Does anybody dislike Bauke Mollema? His win in the Tour of Lombardy on Saturday is the crowning achievement in a career that was impressive enough anyway. Mollema is not the most talented rider in the peloton, but if there’s anybody that squeezes more out of what they’ve been dealt in life I don’t know him. Years of over-performance at the Tour de France and opportunistic single-day wins have shown that. I think my favourite Mollema win came back in the 2013 Vuelta. Crosswind day, Cancellara has torn the bunch apart for fun but there are still a few sprinters and Mollema, well-known climber, having a quiet race by his standards after a sixth place in the Tour, just kicks with a klick to go, opens up ten metres as the bunch looks on and just keeps extending his advantage, swaying on the bike until his lead is unassailable. I suppose that attacking on the Civiglio and soloing to a Monument win is more impressive than that, empirically, but I liked it.
Mention of course has to go to Jelle Wallays, winning his second Paris-Tours and his first classic since that Dwars door Vlaanderen that got everyone so excited. However, a win at the French race is no longer what it once was. As was noted by Ursula last week, the quality of Paris-Tours is at a low ebb. Partially this comes from being on the same week as Lombardia, part of it comes from the new attractiveness of the Italian calendar but whatever the reason, the race has fallen into a feedback loop where it’s less prestigious, so fewer riders come, so it’s even less prestigious, continue on until it is in even more trouble.
Not to take away from Wallays of course. A long-range win in a race such as Paris-Tour is never to be sniffed at and the top five at least was of very high quality.
I think that both of the victories this weekend speak to a recent spate of evidence that getting off the front is a very good lottery ticket to buy. Chase groups will squabble, they will fail to co-operate and in a lot of cases they will not orchestrate a successful capture. I am reminded of the Tour of Flanders. Those guys could have caught Bettiol. These guys could have caught Mollema. Those guys could have caught Wallays. It isn’t a Gewiss 1994 scenario where they’ve left the peloton for dead, it’s the worst sort of gamesmanship — the unsuccessful sort. It’s the cyclist’s prisoner’s dilemma. The Jack Bobridge dilemma.
Anyway, the last high note of the season has been hit and there is only the coda left to be played. Guangxi is barely worth talking about other than to say that it will probably knock me out of the top five in the Eds’ League and I am very bitter about that. Also, its profiles are horrendous. The y-axes are overselling things as badly as the Eneco Tour used to.
One race which wields a very good y-axis is the Tour de France and the guy who draws the profiles will be very busy this week as the route is unveiled. The rumour mill speaks of a very mountainous race with only minimal time-trialling, with a race against the clock up La Planche des Belles Filles on stage twenty mooted. I love the idea myself, but it could very easily fall flat if the leader goes in with much of an advantage. Also teased is a return to Orcieres-Merlette which as a guy who read a lot of books about ‘70s and ‘80s cycling I love. Like we may as well go all the way and finish at Superbagneres, Puy de Dome and Avoriaz while we’re at it.