option promises space for two inner tubes and Co2 canisters – though of course you could opt for one tube and a handy couple of tools. The capacity is 0.4 litres, at a weight of 62 grams.

The oval retro styling is attractive, though we thought a little more waterproofing would take this saddlebag closer to perfection.

Read our full review of the Arundel Dual Saddlebag 

Buy now at Ribble Cycles for £12

Blackburn Zayante Mini pack

Blackburn Zayante Mini pack

Blackburn Zayante Mini pack saddlebag

We last reviewed this handy pack back in 2011, and the fact that the design hasn’t changed much (aside from reorientation of the zip) is a positive given its 9/10 rating at the time – if it’s not broken, don’t fix it.

We managed to cram in two tubes, a CO2 inflator plus spare canister, two tyre levers, a multi tool, emergency tyre boot and patches – calling it a ‘little Tardis’, the overall capacity coming in at 0.35 litres.

The pack sits on the saddle rails via Velcro, but also features an o-ring attachment at the seat post to keep it from rubbing or moving around. The fabric is resilient and the zip water resistant.

Read our review of the Blackburn Zayante Mini Pack saddlebag

Buy now at Tweeks Cycles for £10.39

Specialized Wedgie Bag

Specialized Wedgie Bag

Specialized Wedgie Bag

If all of the options above look only large enough to house your Elevenses, and you want to stuff items such as arm warmers and a gilet into your pack, then the Wedgie could top your list.

Constructed from Nylon, with a Neoprene sleeve and water resistant zip, this bag is expandable – so if you don’t want to fill it (as pictured) you can use the Velcro straps to collapse the remaining space, creating a more streamlined space.

Buy now at Evans Cycles for £23

Blackburn Outpost seat pack

Blackburn Outpost seat pack

Blackburn Outpost seat pack

Can this really be classed as a saddlebag? Highly debatable. But for those looking for large capacity – in this case 11 litres – then the Outpost from Blackburn is worth a look. The bag hooks onto the saddle and seat post, and features a Nylon outer and removal inner dry sack to keep your kit in good condition.

We found the size sufficient, and noted it also kept muck and spray off our own back – much like a mudguard. The max load weight is 4.5kg (the pack itself weight 468 grams), and this option is not recommended for use with carbon seat posts.

Read our full review of the Blackburn Outpost seat pack 

Buy now for £59.99 at Wiggle

Alternatives to saddlebags

A frame bag can sit on the top tube with snacks at the ready

Of course, the saddlebag is far from the only available option – though it is perhaps the most popular.

For those taking on long distance events and races, small frame bags designed to carry energy bars and snacks up front can present a handy solution.

For more heavily laden trips, such as touring or bike packing, handlebar bags, frame bags and pannier racks all present handy options. Handlebar bags mean that items such as maps and cameras can be easily accessible, some coming with see-through plastic cases so you can track your route as you ride. However, they will affect the handling of the bike.

Pannier racks and frame bags are both suitable if you’ve got a lot of kit and need a high volume option – but again they do change the distribution of weight and handling a bike laden in this way can take getting used to.


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Giro d’Italia odds: Who are the bookmakers tipping for victory?

Bookies back Quintana victory, with many seeing him as the odds-on favourite

Nairo Quintana (Movistar) is the stand-out favourite for the Giro d’Italia, with many bookmakers putting the Colombian as the odds-on pick for the first Grand Tour of the season.

The 2014 Giro champion has enjoyed a good start to the year after a dominant performance at Tirreno-Adriatico, meaning that the best odds are are a rather unattractive 11/10.

The other front runner is defending champion Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) whose best odds are 13/2, with most bookies offering 5/1 or 6/1 for the Italian rider to deliver a home victory in the 100th edition of the Giro d’Italia.

After his performance at last year’s race where he finished fourth after suffering a crash and losing time while in pink on stage 18, Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) is next up with odds of around 10/1.

Geraint Thomas and Mikel Landa, Team Sky’s co-leaders in the race, both command odds of around 14/1, as do Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb) and Thibaut Pinot (FDJ), while the other British GC hopeful, Adam Yates (Orica-Scott), is a slightly longer shot at 18/1 along with Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo).

If the bookies are to believed then Tejay Van Garderen (BMC Racing) and Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha-Alpecin) should both be content with top 10 finishes with odds of between 25/1 and 33/1.

Meanwhile the likes of Simon Yates (Orica-Scott) at 50/1, Leopold König (Bora-Hansgrohe) at 66/1, and Primoz Roglic (LottoNL-Jumbo) at 80/1 seem particularly unattractive seeing as none of them will be riding.


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11 riders to follow on Strava for the Giro d’Italia

Our pick of the best riders to follow to give you an insight into the effort that goes in to a three week Grand Tour

Steven Kruijswijk (profile)

Steven Kruijswijk at the 2016 Vuelta a España (Credit: Sunada)

Team: LottoNL-Jumbo
Followers: 30,057
Strava KOMs: 658

One of the few Giro GC contenders to use Strava with any sort of regularity, Steven Kruijswijk can usually be relied upon to upload his races, even if he keeps his training regime a little more hidden.

André Greipel (profile)

André Greipel at the 2017 Paris-Nice (Credit: Sunada)

Team: Lotto-Soudal
Followers: 37,090
Strava KOMs: 135

With only a handful of sprinters taking to the start line in Sardini, André Greipel will be hopeful of picking up a few stage wins in Italy, and maybe also add to that relatively measly KOM count.

Thibaut Pinot (profile)

Thibaut Pinot at the 2017 Tirreno-Adriatico (Credit: Sunada)

Team: FDJ
Followers: 63,910
Strava KOMs: 1,112

One of pro cycling’s pioneers on Strava, Thibaut Pinot has amassed a huge haul of KOMs since he signed up back in 2013, and will be looking to pick up even more as he covers some new ground on his first Giro d’Italia.

Stefano Pirazzi (profile)

Stefano Pirazzi at the 2016 Giro d’Italia (Credit: Sunada)

Team: Bardiani-CSF
Followers: 3,364
Strava KOMs: 215

If you’re not familiar with him already, then former mountains classification winner Stefano Pirazzi will become a regular sight over the next three weeks as he inevitably makes it into nearly every breakaway, even including his power data in most rides.

Winner Anacona (profile)

Winner Anacona at the 2016 Tour de Suisse (Credit: Watson)

Team: Movistar
Followers: 6,588
Strava KOMs: 180

One of Nairo Quintana‘s key domestiques, Winner Anacona is another rare beast in a pro cyclist who uploads his power data to Strava, which will be fascinating to take a look at when he’s working hard in the mountains.

Yves Lampaert, aka John Deere (profile)

Yves Lampaert at the 2017 Dwars Door Vlaanderen (Credit: Sunada)

Team: Quick-Step Floors
Followers: 2,502
Strava KOMs: 198

Quick-Step Floors rider and farmer’s son Yves Lampaert certainly takes the KOM for the best profile name with John Deere, although it doesn’t seem to have done him much good when it comes to picking up followers.

Wilco Kelderman (profile)

Wilco Kelderman at the 2017 Tour Down Under (Credit: Sunada)

Team: Team Sunweb
Followers: 21,631
Strava KOMs: 506

A previous top 10 finisher at the Giro, Kelderman looks likely to be a key domestique for Tom Dumoulin in 2017, but will also make sure he has time to upload his ride after each stage.

Enrico Battaglin (profile)

Enrico Battaglin at the 2016 Giro d’Italia (Credit: Sunada)

Team: LottoNL-Jumbo
Followers: 2,484
Strava KOMs: 38

Battaglin will be looking to add to the two Giro stage wins that he has already, and also add a few KOMs to his feeble current effort of 38.

Giovanni Visconti (profile)

Giovanni Visconti at the 2017 Liège-Bastogne-Liège (Credit: Sunada)

Team: Bahrain-Merida
Followers: 14,486
Strava KOMs: 664

Despite being on domestique duty for Vincenzo Nibali, Giovanni Visconti (or Visconti G. as he seems to go by on Strava) will probably go on the attack at some point this Giro, and when he does we can’t wait to have a look at his power numbers.

Joe Dombrowski (profile)

Joe Dombrowki at the 2016 Giro d’Italia (Credit: Sunada)

Team: Cannondale-Drapac
Followers: 19,064
Strava KOMs: 871

Joe Dombrowki’s regular rides around his adopted home of the Côte d’Azur always inspire envy, especially with the accompanying pictures, but he’ll be hoping to pick up a few KOMs on Italian soil over the next few weeks.

Moreno Hofland (profile)

Moreno Hofland at the 2015 Giro d’Italia (Credit: Sunada)

Team: Lotto-Soudal
Followers: 5,207
Strava KOMs: 113

One of André Greipel’s key lead out men, Hofland is a Strava devotee that usually accompanies his rides with pictures too, although he unfortunately usually strips his power data collected by his SRM power meter.


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‘I put more pressure on myself than anyone around me’: Caleb Ewan sets his sights on the Giro d’Italia

At just 22 years of age, Caleb Ewan is already outsprinting the best but can Orica-Scott’s fastman prove himself on the Grand Tour stage?

The shadow of Mark Cavendish looms large when it comes to Caleb Ewan.

The young Australian has elicited frequent comparisons to the Manxman, who is arguably the greatest sprinter of all time.

Much of that commentary relates to his super-low sprinting position, which takes Cavendish’s own naturally aerodynamic sprint stance and pushes it to the nth degree, to a point where some have argued it is dangerously unstable.

Ewan’s super low sprint position sets him apart from the other sprinters (credit: Sunada)

Ewan himself, when asked, names Cavendish as his sprinting idol — illustrative of the nine years in age between them.

And at the Abu Dhabi Tour this year, the pair went shoulder-to-shoulder for the first time with the Australian coming out ahead — twice.

>>> Watch: Cavendish and Ewan in final rain-lashed sprint battle at the Abu Dhabi Tour (video)

After the first occasion, Cavendish said:

“I’ve never sprinted off Caleb before and it’s the first time I can understand what it’s like for people to sit on my wheel.

“When you’re so small there’s no difference when you move out of his slipstream from being on the wheel.”

Learning curve: Kittel (left) gets the edge on Ewan in Abu Dhabi

But if those comparisons are to continue then Ewan may soon have to start winning at a similar rate to the Manxman’s early career.

This year he will turn 23. As Cav turned 23 he racked up five victories at the Tour de France in a season in which he won 17 races.

However, while Ewan is flattered by the comparison he feels no pressure to emulate him in this way. “I don’t feel any added pressure someone comparing me to Cav,” he says.

“Cav is the best sprinter, I think, ever, so to be compared to a guy like that is flattering.


Watch now: Caleb Ewan on sprinting


“However, you can compare someone all you want but at the end of the day you’ve still got to get the results.

“I know there’s a lot of hard work that goes into that and I’ve probably got a way to go to get to his level.”

He adds: “I think every season you go into there is always an expectation to do better to make an obvious improvement from the year before.

“I felt like last year wasn’t as good as I had hoped; I started off well and, it didn’t go downhill exactly, but I was getting a lot of seconds or thirds and not first places. If you’re not first you’re nowhere really.”

Last year Ewan won two stages of the Tour Down Under in January but was unable to win again until the Hamburg Cyclassics in late August and then a stage of the Tour of Britain in September.

This year he has started off even stronger, winning four stages of the Tour Down Under and beating a field including Cavendish, André Greipel and Marcel Kittel to take a stage win in Abu Dhabi.

Home hero: Ewan takes stage four of the 2017 Tour Down Under (Credit: Sunada)

“I know last year was also a good start but then going into Down Under it was going to be hard with the expectation of going better than last year so to do better again was a boost of confidence,” he says.

That better start hasn’t been propelled by any special preparation either, rather it’s just a natural progression for the Australian.

Having wrapped up his season in October at the World Championship road race — which he didn’t finish — he didn’t return to training until mid-November.

“It was a bit of a rushed build-up,” he says.

“The previous year I finished the Vuelta after 10 stages and that was my season done so I had a big build-up.

“This year there were no cruise-y rides into it, it was straight into hard efforts.”

In one respect he is looking to emulate Cavendish at this point in his career, though more by coincidence than design, taking his first Giro stage win.

Ewan went to the Giro last year but never placed higher than second in a field containing Greipel, Kittel and Elia Viviani; he had hoped for more.

>>> Giro d’Italia 2017 start list

“I was hoping for at least a stage win in the Giro especially after winning a stage in my first Grand Tour.

“Obviously the calibre of the sprinters at the Giro was higher than at the Vuelta when I won a stage. I got close, but…”

Hoping for a better Giro this year (Credit Sunada)

Broader aims

When asked what constitutes success in 2017, Ewan says:

“Probably just winning constantly throughout the season. I know I did improve last year but it was just a step up with WorldTour races.

“In my first year I did a lot of smaller races and if I had gone back to those I’m sure I could have won more.”

He adds: “In WorldTour racing it all happens differently, if you want to be there,” he gestures to a point about five metres ahead of him.

“It’s a lot harder to get there than in a smaller race. In a WorldTour race there is much more thinking because there are another 10 guys in a race that are just as fast as you.”

>>> Caleb Ewan: ‘It’s pretty scary in my sprinting position’ (video)

This positioning and moving around the bunch, particularly in the final kilometres of a race, is the thing that Ewan identifies as the big single area where he can make gains.

But he also says simply gaining strength and age will improve him.

“Probably the biggest gain is to come to the sprint fresher, I think that’ll happen as I get older and stronger and get to the sprints in better condition than I do now.

“A lot of the good sprinters now, if the lead-out doesn’t go perfect for them and they have to do a bit extra in the wind they can still win,” he says.

“I’m slowly getting to that point. In Down Under there were a few situations where the lead-out wasn’t perfect and I still won.

“Also, when you are fresher it’s easier to make decisions as well.”

Winning in all conditions at the 2017 Abu Dhabi tour (Credit: Sunada)

At 5ft 4in it’s perhaps unsurprising that when Ewan, who was raised on the far outskirts of Sydney, was coming up through the scene he thought he would be a climber in the mould of other diminutive riders such as Alberto Contador or Joaquim Rodríguez.

He would chase King of the Mountains classification points and race compatriots to the top of local climbs.

During this time he wound his way through the Australian Institute of Sport system, racing on the track.

He picked up a Junior Omnium World Championship in 2011 and went on to race for the Jayco-AIS academy team on the road in 2013 before turning pro in 2015.

Ewan says he still likes to get back to the track when he can.

“Every year I go back to Australia and I think I should get back on the track and do a little bit.

“For sure as a sprinter that kind of stuff really sharpens you up. Last year Cav had his best year in the Tour that he has had for a while, [Fernando] Gaviria — all he does on the track… it is something that if I had more time I’d do.”

Ewan raced the National Madison Championships with compatriot Mark Renshaw over the Australian summer, placing eighth.

However, he says the pair only did one session together before the race itself and so it wasn’t enough to really make any difference to his training.

Olympic ideas

Last year the UCI changed the format of the omnium, cutting out the timed events, partly to make it more exciting and partly to encourage road starts to return to the track in the way Cavendish and Italian Elia Viviani did so successfully for the Rio Olympics.

>>> Track events get major overhaul in new UCI rule change

When asked if he’d like to follow in Cavendish’s footsteps and return to the track for a tilt at an omnium title at a future Olympics or World Championships Ewan says he likes the event — he has fond memories of his junior world title win — and would consider it but he thinks it’s quite unlikely to happen.

“The way the Australian team focus on the Olympics is 95 per cent team pursuit and five per cent omnium,” he says, echoing the same question mark that hung over Cavendish’s spot on the GB squad last spring and early summer.

“When I was a junior I went to the Worlds on the track and did the omnium and it was pretty clear then that I didn’t have a place in the team because with my height in the team pursuit no one can sit on me and you definitely have to be a team pursuit rider.”

Caleb Ewan wins Stage 8 of the 2016 Tour of Britain (Credit: Watson)

Secret of success

So for the foreseeable future his duties for Orica-Scott will remain his focus, a good return on investment for the squad, which has celebrated considerable success with developing young talent in recent years with Ewan in the sprints and the Yates brothers and Esteban Chaves on general classification.

What, in Ewan’s view, has been the secret of the team’s success at this?

“I think, obviously, these guys haven’t come from nowhere and come good, they were good before they came to the team and it’s the team coming together at the time they want and not putting pressure on them, like me.”

He adds: “They give you leadership but it’s not the same as if they gave Gerro [veteran sprinter Simon Gerrans] leadership and if you don’t deliver it’s fine.”

Caleb Ewan on stage three of the 2016 Tour de Yorkshire (Credit: Watson)

It’s this unusual mixture of responsibility without excessive pressure that seems to bolster Ewan’s confidence when CW asks if he feels ready to take the full responsibility of going to a Grand Tour with a full team behind him rather than sharing leadership with one of the squad’s GC contenders.

Ewan pauses for a minute and then says:

“To be honest I would probably feel just as much pressure going to the Giro this year with, I don’t know, half the team that I would feel with a full team, so I’d be pretty comfortable with it. I feel I handle pressure quite well.

“I put more pressure on myself than anyone around me.”

But Ewan isn’t getting ahead of himself; he says he’d prefer not to go to the Tour de France this year (and indeed it’s quite unlikely he will) because he feels he still needs to prove himself in Grand Tours and there are other riders, like Chaves, who have earned the right to have the team’s full support.

If Ewan continues to progress as he has, it won’t be long before be commands that sort of support and at that point, the professional peloton may just find that it has a new sprinter at the top of the pecking order.


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Giro d’Italia abandons plans for ‘misunderstood’ descending prize after rider backlash

RCS Sport says it has “taken comments on board” regarding prize for fastest descenders

RCS Sport, the organiser of the Giro d’Italia, has abandoned its plans for a best descender prize that had been widely criticised by riders and teams.

In a statement, the race organisers said that the prize, which would have had a €15,000 prize pot, had been intended to “highlight an important skill which is an integral part of a cycle race putting riders’ safety in jeopardy.”

>>> Nairo Quintana’s complete guide ot the Giro d’Italia 2017

However, following significant criticism of the idea from across the world of cycling, RCS Sport said that it could potentially put rider safety at risk.


Watch: Giro d’Italia essential guide


“Comments have been made suggesting that this initiative could be potentially misunderstood and generate behaviours not in line with the safety principle,” the statement continued.

“The race organisers have taken these comments on board and changed an initiative that could be misinterpreted.

>>> Giro d’Italia 2017 start list

“Therefore the race organisers have decided to eliminate all such classification and prize money as per the race regulations, leaving the timekeeping of the descents purely as statistical data for the fans.”

The 2017 Giro d’Italia starts in Sardinia on Friday, May 5, and concludes three weeks later in Milan on Sunday, May 28.


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Nairo Quintana’s complete guide to the Giro d’Italia 2017

2014 champion looks ahead at the route of this year’s race

When the Giro d’Italia starts in Sardinia on Friday, Movistar’s Nairo Quintana will stand on the star line as the favourite, with many backing him to beat the likes of Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida), Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) and Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) to repeat his triumph from 2014.

Ahead of the start of the 100th edition of the race, the 27-year-old Colombian looks ahead at the punishing route of the three week race, including the two major time trials where he will try to limit his losses.

Stages one to three: Sardinia Depart

Giro d’Italia 2017, stage 2 profile

The Giro d’Italia starts with three stages on the island of Sardinia, stages one and three offering chances for the sprinters, while stage two, the profile of which you can see above, is a more hillier test.

>>> Giro d’Italia 2017 route: maps and elevation for every stage

Quintana:

“We’ll have to keep full attention during those three days. We need to keep the team together to avoid losing any time and suffering any crashes. The goal will be to reach the Etna climb unscathed.

“They will be difficult stages for me, but fortunately, we have some strong people in the team for flat stages, and as long as we keep the front, we shouldn’t get in any trouble. The opening weekend should be quite stressful for many in the peloton, since the sprinters don’t have many chances to win stages.”

Stage four: Cefalù to Etna

Giro d’Italia 2017, stage 4 profile

After a rest day on Monday, May 8, the peloton heads for the first mountain stage in Sicily with a summit finish on the 18km climb up Mount Etna.

>>> Nairo Quintana: ‘I’ve got two of three different plans to prepare for the Tour after finishing the Giro’

Quintana:

“I haven’t inspected the climb, but looking at the race data it feels like it will be a tough first mountain stage. While my rivals have been racing lately, I’ll be going there almost immediately after a two-month period away.

“Because of that, I might be lacking some racing form at the time we face the climb. The only goal that day will not to lose any time.”

Stages five to nine: First week

Giro d’Italia 2017, stage 9 profile

Stages five to eight give chances to the sprinters and the puncheurs, before the GC contenders will once again have a chance to flex their muscles on the Blockhaus, a 13.6km climb which frequently ramps up beyond 10 per cent.

>>> Giro d’Italia 2017 live TV guide

Quintana:

“The four stages between the two first mountain-top finishes should be good for me, helpful so I can continue to build my form up before the Blockhaus, which is a respectable ascent for that early part of the race.

“It’s a really tough ascent – I rode through the first part of the climb and it should create some significant gaps and establish a hierarchy GC-wise.”

Stage 10: Foligno to Montefalco (ITT)

Giro d’Italia 2017, stage 10 profile

Coming off the back of a rest day, stage 10 sees the first of two time trials in this year’s Giro, with a lumpy course that should suit stronger tester among the GC contenders rather than than the pure time triallists.

>>> Giro d’Italia 2017 start list

Quintana:

“It’s a long, hard course. I don’t think it should play much against me, because it has some slopes that could help me limit my losses. I should defend myself well against the specialists.

“It could also be good for me that the GC contenders are not-so-strong time triallists, though Pinot and Nibali always go well against the clock. We hope we won’t concede big gaps so we can tackle the demanding final week in a good position.”

Stage 14: Castellania to Oropa

Giro d’Italia 2017, stage 14 profile

Stage 11 includes plenty of climbing that could provide a launching pad for surprise attacks, but the next summit finish of the race comes at Oropa, as the Giro hits the Alps for the first time.

>>> ‘I know now that it’s possible’: Steven Kruijswijk ready to take his second chance at the Giro d’Italia

Quintana:

“After some easier stages we’ll reach the third Saturday and the Oropa stage. I know it well, it’s a beautiful ascent, I like it. It’ll be curious to see how we do: it’s short stage and a flat course with such a tough sting at the tail.

“We should see some decent gaps there, and the approach to the foot of the climb should be ‘interesting’. Let’s hope we can tackle the climb at the front of the bunch and go for what could be a true mountain time trial towards the line.”


Watch: Giro d’Italia 2017 essential guide


Stage 16: Rovetta to Bormio

Giro d’Italia 2017, stage 16 profile

The queen stage of the 100th Giro d’Italia, stage 16 sees the peloton tackle three huge climbs, including the legendary Passo dello Stelvio from two different approaches.

>>> Giro d’Italia dedicates Motirolo climb to ‘great champion’ Michele Scarponi

Quintana:

“Starting with Mortirolo, which we know and fear as it’s so demanding, and following on with the Stelvio, through two of its different road, I feel like this will be the Queen stage in this Giro, a decisive one.

“It’s going to be special also because of the high altitude, almost reaching 2,800m above sea level – that could take its toll on many riders. We’ll also have to pay attention at that final descent to the line.”

Stage 18: Moena to Ortisei/St. Ulrich

Giro d’Italia 2017, stage 18 profile

Following on from a transition stage on valley roads to Canazei, stage 18 manages to pack five classified climbs into the relatively short 137km course with little time for recover.

Quintana:

“Canazei’s finish the day prior shouldn’t play a big role in the race, but this Ortisei stage is a tough one, with lots of vertical gain. It’s ’impegnativa’ (demanding), as they say in Italy.

“The route doesn’t offer any respite, it’s either climbing or descending all day, with sort of a circuit at the end and a final descent before the Ortisei climb on good roads, but still one to pay attention at. The last 6km uphill will be very painful.”

Stage 19: San Candido/Innichen to Piancavallo

Giro d’Italia 2017, stage 19 profile

Stage 19 sees the final summit finish of the Giro with a punishing 15.5km climb to Piancavallo, with the toughest part of the climb coming at the start with gradients of up to 14 per cent.

>>> Eight things to look out for at the Giro d’Italia

Quintana:

“A hard final ascent, with difficult slopes. Someone who still has fresh legs at this point of the Giro could make a big difference. The climb is over one hour long, and that could be too much for many in the third week of a stage race.”

Stage 20: Pordenone to Asiago

Giro d’Italia 2017, stage 20 profile

The penultimate stage of the race presents an interesting challenge to the riders, with the uneven climb of Monte Grappa providing the possibility for long-range attacks.

Quintana:

“We go up the Monte Grappa first – it’s a beast of a climb, very tough. I won a TT up that climb, though it was a different road. The descent to the valley requires much attention the Foza climb, which is also difficult.

“We’ll see how the GC stands at that point, but should anyone have the strength and energy to try it, the route is perfect to go on a long escape. The final road to Asiago is a rolling one – a few slopes but nothing really tough.”

Stage 21: Monza to Milano (ITT)

Giro d’Italia 2017, stage 21 profile

The final time trial into Milan presents one final chance for riders to shake up the top of the general classification, and will be a test of recovery and endurance after three hard weeks of racing.

Quintana:

“I feel like there’s a chance the Giro could be decided before this final TT, because the terrain prior enables a good climber to build a strong lead.

“Then again, it’s a serious TT, and the man in pink cannot lose focus for a second if he wants to take the trophy home.”


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