I volunteered myself to write this preview hours before Bjorg Lambrecht was killed in a crash on Stage 3 of the Tour of Poland. Afterward, I didn’t feel much like watching cycling or writing stupid jokes about Kristoff’s “white whale” Euro champ jersey or the famous city of Alkmaar, home of Theo Bos. It just seemed too trite and cavalier in the face of the death of a 22-year-old kid. As a cycling fan, Lambrecht’s death hit me harder than any of the other recent deaths. They’re all tragic and sad, but Lambrecht was a rider that us cycling fans were going to be watching rise up the ranks and do battle with the other young, talented cyclists, like Remco Evenepoel, Tadej Pogacar, and Egan Bernal for years to come. A burgeoning life, cycling career, and future stardom, essentially in its infancy, cut so short, while no more or less tragic than the deaths of Michael Goolaerts or Antoine Demoitie, particular to their friends and family, cuts closer to home for us cycling fans. Moreover, we have no one to blame or scapegoat for Lambrecht’s death. We can’t call for a rule on less motos in races, or rally behind the cause of better heart screening for young cyclists, or talk about strengthening the rider’s union, or pressure race organizers to make the routes more safe. Lambrecht’s death was simply an unavoidable part of cycling and cosmic aligning of bad luck. He fell on an ordinary road, at a time when the race was calm, but unfortunately at the wrong place and wrong time, with the culvert being nearby. Nothing can be changed to ensure this won’t happen again, and, thus, we’ve been deprived of the catharsis of calling for such change. Most poignantly, though, Lambrecht’s death makes us face the insignificance of ourselves. Lambrecht, a person with a singular, world-class talent died, and yet the race and life went on, barely skipping a beat. Besides the neutralized stage, an insignificant race like the Tour of Poland kept going forward-- lesser jerseys were awarded, pointless sprints were had. There was no choice, really. That’s business— the race must go on— and that’s life as time inexorably marches forward. And as such, we’ll get on to the preview.
This year’s European Championship visits the well-known
Belarusian, Estonian Dutch city of Alkmaar. Why, you ask? Well, because essentially Alkmaar was the only city willing to foot the bill for the championships. Originally slated for Annecy, France, they pulled out when they discovered that the championships would be cutting into their tourist season. Then, the Dutch city of Drenthe, of Ronde de Drenthe and trash mountain fame, was slated to take over, but they too pulled out, not wanting to pay the 1 million euro fee to the European Cycling Federation and other substantial costs to put the event on. There were multiple other cities that also took themselves out of the running, and the only city to remain was Alkmaar, who got the championships by default. According to the Vice Mayor of the city, Pieter Dijkman, the championships will put Alkmaar “on the map.”
Prior to Alkmaar being put on the map this year with the Euro Champs, in previous years Alkmaar was also put on the map by some other claims to fame. For instance, Alkmaar is the birthplace of renowned filmmaker and auteur Tom Six, director of such refined classic cinema as The Human Centipede, the Human Centipede 2, and the Human Centipede 3. Alkmaar was also put on the map by being the birthplace of the world’s fifth best Dick name-- Dick Quax, a former Olympian runner who once held the 5k world record, only behind the unfortunate names of former U.S. Congressman Dick Armey, former head of WADA, Dick Pound, former Nascar driver, Dick Trickle, and former Chicago Bear, Dick Butkus (Vice Mayor of Alkmaar, Pieter Dijkman, is only a runner up on that list).
Speaking of dicks, Alkmaar was also put on the map by prostitution, with its red light district, Achterdam, being one of the first regulated prostitution areas in the world, having been established in 1811. Further speaking of dicks, Alkmaar is known for its cheese and large traditional cheese market. So if the human centipedes, dicks, prostitution, and cheese haven’t put Alkmaar on the map already, I’m not sure how much luck a relatively-unloved and unknown cycling race will have.
The race will be 173 kilometers long, a significant departure from the previous 200+ kilometers editions of the championships. There will be a first loop, taking the riders outside the city limits of Alkmaar for 46 kilometers, and then an 11.5 kilometer circuit around the city that the riders will complete 11 times.
The first loop:
The city circuit:
There’s not much to say about the course. It’s a quintessential North Holland route-- the highest point is a bridge crossing, there are cobbles, but they are gentle, and the only real question is whether the wind will serve to enhance the racing from the otherwise guaranteed bunch sprint. According to the weather forecast, the wind will be blowing-- out of the southwest at 20 to 30 miles per hour, with gusts up to 40 mph. The problem, though, for all the echelon aficionados, is that the course is not really set up to make the wind a factor. The first loop, which is about 46 kilometers, has the riders leaving the city center of Alkmaar and hitting the roads through the fields, but it should be much too early in the race to have any effect. The remaining 127 kilometers are on a city circuit, where the buildings should provide enough protection to the peloton to avoid echelons. Still, last year, the weather in Glasgow produced a banger of an edition of the Euro Champs, with Matteo Trentin holding off the cyclocross wunderkinds in a rain soaked edition. Let’s hope the wind can make this edition at least half as exciting.
WHO’S GONNA WIN
Normally, if the wind is going to be blowing, you wouldn’t look past the Dutchies and the Belgies, but neither nation has brought the strongest team for the potential echelons. Belgium have Jasper Philipsen and Tim Merlier for the potential bunch sprint, but only have the strong engines of Yves Lampaert and Jens Keukeleire if the wind is howling. Netherlands have Dylan Groenewegen for the sprint, and Mike Teunissen, Dylan van Baarle, and Sebastian Langeveld as the big engines. The strongest teams would probably have to go to both France and Italy. France have Arnaud Demare and Bryan Coquard as their sprint options, but also Florian Senechal, Damien Gaudin, and Adrien Petit. Italy has Elia Viviani and defending Euro Champ Matteo Trentin as their fastmen, but also Fabio Sabatini, Simone Consonni, Davide Ballerini, and Davide Cimolai. Germany has the current best Bora sprinter in Pascal Ackermann, but little support for him. Slovenia has the resurgent Luka Mezgec who shouldn’t be ignored after his two victories in Poland. Great Britain is bringing Mark Cavendish, but otherwise has a decent team, which includes Adam Blyte, Daniel Mclay and Luke Rowe. The Danes look young and dangerous with Kasper Asgreen, Mads Pedersen, and Magnus Cort. Norway have Alexander Kristoff and Kristoffer Halvorsen. Ireland has Sam Bennett. The rest of the countries bring mostly pack fodder, with Slovakia bringing Juraj instead of Peter.
I think this race most likely comes down to a bunch sprint. If that’s the case, it’s hard to look past Elia Viviani who is coming off his RideLondon Classic win, won’t mind the weather conditions, and has a pretty good leadout train. Both Dylan Groenewegen and Pascal Ackermann have the speed to beat Viviani, but Groenewegen didn’t look like he was firing on all cylinders at the Tour and Ackermann doesn’t have his usual support. Sam Bennett also has the necessary speed, and is coming into this race with a second place behind Viviani in London, but will have to rely upon freelancing on other riders wheels as he has no support to speak of. The next tier of sprinters are unlikely to win a bunch sprint in this field, but could win if they find themselves in a reduced group without the big favorites. Such riders include Kristoff, Demare, Philipsen, and Merlier. If the weather makes the race selective, there are many strong riders who can capitalize— Trentin, Teunissen, Lampaert, Senechal, etc. It’s hard to look past someone like Kasper Asgreen as a favorite in that scenario, coming from the echelon experts of Deceuninck Quick-Step and having finished 2nd behind Remco in the Euro Champs time trial.