Lesser known races thread 2021

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I thought you were joking. I actually checked the race result, but Bouhanni did race today. Shame on the UCI, that moron should be banned for months.
Awww... give UCI a break! Last time a rider pulled a similar move, they didn't have to act so quickly in order to sanction said rider, as he...
1: Was injured himself.
2: Was depressed/in shock.
3: Got suspended by his team.

UCI are busy people, they have socks to meassure!
 
The best race of 2020 is back! The 2021 Cúp truyền hình Thành phố Hồ Chí Minh, otherwise known as the HTV Cup, is underway. It's a mammoth undertaking, longer than the Grand Tours in fact - this year's edition is not quite up to the 30 stages of 2018, but we do have 22 stages over 25 days, in the fashion of an older Grand Tour. The total length is 2450km, and the number of teams has increased to 15, starting in Cao Bằng at the very north of the conutry and working its way south, largely through the coastal areas once they pass Hanoi, to the traditional finish. The restrictions on the number of overseas riders coming in have remained, so we are restricted to just a handful. Loïc Désriac and last year's winner Javier Sardá Pérez are both back to duke out the upper echelons of the GC, but Jordan Parrá has elected to stay in Colombia and not return to Ynghua, while Iran's Ali Khazemi is listed as an entry, but I haven't been able to locate him as of yet. But who is back is The Man. The TV host's name is The Man. I kid you not.

Some new threads for a couple of the teams - The two Hồ Chí Minh City teams have new sponsors; the 'red team' of defending champion Javier Sardá Pérez are now in a sort of gold/yellow outfit with shorts that look alarmingly Ag2r brown and known as Vinama-TP Hồ Chí Minh, whereas the 'orange team' of sprint specialist Lê Nguyệt Minh are now clad in a darkish blue and known as TP Hồ Chí Minh-NEWGROUP. The blue is noticeably darker than Bikelife, however, so they should be easily distinguishable. Most of the other teams are familiar to those of us who got into this last year, starved of pro cycling, and were transfixed by this strange new world - the bold primary colours of Domesco Đồng Tháp and the Phonak-alike outfits of their sister team Dopagan; the Groupama-FDJ styled jersey of Vinh Long and, most importantly, the insanely epic and awesome Quân Khu 7 jersey, that manages to be both stylish, well-designed, more professional than most within this péloton whilst simultaneously it couldn't be more transparently Communist if it had a stylised portrait of Lenin on the back.

The race got underway with a circuit race in Cao Bằng that was just 45km in length - 5 laps of a 9km circuiit which ran along a highway through a carved path through the hillside, so had a bit more up and down than is commonly seen in these crit type stages on the HTV Cup, and with a slightly uphill ramp up to the line. With a lot of the money for cycling in the south of the country, it was largely the smaller local teams and the Quân Dội team that attempted breakaways, but ulitmately the bunch sprint was not to be denied, and it was Lê Nguyệt Minh that proved strongest, ahead of last year's runner-up Nguyễn Tấn Hoài, whose quest to accumulate enough in bonus seconds to enable him to manage his losses against the Europeans and Nguyễn Hoàng Sang, probably Vietnam's best all-rounder, when the hills and mountains begin. Keep an eye out for Võ Thành An also - he won a stage in a breakaway in the hills last year and is seen as Vietnamese cycling's great young hope, he crashed out before we got to see him in the real climbs last year, whic his a shame for him since obviously last year was a unique chance for these guys to get on view for the world.

Stage 1: Cao Bằng - Cao Bằng, 45km
1 Lê Nguyệt Minh (TP Hồ Chí Minh-NEWGROUP) 1:00:07
2 Nguyễn Tấn Hoài (Domesco Đồng Tháp) +st
3 Huỳnh Thanh Tùng (Quân Khu 7) +st
4 Lê Ngọc Sơn (Tập đoàn Lộc trời An Giang) +st
5 Trịnh Đức Tâm (Tập đoàn Lộc trời An Giang) +st
6 Trần Tuấn Kiệt (Dopagan Đồng Tháp) +st
7 Nguyễn Hoàng Sang (BikeLife Đồng Nai) +st
8 Nguyễn Dương Hồ Vũ (Vinama-TP Hồ Chí Minh) +st
9 Nguyễn Tuấn Vũ (Vinama-TP Hồ Chí Minh) +st
10 Thái Ngọc Hải (620 Châu Thới Vĩnh Long) +st

 
Not wanting to be left out, the HTV Cup péloton decided to shred itself unexpectedly in awful weather just like its more professional northern hemisphere counterparts. The race has been blown wide open, as Vinama, last year's dominant force, disintegrated in spectacular fashion, with đèo Khau Múc seeing a breakaway group of 13 go up the road, and then further split before the second climb of the day, đèo Bông Lau. The move featured a number of key riders, such as Loïc Désriac, Nguyễn Tấn Hoài and Võ Thanh An, but with leader Lê Nguyệt Minh not really interested in the climb, the onus was on the Vinama-TPHCM team to do the chasing, seeing as they had missed the move. Then Nguyễn Trường Tài, one of Vinama's best riders and who finished on the GC podium last year, crashed on the descent of đèo Khau Múc, and Vinama dithered over the chase before a series of other incidents. With Sardá having missed the move, there was an increased amount of collaboration up front, and a reduced amount of willingness to assist the remains of Vinama's forces, and before long the climbs were over and Sardá was pulling alone vs. a 15 man escape, as the original break plus a couple of chasers had reconvened.

The organisation took the decision to annul the time gaps from the stage due to the unsafe conditions and to prevent further incidents as there had been several crashes, so those that were not in contention for the stage anymore sat up - Sardá's group lost 26 minutes while Nguyễn Hoàng Sang, along with the rest of Vinama, were over half an hour back. Some displeasure among fans who feel that the race being organised by Hồ Chí Minh City TV and a decision that broadly favours the team from Hồ Chí Minh City is a bit too convenient and that had the rest of the riders been forced to ride in to the finish, they could have managed their losses as the latter part of the stage was nothing like as bad, and they could have resumed racing, like the 2020 Tour de France opening stage. There was a small climb up into Lang Sơn to finish the stage, and this enabled Désriac to attack the break, with only Nguyễn Tấn Hoài able to go with him. The Frenchman won the two-up sprint against what would on paper be a superior finisher, using his experience of European sprint tactics to outsmart the home favourite, but with the help of the bonus seconds accrued, Nguyễn Tấn Hoài will be back in the lead that he held for much of last year's race. The remains of the break were 33 seconds behind the fugitives, but obviously while they may have gone harder to chase the duo than the bunches behind, they may also have sat up until sprinting for the remaining bonus seconds at the line.

 
Deceuninck Quick-Step will ride the Tour of Turkey with a very sprinter heavy squad:

Jakobsen, Cavendish, Hodeg, Archbold, Keisse and Steels.

It will be interesting to see how they approach the sprints with three guys who could use a 'comeback' win.

Will they ride for Cav and try to have him take his first win in over 3 years? Will they ride for Hodeg and try to have him take his first win since 2019 after all his injury trouble? Or will they immediately ride for Jakobsen which would probably be the biggest comeback story of the three after last years Tour de Pologne?
 
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Deceuninck Quick-Step will ride the Tour of Turkey with a very sprinter heavy squad:

Jakobsen, Cavendish, Hodeg, Archbold, Keisse and Steels.

It will be interesting to see how they approach the sprints with three guys who could use a 'comeback' win.

Will they ride for Cav and try to have him take his first win in over 3 years? Will they ride for Hodeg and try to have him take his first win since 2019 after all his injury trouble? Or will they immediately ride for Jakobsen which would probably be the biggest comeback story of the three after last years Tour de Pologne?
Normally the Tour of Turkey is a very sprinter-friendly race so each of them could reasonably have at least a chance. I checked the profiles for this year's edition and it looks a bit hillier than usual but good enough for at least 4-5 sprints. Those profiles tend to be misleading though.
 
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Deceuninck Quick-Step will ride the Tour of Turkey with a very sprinter heavy squad:

Jakobsen, Cavendish, Hodeg, Archbold, Keisse and Steels.

It will be interesting to see how they approach the sprints with three guys who could use a 'comeback' win.

Will they ride for Cav and try to have him take his first win in over 3 years? Will they ride for Hodeg and try to have him take his first win since 2019 after all his injury trouble? Or will they immediately ride for Jakobsen which would probably be the biggest comeback story of the three after last years Tour de Pologne?
Why oh why? When it is a mountainous race..how will they Get over it? :D
 
So (sensibly, given the group that had been disadvantaged by the conditions can argue they did not have them available) the bonus seconds were also annulled from the stage 2 cancellation, meaning that the maillot jaune was back on the shoulders of Lê Nguyệt Minh when the riders set off for stage 3, a criterium in Lang Sơn consisting of 25 laps of a 1700m circuit which was essentially an out-and-back along a wide open and slightly bumpy road along the riverside. There were only barriers at the turns and so it was a bit strange, but given these roads are like, eight lanes wide, it was plenty safe. Having been well rested in the previous day's non-stage, the Vinama-TPHCM team stole a march on everybody, swooping into position at the final hairpin bend and lauching their leadout at full speed out of the corner, so despite not having a specialist sprinter, they had been able to get themselves placed in such a way that the real fastmen were out of position. Lê Nguyệt Minh was closing fast at the end, but he couldn't get there quick enough to get around Javier Sardá Pérez, so after three days both of the Vietnamese pélotons main extranjeros have a stage win. Perhaps most importantly, Sardá's teammate Nguyễn Dương Hồ Vũ took third place, denying bonus seconds to Nguyễn Tấn Hoài, who falls to 3rd in the GC, 10 seconds behind Lê and 4 seconds behind Sardá. The home favourite can look less favourably on yesterday's cancellation, and is perhaps justified in arguing that the annulment means that he expended far more energy yesterday than Sardá will have done, happily sitting in the bus 26 minutes back, and so that disadvantaged im for today's stage.


Tomorrow, we're off to Hà Nội for a 143km stage with some hills in the first half but then a long flat run-in.
 
So as the Vietnamese péloton wound its way to Hanoi, the wind and rain returned. Fortunately it held off until they were done with the hilly roads and were into the Red River basin, so no danger of a cancellation like two days ago. It did mean some surprising moves, including a 7-man group including three riders from Bike Life-Đồng Nai, so that move wasn't given any leeway of course, with any such move with either Nguyễn Hoàng Sang or Loïc Désriac doomed to attract the attention of every other major contender's team. It spelt doom for the earlier breakaway, however, and this was brought back extremely early as a result. This led to a range of counterattacks, the most significant being a solo move from Võ Thanh An at around 20km to go. However the very wide and open highway roads leading into Hanoi meant this was also a futile endeavour, and soon Vinama and BikeLife had brought back the dangerous young rider. The net result was a sprint, but with those teams having expended much of their effort, and race leader Lê Nguyệt Minh poorly placed into the last corner for the second day in a row, this time it was Nguyễn Tấn Hoài who took the stage, having secured two 2nds and a 4th on the three stages to date. Even more helpfully for him, baroudeur Trần Tuấn Kiệt from DDT's sister team Dopagan (no, really), who took 3 stages of last year's edition all from breakaways, took 2nd place, and Huỳnh Thanh Tùng from the Quân Khu 7 team took 3rd, so Lê was denied any bonus seconds, bringing the two sprinters, the purer and the more versatile, level on time. I believe Nguyễn Tấn Hoài will therefore lead on countback, but if they scrub stage 2 from the countback too then both of them are dead level with a 1st, a 2nd and a 4th to their names.

 
Stage 5 was another criterium stage (early part of the race is heavy on these, especially with stage 2 neutralised, partly also to maximise the fan involvement since this northern part of the country did not get to see the race last year) around Hồ Hoàn Kiếm, or the Lake of the Restored Sword, in downtown Hanoi. 25 laps of a 1700m circuit once more, but a bit more complex than the straight up out and back on stage 3. Bad weather and some narrower roads than the HTV Cup tends to favour in these city centre courses also made this one potentially treacherous.

Attacks began from the gun, including Javier Sardá Pérez, 2019 and 2020 champion, a specialist climber, attacking with just 4 minutes on the clock. Unsurprisingly, he and his initial breakmates were not afforded any time (they interviewed the Vinama director after the attack was resolved, but my Vietnamese is... "cursory"). After the first intermediate sprint a group of 16 got away with strong representation from Vinama and BikeLife, with the former also dictating the pace on the front keeping them at around a 30 second advantage but meaning that DDT had to do a lot of work chasing behind if they wanted to neutralise the move. Đoàn Thanh Phúc and Đặng Văn Bảo Anh then escaped from that group, but eventually DDT pulled it all back together with 2 laps to go. Loïc Désriac again outsmarted the rest, however, going for a seriously long one, coming around the outside of the final corner with just under 500m to go but carrying a lot more speed into the finishing straight, sprinting all out from there while others were trying to get around their leadouts, and holding off all the way to the line to deny Nguyễn Dương Hồ Vũ of Vinama and his teammate Nguyễn Trường Tài, who kept Lê Nguyệt Minh from taking the bonus seconds he required to win back the leader's jersey. Worse for him, maillot jaune holder Nguyễn Tấn Hoài picked up a couple of bonus seconds at the first intermediate, so now moves into sole custody of the lead time.

 
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