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Road World Championships: Road race is ‘perfect’ for Lizzie Deignan, says team-mate Lizzy Banks

Lizzie Deignan (left) beats Lizzy Banks (right) to win GP de Plouay 2020
Lizzie Deignan won her third GP de Plouay title ahead of Lizzy Banks in August

Britain have a “strong” team for the World Championships road race and the course is “perfect” for Lizzie Deignan, says team-mate Lizzy Banks.

The women’s road race takes place on Saturday in Imola, Italy.

Deignan, who has won GP de Plouay and La Course this year, is targeting her second road world title, while Banks is also in good form after winning a stage of the Giro Rosa earlier this month.

“It’s exciting, we’ve got such a strong team,” Banks told BBC Sport.

“Lizzie Deignan is on great form and this is a perfect course for her, she’ll really relish riding it.”

The women’s road race is 144km, ascending over 2,750m, and starts and finishes at the Imola motor racing circuit.

Banks, who finished second to Deignan at Plouay, won the longest stage of this year’s Giro Rosa, having picked up her first professional victory in last year’s edition of the only Grand Tour on the women’s calendar.

“To be able to come to the World Championships with those results in the bag gives me a lot of confidence,” she said.

“It’s confirmation that I belong with these world-class riders – sometimes you think you do when you know you’ve got the numbers but it’s a different thing actually being able to achieve that in a race.”

The road race is part of BBC Sport’s Women’s sport Saturday, with football and cricket as well as cycling on television via BBC Two or the red button and iPlayer.

Banks, 29, said “trying to enjoy” her training more this year had “paid off” in her racing after a “challenging” lockdown.

“We had a tough period where we lost a really close friend to coronavirus so that was really difficult,” she said.

“Not being able to see your friends during that time was devastating and that really fuelled my anxieties about going back to work.

“I used cycling as a release and sometimes it was difficult to get outside – the hardest thing was always leaving the front door but you always feel better once you get outside.”

Banks is also riding the time trial on Friday and believes that she can be “one of the best in the world” in the discipline one day.

However, she said she is mainly targeting the 2024 Olympics time trial, with the event still a “learning experience”, having only taken up cycling in 2015.

“I haven’t done a lot of work on time trialling and that’s something I’m really looking to improve on over the next few years,” she added.

“I haven’t done any aerodynamic testing work and it’s about having the fastest position you can on the bike – it’s something I’m going to look into this winter.”

The annual championships were originally due to be held in Switzerland, but had to be switched because of coronavirus restrictions.

Banks said: “Imola is going to be a more exciting course and it might be closer between the riders than the one in Switzerland would’ve been – I’m excited by it.”

Elite Women’s Road Race: Lizzy Banks, Alice Barnes, Hannah Barnes, Lizzie Deignan, Anna Henderson, Anna Shackley

Elite Women’s Time Trial: Lizzy Banks, Alice Barnes

Giro Rosa: GB’s Lizzy Banks claims stage four in Tivoli

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Arkea-Samsic Tour de France hotel searched in anti-doping probe

The Arkea-Samsic team before stage four of the Tour de France

French team Arkea-Samsic says it will take action if an investigation into alleged doping offences during the Tour de France finds evidence of wrongdoing.

French police searched the team hotel last week as part of an anti-doping investigation.

Marseille prosecutor Dominique Laurens said two people were taken into custody who were part of the “close entourage of the main rider”, without naming him.

Laurens added the investigation was targeting a “small part of the team”.

He said the search led to the “discovery of many health products, including drugs and especially a method that can be qualified as doping”.

The team confirmed their hotel in Meribel was searched by the Central Office for the Fight against Environmental and Public Health Damage following stage 17 on 16 September.

“It concerned a very limited number of riders,” said Arkea-Samsic general manager Emmanuel Hubert.

“The team, its general manager as well as its staff are absolutely not questioned and consequently are not kept informed of any element relating to the progress of the investigation, which I remind you is not targeting either the team or its staff directly.

“We obviously support our riders, but if it turns out that at the end of the current investigation, evidence confirms the veracity of doping practices, the team will immediately dissociate itself from such acts and take the necessary measures to put an end to the links with unacceptable methods.”

Arkea-Samsic competed in the Tour, which finished on Sunday, with a wildcard entry and was led in the race by Colombian Nairo Quintana, a former winner of the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a Espana.

The 30-year-old – who had three times finished on the podium in previous Tours – suffered a crash on stage 13 and then cracked on the Grand Colombier two days later before finishing 17th overall.

World governing body the UCI said it had been in contact with the police over the investigation.

A statement read: “The UCI welcomes and supports the action of all parties involved and will take the appropriate measures once it has taken note of the information obtained by the French legal authorities.”

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Tour de France: Did Ineos get the Tour badly wrong?

Rimoz Roglic
Roglic cut a desperate, panicked figure as the race win disappeared

As the world waited for Primoz Roglic to appear over the summit approaching La Planche des Belles Filles on Saturday, resplendent in yellow, they expected something special.

This was a man who had spent three weeks demonstrating he was at the peak of his physical power, complete with mirrored sunglasses and a chiselled jaw, stylishly negotiating 3,000km of French countryside behind his all-powerful Jumbo-Visma team.

They got the opposite. A shell of a man, garish in yellow, sunglasses gone, panicked eyes visible instead, helmet lop-sided – a vision, almost, of a distressed child riding a bike too small for him.

It had to be one of the saddest sights in modern sport. Almost Samson-like, shorn of his powers. The colour drained from his face.

The beneficiary was 21-year-old fellow Slovenian Tadej Pogacar, who had been the only man to hang on to Roglic and his team’s coat-tails for the previous 19 stages, making him the second youngest, and most unexpected, Tour de France winner since World War One.

It was an outcome that turned a highly entertaining race into a stone-cold classic.

The overarching reason may well be that a young lad started a minute behind in a time trial he was expected to be beaten in, and finished it a minute ahead after riding with a team – UAE-Emirates – who had lost two of their members earlier in the race, and who run on a far more modest budget those they beat.

A finish like that brought comparisons to the Tour of 1989, won by Greg LeMond in Paris on the final day by eight seconds after he beat Laurent Fignon in a time trial – Fignon and Roglic adopting very similar sitting positions on the tarmac, pictures of disbelief 31 years apart.

Primoz Roglic
Primoz Roglic was disconsolate after losing the yellow jersey on the penultimate stage
Laurent Fignon
Similar scenes: Fignon, like Roglic, is inconsolable on the line after losing the Tour in Paris in 1989

But what was more startling was the dramatic downturn in form of the two pre-race favourites, Roglic and Ineos Grenadiers’ Egan Bernal.

When was the last time a defending Tour champion just stopped halfway up a mountain halfway through a race? Or someone of Roglic’s form suddenly fell apart metres from the end?

It never happened to Chris Froome…

How badly did Ineos get it wrong?

So, what of Bernal? The defending champion who shocked the sport a week earlier by inexplicably capitulating on the Grand Colombier during stage 15 for a team who have won the Tour in the seven of the past 11 years.

“I have taken my body to the limit – there’s comes a point where it has told me: ‘enough,'” he tweeted.

Bernal is a charming and honest character, who even cut his own hair during this Tour because he was bored sitting around in his ‘bubble’. Much to the bemused delight of his team-mates.

But if the rider is at a loss as to why his form deserted him – and he genuinely is – then is it the fault of his team?

Ineos Grenadiers boss Sir Dave Brailsford has been in the spotlight after what was, for some, a controversial decision not to take four-time winner Froome and 2018 victor Geraint Thomas to the Tour this year.

Plenty have criticised his decision to take such an inexperienced pair in Bernal, 23, and second protected rider Richard Carapaz, 27.

But, by their own admission, the rejected riders did not have the form to take into the Tour, especially not in comparison to Bernal – who was in blistering form during the first two of three warm-up races which directly informed the team’s decision on who to take.

It’s all in the mystical numbers that each rider is ‘putting out’. If Bernal was posting the performance metrics, such as watts per kilo, the team needed him to (which he was) and his form was better than all the other leaders during the warm-up races (which it was), then how can someone in Brailsford’s position at any team possibly know their top athlete would lose his form so quickly?

It just doesn’t generally happen in top-level road cycling.

But if nothing else this can serve as a wake-up call, and as one team member put it: “I think there’s been real pride at the way we fought in the final week. Obviously overarching disappointment, but there’s lots of Grand Tour racing to come this year and excitement about rebuilding and improving for next year.”

A year that will include Britain’s star turn at this year’s Tour Adam Yates appearing as an Ineos rider – he spent four days in the yellow jersey for Mitchelton-Scott, despite a pre-race illness.

Add to that the possibility of young British hope Tom Pidcock bringing more homegrown talent to a British team, whose owner – industrialist Sir Jim Ratcliffe – is very keen to promote that as part of its identity.

Thomas, of course, will have a chance to show what he can do for Ineos at the Giro d’Italia in October. The team are yet to decide who will support ‘G’ in Italy in what could be a treacherous race in the Italian Alps as winter approaches, but Tour failures put more focus on that race.

Froome, still thought to be much further from top form than Thomas, heads for team leader status at the Vuelta a Espana towards the end of October with a chance to show his mettle.

Froome, for all the injury, contract and form drama, could still be Brailsford’s darling in 2020.

Oh, the irony.

The changing face of Team Sky/Ineos over the years. They have won seven Tours de France, two Vuelta a Espana, 1 Tour of Britain, 1 Giro d'Italia, 6 Paris-Nice, 6 Criterium de Dauphine, 2 Tour de Yorkshires and 3 one-day races

So many casualties

If Bernal’s demise cannot be explained, what on earth happened to Roglic?

“I just didn’t push enough,” he said. “It was like that. I was more and more without the power I needed but I gave it all until the end.”

So another inconclusive assessment…

Since bursting on to the scene in a 2016 time trial, he has been a very solid performer, gradually building up to team leader status, always with Jumbo-Visma, who seemed to grow in stature and budget alongside him. Roglic came into this race after winning the last Grand Tour – 2019’s Vuelta a Espana.

So he was strong coming in, and despite a crash during the Criterium du Dauphine showed no signs of the loss of performance that befell him on Saturday.

Other team leaders also suffered – and some far earlier than they had previously. France’s big hope Thibaut Pinot fell away painfully early during stage eight. No fireworks, no injuries, no adversity – he just started to go slowly and had no answer.

The one thing all riders have had to contend with this year is the season’s delay because of the coronavirus.

By spring warm-up race Paris-Nice the whole sporting calendar was closing down, as did most riders’ ability to train outside during lockdown – especially in Monaco and Andorra, the tax-haven heartlands of the European World Tour cyclist.

Bernal, it should be noted, was stuck in Colombia during this time – and some suggested was benefiting from an ability to get on his bike more frequently than his home-bound rivals.

If this most brutal of sports carves the body in unnatural ways, maybe it even dictates the time of year riders can be expected to achieve optimal performance – meaning Bernal, Pinot, Froome, Thomas, Roglic, et al could be far more consistent in the middle of July than as autumn approaches.

Ineos Grenadiers
Ineos Grenadiers embark on what would be a disappointing Tour

Coping with Covid

Organiser ASO will look upon this Tour as a successful pilot for bringing fans back to major sporting events – thousands lined the roads in cities and on mountain summits, even though many believed they would be stopped.

It is hard to see how anyone can prevent people from climbing through alpine trees if they are that determined. And determined they were – so much so that the fancy dress hordes seemed closer than ever to the riders’ faces on the tops of the climbs, leading some to plead with them to stay away.

ASO’s approach has been a success, but it wasn’t without risk: two pre-race tests were followed by just two more for all riders and staff during the three-week race, taking place on each rest day. Apart from that a daily questionnaire and temperature check was all that was applied.

But what if someone was asymptomatic? And so it proved with at least six team members sent home across the course of the race. Surely all it took was one asymtomatic person to transmit the virus through one team ‘bubble’ and the whole peloton was at risk?

No riders were infected, at least since last Monday when they were last tested.

But if the coronavirus didn’t prevent the race reaching Paris, then another danger did for one rider at least – and it is one the UCI might do well to look into.

Plenty of riders abandoned during the event – usually as a result of broken bones and complications following a crash out on the road. In Lukas Postlberger of Bora-Hansgrohe’s case, it was a wasp sting inside the mouth.

France’s other big hope, AG2R La Mondiale’s Romain Bardet, was having a great Tour, just 30 seconds down in the general classification when he crashed on stage 13, striking his helmet harrowingly hard on the tarmac.

After an assessment lasting a few seconds that included a moment when his legs buckled underneath him, it was decided he was fit to continue to climb up to Puy Mary Cantal and finish the stage. Where he was promptly diagnosed with concussion and given a scan that revealed a “small brain haemorrhage”.

Given the seriousness of the injury, it is shocking there are not more strict protocols in place to prevent riders from putting themselves under physical duress while in a dangerous medical state.

As the UCI states itself in its ‘concussion and return to competition’ medical rules: “Any rider with a suspected concussion should be immediately removed from the competition or training and urgently assessed medically.”

As promising young Ineos domestique Pavel Sivakov put it just before embarking on this Tour – and suffering at least three crashes himself during proceedings – “cycling is not an easy life”.

And Roglic, who showed grace in defeat by embracing Pogacar immediately after picking himself up off the tarmac, would echo that sentiment.

Sunglasses back in place, the swagger on the bike even returned on the Champs Elysees on Sunday – 24 hours after one of cycling’s biggest chokes, he is ready to go again.

Primoz Roglic and Tadej Pogacar
Roglic, left, congratulates Pogacar

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Giro Rosa: Anna van der Breggen secures third title as Evita Muzic wins final stage

Anna van der Breggen punches the air as she celebrates winning the 2020 Giro Rosa
The Giro Rosa is the only Grand Tour on the women’s calendar

Anna van der Breggen secured her third Giro Rosa title as Evita Muzic won the final stage.

Dutch rider Van der Breggen, who took the race lead on Friday, held off any attacks on the tough 109.9km circuit around Motta Montecorvino in Italy.

Kasia Niewiadoma finished second overall, one minute 14 seconds down on Van der Breggen, while Elisa Longo Borghini held on to third.

France’s Muzic won a select sprint from the breakaway.

“I’m really happy – it’s special to win the Giro,” said Boels-Dolmans rider Van der Breggen, who also won the pink jersey in 2015 and 2017.

“The last day is always a bit exciting. The gaps were pretty big, but still, it was a hard lap.

“I had the team around me the whole day and I felt confident with them around me.”

On the second of four laps on stage nine, the peloton split apart, with a group of 27 riders out in front, but not containing any of the threats to Van der Breggen’s race lead.

The breakaway kept splintering until a group of seven riders arrived together in the final kilometre, with Muzic kicking clear to take the victory ahead of Niamh Fisher-Black in second, with Juliette Labous third.

Olympic champion Van der Breggen, who is set to retire after next year’s rescheduled Tokyo Games, marked the moves behind to ensure she would not lose the lead, even taking four more seconds on Niewiadoma at the finish.

Denmark’s Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig attacked to try and gain the three seconds she needed to overhaul stage eight Longo Borghini into third overall.

But the Italian matched her all the way to the line to secure her first podium finish since coming second in the 2017 race, finishing two minutes 20 seconds back on Van der Breggen.

Van der Breggen’s compatriot Annemiek van Vleuten had looked on course for her third straight title but was forced to abandon the race while leading on Thursday after breaking her wrist in a crash on stage seven.

Final general classification

1. Anna van der Breggen (Ned/Boels-Dolmans) 26hrs 25mins 43secs

2. Kasia Niewiadoma (Pol/Canyon-SRAM) +1min 14secs

3. Elisa Longo Borghini (Ita/Trek-Segafredo) +2mins 20secs

4. Cecilie Uttrup Ludwing (Den/FDJ) +2mins 22secs

5. Mikayla Harvey (NZ/Equipe Paule Ka) +2mins 52secs

6. Ashleigh Moolman (SA/CCC Liv) +5mins 02secs

7. Ane Santesteban (Spa/Ceratizit-WNT Pro Cycling) +6mins 31secs

8. Paula Patino (Col/Movistar) +6mins 54secs

9. Mavi Garcia (Spa/Ale BTC Ljubljana) +7mins 06secs

10. Evita Muzic (Fra/FDJ) +7mins 47secs

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Tour de France: Tadej Pogacar poised to win after stunning time-trial ride

Breaking news

Tadej Pogacar is set to win the Tour de France ahead of strong favourite Primoz Roglic in one of the most dramatic turnarounds in the race’s history.

Pogacar, 21, will be confirmed as the youngest winner for 110 years at the end of Sunday’s largely processional stage to Paris.

The UAE-Team Emirates rider overhauled a 57-second deficit to Roglic, who was thought to be a far stronger rider on Stage 20’s time trial to La Planche des Belles Filles.

It will be a first Grand Tour victory for Slovenian Pogacar, who took the yellow jersey from compatriot Roglic after he had held it for 13 days.

Pogacar is now 59 seconds ahead of Roglic at the end a day of drama reminiscent of the 1989 Tour, when Greg LeMond unexpectedly overhauled Laurent Fignon in a final-day time trial to win by eight seconds.

Richie Porte of Trek-Segafredo will be on the podium in Paris, taking third, three minutes and 30 seconds down.

Pogacar won the stage, 1min 21secs ahead of Roglic’s Jumbo-Visma team-mate Tom Dumoulin. Porte climbed to third overall after finishing in third place on the stage.

Britain’s Adam Yates of Michelton-Scott will finish ninth in the general classification, 9mins 25secs behind the winner.

What happened to Roglic?

Roglic has looked imperious throughout the three-week race thanks to support from his powerful team, supported by some of the sport’s best riders, including Dumoulin, Wout van Aert and Sepp Kuss.

The 36km stage from Lure to La Planche des Belles Filles was a challenging course that finished, unusually for time trial, with a category 1 climb. Roglic, 30, was considered a far better time trailist than Pogacar, and began the stage strongly.

But Roglic hit trouble at the changeover from super-fast specialist time-trial bikes to more a conventional road machine before the climb, struggling to clip into his pedals, wobbling when being pushed away and never seeming to find his typical rhythm.

More to follow.

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