Happy Valentines Day. Enjoy Philippe Gilbert's trademark sprint finish and some links from around the web we're loving right now.

Philippe Gilbert sprinted to his first win of 2016 at the Vuelta Ciclista a la Region de Murcia yesterday, crossing the line before Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha).

Gilbert said the one-day race unfolded perfectly for BMC.

“Today was just a great day. I won but it was really a win for the whole team. We really raced perfectly together. I’ve done a lot of races but I’ve never really seen anything like this in my life," he said.

"There were 20 guys left at the top of the climb with 20 kilometers to go and I was suffering, but I was still there with the guys. To have all seven of us out of 20 guys was really amazing to see. We rode full gas to the last climb and kept a high tempo, almost at max speed."

Tejay Van Garderen's first test in Europe rather than at Oman paid off attacking with 13km to go on the Cresta del Gallo.

"Tejay attacked two kilometers from the top at which point we were only six or seven guys left. We caught him with two kilometers to go and then I took my chance in the sprint. So there was no way we were going to lose the race, either with Tejay winning solo or me in the sprint. I want to thank all of my teammates because we really raced together and it was so nice," Gilbert said.

Gilbert's lead-out man Ben Hermans finished fifth while Van Garderen crossed the line in seventh.

Earlier in the race, a six rider breakaway held an eight minute advantage before it and the peloton fell apart on the category 1 Alto Collado Bermejo climb. Only 20 riders remained at the front of the race with 80km to go.

With an early season victory under his belt, Gilbert is looking forward to the rest of his season.

“At the Dubai Tour I was already feeling good. I recovered well and trained a lot in between the two races so yeah, I think I’m ready for the season,” Gilbert explained.

The same seven from BMC line up today at the Classica de Almeria.  

Sunday 14 Feb 2016

Not many of us will be in love with this news as many fans and riders had come to enjoy the USA Pro Challenge. Shawn Hunter, CEO of the USA Pro Challenge event, announced on Friday in a press release there will be no 2016 USA Pro Challenge, but hopes it will return in 2017.  

But we do like Neal Rogers' work. Enjoy his analysis of this news here over at Cycling Tips, an excerpt appears below:

"The event, which was first called the Quiznos Pro Challenge, then USA Pro Cycling Challenge, and finally the USA Pro Challenge, was announced in August 2010 after years of development by former Colorado governor Bill Ritter, Colorado resident Lance Armstrong, and Rick and Richard Schaden — founders of the Quiznos, Smashburger, and Live Basil food chains.

By the time the first edition was held, in August 2011, Ritter was out of office, having opted to not run for a second term.

By the time the second edition had wrapped up, Armstrong had been handed a lifetime ban from the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.....

The Pro Challenge was lauded for both its scenery and the professionalism of its organization, attracting Tour de France winners Cadel Evans and Chris Froome just weeks after their victories, as well as top Americans from both the WorldTour and domestic circuits.

But behind the scenes, the event was hemorrhaging money....."

Roompot Oranje Peloton was the only team at the Tour of Qatar to opt for disc brakes now approved for use by the UCI in the peloton. As you can see, it takes the mechanic about 18 seconds to change the rear wheel. That's fairly quick given there's no brake rub to adjust later. When announcing its decision to use disc brakes, Henk Schipper, technical manager told Cycling Weekly the main reason for the change was improved performance of disc brakes in the rain and lack of distortion from overheating. 

Disc brakes: history doesn't just repeat, it rhymes
It's always interesting to me to see exactly which issues professional cyclists take to heart and discs brakes are just the latest.

In case you were wondering, it's a Malteser

 Everyone wants to win and pressure mounts on teams that have yet to win. Do early season victories matter? Does getting off to a good start in the season help a team’s results through the rest of the year and does having a poor start mean the rest of the year is going to suffer? Here’s a statistical analysis and some thoughts on the matter......

So if you’re a team manager starting with a blank sheet of paper to assemble a team and plan the season ahead what do you do? There are few cheap sprinters right now. Ever since Nacer Bouhanni signed a €1.2 million deal with Cofidis prices for sprinters have risen substantially so hiring someone to take a few cheeky wins in February and March comes with an outrageous price tag. Prior to this it would have been good to try and recruit a second tier sprinter to collect some wins, for example Astana have Andrea Guardini for this role, he might be Italian but can’t get a ride in the Giro and has to settle for taking smaller wins.

All this focuses on data but in cycling storytelling counts for so much. Any team that has a slow start can quickly feel the pressure as the media and fans point out the lack of wins. Any manager saying “don’t worry, we’ve planned it like this” will find people saying “they would say that, wouldn’t they” and mocking a rider’s second place in a photo finish as “part of the plan“. But resources can be deployed differently, why spend all that money on big pre-season training camps in order to have your team red hot in February when you could save the budget for later in the year in order to strike when it really counts? Then again a few early wins are good for morale and cohesion.

The broader question is whether early wins count for anything more than morale and narratives. The data suggest they don’t bring momentum. It’s questionable whether they bring publicity. We might think the goal of a team is to win but really it’s to promote their sponsors and if winning the best way to do this not all wins are equal. Take an untelevised race with a handful of spectators at the finish line where the results end up buried in a local newspaper and yes, you have a win in statistical terms but the publicity gains are tiny. Taking out an ad in the local paper would have been cheaper.

More at The Inner Ring

Stunning footage and a drone put to good use.  

Watch the other days' racing here