Diegem – Classic racing under the lights…

The best racing of the year came with only hours to spare.

Floodlight cyclo-cross seems to be a thing nowadays, more so than ever.

Last night was festive fun at the highest level as the big three traded the lead before the final corner decided the outcome.

No spoilers from me.

But during the race Mathieu Van der Poel, Wout van Aert and Tom Pidcock traded the lead through heavy mud and tough single track.

If you’ve not watched it, please get on GCN+ and enjoy…

Best race of the year?

100%

Not right for Mathieu but it looks spectacular

Mathieu Van der Poel finished well down in the weekends cyclo-cross race in Val di Sole.

The so-called “snow cross” delivered a course packed with rock hard white stuff.

Van der Poel took a view that there was a bigger picture to his season and visibly eased off, just ensuring he got round in one piece, as opposed to racing at the pointy end.

After his Antwerp crash last weekend that looked a wise strategy. Eli Iserbyt crashing hard mid race and looking in real distress after being wrapped in a spectators coat before being carried away from the course.

There were positives though. Lots of super competitive racing and some amazing optics which shows the course in its full glory.

I think that the organisers will be looking for softer, more powdery snow in 2023 to avoid getting a reputation of having a course that’s a rider breaker.

Here is the on bike course recon ride that shows you just how slippy it was.

Remco and Annemiek save the world(s)

After a bit of moaning from me in the build up to the Australian hosted world championships, I have to say that they delivered more than anticipated.

A bad looking fall in the midweek relay time trial left Annemiek Van Vleuten unlikely to even start the Womens race on Saturday. But, she managed to patch up her fractured elbow and take her place at kilometer zero.

There were plenty of times, even in the closing stages, where she looked likely to get dropped. She was also placed in the second or third group on the road more than once. It looked like a case of hanging on to get the best finish possible.

But as groups merged in the final kilometer AVV came to life.

She darted down the right hand side of the road with the perfectly timed attack.

After lots of riders trying to get away without success, this was one increase in pace and it stuck.

She was the most deserving of champions of the world and the finish will go down in history. It would have been epic, even without broken bones.

RnkRiderTeamUCIPntTime
1 VAN VLEUTEN AnnemiekNetherlands6003504:24:25
2 KOPECKY LotteBelgium4752600:01
3 PERSICO SilviaItaly400190,,
4 LIPPERT LianeGermany325150,,
5 LUDWIG Cecilie UttrupDenmark275130,,
6 SIERRA ArlenisCuba225110,,
7 LABOUS JulietteFrance175100,,
8 NIEWIADOMA KatarzynaPoland15090,,
9 CHABBEY EliseSwitzerland12580,,
10 LONGO BORGHINI ElisaItaly10070,,
from procyclingstats.com

Once Mathieu van der Poel had dropped out of the men’s race following a night of disruption at his hotel, culminating in a visit to the police station, all eyes were on Belgium for the win.

After the drama of Leuven last year, everyone wanted to see how the dynamic between Wout van Aert and Remco Evenepoel would play out.

Most pundits agreed that Remco would be the one to attack early and Wout would save himself for any sprint finish.

That’s exactly how it played out with the recent Vuelta winner slipping into a late group and then dropping its other members one by one.

It was as dominant a worlds performance as I can remember.

He soloed home with very little stress to cement himself as the rider of the late season and take the rainbow jersey.

RnkRiderTeamUCIPntTime
1 EVENEPOEL RemcoBelgium6003506:16:08
2 LAPORTE ChristopheFrance4752602:21
3 MATTHEWS MichaelAustralia400190,,
4 VAN AERT WoutBelgium325150,,
5 TRENTIN MatteoItaly275130,,
6 KRISTOFF AlexanderNorway225110,,
7 SAGAN PeterSlovakia175100,,
8 BETTIOL AlbertoItaly15090,,
9 HAYTER EthanGreat Britain12580,,
10 SKJELMOSE MattiasDenmark10070,,
from procyclingstats.com

A couple of notable rides came from Peter Sagan who showed his best form in a couple of years to come home seventh and our own Ethan Hayter who made the top 10.

Now we move on to the end of season Italian classics races and cyclocross… gone quickly hasn’t it?

Belated Giro review…

My holiday had an inconvenient side effect of taking me away from wifi and 4g for the final weekend of the 2022 Giro D’Italia.

I had left for the solitude of a boat on the Norfolk broads with Richard Carapaz of Ineos looking the likely winner in Verona.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves here.

The race had started back on 6th May in Hungary which put on its best sights and weather for the arrival of the race. A year or so late due to Covid, of course.

Mathieu van der Poel did his thing avoiding a tumbling Caleb Ewan to get the first pink jersey before Simon Yates shocked the peloton in the next days time trial.

The Brits were 2 from 3 in the Hungarian stages as Mark Cavendish kept the “will he won’t he?” Tour de France narrative going by outsprinting his rivals in Balantonfured. The debate is still raging as that was the high point for Cav with no other stages wins. He did make the finish though and has taken that form into the most recent Belgian semi classics.

Stage 4 had the first mountain finish of the race and Leonard Kamna showed his class by taking the win on Mount Etna. Juan Pedro Lopez of Trek took the leaders pink jersey at this point and despite being a relative newcomer to the top table of world cycling was able to hang on for 9 days.

As we journeyed up the West coast for a few days Arnaud Demare put Cavendish, Ewan et al. in their place with back to back wins. This was enough to win the points jersey at the end of the race.

A couple of midi montagne stages followed with typically swashbuckling breakaway wins from Koen Bouwman of Jumbo (with a massive assist from Tom Dumoulin) and Thomas De Gendt.

De Gendt won in the way only he can, dangling off the front in a group that was pretty dysfunctional but just about had enough time to win it.

A sign of things to come was shown on stage 9 with Australian Jai Hindley winning the showpiece finish on Blockhaus. He would stay within a few seconds of the race lead until the final weekend.

Jesi is a place I know so it was great to see more barriers broken down by Biniam Girmay. Let’s savour his win for now and hope the eye injury he got post stage won’t affect him long term.

After no stage wins in 10 so far, the home nation of Italy got a pair on consecutive days with Alberto Dainese winning a sprint before Stefano Oldani showed his Etna breakaway was no fluke with a brilliant win in the port city of Genoa.

Demare and Yates won more stages as Lopez finally conceded the leaders jersey to Carapaz.

The race settled into the mountainous final week with more breaks winning stages. Santi Buitrago was the standout with a thrilling counter attack after crashing on a downhill.

Perennial trier Dries DeBondt showed his ‘new De Gendt‘ credentials as we headed into the key final stages.

All eyes were on the Marmolada stage where Allesandro Covi crossed the line first to save the race from a UAE Team Emirates perspective. The drama was behind though with team mate Kamna dropping back from the winning break to set a fierce pace for Hindley.

It was too much for the pink jersey and Carapaz was dropped for good seeing a late in the race new leader in the Aussie.

The final time trial was a lap of honour for Hindley who put the hurt of losing on the last day 2 years ago behind him. It was a great win and well deserved.

RnkPrev▼▲RiderTeamUCIPntTime BonusTime
11 HINDLEY JaiBORA – hansgrohe85040021″86:31:14
22 CARAPAZ RichardINEOS Grenadiers68029014″1:18
33 LANDA MikelBahrain – Victorious5752403:24
44 NIBALI VincenzoAstana Qazaqstan Team4602209:02
55 BILBAO PelloBahrain – Victorious3802004″9:14
66 HIRT JanIntermarché – Wanty – Gobert Matériaux32019015″9:28
77 BUCHMANN EmanuelBORA – hansgrohe26018013:19
88 POZZOVIVO DomenicoIntermarché – Wanty – Gobert Matériaux22017017:29
910▲1 CARTHY HughEF Education-EasyPost18016017:54
109▼1 LÓPEZ Juan PedroTrek – Segafredo1401506″18:40
from Procyclingstats.com

Ineos show their classic mettle in Hell

After a midweek of Magnus Sheffield winning and team dominance, along with an Amstel Gold success, Ineos Grenadiers had showed they were truly on the road to being a classics squad by taking the big one.

RnkRiderTeamUCIPntTime
1 VAN BAARLE DylanINEOS Grenadiers5002755:37:00
2 VAN AERT WoutJumbo-Visma4002001:47
3 KÜNG StefanGroupama – FDJ325150,,
4 DEVRIENDT TomIntermarché – Wanty – Gobert Matériaux275120,,
5 MOHORIČ MatejBahrain – Victorious225100,,
6 PETIT AdrienIntermarché – Wanty – Gobert Matériaux175902:27
7 STUYVEN JasperTrek – Segafredo15080,,
8 PICHON LaurentTeam Arkéa Samsic12570,,
9 VAN DER POEL MathieuAlpecin-Fenix100602:34
10 LAMPAERT YvesQuick-Step Alpha Vinyl Team85502:59
From procyclingstats

Dylan Van Baarle proved that three attacks is too many but two just enough when he made his way across to the 2nd threatening break of the day and dropped them to head into Roubaix with a hefty winning margin.

The truth is that this was a win set up nearer the start than the finish of the race. In a slight crosswind his team put all 7 riders into a move that took until the 2nd sector of cobbles to pull back. Pre-race favourites Mathieu Van de Poel and Wout Van Aert had to use more riders than they would have hoped in getting it back.

This left the Grenadiers with plenty of riders on the front foot and at the head of the race. In their old more defensive style of riding, the travails of Fillipo Ganna would have been enough to derail their plan, but whilst it was bad news for the Italian, the mechanicals that had him dropped and having to chase alone didn’t affect the strategy. They had riders in abundance.

There were, however, riders clear at the key point in Arenberg forest and Milan San-Remo winner Matej Mohoric was proving to be no one trick pony in forcing the pace at the front. But with Ben Turner pushing on behind in the group of favourites and keeping things in check, Ineos didn’t panic.

Mohoric came back to them when hW Hs a puncture and Van Baarle made his first move driving the final selection away. This was despite the spirited Tom Devrient remaining clear from the initial breakaway.

The second Van Baarle attack was clinical and final with only Van Aert trying to respond, the rest were on their knees at this point.

But despite having Devrient, Stefan Kung and Mohoric back after his mechanical, they couldn’t get close to the Dutchman whose lead grew all the way through the final sectors and on into Roubaix.

Seeing Sir Dave Brailsford and Van Baarle embrace in the famous velodrome at the end of the race showed that despite having won Amstel and Liege-Bastogne-Liege (with Wout Poels) this was the one they wanted. And it was worth the 12 year wait to get it.

The fact that Quickstep continued their nightmare spring might have added a bit of gloss to the win and the feelings of joy perhaps? who knows?

But with the Ardennes coming up it will be interesting to see if that drought can end for the Belgian super team.

On its own, but I am fine with Amstel as is

I know this is the least prompt post of the season… It’s a busy time ok? !

However, it would be 100% remiss of me not to go back over the great spectacle that the 2022 Amstel Gold Race was.

2021 was exciting with a hairs breadth separating Wout Van Aert and Tom Pidcock on the open flat space at the top of the Cauberg.

2020 had seen that counter attack from Mathieu Van der Poel. The one where he closed an impossible looking gap in super quick time before joining in and winning the sprint finish.

It might not have the history and cultural attachment of Flanders and Roubaix, but this race has had seen better finishes recently. You might need to whisper that in the low Countries though.

This year we had the same end game. A 2-up sprint after the splintering of a breakaway group. Benoit Cosnefroy and Michal Kwiatowski were the two go ahead riders and they were suitably aware enough of the riders behind them coming back (having probably watched Flanders re-runs)

GCN race highlights

The French rider led out within the last 200 metres and looked to have won. He was even called as such with the tv cameras focusing on the celebrations of him and his team-mates from AG2R/Citroen.

But when the side on shot came on the screen, it was clear that, as with last year, there had been a terrible error calling the winner so soon.

Veteran Ineos rider Kwiatowski had just nudged his wheel over the line first and the tv cut to the Pole and away from the desolate looking Cosnefroy.

You can argue whether its a good look for cycling not to be able to call a winner without changing their minds, but it was another chapter for the Amstel and another indicator that this is a race on the up.

Tour of Flanders 2022 – The world vs Pogacar

With almost a week now to digest the race and craft my post, the first thing I want to say about RVV2022 was that it was a culturual triumph.

After what feels a lot longer than 3 disrupted seasons it was really emotional ( even watching on tv) to see packed kerbsides full of fans watching “their race” go by in a celebration of Flemish culture.

Its something that never leaves you as an experience. Its 6 years since I saw the race in the flesh but on Flanders Sunday I always wear my (now tatty) yellow lion socks for training.

It becomes part of you.

The race was one for the fans to savour. In my view the absence of Wout Van Aert through Covid 19 opened up the race and whilst the early breakaway always felt within catching distance the counter attack that was clear before the 2nd time up the Oude Kwaremont had enough quality in it to make you think.

Ben Turner was the Brit in pole position for a while, before the Paterberg saw Fred Wright power off the front. From a domestic point of view, this attacking kept us engaged as Tom Pidcock didn’t seem to be back to his best.

Tadej Pogacar made one decisive attack which managed to merge a group he created with that front group but on the climbs in the run in it was clear that he and Mathieu Van der Poel were head and shoulders above the rest.

They finally shook off the remaining breakaway riders on the final climb of the Kwaremont. The 2-up they rode up until the final kilometre was one us club riders dream of being able to sit on the back of!

In the final KM though their co-operation broke down with both freewheeling and neither wanting to open up the sprint.

This opened the door for Dylan Van Baarle and Valentin Madouas to zoom up to them and start the sprint. Pogacar wasn’t happy and waved his arms in disgust. Van der Poel concentrated on his sprting and landed his second win in some style and in a race with some finish.

RnkRiderTeamUCIPntTime
1 VAN DER POEL MathieuAlpecin-Fenix5002756:18:30
2 VAN BAARLE DylanINEOS Grenadiers400200,,
3 MADOUAS ValentinGroupama – FDJ325150,,
4 POGAČAR TadejUAE Team Emirates275120,,
5 KÜNG StefanGroupama – FDJ2251000:02
6 TEUNS DylanBahrain – Victorious17590,,
7 WRIGHT FredBahrain – Victorious150800:11
8 PEDERSEN MadsTrek – Segafredo125700:48
9 LAPORTE ChristopheJumbo-Visma10060,,
10 KRISTOFF AlexanderIntermarché – Wanty – Gobert Matériaux8550

Milan San-Remo

I never know how to truly feel about this race.

Once the peloton head to the coast and start to chase down the inevitable breakaway hopefuls it feels like the season has started in earnest.

This year there was a bit more excitement with the break holding that vital 1 minute per 10km left to race advantage until they went into the climbs at the back end of the race.

There were negatives. I felt a sort of inevitability about Tadej Pogacar just riding away from everyone to win either on the Cipressa or the Poggio and that made me sad.

People who win too often or are too dominant are now subjected to a scrutiny that exists in no other sport. The stars of tennis don’t have to continually justify their sporting cleanliness in the same way as cyclists.

I want to believe in Tadej. But the history of the sport means there is always an asterix. That’s just how it is and I hate those juiced up 1990’s cheat for that.

As it happened the rest of the race ganged up on Pogacar to ensure that he didn’t win. The speed of the race over the Cipressa, a pace set by both UAE and Jumbo, meant that the break was absorbed but that no-one could sneak away.

UAE kept this speed up on the flat coastal road between the final two climbs. In a way it telegraphed their team leaders motive and to no-ones surprise Pogacar jumped before half distance on the climb.

He was actively marked by Wout van Aert who later admitted that had stunted his ability to deliver maximum power at the finish. Mathieu Van der Poel on his first racing day of the season also committed much to stopping Pog from winning.

As they reached the top of the climb it was all fairly close with a large number of riders, including former winner and sprinter Arnaud Demare in contention.

The race was won on the descent with Matej Mohoric shrugging off that horrific crash he has last year in the Giro in Italy, by riding away on the tight turns using every bit of road and some driveway to get clear.

He was using an MTB seat post to get more aero but the way he rode I think he would have been too good for the rest on a chopper not a dropper.

He even survived dropping his chain in the last KM to out last the fast closing Anthony Turgis who will be desperate for a classic win soon to avoid becoming the next big thing not to win a big race.

Was this a brilliant race? Not really but then the drama in Milan San-Remo is always condensed into the last 10 minutes, not the proceeding 6 hours. However, we had a worthy winner and a positive performance to start the monument season, and I am happy with that.

RnkRiderTeamUCIPntTime
1 MOHORIČ MatejBahrain – Victorious5002756:27:49
2 TURGIS AnthonyTotalEnergies4002000:02
3 VAN DER POEL MathieuAlpecin-Fenix325150,,
4 MATTHEWS MichaelTeam BikeExchange – Jayco275120,,
5 POGAČAR TadejUAE Team Emirates225100,,
6 PEDERSEN MadsTrek – Segafredo17590,,
7 KRAGH ANDERSEN SørenTeam DSM15080,,
8 VAN AERT WoutJumbo-Visma12570,,
9 TRATNIK JanBahrain – Victorious100600:05
10 DÉMARE ArnaudGroupama – FDJ85500:11
from procyclingstats.com

Riders of the year 2021

Here are my top 3 mens riders of the 2021 season.

3. Julian Alaphillippe

I am trying to avoid using the standard cliches to describe this guy. Swashbuckling for example.

However, its really hard when the two stand out wins of his season were gathered in that typical… umm… swashbuckling style of riding the race off his wheel.

Stage 1 of the Tour de France had been marred by crashes but was set up for Mathieu Van der Poel to win with an uphill finish and the weight of history driving him on. But that moment in the spotlight would have to wait as our Julian rode away from the whole of the race having surfed through the carnage on the road behind him. Carnage that ended the challenge of Primoz Roglic, Chris Froome and others.

He never seemed to get so far away that the peloton didn’t believe he was catchable, but he was never close enough for anyone to bridge. It was timed perfectly.

After waiting what felt like a lifetime for the Tour to be back and to have fans on the road side, this was the start that both France and the race needed. It also took the spotlight off a certain placard waving fan a little…

He then backed this up at the end of the season by retaining the world champions rainbow jersey by using his team 160km out to make the race uncomfortable for the home town Belgian team.

As the race entered a crucial period he was simply too fast for the riders remaining in the peloton and was justifiably a back to back world road race champion.

2. Mathieu Van der Poel

It feels like this guy had his best moments early in the season. He was thoroughly dominant at Strade Bianche with an uphill power packed attack sending him clear of the peloton. It was a truly wonderful display and the best individual piece of riding of 2021. Bar none.

He backed that up with a brilliant performance in Tirreno Adriatico in the filthy weather. He proved that his cyclo cross background didn’t make him solely a 60 minute racer.

VdP left the peloton behind “to keep warm” with over 50 km to go and would have won by miles if Tadej Pogacar hadn’t thought about the overall win and chased him hard.

But that ride did seem to do more damage than good, with him short and Milan-San Remo and then outsprinted at Flanders by Kasper Asgreen.

He did show his champion credentials in his Tour de France debut. Stage 1 was a disappointment for him missing out in a kit designed to mirror that his grandfather wore in the race. The Mur de Bretagne was different. He attacked first time up for the time bonuses before riding clear to win the stage and take the yellow jersey on the second ascent. It was great to see him get the jersey and then honour it to the Alps.

You have to love VdP for the way he rides and the way he makes cycling like it was in the good old days. Long may this level of performance continue.

1. Tadej Pogacar

The first rider in living memory to win the Tour and 2 of the classic monuments in a season. This lad has it all.

Whilst the Tour de France was in his pocket by the end of week 1 making the overall battle redundant, you can’t help but be impressed by his style and power on the bike.

Before we even got there he’d outsprinted the generations best classic riders to take Liege Bastogne Liege.

That was followed up with a dominant performance in Il Lombardia which is rapidly becoming my second favourite single day race of the year, where he took Fausto Masnada of Quickstep to the finish before smashing him out of sight in the race to the flag.

Aside from the results there is a quiet confidence and dominance about this guy where his presence at the head of a race seems to break the others before he even attacks.

The Ventoux stage was the only one where he looked like shipping any time but I still look back at that day and think he was focused on making Richard Carapaz put his nose into the wind rather than his being in genuine trouble.

Is his dominance good for the sport? For now I would say yes. It means the other teams will need to show greater innovation and creativity to isolate and then beat him, although his team has stocked up on domestiques so far this winter.

But what a talent. A poster boy for cycling for the 2020s.

My top 3 cyclo cross courses

It’s the article no-one is asking for, but I am writing it anyway!

If there is one thing that the arrival of GCN+ has given us is wall to wall winter cycling in the form of cyclo cross.

I am old enough to remember some rounds being shown on the BBCs flagship Saturday afternoon show Grandstand. I would then spend the Sunday morning that followed on my Falcon/Banana team issue replica bike on the recreation ground outside my house pretending to be a tough Belgian.

The dismounts and remounts were not so easy. Especially as the 1980s and early 1990s trend was to jam your saddle up as high as possible to show a bit of seat stem.

I also wore a pony tail held in by a rubber band as some sort of low budget Laurent Fignon, or the hipsters version, Soren Lilholt. But that’s straying off the point.

What these last couple of winters has shown us is that ‘cross is very much part of the full cycling experience and will forever be linked to road cycling, the spring classics and the grand tours.

Part of the reason for that is at the moment the best riders on the road also enjoy getting muddy in a Flemish field all winter. They are Mathieu van der Poel, Wout van Aert and Tom Pidcock.

With all of their summer exploits still hurting their legs, the three of them aren’t back on the trails as yet. They are all resting and that has left the door open for Eli Iserbyt to take ownership of the discipline.

He is being chased (literally and metaphorically) by team mates Michael Van Thourenhout, Laurens Sweeck and Trek riders Toon Aerts and Lars van der Haar.

Another grand tour rider in Quinten Hermans (who I tipped on this website as being a star of the future) is getting the Wanty team among those riders above.

The great thing about ‘cross is that its raced in laps with sections that need to be run alongside your bike, steep drop ins and a little bit of road. It has the lot.

So here are my three favourite courses of the regulars that are raced during the season. Let me know if you disagree!

3. Koksijde

This course is best summed up by the video “Cycling in Flanders” shot and you can get that here.

Its full of sand dunes and steep banks which leaves you thinking they are racing through a Eurocamp holiday park. Its utterly bonkers and wonderfully brilliant.

2. Koppenbergcross

This is another chance for me to drone on about how many times I have ridden the cobbled climb that is scaled on every lap of this race. But I wont.

I will talk about a course that has everything. It has the climb as well as steep, sweeping curves through farmland and some tight muddy turns.

This is fresh in my mind as it was raced yesterday. Check out the footage of Iserbyt winning but stay tuned in for some of the wrecked bodies and minds who slump over the finish before getting a Belgian face pack falling over.

It’s brutal and having ridden up the climb a few times I can tell you first hand how hard it is. But I wont!

1. Namur

This might be a hipsters choice from me here. But I love the racing this course produces.

The route is based around the finish of the autumn classic on the road that finishes up the cobbles at the citadel above the river and the town.

Its beautiful to look at but savage if you are racing with all the climbing and tight turns through the woodland.

The recent events have been dominated by Van der Poel but have been famous for a crash that Toon Aerts suffered which left him finishing the race with broken ribs.

Here are the details of the upcoming 2021 event from the website “Cyclocross 24”. there is a video of how difficult the course is for you to enjoy.

With only the Koppenberg round having been completed so far there is some decent racing to look forward to on most weekends now until the Christmas tree is down and we can start to think about Milano-San Remo.

Don’t miss out and enjoy the action this winter!