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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Lawson Craddock: ‘The 2018 season definitely needs to be different from 2017’

NANNING, China (VN) — American Lawson Craddock’s “2018 season definitely needs to be different” after overdoing it in 2017.

Craddock, who recently re-signed with Cannondale-Drapac for 2018, began the 2017 season too hot and paid the price.

“Yeah, it definitely needs to be different in 2018!” Craddock told VeloNews. “It’s been a pretty rough year for me both on and off the bike.

“Honestly I’m just looking to ending this year on a decent note and coming back next year and showing what I’m capable of, which is a pretty high standard I hold myself too.”

Craddock sat waiting for the team’s meeting ahead of stage two of the Tour of Guangxi in South China. He listened to the sports director and prepared for his final race of 2017.

This 2017 season he had hoped to perform with the best in the Ardennes Classics and the Tour de France, but over-training and over-dieting left him exhausted.

“This year, it’s not like I had a weird issue, I was just too motivated early on in the year and over-cooked it,” he said. “It’s one of those things where you keep trying to come back and you aren’t prepared to do so. And some personal stuff too.

“I know I’m capable of great things in this sport. I’ve shown a glimmer of that before. I like to come out and show that I can be there with the best. And I know I can be there with the best. I’ll just focus on what I need to do to do that.”

The 25-year-old Texan raced professionally with Giant-Sunweb for 2014 and 2015. He joined Cannondale-Drapac for 2016. In those seasons, he rode the Tour de France, placed third and fifth overall in the Tour of California, and ninth overall in the País Vasco. In 2017, he expected more of the same, or better.

After a disappointing start, he tried to reach his best in time for the Tour of California in May. That ended with only 113th overall. Other races ended with a DNF – did not finish – beside his name.

“It just hasn’t been an easy year all around. If anything, it’s given me a chip on my shoulder to come back and prove next year that I do belong in the top-level of this sport.”

Craddock signed a one-year extension with the Slipstream Sports team, which came back from near collapse thanks to new sponsor EF Education First. He is due to meet with the managers this winter to discuss his race schedule. He maintains high ambitions.

“I’d love to get a victory because I still haven’t won a race yet in four years of the WorldTour. It’s not easy, for sure,” he added. “I want to have a good result in the early spring races like País Vasco and try to go for something at Liège-Bastogne-Liège, and find myself back in the Tour de France and maybe go for a stage win there.”

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Gaviria planning for new wave of success in 2018 classics, Tour

BEIHAI, China (VN) — Fernando Gaviria (Quick-Step Floors) is building his 2018 season around being the first Colombian to conquer the cobbled classics and winning his first Tour de France stage.

The 23-year-old, who sprinted to victory in the first stage of the Tour of Guangxi in South China Thursday, is one of the top riders of his generation. This season, he won four Giro d’Italia stages in his grand tour debut.

“We already have a clear vision of the objectives and the calendar for 2018,” Gaviria said. “We’ll prepare for the classics in Colombia and Argentina [racing the Vuelta a San Juan].

“We’ll try to go to Europe in the best possible shape for the classics. I’m speaking of the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix. After which, we’ll start thinking of the Tour.”

No Colombian has ever been able to dominate the cobbled classics. The country is most known for its tiny climbers nicknamed escarabajos.

Gaviria broke through in 2015 by beating top sprint star Mark Cavendish twice in Argentina. However, right away he underlined his dream to dominate on northern Europe’s cobbles.

Quick-Step is the perfect place for any aspiring cobbled rider, with the Belgian team guiding many cyclists to the top — including recently retired Tom Boonen. Gaviria had his first taste of the cobbles this year, racing Dwars door Vlaanderen and Gent-Wevelgem. In the spring of 2018, however, he will have a full-immersion course alongside star riders Niki Terpstra and Philippe Gilbert.

“He wanted to do Paris-Roubaix this year but his shape wasn’t where it needed to be,” Quick-Step general manager Patrick Lefevere said this summer.

“We decided it was better to send him home to Colombia so he could recover and train at altitude for the Giro. You saw the results. We don’t have the team to send a developing rider to the classics, we want to take him there ready.”

The classics campaign would form part of the two-pronged 2018 approach with the 2018 Tour de France. Gaviria already proved himself in his grand tour debut in the spring, dominating the sprints, winning four stages, and surviving through the mountains to win the Giro’s points jersey.

The Quick-Step team is completely backing Gaviria for the sprints in 2018, with star sprinter Marcel Kittel leaving for Katusha. Like the classics, the team is well-oiled having helped Kittel and, before that, Mark Cavendish in the Tour sprints.

“He’s young and fast, and I think he can take on Peter Sagan,” Lefevere added. “We need somebody to come up and challenge him because when Peter’s going at full-speed, nothing can be done and it becomes boring. The four stages in the Giro was huge for him. He’s a cannibal.”

If Gaviria could pull it off, he would help push cycling in Colombia to new levels. Already, it is enjoying a new generation of success with Rigoberto Urán (Cannondale-Drapac) and Nairo Quintana (Movistar).

“First of all, it’s Nairo who’s the most popular,” Gaviria said this year. “I don’t want the fame.”

Gaviria is closing out the 2017 season in the Tour of Guangxi. On Thursday, along the Beibu Gulf in Beihai, he sprinted ahead of the WorldTour peloton.

“The win looked easy only on television. Instead, it was a hard race: short, fast and at the end, one of the craziest sprints. It’s one of the fastest sprints I’ve ever done,” he said.

“I’m delighted to take a win in the last race of the year, which is the Tour of Guangxi.”

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Tour of Guangxi: Riders welcome WorldTour’s return to China

BEIHAI, China (VN) —The Tour of Guangxi that starts Thursday in South China is good for the country and good for cycling globally, say cyclists gathered for the stage race.

The race marks China’s re-entry into the top-level UCI WorldTour since the Tour of Beijing ceased in 2014.

“Our team’s Australian and because we race most of our time in Europe, it’s good to have that connection,” Australian Caleb Ewan (Orica-Scott) said. “It’s good for China and it’s good for the sport of cycling here in this country.”

“It’s always nice to share our sport in the entire world,” Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors) said.

Most of the 121 cyclists competing, a list that includes Fernando Gaviria (Quick-Step) and Mikel Landa (Sky), arrived two days ago. After the rainstorms fell in China’s lush southeast corner Wednesday morning, they trained on the roads around Beihai. For many, including Alaphilippe and Ewan, it was their first time riding in China since the Tour of Beijing.

“This morning … there was a child [who was] 12 years old riding on a scooter right next to us with a huge smile and just loved seeing us on our bikes,” Alaphilippe added. “He had a big smile on his face and it’s an inspiration for him.

“I love traveling and you don’t see something like this in France or any other country. I think this race is good for the sport, good for the country, and I think we feel really welcome here and you can feel that.”

China, however, has struggled to bridge to Europe with its crop of stars. Unable to race at a high level, making a jump to the WorldTour seems almost impossible and few have succeeded.

Cheng Ji raced through 2016 for team Giant-Alpecin, now known as Sunweb. Meiyin Wang (Bahrain-Merida) is the only Chinese rider currently on a WorldTour team. The rest race in the Continental division.

“Yes, I am surprised really because I thought it would be a big peloton of Chinese riders,” Alaphilippe added. “But you know at a WorldTour race there are not that many Chinese riders. I figure it’s something special for [Wang] and I hope he does enjoy it, and I hope that he has a great result here.”

Ewan noted that he thinks the race will help cycling in China, “and I hope so. It’s really growing here and I heard over the last five years, cycling in China has gone through the roof. Hopefully, it keeps going like that. Hopefully, cycling becomes more of a global sport than more of just a European one.”

Wang laughed when asked if he felt the weight of China’s 1.38 billion citizens on his shoulders.

“I don’t think that the pressure is so much, I am going to ride relaxed and follow the team’s orders,” Wang said. “For me, it’s just a race and I don’t have additional stress.

“The Tour of Guangxi is very important for China, especially for the Chinese fans. Everyone is excited to see high-level races come back to China after a few years ago. The organizer has done hard work to show what China can do to the rest of the world. The Tour of Guangxi is very important for the organizer and China.”

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