2023 Tour of Flanders review
The Tour of Flanders 2023 was a ‘Pog’ fest. There was nothing that could stop it. And you knew that it was coming. But it made the race probably now a little bit less of a standout for me.
I wanted a good race, but I also wanted a different winner than the man who is dominating racing in this season.
That’s not to say Tadej Pogacar didn’t deserve it. That’s not to say he wasn’t the best rider. It’s just to say I would have chosen a different outcome.
Don’t get me wrong. come July I’ll probably be rooting for Pogacar on the roads of France.
But April is the domain of the Vans… Wout Van Aert and Mathieu Van der Poel.
And if they don’t win, the biggest classic of the mall you wonder what the future holds.
The race itself was packed with the usual amount of drama. Although we’ll probably be remembered for a bunny hop that went wrong causing most of the peloton to crash.
The big climbs themselves saw what bombs dropped by the big three. Although Van Aert and Thomas Pidcock faded a little bit sooner than anticipated.
When Pogacar attacked on the Oude Kwaremont on the penultimate lap he looked pretty dominant but that was brought back by a combination of riders.
On the last ascent he was gone, and he was gone for good.
You look at his Strava times on the last two climbs, and even though they’re less than two miles in length, he put nearly 10 minutes into my best efforts.
Now I’m not the best rider in the world. and he is but that is a massive gap. It won’t be long before questions start being asked about his dominance.
In fact, you only have to look at social media to see they already are.
But for now, let’s enjoy what was a brilliant occasion with a frothy beer and a bag of chips and look forward to the second instalment of Holy Week when Paris-Roubaix hits the road this weekend.
The true “classic” of the opening week of the Flemish season
I know its a controversial viewpoint, but instead of focusing on the opening weekend of the classics season, I like to stretch it out to a full week. Well, until the Tuesday at least.
Trust me, I have nothing against Omloop Het Nieuwsblad or Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, but its Le Samyn all the way for me in these early Belgian exchanges.
Well first off the opening two races come with the sort of excess hype that a Premiership football match has nowadays.
I get that the end of the last road season (despite a lot of Spanish, Southern French and Middle Eastern racing) was a long time ago, but, for me, the Oude Kwaremont matters in the Ronde. We don’t need hours of coverage diluting the excitement of the big climbs when April arrives.
Any other race it features in is just a tune up for the real thing.
Kuurne struggles from the climbs being a bit too infrequent or too far out. Although it does have the Muur to upweight it.
No for me Le Samyn has a true uniqueness despite being a spring cobbled classic.
It has a different shape and feel about it, and I love it all the more for that.
Every edition I have seen has had those wonderfully Belgian slate grey skies. And whilst quite often opening weekend is dry (and sometimes unseasonably warm), Le Samyn always seems to be muddy, rainy and windswept.
There is the wonderfully named finishing town of Dour with its uniform housing and perma-shut looking shops which just add to the brooding atmosphere around the race.
I also love the finishing circuit (and people don’t say that about too many races do they?) with that little climb up around a village green past a gothic building house a bar. A bar you just know serves wonderful frothy beers in elaborate glasses.
Throw in the section past the police station before heading back to the finish on one of those block concrete roads so typical of Belgium and this race has absolutely everything.
Sure, enjoy the gun to flag tv coverage of some of the bigger name races this spring, but please do not shun this one. It’s guaranteed to be good.
A fond farewell to Cyclo Cross season 2022/2023
It’s been a good one !
I have been captivated from the moment Eli Iserbyt got off to a fast start in the opening rounds of all of the main competitions.
I loved Laurens Sweeck settling into his new team post transfer and starting to lay gloves on Pauwels Sauzen.
Sadly, from a British perspective, I will remember Tom Pidcock’s season for his last lap crash in the GP Sven Nys as much as the wins. A lesson learnt about showboating for Tom.
In the womens division Shirin Van Anrooij show most a clean pair of wheels looking on occasion good enough to lap the entire field.
Namur and Koksijde were my favourite races once again but for optics Val de Sole (even if some riders don’t take to the ice that well) was the most scenic.
Let’s enjoy the break and the road season before getting started again in the autumn!
World CX champs show sport at its best
Who wouldn’t be able to find an extra 1% in front of a passionate crowd of 40,000 plus spectators?
Especially at home in the Netherlands.
|1||VAN EMPEL Fem||Netherlands||275||0:54:42|
|5||ALVARADO Ceylin del Carmen||Netherlands||150||1:46|
|7||VAN DER HEIJDEN Inge||Netherlands||120||2:36|
Fem Van Empel benefitted from the decision of Shirin Van Anrooij to stick with the U23s and romped home to get the home nation up and running in the Elite category.
We were then treated to one of the best races I have ever seen in any form of cycling.
I have used this website in the past to highlight the 1994 Paris-Roubaix as the best race I have seen. This was close to surpassing it.
The deadly duo of Mathieu Van der Poel and Wout Van Aert rode nonchalantly clear of the rest of the men’s elite field very early on.
At one point their lead over every other rider battling behind them was close to one minute. The dominance was so complete.
They did try and work each other over and onto the front in the last lap or two which saw the gap to bronze medal Eli Iserbyt close. But the top two were constantly looking back and you know full well an acceleration could come at any moment to re-establish the advantage.
Attacks were traded in a blow by blow fashion and having the planks on an uphill section certainly made a difference on a number of laps.
VdP was getting over them and away quicker than his Belgian rival and it might well have been the gapping of Wout lap after lap at this point of the course that took the edge of his final sprint.
What I do know is that this race will live long in the memory and you should most definitely watch it back (even if you saw it live!)
Bike racing doesn’t get much better than this… unless its the 1994 spring classics and its snowing outside the Arenberg forest of course.
|1||VAN DER POEL Mathieu||Netherlands||275||1:07:20|
|2||VAN AERT Wout||Belgium||225||,,|
|4||VAN DER HAAR Lars||Netherlands||170||0:13|
|9||MASON Cameron||Great Britain||90||1:08|
Race results from Procyclingstats.com
Cyclo cross Euros a joy to watch
Regular readers will know that the Namur cyclo cross course is one of my favourites.
Read my previous pieces on it by clicking here.
There is always drama and excitement on those cobbles and forested tracks. So when the 2022 European championships were revealed to be headed there I nodded in silent approval.
Without giving out spoilers the races delivered. Building nicely across the weekend to the Elite mens which was ran off under biblical rain leading to some comical moments. It also led to insane bike handling skills and incredible balance.
All under the watchful eye of a hillside castle and roman amphitheatre. Don’t let the Koppenberg or Koksijde know but I might be dumping them for another love.
I only wish the riders had been in trade team rather than national team kits. Just to see how Jens Adams Chocovit team kit (all white) coped.
(Note : Adams didn’t even ride in the Belgian kit being a late non-starter)
Whilst I think its fair to say that we are all watching the ‘cross awaiting messrs Van Aert, Van der Poel and Pidcock, these opening weeks of the season should not be dismissed.
The racing has been awesome.
One hit with little wonder…
It’s a very different me who is sitting down to evaluate my 2022 cycling season. Read my personal 2021 review here.
Work, travel and things opening back up post covid 19 mean that I have attached a number to my jersey and bike only once in the whole year.
That’s still a bigger total than some campaigns when I had tiny children or was moving house. But’s its still less than both of the lockdown seasons where I at least managed to get five or six socially distanced club 10s in (see below in April 2021)
The training has been the same, if not harder and better. But the time to make it just 6 miles down the road to join up with Fenland Clarion on a Wednesday just hasn’t been there.
That might change in 2023. We will just have to see.
The positive news for this year came back in May.
Knowing that my midweek trips to Leeds would last most if not all of the midweek racing season I took the plunge and entered the ‘Rutland Border Epique’ sportive.
This is neither the time, nor the place, to debate the definition of sportive. For me though its a mass participation timed event.
So for some the time matters and, like me on the day, riders will look to get around the course as quickly as possible.
That I did, as you can see from the picture above closing in on the 100km mark.
Rutland is not terrain you can just go hard at from the first metre although I sure as hell tried. The suffering you can see above is the manifestation of that after over three and a quarter hours in the saddle.
I loved it though. It was a proper days riding in proper hills and with great riders round me pushing my level up.
I blew spectacularly on a 20% climb just after this picture was taken and coasted in (but with the 11th fastest time ;0) ) before heading home for a well earned pint of something Belgian.
I have written on my website in the past about how my riding should be best targeted. This is the chart that I keep coming back to..
Ride what you want when you want and somewhere in the middle of the mix you will find your cycling self!
So in short 2022…
Weather – Glorious
Riding – Brilliant and challenging
Competitive events- not enough but the one I did was great
Outlook – More time trials and sportives to come
La Vuelta ’22 – Roglic throws it away
One thing I would have been confident in writing last week was that a duel between stage-hunter Fred Wright and Primoz Roglic would not end up deciding the Vuelta’s general classification.
But we saw a bizarre stage 16 end the suspense as to whether or not Remco Evenepoel would win the Tour of Spain 2022.
We left the race in our last review at the final rest day with Remco starting to ship time every time the race went up hill.
Enric Mas but more importantly Roglic were taking time back. 10 seconds here, 25 seconds there and as we headed into the tough final week it looked a matter of time before the Jumbo/Visma man would take back the leaders red jersey.
However. Stage 16 bit back and caused drama in the way that only a Roglic capitulation could see.
The short uphill to the finish wasn’t too much of a gradient. This was shown by Mads Pedersen going on to win the stage.
But Roglic shot out of the pack like a rocket at the exact moment the red jersey was dropping back with a puncture.
It was inside 3km from the finish meaning the race jury would allocate the same time as the main peloton to Remco. But that would still mean a time loss as Rog powered up the finishing straight.
No-one truly knows if Rog had an inkling of the leaders woes when he attacked. But it soon became academic as he crashed into Wright in the final metres. Roglic bolted from one side of the road to the other and the two clashed handle bars before the Slovenian hit the deck.
His Vuelta was over and he has since pointed the finger of blame at Wright. Unfairly for me.
This left Mas the main challenger but over the next mountain stage, won heroically by Rigoberto Uran, he couldn’t get away.
The final true mountain stage ended up being won by Remco who put 2 more seconds into Mas and that was that.
Pedersen, Richard Carapaz and Juan Sebastian Molano won the remaining stages but it was the Belgian who ended his homelands long drought in three week grand tours.
Despite the anticlimactic last few stages it was a really decent race this and sets up next summer’s big races perfectly.
|1||1||–||EVENEPOEL Remco||Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl Team||850||400||16″||80:26:59|
|2||2||–||MAS Enric||Movistar Team||680||290||23″||2:02|
|3||3||–||AYUSO Juan||UAE Team Emirates||575||240||4″||4:57|
|4||4||–||LÓPEZ Miguel Ángel||Astana Qazaqstan Team||460||220||10″||5:56|
|5||5||–||ALMEIDA João||UAE Team Emirates||380||200||7:24|
|6||6||–||ARENSMAN Thymen||Team DSM||320||190||16″||7:45|
|7||7||–||RODRÍGUEZ Carlos||INEOS Grenadiers||260||180||7:57|
|8||8||–||O’CONNOR Ben||AG2R Citroën Team||220||170||10:30|
|9||9||–||URÁN Rigoberto||EF Education-EasyPost||180||160||22″||11:04|
|10||10||–||HINDLEY Jai||BORA – hansgrohe||140||150||12:01|
A dawning realisation..
Since 2015 I have been racing and riding on a Cannondale Super 6 EVO.
Not top of the range, granted. But 105 Shimano throughout and with a Mavic Cosmic wheelset update.
That bike and I have been through a lot.
We rode the 2015 Ronde Van Vlaanderen Cyclo having had to leave sick family members at home. They were horrid conditions and I cried the last 10km into the finish.
We have had other trips to Belgium, ridden the Tour of Cambridgeshire a few times and been up and down a number of Alps.
But its time to part.
It’s not the bike its me. The sort of riding a full carbon road bike needs is not what I do anymore.
Thats the dawning realisation I have come to as I head to my 50s.
What I need from a bike isn’t what I needed in 2015, and it’s not likely to be the sort of thing I will ever need from a bike again.
Soften angles and fatter tyres will be way forward for me. Comfort as much as speed.
I have spent too much time stressing about wanting to be faster at cycling in my 30 years in the sport. Now with less miles ahead of me until I pack it all in than behind me, I want to savour the experience of riding a bike.
My winter bike is prepped and ready to roll tomorrow…
Was Scheldeprijs the best cobbled classic of 2022?
Alexander Kristoff produced a great escape from an elite group of sprinters and escape specialists to win this rainy classic.
There was a lot of pressure on Quickstep ahead of this one so it was surprising that they managed to miss the big crosswind split (it went near that tunnel you drive through on the way to Amsterdam!).
There was a bit of a chase but with some considerable distance to race there were some commitment issues in the group behind meaning Fabio Jakobsen was stranded and the mini Quickstep classics drought was set to go on.
Sam Bennett of Bora now looked a nailed on for the win but started to drift off the back as the cold and wet started to set in. His team mates tried to rally him but as with last years Gent-Wevelgem, when Bennett was tired, he was dropped.
The onus moved on to Alpecin who had managed to get both of their days sprinters, Jasper Philipsen and Tim Merlier in the move but with an attacking run in (maybe due to the riders wanting to get in from the cold!) it was Kristoff who made his acceleration stick.
There was a pursuit of sorts but the breakaway starting to fold in on their self and the Norwegian was away.
It was a brilliantly executed moment and his celebratory ride down the finishing straight was the Kristoff of old. It was brilliant.
So with all the new guard winning left, right and centre, this was a moment for us oldies.
|1||KRISTOFF Alexander||Intermarché – Wanty – Gobert Matériaux||200||125||4:06:02|
|2||VAN POPPEL Danny||BORA – hansgrohe||150||85||0:24|
|3||WELSFORD Sam||Team DSM||125||60||,,|
|4||VAN UDEN Casper||Team DSM||100||50||0:26|
|5||THEUNS Edward||Trek – Segafredo||85||45||,,|
|7||MCLAY Daniel||Team Arkéa Samsic||60||35||,,|
|10||MULLEN Ryan||BORA – hansgrohe||35||22||,,|