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Winners and Losers from the Pre-Cobbled Monuments Cobbled Classics

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Besides Dwars on Wednesday, all the big lead up cobbled races to Flanders and Roubaix are finished. If you haven’t made your mark on the cobbled classics yet, there are only two more chances at the big shows during the next two weekends to try to make something out of your spring season. At the same time, it’s not all about the big two. Winning the lead up races is a huge mark on the palmares of the riders in its own right. Let’s take a look at who has won and lost the cobbled season thus far.

WINNERS

1. Alexander Kristoff

Even though we often call Kristoff the White Whale and make quips about his girth, the truth of the matter is that Kristoff has a physique that most if not all of the men reading this site would die for. Just take a look at his Instagram here and here. What makes his very relative girth stand out is in comparison to the ultra-skinny other riders of the modern peloton. Kristoff is a throwback to the hardened slabs of meat and determination of yore that used to dominate the cobbled races. And with his win at Gent-Wevelgem, which I would suggest was even more impressive than either of his monument victories, despite his Norwegian heritage, he should earn his place among the pantheon of Flandrien greats.

First, take a look at this mug:

He’s got the countenance that a Flanders mother would love. Grizzled and furrowed like a muddy Belgian field on a spring morning, he looks battle-hardened well beyond his 31 years. You could proudly put Kristoff’s visage up there with the likes of legendary actual Flandrien Briek Schotte or honorary Flandrien Fiorenzo Magni.

Tim de Waele/Getty Images

Second, that performance at Gent-Wevelgem was legendary. Sure, he got an assist from Fernando Gaviria, who after joining the early break allowed Kristoff to rest in the bunch but Kristoff had to make it into the so-called peloton which was only about 40 riders deep pretty early into the race. After Gaviria was swallowed up by the bunch, Kristoff then took off alone from the group to go over the final pass of the Kemmelberg, punishing his Colnago up and over the cobbled climb. He would be eventually caught by the remnants of the peloton on the flat lead in to the finish and it appeared that his day was over as Gaviria remained in the pack along with an ostensibly well-rested Viviani who did not have to go in the wind all day. However, Gaviria let him know that he didn’t have the legs and Kristoff should go for the sprint, and in a show of tactical brilliance, Gaviria ran interference in the finale— acting like he was sprinting only to take his feet off the gas and allowing Kristoff to do his patented long power sprint and win the race by a bike length over John Degenkolb. It was truly a brilliant win from a rider who had been relegated this year to a deluxe lead out man and should cement Kristoff’s status as one of the true hardmen of his generation— a rider that is unrivaled at the end of a long, hard race.

Looking forward, Kristoff probably doesn’t have much of a chance at a second Flanders victory, but Roubaix might be a different story. Before this year, despite its character looking to suit Kristoff very well, he never performed well at Gent-Wevelgem. He’s also never done much at Roubaix, despite the fact that he seemingly would be well-suited to a long, flat, and cobbled slog. Perhaps this year we’ll get to see the only Norwegian-Flandrien barreling himself first over the line in the velodrome in Roubaix making it a Sunday in Valhalla.

2. Mathieu van der Poel

After an impressive solo victory in Denain, MvdP followed that up with a 4th place in a hard edition of Gent-Wevelgem, outlasting and outsprinting many of the more experienced road sprinters. So much for experience being the thing that counts in the classics— sometimes raw talent wins out. Seeing the dig he put in on the Kemmelberg, going clear with his cyclocross brother-in-arms, MvdP would have benefited from a harder race. There happens to be a harder race coming up on Sunday....

3. John Degenkolb and Trek Segafredo

After the season that Trek has had, that 2nd place and their overall team performance at Gent-Wevelgem was a huge victory. Edward Theuns was up the road for much of the race. Both Jasper Stuyven and Mads Pedersen put in hard attacks and Degenkolb was able to survive and beat everyone save Kristoff in the sprint. Degenkolb is no longer using the 1x drivetrain after his dropped chain on the Poggio. One has to wonder whether the entire team quietly switched back to a standard double chainring as the performance that we saw on Sunday is what we expected throughout the classics season.

4. Wout Van Aert and Jumbo Visma

Speaking of strong teams, Jumbo Visma were probably the strongest on Sunday but could only come away with a 5th place from Danny Van Poppel. They were probably missing Dylan Groenewegen, who won One Dog, but then had to pull out of GW after getting sick. Though GW was Wout Van Aert’s worst finish of the season at 29th, he’s looking like a worthy classics leader for Jumbo with his 2nd at E3, 6th at Milano-Sanremo, and 3rd at Strade Bianche. The team around him looks like the best support one could have outside of DQS— with Mike Teunissen, Amund Grondahl Jansen, Taco van der Hoorn, and Danny Van Poppel all coalescing as a group.

“Dammit, Zdenek! Let a Belgian teach you how to drink a beer properly.”
Tim de Waele/Getty Images

5. Deceuninck - Quick Step

What more can be said about their dominance this year? 1st in the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race. 1st in Omloop. 1st in Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne. 1st in Le Samyn. 1st in Strade Bianche. 1st in Milano-Sanremo. 1st in E3. And they spread the love— Julian Alaphilippe, Bob Jungels, Florian Senechal, Elia Viviani, and Zdenek Stybar have all scored victories. In doing so, the team looks like it’s playing chess while everyone else is playing Chutes & Ladders. Yet.....

LOSERS

1. Deceuninck - Quick Step

Why was it so innately satisfying to see them fail at Gent-Wevelgem last Sunday? Whether it’s Sky, the New England Patriots, Duke, or th whistler (just kidding, th), we love when the ultra-successful are finally hoisted by their own petard. On Sunday, I pumped my fist a little when I realized that it was only Tim Declercq who made the early Sagan-led break. Then watching Stybar and Gilbert kill themselves to try to keep the group together to allow Viviani to sprint for the victory and then Viviani clearly choosing the wrong wheel and being swamped by the other riders to finish outside of the vds point was such delightful schadenfreude. Perhaps the other teams have found DQS’s achilles heel and will focus the patented Conor-Kelly-Go-Mental approach back at them. Or perhaps more likely it was just the rare DQS misfortune because if Viviani had the legs we’d be talking about another display of DQS domination to keep the race together and Viviani protected.

2. Peter Sagan

It was an audacious move by Sagan in getting in the early break and then continuing to drive despite the most obvious outcome being a regrouping after the Kemmelberg. That effort spent Sagan for the sprint and deprived him of trying for his fourth victory at Gent-Wevelgem. That excitement aside, it’s been a rough spring for Sagan— he skipped opening weekend, took a 4th in the bunch sprint on the Via Roma in a sprint which on paper he should have won and collected a 17th and 32nd in E3 and GW respectively. You’d have to go back to 2011 to find a worse string of results for Sagan. Even in a 2015 season in which his classics season was a disappointment, he still managed a 10th place at GW. Still, he can make everyone forget about the poor string of results if he wins just one of the upcoming monuments and at the very least his effort in GW was excellent training and suggests that his form is on the rise at just the right time.

Plugging away
Tim de Waele/Getty Images

3. Sep Vanmarcke

It’s been a nightmare of a spring for Sep after taking a rare win in a stage of Haut Var. He finished 92nd at Omloop and then was involved in a hard crash at E3, injuring his knee and putting the rest of his classics season at risk. He’s already dropped out of Dwars and will be trying to make the start line at Flanders and Roubaix but the updates do not sound promising as he’s been unable to ride the bike for more than 10 minutes without his kneecap becoming too inflamed. On the bright side, in his absence, Alberto Bettiol was elevated from a helper’s role and finished 4th in E3. He may end up being Vaughter’s best hope for Flanders.

WAIT, THERE’S OTHER RACING OUTSIDE OF BELGIUM?!?!

Winners:

In Italy, fans of team time trials having a disproportionate effect on results won, with three Mitchelton-Scott riders filling out the podium in Settimana Internazionale Coppi e Bartali. Of note, though Mikel Landa won a stage after coming back from a collarbone injury, which counts as a win for fans of the rejuvenation of Movistar’s three leader grand tour approach.

In Catalunya, Miguel Angel Lopez took his temporary position on the pedestal of the best young Colombian, beating Bernal and Quintana and giving Astana 21 victories on the year.

Also in Catalunya, fans of genetic predetermination were in for a treat as both Yates twins became the right Yates with Adam’s second place in Catalunya, following his second in Tirreno.

Fans of irresponsible concussion protocols got their wish in Spain, as Michael Matthews won two stages, finished 2nd at another, and took the points jersey, though in a sprint in which Miguel Angel Lopez took 8th, perhaps the competition was lacking.

Weird name aficionados won in the Tour de Normandie, where Trond Trondsen took a stage victory and Ole Forfang won the overall.

Vds owners who based their season around the French cup races were in for a treat, as Rudy Barbier and Marc Sarreau took victories in the various Loires.

Losers:

The Sky Tour winners have been having a rough start to the season. Geraint Thomas finished 44th in Valenciana and DNF’d Tirreno and then DNF’d his altitude training camp due to snow. Chris Froome has yet to break the top 90s— finishing 91st in Colombia and 94th in Catalunya. While the Tour is still three months away, you’d think that either one would start showing some semblance of form.

When can we start saying that Trek bought a Porte in a poke? Despite his troubles in the grand tours, Porte’s always been a great one week stage race rider. This year, besides his usual dominance on Willunga Hill, not so much.

Soon, AG2R may only have Oliver Naesen showing up at races if their injuries keep stacking up. Pierre Latour has not returned to racing since he broke his wrist in training. Tony Gallopin’s classics campaign has gone up in smoke after he crashed in Barcelona. Romain Bardet cracked a rib in the same crash. Meanwhile, Alexis Vuillermoz has an injured hamstring from a crash at Tirreno.

VDS Losers: At the beginning of the FSA DS season, the 6 point riders looked like the treasure chest of vds point categories. Now, nearing the end of the spring classics, they look like the toilet bowl from Trainspotting, with their owners being sucked in.

Who knew that picking Kittel, Cavendish, Greipel, and Aru could be such a bad idea?