Rider Report Card: The blood, sweat and dust has settled on the 2019 Spring Classic season and so it’s rider report card time. PEZ Head Master, Ed Hood, has been strict with his scrutiny – There are a couple of ‘top marks’ and a few ‘dunce caps’ handed out, but who is at the top of the class?
Deceuninck – Quick-Step nearly dominated every race
It starts with Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and ends with Liege-Bastogne-Liege – the Spring Classics Campaign. For some people of our acquaintance, it’s what the season is all about with the Grand Tours and all else just marking time until the end of February and it’s Het Nieuwsblad time once more.
It’s not a view we share, but it is understandable given the epics this Spring Classic Season has treated us to. We couldn’t let is pass without penning our end of term report on the men who made it special – or remained invisible – over the last two months.
Top marks for Jakob Fuglsang
COULD DO BETTER
Ties Benoot (Lotto-Soudal and Belgium): Yes, he’s only 25 years-old and was fifth in Dwars door and top 10 in de Ronde BUT no podiums; we thought when he won Strade Bianche last year that it was the break through – we were wrong.
Benoot was only good this Spring
Michal Kwiatkowski (Sky and Poland): He ‘thought about Liege-Bastogne-Liege all winter’ but third in Milan-Sanremo was as good as it got.
Kwiatkowski was always there
Michael Matthews (Sunweb and Australia): Top eight in de Ronde, Brabantse Pijl and Fleche but as winner of Montreal and Quebec last year he’ll have expected more – we did.
Mathews – He expected more
Taylor Phinney (EF Education First and USA): With his build those hellingen are never going to be his thing but we expected better than DNF in Paris-Roubaix.
Didn’t see much of Phinney
Peter Sagan (BORA-hansgrohe and Slovakia): For us, the biggest disappointment of the spring; for many fourth in The Primavera and fifth in the Hell of the North would represent a wonderful spring campaign, but this man has set his bar so high that we can’t enthuse. We hope it’s all down to that early season illness – the sport needs this man.
Maybe not a 100% Sagan this year
Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo and Belgium): Last year he was top 10 in Het Nieuwsblad, Sanremo, E3, Gent-Wevelgem, Dwars door, de Ronde and Roubaix. We expected a break through, this year from the 2016 Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne winner. This year 14th in Dwars door is as good as he’s managed, disappointing. . .
Styven – Not the break-through year we expected
GONE AS FAR AS THEY CAN, WE BELIEVE
Alejandro Valverde (Movistar and Spain): As with Sagan, top 10 in two Monuments – The Primavera and Ronde – could be classed as a ‘great spring’ for many but for the reigning World Champion and long time ‘King of the Ardennes’ it hasn’t been a great spring.
The ‘curse’ of the Rainbow Jersey?
Greg Van Avermaet (CCC and Belgium): With second in Het Nieuwsblad, sixth in Strade Bianche and third in the E3 things looked on course but 10th in de Ronde and 12th in Roubaix aren’t results he’ll enthuse about.
Always at or near the front, but no Classics wins for the CCC man
Simon Clarke (EF Education First and Australia): He may only be 32 years-old but it’s a long time since he was Junior World Team Pursuit Champion back in 2004, since then he’s paid those dues: Amica Chips, ISD, Astana, Orica and now Cannondale in the latest incarnation with EF Education First. Top 10 in Strade Bianche and Milan-Sanremo, topped off with a sterling second place in The Amstel, good to see.
Top ten for Simon Clarke in Strade Bianche
Philippe Gilbert (Deceuninck – Quick-Step and Belgium): It was 2002 when Phil Gil went stagiaire with Française des Jeux; 17 years later he’s winning one of the biggest races on the planet. We can have nothing but respect.
Not a ‘Young Gun’ any more – But what a palmarès. Only Sanremo for the full set of Monuments
Alex Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates and Norway): The man from Bergen could never be accuse of being a stylist but he does define ‘grinta’. Everyone was on their knees after a savage Ghent-Wevelgem, but the big chap was as fast as ever at the death, having been dropped and dragging himself back into contention – more respect.
Kristoff – His best year for a while
Zdenek Stybar (Deceuninck – Quick-Step and Czech): Het Nieuwsblad and the E3 fell to former World Champion ‘cross rider and his work rate for the team was hugely impressive in his ninth year with Patrick Lefevere’s armada.
Two wins for Stybar – Nice
MAKING NICE PROGRESS. . .
Alberto Bettiol (EF Education First and Italy): When he took second in the TT which closes Tirreno to European Time Trial Champion – and now World Hour Record Holder – Victor Campenaerts we thought; ‘who’s this dude?’ We did our homework and whilst 2018 was lack lustre, he enjoyed two very promising seasons prior to that. Fourth in E3 confirmed it was no fluke result so when he won de Ronde it wasn’t too much of a shock. He followed with sixth in the Brabantse Pijl and we would hope to see him in Paris-Roubaix, next year.
Bettiol was a deserved winner of De Ronde
Fabio Jakobsen (Deceuninck – Quick-Step and The Netherlands): My editor pointed out to me that I had omitted Fabio who won the Scheldeprijs for the second year; but last year he won Nokere too. . . We’re looking for more in 2020, Fabio.
Scheldeprijs two in a row winner – Fabio Jakobsen
Bjorg Lambrecht (Lotto-Soudal and Belgium): He’s only 22 years-of-age, was second in the U23 Worlds last year and this year rattled out three cracking classic rides: Brabantse Pijl, third; Amstel, sixth; Fleche Wallonne, fourth.
Let’s hope he can build on these. . .
A big future for Lambrecht
Jasper Philpsen (UAE Team Emirates and Belgium): Just 21 years-old, third in Nokere and top 10 in the Scheldeprijs after a stunning u23 career. Belgium expects. . .
Another Belgian hope – Philipsen
Nils Politt (Katusha-Alpecin and Germany): At 25 years-of-age the former German u23 Champion is maturing nicely; sixth in the E3, fifth in de Ronde and a magnificent runner-up on the Roubaix velodrome. He can win one.
A great ride in Roubaix
Max Schachmann (BORA-hansgrohe and Germany): He’s a European and Worlds time trial medallist, he can sprint and climb, BORA must be so glad they signed him from Quick-Step, his performances have taken the spotlight away from Sagan’s dull spring. Three Basque Country stage wins set him up nicely for a brace of fifth spots in the Amstel and Flèche and then his Liège podium. If we can keep him out of the night clubs and Lambo show rooms, he’s the real thing.
Schachmann saved the spring for BORA-hansgrohe
THE WORLD AT THEIR FEET
Wout Van Aert (Jumbo-Visma and Belgium): Nice to see management nurturing this young man and not racing the legs off him. Third in Strade Bianche, sixth on the Via Roma, second in the E3, top 15 in Flanders and 22nd at Roubaix doesn’t do him justice after the misfortunes he endured. The real deal.
Wout Van Aert didn’t have luck on his side – Next year…
Mathieu van der Poel (Corendon-Circus and The Netherlands): In a word, ‘Special’. GP Denain 1st, Ghent-Wevelgem 4th, Dwars door 1st, Ronde 4th, Brabantse Pijl 1st, Amstel 1st. And now he’s concentrating on his mountain biking. Like we said; ‘Special’.
Van der Poel – Very special
Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck – Quick-Step and France): He may have messed up the Amstel finale and the cold was too much for his skinny frame in La Doyenne but the Strade Bianche, Primavera and Fleche isn’t a bad spring by any measure. And in addition he was second in the Brabantse Pijl and fourth in The Amstel. PS: Word is he goes to Total-Direct Energie next year. . .
Alaphilippe – The best man of the Spring?
Jakob Fuglsang (Astana and Denmark): Third in The Amstel, second in the Strade Bianche and Fleche then a magnificent winner of La Doyenne – hard to fault.
Fuglsang – Top class performance
Exactly how long is it until Het Nieuwsblad?
You can re-live all the Spring Classics with PEZ here:
What will Mathieu van der Poel do next?
It was November 2005 when Ed Hood first penned a piece for PEZ, on US legend Mike Neel. Since then he’s covered all of the Grand Tours and Monuments for PEZ and has an article count in excess of 1,700 in the archive. He was a Scottish champion cyclist himself – many years and kilograms ago – and still owns a Klein Attitude, Dura Ace carbon Giant and a Fixie. He and fellow Scot and PEZ contributor Martin Williamson run the Scottish site www.veloveritas.co.uk where more of his musings on our sport can be found.