The Cobbled Classics Revelations

Quick Step and Peter Sagan stole the headlines in the cobbled classics. Now the season continues but in a different gear as the sport progresses to hillier one day races and the summer season of stage races. But who else impressed? Here’s a look at the younger revelations in the spring classics.

Mads Pedersen went prime time in the Tour of Flanders. He’s been on the radar for some time,  after all he’s wearing the Danish champion’s jersey, won the Tour of Denmark last summer which doubles as the unofficial Danish stage racing championships. To revive Antoine Blondin‘s saying of “tell me who you’ve beaten and I’ll tell you who you are” he also won the Tour du Poitou-Charentes by taking the 20km time trial stage almost half a minute quicker than short distance time trial specialist Jonathan Castroviejo, all aged 21. Young but he’s now in his fourth season as a pro and has several wins to his name. The son of a truck driver, he started in mountain biking and moved to the road, winning the junior Paris-Roubaix. He turned pro by accident, the result of the Danish Cult Energy team merging with the German Stölting team and so Pedersen was bumped up from a Continental-level development rider into a Pro Conti pro. A UCI label? Yes but it meant he could do races like the Three Days of De Panne one week and then the U23 Tour of Flanders next so by the time he won a prestigious stage of the Tour de l’Avenir to Arbois he’d banked a lot of high level racing in his legs.

Was Wout van Aert a revelation? After a world champion in cyclo-cross and he’s won races on the road already so we could view his success this spring as a confirmation. But it doesn’t take too much of a mental crowbar to work in the idea of a revelation, especially because he showed endurance, that he could cope in the long distance races over 250km. All the more impressive given he’s come off the back of a cyclo-cross season with its repeated high intensity efforts. It was impressive to see him in the Strade Bianche but logical given the slippery conditions and carrying form form his winter campaign. To see him feature in the top-10 at the Tour of Flanders or Gent-Wevelgem was more. So imagine what he could do if he started with more focus on the road? Several team managers are doing just this and he has a contract with Vérandas Willems-Crelan to the end of 2019 then it’s possible to buy him out. L’Equipe reports Groupama-FDJ are chasing him… but other teams are closer. Would he focus on the road only or want to keep up the cyclo-cross? After this spring he can probably set the conditions.

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Rémi Cavagna was one of this blog’s neo-pros to watch for 2017 and popped up to win the Dwars door West-Vlaanderen although once again this was the textbook Quick Step win thanks to strength in numbers as Cavagna broke away with team mate Florian Sénéchal …who is promising too, still 24 after several seasons at Quick Step and he made Quick Step’s seven for the Tour of Flanders.

Fabio Jakobsen is one of this year’s neo-pros to watch and won the Scheldeprijs and Nokere Koerse. He’s a pure sprinter and very much in the mould of Dylan Groenewegen thanks to his explosive power. He seems bound to win more this season too.

Alvaro Hodeg has managed to get most people to say his name right by now. It’s “Hodge”, rhyming with “dodge” and he won the Handzame Classic in March. After Fernando Gaviria crashed out of Tirreno-Adriatico Hodeg seemed pop up as the new Colombian sprinter but they’re different, Gaviria is a lighter and more versatile rider while Hodeg is taller and heavier; a comparison would be to a young Marcel Kittel but that feels clumsy, and the Colombian’s hulk and bulk will make him a valuable lead out.

Cofidis put all their eggs in the basket marked Nacer Bouhanni and there’s now a gooey mess on the floor with team manager Cédric Vasseur declaring in this morning’s L’Equipe “I’m not even going to start him in a cyclosportive right now” given the doubts over his form and motivation. Whether this is the way to encourage Bouhanni back or whether there’s a total breakdown remains to be seen but Bouhanni’s absence has opened the door for Christophe Laporte. He was third on the opening stage of Paris-Nice with that long cobbled drag uphill, then fourth in Gent-Wevelgem and he could have been well into the top-10 in Sanremo were it not for tangling in the sprint and finding someone’s rear mech de-lacing his front wheel. The team will want to hang on to him but with his big build and lead-out experience he’s likely a target for other teams wanting a rider capable of being in the kopgroep.

There was a time when the Topsport Vlaanderen team had riders on a conveyor belt into the World Tour teams. Now it’s not so obvious. Amaury Capiot has had some good results, notably two top-10s and others have popped up in places.

Team Sky’s neo-pro Chris Lawless had a podium in the Scheldeprijs helped by the commissiares who eliminated many sprinters after they went through a level crossing. But he’d taken a sprint win in the Settimana Coppi e Bartali too and was a highlight for Sky in an otherwise forgettable cobbled classics campaign for them where Łukasz Wiśniowski made the podium in the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and then things went downhill.

Finally Vital Concept have had a tough baptism but Parisian Tanguy Turgis got them some headlines as the youngest rider to finish the race in 50 years. A mere anecdote by itself but he’s the youngest of three brothers with Jimmy and Anthony racing for Cofidis and said to be the best of them having plenty of success in the U23 ranks including the U23 Omloop Het Nieuwsblad being just 18 years old. He was picked up by the BMC Development team and rode the U23 Giro as a teenager but the team folded and he jumped at a pro contract.

Any more promising rides and riders? Please share your ideas in the comments.

32 thoughts on “The Cobbled Classics Revelations”

  1. Superb round-up, can’t argue with any of that. Some nice progression from Pascal Ackermann over the spring as well with 2nd at Scheldeprijs and Driedaagse van De Panne, 3rd at Handzame.

  2. I’ve been very impressed with Fabio Jakobsen. He came from way back and won Nokere Koerse by miles. He didn’t look too shabby at Scheldeprijs either. Quick Step might not have to worry about not having a fast finisher in the classics for too long. Reading about Pedersen he seems like the real deal too. Looking forward to his battles with Benoot and Van Aert in the years to come!

  3. The funny story of how Alvaro Hodge became Alvaro Hodeg :). It’s taken from

    “I promised to tell you a small secret. The secret is related to my name: H-O-D-G-E. Yes, you read it correct. About four years ago, I realized my name had been changed. Not my first name, Álvaro, but my surname, Hodge. Somehow and suddenly my identity papers said Hodeg and not Hodge, like it used to and like my family name is spelled.

    I never got to do anything about it, so now everybody knows me as Hodeg, even my website is called, but the correct spelling and pronunciation is actually Hodge – which to be fair, nobody in Colombia really understood how to pronounce. I inherited it from my great-grandfather, who was Scottish but left his country during the war with the hope of finding a place to settle down with better life opportunities. He came by boat, believing he was in the United States, but in fact he had arrived in Cartagena, Colombia. I am glad he did!”

  4. In my view the best one day Spring Classic this year was Paris – Roubaix.

    Two young riders that caught the attention this Spring were Bernal SKY and Sollar Movistar. Two young Colombian’s who are more than just climbers, and seem assured of a bright future

  5. Van Aert crashed at PR with Tony Martin and Anaud Demare. He was going well. Maybe he could finish in top ten too if he wasn’t crashed.

  6. not a revelation per se, but i enjoyed seeing Taylor Phinny deep into the race. either he’s finally getting fully recovered or he had a superb day, nonetheless it was a brief glimpse into ‘what could have been/could still be’.

    • Yeah, looks like his leg is finally coming back to full strength. He was really racing with sub-par power the past few seasons since that catastrophic accident.

      Plus, if you consider his super strict personal anti-doping policy it would be an interesting analysis to compare Taylor Phinney to a rider who was equally promising 8 years-ago, especially someone who may or may not use things like “finish bottles” or who are in the grey area of preparation techniques for races. It is very interesting that as a young man/teenager, Phinney was one of the world’s most talented riders, yet he appears to have been surpassed by his peers. How much of that is due to his broken leg 4 years ago remains to be seen.

      However, at 27, Taylor Phinney is really entering his prime and could potentially have 5-10 years of very competitive racing ahead of him!

      • Sorry – one more thing, I found a quote from last summer’s TdF where Phinney said the power in his weak leg was still 25% below that of the other. Under that status, he still finished the Tour and is presumably better than that now, after finishing 8th at Paris-Roubaix.

        I’m really really hoping that he can keep building and then really compete in the Classics over the next 5-10 years. That would be a major win for clean cycling.

      • i was a nay-sayer of his for years and it’s nice to have egg on my face over it. his tenacity and motivation is extraordinary given the circumstances. especially good on Ochowitz and Vaughters for seeing his continued potential and rolling the dice to support him.

        • Me too, I thought for years he’s not living up to his potential… but then I recently realised that his win in the Espoirs Paris-Roubaix against 21-23 year-olds was at the age of TWENTY! And then he came fourth at Eneco Tour at age 21. Amazing stuff, beating men much older and further developed than himself.

          I suspect that the season of his massive crash was him showing his true potential. And in 2012 Tony Martin only beat him by 5 seconds at the 2012 Worlds TT.

          I bet he’ll put on some really special rides over next 5 years. As you said, great on Ochowitz and Vaughters to have faith in him.

          • Yeah got to give it to TP, he hung tough worked hard in the last 10K to just to finish
            in the top ten.

            Perhaps his genetics and not “finish bottles” have something to do with it.

          • @OtherSteve – interesting reference to the Finish Bottle. I was unacquainted with this phenomenon and so googled it – of course I came upon an intelligently written Inrng piece from a few years back (link below). Scary stuff, if you ask me! And I concur with the sentiment above, in support of TP re-discovering his form.


          • It’s still something to think about. While some teams and riders try to be strict on things like tramadol and cortisone, others have less concerns and if these substances are not banned they can still be harmful to health, especially indirectly given using/abusing opiates can increase the chance of crashing and cortisone can depress the body’s natural ability to inflame tissue damaged in the event of an impact which matters if an organ or even the brain is impacted. But this is all a reoccurring topic here, but one new thing is that the UCI has just appointed a new medic to work on ways to monitor and even try to ban these things.

  7. I think Amund Grondahl Jansen (LottoNL-Jumbo) has had a great season so far. Great work ethic for Dylan Gronewegen in the sprints, and has been really good and aggressive in both Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Paris-Roubaix (up against some top-top names). Still lacking the last gear to fight for victories, but 16th place in Paris-Roubaix at 24 er quite a decent achievement. Plenty more to come from this guy. Future classics roadcaptain. Also has a good sprint in smaller groups.

  8. Nils Politt had a nice cobbled classics season…he had a top 10 in Roubaix and was in the top 20 in Flanders, plus a podium in Paris-Nice. I think he could be a threat as soon as next year.

  9. The biggest revelation for me was Sagan. He executed his move in PR to perfection. He has the talent to win any cobbled Classic since 2013, and still, untill last Sunday, he only took 1 win out of 5 possible Flanders and 4 possible Roubaix. With PR he really cemented his status as a favourite to actually win those races in the coming 5 years. He only needs to improve his riding style on cobbles, if you saw his ride on pave Hem, he was very prone to puncture, constantly drifting with that last bit of pressure in his tubulars.

    • The question which needs to be raised is if what Sagan should actually aim at is *focusing* on the cobbled Classics in the next five years or so.
      It’s not like I’ve got an answer, but what makes Sagan special aren’t surely his pavé skills, which are all the same no less than notable – as most he does (since his Liquigas years we’ve been told how terrible his style was for the cobbles, and yet… apparently the whole ends up working, with its ups and downsides, too, although he’ll never float over the pavé as Boonen).
      Rather, I’d say that the most impressive thing always was how *at ease* he found himself winning on very different terrains.
      I still remember his very first victory as a pro in Pa-Ni, but that’s something he’s gone on confirming year after year, winning hard stages at the TdF, the Tirreno, the TdS which would have proven next to impossible for Boonen, Cancellara and so on.
      And we can’t even say that he’s already evolved in a different direction in recent years: in fact, two of his last 5 victories came on what can be deemed as forbidden grounds for the sprinters, on terrains which looked equally open to one-day specialists and GC riders.
      For sure, he’d deserve to win once again the Flanders and the Roubaix… but, as a fan, I’d prefer him to *strive for five*. Or even for four!
      Would it really make sense to spend the rest of his career struggling – well, or not! – to enter the *dirty dozen* riders who won more than one Roubaix? And same can be said about Flanders (13 riders winning it more than once; six of them shared with the Roubaix stat).
      After all, the palmarés is about “becoming what you are” – and Sagan is much more than a cobbles specialist.
      Of course, the risk is that trying to become the next Emperor, Peter I renounces to become another Rik I (which has the most similar palmarés to him, presently, GCs apart), but then completely fails to become like Rik II, and finds himself ranked even below, say, a Kuiper in the dynastic line, thus in the noble but not imperial company of, dunno, Tchmil, Tafi, Freire (for different reasons).
      Worth the risk? Very hard to say.
      I tend to criticise riders – read: their trainers – who try to twist their “natural” skills (Sunday’s Amstel makes me think abuot Cunego, soon to retire, who spoilt his qualities looking for ITT skills which wouldn’t ever come to him).
      In Sagan’s case the fact is precisely that I’m not sure that looking for something different would mean “twisting his skills”.
      I’ve long thought that Valverde should have tried to win more Monuments rather than insisting with his obstinate GC hunt in GTs. And I still believe that it’s a shame he never won a Lombardia or a Sanremo. But, at the end of the day, I must admit that podiuming in the three GTs is much more about “becoming what he is” rather than getting a broader set of Classics (by the way, I’ve recently read an Unzué interview which confirms that the man hates the cobbles while Valverde would have been keen to try them more often; and, yes, he didn’t start Flanders because of the Echavarri homage).
      Back to Sagan, then over and out: he never raced Paris-Tour (he should), I hope he gets an Amstel (it’s quite much made for him), San Sebastián wouldn’t be a crazy call and even the Fléche might be an option (would need a slightly different weight?). But I’m pretty much sure that commercial reasons will keep him tightly loyal to his present choices, at least as long as “minor” races are concerned. Well, at least that’s good for the rest of fans all over the world.

      • I agree with everything you wrote above. Even if he is not winning everything in spades, he is something special. You don’t have to evaluate Sagan with statistics to know he’s a special kind of talent, but the paradox is thattthe feestneus of a rider is still measured in the number of big victories. Even with more than 120 victories in the bag, Sagan still seems to be a rider who is scrutinized for the number of races he could have won though…

      • I am totally in line with that. Sagan has now ronde and roubaix. He should try to go to other races too, as Amstel, but also Liège and Lombardy (on last year route, seems complicated for him, tough…).
        I also agree on what you say about Valverde. I think MSR and surely Lombardy are in his skills. And I am quite convinced he could be in contention for the Ronde too. Better that than doing 3 GT in a year with good placings.
        AS far as I am concerned, I consider that with the last MSR Nibali has gained a place in cycling memories that other, maybe more successfull GT riders, won’t never have.

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