Quick-Step to build sprint train for Gaviria

GUILIN, China (VN) — Team Quick-Step Floors will go to work over the next two months to make sure Fernando Gaviria develops into the strongest sprinter possible in 2018.

The 23-year-old Colombian has in his sights Milano-Sanremo, a debut in the monument cobbled classics, and Tour de France stages. The Belgian WorldTour team, which is losing Marcel Kittel to Katusha-Alpecin for next year, wants to be ready to deliver its improving sprint star to victory.

“We are going to work on the train in December when we meet for our camp and see how we can improve it for Fernando,” sport director Davide Bramati told VeloNews.

“Don’t forget that we signed Elia Viviani. We are going to make men available for him, a lead-out man and men ahead of him. In December we are going to work it all out and make sure they are supported for their goals.”

Bramati saw off his rider for the fifth stage of the Tour of Guangxi on Monday. Gaviria counts 13 wins so far this season with the stage race still running and his last appearance of 2017. The South China race ends Tuesday in Guilin.

Kittel has 14 victories, including five stages in the Tour de France. However, the team lacked enough money in its budget to keep all of its stars going into 2018.

Daniel Martin, who placed sixth in the Tour de France, is leaving for UAE Emirates. Kittel’s signing with Katusha will replace outgoing sprinter Alexander Kristoff on the Swiss-registered team.

Next year, Quick-Step will throw its weight behind Bob Jungels in stage races and Gaviria for the sprints. Italian Elia Viviani will join from Sky to sprint for victories when Gaviria is taking a break or when he’s at other races. Gaviria will skip the Giro d’Italia in 2018, where he won four times this year, and will race the Amgen Tour of California and the Tour de Suisse ahead of the Tour.

Quick-Step is structuring its team to be ready. It signed Kristoff’s long-time helper Michael Morkov and new professional Fabio Jakobsen.

“We are thinking about Fernando’s team, for sure. The last man will be Max Richeze. We’ve hired some men like Morkov, we’ll see where we’re going to fit him in,” Bramati added.

“We will see how the train changes. We’ll work on it this winter. I’ll work on it with sport directors Tom Steels, Wilfried Peeters, and Brian Holm. We’ll see what the best solution is. We also have Fabio Sabatini, who was working for Kittel.”

Gaviria is also working to be ready for what he calls “an important season.” After a short break back in Colombia, he aims to start 2018 stronger with a consistent off-season of training.

“He came to us when he was young, he’s still young, but he’s gaining much experience,” Bramati said. “He’s improved quickly. He’s realized what he’s doing. The 2018 season will be an important year for him.”

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2018 Vuelta likely to start with Málaga TT

We know the Tour de France route for next year, and we also know the 2018 Giro d’Italia will begin with three stages in Israel.

Details of the 2018 Vuelta a España are starting to bubble up, with the official route presentation still months away.

Media reports in Spain suggest the Vuelta will begin with an individual time trial, a first for the Spanish grand tour since 2009.

Since then, the season’s third grand tour has opened with a team time trial. In August, the Vuelta began in Nimes, France, in just its third international start, with a TTT that took in the French city’s most amazing Roman sites.

The Spanish daily Sur reported that the individual time trial in Málaga will kick off the Vuelta on August 25, one week later than usual as much of the 2018 racing calendar is making room for soccer’s World Cup in June and early July.

The course will start in front of the city’s Pompidou museum and will end in the historic city center, the paper reported. The Vuelta’s last individual time trial start came in 2009, with retired star Fabio Cancellara taking the honors in Assen, Netherlands.

The Spanish website Ciclo 21 reports that the Vuelta presentation will be January 13 in Estepona, along Spain’s Costa del Sol.

Other rumors for the route include several stages in Andalucía before sweeping north, with likely stops in the Cantabrian Mountains in Spain’s Basque Country before ending in Madrid.

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California fires cool, but Stetina remains concerned

NONGLA, China (VN) — Peter Stetina (Trek-Segafredo) helps his teammates in the Tour of Guangxi this week in South China, but his thoughts remain with those suffering at home in the California fires.

Stetina climbed off his red Trek bike after stage four, looked at the blood on his elbow from a crash before the summit finish, and shrugged. He took his telephone to call his wife to wish her a happy birthday and, above all, to hear how their neighbors and friends were recovering.

The fires that have swept through Napa and Sonoma Counties over the last two weeks have killed around 42 people. Many remain hospitalized or, like former professional Levi Leipheimer, homeless.

“It was an extreme situation,” Stetina told VeloNews. “You heard helicopters overhead, you heard sirens going up and down the streets, propane tanks blowing up. It sounded like bombs.

“One officer said he saw a horse galloping down the street in a ball of fire. It was like Armageddon. It was really a desperate situation.”

Stetina just returned home from a long European season that included two grand tours, a first for him, as the fires began to burn in earnest. One race, China’s new Tour of Guangxi, remained. Cycling, however, sat low on his list.

“I landed from Europe and while I was on the international flight the fire started. You land and it happens so fast as the entire city had already lost major infrastructure. Luckily, my wife told me that she and the dogs were OK. They were holding the fire line about a mile from our house.”

Stetina would not leave the home at any time without his dogs and any essential items in case fire jumped to his neighborhood and forced residents out.

“It was moving so fast so you don’t know. We went into a holding pattern, having the bags by the door. You couldn’t go anywhere without the dogs or bags because you wouldn’t know if you’d go home.

“We were living hour by hour. You are not sure if you’re going to have a home at any giving moment, so cycling was really the last thing on my mind.”

Even if Stetina wanted to train, he could not because the air quality would cause breathing problems.

“You’d walk outside and just wipe ash off your shirt. You’re not thinking about cycling. All your friends are losing their homes and there’s people burning alive. You are hearing these horror stories.

“I know many people who lost their homes, but no one I know died luckily. We’ve lost 7,000 structures in Sonoma County, around 20% of our city has been evacuated.”

Once the situation somewhat stabilized for Stetina and his wife, he went to Lake Tahoe to train. He told Tek-Segafredo he could attend the final race on the WorldTour calendar, the Tour of Guangxi. The week-long race ends Tuesday.

“It’s a weird feeling. You feel guilty that you go up to the mountains so you can work, breathe good air and train just because I had this race. And you feel guilty that you’re OK and still have your house,” he added.

“I literally decided the morning before my flight to China that it looked like the chances of fire had lessened. It looked like it was safe to leave and my wife was in a safe situation so I had to come back to work. But if we lost our home there was no way I was going to leave my wife and come to China for a race.”

Workers are due to contain the Northern California fires by Wednesday. The race continues in South China, but Stetina wonders how he can help once back on the ground.

“Once the fire is done, the rebuilding starts. In my offseason, I’ll get my hands dirty for sure,” he said.

“Whether it’s fundraising, leading rides, that kind of thing I can do. Being somewhat of a public figure, not a huge one, you can do more by raising awareness and helping fundraise than shoveling debris.”

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Young French rider killed in crash

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A 20-year-old French racer was killed after striking a vehicle going the wrong way on a road, French media reported Friday.

The French sports daily L’Equipe reported that Mathieu Riebel was killed during a crash at the Tour Air France of New Caledonia. According to reports, Riebel struck the windshield of an ambulance traveling the opposite direction of the race at nearly 80kph while chasing back to the front group on a descent. Traffic was not completely blocked on the race course, and Riebel suffered fatal injuries from the impact, L’Equipe reported. Another teammate broke his leg in the high-speed impact that shook the race organization on the French territory island in the South Pacific.

Race organizers confirmed the incident on a note posted on its Facebook page.

“Riders, teams, companions, participants in Au Tour d’Elles, journalists; everyone found out with great sadness and shock of the tragic accident that happened on the descent of the Col de la Pirogue,” the note read. “Which cost Mathieu Riebel his life, and Erwan Brenterch a serious injury, both of the Shell Pacific team.”

Organized said Riebel was helping Brenterch to chase back to group after a mechanical on “the high-speed descent when the collision occurred.”

Organizers cancelled the stage, offered condolences to the family, and said Saturday’s final stage will be neutralized, with a group ride up the final summit to Mont Dere.

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Astana left without a top GC captain; Vinokourov disappointed to see Aru go

Astana boss Alexander Vinokourov couldn’t hide his disappointment that Fabio Aru decided to jump ship.

The Italian star left the team where he made his pro debut in 2012, and penned a three-year deal to join UAE-Emirates. In what appeared to be an open secret was a bit of a shock, at least according to Vinokourov.

“Aru had another optional year with us, and he never warned us of his desire to leave,” Vinokourov told L’Equipe. “We asked him what his plans were on numerous occasions, but he never answered us.”

Aru’s exit leaves Astana in a bind. One of the peloton’s best-funded teams will enter next year’s WorldTour racing season without a major grand tour contender on its roster.

Vinokourov said the team only learned of Aru’s departure when he read the official team press release Tuesday, just hours before the course presentation of the 2018 Tour de France.

“I only learned about it in the press release. I am very disappointed in him,” Vinokourov said. “It puts us in a difficult situation because of the time of year. It will be impossible to find a replacement of his level, someone able to win the Tour de France.”

With most of the major GC stars committed to contracts, Vinokourov will have almost no chance to find a top rider to take Aru’s place at this stage of a busy transfer season.

Vinokourov said that the team explored signing Rigoberto Urán when it appeared Cannondale-Drapac might fold. He also revealed that Nairo Quintana’s agent approached the team during the Tour about possible interest in signing with the Kazakhs.

Neither of those options panned out. Urán is staying with the renamed Education First-Drapac team for 2018, while Quintana also confirmed intention to stay with Movistar.

Without Aru, and the departure of Vincenzo Nibali to Bahrain-Merida at the end of 2015 coupled with the tragic death of Michele Scarponi this spring, leaves the powerful Astana team without a marquee rider to lead in the grand tours.

Jakob Fuglsang, seventh in the 2013 Tour, will be back for next season. Injury knocked the 32-year-old out of this year’s Tour after taking a dramatic victory at the Critérium du Dauphiné in June. Miguel Ángel López, 23, will see more opportunities, but he only completed his first grand tour last month at the Vuelta a España, riding to eighth overall with two stage wins. Neither is considered front-line yellow jersey contenders.

Aru is the latest arrival to the bolstered UAE-Emirates roster for 2018 that also includes new arrivals Dan Martin, Alexander Kristoff, and Rory Sutherland.

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