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COBBLES POWER POLL! Counting Down All 25 Teams

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106th Ronde van Vlaanderen - Tour des Flandres 2022 - Men’s Elite Photo by Tim de Waele/Getty Images

If you hadn’t already congratulated yourself for surviving the Cycling Winter, take a moment now for a hearty clap on the back. Well done! You made it to Cobbles Season!

I posted last week about courses as a way to spend less time going forward on courses, not because they aren’t super interesting but because there isn’t much that is new this time around. That leaves riders, teams and weather as the biggest variables in determining how this season will go. Right now the news on all fronts is good, or at least “good” insofar as maybe the people who have jobs to do over the next few weeks won’t appreciate the Brussels forecast of non-stop rain as much as those of us watching at home. How much that ends up mattering is tbd and not much of a discussion just yet. But I’m eyeing it for sure.

Anyway, let’s get to the Cobbles Teams Power Poll, where I rank all 25 teams currently planning to start the Ronde van Vlaanderen. That should catch everyone of relevance — the teams in, say, De Panne might not be quite the same but the RvV and Paris-Roubaix wild cards should be there.

cobbled classics

So what exactly is this exercise? I always struggle a little bit to define it, because “strength” and “success” can be somewhat nebulous concepts when measured across three weeks’ worth of one-day races with varying natures and combatants. So I think I will do this as an overall ranking of strength — potential winners plus depth of support — but also try to define expectations separately. So far the startlist for De Ronde isn’t set, but the one for E3, three days from now, is probably 95% of what we will see in the big races, so I will start there, and to the extent I can guess at changes for Paris-Roubaix (which often brings in different riders), I’ll do so. Oh, and I am starting this before the Classic Brugge-De Panne but I might not finish it until after, so make of that what you will.

[And for the second and last time this year, let me just mention that I once wrote a book about the Cobbles, which you can buy out of boredom, morbid curiosity, tax strategies, or what have you.]


25. Team Flanders-Baloise

Recent Record: Robbe Ghys was 15th in Gent-Wevelgem last year. Jordi Warlop was 16th in Dwars in ‘21.

Key Riders: Lindsay De Vylder, Gilles De Wilde, Alex Colman?

What Success Looks Like: Putting riders in the finale of some of the less loaded races, come what may. Getting into early breakaways, to get the sponsor name on TV. And maybe, just maybe, having someone break out.

What Failure Looks Like: Total anonymity.

My favorite thing about this team is that their organizer is listed on Flemish Wikipedia as Wielerclub Eddymerckxvrienden, or Friends of Eddy Cycling Club. Any friend of Eddy’s is a friend of mine! It’s worth remembering that this is the Flemish Kids Squad, formerly known as Topsport Vlaanderen, which has launched numerous careers of great significance. Currently only De Vylder is not in his early 20s, so it is hard to predict when someone from their young roster will force his way into the conversation. Remember Sep Vanmarcke animating 2010 Gent-Wevelgem and taking second? I sure do.

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Initiation rites

24. Q36.5 Pro Cycling Team

Recent Record: None; this is their inaugural season.

Key Riders: Jack Bauer, Tobias Ludvigsson

What Success Looks Like: For sure getting one of their semi-recognizable old veterans into a break.

What Failure Looks Like: Not being noticed much outside of their steel-grey kits, which might just blend into the monochromatic landscape of a gloomy Belgium spring day.

I doubt I’ve said anything about these guys before today, they are a new Swiss-registered team which only got a couple wild cards here at the largest races (with fully 25 teams), and are otherwise outside the conversation in Flanders.

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Robert Rauschenberg retrospective at MoMA Photo by Johannes Schmitt-Tegge/picture alliance via Getty Images

23. Team Arkéa-Samsic

Recent Record: Bouhanni third in De Panne (‘22); Laurent Pichon 8th in Paris-Roubaix

Key Riders: David Dekker, Amaury Capiot, Jenthe Biermans, Hugo Hofstetter, Clement Russo

What Success Looks Like: A top 20 finish and some TV time

What Failure Looks Like: People asking if they are a World Tour team (they are)

God bless ‘em, they just aren’t built for the Cobbles. Bouhanni seems to have crossed these races off his calendar this time around, and for the life of me I can’t fathom why Pichon wouldn’t be on the startlist for P-R again? Maybe he comes back in. If not, I’m sure there’s a good reason but it leaves me scratching for something to say here.

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22. Astana Qazakhstan Team

Recent Record: Good lord. Nothing.

Key Riders: Mark Cavendish, Alexey Lutsenko, Cees Bol

What Success Looks Like: Cavendish in a sprint!

What Failure Looks Like: The last several years

Cav is a three-time Scheldeprijs winner, which is the only reason these guys aren’t even lower ranked. But what have we seen from Cav this year that gets you excited? Bol is probably the better bet, but these fields are really, really crowded.

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Queen of the Schelde

21. Bingoal-WB

Recent Record: 5th in DE Panne in ‘21 (Timothy DuPont); Robeet made the second peloton in ‘21 Paris-Roubaix. He also won 2021 Nokere Koerse.

Key Riders: Guillaume Van Kiersbulck, Ludovic Robeet

What Success Looks Like: Van Kiersbulck in the finale of a race, maybe with Robeet in tow for some more effective maneuvering, or even GVK setting up Robeet in a sprint. Also showing the jersey.

What Failure Looks Like: As above, anonymity, especially if they work for Van Kiersbulck or Robeeet and still falter.

Though the Boonen comparisons are long gone, Van Kiersbulck’s signing still brings Bingoal some injection of hope beyond their lower-tier status of past years. Same with Robeet, who won Nokere Koerse two years ago. These are seasoned pros who know their way around the cobbles, and while they won’t be anyone’s favorites for a result, they should at least bring Bingoal a sense that they belong here.

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20. Cofidis

Recent Record: Walscheid 4th in De Panne (‘22), Christophe LaPorte 2nd in Dwars, 6th in Paris-Roubaix and 11th in De Ronde (‘21)

Key Riders: Max Walscheid, Jelle Wallays, Alex Zingle

What Success Looks Like: Walscheid winning a sprint or Wallays hanging around a finale. Maybe even a Zingle breakout?

What Failure Looks Like: Reminiscing about how they once employed Christophe LaPorte

Just a note here that while losing LaPorte was devastating, they still have a former Dwars winner in Wallays. And Zingle is hot, coming off victory in the Classique Loire Atlantique. He hasn’t done these races yet, and it’s a little weird that they’re throwing him straight into Paris-Roubaix. But the kid (24) has talent.

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19. Movistar Team

Recent Record: García 7th in G-W

Key Riders: Imanol Erviti, Iván García Cortina, Fernando Gaviria, Matteo Jorgenson

What Success Looks Like: Jorgenson fighting for the Flanders finale; Cortina or Gaviria set up for a sprint result.

What Failure Looks Like: Disorganization

For a top-scoring team like Movistar the dearth of Cobbles results is almost as discouraging as the fact that the ones they did manage were by the now-retired Valverde. I don’t want to be overly dismissive of what Gaviria has done in his career, but in the classics he’s been missing, despite having what seemed like the right mix of abilities. García is their best bet apart from Jorgenson parachuting into Flanders and clawing out a result — which would shock me. The kid is a fighter. Ertviti has a top ten at Paris-Roubaix from 7 years ago, which is something you can never discount.

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18. BORA-Hansgrohe

Recent Record: Van Poppel second in Scheldeprijs (‘22), Ackerman third in De Panne (‘21), Politt 5th in Dwars (‘22) and second in Paris-Roubaix (‘19)

Key Riders: Sam Bennett, Nils Politt, Jordi Meeus, Danny van Poppel

What Success Looks Like: Bennett getting into a sprint battle in something bigger than the Scheldeprijs, Politt and van Poppel (top 15 at de Ronde) making serious efforts in a finale.

What Failure Looks Like: “Hey, we had a pretty good Scheldeprijs.”

My BORA preview mentioned how slanted toward the GC events this roster is, and you can see where that gets them in Flanders. Solid team, all respect. Just not this month.

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Aral Sea in Uzbekistan - ship graveyard in the sandy desert Aralkum Photo by Ulf Mauder/picture alliance via Getty Images

17. TotalEnergies

Recent Record: Turgis second in Dwars (‘19) and 8th in Flanders (‘21), Van Gestel third in Gent-Wevelgem (‘22)

Key Riders: Peter Sagan, Daniel Oss, Anthony Turgis, Dries Van Gestel

What Success Looks Like: Turgis and Van Gestel fighting for actual wins; Sagan and Oss turning back time.

What Failure Looks Like: Time advancing; Turgis and Van Gestel getting bogged down by their more famous teammates’ ambitions.

It’s strange to ponder just how irrelevant Sagan is, considering he has won every single cobbled classic that matters. At 33, he’s a bit young for him to be in year three of not mattering very much, considering he mattered as much as Boonen and Cancellara for quite a while. But everyone is different. Van Gestel is your basic C-list Flandrien, capable of a result — or even a win, though not terribly likely — on his best day. Turgis, though, is a consistent high-placer across the Cobbles and has a 4th (2020) and 8th (‘21) at Flanders, which suggests he’s a break or two away from a really big result.

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Concert of the Rolling Stones at the Waldbühne in Berlin Photo by Soeren Stache/picture alliance via Getty Images

16. Team DSM

Recent Record: Cees Bol 7th in De Panne (‘21), Søren Kragh Andersen 5th in Gent-Wevelgem (‘22)

Key Riders: Alberto Dainese, John Degenkolb, Nils Eekhoff

What Success Looks Like: Dainese or Eeckhoff making waves

What Failure Looks Like: Dainese or Eekhoff signing contracts with another team

Enough has been said about the Spekenbrink Regime and its failure to retain young talent. Hopefully for the sake of the team some of the young talent they seem to develop with regularity will pay off, at least for the rest of the people who work there, if not the boss. Degenkolb, the former Cobble Trophy holder, has tailed off but he showed some old man strength taking 18th in Paris-Roubaix last year, so leave him in your lead group at your peril.

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Abandon Ship Photo by George Douglas/Picture Post/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

15. Team Jayco AlUla

Recent Record: Mathews 11th in Flanders (‘22), Groenewegen second in De Panne (’22), Mezgec 13th in G-W (‘22), O’Brien 5th in Dwars (‘22)

Key Riders: Luke Durbridge, Dylan Groenewegen, Zdenek Stybar, Michael Matthews, Luka Mezgec, Kelland O’Brien

What Success Looks Like: Matthews on the business end of a classic, scaring his break-mates to death. Groenewegen making a sprint finale. O’Brien building his resume.

What Failure Looks Like: Stybar losing the wheel of a rival, with nothing left to do.

Jayco AlUla marks the first team on this list where I am getting kind of excited to talk about them. I have tuned them out for a couple years but lo and behold they had a fine spring in 2022, and bringing in Stybar, presumably to provide more leadership and muscle rather than actually win races (though Paris-Roubaix... ) makes tons of sense. O’Brien comes from a mix of track and road, which has launched more than a few successful classics careers. Matthews might do well with a bit more team support in these races, given how talented he is.

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Funny animal pictures Man boxing with kangaroo ‘Aussie’ (number in a variety show in Berlin) - 1924 - Vintage property of ullstein bild Photo by ullstein bild/ullstein bild via Getty Images

14. Israel-Premier Tech

Recent Record: Sep and Van Asbroeck 5th and 19th in Flanders (‘21), Van Asbroeck and Boivin 8th and 9th in Paris-Roubaix (‘21)

Key Riders: Sep Vanmarcke, Krists Neilands, Hugo Houle, Tom Van Asbroeck, Guillaume Boivin, Dylan Teuns

What Success Looks Like: Vanmarcke in the mix with a teammate or two, or TVA and Boivin hanging around approaching Roubaix, Teuns still strong in Flanders

What Failure Looks Like: Vanmarcke putting his hand up in the final 20 minutes of a race. Nobody else around.

In my offseason Five Factors I convinced myself that Sep is not finished yet, given that he’s 34 (borderline for the classics) and that he won a race in Maryland last year. Since then he’s resumed the life of a B-list Flandrien, making the finale of the Omloop and hanging around some of the smaller ones (albeit with a couple DNFs, including today). So maybe he will remind us of who he was — a guy you should take seriously, only to have something terrible happen to rob him of a result. The main ingredient of the classics is cruelty.

Teuns will be parachuting in for De Ronde only, but that worked fine last year at Bah-Vic. Houle is having a nice start to his season, unlike Boivin who is toiling away in Catalunya and may not end up on the startlist after all... though how they can exclude him from Paris-Roubaix I dunno. Maybe he thinks the race is a pile of shit? We’ve heard that before.

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13. Lotto-DSTNY

Recent Record: De Lie 8th in De Panne (‘22), Campenaerts 4th in Dwars (‘22), Van der Sande fifth in Dwars (‘21), Degenkolb 9th in Flanders (‘20), Vermeersch second in P-R (‘21)

Key Riders: Florian Vermeersch, Pascal Eenkhoorn, Caleb Ewan, Arnaud De Lie

What Success Looks Like: Vermeersch reverts to 2021 form, De Lie pounces at Gent-Wevelgem

What Failure Looks Like: Lotto of recent years

It must have been very deflating all those years, being “the other Belgian squad, the one that doesn’t just win classics all the time.” I guess you could talk to a Torino fan about how that works. Anyway, they have their mojo back now, thanks primarily to De Lie, who they hope will take the next step this year. Warning — he might not, cycling is that way, but it’s a matter of time regardless. I don’t have time to look up why Vermeersch was off last year, if I’m to get through 25 teams before Dwars, and he’s starting slowly this year too, but you don’t ride like he did that day in France without some very high level strength and acumen. It’s all there... but it’s a bit narrowly focused — De Lie isn’t a threat in the Vlaamse Ardennen — so as we enter the middle tier of actually interesting teams, I think they start off a bit lower.

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53rd Etoile de Besseges - Tour Du Gard 2023 - Stage 4 Photo by Luc Claessen/Getty Images

12. EF Education-Easypost

Recent Record: Bettiol wins Flanders (‘19), Rutsch 11th in Paris-Roubaix (’21)

Key Riders: Alberto Bettiol, Nielson Powless, Stefan Bissegger, Marijn van den Berg, Lukasz Wisniowski, Jonas Rutsch

What Success Looks Like: Bettiol at his best, Powless attacking ferociously, Wisniowski in a sprint

What Failure Looks Like: Bettiol unable to go, Powless finding his way blocked, nothing much else happening.

EF haven’t done much of anything in a couple years... which is when they are at their most dangerous. I might talk myself into flipping them with Lotto, but I can’t when they have more Flanders-ish types, including a former winner, than the Belgian B-Squad. Maybe it’s time to back off on Bettiol’s chances, but I love what Powless has been up to lately. I’ll keep them here for now.

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Wooden Trojan horse at sunset... Photo by DeAgostini/Getty Images

11. AG2R-Citröen Team

Recent Record: Naesen and Van Avermaet 4th/6th in E3 (‘21), Van Avermaet 7th and 16 in last two Dwars, Van Avermaet 3rd and 15th in last two Rondes, Van Avermaet 17th in P-R (‘22)

Key Riders: Greg Van Avermaet, Oliver Naesen, Stan Dewulf, Benoît Cosnefroy

What Success Looks Like: Van Avermaet and someone younger on hand to help make major moves. Cosnefroy’s talent translating over to De Ronde.

What Failure Looks Like: Van Avermaet showing his age, nobody else in a strong position.

I wanted to down-rate these guys because Van Avermaet is getting old, but apparently that concept has lost all meaning. Cosnefroy is the latest climby-classics ace to try his hand at the climby cobbles — E3 and de Ronde — but he’s been a contender at Brabantse Pijl several times, including second last year, so this is no big reach. Naesen hasn’t been great at Flanders in a couple years but he’s still got plenty left I suspect. Dewulf needs to step up before we start lowering our expectations.

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Citroën 2CVs at an auto-cross. Photo by National Motor Museum/Heritage Images/Getty Images

10. UNO-X Pro Cycling Team

Recent Record: Fredheim 8th in De Panne (‘23), Tiller 191th in E3 (‘22)

Key Riders: Alexander Kristoff, Søren Wærenskjold, Rasmus Tiller, Stian Fredheim, Anders Skaarseth

What Success Looks Like: Kristoff as a serious threat to win a monument, presence in numbers in the last hour of races

What Failure Looks Like: Kristoff falling off (if this is even possible); others overwhelmed

The failure scenario... I guess I committed to doing those, but for teams like Uno-X it’s a bit far-fetched. They are both too good and too overlooked for much of anything to be rated a “failure.” Kristoff brings them much more cachet as a former Ronde winner, and I guess he could suddenly start acting his age, but having taken fourth in the Omloop this year my guess is that he will be the same guy he always is, as circumstances allow. As for the rest, I don’t think they’ve been invited to these races very much in the past, so it’s easy to overlook them, but expect Kristoff’s homecoming to buoy the entire squad in Flanders.

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Up Helly Aa Returns After A Break For The Covid Pandemic Photo by Euan Cherry/Getty Images

9. Bahrain-Victorious

Recent Record: Colbrelli victorious in Paris-Roubaix (‘21), Teuns and Wright 6-7 in Flanders (‘22), Tratnik 9th in Dwars (‘22), Mohorič fourth in E3 and 9th in G-W (‘22)

Key Riders: Matej Mohorič, Fred Wright, Andrea Pasqualon, Jonathan Milan

What Success Looks Like: Wright and Mohorič on the loose again, Moho there every day, support around him

What Failure Looks Like: Hm, struggling with this one here. The standard answer is that they just miss all the big breaks or Moho gets isolated. I can’t really picture that though.

As heartbreaking as the departure/forced retirement of Sonny Colbrelli was, the team did a wonderful job of regrouping and winning for their departed leader last year. Mohorič was on an extreme heater all spring, starting with his victorious descent in Milano Sanremo, and Wrighty was a revelation in Flanders. Milan, the trackie, could be a player in Roubaix. But I think it’s all for Moho this year, and that’s a solid plan.

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8. UAE Team Emirates

Recent Record: Molano 9th in De Panne (‘23), Pogačar 10th in Dwars and 4th in Flanders (‘22), Kristoff 6th in Dwars and 14th in Roubaix (‘21)

Key Riders: Tadej Pogačar, Mikkel Bjerg, Pascal Ackermann, Juan Molano, Tim Wellens, Matteo Trentin, Sjoerd Bax

What Success Looks Like: Pogačar wins Flanders.

What Failure Looks Like: Pogačar doesn’t win Flanders.

No team’s ambitions boil down to a single rider or race as neatly as UAE’s, which is part of why they aren’t ranked higher, even with the world’s greatest cyclist in tow. It’s a rating of teams across the entire suite of cobbled classics, where UAE are not maybe focusing on more than just the one. And to be sure, nothing less than a win is worth Pogs’ troubles.

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Lemuel Gulliver caught by Lilliputians

7. Intermarché-Circus-Wanty

Recent Record: Girmay won Gent-Wevelgem and 5th in E3 (‘22), Kristoff 11th in Gent-Wevelgem (‘22), Pasqualon 12th in Dwars (‘22), Devriendt, Petit and Kristoff 4th, 6th and 12th in P-R (‘22)

Key Riders: Biniam Girmay, Mike Teunissen, Adrian Petit, Hugo Page

What Success Looks Like: Girmay and Teunissen forming a powerful tandem in the biggest races, Petit being that guy in France again, Page proving his value or at least his potential.

What Failure Looks Like: Hm, less cohesion than you might hope for? Because they’ll need all of that to hang.

Intermarché lost a lot of their cobbles points from last year but Girmay is the star and Teunissen is a great supporting rider/plan B replacement. Petit has several top 20s and three top 10s on the pavé, making him a specialist there of note. Girmay seems like he’s been laying low but I suspect that is all about to change.

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6. Groupama FDJ

Recent Record: Démare 6th in De Panne (‘22), Küng 3rd and Madouas 7th in E3 (‘22), Démare 10th in G-W (‘22), Küng 6th in G-W (‘21), Küng 6th in Dwars (‘22), Madouas third and Küng fifth in Flanders (‘22), Küng third in Paris-Roubaix.

Key Riders: Arnaud Démare, Stefan Küng, Valentin Madouas, Sam Watson

What Success Looks Like: Küng winning in any of the races that suit him, which is apparently all of them. Démare and Madouas around the front too. Watson showing some big development.

What Failure Looks Like: Plans going awry, I guess.

Full disclosure, I did the ranking before the analysis and have been moving teams around as I go, and when I got to FDJ, my first reaction was that I’d surely need to move them down a notch or two. Nope. If anything, I haven’t given them their proper respect for a brilliant season in 2022. They have some quality — not in numbers like Jumbo, but still — across the board, and don’t forget that Démare has been a legitimate P-R contender going back to even 2014, with a best of 6th in 2016. These guys know what they are doing, and it would be SO COOL for them to win the Giant Cobbled Trophy, even if they import a Swiss guy for the job.

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5. Trek-Segafredo

Recent Record: Stuyven 9th in De Panne, 4th in G-W, 15th in E3 and 7th in P-R (‘22), Stuyven 4th in Flanders, 10th in Dwars and 14th in E3 (‘21), Pedersen 8th in Flanders and 7th in G-W (‘22)

Key Riders: Jasper Stuyven (ya think?), Mads Pedersen, Edward Theuns, Quinn Simmons

What Success Looks Like: Stuyven and Pedersen escaping to victory, thanks to Theuns and Simmons’ quality teamwork

What Failure Looks Like: None of that.

Again with the failure of failures here... these guys are more or less certain to perform at a high level, and the only real question is whether they can get something big out of it. Statistically Stuyven is arguably Belgium’s top active cobbled classics rider, even if we know Van Avermaet used to be dominant and we keep waiting for Van Aert to do the same. But five Monument top tens (plus the MSR win) and a constant stream of results in the other cobbled events, for a record of impressive consistency. The missing piece has been another guy, particularly the former World Champ Pedersen, who was sensational in Flanders six years ago and pretty good last year, but for he and Stuyven to pack that megapowerful 1-2 punch they need to break through, Pedersen will have to be at his very best. He was strong in MSR last weekend, so the signs are there.

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Paul Newman and Robert Redford in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

4. INEOS Grenadiers

Recent Record: Van Baarle wins Paaris-Roubaix (‘22), van Baarle 7th and 8th in E3 (‘21, ‘22), van Baarle 8th in G-W (‘21), Pidcock 3rd in Dwars (‘22), van Baarle wins Dwars (‘21), van Baarle 2nd and 10th in Flanders (‘21, ’22), Moscon 4th in Paris-Roubaix (‘21)

Key Riders: Filippo Ganna, Magnus Sheffield, Tom Pidcock, Michal Kwiatkowski, Luke Rowe

What Success Looks Like: A full changing of the guard, led convincingly by Ganna and Pidcock

What Failure Looks Like: Van Baarle winning everything... for Jumbo

I might quibble with having them this high, over Trek, considering just how many points went out the door this offseason, but at the risk of overreacting to the moment... I was really impressed by Ganna last weekend, and if he’s that strong, with Pidcock back in action and the rest of this talented, young and veteran roster, you can see something really big brewing. They could be anywhere from second to 12th in my post-cobbles ranking.

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3. Soudal-Quick Step

Recent Record: Victory and 3rd/5th in De Panne (‘21, ‘23), 1st (Asgreen), 2nd (Sénéchal) and 5th in E3 (‘21), 4th and 9th (Lampaert and Sénéchal) in Dwars (‘21), win (As) and 9th (Sén) in Flanders (‘21), Lampaert 10th and 5th in P-R (‘21, ‘22)

Key Riders: Fabio Jakobsen, Yves Lampaert, Florian Sénéchal, Davide Ballerini, Julian Alaphilippe, Tim DeClerq, Tim Merlier, Kasper Asgreen

What Success Looks Like: Piling up victories with wave after wave of Steppers making/covering moves

What Failure Looks Like: Hm, maybe rewind today’s Classic Brugge-De Panne

The Quick Step preview practically writes itself every year and looks kind of familiar each time, so for now let’s just say that a healthy Julian Alaphilippe feels like the biggest difference-maker. Yes, Asgreen is a former Flanders winner, but the rest of these guys are great sprint options (Merlier, Jakobsen) and great plan B guys (Sénéchal, Lampaert). Against the riders I am about to discuss, and Pogačar, Asgreen is not going to be the favorite. But put Ala up the road with him, that’s a whole different scenario. Challenged to rebound from his injuries last year and step up, Ala looks like he’s doing that, but the real results are yet to come.

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Brazil v Germany: Semi Final - 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

2. Alpecin-Deceunink

Recent Record: asd

Key Riders: Mathieu van der Poel, Søren Kragh Andersen, Jasper Philipsen, Gianni Vermeersch, Kaden Groves

What Success Looks Like: Van der Poel winning the Double

What Failure Looks Like: Van der Poel getting swarmed by yellow jackets

The last/top two teams on this list are a classic clash between extreme quality and extreme quantity. The former beats the latter if it is really all the way on, but any slippage and the results go the other way. Van der Poel versus the world isn’t that interesting to preview — he’s either going to crush everyone or he won’t. But around the margins, it’s been interesting to see him helping Philipsen and Philipsen and SKA helping vdP... give him a bit more support than he’s used to and the job of covering him just gets harder. Vermeersch should be useful in Paris-Roubaix, where he’s made the finale a couple times. Groves is yet another sprinter? Or maybe there’s a classics stud waiting to come out. Anyway they are throwing him into the fire this year so it could be interesting to see what he can do.

And oh by the way, when I started this post I was going to do a diatribe about how winning Milano Sanremo is not always the best use of one’s energy when there are three more big weekends to come, culminating in France. But then I did some research into MSR winners and in recent years it hasn’t hindered them much if at all, or if it did it was a guy who had been hot before MSR. The riders who won in Sanremo after laying low tended to have more than enough in the tank to make it to Roubaix. Look for Alpecin to manage van der Poel’s efforts carefully, i.e. he isn’t going bonkers at E3 probably, if he’s to do his thing in the two remaining Monuments on his calendar.

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1. Team Jumbo-Visma

Recent Record: Kooij 5th and 2nd in De Panne (‘21, ‘22), Van Aert, LaPorte and Benoot 1st, 2nd and 9th in E3 (‘22), LaPorte and Van Aert 2nd and 12th in G-W (‘22), Van Hooydonck 7th in GW (‘21), Benoot second in Dwars (‘22), LaPorte 9th in Flanders (‘22), Van Aert 6th in Flanders (‘21), Van Aert seventh and second in P-R (‘21, ‘22).

Key Riders: Wout Van Aert, Dylan van Baarle, Tiesj Benoot, Christophe LaPorte (I mean ...), Nathan Van Hooydonck, Olav Kooij

What Success Looks Like: Four guys on the front of every race ending with arms raised. I’m not even joking.

What Failure Looks Like: Four guys on the front of every race getting dropped by van der Poel.

OK, in fairness to everyone, there are a couple teams that can counter Jumbo’s numbers, but if they are clever enough Jumbo can have super strong riders attacking often enough to destroy everyone’s plans, even van der Poel’s. Their top end talent is only slightly less convincing than vdP himself — van Baarle’s record is in the ballpark and we all know what a healthy Van Aert can do head to head there. I am putting Christophe Laporte in a sentence too because holy shit. The final element that gets them over the top in this ranking is the fact that they seem very cohesive and unselfish, fully capable of following a plan that elevates one rider’s chances above the others to defeat vdP, Pogs and the other top teams.

I should probably toss in the idea that Pogačar may yet be the biggest threat, given that he could do something in the last lap of Flanders that this group of Jumbos may struggle to match — climbing like a Tour de France champion. Just showing up in numbers won’t get it done for the Team Formerly Disassociated from Rabobank. But they are smart enough to know all this.

Representative Image:

Cincinnati Bengals v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images

If you aren’t losing your mind with excitement right now, I don’t know how you made it to this part of the post. LET’S FUCKING GOOOOO!

[I know, I shouldn’t do that, but every now and then.]