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Penny Pinching 2022: No respite
2019 WT overview

Before we travel to Australia for the first race of the season, let's look at the other World Tour teams.

TeamWTCQWagesChangeTop Earners
QuickStep321170500+50kDegenkolb, Stybar, Demare
Katusha451040500+104kGilbert, Kwiatkowski, Kristoff
Team Sky13932000+110kFroome, Porte, Talansky
Astana99810000+74kQuintana, Dumoulin, Castroviejo
BMC Racing21764500-299kDan Martin, Boasson Hagen, Caruso
Trek77736000+1kSagan, Barguil, Boom
Orica-GreenEDGE68682500+101kKreuziger, Ulissi, Matthews
Movistar86550500-85kMollema, Pinot, Dennis
Lotto-Belisol1111501500-91kRui Costa, De Gendt, Wellens
Cannondale1515472000+8kBakelandts, Oss, Kangert
Giant-Shimano54460000-107kCancellara, Dombrowski, Petit
Belkin1313379500-37kPhinney, Chernetckii, Ewan
Ag2r1212352500-76kMoser, Bouet, Zoidl
IAM Cycling1617340000-7kZabel, Riofrio, Impey
Tinkoff - Saxo1414280500-15kSlagter, Cort Nielsen, Vandenbergh
MTN - Qhubeka2318257500+37kPorsev, De Greef, Godoy
NetApp - Endura-20169000-49kKönig, Possoni, Salaun
Aviva Cycling1010130400+14kKöszegi, Polyakov, Denis
(name: Earning more than 100k/month)

Some of the biggest names in cycling changed teams. The prodigal son Chris Froome returns to Team Sky, Astana managed to replace him with Quintana, the best rider in the world. Sagan moves from BMC to Trek, Trek gave up Betancur (to Katusha) and Cancellara (to Giant). Katusha was also able to sign Kwiatkowski, replacing Dan Martin who now rides for BMC.

Netapp must be relegation candidate number 1. The team was promoted without scoring at WT level and the sponsor slashed the mediocre budget by over 20%. BMC experienced the biggest cut despite good results, Giant-Shimano clearly overperformed and still has to make do with less this year.

Here's a brief current overview of the best riders for every terrain. Overall, by AVG, it's Quintana (83) ahead of Rui Costa (82), Sagan (82), Betancur, Dumoulin, Cancellara, Kwiatkowski, Kittel (all 81), Dan Martin, Degenkolb, Kristoff, Demare, Matthews, Stybar and Pinot (all 80).

Climbing: Quintana looms above the rest with MON 85, and he's still only 29 years old. Kreuziger (Orica) and Froome (back with Sky after stints with Movistar and Astana) have MON 82, 6 riders have MON 81 and 8 riders MON 80, which includes Aviva's ex-rider Elias Schmäh.

Hills: Kwiatkowski (Katusha) tops the list with HIL 83, followed by Dan Martin (BMC, 82) and Betancur (Katusha, 81). All three also bring MON 81 to the table. Four more riders have HIL 81, including Aviva's ex-captain Bjorn Tore Hoem, none of them can climb, though. 8 riders have HIL 80, all of them with stage racing pedigree, too.

Time Trials: Dumoulin (Astana) is the only rider with TTR 84, three riders have TTR 83, Castroviejo (Astana), Phinney (Belkin) and Howson (Orica). No riders have 82, four have 81, two 80. This includes a young American called Ennex Arnold, a pure TT specialist (MON 59).

Cobbles: Sagan (Trek), Stybar and Vanmarcke (both Quickstep) all come with COB 82. Our Polyakov is the only rider with 81, Boom (Trek), Cancellara (Giant), Ex-Aviva man Thys (FDJ), GVA (Quickstep) and the young Polish cyclist Grebowski (Adria Mobil) have COB 80. By AVG Polyakov, Thys and Grebowski trail far behind the others, though.

Sprints: Six riders have SPR 83. Groenewegen, Modolo, Zabel, Kittel, Bouhanni, as well as neo-pro Vuk Jovanovic, who has decent backup stats, too, and AVG 78. Seems a little excessive for a neo-pro, but then again irl we have witnessed a season with Evenepol, Bernal, Pogacar and the other fantastic young riders, so maybe it's totally realistic after all. Seven riders have SPR 82, nine SPR 81 and eleven have SPR 80.
January 2019: Tour Down Under
** goal: Stage Win

Race squad: Theo Biello, Marino De Windt, Blair Oughton, Francisco Sequeiros, Igor Sergienko, Singh, Tewelde

We hired a few sprinters so it was time to put them to the test and actually play the opening stage of the Tour Down Under instead of just simulating it. Theo Biello led out Marino De Windt and our main sprinter was 15th in a field of excellent sprinters. Goss won ahead of Kittel and Matthews.

Stage 2 to Stirling was hilly, though just barely. Gilbert attacked with 10 km to go, 23 riders tried to follow but had to let him go. We decided to provoke a split in the chasing group, Blair Oughton and Tewelde formed a joint in the middle and reduced their effort, which left three of our men up ahead with the chase led by Sky. Gilbert won by 15 seconds ahead of Clarke, the next 9 riders were another 11 seconds behind, Oughton and Tewelde were dragged over the line by Matthews, 69 seconds behind. So Singh as well as our new riders Igor Sergienko and Francisco Sequeiros are in the top 10 for now.

Rick Zabel claimed stage 3 ahead of the Australians Matthews and Goss, while De Windt couldn't even beat Oughton and Singh, a late tiny hill robbed him off all energy. Stage 4 included a medium sized last hill, so Oughton joined the breakaway in the hope of either collecting the mountain jersey or even getting a stage result. He was first atop that cat. 1 climb, but didn't score on the earlier cat. 2, so Dillier took the jersey instead. The group was caught and this time Debusschere beat Oss and Goss in a messy sprint.

Stage 5 was the classic queen stage with two ascents of Willunga Hill. Though little more than a minute behind in the GC, Oughton was allowed to jescape again, he was joined by 5 other riders, including Sky's Van Garderen. The gap to the peloton was down to 90 seconds as Oughton started the first ascent and others in the breakaway had already attacked. But Oughton clawed his way back and managed to win top points on the climb, which would be enough to go home with the jersey! Right after that Offredo attacked, while the rest were swallowed by the peloton. Offredo built up a lead of over a minute and looked like he might win the stage, but inside the final 100 metres he was overtaken by the pre-race top favourite, Kwiatkowski. However, the Polish superstar had lost 7 minutes on stage 3, finishing in the grupetto.

Gilbert was 3rd on the day and would go on to win the Tour Down Under. Only Matthews was awarded the same time as Offredo and Gilbert, 10 seconds behind Kwiato. Our new man Sergienko led the next group of 19 riders, 20 seconds behind. Singh, Sergienko and Sequeiros thus were 7th, 8th and 9th in the GC, behind Nizzolo, Hass and Ciolek, all 50 seconds behind Gilbert, but with enough of a gap to Matthews in 10th that he couldn't pass us even if he won the final stage in the expected mass sprint.

But it didn't come to a mass sprint on the short final stage. 10 riders were allowed to form the escape group and we had just the man for the day, Theo Biello. With 20 km to go the gap was below a minute, but the peloton let up a little, enough for the breakaway to make it. At this point we looked through Biello's competition and there was one rider we didn't like seeing ‚Äď Cimolai, SPR 77. He won the sprint so decisively he was even awarded a time gap of 22 seconds. But Biello scored WT points for us, beating everybody else to finish runner-up, with the reduced peloton right behind. When the dust settled, Aviva added another rider to the GC top 10, Blair ‚ÄúWitch Project‚ÄĚ Oughton. Matthew Goss, who had been 2nd in the GC before the stage, had missed a split and lost nearly 4 minutes. He will be consoled with the points jersey.

Top 10: Gilbert, Froome, Nizzolo, Haas, Ciolek, Ivan Singh, Igor Sergienko, Francisco Sequeiros, Matthews, Blair Oughton

"Only" 99 WT points from this race, not the brilliant 201 we collected last year. And no stage win, so we failed the first goal. But apart from those niggles a fine performance, a smart move on stage 2 to force a gap. Oughton will be proud to take home the climber's jersey from his home tour, and he even made the top 10, too. Btw, despite being just 23 years old this is already his fifth professional season, he is more experienced than the majority of his team mates.
March 2019: Paris-Nice
**** goal: Stage Win

Race squad: Marino De Windt, Formolo, Grande, Sebastian Henao, Koloda, Kudus, Manaia, Wojtasik

Marino De Windt had three chances to compete in mass sprints. Sadly, he was 22nd, 30th and 84th. He finished 4 minutes behind the peloton on the third attempt, even a couple of small lumps are too much for him.

But that third stage to Nuits-St-Georges seemed like a chance for a breakaway rider and so Wojtasik attacked, followed by two riders, Hutarovich and Guillemos. The gap was still 2 minutes at the foot of the only classified climb not far from the finish line. Wojtasik dropped his breakaway companions and kept the gap at the top of the climb. We were feeling moderately confident.

But it wasn't to be. Demare and Bouhanni, who won the previous stages, were still near the front of the peloton and Demare had none other than Stybar working to close the gap. Demare rewarded the work by winning the stage ahead of Bouhanni, Bennett completed the podium.

No luck either on stages 4 and 5. Grande was looking strong in his group, easily taking most mountain points, but the last hill was simply too far from the finish line. Cort Nielsen won the sprint from the reduced peloton. We had forgotten to let our other riders lose time, that may have been the reason the breakaway on stage 5 was never given much breathing room, with Formolo equal on time with all the favourites. Those favourites overtook him on the tough final climb, Rui Costa won ahead of Quintana and Bardet, Majka was over a minute behind, the rest at least twice that. Formolo finished 7th, about a minute ahead of Kudus, Manaia and Grande.

Rui Costa must be in good form, he won the flat ITT the next day, beating Dennis by 8 seconds (TTR 76 vs. 81). Quintana was 38 seconds behind, while Bardet had a bad day and nearly dropped out of the top 10. Spilak moved past Majka into 3rd. Delfi Grande and Manaia did ok, 29th and 31st, they are now 13th and 14th in the GC, but with little chance of improving upon that, or so we thought.

Once more it turned out to be a rookie mistake to choose a stage win over the climber classification. Kudus won the latter comfortably with 74 points, second was Formolo, even his 29 points would have been enough. Kudus was in the breakaway on the final two stages. The group was swallowed easily on stage 7, Rui Costa once more came out top.

On the final stage the breakaway would finally succeed in holding off the peloton, but Kudus was only 6th out of 6 riders. No shame in losing out to stage winner Simon Yates, but he couldn't even beat Fumeaux. It just hasn't been a terribly successful time for Kudus riding for our team.

Majka lost over 2 minutes on this final stage against the Costa group, and so did a bunch of other riders, Talansky, Kreuziger, Stybar and more ‚Äď which led to a surprising 7th overall for Delfi Grande, who also takes home the white jersey. Manaia could have followed him into the top 10, had he not crashed 20 km out, while Sebastian Henao only missed the top 10 by a few seconds.

Top 10: Rui Costa, Quintana, Spilak, Gilbert, Bardet, De Gendt, Grande, Majka, Simon Yates, Serry

Once more we picked the wrong goal, we made the top 10 and won the climber's jersey, either of which the sponsor would have accepted instead of a stage win. Nonetheless, 7th overall by Grande is very encouraging. We have reached a point where we have to concentrate on our rider in the breakaway as well as riders for the GC in just about every race, which previously was only true for certain races.
March 2019: Tirreno-Adriatico
***** goal: 1st in climber standings

Race squad: Emile Denis, Töns Falkenmayer, Kuznetsov, Francisco Sequeiros, Igor Sergienko, Singh, Tewelde, Zilioli

I hope to remember it from now on, when we have a clear captain for a race I'll mark his name in bold letters. Like Paris-Nice, Tirreno-Adriatico is without mountains this year and also without the traditional short ITT on the last day and so we will protect Singh and try to get him into the top 10.

We didn't select a sprinter this time, the mass sprints on the first three stages all went to Italians, Modolo winning stage 1, Nizzolo stages 2 and 3.

For the first 5-star goal we chose the KOM rankings ahead of a stage win. Francisco Sequeiros became our man for the job and it couldn't have been tighter, since there were very few points available. He did really well on stage 4 in a strong breakaway, having to fight Nerz, De Gregorio and Tangert on the two cat. 2 climbs. However, his performance was only good for 8 KOM points. While Bardet had collected 10 points on two tiny cat. 4 climbs on stage 1. I had noticed this before, KOM points can be a bit unreliable in some variants.

Nerz was close to winning the stage, only overtaken by Kwiatkowski and Ulissi inside the final kilometre. Nerz was followed by Sagan, Dan Martin and Slagter. Singh managed to finish 7th, 48 seconds behind the winner, and moved up to 9th in the GC.

Stage 5 to Rapagnano finished uphill and we sent Igor Sergienko into a good group with Velits and Camacho. Both superior riders overall, though Sergienko's HIL 78 is slightly better than his opponents. The gap was never large, but still over 2 minutes with 20 km and three short climbs to go. Camacho made his move, but Sergienko was unworried, he still had most of his energy left and knew he could go a high speed the rest of the way, making up for his lack of ACC.

While he was catching Camacho, with Velits in tow, the attacks from the favourites started, Dan Martin was the first to go, Ulissi was attentive, Kwiato a little late but not too late. At the top of the penultimate climb - and the final climb was less than 2 km long - the gap was still one minute. Sergienko attacked as soon as he caught Camacho and created a gap the other two couldn't close. Dan Martin was already overtaking them, but it was just enough, Sergienko wins the stage 10 seconds ahead of Dan Martin. Velits led the group containing the rest of the favourites, 23 seconds down. Singh was only in the next group, a minute behind, and slipped to 10th in the GC.

Stage 6 seemed to be decisive for the climber's jersey, it featured just one classified climb, a real mountain worthy of its category 1, the only one in the race. Who should we send into the breakaway, especially considering what we noticed earlier about the points system? Zilioli seemed the best bet with his MON 73 HIL 75, but it seemed safer to let Sequeiros (MON 69) have another go. To his dismay the group was full of good climbers, Eijssen, Ion Izagirre and König.

He had no choice, with 5 km to go Sequeiros moved to the front of the group and worked as hard as he could. But the other were going to sprint for it, so he better try, too. He took Eijssen's rear wheel, couldn't overtake him, but just managed to cross the peak in second place. The reward? 3 points! Which at least put him in the lead by one point, but it means that all climbs in every category are worth 5 points in this race and there is still one more to go on the final stage.

The finale was a circuit with one very steep hill, Sequeiros now looked the strongest of the group, but would they make it? It was still looking good with two climbs and 15 km to go, but then the attacks came on the penultimate climb, Singh tried to follow Martin, but to no avail, a group of 7 riders formed and caught up to the leaders on the final climb. They all overtook Sequeiros, who finished 8th, best of the breakaway at least. Sagan won ahead of Kwiato and Martin. Singh finished a minute behind as 13th but moved up to 9th in the GC again.

On the final flat stage Sequeiros observed the attacks and was glad to see nobody threatening his jersey made a move. So we took it easy and just protected him and Singh. Sagan won this final stage, ahead of three Italians, Nizzolo, Modolo and Oss. Though the Italians won the other mass sprints, it was another green jersey for Sagan. He also ended 2nd in the GC, moving past Dan Martin thanks to the time boni, while Ulissi misses the podium by 2 seconds.

Top 10: Kwiatkowski, Sagan, Dan Martin, Ulissi, Slagter, Mendez, Nizzolo, Bakelandts, Singh, Mollema

Well, that race proved that picking KOM over stage win has its risks, too. An important 5-star goal and we fulfilled it by the narrowest of margins, 11 points for Sequeiros against Bardet's 10 points. It was hard work getting those 11 points. We were very happy to claim a stage win, it's been a while since we won anything in March. A rider in the top 10 in both Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico also feels pretty damn good. We collected 42 WT points in those two races, which I believe are 42 more than we collected last season.
March 2019: Milano - Sanremo

Race squad: Theo Biello, Emile Denis, Töns Falkenmayer, Tjeu Heubach, Igor Sergienko, Singh, Tewelde, Mads Veiby

We let the whole team work for our best puncheur, Singh. Biello and then Heubach protected him in the first 250 km before Mads Veiby took over. The main event of the race was Kristoff's attack 40 km from the finish line. He was among the top favourites to win the stage, but this move seemed quite the gamble.

However, the peloton never really got into gear, at the foot of the Poggio Kristoff was still over a minute ahead and he would go on to win the Primavera by that margin. Proof of how little the peloton was working was that Aviva was at the front going into the Poggio and to our surprise five of our riders even separated from the bunch at that point, which we hadn't expected and made us unsure about how to handle the final kilometres. Singh, still protected by Veiby, couldn't drop his own team mates and so as we hit the descent we tried to form a sprint train.

To our frustration the riders kept losing their orders, Denis at the front had to slow down again for the others to catch up. This probably prevented a better result. We were still ahead with 1.5 km to go but now the top sprinters streaked past. At least Singh still had a decent amount of sprint energy left and finished 7th, a fine result. The best we've achieved in this race so far, in fact, beating Hoem's 8th place two years ago.

Top 10: Kristoff, Sagan, Matthews, Degenkolb, Goss, Kittel, Singh, Boasson Hagen, Oss, Van Keirsbulck
March 2019: Volta a Catalunya
** goal: Stage Win

Race squad: Grande, Formolo, Sebastian Henao, Kudus, Arminas Morinas, Francisco Sequeiros, Wojtasik, Zilioli

We tackled the tamest of variants in this year's Volta a Catalunya. Five of the seven stages were flat, the other two hilly, though we weren't quite sure about the stage to Vallnord, a ski resort in Andorra, the final ramp could be more suited to climbers.

We started the race with the only other hilly stage, finishing in Lloret del Mar. The longest climb was in the first half of the day and then there was a succession of three hills in the finale, though getting smaller and smaller, only the first of those hills was categorised.

We picked 24-year old Delfi Grande for the breakaway, who is decent on all terrains, but lacks any ACC or SPR. He was the second attacker out of the gate but pulled about 10 riders behind him. Dal Canto bridged across to Zamora, the rest were caught and Grande immediately attacked again and got away, forming a trio up ahead.

The other two riders may have no reputation, but they are decent punchers. Grande made them suffer on the two cat. 1 climbs, though, and from the second of those it wasn't far to the final unclassified hills and they couldn't match his attack when it came, but there were still over 25 km to go. Grande knew which effort to keep to make it all the way. The peloton had given the breakaway some breathing room but it was closing in now and swallowed Dal Canto and Zamora 15 km from the line. But Grande lost little time in the tricky finale and won the stage, 1'37'' ahead of a group of 156 riders.

Goal fulfilled, and the leader's jersey for now. With just the one hilly stage to go, could Grande possibly win the whole race, which would be the greatest achievement so far for Aviva? Let's not get our hopes up, we'll know more after the third stage, which is the climb to Vallnord. Nothing happened on stage 2, Viviani won the mass sprint, our sprinter Arminas Morinas was 27th.

Kudus was supposed to be one of our protected captains, but with Grande in the leader's jersey Kudus was sent into the breakaway on stage 3. While the other man we'd pencilled in for a captain role, Sebastian Henao, would instead have to help Grande.

We did nothing to control the breakaway, Kudus was clearly the best rider in the group. He was riding with Barta and Boem, a little later they were joined by Salaun, none of them can climb very well and had trouble keeping up with Kudus on the first couple of climbs. Still, the gap grew to 10 minutes and maybe Kudus could win the stage - and the race - if the other teams don't react in time.

But then the peloton picked up speed, the gap melted away and at the foot of the final climb the breakaway was caught. 5 km from the top the real attacks started, most threateningly by Nairo Quintana. But the gradient wasn't too tough and we were riding into a 40 kmph headwind. Grande was protected by Formolo and clawed his way back, getting some cover from riders who'd attacked too early, like Ratto and Atapuma. When Formolo was done 2 km from the top, Sebastian Henao still had the energy reserves to pull Grande the rest of the way.

Only four riders finished ahead of our duo. Quintana won the stage, Mollema was right behind him. Gilbert arrived 22 seconds behind, Froome 45 seconds. But only 10 seconds later Henao and Grande crossed the line. Delfi Grande retains the race lead by 43 seconds with only four flat stages to go! We can really dream of winning our first World Tour stage race now.

Fearing a simulated breakaway win I had to play all those flat stages. Stage 4 was a simple affair and Viviani once again won the mass sprint, Morinas was 29th. Stage 5 contained a few hills and despite concentrating on Grande, we allowed Wojtasik into the breakaway, too.

The biggest GC threats in the group were Capecchi and Luce, both about 5 minutes down. The gap grew to 10 minutes, Wojtasik refused to work, naturally, letting the others ride into the strong headwind. But instead of bagging another stage, Wojtasik was in for a nasty surprise. With 20 km to go, first Luce and then Capecchi attacked and despite both of them being worse rouleurs and having worked harder their gap grew and grew.

At least Grande's lead wasn't threatened anymore, but other top 10 positions were and so the peloton chased hard in the end. Marcello Luce won by a minute ahead of Capecchi, Wojtasik was 3rd, the peloton arrived 2'53'' behind, allowing Luce to slip into the top 10.

Just two more stages to go. Stage 6 was simple enough and once again finished in a mass sprint and again Viviani came out top. We had planned on sending Arminas Morinas into the breakaway on the last stage, he was never going to win a WT mass sprint, so he'd have to attack. But he was too far back in the pack and so instead it was Wojtasik once more who represented us in the breakaway.

The group contained 11 riders and was working well, everybody was taking turns. And so, despite the gap remaining small throughout the day, there was a real chance to beat the sprinters. Wojtasik stopped taking turns with 10 km to go and picked a steady pace keeping him close to the front of the group, waiting to latch onto a late attack or finding the best rear wheel. But under the 5 km banner the pace seemed to drop and Wojtasik decided to go for it alone with a short attack. The others had been surprised, dug deep to catch up to Wojtasik, but our man had just enough energy left to sprint the last kilometre and won the stage.

But far more more importantly, Delfi Grande safely made it across the line in the pack and wins the Volta a Catalunya 2019. What a huge success for the Aviva Cycling Team! Add to that: Two stages for Grande and Wojtasik, the mountain and U25 jerseys for Grande and winning the team rankings, 3'23'' ahead of Sky. The points classifcation goes to Elia Viviani, who won all three mass sprints.

Top 10: Grande, Mollema, Quintana, Gilbert, Froome, Atapuma, Sebastian Henao, Luce, Ratto, Hermans

Our first ever WT stage race victory, finally another milestone to add to the list. Ok, victory came from an early breakaway, but who cares? Grande's achievement will be remembered for a long time, it will probably remain the highlight of his career. ¬°Grande Grande!
March 2019: E3 Harelbeke

Race squad: Theo Biello, Tjeu Heubach, Kuznetsov, Blair Oughton, Alexandr Polyakov, Fridtjof Roinas, Schössler, Mads Veiby

Before we could celebrate Grande's grand victory we rode the first two WT cobbled classics. We are extremely happy with the three new riders we picked up for that terrain. Polyakov is a bit limited, a pure Paris-Roubaix specialist, but Heubach and especially Veiby are riders who with more training will look very good in all cobbled races. Proof were the two preparation races for the E3: Heubach won the Ronde van Drenthe ahead of Polyakov and then Veiby won the Classic Loire Atlantique thanks to a late attack.

Temptation got the best of us in the E3 Harelbeke. We decided to take the front of the peloton on the first long cobbled sector to soften up the competition. At the end of the sector Veiby and Heubach had separated from the rest and nobody seemed very interested in a chase. As a tandem, going at a decent pace, they'd be alone for quite a while, resting at the back of the early breakaway for a bit before leaving them behind, too.

It was all for naught, of course. With 60 km to go a group of 8 top riders escaped from the peloton, reached our men... and left them behind easily. Van Avermaet, Vanmarcke, Degenkolb, Debusschere, Cancellara, Sagan, Phinney and Stybar. Most of them were Quickstep riders, though, and that would become useful a little later. Heubach and Veiby were still a duo at this point, but Kristoff and Boasson Hagen were closing in from behind.

Reaching our men took a lot out of them, though, at the end of the final cobbled ramp our boys pulled away again. Only Boasson Hagen managed to close the gap once more on the final hill. At this point, the decisive attacks came at the front of the race, Sagan went, with Stybar in tow. That produced a standstill in the rest of the group and Veiby and Heubach caught up to them. Veiby immediately attacked, his energy reserves were already pretty low, but it was worth the risk.

But shortly after, Cancellara took off and Boasson Hagen tried to follow. His tanks were empty, though, Cancellara overtook Veiby, but EBH came up short. Vanmarcke had followed him, but was happy to just mark him. Nothing was happening in the next group, which had swollen slighty, Kristoff had come across, so Heubach attacked, aware to break it off should anybody follow and risk catching Veiby. Nobody did, and now Heubach was behind Boasson Hagen. Knowing how knackered his opponent is, Heubach attacked once more, but it wasn't convincing enough, so he stopped. Phinney found his breath again and brought the next group back. So we had Sagan and Stybar at the front, Cancellara closing in, Veiby already a good way back, but over a minute ahead of the group of now 16 riders.

Heubach dared a last attack with 5 km to go, but EBH and Goncalvez followed... until Boasson Hagen ran out of energy once again, blocking Phinney and allowing Goncalvez and Heubach a gap. Heubach couldn't quite use it, a number of riders, starting with Degenkolb, easily outsprinted him, but he made it into the top 10 as 9th. Stybar had let Sagan do most of the work and outsprinted him for the win, Cancellara rolled over the line 20 seconds behind. Veiby was 4th, 3'56'' behind, but still over a minute ahead of the rest. A first great result from this exciting talent.

Top 10: Stybar, Sagan, Cancellara, Veiby, Goncalves, Degenkolb, Vanmarcke, Debusschere, Heubach, Van Avermaet
March 2019: Gent-Wevelgem
* goal: Top 5

Race squad: Theo Biello, Tjeu Heubach, Kuznetsov, Blair Oughton, Alexandr Polyakov, Fridtjof Roinas, Schössler, Mads Veiby

We could possibly have done better in this chaotic race with rain and winds over 70 kmph. All our riders were still in a group of just 17 men as we hit the Kemmelberg for the second time and our three specialists, Heubach, Polyakov and Veiby were at the front, got a separation and briefly had the hope they could work together until the end and swamp the podium.

But then Stybar and Sagan raced past, the rest reached our duo and didn't remain passive this time. Demare and Offredo took off despite their team mate Stybar already being ahead. Gaudin, Kristoff and Bennett also attacked and as we keep finding out, even relaying with 7 riders at a good speed into a headwind does nothing for our chances.

Stybar wins over 2 minutes ahead of Sagan, Demare and Offredo arrive another minute behind, three Quickstep riders in the top 4, then came Gaudin, Kristoff and Bennett, 4'38'' back. We at least then managed to attack with Polyakov and Veiby with 6 km to go, while the rest just took the rear wheels of other riders in the group, who did nothing until the 3 km mark. Polyakov and Veiby were 8th and 9th, over 6 minutes behind ‚Äď and Biello was 10th, managing to outsprint the great Nizzolo into the headwind. Three riders in the top 10 is great, we felt more was possible, though the top 5 goal was always going to be tough to achieve.

Top 10: Stybar, Sagan, Demare, Offredo, Gaudin, Kristoff, Bennett, Polyakov, Veiby, Biello
April 2019: Ronde van Vlaanderen
***** goal: Top 10

Race squad: Biello, Heubach, Oughton, Polyakov, Roinas, Schössler, Veiby, Wojtasik

Our sponsor just loves the Ronde and Paris-Roubaix. Once again, top 10 finishes in the cobbled monuments are 5-star goals. Thankfully, we never had a better team for the terrain and wanted to make it count. Veiby comes into the race as the winner of the Three Days of De Panne, Heubach was 2nd, Polyakov 7th.

Staying near the front of the peloton cost a lot of energy once the racing really began, we were hoping the same was true for our opponents. Eventually the big men attacked, one by one: First out of the gate was Sagan, then came Cancellara and finally Vanmarcke. Cancellara eventually caught Sagan, but Vanmarcke never did and finished 3rd, 1'55'' behind the duo. Sagan let Cancellara sprint from the front and easily overtook him to win the race. His third Ronde victory (2016, 2018, 2019).

The next group fluctuated in size. Heubach and Polyakov had been trapped behind other riders, including their own team mates, and had to expend a lot of energy to finally join up. This was the starter pistol for Veiby's attack, though his energy reserves were already pretty low. He was caught by EBH, who was also dragging GVK behind him. Veiby dared another attack to distance them, he'd only have to survive for 10 more kilometres.

Polyakov attacked from the larger group behind, he was marked, so he only did enough for the group to catch EBH and GVK. Heubach then attacked with 5 km to go and got the smallest of gaps, but he couldn't ride a very fast tempo. Veiby survived, another excellent 4th place from him, Heubach was outsprinted by Stybar and Le Bon, but held onto 7th, ahead of Demare, Boom and Boasson Hagen. No time difference between Veiby and 16th placed Spijkers, all 7'09'' behind Sagan, so it was a pretty tight call.

Top 10: Sagan, Cancellara, Vanmarcke, Veiby, Stybar, Le Bon, Heubach, Demare, Boom, Boasson Hagen

Veiby was 4th in a race he is bound to win one day. This was our best result so far in a monument.
April 2019: Vuelta al Pais Vasco
*** goal: Stage Win

Race squad: Denis, Formolo, Grande, Sebastian Henao, Kudus, Manaia, Sequeiros, Zilioli

The organisers had decided on an unusual route with two mountain stages, both with mountaintop finishes of the short and steep kind. The breakaway with Emile Denis could have made it on the opening day, but the speed just wasn't there when it mattered. A dozen riders had broken away and were chased hard for a long time, Denis was clearly the man to beat on the climbs and he was rewarded with the mountain jersey at the end of the day. The group was caught before the final hill, in a hectic sprint Spilak beat Dumoulin and Ciolek.

Our new hero Grande was diagnosed with a flu the next day and had to drop out of the race. That left us with Manaia to compete for the GC, our only other rider who has some TT skill. Several of our men lost 9 minutes on stage 1, of those Formolo tried his luck on the first mountain stage. However, his opponents were equal on time with race leader Spilak, so his chances were minimal. And indeed, this group was caught, too. The final climb was 8 km long and - with protection from Kudus - Manaia even led the peloton for a while. The only attack to stick was Kwiatkowski's, he won the stage by 12 seconds ahead of Quintana. Manaia was an excellent 6th, but equal on time with 45 riders. Maybe he should have been more aggressive to get a gap.

The following day it was Sequeiros' turn in the escape group, the five riders included Taaramae and Rohan Dennis and they weren't far back in the GC. They worked very hard, Goos and Cataldo did even less than Sequeiros to help them, but it was going to be a close call. Taaramae eventually faded, but Dennis attacked at the foot of the last cat. 2 climb and proved too strong for Sequeiros, who was still pulling Goos. The attacks from the peloton came, Sequeiros used his last energy to attack near the peak. He arrived 30 seconds behind Dennis and 20 seconds ahead of a group of 18 riders, which included Manaia, Kudus and Henao.

Stage 4 seemed like the easiest of the bunch, but that wouldn't hold true. Denis was back in the break, this was the stage with the most mountain points. He had some tough competition, especially from De Gendt, but Denis collected 28 points, more than anybody else, and increased his total to an unbeatable 39 points. But he was caught just after the final hill, only Bouet had outlasted him, but the peloton swallowed him too. The final 20 km were flat, except for the final kilometre. Due to a strong tailwind the speed was so high that our riders lost most of their sprint energy and weren't placed well. The time keepers were brutal, they didn't have to award gaps between the first 35 riders, but Dan Martin and Kwiatkowski were 8 seconds faster than Gilbert, Slagter and Herrada, while Quintana, Bardet and Dumoulin lost 16 seconds and our guys 30 seconds.

The second mountain stage was like the first, and unlike the previous stage the time keeper was asleep at the switch and failed to award any time gaps between 4th and 66th. Why do we even bother to micromanage? Fearing a repeat of the previous day we didn't send anybody into the breakaway and instead protected our riders. Richie Porte, who lost a lot of time on the previous days, managed to win the stage from the breakaway. The only GC candidate to get a gap was Quintana, who was second on the day and 24 seconds ahead of the rest. He's still 4 seconds behind Kwiatkowski in the GC and we only have the short and flat ITT to go.

Manaia was 11th before the final stage. In theory he should be faster than Dan Martin, Gilbert, Bardet, Mohoric and his own team mate Henao, who's still 10th. On the other hand, there are TT specialists not so far behind. What would happen over 9 km? Manaia was 2 seconds too slow to make the top 10 and drops to 12th, Henao drops to 14th. Dumoulin and Dennis, who were 1st and 2nd on the day, couldn't overtake Manaia, but Zoidl, who was equal on time, rode better and so did Kreuziger, while nobody above him lost enough time. Kwiatkowski wins ahead of Quintana, Herrada completes the podium.

So no top 10 and only one 2nd place by Sequeiros, though we did once again win the climber's jersey, this time with Denis. The 3-star goal was to win a stage, apparently we should just renegoiate goals to the mountain classification every time, but I doubt I'll ever learn. Smile

Top 10: Kwiatkowski, Quintana, Jesus Herrada, Gilbert, Dan Martin, Spilak, Zoidl, Kreuziger, Bardet, Rui Costa
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April 2019: Paris-Roubaix
***** goal: Top 10

Race squad: Biello, Heubach, Kuznetsov, Polyakov, Roinas, Schössler, Veiby, Wojtasik

Alexandr Polyakov trains all season just for this race. He doesn't like the hills of the Ronde, FLA 70 and STA 71 aren't great for Paris-Roubaix, either, but by COB alone only three riders in the world are better than him.

The first selections started early, with over 100 km to go. And the Bullet Alley through the Forest of Arenberg left only about 10 riders fighting for victory, our captain Polyakov was among them. With 60 km to go the top group contained 13 riders, including some who had attacked half-way through the race. GVA, who personally had chased down most breakaway attempts early in the day, was leading the group for his Quickstep team mates Degenkolb, Stybar and Vanmarcke. Belkin still had three riders in the group, though none look to be able to challenge for the win. The rest were Polyakov, Cancellara, Boasson Hagen, Kristoff and Stannard. The next group, containing Sky's captain Senechal as well as our ex-rider Thys, was already over 8 minutes behind.

With 50 km to go Sagan made his move. Van Avermaet was the first to follow and was then overtaken by his team mate Vanmarcke. Polyakov had also picked up speed, fearing more attacks, but none came and suddenly he was ahead alone by a minute before Belkin's Phinney started to work for Spijkers. This dropped the third Belkin rider as well as Stannard, Polyakov only had to hope one more rider would be dropped and a top 10 result would be secure.

And maybe it would be an even better result. Phinney got no help, not from Quickstep or the other riders, and Polyakov is better on cobbles, after all, so the gap stayed around a minute. Sagan didn't want Vanmarcke to catch him and held a maddeningly small gap of 10 to 15 seconds for a long time. Polyakov caught up with GVA with 20 km to go, his gap to the group behind had increased to 1'40''. Our Kazakh then even dared to attack the big man, who didn't react and Polyakov got a small gap, though his energy reserves were starting to run low. Vanmarcke finally caught Sagan 12 km out. Polyakov was 20 seconds ahead of GVA ‚Äď and the group with the rest of the favourites was now another two minutes behind! We couldn't have wished for a better constellation.

Finally, the group exploded, Kristoff attacked, EBH, Stybar and Cancellara followed, Degenkolb gave up and Spijkers had a hard time catching up, all of Phinney's work had only helped other teams. Sagan once again took his opponent's rear wheel into the stadium, just like he'd done with Cancellara a week ago. GVA in 4th was definitely cooked, he'd worked all day long. Kristoff was closing in fast, but Polyakov was still heading for an incredible podium finish.

Sagan waited until the final kilometre to launch his sprint and Vanmarcke was left standing. Another monument for the Hulk. Kristoff overtook GVA as they entered the stadium and maybe could have challenged Polyakov after all, but in another beautiful twist the next group caught up, too, and Kristoff didn't want to work against two Quickstep riders and slowed down. Which was just as well, because while Polyakov had a minute at that point he barely managed to cross the line ahead of Stybar. Paris-Roubaix podium, what a result! Behind him Stybar, then Cancellara, EBH and Kristoff. Then came the exhausted GVA and Degenkolb easily outsprinted Spijkers, those two complete the top 10. Veiby and Heubach were 24th and 25th.

Well, that's as good as it gets, the perfect storm. Quickstep forcing an early selection and then keeping the pace high, which left a number of dangerous opponents far behind. Initially, we were unhappy that Polyakov lost his support in the Forest of Arenberg, but it pretty much secured a top 10 finish, which was the 5-star goal. And it only got better from there, rivalries allowed him to finish 3rd, amazing, another milestone, our first monument podium. While I tried to record all the details, it's hard to convey just how nailbiting the race was.

Top 10: Sagan, Vanmarcke, Polyakov, Stybar, Cancellara, Boasson Hagen, Kristoff, Van Avermaet, Degenkolb, Spijkers
April 2019: Amstel Gold Race
**** goal: Top 10

Race squad: Denis, Falkenmayer, Koloda, Sequeiros, Sergienko, Singh, Tewelde, Wojtasik

The Amstel Gold Race didn't go quite as well. Neither could any of our riders follow the top favourites nor really separate from the rest. There were a couple of slim chances, first when Singh was able to follow Quintana, who had missed the attack of other favourites, but Nairo slowed down again and would finish behind most of our riders. Then we briefly formed a small group of our riders with two opponents and Tewelde attacked, even caught up to riders ahead, but a large group led by Bardet caught everybody except for 7 riders.

Kwiatkowski beat Dan Martin in a 2-up sprint, Rui Costa arrived 44 seconds behind, followed by Ulissi, Slagter, Geschke and Gilbert. We were left with the daunting task of getting a result from an uphill sprint out of a strong group of 34 riders. Sadly, we missed the goal, Tewelde was closest as 12th.

Top 10: Kwiatkowski, Dan Martin, Rui Costa, Ulissi, Slagter, Geschke, Gilbert, Cort Nielsen, Cancellara, Dumoulin

A day later we celebrated our 12th win of the season, Veiby won Rund um Köln with a late solo attack.
April 2019: La Fleche Wallone
*** goal: Top 10

Race squad: Falkenmayer, Sebastian Henao, Kudus, Sequeiros, Sergienko, Singh, Tewelde, Zilioli

Tough to name a captain for this variant, which was officially mountainous. Out of habit we sent Zilioli into the breakaway. Three fresh riders joined the group with 65 km to go, but the advantage was already down to 4 minutes and the group was caught 20 km out.

We played it conservatively, there was quite a headwind, and we followed all attacks with all our riders at steady speed, usually ten or more riders were trying to attack, so it wasn't hard to keep contact. The only rider to really get a gap was Dan Martin, but he was caught back by a group of 36 riders at the foot of the final climb.

The final Muy de Hur was more of a whisper than a bang. Katusha had Gilbert leading out Kwiatkowski, the former pushed so hard that the duo got a gap, the latter would win the race and his team mate was runner-up. We risked a short sprint train with Singh at the front, followed by Sergienko and Henao. Singh had little sprint energy left in him, Sergienko had to pass him early. But we were rewarded an excellent 4th place, right behind Quintana, with Henao 6th and Singh 8th. In between were Martin an Kreuziger, Hansen and Sergio Henao complete the top 10. It was all about positioning at the foot of the climb, there were no late surges, guys like Rui Costa, Betancur and Ulissi all finished outside the top 10 behind clearly inferior riders. Brilliant result nonetheless, and a 3-star goal, too.

Top 10: Kwiatkowski, Gilbert, Quintana, Sergienko, Dan Martin, Sebastian Henao, Kreuziger, Singh, Hansen, Sergio Henao
April 2019: Liege-Bastogne-Liege

Race squad: Denis, Falkenmayer, Koloda, Sequeiros, Sergienko, Singh, Tewelde, Wojtasik

The Doyenne was far less successful. The 45 kmph wind blew mostly from behind in the finale and that was too knackering for our riders. Nine favourites got away and our team was stuck in a large group again, 41 riders this time. Late attack attempts were countered easily, so like in Holland it was going to be an uphill sprint from a large group again. Singh was our best man, finishing 15th.

At the front two Katusha riders had the chance to add to their legendary status. Kwiatkowski had won Amstel Gold and Fleche Wallone and was going for the Ardennes triple, but Gilbert was the defending champion who already has four Doyennes to his name and could equal Merckx's record of five wins.

Philippe Gilbert didn't hesitate, attacked early and created a gap and Kwiatkowski was forced to stay put. Only Rui Costa was able to follow Gilbert, but the Belgian was stronger and won by 14 seconds. Gilbert now has 5 Doyennes and 5 Lombardias, what a rider. Kwiatkowski won the sprint for 3rd, beating Ulissi and Bardet.

Top 10: Gilbert, Rui Costa, Kwiatkowski, Ulissi, Bardet, Mollema, Dan Martin, Slagter, Quintana, Betancur

We still haven't got riders who can make the top 10 in the Ardennes Week. The slightly unusual Fleche Wallone saved the week, though.
Just had a quick read through an very interesting first months of 2019. TDU was a good start GC wise, both P-N and T-A's goals were missed but the racing was still good. Catalunya was close to the perfect race as a team, and the one-day races before Pais Vasco were all (and some very) fruitful too.

Roubaix's race scenario worked out great for a modest number of riders, great to see Polyakov could make that cut. Just fulfilling the goal at País Vasco almost looked like a mat result. Pfft

The Ardennes races are always tricky in-game and Flèche is usually the easiest. Happy to see you could make it 1/2 goals made there.


@Kiserlovski: Thanks! It's been a great season so far, across the board, and there are more good results to come.

May 2019: Tour de Romandie
* goal: 1st in climber standings

Race squad: Denis, Formolo, Koloda, Kudus, Kuznetsov, Manaia, Morinas, Zilioli

The Australians dominated the prologue, Howson won ahead of Dennis and Durbridge. Stage 2 ended in a mass sprint won by Ciolek, who could just beat wonderkid Vuk Jovanovic. Stage 3 was also considered flat, but offered a few steep climbs. Koloda couldn't quite manage top points, Geschke beat him on the only cat. 1 climb. The breakaway was caught and again victory went to Ciolek, ahead of, surprisingly, Mollema, Jovanovic was 3rd.

Then came the only mountain stage from Aigle to Anzere. Flat for a long time, then two cat. 1 peaks, a long descent and a long final climb. Kudus had previously lost 5 minutes, but his breakaway companions, all climbers, were far up in the GC. At the foot of the first mountain the group only had a lead of one minute. Kudus did what he had to to win top mountain points, but already on the descent Bardet joined the group and the rest of the favourites weren't far behind. Mollema won the stage 13 seconds ahead of our ex-rider Schmäh, Talansky was 21 seconds behind, Barguil 43 and then a larger group, 1'15'' down on Mollema.

To fulfil our 1-star goal of winning the climber's jersey either Koloda or Kudus would have to attack again. Kudus was better placed in the peloton so he got the job. He did what he had to do to win the jersey, had kept up with Chavez and De la Cruz on and after the penultimate climb and was on his way to beat them for the stage win. That is, had not three favourites caught him just in time, he finished right behind Barguil, Sergio Henao and Mollema. Schmäh and Talansky lost 36 seconds.

Kuznetsov was our best rider in the final 20 km ITT as 31st. Dennis beat Durbridge and Van Garderen. Mollema had a GC lead he couldn't lose, Barguil lost his spot on the podium, though.

Top 10: Mollema, Talansky, Van Garderen, Barguil, Sergio Henao, Kulpaka, Bouet, Schmäh, Velits, Dennis

Kudus completed our KOM goal by joining two breakaways in a row, but that was just about all we got out of this race.
May 2019: Giro d'Italia (1/3)

Race squad: Formolo, Grande, Sebastian Henao, Kudus, Kuznetsov, Manaia, Morinas, Oughton, Zilioli

The 2019 Giro reminded me of the 2018 Vuelta, a tame route with few chances for breakaway success. The Giro winner of 2014, 2016 and 2017, Richie Porte, has started his decline and is only named among the outsiders by PCMCE. The winner and runner-up from last year, Mollema and Kreuziger, are deemed to be the top favourites again.

Chad Haga won the prologue and was the first man to wear the pink jersey this year. IAM is mostly relying on sprinters this season, neo-pro Vuk Jovanovic, Rick Zabel and the 25-year old Edgar Augusto Riofrio are their three best riders and they brought Jovanovic and Zabel to the Giro. But they lost out to Modolo, Bouhanni and Groenewegen on stage 2 and Bouhanni, Bennett and Modolo on stage 3.

Team Sky won the TTT and Talansky moved into the race lead. Aviva was 9th, 70 seconds behind. Groenewegen celebrated his only win of this year's Giro a day later, beating Jovanovic and Bouhanni. Our mediocre sprinter Arminas Morinas was 50th, by the way, and that was his best result so far.

The first hilly stage of the race, from Urbino to Porto Sant'Elpidio on day 6, was maybe a little too tough. Every ascent seemed to have gradients over 10%, and there were lots of them, though only four were classified. In a great fight between three fairly equal riders, Oughton, Schär and Ligthart, Oughton took top points three times and was rewarded with the mountain jersey, which he would wear for the next six days.

The small escape group had an advantage of up to 10 minutes and already at the half-way point the peloton was down to 63 riders. It briefly grew in size again before splitting for good and a group of only 23 riders left the rest behind. This was especially tragic for Majka and Schmäh, who arrived with the peloton/gruppetto 9'24'' behind. Ulissi won the sprint against Arrendondo and Mollema. Sky has been in control since the TTT and still have six riders leading the GC, with Talansky in pink.

A day later we faced the only mountain stage in the first 13 stages and we hoped with the effort of the previous day and a breakaway full of riders more than 10 minutes behind a victory might be possible. Grande was the only man able to follow the early attacks and joined a group of 10 riders. The peloton chased hard for a while, but the group perservered and had a maximum advantage of over 11 minutes.

Sadly, the peloton took no chances. It would have been interesting to see if Grande could have beaten Serry, he'd been among the riders who attacked throughout the stage and had attacked before the final climb even started, but Grande was closing in again. But then Mollema and the rest rode past. Mollema won the stage, Ulissi was right behind him and slipped into pink, with most opponents losing 53 seconds or 1'34''.

But there was still a third chance in a row, another really tough hilly stage, nobody has full freshness anymore, the breakaway riders are over 20 minutes behind... but once more, it wasn't to be. Kudus had come out top against Cataldo and Denifl, but was caught at the top of the final climb, 4 km from the finish. He hoped against hope that a late attack could still work, but he only finished 6th behind Ulissi, Mollema, Adam Yates, Sergio Henao and König. Kreuziger disappointed once again in a Giro, 2'17'' behind on the day, Talansky also lost a chunk of time.

Next up there was a completely flat stage and since we brought Morinas we decided to give that stage a go and let him join the break but once more, no dice. 0 out of 0 breakaways succeeded so far. Bouhanni took his second stage, he was the only sprinter who won more than one stage in this Giro.
May 2019: Giro d'Italia (2/3)

After the second rest day breakaways had more luck. Stage 10 to Assissi was one of the simpler hilly stages with long flat sections and Kuznetsov seemed like a good bet. However, it was going to be just him against the much stronger Vichot. The peloton had closed most of the gap with 40 km to go but then eased off, three riders tried to join the duo but never reached the front. Eventually, with 10 km to go, Vichot took off and Kuznetsov could do no more than secure his second place, 59 seconds behind.

The AI was a disappointment in the GC fight on this very basic stage. Ulissi was leading by just over a minute going into the stage and has to worry about the tough mountain stages ahead. He followed a late attack by the white jersey, Mohoric, and the only top 10 rider to join was König. They gained a minute on Talansky and three minutes on the rest. Ulissi is now 2'42'' ahead of König, exactly 4 minutes ahead of Sergio Henao. I dare say the Giro's been decided already, even though we've only been in the mountains once, neither König nor Sergio Henao are serious threats for Ulissi and the better climbers seem too far behind already.

On stage 12 Oughton lost his jersey to his team mate Grande. The Catalunya winner wasn't challenged for the mountain points, but he wasn't strong enough to follow Serry's decisive attack and his non-existant sprinting ability meant he'd finish 4th, behind Cattenao and Zardini, who aren't known for their sprinting, either. Once more Ulissi gained a good chunk of time against most of his rivals, Adam Yates is now 2nd and the gap is 4'07''.

Stage 13 would be much harder than the profile suggested, full speed all day. It was basically flat and just 122 km long, if there ever was a chance for Morinas to win a stage, this it is, if the breakaway succeeds. The group was 10 riders strong, and the peloton just wouldn't give up the chase and the group wouldn't stop pushing. A few lulls in the chase and the gap kept increasing, especially after a longer breather half-way through the stage. But the escape group would not be able to make it despite a gap of 6 minutes with just 40 km to go. 32 riders broke away from the peloton, including a few sprinters and their lead-outs, and caught the breakaway 5 km out. Morinas was 18th, Bennett won. Kreuziger again lost well over 2 minutes while some other top 10 candidates managed to lose nearly 7 minutes, like Majka, Schmäh, Uran and Pinot.

The second mountain stage wasn't well suited for a breakaway, completely flat except for two climbs in quick succession at the end. We picked Formolo for the breakaway and as we knew would happen at some point, Majka and his MON 81 joined, too. The gap was only 3 minutes at the foot of the first climb, Formolo won top points on the climb, but let himself be caught at the foot of the long final climb. Majka managed to win the stage, just 12 seconds ahead of Adam Yates, Ulissi and Mollema.

The next day would see a big fight between Grande and Cataldo for the mountain jersey. Cataldo had slipped into the blue jersey from his breakaway appearance the previous day and he followed Grande's attack on stage 15, nominally hilly, but really more of a mountain stage including a mountaintop finish. Since Grande cannot sprint, he had to ride as hard as he could in the final 2 kms of every climb and sneaked past Cataldo nearly every time. But at the end of the day Cataldo is still one point ahead in the KOM ranking.

Grande was able to catch up with Cataldo on the final climb and even overtake him in the final kilometre. Sadly, at that point the pink jersey and a few more riders rode past both of them, with Porte winning the stage just ahead of Ulissi, who once more extends his lead in the GC.

We weren't unhappy to see Cataldo in the breakaway again directly after the final rest day, because though the stage was considered hilly, it didn't actually offer any mountain points. Finally Sebastian Henao got his chance and this time the breakaway would make it to the finish ahead of the peloton. But though Henao pushed as hard as he could up the final climb and got a small gap, the final 3 km were flat and he was outsprinted by Polanc, Denifl and Bille. It doesn't look like we'll win a stage at this year's Giro.
May 2019: Giro d'Italia 3/3

Stage 17 came with four big peaks and then a long descent to the finish line. Since Grande is great downhill, we hoped he'd be able to reclaim the jersey and maybe even win the stage. The peloton chased hard in the early part of the stage, possibly because Arredondo was in the group of 10 riders, he was 15th in the GC.

Cataldo was in the group, too, so once more it was between him and Grande, and our man did what he had to, claiming top points on the first three climbs while Cataldo wasn't always right behind him. In the end, Grande collected 60 points, Cataldo only 24, so Grande is now up by 35 points. The biggest threat in the group for the stage win was Coppel and he pulled away towards the top of the final peak, with Grande already exhausted. But once again, the breakaway wouldn't win the stage anyway. Coppel got close, but eventually he was overtaken by Yates and Schmäh. Finally, a crack in Ulissi's armour, the GC leader lost 1'33'', but he still has an advantage of 3'50''.

The closest we got to winning a stage was with Morinas a day later on a short and totally flat stage. He started from the very last row of the peloton, the breakaway of 4 riders was already over 4 minutes ahead by the time he finally made it to the front and it took all his energy to reach the group. The gap was down to a minute with 15 km to go but it stayed there for the next kilometres and was still over 30 seconds 5 km from the line. Morinas had taken the rear wheel of Vachon, a good decision, the Astana rider caught Ligthart and Valgren, who'd attacked, and Morinas was the best sprinter in the group.

He waited until there were 1600 metres left to launch his sprint, easily overtook the others... but by now the mass sprint from the peloton was in full swing. Rick Zabel was closing in, but running out of steam... but he was launching his team mate Jovanovic... and in little more than a photo finish Jovanovic snuck past Morinas on the line. It was the first professional victory for Jovanovic. A 2nd place is pretty good for Morinas, but a win would have been a lot nicer, of course.

With just two mountain stages and a final ITT to go, we withdrew three riders. Morinas, who's suffered enough, as well as Oughton and Kuznetsov, the latter feeling unwell before the 19th stage ‚Äď a good call, he's got a backache and shouldn't exert himself. This time, for the first time in the whole Giro, the breakaway was allowed free reign. We had sent Kudus into the group, since Cataldo remained passive.

Sadly, there was one rider who was better than Kudus and the rest, Lawson Craddock. And he was on form, while Kudus easily left the rest of the group behind on the final climb, Craddock was unbeatable and won the stage by over a minute. Ulissi lost more time, the gap has shrunk to 2'35''. König cracked even more, the Netapp captain had been on the podium for a long time, but Mollema moved ahead with two stages to go.

So, the final chance to win a stage, day 20, the finish is on the Stelvio. Good news: Cataldo once again didn't join the break. Bad news: Once again it was his team mate Craddock in the group, and this time we only had Manaia to challenge him. So that was the hope, maybe he could beat Craddock and the rest because of his high freshness.

But then came the really bad news, the peloton had no intention of letting a breakaway rider win. The gap was never more than 8 minutes and had been reduced to under 5 minutes by the time the escapees reached the foot of the penultimate climb. And it was down to 3 minutes after the climb, with 45 km still to go. Manaia basically gave up at that point, let Craddock and Serry ride away, it'd all be for naught anyway.

This time Ulissi and his Orica team were very attentive and made sure no opponent would get away. In the end Mollema won the stage just ahead of Ulissi and Yates. König really suffered, dropped behind Talansky, they are roughly 5 minutes behind the podium so that's settled.

The ITT on the final day in Milan was won by Talansky ahead of the young riders Ennex Arnold and Jur Kulpaka. The only change in the top 10 was Kreuziger and Caruso swapping places. Ulissi thus wins the 2019 Corsa Rosa 2'16'' ahead of Adam Yates and 5'17'' ahead of Mollema. Ulissi also wins the points jersey, while Grande at least continued our mountain jersey streak, but it's another Giro without a stage win for us. Mohoric is the best young rider, Sky wins the teams classification just ahead of Orica. Only Ulissi and Bouhanni were able to win two stages, other winners in mass sprints were Modolo, Groenewegen, Bennett and Jovanovic.

Top 10: Ulissi, Adam Yates, Mollema, Talansky, König, Sergio Henao, Porte, Kreuziger, Caruso, Schmäh

Stage by Stage:
1Chad HagaChad HagaChad HagaChad HagaNikolay Mitodorov
2Sacha ModoloChad HagaSacha ModoloKevin SeeldraeyersNikolay Mitodorov
3Nacer BouhanniChad HagaSacha ModoloMoreno MoserNikolay Mitodorov
4Cetin PolatAndrew TalanskySacha ModoloMoreno MoserCetin Polat
5Dylan GroenewegenAndrew TalanskyNacer BouhanniDiego UlissiCetin Polat
6Diego UlissiAndrew TalanskyNacer BouhanniBlair OughtonCetin Polat
7Bauke MollemaDiego UlissiNacer BouhanniBlair OughtonCetin Polat
8Diego UlissiDiego UlissiNacer BouhanniBlair OughtonMatej Mohoric
9Nacer BouhanniDiego UlissiNacer BouhanniBlair OughtonMatej Mohoric
10Arthur VichotDiego UlissiNacer BouhanniBlair OughtonMatej Mohoric
11Julian AlaphilippeDiego UlissiNacer BouhanniBlair OughtonMatej Mohoric
12Pieter SerryDiego UlissiNacer BouhanniDelfí GrandeMatej Mohoric
13Sam BennettDiego UlissiNacer BouhanniDelfí GrandeMatej Mohoric
14Rafal MajkaDiego UlissiNacer BouhanniDario CataldoMatej Mohoric
15Richie PorteDiego UlissiDiego UlissiDario CataldoMatej Mohoric
16Jan PolancDiego UlissiDiego UlissiDario CataldoMatej Mohoric
17Adam YatesDiego UlissiDiego UlissiDelfí GrandeMatej Mohoric
18Vuk JovanovicDiego UlissiDiego UlissiDelfí GrandeMatej Mohoric
19Lawson CraddockDiego UlissiDiego UlissiDelfí GrandeMatej Mohoric
20Bauke MollemaDiego UlissiDiego UlissiDelfí GrandeMatej Mohoric
21Andrew TalanskyDiego UlissiDiego UlissiDelfí GrandeMatej Mohoric

June 2019: WT standings after the Giro

Aviva had its best first half of the season so far, by far. Last year we had 211 points in the WT team rankings at this point, this year we have 492. Before the Romandie we even were 4th in the rankings, we didn't score much since and have dropped to 7th, behind Orica, Sky and Movistar. Katusha is reigning supreme at the top (1197), ahead of Quickstep (817) and Trek (773). Thanks to a decent Giro from König my #1 favourite for relegation, Netapp (84), is currently 15th, ahead of Belkin (70), the sprinter-heavy IAM (46) and MTN-Qhubeka (14).

Individually, it's Sagan (497) ahead of Gilbert (471) and Kwiatkowski (459), followed by Giro winner Ulissi (396), Mollema (392), Quintana (314), Stybar (272), Rui Costa and Dan Martin (both 254), Talansky (191) currently completes the top 10. Aviva's best rider is Grande thanks to his phenomenal win in Catalonia, 15th with 139 points. Veiby is 21st, Singh 24th, Polyakov 30th, Sergienko 31st. Betancur is 4th in the world by AVG but has only collected 4 WT points so far and hasn't got a single victory to his name.
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