Seven Takeaways Before Flanders: Arguably the best race on the cycling calendar – The Tour of Flanders – is this Sunday. Spencer Martin gives us his ‘Seven Takeaways’ from Gent-Wevelgem, Dwars door Vlaanderen and the Volta a Catalunya. Bring on de Ronde!

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Watch the most comprehensive live & ad-free coverage of the Tour of Flanders 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.

‘Vlaanderens Mooiste’ calls

The week between Gent-Wevelgem and the Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders) is always a sacred week in professional cycling, but this year it has seemed to sparkle more than usual due to the emergence of an African one-day classics star in Biniam Girmay, the unlikely return of Mathieu van der Poel, Jumbo-Visma’s uneven performance as a Classics superteam and the presence of the sport’s biggest grand tour star, Tadej Pogačar, at its biggest one-day races.

To sum up what we’ve learned over the last few cobbled classics (plus a one-week stage race) and recap before the big one on Sunday, I’ve laid out seven major takeaways from the past week.

arundel bike t-wrench banner

Biniam Girmay – The big winner in Wevelgem, but not riding Flanders on Sunday

Seven Takeaways

1) Biniam Girmay and Intermarché have crashed the gate

  • Biniam Girmay, only 21-year-old, made history when he upset the favorites to win at Gent-Wevelgem on Sunday. This was a massive breakthrough for Black African riders and likely just the first in a long line of major victories for the young Eritrean star
  • And the fact that his tiny Intermarché team was able to retain him for the relatively low sum of €300,000 per year has allowed the team to make a jump from the basement to the safety of the mid-table. This illustrates just how important, and transformational, finding up-and-coming talents that have been overlooked by the bigger squads can be for small setups, and will likely lead to more teams taking far more serious looks than they have in the past at up-and-coming stars from non-core cycling nations.
  • And interestingly, despite having him locked down on a three-year deal at his current salary, the team is choosing to rip that up and sign a new long-term deal with triple his current pay. This shows the management team has a real vision for their near future and isn’t planning to go down the DSM route of finding talents and selling them mid-contract for quick cash before you have to re-sign them at a higher rate.

Anthony Turgis
Not down to Peter Sagan – Anthony Turgis and the other guys at TotalEnergies are flying the big ‘S’

2) Specialized is having a great spring campaign… due to Team TotalEnergies

  • While Quick-Step has made Specialized bikes synonyms with cobbled success in recent years, the Belgian superteam’s decline has meant that TotalEnergies, the formerly downtrodden second-division French team that has recently found its legs, is now flying the flag for the big S across the biggest one-day races (despite the struggles of star rider Peter Sagan).

Internal problems at UAE between Ayuso and Almeida?

3) Team UAE’s disorganization at Volta a Catalunya displayed fundamental changes in the sport

  • The debacle stemming from the lack of teamwork between Juan Ayuso and Joāo Almeida at Volta Catalunya which led to Almeida losing the race lead to Sergio Higuita on the penultimate stage showed exactly why a team needs to pick a leader and just how much the recent youth movement has changed the sport.
  • Instead of working for his teammate and race leader João Almeida to reel in Richard Carapaz and Sergio Higuita on their stage 6 raid, Ayuso sat in and then unsuccessfully attempted to attack and bridge up to the leaders in the final 20-kilometers of the race, thus sealing the win for Higuita and dooming his teammate Almeida.
  • This type of refusal from a 19-year-old with zero professional victories is wild and would have been unthinkable in the past and shows that the recent empowerment of extremely young and unproven riders has fundamentally changed the sport and made it much more difficult to sell them on the idea of working for another rider who they don’t perceive to be as talented.

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MvdP is back – Flanders and Roubaix?

4) Mathieu van der Poel is back, what does this mean for Flanders and Roubaix?

  • After rolling up to Milano-Sanremo last minute and getting a career-best third-place, Van der Poel bagged an impressive stage win at Coppi e Bartali and a dominant victory at the mid-week Flanders tuneup race Dwars door Vlaanderen.
  • However, this is an incredibly unusual lead-in to Flanders. Since Gent-Wevelgem changed its date in 2010, only a single rider, Philippe Gilbert in 2017, has missed the race and won a week later in Flanders. Also, no rider has won both Dwars and Flanders in the same year since it was moved to the Wednesday prior to Flanders, and only a single rider since the year 2000, Nick Nuyens in 2011, has won both Dwars and Flanders in the same Spring.
  • All of this tells us that Van der Poel’s unideal and unusual lead-in will prohibit him from getting his second-career Flanders title, but Van der Poel is a rider with highly unusual talents and is a rare rider capable of breaking all the rules of preparation and succeeding regardless.

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Has Tom Pidcock’s stomach problems been cured?

5) Tom Pidcock is back, but will he be good enough for Sunday at Flanders?

  • Tom Pidcock rode a great race to make the front group with quality riders like Victor Campenaerts, Tiesj Benoot, Stefan Küng, Nils Politt, and Kelland O’Brien, but the fact that Van der Poel was able to ride away from him and that group without a response in the final few kilometers to chase down Benoot should tell us a lot about Flanders.
  • While this is an incredible turnaround for the talented young rider, we should ask ourselves that if Pidcock couldn’t follow the two strongest riders on a flat run-in, what chance does he have on the brutal finishing circuit at Flanders?

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Todaj Pogačar was strong in Wednesday’s Dwars door Vlaanderen

6) Tadej Pogačar might be a serious contender at Flanders

  • The two-time Tour de France champion took part in Wednesday’s Dwars door Vlaanderen to get a feel for the cobblestones in preparation for his maiden Tour of Flanders on Sunday and despite his full-time job being a featherweight grand tour winner, he looked right at home moonlighting on the cobblestones, which favor much heavier riders than the Slovenian.
  • While his inexperience showed at points, the Flanders course will suit the absurdly strong rider more than the far shorter and flatter Dwars course.
  • It would be truly shocking, and somewhat dispiriting if Pogačar were to win the Ronde on Sunday, but after watching him on the cobblestones, I certainly wouldn’t rule it out.
  • But the fact that the Tour de France favorite is consistently lining up, and fighting for wins, at the biggest one-day races is incredibly exciting for the sport.

What now for Quick-Step?

7) It is Time for Quick-Step to hit the panic button

  • The former kings of the cobblestones are in the midst of a disaster of a Spring, and this point was driven home on Wednesday when they failed to get a single rider in the first two groups at Dwars.
  • Underlining their issue is that their top-placed rider was Jannik Steimle. While this was a great ride for the 25-year-old German journeyman, it shows just how much their aging core of cobbled specialists has fallen off in recent years.
  • This decline, while shocking, was predictable due to their incredibly risky transfer season strategy of choosing to allow their talent core to age and/or leave without signing young up-and-comers like Biniam Girmay.
  • This Spring should make this decay painfully obvious to management, who should spend the next 12-months overturning every stone in search of its next big cobbled classics stars.

Is Wout Van Aert top man for Sunday? Stay PEZ to find out

You can see the ‘PEZ Tour of Flanders Preview’ HERE, the ‘PEZ Race Report’ on Sunday and all the news in EUROTRASH Monday.

Watch the most comprehensive live & ad-free coverage of the Tour of Flanders 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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