Joy and sorrow on cobblestones
The opening weekend of the Belgian Classic races ridden on cobblestones served the BAHRAIN MERIDA PRO CYCLING TEAM up with the full spectrum of emotions. On Saturday Dylan Teuns showed a strong performance, finishing the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad in 5th place. One day later Ivan Cortina was the only rider of the team to finish Brussels-Kuurne-Brussels after Sonny Colbrelli had been forced to abandon due to a crash.
With Sonny Colbrelli, Ivan Cortina and Kristijan Koren the BAHRAIN MERIDA PRO CYCLING TEAM could already rely on a couple of riders who excel on cobblestones and don’t mind some foul weather last year. For this year the Classics fraction has been beefed up significantly with the arrival of Belgian rider Dylan Teuns. So far Teuns had been considered a specialist for shorter stage races and the Classics in the Ardennes that feature more climbing. With a 5th place in the overall standings of the Volta Valenciana and a 10th place in the overall standings of the Ruta del Sol, Teuns already lived up to the expectations regarding stage races. At the first training camp of the team held in December Teuns made it clear however that winning a Classic or Semi-Classic on home turf in Belgium was one of his big goals.
For its 74th edition the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad had been promoted to World Tour status by the UCI. As a consequence the field was stacked with many big names in one-day racing. But due to the rainy and windy weather the race proved to be demanding mentally as well. The BAHRAIN MERIDA PRO CYCLING TEAM had to swallow a set-back before the race started as Matej Mohoric was forced out of the race due to a training crash the week before. Thus Sonny Colbrelli and Dylan Teuns shared the leadership role within the team, relying on the support of only five team mates with Valerio Agnoli, Grega Bole, Ivan Cortina, Kristijan Koren and Luka Pibernik. The team made the best of the situation: As soon as the day’s early attackers had been caught, Ivan Cortina launched a powerful attack with about 50 kilometers to go, pulling only one rider with him. Knowing how well the Asturian rider performs on cobblestones, the peloton reacted swiftly and got back to his wheel.
The decisive moment of the race came with about 30 kilometers to go, and the list of riders that formed the new lead group in the race read like a who-is-who of one-day racing. Amongst these riders was BAHRAIN MERIDA PRO CYCLING TEAM’s Dylan Teuns, and after a short while a crash from Tiesj Benoot reduced this group to five riders. Teuns was facing his compatriots Greg Van Avermaet and Tim Wellens plus Andrey Lutsenko and Zdenek Stybar. Despite a series of attack this group stayed together and away from the chasing peloton. Throughout the finale Stybar proved to be the strongest and most clever in this group of five while Dylan Teuns’ energies were fading. Mobilizing all that he had left in the tank the Belgian made it to the finish in 5th place. With this result he showed that he feels at home on cobblestones as well. In order to get some recovery before the start of Paris-Nice, Dylan Teuns skipped the start at Sunday’s Semi-Classic Brussels-Kuurne-Brussels.
As the course of Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne is less hilly, the BAHRAIN MERIDA PRO CYCLING TEAM opted to ride for two co-captains: Sonny Colbrelli was looking to improve on last year’s 3rd place if the race ended in a sprint whereas Ivan Cortina was allowed to go into breakaways if the opportunity was there. Despite the adverse weather conditions the first hour of racing saw a fast pace, and it took quite a while until a group got away. Just when the speed went up another time on the approach of the Oude Kwaremont, Sonny Colbrelli could not avoid a crash, went down hard and was forced to give up in considerable pain. Meanwhile five strong riders accelerated away from the peloton. The later solo winner Bob Jungels was the only one to stay away all the way to the finish. Riding on his own, Ivan Cortina decided to stay sheltered in the peloton. He made it to the finish and crossed the line in Kuurne in 13th place - as the only rider in red, gold and dark blue to finish the race. Luckily the injuries that Sonny Colbrelli received in his crash proved not to be too serious: The Italian sprinter should be able to start at Paris-Nice just as planned.
The second half of the United Arab Emirates Tour was pretty unlucky from BAHRAIN MERIDA PRO CYCLING TEAM’s perspective. After the strong performance and the 3rd place in the initial team time trial, neither Vincenzo Nibali nor Damiano Caruso could keep up with the best climbers at the first of two mountaintop finishes. The following day a large pile-up in the finale brought down most of the team, ruining all chances in the overall standings. Thus the team and Marcel Sieberg, Heinrich Haussler and Jan Tratnik in particular could focus on refining the mechanisms of the sprint train for Phil Bauhaus. This showed some effect as the team managed to pilot Bauhaus into the two bunch sprints towards the end of the week. The young German rewarded these efforts of his team mates with two 6th places. While he may have missed out on a top5 result, these two stage results still are valuable seen the strong competition in the sprints of this stage race.