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

La Vuelta 2020 review

This was the grand tour that looked the least likely to run its 2020 course after a surge in COVID cases in Europe and refusals from the French authorities to let the opening weekend stages go ahead across the border.

But run its course it did and in keeping with the Tour and the Giro it was a cracker.

Primoz Roglic won riding for Jumbo/Visma after a ding dong battle with Richard Carapaz of Ineos Grenadiers with the red jersey changing hands a number of times during the race.

In the end it was time bonuses rather than physical gaps on stages that retained the race for the Slovenian ace although one particualar split that Carapaz missed was highlighted as race defining (despite the gap being only 3 seconds).

The truncated opening and full closing weeks featured terrible weather and it was an early race crash that saw Mike Woods of EF Procycling drop out of the reckoning.

That left leadership in the hands of lanky Lancastrian Hugh Carthy and he didn’t disappoint.

He won the queen stage and was still trying to get the race lead on the final Saturday of the race with an all or nothing attack in the mountains above Madrid. Carthy went on to take the final podium spot in third place.

Let’s hope its a sign of more to come!

Sam Bennett and Pascal Ackermann were the sprinters of choice in the race, dividing the scarce flat stages amongst themselves. Aside from Carthy there were memorable stage wins for Woods, who had more freedom after losing time and a brace for David Gaudu of Groupama/FDJ.

It was a fitting and excellent end to a season we will review in due course but which did so well to happen in any form.

2021 is looking to have gaps with the Tour Down Under and Tour de Yorkshire gone already. But let’s deal with next year in time.

Vive la Vuelta!

RnkPrev▼▲RiderTeamUCIPntTime
11 ROGLIČ PrimožTeam Jumbo-Visma85040072:46:12
22 CARAPAZ RichardINEOS Grenadiers6802900:24
33 CARTHY HughEF Pro Cycling5752401:15
44 MARTIN DanIsrael Start-Up Nation4602202:43
55 MAS EnricMovistar Team3802003:36
66 POELS WoutBahrain – McLaren3201907:16
77 DE LA CRUZ DavidUAE-Team Emirates2601807:35
88 GAUDU DavidGroupama – FDJ2201707:45
99 GROSSSCHARTNE FelixBORA – hansgrohe1801608:15
1010 VALVERDE AlejandroMovistar Team1401509:34
2020 Vuelta final GC

Tour ’20 – Stages 20 and 21 – Roglic folds under pressure from Pogacar

Regular readers of this website will remember that my preview of this years race was based around my memories of 1989. Something that hindsight has proved to be good punditry!

There was little sign of what happened on stage 20 coming to pass, even as the two main protagonists, Tadej Pogacar and yellow jersey Primoz Roglic warmed up ahead of the start of their time trials.

But Pogacar was gaining time from the start and at the first unofficial GPS tracking check was already 12 seconds closer to his Slovenian counterpart.

This fast start from his opponent seemed to freak Roglic out and he was starting to fold before our very eyes.

As they both started to climb the Planch des Belles Filles and swapped bikes there was very little to choose between them on GC time. This was pheomenal as Pogacar had had to go a minute quicker to that point to get back level.

Once the guy in 2nd had overhauled the erstwhile yellow jersey to take the race lead he kept that pace up and stretched out almost another minute which was enough to leave him a comfortable winner in GC.

Maybe it wasn’t as close as the 1989 finish as I led you to believe then!

The pictures of Roglic struggling up the 20% gradient to the finish line with his face all sunken in and his crash helmet wonky to the point of looking comical was sad to see.

He rolled alone over the finish line before Tom Dumoulin and Wout Van Aert tried to comfort him. Just along the road from this sad sight Pogacar also has his head in his hands, but in disbelief and joy.

I feel a mighty amount of sympathy for Roglic to lose in this way and for him to go to bed without his yellow jersey, but with a broken heart. It was wretched for him and I wonder where he goes from here.

It says a lot about him as a man though, that he congratulated the man who beat him so soundly and that he was front and centre riding into Paris on Sunday. A much lesser man would have hid.

The final stage was less about drinking booze on the run in to Paris, another feature of this Covid world. Sam Bennett was the winner proving that his green jersey was thoroughly deserved (as if we doubted him!) and that he was the fastest man of the race.

Sorry Caleb and Wout!

So that’s it for the 2020 Tour de France, thanks very much for sticking with my coverage of the race. I really hoped you enjoyed reading how I saw it, please tell your friends and buy a Beers of Belgium CC jersey (using the store password of “FENDRIEN” ahead of the classics !

Here is the final top 10 on GC from www.procyclingstats.com

RnkRiderTeamTime
1 POGAČAR TadejUAE-Team Emirates87:20:05
2 ROGLIČ PrimožTeam Jumbo-Visma0:59
3 DOOR RichieTrek – Segafredo3:30
4 LANDA MikelBahrain – McLaren5:58
5 MAS EnricMovistar Team6:07
6 LÓPEZ Miguel ÁngelAstana Pro Team6:47
7 DUMOULIN TomTeam Jumbo-Visma7:48
8 URÁN RigobertoEF Pro Cycling8:02
9 YATES AdamMitchelton-Scott9:25
10 CARUSO DamianoBahrain – McLaren14:03

Tour ’20 – Stages 10 & 11 – Sagan punished for avoiding fan?

It’s been a pretty sedate couple of days for the Tour as it recommenced on the Atlantic coast around La Rochelle.

No hope breakaways or no breakaway at all have been the order of the day and sprinters Sam Bennett and Caleb Ewan took advantage to win their first and second stage of the race respectively.

For Bennett it was the first of his career having played second fiddle to Peter Sagan for his time at Bora/Hansgrohe so it will have been a sweet moment to beat his old team mate and take the green jersey from him.

Sagan’s struggles continued into yesterday where he managed to get relegated from his final position to last on the stage for an alleged head butt on Wout Van Aert.

I say alleged because the pictures are pretty clear cut and there is no doubt that he did collide with him but overnight footage has emerged showing that Sagan may well have been ducking to avoid a selfie stick and fool hanging over the barriers.

If that is the case I would like to think that the jury would reinstate him and give him the points back.

Off the bikes and the rest day covid tests have put a number of teams including Ineos and Ag2R on one of their two strikes.

Although with Tour race director Christian Prudhomme holed up in isolation for another 11 days its unclear who would actually have the authority to make that call!

Here is a link to the current GC from procyclingstats.

Tour ’20 – Stages 7,8 & 9 – Heartbreak for Hirschi as Roglic takes charge

After a sleepy middle to the first week, the Tour de France exploded in the cross winds on Friday with Bora driving the race forward to get Peter Sagan back into the green jersey.

Their plan worked so well however that they had to keep rolling and as more wind ripped into the reduced peloton late on Tadej Pogacar and Richie Porte were distanced from the front group.

It is exactly the sort of stage that every tour needs to make it a classic. There was racing from over 100km out which always makes the favourites nervous.

In the main they all dealt with it really well and despite missing out on the mid stage sprint and the finish, Sagan’s ambush took the green jersey back from Sam Bennett.

Wout van Aert continued to show that he has overtaken Mathieu van der Poel as the man from ‘cross most likely to dominate world cycling with his second stage win ahead of a monster weekend of domestique duties in the mountains.

Saturdays stage was riddled with drama and had a French winner. Something that is always welcome on a weekend mountain stage.

Nans Peters soloed away from the breakaway to prove his Giro stage win was no fluke. He really enjoyed his moment as he was riding up the finishing straight. But the drama was going on behind him.

Pogacar was clearly angry about losing time in the cross winds the previous day and set about getting it back with a series of brutal attacks. He managed to get his deficit back to under one minute and you have to say he looks a good bet to win the race.

Yesterday was even more dramatic with Marc Hirschi out front alone for most of the day before being caught in the last 2km. He still found the energy to open up the sprint and was only just pipped on the line by Pogacar and then Roglic.

It was heartbreaking to see the tears in his eyes as he stood on the podium as the days most agressive rider.

Behind Pogacar and Roglic there was devastation with Adam Yates losing the jersey and the touted French contenders, Julian Alaphillippe and Thibaut Pinot losing all hope.

Both of the home based riders lost big chunks of time both days.

But there remains hope for the host nation with Guillaume Martin of Cofidis still in the podium places and a resurgence for Romain Bardet who is quietly getting better day by day.

So Roglic is in yellow as we head into the rest day on the Atlantic coast, but Pogacar is closing fast and if he can avoid being in the wrong echelon is going to be the winner (there I said it!!).

 

Tour ’20 – Stages 3 & 4 – Cousin evokes memories of old

Jerome Cousin of Total/Direct Energie was keen to push on with the stage 3 breakaway to Sisteron. The two other members of the move were more interested in accumilating KOM points and then not contributing so with around 130km to go Cousin pushed on.

His wonderful curly mullet and posh Scott specs make him look every inch the 1980’s retro pro as his long lone breakaway brought back memories of a couple of rides of that era.

Most notably the 1989 breakaway in the first week by Joel Pellier of the BH team. He managed to go the distance and was greeted by his family at the finish. They’d never seen him race as he had a disabled brother who needed constant care and this was the first opportunity for someone else to help out with that and allow his parents to watch the Tour live. It was one of the great stories of any Tour.

Back to 2020 and Cousin managed to stretch his advantage to 4 minutes but the peloton were never feeling generous enough to give him any more of an advantage. Shame.

There were times in his ride where he looked a bit bored riding puppy paws through the lovely scenery. I think he knew from quite a long way out that he would be caught and that didn’t really help his morale.

The catch came in time for Caleb Ewan to fly through the sprinters and take an easy win. It was a great finish to watch from the over head camera and he zig zagged through the group to beat Sam Bennett who left us in no doubt how upset he was by his reaction in crossing the line.

Lot’s had been written about stage 4 and the finish at Orcieres-Merlette. Luis Ocana and Steven Rooks are pretty decent names for a town to have on its palmares of stage winners and in Primoz Roglic 2020 added to that list.

The stage itself wasn’t a classic despite friend of Fendrien Krists Nielands being away until the final climb.

For a mountain stage there were a lot of riders in the group coming into the last 2km. I wonder if this is down to the lack of racing and everyone being at a mostly similar level perhaps?

Jumbo were taking no prisoners and the speed they went into the latter metres of the stage was more than sufficient to deter any attacks. Adam Yates admitted as much in his post race interview.

Sepp Kuss provided the perfect platform for Roglic to outsprint the other favourites and make a real statement of intent for the remainder of the race.