Tim Wellens won the Eneco Tour, repeating his victory from 2014. A talented rider he’s yet to have success elsewhere. Some riders seem particularly suited or lucky in some races. Think Rui Costa in the Tour de Suisse and Michael Albasini in the Tour de Romandie, or for that speciality niche, Jimmy Engoulvent and his four wins in the Tour of Luxembourg prologue.
The Eneco Tour has become a good race. For years it was tedious and predictable but recent editions emulate the spring classics with an Amstel Gold stage, a Liège-Bastogne-Liège stage, a Flemish stage and so on, or themes along these lines. It works but does it mean a new race always has to borrow from an old race in order to gain acceptance? Or are old races still going because they exploit the best of the local geography in the first place? It’s probably a combination of both but shows just how hard it can be to establish a new race.
The Arctic Race of Norway is one new event, surfing the new wave of Norwegian petrodollars. This one is even thinking of a stage to Russia in years to come. How come there are so many races so far north? Thor Hushovd’s success has helped make the sport popular and the country is prodigiously wealthy with a small population enjoying large oil reserves. The Arctic race is sponsored by Statoil, the Norwegian oil giant.
Wellens’ win is the latest triumph for Lotto-Soudal who are having a great season with quality and quantity. The team has a couple of gaps, notably the spring classics and grand tour GC ambitions but few if any teams can cover all bases. Their GC candidate Jurgen Van den Broeck is interested in leaving but not getting many offers. After a “divorce” with Lotto-Soudal in the Giro over his performance he’s just been passed over by Patrick Lefevere for a move to Etixx-Quickstep and his future isn’t certain, apparently Lotto have offered him a new deal on much-reduced terms. A mention of his name doesn’t get the pulse racing but he’s been third and fourth in the Tour de France and has come with a lot of UCI points but without a top-10 in a grand tour since 2012 his points haul has fallen away and he’s not the valuable if discreet rider he once was.
Talking of Etixx and Lotto, Belgian U23 rider Laurens De Plus is a hot target for Patrick Lefevere, one of the few riders to get a contract offer from the Etixx-Quickstep boss; even Tom Boonen is still waiting. De Plus is a good climbig talent for the future and rides for Lotto-Soudal’s U23 team. It looks like poaching but there’s no obligation for a rider to turn pro with a linked team and there’s often not the expectation of loyalty either.
Tinkoff-Saxo have announced Peter Sagan will ride the Vuelta, another galactico to add to the Spanish startlist. He’ll be joined by Rafał Majka. Sagan will find stages to suit but also handy preparation for the World Championships where the course suits him, assuming he can find how to win a race. There’s been some talk on Twitter about Alberto Contador starting the Vuelta, maybe he’s checked out a couple of stages. His team has denied this. The easy way to know for sure is whether he’s on the entry sheet submitted by the team. All teams submit a long-list of riders and must then submit their 9 for the race 72 hours before the start. If Contador isn’t on the long list he’s not allowed to ride.
The UCI has been tweaking a few rules for 2016 and sadly there’s no alteration yet to the tariff of fines, nor heavier punishments for littering. A new rule for 2016 allows teams to substitute a rider ahead of the race start. Teams have been able to do this but only with riders on the long list of starters sent to the race ahead of the start mentioned above. In 2016 teams can make a late sub before the start with anyone on their roster, so you could get Contador or anyone else being inserted into a team late, a way to spring a tactical surprise. In reality it won’t change much but means a team hit by, say, a virus that takes out several riders. The bigger question for 2016 is whether the new points system emerges, loyal readers will remember this was buried in a PDF on the UCI website and abandoned within days after it took team managers by surprise.
This rule could have let Cannondale-Garmin sub in an extra rider for the recent Tour of Utah once Tom Danielson left on the eve of the race. Has he tested positive? Presumably but there’s no news on the USADA website of his suspension nor is he listed on the UCI website as provisionally suspended. Much has been made of the quote by Jonathan Vaughters that a positive test could spell the end of the entire team. It was a foolish thing to say and would be a foolish thing to do. The idea of stopping everyone else from trying to do their job because of one person’s mistake is unfair on many levels. But the kernel of the idea is that if a rider did resort to doping then it’s because they’ve not got the support nor the education needed and this does pose fundamental questions about a team.
One rule in place already affects the upcoming Tour de l’Avenir. Various nations have been announcing their selections for the U23 stage race that’s a mini-Tour de France and late-season jobs fair. A rule change means pro riders can take part and we’re seeing World Tour riders being selected among the various squads. This seems totally wrong: if you’ve made it to the World Tour already you should be racing there and don’t need an amateur event. It’s not the race’s decision, the UCI has changed the rules and over the years the field has varied, in the past it accepted pros under 25.
Finally from the race of the future to a race against time and there’s still no news on Europcar. The deadline for riders to stay loyal to Bernaudeau has passed. France’s Le Journal du Dimanche reported yesterday that one potential sponsor in France has said no and Bernaudeau could be going to Britain this week to find a sponsor.