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“It wasn’t an easy day, and we were aware of that, but we took it as a challenge, because we wanted to prove that we can win also on such a finish."

Photo: Etixx-QuickStep / Tim De Waele

ALBERTO CONTADOR

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ALEX DOWSETT

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CAJA RURAL - SEGUROS RGA

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DECEUNINCK - QUICK-STEP

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DYLAN GROENEWEGEN

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EF EDUCATION FIRST

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GROUPAMA-FDJ

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JASPER STUYVEN

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JOAQUIM RODRIGUEZ OLIVER

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KATUSHA ALPECIN

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LUIS LEÓN SÁNCHEZ

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MARCEL KITTEL

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MOVISTAR TEAM

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SALVATORE PUCCIO

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TEAM JUMBO-VISMA

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TEAM NOVO NORDISK

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THIBAUT PINOT

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TIAGO MACHADO

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TREK - SEGAFREDO

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VOLTA AO ALGARVE

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WILLIAM BONNET

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WOUTER WIPPERT

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17.02.2016 @ 21:12 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

After having beaten Mark Cavendish in the Dubai Tour, Marcel Kittel boosted his confidence even more as he won his first 2016 battle against André Greipel (Lotto Soudal) on the first stage of the Volta ao Algarve. After his Etixx-QuickStep teammates had controlled the stage all day, he held off his compatriot in the bunch sprint to take the stage victory and the first leader’s jersey. Jasper Stuyven (Trek) completed the podium.

 

We have gathered several reactions.

 

Marcel Kittel: We wanted to prove that I can win even in such a difficult finale

Marcel Kittel is in scintillating form, and he proved this once again, by winning the inaugural stage (Lagos – Albufeira, 163.6 km) of the 42nd Volta ao Algarve, a race for which Etixx – Quick-Step assembled a very strong team, that also includes Tom Boonen, Yves Lampaert, Tony Martin, Fabio Sabatini, Zdenek Stybar, Niki Terpstra and Julien Vermote.

 

In a crash-marred finale, two of the team’s riders hit the ground – Yves Lampaert, with 8 kilometers to go, and Fabio Sabatini, in the last roundabout – but fortunately both climbed back on the bike and completed the stage. In the first incident, also Tom Boonen was involved, while he was moving up to the front of the peloton following a flat tire. The 2005 world champion avoided the crash, but broke his front wheel and had to wait for a new bike, and after getting it, he arrived at the finish together with Lampaert.

 

Despite these setbacks, Etixx – Quick-Step kept its composure on the tricky last part of the course, which included an undulating terrain, and delivered Marcel Kittel in an excellent position, allowing the German to launch his powerful sprint and record his fourth win of the season, ahead of fellow countryman André Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) and Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo). The victory he scored in Albufeira came one year after another Etixx – Quick-Step rider, Gianni Meersman, won in the same city and donned the yellow jersey.

 

“It wasn’t an easy day, and we were aware of that, but we took it as a challenge, because we wanted to prove that we can win also on such a finish. We stayed calm, came at the front before the last roundabout, and it all worked well in the end”, said the 27-year-old, who’s leading a race for the second time this season, following the Dubai Tour, which he won at the beginning of the month.

 

"It was a good start of the Tour of Algarve for our team. We were calm, we organized the sprint, and the final lead-out was perfect. 'Chapeau' to my companions. It´s February, it´s too early to analyze this win and predict the rest of the year. I can be confident, but it´s too early for the big tests. I know what it is to start the season poorly, so it´s very important to win early, especially with a new team. "

 

The German, who will wear the yellow jersey on Thursday, continued: “It’s a good start for us here in Portugal. As a matter of fact, the overall picture makes us happy and proud, because we have enjoyed an excellent start to the season, and I am very grateful for that. My goal in Algarve was to take a stage and I did it against a quality field, which is very important for my confidence. Now, the team will be more relaxed, will take things day by day and we’ll see if we will get another shot at a win”.

 

Jasper Stuyven: I was just trying to hold onto Kittel’s wheel

Jasper Stuyven confirmed his sprinting prowess with a strong third place behind Marcel Kittel (Etixx-Quick Step) and Andre Greipel (Lotto Soudal) in a thorny finale in stage one of Volta ao Algarve Wednesday.

 

It was a straightforward opening stage of the five-day race in Portugal with the sprinters' teams targeting a bunch finish and the overall contenders keeping tight control for the general classification.

 

“It was a hectic finale with a few crashes in the final local 17km loop," said Trek-Segafredo director Dirk Demol. "Nothing big but in three different places and the team did a great job to stay out of trouble.

 

"Contador is here, Aru, Uran, so we knew things would be controlled by these teams, so we did not spend any energy to try and go into a breakaway today. In the end, we gave a hand to Jasper because he had already proved his condition is good, and he deserved it. And he took third behind the big sprinters of Kittel and Greipel - we have to be happy with that."

 

Trek-Segafredo's plan was simple: keep their energy for the finale where they would help Stuyven and with the experience of Fabian Cancellara, Stijn Devolder, Gregory Rast, Edward Theuns, Fränk Schleck, and Yaroslav Popovych surrounding the young Belgian, he was safely led through the chaotic final kilometers.

 

"The team was good staying in the front, so we stayed out of trouble with the crashes," echoed Stuyven. "There was a roundabout at 1.4kms to go and a little kicker with 1km to go. There was a crash on the roundabout and part of the peloton went on the left, but we were supposed to go right, and I had to make a little effort here to get back to the front. But with 1km to go, I was on was on the wheel of Kittel and I managed to stay in his wheel until he launched his sprint. I was just trying to hold onto Kittel's wheel, and he went over Greipel but I couldn't. But the support of the team was awesome, and this gives me more confidence."

 

Stuyven, 23, had his breakthrough win in August when he sprinted to victory in stage 8 at the Vuelta a España. It was also his final race of 2015 when it was discovered he'd won with a fractured scaphoid, and for 2016, he appears to be continuing where he left off. Stuyven flaunted early-season form in Mallorca and Dubai and capped that with his first podium Wednesday, a promising beginning to a new season.

 

"It's a nice result," added Stuyven. "Not only the sprint, but also I felt strong on the little kicker before, and it's good for the head. Of course you try to win, but I can say that this is already a good start."

 

Wouter Wippert fourth in first ever sprint in Europe

Wouter Wippert finished fourth in his first European race for Cannondale.

 

"The plan today was – we split up in two groups. Navardauskas and Van Baarle were looking after me today. The other guys were looking after Rigoberto Uran,” he said.

 

"Dylan [van Baarle] did an amazing job in the last 30km. We were constantly in the first 15 of the bunch. That was really easy for me just to follow him. Sadly with four or five kilometres to go, there was a crash. We lost a lot of position, and I lost Dylan. The good thing was Navadrauskas picked me up and tried to bring me to the front again. That worked perfect.

 

”The only thing was there was a roundabout with around two kilometres to go and everyone said you had to take the outside. That was what the guys in front of me did. The other part of the bunch went inside, and we lost a lot of places and position there. After that, there was a climb of 600-700 metres until one kilometre to go. There was the top. I was sitting on Greipel and he lost a lot of positions as well. He had some teammates bringing him to the front. I kept following him.

 

"With 400 metres to go, 300 metres to go, Kittel started sprinting. I started fourth, and I tried my best, but I started fourth and I finished fourth. It was a hard final. Left and right there were some crashes. I think we did all a really good job, especially for me personally, Dylan [van Baarle] and Navardauskas did a great job to keep me in front in the final. I’m really positive about the day. It’s not a bad start for the first race in Europe."

 

Crash takes Dylan Groenewegen out of contention in Algarve

Victor Campenaerts placed fifth in the first stage of the Volta ao Algarve after Team LottoNL-Jumbo sprinter Dylan Groenewegen lost his chances due to a crash. Marcel Kittel (Etixx - Quick Step) won the opening stage.

 

The first stage to Albufeira is a classic one in the Portuguese stage race so Team LottoNL-Jumbo knew that they would have a chance at sprinting.

 

“We were working for Dylan Groenewegen,” sports director Merijn Zeeman said after the race. “We delivered well in the final and put him in good position. Unfortunately, on the last roundabout of the day, a Etixx - Quick Step rider crashed and Tom Leezer and Dylan were just behind him. Fortunately, they didn’t crash, but because of the move they had to make, Dylan’s chance of sprinting was gone.”

 

“We planned to come through the last turn as much in front as possible,” Groenewegen added. “Tom and I were in sixth and seventh place, so it actually couldn’t be better. At that point, the rider in front of us slipped away, which made us lose our positions. I was feeling great so I’m quite fed up that I didn’t get a chance to sprint for the victory.”

 

When Groenewegen’s chances disappeared, Victor Campenaerts finished off the work. The chaos on through the roundabout left him in good position for the sprint.

 

“That’s a small reward,” Zeeman added. “The sprint lead out was pretty good today, in my opinion, so it’s a pity that we weren’t able to finish it off. The team went all the way for it. Even Sep Vanmarcke and Robert Gesink were eager to do an effort for the sprint lead-out and I like to see that.”

 

 On Thursday, the riders will face a tough mountain stage in the Volta ao Algarve.

 

“We’re not here to focus on the general classification,” Zeeman made clear. “Because of the Olympic Games, Robert is only at the beginning of his build up. The same for Primoz [Roglic]. It’s hard to predict their level at the moment. Tomorrow, we will see how good they are.”

 

Salvatore Puccio sprints to sixth to get better car position for Sky

Salvatore Puccio led Team Sky home in sixth place on the opening stage of the Volta ao Algarve after Marcel Kittel had sprinted to a well-timed victory.

 

Puccio worked his way into the mix as the action reached a pulsating conclusion, but it was Kittel (Etixx - Quick-Step) who reigned supreme in Albufeira after holding off a late challenge from Andre Griepel (Lotto Soudal).

 

Puccio crossed the line one second later, with Sebastian Henao (25th) and Geraint Thomas (27th) both sitting pretty in a group of general classification contenders a further second adrift. Those results ensured Kittel took control of the leader's jersey ahead of Greipel and the third-placed Jasper Stuyven (Trek Segafredo).

 

After the stage, Sports Director Gabriel Rasch was pleased to report a clean bill of health for Team Sky, and explained the decision to allow Puccio off the leash in the sprint.

 

"Everybody did a good job looking after Geraint today. They stayed together on that last circuit, which we knew would be dangerous with the road furniture. We then told Salva to go for the sprint because his high-placed finish gives us a better position in the team cars tomorrow, which is arguably the most important stage.

 

"A good position in the team cars is important because there are lots of small, twisty roads, and it means we can provide support quicker if any of our riders have mechanicals, need bottles or food etc. Things like that certainly make a difference.

 

"The plan will be to support Geraint again. He's in good form and motivated to defend his title here, and hopefully he can have a good ride."

 

Ill Joaquim Rodriguez suffers in Algarve, Tiago Machado surprises in bunch sprint

With a traditional sprint stage to open the 42nd Volta ao Algarve em Bicicleta and without a true sprinter on hand, Team Katusha riders had one goal in mind on Wednesday – stay safe and arrive in the front group.  Mission accomplished. Tiago Machado took seventh place with the race leaders, creating a good start for his Portuguese home tour.

 

“My goal was to survive and to not crash with all these roundabouts. So I was in the front and took a very good last corner. In 2013 I finished in the same circumstances and was second at this finish. However today the finish line was some 250 meters further than in 2013. Anyway it was not really my goal to sprint for the victory but this result is good for my mind,” said Tiago Machado.

 

“We don’t have a sprinter here for this race. We know that in most cases this first stage is a sprint so our intent was to pay attention, especially in the last 20km when the peloton is very nervous. There are many roundabouts at the end so there are always some gaps. We worked in the final to have our leaders in the front and in the end they finished with the first group without gaps so our goals for today were met,” said head sports director José Azevedo.

 

Tomorrow’s stage two is a climbing stage.  At 198,6 km, the stage begins in Lagoa and ends on Alto da Fóia. Hopefully a recovering Joaquim Rodriguez will be up for the challenge.

 

“Yesterday Purito was sick and he is better today, but he’s not 100% better yet.  We’re hoping in the next days he can continue to recover.  This is hard to do when you are racing but this race is mostly  preparation for his bigger goals in March,” concluded director Azevedo. 

 

Dowsett shows surprising sprinting skills in Algarve: I was like a duck out of water

Much close to their teammates over at the Ruta del Sol, the Volta ao Algarve Movistar roster directed by José Luis Jaimerena started their five-day contest with a sprint finish in Albufeira - 164km starting at Lagos. Marcel Kittel (EQS) dominated the contest after crashes stroke the bunch three times om  the final loop, with no Movistar Team riders involved in them.

 

The slopes near the final kilometer and general misfortune created chaos in the sprint, with three of the Blues at the front: Alex Dowsett was 8th, the Spanish squad’s main hope José Joaquín Rojas took 11th and Andrey Amador finished just behind for 12th. Ion Izagirre completed the race with no troubles and will tackle his first duel for GC glory tomorrow on  the Alto da Fóia, after the longest stage of the week for the Blues over 199km.

 

“Top 10 today, one minute I was bouncing around, next minute I was sitting with Kittel and Contador inside 1k to go like a duck out of water,” Dowsett tweeted after the stage.

 

Polish escape artist takes two jerseys in Algarve opener.

Kamil Gradek won both the KOM sprint and the three intermediate sprints. He now leads the mountains and sprints classifications.

 

“Before the start I told myself that I would go to on the attack and it worked. The aim was to take the mountains jersey but I knew it would not be easy because if Kolobnev and Goncalves were climbing well. But I had good legs and I worked with them. At the intermediate sprints,I did not have much of a problem beating my companions. It is a pity that we were unable to keep the peloton at bay but the pace at the end was deadly. The day, however, was definitely a good one,” he said.

 

"Going for a breakaway was the main goal. I felt good, and I managed to win all the sprints and the mountains classification. I like racing in Algarve, the weather is good, and the roads are good. Tomorrow is a new day, those who fight for the general classifications will be at the front. It won't be easy, but I'll try to get away again and defend this jersey.”

 

Alberto Contador: I don’t expect tomorrow’s stage to make much of a difference

On a flat and tense stage that was marked by two late crashes, which luckily left Tinkoff unscathed, Contador was safely brought into the finish in the front group. Tomorrow's hillier stage with a tough finish to Alto da Foia could set the stage for the GC battle.

 

“Today, for us, it was a stage where the goal was not to lose time in the general classification. It was obvious that the sprinter teams would take control of the stage and that we would have a bunch sprint. Luckily the wind was not very strong," stated Sport Director Steven de Jongh “The team worked hard to keep Alberto in front and the guys did a very good job again. There were a lot of crashes but we were able to stay out of trouble.”

 

"It was a good day but this being one of the first races of the season”, commented team leader Alberto Contador,  “there is always some tension. With a peloton of nearly 200 riders the race can be tense. I understand there were some crashes but, fortunately, the Tinkoff squad wasn't affected. Last year, the start at the Ruta del Sol was quite similar, again with crashes and falls. It was windy but that didn't cause much trouble. The field in the Volta ao Algarve is strong, with excellent sprinters and very good time-trialists, and the race level is similar to that of the WorldTour."

 

"Yesterday, we carried out the recon of tomorrow's stage and I expect it to be tough, although, in my opinion, the main GC contenders will reach the finish together. We will have to wait for the time-trail and the final stage to see how the GC shapes up", concluded Contador.

 

“For tomorrow it will be exciting to see the final with an uphill finish and the riders fighting again for the first split in the GC", concluded de Jongh.

 

The second stage is a different scenario with an uphill finish to Alto da Foia, at the end of a demanding  7.4km long climb. In addition, there will be some other tough challenges to take on in the finale, just like a solid big mountain stage which will bring some changes in the GC.

 

No luck for Caja Rural sprinter in Algarve sprint

Caja Rural were working for Eduard Prades but had bad luck in the sprint.

 

"I moved up with 5km to go,” Lluis Mas said. “When we reached the last roundabout, I heard a crash in which Edu lost positions, preventing him from doing the sprint.”

 

A nice comeback for William Bonnet after horror crash at the Tour de France

Without doubt he was relieved to cross the finish line in the peloton but he said nothing. For his return to competition, William Bonnet has once again amazed and participated in the collective work around Thibaut Pinot.

 

"It was a stage for the sprinters and we do not have one here,” says the sports director of the FDJ team Yvon Madiot. “It was therefore necessary for everyone to protect our leader before the second stage which will probably shape the GC. Initially Arnaud Courteille was his "bodyguard" before everyone gathered around him. Our road captain Murilo Fischer said that the work today was very pleasant.

 

"For William, I'd say it's no surprise. He said that earlier in the race, without apprehension, he watched a lot before taking his place with his teammates and he was one of the last to live Thibaut before Kittel won the sprint.”

 

Since everything went well FDJ, Pinot was able to verify that his legs are good.

 

"Thibaut was a little disturbed by bad weather in recent days but he says he did the training that was planned. Tuesday night I asked him "should we do the race?" He said "we will make the race!" It's not worth talking about that for long…”

 

Astana captains stay safe in hectic sprint in Algarve

“The weather conditions were good today with not much wind,” said Luis Leon Sanchez after the finish.

“The race has been a bit nervous even because the escape had a good gap not far from the finish. So, when the teams of the sprinters decided to go and catch the escape, the speed in the bunch became so high immediately.

 

“In a roundabout at 1.5 km to go, someone crashed in the front part of the bunch and there was a bit of confusion with the group very elongated. Anyway, the sensations were positive so we look confident at the next stages.”

 

Novo Nordisk sprinters marred by bad luck in Algarve opener

Team Novo Nordisk was eager for a good showing at Wednesday’s Volta ao Algarve opener, but numerous crashes and unfortunately timed flats thwarted any plans for a good position going into the sprint finish.

 

192 riders from 12 World Tour teams and 12 Pro Continental/Continental teams took start line in Lagos, and the race’s opening stage kicked off with a flurry activity. “Our goal for today was to cover the breakaway,” Team Novo Nordisk Senior Vice President of Athletics, Vassili Davidenko, said, “and to protect Andrea Peron and Martijn Verschoor at the front for the final kilometers. But some very narrow roads and bumpy surfaces resulted in several flat tires (Verschoor even had to have both wheels replaced!). Once Verschoor fell behind, our riders shifted all their focus to protecting Peron.”

 

As the race approach its final kilometers, the peloton began reel in the breakaway and the Team Novo Nordisk squad worked well to protect Peron for the final sprint. Two crashes inside the final 10km upset the peloton and took down Verschoor and teammate Charles Planet (both were able to finish the race), but the sprinters were able stay out of trouble and remain up front.

 

“With about 1km to go,” Davidenko said, “Andrea was at the front as the sprinters approached a roundabout. One group took the roundabout from right while several riders cut the course, taking the roundabout from left- which was the shorter way. Unfortunately, Andrea lost his position in this activity, and it was impossible for him to recover with less than 1km to go.”

 

Marcel Kittel (Etixx – Quick Step) went on to win the bunch sprint and Javier Megias finished best for Team Novo Nordisk at 53rd, coming in at the same time as the stage winner.

 

“It wasn’t the day we’d hope for,” Davidenko concludes, “but motivation is high and we hope for a better luck tomorrow.”

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