So, I’m going to try something here. For reasons outside of my control, I really enjoy the Ardennes classics. For reasons outside of my control, I wasn’t able to watch a single one of them this season (hey, keepers of pro cycling: I have shit to do on Wednesday mornings, get your scheduling together). But, unfortunately, I am tasked with writing a Winners and Losers column for a sequence of races that I didn’t get to watch.
Now, this has the potential to be the easiest task in the world. The winners were indeed Mathieu Van Der Poel, Julian Alaphilippe and Jakob Fuglsang and the losers were literally everyone else, and that should be the self-referential end of the column. But I do have to my advantage highlight reels, results sheets and a list of personal expectations and VDS-hopes-and-dreams that are a mile long, and that affords me the opportunity to overthink about who met, exceeded and ignored those expectations and what all this means moving forward. So here are, carefully abiding by the laws of symmetry, the Winners and Losers from the results sheets.
Winner: Jakob Fuglsang
It does seem like this guy is riding out of his shoes this season. He is everywhere and everywhere he is he is a threat to win. After winning Ruta Del Sol, he nearly managed Strade Bianche, followed by a couple of one-week top fives and stage wins, before coming into the Ardennes week. I have to admit, these never really felt like the types of races he’d do especially well at, but he continued his combative ways with two podia. It took a little bit of muscle and tactics to finally touch the top step, but he did it at the monument in Liege. If he can do this well at the races that maybe aren’t his cup of tea (or maybe I’ve got his cup of tea wrong), I’m anxious to see what he does with a grand tour this season. We’ll see in July.
Loser: Michal Kwiatkowski
I expected a lot more out of him. The Ineos classics guy, built for these types of races, failed to crack the top 10 in the three races he suited up for. If it weren’t for Wout Poels’s 10th at LBL, Sky would have failed to crack the top 10 in a sequence of races you might expect multiple podia. After a 3rd place finish at Milan-San Remo you sort of anticipated this could be a promising spring for him, but other than a 3rd place in Paris-Nice, he’s been pretty anonymous.
Winner: Mathieu Van Der Poel
There’s really not very much I can add to the tonnage of copy on the legend of MVDP. I want to be skeptical, but he’s leaving me with very little to work with on that front. He won both Brabantse Pijl and Amstel Gold, which is all he showed up for, so he is literally undefeated over the timeframe I’m analyzing. There’s really not many more criteria you can meet to be considered a winner.
Loser: Michael Matthews
This is a rider who needs to rely on circumstance. This is not the type of rider who is going to make a race defining move, but he can and will win when the right situation falls into his lap. That situation maybe happened at Brabantse Pijl, but he was outsprinted by MVDP (okay), Julian Alaphilippe (ehhh) and Tim Wellens (huh!?). Okay, maybe he was muscled toward the barrier, but he should be the crotchety old sprint boss out of that quartet, right? For the rest of his time in Ardennes, the race played him, and he could only manage an 8th. This has not been a particularly memorable spring for Matthews.
Winner: Bjorg Lambrecht
Hard to believe there’s another youngster living up to the hype in the peloton right now, but there is. Bjorg Lambrecht, who was 2nd in the 2017 Tour de l’Avenir, had a somewhat uneventful rookie season in 2018, but is now grabbing his opportunities by the horns. He first poked his nose out in the Tour of the Basque Country, for a second place on stage 2. But then he really becme a true challenger, leading the pack in Brabantse Pijl for fifth place, followed by a 6th and 4th. All of this while presumably playing second or even third fiddle at red Lotto. The 22-year-old has certainly earned some Ardennes respect and I expect some serious victories this year or next.
Loser: Dan Martin
One early draft of my VDS squad features Dan Martin, whom I added SPECIFICALLY FOR RACES THIS WEEK. Had I kept that version, I’d be an awful lot angrier than I am right now. The former LBL winner who thinks he’s a grand tour rider now posted two DNFs this week. That’s it. Anyone who finished a race this week would have done better than Dan Martin. Okay, so he’s built his season around the Tour De France this year, and it’s hard to say what his personal goals and motivations consist of, but this is a pretty lame performance from a guy two years removed from 2 Ardennes runners-up.
Winner: Julian Alaphilippe
He has made winning seem like a foregone conclusion. Since his masterful work at Milan-San Remo, his presence in a race has certainly demoralized his competitors (except maybe one guy who moonlights as a road cyclist and doesn’t seem to follow traditional notions of who ought to win and how they ought to do it... see above). He was second in Brabantse Pijl. He snatched defeat from the jaws of victory at Amstel Gold. And he finally sealed the deal in La Fleche Wallonne before his legs gave out in LBL. He was by any standard a winner this week, but then also...
Loser: Julian Alaphilippe
Maybe I’m being unnecessarily hard on him, but doesn’t it now seem like he oughta win every race he enters? Perhaps its the ruthless VDS owner in me, but I just couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed that he wasn’t able to win the Triple Crown, a feat that hasn’t been accomplished since 2011 (and only twice). He’s probably the only rider in the peloton who can feel disappointed by only winning once this week. Maybe his crash took out some of the fire, and he sure looked gassed and overstretched in LBL. I’m not too worried though. Despite the (relatively) lousy showing, I expect a lot more wins the rest of the season.
Honorable Mention Winners: Max Schachmann, highlight reels
Honorable Mention Losers: Racing bikes on Wednesdays when I can’t watch