Opening Weekend Notebook: Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne

Professional road racing has been on since January, but Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne mark the true opening of “real” road racing. These back-to-back races give us a first look at the spring classics contenders and see who is on-form, who is out of shape and who might be a little fit a little too early.

Saturday’s Omloop is the harder race and better judge of things to come, while Kuurne tends to be one for the sprinters. While the route was modified this year to increase the difficulty, we still saw a large group go to the line together.

The Winners: Jasper Stuyven (Trek) at Omloop and Kasper Asgreen (Deceuninck – Quick Step) at Kuurne. Both bagged the biggest wins of their careers this weekend with impressive performances.

Stuyven, 27, has been highly touted as a classics contender since he was at Bontrager Livestrong team way back in 2012, but he has struggled to convert this potential in actual results. We thought he had finally arrived when he won Kuurne with an impressive solo move back in 2016, but the next step never arrived. He looked incredibly strong and like a true classics star with his commanding performance on Saturday and even came back to finish 5th on Sunday at Kuurne, so don’t be surprised to see him on the podium next month at Flanders and/or Roubaix. One things to note, nobody has even won Omloop and Flanders in the same season, so its possible Stuyven is peaking too soon.

Asgreen, 25, displayed his massive talent when he finished second at the 2019 Tour of Flanders and bagged a third overall at the Tour of California later in the spring. His win on Sunday at Kuurne was ridiculously impressive, as he single-handedly turned a sprinters classics into an exhibition of his solo power. The Dane rode across the early breakaway with 28km remaining and then proceeded to ride them off his wheel one by one. His gap only maxed out at roughly 34 seconds with 20km remaining and was whittled down to 15 seconds with 6km to go. Despite this measly gap and large chasing group behind, he amazingly held on for a solo victory.

The win showed two big things, Asgreen’s massive potential and Deceuninck – Quick Step’s uncanny ability to turn near-misses into victories in the following race. After getting Yves Lampaert into the winning move only to be outsprinted by Stuyven on Saturday, they played the field perfectly on Sunday, with Fabio Jakobsen and his QS leadout sitting in the chasing group while Asgreen forced the rest of the teams to chase.

The Losers: While Deceuninck-Quick Step sent a rider up the road while their sprinter sat comfortably in the bunch at Kuurne, Sunweb and Lotto-Soudal did the majority of the work to chase Asgreen down. When the sprint finish came, their best results were John Degenkolb (Lotto) 18th and Cees Bol (Sunweb) 33rd. Giacomo Nizzolo (NTT) and Alexander Kristoff (UAE) went 1-2 in the bunch sprint and rounded off the podium thanks to this work (also, count these guys as mini-winners from the weekend). As the spring rolls on, Sunweb and Lotto might want to think about getting more creative and aggressive with their tactics and not pulling the race back together so their sub-par sprinters can fail to get results.

CCC got Matteo Trentin into the winning break on Saturday at Omloop, only to see him dropped on the Muur van Geraardsbergen. While it’s still early and we don’t want to read too much into these performances, it could be tough for Greg van Avermaet to trust his new co-leader later in the spring when he can’t trust him to not break the first rule of bike racing (don’t get dropped from the breakaway).

Should We Worry?: Last year’s Paris-Roubaix runner-up, Nils Politt, was minutes off the back at Omloop. You don’t want to peak too soon but it can be tough to make up for a complete lack of form in four weeks.

Current World Road Race Champion Mads Pedersen was close to ten minutes off the back at Omloop.

Sep Vanmarcke, Tim Wellens, Bob Jungels, and Niki Terpstra all failed to stay in the main chase group at Omloop.

Who to Keep an eye on: Philippe Gilbert was invisible on Saturday at Omloop, but the defending Roubaix champion had a secretly great race. He was minutes off the back at one point, only to claw his way back into the peloton and finished in the top ten. Gilbert appears to be in great form for the upcoming Milan San Remo (if it happens).

Wout van Aert looked like the strongest rider in the race at Omloop, but the Dutchman did too much too early and missed the winning move. The same thing plagued him at last year’s Tour of Flanders and he will have to start playing the waiting game more if he wants to convert a big one-day win.

Heinrich Haussler turned back the clock to 2010 and looked fantastic at both races. Watch for him to make a mark at Flanders or Roubaix.

Stefan Kung finished top ten at Omloop. After last year’s 3rd place at the World Road Race Championships, he is emerging an incredibly solid one-day rider.

Contrary to Popular Belief, The 2020 Tour de France is Time Trial Heavy

The route for the 2020 Tour de France was unveiled on Tuesday, and is being described as a TT-light affair that will suit the pure climbers. The route starts with a bang, taking in the steep, sinuous roads outside of Nice, with two 15km climbs (and descents) on stage two. The rest of the race is full of steep summit finishes and other features that reward aggressive riders ready to seize the moment and stands in direct opposition to the plodding, measured style that Team Ineos/Chris Froome/Geraint Thomas have employed to win seven out of the past eight editions.

The reaction that 2020 is one for the climbers is somewhat accurate, as the race features a stunning ten mountain stages, with a record six summit finishes, only one 36km individual time trial, along with a mere three truly flat stages. Also, as in 2019, there will be time bonuses at the finish and on select penultimate climbs. These components will combine to create a race that favors riders who can climb with the best, handle technical descents, make split-second decisions on the road.

But make no mistake, the 2020 Tour will be decided by the 36km individual time trial on the penultimate stage.

On the surface, a single, 36km TT seems paltry. But by the numbers, this is the most ITT heavy route since 2017 (with that edition only having .5km kilometers than 2020). In fact, 2020 has 50% more solo time trial kilometers than in 2019 and 276% more than in 2015.

Screenshot 2019-10-16 at 9.29.49 AMWhile the stage 20 TT finishes on the brutally steep La Planche des Belle Filles (5.9km at 8.5%), it still delivers 30km of time trialing on rolling roads, which is more kilometers of individual time trialing than the total amount in the 2019 route. Even with the inclusion of the finishing climb, the scales should tilt in favor of Tom Dumoulin, Primož Roglič, Geraint Thomas and a healthy Chris Froome. These powerhouse riders have proven they can outclimb the pure climbers in time trials. This is supported by Roglič’s win at 2019 Giro’s opening stage that finished on the steep climb to Madonna of San Luca in Bologna, Froome and Dumoulin finishing 1st and 2nd at the 2016 Tour de France climbing TT on stage 18 and Dumoulin, Roglič and Froome going 1st, 2nd, and 3rd at the 2017 TT World Championships, which finished with a 3.5km climb and an average gradient of 9.1%.


In year’s past, Dumoulin has voiced his displeasure with the Tour de France’s TT-light routes and opted instead to focus on the Giro d’Italia. However, as long as Christian Prudhomme is race director, he won’t get his desired ITT-heavy route. 2020 is one of the most ITT heavy routes in years, and Dumoulin will have to make a race-winning difference in 36 kilometers if he wants to be a Tour de France winner. Frankly, if you can’t put a significant amount of time into your rivals in 30kms of flat and 6kms of climbing in a time trial, you don’t deserve to win the race.

As we’ve seen in recent years at the Tour de France, riders simply struggle to put major time into each other in the mountains and riders tend to make each other more closely the fewer TT kilometers there are later in the race to make back time. It seems that the fewer TTs there are in the race, the more closely marked the ‘climbers’ are, and thus, the time differences are made in the small number of TTs kilometers remaining. Not to mention that at their fittest and lightest, the time trialists turned grand tour machines like Dumoulin, Thomas, Froome and Roglič can ride such a high tempo on the climbs that no pure climber can get significant gaps. This is how Dumoulin won the mountainous 2017 Giro d’Italia and Roglič won the recent Vuelta a Espana, which featured an incredibly hard route and only 36kms of individual time trials.

If this trend holds true, the climbers would be wise to bank some major hours on their TT bikes and the time trialist shouldn’t throw in the towel just yet because it is very likely that victory will be decided or sealed against the clock on Stage 20.




Tour de France Rest Day Ramble: Who is Trending Up & Team Ineos’ Leadership Battle

As the Tour de France heads into the final week, the race is as wide open as we’ve seen in recent memory. Six riders are clustered within 2:14 of the lead, which is astonishing in a race where the winner has been all but decided by the second rest day.

Endless questions hang over the third week, like what the hell happened to Team Ineos(Sky), who is the leader at Ineos, and most importantly, who will emerge as the race winner by this time next week?

While Julien Alaphilippe currently holds a hardy 1:35 lead over Geraint Thomas, he isn’t a proven elite climber over the highest Alpine passes. With world-class climbers like Egan Bernal and Thibaut Pinot and powerful diesel-engines like Geraint Thomas and Steven Kruijswijk all within 2 minutes, his lead appears tenuous with three brutal days in the alps, featuring horrid climbs like the Izoard and Galibier, still to go.

To help visual the direction each contender is trending, I laid out the gap each one had to Alaphilippe following the first true mountain stage on Saturday’s along with the gaps facing them after Sunday’s Stage 15, along with the pros and cons for each rider’s chance at overall victory.


Egan Bernal

  • Following Stage 14:
    3 minutes down on Julien Alaphilippe
    46 seconds down on Kruijswijk
    58 seconds on Geraint Thomas
  • Following Stage 15:
    2 minutes 2 seconds down on Julien Alaphilippe
    15 seconds down on Kruijswijk
    27 seconds on Geraint Thomas

Pros: Has to be considered one of the best climbers in the race just as we head into three difficult and high days in the Alps. Looked strong in the finale of today’s stage. He is a better climber than the three riders in front of him on GC.

Cons: Completely unproven in a leadership role in the third week of a grand tour. Was gapped by Thibaut Pinot in the last few hundred meters of today’s stage.

Steven Kruijswijk

  • Following Stage 14:
    2 minutes 14 seconds behind Alaphilippe
    12 seconds down on Thomas
  • Following Stage 15:
    1 minute 47 seconds behind Alaphilippe
    12 seconds down on Thomas

Pros: Incredibly consistent rider. Tends to not go too deep and his fifth place at last year’s race shows a proven history of riding strong in the third week.

Cons: Had to ask George Bennett to slow down in the final few kilometers of Saturday’s stage. History of the third-week crash and time loss in the 2016 Giro still hangs over him.

Geraint Thomas

  • Following Stage 14:
    2 minutes 2 seconds behind Julien Alaphilippe
  • Following Stage 15:
    1 minute 35 seconds behind Julien Alaphilippe

Pros: As things currently stand, Thomas is the main benefactor of an Alaphilippe collapse in the high mountains.

Cons: He appears to at less than his best and has lost significant time in the last two mountain stages. Currently in an open war-of-words with co-leader Egan Bernal.

Thibaut Pinot

  • Following Stage 14:
    3 minutes 12 seconds behind Alaphilippe
    1 minute 10 seconds behind Geraint Thomas
    58 seconds behind Steven Kruijswijk
    12 seconds behind Egan Bernal
  • Following Stage 15:
    1 minute 50 seconds behind Alaphilippe
    15 seconds behind Geraint Thomas
    3 seconds behind Steven Kruijswijk
    12 seconds ahead of Egan Bernal

Pros: Appears to be the strongest rider/climber in the race. If Alaphilippe cracks, Pinot has an extremely manageable amount of time to make up on the riders currently in front of him and his punchy nature makes him the most likely to nab precious time bonuses.

Cons: Lost time in the crosswinds on stage 10. Has a history of inconsistent performances late in grand tours. Claims to struggle in the heat with a major heatwave rolling through France for the final few stages.


The first thing that jumps out is how extremely tight the race is behind Alaphilippe. Pinot is only 3 seconds behind Kruijswijk, 15 seconds behind Thomas with Bernal only 12 seconds behind him. This means that if Alaphilippe slips and loses the lead, the Tour could very well be decided on finishing time bonuses on these final mountain stages. This has the potential to set up the most exciting final weekend since Lemond triumphed over Fignon by 8 seconds on the final stage in 1989.

The second trend that jumps out is just how quickly Pinot made up the time he lost in the crosswinds on stage 10. He nailed back 1 minute 41 seconds on Thomas in just two mountain stages by just being simply stronger than the rest when the race goes uphill.

The third is how Bernal is emerging as Ineos’ best shot at overall victory. The Colombian stumbled in the time trial, but has furiously eaten into that deficit and made up time on co-captain Thomas over the weekend.

When we look ahead at the profiles for the brutal final three alpine mountains stages (Thursday, Friday, and Saturday), it is clear that climbing prowess will be key to riding into Paris in Yellow.


Many pundits have said that Ineos has to pick a leader and that Thomas is the safer choice, but I’m curious how they are coming to that conclusion. Thomas is hemorrhaging time in the mountains just as the race heads into the Alps. Meanwhile, his teammate who is only 27 seconds in arrears is clearly the superior climber. If I was forced to pick one, Bernal has to be considered the most likely to ride into Yellow in the Alps.

Another issue is the team’s mysterious case of missing form. While some have said it is simply not the Sky team of yore, they came to the Tour with the exact same support team in both 2018 and 2019 (subbing Dylan van Baarle for the injured Chris Froome in 2019). If they continue to lack their usual firepower, it will have major implications in the final few mountain stages where a team leader could be isolated from their team with 50km and an HC climb before the finish.

An entire team losing their mojo in 12 months is incredibly strange and something we’ll explore in more depth in a later feature.

Podium Prediction:
1st Pinot
2nd Bernal
3rd Kruijswijk

Tour de France Diary: What Happened to the Team Ineos (Sky)Train on Stage 6?

Geraint Thomas removed any lingering doubts about his form when he threw down an incredibly impressive performance by distancing every major rival on the brutally steep La Planche des Belles Filles. Some had questioned how the lackluster form Thomas’ displayed so far in 2019, an assurgent young teammate, and the lack of preparation racing would affect his chances, but the Welshman answered those questions in a few short minutes on Thursday and appears to be the favorite to take the overall for the second year running.

While Thomas might be back on the form that saw him dominate the 2018 edition, his Ineos’ team trademark train was notably absent on the final climb. Wout Poels was dropped on the day’s penultimate climb and Ineos was down to one helper shortly after starting the final climb.

It is possible this is an incredibly measured strategy to save energy for the brutal third week. However, when we consider the team’s lackluster performance in the team time trial, where they lost a whopping 20-seconds to Jumbo-Visma, the fact that they are simply not as strong as years past is a very real possibility.

With a full 4km left on the final climb on stage 6, viewers were treated to the highly unusual sight of Ineos not leading the peloton up a climb at the Tour de France. When Alejandro Valverde went to the front to drive the pace for his Movistar teammates, we knew something was seriously amiss.

Screenshot 2019-07-11 at 4.19.37 PM

A little over a kilometer later, Ineos was on the front, but the pace had lagged to the point that attacks were able to come over the top and immediately get distance off the front. We can even see Michal Kwiatkowski, leading the peloton, radioing back to the team car in a sign of mild panic and confusion.Screenshot 2019-07-11 at 4.20.50 PM

Less than a kilometer later, Kwiatkowski was dropped while the team’s two leaders, Thomas and Egan Bernal, were left to fend for themselves on the wheels of Groupama–FDJ (just let that sink in for a minute).

Screenshot 2019-07-11 at 4.21.19 PM

Thomas ultimately nullified any potential issues the lack of team strength presented with his individual strength, but it is certainly something to keep an eye on as the race advances. Ineos has kept the race on an extremely tight leash in Tour’s past, and if they aren’t able to do the same this year, Thomas could be forced to deal with attacks and isolation in a way he wasn’t during his winning ride in 2018.

Other Notes:

  • Richie Porte finished with Egan Bernal, Adam Yates and Jakob Fuglsang 9-seconds behind Thomas on stage 6. While his Trek Team’s dismal performance in the stage 2 TTT put him in a serious hole, the Tasmanian is flying under the radar and appears to be riding as well as he has all season.
  • Nairo Quintana limited his loses to 7-seconds on a stage 6 finish that certainly didn’t suit him.  This is likely one of his best chances to win the race overall and he looks to have sorted out the form issues that have plagued him for the past few seasons. Keep an eye on the slight Colombian when the race hits the high mountains.
  • If Thomas won the battle for the general classification on stage 6, Thibaut Pinot came in a close second. The French rider appears to be as relaxed and on form as we’ve ever seen him.
  • Current race leader Giulio Ciccone has a substantial gap on the serious climbers and time trialists. The young Italian is certainly a talented climber and it will be interesting to see how long he can hold Yellow. I have a feeling it will be for much longer than the conventional wisdom is giving him.
  • Thursday’s stage 6 saw the likely end of GC riders for Romain Bardet and Vincenzo Nibali. This is great news for fans as the two riders will look to animate the race in the third week as they hunt for spectacular stage wins.

Geraint Thomas Should Be Worried About Egan Bernal

Geraint Thomas is heading into the 2019 Tour de France as the defending champion and odds-on favorite to win the race. Chris Froome, Thomas’ Ineos teammate and biggest challenger for victory, will miss the race due to severe injuries sustained at a crash during the Critérium du Dauphiné. With his biggest competition missing the race and the world’s strongest team at his disposal, Thomas should be feeling comfortable and confident in a repeat victory and the fans should be preparing for yet another mind-numbing processions.

Fortunately for us, this couldn’t be further from the truth. The path to victory in the 2019 Tour cracking wide open and the race is shaping up to be the most wide-open edition in years. However, the one constant is that Thomas’ biggest challenge is still coming from inside his own team, only now it’s via the young Colombian sensation Egan Bernal.

Thomas crashed out of the Tour de Suisse on the fourth stage, which further complicated the Ineos team hierarchy following Froome’s accident. Things got even more interesting when Bernal went on to win Suisse in dominant fashion. The youngster never appeared under pressure, put time into Rohan Dennis in the mountains and held off the World Time Trial Champion in the race’s lone effort against the clock.

While Thomas will reportedly recover fast enough to start the Tour, his form has yet to click this year and his legs will certainly miss the quality racing the remaining days of Suisse will provide. He is stuck in reverse while the competition is speeding off the start line.

For reference, the last rider to win the Tour de France (defined as crossing the line as the winner in Paris) without finishing either the Dauphine or Tour de Suisse was Marco Pantani in 1998. Of course, Pantani completed the historic double that season and was coming off a Giro d’Italia win. The last rider to win the Tour de France without previously completing the Dauphine, Suisse, or the Giro d’Italia was Miguel Indurain in 1991. It is worth noting that Indurian had already completed the Vuelta a Espana, which in those years took place in early Spring. This means Thomas is heading into the Tour with fewer quality race days in his legs than any past winner in the modern era.

Bernal has potentially been overhyped as the ‘next big thing’ by the cycling media, but his display of combined climbing/TT strength at Suisse should send fear through the competition. Thomas could very well see his bid for a back-to-back thwarted by a teammate, but being outranked by an unproven rider in his early 20s will sting a lot more than by a veteran champion like Froome.

It is important to remember there is a danger of being too sharp, too early, heading into a Grand Tour (see: Primoz Roglic/Giro 2019), but Bernal has looked like the world’s best climber without hitting his best form. Going into a Tour that will be won nearly exclusively on the climbs and team time trial, he has to feel incredibly confident about his chances. Bernal never appeared under pressure during his winning ride at Suisse and was able to ride away from the competition whenever he needed to while looking like he had a few gears in reserve. Most importantly, he limited his losses in the stage 8 time trial to a second per kilometer to Dennis.

Thomas is putting on a brave face but he would be an extreme historical outliner if he went on to win the Tour de France after DNF-ing Suisse. Not to mention the time missed training this week as he recovers from his fall and the difficulty of coming back from direct impacts to the head (according to team doctors, Thomas’ head took the brunt of the crash).

Prior to his crash at the Dauphine, betting markets and Ineos boss Dave Brailsford considered Froome the favorites for a fifth career Tour win in July, so his absence was supposed to be the perfect scenario for the defending champion. With Froome on the sidelines, Thomas was losing a rival and gaining and domestique. Now, with his diminished capacity due to the untimely rest period, the door has been left wide-open for Bernal.

Bernal was originally slated to lead Ineos at the Giro, but an unfortunate (a little too unfortunate if you ask me) collarbone fracture meant he had to shift priorities to the Tour. This set up a massively interesting three-leader scenario for Ineos that promised inter-team tensions that would slowly simmer throughout the three weeks. However, Ineos’ three-leader selection looks like incredible foresight now that they’ve had their four-time winner crash out, their defending champion suffer a devastating setback, and still come out the other side with a viable threat for overall victory in Bernal.

This displays seriously impressive team depth but means there is very little room for error for even the most accomplished riders. Twelve months after taking the win of his career, Thomas finds himself in an eerily similar position; heading to the Tour warding a threat from within his own team.


Giro Diary: The Mysterious Case of Simon Yates’ Form and Post-Stage Trainer Workouts

Simon Yates hinted in an interview with The Cycling Podcast following a disastrous performance in the Stage 9 time trial that his lack of form could be due to detraining following his pre-race taper combined with the incredibly easy racing in the first half of the race. Since Yates declared himself the outright favorite and claimed his rivals should be shitting themselves with fear in the days leading into the race, one presumes that he possessed incredible form. Just over a week later, we were all left asking where that form had gone.

It is hard to imagine that a week of ‘easy’ riding (remember, they are riding close to full gas for the last 20-30 minutes to hold their position for the finish) contributed to a significant lack of form, especially since every rider in the race is subject to the same circumstance.

But with the 14 days between the start of the race and the first mountain stage, it begs the questions of it was a better idea to come into the Giro fatigued from training vs tapered and rested. Yates seemed to hint that his taper plus the easy days detrained him and was a mistake.

Lionel Birnie of The Cycling Podcast proposed (half-jokingly and knowing how crazy the idea sounded) potentially going back to the team hotel for an hour-long workout after the stage. Somewhat shockingly, when Birnie floated this idea to Sunweb coach Matt Winston, it wasn’t immediately shot down and Winston seemed to genuinely consider it a viable idea.

However, this approach seems incredibly misguided, as the name of the game in a grand tour is minimizing the total work you do over three weeks. In theory, you would never want to add riding time to three consecutive 30-hour weeks. However, in today’s cycling, where teams are chasing any ‘marginal gain’ (whether they actually help or not) it isn’t particularly difficult to imagine this actually happening.

Just because it could happen doesn’t mean it is a particularly good idea. A major issue is that despite what the roadbook says, it is impossible to predict the events or difficulty of a stage before it happens. There is the possibility of doing a hard workout on the trainer following an ‘easy’ stage, and then an unforeseen incident like a flat, crash, or crosswind echelon occur the following day and the rider’s legs are tired from the workout and make them unable to ride at the necessary intensity and see them lose significant time.

Furthermore, we have heard ad nauseum that Simon Yates spectacular collapse at the end of last year’s Giro was due to doing too much work in the early stages of the race. Thus, it seems somewhat insane to purposely replicate that same scenario. At the end of the day, the goal of a rider in a Grand Tour should be to do the least amount of work as possible whenever possible. The amount of work they will need to perform in the future will only be known when said future arrives, and how their body will react is equally unknown, so it is imperative to save as much energy as possible for the unknown future expenditures.

If a rider was really concerned about losing conditioning during a grand tour, they could strategically put their nose in the wind in the final 40km, or god, forbid, actually try to split the field and take time.

This begs the question of if we are thinking about this the wrong way. The overanalysis of this problem has smart people considering having a rider do extra training outside of the race, instead of riding harder in the race in an attempt to gain time on one’s opponents to, you know, actually win the race.

Since Yates blamed the easy first week as well as his taper prior to the race for his lackluster form at the Stage 9 TT. A potential bulwark against fitness atrophy would be to enter the race with red-hot form, or even slightly overextended, and then use the easy first week to allow your body to ‘rest’ before it enters the mountains. The race course has been public for a while and these neverending days of laid back riding should not be a surprise to Yates and his Mitchelton team.

I’ve been slightly concerned if Roglic can hold the incredible form he displayed in weeks prior, but in retrospect, I wonder if this was actually a calculated strategy to take time in the early tests and use the docile first half to let his body recover. By next week, we will know if Roglic was savy to come into the race so fit or if he has completely overshot the target.

The fact remains that nothing is guaranteed in a Grand Tour and the race profile isn’t necessarily indicative of the importance or difficulty of a stage. Treating a multi-dimensional and incredibly dynamic stage race like a static training lab is the height of cycling hubris and would likely result in unintended consequences and public embarrassment.

Still, don’t be surprised when we hear the hum of trainers coming from the riders’ hotel rooms following stages at the next Grand Tour.


Week 1 Giro d’Italia Diary: Roglic Looks like a Blast From the Past in a Throwback First Week

Stage 9:

Nine Stages into the Giro d’Italia, Primoz Roglic is riding a la Indurain* and an eventual victory in two weeks is looking more and more likely by the day. The Slovenian pummeled his GC competition in the stage 9 time trial. Simon Yates entered the stage looking to keep his losses to Roglic under a minute but instead hemorrhaged 3:11 over the 34.8km course. Most disturbingly for Yates, most of his losses came on the climb, his preferred terrain and where he was counting on putting serious time into Roglic in the third week. Roglic is the fastest rider on the flats, climbs and time trials, which my model tells me is critical when trying to win a bike race.

After Yates’ TT meltdown, Vincenzo Nibali looks like the only rider able to challenge Roglic since he was able to limit his losses to 1:05 in the TT, keeping his deficit at 1:44, and possess valuable experience and third-week killer instinct.

However, it feels odd to be declaring anything since the race has yet to enter the mountains. Race organizer Mauro Vegni chose to throw us back into the 90s by making us wade through ten sprint stages and two time trials before hitting any mildly interesting terrain.

Despite the lack of inclines, we’ve seen Roglic put serious time into his rivals at every opportunity and have seen a major pre-race favorite, Dumoulin, leave the race, and another, Yates, face significant time losses.

While anything can happen at the Giro, and some may point to Froome overcoming a 3:22 deficit on stage 19 as proof that this race isn’t over, this type of comeback likely won’t be possible unless Roglic suffers a tragic crash. Nibali was only able to come back from 4:33 down in the final week of the 2016 Giro due to a Kruijswijk crash and Froome relied on a massive tactical error in 2018 (Dumoulin sitting up to wait for Sebastian Reichenbach, which allowed the lead balloon from 40-seconds to a few minutes). Dumoulin’s grip on the 2017 Giro only loosened slightly when he had to pull over for an emergency poo at the base of one of the most critical climbs in the race.

Roglic appears to have a champions’ ‘cool-under-pressure demeanor’ and likely won’t be frazzled in the final week. Having said that, he doesn’t have a particularly strong or experienced team, and he entered the race with red-hot form. 14 days will have passed between the opening stage and the first major mountain stage, and all that riding through the rain and cold could send Roglic sliding down the other side of the fitness pyramid.

*Yes, Roglic doesn’t actually hold the leader’s jersey at the moment, but we all know that Valerio Conti is nothing but a puppet regime installed by Roglic and his Jumbo junta.

Other notes from the first week:

Stage 7:

Pello Bilbao gets in the breakaway, wins the stage and takes over a minute on the other GC favorites. He is now sitting best of the rest, 1:42 behind Roglic. The Basque climber is a bit of a Grand Tour enigma, but he could find himself leading the race if Roglic puts a foot wrong.

Why did Mitchelton send Lucas Hamilton in the breakaway on stage 7? Seems like a waste of precious energy that could be used when the race enters the high mountains

This runs contrary to the team’s tactics last year, where they used the entire team to peg back every breakaway, and certainly burns less aggregate energy, but is still burning up a valuable domestique. If Yates was truly confident, they would run the Sky model of no stage-wins. Knowing what we know now about his lackluster form or possible illness, was this a sign that he didn’t feel 100% confident and a young rider was let off the leash in an attempt to get something out of the race? Or is he so confident that his hubris is once again making him burn team energy unnecessarily?

This decision looked even worse after Hamilton failed to win the stage. That is a LOT of energy for a valuable domestique to burn.

UAE Team Emirates’ Incredibly Strange Week:

Stage 3: Fernando Gaviria is beaten by Elia Viviani in the sprint. Viviani is later suspended and Gaviria is given the stage win.
Stage 4: Had a rider leave the race due to suspicious blood values (found via internal testing)
Stage 6: Valerio Conti gets in the breakaway, is beaten at the finish line, gets second place and takes the leader’s jersey.
Stage 7: Gaviria abandons the race

Get a ‘stage win,’ hold leader’s jersey, but also fail to have a rider cross the line in first place and have a rider leave the race under suspicion of doping. Talk about the ultimate mixed bag.

Stage 1-9:

These long, throwback spring stages, while boring, are certainly taking their toll on the riders. Combine this with the cold and rainy weather, and they will hit the mountains with a significant amount of fatigue. Expect to see to a few days of big time losses from a few major favorites late in this race.

The Upcoming Tour de France Gets More Interesting by the Day

Back in January, I wrote that the Giro d’Italia had the potential to outshine the Tour de France in 2019. With a large field of exciting young talent and the (in)famously chaotic and unpredictable Italian terrain, the Giro seemed poised to topple the Tour, which has become a bit of a snoozefest in recent years.

When that original piece was written, the 2018 Tour de France runner-up Tom Dumoulin and 21-year old Egan Bernal were both targeting the Giro d’Italia. However, Dumoulin was forced to leave the Giro following a crash on stage 4. While this seriously dampened the fight for the general classification in Italy,  it adds fuel to the Tour’s GC fire.

Meanwhile, Egan Bernal ‘broke’ his collarbone a week before the start of the Giro. This means he will likely line up as a legitimate leader of Team INEOS’, who are already struggling to balance the ambitious of last year’s winner Geraint Thomas and 4-time winner Chris Froome.

There were mummers that the Colombian sensation would be lining up at the Tour all the way back in March. I believe this was the INEOS team brass sending up a trial balloon as they looked for an insurance policy as their aging superstar duo struggled through their worst spring campaigns in years.

Since Bernal is already back on the bike and setting PRs on training climbs less than two weeks after breaking his collarbone, it is safe to assume he is going to line up at the Tour de France (which features a route perfect for Bernal with a high-altitude, numerous climbs and a mere 27km of TTs).

I personally subscribe to the fringe conspiracy theory that Bernal and INEOS faked the collarbone break as cover to duck the Giro and get their best climber at the Tour without seriously damaging Thomas’ and Froome’s egos (who have both been quietly struggling to find form in recent months). Bernal’s incredibly quick recovery could potentially support this crackpot idea (release the x-rays!).

All of this combines to give us a fantastically dramatic backdrop for this summer’s Tour. Having three legitimate contenders on one team will be thrilling to watch and could potentially dull the team’s unmatchable strength. The INEOS riders give all the right answers through gritted smiles, but the tension will simmer under the surface and they will have to make due will fewer domestiques and team organization in critical moments (see: Froome’s lack of a full team while chasing after his crash on stage 1 of the 2018 Tour).

The addition of fresh (and hopefully healthy) Dumoulin, the best GC rider under the age of 30, makes this even more interesting. Dumoulin’s focus on the Giro was always a strange fit since he won the race back in 2017 and seems poised to take the title of the best grand tour rider on the planet from Froome. His preparation for the Giro seemed off and it felt like he was hedging to leave something for the Tour, while Primoz Roglic came in red, red, hot, and looks impossible to beat at the moment. The only way he can advance his career and raise his profile is a Tour de France title, so as sad as it is to see him drop off of the Giro, this short-term loss could pay major dividends in July.

Flanders is a Waiting Game and Bettiol Played it Perfectly

The Ronde van Vlaanderen, or the Tour of Flanders, arguably the most prestigious and dynamic one-day race on the calendar was won by Alberto Bettiol, a complete outsider and unknown prior to Sunday. The 25-year-old Italian shocked the cycling world when he held off a chasing group comprising the best one-day riders in the world to take the first win of his professional career. While the favorites and pundits were shocked such an outsider rode way away with such a major win, those watching the race unfold in the finale 150km shouldn’t have been. Flanders is all about hiding from the wind and saving your bullets for the final 20km. Bettiol did exactly that and was rewarded with the biggest victory of his professional career.

The two most-hyped young riders coming into the race were Wout Van Aert and Mathieu Van der Poel, former and current Cyclocross World Champions who have experienced immediate success on the road. While they are both incredibly talented and undeniably some of the strongest rides in the race, their inexperience in long Classics was apparent on Sunday.

Flanders rewards those who wait,  but both Van der Poel and Van Aert were on the front eating wind while launching unsuccessful attacks much too far from the finish line.

As the screenshot below shows, Van der Poel and Van Aert were on the front attacking to split the field with 79kms left to race while their rivals sit in the wheels getting a free ride.

Screenshot 2019-04-08 at 1.24.38 PM

Even a cursory re-watch of the race shows both Van der Poel and Van Aert using significantly more energy than eventual winner Bettiol at almost every point. In the screenshot below, Van der Poel is attempting to bridge up to a group of non-threating riders at a point where he should be recovering for the Oude Kawaremont.

Screenshot 2019-04-08 at 1.21.00 PM

This trend of the two young guns using unnecessary energy continued throughout the day, with both Van der Poel and Van Aert attempting to ride away from the group with 28km to go while Bettiol deftly stayed in the wheels.


When Tim Wellens attacked a kilometer later, Bettiol was able to easily cover the move, while Van der Poel struggled to close the gap. Notice how a free-wheeling Bettiol is sitting right behind Van Aert while Van der Poel is spending precious energy behind.

Screenshot 2019-04-08 at 1.27.31 PM

When Bob Jungels countered Wellens move, Bettiol is able to easily latch on, while Van der Poel and Van Aert are forced to chase (note Van Aert on the front pulling what remained of the peloton in the background).Screenshot 2019-04-08 at 1.28.18 PM

When Sepp Vanmarcke, who was strategically placed up the road earlier in the day, drops back, Bettiol has a teammate and a gap going into key sections.

Screenshot 2019-04-08 at 1.28.43 PM

Up until this point, it is nearly impossible to find an image of Bettiol on the front. The Italian leveraged his team’s perfect strategy to get a free ride to the base of the Oude Kwaremont, where he launched his vicious race-winning move.

In fact, the first time he touches the front is when he goes around Van Avearmat during his race-winning attack 9-kilometers later.

Screenshot 2019-04-08 at 2.03.21 PM

Bettiol was so fresh compared to the others that no one could even come close to matching his pace. You have to wonder if Van Aert and Van der Poel had ridden a smarter race if one or both of them would have been able to jump on the wheel. Instead, their precious energy had been burned in the many kilometers prior and all they could do is watch as the win goes up the road (also, Van der Poel’s crash with 60km to go and subsequent incredibly impressive chase likely sapped what was left of his race-winning mojo. On the other hand, the massive effort to chase back on meant he should have been even more conservative heading into the Oude Kwaremont).


Bettiol would pull out 10-seconds by the top of the Oude Kwaremont, and take 10 more on the 3 kilometers to the base of the Paterberg. The bunch would take 3 seconds back on the steep climb but would fail to take any more time and ultimately finish 17-seconds in arrears.

The young Italian wasn’t a household name before Sunday, but he displayed a champion’s patience all day and capitalized on other’s over-eagerness and hesitation to take a beautiful solo win.

Other Race Notes:
Previously unknown 24-year old Dane Kasper Asgreen rode to an impressive second place after clipping off the front with a little over 50-kilometers to go. This invasion of the young guns could signal a major demographic shift amongst top favorites for these top-tier classics.

Alexander Kristoff looked incredibly strong up the steep bergs and invincible in the bunch sprint for third place. Watch for the big Norweigan to take the win at next weekend’s Paris-Roubaix.

Many are expressing disappointment with Deceuninck-Quick Step tactics and results, but they were successful and springing an unknown rider to second place after finding themselves in an incredibly difficult position with Bettiol up the road and Kristoff lurking in the chase group. Their star riders (Stybar, Gilbert, Jungels, Lampert) simply weren’t strong enough, but that is understandable after Stybar and Jungel’s incredible form in February/March, Gilbert being over-the-hill and Lampert looking off his best all season.