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Penny Pinching 2021: Aviva vs Astana
Croatia14
You know what I love most about this Story? The unique tactical insight you hohe makes it feel like you're directly in the car with the DS, which creates a garage point for me I've honestly never had in any story on fail so far. That's exciting!

I also love how you manage to squeeze out that many points of your riders, just magnificent.
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Ripley
@croatia: Stop it, you're making me blush! Smile

March 2021: Milano – San Remo
**** goal: Top 10

Race squad: Denis, Hermans, Myles, Pedrocca, Sequeiros, Sergienko, Tewelde, Veiby

Donald Myles has just reached SPR 80 and comes with HIL 72, so he's our best hope of fulfilling the goal in a real mass sprint. Our man for a late attack was Veiby, who is such a dangerous rider, but it probably would have been wiser to try one of our weaker riders, like Pedrocca (HIL 77 FLA 72), he would have been allowed more room. But Veiby was tightly marked, and everybody was still together going into the Poggio.

Our team couldn't shake off anybody, though the nice surprise was just how well Myles was riding uphill, keeping up with his team mates at the front of the pack. And going into the descent, there is a sudden attack from GVK. I had been a bit surprised that he was PCM's top favourite to win the race, but Myles was definitely going to follow that attack, and so did Vanmarcke.

We could have let more of our riders follow the move, but we didn't want to jinx it. The trio got away and Myles was the best sprinter, could he win a monument for us? Sadly, no, he was defeated fair and square, despite just following GVK and then, going into the final 3 km, Vanmarcke. Myles ran out of sprint energy under the flamme rouge. GVK won ahead of Vanmarcke, Myles was an excellent 3rd. The peloton arrived 35 seconds later, RJVR won the sprint for 4th. 3 out of 3 goals completed.

Top 10: GVK, Vanmarcke, Myles, RJVR, Demare, Kristoff, Prparin Fernandes, Sagan, Cristofaro Naldi, De Buyst

With this biggest success of his career so far I will finally divulge a silly little secret: Whenever I'm controlling this sprinter, under my breath I'm singing the classic song by The Who, "I can see for Myles and Myles".
 
Ripley
March 2021: Volta a Catalunya (1/2)

Race squad: Gallardo, Hontecillas, Myles, Sequeiros, Tacconelli, Wikkelso, A. Zamora, G. Zamora

No TT and two mountain stages make Hontecillas the clear captain, though another rider might just steal the show. We started with a couple of flat stages. Myles couldn't follow up his San Remo performance, he was 7th on the first stage and then outside the top 30 in the (simulated) second stage. Both were won by the best sprinter in the world, Vuk Jovanovic.

The better climber of the Zamora brothers, Arnau (MON 75), initiated the breakaway on stage 3 to La Molina, the easier of the two consecutive mountain stages. Astana, with Quintana in the race, but Jovanovic as the leader, had no interest in pursuing the escape group, Cannondale did most of the work with weak riders. The gap grew and grew, and so did E1 for a while, it was up to 10 riders heading into the largest climb of the day, starting half-way through the stage, with more riders alone or in twos further behind.

Zamora rode from the front, he was the best climber in the group, only our ex-riders Grande and Singh as well as Haga could follow him. But Zamora needed their support, it was still a long way to the final, less imposing climb. At the top of the HC climb the four riders were ahead by 13 minutes with less than 70 km to go. They were going to decide the stage and possibly win by a margin the favourites wouldn't be able to close entirely for the rest of the race. We've seen that before, of course, Catalunya was the first WT stage race our team won, thanks to Delfi Grande who's back in the mix today.

Astana finally took control, though at a pace everybody was able to follow. Eventually, most favourites would lose 7'04'' against the stage winner. For a short while, that seemed to be Grande, he attacked on the flat just ahead of the final ascent and Singh and Haga weren't helping Zamora anymore. But Grande's form can't have been that great, he was caught by the trio half-way up the climb. Arnau Zamora had enough in the tank for an attack none of the others could follow and he won the stage 42 seconds ahead of Grande, Haga and Singh.

Hontecillas, protected by Gallardo, had no trouble staying near the front of the peloton. When riders attacked, it was usually a dozen at the same time, so the attacks finished before they created a gap. We were slightly disappointed when Barguil started his sprint and Hontecillas was blocked by Quintana, Barguil gained 18 seconds on the rest of the favourites, but even he is now 6'56'' behind Arnau Zamora.

Ahead of the second, tougher mountain stage, Zamora has that nice lead, Barguil is 8th, behind a bunch of riders who had escaped that day, while 13 riders are equal on time behind Barguil. This includes most of the MON 81 climbers in the world: Quintana (who's dropped another point), Argueda, Braglia and Majka. Van Garderen lost a little more time and so did Hayden, who had to support Barguil.
 
Ripley
March 2021: Volta a Catalunya (2/2)

The queen stage took us from Alp to the mountaintop finish of Vallter 2000. We let Tacconelli join the breakaway, he was the best climber in the escape group, and yet we also felt we had to control the breakaway after the gap grew to 10 minutes. It was unnecessary and it robbed Tacconelli of a possible stage win.

Of course, we concentrated most of our efforts on Arnau Zamora and his yellow jersey. The speed in the peloton picked up on the penultimate climb, one rider after another was put on protection duty until Hontecillas took over on the final climb, sacrificing his own GC ambitions. Barguil and Quintana attacked early and once more we were maddened by Zamora getting stuck behind slower riders, which cost valuable time, he went on to finish the stage with plenty of energy to spare due to that msihap.

Tacconelli soon saw Quintana and Barguil approach and wasn't going to help them. Maybe he should have followed the late attack by Camacho, who was able to win the stage by 10 seconds ahead of Quintana and 24 seconds ahead of Barguil. More of the better climbers arrived one by one, Schreiber, Majka, Laurie, Aller, Arguedas. Hontecillas and Zamora were 13th and 15th on the day, 19 seconds behind Arguedas and 3'09'' behind Quintana.

The top 4 remains unchanged, Haga was 30 seconds slower than Zamora, Grande and Singh lost another minute. Barguil is now 5th, 3'57'' behind our GC leader, Quintana 2 seconds behind him, with no more mountains to go. Hontecillas dropped to 18th, no chance for him to make the top 10. Probably the biggest threat is now Ivan Singh, he's a top puncheur and has two hilly stages to make up 2'04'' against Zamora.

Sequeiros was part of the breakaway which would decide the next stage. He worked very little across the 220 km and seemed to be the strongest rider going over the final hill and attacked his 7 companions. His gap was never more than 15 seconds and, exhausted, he was eventually outsprinted by Kelderman and De Gendt.

Singh and others attacked on the final climb and Zamora was unable to follow. We should have sought the help from all team mates to keep the gap small, instead at least he was aided by Haga, Camacho, Majka and Quintana. But the gap grew during the final 10 km and Singh, together with Hoem and Barguil, was 56 seconds faster than the race leader. Singh reduced the gap to 1'18''.

Laurens De Vreese, Aviva rider in 2017 and 2018, won the flat stage 6 with a late attack. That only left the relatively easy final stage, with a finishing circuit near Barcelona including a small hill, difficult to imagine that Zamora will lose the jersey. Wikkelso risked too much in the breakaway, he started attacking 50 km out and was empty when the sprint came. Meintjes won ahead of Craddock, Wikkelso was 3rd, beating only Wallays and Acevedo.

Nothing was happening in the peloton for a while, Zamora left nothing to chance and rode at the front, protected by his brother. Then Singh attacked after all and the situation became slightly dangerous. By our time keeping he crossed the finish line at least 30 seconds ahead of Zamora, but the officials were very generous, everybody down to Duarte, 157th on the day, finished together with Singh.

We've done it again, one of our men wins Catalunya! But on a very different course to Grande's victory two seasons ago. Grande was involved in the decisive breakaway this time as well and he ends 4th in the GC. Alexis Camacho wins the KOM rankings by 3 points ahead of Zamora and Wikkelso, after a great KOM run last season we've drawn blanks so far this year. Just goes to show, nothing can be taken for granted.

Matthews wins the points classification, he scored on the hilly stage 5 and was 2nd behind De Vreese on stage 6, while Jovanovic, winner of stages 1 and 2, was a no-show on later stages.

Top 10: Arnau Zamora, Haga, Singh, Grande, Barguil, Quintana, Majka, Rabottini, Kelderman, Camacho
 
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Ripley
March 2021: E3 Harelbeke

Race squad: Kipp, Koloda, Meelis Krasnopjorov, Chionesu Masakadza, Montes Torrecilla, Pedrocca, Pozin, Veiby

It's the last season Mads Veiby is racing for Aviva, and we'll throw everything we have behind his cobble campaign. He's made it to COB 83, though that's still not the end of the road for him, he can still add to that and his other stats. Nonetheless, nobody has more COB then him, only Heubach and Vanmarcke share his skill level. Both of them are better by AVG, though, Heubach has reached FLA 83, which makes him the top favourite for Paris-Roubaix. While Vanmarcke sadly can rival Veiby in all stats, only his HIL is slightly lower, but his SPR and ACC are clearly better.

The E3 Harelbeke was one of those races which begged for a restart, so much went wrong, I played the finale in 8x speed... and Veiby finished 2nd, so I guess it was a good race after all?

I didn't have a good feeling when the peloton got into rhythm, with a breakaway including Pozin up ahead, because Veiby refused to position himself near the front of the peloton, he'd always drop back a few places and keep getting caught behind other riders and that was bound to be infuriating - and it was.

On top of that, the peloton let a few dangerous riders escape midway through the stage, especially Taylor Phinney, COB 75 and on top of that FLA and AVG 80, if we hadn't sacrificed riders to keep the gap in check, who knows if he couldn't have won the race.

And then Sagan attacked, while not one of the top 3 favourites according to PCM (Heubach, Vanmarcke and Veiby), he certainly was my top favourite, and once more nobody organised a chase and Veiby was stuck on the right/wrong side of the road as well.

As we hit the final, non-cobbled hill, Sagan was away by 3 minutes and Veiby had dropped well behind the top 10, splintered into several groups, including the other pre-race favourites and the mid-stage attackers. The rest was a bit of a blur. I'll translate the 8x speed to Veiby stubbornly keeping his head down, fueled by frustration. He remembered suddenly catching Heubach and Vanmarcke again, who also weren't doing well. He attacked just once in this race, and it was to drop those two, which worked.

But there were still plenty of riders ahead, somehow Veiby overtook them one by one. In the end, he crossed the line in 2nd place, 2'33'' behind Sagan, 20 seconds ahead of Degenkolb and exactly a minute ahead of a group of 17 riders. So apart from Sagan they had all overplayed their hand. Masakadza and Montes Torres were at the back of the group, with a bit of energy left, we'd forgotten all about them, maybe they could have made the top 10 had we been more circumspect. Vanmarcke was 9th, Heubach only 15th. A pretty odd race.

Top 10: Sagan, Veiby, Degenkolb, Bennett, Tibor Danko, Phinney, Octavio Bilro, Kristoff, Vanmarcke, RJVR

It's the 5th E3 for Sagan, equalling Boonen's record, though he won't be able to become sole record holder since he's retiring at the end of the year.
 
Ripley
March 2021: Gent-Wevelgem

Race squad: Krasnopjorov, Masakadza, Montes Torrecilla, Myles, Pedrocca, Pozin, Tewelde, Veiby

Next race, same result: Sagan wins Gent-Wevelgem ahead of Veiby, this time Boom completes the podium. Vanmarcke and Heubach skipped the race which made Veiby the pre-race favourite, though the race is lacking hills, cobbled or otherwise.

He tried attacking early, with ober 40 km to go, at first catching Sagan off guard, but not Boom and Demare. Boom then attacked 35 km out, Veiby couldn't follow immediately, but he dropped Demare in the crosswind and eventually caught up with Boom. But then Sagan made it a trio.

Veiby did what the experts recommend and attacked as soon as Sagan had bridged the gap. But to no avail, Sagan had the energy reserves to follow easily. 6 km out Veiby gave up setting the pace and took Sagan's rear wheel, with Boom behind him. Sagan didn't wait for the sprint, he attacked once more, Veiby spent the last of his energy reserves, but it simply wasn't enough. Sagan crossed the line 28 seconds ahead of Veiby, Boom was 49 seconds behind. Demare and RJVR were next, 1'26'' down. GVK arrived alone, and so did Myles as 7th, 3'50'' behind. Next was Danko while Bennett won the sprint from a larger group to finish 9th, Luc Hagenaars completes the top 10.

Top 10: Sagan, Veiby, Boom, Demare, RJVR, GVK, Myles, Danko, Bennett, Hagenaars

Myles had dropped out of the Catalonia Tour before stage 6 in case Gent-Wevelgem isn't selective enough, he's very happy with his result.
 
Ripley
Rankings update end of March 2021

As I'm sure you're all aware, I value the WT teams classification. It's the obvious table to check and see how well the team is performing, even though it doesn't account for everything. Considering how well we did so far in this career and looking at our current squad, winning the ranking seems a real possibility this year. We only finished behind Katusha in the last two years and that team's budget has been slashed dramatically.

We've scored pretty well so far, especially the surprise victory by Arnau Zamora in Catalunya was a nice bonus. While Astana looks like the strongest contender, at the end of March Trek has the lead with 564 points. This is mostly due to Peter Sagan and his two recent wins, he currently leads the individual rankings, too. Plus Trek had the great 1-2 with Barguil and Bardet in Tirreno-Adriatico. Aviva currently follows with 503 points, 95 points ahead of Astana. The Kazachs are weak on cobblestones, they only have Phinney, so Veiby will help us increase the gap in the two cobblestone monuments, but Astana will fight back after that.

However, Quintana is declining quite dramatically now, he'll drop to MON 79 by the end of the season. The team apparently realised this and he'll race the Giro and the Tour this year instead of the Tour-Vuelta combo of recent years. Jur Kulpaka will be their captain in the Vuelta instead and by then he'll be the better rider. Then there's Slagter, the current Dutch champion, a fine puncher who'll score heavily in the one-day classics. The world's best sprinter, Jovanovic, has already overperformed by outright winning the Tour Down Under, he's also added 5 stage wins at the WT level so far this season, he'll be targeting stages and the points jerseys at Le Tour and La Vuelta.

The current top 10:

1Trek Factory Racing564
2Aviva Cycling503
3Astana Pro Team408
4Omega Pharma - QuickStep Team335
5Team Sky252
6Cannondale208
7Orica - GreenEDGE200
8Team Katusha106
9Topsport Vlaanderen - Baloise98
10IAM Cycling92

 
Ripley
April 2021: Ronde van Vlaanderen
**** goal: Top 5

Race squad: Denis, Lammertink, Masakadza, Montes Torrecilla, Myles, Pedrocca, Pozin, Veiby

Well, this is the big one, the opportunity for Aviva to win its first monument. This was Veiby's main goal, not even Vanmarcke has his HIL, Heubach certainly doesn't, even Sagan now looks weak in comparison.

Aviva did everything the team could. Montes and Masakadza were awarded protection in the first half of the race so they could in turn protect Veiby later. Those two made the race hard as soon as we hit the hellingen, riding with 60 effort and protection, with Veiby hiding behind them. Briefly we kept creating small groups, with Vanmarcke and Heubach having to accelerate to catch up again and Veiby was still protected while they weren't, this was going well.

But, sadly, to no avail. Yes, we finally got rid of Sagan, but when the race came down to the top 3, Veiby lost out. Vanmarcke rode a long attack before the final two steep cobbled climbs, Veiby followed, Heubach was able to keep up as well. And yet, Vanmarcke was able to attack once more, while Veiby was all out of sprint energy. Heubach's reserves should have been drained long ago, but not only could he keep up on the climbs, he even had the energy for a late attack to also distance Veiby.

It just wasn't to be. Of course, the hard difficulty doesn't help, those extra 2.5% make a difference in these races, we've seen that again and again. But I honestly don't think we could have done any better. Vanmarcke wins the Ronde, Heubach arrives 44 seconds behind, Veiby 1'24''. Kristoff, another Trek rider and on paper not a top 10 candidate anymore, beat Polyakov and Spijkers for 4th, 3'16'' behind. Next was Thys, another ex-Aviva rider, who should have suffered greatly on the climbs with his HIL 65, but he was still over 3 minutes faster than the next group, where Sagan beat Degenkolb and Boom, 9'26'' behind Vanmarcke.

Top 10, and I write this with disgust: Vanmarcke, Heubach, Veiby, Kristoff, Polyakov, Spijkers, Thys, Sagan, Degenkolb, Boom

So no Ronde victory in this career, that much is certain. Not only will we lose the best candidate ever, of course we'll be facing him from now on and he'll only get better. Well, a monument podium at least and another goal completed.
 
Ripley
April 2021: Vuelta al Pais Vasco (1/2)
* goal: Stage Win

Race squad: Gallardo, Hermans, Kipp, Koloda, Taconelli, Tewelde, A. Zamora, G. Zamora

All stages of the 2021 Basque Tour are hilly, including the 28.2 km ITT on the final day, Hontecillas is skipping this one. Last season, Marrou ended on the podium, but this year we haven't got any certain top 10 candidates. Tewelde and Hermans will see how things go.

Stage 1 started and arrived in Hendaye, only the first third was pretty flat, after that came six fierce climbs in quick succession, before a short flat stretch led to the finish line. There was a strong wind blowing, 60 kmph on average, which made the winding course even more challenging. Gerardo Zamora was the first man to attack, but he was followed by a busload of riders. 5 riders formed an E1, but there were several more Es ahead of brutally fast peloton which soon dropped all our other riders into an A1, at least temporarily.

9 riders merged into the E1 after 25 km, but that was still too much for the peloton. The group split, Zamora gave up at the foot of the first climb, and he and the rest of E2 was caught. So we initiated Plan B, and let Kipp attack. It needed to be a guy as good as Kipp, because the remaining trio up ahead consisted of Froome, still dangerous at the age of 36, our ex-rider Falkenmayer with his HIL 78 and the slightly weaker Rybakov.

Kipp caught the group fairly quickly and found that the others weren't fighting for the mountain points, Kipp was first over all peaks, Froome was 2nd every time. Falkenmayer had low fitness, or maybe he was ill, he was really struggling. The group built up a lead of nearly 8 minutes before the peloton kicked into gear. But the escapees reached the final climb with over 3 minutes to spare, which seemed enough. Kipp attacked, Froome returned, Kipp attacked again, Froome took longer to come back, then 2 km from the top Kipp went again. He was ahead by 30 seconds on the small plateau and Froome only lost more time from then on, Kipp won the opening stage by 52 seconds and already fulfilled our goal.

Without attacking a Cannondale duo found itself in front of the peloton on that climb and Ulissi made the most of it. He was 3rd, his team mate Polat 4th, 1'54'' behind Kipp and 34 seconds ahead of a large group including Tewelde and Hermans. Could Kipp possibly match Arnau Zamora and win this race for us? Highy doubtful, but his lead is enough to declare him captain for this race.
Edited by Ripley on 27-02-2020 11:08
 
LLDS
Nice start, I always found Vuelta al Pais Vasco to be impredictible.
Cycling
 
Ripley
@LLDS: Definitely, you never know what will happen. I felt pretty good about Kipp at this point, he might be able to keep up with the best until the final time trial and since that's hilly he might do ok there, too.

You'll already find out tomorrow, it's a two-part race report, I forgot to label it.
 
Ripley
April 2021: Vuelta al Pais Vasco (2/2)

A day later we were certain to make it 2 out of 2 stages when Koloda wore down Rolland and dropped him at the top of the final hill while the peloton seemed to have given up their chase, the gap was 3 minutes with 20 km to go. But suddenly the speed increased dramatically, Kipp, Tewelde and Hermans were our only riders left in a peloton of 50 riders and Koloda was caught with 5 km to go. Jovanovic had made the elite group and easily won the stage ahead of Ulissi.

Stage 3 to Alen finished with a steep climb, 4 km long. Arnau Zamora was in a breakaway that didn't make it, then his brother attacked and would be alone on the road for most of the day. The strong wind usually blew into his face, but he still carved out an advantage of up to 8 minutes. Falkenmayer and Robert-Jan Goudswaard attacked for the mountain points and nearly caught up to Gerardo Zamora before running out of steam. However, our man was also caught well before the final climb.

We protected Kipp, Tewelde and Hermans, they did very well, helped by the headwind which made late attacks futile, finishing 4th, 5th and 18th. Mohoric won ahead of Talansky and those two got a gap of 16 seconds on a group of 26 riders.

The next day the final climb, to Urkiola, was a couple of kilometres longer and just as steep. Kipp once more received protection throughout the stage. Hermans had a pretty bad day and finished 29th, 53 seconds behind Tewelde and Kipp, who were 9th and 12th. The stage went to Slagter, only Ludvigsson was right behind him. Ulissi, Mohoric, Quintana, Kwiatkowski and Talansky were 8 seconds behind, our men were in the next group, 43 seconds down. So the opponents moved closer, but Kipp retains the GC lead for now.

The penultimate stage may not finish uphill, but it's just briefly downhill after a nasty climb. One rider made the escape group we didn't like seeing there, Majka, just 4 minutes behind in the GC. He was the only survivor and won the stage. The speed was brutal going into the final climb and more and more riders got away from Kipp and Tewelde and increased the gap dramatically. Ulissi finished with Quintana and Kwiatkowski, 1'09'' behind Majka. Another group of 9 riders finished 1'35'' behind that trio, with Kipp and Tewelde losing an additional 50 seconds. Kipp has thus lost his lead to Ulissi, he's now 4th, 1'06'' behind, Tewelde is 12th.

Well, the final ITT wasn't one of Kipp's (TTR 69) finest performances. He was only 71st and lost a whopping 4'18''. A little hard to swallow that a rider like Mohoric, slightly better uphill, slighty worse TTR, was three minutes faster. That's the gamble of simulating time trials. Talansky, as expected, won the stage but he didn't make it onto the final podium. That was only decided by seconds: Ulissi, 13th on the day, rode an excellent ITT (TTR 67), and held off Kwiatkowski by 12 and Quintana by 15 seconds in the GC. Behind Talansky are Mohoric, the Katusha trio Aller, Herrada and Elias, while Kipp dropped to 9th overall, Ion Izagirre completes the top 10. Kipp wins the mountains classification, a first this season, only Verona got close. Ulissi wins the points jersey ahead of Talansky and Kipp.

Top 10: Ulissi, Kwiatkowski, Quintana, Talansky, Mohoric, Aller, Herrada, Elias, Kipp, Ion Izagirre
Edited by Ripley on 01-03-2020 07:57
 
Ripley
April 2021: Paris-Roubaix
***** goal: Top 5

Race squad: Denis, Lammertink, Masakadza, Montes Torres, Pedrocca, Pozin, Sergienko, Veiby

The list of pre-race favourites was unchanged to the Ronde a week ago. Heubach, Vanmarcke, Veiby, Sagan, Spijkers, Boom, Thys, GVK, Polyakov and Demare. One of our guys and three ex-Aviva riders, Thys (2017/18), Polyakov (2019) and Heubach (2019/20). Thys and Polyakov have mediocre secondary stats, though, and both of them will finish just outside the top 10.

Aviva invested a lot to keep the pace steady but high during the second half of the race. Denis and Pedrocca pulled the peloton for 50 km before Masakadza took over with 50 km to go. On the cobbled sectors Veiby, protected by Montes, would lead himself. When Montes was done, Masakadza became the last man to protect Veiby.

Our captain ended up leading an elite group of riders with 30 km to go. Sadly, the medium wind blew mostly in his face, but his pace was high enough to drop both Sagan and Vanmarcke. We saw Vanmarcke in a crash about half-way through the race, that may have handicapped him. We don't know what happened to Sagan, but about a dozen riders were still following Veiby.

The penultimate sector came 25 km out and Veiby attacked, Senechal closed the gap. Then Boom launched an attack with six riders in tow, Veiby returned without much effort. Our man attacked again in the final sector and this time only Heubach followed. But when Veiby finished his attack, Heubach countered. And though Veiby had some sprint energy left, again it wasn't enough to keep up with his ex-team mate. Once the gap was there, it just kept on growing.

Thankfully, there was a slight lull in the group behind, which allowed Veiby to secure a great 2nd place. Boom attacked again and got worryingly close on the track, but Veiby crossed the line 1'04'' behind Heubach and 27 seconds ahead of Boom.

The final top 10: Heubach, Veiby, Boom, then De Buyst, Degenkolb and Demare 2 minutes behind, Spijkers and Senechal each arrived alone, Goncalves and Sagan complete the top 10. Losing Paris-Roubaix to our ex-rider Heubach doesn't hurt. We knew he'd win the big cobblestone soon and he's done it now, at the age of 26.

While our hope to win a cobbled classic, even a monument, with Veiby didn't pan out, he's having a great last season with us: Runner-up in the E3, Gent-Wevelgem and now Paris-Roubaix and he was on the podium in the Ronde as well. Meanwhile he also won (all simulated) the Three Days of De Panne, Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, Dwars door Vlaanderen, Nokere Koerse and De Brabantje Pijl (three days after Paris-Roubaix). The reward is that he is currently leading the WT (ahead of Quintana) and CQ rankings (ahead of Sagan).
 
Ripley
2021 Ardennes Classics Preview

A rare preview to set the scene for the Ardennes Week: HIL 78 is still the best Aviva's riders have to offer. The one rider in the squad who has the potential to break that barrier, Krasnopjorov, hasn't budged from his HIL 77 so far. But we have six riders with HIL 78 and the best of them is Tewelde, now with AVG 76. But that's mostly due to his STA 80, he hasn't got the ACC of his team mates.

The top favourite for the Ardennes Week, because he's the only rider with HIL 84, is the current German champion Mendez. That title is one of only two victories so far in his career, he also won the Roma Maxima in 2019. But he was on the podium in all three Ardennes classics last year, so we expect a breakthrough this time around. Second among the favourites is still Kwiatkowski, third is Sky's Hugues Piton. He's just 24 years old, but he's already racing in his 6th professional season. He's winless on the World Tour so far, in fact, he has very few notable results, but that is bound to change.

Those three riders all boast AVG 79, which is also true for Astana's Slagter and Tinkoff's Mohoric. By HIL alone we also have to mention Van Baarle (83), Hoem and Michel Koch (82), but they are weaker by AVG. Van Baarle is mostly lacking ACC and SPR, Hoem and Koch could do with more STA.

Considering the opposition – and there are certainly plenty more riders who are better on paper than our guys – any top 10 results would be good for our team. That's what the sponsor is asking of us in all three races, too.
 
Ripley
April 2021: Amstel Gold Race
** goal: Top 10

Race squad: Denis, Kipp, Koloda, Krasnopjorov, Lammertink, Sequeiros, Tewelde, Veiby

When putting together our team for this race we were a little unhappy to note that some of our puncheurs only had fitness level 3. We might need to improve our planning in the future. More as an afterthought we replaced one of them, Sergienko, with Veiby. I'm not sure I've ever nominated a cobblestone specialist for Amstel Gold, but the route includes a pretty long flat-ish stretch in the finale, before the final ascent of the Cauberg just ahead of the flamme rouge. If Veiby could make it that far, he's a dangerous weapon, I liked the idea more and more as the stage was loading.

With only two escapees ahead the pace in the peloton was rather low until Astana took to the front with 60 km to go. A few attacks were brought back quickly, and then there was a lull about 35 km out, ahead of a steep climb. Our riders chose a free effort of 60 and amassed at the front of the peloton heading into the climb. Sequeiros had been protecting Veiby so far and was just about finished and so Veiby picked that point, he attacked from the front on the narrow road, while his team mates sat up.

Piton was the first to react, followed by Slagter and Bardet. When more riders attacked, our other men followed, dampening the enthusiasm by overloading groups with Aviva jerseys. Slagter and Piton caught up with Veiby, while Bardet dropped back. As we hit the Cauberg for the penultimate time, everything nearly came back together. But Veiby, Slagter and Piton remained ahead, only Kwiatkowski bridged across.

The three opponents worked together and Veiby relaxed a little at the back of the group, saving up just enough energy for the finale. 8 km out he dared to make his move, he rode a long attack, enough to create a gap, and then kept his pace high. This was exactly what we'd dreamed about, his high FLA allowed him to increase the gap to 30 seconds going into the final climb of the Cauberg with enough left in the tank - and Mads Veiby held the advantage and won the race! Hot damn! (Brooklyn Nine-Nine reference)

Slagter, Kwiatek and Piton arrived 27 seconds later. Meanwhile, already a good way behind, a group of 8 riders had formed without any of our men present, but Tewelde, Koloda, Lammertink and Denis were still together and relaying hard. They caught most of the group, only Tewelde had the energy left to follow the better riders on the final climb and finished 8th. Ahead of him were Mendez, Mohoric and Rui Costa, behind him Singh and Quintana. Denis was 12th, Lammertink and Koloda finished 17th and 18th.

Top 10: Veiby, Slagter, Kwiatkowski, Piton, Mendez, Mohoric, Rui Costa, Tewelde, Sign, Quintana

Veiby may not have won any of the cobbled classics but now he has a big victory to his name. Amstel Gold, unbelievable. What a rider, what a great success story, and we're paying him only 4,200 Euros a month for his services. And on top of that: This was raced on the very day that Mathieu Van der Poel so phenomenally won the real Amstel Gold Race in 2019. No wonder I nominated and voted for that race in our yearly awards, the two wins will be tied together in my mind forever. Smile

i.imgur.com/uE8rwEy.jpg
Veiby's first attack

i.imgur.com/o9Z9KyC.png
Veiby's second and decisive attack

i.imgur.com/0VxJsMG.png
Great timing: Veiby's fitness level

 
Ripley
April 2021: La Fleche Wallone
* goal: Top 10

Race squad: Hermans, Koloda, Krasnopjorov, Lammertink, Sergienko, Tewelde, Veiby, Wikkelso

More as a good luck charm Veiby is also racing the Walloon Arrow. Our tactic for this race was the usual: We don't nominate any captains, we chase down all late attacks by simply increasing our speed and then hope for the best on the Mur de Huy. It's not the greatest tactic in the world, but many teams have better riders as captains and letting, say, Tewelde join a group of favourites he'd be 12th out of 12 rider.

We put the plan into action and controlled the final 40 km from the front, speeding up and slowing down to be sure to have the energy for the finale. Possibly we were too conservative, because all our riders had plenty of energy remaining so the same would be true for our opponents.

Approaching the final climb up the Mur de Huy, 41 riders were still together, with our men still in control. We formed two sprint trains of four riders each. Piton was marginally ahead, Mendez was right between the heads of the trains as we hit the Mur. And then it all came down to the uphill sprint.

It soon became clear we wouldn't make the podium and soon after that we wouldn't make the top 5, either, but a top 10 result was definitely in play. Mendez surged ahead and the best puncher in the world finally recorded his first major victory. Piton will have to wait, but runner-up is very respectable, too. Mohoric won the battle for the final podium spot. Tewelde finished 7th and Koloda was 10th, the rest of the team ended in the top 20, except for Veiby, who was 22nd.

Top 10: Mendez, Piton, Mohoric, Kwiatkowski, Singh, Betancur, Tewelde, Quintana, Slagter, Koloda
 
Ripley
April 2021: Liege-Bastogne-Liege
**** goal: Top 10

Race squad: Denis, Hermans, Kipp, Koloda, Krasnopjorov, Lammertink, Sergienko, Tewelde

The grand finale of the Ardennes Week. For this race, Tewelde was the clear captain. 261 km suit his high STA and he was in the top 10 twice already this week. Hermans protected him for most of the race, his decline has continued, he's down to HIL 76. Later, Krasnopjorov took over.

Once again, several late attacks were all chased down, not just by our team. Then we weren't entirely unhappy when four favourites got away – Mendez, Piton, Kwiatkowski and Slagter. Tewelde made the second group with Rui Costa, Sergio Henao and IAM's Damien Desclee (HIL 79 STA 79). Our other men disrupted the next group, which was surprisingly easy, no idea why Mohoric, Van Baarle, Hoem, Koch and Ulissi didn't do much, they didn't have any team mates ahead. They even let Sergienko get away with 7 km to go, he comfortably rode solo to finish 9th.

At the front, Slagter and Piton got a small gap to Mendez and Kwiatkowski on the final climb, inside the final kilometre. Slagter had to sprint from the front as the road flattened out at the top, but Piton wasn't able to move past the Dutchman. Slagter's biggest career win, the first WT classic he's won, and it's this monument of cycling. Mendez completes the podium, Kwiatek is 4th.

Tewelde and Desclee surprisingly dropped Rui Costa and Henao as the final climb started. Our captain started his sprint a little too late, Desclee went early and Tewelde caught him on the finish line but missed 5th by a hair, both were 43 seconds behind Slagter. But 6th is pretty damn good, too.

Top 10: Slagter, Piton, Mendez, Kwiatkowski, Desclee, Tewelde, Rui Costa, Sergio Henao, Sergienko, Van Baarle

Tewelde finished well inside the top 10 in all three Ardennes classics. Each time we also had another rider in the top 10, outstanding. All goals fulfilled so far, LBL was our only downfall last season, so we might be heading for an historic sweep. Undoubtably, the greatest success was Veiby's victory in the Amstel Gold Race, a dream turned virtual reality.
 
Ripley
April/May 2021: Tour de Romandie (1/2)

Race squad: Gallardo, Hontecillas, Kipp, Myles, Tacconelli, Wikkelso, A. Zamora, G. Zamora

The Romandie featured two mountain stages, a hilly and a flat stage and two individual tests against the clock, starting with a prologue and finishing with a 20 km ITT. I'm honored to report that the prologue was won by the magnificent Alex Dowsett. None of our riders stood out, once again both Zamora brothers were our best performers.

Stage 2 took us from Geneva to Val de Travers, it was flat until the final third, ending with two tough hills back to back, a fast descent and then 5 km flat to the finish. Gerardo Zamora is our go-to-guy for the breakaway on an early hilly stage. But no luck this time, Zamora, Geschke and Bennett were caught before the finale started.

So Gallardo attacked on the penultimate climb, it was just enough to cross the small peak first and slip into the first KOM jersey. More attacks followed, eventually from dangerous riders like Matthews, Betancur and Rui Costa. Matthews took the win, but in the end there were no time gaps among the first 88 riders.

A day later came the only flat stage and therefore the only chance for Myles and Myles to shine. A late hill left many sprinters stranded, but not Matthews, Jovanovic and Myles. There was no other option than to take Jovanovic's rear wheel and just get pulled across the line by him. Matthews won again and slips into the lead, he beat Jovanovic, Myles was a good 3rd.

Stage 4 was over and done in 3h31'33'', which was probably a lot faster than the organisers had planned, an average speed of nearly 44 kmph on a 153 km mountain stage. Ten riders joined the breakaway of the day, including Arnau Zamora and better climbers, and they were ahead by over 4 minutes before Matthews' Movistar decided they wanted to reel the group in. But the breakaway was persistent, the Movistar domestiques were pretty exhausted when the gap was down to 1 minute, it started growing again and König used the opportunity to make his way across.

Soon the chase was back on, the breakaway riders kept attacking each other, and slowly but surely the gap decreased again. The last four riders were caught with 50 km to go. We had hoped this would lead to a lull and were ready to pounce with Kipp, but no, the speed remained consistently high. It wasn't worth it for Movistar, all their riders finished outside the top 20.

On the small penultimate climb Sky took charge, working for Van Garderen. It was a long final climb, Hontecillas and Tacconelli picked the usual steady pace. At times 20 riders were ahead of them, at other times Hontecillas was leading the pack. Surprisingly, it would end with only one small time gap between the top 24: Van Garderen won the stage and was 16 seconds ahead of the next 23 riders. Hontecillas was 5th behind Olivier, Betancur and Kelderman, Tacconelli finished 11th.
 
Croatia14
Veiby is the MVP really!
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Ripley
@croatia: Do you mean Most Valuable Player or Mathieu van der Poel? Never mind, basically the same thing. Smile

May 2021: Tour de Romandie (2/2)

A day later, on the other mountain stage, we decided to send both Kipp and Arnau Zamora into the early breakaway, giving us more tactical options. Sadly, there were riders in the group which were only 3 minutes behind Van Garderen in the GC. The maximum gap of the escape group was over 10 minutes, but then Sky put the foot down and made clear that the winner won't come from the breakaway.

Our two captains Hontecillas and Tacconelli were at the front of the pack going into the longer penultimate climb, but Tacconelli dawdled when the tempo picked up and soon found himself trapped behind Dennis, who'd stopped working because a top group had just ridden away. A gap of 50 metres soon became one of 500 metres and despite having Arnau Zamora protect him now, with far more energy reserves despite not feeling well and having been in the botd, Tacconelli crawled up the mountain and finished only 32rd, 4'26'' behind the winner. He ain't a new Marrou, that's for sure.

Hontecillas fared much better, he made the top group of about a dozen riders and going into the final kilometres he moved further and further to the front. Van Garderen himself was leading the group and eventually rode away from the rest. He won the stage 31 seconds ahead of Betancur. Hontecillas finished a fine 3rd, just ahead of Kelderman and 9 seconds behind Betancur. The rest of the top 10 was only another 21 seconds behind, though: Talansky, Olivier, Vuillermoz, Kulpaka, Schelling, Kennaugh, Craddock and Costa.

Tejay Van Garderen seems to have this one in the bag, he's 1'13'' ahead of Kelderman and the favourite to win the time trial. The rest of the podium is still in play, but Hontecillas won't stay in the top 10 with his TTR 61.

Van Garderen won his third stage in a row and wins the Romandie 1'25'' ahead of Kelderman. The Dutchman did enough to keep his position, he was 7th on the day. The final podium spot goes to Astana's Kulpaka, he ends 19 seconds behind Kelderman and 6 seconds ahead of Talansky. Fellow American Craddrock is just another 2 seconds behind. Next are Costa, Olivier, Betancur, Kennaugh and Zoidl. Hontecillas was 90th on the day and misses the top 10 by 22 seconds. Tacconelli finishes 20th overall.

Top 10: Van Garderen, Kelderman, Kulpaka, Talansky, Craddock, Rui Costa, Olivier, Betancur, Kennaugh, Zoidl

A slight disappointment, we are quite used to top 10 results by now.
 
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