BREAKDOWN: Takeaways From Itzulia & Scheldeprijs Going Into Amstel
Mid-Week Race Takeaways
Takeaways for Amstel: Spencer Martin looks back at the weeks happenings in the Itzulia Basque Country and the Scheldeprijs where Primož Roglič, Remco Evenepoel and Alexander Kristoff have been showing their form.
Primož Roglič took control of the Itzulia Basque Country in stage 1 time trial
With a few top-level grand tour GC contenders facing off against the incredibly hyped grand tour hopeful Remco Evenepoel at the infamously difficult Itzulia Basque Country and Alexander Kristoff turning back the clock to school some of the sport’s best sprinters about how to win a difficult classic at Wednesday’s Scheldeprijs, it is a good time for a mid-week pause to take stock of a few major takeaways before we head into the weekend.
The top men in the Basque Country
1) Primož Roglič might be leading, but the sharks are circling in the Basque Country.
- Primož Roglič finished the difficult 3rd stage at Itzulia Basque Country with his GC lead intact and a very strong Jonas Vingegaard at his side in a select front group.
- Just reading the result sheet, one might assume that Roglič and Jumbo have the race in a death grip and are on their way to a third overall victory in the last four editions. But this would obscure the fact that when Adam Yates made an acceleration on an extremely steep pitch that broke up the race with 25-kilometers to race, Roglič appeared to be caught out of position and truly struggled to get on terms with Yates by the top of the climb.
- And there could be a case made that Vingegaard was the stronger of the two in the group, and without him, some of the attacking moves attempted in the final few kilometers would have succeeded in taking his race lead.
- Of course, this could all have been Roglič playing it cool in the early stages of a very difficult stage race since he knows how to win better than anyone in the peloton. But during the stage, something didn’t feel quite right. For example, Roglič’s positioning on the steep climb where Yates attacked was particularly odd since everyone watching on TV knew what was coming due to Ineos’ pace-setting for nearly 40-kilometers prior.
- We will have to wait and see, but if Roglič losses Itzulia in the final few stages after his slight bobble at the end of Paris-Nice, there could be the slightest hint of alarm raised at Jumbo that their Tour leader seems unable to find consistency while his rival Tadej Pogačar looks better than ever.
Geraint Thomas blew himself up for Adam Yates
2) Adam Yates & Ineos lit up the race, but was the juice worth the squeeze?
- Meanwhile, the British team wasn’t shy about its ambitions this week in Northern Spain when they deployed their entire squad to the front of the peloton with over 60-kilometers to go on stage 3 to set up a brutal attack from Adam Yates.
- While it all would have come crashing down due to a late-stage Yates mechanic if not for the (in my opinion very flawed) 3-kilometer rule, the wreckage Yates imposed on the peloton with his attacking was impressive.
- But, if we zoom out, what did it actually accomplish? He got almost nothing in terms of getting him closer to the overall GC, and I have to wonder if the team knew that Yates would not dislodge any GC challenges and as well fail to win the stage, if they would have invested so much, including Geraint Thomas’ GC position. After all, these are the easy days of Basque Country, which infamously only gets harder and harder the race drags on, and the team will likely want some of the matches they left out on the road today when the weekend comes.
- On that note, it is interesting his Ineos team decided to have Thomas blow up his own overall GC chances in service of Yates. This makes me wonder if we will ever see Thomas lead a stage race again for Ineos and if part of the reason for his prolonged contract negotiations over the off-season came down to a desire for the team to have him come back in exclusively a support role.
Big lead-out for the World champion by Evenepoel
3) Quick-Step has been impressive so far, but are they actually developing Evenepoel’s career?
- It was hard not to be impressed by Remco Evenepoel’s lead out of his Quick-Step teammate Julian Alaphilippe on stage 2, but it does raise the question of what exactly the team is here to accomplish.
- If they want Evenepoel to win the overall, this use of energy, especially when they attempted to run back the strategy again on stage 3, is questionable. Despite its relatively short run of just six stages, Itzulia is a brutal endeavor that only gets harder and harder as it gets closer to its conclusion on Sunday.
- And we saw already on stage 3 that when Yates accelerated, Evenepoel was distanced before working to rejoin the group on a brief false descent. Coupled with his comments after the stage that he hopes the rest of the stages will be easier than stage 3, his overall GC campaign already looks to be on the rocks.
- Considering his run at the recent Tirreno-Adriatico GC fell apart in the later, more difficult half, it is surprising his Quick-Step team is having him race so aggressively early on at Itzulia. This is perhaps a good example of how the team’s DNA simply isn’t optimized for stage racing, and one of the reasons they have yet to win a grand tour in the team’s history.
- And with the hard numbers telling us Evenepoel has taken a step back after a first few dazzling seasons as a pro, these strategy decisions, which appear to simply be using his strength rather than developing it, might indicate he needs to leave the squad if he wants to further his career as a GC contender.
Aleksandr Vlasov has been very close a win recently in Itzulia and the GP Indurain
4) The others at Itzulia would be wise to watch out for Aleksandr Vlasov.
- One of the big mysteries for me this Spring is who will be the main contender at the upcoming Giro d’Italia. With Richard Carapaz looking vulnerable after a horrific start to the season and João Almeida’s uneven performances in 2022, there is room for a rider like Aleksandr Vlasov to step forward as the pre-race favorite.
- However, after a few seasons where he showed impressive, but inconsistent, performances, Vlasov still appears to be struggling to put it all together in 2022 after his move to BORA-hansgrohe.
- But, so far at Itzulia he has looked extremely good and was even strong enough at the end of a difficult stage 3 to grab what could be a critical 4-second time bonus after finishing 3rd on the stage behind Pello Bilbao and Julian Alaphilippe.
- In addition to looking particularly spry all stage, he is looking like one of the strongest riders at this race and could very well upset Roglič, Yates, and Evenepoel to take the overall GC. If this happens, I’d keep an eye on him as a potential Giro contender.
A strong solo from Alexander Kristoff in the Scheldeprijs
5) Alexander Kristoff’s Scheldeprijs win shows Intermarché is here for Quick-Step’s cobbled crown.
- Up until this season, the Belgian team was the 4th best Belgian team on a good day, but after Biniam Girmay’s surprise win at Gent-Wevelgem and Alexander Kristoff’s impressive solo ride to win what was supposed to be a sprint royale at Scheldeprijs (Kristoff becomes only the second solo winner here since 2000), and there is a legitimate argument to be made that they have been the most consistent Belgian team, particularly over the cobblestones, during the 2022 season.
- This is a shocking turnaround for a squad that was facing down a relegation battle at the end of 2021 and signals that the outfit is up for the fight against Alpecin-Fenix to take an unusually weak QuickStep’s Kings of the Cobblestones crown.
Kristoff turns the clock back
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# 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. #