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[PT] Xero Racing '21 | August
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May Review | Yeah, I Think We're Going Down
May started with a very meh Cheshire Cycling Tour, which after three years of ridiculous overperformances we were about due. The highlight were the two breakaway adventures of Nikiema, who ended the race 2nd in the KoM classification.

After missing the Amstel Gold Race, Joseph Areruya joined the Ardennes squad for the two Belgian races of the week, finishing a credible 13th and 15th in La Fleche Wallone and Liege-Bastogne-Liege respectively, while Hugo Houle notched the team's best finish of the week with 12th in the latter. Meanwhile Rowe was 9th in Rund um Köln.


George Bennett made his season debut in La Vuelta a España, but it was Jams who stole our early headlines, deciding to take the role of team sprinter despite... not being a sprinter. He notched a fair few top 10s in the opening week to the delight of our fans and enjoyed the chance to show off his Indonesian Champion's jersey. Meanwhile Meurisse joined the fight for the stage win on the hilly Stage 5, taking 4th on the day, with Higuita 9th after sprinting from the pack. However the next day our race turned for the worse, with Bennett losing nearly six shocking minutes in the individual time trial. Jams kept his mojo going into Stage 7, finishing with his best result of the race in 6th.


Things went from bad to worse on L'Angliru, as Bennett lost more time and after the major GC shakeup sat 13th overall. However he showed some signs of life on the stages before and after with Top 10 finishes in punchier days - with Meurisse 4th once again on Stage 11. Higuita also went for a breakaway adventure on the Angliru stage, moving himself to the Top 25 overall and 2nd in the U25 competition.


In the mountains of Stage 12 Meurisse and Kipkemboi continued our breakaway aggression, before Bennett showed more consistency with an 11th place finish to move himself to the same position overall - however with three minutes separating him from the Top 10.


van Zyl was 4th from the breakaway on the transitional Stage 14, before Bennett got the same position on the very tough Stage 15, a huge ride moving him to just 28 seconds out of the Top 10 - now showing some great form and a real shame he couldn't have rode a GT with no time trials! Higuita meanwhile was in another breakaway but the energy used had seen him slip well outside the Top 30 on GC and back to 7th in the U25 competition.

Bennett put in a good ride on Stage 16's uphill-downhill time trial, but Cattaneo and the rest of the top 10 put in a better one, and he was now two and a half minutes away from 10th. He showed strength by finishing 2nd of the GC riders in a Stage 17 stalemate, however he gained no time by doing so.


Meurisse continued his fighting spirit by entering into another breakaway in the high mountains of Stage 18, and put in a fantastically gutsy ride against more traditional climbers to claim a lonely but dignified 2nd on the stage behind Carboni, who once again was out to deny us after his heroics in the Giro KoM competition. Meanwhile Bennett once again found himself at a stalemate with Reis and Cattaneo.


With names such as Vlasov, Sequera, Sosa and Koshevoy you'd have been forgiven for thinking the breakaway Higuita entered into on Stage 19 was for another high mountain stage, but in fact it was a rolling transitional stage with a long flat finish, and despite no real skill on the flats or in a sprint, we noticed that Higuita's rivals for the stage win also possessed no such skills. He wisely stayed out of the KoM battles and focused on sitting pretty and marking any attacks that seemed dangerous.


However with the gap to the peloton ballooning to over 13 minutes he was also one of the hardest workers, spying an opportunity to rise as high as 3rd in the U25 and 22nd on GC, which thanks to his work he did manage. The GC rise even took us to 3rd in the Teams Classification.


However all that work didn't take away his kick, and he surprised his companions by going early and hard in the final sprint, and it would be enough to take the team's first ever Grand Tour stage victory in brilliant fashion! A historic day for the team and for Higuita himself as it was his first career victory as well. Just reward for a great aggressive race for him.


For the third consecutive GC stage Cattaneo matched Bennett pedal stroke for pedal stroke to fend him off for the final Top 10 spot, and so our main man finished a very credible 11th on GC considering the effect that the ITTs had on his race. However, our best finisher on the day was Xandro Meurisse, once again in the breakaway and lifting himself to 27th on GC while Higuita stabilised in 23rd, with the duo 6th and 9th in the KoM competition, both brilliant months, in particular for Meurisse who has never been a man for the high mountains. The trio combined for 3rd in the Teams Classification and, joined by Jams and van Zyl, a lot of memorable days fighting for stage wins and GC time, with one huge success. Not a bad Vuelta at all given it was the scene of our first ever GT stage win!

The month concluded with the Tour of Norway, with Hugo Houle 4th and 2nd on the two opening sprint stages.
Rider of the Month
A tough choice between our Vuelta trio - Higuita's high point, Meurisse's overperformance and multiple Top 5s, or Bennett's high GC finish. Well, without the context it may have gone to one of the other two, but given it was our first ever...

i.imgur.com/PjqR504.jpgMaking team history - Vuelta a Espana, Stage 19

Sergio Higuita
Total RoTM Wins | 2
RoTM Wins This Season | 1
Just kidding, we don't care

June Review | Leaderless
After an anonymous Riga - Jurmala, it was the turn of Sergio Higuita, fresh of his maiden career victory on Stage 19 of La Vuelta a Espana, to be our leader in a mountain race, be it free license to chase breakaways or to see how high he can land himself on GC.


But first, Hugo Houle was a major favourite for the sprint stages. Stage 2 he was a no-show but found himself on Stage 3 just in time to be denied by the late attack of van Niekerk, winning the pack sprint but landing second on the day. He fell back to the lower top 10 on the flatter stages to follow but on Stage 6, his final opportunity, after some undulations in the latter kilometres he put himself in position to win the sprint.


That is, of course, the sprint behind Aidan van Niekerk, who once again took the stage win with a late attack, beating Houle into second place once again. Houle took the points jersey lead going into the mountains, which he would ultimately win. Meanwhile thanks to splits in the pack on both of these stages, Higuita had kept his powder dry to sit 13th in GC, and also would wear the white jersey in place of GC leader van Niekerk.


He'd somehow go unnoticed showing off that jersey sneaking into the morning breakaway. He didn't chase KoM points, instead sensing a chance at a really good ride for his GC.


He'd be the final survivor of the break and had enough left in the tank to hang onto the second GC group across the line, keeping him 13th overall although he lost the provisional white jersey, still trailing van Niekerk and now also Sivakov there.


If we were impressed with that, we hadn't seen anything yet. Higuita showed his potential and grit and outrode much more established riders to finish 9th from the GC group on Stage 8, moving himself to 11th on GC the U25 lead heading into the final time trial, where we did know it would all come tumbling down - he would lose five minutes and drop to a still brilliant 14th on GC and 2nd in the U25 - a great return for him in his debut leading the team! With Houle winning the points jersey it was an unexpectedly really good race for the team, even if two or more stage win opportunities truly went begging.


After surprising some with his sprints in the Vuelta, Jamalidin Novardianto once again showed his versatility with two 8th places on the opening sprint stages of the Criterium du Dauphine.


On Stage 6's mountaintop finish Stanislau Bazhkou got himself into the morning breakaway and drove a lot of pace in his Belarusian Champion's jersey, also competing for KOMs, where he'd finish 7th overall.


However the real prize was a very nice 2nd place on the stage on a terrain where he really struggles compared to the shorter hills, a great day for him amid his form woes and uncertainty going into next season. If this was to be his last great day in a Xero jersey, it would be a very dignified one and a nice way to remember his final season.
Rider of the Month
Houle did bring home a jersey, but he went AWOL in some sprints so for the second straight month it's...
i.imgur.com/vAkWEsn.jpgIn White - Tour de Suisse, Stage 7

Sergio Higuita
Total RoTM Wins | 3
RoTM Wins This Season | 2
Just kidding, we don't care

Rumours: Xero Racing struggling to find home backing

Fans of the lovable lionhearts over at Xero Racing will find themselves worried this week as rumours coming out of their native New Zealand suggest a non-renewal of contract by secondary sponsor My Food Bag, while negotiations with title sponsor Xero are well known to be at a standstill. thecyclingreport understands that while George Bennett does have a certain amount of name recognition in the country now and is viewed as enough of a draw for local sponsors to still be worth having a stake in the team, confidence in the future of investing in New Zealand road cycling is thin. Both Bennett and superstar Sam Bewley are in the latter stages of their careers and despite them being household names and increasing the popularity of road cycling in their home country exponentially, no new world-beaters are seen to be developing. Indeed Xero only count Bennett and youngster James Fouche on their roster full-time, and have found themselves investing in foreign talents such as Sergio Higuita, Thomas Pidcock, and Florian Vermeersch rather than relying on local pathways.

Xero have long been rumoured to be growing unsatisfied with the return within New Zealand on their investment, and despite home hero George Bennett being among the favourite individual athletes in his native land, the team is no longer viewed as New Zealand's team by the general public. Following their relegation from the Pro Tour the exposure in major races is gone for the foreseeable future. Xero are understood to still want to find a way forward in negotiations but are hesitant to continue in their current capacity.

Some relief will be found in the fact that the search for sponsors elsewhere, both in the team's other focus of African cycling and from further afield, is understood to be going well. Notably, Visit Rwanda are rumoured to be re-signing and stepping up their involvement, after Rwandan Joseph Areruya blossomed into a star on the biggest stages, finishing in the Top 30 of the Pro Tour.

All hope is not lost in New Zealand either, with local outdoor clothing brand Stoney Creek announcing last month that they are branching into cycling and running gear, including becoming the team clothing supplier for Xero Racing starting in 2022, taking over from Endura. Known for their hunting and rural clothing, Stoney Creek are renowned in New Zealand for their quality and variety of durable clothing, and as they look to expand to other Anglophile markets they see Xero Racing as an ideal partner to market themselves.
Well, well, well ... looking for a local rivalry, are we? Pfft
cunego59 wrote:
Well, well, well ... looking for a local rivalry, are we? Pfft

*grabs an XL bag of salted popcorn*
took a wrong turn somewhere that even your own dont want you anymore.
@cunego - That would be interesting - Rwanda's team vs Rwanda's star Wink Not sure how AreruyaFanNo1 would cope Pfft

@Nemolito - Don't put it in the pot just yet Wink

@quadsas - Well we'll see about not wanting us, but absolutely yes we have made super wrong turns in regards to NZ, most notably fumbling home grown talents Kennett and Schreurs.

July Review | A Tour to Remember
Morne van Niekerk was a very respectable 12th in the Chrono des Herbiers, but really July was all about Le Tour de France, our team's debut on cycling's biggest stage. With George Bennett and Hugo Houle, we had high hopes for a good General Classification finish and chances for stage success.


Our hopes at the latter looked very good after a great opening stage from Houle, where he was a close second in the opening sprint. He moved into the green jersey, keeping it warm for stage winner and GC leader Kamberaj. He struggled with positioning on Stage 2 and couldn't participate in the sprint, as our local favourite Henri Tesfaye Hinault joined the breakaway to move to second in the KOM standings.


Our man was back in form on Stage 3 and although he couldn't manage a stage win, he took a very nice third...


And the yellow jersey! A huge achievement for our team, our first Grand Tour leader's jersey (in fact our first PT leader's jersey...) and to do it in Le Tour, to hold the famous maillot jaune - a brilliant moment from team hero Houle.


Houle was second on Stage 4, but conceded yellow to the late attack of Tesfom, which no other team wanted to help chase. Tesfaye Hinault was sixth to the admiration of his home fans.


Bennett was a promising sixth as the GC riders got frisky on the hill finish on Stage 5, but the bigger story was Houle reclaiming his yellow jersey as Tesfom lost time! Unfortunately a very powerful Arnaud Demare would claim it the next day with a sprint that gapped the rest of the peloton. The next days would see breakaways from Tesfaye and Nikiema (x2), and the team gain and lose the Teams Classification lead.


Much like in the Giro and Vuelta, the team was dealt a heavy blow on the first mountain stage, as Bennett lost four minutes and ended the day a tough 19th on GC. A frustrating pattern of early time loss in the Grand Tours making it hard on ourselves. Despite two Top 10 finishes on the next two hilly stages (as well as one for Higuita), Bennett would lose another 2'30 in the next mountain stage and was still just 15th on GC with four minutes between him and tenth place.


The second week concluded with another breakaway for Nikiema and a 4th place on a hilly stage for Bennett with some minor time gains - once again showing his form on shorter climbs, hopefully meaning a chance of improvement in the high mountains if he wanted to take any major positives from this race. The next day he was 9th from the peloton but lost a GC spot due to Pinot's breakaway gains. Houle was 8th the next day as he and Demare were denied by the breakaway.

Bennett fell to 18th on GC after another breakaway victory saw two more riders pass him. We either needed a big GC stage or to start joining these breakaways.


Stage 18, the by-now almost annual stage to La Toussuire, saw both happen. Higuita put in a huge shift on the opening climb of the Col de la Madeleine to help establish a breakaway with Bennett in it, and we now had the chance to make some gains and maybe even salvage a stage victory from this race which had gone very sour in the last week after such a great start.


Bennett pushed the pace in the breakaway and with 58km remaining over the famed Col de la Croix de Fer he had only Aular for company as the uncharacteristic July snow fell around them. Only a couple of minutes separated them and the peloton - was this the wrong day to bet on breakaway success?


Their chances looked to have gone from slim to none as the gap went down to just over a minute on the next climb and descent, with 12km to go up to La Toussuire they had been joined by the fresher Yates and Godoy and the peloton could see them just a corner or two ahead.


A real war of attrition in the snow and Bennett was still hanging tough and even still doing a majority of the work. Halfway up the climb and they were joined by 2nd on GC Sicard - surely he would go straight through them.


Or not... with 1km to go the quintet were still together and barely ahead of the yellow jersey Lecuisinier. It seems like in the cold conditions everyone is at their limit and nobody has been dropped. After such a gruelling stage in the wind it would be the unlikeliest of outcomes if Bennett could outdo the GC favourites who had spent most of it in the peloton... but he'd come the last 12km up the climb and stuck with them...


SO WHY NOT FINISH IT OFF? A truly magnificent stage victory for our main man as he outsprints one of the best in the race after a mammoth ride - team legend George Bennett fittingly takes our first ever Tour de France stage win. Whatever the outcome on GC, this is a special moment, a special ride from a special rider. With this and a very solid ride on Stage 19 he moved himself to 12th on GC heading into the final time trial.

Wait, time trial?


Yep, no final mountain stage to try and continue his form and find the final 1'30 to the Top 10, but a time trial where he would be looking down rather than up the GC ladder. He put in a much better ride than in the Vuelta and in the end only conceded one spot to end up 13th on GC - which would have been as high as 5th without those first two mountain stages, but it does not do to dwell on the past. Houle ended up 4th in the points classification, with Higuita the same in the U25 race.

It seems like we've said it after every Grand Tour, but a lot of lessons to be learned from this one. Once again the early time losses made us work our way up from the lower Top 20 to target the top 10, and once again for Bennett he misses out despite looking like one of the strongest riders in the race in the final few stages. Frustrating and disappointing in that respect, but no Tour de France where we wear the yellow jersey twice and win a stage at La Grande Boucle, both for the first ever time, can really be that disappointing - two moments which will forever be a huge part of the team's history. In a year where making memories is more important than the rankings points, this is exactly what we were asking for.

Rider of the Month
A huge Tour de France from a man who is no stranger to huge Tour de Frances, with two days in yellow, many stage results and 4th in the points classification...

i.imgur.com/kaIjvDq.jpgYellow Fever - Tour de France, Stage 3

Hugo Houle
Total RoTM Wins | 3
RoTM Wins This Season | 1
Just kidding, we don't care
I love how you're taking the time to still do such a great round-up of the season. Definitely enjoy reading the neatly written reviews each time. Concerning the TdF, that GC position was a bit harsh, but nobody is taking away the legendary stage win from you and team legend GB anymore Smile
Ulrich Ulriksen
Great ride from Bennett, and lets face it what will you remember more a huge stage win or whether he finished 8th or 13th on GC?
Man Game: McCormick Pro Cycling
@Nemolito - Thank you! Won't get the full recaps done with rider reviews etc. but hope to finish it off properly somewhat, wasn't happy with last year essentially running out of time Pfft Absolutely, in a year where the rankings were never our concern that memory is stronger than more points, but the failed goal does hurt.

@Ulrich - Yep even in a bad run of form he turned it around with a special ride - I had totally forgotten the whole getting caught by Sicard and Yates aspect of it before I went back to do the season reviews! As said above it did hurt as it was a Top 10 Goal race but you're very right that long-term this will be one of the team's most special days but the GC result will fade. Shame if it's GB's last chance to compete at his full level in a GT though I guess.

August Review | Some Classics to Forget
Three classics, two awful results, one eh result (Areruya 18th in San Sebastian), two breakaways (Kipkemboi in San Sebastian, van Zyl in the East Midlands). One of the tightest Rider of the Month battles ever for sheer meh-ness.
Rider of the Month
But in the end it goes to...

i.imgur.com/b1eIbDP.jpgIn the breakaway - Clasica San Sebastian

Salim Kipkemboi
Total RoTM Wins | 1
RoTM Wins This Season | 1
Just kidding, we don't care
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