"We'll take stock of the Classics performances after Liège-Bastogne-Liège." It was the automatic response of Patrick Lefevere when being asked about the poor performances of his team during the Classics. Let's look back on the spring season as Liège-Bastogne-Liège 2022 is history now.
The Wolfpack hunted by the Peaky Blinders
Weakened by illness and bad luck during the races, the Classics campaign of Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl Team was one to forget. Yes, Fabio Jakobsen won Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne, but the way The Wolfpack behaved during the races was atypical to say the least. Kasper Asgreen was allowed on the podium after his third place at Strade Bianche, but after that we weren't able to spot the Quick-Step jersey during one of the podium ceremonies. Luckily the aerobullet stood up and saved the Classics season of the team. Silencing the criticasters with a 30 kilometer solo. Remco Evenepoel doing what Remco Evenepoel does best.
"Ineos Grenadiers and Jumbo-Visma will try to remove Quick-Step form the Classics throne this spring." It was one of the five conclusions we wrote after the opening weekend. Looking back on the sentence eight weeks later, we're allowed to say it became reality. Jumbo-Visma was the first team to present themselves as the heir to the throne. Without a single raceday in his legs, Wout van Aert was flying towards the win at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad after a terrific team performance. The bees repeated that story at E3 Saxo Bank Classic. After two completely Jumbo coloured podia at Paris-Nice, Christophe Laporte joined his leader on a 40 kilometer journey towards the win. With Laporte, Benoot and Van der Sande, Wout van Aert received the super domestiques he needed for the finals. The transfers turned out to be fantastic. All of them looked to be freed when they entered a final with Van Aert, but when the leader was absent due to Covid, they struggled a little. It's clearly easier for them to perform in the shadows of the Belgian champion, than carrying the stress of being the absolute leader themselves. In this regard they made the right choice moving to Jumbo-Visma.
Thanks to a mix of experience with young and talented riders, Ineos Grenadiers got the results we normally expect from the Wolfpack
Around the moment Wout van Aert was out with Covid, Ineos Grenadiers found their moment to shine. They announced themselves as the Peaky Blinders travelling to Flanders before Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, but they behaved as the Blinders the whole Classics season. Looking back on all races it's fair to say they were never afraid of carrying a race or attacking at the most unexpected moments.
A young generation of Peaky Blinders was on the hunt for success. Tom Pidcock was third at Dwars door Vlaanderen, Dylan Van Baarle ended Tour of Flanders as the runner-up and won Paris-Roubaix, Michal Kwiatkowski won Amstel Gold Race and Magnus Sheffield surprised the world by winning Brabantse Pijl. By listing those results we shouldn't forget Ben Turner, the super domestique behind every single result. A mix of experience with young and talented riders brought them the results we normally expect from the Wolfpack. Looking back, Ineos Grenadiers moved Quick-Step from the Classics throne this season. Up to the latter to bounce back next year.
Lotte Kopecky and Marta Cavalli on top of the world
Before the 2022 Classics season we already knew Kopecky and Cavalli were excellent riders, but who expected them to win four fantastic races together? The Belgian Champion beat superstar Annemiek van Vleuten twice in a head-to-head fight at Strade Bianche and Tour of Flanders. Marta Cavalli surprised the cycling world by winning Amstel Gold Race and Flèche Wallonne Féminine. The first one solo, the second one beating Annemiek van Vleuten on Mur de Huy.
The Netherlands lost their 'monopoly' on women's cycling as the level in lots of other countries improved
Last year there were eight Women World Tour races between Strade Bianche and Liège-Bastogne-Liège Femmes, of which the Dutch women won six. This season the Dutch won two of ten World Tour races. Lorena Wiebes showed her strong sprinting legs at Ronde van Drenthe and Annemiek van Vleuten completed an amazing solo at Liège-Bastogne-Liège Femmes. It's a remarkable, but good evolution. The Netherlands lost their 'monopoly' on women's cycling. Not because they're not good anymore, but because the level in lots of other countries improved.
Last weeks we saw a few people writing about 'the year too much' for Annemiek van Vleuten. Nonsense. The Movistar superstar won Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and was runner-up at Strade Bianche, Tour of Flanders and Flèche Wallonne Féminine. On top of that she ended her Classics season with a bang at Liège-Bastogne-Liège Femmes. She's never afraid to attack or to take turns, even when she's on the road with someone who has a better sprint. Besides that, we shouldn't forget her biggest targets of 2022. Before the season she said she had her eyes on Tour de France Femmes, which of course doesn't mean she wasn't interested in the Classics. The year too much? Annemiek isn't done yet, folks ...
Living the dream at Intermarché - Wanty - Gobert Matériaux
Intermarché - Wanty - Gobert Matériaux is often referred to as the odd one out in the World Tour, but they proved they're not worthy that title last couple of weeks. Jan Bakelants recently said in Het Nieuwsblad the team calculated before the season the necessary amount of UCI points they needed to get out of the relegation zone. Thanks to their fantastic results in the Classics they can throw that calculation in the bin already.
Who'd expect a 22-year-old Eritrean phenomenon to win Gent-Wevelgem? Biniam Girmay wrote a huge page of cycling history in Flanders Fields on 27 March. The first ever African rider to win a Classic in Flanders. It was the start of a massive collection of UCI points. The fairytail continued ten days later as Alexander Kristoff won Scheldeprijs in heroic circumstances. Echelons from the very first kilometer combined with rain. That Wednesday, Kristoff won the 83rd race of his career, but it was the very first time he finished solo. Another 200 UCI points in the pocket.
Thanks to their fantastic results in the Classics, Intermarché can throw their relegation calcution in the bin
Of course wins are nice, but the best team performance was yet to come. The team of Hilaire Van der Schueren finished with six riders inside the top 23 at the Hell of the North. Tom Devriendt surpassed himself that day. He arrived at the velodrome in Roubaix in fourth place. His teammates Adrien Petit (6th), Alexander Kristoff (12th), Taco van der Hoorn (16th), Andrea Pasqualon (19th) and Baptiste Planckaert (23rd) all finished with him inside the top 23. The team took 593 points. Heaven in hell. And what to think of the second place of Quinten Hermans at Liège-Bastogne-Liège? It's easy to say it has been a crazy Classics season for Intermarché.
The times they are a-changing ... And so is Mathieu van der Poel
Dark clouds were above the Classics campaign of Mathieu van der Poel before the start of the season. The back problems of the Dutchman were worse than everyone thought before he entered the CX world. After a second place at the UCI World Cup in Dendermonde the World Champion Cyclo-cross had to abandon the Telenet Superprestige of Heusden-Zolder. It was the last time we saw him in competition.
Weeks passed before the news came Mathieu was back training. That was when the rumours started to spread of course. When would VDP be back at the races? In the end his return came earlier than expected. He started his season with a third place at Milano-Sanremo. As a preparation for Tour of Flanders Van der Poel chose to ride Settimana Internazionale Coppi e Bartali, a five day stage race. Guess what? The Dutchman bridged the gap to the breakaway on his own and was the motor of that break until it was caught. Many of us thought he would end the stage in the bunch, but you're never done with Van der Poel. He prepared himself for the sprint and beat Hayter on the line. Ready for Flanders.
The more reasoned way of racing will bring Van der Poel even more glory
Van der Poel had what he wanted: a perfectly timed condition peak. It became clear at Tour of Flanders, Mathieu changed his way of racing. As he said it himself, his rather thoughtless way of racing with attacks on the most unexpected moments cost him wins from time to time. Tadej Pogacar tried to drop the Dutchman multiple times, but Van der Poel didn't crack. He followed the Slovenian towards the finish in Oudenaarde and beat him at the end. Another monument added to his honorary list. The more reasoned way of racing will bring him even more glory.
The races after Tour of Flanders, Van der Poel talked a lot about suffering decompression, which is quite remarkable knowing Flanders was only his eighth raceday of the season. After all, Van der Poel can be happy with what he achieved last couple of weeks. In February it wasn't even sure if he would be able to race a single Classic. Now he's won a stage at Coppi e Bartali, Dwars door Vlaanderen and Tour of Flanders. It will give him confidence towards Giro and Tour. And Mathieu said he has his eyes on the Worlds in Australia ... Watch out!
Wanted: UCI points
Wins at GP Jean-Pierre Monseré and Volta Limburg Classic, brought to you by the 20-year-old neopro of the team. Imagine you're the CEO at Lotto Soudal, would you be satisfied with that? Arnaud De Lie has the right to be the happiest man in the world with those results, but the outside world - and with that hopefully the management - expects way more from the team itself. Taking wins at Challenge Mallorca and Saudi Tour it was all fun and games at Lotto Soudal during the first weeks. The team knew before the season they had to take UCI points to get out of the relegation zone and that's what they did at first. Tim Wellens, Maxim Van Gils, Arnaud De Lie, Caleb Ewan. They all took their win, but when the Classics season started the magic was gone.
The team was lyrical about the return of Campenaerts and the fresh breeze he brought with him, but that breeze died down as the Classics started
Victor Campenaerts came back to the team during the offseason. Everyone at Lotto Soudal was lyrical about his return and the fresh breeze he brought with him to the team, but that breeze died down as the Classics started. Agreed, Victor Campenaerts, Florian Vermeersch, Brent Van Moer, ... they all had their part of bad luck, but their performances of the last weeks won't save Lotto Soudal. The opposite happened as the relegation danger is only getting bigger.
On the day of writing this, the team announced the signings of Reinardt Janse van Rensburg and Carlos Barbero. With all due respect to those riders, but they won't solve the points problem for Lotto. Last year, Barbero took 50 UCI points, van Rensburg ended 2021 with a total of 171 points. That's 221 points together. For the points freaks among us, 6 riders of Team Arkéa Samsic already took more points this season than van Rensburg en Barbero did together in 2021. Arkéa already took 1719 points more during 2022 than Lotto. That equals 3,5 Tour of Flanders victories or 14,3 stages at Tour de France. Luckily Caleb Ewan has 21 chances in July ...