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ZOTTEGEM, Belgium (VN) — Guillaume Van Keirsbulck, the rider whom some call Belgium’s next Tom Boonen, is sitting nervously on the bubble, waiting to see if he’ll start the Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders) on Sunday.
Lining up Wednesday before the start of stage 2 at the Driedaagse De Panne-Koksijde, the 23-year-old van Keirsbulck (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) admitted it’s not easy muscling onto the classics selection for one of the peloton’s deepest teams during Flanders week.
“We will decide this evening after the race. We can start only eight riders. I hope that I am in it,” Van Keirsbulck told VeloNews. “We have a lot of classics riders, and everyone is in good shape. It’s a big fight to get onto the selection.”
It’s easy to see how people compare the strapping Van Keirsbulck, at 6-foot-3 and 187 pounds, to Boonen. Both are big, brawny Flemish riders who bash the cobblestones. They have a similar riding style on the bike, so much so that Belgian TV announcers sometimes cannot tell the difference between the two when calling a race.
All this talk of the “new Tom Boonen” has Van Keirsbulck understandably wary.
“The people say you are the new Tom Boonen, but you need to do it, you need to win,” Van Keirsbulck continued. “It’s motivating, but it’s also a little scary.”
Leaning over his handlebars before the start of Wednesday’s stage in Zottegem, he was almost anonymous in the crowd.
That could soon change. Following Wednesday’s stage, he was within striking distance of overall victory. More importantly, he’s hoping to race both Flanders and Paris-Roubaix. He clearly accepts he would be in a helping role in both races, especially with the stacked Omega Pharma classics team that includes not only Boonen but top favorites Niki Terpstra and Zdenek Stybar.
Yet Flanders and Roubaix are unique races, where the strong and the lucky survive. There’s no waiting and no mercy once the battle begins in earnest.
“I am a classics rider, and I hope in the future, in a couple of years, I will keep growing stronger, and I can help the team, and even ride for myself one day,” he said. “We will see.”
There’s no doubt that he comes from good cycling stock. He’s the grandson of Benoni Beheyt, a Belgian pro who won the world championship in 1963 and a stage in the 1964 Tour de France.
A strong time trialist, Van Keirsbulck popped up on the talent scouts’ radars five years ago with solid results in the cut-throat Flemish junior racing scene. After winning two Belgian junior national time trial titles, the top teams came calling.
Omega Pharma picked him up as a stagiaire in 2010, and he turned pro with the team in 2011. For any young Belgian, Omega Pharma is the New York Yankees of cycling.
“It’s very good with this team. You learn so much, about getting position before the important climbs, and in Roubaix, things about pressure in the tires, these little details that come with time,” he said. “Tom has been very nice. Everyone is always joking at the dinner table at night. It’s like a big family.”
He popped for a win in his rookie season, in 2011, at the Omloop van het Houtland at the ripe age of 20. In 2012 and 2013, he rode full seasons sprinkled with top 10s, including four second-place results.
A strong motor, Van Keirsbulck is often part of Omega Pharma’s team time trial successes, and made his grand tour debut in 2013, finishing the Vuelta a España in 125th.
Things are clicking into gear this year. In early March, he won a stage and finished second overall at the Driedaagse van West-Vlaanderen.
He knows the pressure is building for a breakout ride, but that’s easier said than done on a team so deep with ambitious, talented riders, all elbowing their way toward team leadership.
“On this team, it’s not so easy, because it has all the best riders, so I try to do my best, and work for the team,” he said. “Sometimes it comes together, and you can get lucky, and win a nice race.”
He’s already had a taste of the big-time cobbles, riding to 67th in his Flanders debut in 2011. In 2012 and 2013, he started Roubaix, crashing out of both editions.
As Boonen, 33, and compatriot superstar Philippe Gilbert, 31, grow older, Belgian fans and media are already hungry for new talent to take their places.
Sep Vanmarcke (Belkin), 25, already a proven winner, is best positioned to step up as Belgium’s next great classics rider, but many see similar qualities lurking inside Van Keirsbulck’s bulking frame.
But the pressure that comes with being the “next superstar” is immense. Right now, Van Keirsbulck seems content, lost anonymously in the pack, doing his work, learning his trade, and biding his time.
“They say it, but I also need to do it,” he said, referring to the hype. “I hope I can do it. It’s like a dream to become a big rider like Tom and the others.”
After rolling out from the start, Van Keirsbulck made it safely in with the front group, helping Gert Steegmans into the overall lead. He also slotted into position for a chance at victory, in seventh overall at nine seconds back. Thursday’s 14.3km individual time trial will decide everything at De Panne. Before that, though, Omega Pharma sport directors and management are set to decide the team’s final Flanders roster Wednesday night. Van Keirsbulck is hoping he’ll be there.
The post Belgium’s ‘new Tom Boonen’ hoping for Flanders, Roubaix call-up appeared first on VeloNews.com.
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Sacha Modolo won stage 2 of Driedaagse De Panne-Koksijde Wednesday in Koksijde, Belgium. Modolo (Lampre-Merida) was first to the line in a bunch sprint to close out the 206-kilometer second stage of the four-stage race.
Arnaud Demare (FDJ.fr) was second and Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) was third.
Gert Steegmans (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) inherited the overall lead from stage 1 winner Peter Sagan (Cannondale).
The Three Days of De Panne ends Thursday with the stage 3a road race, a circuit that starts and finishes in De Panne, and the stage 3b individual time trial, which covers 13.4km.
The post Modolo wins stage 2 of Driedaagse De Panne-Koksijde appeared first on VeloNews.com.
The Tour of Catalunya was last week. It’s sort of a home race for Garmin-Sharp, with most of our riders based in Girona, Spain, and it was nice to go to a race without stepping onto a plane. I just drove the trusty ol’ Renault to the team service course where the bus was parked.
It was a stacked field in Catalunya, so the startlist was intimidating. Even worse, in the four, seven-day stage races I’ve done, there was always one time trial that I could treat as a rest stage (well, except San Luis). No such luck here, with long stages and lots of climbing every day.
The first couple of stages were pretty straightforward, and by straightforward I mean lots of wet corners. The second day finished in Girona (we flew right past my favorite cookie stop in Banyoles). When I looked at the stages a month ago, I thought how cool it would be to ride into my new hometown, with all the cycling-friendly crowds, greeting pals, and teammates at the bus after the finish. Instead, it was dumping cold rain, and the only cheering I heard was from teammate Alex Howes (he skipped Catalunya for Criterium International).
“Phil! You suck!” he yelled.
My role was to support our GC guys: defending champ Dan Martin, Ryder Hesjedal, and Andrew Talansky. That meant moving them around in the field, riding out in the wind to make sure they had a draft, taking their jackets for the climbs, and giving jackets back for the descents. It’s harder than it sounds, OK? And really important.
Tom Danielson started the race, but whacked his knee during the second stage. Since he was my roommate for the week, I had hotel rooms to myself after that. Remember the scene in “Home Alone” when Kevin made his family disappear and then ran around the house, dancing, yelling, and eating junk food? It was just like that. The race started out wet and only got worse, with two stages in the snow. And I don’t mean snow on the ground. This was “go back to the car and take whatever they have for warmth” snow, and mountaintop finishes. On the second consecutive snow day, I finished minutes behind the leaders. I pegged director Johnny Weltz in the chest with a snowball and climbed onto the bus, where I sat on the floor of the shower, too tired to stand. Despite the dismal conditions, I was in a good mood. Looking out the window at the snowy pines and the bundled crowds who trekked up there to cheer us on, I remembered that this was what I’ve always wanted. Miserable or not, I’m racing with the big boys now.
The WorldTour does have its downsides, however. I tried to make the early break one day, which would clearly be established on the first climb, right from the start. I attacked over and over, followed counterattacks, and kept hitting it the whole way up the 40-minute climb. Last year when I attacked on a climb, I was off the front no problem, but Katusha wasn’t having any of it on this day in Spain. Over the top, I finally had to give up.
Dan Martin rode over to me and said, “Good effort. Make sure you eat something now. We’ve got a long way to go.”
I tried for the break again the day after, a 220-kilometer windy stage, which started with another long, twisty climb. One minute I was fighting my way to the front of the field, but the next I hit a rock and went to the car with a flat tire. I chased back into the group just as it was exploding to bits, and found myself off the back, with a pack of 40 guys who were having a worse week than I was. At that point, if Contador had flatted, he would have punched it across to the back of the group no problem, but I’m not Contador.
I took my pulls in the group and crossed my fingers that we would get lucky. After all, the break would have to go sometime, and the field would stop to pee. Sure enough, after 30 minutes in the wind, we cruised up to the nature break, and I even had time to take one myself. Many hours later, I had the gas to follow attacks on the last climb, trying to help Ryder into a late breakaway or to put pressure on Katusha for Dan Martin to grab a stage result. It wasn’t much, but I was happy to find out that I could contribute at the front of the race, and it probably looked cool on TV.
On the last stage, I was feeling OK. I was worn down from the longest and hardest race I’d ever done, but I knew I had the legs to finish my first WorldTour race — and that’s pretty cool. But then Talansky flatted, at possibly the only time in a stage race worse than my flat on the 220km stage: with the big names attacking each other on technical, hilly, wet finishing circuits in Barcelona. Three of us waited with him, and my finish line became the back of the field. My job is to help the team, not to finish the race, and I’m alright with that. I’m also alright with the fact that we won the team classification, so I got to stand on the podium, receive the flowers, all that jazz. Then we drove back to Girona, airplane-free.
GENT, Belgium (VN) — The Vuelta a España named its four wildcard teams Wednesday, a list that includes Africa’s first professional team MTN-Qhubeka. The squad will make Africa’s debut in a grand tour in August and September, along with Swiss team IAM Cycling, Spain’s Caja Rural, and France’s Cofidis.
“It means a lot for our guys,” MTN team manager Doug Ryder told VeloNews. “Along with Gerald Ciolek and Linus Gerdemann, guys like Merhawi Kudus and Louis Meintjes will want to race. In years to come, when you Google Africa’s first grand tour, their names will come up. They will be cast in stone in cycling and be in cycling’s history books.”
MTN, IAM, Caja Rural, and Cofidis will race with cycling’s 18 first division teams, which received automatic invitations because the Vuelta rates as a UCI WorldTour event.
Barloworld received sponsorship from South Africa but raced with a British license and international riders at the Tour de France (2007, 2008) and Giro d’Italia (2008, 2009). However, never has a professional team registered in Africa — and in MTN’s case with more than half its riders from the continent — raced in a grand tour.
The three-week race through Spain starts August 23 in Jerez de la Frontera.
The post MTN-Qhubeka earns 2014 Vuelta bid, a first for an African team appeared first on VeloNews.com.
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Andrew Hood catches up with Belkin sport director Nico Verhoeven in Belgium and talks about Sep Vanmarcke's classics goals
The post Video: Vanmarcke’s goal is to win Flanders or Roubaix appeared first on VeloNews.com.