Author: Spencer Powlison

The Dirt: Kabush on World Cup short track

Welcome to The Dirt, the weekly news round-up on what is happening in the worlds of gravel, mountain biking, and all things rough and dirty.

The UCI made a significant change to its mountain bike World Cup series in 2018 by adding a short track cross-country race to each weekend, starting with round two in Albstadt, Germany. North American riders have often struggled to earn enough UCI ranking points to start at the front of the grid in European cross-country races. The short tracks are a chance to earn a spot in the front two rows of a given weekend’s XC event by finishing top-16. For example, Chloe Woodruff (Stan’s-Pivot) earned a front-row call-up in the Nove Mesto, Italy World Cup by finishing fifth in the short track the day prior.

At the Epic Rides Carson City Off-Road Race last summer, I caught up with mountain bike veteran Geoff Kabush (Yeti) to hear his perspective on how short track racing may impact the XC World Cup scene.

VeloNews: What are your initial thoughts on World Cup short track racing?

Geoff Kabush: I’m jealous. I had a lot of success in the meat of my career in the short tracks, the NORBAs. I really enjoy races where you can use your head and tactics and experience. It’s almost frustrating watching them — maybe I could be the technical advisor to the Canadian team on some short track racing! It’s definitely interesting watching and knowing where I’d be mixing it up. It would be sure fun to do those.

VN: How does the racing compare in World Cups versus domestic short tracks?

GK: There’s way more horsepower, but still you could see in the Nove Mesto one it got super tactical. You can go from the back to the front.

It’s going to really come down to good course design. I saw a bit of the Albstadt one and it was a bit too single-file, which made it difficult for tactics to come involved because it was too strung out, yo-yoing so much in the singletrack. Nove Mesto looked like it was a super exciting race and the smart riders were able to save their energy for a winning effort at the end.

As long as they get the course design right I think it’s super exciting. They got the incentive for the top riders to do it, which was a challenge to get the top riders to participate. That’s what everyone wants to see the top riders battling it out.

VN: Is this an opportunity for North Americans to take advantage of their experience with short track racing?

GK: It’s another avenue. Like all racing, start position is so important and geographically we’re challenged in North America because we don’t have as many UCI races. The Europeans can drive to three or four different countries and race so many more events and just the travel as well. It gives an opportunity. If riders can work their way into the top-40 they get a chance to get on one of those front two rows. It’s a huge advantage. Once you get third, fourth row it’s a bit rolling the dice. It’s cool to see some of the riders getting a chance for success at the front.

Even a chance going from 30th, which is just a lottery, rolling the dice, to the front two rows. A couple Americans got jumped up there, and it’s a good opportunity.

Grotts will return to Absa Cape Epic to defend title with Kulhavy

Howard Grotts
Jaroslav Kulhavy and Howard Grotts won the 2018 Absa Cape Epic. Photo: Michal Cerveny

U.S. national cross-country champion Howard Grotts (Specialized) will return to the Absa Cape Epic mountain bike stage race, March 17-24, to defend the title he won with Investec-Songo-Specialized teammate Jaroslav Kulhavy in 2018.

“Last year’s Absa Cape Epic was a huge learning experience for me,” Grotts said. “I’d already had one Cape Epic under my belt at that point, but being at the front of the race added a whole other dimension to the race. Even though I felt prepared physically, dealing with mechanicals efficiently and staying calm under pressure were the most significant lessons I learned, in the early part of the race. It was also incredibly helpful to have Jaro [Kulhavy] pace our efforts and decide where the best time was to try to gain time or save energy”

Kulhavy, a former world and Olympic champion, has won three editions of the Cape Epic. In 2019, he and Grotts will have a little help in the form of two teammates, Simon Andreassen and Christoph Sauser, forming a second Investec team that could come in handy if mechanicals, windy conditions, or unexpected tactics put the defending champions on the back foot.

How to get into Land Run 100

Oklahoma gravel race Land Run 100 sold out registration in minutes at the end of 2018. Fear not, you can still get a spot in this early season 100-miler, scheduled for March 16. Race organizers are raffling off five entries to support local rider Curt Dikes, who was recently diagnosed with brain cancer. You can buy as many $25 raffle tickets as you like, and the drawing will be February 10 at the Curto Durto 50-mile fundraiser ride, also to support Dikes. You do not have to be present at the fundraiser ride in Sitllwater to win an entry.

Got some news you’d like to share in The Dirt? I’d love to hear from you. Please email me your news and updates on all things gravel and mountain biking.

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Formula 1 comes to cycling: McLaren deal a ‘game-changer’ for Bahrain-Merida

Everyone knows the name McLaren. The company is famous for its Formula 1 racing team, its cutting edge technology, as well as its marketing acumen. Now, all that accumulated knowledge will be brought into the cycling world after McLaren penned a partnership with Bahrain-Merida.

Will the marquee brand’s entrance to the peloton change cycling? Maybe. Will McLaren’s arrival change Bahrain-Merida? Definitely.

“Our ultimate goal is to become the best cycling team in the world,” said Bahrain-Merida manager Brent Copeland. “This is going to help us to get to that goal.”

The arrival of the McLaren Group to professional cycling is a landmark deal in many ways. The UK-based company is much more than its Formula 1 racing team and world-class cars. The British conglomerate also includes a subsidiary called McLaren Applied Technologies, which works in various high-tech projects that will cross-pollinate with the cycling team.

In a peloton dominated by incremental gains, McLaren’s arrival could move the needle in more ways than expected.

“To have such an important brand to come into cycling and become partners in the company will give us a completely different aspect of running the team,” Copeland said in a telephone interview. “This deal isn’t just about sponsorship and visibility.”

The deal was announced in December, overshadowed a bit because it came out the same day that Sky confirmed it was ending its backing of Team Sky after 2019. It is more than a traditional sponsorship contract to slap McLaren’s name on the jersey. In fact, the team will remain Bahrain-Merida in 2019.

Instead, McLaren joins as a permanent partner in the team ownership without any past-due date to its cooperation.

“Thing nice thing about this project is that they come in as 50-percent partners,” Copeland said. “It’s a long-term project. There’s no deadline date.”

Copeland said the team’s budget will only increase slightly with the arrival of McLaren, and it’s not going to catapult the outfit to Team Sky levels. Instead, McLaren will bring its know-how, skills, and experience, and apply them to cycling. McLaren already has a set crew within the organization designated to work with the team. And several key riders have already begun to work with McLaren, with wind tunnel testing at its world-class facility south of London.

Copeland said there are many areas McLaren can bring expertise to the table. From technology and data to commercial and marketing, and to what Copeland called “human high performance.”

“In all those areas, there’s no one better than them,” he said. “They can teach us a lot.”

Though the deal is barely a month old, McLaren is already working closely with the team. McLaren will ease into the sport quietly, using much of the first year of the collaboration to observe and learn as much as they can about a sport that’s as unique and quirky as Formula 1.

Then they’ll work to apply what they know and bring it to cycling, and adapt the tools they have from motorsports and apply it to bicycle racing.

“They know how difficult it is to compete at this level,” Copeland explained. “They know they’re not just going to wave a magic wand and start winning.”

So how can McLaren help reshape Bahrain-Merida, and to a larger degree, cycling?

Wind tunnel testing is the obvious one. Aerodynamics, technical support, and materials are other natural areas for McLaren to help. Add some of the marketing and commercial flare that’s made Formula 1 a worldwide phenomenon, and Copeland is licking his chops at the deal’s potential.

“It’s going to be great for cycling, not just for our team,” he said. “Everyone is excited to see what they can teach us.”

McLaren isn’t new to cycling. The team has worked before with British Cycling and Specialized. What’s different is this is a full-time commitment to one team.

So why Bahrain-Merida? One main reason is that the McLaren Group is majority owned by the Bahrain sovereign wealth fund. There were already links between the company and the Bahrain royal family, which brought Formula 1 to the Middle East. So the connection to cycling was a natural fit.

“I think it’s a game-changer simply from the fact that they are partners in the company,” Copeland said. “That hasn’t happened a lot in cycling.”

Everyone will be watching with interest to see what McLaren brings to the table. Its auto-racing arm is the second-most successful in Formula 1 history, with such illustrious drivers as Emerson Fittipaldi and James Hunt to Niki Lauda and Ayrton Senna and Lewis Hamilton. Will McLaren be such a dramatic force in cycling? It should be a dynamic addition to a continually evolving sport.

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Women’s Tour Down Under, stage 1: Paternoster wins opening sprint

The Trek-Segafredo women’s team started its inaugural season on a winning note Thursday as Letizia Paternoster won stage 1 of the Tour Down Under in a sprint.

The 19-year-old Italian is on flying form because she is in the midst of the track World Cup season, where she is the top-ranked rider in the Madison discipline. Although she started her sprint a bit early in the Australian opener, she held off Sarah Roy (Mitchelton-Scott) and Arlenis Sierra (Astana), who were second and third, respectively.

“When I went, I thought I was closer to the finish line, and when I saw it was still 250m to go, I wanted to die a little. I am so happy to have pulled it off,” said Paternoster. “This is really an amazing day for me; it’s only my second year as a professional rider. To start out with the new team, and the first race of the team like this, is really, really great!”

The flat, 113-kilometer stage from Hahndorf to Birdwood was expected to be a sprint stage. In fact, there were not any notable breakaway attempts during the race.

Astana sport director Pierangelo Dal Colle says the team might have started leading out Sierra a bit too early.

“Maybe we went for it a bit early, but [Sierra] managed to do a nice sprint with the help of the teammates left around her,” Da Colle said. “These are solid bases for building a very united group that works for a common goal in every race.”

Paternoster’s win was impressive as well given that one of her key teammates, Lotta Lepisto, was sick.

Instead, the young sprinter relied on Lauretta Hanson to bring her to the front of the field to win the sprint and the race’s first leader’s jersey.

The four-day Women’s Tour Down Under continues Friday with a 116.7km stage from Nuriootpa to Angaston, which has a bit of a hill in the end.

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VeloNews Show: Five big stories to follow in 2019

This video includes footage and images from Getty Images/Velo Collection, YouTube/Tour de France, YouTube/UCI.

The new season of cycling is dawning, and there are plenty of intriguing storylines to follow as 2019 gets underway.

How will Peter Sagan fare at Liège? Can Quick-Step repeat its spring successes of 2019? Should Chris Froome lead Team Sky at the Tour, or is Geraint Thomas the top dog? How will Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel fare in the classics?

… And above all, what will happen with Team Sky as its sponsor will leave after 2019?

All those questions and more answered this week.

Read the full article at VeloNews Show: Five big stories to follow in 2019 on

Team Sky mum on rumors about future

There are a lot of rumors and reports flying about the future of Team Sky. It’s great for journalists in the off-season, just don’t expect team management to say much.

Team Sky officials refused to comment on the latest reports about mergers and contract guarantees.

“We are not in a position to provide a running commentary,” an official from Team Sky said on the team’s sponsor quest. “We won’t be commenting on it at this time.”

Team Sky officials have remained quiet as team manager Dave Brailsford and others work to shore up the team’s sponsorship future beyond 2019. Officials were told in December that longtime sponsor Sky is exiting at the end of this season. Brailsford has just a few months to find new backers to save the team.

Brailsford has telegraphed a message of confidence that Team Sky will exist in some form beyond this racing season.

That hasn’t stopped the rumor mill from churning. On Tuesday, Israel Cycling Academy owner Sylvan Adams confirmed to VeloNews he is exploring merger opportunities with an existing WorldTour team in order to race the Tour de France in 2020.

Adams did not reveal which teams in the WorldTour league he has been in contact with. Insiders suggest that a merger between Team Sky and Israel Cycling Academy, however, is not being considered right now.

Mergers can often be messy. Professional racing teams slowly build their unique tone and brand over years, and recent mergers have revealed that one team invariably is absorbed by another and often loses out in terms of riders, staffers, and identity.

Team Sky officials would not confirm if a partnership with another sponsor is under consideration. And it’s unclear if Brailsford, who led Team Sky to six Tour de France victories since its inception, would be willing to cede any control to a new partner even in order to save the team.

Also Wednesday, La Gazzetta dello Sport reported that Comcast, the American cable giant that bought out Sky this fall, could be poised to give the team a lifeline beyond 2019.

Citing unconfirmed sources, La Gazzetta reported that Comcast is considering paying up to 70 percent of Sky’s operating budget of $43 million annually in 2020 and 2021. That’s an interesting twist because many pro teams are often private holding companies that rent out sponsorship deals to the highest bidder. Sky the broadcaster, similar to how EF Education First and Trek own their respective racing teams, is Team Sky’s owner.

If true, the deal would be reminiscent of T-Mobile in 2007 when the German company pulled the plug on the team in the wake of doping scandals but paid out its sponsorship contract. That team became High Road and raced five more seasons.

If Comcast would cover much of the team’s costs and contract obligations, that would give Brailsford more time to find would-be sponsors in the short-term. It would also allow more flexibility in the search a new permanent long-term partner.

The team has several riders under contract beyond this season, including Geraint Thomas, Chris Froome, and Egan Bernal. Sources told VeloNews Team Sky’s unique ownership structure could set up possible contract disputes between riders and the ownership over future contract obligations. It’s likely most riders and agents would try to find new contracts to keep them racing in the event that Sky did collapse at the end of 2019. There could be potential for legal wrangling if riders under long-term contracts at Sky do not find new deals with equal pay. It’s hard to imagine, however, that a cycling agent would be able to out-lawyer a fleet of attorneys from Wall Street.

And what was Team Sky’s response when reached for comment on the report? No comment. Don’t expect anything to be coming out of the Team Sky camp until the contracts for any future deal are signed.

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Podcast: USAC’s new boss; how domestic pros survived 2018

Welcome to the VeloNews cycling podcast, where we discuss the latest trends, news, and controversies in the world of cycling.

New year, new … USA Cycling CEO? That’s right the American governing body just announced its new boss, Rob DeMartini, who comes from an unconventional background. We discuss the move.

Also, Fred Dreier talks to Ben Wolfe about the rocky off-season that domestic pro riders had to endure. With four major teams either closing down or changing significantly it was a time of stress and unrest.

Plus, we discuss the 90-year-old (yep, that isn’t a typo) rider who was recently sanctioned by USADA and the upcoming Santos Tour Down Under.

This episode of the VeloNews podcast is sponsored by Strava. Want to try Strava Summit and its wealth of analysis, training, and safety features? Go to and use this promo code for a free month of Strava Summit: velonews

If you like what you hear, subscribe to the VeloNews podcast on iTunesStitcher, and Google Play. Please give us a review and a rating, if you have time! Also, check out the VeloNews Fast Talk training podcast with Trevor Connor and the VeloNews tech podcast with Dan Cavallari.

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Israel Cycling Academy confirms merger talks with WorldTour teams

Sylvan Adams, the flamboyant real estate billionaire who owns Israel Cycling Academy (ICA), is determined to bring his team to the Tour de France by 2020.

The way he sees it, there are three ways to get there. First, his team can finish among one of the top two spots in this year’s team rankings among the Professional Continental league, and earn an automatic wildcard berth to all three grand tours for 2020, which includes a spot in the Tour. Option two is to sign a big-name rider who could entice a grand tour to invite ICA, a scenario that opens doors but provides no guarantee. Or, he could merge with an existing WorldTour team hungry for new financial partners.

That final scenario is making the rounds this winter in light of Team Sky’s uncertain future following the departure of longtime backers at the end of 2019.

Is Adams considering merging with Team Sky for 2020? Adams wouldn’t confirm it, but he wouldn’t deny it, either.

“There are several discussions happening with more than one WorldTour team,” Adams told VeloNews. “I cannot divulge too much right now and I don’t have any confirmation on any specific discussions with any specific teams, but that is on our radar screen.”

When contacted by VeloNews on Tuesday, officials from Team Sky would not comment on its current sponsorship situation.

Sky, the British media company, has underwritten the team since its inception in 2010. It said in December it would be ending its financial backing of the British outfit at the end of 2019.

Team Sky’s unclear future has fueled speculation that it might consider a merger with another sponsor hungry for the team’s deep roster and racing acumen that has won six of the past seven editions of the Tour de France.

Many are wondering if a similar scenario to what happened with BMC Racing and CCC-Sprandi Polkowice could play out for Team Sky. BMC Racing was folding at the end of 2018, while the second-tier Polish-backed team was keen to race the Tour after years of falling short of securing a wild-card invitation. BMC Racing manager Jim Ochowicz stitched together a deal that saw Polish shoemaker CCC come on board as its new title sponsor for 2019, racing as CCC Team with a mix of staff and riders from both former teams.

Team Sky officials, however, said Tuesday they would not reveal details about the team’s ongoing sponsorship quest.

Speaking to VeloNews, Adams confirmed that he’s talking to suitors about a possible WorldTour merger in 2020, but stopped short of saying which teams he’s been in contact with.

“Let’s just say that we are aware of what’s going on in the marketplace,” he said in a telephone interview. “We have had conversations with teams and this is a possible route for us to end up as a WorldTour team.”

Adams did not reveal if his team will apply for a WorldTour license for 2020 but said the team’s long-term future is to eventually race as a WorldTour team.

“Our ambition is to race the Tour in 2020,” Adams said. “The possibility of a merger with a WorldTour team is exciting. It’s on our radar screen, but we will focus on this year’s goals irrespective of any extraneous developments.

“We certainly have our eyes open, and we’ll be opportunistic,” he continued. “This team is growing organically, but if there is an opportunity that comes along, we will consider it. Sometimes you make your own luck.”

For 2019, Israel Cycling Academy also beefed up its roster to 30 riders, the largest of any WorldTour or Professional Continental team this season. After racing in the Giro d’Italia in 2018 as part of the “big start” in Israel, the team hopes for an invitation to race the Giro again in 2019. An announcement is expected later this month.

The team’s season-long ambition is to race for points to ensure a top-two spot in the end-of-season UCI team rankings among the Professional Continental squads. This would earn it starting slots in key WorldTour races the following season, including all three grand tours in 2020.

Adams said he will be closely watching developments at Team Sky and would consider signing top riders if the team does shutter at the end of 2019. Its current budget of about $8 million annually is a fraction of Team Sky’s estimated budget of about $43 million. The team’s budget would have to grow dramatically in order to a sign a Tour de France-caliber rider like Chris Froome and the entourage that top stars bring with them.

“We wouldn’t be shy about approaching some big-name riders, but we don’t want to pick over the carcass of Sky,” he said. “My wish is that Sky continues in whatever form it is because it is one of the most important teams in the peloton and they’ve done so much in the sport. But if it’s a hypothetical question, and if those riders from Sky or some other team are available, yes, we would certainly be knocking at the door.”

As Adams said, sometimes you make your own luck. Expect the team to be active in the rider market this year.

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Roundtable: Five up-and-coming riders to watch in 2019

Every season, lesser-known riders win significant races. These youngsters might not always be in the headlines, but we are watching them, and sometimes, if you look closely, you can see promising glimpses of cycling’s future superstars. As we looked ahead to 2019, we pored over results to find our favorite up-and-coming riders. Whether they are sprinters, climbers, or all-rounders, these five cyclists show promise to step up to another level of performance and results.

Katie Hall (Boels-Dolmans)

Katie Hall
Katie Hall of UHC attacked to win stage 1 of the 2018 Tour of the Gila. Photo: Casey B. Gibson |

Fred Dreier, @freddreier: Perhaps it’s unfair to choose someone with a WorldTour stage race victory as a potential “breakout” rider, but I’m choosing Katie Hall anyway.

After dominating the North American scene for the past two seasons Hall is making the jump to the European peloton with the top team in the women’s WorldTour, Boels-Dolmans. Hall is already one of the world’s best on long, grueling climbs. Yet we’ve never seen her race against the WorldTour’s best climbers at the Giro Rosa because her former team, UnitedHealthCare, rarely (if ever) received an invite. If Hall can drop North America’s best on the Mogollon and Oak Glen, how will she fare against the world’s best on the Gavia Pass? I’m eager to find out.

I think that Hall will be an asset to Boels’s stage racing squad this year to assist Anna van der Breggen, and I hope she’s given an opportunity to attack on the big climbs for her own glory.

Pascal Ackermann (Bora-Hansgrohe)

Pascal Ackermann
Ackermann rounded out his 2018 season with a stage win at Tour of Guangxi in China. Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

Spencer Powlison, @spino_powerlegs: Bora-Hansgrohe’s stable of sprinters is pretty crowded, but Pascal Ackermann found opportunities to shine in 2018, and more victories are on the horizon. As a 24-year-old, he won stages in four week-long WorldTour races: Tour de Romandie, Critérium du Dauphiné, Tour of Poland, and Tour of Guangxi. He also proved himself in the classics, finishing second to Fabio Jakobsen (more on him later) at the sprinter-friendly Scheldeprijs one-day race.

As I hinted at, Ackermann often plays third-fiddle on Bora, behind Peter Sagan and Sam Bennett. However, in 2019, he is expected to get a chance to race the Giro d’Italia as the team’s sprinter. It will be his first grand tour and a fine opportunity to earn a maiden stage win. Plus, as he already proved at Scheldeprijs, opportunities will arise for the German national champion to sprint for classics glory, especially if Sagan opts for a lighter race schedule (and he might, given his plans to race Liège-Bastogne-Liège). At the very least, expect Ackermann to notch a few more one-week stage wins throughout 2019.

Enric Mas (Deceuninck-Quick-Step)

Enric Mas
Enric Mas solidified his place as a grand tour contender with his stage win at Coll de la Gallina that catapulted him into second overall in the standings at the 2018 Vuelta. Photo: Jim Fryer / BrakeThrough Media |

Andrew Hood, @EuroHoody: Who is poised to stand out this year from the Spanish peloton? Enric Mas. The 24-year-old from Deceuninck-Quick-Step already had a breakout season in 2018, finishing second overall at the Vuelta a España and notching the first two pro wins of his promising career (a stage at the Vuelta and the Tour of the Basque Country). This year he’s poised for even better results, with a Tour de France debut on his 2019 calendar.

What qualities does Mas harbor that even Alberto Contador calls him his rightful heir? Consistency, grit, natural ability, and ambition. Those characteristics are what’s needed to excel in grand tours, and everyone close to Mas says he has that and then some. His gritty stage win at Collada de la Gallina in the Vuelta gave everyone a glimpse into Mas’s true potential. This season will be all about confirmation. A solid Tour debut will set him up nicely as Spain’s next big GC contender. That’s just what every bike fan south of Pyrénées is clamoring for.

Fabio Jakobsen (Deceuninck-Quick-Step)

Fabio Jakobsen
Fabio Jakobsen won a rainy sprint at Scheldeprijs. Photo: Tim De Waele/Getty Images

Chris Case, @chrisjustincase: The most successful neo-pro of 2018, Fabio Jakobsen (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) gathered seven wins last year, including three in WorldTour races. None was bigger than his stunning victory at Scheldeprijs in atrocious weather and against far more experienced opponents. He also took sprint victories at the Tour des Fjords and Binck Bank Tour. Jakobsen finished his season with a flurry, taking two stage victories and the points classification at the final WorldTour stop at the Tour of Guangxi.

The 22-year-old rider hails from the Zeeland province in the Netherlands and was named after Fabio Casartelli by his cycling-mad parents. Jakobsen joined Quick-Step after riding for the SEG Racing Academy for three years. “When [team boss] Patrick Lefevere makes you an offer, then it’s like ‘The Godfather:’ It’s an offer you can’t refuse,” he said back then.

Built for sprinting and the one-day races, Jakobsen sees Dylan Groenewegen as his role model. Like his countryman did the past two years, Jakobsen’s ambition is to win a stage of the Tour de France. Before that, however, look for him to score more wins and surprise the veterans in his beloved spring classics.

Sam Oomen (Sunweb)

Sam Oomen
Sam Oomen drove the pace for Tom Dumoulin on the final climb at the Giro d’Italia in stage 20. Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

Dane Cash, @danecash: As a promising up-and-comer who signed with WorldTour squad Sunweb at a young age, Sam Oomen has had the weight of expectation on him for years. That didn’t stop him from riding to a Giro d’Italia top-10 last spring even as a domestique for team leader and Dutch compatriot Tom Dumoulin.

Oomen is an all-rounder with real potential as a stage racing star. He is not quite as far along at age 23 as, say, Miguel Ángel López was, but Sunweb has a strong track record of development. The team has been patient with bringing Oomen along so far. That could prove helpful in the long run. His contract runs through 2020, which should take some pressure off as well.

What’s more, Oomen has Dumoulin to learn from, and it’s hard to imagine a better situation for a young Dutch rider to find himself in than that. Oomen should get more opportunities to shine in 2019.

Read the full article at Roundtable: Five up-and-coming riders to watch in 2019 on

Israel team eyes return to Giro before run at Tour

Israel Cycling Academy is hopeful its deep connections with Giro d’Italia brass will help smooth the way for a return to the corsa rosa in 2019. And the Tour de France? Well, that can wait another year.

“I don’t think the Tour de France is possible this season,” Israel Cycling Academy (ICA) owner Sylvan Adams told VeloNews. “We’re hoping to be selected to race the Giro d’Italia again. We have good relationships with RCS Sport [the Giro’s parent company] and we’re hoping that results in an invitation.”

Giro wildcard invitations are expected to be released before the end of January, and Adams is hoping his big-dollar investment in the Giro and Israeli cycling pays off with a return ticket to the Italian grand tour.

Adams, the flamboyant Canadian billionaire who owns Israel’s first professional cycling team, spent millions last year to lure the Giro d’Italia to venture to Israel for the “big start” of the 2018 edition.

Though the start of 2018 the Italian grand tour might have rubbed some people the wrong way, organizationally the three days of racing in Jerusalem and around Israel went off without any major glitches.

The Israeli start was also an important milestone for RCS. It was the first major race promoter to successfully bring a grand tour beyond the borders of Europe. That mostly positive experience last May could lay the groundwork for even more exotic locales in the future for the Italian grand tour.

Adams, who moved from Canada to make Israel his permanent home a few years ago, called the Israeli “big start” an unqualified success, and said the impact of hosting the Italian grand tour continues to reverberate around Israel’s burgeoning cycling community.

Adams even laughed that he’s become a “mini-celebrity” inside Israel after being known as the “man who brought the Giro to Israel.” He often gets stopped by fans for selfies.

“The ‘big start’ exceeded my expectations,” Adams said in a telephone interview from Israel. “What really impressed me was what happened inside Israel. People really turned on to the Giro and we have a growing sport here with cycling.”

Israel Cycling Academy
Israel Cycling Academy riders met in Israel ahead of the 2019 season. Photo courtesy Israel Cycling Academy

This week, Adams is hosting ICA’s newest riders at his home in Tel Aviv before holding an early season training camp to get a taste of what Israel is like. The team will regroup in Europe for the start of the 2019 racing season.

After becoming the first Israeli team to race in a grand tour in 2018, the team’s ambitions change in 2019. Adams grew the roster to 30 riders this season, the largest among the WorldTour and Professional Continental ranks.

The UCI has big changes in store for 2020, and they may help ICA. UCI will reorganize the Pro Continental division, offering guaranteed grand tour starts for two top teams, based on points. Adams said his team will be focused on scoring more points and building the depth and quality of the team to be ready for the opportunity.

“With our team infrastructure, we are a WorldTour operating at the Pro-Conti level,” he said. “This is a long-term project and our ultimate goal is to race the Tour.”

Adams admits that he doesn’t expect a Tour invitation to be in the cards for 2019.

The team is laying the groundwork for a Tour start in the near future. Adams has set up links with a French development squad to improve its relations with the country and ideally build a bridge to ASO officials. ICA has also quietly signed some French riders to the team for 2019.

“We’ve made a few strategic moves for this season,” Adams said. “By the time we make it to the Tour de France, we hope to be appreciated by the fans. Our ambition is to be in the Tour by 2020.”

That’s the rough plan: the Tour in two years and a return trip to the Giro this summer. Adams and the team will find out soon enough as the Giro invitations are set to be revealed soon.

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Ambitious Ewan plans Giro and Tour after grand tour drought

FLORENCE, Italy (VN) — Australian sprinter Caleb Ewan will aim for stage wins in both the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France in 2019 as he debuts with a new team.

Team Lotto-Soudal is backing its new sprinter in the grand tours. Ewan has not raced a grand tour since 2017, a period when his former team Mitchelton-Scott focused on overall classification cyclists Adam and Simon Yates, and Esteban Chaves.

“They’re giving me pressure but they’re also giving me pretty much full support,” Ewan told SBS of his new team.

“I’m going to put more pressure on myself than the team is going to anyway, so it’s not affecting me at all.”

“There is a little bit more pressure, but I’ve always said if I’m going to have the pressure, which I also had at Mitchelton, I prefer to have the support with me as well.”

The 24-year-old won stages in the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España. Last summer, he planned on debuting his unique sprint in the Tour de France. After a successful campaign in the Giro — 13 days in the lead with Simon Yates and five stage wins — Mitchelton-Scott continued its push in the overall classification and left Ewan at home.

The move to Lotto-Soudal this winter is significant for both Ewan and the Belgian team. The team is hitting refresh with Ewan, who replaced sprinter André Greipel, 36, a seven-year veteran of Lotto. Up until 2019, the young Aussie has only raced for the Orica team organization since the start of his pro career.

Indicating its faith in Ewan, the team gave him the green light for both the Italian grand tour in May and the Tour in July. The Giro will be a type of practice heading towards the Tour.

“It’s going to be like two years since I started a grand tour, which is not ideal,” Ewan added. And though he won’t say it, it is likely Ewan will abandon mid-Giro to leave himself as fresh as possible for the Tour.

“It will be good to start a grand tour before the Tour actually starts but I think it’s also about getting wins, as well.

“There are a lot of sprint opportunities [at the Giro]. I’m pretty much the main sprinter of the team so I think it’s a good opportunity for me to try and get some stage wins. If I can get stage wins there it will give me confidence going into the Tour also.”

Ewan’s unique chest-to-stem sprint position saw him finish best of the rest behind a solo Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) in Milano-Sanremo last year. In grand tours, he must reestablish himself after a hiatus.

New top sprinters emerged in the last two years including Colombian Fernando Gaviria (UAE Team Emirates) and Elia Viviani (Quick-Step Floors). Both are expected to race the Giro and Tour in 2019. Gaviria won four stages and the points jersey in 2017’s Giro and in the 2018 Tour, wore the leader’s jersey and won two stages. Viviani won four stages in the Giro and three in the Vuelta a España in 2018.

Ewan already gave his new team a win Wednesday in Australia’s Lexus of Blackburn Bay Criterium Series. Afterward, he will race the national championship and the Santos Tour Down Under before heading to Europe.

“I haven’t done so much intensity so the crits have been pretty hard for me,” Ewan said. “I think they will bring me up to another level into nationals and then into the Tour Down Under. Hopefully, I’m in my peak form by the time Down Under starts.”

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