February 5, 2017 – If you’re a bike-racing fan and not into the Super Bowl, there’s plenty of other sports news to interest you on this Sunday of NFL excess. First, on the other side of the world, three-time Tour de France champion Chris Froome of Team Sky completed his first stage race of the year in sixth place, unable to dislodge Orica-Scott’s Damien Howson from the overall win at the Herald Sun Tour, Australia’s oldest stage race. At Spain’s Tour of Valencia, Froome’s biggest challenger in his past two Tour wins, Nairo Quintana of Movistar, celebrated overall victory following his mountaintop stage win on Saturday. In France, Frenchman Lillian Calmejane of Direct Énergie scored a fine overall win at the Étoile de Bessèges after a strong closing time trial. And at a Dubai Tour shortened by desert sandstorms defending champion Marcel Kittel of Quick-Step Floors came away with three stage wins and the overall title.
Howson hangs on at Herald Sun Tour
Orica-Scott’s Damien Howson just gets better at his home race, the Herald Sun Tour. Two years ago, he was fifth overall; last year he was third—after placing second to final winner Chris Froome on the key mountaintop stage finish; and now he has won the five-day Australian stage race. The 24-year-old Aussie from Adelaide wrapped up his victory on Sunday after successfully defending the yellow jersey against attacks from Froome and his Team Sky teammate Kenny Elissonde on the final climb of the 121km final stage, a four-lap circuit race around Kinglake Village.
Howson and 20-year-old Jai Hindley (Australian National Team) had led the overall standings since stage 1 on Thursday ahead of third-place Frenchman Elissonde. “I’m really happy to join that list of guys [former winners include Froome and Brad Wiggins],” Howson said. “It’s my first overall win ever. It’s also nice to break into new territory for myself.” This week’s victories were also Howson’s first of any kind since he won the world under-23 time trial title at Florence, Italy, in 2013.
Defending champion Froome hailed the Australian’s efforts to become the overall winner of his country’s oldest stage race, first held in 1952. ” Howson was really strong,” said Froome, who finished sixth overall. “He rode a great stage on Falls Creek and has defended the jersey really well.”
“I think tactically we made some very different choices this year,” Froome told Melbourne’s Herald Sun newspaper about Team Sky’s tactics. “Everyone came here to ride an aggressive race and not necessarily deliver the typical lead-out train for me that we normally do. So at Falls Creek [stage 1], when Kenny [Elissonde] went up the road we were happy to sit back and roll the dice and let them have a crack, [but] it didn’t pay off for us, and it went in Damien Howson’s favor.”
— RIDE Cycling Review (@ridemediaHQ) February 5, 2017
The winner of the final stage was Froome’s Team Sky teammate Ian Stannard, who attacked late from a large breakaway group over the top of the last climb and just managed to hold off the chasers led home by New Zealander Aaron Gate (Aqua Blue Sport) from Dutchman Taco van der Hoorn (Roompot), with Saturday’s stage winner, American Travis McCabe (UHC) finishing in the same group, in 10th place. Commenting on Stannard’s stage win and the British classics specialist’s strength, Froome said: “He’s an absolute beast of a rider, that’s the thing about Ian. He’s so versatile. He’s 85 kilos or something but still wins on top of a climb. It’s scary.”
— NairoQuinCo (@NairoQuinCo) February 5, 2017
Quintana fast out of the gate
Nairo Quintana made the perfect start to a daunting season as the Movistar rider survived the elements to win the Tour of Valencia on Sunday. French sprinter Bryan Coquard (Direct Énergie) claimed the shortened fifth and final 51.2km stage around Valencia ahead of compatriot Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) and Dutchman Coen Vermeltfoort (Roompot). In strong winds that curtailed the stage, Quintana came in with the peloton to finish 13 seconds ahead of overall runner-up Belgian Ben Hermans BMC Racing—whose Italian teammate Manuel Senni took third, a further 19 seconds adrift. Defending champion Wout Poels of Team Sky was 52 seconds back on Quintana in fourth.
After winning the Vuelta a España last year, Quintana is targeting a Giro d’Italia-Tour de France double this year and showed fine early-season form in storming to victory in Saturday’s stage atop the ultra-steep Lucena del Cid climb to move to the head of the standings. “This year we have some clear objectives in mind which are the Giro and the Tour. We know that getting the preparation right will be key,” Quintana said on his team website. “At the moment we think we are on the right road to start there at 100 percent.”
Quintana and his Movistar teammates had a difficult start in Wednesday’s opening team time trial as they lost more than a minute to BMC. However, Quintana was in a class of his own on the long and winding Category 1 climb to win Saturday’s stage on his 27th birthday, winning by 40 seconds over Eritrean Merhawi Kudus of Dimension Data. “After so many months without competing, the team time trial was a hard day and with the differences the others made we even thought it would be difficult to get in the lead,” Quintana said. “Yesterday [Saturday] was perhaps the easiest day, because I got to the final climb very fresh thanks to the work of the team and was able to finish it off well.”
Calmejane holds off Gallopin
Direct Énergie’s 24-year-old French rider Lilian Calmejane won the five-day Étoile de Bessèges on Sunday after brilliantly defending his overall lead in the closing 11.9km time trial at Alès in southern France. He placed second in the hilly TT, 13 seconds behind an excellent Tony Gallopin of Lotto-Soudal, to close out the final victory by five seconds. Third place overall went to Danish rider Mads Würtz Schmidt (Katusha-Alpecin), 24 seconds back, with the top five completed by Frenchmen Pierre Latour of AG2R La Mondiale (at 29 seconds) and Calmejane’s veteran teammate Sylvain Chavanel.
Kittel loves Dubai
By winning the final stage of the Dubai Tour on Saturday, Marcel Kittel (Quick-Step Floors) brought his total of stage wins to eight in three editions of the February stage race, along with the overall victory the past two years. It also brings the 28-year-old German sprinter’s career total to 76 wins in seven pro seasons. This year’s Dubai Tour visited six of the United Arab Emirates: Ajman, Sharjah, Umm-Al-Quwain, Ras Al Khaimah, Fujairah and, of course, Dubai. Organizer RCS Sports, which also puts on the Giro d’Italia, claimed that this weeks’ third edition of the Dubai Tour was broadcast to 183 countries, an 18-percent increase on the 2016 coverage.