Tour of Flanders wildcard teams announced

Four Belgian Pro Continental teams for the Ronde

The organisers of the Tour of Flanders have announced the seven wildcard teams that will join the 18 WorldTour teams on the start line in Bruges on April 2.

As you would expect, four of the seven wildcard places go to Belgian teams, with Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise, Wanty-Groupe Gobert en Verandas Willems-Crelan, meaning only one Belgian Professional Continental team, WB Veranclassic Aqua Protect, did not receive an invitation.

>>> Paris-Roubaix teams announced

Alongside the Belgian team, there are spaces for two French teams in Direct Energie and Cofidis, as well as Roompot-Nedelandse Loterij from the Netherlands and Wilier Triestina from Italy.

Of the invited wildcard teams it is Wilier Triestina that has the best result in the Tour of Flanders, with Filippo Pozzato finishing second in the 2012 edition of the race when the team was known as Farnese Vini-Neri-Sottoli.

Direct Energie, Cofidis, Wanty-Groupe Gobert, Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise and Roompot Nederlandse Loterij will also ride Paris-Roubaix seven days later.

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Three-Time Australian Olympian Belinda Hocking Announces Retirement

Photo Courtesy: Delly Carr/Swimming Australia

Triple Olympian and Commonwealth Games dual gold medallist Belinda Hocking has today announced her retirement from the sport of swimming.

The Wangaratta-born swimmer had a stellar career that saw her represent Australia at three Olympic Games; Beijing in 2008, London in 2012 and just recently Rio in 2016, as well as three world championships; Rome 2009, Shanghai 2011 and Barcelona 2013 and two Commonwealth Games and two Pan Pacific Championships; Delhi and California in 2010 and Glasgow and the Gold Coast in 2014 respectively.

After initially starting her career with a 45-minute commute to and from training multiple times per week in regional Victoria, Hocking’s dedication to the sport was obvious and soon paid off with a scholarship to the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) when she was just 15.

She spent a number of years at the AIS under Olympic coach Shannon Rollason, who took her to her first Olympic Games in Beijing 2008 and then to London in 2012.

Since 2008, the 26-year-old amassed a total of eight Australian long course titles, including an impressive seven in the 200m backstroke event (in ‘09, ‘10, ‘11, ‘12, ‘13, ‘14, ‘16) and one in the 100m back (in ‘11) and was a dominant force on the domestic backstroke scene.

After over 20 years in the sport, Hocking said the decision to retire did not come lightly.

“I have been honoured and privileged to be a part of the Australian Swim Team for the past nine years, but the time has come where I am ready to part with competitive swimming,” Hocking said.

“It has been an extremely difficult decision for me to make but I am so excited and a little bit nervous for what the future will hold.

“Swimming has been a part of my life since I was four years old, and I have been swimming competitively for 13 years. It is something that will take time to adjust and something that may take years to adjust to, but I am extremely lucky to have such a great support system.”

Hocking had great international success and in 2011 she secured the silver medal in the 200 backstroke at the Shanghai World Championships and then repeated this feat in 2013 at the Barcelona World Championships.

Hocking soon moved her way up the international ranks and just a year later she won gold in the 200 backstroke at both the 2014 Commonwealth Games and Pan Pacific Championships, showing off her trademark fast finish to steal the win at the wall.

Her Coach at Nunawading Rohan Taylor said seeing her make a breakthrough internationally was really exciting.

“Bindy was a true competitor, when there was a competition coming up she would be absolutely ready, switched on and up for a race,” Taylor said.

“I really enjoyed watching her race and always looked forward to competition time because I always knew she would give it a crack, no matter what the situation, she would step up and give it 100 per cent in her racing.”

While taking some time off in 2015 to concentrate on her university studies, Hocking injured her knee, suffered burn to her hand and had a car accident but remarkably came back from all of that to qualify for the Rio Olympic Games in 2016.

For her Coach at the time, Taylor, this was one of his highlights of her career.

“To see her get up and achieve this goal she had set for herself was fantastic,” Taylor said.

“She went out there and she executed her race plan and qualified for her third Olympic Games when the pressure was on, to see her achieve her goal was definitely a highlight.”

Hocking said she couldn’t have had the career she did without a wide support group including her Coach Rohan Taylor and her family.

“Anything in life, I have always said, is a team effort. I have been blessed with one of the best teams in the world,” Hocking said.

“To my coach Rohan, I was with you for just over 4 years, but I have grown more in the last 4 years than at any other stage in my life. You have helped shape me into the woman I am now.

“There are no words to say how truly thankful I am to my Mum and Dad. I want to thank them for giving me every opportunity to achieve all my dreams, for moving interstate and for always being there for me during the highs and lows.

And of course, I wouldn’t be where I am without my wonderful Fiancé, Max. Thank you for the amazing support you have given me over the six years I’ve known you,” Hocking said.

Swimming Australia CEO Mark Anderson said, “It has been a pleasure to see Bindy grow as a person and as a swimmer in her time on the Australian Dolphins Swim Team. She has had incredible international success in the pool. Bindy has been preparing for life outside of the pool for some time and will now switch her focus to completing a Bachelor of Primary School Teaching. We congratulate her on an outstanding professional swimming career and wish her all the best for the future. We know that she will stay connected with our sport.”

Press release courtesy of Swimming Australia.

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Alberto Contador reveals how he plans to beat Chris Froome at the Tour de France

Trek-Segafredo rider says rest is key to his Tour preparation

Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) has scheduled a vacation ahead of the Tour de France, where he plans to defeat Team Sky’s Chris Froome with strength and tactical nous.

The 34-year-old Spaniard debuted with his new team with second overall in the Ruta del Sol, before showing strongly in the Abu Dhabi Tour last week. He continues with Paris-Nice, his first goal of the 2017 season, the Volta a Catalunya, País Vasco and a holiday.

“I need holidays,” Contador told Cycling Weekly in Abu Dhabi.

“When you are concentrated 100%, you need to take time off your bike at 100%. I think that’s important. When you are training at altitude for one month, eating the minimum possible and training hard as possible, you need to have your head ready. To do that, you need to be fresh mentally.

“I don’t know where I’ll go. Of course, it’ll be good weather without my bike. It’ll be around one week, and afterwards, starting little by little to train for the Tour de France. I always do this because it’s important.”

>>> Early season races ‘too easy’ for Chris Froome’s Tour de France preparations

The 2017 season is one of Contador’s most important to date, with his performance in the Tour de France possibly deciding whether he continues to ride in 2018.

Trek welcomed the star with open arms. He is one of cycling’s most accomplished Grand Tour cyclists with two wins of the Giro d’Italia wins, two of the Tour de France, and three of the Vuelta a España.

His accomplishments came via strength and some cunning rides. Contador overhauled race leader Joaquím Rodríguez in the 2012 Vuelta thanks to a mid-stage attack.

In the 2017 Vuelta’s stage to Formigal, he instigated the early attack that helped Nairo Quintana (Movistar) ride clear of Froome and win the overall.

Watch: Tour de France 2017 essential guide

“I want arrive at 100%. Sometimes, you don’t arrive in good condition. I’ll do everything I can to arrive in the best condition for the Tour de France and look to see how my legs are on the climbs,” Contador said.

“Of course, after, you can play the situations. First, I think I can be there at 100%. What I’ve seen in training, I feel that I’m ready to fight for the Tour. Of course, if you have a bad day or something strange, you can try to do different things.

“I want to arrive there at 100%. If my legs and body are strong, I have an option to win the Tour.”

Froome made similar tactical, and unexpected, moves in the 2016 Tour de France. He attacked solo on the descent to Bagnères-de-Luchon and in the crosswinds to Montpellier with Peter Sagan and team-mate Geraint Thomas.

“Cycling is like that, you need to take all the opportunities that you have,” added Contador. “Sometimes, riders see wind as a problem and others see it as an opportunity. It’s the same in the descent, some won’t bother, but some want to attack it full on.”

Alberto Contador appears relaxed at his new Trek-Segafredo team (Credit: Sunada)

Contador slid his hands into his red and black gloves marked with the names of American bicycle manufacturer Trek and coffee giant Segafredo. He sat on a couch near his team-mates, all new to him, and appeared relaxed.

“It’s a new motivation, a new team and new equipment. New people. Already, we have a good feeling,” Contador said.

“We are in February, but the feeling is that I’ve been in this team already two years. This helps. When you are enjoying your time outside the race, in our hotel and training camps, you have a higher team performance in the race.”

He returned to Europe on Monday ahead of Paris-Nice which starts on Sunday.

“The final is always hard to pull off, but I’m planning already to win in Paris-Nice. That’s what we are aiming at as the first goal. Maybe it’ll work. Andalucía was only for training. The same in Abu Dhabi with Bauke Mollema. The plan is to start with the victories in Paris-Nice.”

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Andy Murray says players banned for doping should not get wildcards

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Wildcards should not be given to players returning from doping bans, says world number one Andy Murray.

Russia’s Maria Sharapova has been given wildcards for tournaments in Stuttgart, Madrid and Rome after her 15-month suspension ends next month.

“I think you should really have to work your way back,” Murray told the Times.