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?

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,,

‘Chasing Rainbows’ – 2020 World Cycling Championships…

The last minute, re-arranged World Cycling Championships were very good considering all of the stress and alterations to the venue in the run up.

Naturally it was a shame not to see U23 competitions and the team time trial (especially seeing as how controversial it was when it came in). But the events we did get to see where entertaining and with deserving winners.

RnkRiderTeamUCIPntAvgTime
1 VAN DER BREGGEN AnnaNetherlands35010047.15740:20
2 REUSSER MarlenSwitzerland2507046.8670:15
3 VAN DIJK EllenNetherlands2004046.5610:31
4 BRENNAUER LisaGermany1503046.2960:45
5 BROWN GraceAustralia1252545.9981:01
6 NEBEN AmberUnited States1002045.6481:20
7 NORSGAARD Emma CecilieDenmark851545.6121:22
8 KRÖGER MiekeGermany701045.4481:31
9 STEPHENS LaurenUnited States60945.2321:43
10 BUSSI VittoriaItaly50845.1781:46

Anna Van Der Breggen was a narrow winner of the Womens TT with Marlen Reusser at only 15 seconds and Ellen Van Dyke only a second away from a 30 second blanket being able to be thrown over the podium.

RnkRiderTeamUCIPntTime
1 VAN DER BREGGEN AnnaNetherlands6002004:09:57
2 VAN VLEUTEN AnnemiekNetherlands4751701:20
3 LONGO BORGHINI ElisaItaly400140,,
4 VOS MarianneNetherlands3251302:01
5 LIPPERT LianeGermany275120,,
6 DEIGNAN ElizabethGreat Britain225110,,
7 NIEWIADOMA KatarzynaPoland175100,,
8 LUDWIG Cecilie UttrupDenmark150902:41
9 BRENNAUER LisaGermany125803:08
10 REUSSER MarlenSwitzerland10070,

The road race was less close with Van Der Breggen doing the double. Special mention must go to her team mate and rival Annamiek Van Vleuten who came home for a silver medal despite recently suffering a fracture of her wrist.

As with the womens events, the mens were dominated by the big names of the sport with Fillipo Ganna winning the time trial ahead of Wout Van Aert (who bagged a pair of silver medals) and Stefan Kung who had left the Tour de France early to prepare for this event.

The weather was unpredictable with howling wind and cloud closing in and pulling out all through the event. At one point a cloud burst looked inevitable and this would have given an advantage to the early starters. But it didn’t materialise.

It was interesting to see that despite a pretty bland circuit and shortened distance the riders made the event and that was exactly what the championships needed to be successful.

RnkRiderTeamUCIPntAvgTime
1 GANNA FilippoItaly35025052.98135:54
2 VAN AERT WoutBelgium25019052.3490:26
3 KÜNG StefanSwitzerland20014052.2770:29
4 THOMAS GeraintGreat Britain15011052.0860:37
5 DENNIS RohanAustralia12510052.0380:39
6 ASGREEN KasperDenmark1009051.8490:47
7 CAVAGNA RémiFrance858051.8260:48
8 CAMPENAERTS VictorBelgium707051.7320:52
9 DOWSETT AlexGreat Britain606051.4051:06
10 DUMOULIN TomNetherlands505051.2211:14

The final event of the weekend was the mens road race which I settled down to watch with a beer after 80km of hard, windy riding of my own Sunday morning.

The breakaway were kept at a suitable arms length going into the latter stages of the race before Tadej Pogacar rocketed out of the front of the pack with a lap and a half to go.

He managed to get a good distance before fading, but it was a clear plan to soften the race up for his team mate Primoz Roglic.

Whether Roglic didn’t feel too great I don’t know. But he didn’t seem capable of getting out of the wheels when the likes of Tom Dumoulin and Greg Van Avermaet went off up the road.

The attack that did stick came from Julian Alaphillippe who went clear on the penultimate climb before following the Pogacar blueprint from previous laps and digging in on the plateau and rolling section of road.

He then made good on the decent into the Formula 1 circuit before stretching his narrow lead in the final kilometer as the chasers started to disfunction and settle for the lower places.

RnkRiderTeamUCIPntTime
1 ALAPHILIPPE JulianFrance6003506:38:34
2 VAN AERT WoutBelgium4752600:24
3 HIRSCHI MarcSwitzerland400190,,
4 KWIATKOWSKI MichałPoland325150,,
5 FUGLSANG JakobDenmark275130,,
6 ROGLIČ PrimožSlovenia225110,,
7 MATTHEWS MichaelAustralia1751000:53
8 VALVERDE AlejandroSpain15090,,
9 SCHACHMANN MaximilianGermany12580,,
10 CARUSO DamianoItaly10070,,

Van Aert came home second as previously mentioned with man of the month Marc Hirschi finishing off the podium places.

We now have a really short break before the Eneco Tour this week, Ardennes Classics on Wednesday and Sunday and the Giro starting Saturday.

Bring it on!

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 14&15 – Is Pogacar the man most likely?

With defending champion Egan Bernal definitively falling away from contention, Tadej Pogacar looks like the only man who can deny Primoz Roglic Slovenia’s first Tour de France win.

A twist or irony being that in doing so, he would also become the first Slovenian to take home the yellow jersey.

The best of the rest are currently Rigoberto Uran and Richie Porte and whilst both are talented and Tour proven, they are approaching veteran stage and wont get enough time back to get ahead of the two riders topping GC.

Sunday saw a flat stage into Lyon that had plenty of excitement and it was Sunweb who again challenged existing tactical norms by almost attacking as a team near the end. In footballing language, Marc Hirschi threw a dummy before the real attack came from Soren Kragh Andersen.

He held on to win in the ‘grand manner’ crossing the line alone before being mobbed by team mates. There is growing interest in their British coach Matt Winston and with the poor showing of our “national” team at this Tour de France it seems only a matter of time before the Ineos cheque book gets waved at him.

I am all for innovative and exciting, open racing so long may he continue in that style whichever team car he is sat in.

Sunday saw an unusual stage in that it climbed the Grand Colombier three times from different routes up.

Pic from Procyclingstats.

To be fair they could have found another two or three routes up and many of the favourites would have been struggling.

First Nairo Qunitana slowly dropped off the back before Bernal popped out of the line of riders following the Jumbo train before losing contact and ground rapidly.

The way that Wout Van Aert rode for kilometer after kilometer on the front was spectacular and as the spring opened up they had pinned the other riders to the gutter so hard that they still had one rider left.

Chris Froome told ITV that their display reminded him of Sky in their prime.

But they are due a bad day and Roglic does have previous of making what looks like a simple run in more complex by having a crash or mechanical or getting caught in the wind.

You would think that despite not having a strong team Pogacar will be much more alert to any splits that might occur. At the moment the two of them are inseperable and it will be down to the final time trial on Saturday in the Vosges.

But will Jumbo be confident enough in their leader not to have to put Pogacar further behind if they can?

I wonder…

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!!).