The Tour is over…

The first rest day of the 2021 Tour de France has arrived with the race for the yellow jersey well and truly over.

History does warn us that we might see a change of winner of this race in the courts in 2025 but that is me being cynical and as of yet, other than being the best rider, there is no reason to accuse Tadej Pogacar of anything.

We are all just burned by the past.

The race has had so many great memories that even if the overall might be done and dusted (barring accident), we are not able to complain.

The first days steep finish saw Julian Alaphillippe soar from the front of a disintegrating peloton to win with ease.

A new father he took the time to add a baby sucking its thumb into his celebration, such was the dominance.

We were all waiting for Mathieu van der Poel to win that stage but a mistimed incident (not that crash the other one that took out Chris Froome) saw him with too much ground to make up.

He put it right on day 2 with the Mur de Bretagne being climbed twice.

It looked like madness on the first time up when MVDP shot clear only to be caught over the summit. But he had it under control having snatched a hand full of bonus seconds which meant that when he went up the climb the second time attacking in virtually the same spot he knew he could pull out enough of a gap to get the jersey from Julian.

As he flew over the line his arm shot skywards in homage to his grandfather, Raymond Poulidor. Multi times runner up in the Tour without ever getting the jersey.

Having sadly died before getting the chance to see Mathieu compete in the Tour, his grandson shed tears of joy and of grief at the end of the stage.

The other big story to come out of week one has been the resurgence of Mark Cavendish.

He had been long since written off and even threatened retirement in a tough to hear interview with Flemish TV at the end of 2020.

Quickstep rescued him from the Bahrain team and in the early season Belgian classics he was working hard and getting his nose into the wind as training.

He came close on a number of occasions before winning four stages of the Tour of Turkey.

He returned to that road captain, domestique role again for a few weeks before winning the final stage of the Tour of Belgium.

The injury to Sam Bennett opened the door for Cav to make another visit to the worlds biggest race and with 2 stage wins (including the symmetary of a win in Chateauroux where he took his maiden victory), he might not be done yet!

The second weekend of the race took us into the Alps and in protest at most of the famous big climbs being missing it produced some weather that even us Brits who are used to damp summers might complain about.

Dylan Theuns showed his Flandrien heritage by battling through the rain to win in Grand Bornand but the action was behind him with Pogacar romping away from everyone else.

After recent grand tours being settled by seconds, he is now minutes ahead of anyone else who could rival him.

And just to prove it wasn’t a fluke, he did it again yesterday on the road into Tignes.

So the yellow jersey race might be done, but let’s look forward to some exciting stages in the coming days and hopefully some better weather!

RnkPrev▼▲RiderTeamUCITime
11 POGAČAR TadejUAE-Team Emirates2534:11:10
214▲12 O’CONNOR BenAG2R Citroën Team2:01
34▲1 URÁN RigobertoEF Education – Nippo5:18
45▲1 VINGEGAARD JonasTeam Jumbo-Visma5:32
56▲1 CARAPAZ RichardINEOS Grenadiers5:33
68▲2 MAS EnricMovistar Team5:47
77 KELDERMAN WilcoBORA – hansgrohe5:58
83▼5 LUTSENKO AlexeyAstana – Premier Tech6:12
912▲3 MARTIN GuillaumeCofidis, Solutions Crédits7:02
109▼1 GAUDU DavidGroupama – FDJ7:22

The upcoming Giro marks a change in the season

Despite their being much disruption still across Europe and beyond, we have had a cycling season to enjoy and 2021 has delivered.

There have been a number of highlights in the classics and one week stage races to date and before we get into the Giro D’Italia let’s cover our top 3…

3. Mark Cavendish in the Tour of Turkey

“Cav” has come a long way from his tearful farewell to 2020.

After release from Bahrain/McLaren he was late in finding a team, but when he did it was a key move in returning to the Quickstep set up where (Harrogate aside) he had enjoyed constant success.

It took a while to click. There were a couple of Belgian semi-classic near misses and a fall when he was in the mix at Nokere Koerse.

He arrived in Turkey though and finally got the win. And then he won again. And then he kept winning.

The field of sprinters wasn’t deep the whingers cried.

But Jasper Philipsen is a top tier rider who had beaten Cav earlier in the campaign, and Andrei Griepel was still motivated to succeed.

Where the great mans season goes from here who knows.

But as he has said in interviews since getting back from Turkey, he has proved what he wanted to prove and now anything else he gets is a bonus.

2. Paris Nice Last Day

Fendrien covered this a lot at the time. Cycling is full of unwritten rules and rituals. One of which Primoz Roglic broke on the penultimate day of the race when refusing to gift a stage to Gino Mader who had been out in the days breakaway.

There was no need for Roglic to sprint and overtake Mader in the final metres of the stage as he had dropped his rivals and had no need for the win and time bonuses. He had the yellow jersey and the race was all but over.

The final day of the race seemed destined for formality before Roglic managed to crash twice, the second time the peloton decided to take its own retribution for how he’d treated the youngster on the previous day and rode on without waiting.

Two days of racing and two broken rules with race leaders gifting stages and the peloton waiting for race leaders after crashes up in smoke as the riders headed south through France.

Despite a spirited pursuit and a real desire not to give in, Roglic lost the race to Max Schachmann.

He learned his lesson though and later in the spring hauled in Tadej Pogacar and Brandy McNulty on the last day of the Tour of the Basque Country. However as a thanks to David Gaudu for helping his daring escape succeed and win him the race overall, Roglic didn’t sprint for the stage and the Frenchman won.

  1. Mathieu Van de Poel in Italy

You will be groaning to see that I have managed to shoehorn a couple of moments of MvdP magic into one bullet point.

You could also throw in his below par Milan San Remo performance as evidence you shouldn’t generalise.

But… two performances from the man of the season so far cannot be split by this correspondent.

First off was his 1600+ watt attack in Strade Bianche. It was a moment that regular cycling watchers will continue to rewind and replay for decades to come.

The fact he managed two of these accelerations, the second of which on the streest of Siena was enough to win the race should never be forgotten.

He proved that quick sharp attacks weren’t the only thing in his locker by attacking to keep warm on a icy wet day in Tirreno-Adriatico.

Castelfidardo is a town that will be forever immortalised in cycling history after he rode the race off his wheel and despite misjudging the efforts impact on his legs hung on for the win.

So now we moved on to a new phase of the season and the first three week stage race of the season in the Giro. It will be scenic and packed with great stories and stages. But it will need to be good to beat the opening part of 2021, that is for sure!

Crafty Kasper – A Flanders retrospective

RnkRiderTeamUCIPntTime
1 ASGREEN KasperDeceuninck – Quick Step5002756:02:12
2 VAN DER POEL MathieuAlpecin-Fenix400200,,
3 VAN AVERMAET GregAG2R Citroën Team3251500:32
4 STUYVEN JasperTrek – Segafredo2751200:33
5 VANMARCKE SepIsrael Start-Up Nation2251000:47
6 VAN AERT WoutTeam Jumbo-Visma17590,,
7 VERMEERSCH GianniAlpecin-Fenix15080,,
8 TURGIS AnthonyTeam Total Direct Energie12570,,
9 SÉNÉCHAL FlorianDeceuninck – Quick Step10060,,
10 VAN BAARLE DylanINEOS Grenadiers8550,,
From http://www.procyclingstats.com

The big 3 favourites for all of the big 2021 races were outsmarted by the Danish Champion, Kasper Asgreen, in another epic edition of the Tour of Flanders on Easter Sunday.

(Click here for an excellent gallery from procyclingtips)

With the mornings suicidal breakaway managing to get close to a quarter of an hours lead, the finale of this race was always going to be fast and slightly ragged. At key points in the race, there was a real chance they would stay away.

As the race hit the finishing circuit and got into the meat of the climbs there was a merging of the main favourites and the break led by a Julian Alaphillippe attack.

From the front group, Paris-Nice revelation Stefan Bissegger of EF seemed the most capable of hanging on.

However the French world champion didn’t have the legs to see it through and when Asgreen went clear with Mathieu Van der Poel and Wout van Aert (although he was soon distanced) there was some head scratching from the experts.

That disbelief turned to open frustratin as after the last ascent of the Paterberg, Asgreen made no attempt to drop Van der Poel on the run in.

It was as if Quick-Step had conceded the race and MvdP was going to get back to back wins in the race without competition.

Still Asgreen took his turns and the two of them marched on towards Oudenaarde and the finish.

Greg Van Avermaet launched a desperate attack out of the chasers with just over 3km to go, but it was a move for the podium rather than the win.

The sprint for 1st place seemed to take an age to get going and Van der Poel got ahead of Asgreen before something quite remarkable happened.

Superman became human and the Dutchman sat back down as the Dane surged past him for the win.

Yes. Asgreen had been imperious in his cobbled classic wins over the last year or so, but that hadn’t been the level of the RVV. This was a real step up for him and a tactical masterclass by his team.

As the race watched Alaphillippe he kept himself to himself before only launching his attack when absolutely neccessary.

It’s a shame we didn’t get to see round 2 at Paris Roubaix last weekend, but fingers crossed there will be futher encounters between these guys across the summer so the pot is still boiling come the autumn and the re-scheduled Hell of the North.

Flemish weekend whets the appetite

It was a brilliant weekend of racing in Belgium again this weekend.

With E3 on Friday and Gent-Wevelgem Sunday we got 2 classics in the truest sense of the word. Races fit to stand on their own merit as opposed to being just a practice before the Ronde.

Kasper Asgreen produced the best ride since he won in Kuurne in 2020 with a long lone attack taking in the Paterberg and Oude Kwaremont before looking cooked when the main favourites group reeled him back in.

However as Greg Van Avermaet and Mathieu van der Poel looked to have settled in for a sprint the Dane kicked again.

There was a bit of indecision in that main group. They had just seen Wout Van Aert fly off the front on on the last climb before being taken back and then shooting out the back.

Should they chase Asgreen hard and risk leaving the group disjointed and liable to slow letting Van Aert back on, or try and keep a reasonable tempo that stopped people getting on from behind giving them a better chance of catching the leader but with little wiggle room?

As it happens they kind of chose neither.

The 2nd group didnt get back on but they also managed to ship over 30 seconds to a man who had been out on his own over two of cyclings most hellish climbs.

It was brilliant from Asgreen. Cancellara or Boonenesque. He will now be a real threat in the Ronde at the weekend, no doubt.

RnkRiderTeamUCIPntTime
1 ASGREEN KasperDeceuninck – Quick Step4002254:42:56
2 SÉNÉCHAL FlorianDeceuninck – Quick Step3201500:32
3 VAN DER POEL MathieuAlpecin-Fenix260110,,
4 NAESEN OliverAG2R Citroën Team22090,,
5 ŠTYBAR ZdeněkDeceuninck – Quick Step18080,,
6 VAN AVERMAET GregAG2R Citroën Team14070,,
7 VAN BAARLE DylanINEOS Grenadiers12060,,
8 HOELGAARD MarkusUno-X Pro Cycling Team100501:28
9 VERMEERSCH GianniAlpecin-Fenix80461:30
10 HALLER MarcoBahrain – Victorious6842,
from procyclingstats.com

Gent-Wevelgem was a slightly more cagey and less attacking affair in the final.

The main group of favourites was away with around 70km to go and despite some forming and reforming of the peloton behind them that was about that.

It doesn’t mean there was no excitement however. Van Aert was keen to put E3 behind him and was key in driving the breakaway.

It was a sprinters paradise with Sam Bennett, Giacomo Nizzolo, Matteo Trentin, Sonny Colbrelli and Michael Matthews all present.

Lots of teams were covered and had no interest in chasing behind and that looked like it was that.

But.

Bennett had some issues with his last feed and was sick. He was dropped from the front group and shot back through the chasers with no strength to hang on.

Deceuninck now found themselves going from the position of close to 100% certain to winning the race if it came to a spring with Bennett to not having a rider up front.

Their fierce chase couldn’t reduce the gap so late in the race and Yves Lampaert was their top finisher in 14th place.

The riders up top had settled for a sprint and all looked really tired.

When it came to the finish Van Aert was a lot fresher and faster having had Nathan Van Hooydonck in the group with him to do some of his turns.

It was a great win and bodes well for this weekend.

Who’s your money on?

RnkRiderTeamUCIPntTime
1 VAN AERT WoutTeam Jumbo-Visma5002255:45:11
2 NIZZOLO GiacomoTeam Qhubeka ASSOS400150,,
3 TRENTIN MatteoUAE-Team Emirates325110,,
4 COLBRELLI SonnyBahrain – Victorious27590,,
5 MATTHEWS MichaelTeam BikeExchange22580,,
6 KÜNG StefanGroupama – FDJ17570,,
7 VAN HOOYDONCK NathanTeam Jumbo-Visma150600:03
8 VAN BAARLE DylanINEOS Grenadiers125500:52
9 TURGIS AnthonyTeam Total Direct Energie100460:54
10 VERMEERSCH GianniAlpecin-Fenix85421:25
from procyclingstats.com

Stuyven upsets the holy trinity in San Remo

That there was a Belgian winner of the first monument of the season, Milan-San Remo was no surprise.

That it was the under rated Jasper Stuyven was.

The Trek man rode the perfect final remaining hidden all along the Capi before hanging in with the attacks on the Poggio.

As Tom Pidcock tried to force the pace on the downhill Stuyven waited and waited before launching the winning attack as the road flattened out.

He was briefly joined by Soren Kragh before timing his sprint so that the fast finshing Caleb Ewan came up just short.

RnkRiderTeamUCIPntTime
1 STUYVEN JasperTrek – Segafredo5002756:38:06
2 EWAN CalebLotto Soudal400200,,
3 VAN AERT WoutTeam Jumbo-Visma325150,,
4 SAGAN PeterBORA – hansgrohe275120,,
5 VAN DER POEL MathieuAlpecin-Fenix225100,,
6 MATTHEWS MichaelTeam BikeExchange17590,,
7 ARANBURU AlexAstana – Premier Tech15080,,
8 COLBRELLI SonnyBahrain – Victorious12570,,
9 KRAGH ANDERSEN SørenTeam DSM10060,,
10 TURGIS AnthonyTeam Total Direct Energie8550,,
From http://www.procyclingstats.com

The so-called “Holy Trinity” of Mathieu Van der Poel, Wout Van Aert and Julian Alaphillippe were outwitted by the winner after their attempts to attack were nullified on the final climb.

To be fair Van der Poel had looked slightly off the pace all day and was a way back on the Poggio.

Van Aert was able to follow the attack of Alaphillippe but the Frenchman certainly didn’t have the kick of previous years when he went.

More questions than answers from this race?

I would say yes. The coming weeks will be really interesting and could we have all be premature in calling those three amigos as unbeatable and miles ahead of the rest of the peloton?

Opening weekend provides excitement (even with sprint finishes!)

Saturday 27th February – Omloop Het Nieuwsblad

The world champion Julian Alaphillippe almost pulled off a typcially swashbuckling move to take this one before getting caught on the Muur in Geraardsbergen.

He had, however, taken enough sting out of the legs of his opponents leaving the man of the early season, Davide Ballerini to easily take the sprint finish.

The perennial locally based classic contenders such as Oliver Naessen, Greg Van Avermaet and Sep Vanmarcke were left in his slipsteam and in my view look even less likely to land one of the big April races between them.

Having said all that, if you take the British sprinter Jake Stewart out of the top 10, the results could well have been from 2017 with Heinrich Haussler and Phillippe Gilbert rolling back the years.

It was so nice to see narrow Belgian farm tracks back on the menu and even from all the way over here in the UK, my fillings were clattering around my mouth remembering some of those crazy sectors that they had to ride over!

RnkRiderTeamUCIPntTime
1 BALLERINI DavideDeceuninck – Quick Step3002004:43:03
2 STEWART JakeGroupama – FDJ250150,,
3 VANMARCKE SepIsrael Start-Up Nation215120,,
4 HAUSSLER HeinrichBahrain – Victorious175100,,
5 GILBERT PhilippeLotto Soudal12090,,
6 ARANBURU AlexAstana – Premier Tech11580,,
7 SÉNÉCHAL FlorianDeceuninck – Quick Step9570,,
8 TRENTIN MatteoUAE-Team Emirates7560,,
9 GENIETS KevinGroupama – FDJ6050,,
10 POLITT NilsBORA – hansgrohe5040,,
The top 10 from 2021 Omloop

Sunday 28th February – Kuurne/Brussels/Kuurne

Aka the Mathieu van der Poel show (again). There were over 80km left to ride when MvdP went surging out of the front of the peloton.

He attacked with further to go to the finish than Alaphillippe 24 hours before to start the pre-Tour of Flanders mind games.

Jhonathan Narvaez of Ineos was his unlikely co-contributor, a rider more suitable to the mountains than the bergs but both sped across the gap to the days no-hope breakaway making contact before we got our first glimpse of the Oude Kwaremont for 2021.

This cobbled beast has a special place in my heart, and not just because I enjoy the beer from the bar half way up!

After that we saw the race settle down a lot with a flatter run in and circuits around Kortrijk. A new group with some original breakaways and Van der Poel seemed to be living a charmed life off the front at about 17 seconds but with only 3km to go it looked enough.

However a long drag of crosswind was enough to let what was left of the peloton get back on.

The sprint finish saw former rainbow jersey Mads Pedersen of Trek win easily. Worthy of note was Tom Pidcock making his Flemish debut for Ineos getting up for for third place.

He will be a marked man now!

RnkRiderTeamUCIPntTime
1 PEDERSEN MadsTrek – Segafredo2001254:37:04
2 TURGIS AnthonyTeam Total Direct Energie15085,,
3 PIDCOCK ThomasINEOS Grenadiers12560,,
4 TRENTIN MatteoUAE-Team Emirates10050,,
5 BIERMANS JentheIsrael Start-Up Nation8545,,
6 COLBRELLI SonnyBahrain – Victorious7040,,
7 POLITT NilsBORA – hansgrohe6035,,
8 VAN AVERMAET GregAG2R Citroën Team5030,,
9 VAN LERBERGHE BertDeceuninck – Quick Step4026,,
10 RESELL Erik NordsaeterUno-X Pro Cycling Team3522,,
2021 results from Kuurne.

In conclusion

There will be those who say that 2 sprint finishes and the mild weather will not make this a memorable opening weekend of classic racing but I thoroughly enjoyed it and now look forward to seeing Mark Cavendish in Le Samyn tomorrow.

This is a race which has a brutal finishing circuit and finishes in the town of Dour… which looks a bit bland!

Last week was bitter sweet for Sweeck

When looking for a contemporary cyclo-cross star back in 2018 to pin my hopes on the Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal rider Laurens Sweeck fitted the bill.

He was fast, acrobatic, agile and raced at the top tier of the sport taking it to Mathieu van der Poel and Wout van Aert.

The last week has made me love him even more with his strengths in cycling overlaid with the emotion of how real life affects you.

There was everything in the Saturday race at Middelkerke (well actually there was no snow, but we got that Sunday) with the Telenet series win up for grabs.

With Eli Iserbyt, a team mate of Sweeck, in for the win depending in what happened to series leader Toon Aerts there was plenty of drama and excitement crammed in to an hour.

Pauwels Sauzen got three riders clear from the start with Aerts struggling. If Iserbyt could take the win he would take the series.

However he was clearly struggling and the team was stuck in a challenging situation of making sure they won the race as opposed to trying something clever to engineer a win for Eli.

Sweeck managed to slip away almost without effort. It was more that the others made mistakes or dropped back but on the last lap of the race it was clear he was emotional and crying whilst trying to understand from his pit team if he should stop and wait close to a minute for Iserbyt.

As it happened Aerts managed to recover enough to climb the field enough to ensure that he had enough points to take the win.

It was only in the post race press conference that a tearful Sweeck revealed that his Father-in-Law had passed away in the week and he’d wanted to win for him.

Iserbyt was critical of the team work which meant there was a bit of spice, even within the same team ahead of Sundays race in Lille (The one in Belgium).

With a coating of snow on the course it was again Sweeck who flew clear just before half distance enjoying a solo win to banish the bad feeling and emotion of 24 hours before.

It was a majestic win with controlled aggression riding over the icy snow and through a frozen forest.

Probably the best weekend of the season so far with an undercurrent of grief and emotion.

My thoughts are with Laurens and his family at this time.

2021 Procycling Stats game launched

Regular readers of the site will know that I was a keen player of this game across 2020.

The purpose being you buy and trade pro riders with their price going up and down based on performance. You get money by their share price going up and from prizes, but of course there is the risk your rider tanks and their value goes down.

#RiderPurchase priceCurrent rider priceDays on teamAnalyze
1 VAN AERT Wout€ 955.000,-€ 955.000,-0Analyze
2 ALAPHILIPPE Julian€ 940.000,-€ 940.000,-0Analyze
3 VAN DER POEL Mathieu€ 910.000,-€ 910.000,-0Analyze
4 SAGAN Peter€ 800.000,-€ 800.000,-0Analyze
5 HIRSCHI Marc€ 680.000,-€ 680.000,-0Analyze
6 BARDET Romain€ 464.000,-€ 464.000,-0Analyze
7 DE GENDT Thomas€ 208.000,-€ 208.000,-0Analyze

Here are my riders for the early week of the season based on my initial EUR 5m outlay.

With the early part of the season (should it happen to plan) being week long stage races and one day classics I am looking at riders who have those skills to bring me in some cash.

My strategy being that once the Giro comes around I will be able to sell a couple of these for a profit or add to my line up with their prize money gains.

Its incredible to say it but Peter Sagan looks my biggest gamble at EUR 800k. He needs to get a spring classic win to justify my outlay on him or do something in a race like Paris-Nice or Tirreno-Adriatico.

Right, that’s enough clues as to how I am going to make some money, you can create your own teams here… https://www.procyclinggame.com/home

Flanders ends the monument season on a high

Oude Kwaremont

I am not sure if I am just so grateful to have bike racing at all, that I am enjoying all it at the moment.

The RVV last Sunday was a case in point with drama and brilliant racing well into the last 50 metres of the event.

But before the big 3 favourites became the big 2 and slugged it out on the overpass running into Oudenaarde there was lots to admire.

The days early break were as strong and committed as you would want for a race of this stature. They went quite deep into the race which meant a full peloton behind them had to be mindful and aware of where they were on the course.

There were plenty of crashes which you don’t like to see, of course, leading to Sep Vanmarcke having to produce one of the rides of the day to get back on before the start of the finishing circuit.

As has been the case far too often over the years for Sep he was producing his best work behind the race rather than using that effort to go off the front and yet again it was a story of what might have been.

When the race winning move did go it was driven by the world champion Julian Alaphillippe who put the hammer down. Wout van Aert and Mathieu Van der Poel were alert to the danger and with Elegant/Quickstep and Jumbo/Visma the two big teams having riders in the move that was day done for the majority of riders.

There was one big twist to come with Alaphillippe riding into the back of a slowing race motorcycle before landing hard on those unforgiving Belgian roads.

We had a big debate in our house about the crash. The bike did slow but Alaphillippe wasn’t looking where he was going. He’d been scrolling through his Garmin a number of times looking for data and information and whilst the bike shouldn’t have been travelling at that speed as the breakaway caught it, you do have a level of responsibility to be looking where you are going.

This left the former ‘cyclo cross dominating duo’ alone together again for the final bergs.

I suffer up the Paterberg

After marking each other out of Gent Wevelgem last weekend they were always going to collaborate to make sure they go to the finish of this one and that they did.

The sprint was neck and neck with Van der Poel just getting the drop of his rival for a win full of emotion and drama.

Let’s hope that we only have to wait until April for the next edition.

RnkRiderTeamUCIPntTime
1 VAN DER POEL MathieuAlpecin-Fenix5002755:43:17
2 VAN AERT WoutTeam Jumbo-Visma400200,,
3 KRISTOFF AlexanderUAE-Team Emirates3251500:08
4 TURGIS AnthonyTeam Total Direct Energie275120,,
5 LAMPAERT YvesDeceuninck – Quick Step225100,,
6 CLAEYS DimitriCofidis, Solutions Crédits17590,,
7 NAESEN OliverAG2R La Mondiale15080,,
8 VAN BAARLE DylanINEOS Grenadiers12570,,
9 DEGENKOLB JohnLotto Soudal10060,,
10 BENOOT TiesjTeam Sunweb8550,,