Andalucia, the Algarve, the Alps, Dubai… and next up Belgium. Here are some more questions, which (hopefully) cover what we’ve all been thinking this week.
Why is sprinting so exciting right now?
In the last two seasons, pro cycling’s young sprinters scrambled for big victories and collectively delivered a knockout blow to the aging generation. Although they regularly competed against each other, they had no problem forging their own paths to the top tier of sprinting.
Overtime, their wins began to feel less like breakthrough triumphs and more like delivering the inevitable. Dylan Groenewegen was no longer simply overjoyed to win a Tour de France stage win. It was his job. He was expected to. Lotto had shown a great deal of faith in Caleb Ewan. He was chosen for both the Giro and Tour. Wins at both were expected, not a bonus.
In 2020 it’s clear that egos have started to develop; but not the bad kind. Each member of sprinting’s young core seems to have a great deal of respect for each other. In fact, it’s their admiration for each other that makes them so happy to gain bragging rights, if only for one day: “This is my town!” Pascal Ackermann shouts as he stomps past Ewan (in my head). “Not today!” Ewan grins (possibly) as he kicks past Sam Bennett. “I’m the man!” Groenewegen (may) smirk as he jabs a finger into his chest.
This season has seen the title of “best sprinter” passed quickly from one to another all the way from Australian Crits to the Dubai Desert. Everybody’s a winner – especially the fans.
Why is Remco this good in February?
Sorry Evenepoel Giro backers, the last nine winners of the Volta Algarve have failed to win a Grand Tour that season. Cashout your bets. Remco cannot break the streak.
Except the streak means nothing. And he probably can break it. But, nevertheless, is it good to be this hot in February? Evenepoel jumped away from a climber/puncheur peloton on the Foia summit, and then put ten seconds into the reigning TT World Champ in Lagoa.
If the Belgian is yet to reach his peak form – or is holding something back – he could be about to embark on the most extraordinary of years. But have Deceuninck even tried to mould, shape, or spread out his form? Or is 2020 just one great big “free-hit”?
Why is the Arkea gamble working?
No rider has ever fallen from “peloton’s best climber” to “climbing’s best Twitter joke” as gracefully as Nairo Quintana. The Colombian has successfully kept his dignity throughout his flailing years at Movistar, despite every anti-Sky campaigner screaming “DO SOMETHING NAIRO!” twice a week each July.
Alongside his brother Dayer, Winner Anacona, Diego Rosa and sprinter Nacer Bouhanni, Quintana moved to Arkea-Samsic with a mixed reaction. Arkea – currently on the Pro Tour – had somehow snapped up a 29-year old climber who had come one Chris Froome away from completing a Grand Tour triple crown.
The French outfit would have been a highly attractive destination for Quintana following a disgruntled end to his Movistar contract. Arkea offered less pressure, a smaller spotlight, and as-good-as guaranteed Tour de France participation. Most importantly, they offer change from a stale regime. Quintana has won both the Tour de la Provence and Tour du Var already this season, claiming two mountain stages. It’s the first time Quintana has ever won two stages of anything by the end of February. It’s also good practice on French roads. As the Tweet below illustrates, Quintana has now tamed 20 summit finishes as a pro.
Why are there so few Swedish riders?
Whilst reviewing the Tour of Rwanda results, I came across Eritrean-born Swedish climber Awet Gebremedhin. The flag jumped out at me from the results page, particularly as it wasn’t positioned alongside the household name of Tobias Ludvigsson (if your household contains a minimum of three avid cycling fans).
I grew up with “Big” Magnus “Roubaix” Backstedt and later Emma Johansson. There was also Tomas Lofkvist (Tour top 20!), Gustav Larsson, Fredrik Kessiakoff and Niklas Axelsson. The nation’s UCI points have plummeted since 2008, whilst neighbours Norway have gone from strength to strength.
Denmark are the latest nation to burst into the cycling landscape and have become the most loveable of dark horses at the World Championships. There are less than 50km between Malmo in south Sweden and Denmark’s capital Copenhagen yet there remains an enormous gap in emerging cycling talent. It’s not good enough, Sweden!
Why are we so excited for this weekend?
If you own a signed photo of Eddy Planckaert, once dyed your hair blonde to be like Frank Vandenbroucke, or have absolutely no idea what the Hatta Dam is, it’s likely that this weekend’s Omloop Het “Volk” will be the start of your cycling season.
For the rest of us, Omloop Het Nieuwsblad marks the start of both the spring classics and then Belgian racing season. Moreover, it’s capable of punching above its weight and delivering one of the best one-day races of the season. And the weather’s usually sh*t.