The photo? Ahem, yes GOATS, the animals not the acronym for TdF/Flanders winners, have been brought in to graze the weeds off of the famous pavé of Paris-Roubaix in time for Sunday’s race. Mark my words, they will have these roads completely cleared of every unwanted substance in time for the race. Except for maybe goat poop. Riders beware, it’s probably slippery?
How’s that for an intro to the 120th running of the Queen of the Classics?
For many fans of spring cycling, this is THE moment you’ve been waiting for, and while I don’t always see it that way, once Flanders is over I am fully supportive of coming around to this line of thinking. Paris-Roubaix is almost never dull, and often explosive, whether it’s wet or dry (the latter this time I think). It’s the same course and the same considerations we always apply here, and in that sense there may not be much to say in advance. But let’s start by rewinding to last Sunday.
There are two reasons I can think of as to why last weekend’s Ronde van Vlaanderen victory by Tadej Pogačar was so perfect.
First, as you have already heard people say, he’s doing really good things for the sport by competing and winning on the cobbles, something no Tour de France champion has done since Merckx. That grows the sport, which is good for the riders who can make more money, which is good for us because more athletes will look to cycling if being great at it pays more than being a mediocre backup trequartista. So then how does it grow the sport? By catching those more casual Tour fans in places like ... well maybe not Seattle but most of the rest of America who haven’t heard much about the classics, but could easily be drawn to cycling at this heightened level of urgency — everyone at the start can theoretically win; nobody is saving their legs for another day. However wonderful it is that Jonas Vingegaard can tap out a climbing rhythm the likes of which we have never seen before (apart from the dirtiest eras), seeing riders do incredible things across highly divergent terrain and circumstances brings the sport to a whole new level of awesomeness. I haven’t been a big Pogačar supporter because he keeps scoring way too many points while not being on my FSA Directeur Sportif fantasy team, but rooting interests aside I like everything I know about him. By the time he is done, he might even convince some Americans that Slovenia is not also Slovakia. I can dream...
The other reason has to do with this weekend and Paris-Roubaix. Pogs is a Flanders-only cobblist so far, of which we have seen many over the years. Paris-Roubaix is too much even for guys who finish on podiums at the region’s other hardest Monumental cobbled affair. Pogs did something unique in the only event where he could do it. That’s done, so let’s reshuffle the deck and go to the next event.
I think in their heart of hearts both Mathieu van der Poel and Wout Van Aert want to win Paris-Roubaix more than Flanders. It has the highest profile of the Classics, and I think riders generally regard it as a bigger achievement, although opinions may vary. Van der Poel’s legacy needs Roubaix more than another Flanders, as cool as joining the 3x Club will (eventually) be, even though he may not have a preference and most likely wouldn’t say it out loud if he did.
Van Aert, meanwhile, might be pegged as more of a Flanders guy, given his nationality and how well he climbs for his size. But he’s never been overly dogmatic about being Flemish when it comes to which races he wants to win, and anyway I have a suspicion that Roubaix might suit him better as a race of pure, rhythmic power rather than what you have left in your legs after 728 left/right turns. Don’t look for him to say that out loud either, unless Belgian media and fans keep nagging him about De Ronde.
We have had The Showdown before at the 2020 Ronde, but a replay of that has been preempted by Pogs. Now we may have THE Showdown. And it should be explosive.
It won’t be a shock to hear that along with his other breakthrough achievements, Pogačar has become the first Slovenian national to win Flanders. If you are reading this far, then you’ve probably taken part in our annual task of relentlessly pouring over the race’s history and can name most of the last 30 winners off the top of your head. Slovenia wasn’t mentioned here in connection with De Ronde before last year.
But with this victory, we now have Slovenian winners of four of the five Monuments: Pogs alone taking the two climby ones (Lombardia twice) and Primož Roglič chipping in an extra LBL for good measure, plus Matej Mohorič grabbing MSR last year. That leaves only Paris-Roubaix as unclaimed territory for Slovenian cycling.
No Slovenian has ever finished higher in the Hell of the North than Matej Mohorič’s fifth place last year. A quick search shows no Slovenians in the top ten this century, which means probably all time? It shouldn’t be a surprise to discover that the top Slovenian cyclists — a pretty good list for a small country — have tended to be climbers, well suited to the local terrain, and have tended to excel more in neighboring Italy than in the distant Low Countries. Guys like Tadej Valjavec, Goran Stangelj, Jani Brajkovic and so on. They weren’t interested in diverting their program toward a slim shot of relevance in Paris-Roubaix.
Borut Božič started Paris-Roubaix seven times, with three DNF’s, three OK placings, and a breakthrough 14th place in 2015 for Astana. That likely makes him Slovenia’s greatest Paris-Roubaix participant prior to Mohorič reaching his current level. Luka Mezgec is around still and was once 67th there but while he’s a fine classics sprinter (with a Bredene Koksijde win in 2014), this is beyond his reach. Jan Tratnik tried it once and finished, but he’s better with some climbing. Maybe there was someone back in time who escaped my quick review, but I sort of doubt it.
So who will put the final piece in the Slovenian Monuments puzzle: Moho or Pogs? Or someone else (e.g. Bahrain’s very young Matevz Govekar)? A quick poll:
Which Slovenian rider will win Paris-Roubaix first?
This poll is closed
Bahrain’s very young Matevz Govekar
The future child of Pogs and Urška Žigart
[Hey, Pogs and Žigart are engaged, so it’s not crazy to dream on a future where they produce a genetically perfect cyclist offspring... who could win either the men’s or women’s Queen of the Classics. But for now Žigart has a lot of riding on her plate, targeting the Ardennes races for Jayco. So that last choice remains quite hypothetical.]
And Now A Few Words About the Scheldeprijs
I am sure I’ve complained about how running a blog for most of the last 17 years has forced me to push out repetitive content. And I am sure I have made that particular complaint about the Scheldeprijs. I have probably even told the story about how the last time I went to Flanders in 2017, we not only didn’t drive to Schoten, we didn’t necessarily even watch it on the TV playing in the next room from our sun-and-maybe-beer-soaked B&B patio. That’s how much fun the Scheldeprijs is.
Still, it remains one of two Belgian spring classics won by an American, and my favorite American of those early blogging days, Tyler Farrar, so it’s not like I don’t have a soft spot for it.
But I still haven’t got a lot to say. It will (probably) feature a sprint among the three most prolific Low Country sprinters of the times: Fabio Jakobsen of Soudal Quick Step, Jasper Philipsen of ALpecin Deceuninck, and Dylan Groenewegen of Jayco AlUla. Plus established sprinting heroes like Caleb Ewan, Mark Cavendish and Alexander Kristoff. All of these guys except for Groenewegen have won here before. One of them will probably win here again. Mathieu van der Poel will show up and work for Philipsen, not for his FSA DS owners, so don’t look for any heroics by him ahead of Sunday. Or at all, really, though I guess it’s fair to point out that Kristoff won last year by going solo, something the race hadn’t seen since Cav snuck away by a few seconds in 2008. At least it’s supposed to be good weather.
Power Poll Updated Rankings!
Just an interim top ten for now. Fuller dissection after the Velodrome Sunday.
1. Jumbo Visma
Notably... The results are what they are, and as disappointed as they were in Flanders, they still got third on a day where they were missing a key guy. With luck, van Baarle will bounce back this week from the illness and injuries (E3) that got him held back from de Ronde at the last minute. Nobody is challenging their supremacy, unless UAE scores the Double Sunday.
2. Alpecin Deceuninck
Notably... Well, van der Poel lived up to his billing, I guess, both in terms of his overall strength and his willingness to take risks (that sometimes cost him victory). Ah well... It’s hard to see this team moving up or down. Yes, vdP could have bad luck Sunday, but that’s not a reason to change their rating. No, he and his team would have to fuck up their tactics in such a horrible way that I feel compelled to penalize him here, and short of doing a DSM roadblock maneuver on the Secteur Bernard Hinault, I can’t really picture what that would be. Conversely, to move up they would have to win tomorrow and Sunday and get one other dude in there to convince me that collectively they are substantively something more than whatever van der Poel has to offer. Jumbo is pretty safe I think.
Notably... Mikkel Bjerg and Matteo Trentin were active in the later phases of de Ronde, with Trentin holding on for tenth and Bjerg rolling in 15th. Anyway, their whole Classics season hinged on one guy winning one race and they did that.
4. Trek Segafredo
Notably... Not to play the Ronde results too much, but these guys have been interesting to watch. Clearly they have had enough of past performances where they were difficult to notice, despite their loaded roster. Mads Pedersen’s
fourth third place Sunday was well-earned, starting with his aggressive move on the Molenberg to begin the shakeup of the race — a big turnaround from his MSR performance where he wanted to try stuff and his legs were found wanting. Maybe his timing is just right... but his past history of DNFs and distant finishes in Paris-Roubaix suggest that he might be helping Jasper Stuyven, who’s been sniffing a podium place here for years. Stuyven has had a quiet spring but bounced back up from the early crash in Flanders, so his legs can’t be too far off from his peak. Daan Hoole was solid as a decoy Sunday and us Yanks can dream on Quinn Simmons’ form, but the real ace is Edward Theuns, former top 10 in the velodrome, who could help Stuyven tremendously, and vice versa.
5. Groupama FDJ
Notably... Küng has been about as he was last year, when he was visible at every race and nabbed a podium place in Roubaix. Seeing him finish sixth after being in the aggressive Not-MatWoutPogs move late in the game was impressive. And OK, maybe his big engine style might not get him over the hump in Flanders but it sure looks good in France. Demare is often good there too. Losing Madouas is a big blow though, so they don’t have a solid grip on this position just yet. He crashed and was ill Sunday, so fingers crossed Madouas can recover for Sunday, but he isn’t on the startlist.
6. EF Education EasyPost
Notably... Again... I promise I am not just following the Flanders results. Neilson Powless’ fifth place came on the heels of taking third in Dwars, and EF have been punching above their (assumed) weight all spring. It probably won’t last.
Notably... Along similar lines (and similar biases by yours truly), the usually-adrift Spanish superteam has found its footing in Flanders at long last! Oier Lazkano got second in Dwars and Ivan García managed fifth in E3, all backstopping Matteo Jorgenson’s breakthrough spring that has taken him to ninth in Flanders, just trailing off behind the chase group, and fourth in E3, all while attacking and riding with real conviction. Matthias Norsgaard will take over the Designated Norwegian(ish) role for Jorgenson Sunday.
8. Soudal Quick Step
Notably... Probably their lowest ranking ever in one of these things. And it may not be entirely fair, since Asgreen looked legitimately competitive Sunday, but hey, I don’t make the rules here.
9. Bahrain Not Victorious
Notably... They have bagged a couple top tens but in all it has been an underwhelming spring, so far anyway. Mohorič, discussed above, is good in France and we will see if Fred Wright — twice top 10 in Flanders — can translate that over. Johnny Milan is one to watch here eventually.
10. Lotto DSTNY
Notably... Frederik Frisson got a nice fourth in G-W and De Lie and Vermeersch are gearing up for the big one this weekend. Allez!
Gone Missing: INEOS, Intermarché. Crashes, food bonks... be better, people!