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The Pro-Conti and SSR Corner: The Cobbles and Crashes Edition

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Ack! Cees Bol win
DAVID STOCKMAN/AFP/Getty Images

It’s been slow on the SSR front for the last few weeks, though we did get an exciting and rainy edition of Industry and Artichokes, as well as exciting (to different degrees) but crash-marred editions of Nokere Koerse and the Bredene Koksijde Classic. Max Schachmann took the big Artichoke, while Cees Bol and Pascal Ackermann respectively won the two Belgian SSRs. Too bad that Sunweb is SSR-phobic, or we may have had the chance to see Bol dominating more races. Ackermann’s victory in the-race-formerly-known-as-Handzame was dominant, and likely gave him some assurances against an Irish Giro takeover, but how does a single one day SSR victory compare to Sam Bennett’s 2 WT victories at Paris-Nice? It’s a good problem for Bora to have, though, as they now have three of the best sprinters in the peloton and the competition amongst them is resulting in some great performances.

As the heart of the spring classics season gets underway, what can we expect of the pro-conti ranks? This year feels like the lower ranks are stacked more than ever with potential big classics winners, with the reigning Ronde champ on Direct Energie and the cyclocross wunderkind heading up Corendon - Circus. Historically, however, the odds are against pro-conti success in the big spring races. In fact, looking back to 2010, there has only been a single PCT win in the big 5 classics— Milano-Sanremo, E3, Gent-Wevelgem, Ronde, and Roubaix— Gerald Ciolek’s surprise victory on the Via Roma in 2013. Not surprisingly, Milano-Sanremo, the race that is said to be the easiest to finish but the hardest to win, has been the most friendly to the PCT teams, with 14 top-10 placings since 2010 (and one podium place— Ciolek’s victory). Surprisingly, the Ronde is the 2nd most successful race for the pro-conti teams with 13 top-10s and 1 podium (Pozzato in 2012). Even more surprising, the hardest race for the pro-contis to crack has been E3, with only 5 top-10 placings since 2010 and none since 2013. Here’s how those races stack up for the pro-conti riders:

Pro-Conti Rider Top 10 Placings and Podiums from 2010-2018

Race PCT Top 10s PCT podiums
Race PCT Top 10s PCT podiums
Milano-Sanremo 14 1
E3 5 0
Gent-Wevelgem 8 1
Ronde van Vlaanderen 13 1
Paris-Roubaix 7 2

UPCOMING SHIT SMALL RACES

Grand Prix de Denain - Porte du Hainaut

When: Sunday, March 24th

What is it? French cobbles. The race got a much-needed hot cobble injection last year, which led to a much more selective race. Last year, the Bison Adrien Petit put in a late attack, complete with Voeckler-esque expressions, but ultimately came up a few kilometers short with Kenny Dehaes getting a jump on a small group to take the victory.

The course looks to be the same as last year, so while MSR may get all the attention, the most exciting racing will likely be on Sunday.

Who’s going to win? Even though Mathieu van der Poel will be looking to avenge his late crash at Nokere Koerse, Lars Boom has been looking reinvigorated this year ahead of the big classics. He can distance the field on the last cobbled sector and may be able to succeed where the Bison failed last year. If it ends in a sprint, look for Baptiste Planckaert, Timothy Dupont, Jonas van Genechten, Marc Sarreau, and Matteo Moschetti to be involved.

Settimana Internazionale Coppi e Bartali

When: March 27th to March 31st

What is it? A new type of spectacle, introduced by Velon, where the reanimated corpses of Fausto Coppi and Gino Bartali battle to the (re)death on the pinnacle of Monte Zoncolan. Or... it’s a stage race in which the GC battle is marred by the inclusion of a team time trial but also produces some exciting single stages. Yeah, unfortunately it’s the latter, but at least the TTT day will also include a short sprint stage. I always like that. This year, stages 2, 3 and 5 look to bring the excitement, all with circuits containing shortish climbs and descents to the finishes.

Who’s going to win? Bold prediction— the winner will come from one of the five World Tour teams on the startlist- Sky, Ef’d, Sunweb, Movistar, or Mitchelton-Scott. Diego Rosa won last year for Sky, and this race is often a chance for a team’s B or C team rider to shine. So look no further than Sunweb’s Nicolas Roche.

Classic Loire Atlantique

When: Saturday, March 30th

What is it? The Alexis Gougeard’s Career’s Memorial Race. This is a race that always looks like it should end in a sprint but never does.

Who’s going to win? This is a race that Rasmus Quuade won last year. Trying to pick a winner is like trying to find a needle in his beard:

Season 8 of Game of Thrones got off to a rocky start after they re-cast Rasmus as Tormund Giantsbane.
Lars Ronbog / FrontZoneSport via Getty Images

Cholet - Pays de la Loire

When: Sunday, March 31st

What is it? The start of the Nacer Bouhanni comeback tour. It’s a race that looks sprinty and carries through on that promise.

Who’s going to win? If it’s going to be the start of his comeback tour, the original boxing bad boy better win.

PRO-CONTI POWER RANKINGS

1. Direct Energie (previous ranking: 1st)

They were king shit of trash mountain in Ronde van Drenthe with Pim Ligthart’s victory, but they maintain their place because in a total power move they will be sponsored by the major oil company Total starting at Roubaix, with Total getting some literal greenwashing.

2. Cofidis (previous ranking: 2nd)

It wasn’t a great couple of weeks for Cofidis, with the best showing being a 5th in Drenthe and 5th in Nokere Koerse, but they maintain their position due to the inertia of the other teams. They really need to eke out a performance from Bouhanni in the last year of his contract, as neither Laporte nor Hofstetter have looked like they have found last year’s form yet.

3. Wanty Groupe Gobert (previous ranking: 3rd)

As with Cofidis, inertia keeps them from falling down these ranks. At least the mercurial Timothy Dupont racked up a 5th at the former Handzame (sorry, but I’m not going to take the time to learn to spell Kosksisjjhde), beating all of the other pro-conti teams.

4. Androni (previous ranking: 9th)

No victories, but a strong showing at Industry and Artichokes, with a 2nd, 3rd and 9th place, have them moving up this list. They have a slate of French SSRs as well as Coppi e Bartali in their future where they should continue to impress.

5. Israel Cycling Academy (previous ranking: 8th)

The most average collection of cyclists ever assembled into a team! However, Davide Cimolai did get a 2nd place in the last stage of Tirreno. I’d look to him as super secret dark horse in Milano-Sanremo, where he’s finished in the top 10 previously.

6. Wallonie-Bruxelles (previous ranking: NR)

7. Arkea Samsic (previous ranking: 4th)

8. Roompot (previous ranking: 6th)

9. Sport Vlaanderen (previous ranking: NR)

10. Vital Concept (previous ranking: 7th)

PRO-CONTI RIDER OF THE WEEK

Nicholas Edet

No poker faces in this bunch
Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

Finding himself with the elite group of Simon Yates, Daniel Felipe Martinez, and Miguel Angel Lopez on the Col de Turini stage of Paris-Nice, Edet looked like the odd rider out and should have been expected to drop quickly from contention, but time after time, Edet fought his way back and even put in an attack or two to more or less stay in contact with the group and come in third on the stage. The career Cofidis employee had a bit of a breakthrough at the ripe age of 30 last season, taking 2nd place in the Tour de l’Ain and winning the Tour de Limousin. He’s looked sharp this season and may give Cofidis it’s best shot a Tour stage victory to break their 11 year drought.

GORILLA GRAM

Shit small wins: 1

The Gorilla is still stuck on a single shit small Amissa Bongo victory. The OG rode Paris-Nice and survived the cross-winds, but his best placing was 9th. Good news for the Gorilla, though, as Arkea Samsic received the last invitation to the Tour this week, less on the strength of his results and more on the weakness and lack of results from Vital Concept. It’s great news for fans, who will get to see Gripes revive his legendary battle with Cav… though this time they’ll be battling to be first to the line at the hotel’s early bird buffet special after both being outside the time limit on stage 6.

Shit small rap:

My name is Andre, and here’s my quandary

Yo sprinters, how I like to beat you

And all the riders in the top ten, allow me to unseat you

Except now I can’t outsprint Eduard Grosu

And to the Tour I still gotta go to

So let’s get crazy, and allow me to amaze thee

Please Arkea, send me to Pays de la Loire

Because I’m in charge, and I’m hard

And I can still beat Bou Bou or Coquard

No diggity. No doubt.