BREAKDOWN: Eight Takeaways Before The Final Exams!

What to expect at the cobbled Monuments

Breakdown: The Classics are getting into top gear as we head into the E3 Harelbeke and Gent-Wevelgem with the Volta a Catalunya still running. Spencer Martin looks at the current form and gives us his ‘Eight Takeaways’ going into the weekend.

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Cold weather but hot action in Catalunya

With the Volta Ciclista a Catalunya heating up against the frigid Pyrenean backdrop this week and Friday’s E3 and Sunday’s Gent-Wevelgem quickly approaching, it is clear the cycling season is rapidly leaving the pre-season and hurtling headlong into the final exams. Let’s take a moment to meditate on a few key trends as the Flemish and Ardennes Classics, along with the Giro d’Italia, quickly approach.

The Mohorič dropper post

1) After a decade off, equipment innovation is back

  • Despite years and years of equipment uniformity in the peloton, we could hear the winds of change when Matej Mohorič ripped away from the peloton on the descent of the Poggio to win Milano-Sanremo using a dropper post to achieve an extremely fast position without violating the UCI’s ban on the super-tuck and oversized brake rotors to allow him to brake later than his counterparts.
  • As I pointed out on Monday, this mountain-bike borrowed tech seemed to make a massive difference as Mohorič ripped down the descent 9-seconds faster than Sean Kelly’s daredevil performance in 1992. In a copy-cat sport like pro cycling, it isn’t difficult to imagine half of the peloton being outfitted with dropper-posts and oversized brake rotors come the Tour de France.
  • However, the risk of a catastrophic mid-race failure, increased weight, the technology not currently working with aero seat posts/downtubes, and the increased weight of both the dropper posts and bigger rotors, will complicate the decision to adopt these technologies.
  • Forcing riders and teams to make these tradeoffs in future major races will breathe life back racing tech conversations and be incredibly fascinating to watch for tech-focussed fans.

What next for Simon Yates?

2) The Giro d’Italia GC picture gets murkier every day

  • Simon Yates appeared to be in pole position after a career performance at Paris-Nice, but the British rider fell flat on stage 3 Catalunya after coming down with a stomach bug. This will be incredibly disruptive to his preparation with only a little over a month before the start of the Giro.
  • Additionally, Jumbo-Visma’s Giro GC hope, Tom Dumoulin, also dropped out of Catalunya after struggling in his first race back since missing Strade-Bianche due to COVID-like symptoms.
  • This DNF puts a period on what has been a horrid Giro preparation campaign for Dumoulin. And while physical illness could be the explanation, it is worth noting that while he has performed well in time trials, he has struggled on nearly every major climb since returning from his spur of the moment mini-retirement in 2021.

A very strong looking João Almeida

3) Meanwhile, João Almeida’s stock is surging

  • Despite appearing to be on pace-making teammate duty for his younger teammate Juan Ayuso, the 23-year-old Portuguese rider single handedly chased down Richard Carapaz and out-sprinted Nairo Quintana for the win on stage 4.
  • With three tricky stages left, he is tied on time for the GC lead with Quintana and has proven he should be the rider to watch heading into the Giro.
  • While he isn’t as highly touted as Richard Carapaz, Simon Yates and Tom Dumoulin by cycling media, it is worth noting he has never finished lower than 6th place overall in a grand tour and possesses both the elite time trialing and climbing ability necessary to win a grand tour.

Overall lead for O’Connor – But just for one day

4) The peloton has extreme status dysmorphia

  • The lack of urgency to chase O’Connor on stage 3 at Catalunya and unwillingness for UAE’s riders who aren’t João Almeida to work for each other to chase down a rider who is far more accomplished than nearly every other rider in the lead GC group shows a stark lack of a realistic assessment among these riders as to their place in the peloton.
  • We are seeing an odd trend where anyone who has ever been mentioned as a possible GC contender wants to ride like they are the team leader, which leaves nobody left to actually do the work of pulling back moves.
  • This is part of the reason solo moves have been so successful in the last 24 months and since this is unlikely to change in the near future, we should expect to see this continue in the near future.

Things go wrong but UAE still win

5) UAE is a mess, but it isn’t clear if it actually matters

  • Tadej Pogačar, who seemingly has an ability to win at will, makes the team look good at every race he attends, but when he is absent, the cracks that he papers over are in full view.
  • This was on display on the final climb of stage 3, where, despite having multiple riders in the lead group, they failed to respond to O’Connor’s attack, and after it became clear he wouldn’t simply fall back, couldn’t convince a single one of their multiple riders present to set pace on the front.
  • Making matters worse, when Marc Soler launched a trademark non-team-approved attacked inside the final 2 kms, it blocked the team’s top two GC options of Juan Ayuso and João Almeida from surging inside the final kilometer to close down the gap to O’Connor and/or create a gap to their GC rivals.
  • This complete tactical breakdown, along with open infighting in the final kilometers of Trofeo Laigueglia, hints that management and riders are not in agreement regarding roles.
  • While this lack of willing workers could cause problems at bigger races later down the line, Almeida was bailed out by Ineos on the final climb of stage 4, was able to essentially act as his own teammate to win the stage and very well might win the overall.
  • Also, Pogačar is talented enough to overcome assaults from inside his own team at the Tour de France, which doesn’t make it clear that this organizational chaos will actually have an effect on races that actually matter.

Carapaz riding the Ineos roller-coaster

5) What has happened to Ineos?

  • Twelve months after dominating nearly every one-week stage race, Ineos has looked like a shell of their former self and lack a viable GC winning option at a race where they swept the podium in 2021.
  • While Richard Carapaz is showing some signs of life after a dismal start to the season, both he and the team’s other GC leader Carlos Rodríguez continue to be distanced on the race’s final uphill ramps.
  • Considering these struggles, their continued work on the final climbs fail to make any sense. And on stages 3 and 4 at Catalunya, this work bailed out a stronger GC leader on another team, just like they did at the 2021 Tour de France.
  • Their struggles at Catalunya underline their team marco struggles of an aging core combined with stalled youth talent. For example, I had high hopes for Pavel Sivakov after his 9th overall at the 2019 Giro d’Italia, but three years later and that stands out as his lone GC result.

Surprise Van der Poel in Sanremo

6) After years of avoiding grand tours, Mathieu van der Poel is going all in

  • After his surprise reemergence to land a shocking 3rd place at Milano-Sanremo, Mathieu van der Poel has announced that he plans to start just his second ever career grand tour at the upcoming Giro d’Italia before coming back in July for the Tour de France.
  • I’m assuming this is an attempt to build base fitness and make up for lost Spring racing kilometers, but it is still great news for cycling fans who have missed one of the sport’s best riders at its biggest events for the last few years.
  • However, at 27-years-old, Van der Poel has yet to finish a grand tour, and it will be interesting to see how he performs with two extremely demanding back-to-back races.

E3 on Friday and Gent-Wevelgem on Sunday

8) E3 & Gent-Wevelgem will tell us what to expect at the cobbled Monuments

  • While we’ve had a few opening courses so far this spring, tomorrow’s E3 rings in the real start to the cobbled season and combined with Sunday’s Gent-Wevelgem, will give us a clearer picture of who to watch come Flanders and Roubaix.
  • It will be interesting to see if Wout van Aert and Jumbo can bounce back after being tactically worked over by Bahrain at Milano-Sanremo.
  • It will also be an opportunity for Quick-Step, who have looked outgunned by Jumbo in their bread-and-butter cobbled classics, to reassert themselves just in time for the season’s biggest cobbled races.
  • I’m also curious to see how the newest addition to the one-day classics club, Bahrain, responds to losing last year’s Roubaix winner Sonny Colbrelli for the foreseeable future after he suffered an unstable cardiac arrhythmia following stage 1 at Catalunya. This would appear to sink any chances of success for them, but they still have Heinrich Haussler and Matej Mohorič. While Mohorič isn’t highly rated for the cobbled races, nobody expected him to win Sanremo, and I think the Slovenia with white-hot form could continue his Cinderella run over the weekend.

More hot action from Mohorič?

# See the ‘PEZ 2022 Gent-Wevelgem Preview’ HERE and keep it PEZ for the ‘Race Report’ on Sunday and all the Wevelgem news in EUROTRASH Monday. #

# Spencer Martin is the author of the cycling-analysis newsletter Beyond the Peloton that breaks down the nuances of each race and answers big picture questions surrounding team and rider performance. Sign up now to get full access to all the available content and race breakdowns. #

Watch the most comprehensive live & ad-free coverage of Gent-Wevelgem 2022 on GCN+. Go deeper and get interactive with live polls & quizzes, plus rider profiles, race updates, results & more – plus stream original and exclusive cycling documentaries. Watch it all with GCN+ on any device.

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