Ten Takeaways for the Worlds: There are less than two weeks until the World road championships in Flanders and Wout Van Aert is in the top favorite position, but he’s not the only one. Spencer Martin gives us his breakdown of the weekend’s racing for the ten takeaways looking towards the championships.
Euro champ’21 – Sonny Colbrelli
This past weekend featured multiple races with some of the biggest names in the sport which functioned as a dress rehearsal for the World Road Race Championships later this month in Flanders. At the Tour of Britain, Wout van Aert put the finishing touches on a four-stage win, overall title-winning performance, while Sonny Colbrelli emerged victorious the European Road Race Championships. While Van Aert’s nearly effortless overall win at Britain seemed somewhat, inevitable, Colbrelli’s win over Remco Evenepoel, and dropping superstars like Tadej Pogačar, on an extremely difficult course in the stunningly beautiful hamlet of Trento, Italy was fairly shocking and should send a message to the rest of the world that the Italian has emerged as one of the sport’s premier sprinter/climber hybrids.
Domination at the Tour of Britain from Wout van Aert
1) Sonny Colbrelli gets a very impressive victory and is quickly emerging as a favorite for the road race World Championships coming up in two weeks’ time. He might not have won a stage at the recent Tour de France, but he consistently displayed incredible strength over difficult terrain, and today’s win, combined with his overall title at the Benelux Tour, has to catapult him into the list of elite favorites, along with Wout van Aert, Julian Alaphilippe and Matej Mohorič at Worlds.
Tour of Britain stage 4 – Van Aert and Alaphilippe
2) Colbrelli’s win was impressive, but it potentially wouldn’t have been possible without Remco Evenepoel’s lack of tactical awareness, which reared its head yet again. The young Belgian pulled one of the fastest riders in the world, Sonny Colbrelli, right to the finish line, only to get toasted by Colbrelli in the sprint finish.
- Evenepoel’s Belgian team worked all day to put him in the right position in the finale, and when Evenepoel attacked with around 20-kilometers to go and dropped Tadej Pogačar, everything appeared to be going to plan. But, a key issue was that this attack failed to distance Colbrelli. As soon as Evenepoel saw Colbrelli was still there, he needed to sit up and force Colbrelli to pull on the front, so that he would have a chance to drop Colbrelli on the final climb.
- If Colbrelli failed to pull through, then Evenepoel needed to call his bluff and let the dropped riders come back, and attempt another attack on or before the final climb that could potentially distance Colbrelli. The massive advantage for Evenepoel with that scenario is that the regroup wouldn’t have been catastrophic since the group included his teammate Ben Hermans, who could have helped him cover attacks.
- Instead, Evenepoel just sat on the front for the rest of the race, failing to even attack Colbrelli, and just pulled the far superior sprinter to the finish line.
- Evenepoel appeared angry and surprised at the near seven bike length gap between him and Colbrelli at the finish line, but, in reality, there was no other logical outcome.
Pogačar not 100%… yet
3) This brings up a major issue for Evenepoel. Due to his complete lack of sprint, he can only win races solo, which gets harder and harder at higher prestige races.
- This means while he can dazzle with solo wins at smaller races like the Tour of Denmark, it becomes almost impossible to ride other world-class riders off his wheel at major events.
- While some riders have been able to simply grind others off their wheel, Evenepoel will have a harder time with this strategy since he lacks the snap of Julian Alaphilippe or the raw power of these larger riders like Mathieu van der Poel and Fabian Cancellara, due to his extremely lightweight. Evenepoel’s ability to ride solo comes more from his aerodynamic position on the road bike and his efficient pedal stroke, not an absurd surplus of watts.
- We got a preview today of the issues this will cause at major events in the future. If he can’t get separation via explosive efforts on climbs, or grind other world-class riders off his wheel, it will be incredibly difficult to get major wins consistently.
Evenepoel was the ‘man of the match’
4) Evenepoel’s lack of race awareness shouldn’t just be a concern about his own chances at Worlds, but will almost certainly affect his teammates, in particular, Wout van Aert.
- We already saw at the Olympics that Evenepoel’s “attack now, think later” strategy caused issues for Van Aert, when he was isolated on the final climb when Evenepoel dropped himself after a failed long-range attack. I predict this could cause major issues for Van Aert again at the Flanders 2021 world championships.
Britain’21 stage 1 – Van Aert started well
5) The Belgian squad’s cohesiveness should be of major concern for Wout van Aert, since it could be the only thing able to topple the Belgian superstar, who displayed peerless form at the recent Tour of Britain, where he won four individual stages and the overall, despite losing close to half a minute to Ineos’ Ethan Hayter in the team time trial.
- Van Aert’s ability to win on both incredibly steep uphill finishes and in sprint finishes at Britain shows a near-unstoppable versatility that will make him nearly unbeatable on the lumpy Flanders 2021 course.
- However, one thing that could trip Van Aert up despite his form is a lack of clear strategy and cohesiveness inside of the Belgian team.
Hirschi – Outside bet for the Worlds?
6) Marc Hirschi, the breakout star of last season, appears to be back to somewhat close to his dazzling 2020 form.
- He finished in 6th place at European Championships after making the front group in an incredibly difficult race and could be an outsider for worlds.
Can we right-off Pogačar?
7) Tadej Pogačar finished 5th and made the select front group, but the sight of him being dropped by Evenepoel’s attack was somewhat shocking and doesn’t bode well for his world championship chances.
- After winning a second-consecutive Tour de France title and getting 3rd place at the Olympic road race in July, Pogačar has been laying low and taking some deserved time off, so a regression in form would make complete sense.
- With worlds still two weeks away, it is theoretically possible that Pogačar could rebuild his form, but in practice, it is incredibly difficult to imagine him building up for another peak after a season that saw him win a Monument, a Tour, and an Olympic medal.
Victor Campenaerts – Super domestique
8) Victor Campenaerts has completely revamped his skillset and gone from a tier-two time trial specialist who was struggling to stay in the sport, to a legitimate threat at one-day classics and consistent grand tour stage hunter. And arguably more importantly for his career, he has been using international racing as an opportunity to market himself as super domestique for difficult one-day races.
- However, don’t let his selflessness fool you. We shouldn’t totally write Campenaerts off as a darkhorse contender for world championships.
- His strength, racecraft and ability to win either solo or from extremely select groups, is starting to make him a potential outside contender in almost every race he starts.
World champion Julian Alaphilippe had a tough time at the Tour of Britain
9) It is worth noting that while defending World Champion Julian Alaphilippe’s performances at the Tour of Britain were good, he looked completely outclassed by Van Aert on nearly every course type.
- This continues a recent trend of finding himself stuck between not being fast enough to win reduced bunch sprints or strong enough to drop faster riders on climbs. After winning 29 races between 2015-2019, he has only won six times over the past two years.
- Of course, one of those wins was the 2020 World Championships, and two others are Tour de France stage wins, so it would be absurd to say he is struggling, but this trend is something to keep an eye on. It is possible Alaphilippe is finding himself squeezed by the slightly younger generation of flex sprinters who also seem to be able to climb with the best.
Not all Belgians were disappointed
10) It is tempting to assume this past weekend’s European Championships gave us a great preview of the world championships, but the complete absence of both Britain or Denmark, which both have riders who will undoubtedly influence the race, means we should take Euros results with a grain of salt.
The star of the Tour of Britain – Xander Graham
# 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. #