Saturday, March 7, 2015

February 2015 Pro Cycling Race Reviews and Results Part 1

February Races, Part 1:

The 2015 Pro Tour headed over to the Middle East for the region's three annual stage races, The Tours of Dubai, Qatar, and Oman. The three races mainly favor the sprinters, and offer the rest of the peloton a chance to warm up and test their legs before the European cycling season gets underway. Heat, crosswinds and blowing sand are usually bigger challenges than the few hills that pepper these races.  This year was no exception. Stage wins at Dubai went to Mark Cavendish (EQS), Elia Viviani (SKY), and John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin), with Cav winning the first and fourth stages, and taking the overall win in the process.

Qatar's six stages were battered by crosswinds that split the peloton and tired the riders, who tried to stay in contention for the sprint finishes.  Quickstep's Classics specialist, Nikki Terpstra took the overall win with his domination in the stage three, 10.9k time trial. Alexander Kristoff, Team Katusha's Norwegian sprinting talent, took three stage wins to dominate the race, and netted a third place overall for his efforts. Stage wins also went to JJ Rojas (MOV) and Sam Bennett (Bora-Argon 18). Peter Sagan, now riding for the Tinkoff-Saxo squad, was noticeably absent from the winners' podium, though the Slovakian did manage two second-places, and besides the TT, never finished below 4th place on any road stage.

Sagan's luck did not improve in Oman, where he never finished higher than 5th. If the organizers ever decide that their race is worth broadcasting, then maybe the brash young show-off might have delivered some trademark flashes of cycling prowess to awe his international fan base, but as it is, all we seem to get is promises, promises. I probably shouldn't even bother discussing a race that doesn't care to be seen, but just for you guys, briefly:

The peloton experienced some extreme heat in Oman, coupled with high winds and blowing sand.  Stage five had to be cancelled mid-stage as a result of the extreme weather, but not until the riders parked themselves beneath an overpass, and demanded the organizers take action. 100-degree Fahrenheit temperatures were melting and exploding some teams' tires. The misadventure was highlighted by a standoff between the riders (led by Fabian Cancellara, Pippo Pozzato and Tom Boonen), and race organizer and cycling legend, Eddie Merckx.

The Tour of Oman features the Green Mountain climb each year, which generally delivers the overall race winner. This year several GC contenders arrived to fight for the win, including, Alejandro Valverde, Vincenzo Nibali, Tejay Van Garderen, Joaquim Rodriguez, Rafal Majka, Thibaut Pinot, Rui Costa, Leopold Konig, Julian Arredondo, and Warren Barguil. When Green Mountain was behind them, it was Rafael Valls of Lampre who had, perhaps surprisingly, won the day. Valls' summit-finish win was enough to lock the overall GC win. Other stage wins went to Andrea Guardini (Astana), Fabian Cancellara (TFR), Alexander Kristoff (KAT), and Matthias Brandle (IAM). A highlight of the race was Jeff Van Meirhaeghe of the pro-conti Toppsport Vlaanderen-Baloise team, who successfully made the day's breakaway group on every single stage.

While the Tour of Dubai was being contested in early February, two other stage races were being held in very different parts of the world: France's Etoille De Besseges, and Australia's Jayco Herald Sun Tour. In Australia, Cameron Meyer of the Australian Orica-GreenEDGE team defended the lead he grabbed in his stage-one win, all the way to the finish on stage four, to conquer the overall. Meyer's GC lead was challenged by stage winners Will Clarke (Drapac), Caleb Ewan (OGE), and Patrick Bevin (Avanti). Ewan won consecutive races on stages 2 and 3. Meyer won the Sun Tour by :11 over Patrick Bevin in second place, and :19 to Joseph Cooper who finished in third. Bevin and Cooper both ride for the Avanti continental team from New Zealand.

The Etoille De Besseges featured four road stages followed by a TT finish on stage 5. Another one mainly for the fast men, stage winners included Kris Boeckmans (Lotto-Soudal), Roy Jans (Wanty-Groupe Gobert), Bryan Coquard (Europcar), Tony Gallopin (Lotto-Soudal), and Bob Jungels (TFR), who sealed the final classification win with his stage-5 TT win in Ales. Gallopin was second overall at + :09 in the end, just one second ahead of Boeckmans in third.

February Races, PART 2 is coming up...

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