Alright, the first week of (real) World Tour stage racing is in the can. Some riders saw their stock go up, while others were left searching for answers. Let’s have a look at who came out on top, who didn’t and what that means moving forward.
Winner: Sam Bennett
The Irish Fastman had a pretty good 2018 with 3 stage wins in the Giro and a smattering of other better than expected results. For his sins, he lost his spot on the Giro roster to Pascal Ackermann. And now he is pissed. While handling his displeasure through the media swimmingly, his 2019 is so far going even better, with a win at UAE and now two stage wins at Paris-Nice, including an extremely impressive navigation through traffic to take stage 6, that really showed his chutzpah. Maybe the better competition went to Italy, but it’s not exactly nobodies that he’s been beating. If he keeps up this turn of form, Bora will have to look carefully at their Grand Tour strategy.
Loser: Pascal Ackermann
How can Pascal Ackermann be a loser if he didn’t even race this week? Credit to Jens for making this point in the livethread: in short, there’s just getting to be a few too many mouths to feed at Bora. With Sam Bennett’s insurgence and Peter Sagan going toe-to-toe with Viviani in spite of illness, opportunities for Ackermann may become limited as the season progresses. Despite a green jersey at Algarve, he hasn’t won a race in over a month. In that time, Bennett has won three. And Sagan is Sagan.
This isn’t to say all is lost. He still looks to be the protected sprinter at the Giro (although he’ll be going head-to-head with a motivated Viviani and an on-form Gaviria), and he’ll have more early season opportunities. But he needs to put some points on the board in order to stay at the front (back? how should this metaphor work?) of the Bora train.
Winner: Simon and Adam Yates Time Trialing
Simon Yates is quickly turning into the premier GC rider. His blistering time trial at Paris-Nice, in which he took 11 seconds out of Michal Kwiatkowski, and 15 out of the eventual race winner Egan Bernal, was surely a shot across the bow of his Giro rivals, who you can bet were over in Italy paying attention. Now, he ultimately lost his overall ambitions in the winds of the early stages and maybe was not climbing like his old self, but if he can get that under control and time trial like this, the Giro might be over already (although cf Egan Bernal, below).
Over in Italy, his brother was apart of a surprising Mitchelton-Scott TTT victory, that knocked off Primoz Roglic’s Jumbo squad and Tom Dumoulin’s Sunweb by 7 and 22 seconds respectively over 21 km. Not that anyone should ever read too much into the dumbest spectacle in all of bike racing (aside from the elimination of contenders for no other reason than their teammates aren’t very good at time trialing). He did unfortunately follow it up with a less-than-stellar result on a much less than suitable course against much stiffer TT competition, which ultimately cost him the overall win. But basically, his TTing was adequate and I wanted two similar riders to balance with...
Loser: Nairo Quintana and Miguel Angel Lopez Time Trialing
This is going to be a problem for these two. Nairo Quintana rode an otherwise great race, but (with the caveat that they are at different places in their programs for the season) he shipped the entirety of Bernal’s victory margin to him on the time trial stage. He lost nearly a minute to Simon Yates, 23 seconds to his teammate Marc Soler and even 8 seconds to legendary time-trialist Esteban Chaves. This is not time-trialing becoming of a future Tour De France champion. Add another 30 seconds down the list, and there was Miguel Angel Lopez.
These two are basically the tippity top of the climbing world, but the issue is they aren’t that good at it. They aren’t going to shell their rivals (who are, by the way, pretty competent in that terrain) enough on the high mountains to make up for the inevitable beating they are going to take against the clock. And look out for their up-and-coming compatriots, Egan Bernal and Daniel Martinez, who are both sturdy climbers and more than adequate time-trialists. Unless these two can figure out this part of their game, it’ll be only Vueltas for them.
Winner: Egan Bernal
I’ve been giving him (and all of you) an awful lot of shit about the praise you’ve been heaping on the kid and this is the moment where I formally eat my hat. He is the real deal. Not only did he do his job in the mountains, he took chunks of time from his rivals in the time trial and he rode through the wind like a dang classics all-star. He was smart, attentive, let his work-horses do their job and he was tough as nails. I spent most of the autumn and winter making jokes about the legend of Egan Bernal, but his performance this week completely blew up any irony I could go for. He did basically everything right and better than right all week. He’s a future Grand Tour winner and the future could start in as few as two months. Frankly the old guard at Sky should be worried about challenges from within.
Loser: Ivan Ramiro Sosa
Honestly, Sosa’s position here is more due to the unfortunate politics of symmetry than actually being a loser. But for the sake of balance, I’ll have to point out that his P-N did not go to plan. We’ve had fairly high praise for him over the last 6 months and after his Tour Colombia went so well, expectations were high. But whatever his goals were, he got lost in the wind, and spent the rest of the week on domestique duty. It’s clear that the pecking order at Sky is sorting out, and young Sosa, who is only 21, will have to wait a bit longer for more responsibilities. He’s got a bright future, as we all know, and shouldn’t worry too much about this result.
Winner: The Current Sprint Kings
The rich got richer. Aside from a peculiar finish on stage 6 at T-A, in which Viviani let renowned sprinter Julian Alaphilippe pip him at the line, Viviani basically took care of business, navigating a fun and technical sprint in stage 3. Groenewegen likewise took care of business in Paris-Nice, earning two victories early. He trudged along through some mountains looking for a third win on the other side that never came to pass, but then went home to rest up for what looks to be a productive classics season and an entry into Milan-San Remo this weekend. In spite of Sam Bennett’s turn-of-form, any sprint victory must go through these two.
Loser: Former Green Jersey Contenders
Marcel Kittel and Mark Cavendish, who at one time were the two fastest men on two wheels, raced for a combined 4 stages this week. Their former foe, Andre Greipel finished the whole Paris-Nice and managed to nab a stellar 9th place on stage 2. Alexander Kristoff mustered a 7th and a 9th. Five years ago, a race that could broadcast these four going head-to-head would have been the best show in town. As it stands now, it’s a footnote. The cruel mechanics of time notwithstanding (excepting the Gorilla, they aren’t that old, 30, 31, 33 and 36), it’s hard to say what the issue is. But the results simply aren’t coming right now. Back to the drawing board for the quartet.
Honorable Mention Winners: Primoz Roglic, Alexey Lutsenko, Julian Alaphilippe, Wind
Honorable Mention Losers: Team Time Trialing, Pathogens