It was a huge weekend of racing for Cannondale-Drapac. We had three teams in action across three countries with the conclusions of Coppi e Bartali in Italy and Volta Catalunya in Spain as well as another big Belgium classic in Gent Wevelgem. Here’s the low down on how it all played out for the boys in green.
COPPI E BARTALI – STAGES THREE AND FOUR
Toms Skujins started the weekend in the race leader’s jersey that he earned with his stage win on Friday. The team successfully defended the jersey on Saturday, and Skujins started the final stage with a 16-second cushion. It should have been enough, would have been enough, had a late race near-crash/mechanical combination not forced Skujins to stop on the final time up the GPM.
Instead of celebrating the general classification victory on the podium, Skujins settled for second overall. It was a tough pill to swallow for the Latvian who believed he had the legs and the team to take the victory.
“One rider came into the line too hard on the final climb,” said Skujins. “He touched my front wheel. I touched his back wheel. I had to unclip not to crash, and while unclipped, I went off the road. My chain fell off. I had to put it back on and then try to get into the rhythm again.
“TJ [Slagter] was still there with me at the bottom of the climb,” Skujins continued. “He did such an amazing job beforehand, all day. He was the last guy to stay with me. He had done so much that there was no way he was going to survive with the top guys over the top, and yeah, I missed the front group selection by a whisper.”
That was 10 kilometers from the finish. Skujins came in for 18th place on the stage, 22 seconds down on Lilian Calmejane, who had started the stage in second overall.
“I was one of the strongest riders today,” Skujins said. “Even after my near-crash, I only just barely missed the front group and they were going full gas on the climb. That’s why it’s even more disappointing. I had the legs. If it was the legs, and I couldn’t do anything about it, ok. But this wasn’t the legs.
“The way the team rode all day, they were giving it their all,” he added. “We were all tired. It was hard for everyone. The riders and the staff gave 100 percent every day in Italy. I’m disappointed personally, but I’m also disappointed I couldn’t do it for them.”
“If someone had said at the beginning that I could take a spot on the podium – second or third – I would have said: ‘Yes, I’ll take it.’ but when you’re so close to victory those lesser places are quite sour,” Skujins admitted. “I need a couple days to process this one.”
VOLTA A CATALUNYA – STAGES SIX AND SEVEN
Pierre Rolland had flirted with the points jersey on the opening stages of Volta Catalunya, but it wasn’t until his stage five breakaway that he had the opportunity to truly grab ahold of it. He made the front group selection again on Saturday’s stage six and scooped up additional points toward the jersey before officially winning the jersey on Sunday.
A climber atop the sprint classification?
“I do not remember having ever won a sprint jersey before, but I think it’s good for me to be up front in the breaks now that my team role has changed,” Rolland said. “This wasn’t really the goal of the start at the race, but when I took some bonus seconds on the first stage, it became a possibility. The sprint jersey is a reward for the four days that I passed in front of the race.”
As Rolland noted, the sprint jersey was not the goal. A stage win was. And a stage win remained elusive. Still there are plenty of signs of promise.
“We were visible every day this week,” said sport director Juanma Garate. “We were not the best team for the TTT, and we didn’t have one big name for the GC, so our potential was to be on the offensive, to try to race hard every day. In the end, we were the number two team in the team classification after Movistar, who for several years has been the best team in the world. That shows some super teamwork.”
Cannondale-Drapac had to send Sep Vanmarcke home on Friday for a rest after he endured stomach issues in the two previous races. The directors issued a call-up to Italian Alberto Bettiol. The 22-year-old had rounded out the top ten at Dwars door Vlaanderen. Bettiol proved the right man for the job. He was part of the action all day at Gent-Wevelgem.
“Today was only my fourth or fifth Classic race here in Belgium,” noted Bettiol. “I only did last year three races and then one this year. The level is so high here. To be here, you have to be strong and you have to be lucky.”
Bettiol proved both strong and lucky on Sunday. He was the top finisher for Cannondale-Drapac in 32nd place, six seconds off the finishing time of race winner Greg Van Avermaet (BMC), though Bettiol was part of the late-race selection that a hard-charging peloton eventually nabbed near the line. The 249-kilometer day ended in a two-up sprint between Van Avermaet and Jens Keukeleire (ORICA-SCOTT). Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) rounded out the podium from a 40 rider chase group home.
“I’m very happy with my performance,” said Bettiol. “I’m already looking forward to next Sunday.”
Ryan Mullen rocked the #GreenArgyle in the early breakaway. The Irishman made a move of nine that gained a maximum advantage of nearly eight minutes. The escape’s advantage tumbled as the peloton split and accelerated over the hills, and by the first ascent of the Kemmelberg, with 75 kilometers remaining, Mullen was back in reduced bunch and working for Bettiol.
“It was more than the last hour, it was the last three hours, it was all day,” said Bettiol. “We were fighting all day because in a race like this position is almost everything. It doesn’t matter how strong you are, if you’re not in good position or if you crash or if you have a flat tire because you have to ride in the grass, it makes your day very hard. When I started this morning, I was focused and my teammates were focused on position.”
Bettiol credits Mullen and Tom Van Asbroeck in keeping him well-placed on the run-in the final time up the Kemmelberg.
“When Sagan and Van Avermaet attacked on the Kemmelberg, I felt pretty good,” said Bettiol. “I couldn’t follow them, but I was soon back too them. I was pretty confident that we’d arrive on the finish. Even [sport director] [Andreas Klier] was saying in the car that there was no way that they’d catch us.”
Van Avermaet attacked again and only Jens Keukeleire (ORICA-SCOTT) could follow.
“I was too tired to follow, but I wasn’t the only that was a bit tired,” said Bettiol. “The other guys could also not go. Then our group was caught by the Trek guys for Degenkelb and the story was already written.”
Bettiol said Cannondale-Drapac’s sport directors helped him write a successful script.
“Andreas and Ken [Vanmarcke] did a great job behind the scenes,” he said. “They filmed all the roads. For this race, it’s so important to know what’s going to happen. I think not so many teams give this opportunity to all their riders. It’s not only the riders but the staff that do a great effort, and I think everyone should know that.”
“We rest,” said Bettiol. “And we see you on Sunday.”**
**You’ll actually see us on Saturday at the GP Miguel Indurain. Bettiol and the rest of our classics crew will race again on Sunday at Tour of Flanders.