Season Review: The 2019 road season is over and it was full of surprises from the ‘new guard’ of ‘young guns’ bring a breath of fresh air to the top events. Philippe Gilbert showed that it’s not all over for the ‘mature’ riders, but there is a new broom in pro cycling. Ed Hood looks at the year’s top events and the bright future of the sport we love.
Young man with a big future – Mathieu Van Der Poel, and he’s not the only one
As we say in the trade; ‘not long now until Gent-Gent’, that’s ‘Omloop Het Nieuwsblad’ if you’re not an old timer. . .
Yes, another season is consigned to the history books. And this has been a season where the ‘Old Guard’, despite some solid rear guard actions has had to bow the knee to the ‘New Wave’. We thought we’d take a wander through our ‘baker’s dozen’ of top events of 2019 and look at how, ‘the times they are a changing’ – courtesy Robert Zimmerman.
The old and the new in Roubaix
Het Nieuwsblad: Looked like ‘business as usual’ for the ‘Old Guard’ and those windows and floors boys in blue – Deceuninck – Quick-Step. Patrick Lefevere’s men would march on across the season, but Cycling’s best manager always sniffs when the wind changes and didn’t just rely on the likes of ever-dependable 33 year-old Czech, ex-‘cross king, Zdenek Stybar – who won this one – to keep his phenomenal victory totals rolling; 67 UCi wins at time of going to press.
Strade Bianche: It was 2014 when Lefevere grabbed the diamond in the rough that is Julian Alaphilippe and he’s holding on to his crown jewel until at least the end of 2021. We can’t perhaps categorise him as one of the, ‘New Wave’ but the way he races is a breath of fresh air to the ‘control’ which makes so many races all down to the last 10 minutes and tedious TV viewing. The man from Saint-Amand-Montrond had already scored two stage wins in San Juan and one in Colombia before he won what has quickly become one of the best to watch and most desirable races on the calendar.
Milan-Sanremo: For me, the most beautiful one day race in the world; Monsieur Alaphilippe grabbed two stages in Tirreno after his excursion on the ‘white roads’ before out-sprinting some of the world’s best on the Via Roma. Beautiful to behold.
Tour of Flanders: We had our eye on Alberto Bettiol (EF Education First and Italy) before he won Flanders; who was this dude who placed second to European Chrono Champion, Victor Campanaerts (Lotto Soudal and Belgium) in the closing Tirreno time trial, then was fourth in the GP E3, we asked ourselves? At 25 years-old he’s had some nice results in the past, such as second at Plouay in 2016, but this is the year he blossomed.
Paris-Roubaix: And the ‘Old Fellas’ were back with Monsieur Lefevere reaching for his best cigars as his boy, Philippe Gilbert grabbed the glory on the Roubaix Velodrome – but in second place was Germany’s 25 years-old Nils Politt (Katusha-Alpecin) who added second here to sixth in the E3 and fifth in Flanders. Julian, Alberto, Nils, the list is growing. . .
Amstel Gold: In a World which is prone to chuck superlatives around, I try to exercise restraint when it comes to, ‘fabulous’ – ‘brilliant’ – ‘amazing’. . . But this was a day when you could wheel words like that out without fear of being accused of hyperbole. And when Dutchman, Adrie van Der Poel, one of the world’s greatest riders of the 80’s and 90’s and not prone to exaggeration tells you that his son, Mathieu is ‘special’, then you best prick up your ears. The way Mathieu Van Der Poel won this race was a joy to watch and a remedy to that ‘control’ stuff. We knew he was good, having won GP Denain, Dwars door and Brabantse Pijl as well as finishing top four in Gent-Wevelgem and the Tour of Flanders – but in Amstel he really was, ‘special’.
Liège-Bastogne-Liège: At 34 years-of-age, Jakob Fuglsang is too old to be one of the ‘new ones’ but this was his breakthrough year with wins in the Ruta del Sol and Dauphine as well as this one, the toughest of all the Classics with its never-ending succession of horrible jousts with gravity. The Tour? That was a different story for the Dane, who went in as a favourite but crashed out.
Giro d’Italia: He won the Vuelta a Asturias for the second time, just before the Giro – and he was fourth in the Giro last year, the man is no ‘dud’. And ‘The Bigs’ cut Richard Carapaz just too much slack; ‘Mondialisation’ became a reality with Ecuador taking her first Grand Tour. And at 26 years-of-age, he’s hardly a veteran. Vincenzo’s last Grand Tour podium, perhaps? And lessons learned by Primoz.
Tour de France: If winning the Tour de France at 22 years-of-age doesn’t qualify him as ‘New Wave’ then it’s hard to say what would. Egan Bernal (Ineos and Colombia) took the second Grand Tour of the year across the South Atlantic – we knew it would come one day. And let’s not forget ninth in Emilia, sixth in Milan-Turin, the top step in Piemonte and third in Lombardia – the man is a bike racer.
San Sebastián: If Bernal is ‘precocious,’ at 21 years-old, then what’s the word for 19 years-old, Remco Evenepoel? And sometimes Patrick doesn’t even have to go looking. Remco’s dad is a friend of Mr. Lefevere. . . “You know, Patrick – my boy’s dream is to ride for your team. . .” Still in his teens, he’s a national tour winner – his home Belgian race – an Elite European Champion in the time trial and it took super specialist Rohan Dennis to beat him to the World Elite TT title. And of course, he’s a Classic winner – in beautiful ‘Donostia’, in the language of the Basque. But no prima donna, as he showed by going back for Gilbert at Harrogate after the Paris-Roubaix winner’s crash. Superlative time again: a remarkable young man by any measure.
La Vuelta a España: Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma and Slovenia) despite his coming late to the sport he’s a huge talent, the lowest he’s finished in a stage race this year is third – and that was the Giro. With his joining the early break at the Harrogate Worlds we thought it was his swan song for the season, tired after winning the Vuelta. Then he went out and won the Giro dell’Emilia and Tre Valli Varesine – 2020 will see him a year stronger and smarter. And whilst we’re on the subject of Slovenia and La Vuelta – Tadej Pogacar. Three stage wins, best young rider and third overall at 21 years-old, best add him to our list of proteges.
World Road Race Championship: On a day best described as ‘horrible’ – it wasn’t a day for the men who prefer the sun on their skin. Norseman Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo) was perhaps a surprise but appropriate winner; but let’s not forget he was runner-up to Niki Terpstra in the Tour of Flanders in 2018 and flourishes when the going is tough. And he did drop a big hint about his form the week before The Worlds when he won the always hard fought GP Isbergues. We think he’ll fight hard to honour the rainbow – and remember, he’s still only 23 years-old.
Il Lombardia: It was down to ‘big old Dutch diesel’ Bauke Mollema to close the season for the ‘Old Guard’ – and give Trek Segafredo a dream double triumph to end the season.
And ‘old fox,’ Alejandro Valverde (Movistar and Spain) was second.
However, the future surely belongs to: Julian, Nils, Alberto, Mathieu, Remco, Egan, Tadej, Mads – and we haven’t even mentioned Wout Van Aert. Roll on 2020. . .
Probably the main man to watch – Remco Evenepoel
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.