Conclusions after the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix
With Fabian Cancellara and Tom Boonen absent, a new rivalry seemed to emerge in the Spring Classics, one which has John Degenkolb and Alexander Kristoff as protagonists. The German rider showed his potential since making his debut in the Monuments, netting a 5th place in Milan-Sanremo and a 19th place in Paris-Roubaix. A couple of years later, he took the wins in both, helped not only by a very strong team, but also by a great tactic, a courageous one that led to him attacking and taking his faith in his own hands. As for Kristoff, he too has two wins in the Monuments and the past month showed that he’s one of the strongest cyclists around and has the potential, just like Degenkolb, to be one of the dominant riders of the following years in the first three Monuments of the Spring.
“Always a bridesmaid, never a bride” – is an idiom that seems to apply to two of the most strongest Classics rider in the peloton, Greg Van Avermaet and Sep Vanmarcke. At the beginning of every season, both are among the favorites to land a big win, but this doesn’t come, so Van Avermaet and Vanmarcke are left thinking of what went wrong. With Tom Boonen close to retiring from the peloton, his countrymen are seen by many as the riders who should replace the Belgian legend, but the task is tougher than expected. This is why, at the moment, is back at the old drawing board for Greg Van Avermaet and Sep Vanmarcke, whose winter will again revolve around the cobbled races. For them to succeed, it will be important not to put too much pressure on them, because this, combined with the failures they endured in the past two years, could finally get to them and create a mental block which will be very difficult to overcome.
For Peter Sagan, 2015 marked another disappointing Spring campaign, as he failed to win the Monument he desires so much. Sagan has had a below par display in all the important races – Milan-Sanremo, E3 Harelbeke, Gent-Wevelgem, the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix – his best result being a 4th place he got in De Ronde, but even that came after a poor finale. What was even more striking than seeing the Slovak without any energy left in the key moments of the races was that he lacked the killer instinct that became his trademark in the previous seasons. At 25, Sagan is still young, but has many things to improve, from his physical attributes to the tactics he should deploy in the big races, because he is still far from fulfilling his potential. Until then, he needs an excellent Tour de France – with stage wins and another green jersey – in order to save this season.
A couple of weeks ago, Patrick Lefevere asked for patience, saying that his team should be judged only after April 12th. Now the time has come and all that Etixx-Quick Step has after these past two months is the victory of Mark Cavendish in Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, a race many have already forgot. In the Monuments, the Belgian outfit scored two second places – with Niki Terpstra and Zdenek Stybar – but the general impression is that it missed on the wins because of its poor and sometimes awkward tactics, especially as it had the most powerful squad. Failing to win the Ronde will be a cause for inquest in the Etixx-Quick Step team and people shouldn’t be surprised if decisions will be taken concerning some of the riders in the near future.
Paris-Roubaix was Bradley Wiggins’ swan song, but it just wasn’t made to be for the time trial world champion, who had hoped to go out with a bang in his final race for Sky. The “Hell of the North” has a special place in his heart since he was a child, so his wish was to win it and get a place among the honor book, but all that the 34-year-old Brit could do was to attack with 30 kilometers remaining, a move that didn’t have a future, as the others bridged up to him. Then, in the later part of the race, Wiggins ran out of steam – which was kind of surprising considering the way he prepared to peak for this Classic – and he eventually had to settle with 18th place, half a minute behind the winner.
Many were intrigued by the fact that the “sprinters” are laying their mark on the Classics, but they’re wrong, because both John Degenkolb and Alexander Kristoff have done more than just sit in the pack and wait for the finish. The German and the Norwegian came at the forefront, attacked and shaped the race according to their view and plans. This is what the other contenders didn’t do. Every time they had the opportunity, they looked like they were scared of this and even after accelerating and getting a gap, they slowed down and allowed the others to come back and neutralize the race. Actually, there’s a feeling that there are just a few hard men left in the peloton for the Classics, and two of them are Kristoff and Degenkolb. This should give food for thought to the others.
The Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix are races for experienced cyclists, and we can see that looking over the riders who finished on the podium. Still, there are some young ones who have impressed and delivered some outstanding results, despite not being their team’s prime picks for these Classics. Who are they? Tiesj Benoot, Alexis Gougeard, Yves Lampaert, Florian Senechal, Jens Debusschere and Luke Rowe, all cyclists that made themselves noticed during the past two week-ends and found the consistency that has helped them elevate in the eyes of the teams and other riders, making the 2015 Spring campaign a turning point in their career. All these are reasons to watch them in the future, as they are coming strong from behind and could play a major role from now on in De Ronde and Roubaix.