The keen ones among us – or perhaps the stubbornly logical – will state that each new cycling season starts with Australia in January. The purists boast Omloop as the rightful curtain raiser, and some casuals might not feel at home until flicking through Cycling Weekly to see who won Paris-Nice. However, a small diehard following will insist that a dark cycling off-season continues until a post appears on www.justprocycling.com. Relax, all sixteen of you, and let’s do this.
A busy end to 2018 was responsible for Just Pro Cycling’s sluggish start to the season, but I was awake for the second stage of the Women’s Tour Down Under. Mitchelton took an easy 1-2 on the punchy finale, and Amanda Spratt (first) held Lucy Kennedy (second) all the way to Adelaide.
Both placed on the podium at the Cadel Evans Great Big Pool Party (unofficial and wrong name) behind eye-catching escapee winner Arlenis Sierra. This was the same Sierra who received some harsh ridicule for celebrating her second place at the 2017 Trofeo Binda – the Cuban’s first podium on European roads and Team Astana’s on the WWT. Spratt and Kennedy impressed again at the Herald Sun Tour later that month, this time reversing their Down Under positions.
The men’s Town Down Under fell a little flat. Daryl Impey and Paddy Bevin followed the Simon Gerrans playbook and rode the climbers out of contention by collecting time bonuses. A crash for Bevin prevented a showdown and an imperious Impey never looked in danger.
Richie Porte cashed in on a Willunga pay day for the sixth time but – despite finishing second overall – he was reduced to an afterthought. Nevertheless, he suffers so much bad luck throughout a season that it remains a pleasant surprise to see him roll a double six every time he reaches Old Willunga.
The newly crafted UAE Tour went Primosz Roglic’s way from start to finish, with an exclamation mark on Stage 5 where he burst ahead of Tom Dumoulin, Dan Martin and Alejandro Valverde. The Slovenian’s had a scarily good eighteen months and would later rob Adam Yates at a rejigged but slightly misfiring Tirreno-Adriatico. I daresay he is no longer ‘the former ski-jumper’ and now, perhaps, a leading cyclist. Valverde, meanwhile, continues to polarize opinion but wears rainbow stripes so well that you’ll find yourself checking this is really his first time.
Zdenek Stybar was hot on the approach to Omloop and delivered a fantastic victory to kick-start Deceuinck–Quick Step’s demolition of the early classics. Top ten Giro finisher Bob Jungels went on a solo charge over the cobbles of Kuurne, Le Samyn went to a popular Florian Senechel, and that was all before Julian Alaphilippe took two huge wins on the World Tour.
We tried to talk down King Julian’s chances on Siena’s gravel roads based on the fact he had not attempted the race before. The bookmakers disagreed and sent him off as race favourite. He rolled into a late escape with the brilliant Jakob Fuglsang, who tried everything to rattle the Frenchman. Alaphilippe feinted his way into the final kilometre before destroying the Dane on a tailor-made finish. Wout van Aert grinded to third and made it to the Piazza without a tumble this year.
Anna van Vleuten was too strong in the women’s race, but behind Kasia Niewiadoma fought hard for her fourth podium appearance in as many years. She’s yet to win the race but her Siena streak remains intact.
At Milan-Sanremo Alaphilippe spoilt the party again and sprinters were denied for the third year straight. His Poggio attack was predictable but he was joined by a big group containing fastmen Peter Sagan and Matteo Trentin. The hectic finale played into his hands and he dispatched rivals with limited bother; Sagan only fourth.
Sanremo is a race you wouldn’t design if it didn’t already exist. The Women’s World Tour remains ripe for development, but you won’t find many campaigners for a 270km parade for 10km of fireworks.
Lastly, a note on Egan Bernal’s victory at Paris-Nice; the Colombian looks frighteningly good. Seven riders made the front split on a windy stage 2, including Bernal. He seems to have already mastered a level of race craft that deceived compatriot Nairo Quintana for years. Without taking a stage, Team Sky (2010 – 2019) delivered a vintage performance with Michal Kwiatkowski forfeiting the jersey to Bernal after the queen stage.
Chris Froome lent leadership duties to Geraint Thomas last July, but you have to wonder if the 32-year old Welshman has bestowed them to Bernal sooner than expected. Where does this leave Froome?!
You really should have known most of what I just told you. But now – at least – this blog is back up to speed. Just Pro Cycling will peak just like Nibali; for all the big races. The following few months are some of the best of the season. Join me for the ride.