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Thursday Thoughts: 2019 Race Predictions

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In which we pick winners, and have arguments

Your Roubaix winner? We think so...
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If you didn’t see my piece a fortnight ago, I teed up this column by inviting you all to send in your predictions for the season to come. Many of you did and the full list can be found here. There’s a lot of possible avenues for argument and some potentially interesting thoughts with the unveiling of the FSA-DS price list coming up fast. Next week comes the second half of this predictions game, where we look at the season-long award predictions.

To remind you, the races that we predicted, together with the most popular picks from across the fifteen entries, are as follows:

Most picked riders

Races Most Picked! Times Picked
Races Most Picked! Times Picked
Flanders Peter Sagan 8
Paris-Roubaix Jasper Stuyven 5
Giro Tom Dumoulin 7
Tour Chris Froome 8
Vuelta Simon Yates 7
World TT Rohan Dennis 10
World Roads Peter Sagan 9

We now turn to the editors, and what follows is a lightly edited chat between the brave souls who answered my initial email chain of prediction questions. I hope that the volume of opinion makes up for the fact this doesn’t always flow. I should also remind you that none of us had seen the picks from the nine of you who responded in the comments with your own predictions, so we didn’t include those in our argument.

There’s lots of meat left on the bone, so do please chip in with your own comments and complaints!

Dennis to repeat at the TT Worlds is the most popular pick
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Andrew: Well, gents, the predictions are in, and there were a few surprises for me. I’m going to kick things off by throwing a question at each of you, plus one other question for everyone.

CHRIS’ PICKS

Andrew: Chris - five of us are united in seeing Sagan winning both Flanders and the World Champs. You have him winning neither, going with the brilliant young Mads for Flanders and with Sonny “Peter Sagan lite” Colbrelli for the road worlds. Are you foreseeing some enormous drop-off for Sagz, or is this just a recognition that anything can happen in a one-day race?

Chris: I just think he’s going to be marked out of existence wherever it’s possible to do so. Maybe he’ll get his MSR skin, which would be cool, but I’m not super stoked about Bora: Oss and Burghardt are fine but then it’s a lot of sprinters, and also Felix Grossschartner has too many s-es in his name. Deceuninck-Quick Step without Terpstra makes me a little hesitant to pick one of theirs (a sentence I’m sure you’ll be repeating back to me later). Van Avermaet is departing his peak years and joining a lesser CCC team. Sep, Kristoff, Stybar… I’m just over that class, and to me the newer rising stars look more promising. [Andrew note: we’ll have more on this story next week…]

CONOR’S PICKS

Andrew: Conor - I’m thrilled that you had the bravery to put Yates forward as a dual GT winner - I was sorely tempted - so I’ll leave that one aside. I’m more surprised that you see Doom winning the Tour. Given he’ll have ridden the Giro, and Froome won’t (among others), you must have real confidence in his powers of recovery. Unless you see him skipping the Giro, or you see Sky imploding. What was the logic?

Conor: In answer to your question, Andrew, I must begin by saying that of course the easy pick to win the Tour is Chris Froome. I, indeed, had typed the name in the relevant box but I couldn’t bear to leave it there. At this point, predicting that Froome will will the Tour has gotten downright depressing — he’s won four of them. I’ve had enough. And while Dumoulin is of course heading to Bologna early next May, his efforts in Italy clearly will not ruin his form for July: only a transcendent Thomas could beat him in France last year. Yes, Froome will have less effort in his legs next July but short of stage nineteen of the Giro, he did not look convincing at any point last year. He will be thirty-four when July comes around and will not have put in a dominant climbing performance in four years. Since 2015, his Grand Tour wins have come from attrition and nous, two strengths of Dumoulin even with a Giro behind him. And once you get past Froome, the other candidates are as far from convincing as a barrister who’s forgotten his trousers. I am truly interested in Skip’s reasoning behind picking Enric Mas — he’s got quite a gap to bridge. Quintana and Porte look to have lost their chances and most other possible choices won’t even, lamentably, be attending. Thus, Dumoulin is automatically in the top echelon of favourites just by showing up — and I don’t think he’s peaked as a stage racer yet.

Shawn: Conor, as a lawyer who has never let a missing pair of pants get in the way of an argument, let me take issue with your opinion of Froome. While I get not wanting to see him win another Tour (either due to tedium or opinions about Sky), how in the hell did he not look convincing last year? He almost captured the white whale of cycling-- the Giro-Tour double-- and may have even done so if not for his pesky teammate. He came closer to it than Contador and much much closer than Quintana and did it all while litigating his salbutamol case. Froome’s milquetoast demeanor in interviews belies the ice that runs through his veins, and a 5th Tour for him is about the surest bet you can make in cycling and I, for one, will be rooting for a rider whom I’ve come to view as one of the most interesting in cycling, whether it be pulling an OJ Simpson in the UCI’s courtroom, pulling a Usain Bolt on Ventoux, or pulling a Landis in Italy.

Shawn and Conor are divided on whether we’ll see this again in 2019
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Conor: You make good points Shawn, but legwear aside it was only the Finestre stage (a feat of tactics rather than strength) that brought Froome onto the top of the podium of the Giro, a year after he found himself unable to drop Rigoberto Uran in the Alps. He is not the rider that won on La Pierre Saint Martin and while he has managed to win races with quite astounding grit, luck and tactical nous, I am not currently convinced he has the legs to make it five. But these are pre-season predictions and there are no safe bets. We are insane to predict bike races. Dumoulin could lose ten minutes on stage two of the Giro, Froome could do the same on stage four of the Tour based on nothing but luck and more pertinently than either of those things, they both have a whole calendar of warm-up races where we can gauge their form. I am currently expecting a dip in that of Froome but you are right: he has ice in his veins and could easily prove me wrong.

SHAWN’S PICKS

Andrew: Shawn - I’ll let you take Jasper Stuyven for the group. I thought I’d be the only one who saw him winning Roubaix, but four of us did. What makes you think he’ll make that leap this year?

Shawn: Andrew, you shouldn’t really be surprised about Stuyven being picked to win Roubaix by four of us as I’m assuming we all received our chocolate bribes. (This strategy worked out significantly worse for Davide Malacarne-- not only has he been retired from the sport for 3 years but outside of Alberto Contador and nonagenarian bike riders he was never going to win votes with samples from his family’s supply of ped infused meats.) Besides the confectionery corruption, Stuyven’s been improving every year and slowly and smartly growing into the role of a cobbles star. In 2017, he finished with the first group in the velodrome but didn’t have the legs to contest the sprint. Last year, he finished in 5th with a group that contained Van Avermaet and Vanmarcke. He’ll be turning 27 three days after Roubaix this year, so he’s really coming into his prime as a rider. And he fits the profile of someone that can win Roubaix-- strong on the cobbles and flats and packing a strong sprint. There’s a good chance he can find himself in the front group again in the velodrome and with a few additional years of experience, his legs shouldn’t fail him this time and victory will be sweet. Oh, and it doesn’t hurt that Trek has sorta discreetly come into one of the strongest classics squads this year-- with Stuyven, Degenkolb, Pedersen, and Theuns.

Andrew: I’m beginning to regret letting Ursula see our workings. We’ll need to rely on Jens to keep him honest, and I don’t know how that policy will play out.

SKIP’S PICKS [AKA Ursula]

Andrew: Skip - Enric Mas for the Tour?! I love him, as do we all, but winning the biggest race of the year will be a hell of a progression, in the absence of much support and up against Sky et al. You must absolutely adore him.

Skip: Oh how I love Enric Mas aka Bert Jr. Speaking of, think back to 2007, January. Bert is newly arrived at Disco where he’s what 4th best GC rider? 5th? 6th? They had Basso, Levi, Danielson, Popovich, Brajkovic…geez to most fans Bert was buried on that team. But Johan sets Bert up to be the winner at Paris-Nice and Castile & Leon and then a good 6th at the Dauphine. And then he, you know, wins the Tour over much more accomplished riders.

THAT is a hell of a progression. Mas in contrast just hit 2nd at a Vuelta where we saw some really good performances. I like him more than Superman, who should win a couple of Grand Tours before he’s done. I know its a long shot for Mas to win the Tour but sooner than later he’ll be at the top step of his first of several Grand Tours. Its gonna be fun watching him go against Bernal and MAL, and the Yateses over the next decade. He wins the two biggest climby stages at the Vuelta than follows that up 9th at Worlds, 5th at Emilia, 2nd at Tre valli Varesine, 1st at Milan-Turin, and 1st at Lombardy. No one could keep up with him on the slopes. The same will happen this year.

If you were hoping to see this guy on your VDS team, Skip’s picks made ugly reading
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More Thoughts!

Andrew: My biggest surprise from all of this is that we have far more consensus on one-day races than on Grand Tours. Is that merely coincidence, or is there less predictability in the grand tours coming into 2019? We found three possible winners of the Giro, four of the Tour and three of the Vuelta. We only found two for Flanders and three for Roubaix (poor GVA only got one vote for either race, whilst the likes of Naesen, Gilbert and Terpstra saw no votes at all). What’s driving our love for Stuyven, and what’s driving our uncertainty in the longer races?

What else leaps out at you from the prognostications of your colleagues?

Shawn: One of the things that interests me with all of the selections is that there is a pretty clear bias in all of us “knowledgeable” cycling fans, which I’m clearly guilty of-- we like to pick the shiny, new things while relegating the old reliable riders as afterthoughts who are past their prime. I’m surprised that not one of us picked Nibali to win the Giro. I mean the Shark is only 34 years old and coming off a season where he pulled off a totally unexpected victory in Milan-Sanremo, fractured his back in the Tour, but came back at the end of the year to take 2nd at Il Lombardia. We’re all making a mistake in discounting him so readily, right? As for the classics, can we find no supporter for a resurgence of Kristoff after a “down” year last year? Is there no believer in Degenkolb after his win on the cobbles in the Tour last year? We had a bumper crop of breakout riders last year, but is there a chance we are putting too much faith in these up and coming riders and not enough faith in the old standbys?

Andrew: I don’t believe in Degenkolb, no. So many guys are in his hardman/sprinter lane now and he’s not the rider that Sagan is, or even Kristoff. I wondered about supporting AK and if I was picking podiums, I might find space for him. Another win? I think the Flanders course is too selective on the last climbs for him to stay in the lead group, unfortunately. Nibbles was a rough one to leave out but I think I spent longer on my Giro pick than any other. There’s just too much.

Like the sprinters of San Remo, we may regret overlooking Nibbles
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Yet More Thoughts!

Conor: Outside of the Tour, I have a question for you all about GVA, as the only person to choose him as a winner. Do you all think his star has faded? Winning is a habit, as he proved in 2017, but last year he fell into his old pattern of high finishes and few wins. I have faith in his to recover but it is not unshakeable.

Shawn: On GVA, I’m curious as to what Skip will say as he picked him as the biggest letdown of the upcoming season [Andrew note: Spoilers! Guys, c’mon, we’re getting to that next week!] I too had him penciled in originally in that box but came to my senses and think you may in fact have the better view. For me, it all came down to the CCC team and whether or not they could adequately support an aging but still clearly powerful GVA. There’s no replacement for Oss, but at the same time I think GVK and Wisniowski provide him with decent support and there’s no reason that he can’t add a win or two to a series of top 5 placings.

Andrew: My thoughts on GVA are simple and very similar to Shawn’s. I like him and he’s one of several with a good chance if he gets into the right group. In 2016 and 2017 he got into the right group with some regularity, and in 2018 he didn’t. Was that all QuickStep, or was it something to do with him? I think probably more the former than the latter, but I think Stuyven has better support and more power.

Even More Thoughts!

Chris: As to the rest, you guys know I’ve always been a Quintana fanboy, so it saddens me greatly to see Jens picking him to win the Tour. Hasn’t he suffered enough?

Jens: Ah yes Quintana. Well to be completely honest this set of GT winners is a bit my ”outside the box”-version. In the dullest of all worlds (which, granted, the GT’s often is) the most likely set of winners is of course Dumoulin-Froome-S.Yates but what’s the fun in that? And when did everything turn out the way odds and logic dictate?

So this is a bit my second most likely scenario, like the logic-meets-reality version. Really, the most unlikely bit of it is that Sky wouldn’t win a single GT in 2019 but I think it might happen. Bernal is not there yet and they’re putting a lot of eggs in the TdF basket. A lot of things went their way in 2018, I have a feeling that may backfire and even out this year.