Updated: Mar 10, 2022
We're two months into the new season as races follow each other quickly. What happened to our Young Wolves during this period? A short summary of their performances and our thoughts on what's yet to come this season.
Jules Hesters growing as the season progresses
The opening weekend in Belgium started on a positive note. On Sunday, the race started in Kuurne. On our way to the team presentation, we had a last look at the official start list. Our Young Wolf Jules Hesters was announced for Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise. As the start came closer, we decided to leave Kuurne and go to our first spot, Holleweg.
Following the race on several platforms, we got the information that Jules was part of the breakaway. Our day was already perfect. Together with big guns as Taco van der Hoorn, Bas Tietema, Luke Durbridge, Arjen Livyns, ... he enjoyed a day in the break. In the French speaking part of Belgium, the race exploded. His breakaway companions were going too fast as Jules was dropped. Nevertheless he can be happy with his performance in Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne as he showed himself in his first Classic of the season.
However, the preparation of the opening weekend did not go extremely smooth. He was annouced to ride Tour of Antalya, a 4-day stage race in Turkey, but that didn't go as planned. The team had to withdraw because of a positive Covid case, which created a gap in the preparation schedule for the riders. A little later the team decided to race in Spain. Jules started in Clasica de Almeria, which resulted in a first highlight of the season. He sprinted towards place eight, behind some big names as Kristoff, Nizzolo and Bouhanni, and beating riders as Kanter and Albanese. Definitely a nice result for him and the team.
Our prediction is that Jules' role in the team will be the same as his role at the start of the season. He'll be an important leadout for Sasha Weemaes as he showed already at Challenge Mallorca. Of course his role will depend on which sprinter is part of the team in every race. March will be a busy month for Jules, with a lot of one day races. We're interested to see how he will deal with the wind in races as Classic Brugge-De Panne and Bredene Koksijde Classic. The startlist will be stacked with top tier riders, so we're curious to see how Jules will cope with that!
Ben Healy, the unexpected surprise of this early season
The first couple of races in Spain were not good for Ben Healy. His best result was a 101st place in Clasica de Almeria. Nothing to be really happy about, but of course we don't know what the purpose of these races was. The idea could have been to do some extra training sessions with the eye on what was to follow.
His last race before the travel to Belgium was a new gravel race in Spain, Clasica Jaen Paraiso Interior. Lutsenko had an incredible day there and won with superiority. Some of the ramps were extremely tough. Even professionals could barely make it to the top. Together with 72 other riders, Healy did not finish his first gravel race of the season. No shame to DNF in that regard.
Jonathan Vaughters, team manager of EducationFirst-Nippo, described Ben as a guy who's able to finish things off from the breakaway as he has quite a decent sprint. Before Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, the first Classic of the season, we didn't expect seeing Ben in the breakaway, but he proved us wrong. However, the break didn't make it to the finish, but we were able to see a few glimps if what he's capable of.
More remarkable was the day after at Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne. Unexpectedly, between two of our stops alongside the road, EF set up a duo attack. Ben Healy went on the offensive together with Julius van den Berg in an attempt to jump to the front group. They failed, but the fact that we saw him two days in a row is a joy to see. Really looking forward to see what he can do further on in this season!
Baroncini with the price of the unluckiest Young Wolf
After his first stage race in Etoile de Bessèges, where he did some domestique work, Filippo Baroncini flew over to Portugal to race in the Volta ao Algarve em Bicicleta. First stage was predicted to be a nervous one due to the wind. Bad luck struck when a group of around 25 riders hit the deck at the moment when echelons were being formed. Baroncini was part of the crash and broke his arm. Race over and his big season openers cancelled.
Two weeks ago, Filippo posted a picture on Instagram with his bike. He's already training again, but receiving a seat in the Classics team of Trek-Segafredo - which was the plan before the start of the season - will be extremely hard. Their team is stacked with power and some of the riders are already in an extremely good shape. Mads Pedersen has already two victories and seven top 10 results. The whole team is performing on a high level. It's difficult to break into it when returning from a injury.
Price-Pejtsersen, the grey mouse in the group
He only participated in the UAE Tour, where we did not see a lot of him during the first two stages. He might have been part of a sprinting train there or he was saving energy for the individual time trial on day 3. Price-Pejtersen performed well against the clock as he ended up in 9th place. It shows what he's capable of.
According to PCS, his schedule is filled with Belgian classics, but we can't believe he'll be at the start of a lot of big races in Flanders. We don't know what his capabilities are of course, but the Bahrain team was pretty strong during the opening weekend. It would be a surprise if he's able to claim a spot in that Classics squad. It's difficult to predict his season as we don't really know what he's able to, besides time trialling.
Heartbreaking result for Guazzini
After breaking her ankle at Paris-Roubaix Femmes last season, Vittoria returned to racing this season at Omloop het Nieuwsblad. She finished in a solid 39th place, 35 seconds after the winner Annemiek van Vleuten. A good first result, but no one expected what would happen a few days later at Le Samyn des Dames.
FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope played the strategic game completely wrong at Le Samyn des Dames
After a nervous race, Guazzini went into the attack together with Shirin van Anrooij. The two of them worked well together as everyone though they would sprint for victory. But when the tv screen switched to the camera at the finish line, we saw Guazzini and Van Anrooij hesitating and dropping the pace. At that very moment a teammate of Guazzini started the sprint in the bunch. The gap to the leaders was closed at the very end, giving Emma Norsgaard the opportunity to grab the win. After all, Vittoria sprinted towards a third place, but obviously she could've won the race.
FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope played the strategic game completely wrong. If they wouldn't have closed the gap, Guazzini would have won Le Samyn des Dames. We couldn't believe what we witnessed after the finish. We were sure we could add another win on the list of our Young Wolves, but the team tactics decided another outcome.
Bossuyt is slowly creeping up the team ranks
Shari Bossuyt was one of the more unknown names in our selection at the start, but she's slowly getting some nice results behind her name. Besides that, she's proven to be a loyel domestique to her teammates as well. She seems to have found a perfect role within the team and there will be chances for some personal success in the near future. Perfect work so far.
The first time we saw her this season was at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. In our interview a couple of weeks before the season opener, Shari said she wouldn't have her best legs yet at the start of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. Expectations were lowered as the goal was to grow as the season continued. Surprisingly there was one team who tried to bring back the peloton after the Annemiek van Vleuten attack. Canyon//SRAM Racing took the initiative to try and pace back their leader, Katarzyna Niewiadoma, as she missed the split on Muur van Geraardsbergen. That was the moment Shari showed her good early season form, doing great domestique work. Finishing in the big first peloton was a good result for her.
Shari seems to have found a perfect rol within the team. A loyal domestique who'll get some chances on personal success as well
A couple of days later, Le Samyn Des Dames was on the menu. The first race in the French speaking region of Belgium with a lot of cobbles and a nervous behaviour of the bunch due to the wind. Bossuyt finished in 9th place, right behind her teammate Alice Barnes. We even saw her trying to attack with 10k to go. Once again, a performance to be happy about and a strong build-up for the rest of the season.
EasyToys Bloeizone Fryslân Tour was her last stage race before writing this article. The stage race started with an individual time trial, followed by two windy sprint stages. Everyone knew the ITT would be decisive for the GC win. Shari finished in a classy 11th place, which delivered her the leaders jersey of the youth classification. During the other two stages, she worked as a leadout and didn't lose time. Shari finished GC in 10th place and won the youth classification.
Golden boy Lucas Plapp astonishes the world
Our last rider who raced this month is an Australian monster. Waking up at night to watch the Australian Nationals gave us a special link to this guy. Who knew he would explode that soon in a World Tour stage race?
Luke started in the UAE Tour, surrounded by a good team. Adam Yates was their assigned GC leader, after his good performance last year. Viviani would contest the sprints and Ganna was ready for the individual time trial and some domestique duties. Plapp got there without a lot of expectations. He would have a domestique role to help Yates win the GC. In the individual time trial he would have an opportunity to go for his own glory.
The first mountain stage finished on Jebel Jais, a 18,8 kilometer long climb with an average gradient of 5,7%. The headwind made it difficult for attackers who wanted to take some time on the race favourite Pogacar. Plapp protected Yates on the climb untill the moment he decided to put in a little effort. He got a gap with a couple of other riders, but a strong Majka called the group back. Eventually, he finished 16 seconds behind the stage winner, Tadej Pogacar.
My season goal is Wollongong individual time trial
That performance might have felt as redemption after an embarrasing performance in the time trail the day earlier. In the recon of the stage, he fell with his time trail bike. The bike was too damaged, so he had to start the time trial on a normal road bike. What a pity... Why would he crash in a recon, on such a straightforward course? There were only 5 corners. It shows how motivated he was to do good. He searched the limits in every corner to go through them as fast as possible. Too bad he couldn't show us what he was capable of.
Plappy wasn't done yet after his big mountain performance. He repeated that story during the last mountain stage, finishing on Jebel Hafeet. The field was completely demolished by his teammate Yates. Plapp worked hard again for Yates, but he was still able to hold onto his position. He finished 5th in the stage, 16" behind the stage winner, once again, Tadej Pogacar.
When we asked about his goals later on this season, the answer was: "No goals at the moment mate! Season goal is Wollongong TT." Keep an eye on that. Let's rock Plappy!