So, I didn’t watch a huge amount of cycling this weekend. Saturday saw me staying with friends (including a long time lurker and keen cycling fan – everyone say hi to GM!) and being unable to persuade three small children that the climax of Omloop was more interesting than Hotel Transylvania. Kids, eh? Sunday saw me travelling and missing the hilly bit of KBK but able to watch the thrilling denouement on my phone. Like most people I didn’t get to see a minute of the French races, and I was also sad to miss the women’s racing and the track worlds. Of course, like everyone else, I didn’t see any racing from the UAE.
So, with that in mind, and with Civetta limbering up to talk about the women’s side, what can we take from this first weekend of men’s racing? What did I miss whilst watching some animated vampires?
1 - This Kasper Asgreen is really something
What did we see at the end of Sunday? A botched chase from a peloton trying to work out a complex game theory problem whilst hammering toward the end of a tough day? The DQS team blocking cleverly and having a sprinter that ruined it for everyone else? Or a hellaciously strong young talent taking his first cobbles win of many?
I don’t think we really have to choose. I’m taking “all of the above” as my answer. Sure, Kasper got lucky – but he also had the strength to keep going off the front for a very long time, and he earned that win. Just like he earned a tough second as the only guy willing to go after Bettiol in last year’s Ronde. Just like he won from the break in California last spring. Just like he stuck it out on a huge, if doomed, break in the World Championships in 2018. The guy has guts and takes risks, and it is nice to see him getting a reward for that.
2 - The
Dutch Danish Hegemony is coming
There’s no comprehensive coverage of the track worlds here, but it is worth pausing to say that the Danish Team Pursuit quartet didn’t break the 4km record in Berlin, they obliterated it. They finished in 3.44. Three freaking forty fubaring four. That’s 4king fast, guys. They backed it up with a win in the men’s Madison. The road world champion? He’s Danish, and 24. Soren Kragh Andersen grabbed third in Omloop, too. Throw in Jakob Fuglsang’s inspired start to 2020 after a great couple of years and I’m starting to rethink my Danish stereotypes. Lego, bacon, Vikings… cyclists? Sure, why not. I for one look forward to welcoming our new cycling overlords.
3 - We’re all epidemiologists now
The thoughts of science journalists and public and respiratory health professionals on Coronavirus and Covid-19 are grim, but at least they are a lot more than informative than reading the opinions of people who know almost nothing. So, I’m not going to contribute to the panic or to the piles of speculation out there.
I’ll restrict myself to cycling, and say that we lost the last two days of the UAE Tour, and that the races in Italy in the next week (Strade Bianche, industrial artichokes and Tirreno - Adriatico) are all at significant risk of cancellation, with Italy at the centre of Europe’s biggest outbreak and the RCS staff still in the UAE. The latest from RCS (who look after SB and TA) is that they are currently expecting the races to go ahead, but things could change.
As for the rest of the season, time will tell. I note that various football matches across Italy have been played behind closed doors, and crowds won’t be allowed to attend the biathlon round in the Czech Republic this week. I can’t see the impact on cycling ending when everyone flies back from Abu Dhabi.
4 - The Rhone Valley has some pretty good cycling
When Omloop is on, there’s only one place in the cycling world that will get the ink, and that’s Flanders. Openings weekend is a cycling staple, and Belgium is the heart of spring cycling. Still, we saw the 20th Faun-Ardeche on Sunday, and the 8th Drome on Saturday, and I think it is time to say that these are pretty good races. Interesting parcours, increasingly impressive startlists, some good winners. On Saturday, you could add truly atrocious conditions to the list, as Remi Cavagna grinta-ed his way to a cosy win. No, this ain’t Omloop, but at a time when plenty of smaller races (especially in France) are losing their shine, it is nice to see a formula that works, with well-timed and well-organised races on good roads.
5 - Jasper Stuyven is a force to be reckoned with
It seems to me like there are more potential winners in any given cobbled classic than there have been for years. With the continued presence of Peter Sagan, the piles of potential winners in the Deceuninck stables (including those who’ve moved on, like Terpstra and Gilbert) and the emergence of the Pedersen, van Aert and van der Poel generation (oh, and Bettiol), there are a number of semi-forgotten names. There’s absolutely no reason why the monuments shouldn’t fall to “used to be in the conversation a couple of years ago rider” like Naesen, Vanmarcke, Trentin, van Avermaet, Degenkolb, or, in fact, Jasper Stuyven.
Stuyven underlined this point with a very tidy win in Omloop, in which he corrected some of the errors that have held him back in the last couple of years, combined with the power and strength that you always need at this level. He joined the decisive move and was on the right side of subsequent splits, and had enough power to cover Yves Lampaert’s bid for glory towards the finish, and was still able to sprint around him. He backed his win up with a strong sprint for fifth in Kuurne and reminded everyone that he still belongs on a possible winners list for the biggest races. One minor quibble is that his support didn’t look great, and I think he’ll miss the foil of racing alongside John Degenkolb. Still, Pedersen and Kirsch can be powerful allies and I still expect more of Theuns and Mullen. In a wide-open year, keep an on Jasper.
Bonus - This will be my year in FSA-DS!
Okay, so it probably won’t. I just wanted to take this opportunity to point out that, for a brief and glorious time before the Omloop finished, I was top of the table with a 1-2-3 in the Ardeche. Oh, and Jasper is on my draft team. This will all be forgotten by October, but I’m going to enjoy it while it lasts.