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Penny Pinching [finished]
April 2020: Liege-Bastogne-Liege
***** goal: Top 10

Race squad: Denis, Falkenmayer, Koloda, Lammertink, Sequeiros, Sergienko, Tewelde, Wikkelso

Sadly, our goal-winning streak ended in Liege. It was close, Lammertink was 12th, Koloda 13th, Falkenmayer 15th, Tewelde 17th, Denis 18th and Sergienko 20th. We faced a slight season planning mistake, our punchers go on a deserved break after this race, but this year everybody's fitness was already down to level 3 and it may have made the difference.

In the final kilometres of the race three riders were ahead and fighting for victory, behind them 22 riders regrouped before the final climb. Energy reserves were low, we tried to set up two short sprint trains with Tewelde and Falkenmayer in front, hoping it'd give their team mates an edge. But it was no help, all red bars were gone well before the climb flattened out at the top and the chance of making the top 10 evaporated.

The winner was once again Michal Kwiatkowski, who won 21 seconds ahead of his crown prince Mendez, Slagter was 3rd, 47 seconds behind. The group of 22 was just 10 seconds further back, the rest of the top 10 were: Matthews, Betancur, Hoem, Rui Costa, Jungels, Van Baarle and Ulissi.

In case anybody's wondering about our new signing Pedrocca (I'm sure nobody is, he's quite unremarkable) and why I haven't mentioned him at all: He broke his kneecap back in Februrary and hasn't recovered yet. He'll have to become part of the summer stage racing team, though his REC 56 will make GTs hard. Aviva has dropped down to 3rd in the WT team rankings at the end of April, Quickstep and Trek have overtaken us.

April 2020: Tour de Romandie

Race squad: Bilbao, Fernandez, Kudus, Marrou, McLean, Myles, Pozin, Zamora

Marrou lost 11 seconds in the prologue of the Tour de Romandie. The race finishes with a flat ITT of 24 km, which suits our captain, but he'll have to survive the tough stage to Verbier. Our #2 sprinter Donald Myles has reached SPR 77 ACC 77 and we gave him a chance on stage 2, the only flat stage of the race. He found the rear wheel of the top favourite Janse von Rensburg just before the sprint zone started. But he definitely waited too long to start his sprint, Nizzolo went earlier and clearly won the stage. Myles was a good 5th behind RJVR, Ciolek and Vangronsveld (26, SPR 81).

Marrou lost more time on stage 3 around La Chaux de Fonds. Bilbao was our man for the breakaway, he was only joined by Chavez. They had a spirited fight for the KOM jersey, Bilbao came out top by 6 points. However, about half-way through the stage, when the duo had a lead of 8 minutes, Chavez believed Bilbao hadn't worked enough and refused to cooperate for the rest of the stage. Add a howling headwind of 70 kmph to the equation, and the duo wasn't exactly fast. But it was still enough to tackle five of the six climbs of the day ahead of the chasers.

Marrou had a good feeling about that final climb, surely with that headwind he could follow anybody. But he was wrong, Quintana, Costa, Froome, Boswell and Rolland left him behind, and then Quintana's team mate Kulpaka caught up to Marrou and left him standing as well. At least Kelderman and Henao reached him only at the top of the climb and he could follow them to the finish line.

Quintana won the sprint against Rui Costa, while Rolland, Froome and Kulpaka were 29 seconds behind. The generous time keepers gave Marrou the same time as the group ahead, he ended up losing only 1'13'' and that moved him up to 7th in the GC. Aller in 11th was already 5'20'' behind after this stage, so a top 10 finish becomes quite likely. Though mostly likely 10th exactly, looking at the climbers behind him and the route ahead.

It can be tough having to both watch the breakaway and the peloton, even at 1x speed you can miss a decisive move. That's what happened on stage 4, with three mountains, but a fairly long way from the final mountain pass to the finish in Bulle. Bilbao was uncontested and extended his KOM lead, he looked stronger in general despite Figares and Krapivny being better climbers on paper. The trio was relaying into a headwind, when 12 km out Figares attacked and Bilbao missed the move and reacted too late. The weakest rider on flat terrain won by 44 seconds.

But at that point Marrou had to be very careful whom to follow, that's where my focus was. The first attack came from Henao, Quintana followed, so did Rolland and then Dombrowski. Rui Costa, 2nd in the GC, waited too long and crossed the mountain with a dozen riders in tow, including Marrou, and had to do all the work himself. His energy ran out, which prompted more attacks. Marrou was happy to finish 7th and even happier to see that the time keepers were generous again and awarding him the same time as Dombrowski, 13 riders in total made that group. Rolland and Henao were the GC winners of the day, they caught the escapees in the final stretch and gained 59 seconds on their rivals. That puts Rolland in the lead, 14 seconds ahead of Quintana, Marrou is 8th, 1'32'' behind.

Kudus initiated the early breakaway on the queen stage. The group grew eleven men strong, which allowed them to relay easily on the flat first half of the stage. There weren't enough points available to dislodge Bilbao, but Kudus took top honours on the first two climbs anyway. The gap seemed large enough for the best breakaway riders to make it. And they did, Sky's Polat was clearly the best climber in the group and he won the stage by over a minute, Kudus was 3rd, behind Zaccheroni.

Quintana attacked on the penultimate climb and Rolland remained strangely passive. He let let several more top 10 riders attack before picking up speed, but Marrou was never far away, dropping off with the tailwind, but returning into the group after the next hairpin. But Quintana surged ahead, he nearly caught Kudus and was three minutes faster than any other GC rider. His MON may have already dropped to 84, but that's still far more than anybody else has to offer. Marrou was pleasantly surprised that the speed was manageable on the last climb, Froome and Rolland gained a few seconds, but our captain arrived with everybody between 5th and 10th in the GC.

Small gaps made for an exciting time trial. Marrou once more didn't show a top performance and was 19th. He failed to move up in the GC, on paper he should have surpassed Henao, who was 40 seconds ahead, but Marrou was 9 seconds too slow. Quintana's victory was already certain before the stage, he was 8th on the day, he needn't have worked that hard. Rolland rode surprisingly well and held onto his 2nd place. Quintana's team mate Kulpaka was the best of the top 10 riders and moves up to 3rd, pushing Rui Coasta off the podium by less than a second. Froome is 5th, followed by Kelderman, Henao, Marrou, Boswell and Dombrowski. The points jersey goes to Quintana, Bilbao is the king of the mountains and Marrou picks up another U25 victory.

May 2020: Giro d'Italia (1/4)
**** goal: 1st in climber standings

Race squad: Bilbao, Fernandez, Kudus, McLean, Marrou, Myles, Pozin, Wikkelso, Zamora

I think this will be the longest report yet. Team Sky has brought a strong line-up to Italy, PCMCE rates three of their riders as the top favourites: Van Garderen, Talansky and Mollema (winner in 2018). But none of them will win this Giro, though it's going to be a close call. We often see gaps of 20 to 30 minutes between the top 10 riders, but not this year, the podium will be decided by seconds and only after finishing stage 20 on the Zoncolan. Marrou achieved top 10 finishes in all the stage races he captained so far, so despite his lack of MON (76) we are fairly confident he can do it again. But we also need to win the climber's classification.

Sky started well enough and won the opening ITT in Belfast, 18 seconds ahead of Aviva. Stage 2 went to Bennett, stage 4 to Bouhanni, in between Moser won thanks to a late attack and slipped into pink. Stage 5 was the first hilly stage, a low success chance for the breakaway, but we tried our luck with Nicolas Wikkelso (HIL 76 AVG 71). He didn't stand a chance against Bouet on the two climbs in the middle of the stage. The rest of the stage was flat until the final climb, which wasn't very steep. Bouet and Ramiro Gallardo attacked with 18 km to go. Wikkelso didn't try to follow, instead he set his effort to 80 and hoped he could hold it until the end.

The peloton had closed the gap down to 3 minutes quickly, but let it hold there too long, the breakaway had a real chance. And Wikkelso was catching up to the duo ahead. He reached it and immediately attacked, only Bouet could follow him. Wikkelso had the energy for just one more attack and this time Bouet cracked. Wikkelso won by 32 seconds ahead of Bouet and 43 seconds ahead of the favourites and dons the pink jersey, what a great day for the young man. The first time I even mention him in a report and he wins a GT stage and slips into the leader's jersey!

Sadly, this time the time keepers were a little too strict, only 6 riders were deemed to be 43 seconds behind, Marrou was the first to be 1'09'' down, but weirdly enough, the next 182 riders were given the same time, including all our men,who had reduced their effort to 48 with 30 km to go. Not a huge loss, obviously, just another one of those oddities.

There was another hilly stage a day later, 250 km long, mostly flat, just a final ramp, medium steepness, 8 km long. We sent poor Bilbao into the breakaway, just three lost souls riding together for 210 km to get swallowed unceremoniously. That led to several late attacks which all went nowhere.

But the attack at the foot of the final climb to Montecassino by Mohoric, Ulissi and Henao stuck. Mohoric won the stage, Sergio Henao slips into pink. Mollema was 37 seconds behind and gained 13 seconds on the rest of the GC riders, including Marrou. We let all our other riders drop out of the peloton and relay at an easy pace, they finished over 11 minutes behind.

After Bouhanni won his second stage it was time for the first mountain stage which was bound to sort the GC further. McLean was our first choice for the breakaway, but the peloton started chasing the 7 escapees hard, then McLean let up and as soon as he was caught the other six were allowed to continue. Go figure. So Ruben Fernandez attacked when the gap was over 3 minutes, nobody objected, and he easily caught the breakaway. He fought against Santl for the mountain points and beat him by 2 points to take the blue jersey at the end of the stage.

But there wasn't any chance to win the stage, the gap was less than 3 minutes as the group hit the bottom of the first of three climbs. The peloton only sped up at the top of this cat. 1, Sky's Van Garderen worked for his team mate Talansky, though both are equally strong, in fact, Van Garderen is the better climber. Marrou was now protected by McLean and had Kudus in the group as well. In another mystifying getting-semi-permanently-stuck-behind-a-rider Marrou suddenly fell out of the large group on his own.

Kudus was dropped a little while later and Marrou caught up to him and the Eritrean took over the protection duty and they overtook about 20 riders and even caught up to the group with the pink jersey, just as it attacked again. Once again, the attackers were Mohoric, Ulissi and Henao, but there were just 4 km left. Ulissi won the stage 20 seconds ahead of Talansky, Henao was 3rd and Kulpaka was also in the group. Villella was a few seconds behind, Marrou finished with Van Garderen, Mollema, Mohoric, Dombrowski and Adam Yates, losing 58 seconds. So while Marrou was 7th on the day he dropped to 8th in the GC, Astana's captain Kulpaka moved past him. It looks like a dozen riders will be fighting for the GC.

May 2020: Giro d'Italia (2/4)

Another mountain stage followed and the leader of the points classification, Bouhanni, was tasked with working for the race leader Sergio Henao, controlling the breakaway, which included McLean. And Katusha did well, maybe even too well, having reduced the gap to under 2 minutes before the climbing even started. The stage was totally flat until it reached a simple cat. 3, followed by a short and steep cat. 3 and then a long HC climb to Sestola, mostly into a headwind of over 40 kmph.

Which suited Marrou just fine. There were several attacks from all the GC riders but they never went anywhere, 18 riders kept regrouping. 2.5 km from the top Marrou even rode to the front of the peloton and had enough energy left for an attack and briefly it looked like he might win the stage. But one rider was able to catch and outsprint him, Kulpaka, who seems to be in fine form. He won by 10 seconds ahead of Marrou, while the rest was 26 seconds behind. This moved Marrou up to 6th in the GC, he's now 2 seconds ahead of Mohoric. However, Kulpaka has taken the mountain jersey from Fernandez.

This is looking good for Marrou and another top 10 result, even in a Grand Tour. And he only earns 4.2k a month. His contract is running out, he'll start earning a lot more money soon. However, at the age of 23 he's already pretty much as good as he'll ever be. But he has an excellent combination of skills for his AVG rating, a hybrid croatia14 would appreciate.

The stage to Savona led over a pretty steep cat. 2, but with 25 km to go to the finish. Marrou suddenly found himself at the front of the peloton 500 metres from the top and decided to attack to cause a selection. He attracted only the race leader Henao as well as Mohoric and Moser and let them do all the work downhill. But the gap was only 25 seconds and vanished on the finish line, 77 riders got the same time. Henao won ahead of Adam Yates and Mohoric, Marrou was 4th. Zamora had represented us in the breakaway of the day, but the group had been caught on top of the climb.

Stage 12 was an individual time trial, hilly and 42 km long. I was tempted to make this the first time trial I'd play in 3D mode, which certainly would have produced a better result for Marrou. But I decided to simulate it, after all. I don't want to set a precedent and start to feel I have to play the hilly ITTs for better overall results.

Talansky won the stage 2 seconds ahead of Kulpaka and takes the pink jersey from Henao. Marrou was 10th on the day. Our captain is now 8th, only 1'29'' behind Talansky and 1'36'' ahead of Dombrowski in 9th.

For the second time in this Giro the simulation awards Moser a win on a flat stage from a late attack. After that came the third mountaintop finish. Fernandez was in the breakaway, but so was Santl, the two riders were only a KOM point apart. Craddock, without KOM points so far, surprised them both by winning the early cat. 3. Fernandez, who has a decent ACC, then attacked on the cat. 2 and cat. 1 climbs with 4 km to go, just a brief attack and then a steady high speed. Only Craddock could catch up both times, but couldn't overtake our man.

The four escapees were caught on the long descent towards the final climb. Great timing, Fernandez helped Marrou recover energy for the final climb. The group was only 14 riders strong and notable names were missing: Caruso (11th) was all alone a minute behind, Ulissi (5th) two minutes, and Kulpaka (4th), Mollema (3rd) and Van Garderen (6th) were in a larger group 3 minutes behind. An attack by Adam Yates was enough for Henao to react and Marrou, wisely and with the help of Kudus, rode as hard as he could to stay with the small elite group that had formed. It really seemed to pay off, even more so when the 24 riders in E6 stopped cooperating entirely. Mollema and Van Garderen had Talansky ahead and so didn't feel the need to work, Kulpaka only had Brambilla with him.

Landa had been leading E1 until he crashed, Caruso returned to the group in the brief lull and started working for his captain Henao. Eventually Henao himself and Mohoric started taking turn. Brambilla had woken up and reduced the gap of the next group to 2 minutes, when he was spent, with 11 km to go, Kulpaka attacked. Marrou could not quite follow the best riders and Kulpaka, with Mollema and Van Garderen in tow, closed over half the gap.

Adam Yates got the prestigious victory, a clear 23 seconds ahead of Talansky, Henao, Dombrowski and Mohoric. Villella had a good day and was 45 seconds behind, then came Marrou and Caruso, 1'15'' behind Yates. Kulpaka got as close as 1'49'', the Sky duo lost 12 more seconds and Ulissi dropped to 10th overall, losing over 3 minutes. Marrou is now 6th, but Yates and Dombrowski have moved closer. For a short while it looked like the stage would produce larger time gaps, but the top 10 is still close together.

May 2020: Giro d'Italia (3/4)

The following stage was entirely flat until it reached the monstrous climb to Plan di Montecampione, 19km @ 7.7%. Side note: Woohoo, Finn Jorgensen has reached MON 80! FLA 61 and HIL 69 aren't great companions, but he is already the best climber we've ever had. We'll get our first look at him in the Tour de Suisse.

Kudus was in the breakaway to either win the stage... scratch that, to support Marrou on the final climb. Katusha didn't give the breakaway any room to breathe, the gap was down to 3 minutes a long way before reaching the final climb and then stayed there. Of the breakaway riders, Konrad made an impressive effort to win the stage and was only beaten on the line by Henao and Villella. Marrou, as expected on this tough climb, lost time to all top 10 riders except Dombrowski and dropped to 8th in the GC.

We let the winner of stage 5, Wikkelso, retire after the the last rest day. Marrou dropped down to 9th after stage 16, this time Dombrowski breezed past him, and Ulissi and Villella are also closing in. It was another brutal day in the mountains, leading across the Gavia and the Stelvio and finishing on the long and uneven climb of Val Martello.

Fernandez scored top points on the two HC climbs, that should wrap up our goal, the climbers classification. Hayden moved into 2nd place thanks to this stage, but Fernandez has nearly twice as many points. Hayden and Schmäh, two excellent climbers, survived from the early breakaway, Schmäh won the stage. Henao was close behind, while Talansky lost a lot of time and the jersey, the gap is now 1'42'', back in Henao's favour. Mohoric remains 3rd, only Yates and Dombrowski moved closer.

We've reached stage 18: 4.5 km to go to the top of the final climb and Henao cracks! Talansky and his team mate Van Garderen stay with him while Marrou rides past and catches Mohoric and his group with 1.5 km to go. Will Henao lose the race lead?

Let's go back to the start of the stage. Every mountain stage in this year's Giro comes with a mountaintop finish, and most of the final climbs are brutal and this one to Rifugio Panarotta is no different. McLean is allowed to hunt for the stage, with an early huge climb the breakaway is finally given enough room to comfortably fight among themselves. Craddock (MON 77) is the toughest opponent, he attacks early on the final climb, but patience pays off, McLean reaches him with 5 km to go and has energy to spare for an attack and goes on to win the stage by 55 seconds, Monsalve is third.

The peak of the penultimate climb is 48 km from the finish and Ulissi, 10th in the GC, decides to attack and race leader Henao joins him. That move is doomed to fail, Sky takes control of the reduced peloton and Ulissi and Henao get caught at the end of the descent. The speed remains high on the short flat section to the final climb and apparently, Henao just couldn't recover in time.

Adam Yates then launches a stinging attack. He has moved up to 4th in the GC and hopes to make it onto the podium. The rest of the top 10 forms a group, but never manages to catch Yates. One rider is notably absent, Astana's captain Kulpaka, he ends up losing a lot of time and drops from 5th to 12th in the GC. Mohoric, and once more Villella and Dombrowski, who have improved throughout the Giro, gain a small gap on the rest of the group. And then Henao cracks, Mollema rides away, and Marrou, previously at the back of the group, also distances the others. Talansky and Van Garderen eventually drop Henao as well.

Adam Yates gains 45 seconds on Mohoric and has closed the gap to the podium to 19 seconds. Mollema, Dombrowski, Marrou and Villella are close behind, but Talansky couldn't quite bridge the gap. Henao finishes nearly 3 minutes behind Yates, losing about 90 seconds to Talansky, but he's still in pink. The gap is down to 19 seconds as well. Next up is the MTT, which should favour Talansky, and then we have finish on the Zoncolan on stage 20.

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May 2020: Giro d'Italia (4/4)

The simulated MTT had all top 10 riders within a minute. The biggest disappointment was Talansky, he was the worst performer of the top 10, losing 55 seconds to his team mate Van Garderen, who won the stage, and 28 seconds to Henao. Yates was 4 seconds faster than Mohoric, the podium, even the Giro victory, are still undecided, even Yates could still win, he's just 1'18'' behind Henao. Sadly, Villella once more overperformed, he was 2nd on the day and slipped past Marrou by a single second. Van Garderen is now only 4 seconds behind Marrou, too. Our captain was 15th, marginally better than Talansky, but he lost time to everybody else.

We reach the final challenge of this Giro, finishing on the dreaded Monte Zoncolan. Zamora had to withdraw before the stage because of back pain. Kudus seemed to have an undisclosed injury, too, he was struggling to keep up even when sprinter Myles still looked comfortable. Kudus did not manage to stay in the peloton of 130 riders after the first climb, but he made the time cut, finishing 143rd out of 160 remaining riders on the day.

Craddock had closed in on Fernandez for the blue jersey, so our Spaniard attacked a final time, attracting 9 other riders, but not Craddock, Bouet instead joined in for BMC. That's the climber classification for Ruben Fernandez wrapped up for good.

Once again, the attacks among the GC contenders came very early, the penultimate peak was still 40 km from the finish. Schmäh was the man to try his luck, as 14th and 23 minutes behind there was no need to chase him, but Henao did and so did Kulpaka. Adam Yates wasted some energy with an attack at the very top, but by that time Sky had assembled and were leading the the peloton, reduced to 45 riders.

I fear Henao is going to regret this again, this time he was caught half-way down the descent, so he'll have a better chance to recover. But in fact, the Zoncolan was totally anti-climactic, only one rider stood out, and it was Marrou! There were a few attacks on the narrow road, but none stuck. Marrou was still protected by McLean and 5 km from the top he took the lead in the group and the first rider following him was Katusha's domestique Arredondo. So Marrou attacked and was allowed to get away and finished over a minute ahead of the rest of the GC contenders.

There were no further attacks, not from Yates or Talansky or anybody else, they crossed the line in a tight little bunch. I noticed some complaints in the Man Game about the passive PCM18 AI, but this final mountain stage ‚Äď despite very small time gaps, just 78 seconds between 1st and 4th ‚Äď was damn disappointing, too. Even Marrou's attack couldn't spur the rest into action.

A joke of a GC fight

It was only enough for Marrou to move past Villella up to 7th, he would have needed 8 more seconds to reach Mollema and 24 seconds for Dombrowski. The stage went to Herklotz, he was too strong for Fernandez, who was runner-up, well ahead of Bouet and Taaramae. 230 KOM points in total, Craddock collected 137, Hayden 81. This was an important goal and we are happy to have re-signed Fernandez, he was one of the original 12 riders Aviva started out with.

I played the flat final stage and was disappointed by Myles. He had the rear wheel of top favourite Groenewegen, but he slowed down for no apparent reason at the 3 km marker and left a gap. Closing it again cost all his sprint energy. Groenewegen won the stage, Myles was 6th, at least.

A consolation for Groenewegen, it hadn't been his Giro so far, although on paper he was the best sprinter. Instead, Bouhanni won three stages despite working for Henao nearly every day. Bouhanni wins the points classification, too, ahead of Bennett and Henao. Aviva won two stages thanks to Wikkelso and McLean, the mountain jersey and the U25 jersey. We even wor the pink jersey for a day. Most impressively of all, Marrou was 7th in the GC against strong competition, even without much help from time trials.

1Sergio HenaoTeam Katusha
2Andrew TalanskyTeam Sky+00:47
3Matej MohoricTinkoff - Saxo+01:03
4Adam YatesQuickStep Team+01:18
5Joseph Lloyd DombrowskiTeam Giant - Shimano+02:55
6Bauke MollemaTeam Sky+03:11
7César Augusto MarrouAviva Cycling+03:19
8Davide VillellaAndroni Giocattoli+04:26
9Tejay Van GarderenTeam Sky+05:22
10Diego UlissiCannondale+06:01

Sergio Henao is the new Giro champion, a great achievement for him. Both he and Talansky had weak days. Impressive for Mohoric to hang onto the final podium spot, Yates woke up too late. Kulpaka won stage 9 and was threatening the podium, but a terrible stage 18 meant he finished outside the top 10.

Stage by stage:
1Bauke MollemaBauke MollemaBauke MollemaBauke MollemaCésar Augusto Marrou
2Sam BennettSteele Von HoffSam BennettMario CecchinatoDonald Myles
3Moreno MoserMoreno MoserSam BennettMario CecchinatoDonald Myles
4Nacer BouhanniMoreno MoserNacer BouhanniMario CecchinatoDonald Myles
5Nicolas Wikkels√łNicolas Wikkels√łNacer BouhanniMaxime BouetNicolas Wikkels√ł
6Matej MohoricBauke MollemaNacer BouhanniMaxime BouetCésar Augusto Marrou
7Nacer BouhanniBauke MollemaNacer BouhanniMaxime BouetCésar Augusto Marrou
8Diego UlissiSergio HenaoNacer BouhanniRuben FernandezCésar Augusto Marrou
9Jur KulpakaSergio HenaoNacer BouhanniJur KulpakaCésar Augusto Marrou
10Nacer BouhanniSergio HenaoNacer BouhanniJur KulpakaCésar Augusto Marrou
11Sergio HenaoSergio HenaoNacer BouhanniJur KulpakaCésar Augusto Marrou
12Andrew TalanskyAndrew TalanskyNacer BouhanniJur KulpakaCésar Augusto Marrou
13Moreno MoserAndrew TalanskyNacer BouhanniJur KulpakaCésar Augusto Marrou
14Adam YatesAndrew TalanskyNacer BouhanniRuben FernandezCésar Augusto Marrou
15Sergio HenaoAndrew TalanskyNacer BouhanniRuben FernandezCésar Augusto Marrou
16Elias SchmähSergio HenaoNacer BouhanniRuben FernandezCésar Augusto Marrou
17Nacer BouhanniSergio HenaoNacer BouhanniRuben FernandezCésar Augusto Marrou
18Jason McLeanAndrew TalanskyNacer BouhanniRuben FernandezCésar Augusto Marrou
19Tejay Van GarderenSergio HenaoNacer BouhanniRuben FernandezCésar Augusto Marrou
20Silvio HerklotzSergio HenaoNacer BouhanniRuben FernandezCésar Augusto Marrou
21Dylan GroenewegenSergio HenaoNacer BouhanniRuben FernandezCésar Augusto Marrou


June 2020: Criterium du Dauphine
** goal: 1st in climber standings

Race squad: Bilbao, Fernandez, Kudus, Marrou, McLean, Roinas, Wikkelso, Zamora

Marrou surprises with a great 3rd place in the prologue, setting up his next top 10 result. Stage 2 was already mountainous, McLean was in a breakaway of 5 riders, which the peloton was fine with, but another rider attacked and six was a crowd, apparently, and the group was caught again after a third of the stage. So Fernandez attacked and found no takers, bagging 24 KOM points. A few more riders escaped in the meantime, but the peloton was already going at a high speed and so everybody including Fernandez was caught again.

Unsurprisingly, Quintana left everybody behind on the final climb, he wins 33 seconds ahead of Bardet and Rolland. Marrou is an excellent 4th, 53 seconds down, though 9 more riders were awarded the same time. For now, he's second in the GC only behind Quintana.

Stage 3's mass sprint saw a couple of new faces on the podium: 3rd was Edgar Riofrio, his first WT points in his fourth season. And the winner ahead of Degenkolb was Vincent Weyzen, a 25-year old Dutchman, 5th in the Continental rankings last season, now with his debut WT win.

The next stage was hilly, slightly uphill all day and then a late cat. 2 and the finish line on the descent. Bilbao escaped with Vinas and Rongen, two mediocre climbers, and they had enough of a gap at the foot of the climb to take the stage. Bilbao pulled the others along until the peak was in view, attacked and won the stage comfortably. There was little GC action, but the top 7 gained 30 seconds on the rest.

Stage 5 was also hilly. This time, Marrou couldn't quite keep up with Quintana, Costa, Bardet and Simon Yates on the final climb. The next group with Marrou and the rest of the top 10 wasn't far behind and kept the gap down to 29 seconds, but Marrou drops off the podium. The great news of the day was the stage win by Zamora. He had three other riders with him, none of them a real threat, and they quickly built up a lead of nearly 10 minutes. But then another duo of riders attacked, Roglic (not quite as threatening as he is in real life) and the dangerous Hoem. In the hilly terrain Hoem managed to catch the front group at the foot of the final climb. Zamora didn't wait for him to recover, attacked immediately and rode the final 15 km alone. Everybody else was swallowed by Quintana's group, but Zamora won by 53 seconds.

The last mass sprint of the race went to Riofrio, now he has his first WT victory, too. Oh well, you can't get it right every time: It's the queen stage, with a large HC climb followed by a short descent and another big climb. Quintana's Astana team is in complete control, all their riders at the front of the peloton. And then the attacks come and Marrou thinks he doesn't need to react, because surely Quintana and his team mates will do so. But he doesn't. He can't. He crashed earlier, together with McLean, and apparently he is injured. So Marrou missed the decisive move. He did have help from Kudus and on the final climb from Fernandez, who recaptured the mountain jersey. He nearly caught some top 10 riders again, but only nearly. The big winner was Barguil, he left everybody else behind and won by 1'54'' ahead of another new rider, Medardo Arguedas (26, MON 81). Vuillermoz was 2'57'' behind. Next were Rui Costa, Simon Yates and Polat, those were all 20 to 40 seconds ahead of Marrou, who dropped to 7th in the GC. Poor Quintana ended up losing 16'25'' and dropped to 27th.

The final stage, another mountain stage, was also a bust. We had hoped to win the stage with McLean, he was the best climber among the six riders of the breakaway, and he failed spectacularly and finished last from the group. We aren't sure what happened there, he managed his energy well, tried to soften the others up on the penultimate climb and had enough left in the tank for a high pace on the shorter final climb, but they all rode away from him.

Marrou fared only a little better. He wanted to at least beat Polat, who was ahead by 2 seconds and had taken his white jersey, but Marrou was only last in the group of favourites. He did gain one position in the GC and finished 6th overall, young Arguedas lost over a minute and fell off the podium down to 7th. We can add the mountain jersey for Fernandez, the sponsor goal, and two nice stage wins by Bilbao and Zamora.

Top 10: Barguil, Vuillermoz, Rui Costa, Simon Yates, Polat, Marrou, Arguedas, Rosa, Bardet, Kreuziger

So that's pretty much the end for our spring stage racing team. Probably a bit disappointing for Kudus, who won three mountain jerseys last season. He was very anonymous this year, though invaluable support for Marrou. One problem was that he loved to start at the back of the peloton. We wanted send him into the breakaway on this final stage, for example. Like Kudus, Fernandez also remained without victory, but he claimed two WT mountain jerseys for us, both were sponsor goals, and reached international reputation with the Giro. McLean won one KOM and a Giro stage, Bilbao also claimed a mountain jersey and and a Dauphine stage. Zamora also was king of the mountains once and added two stages, one in Tirreno-Adriatico, one in the Dauphine.

But our star was undoubtably Cesar Augusto Marrou, just one victory, stage 1 of Pais Vasco, but he finished that race on the podium and he added top 10 results in every WT stage race he entered. 288 WT points, #6 in the rankings currently, only behind Sagan, Kwiatkowski, Rui Costa, Vanmarcke and Dan Martin.

June 2020: Tour de Suisse (1/2)
** goal: 1st in climber standings

Race squad: Berhane, Theo Biello, Xabi Hontecillas, Finn Jorgensen, Vincent Kipp, Köszegi, Eraldo Pedrocca, Zilioli

Time to finally greet our summer squad, where two riders stand out: Jorgensen and Biello. Jorgensen, as already mentioned, is a pure climber with MON 80. That's not even the end of the line, though currently he is on puncher training. Our top sprinter Biello has now reached SPR 81, which might prompt me to play a few more flat stages in 3D mode. Note though that it's been many, many years since I had a real sprinter in my team.

While Jorgensen is the captain, another new rider will want a say in the KOM fight, Hontecillas. He has developed nicely this season and has reached MON 77, though like Jorgensen his supporting stats are still rather weak. There's also Köszegi, who's nearly as good as Marrou (MON 76 TTR 76), while Kipp, Berhane and Zilioli are all slightly stronger on hills than mountains.

Köszegi was our best perfomer in the prologue, he was 7th, Durbridge won. Stage 2 to Crans-Montana already was the first opportunity for Jorgensen to shine. It started with a big HC climb and so it was also a first chance for Hontecillas to show himself, he joined the breakaway. A slight surprise in the group was Dumoulin, 2nd in the GC after the prologue. But like the rest of the group he isn't much of a climber in this career and Hontecillas easily crossed the peak first. He should have probably stopped riding then, it was a long way, completely flat, to the final climb. The breakaway was still ahead by 2 minutes when it reached the climb, but their day was over pretty soon.

After the breakaway was swallowed, Jorgensen went to the front of the peloton, with many of the other favourites too far back. Without attacking he left the whole peloton behind. A little while later four riders reacted, a Sky duo with Talansky and Froome and the deadly Katusha duo of Kwiatkowski and Betancur. Kwiatek attacked, Froome tried to follow, but was unsuccessful, while Kwiatkowski caught Jorgensen 1.5 km from the top. But he was spent, Jorgensen rode away again to win the stage by 42 seconds, with Froome 1'13'' behind, and Jorgensen slips into the leader's jersey. What a start!

The next day was another Aviva highlight. I had falsely remembered Köszegi to be a good descender and wanted him in the breakaway, the stage was mostly flat except for a nasty cat. 1 followed by a long descent to the finish line. Köszegi actually has DHI 69, not ideal, but the rest of the 9-man breakaway was so weak that he dropped them all with little effort on the climb. He easily won by 90 seconds ahead of Trek's Prazeres and FDJ's Lavieu. Those were the first 2 WT points for FDJ this season.

Pedrocca, back in action after breaking his knee cap, pulled the peloton at low speed and the advantage grew to nearly 20 minutes, though even that wasn't enough for a breakaway rider to slip into the virtual lead. Katusha eventually took over, but the gap was still 15 minutes at the bottom of the climb.

Jorgensen looked comfortable, could easily follow the first attacks by Froome and Kwiatkowski, but then let them gain a gap of 30 seconds until his domestique Berhane was exhausted. Jorgensen is not a bad descender, and with an attack he caught up to the duo. Froome slowed down when he arrived and with 6 steep downhill kilometres ahead Jorgensen attacked again and only Kwiatek followed and the duo gained 50 seconds on Froome on the finish line, what a cheap way to gain precious time. The distance to Talansky in 4th is now 3'23'', a podium in Jorgensen's first ever WT race is becoming quite probable.

June 2020: Tour de Suisse (2/2)

The two flat stages were won by Vallee and Nizzolo. Zilioli arrived in Switzerland with a cold, but he had to get into rhythm and recovered after a couple of days. But on stage 6, he's feeling unwell again, so we have to send him home after all. It was the first hilly stage and couldn't have been much easier, with just two cat. 3 climbs and a flat finale. It could still be dangerous for Jorgensen and his low HIL, and it became dangerous for him: Froome, Kwiatkowski and 12 other riders took off on the second climb. But thankfully, lots of other teams were unhappy, too, and it's always nice to see a chase led by Vanmarcke. It took nearly until the 3 km mark to catch them, though, Sagan won the sprint by 500 metres, he should really have gotten a time gap for that. Our man Biello was an excellent 2nd, ahead of Ciolek, Debusschere, Demare, Nizzolo and Matthews. Jorgensen and Köszegi arrived safely in the group of 68 riders. Köszegi had climbed to 11th in the GC with his solo victory on stage 3, he can't escape again and will try to defend his GC position, though with little protection.

Stage 7 took us to La Punt, via a couple of smaller climbs, an irregular cat. 1, then the HC Albulapass and a fast descent. Hontecillas was our breakaway rider, in a nice, large group, with enough of a gap to win the stage. His biggest opponent was FDJ's Jan Gresslien (25, MON 76), but two attacks near the top dropped the opponent and Hontecillas won the stage by 2 minutes. Jorgensen risked a little too much, tried to distance Kwiatkowski and Froome with an attack, but he eventually finished 5th, right behind Kwiatek and Froome. Köszegi could have done better, he was riding on his own and we forgot all about him on the final descent, but he did move up to 9th in the GC nonetheless.

Jorgensen then survived another hilly stage. Again, the terrain wasn't too difficult, just a longer early climb and then a cat. 4 peaking 6 km out. He and Köszegi both enjoyed protection and were at the very front when the short climb started. Betancur jumped away, but he didn't concern Jorgensen. Towards the top Kwiatek attacked and got a gap, but our duo attacked into the descent, Jorgensen following Köszegi, Froome also joined in, and they caught Kwiatek before the sprint started. Jorgensen is still leading the race.

Nearly forgotten at this point, Vincent Kipp, another new signing we hadn't reported on yet, won the stage! He barely caught FDJ's Rossetto at the top of the late cat. 4 and had only minimal energy left for an attack and went for it. We had expected he'd be caught by the favourites, but he won just ahead of Prazares and Rossetto, while Betancur was nearly 90 seconds behind.

So it's all down to the final stage, and it's a mountain time trial up the Flumserberg. Though actually, the first half of the 27 km are completely flat and the climb only starts the second half. Does the simulation know this? Let's find out... no, and wow! Sensationally, Jorgensen wins the MTT ahead of Jesus Herrada and Roni Seliga (MON 77 TTR 64). Kwiatkowski is only 11th, 35 seconds slower, Froome is right behind him. Köszegi's TTR didn't help, he was the weakest rider of the top 10, but he remains in the top 10, as 10th.

Top 10: Jorgensen, Kwiatkowski, Froome, Herrada, Seliga, Talansky, Henao, Kirchmair, Betancur, Köszegi

Winning the Tour de Suisse outright, what a story... Jorgensen tried to turn pro since 2018, he couldn't find a team until he was 25 years old, he's raced just 10 days professionally in total before this race, warming up for this race, and then out of nowhere he wins two stages and the whole Tour de Suisse against Kwiatkowski and a (slightly aging) Froome, two superstars in cycling. They might just make a tv movie out of this.



June 2020: Renewals and new signings

15 contracts are running out. With our new 6k/month limit we have the option to extend 7 of them, 8 even, if Maurits Lammertink is prepared to sign for 6k though he is asking for 7k. He has already scored 161 WT points this season, twice as many as Hermans, so it was a good call to bring him back into the fold even though he has nothing left to learn, except for DHI, which could be so much better. Maybe it's some hidden stat or maybe he was just very lucky, because Lammertink if anything looks worse than several team mates, ACC 68 SPR 66 isn't exactly great. But he outscored all the other puncheurs, including Falkenmayer, who now wants 15k and will need to find a new team. Marrou is asking for 21.5k, seems like a good deal considering his qualities and reputation. Heubach, now with AVG 78, wants 56k, nearly 10x what we can offer.

Sequeiros has the most unused potential in the group of riders we can hold onto, he's exhausted his HIL 76, but he could reach something like FLA 75 MON 74 SPR 70 STA 76 and become a great allrounder.

We eventually offered new contracts to 7 of our riders: Berhane, Bilbao, Kipp, Koloda, Lammertink, Sequeiros and Sergienko. And at the start of July, they all accepted our offer. We'll thus take 22 riders into the next season, a new record. The only rider we're letting go even though he wanted to stay is Gianfranco Zilioli, at the age of 30 he has nothing left to learn.

Probably also a record is the number of riders who asked to join our team, including Cancellara at the ripe old age of 39 (still has AVG 78). Only two active riders are older, Nuyens and Tizza, they have announced the end of their careers, but Cancellara wants to continue.

As for the 8 new riders we'd sign in July, 6k allowed us to find riders with AVG 72 and 73, and they are all quite young and possibly exciting, we'll have to wait until next season to see what potential they have.

Koloda captured a simulated NC, the other two new champions are: Hontecillas for Spain and Marrou for Colombia. By the way, a screenshot from Marrou's NC race became the title screenshot for the story.

Next week: The Tour de France 2020. How well will Jorgensen do? It's not exactly a route which suits him.

Reading your story, I remembered my Career on PCM 2014, when I had a superstar, from Serbia, I think, with 85 on MON, 85 on TT, 80 on HlL, and 82 on PRL. I won all the GT in one year with him.
I like your Danish guy.
With my tight wage restrictions in this career you won't get to see a superstar like that. But he sounds like Carlos Martinez Ruiz, my captain in a long-running PCM 09 career. He stayed for 15 seasons and won something like 10 TdFs in a row. Smile

July 2020: Tour de France (1/5)
***** goal: Stage Win

Race squad: Berhane, Biello, Hontecillas, Jorgensen, Kipp, Köszegi, Pedrocca, Wikkelso, Zilioli

Oh dear, I'm turning this into a 5-parter, though to be honest, the race is nowhere as exciting as the Giro.

We started La Grande Boucle with a pretty difficult flat stage from Frejus to Marseille, littered with small climbs. We thought a breakaway might stand a chance, but an aggressive peloton eventually only allowed two riders to get away: Our Pedrocca and the highly dangerous Ted Thiarra (FLA 79 HIL 78). Pedrocca fought hard and took top KOM points most of the time and is the first wearer of the polkadot jersey in 2020. But even with Thiarra at his side the duo couldn't hold off the peloton, which had been reduced to 106 riders on the finish line. Jorgensen was kept near the front, and Biello tried his luck in the sprint, but he took too long to find a good rear wheel and finished 7th. Jovanovic won the stage ahead of RJVR and Matthews.

Next was a TTT of 30 km and that discipline isn't a strength of our current summer team. We only finished 13th, 1'35'' behind Astana, so the overwhelming favourite to win the race, Nairo Quintana, has already slipped into yellow. This year's course is slightly unusual, with no mountains in the final week, instead, we already get to finish atop the Bald Mountain on stage 3. With Quintana already in the driving seat we didn't expect the breakaway to foil the favourites and so didn't let any of our men join, the right call.

Jorgensen was 5th atop the Mont Ventoux, behind Quintana, Pinot, Kwiatkowski and Rui Costa, and is now 7th in the GC. Frustratingly or encouragingly, depending on how you look at it, the other four riders just looked to the TdS champ Jorgensen, he had to pull the group into a medium headwind. So he tried attacking again and again but to no avail. If he'd played it cooler, he would have done better and probably not lost 1'22'' to Quintana. Team Sky must be even more frustrated, not only did Froome and Talansky miss the attack on the penultimate climb, they didn't find each other later, either, and both rode up the Mont Ventoux alone, Van Garderen losing 3 minutes, Froome 4.

Stage 4 to Montpellier was completely flat and just 150 km long and I decided to play a rare stage where a mass sprint is inevitable. The three breakaway riders ‚Äď Hoem, Maurice and Oliviera - didn't stand a chance. Our sprinter Biello had a little protection from Pedrocca towards the end, but with 20 km to go he rode further to the front. Jovanovic had his IAM train coming up on the right, Matthews was behind two team mates on the left, with Kittel on his wheel. But just before the 3 km mark Kittel let up a bit and allowed Biello to get right behind Matthews. It was a great call, Matthews won the stage, ahead of green jersey Janse van Rensburg and Biello. Nice result, leaving Kittel and Jovanovic (now the only rider with SPR 85) behind him.

The next day was going to be very hard for Jorgensen. 235 km, 9 steep hills, it was just a question of how much time he'd lose. Vincent Kipp spent the day in the escape group, nobody challenged him for the mountain points, not even Jungels (HIL 80). Kipp had nearly run out of energy at the end of the hard stage, but Jungels did the impossible, and just won the stage by a bike length ahead of Slagter.

Slagter had been among the many riders to attack on the steep final climb, only Sky's Dan Martin could keep up. Quintana was 4th, 14 seconds behind, then one by one Rui Costa, Kwiatkowski and Pinot followed. Jorgensen was able to hang on to Betancur and Van Garderen and lost 1'38''. The rest of Team Sky was MIA, Talansky lost 4'52'', Froome again a minute more. Jorgensen looks surprisingly comfortable in the top 10, he's current 6th and only Dan Martin gained time on him, Rolland in 10th is already nearly 5 minutes behind, Froome, 11th, nearly 6 minutes. But how pretty would the picture be after a long and flat ITT, nearly 59 km from Pamiers to Foix?

July 2020: Tour de France (2/5)

The results of the long ITT are in and the picture looks just as pretty as before, Jorgensen remains 6th in the GC. Some of his rivals definitely had a better day, Rolland is only minimally better against the clock but was 2 minutes faster, Barguil and Pinot were over a minute faster. Only Betancur was slightly worse. Froome had another bad day, he must be injured or ill. But the worst performance by far came from Dan Martin. Jorgensen was 4'30'' slower than stage winner Rohan Dennis, Betancur 4'47'' ‚Äď but Martin lost 9'11'', a ridiculous amount of time! He crashes hard in the GC, down to 16th. Quintana was actually faster than Kwiatkowski by 2 seconds, both are on the podium today and they lead the GC, too. Rui Costa remains only a few seconds behind, he has 3 minutes on Van Garderen and Pinot, they have 3 minutes on Jorgensen and Betancur, Barguil is over a minute behind them, Rolland another 90 seconds in 9th and Dennis in 10th is already 13'06'' behind. The only other time trial is a MTT on stage 14.

Stage 8 led across six peaks, including a steep HC climb, to a finish in Loudenvielle. Hontecillas joined the breakaway of the day, nobody stopped him from taking top KOM points, he collected 55 and just managed to squeeze past Quintana and into the polkadots. The breakaway had a huge lead of nearly 20 minutes, Astana remained very passive, so we even had Kipp pull the peloton for a while. Hontecillas couldn't quite win the stage, he was faster than the best opponent on paper, Bardet, but was clearly beaten by FDJ's Jan Gresslien.

Among the GC contenders Jorgensen didn't look as strong as before, what would become the new top 5 pulled away from him on the last climb. Gresslien jumped to 7th, Bardet to 9th thanks to the day's work. But Pinot, Betancur and Rolland lost up to 8 minutes against the best riders, over 5 minutes against Jorgensen. Rui Costa is still on the podium despite losing time. And Jorgensen defending his 6th position looks quite doable at this point. While the Giro was such a tight affair, the TdF has already produced huge gaps.

A 5-star goal is to win a TdF stage. We were close yesterday and today is another chance, though not exactly a great chance. Another mountain stage leading over four big peaks but the final mountain is still 60 km from the finish line. Köszegi had kept his head down so far and is our only rider remaining with excellent freshness, so naturally he was the man to join the breakaway, a good group of climbers and poor Cancellara, who couldn't keep up and rode most of the day all alone.

The speed up the first three climbs was surprisingly high, slightly higher than comfortable for Köszegi, but once again nobody was fighting for the KOM points, I'm not sure why that's happening here. We're still in the first week and yet nobody seems interested in the polkadot jersey. Köszegi collected 70 points, enough to take the lead in the classification, Wim de Temmerman was satisfied with 48 points.

Köszegi really turned up the screw on the last climb and dropped everybody. However, De Temmerman was only a minute behind on the peak and he's better downhill and caught Köszegi again and then refused to cooperate. Diego Rosa finally caught up to the duo with 25 km to go and Köszegi attacked. Rosa cracked and would eventually finish 3rd, over 3 minutes behind. But De Temmerman kept reacting to the short attacks, he also has a higher FLA than Köszegi, though both have the same low SPR 60. Mentally, we were ready to accept another second place. Köszegi was just about out of energy reserves, even his main reserve, and he'd been pulling De Temmerman for 40 km and the little attacks probably didn't help. But he took De Temmerman's rear wheel for the final 5 km and started his sprint with 1600 metres to go, so did De Temmerman... but the Belgian ran out of steam with 200 metres to go and Köszegi squeezed past him on the finish line and got the victory! Wow, that was hard work.

Nothing happened among the favourites. Jorgensen wanted to be ready for any attacks on the final climb and rode, protected by Berhane, with an effort of 48, pulling the whole peloton. No attacks came, not even in the flat finale, which is often the case. The peloton eventually arrived 18 minutes behind Köszegi, only one rider with MON 54 missed the time cut on this nominally tough mountain stage.

The last stage before the first rest day was short and flat. It was won by Matthews ahead of RJVR and Jovanovic. Biello was 5th this time, he didn't pick the best rear wheel, Modolo was behind the green jersey but faded and finished 13th. But Biello still beat Kittel, Sagan, Groenewegen and Rick Zabel, he's really turining into a top sprinter.

July 2020: Tour de France (3/5)

The second week will cement the GC. It starts with a tricky hilly stage, which once again won't suit Jorgensen. After that, we have the final four mountain stages in a row, which includes a MTT. The great news about the hilly stage 11 is that Eraldo Pedrocca won! Out most of the season so far, forced into the summer team, now he's all smiles. He was a little late to the party of early attackers and the opposition was excellent, Vanmarcke, Olandris, Polat, Bakelandts and Edmund Santl, all of whom had bested our riders before.

The speed was never too high, not in the peloton either, much to Jorgensen's advantage, and the breakaway arrived at the foot of the last hill, which wasn't very steep, with 3 minutes to spare. Olandris attacked and got a bit of a gap, but Polat was chasing with Vanmarcke and Pedrocca in tow. Under the flamme rouge the quartett was together again, Pedrocca had only lost a little sprint energy and did a great uphill sprint to beat Polat and Vanmarcke.

Further back there was an attack on the penultimate climb by Matthews and Quintana decided to follow, but the move didn't stick. But Jorgensen couldn't follow the final attacks and just rode as well as he could. Kwiatkowski, Rui Costa and Barguil were able to gain 30 seconds on Quintana. Jorgensen seemed lucky to have Sagan in the reduced peloton which sprinted for 16th, but the time keepers discovered a gap and Jorgensen lost 13 more seconds. He was the worst rider in the top 10 except for Gresslien, who lost an additional minute and dropped to 8th.

Stage 12 is the queen stage, over 226 km long across three big peaks and then uphill to Sestriere. Once more, nobody challenged Hontecillas for the mountain points ‚Äď well, except for the second HC climb, not far from Sestriere, where Quintana overtook the breakaway 500 metres from the top.

So Quintana made the most of this stage and won by 3 minutes flat ahead of Barguil, 3'36'' ahead of Kwiato and 3'51'' ahead of Pinot. Jorgensen was a great 5th, though 5'40'' behind. He'd lost contact 5 km from the top of the big climb, he did see Pinot and Kwiatek again briefly on the descent, but they powered away while he got a little protection from Hontecillas, until the Spaniard ran out of all energy reserves. Betancur, Froome and Rui Costa were a little behind our captain, the big loser of the day was Van Garderen, who lost more than 10 minutes. Quintana now has a lead of nearly 6 minutes ahead of Kwiatkowski, Rui Costa remains 3rd, Barguil has gotten a lot closer but Van Garderen dropped away and is now just 5 seconds ahead of Jorgensen, though he in turn is just 4 seconds ahead of Pinot. The gap to Betancur in 8th, however, is over 6 minutes.

Just as well that we selected a stage win as our goal, it might not be possible to beat Quintana to become king of the mountains. The final climbs count double and Quintana won stage 13 finishing on the Galibier and now has 148 points, ahead of Hontecillas (115) and Köszegi (105). Köszegi was fresh and our man for this breakaway, but for no apparent reasons several teams worked hard in the first third to keep the gap manageable and Köszegi and the rest of the escapees stood no chance.

Jorgensen was once more a great 5th, but he still dropped a position in the GC, because Pinot was 23 seconds faster and climbed two positions. He had to tackle the MTT with average freshness and was 10th. Froome and Rolland, who are 9th and 10th in the GC, were slightly slower than him, everybody else was faster. Pinot is now 47 seconds ahead, Van Garderen 37. Quintana won this stage, too.

No mountain points were awarded in the MTT and that still left a chance for the polkadot jersey. But sadly, the KOM jersey seems to be out of reach after this last mountain stage. Hontecillas attacked and was joined by Dan Martin and Rabbottini. But again a team without any GC ambitions decided to put up a chase, BMC, and caught back all other escapees. The gap of the trio up front grew to 7 minutes at best, but again BMC upped the speed in the middle of the stage, with Cancellara working hard in the largest gap between two mountains.

As the breakaway reached the final and hardest climb, we had a tough choice to make and asked Hontecillas to drop back and support his captain rather than fight for the stage and the polkadots.

July 2020: Tour de France (4/5)

The decision to have Hontecillas drop back on this last mountainous stage was due to a potential GC shake-up. The penultimate climb was on a narrow road and Jorgensen had been smartly at the front of the peloton when Barguil attacked, Quintana joined in and then Betancur and Froome bridged the gap as well.

But the other GC contenders were badly placed so Jorgensen took his chance, he attacked and managed to catch Betancur and Froome again, while Quintana and Barguil were further ahead and already threatening the early breakaway. The trio of Froome, Betancur and Jorgensen worked well together on the descent towards the final climb, though Quintana and Barguil were out of reach.

Froome and Betancur attacked once more on the last climb, with Hontecillas' help Jorgensen caught up with them again. The descent to the finish line was a slight disappointment, on paper Jorgensen is at least equally skilled downhill plus he'd had protection, but despite an effort of 99 Froome and Betancur dropped him.

Dan Martin, the last survivor from the early breakaway, nearly made it to the finish line together with Quintana and Barguil, but the Colombian showed no mercy and won this stage as well, his fourth in a row. Froome was 4th, Betancur 5th and Jorgensen arrived with Kwiatkowski, who had caught him easily on the final flat section. They finished 3'23'' behind Quintana and Barguil, but Pinot was another minute behind, Rui Costa nearly 5 minutes and Van Garderen nearly 6 minutes.

Which led to the following GC changes: Kwiatkowski is still 2nd, but now over 10 minutes behind the almighty Quintana. Barguil has moved onto the podium, he was 5 minutes faster than Rui Costa, the tables have turned and Barguil is now 3 minutes ahead. And Jorgensen has moved up to 5th in the GC, he just squeezed past Pinot and has 6 seconds on the Frenchman. He's now 1'56'' ahead of Van Garderen in 7th, we'll have to see how the hilly stages 17 and 18 go. Quintana is leading Hontecillas by 27 points in the mountain rankings with only hills to go, so that ship has probably sailed.

The final week began with a flat stage, the simulation placed Biello 7th, Sagan won ahead of Jovanovic and Matthews. It was Sagan's only stage win this year and he isn't going to win the green jersey for the first time since 2016.

Stage 17 to Gerardmer took us across 7 classified hills, the last one 5 km from the finish line. 13 riders made the breakaway, Kipp represented Aviva. The peloton didn't chase hard, the breakaway would make it. Kipp led the group to the last peak and attacked, maybe a little too soon, Polat and Arrendondo caught him again in the final 2 kilometres and outsprinted him easily.

There were no GC attacks on the penultimate climb, nor for a long time on the final, fairly easy hill, Jorgensen was at the very front with Zilioli when the attack from his greatest rival, Pinot, came. He got a bit of a gap at the top of the hill, but thankfully, everybody was chasing and Pinot was caught again. In fact, 130 riders arrived together.

But there was a final worry for Jorgensen's GC position, the next stage finished in Nancy. The profile was pretty tame, only a few hills in the first half of the race, but the final kick up to the finish line might spell his doom. It's the Avenue de Boufflers, only 1.6 km long, but reaching 9%.

Wikkelso started in the first row, attacked immediately and animated Le Bon, Cort Nielsen and De Temmerman to join him. Success seemed unlikely, Astana didn't care much, but Giant started to work for Van Baarle. However, they couldn't keep up the pressure, after the gap had shrunk to 90 seconds Astana was at the front again and the gap doubled heading towards the final ramp. It was going to be close.

Le Bon and Cort Nielsen attacked 12 km out, Wikkelso just rode his best speed, helped along by a tail wind. And with 800 metres to go, on the steepest section of the finale, the quartett was back together once again. Wikkelso had the energy for an uphill sprint, nobody was able to match his speed and he won in Nancy. The third Tour stage this year for Aviva, the second one in an uphill sprint which we usually suck at! The speed in the peloton was slow enough for a protected Jorgensen to ride to the front when the uphill sprint started. Dan Martin flew away, Slagter went first for Astana, but Quintana soon countered, more riders were in the mix, Sagan was a little late to the party. Pedrocca tried to follow Sagans sprint, Jorgensen followed Pedrocca. Sagan was the last rider to get a time gap, the rest of the top 10 arrived together, Pinot was 22nd, Jorgensen 23rd. So with just three flat stages to go it looks like Jorgensen will finish 5th overall. What another great result that would be.

July 2020: Tour de France (5/5)

Finally, the last part of this TdF report. At this point I'd like to note a couple of things: Firstly, Zilioli was a great domestique in this race, Jorgensen relied on him a lot, he always delivered and his freshness was never troublesome. Maybe we should have given him a new contract after all, but it's too late now, he's joining Cannondale.

Secondly, even on stage 18, like every stage except for high mountains, the sprinters fought hard not just for the stage, but also for the intermediate sprints and thus the green jersey. Top dog Jovanovic only wore the jersey for two days before Janse van Rensburg took over. After 8 more stages, Matthews took the lead, but RJVR reclaimed the jersey two days later. Jovanovic was never far behind. With the last hilly stage 18, Matthews has taken the lead again, he finished 7th that day, while his opponents were outside the points. Matthews now has a lead of 16 points ahead of RJVR, Jovanovic is another 21 points behind, with three flat stages remaining.

Matthews then won stage 19 ahead of Jovanovic and RJVR and extended his lead by 17 points. Biello was 4th. We got a bit of a scare from the message ahead of stage 20 that Jorgensen was feeling unwell. Thankfully, he only has headaches and can finish the Tour. Jovanovic won stage 20 ahead of Debusschere and Matthews, Biello was 5th. Janse van Rensburg was the big loser, he only finished 10th. Matthews has nearly sealed the deal, 41 points ahead of Jovanovic, RJVR dropped to 3rd in the rankings.

Can you imagine, the final stage, in 3D mode, on the Champs Elysees went to a breakaway rider? The one time we didn't bother sending somebody into the breakaway because we never believed it would succeed. But it did and the winner was was Ilnur Zakarin, just by a bike length or two ahead of the sprinters. There was a strong wind blowing, from behind on the finishing straight, from the front going the other way. The speed was insanely high and we were really worried when Jorgensen lost contact to 80 riders ahead with a lap to go, but with some help from his team mates, other riders and the headwind he returned into the front group.

Biello was well positioned and took the rear wheel of Jovanovic with 3 km to go, Matthews was on the other side of the road. Jovanovic timed his sprint perfectly, Biello hung on till the final 600 metres and started his own sprint, overtaking the next-to-last breakaway rider Rory Seker on the finish line. He was 4th, only behind Zakarin, Jovanovic and Matthews. Matthews thus clearly wins the fight for green thanks to a strong final week.

Biello finishes a fine 6th in the point rankings only behind Matthews, Jovanovic, RJVR, Sagan and Quintana and ahead of Kittel, Kwiatek and Ciolek. Other top sprinters missed the time cut on the queen stage, especially Groenewegen and Zabel. Biello was on the podium once, five times in the top 5, plus 7th a couple of times. Hontecillas ends 2nd in the KOM rankings. Quintana was just too greedy, winning those four mountain stages in a row, with double points on the final climbs. But Köszegi, Pedrocca and Wikkelso won stages for us.

The new star of the Aviva show is clearly Finn Jorgensen, winner of the white jersey and 5th overall. Beating top riders Pinot (AVG 80), Van Garderen (79), Betancur (80), Froome (77), Rolland (77) and 11th overall, Dan Martin (79). Ahead of Jorgensen the surprise was Rui Costa in 4th, he recently has dropped to MON 78, but probably only lost the podium spot due to bad positioining on a narrow road on the last mountain stage. 28-year old Barguil replaced him on the podium, only behind Quintana and Kwiatkowski, who have recently started their decline, so he's the biggest French hope for a TdF victory. However, with 14'26'' behind Quintana the Colombian still needs to weaken significantly.

1Nairo QuintanaAstana Pro Team
2Michal KwiatkowskiTeam Katusha+10:48
3Warren BarguilTrek Factory Racing+14:26
4Rui CostaOrica - GreenEDGE+17:31
5Finn E. J√łrgensenAviva Cycling+22:31
6Thibaut PinotMovistar Team+22:37
7Tejay Van GarderenTeam Sky+24:27
8Carlos Alberto BetancurTeam Katusha+28:33
9Chris FroomeTeam Sky+32:04
10Pierre RollandQuickStep Team+41:13

Stage by stage:
1Vuk JovanovicVuk JovanovicVuk JovanovicEraldo PedroccaVuk Jovanovic
2Peter VelitsNairo QuintanaVuk JovanovicEraldo PedroccaCetin Polat
3Nairo QuintanaNairo QuintanaReinardt Janse Van RensburgNairo QuintanaFinn E. J√łrgensen
4Michael MatthewsNairo QuintanaReinardt Janse Van RensburgNairo QuintanaFinn E. J√łrgensen
5Bob JungelsNairo QuintanaReinardt Janse Van RensburgNairo QuintanaFinn E. J√łrgensen
6Ramunas NavardauskasNairo QuintanaReinardt Janse Van RensburgNairo QuintanaFinn E. J√łrgensen
7Rohan DennisNairo QuintanaReinardt Janse Van RensburgNairo QuintanaFinn E. J√łrgensen
8Jan GresslienNairo QuintanaReinardt Janse Van RensburgXabi HontecillasFinn E. J√łrgensen
9Hannes K√∂szegiNairo QuintanaReinardt Janse Van RensburgHannes K√∂szegiFinn E. J√łrgensen
10Michael MatthewsNairo QuintanaReinardt Janse Van RensburgHannes K√∂szegiFinn E. J√łrgensen
11Eraldo PedroccaNairo QuintanaMichael MatthewsHannes K√∂szegiFinn E. J√łrgensen
12Nairo QuintanaNairo QuintanaMichael MatthewsXabi HontecillasFinn E. J√łrgensen
13Nairo QuintanaNairo QuintanaReinardt Janse Van RensburgNairo QuintanaFinn E. J√łrgensen
14Nairo QuintanaNairo QuintanaReinardt Janse Van RensburgNairo QuintanaFinn E. J√łrgensen
15Nairo QuintanaNairo QuintanaReinardt Janse Van RensburgNairo QuintanaFinn E. J√łrgensen
16Peter SaganNairo QuintanaReinardt Janse Van RensburgNairo QuintanaFinn E. J√łrgensen
17Cetin PolatNairo QuintanaReinardt Janse Van RensburgNairo QuintanaFinn E. J√łrgensen
18Nicolas Wikkels√łNairo QuintanaMichael MatthewsNairo QuintanaFinn E. J√łrgensen
19Michael MatthewsNairo QuintanaMichael MatthewsNairo QuintanaFinn E. J√łrgensen
20Vuk JovanovicNairo QuintanaMichael MatthewsNairo QuintanaFinn E. J√łrgensen
21Ilnur ZakarinNairo QuintanaMichael MatthewsNairo QuintanaFinn E. J√łrgensen


August 2020: Clasica San Sebastian
* goal: Top 10

Race squad: Denis, Falkenmayer, Hermans, Lammertink, Pedrocca, Sequeiros, Sergienko, Veiby

Once again it's the older easier route and once again I'll only report on the final 20 km, 45 riders were still in the mix. All the late attacks by the likes of Kwiatkowski and Slagter were in vain, in part thanks to our riders. This was especially true of the final 10 km, a trio was still ahead when we lined up our "puncher train". At the front we had Veiby (FLA 76), we've brought him for this situation. He rode a very fast pace, caught the last three late attackers and didn't allow any oppenents to threaten our train.

Veiby started the sprint with 3 km to go, soon he was replacd by Falkenmayer, who is a better sprinter. For a moment it looked like we could win the race with either Denis or Hermans, but one rider had an excellent day and surged past everybody to take the win, IAM's Arslan Krapivny. His second professional season, his biggest win by far.

But Aviva was well represented in the top 10, Hermans was 2nd, Denis 4th, Lammertink 5th, Sergienko 8th and Pedrocca 10th. Also, another goal ticked off. We have a stage win at the Vuelta left and have already completed 13 out of 14 goals, that must be a record for me. Admittedly, I don't think I've ever renegotiated my goals this much. Our ex-captain Singh was 9th, his best result yet for his new team Netapp.

Top 10: Krapivny, Hermans, Barbin, Denis, Lammertink, Dan Martin, Sergienko, Quintana, Singh, Pedrocca

August 2020: Tour de Pologne

Race squad: Berhane, Hontecillas, Kipp, Koloda, Tewelde, Zilioli

The queen stage from Rybnik to Szczyrk was mountainous, so we needed to bring climbers, Hontecillas will captain the team.

Debusschere won the two opening flat stages. We then sent Zilioli into the breakaway on the hilly stage 3, he dropped his opponents on the steep penultimate climb and kept just enough of an advantage to win the stage by 32 seconds and slip into the leader's jersey. Only 5 riders were in the next group, Pinot, Sergio Henao, Rui Costa and Kelderman. Our men all lost a minute against the best.

Except for Berhane, he had dropped back and lost a lot of time to be able to join the breakaway on the queen stage. In between, on a simulated flat stage, Pinot, 2nd in the GC, apparenly joined the breakaway, he took all the mountain points, and won the stage by 56 seconds, slipping into the lead. Seems unlikely.

A dozen riders were in the escape group with Berhane a day later, but none could match his climbing. It was a close call, but he won the stage, completely exhausted, just 19 seconds ahead of race leader Pinot. Rui Costa and Giro winner Henao were another 18 seconds behind, Kelderman 90 seconds, Hontecillas 2'40'', Kipp 3'16''. With only a hilly and a flat stage remaining, Berhane now is 5th, Hontecillas 6th, Kipp 10th and Tewelde 13th in the GC.

The hilly stage to Zakopane wasn't too difficult, with a slightly descending finish. We had high hopes for Koloda and the breakaway, everybody was over 20 minutes behind in the GC, but they were caught early, before the last catagorised climb even began. Koloda was put on protection duty for Berhane, while Zilioli was helping Hontecillas.

There weren't any real chances to attack in the finale, we were heading into a strong headwind. It meant that Hontecillas was pretty safe. Moser made it the farthest with an attack, but he was caught under the flamme rouge. Pinot won the stage ahead of Kelderman and Molard. All our six riders were in the top group of 16 men. Two top 10 riders had not made the group, lost 1'12'' and dropped out of the top 10, Cameron Meyer and surprisingly also the favourite to win the stage, Toralf Mendez.

The final flat stage went to Jan Bo Meinert, a mediocre sprinter who used to ride for Aviva in 2016 and 2017, who had never won anything in his life until now. Kudos to him for beating the better sprinters like Debusschere, Vangronsveld and Viviani. This means that Pinot doesn't just win overall convincingly, but also the sprint rankings by 2 points. Aviva takes home two stages, the U25 rankings with Hontecillas, the mountain classification with Berhane, as well as the team rankings by over 9 minutes ahead of Orica. And we placed three riders in the top 10 and one just outside, Tewelde was 11th overall.

The final top 10: Pinot wins well ahead of Rui Costa and Sergio Henao, both 1'45'' behind. Then come Kelderman, Berhane, Hontecillas, Vichot, Kipp, Polat and Molard. An excellent result on a difficult course, nice to see our domestiques Berhane and Kipp achieve a top 10 result for their palmares.

August 2020: Eneco Tour (1/2)

Race squad: Biello, Hermans, Heubach, Köszegi, Montes, Veiby

The heroes of last season, especially the winner Marrou, had switched to the spring team and were in no form for this race. The 2020 edition is without a TTT, instead we face a long prologue and a(nother) flat ITT. Köszegi seems the natural choice to captain the team, he has recently become our best rider against the clock with TTR 77, he'll peak at TTR 78. He should be fine with hills, but he will struggle on the final cobbled stage, of course (COB 59).

No Aviva rider made the top 10 in the prologue. Phinney won just ahead of Castroviejo and Boom. On stage 2 the three-man breakaway didn't survive, a late attack by Bennett was a bit more threatening, but he was caught 3 km out, started his sprint immediately and faded quickly. Biello only tried taking Sagan's rear wheel after the superstar had started his sprint and Biello's acceleration isn't quite as good as his sprint. Sagan won the stage and has taken the lead in the GC, Biello was 2nd, ahead of plenty of good sprinters including Matthews.

Let's give to up for Manman "what a man" van Ruitenbeck. He was the lone escapee on stage 3. The 40 kmph wind was usually at the back and had us very worried in the finale when suddenly Hermans was reported to be in A1 and Köszegi in A2. But in the end 78 riders were awarded the winning time, which included all our men.

Biello this time got a lead-out from Heubach, who nearly rode away from the peloton 8 km out. Biello could choose his rear wheel for the sprint, several trains had formed and he picked Quickstep's. He was faster than all their sprinters and was only beaten by Movistar's Matthews in a photo finish.

Side note, here are the six riders Quickstep brought: Vanmarcke, Degenkolb, Ciolek, Demare, Nizzolo, Groenewegen.

That was the result of the next stage as well, and this time Biello came even closer to beating the Australian. Not much wind, but a lot of rain this time, though we didn't see any crashes. This time there was only one sprint train everybody latched on to, Quickstep riding for Groenewegen. Biello didn't catch his wheel, but slotted in behind Bennett. Matthews was further back and had to start his sprint from behind, Biello could wait a little longer... but Matthews inched past our man on the line. With all the time bonuses Biello's now 3rd in the GC, 6 seconds behind Sagan, but the ITT will knock him back.

Well, first the hilly stage will be a problem. It's not really that hilly, just the usual very short and steep hills scattered throughout the final third. We tried to get Veiby into the breakaway, who would have excelled in the finale, but he was deemed too dangerous. Instead, when 5 riders were already well ahead, Heubach made his move. His biggest opponent in the group was the similarly skilled Senechal.

It was never going to be a GC winning gap, but despite the best efforts from the peloton the breakaway riders would make it. Heubach caught back late attacks, led Senechal and Giant's fighter Cervilla into the final kilometre and started his sprint with just 400 metres to go, giving hjs opponents no time to overtake him. He won the stage and has taken the lead for a day. Since our riders were scattered a little in the frantic finale everybody chose a free effort. Veiby and Hermans arrived with the strongest riders, Sagan, Matthews, Gallopin and Manual Machada. Köszegi and Biello were in the next group of 17 riders, 25 seconds behind.

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