‘Leaving Team Sky was a now or never. I have a massive opportunity to perform across the year’

CW sits down with Ben Swift as he heads through his first season since leaving Team Sky, with an eye on a Monument win

Ben Swift‘s life changed drastically over the last few months. He left behind seven years in Team Sky to lead UAE Team Emirates and became a father. It all bodes well for Swift as he aims to win Milan-San Remo and to return to the Tour de France.

The baby-faced cyclist from Yorkshire sat back on a couch outside the Viceroy hotel in Abu Dhabi in the midst of the whirlwind to speak with Cycling Weekly.

Ahead of the Abu Dhabi Tour, the team welcomed new mega-sponsor Emirates Airlines. Swift, one of the team’s stars and one of two native English speakers, was pulled left and right for local television interviews. The next day, he began supporting Rui Costa to his eventual overall win.

The 2013 world champion Costa won the summit finish stage to Jebel Hafeet and kept the lead in the flat final stage on Abu Dhabi’s formula one circuit. It was a dream scenario for the UAE’s first professional team to win on home soil after announcing the Emirates deal.

Swift had little time to celebrate. He received a call from his partner after the stage saying she was on her way to the hospital to give birth.

Arthur Swift, just like dad, is fast. He arrived before Swift could travel home. He has his hands full and with a smile emoticon, he wrote a few days later saying he is looking forward to race again in Paris-Nice just so he can have a full night’s sleep.

Times truly have changed for Swift, who at 22-years-old in 2010, left team Katusha to join Sky in their debut year.

Ben Swift riding for Katusha at the 2009 Giro d’Italia (Watson)

“Everyone in the UAE team has been good to me, but it’s always going to be different to Sky because I was with my childhood friends there,” Swift says.

Swift grew through the British Cycling Academy and raced the track. He had a trainee period with Barloworld in 2007, the year Geraint Thomas was in the team, and turned professional with Katusha at 21 years old.

Talk of a new British WorldTour team proved true and for 2010, Swift left his contract to ride with his home team and childhood friends. He had his chances to sprint and race the Tour de France in 2011, but the focus changed quickly to Grand Tours with impressive helpers and star leaders.

Swift found some space. He placed third in Milan-San Remo in 2014 and second in it in 2016. Opportunities were limited, though. And as he began to climb better, the team needed him more and more to help its classification leaders.

“I was so fatigued, I didn’t have the power left [when the stages suited me] or I’d have to work for the leader to protect him. If I have the capability now to be in those 20-30 man groups and not have to ride for someone else, then it opens the doors up,” Swift continues.

“Regrets? I don’t think so. I had a lot of opportunities, but it started to change. It comes with the territory, that’s what Sky was all about, and you know that. I loved it, but when this opportunity came about, it was hard to miss. It was time to go full gas for myself.”

Ben Swift celebrates becoming a world track champion in 2012. Swift was one of a highly successful generation to come through the British Cycling academy

Swift recalls the cooling vests, the warm downs and training camps. Some said that going to a race after a training camp was almost a relief given how much effort that they invested in their build up.

“Sky made it much more scientific, much more attention to detail. They were innovators of the sport, everything from cooling down… Everyone looked at diets before, but the way that Sky did it so rigorously, eating this for that training or eating this for that training.

“I don’t think other teams ever went into that detail. Now, it’s across the board. When we wore our skin suits or aero helmets on the road, they laughed at us, but now others do it too.

“Sky learned as they were starting. When a new rider came to the team, they couldn’t believe how intense the training camps were. From what you heard, the other teams just rolled around in camps!

“That definitely got tapered off over the years, in the first couple of years, it was incredible the amount of training. With the innovation that they brought to the sport, they learned that sometimes less is better.”

Swift laughed because he didn’t know any better at the time. He had come from British Cycling’s Academy where they were training similarly. The same programme included professionals like Geraint Thomas and Ian Stannard – Sky team-mates, and childhood friends, left behind.

He began looking with his agent in the summer of 2016 for a new team. Several teams were interested given his placings and WorldTour points, but UAE Team Emirates – or Lampre-Merida as it was then – kept calling back to convince Swift.

The opportunity to lead more, and to select and target specific stages from a Tour de France road book was too much to pass.

“It’s looking through the road book and picking the stages for myself. I’m able to plan my race days,” adds Swift.

“It was a now or never. I have a massive opportunity to perform across the year.”

‘They listen to what I want.”

Ben Swift wins stage five of the 2014 Tour of the Basque Country. Leadership opportunities would be harder to come by at Sky for Swift.

Swift debuted in Sky’s black colours in the Tour Down Under in 2010. Greg Henderson took the team’s first win in the opening criterium.

He helped in those early wins and then made his mark. In Sky’s long list of stage race titles – from the Tour de France to Paris-Nice to the Critérium du Dauphiné – Swift claimed the first one in the 2010 Tour de Picardie. He also took stage victories in the Tour Down Under, the Tour of California, the Tour de Romandie, Poland and País Vasco.

As Swift began to climb better, he helped his Sky team-mates defend their classification leads and limited his chances to only a handful of days.

In Sky, Swift’s one big appointment of the season became Milan-San Remo. He collected points everywhere else in 2016, for example, but his second place on Via Roma behind Arnaud Démare (FDJ) is what ‘Swifty’ supporters remember most.

The UAE Team Emirates team may seem an unlikely match, but with its Italian structure, after 20-plus years racing as Lampre, it knows races like Milan-San Remo well. That extends to manager Giuseppe Saronni. In addition to the Giro d’Italia and the Worlds in Goodwood, he won on San Remo’s Via Roma in 1983.

“They helped me focus on it and on the surrounding races, giving me the opportunity. They listen to what I want and then make decisions. I was able to do that in the past, but sometimes, it was spur of the moment, being pulled off to a race. Now we have a plan and we are sticking to it,” Swift says.

“The emphasis is on San Remo, but I can name 20 or 30 guys who have that on their list too. We are not under any illusions. I don’t like making a big song and dance, saying, ‘That’s the one I want to target.’ You’ll never hear me say, ‘That’s the one I’m going to win.’

“That aside, you have to have goals and ambitions. For me, I’ve proved in the past that Milan-San Remo is a race that suits me. It’s just a logical race that I can target. It opens up many other opportunities when I start to build for that race.”

Swift is racing in Paris-Nice ahead of Milan-San Remo and continuing to País Vasco and to the Amstel Gold Race. The Amstel Gold Race, with a hard parcours and new flat finish could be one of those opportunities.

Swift has had a decent record at La Primavera, but will be looking to one better in 2017 (Watson)

He says that he does not want to think too far ahead, but “with 90 per cent certainty” he will race the 2017 Tour de France. It would be the first time in six years, since 2011, for Swift. Even in 2014, he was not there when the Sheffield stage finished eight kilometres from his door step.

UAE Team Emirates has South African star Louis Meintjes, who placed eighth in 2016, to support. Swift explains that it will be much different, though, as the team will not be lined out on the front each day for its leader as Sky would for Chris Froome. It leaves Swift to thumb through the road book and pinpoint days.

“I haven’t looked in detail, but I heard that there are many intermediate transitional stages this year. There could be many opportunities.”

Opportunities ahead

Swift puts his hand on his knee. It still gives him a few “niggles” occasionally and reminds him how he almost fractured it last year in the Tour de Romandie. Doctors say that will pass in the next year.

He pays more attention to his shoulders and if needed, he visits British Cycling’s physiotherapists for help.

“I hope I won’t need that any more,” he says. “I’ve done both of my shoulders in twice. It’s a little genetic in that my shoulders aren’t completely round, but more oval that we’ve seen on the MRIs. If I crash on the wrong spot at high speeds, my shoulder dislocates straight out the back and does a lot of damage on the way out.”

The Barloworld period passed and so did the years in Katusha and Sky. Even though he has been professional for eight years, he is still only 29. “I’m coming into my prime,” he adds. He signed a two-year contract with Saronni and UAE to make the most of the period.

Swift rides alongside former Sky teammates Ian Stannard and Geraint Thomas. Swift will be looking to take bigger opportunities at UAE Team Emirates (Sunada)

“The years are going by fast now, they tick by, and you have to focus on the now, but also with an eye on the next objective,” he adds.

“For the next couple of years, I’m going to be targeting those harder stages and those reduced bunch sprints. I may not be as fast as I was when I was younger, as I used to win bunch sprints in the past.”

At the 2012 worlds in Melbourne, Swift won the scratch gold medal and with Geraint Thomas, took a Madison silver medal.

“My training changed some without being on the track, but I’ve substituted that with climbing, looking for opportunities in harder stages,” he continues.

“That’s the direction that I need to keep pushing and pursuing.”


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Quintana overcomes bronchitis to dominate at Tirreno-Adriatico

Nairo Quintana (Movistar) coughed several times during his post-Terminillo stage victory press conference but he appeared far stronger than the bronchitis he’s battling as he won the queen stage to Terminillo and is now on track for a second career overall win at Tirreno-Adriatico after dominating the climb to Rome’s favourite ski resort.

Quintana attacked several times during the second half of the 16km climb, finally getting away from Geraint Thomas (Team Sky), Rigoberto Uran (Cannondale-Drapac) and Adam Yates (Orica-Scott) with two kilometres remaining. He blasted past strong early attacker Simon Spilak (Katusha) and then rightly celebrated his victory.

Two years ago he won in similar style, fighting his way through a snowstorm to take his solo victory. He was arguably not as strong this time but is a far better rider and has a bigger palmares after winning the 2014 Giro d’Italia, the 2016 Vuelta a España and finishing on the Tour de France podium three times.

“I’ve got more experience and I’m more mature now. They are clear advantages that I took advantage of to win today,” Quintana explained in his quiet but decisive tone that reflects his style on the bike.

“I’m not at my best because I’ve got a bit of a cold but my teammates were good at controlling the race and we reached climb together. Castroviejo was in the early move which helped me, then Andrey Amador and Dani Moreno were there with me, so I was able to keep my strength for the final attack.”

Quintana’s dominance on the climb to Terminillo and Movistar’s strong opening team time trial means he now leads Yates by 33 seconds, with Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) third at 56 seconds and everyone else over a minute back. Tirreno-Adriatico is now his to lose.

“I think that there are some difficult and dangerous stages to come. For example tomorrow’s stage is perhaps more difficult than today,” he warned. “We hope to control things with the great team we have and so keep the same lead. But it won’t be easy.”

Thoughts and questions soon turned to Quintana’s double goal of the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France in 2017. Nobody has achieved the rare double since Marco Pantani in 1998. Quintana is ready to try, however, perhaps knowing that at 27, he is at the very peak of his career.

“The Tour is a dream we’ve always had and will always have and I’ll be hugely motivated for what is a big goal. But we simply didn’t think I could miss the 100th edition of the Giro after winning it in the past. We’ll be giving everything in May too,” Quintana explained.

When it was suggested that Quintana somehow struggles at the Tour de France, his reply was simple, honest but sincere.

“The problem could be that there’s a rival who is stronger than me,” he said with elegant subtlety.

“I’ve perhaps been unlucky or ill in recent years. We’ve just got to keep trying, keep working and hope things go our way this year.”

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Adam Yates ‘I had to go full gas when Quintana attacked’

Adam Yates says that “if there’s a chance, I’ll go for it” to try and gain time on race leader Nairo Quintana in the remaining stages of Tirreno-Adriatico in Italy

Adam Yates (Orica-Scott) says that marking Nairo Quintana (Movistar) takes “full-gas” efforts that are nearly impossible to maintain.

The Englishman, however, did so for much of the Monte Terminillo climb today in central Italy. Quintana won solo with 18 seconds over Geraint Thomas (Sky) and 24 seconds over Yates – the first time two Brits ever placed top three together in the Tirreno-Adriatico‘s 52 years.

“It was pretty full-gas at the moment when Quintana attacked,” Yates said by telephone.

“You just have to try to hold on when he goes. I felt OK and when he attacks, you’ve got to get on a wheel and try to limit your losses.”

The 24-year-old rode well considering this was his first serious day of the 2017 season. He chased an early attack at five kilometres out in the 16.1-kilometre climb, went with Thomas briefly and broke free with Thomas, Quintana and Rigoberto Urán (Cannondale-Drapac).

>>> Geraint Thomas: ‘That was bloody hard, but encouraging’ (video)

Quintana rode clear with two kilometres remaining. Thomas chased solo behind and Yates dislodged Urán. Yates, who placed ninth overall in 2015, called it “a pretty good performance.”

“It’s pretty much the first big effort like that on a long climb this season, so I’m happy.”

Yates sits second overall at 33 seconds behind Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and holds the white jersey for best young rider. Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) is at 56 seconds.

Much could change in tomorrow’s stage of ‘muri’ or wall-like climbs to Fermo and of course in the final time trial stage on Tuesday.

“We’ve still got a couple of days to try something and see what happens. Quintana is looking pretty strong, but you never know,” Yates explained.

“I don’t know the stage [to Fermo]. All the stages so far, we’ve done in previous editions of Tirreno, but not this one.

“I’m feeling good. If there’s an opportunity, then I’ll try, but I don’t think it’ll be easy and it’ll probably be pretty controlled. When Quintana has the lead like that, Movistar usually does a good job. Of course, if there’s a chance, I’ll go for it.”

Yates and his twin brother Simon, who won on Friday in Paris-Nice, will lead Orica-Scott in the Giro d’Italia this May. After a slow start in the Volta a Valenciana and an altitude training camp in Sierra Nevada, Tirreno-Adriatico showed he is “on track” for the grand tour.

“It’s shows I’m on track,” he continued. “I knew where I was with my preparation and it’s good to find out in a race with a big effort. Everything is on track.”


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Dan Martin ‘had to follow the best guys’ as Alaphilippe loses yellow

Change of leadership for Quick-Step Floors at Paris-Nice as Dan Martin puts in a strong performance on the key climbing stage

Quick-Step Floors enjoyed mixed fortunes on stage seven of Paris-Nice, with Dan Martin finishing third on the stage, but home favourite Julian Alaphilippe losing the yellow jersey.

But it was nothing but celebration at the team bus after the stage, with the team looking pleased with their day’s work.

After his performance today, Martin moves into third above his younger team-mate, and said it was always the plan for him to stay with the leaders even if Alaphilippe faltered.

“When it kicked off on the last climb I had to follow the best guys,” Martin said after the stage.

“We knew we had David [de la Cruz] there to look after Julian. Today showed just how strong the team is.”

>>> Richie Porte wins Paris-Nice queen stage as Sergio Henao takes overall lead

Martin found himself distanced by a late counter-attack from Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) and Sergio Henao (Team Sky), who set off in pursuit of eventual stage winner Richie Porte.

However, experience paid off for Martin as he paced the final kilometers perfectly, catching Henao with just a few hundred metres to go.

“Alberto and Sergio were really strong, but I knew I just had to do my own pace and get to the top as fast as I could.

“That strong final kilometers is sort of my speciality, and it really helped that I had Sergio to aim for.”

Martin eventually crossed the line in third place, 32 seconds behind stage winner Porte, but only 11 seconds behind Contador.

>>> Paris-Nice 2017: Latest news, reports and info

The slim margin to Contador means Martin leads the Spaniard by a single second going into Sunday’s final stage around Nice, and is 30 seconds off new yellow jersey Henao.

Still short of breath five minutes after crossing the line, and it was no surprise that Martin had his mind on recovery more than whether he could overhaul Henao’s overall lead and become the first Irishman to win Paris-Nice since Sean Kelly took the last of his seven wins in 1988.

“Today was so hard. Probably too hard for March! I’ll just have to see how I feel tomorrow.”


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Richie Porte wins Paris-Nice queen stage as Sergio Henao takes overall lead

Paris-Nice’s highest-ever finish provides plenty of action as the general classification is shaken up to set up a grand finale on Sunday

Richie Porte (BMC Racing) salvaged his 2017 Paris-Nice in the best possible way on Saturday, winning the race’s big climbing stage. Sergio Henao (Team Sky) moved into the overall race lead after a strong performance.

After the frustration of the previous week, where he had lost over 15 minutes overall, double Paris-Nice winner Porte attacked solo in the final four kilometres of the stage to Col de la Couillole to net the victory.

In the fight for overall honours, Henao and Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) battled it out, with Contador finishing second on the stage but not gaining enough time on Henao to prevent him from wearing the yellow jersey.

Having led the race from the opening stage, Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors) cracked on the climb with 10km to go, losing two minutes and 40 seconds to stage winner Porte.

Dan Martin (Quick-Step Floors) moved into the team leadership role as Alaphilippe faded, and put in a good performance to finish third and move up to second overall at 30 seconds. Contador is third overall at 31 seconds.

>>> Paris-Nice 2017: Latest news, reports and info

The day’s stage featured four classified climbs, including the final ascent. Several riders put themselves into the day’s early break with King of the Mountains points in mind.

The break of Axel Domont (Ag2r), Lilian Calmejane (Direct Energie), Jan Polanc (UAE Team Emirates), Omar Fraile (Dimension Data), Delio Fernandez (Delko-Marseille) and Pierre-Luc Périchon (Fortuneo-Vital Concept) formed right from the start. KOM holder at the beginning of the stage, Domont, and challenger Calmejane fought for the day’s mountain spoils, with the latter coming out on top.

Calmejane was the last remainder of the day’s escape as he scooped up the maximum points on the Col Saint-Martin before getting caught before the final climb of the day.

A group of contenders quickly assembled on Col de la Couillole, with Jarlinson Pantano setting a fierce pace to aid Trek-Segafredo leader Contador. Alaphilippe got in trouble 10km from the finish and was dropped, but bravely battled on, eventually finishing 14th.

Porte was the most aggressive, attacking several times before Contador and Henao appeared to let him go, more concerned with the overall victory than the stage win. It was Contador who looked the stronger, forging ahead of Henao in the closing kilometre.

The previous day’s stage winner Simon Yates (Orica-Scott) lost some ground, finishing 21st and losing 4-20 to Porte by the finish. The British rider now sits in 10th spot overall.

There were several notable abandons before and during the stage, including green jersey Arnaud Démare (FDJ), Bryan Coquard (Direct Energie), Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo), Dan McLay (Fortuneo-Vital Concept) and Joe Dombrowski (Cannondale-Drapac).

The 2017 edition of Paris-Nice concludes on Sunday, with the final stage running to and from Nice in a loop and including five categorised climbs. There is still opportunity for those with aspirations of a high placing overall to make their mark on the race – particularly with the podium positions only 31 seconds apart.

Result

Paris-Nice 2017, stage seven: Nice to Col de la Couillole, 177km
1. Richie Porte (Aus) BMC Racing, in 5-01-35
2. Alberto Contador (Esp) Trek-Segafredo, at 21 secs
3. Daniel Martin (Irl) Quick-Step Floors, at 32 secs
4. Sergio Henao (Col) Team Sky, at same time
5. Jon Izagirre (Esp) Bahrain-Merida, at 55 secs
6. Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Astana, at 1-07
7. Pierre-Roger Latour (Fra) Ag2r La Mondiale, at 1-11
8. Ilnur Zakarin (Rus) Katusha-Alpecin, at 1-21
9. Marc Soler (Esp) Movistar, at 1-21
10. Gorka Izagirre (Esp) Movistar, at same time
Other
14. Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Quick-Step Floors, at 2-40
21. Simon Yates (GBr) Orica-Scott, at 4-20

General classification after stage seven
1. Sergio Henao (Col) Team Sky, in 27-01-15
2. Daniel Martin (Irl) Quick-Step Floors, at 30 secs
3. Alberto Contador (Esp) Trek-Segafredo, at 31 secs
4. Gorka Izagirre (Esp) Movistar, at 1-00
5. Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Quick-Step Floors, at 1-22
6. Ilnur Zakarin (Rus) Katusha-Alpecin, at 1-34
7. Jon Izagirre (Esp) Bahrain-Merida, at 1-41
8. Tony Gallopin (Fra) Lotto-Soudal, at 3-22
9. Warren Barguil (Fra) Team Sunweb, at 4-07
10. Simon Yates (GBr) Orica-Scott, at 4-39


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Nairo Quintana blasts rivals to win Tirreno-Adriatico stage four; Thomas second, Yates third

Queen stage of 2017 Tirreno-Adriatico won by Nairo Quintana, with British riders Geraint Thomas second and Adam Yates third

Nairo Quintana (Movistar) looked head-and-shoulders above his general classification rivals in Tirreno-Adriatico on Saturday, winning the Italian race’s high mountain stage with a solo attack to take the overall lead.

British riders Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) and Adam Yates (Orica-Scott) had animated the action on the final climb to Terminillo, launching attacks to fragment the group of overall contenders. Thomas finished second, with Yates in third.

Thanks to his win, Colombian Quintana has overhauled Australian Rohan Dennis (BMC) at the top of the overall standings with Yates moving up to second at 33 seconds and leads the best young rider classification. Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) is third overall.

The big climbing stage of the race had kicked off  with a break consisting of Davide Ballerini (Androni Giocattoli), Romain Gioux (Novo Nordisk), Marko Kump (UAE Team Emirates), Matvey Mamykin (Katusha-Alpecin), Alan Marangoni (Nippo-Vini Fantini) and Mirco Maestri (Bardiani CSF).

The six riders were allowed some leeway during the stage, as it made its way towards the big showdown on the long climb to Terminillo.

Ballerini and Mamykin were the last two riders to survive from the escape group, but disaster struck on a gravelly corner as Mamykin slid out. The Russian slid straight across the road, under a roadside barrier and down a bank. Amazingly, he appeared largely unscathed and remounted before being caught by the bunch.

With no assistance, Ballerini was also soon caught as the pace started to be wound up by the GC riders’ teams. As the bunch was being whittled down by the pace, Michal Kiwatkowski (Team Sky), Simon Spilak (Katusha-Alpecin) and Jonathan Castroviejo (Movistar) broke free.

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

Spilak looked the strongest, and dropped his two companions to go solo with 5km to go. The bunch’s speed was evidently too much for Astana leader Fabio Aru, who was dropped.

Yates and Thomas both put in accelerations, further fragmenting the GC contenders group. All the while, Quintana marked the main moves. Both Thomas and Quintana benefitted from being joined by their team-mates from the break.

Quintana bided his time, and attacked with 2km to go, passing Spilak and with Thomas in pursuit. Yates rode behind them alongside Rigoberto Uran (Cannondale-Drapac) with Dennis putting in a strong ride to restrict his time losses.

No one was going to catch Quintana, though, who simply rode away to take the victory on Terminillo – just as he did in 2015, but this time without the accompanying snowstorm.

Thomas came in just 18 seconds behind Quintana, and must be ruing Sky’s time loss in the opening team time trial due to technical problems which have prevented him from sitting in a podium position. He now sits in eighth overall, 1-23 adrift of Quintana – though he can console himself with that stage two victory.

After the finish, Quintana said: “I wasn’t sure of what I could do today as I had been sick a few days ago but our tactic was to have someone ahead before I launched my attack and that’s what happened with Castroviejo. The advantage I have on GC now is significant. It gives me some confidence ahead of the second half of the race.”

On Sunday, the riders will tackle a lumpy stage from Rieti to Fermo – ideal terrain for the classics focussed riders such as Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Greg Van Avermaet (BMC). The race concludes on Tuesday with an individual time trial.

Result

Tirreno-Adriatico 2017, stage four: Montaldo di Castro to Terminillo, 177km
1. Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar, in 5-27-22
2. Geraint Thomas (GBr) Team Sky, at 18 secs
3. Adam Yates (GBr) Orica-Scott, at 24 secs
4. Rigoberto Uran (Col) Cannondale-Drapac, at same time
5. Simon Spilak (Slo) Katusha-Alpecin, at 29 secs
6. Tom Dumoulin (Ned) Team Sunweb, at 41 secs
7. Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita) Ag2r La Mondiale
8. Mikel Landa (Esp) Team Sky, at same time
9. Thibaut Pinot (Fra) FDJ, at 46 secs
10. Primoz Roglic (Slo) LottoNL-Jumbo, at 51 secs

General classification after stage four
1. Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar, in 16-34-46
2. Adam Yates (GBr) Orica-Scott, at 33 secs
3. Thibaut Pinot (Fra) FDJ, at 56 secs
4. Jonathan Castroviejo (Esp) Movistar, at 1-01
5. Rohan Dennis (Aus) BMC Racing, at 1-06
6. Tom Dumoulin (Ned) Team Sunweb, at 1-19
7. Primoz Roglic (Slo) LottoNL-Jumbo, at 1-19
8. Geraint Thomas (GBr) Team Sky, at 1-23
9. Daniel Moreno (Esp) Movistar, at 1-27
10. Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita) Ag2r La Mondiale, at 1-29


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World champion Amalie Dideriksen wins Ronde van Drenthe; Alice Barnes sixth

British rider Alice Barnes places sixth as Amalie Dideriksen takes her first victory of 2017 in the Ronde van Drenthe, Netherlands

Amalie Dideriksen once again showed maturity beyond her years, winning the Ronde van Drenthe, the second round of the Women’s WorldTour in the Netherlands on Saturday. The 20-year-old world champion patiently negotiated the four-woman sprint, winning with apparent ease ahead of Elena Cecchini and Lucinda Brand.

The victory was her own, and her Boels-Dolmans team’s, first win of the year.

With 20km to ride the Danish rider escaped Cecchini (Canyon-SRAM), Brand (Team Sunweb) and Strade Bianche winner, Elisa Longo-Borghini (Wiggle High5). Once clear, the group built a gap of around 15 seconds and cooperated well to hold off seven chasers, including strong sprinters Marianne Vos (WM3 Energie), Chloe Hosking (Alé-Cipollini) and British rider Alice Barnes (Drops.)

At 152km – by 25km the longest race of the season so far – the event was the first to take advantage of new UCI regulations allowing longer women’s races. Though the extra distance might have inspired cautious racing, it is more likely the early lack of wind which normally blows across the flat countryside, had most impact, making for a dull opening.

Though the peloton was stretched after 10km on the approach to the first of three ascents of the VAMberg – a short but steep climb over a landfill site – there was little action in the opening 50km.

Other than that climb and the otherwise flat terrain, the event is characterised by its sectors of cobbles. However, while a stretch of 33km, 13 of which were pavé, caused a split in the peloton, it failed to have a significant impact.

Instead it was high pace after the final sector, with 84km ridden, which caused the most damage, leaving a group of around 50 riders – just under half the peloton – to tackle the second ascent of the VAMberg, 113km in.

With the wind now blowing, a period of aggressive racing punctuated the five kilometres between climbs, and on the second former world time trial champion Ellen van Dijk attacked, dragging with her 15 chasers, including British riders Hannah and Alice Barnes (Canyon-SRAM and Drops respectively).

While van Dijk’s advantage built to over 30 seconds, last year’s dominant team, Boels-Dolmans were well represented and were left the close the gap, further tearing the group to pieces. By the time the Dutchwoman was caught, with 20km to go only 15 riders remained.

Here, rather than cover attacks Boels-Dolmans took the initiative, launching repeated counter-attacks from which the winning quartet was formed.

The result is the culmination of excellent team tactics by Boels-Dolmans, who once again proved their immense strength.

“It was the longest race I have ever done and I didn’t know how I would feel,” Dideriksen said after her victory. “ My team mates rode so well out there, when Ellen van Dijk was in the breakaway earlier they chased her back with me sitting on and saving myself for the sprint.

“It shows what a great team we are, we have some really strong riders and we had a lot of cards to play.”

The third round of the Women’s WorldTour takes place next week in Italy, where the peloton will contest the Trofeo Alfredo Binda near Milan, a race won by Lizzie Deignan for the last two years.

Result

Ronde van Drenthe, Women’s WorldTour, 152km

1. Amalie Dideriksen (Den) Boels-Dolmans, in 3-51-17
2. Elena Cecchini (Ita) Canyon-SRAM
3. Lucinda Brand (Ned) Team Sunweb, at same time
4. Elisa Longo-Borghini (Ita) Wiggle-High5, at 2 secs
5. Annemiek van Vleuten (Ned) Orica-Scott, at 7 secs
6. Jolien D’Hoore (Bel) Wiggle-High5, at 9 secs
7. Marianne Vos (Ned) WM3 Energie
8. Alice Barnes (GBr) Drops
9. Chantal Blaak (Ned) Boles-Dolmans
10. Chloe Hosking (Aus) Alé-Cipollini, all at same time


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Scott Thwaites ‘very likely’ to debut in Milan-San Remo with Mark Cavendish

Yorkshireman Scott Thwaites likely to join fellow Brits Mark Cavendish and Steve Cummings in Dimension Data’s line-up for Milan-San Remo

Scott Thwaites will “very likely” race Milan-San Remo for the first time with Dimension Data captain and fellow British rider Mark Cavendish next Saturday (March 18). The team is planning to give him the green light to race the Italian monument ahead of the cobbled classics.

Thwaites previewed the final kilometres of Milan-San Remo on Monday with Cavendish and Edvald Boasson Hagen, the leaders for the race with Steve Cummings.

“Scott Thwaites is on the list for San Remo, that’s not going to be a huge secret,” performance manager Rolf Aldag told Cycling Weekly on Saturday morning ahead of the Terminillo stage in Tirreno-Adriatico.

“He has the talent and characteristics for San Remo. It fits him to be part of the team and help us to success, hopefully.”

Aldag said it is “very likely” the team will select Thwaites in its eight-man roster when the management meets on Sunday evening in Italy.

>>> ‘Cav is pushing me to get results in the big races’

The 2009 winner Cavendish will be one of three leaders for Dimension Data with Boasson Hagen and Cummings. The team needs multiple options in case the race does not arrive in a small bunch finish on Via Roma.

“We have multiple options for San Remo. We have different leaders for different situations. It’ll be clear once we get out of the Poggio, counting the cyclists there and if Cav is there, we go for Cav,” Aldag explained.

“We won’t bother with the escapes, just being ready at the key points: Cipressa, Poggio, Via Roma.”

Aldag speaks regularly with the team directors in France with Dimension Data’s Paris-Nice team. The cold weather and rain took their toll on the cyclists. As a result, the majority of the team could come from the central Italy group racing Tirreno-Adriatico.

San Remo will be another big step in Thwaites’s career. Over the last years with Bora, he already had a chance to race the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix. He placed 20th in the Flemish monument last year.

Dimension Data signed him over the off-season to ride alongside Norwegian Boasson Hagen so that it has multiple options.

“For sure, he was a key guy there. He’s not going to be peaking for San Remo, but in the build up phase,” added Aldag.

“There was a gap from Edvald last year in the cobbled classics. Bernie Eisel had a broken collarbone. Out of a group of 25, we should race with Boasson Hagen and Thwaites. Then we have much more to play with then just say, Edvald gambling it all on following Tom Boonen or whoever.”


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‘The Giro d’Italia will leave its mark on Nairo Quintana’

Insiders say that attempting to win the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France in one season is just not possible, and comment on how the attempt may affect Nairo Quintana

The Giro d’Italia, and the possible win, will leave its mark on Nairo Quintana (Movistar) when the Tour de France starts one month later say cycling insiders.

The Colombian is trying to win the Giro/Tour this year after already being successful in all three Grand Tours. However, it has been 19 years – since 1998 – that anyone has been able to pull off the double. Some say that it is now impossible in modern cycling.

“Physiology says that you can have two peaks in one year, but it’s not possible in the Giro/Tour time frame, maybe between the Giro and the Vuelta [a España], yes,” trainer for Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida), Paolo Slongo told Cycling Weekly.

“Or you just have one peak of 100 per cent over that three-month period. If Quintana wants to race the Giro and the Tour, maybe he shouldn’t be at 100 per cent for the Giro so that he can do so at the Tour.”

The Giro starts on May 5 in Sardinia and ends on May 28 in Milan. The Tour de France begins 34 days later on July 1.

The Giro d’Italia organiser has been successful in attracting an all-star cast to its 100th edition this year. Every major classification star but Chris Froome (Sky), Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo), Richie Porte (BMC Racing), Romain Bardet (Ag2r) and Esteban Chaves (Orica-Scott) will be in Sardinia.

And they will race immediately, with the Giro featuring its first summit finish on Mount Etna on stage four.

>>> Nairo Quintana ‘not going to the Giro d’Italia just to train for the Tour de France’

“Last year, going for the double would’ve been ideal because the Giro became harder near the end so that you could have good form towards the end of the Giro and take it all the way to the Tour,” Slongo said.

“This year, to have form to handle the Giro right off on stage four, I think it’s impossible to maintain that winning form through the Tour as well.”

Chris Froome (right) and Nairo Quintana during the 2016 Tour de France. Photo: Yuzuru Sunada

BMC Racing’s Max Sciandri will direct the team with Rohan Dennis and Tejay van Garderen in the Giro this May.

“I don’t want to say nothing’s impossible, but given how the races are designed…” said Sciandri. “The Giro is difficult with the two islands to start off with, demanding roads… It’s not easy.

“You can have two peaks. But when you have a peak and win the Giro, it leaves a mark on you. Yes, OK you won, but it takes something away from that second peak. That’s how I see it, but nothing’s impossible.”

Quintana placed second in his first Tour de France in 2013 behind Froome. He went to Italy the following year and won the 2014 Giro, the first Colombian to do so. He returned to the Tour, but placed second in 2015 and third in 2016. In the 2016 Vuelta, seven weeks after the Tour ended in Paris, he toppled Froome for the Spanish title.

Movistar said that if all goes as planned in the Giro, he will remain in Europe before the Tour. He will stay at his home in Monaco, perhaps spend some time at an altitude training camp, and preview some Tour stages.

“We need to see,” Movistar general manager Eusebio Unzué said when asked if a rider can have two peaks in fitness so close together. “That’s what we are going to try to do, but let’s see what happens. Normally, yes because we’ve done it with the Tour and Vuelta.

“He’ll come to the Giro in good shape. 100 per cent? Well, given the roads and stages, he can’t not come in 100 per cent because if he drops his guard the race will slip away from him.”


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Jess Varnish considering legal action against British Cycling

Former British track sprinter Jess Varnish considering action against British Cycling for breach of contract as details emerge of independent report in culture at the organisation

Jess Varnish’s lawyer is preparing to take legal action against British Cycling after it has emerged that the independent review into the culture at the organisation found that her dismissal from the Olympic programme was “an act of retribution” against “a trouble maker”.

Varnish was dropped from the World Class Performance Programme last April ahead of the Rio Olympics and shortly after said she had been subject to sexism and discrimination by then British Cycling technical director Shane Sutton.

Her complaint was later upheld in part but it led to a wider review of the culture at the organisation, which is yet to be published.

However, on Friday the Daily Mail published excerpts of what it said is a leaked draft version of the report, which said: “In the situation involving Jess Varnish the panel did not find explanations convincing from coaching staff that she could go from being a borderline Olympian (in fact, potentially an Olympic medallist) to not being good enough . . . within a week.

“An athlete would have to have been given a warning and also a reasonable period to improve before removal. Varnish was not given a warning or any period of time to improve. She was simply removed.”

It adds: “The panel did not view her removal as an act of discrimination but in the panel’s view it was on balance an act of retribution and also not contractual due process.”

Speaking to the BBC on Friday, Varnish said that she has instructed her lawyer to pursue the possibility of legal action for breach of contract.

Jess Varnish with Victoria Pendleton at the 2012 Track World Cup. Photo: Andy Jones

“It is something I’ve asked my lawyers to take a really close look at,” Varnish said. “Until the main report is released that’s all we can do, take a look at it. It’s never been about money for me, it’s just about doing the right thing.”

The track sprinter signed an British Cycling Podium Programme Athlete Agreement in November 2015, just months before she was dropped, which said British Cycling would “ensure the highest ethical and professional standards from all staff”.

Simon Fenton, partner at law firm Irwin Mitchell, who represents Varnish said: “It [the athlete agreement she signed] is a bit vague but basically it says we will treat you with fairness and respect. And it does appear that the investigation has uncovered a lack of fairness and respect and seems to suggest, from what I’ve seen, that she was removed from the programme for reasons unrelated to her performance.

“That has denied her the real possibility of winning an Olympic medal, and obviously there would be ongoing sponsorship opportunities from that, for reasons that are simply unfair.”

Fenton added that nothing would happen until him and Varnish had seen the full report but that based on what he had seen the national body should expect “a writ fairly soon afterwards”.

>>> Everything you need to know about the British Cycling/Sky mystery package saga

He added: “At the moment it looks pretty overwhelming… It will take a strong court to go against the conclusions of a long thorough investigation they would have good reason to decide the UK Sport investigation was wrong.”

Varnish told the BBC that she feels as though she has been ‘thrown under the bus’ by British Cycling, but is relieved that the contents of the leaked report support her allegations.

“I feel vindicated in a way that the truth is coming out but you obviously can’t turn back the clock,” Varnish said. “All I want is the truth to be out there because it’s the truth and that’s what people should know.

“I’ve been pulled from pillar to post. Just to get this stage and see that it’s a cover-up is huge.”

She continued: “I think the facts say it for themselves. If they’re overturning facts just to protect themselves and to protect the look of British Cycling. It’s a lot easier for them to throw me under the bus rather than the whole of British Cycling and for the actual truth to come out.”

Varnish has previously said that she wishes to return to the Olympic programme.

British Cycling has been contacted for comment for this article.


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