We don’t normally do “news in brief” here, but there’s always a barrage of stories at this time of the year and a space to discuss them might prove popular. It’s also good to give some space to the weekend’s big stories, which came not on a road, but in a muddy field.
The 2019 worlds course was in Denmark, for the first time since the 1998 championship in Middlefart (thank goodness I wasn’t writing for the café that year). The course was coastal, cold and exposed, and with a few steep climbs and descents at one end of an otherwise flat course. For all my jibes, the course wasn’t too muddy, though some of the entries to sharp turns and downhills, as you’d expect, were fairly cut up by the end of the week.
The competitions began with the Juniors, taken by Ben Tullet of the UK, ahead of a Belgian trio led by Wiste Meeussen, Ryan Cortjens and (son of Sven) Thibau Nys. At the U-23 level, the Dutch started a fun Sunday by dominating the women’s event with Inge van der Heijden leading home compatriots Fleur Nagengast and Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado. The men’s U-23 had been run on Saturday, when Thomas Piddock continued to fuel British excitement with a comfortable win ahead of Belgian Eli Iserbyt and Antoine Benoist of France. Saturday also saw the women’s elite, which was taken by Sanne Cant of Belgium ahead of a Dutch quartet led by Lucinda Brand and Marianne Vos. Finally, on Sunday the men rode, and Dutchman Mathieu van der Poel confirmed his season-long dominance by taking the rainbows back from Belgian Wout van Aert, relegated into second ahead of teammate Toon Aerts, who probably lost second with a fall.
The cyclocross season isn’t exactly done now, but the major competitions are wrapped up (Cant and van der Poel won the World Cup as well as the World Champs) and for several of these competitors attention will turn to the road. Brand and Vos are of course established stars on road, track and cross but for van der Poel and van Aert the forthcoming road season has the potential to make them stars on a bigger scale. This was Cant’s third consecutive world title whilst van der Poel has been beaten favourite for the last three years and won for the second time, last triumphing in 2015.
You don’t need me to tell you that the U-23s were packed with exciting talent, but young Thomas Pidcock is a man to watch in any discipline. He’ll ride for Team Wiggins again in 2019 but for now his focus seems to be away from the road, admirably enough. Inge van der Heijden was a surprise winner for the Dutch at just 19 (though she was second to Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado last year). She rides for CCC and we’ll need time to see where she focuses and how far she can go.
Loathe though I am to support them in any way, if you’re not aware of the UCI’s videos it is a good way to catch up on the cross action. The highlights are all here.
We saw the first road races of the year in Europe last week and kicked off with the “not really a stage race but it is over consecutive days and there’s an overall competition but you don’t have to do every day oh please just come and get your training rides in with us so that we can say you were here taking part in our competition.” For brevity, the organisers have called that the “Challenge Majorca,” which I think is less catchy. We also saw the traditional French pipe opener, the Marseillaise.
- Marcel Kittel won his first race since March of last year, taking the final Majorcan race. With Dupont and Hofstetter in behind it wasn’t a loaded sprint but you can only beat the guys who turn up and this might be a turning point.
- Of the climbers, Emmanuel Buchmann and Tim Wellens looked the friskiest, each winning one race and finishing second in the other. Wellens also finished fifth on the day that Jesus Herrada grabbed a win. He’s ridden well in Majorca for a few years now, winning the Tramuntana stage three years running, but Buchmann was off form last year. Both are looking ready for 2019.
- There were a few bumps and bruises and Mikel Landa’s collarbone break is a blow. Still, if you’re going to suffer that sort of injury, the last week of January is not the worst time.
- The Grand Prix Cycliste la Marsellaise is not the race it used to be, but don’t tell Anthony Turgis. This was among the biggest wins of the combative Frenchman’s career, as he beat Romain Combaud in a two-up sprint. As well as being great news for Turgis and the team this will have pleased Nikki Terpstra, who’ll be leaning heavily on Turgis as he rides for a much weaker team than he’s used to come the cobbles.
Last week saw a bevvy of races around the world, with the Colombian national championships, the Herald Sun Tour, the Vuelta a San Juan all vying for attention with the Qatari and Namibian ITT nationals (Fadhel al Khater and Drikus Coetzee respectively, since you didn’t ask).
- On an exposed, wind-swept, steady and looooong climb to finish the San Juan Queen stage, Winner Anacona grabbed the win and the overall for Movistar. Noteworthy among those climbing well were Richard Carappaz and Tiesj Benoot.
- Earlier in the San Juan race, Julian Alaphilippe and Remco Evenpoel rode exactly as well as we’d expect of a star and a superstar-in-the-making, with a 1-3 in the ITT and some solid climbing. Alaphilippe had taken stage two and finished second overall, whilst Evenpoel picked up a youth jersey that, I predict, will not be his last. Stay for the analysis, folks, it is definitely worth it.
- If you were thinking about picking up a Team Sky rider in VDS, and you turned your attention to the Herald Sun Tour, you’d have been very happy. They dominated the race, admittedly against fairly weak opposition, with Dylan van Baarle catching the eye in taking the overall and climbing as powerfully as I’ve seen. He kept himself on radars. Halvorsen and Doull added stage wins and ticked the youth box.
- In the non-Sky part of the race, Nick Schultz took a stage (and second overall) after being signed to Mitchelton Scott and kept himself in the mix to be in a Yates mountain train, whilst Michael Woods opened his seasonal ledger and beat Richie Porte in an uphill finish.
- The Colmbian nationals saw a noteworthy result in the time trial, with Egan Bernal finishing third behind Miguel Angel Lopez and shock winner Daniel Felipe Martinez. I bow to nobody in my affection for DFN but I didn’t see this coming. Whether it is early-season form or a sign of things to come remains to be seen. Seems likeliest that Bernal had an aberration.
- In the road race, Oscar Quiroz of Coldeportas took the title, ahead of a field of mostly non-WT riders. We won’t see much of the champions jersey during the European summer. You should also file away the name Harold Tejada, who took the U-23 time trial and road championships. He’s riding for Medellin this year having supported Bernal in the Avenir last summer.
Want more? You’re in luck, with stage racing in Europe firmly back on the agenda. There’s races in Valencia (should be Valverde against the field there) and Besseges (a bit more open, but if Tim Wellens stays in current form he’ll be a tough guy to beat). It is, however, a quieter week on the road. Let’s hope all the riders bring themselves into good form and that MOUA’s injury list page stays quiet.