Things were looking up for Olympic champion Owain Doull, who was making his return to Team Sky just in time for his second scheduled WorldTour race following six weeks off the bike after an emergency appendectomy the night before he was set to start his season at the Tour Down Under in January.
That was until he kind of went toe-to-toe with Marcel Kittel’s disc brake-equipped road bike on the opening stage of the Abu Dhabi Tour. The collision with 1km to go left Doull on the bottom of a massive pile-up with his shoe sliced and foot lacerated.
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The incident comes just a month since Kittel’s Quick-Step Floors team-mate Tom Boonen became the first road bike cyclist to win a stage on a disc-equipped bike, when he won stage 2 at Vuelta a San Juan in January.
Both Boonen and reigning two-time world champion had been busy testing disc brake bikes in the off-season after the UCI lifted a ban set following Movistar rider Francisco Ventoso’s severe leg laceration following a nasty crash on his disc-equipped road bike at last year’s Paris-Roubaix.
The ban was rescinded after an investigation commissioned by the World Federation of the Sporting Goods Industry concluded that the bike’s chainring was most likely the cause of the injury.
One caveat to the green light in 2017 was rotors must be manufactured with a chamfered (or blunt) edge to help prevent injury should the disc make contact with a rider’s skin during a crash.
The fall out from the second ‘disc-gate’ scandal has been severe with cyclists taking to social media to reignite the debate.
Needless to say, Kittel rocked up to the stage 2 start with a caliper brake bike just 24 hours later out of “respect for my colleagues” and stated that while he supported the use of disc brakes, it was under the condition that the safety measures mentioned by the UCI be met.
“I will not use the disc brake bike today out of respect for my colleagues,” he said. “In the vote that we had within the CPA I voted that I would like to have disc brakes but only if the problems that are still there are solved.
“The most important thing here is that we as riders stick together and have one voice. We should have discussions about it, opinions will be different, but I can understand if there might be a mental problem at the moment and I don’t want to pour oil on that fire.”
So while the debate is sure to continue, Doull has already weighed in on the matter – “Sort it out @UCI_cycling.”
Brief, but impactful Abu Dhabi Tour delivers
With just four stages, the Abu Dhabi Tour may have been small in size, but it more than made up for it in impact.
Four different stage winners in as many days highlighted the sprinter-friendly WorldTour race, with short-game specialists Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data), Caleb Ewan (Orica-Scott) and Kittel all chalking up wins.
Ewan holds off Cavendish to win Abu Dhabi stage 4
However, it was the lone mountain stage atop Jebel Hafeet, where Rui Costa (UAE Team Emirates) dropped the field in dramatic fashion to claim his second stage victory of the season – and first WorldTour race win since the 2015 Tour de Suisse.
According to the 30-year-old Costa, who now turns his focus to Tirreno-Adriatico, the victory is expected to pay dividends for the entire United Arab Emirates.
“Our team president, Mr. Matar [Al Dhaheri], didn’t say much but he was very happy and said I’d done something great for the UAE,” shared Costa. “That’s also why this team exists – to encourage kids to ride their bikes and promote cycling in this country.
“It’s a proud day for me and the team.”
Rui Costa takes Stage 3 victory in style
While the former world road race champion was en route to adding another win to his palmarés, Grand Tour champions Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo), Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida), Fabio Aru (Astana) and Nairo Quintana (Movistar) were providing a glimpse of things to come this summer.
While no rider would give ground, Quintana, who is preparing for the Giro-Tour double, appeared to be best in show. But according to Quintana, neither Contador nor Nibali were about to let him prove it.
“There were a lot of rivals waiting for me to attack, marking my moves, and that was difficult,” said the 27-year-old Colombian, who has already won the Vuelta a España and the Giro d’Italia. “And when other opponents attacked, I had to control them as well.
“In the midst of these movements, other cyclists took advantage and attacked, and since they are high-quality rivals, they were able to make the break stick.”
Sagan quickly becoming ‘The Dude’ of cycling…
If reigning world champion Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) was any more laid back he would be lying down. The 27-year-old Slovakian sent social media abuzz with his presentation over the weekend.
But whether you like his new unkempt appearance or not, there is no denying he’s at the top of his game. After finishing second to Olympic champion Greg van Avermaet (BMC Racing) at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad on Saturday, he capped a stellar start to the Belgian cycling season and captured his 90th pro win with a stunning Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne victory the following day.
Sagan was in a five-man break that escaped 30km from the finish. He then caught the quartet napping to slingshot past Belgian Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo), Briton Luke Rowe (Team Sky), Belgian Tiesj Benoot (Lotto-Soudal) and Italian Matteo Trentin (Quick-Step Floors) in the finishing straight with less than 300m to go.
Sagan wins first event of the season at Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne
“It was a little bit of a slow sprint today,” said Sagan. “Trentin attacked early and then I came to get him, then we slowed again at 500m to go and it was a slow sprint. I thought if I started from 250m I could have a good attack from the start.
“I told my team-mates that I would win this race,” he added. “The important thing for me is to stay on form and healthy.
“The rest will be a bonus.”
Langkawi a race of ‘firsts’…
As with many UCI Asia Tour races this early in the season, there are often a startlist loaded with young riders cutting their teeth on a pro cycling career. This year’s edition of Le Tour de Langkawi is no different.
After 17 years of trying to secure an invitation to the race, Australian-registered UCI Continental team IsoWhey Sports-SwissWellness finally got the call and then answered with a resounding opening stage sprint victory from team rider Scott Sunderland.
Needless to say, the team’s sports director and co-founder Andrew Christie-Johnston was thrilled with the debut.
“It’s taken us so long to eventually get to an HC race and this is one we’ve always wanted to do,” Christie-Johnston told Eurosport. “It’s been hard all those years sitting at home watching for so many years thinking maybe we’d have a decent crack over here.
“To see ‘Sundo’ take stage one [was] just bloody awesome.”
Since then, has nabbed three more podiums, slotted three riders into the top 10 on GC and currently tops the team classification ahead of WorldTour team Dimension Data.
“For sure we feel like we are good enough to be here,” said Christie-Johnston. “It’s just been difficult to gain the starts here. We understand we are a part of Oceania Tour, and we understand it’s always hard at an Asian Tour race of this stature, but I think we are showing we are competitive straight away, and the boys are pretty positive about starting things off with a win.”
Another first came in the form of stage 5 winner and current race leader Ryan Gibbons (Dimension Data), who recorded his first pro win of his young career. The 22-year-old South African has proved to be a bit of an all-rounder following standout performances on both sprint and climbing stages, including a third-place finish in the Cameron Highlands behind Australian Cam Bayly (IsoWhey Sports-SwissWellness) and stage winner and team-mate Mekseb Debesay.
Gibbons lifted the yellow leaders jersey off of Sunderland with a second place finish on stage 2 and has never relinquished it. With only two stages to go, Dimension Data looks to win the race for a third straight year.
Another rider opening up their pro win account is Italian sprinter Enrico Barbin (Bardiani-CSF), who took advantage of a technical stage 6 finish to claim the first pro victory of his 5-year career. The 26-year-old opened up about the importance of the day.
“This is an important season for me, so to get my first victory here is something big,” said Barbin. “This is a crucial season and I was looking for a breakthrough.”
Armstrong trial set for November…
A week after Eurosport reported that a $100m lawsuit was looming over disgraced American cyclist Lance Armstrong, a trial has been set for November 6 in Washington, DC.
US District Judge Christopher Cooper is set to hear the case brought by the US Justice Department seeking damages from Armstrong claiming he defrauded the government by admittedly cheating while riding for the team sponsored by the US Postal Service.
Since his admission in 2012, Armstrong was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles and banded for life.
Former Armstrong team-mate Floyd Landis originally filed a lawsuit in 2010 accusing Armstrong of fraud, and that suit was later joined by the government, which wants Armstrong to pay back money the US Postal Service paid his team plus damages.
Strade Bianche (1.UWT), March 4
Strade Bianche – Women (1.WWT), March 4
Paris-Nice (2.UWT), March 5-12
GP Industria & Artigianato (1.HC), March 5
Tirreno-Adriatico (2.UWT), March 8-14
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