Pogacar, Roglic, Doncic: Slovenia, the small country with great athletes

The French handball players have an appointment Monday, January 16 with the Slovenian selection, for their last match of the first round of the World Handball Championships in Sweden and Poland. A tough opponent for the Blues, who will try to get back on the podium of the best handball nations, as in 2017.

In addition to this bronze medal gleaned by Slovenian handball players in France six years ago, several athletes from this country of 2 million inhabitants have distinguished themselves in their discipline at the world level, such as Tadej Pogacar, 24 years old and already double winner of the Tour de France (2020 and 2021), as well as his friend Primoz Roglic, 33, triple winner of the Tour of Spain (2019, 2020 and 2021).

A true prodigy of international basketball, Luka Doncic, 23, has also been performing thunderously for three years in the NBA, the very high American league. “Luka Magic” has already taken his selection to the top of Europe in 2017… at the age of 18. Since then, he has been considered one of the best basketball players, and has an unprecedented aura in Slovenia.

The country, which has a few alpine peaks, finally has a large pool of winter sports athletes. Alpine skiers Ilka Stuhec and Tina Maze have two Olympic gold medals in Sochi in 2014 and two world titles.

Massification of sport in Yugoslavia

This Slovenian tradition is the vestige of communist politics in the former Yugoslavia, where sporting activities occupied an important place. As early as 1945, Marshal Tito’s regime launched the Yugoslav Physical Culture Council, which later became the Yugoslav Physical Culture Federation, with a “absolute priority placed on the massification of the practice” in the direction of “amateur sports, (of the) young and (of the) workers “, explains Loïc Trégourès, author of an article on “sport in Yugoslavia, anatomy of a political project” (1).

The communist regime launches five-year plans for the construction of infrastructures throughout the territory. Marshal Tito also glorifies the performance of Yugoslav athletes at the international level, lever of influence and distinction, while Yugoslavia broke with the USSR from 1948 and gradually joined the “non-aligned” camp. “In the days of Yugoslavia, an Olympic medalist had the right to a salary, an apartment or a car”, underlines a file produced by The Team.

A sports monitoring program

Despite the fall of the dictatorship, sport remains one of the main subjects of the Slovenian education system. School children are also subjected to annual sets of aptitude tests, administered by the government. This device, called SLOfit, was created in 1980 “to better support physical education teachers responsible for guiding the motor development of their students”, explains the program’s website.

From now on, all the data collected is also used to “promote physical activities adapted to all generations of citizens”. In turn, the government has unpublished data (physical development, motor capacity) on the sporting potential of young Slovenians. And can use it to find and support the most promising.

But this sporting idyll also comes with its share of controversy. In 2019, a cyclist, Kristjan Koren, and a manager, Borut Bozic, were arrested after a doping investigation. Their names had been found in the files of a German doctor, Mark Schmidt, suspected of being at the head of a vast doping network. Other top Slovenian riders, such as Tadej Valjavec and Janez Brajkovic, are also implicated in similar cases.



Paris 2024 Olympics: Masomah Alizada, the art of rebirth through sport

On July 26, 2024, during the opening ceremony of the Paris 2024 Olympic Games, a delegation will stand out from the others: an Olympic refugee team will be present for the third time in its history, after Rio de Janeiro in 2016 and Tokyo in 2020. Imbued with their stories and extraordinary life journeys, the athletes who make up this selection come to challenge the most famous athletes in the world.

When sport changes lives

The only refugee in France to have participated in the Tokyo Games, Masomah Alizada hopes again to be invited to the great Olympic celebration in 2024, in Paris. Spotted via a report produced in 2015 and broadcast on Arte – Afghanistan. The little queens of Kabul –, the young woman caught the attention of lawyer Patrick Communal and his son Thierry, who decided to help her obtain refugee status in France. “Our first real meeting with her was a magical moment”, remembers Thierry Communal, who has since become his coach.

Together, they embark on a crazy project: to participate in the Tokyo Games. To At the time, the French National Olympic and Sports Committee had not heard of this delegation of refugees”, remembers the coach. But from phone call to phone call, Thierry Communal ended up joining the French cycling body, then the French Olympic body, and finally, through a journalist from the sports daily The Team, the International Olympic Committee (IOC). Masomah’s file is sent, and the young woman obtains a scholarship. From this obstacle course, Thierry Communal will only keep the positive: “I’ve been a believer since I was little, but if I wasn’t, I would have become one! », he laughs.

“Until the end, my participation was not recorded. The final selection of refugees who made up the Tokyo delegation was set in June, a month before the start of the competition. For 2024, it will be the same”, says Masomah Alizada, for whom participation in the Olympic Games has “always been a dream”. “With the situation in my country, I saw no way for this to happen. But with Tokyo, I understood that all dreams, even the wildest, were possible for someone like me”, she still savors today.

Since this crazy adventure, Thierry Communal assures him: several refugees have contacted him, often through Masomah, to obtain a scholarship for the Paris Games.

The Tokyo experience

This delegation, with multiple nationalities, catches the eye of sports fans. “In 2020, we felt a benevolent look from the supporters, often with a lot of questions, recalls Thierry Communal. Some asked us which countries the athletes represented. They were answered: “None and all at the same time.” »

The Spanish delegation fell in love with Masomah. “I remember that after her race, where she finished last, the journalists cornered her in the mixed zone”, traces his trainer. “She must have spent more time there than some medalists! »

After Tokyo, the cyclist took a break. Overwhelmed between studies and sport, she also experienced with anxiety the extradition of her sister from Afghanistan in August 2021, when the Taliban regained power. “What everyone saw on TV, we experienced it live, notes Thierry Communal. After all that, she needed a time out. But very quickly, she returned to cycling, with a clear desire to be present in Paris in 2024. Something has to push her, and the current situation in her home country does. »

Masomah was also honored at the Sportel Awards in Monaco, a ceremony rewarding the most beautiful sports images of the year. Alongside the teams of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCHR), she went on stage to collect a prize, awarded to the noticed documentary The Journeya tribute to all refugee athletes. “Faced with the acclamation of the public and the reception reserved for this film, I was able to see how much the plight of refugees, through sport, could fascinate and arouse respect”, emphasizes the athlete.

Enough to relaunch her ambition for the 2024 Games, in the country that hosted her. “There are still stories to be told around the refugees and Masomah is more than ever aware that his voice is important, at a time when Afghanistan descends into terror”, believes Thierry Communal.

For the athlete, the result remains secondary: “I’ll do my best to do well, but it won’t be easy…” “In Afghanistan, she had never ridden a bicycle alone, reminds his trainer. Once, when I was running with her, she surprised herself telling me that she felt confident. It had never happened to him in his country. »

Behind the sporting achievement, the message

Everything that happens to her, she owes it to the bike. Its participation in the Games organized in France would be a fine symbol. “Generally, I feel a lot of support in France, rejoices the athlete. Some make remarks to me about the fact that I wear the headscarf. I tell them it’s my own choice. If, in Afghanistan, men force women to wear the headscarf, in France they should not be forced not to wear it. »

For the cyclist, the presence of an Olympic delegation of refugees is ” necessary “.“When we see the current situation in Afghanistan, and even in other countries, we can wonder if there will be athletes from these countries at the next Games, worries Masomah Alizada. The refugee team gives visibility to the realities of the world. »

” This initiative (the creation of a delegation of refugees) will send a message of hope to all refugees on the planet and make the world better aware of the magnitude of this crisis,” anticipated in 2016 Thomas Bach, President of the IOC, when the first delegation of refugees set foot on Brazilian soil, with a view to the Rio Games. “It is also a signal to the international community that refugees are human beings and an enrichment for society. »

“Masomah is an Afghan Muslim. I am a French Christian. But without each other, we would be nothing, concludes Thierry Communal. This is the message that the refugee Olympic team must spread. »


More than 50 refugees train for 2024

In 2016, during the Rio de Janeiro Games, ten athletes were selected to be part of the refugee Olympic delegation. Four years later, in Tokyo, they were 29.

The flag and the anthem of the Olympic Games are used to represent the athletes of the Refugee Olympic Team.

Today, 52 refugee athletes, from 18 countries, benefit from a scholarship and train in the hope of being selected for the Paris Games. This figure is expected to increase further in the coming months.



Tour de France: departure from Florence in 2024, a first for Italy

The Tour de France will start from Italy in 2024 for the first time in its history. The departure will be from Florence for an 111th edition decidedly unlike the others with a final arrival in Nice, the organizers announced on Wednesday December 21.

“The Tour started from all the countries bordering France. He even left the Netherlands six times, which has no common border with France. But he has never left Italy yet. There is a kind of incongruity that will disappear”explains to AFP Christian Prudhomme, the director of the Tour de France who is in Italy until Friday to present this 26th Grand departure from abroad, the third consecutive after Copenhagen in 2022 and Bilbao in 2023.

In total, there will be three stages in Italy to launch the 2024 edition which, due to the Olympic Games in Paris, will end exceptionally in Nice with, as the organizers had already announced, a final individual time trial on the 21 July, five days before the start of the Olympics in the capital.

The first stage, on June 29, will connect Florence to Rimini – “a mid-mountain or even mountain stage with an elevation gain of 3,700 meters”, according to Prudhomme. The second, cut out for punchers, will start from Cesenatico and end on a final circuit in Bologna via Imola where Julian Alaphilippe won his first world championship title in 2020.

“Leaving abroad, I claim it”

The third, promised to the sprinters, will go from Plaisance to Turin. The fourth stage should also take off in Italy and then arrive in France.

“Leaving abroad, I not only assume it but I claim it. French security forces will be in huge demand in 2024, so a big departure from abroad can help”insists Prudhomme.

For the Tour, it is also an opportunity to celebrate Italian cycling, so rich, as 2024 marks the centenary of the first Italian victory in the Grand Boucle, that of Ottavio Bottecchia in 1924.



Tour de France: a time trial in Nice for the last stage of the 2024 edition

The Tour de France will arrive in Nice in 2024, deserting Paris for the first time since 1905 because of the Olympic Games, indicated the city of Nice and the organizers of the Grande Boucle, Thursday December 1 during a press conference.

Another announcement: the last stage, traditionally a sprint on the Champs-Élysées, will this time be an individual time trial. It will be the first time that the Tour has finished on a time since the legendary outcome of 1989 when the Frenchman Laurent Fignon lost the yellow jersey by eight seconds, the smallest gap in history, against the American Greg LeMond.

A first since 1989

The start of this 111th edition should be given for the first time from Italy and the city of Florence. As is usually the case in an Olympic year, the race will be brought forward a week. She will therefore leave on June 29, 2024 and arrive on July 21, five days before the start of the Olympic Games.

“Nice has hosted the Tour 37 times with two starts in 1981 and 2020”this last “in a very difficult health context” with the Covid-19 pandemic, welcomed the mayor of Nice, Christian Estrosi.

That the Tour de France arrives in Nice had been recorded for a while, while the Paris Games (July 26-August 11) will turn the summer sports program upside down that year. It is nonetheless a small revolution since the most famous race in the world has, with the exception of the first two editions in 1903 and 1904 arriving in Ville d’Avray (Hauts-de-Seine), until then always finished in Paris. First at the Parc des Princes (from 1906 to 1967), then at the Cipale velodrome (1968 to 1975) and since 1975 on the Champs-Élysées.

Return to Paris in 2025

“Nice is a city that shines, known worldwide. There is the beauty of the setting and the mountain next to it. The city offers an exceptional setting and a formidable field of expression for the champions that we are going to use”explains the director of the Tour, Christian Prudhomme.

For this Tour unlike any other, the organizers are planning a “Fireworks Final Weekend” with first, on Saturday, a stage “mountain oriented” from Nice. Then, the next day, as the ultimate justice of the peace, an individual time trial, 35 years after that between Versailles and the Champs-Élysées in 1989, an edition that remains in everyone’s memory.

In 2025, the return to normal is already scheduled, especially since there will be something to celebrate. “We will be delighted to find Paris and the Champs-Élysées for the 50th anniversary of the first arrival on the Champs”emphasizes Christian Prudhomme.



Map of the Tour de France 2023: find the route of this Grande Boucle

A funny snake of 3,404 km which sometimes gives the impression of trying to bite its own tail: the route of this Tour 2023 revealed as usual with great fanfare this Thursday, October 27 by ASO (Amaury Sport Organisation), the organizing company, has a rather unprecedented look. But it was necessary to adapt to this constraint of a “great departure” in the Spanish Basque Country which forces us to shake up the usual patterns.

The Grande Boucle, it is true, is no longer a surprise. In 1992, with already a start in San Sebastian, she quickly cleared the Pyrenees to visit the North, Belgium and Luxembourg in an acrobatic split. By taking off next year from Bilbao and after three first 100% Basque stages promised to adventurers who love bumps, it quickly imposes serious things, with the Pyrenees which will certainly not be the main course but offer themselves in consistent entry from July 5th. A classic Pau-Laruns and a severe climb towards Cauterets, the organizers do not skimp on the animation of a first week which has not been used for a long time as a nice warm-up.

Back to the mythical Puy-de-Dôme

A first week which will also end on July 9 on a summit, and not the least: the mythical Puy-de-Dôme. This is the big blow of this Tour 2023. Returning to the monster, inaccessible since 1988 because of the narrowness of a road also prohibited by municipal decree since 2012, was one of the dreams of Christian Prudhomme, the director of the Round. He has worked in recent years to bring down the resistance one by one, and with the respect of drastic access limitations (no spectators, restricted followers), the Tour will relive the climb for the fourteenth time since 1952, and awaken the ghosts of Raymond Poulidor and Jacques Anquetil who wrote on these slopes on July 12, 1964 some unforgettable lines of cycling legend.

The possibility of climbing the volcano again was well worth a long stay in Auvergne, the region benefiting from four days of presence, including the first day of rest in Clermont-Ferrand, before heading for the Jura via the wine route Beaujolais, for a stage on July 14 to Grand-Colombier considered one of the toughest passes in France, and especially the Alps, less spoiled in recent years, but to which the 2023 edition gives pride of place, in two times.

The Alps as a main course, the Vosges for dessert

First towards Morzine with a Col de Joux-Plane which in the past has had a great time upsetting the classifications, then towards Saint-Gervais before the second day of rest. The rest promises sparks, with a short (22 km) but very tough time trial, and the return to the 17e stage on July 19 towards the altiport of Courchevel of the very nasty Col de la Loze, specially tarmacked for its frightening appearance during the 2020 Tour. The 21.5 km of ascent, of which the last seven are almost inhuman with slopes around 20 %, will once again push the runners to their limits.

End of hostilities? What not. To get the peloton out of the way, the organizers have planned a fifth massif, the Vosges, for dessert. On the eve of the arrival in Paris, climbing the balloon and the small balloon of Alsace, and six chained passes should satisfy the strongest appetites.

The menu is therefore rather rich, and you will have to like to hurt yourself. Can the profile push the new darling of world cycling, the Belgian Remco Evenepoel, recent winner of the Tour of Spain, to come and taste his first Tour de France rather than waiting for 2024 as planned in his program? This is obviously the question that will still agitate the months to come. The playing field can make you salivate, but it is above all the different actors in full that fans of the little queen hope for. Finally a Tour with all the top names: Jonas Vingegaard, Tadej Pogacar, Remco Evenepoel, Egan Bernal, Primoz Roglic, Wout van Aert, Julian Alaphilippe, Mathieu van der Poel, all on the same poster. Chick!

► The stages of the Tour de France 2023

July 1: 1st stage Bilbao (Spain) – Bilbao, 182 km

July 2: 2nd stage Vitoria-Gasteiz (Spain) – San Sebastian (Spain), 209 km

July 3: 3rd stage Amorebieta-Etxano (Spain) – Bayonne, 185 km

July 4: 4th stage Dax – Nogaro, 182 km

July 5: 5th stage Pau – Laruns, 165 km

July 6: 6th stage Tarbes – Cauterets-Cambasque, 145 km

July 7: 7th stage Mont-de-Marsan – Bordeaux, 170 km

July 8: 8th stage Libourne – Limoges, 201 km

July 9: 9th stage Saint-Léonard-de-Noblat – Puy-de-Dôme, 184 km

July 10: rest in Clermont-Ferrand

July 11: 10th stage Vulcania – Issoire, 167 km

July 12: 11th stage Clermont-Ferrand – Moulins, 180 km

July 13: 12th stage Roanne – Belleville-en-Beaujolais, 169 km

July 14: 13th stage Châtillon-sur-Chalaronne – Grand-Colombier, 138 km

July 15: 14th stage Annemasse – Morzine-Les Portes du Soleil, 152 km

July 16: 15th stage Les Gets-Les Portes du Soleil – Saint-Gervais Mont-Blanc, 180 km

July 17: rest in Saint-Gervais Mont-Blanc

July 18: 16th stage Passy – Combloux (individual time trial), 22 km

July 19: 17th stage Saint-Gervais Mont-Blanc – Courchevel, 166 km

July 20: 18th stage Moûtiers – Bourg-en-Bresse, 186 km

July 21: 19th stage Moirans-en-Montagne – Poligny, 173 km

July 22: 20th stage Belfort – Le Markstein, 133 km

July 23: 21st stage Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines – Paris Champs-Elysées, 115 km



Belgian Remco Evenepoel succeeds Julian Alaphilippe and becomes road cycling world champion

Remco Evenepoel, the little cannibal of cycling, likes to put an end to food shortages. On the roads of Spain, two weeks ago, the rider became the first Belgian to win one of the three Grand Tours (France, Italy, Spain) in forty-four years. Sunday September 25, ten years after the victory of his compatriot Philippe Gilbert, the 22-year-old rider brought back to the flat country a new title of world champion on the road.

Enterprising as usual, the Belgian placed a first acceleration 35 kilometers from the finish then a second to win the Kazakh Alexey Lutsenko on the Mount Pleasant hill. All that remained was for him to manage, as an expert in the time trial, the last 25 kilometers of the urban circuit to raise his arms alone under the sun of Wollongong (Australia), after 6:16 a.m. of effort. He is more than two minutes ahead of Frenchman Christophe Laporte – the only Habs to win a stage this year in the Tour de France – who sprinted the chasers grouped together in the final, and Australian Michael Matthews.

Wout van Aert, the other designated leader of the Belgian selection, fails for his part at the foot of the podium, while one of the favorites, Mathieu van der Poel, abandoned at the start of the race, exhausted after a night spent at the police station. The Dutchman is accused of having pushed two teenage girls who prevented him from sleeping in the corridor of his hotel room, “assaults” for which he will appear in an Australian court on Tuesday.

A Grand Tour, a “monument” and the Worlds in the same year

We have no regrets because the strongest has won”, reacted the French Julian Alaphilippe, who bequeaths his rainbow jersey of world champion to his teammate in the Belgian team Quick-Step Alpha-Vinyl. Selected for the France team despite the uncertainties about his state of form after a season punctuated by falls and injuries, the last of which was three weeks ago on the Tour of Spain, the reigning double world champion was able to do better than a 51st place.

With the Vuelta, the classic Liège-Bastogne-Liège in the spring – one of the five “monuments” of the cycling season – and the Worlds in its purse, Evenepoel joins Alfredo Binda, Eddy Merckx and Bernard Hinault in the core of riders to have added a Grand Tour, a “monument” and the world championship to their list the same year. “I won everything this year, it’s incredible”, enthused the one who had also offered the prestigious Classica San Sebastian this summer.

In the footsteps of Eddy Merckx

The hatching of the Belgian could even have occurred earlier, he who had taken many months to return from a heavy fall on the Tour of Lombardy in the summer of 2020. His show of force on Sunday once again summons the memory of a complete rider like Eddy Merckx was in the 1970s, and some are already presenting him as his heir.

However, the Belgian will have to confirm the hopes placed in him during the next Tour de France, where he does not yet have any participation, and where he will have to resist profiles of pure climbers like the Slovenian Tadej Pogacar and the Dane Jonas Vingegaard.

Among the women, the day before, the equally ferocious appetite of Annemiek Van Vleuten placed the Dutchwoman well ahead of the road race. Despite an elbow injury that occurred three days earlier and her status as a veteran of the women’s peloton, the 39-year-old rider concludes a season that she will have dominated in every way, having already won the three Grand Tours.



Cycling: the Vatican lines up a rider for the 2022 Worlds

Participating in a world cycling championship, even as a child, Nothing Schuurhuis would have “never dared to dream of it”. Sunday, September 25, the Australian globetrotter – he also has a Dutch passport – will however start with a shirt for the less original: that of the Vatican. “I feel blessed” he told AFP.

This is the first time that the Vatican has entered a rider in the Worlds after becoming an official member last year of the International Cycling Union (UCI), the first federation of an Olympic sport to open its doors to it. It remained to find a minimum competitive representative, a not easy task for this micro-state of less than 1,000 inhabitants.

“In sport, everyone is equal”

To be eligible, you must be yourself or a member of your direct family (parent, child), citizen or employee of the Vatican. Rien Schuurhuis, 40, is neither a priest, museum worker or Swiss Guard, but his wife, Chiara Porro, has been appointed Australia’s Ambassador to the Holy See in 2020.

“That’s how I was able to join Athletica Vaticana which is basically an initiative of Pope Francisexplains the native of Groningen. The pope believes that sport is a good way to transmit values ​​of inclusion and fraternity. In sport, everyone is equal and everyone shares the same goal. This message speaks to me. And here I am at the world championships, it’s incredible. »

The pope’s message

For this former semi-professional rider in continental teams, the third division of cycling, it is the culmination of an astonishing journey that has taken him to the four corners of the globe, always with the bike in hand.

“With my wife, we traveled quite a bit, we lived in Australia, India, New Caledonia. Cycling for me has always been, beyond pure competition, a way to blend in with the local population, to make friends of all ages and all religions”, underlines this believer, father of two children.

In 2019, the sovereign pontiff praised cycling, a sport that “highlights certain virtues such as endurance to fatigue (on long and difficult climbs), courage (to attempt a breakaway or tackle a sprint), integrity in respecting the rules, altruism and a sense of teamwork”recalls Athletica Vaticana, which is also an official member of the International Padel and Taekwondo Federation, and is on the way to joining the fold of athletics.

“This message resonates with my own experience,” emphasizes Rien Schuurhuis, who aims to apply it wherever he has gone, such as in New Caledonia, where he learned the tricks of the trade to young local runners whom he has also supported financially. “Even though we didn’t speak the same language, cycling brought us together. It’s the virtue of sport.” he said.

The escape, “ultimate dream”

If he has always been involved in cycling – “I probably learned to ride a bike before I even learned to walk” – he would not have “never dared to dream of participating one day” at a world championship “far too ambitious a goal”. “When I was a kid, I hoped one day to be part of a team on the continental circuit, no more. So finding myself here, I still have a little trouble believing it, I’m only going to realize once I’m on the starting line. »

The ambitions of the papal envoy, accompanied to Wollongong by former pro Valerio Agnoli, ex-teammate of Ivan Basso and Vincenzo Nibali, will be modest on Sunday. “The ultimate dream would be to take the first breakaway, but it will be very hard. Winning is very impossible (laughs), even finishing the race is unlikely, the course is so tough,” he slips.

The main thing is anyway elsewhere for the Australian, who participates on the sidelines of the Worlds in several charitable actions, like Friday, September 23 with the Catholic organization Caritas. “I feel blessed to be here to race these world championships, so for me it’s natural to get involved and try to help others in return. »



Cycling: the fierce appetite of the prodigy Remco Evenepoel, winner of the Vuelta

This coronation, it is an understatement to say that it was expected. Remco Evenepoel wins the Vuelta, and the flat country can finally celebrate the victory of a Belgian on a Grand Tour for the first time since 1978 (read below). At the age of 22, the young Remco is once again raising Belgian cycling to the top, and it could only be him, the child prodigy to whom an entire nation has promised the intoxication of the peaks since his beginnings. Because this is how the short story of Remco Evenepoel could be told: a comet programmed for glory. However, its trajectory is not quite straight.

Remco is certainly the son of a cyclist. His father Patrick did a few laps in the professional world in the 1990s. But small gear (113e on the 1993 Vuelta). And especially frightened by an environment then doped with EPO. For the son, it will therefore be rather football. And very early, from 5 years old, with the purple jersey of Anderlecht. The kid sees himself as a guardian. But he stands out for his endurance. He will therefore be a left midfielder, performing to the point of joining, between the ages of 11 and 14, PSV Eindhoven in a host family in the Netherlands, before returning to Anderlecht and a few selections in the national youth teams where he is sometimes captain. .

From football to cycling in a flash

Future mapped out? Not quite. The player has many qualities, but he lacks explosiveness for the trainers of Anderlecht. At 17, Remco Evenepoel joined FC Mechelen, but his heart was no longer there. Anderlecht has it “mentally broken”, he will explain later. As, for a long time, he has supplemented his training with bike rides, he decides to give up the crampons to get into the saddle. Conciliatory, his parents concede. Good for them.

On April 2, 2017, with a one-day license, the rookie runner tackles his first race, finishing at 71e square. But as of the second one week later, a provincial championship time trial, he is 10e. The little guy learns quickly. Here he is recruited in an amateur team. The rocket can take off. The launch pad will be the Junior Worlds in Innsbruck in 2018. He crushes the competition against the clock, finishes alone in the road race and crosses the finish line on foot, raising his bike above his head. Too strong, the Remco. The image is stunning.

It’s only a beginning. “With cycling, you need a lot more mental strength and perseverance”, proclaims the former footballer. Perfect. It overflows from both. As proof, his first professional year in 2019 in the Belgian Quick Step team of Julian Alaphilippe. He immediately surprised by triumphing in the San Sebastian Classic, becoming the youngest winner of a World Tour race at 19 years and 7 months, before, a few months later, finishing second in the time trial of the championships. of the world in the UK. Not bad for a rookie, elected “Belgian sportsman of the year” in stride.

An already remarkable maturity

2020 starts on the same bases. Except that. It is not the Covid that breaks the momentum, but a terrible fall on the Tour of Lombardy. An over-enthusiastic descent, a frightening sun and the champion goes over the parapet of a bridge. The story could have ended there. The report shows a broken pelvis and multiple contusions, which will keep him out of the circuit for two hundred and sixty-seven days.

Since then, the Belgian with the thwarted destiny plays the death of starvation. On the Giro in 2021, a new fall of much less gravity however forced him to retire four days from the end. Among the commentators, doubt settles on his ability to shine on long-term events. Remco Evenepoel cashes in and says he has a fierce appetite at the start of the 2022 season. He is in fact eating the San Sebastian Classic and, above all, Liège-Bastogne-Liège. But bragging before the Tour de Suisse last June, he had to fall back, 11e only. It prevents. Absent from the Tour de France, he displays the color on the Vuelta, the main objective of his season: the red of the leader’s jersey.

Very quickly the reservations expressed fall away. Takeover on the 6e stage with arrival at the top, rivals pushed back further on the 10th stage against the clock, limited breakage on the highest perched days, the Belgian still being crumbly when there is a lack of oxygen, and thrust carried as a boss four days before the arrival. So of course, the fall and abandonment of a Primoz Roglic capable of tickling him arranged his affairs well. But Remco Evenepoel has demonstrated a maturity that some did not yet grant him. And all of Belgium to suddenly resume the comparison with the giant Eddy Merckx. “Little cannibal”, Remco Evenepoel. The nickname weighs a tad on the heir. And yet, from the beginning, he only thinks about that: eat everything.


Belgian cycling regains color

The last Belgian winner of a Grand Tour was him: Johan De Muynck, Flemish ahead of the 1978 Giro the Italians Gianbattista Baronchelli and Francesco Moser. A feat without a great future, the rider only distinguishing himself by a fourth place in 1980 on the Tour de France.

Since then, the flat country has been in despair for a long time, especially enthusiastic about one-day champions, kings of the classics like Philippe Gilbert (Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Flèche wallonne, Amstel Gold Race and Classic San Sebastian in 2011, Paris -Roubaix in 2019) or Tom Boonen (quadruple winner of Paris-Roubaix).

But now is the time for a bright future: with Remco Evenepoel, in red, therefore, on this Vuelta, and the overpowering Wout van Aert, in green on the last Tour de France, Belgium holds a shock tandem. Tomorrow, in yellow?



Tour of Spain: Spanish cycling is still waiting for the next generation

At the start of the last Tour de France in Copenhagen, at the time of the presentation of the teams, the Dane Jonas Vingegaard had largely won the applause meter. We bet that at the start of the Tour of Spain, this Friday August 19, on the podium where the entrants will parade, it is Alejandro Valverde who will be the most massively greeted. For completely different reasons: the future belongs to the first, while the second is the symbol of a lost past.

At 42, Alejandro Valverde takes advantage of this Vuelta to say goodbye to his audience. The meeting had already been set last year, but the 2018 world champion had fallen from the 7e step, and had to give up, broken collarbone. Such an exit was unthinkable for the Spanish giant. Hence this last lap this year. The winner of the event in 2009 obviously hopes for a last spark. But anyway, the Murcian, who holds the record for the number of rankings in the first ten places of a Grand Tour (20 times), “will be missed by Spanish cycling”, as 1980s rider Marino Lejarreta pointed out when honoring the champion at the San Sebastian Classic on July 30.

A ten-year-old fireworks display

Because Alejandro Valverde is the last representative of this golden generation which reigned over the peloton for a decade, from the mid-2000s. The good old days of the “club of five” at the top of the charts, with Valverde alongside, above the lot, Alberto Contador and his seven Grand Tours on the clock (the Tour de France 2007 and 2009, the Giro 2008 and 2015 and the Vuelta 2008, 2012 and 2014), but also Roberto Heras (four Vueltas won), Carlos Sastre and Oscar Pereiro, the last two having also won the Grande Boucle, respectively in 2008 and 2006. If we add over the same period the firecrackers lit by the Catalan Joaquim Rodriguez (14 Grand Tours stages removed) and the Oscar Freire (11 successes and the green jersey on the 2008 Tour), we understand the Spanish enthusiasm on the roadside then.

But now for a few years, the Spanish flag has been at half mast. In 2021, he has not been hoisted once in the Vuelta. A first since 1996. How to win, in fact, when the number of candidates is dwindling? On the last Tour de France, there were only nine Spanish participants. Such misery had not been pointed out since 1972! On the brave all the same at the start, hopes rested on Marc Soler, 28, winner of Paris-Nice 2018, which was not nothing, or Enric Mas (27), second in the Vuelta 2018 and 2021 all likewise. The ace. The first gave up, ill, during the 16e stage. The second before the 19th, caught up with the Covid-19.

A generation gap

Blame it on bad luck? Rather to a generational hole that is more and more a gaping abyss. It must be said that Spain looks gray with only one team out of the 18 that make up the international elite: Movistar, the formation of Valverde. Of its 29 members, only 17 Spaniards. Difficult, in these conditions, to bring the young shoots to the highest level.

This year, the organizers of the Vuelta have requested an exemption from the international federation (UCI) to enlarge the peloton (from 176 to 184 riders) and thus be able to invite three Spanish second division teams. Teams still quite young, like the Navarrese Kern Pharma, the youngest, dismissed only in 2021 and which discovers the Vuelta this year.

Expensive places

The Basque formation Euskaltel-Euskadi, disappeared in 2013 and rebuilt in 2018, is in full reconstruction. Only Burgos-BH can boast a little bottle and a reputation as a combative team, for the fifth time in the Tour of Spain and with a stage victory in 2019. But it too sacrifices to the ambient internationalization, with 14 Spaniards out of its 20 riders.

Opportunities are therefore rare and places are expensive. Literally. In July, the Madrid site El Confidencial created a mini-earthquake across the Pyrenees by revealing the practices in progress in many “small” teams, access routes to professionalism: making riders pay to integrate them. A drift already pointed out in the mid-2010s in Italy and which, to say the least, undermines the popular tradition of cycling. A tradition which, as elsewhere, is eroding. Unless a new Valverde hatches. The little Spanish queen is still waiting for her savior.


Nairo Quintana, absent at the last minute

On the eve of the launch of the Vuelta, the Colombian Nairo Quintana announced Thursday August 18 that he would not take the start of the race, of which he was one of the men expected with the three-time Slovenian title holder Primoz Roglic and the Belgian Remco Evenepoel. A day earlier, the climber from the French team Arkéa-Samsic was disqualified from the last Tour de France, in which he had taken 6th place. The International Cycling Union justified its decision by revealing that the 32-year-old rider had tested positive for tramadol, an analgesic banned in racing but which is not considered doping. Since this is a first offence, Nairo Quintana remains cleared to race competitively. The winner of the Vuelta 2016 can appeal within ten days.



Quintana case: why cycling banned tramadol

On the eve of its launch in Utrecht (Netherlands), the Colombian Nairo Quintana announced Thursday August 18 that he would not take the start of the Vuelta, the Tour of Spain cycling, of which he was one of the men to be continued. A day earlier, the climber from the French team Arkéa-Samsic had been disqualified from the Tour de France where he took sixth place last month. The International Cycling Union (UCI) justified its decision by revealing that two samples of the rider’s dried blood contained traces of tramadol, one of which had been taken on July 13 at the end of the 11e mountain stage at the top of the Col du Granon, where Quintana finished second behind Dane Jonas Vingegaard, the future winner of the event.

Since this is a first offense, the Colombian remained authorized to run in competition. But the winner of the Vuelta 2016 judged not to be “in good condition” to align, preferring ” to return [chez lui]organize and prepare [sa] defense about the news that [lui] has arrived”. In a press release, he assures us that he completely unaware of knowing and having used this substance during [sa] career. » He has ten days to inform the Court of Arbitration for Sport of his wish to appeal this decision.

The announcement also comes the day after the 32-year-old rider’s contract extension until 2025, announced by his team. In 2020, she had already been targeted in France by an investigation, opened for suspicion of doping without any guilt having been declared since.

Prohibited in racing, but not yet considered doping

Banned from racing since 2019 by the UCI, tramadol has not yet been included by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) on its list of doping products, although it has placed it under surveillance for ten years. “It is perfectly legal for a runner to take tramadol as part of a prescription because he suffers from acute low back pain, for example. But in these conditions, he does not take the risk of being on a bike in the middle of the peloton “, explained Xavier Bigard, the medical director of the UCI.

“Without being generalized, there was misuse among some runners. Its primary function as an analgesic has been diverted to delay the onset of pain, which is the main factor limiting sports performance,” recalls Roger Legeay, former professional cyclist and co-founder fifteen years ago of the Movement for Credible Cycling (MPCC), whose doctors from member teams had pledged from 2013 to no longer prescribe tramadol.

Drowsiness, dizziness: health risks for runners

Nevertheless, the UCI’s ban was primarily intended to preserve the health and safety of the runner”, specifies the instance on its site. The decision had come to conclude a debate on the question of the massive falls observed in the race, and that the immediate side effects of tramadol, such as drowsiness or the appearance of dizziness, could have favored.

On the Tour of Spain, I have already seen the Sky riders lead the peloton. Going up to their height when attacking a pass, I realized that the guys were sleeping on their bikes. I asked one of them a question, he was drooling and looked at me with a hallucinated look, testified in 2016 to Release a rider on condition of anonymity, two years after Canadian Michael Barry became the first rider to publicly denounce the abuse of tramadol in the peloton. Especially since the consumption of this opium derivative can lead to “a longer-term addiction”insists the doctor of one of the 15 formations affiliated to the MPCC out of the 17 in the ProTour category, the equivalent of the second division of world cycling, in addition to half of the 18 elite teams.

The Nairo Quintana case represents the first known positive test for tramadol since 2019. An exception in the eyes of Roger Legeay, who wants to believe that “This problem is now solved in cycling. This is not the case for Quintana who will re-examine the use of tramadol in the professional peloton. The last step is for WADA to put it on the list of doping products, and they are considering it. »