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Highlights of 2019 – Part I

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Time to look back at the 2019 season, to select a few highlights for review and the chance to add some hindsight. In no particular order, here’s the Amstel Gold Race.

The women’s race had been enjoyable with Kasia Niewiadoma finally winning a big race. She’s only 25 but has seemed to close to a big win for so long and she took a satisfying solo win with suspense although not local delight given she kept the likes of Marianne Vos and Annemiek van Vleuten at bay.

The men’s race wasn’t lively until late. Things began to stir with Mathieu van der Poel’s attack on the Gulperberg with 45km to go, and the early breakaway still up the road. Once the frenzy of the attack was over, everyone took stock. Van der Poel’s attack seemed premature twice over, too early for the race and not wise enough either. He had Gorka Izagirre for company but that just meant Astana had placed a rider on his wheel and behind whole teams were still able to chase and van der Poel was using up some of his prodigious energy. Van der Poel accepted this and took a drink in an exaggerated manner to signal he was sitting up.

The race could have calmed down but Deceuninck-Quickstep got to work and Dries Devenyns did a long pull which split the field and Julian Alaphilippe then took off solo with 36km and soon Jacob Fuglsang came across. The two looked strong but just like the Strade Bianche in March the result looked inevitable: Alaphilippe would smoke Fuglsang in a sprint. Only this scenario wasn’t certain with Michał Kwiatkowski and Matteo Trentin chasing, often 15-20 seconds for the best part of 30km.

Behind the remnants of the peloton were firing off solo moves, Max Schachmann went clear and started to chase solo. Bauke Mollema and Simon Clarke were in tandem behind him. Then Romain Bardet jumped away. On the final climb of the Bemelerbeg with 7km to go, van der Poel slipped away along with Valentin Madouas, Bjorg Lambrecht and Alessandro de Marchi.

It meant a lot of riders contained into a minute spread and with five kilometres to go van der Poel was towing his group, roared on by home crowds. After catching Bardet with 2.5km they caught Clarke and Mollema to make a sizeable group. Van der Poel was working but others were taking their turns and their work meant they were closing in.

With 1.5km to go Fuglsang and Alaphilippe were nonchalantly marking each other, apparently the pair both thought they had a more comfortable cushion after getting advice via their radios and from the race director from his car. In reality they had a small gap and Kwiatkowski had them in sight at the flamme rouge and the van der Poel group was only a few seconds further behind. Kwiatkowski surged past Alaphilippe and Fuglsang but van der Poel kept towing and with 300m to go opened up his sprint. Simon Clarke might have thought he was getting a leadout royale but this was van der Poel who days earlier had lead out the likes of Alaphilippe and Michael Matthews in the Brabantse Pijl and there was no stopping the Dutch champion.

Embed from Getty Images

Why the highlight?
A thrilling finish. Plenty of races can have an exciting finale but this was surprising and confounding as riders we’d assumed were totally out of contention suddenly wrote themselves back into contention, first Kwiatkowski and then van der Poel. Van der Poel towed the group in the finish and then had the energy to win the sprint, there was moral satisfaction in seeing him take the rewards rather than being sniped on the line by a cunning rival.

With hindsight
It wasn’t the best race ever, just a lively finish. For five hours the Amstel was formulaic, a benign breakaway going clear at the start. Things came alive in the finish, in part thanks to the casual attitude of Alaphilippe and Fuglsang and the determination of the chasers who kept going. All this was compounded by a communication breakdown, the time gaps given by race radio and the TV graphics were wrong and so the riders in the lead thought they had time on their side when behind the chasers could see for themselves where the leaders were taking visual clues from the helicopters and race vehicles and could feel they were closing in. For all this van der Poel’s sprint left no doubt, he hit the front early but riders queuing on his wheel were powerless to try and emerge from his slipstream. Days before Brabantse Pijl was a big clue with van der Poel winning in a very long sprint, this time keeping Julian Alaphilippe at bay.

Bjorg Lambrecht had also featured in the Brabantse Pijl and the Amstel, impressive for a rider who had just turned 21 but he died in August after a freak accident during the Tour de Pologne. It’s painful to review this was and see someone in their element.

The Amstel turned many conventions on their heads. A rider from a tiny Pro Continental team demolished entire World Tour squads; although it still helps to have helpers. His path to the classics was different too, he rode fewer races and often much smaller, lower status events… and then after the Amstel went onto the mountain bike circuit. It makes Peter Sagan look conventional and conservative. He can do this because he’s successful, it’d be hard – read impossible – for a mid-level pro to dabble their disciplines like this without being told to focus. Lastly with van der Poel Correndon-Circus ought to find plenty of doors opening for them but they’re not an MPCC member team, the self-regulatory group which has led on issues like Tramadol and Cortisone abuse and so far ASO doesn’t just prefer MPCC teams, it’s issued 100% of its invitations to them so a Paris-Roubaix isn’t automatic.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • StevhanTI Wednesday, 27 November 2019, 11:01 am

    I bet Don Lefevere starts cursing loudly again when he reads this blog post 😉

  • KevinK Wednesday, 27 November 2019, 11:33 am

    This day of racing was definitely a huge highlight for the season. I like that you started with Niewiadoma’s win. I absolutely loved the way she rode at the end, never looking back and clearly gutting herself. You could see her making the calculation that she’d rather risk collapsing just before the finish than riding a calculating race to save something for the very end.

    This race made me a believer in the the system of have men and women ride roughly the same course, with the same finish, on the same day. It gave viewers a lot of great action to watch during what would have been the doldrums of the men’s race, and it got the women’s race a lot of extra viewers I’m sure. I know it introduces some logistical issues, but it has to also be vastly cheaper and easier than doing two completely separate races.

    I have nothing to add to your review of the men’s race, except to say you captured it so well. It was thrilling to see the calculations of Alaphilippe so thoroughly destroyed. He’s a thrilling rider, but too often rides in a way that feels excessively selfish. I know it’s just part of the game, to try to manipulate other riders into riding your race and not theirs, but it’s nice to see the occasional consequences.

    Very interesting about the MPCC/ASO connection. I had no idea about that, and will be interesting to see how it plays out.

    • Pilgrim Thursday, 28 November 2019, 11:28 am

      Apparently VdP has been training on the Roubaix course this week, which is either a nod to his team getting the nod or a subtle way of putting pressure on the organisers!

      • Vieux chnoque Thursday, 28 November 2019, 8:01 pm

        Jumbo-Visma and Van Aert were there too. Van Aert wasn’t bad last year.

        • StevhanTI Friday, 29 November 2019, 7:10 am

          Usually Le Dauphiné features in the annual highlights of INRNg, so I think we’ll hear about WVA later

    • Frood Thursday, 28 November 2019, 12:30 pm

      Yes, the MPCC thing is interesting and I was unaware it had such power, at least for ASO. Obviously it doesn’t trump WT status but it’s a signal that a voluntary movement can effect real change in the sport, even at this high level (albeit invitees only). Having said that MVDP will probably encourage them to engineer a loophole, in which case, forget everything I just wrote!

      • Ecky Thump Friday, 29 November 2019, 8:20 am

        Definitely interesting to note ASO’s connection with MPCC, but I’d still wager that the commercial advantages of seeing MvdP on a Canyon Aeroad (or, who knows, perhaps even a new Canyon Roubaix-specific model?) will ensure that he and his team are present at the race.

    • JeroenK Friday, 29 November 2019, 1:39 pm

      Or VDP’s team will simply join the MPCC or make clear they are preparing to do so if the procedure takes time, which I don’t know.

      If I am not mistaken, Corendon-Circus have only recently upgraded itself to Pro Continental team, after a lower grade was good enough for just cyclocross at that time. It’s not surprising at all that they have not been able to tick all the boxes yet – growing into a self supporting road team to ride some big races last spring probably was a challenge of its own.

  • Sam G Wednesday, 27 November 2019, 1:02 pm

    I think the way the camera footage was edited (and potential incorrect timings), made this race appear a lot more remarkable than it was. The chasing groups were always a lot closer on the road that it appeared on TV. Nevertheless, it was a fantastic last 50k to watch even if we were watching alternative facts.

    • KevinK Wednesday, 27 November 2019, 2:57 pm

      What made it remarkable was seeing MvdP ignore conventional logic, and just go for it. And then manage to actually get the win in such decisive fashion. There were plenty of races this year when the chasing group wasn’t massively far behind, and you had anti-climactic finishes. Again and again the rider who made the bold move ended up pulling along an opportunist or two who stole the win. Or, the rider who was the logical one to make that bold move from the chase group decides that they don’t want to pull others to the finish line only to get third place (which has become Sagan’s MO recently). So you have these frustrating situations where the rider with the best sprint among the break-away riders plays cat-and-mouse, all while the chase group behind marks each other. This Amstel Gold race tore that tired script to bits.

    • Flávio Wednesday, 27 November 2019, 3:29 pm

      The footage also made it seem like MvdP was always towing the group when in reality everyone was working, even if he did more pulls, still a great win but not the impossible feat lots of people made up to be at the time

    • Cd Wednesday, 27 November 2019, 4:36 pm

      I happened to be on the Bemelerberg that day and when MvdP went by that last time nobody there thought he had a chance. The gap was big and he led his group up the hill with the others looking like they were just able to hold his wheel. But then watching the finale there on the big screen and to see that finish was awesome. Great day. Amstel Gold is a great race to watch in person as you can see the races go by 6-7 times between the men’s and women’s race. Good choice for highlight of the year.

  • Mats Wednesday, 27 November 2019, 6:18 pm

    Amstel is still THE highlight of this year. Thank you, for bringing it up. Amstel is always a great race but 2019 is the one I will remember.

  • 3rdMoment Wednesday, 27 November 2019, 10:48 pm

    The time gaps shown on TV were pretty accurate, despite what everyone says. If you don’t believe me, get the video and a stopwatch and check for yourself, as I have done.

    Here are some gaps calculated by some people on the cyclingnews forum:

    • KevinK Saturday, 30 November 2019, 1:59 pm

      I appreciate the reality check, and the push back on the idea that the only thing remarkable about this finish was misleading camera work and faulty information. I do wonder now if Van Der Poel’s willingness to make such an insanely bold move will be tempered by his collapse at the Worlds.

      • DavidK Sunday, 1 December 2019, 2:28 am

        There’s a superb analysis in The Road Book this year about the effort MvdP makes in the latter stages of this race. It highlights how ridiculously gifted he is in terms of his power output. But also how inefficient many of his attacks in the race were.
        It is of course being wise after the fact but I don’t think it’s a stretch to suggest this was partly the day he lost the World’s. Not a criticism necessarily, but the lesson he will hopefully learn. He overestimated his invincibility in winning the AGR.

        • KevinK Sunday, 1 December 2019, 9:40 am

          That makes sense. I think his easy domination of cyclocross races (much shorter, multiple laps over the same course) left him relatively untutored in the nuances of power management in 5-6 hour road races. I think this somewhat more innocent and less calculated riding style is part of what makes him so fun to watch. But, as you say, it comes with a price, and he will surely become more calculating going forward.

  • Larry T Thursday, 28 November 2019, 8:15 am

    Could this race have been exciting because of the “Fog of War”? Or at least inaccurate information being relayed to the riders via technology? Of course not! We all know race radios are essential for….uh…what is it again?……..oh yes….SAFETY, according to the team directors barking race details and strategies into the earpieces of their robots…….er…………..riders.
    In this case it all had to go wrong for it to go right – too bad we can’t have more of this 🙁

    • Pilgrim Thursday, 28 November 2019, 11:30 am

      I can’t think of many other professional sports, particularly endurance sports, where coaches don’t have opportunities to coach mid-event. Whether a time-out, touchline coaching, breaks in play or in-helmet advice, it’s simply part of pro sport isn’t it? I’m not sure you can have a pro sport in a pro marketplace adopting a Corinthian ethos?

      • Larry T Thursday, 28 November 2019, 12:08 pm

        I’ll discount your “marketplace” reference and ask why the hell not? Back in the golden age(s) of the sport (you can choose the time period) the DS had to drive a car up there in order to yell out orders, which added a time gap during which an escape could be made, while the orders were far from secret unless I guess the DS and rider shared a code or something? Otherwise the riders had to think for themselves. Dunno why that can’t be the case today. Technology ruins sport far more often than it improves it.

        • Pilgrim Thursday, 28 November 2019, 12:25 pm

          So no gears, helmets, skin suits, energy bars? At what point in the sport’s history is the right level of lo-tech/no-tech? It’s a sport and a business, not an eroica.

          • Larry T Thursday, 28 November 2019, 4:29 pm

            Good question! And great that you noted EROICA, which I’m sure you know means heroic in English. Are the riders of today, who have someone to do everything for them but wipe their arse so they only have to pedal the bike, as heroic as those who muscled up the unpaved climbs wearing heavy wool clothing back-in-the-day? Comparing the crowds at the roadside and the popularity of the sport in general then vs now would suggest not, IMHO.
            I think there are plenty who read this blog who would put a technology stop sign up at some point, the question is where – perhaps a topic for a future feature from Mr. INRNG?
            IMHO the UCI’s “primacy of man over machine” at least should preclude the use by the competitors of any and all gizmos powered by electricity – radios, power-meters, servo-motor controlled shifting, heart rate monitors, even cyclometers.

          • plurien Friday, 29 November 2019, 10:35 am

            Yes Larry, but leave room for hair shirts when you set up this low-tech no-tech league of yours.
            When you have riders to look after in any race situation you will do whatever you can to make their racing day flow smoothly- because that is the best way to help them win and to keep on winning.

          • Larry T Friday, 29 November 2019, 1:21 pm

            Plurien – are the UCI’s current limits about right? Too lenient? Too draconian? I find it interesting that you have decided what I might like requires a hair shirt when all I proposed was a ban on gizmos using electricity.
            Where would YOU draw the line on technology? Should we let the sport “evolve” so they can ride fully-faired recumbents? Or how ’bout the full evolution of the two wheeled vehicle – they could race around France on Ducati Panigale V4’s and the like?

          • plurien Friday, 29 November 2019, 3:31 pm

            OK Boomer

            Someone had to say it

          • plurien Saturday, 30 November 2019, 10:55 am

            You should always call out people who write stuff like this;
            “Are the riders of today, who have someone to do everything for them but wipe their arse so they only have to pedal the bike, as heroic as those who muscled up the unpaved climbs wearing heavy wool clothing back-in-the-day?”
            -If you’re so vested in cycle sport being what you want it to be – stuck in the 80s just before STI levers, composites and some supposedly noble idea of grinta – the best for everyone could be for you to hold back on such denigrating comment. Show some respect.
            So no, by comparison it was not rude to shortcut my comment to ‘ok boomer’.
            The sport has moved on. Riders have power meters, navigational aids, lighter stronger materials, they work using communications, but you know what; none of this does the parcours for them and they are not going to be restricted to doing their tough and dangerous job by us armchair experts.
            Read back some of your comments and learn to at least accept what the sport is now, or just dust off your VHS collection and leave it before 1990. Please.

          • noel Friday, 29 November 2019, 3:31 pm

            I’m with Larry here – no electricity on the bike or rider… simple.

            Of course I realise that for the industry to flog all their Di2 kits and power meters etc we all have to see our heroes using them, and the manufacturers sponsor a large part of the peleton, so it’s never going to happen…

          • Larry T Friday, 29 November 2019, 4:42 pm

            Plurien – Nobody had to say that. And not-so-cleverly, your insult was an attempt to avoid the question as to what YOU would suggest as to technology rules.
            Is the “primacy of man over machine” something you think has value?

          • plurien Saturday, 30 November 2019, 10:57 am

            Reply posted itself above for some reason..?

          • Larry T Saturday, 30 November 2019, 3:13 pm

            Plurien- Geez, I guess I should have been happy with “OK Boomer” since all you did was pile on more insults (but still) without taking much of a position yourself. I could go on about how some generations seem to find it easy to whip up fauxtrage but seem like snowflakes when it comes to putting their own opinion up for others to possibly criticize. They know what they don’t like, but have a tough time making it clear what they do like…..like whiny toddlers. Don’t know if you’re in that generation but….

          • plurien Sunday, 1 December 2019, 11:01 am

            Larry. I’m in favour of race radios, power meters, composites, helmets, eye protection, tech fabrics, women in racing (actually would like to see mixed team events) long stages, short stages, safe parcours ( meaning risk assessments and method statements) because they make the racing better. None of this has any bearing on the massive amount of respect I have for riders who’ve had to close off lots of other possibilities in life to focus on pro cycling and all that entails. They mostly don’t cheat and they abhor those who do. The majority are poorly paid, even in some of the top teams and theres a huge cadre of amateurs underneath that prop up the sport with their sweat equity. Occasionally they die or have career- ending injuries in a flash. Riders are expected to race for more days than in t’olden times and there are a lot more travel days too. The scrutiny of riders through media and proprietary outlets is immense.
            Yet all you can contribute is a whine – your term- and deploy the snowflake epithet, as if this will sway your argument for low tech no tech formula. It is so over, that you have to accept your earlier comments about riders then Vs riders now is completely OT and disrespectful of the sport you surely want us to know is your passion. This sport is the passion of everyone who’s on here thanks to the deeply researched and thoughtful writing of INRNG. Your case for retro racing is heard, rejected and lost in the court of the pro peloton. Please move on and think about what happens when pointing the finger.

      • JeroenK Friday, 29 November 2019, 5:25 pm

        @Pilgrim, no matter what they do in other sports, if the attractiveness of cycling is enhanced by not having riders directed by their team cars, why would we not want that?

        I am pro ear pieces, but the communication should be open for all to hear including television. That’ll pretty much ruin a competitive advantage for anyone and benefits safety. If we want technology to play a role, better make it a good one.

    • Larry T Monday, 2 December 2019, 12:47 pm

      Plurien – no problem. I think we should leave this as-is as we’ve likely already bored most everyone. I’m going to write an essay explaining my thoughts on technology in cycling and will offer a link so anyone who is interested can go there and those who are not can move on to something more interesting.

  • weeclarky Thursday, 28 November 2019, 10:46 am

    aaaahhh, still 3 more months to go…!

  • Ecky Thump Friday, 29 November 2019, 8:43 am

    Perhaps we should add that this was one of the very few Spring Classics that wasn’t on lockdown by DQS – it should have been but they were well and truly burgled that day – and the race was all the more memorable for it. This is no slight against the Belgians as they were in superb form and virtually swept aside all rivals in many ways but a Dutch win, on home turf, to upset the odds was a real highlight.

    • Ecky Thump Friday, 29 November 2019, 9:00 am

      And whilst this race announced van der Poel’s arrival to the World Tour big-time, I wonder in hindsight the possible implications it had and may have for his future chances.
      Was it a coincidence that it was Fuglsang’s Danish team that cracked van der Poel at the Yorkshire World Championships later that season?
      And what of next season, will DQS’ wolf pack look to hunt down van der Poel in the same merciless way that eventually brought down a rampaging Sagan?

      • KevinK Saturday, 30 November 2019, 1:55 pm

        I’ve had very similar thoughts. Looking forward to seeing how it plays out in 2020.

  • plurien Friday, 29 November 2019, 10:37 am

    You did a good thing to honour Bjorg Lambrecht.

  • RQS Saturday, 30 November 2019, 8:23 am

    How about a list of top 10 amazing finishes from the years? Or top ten ‘defeat, snatched from the jaws of victory’?

    MVdPs pull was something to behold. I think secretly every bike fan has the inner longing to see their hero just blow away the opposition defying the laws of aerodynamics in the process. This was very much the appeal of Pantani for many, though I must admit I struggled with his authenticity. His defeat by Armstrong in 2000 proved to me that Armstrong was cheating. They both were!

  • Rod Saturday, 30 November 2019, 8:45 am

    Primacy of man vs. machine? I’d say yes. Exclusive emphasis on “man” without any technological “pollution”. Hell no. I’d be watching running.

    Maybe some bike fans would like the old days of Legrange, fixed gears and desires for only a single finisher to be the heroic winner, where teamwork was discouraged until it became laughably untenable to do so. I’d say for a large part of the cycling enthusiasts the coupling of man and machine to achieve what man alone can’t do is part of the appeal. For more “purity” there is Keirin. Maybe that’s where the “old times nostalgists” should spend their time and money – standardized equipment, lo-tech bicycles, minimization of team effects and basically irrelevant DS/Coaching instruction during the events.

    The lines are, admittedly, arbitrary. I’m ok with gears. I’m ok with electronic shifting. I’m ok with deep wheels. I’m ok with riders not needing to raid cafes and having to man their own forges to rebuild their broken forks. I’m ok with strong, safe bikes that meet some sort of safety standard instead of a technologically inconsequential weight minimum. I’m also ok with a professional body of support staff that takes care of the mechanical, physiological, psychological and sporting needs of these athletes.

    I’m not ok with recumbents, not ok with motors that propel the bicycles, not ok with courses that introduce unreasonable risks to the riders (e.g. unmarked bollards or those that allow motorized traffic extraneous to the race). But there’s a reason many of us like the conjugation of human and human-ingenuity for self-propelled racing, not just the “primacy of man over machine”. If you loathe the machine’s impact, it’s easy to find sports with less technological influence.

    • Larry T Saturday, 30 November 2019, 3:24 pm

      Yet you draw a firm line against the “human-ingenuity” of recumbents, fairings or motors for some reason, just as the UCI does at present. Is it just coincidence that you are content with things as they currently are? The UCI cites “primacy of man over machine” pretty much every time they ban some technological “advancement” so I guess you’re OK with that?

      • Rod Sunday, 1 December 2019, 8:37 am

        Yes, I also said it was arbitrary – and by no means inferred to be “correct”.

        I would elaborate further but I don’t feel like you are interested in having an actual discussion with me. Otherwise you’have acknowledged I don’t see the point in a weight limit, nor a “firm line”on anything. Nor am I “happy with everything”, with banning the mantis or superman positions or many other situations (wheel size?). But since in your mind this is all defined just carry on, mate. I should have remembered our preceding interactions.

        • Larry T Sunday, 1 December 2019, 10:03 am

          No problem. For some crazy reason I’m interested in where folks WOULD draw a line or if they’d draw one at all? So many assume if you want controls on technology it means you want the sport to go back to single speeds and wingnuts holding the wheels on and that technology somehow always improves sport. Many seem just fine with the march of technology, but then draw the line at recumbents or streamlining like an enclosure or fairing – so I’m curious as to where (and why) they draw the line where they do.
          Many seem OK with the UCI rules, but then go on to criticize the minimum weight requirement. Others are certain about what they don’t want but can’t explain why (or worse) explain what they do want.
          I enjoy a healthy, respectful argument/debate which can usually be found here but don’t want to get into fights, so if you want to leave it here, that’s fine by me. 🙂

  • John Irvine Sunday, 1 December 2019, 8:28 pm

    I wonder if this was the moment Kwiatkowski’s heart went out for the season?

  • Frederick Norton Sunday, 1 December 2019, 8:38 pm

    no doubt a worthy highlight #1. i think mvdp’s amstel ride (really his whole year) is a harbinger of a decade or more to come – yikes! i’ll speculate on #2. lots of tour stages this year were better than usual, but i’d put degendt’s solo ahead of pinot and alaphillipe just ahead of pinot’s 2nd place mtn finish. the gaps between winner and chasers and best of the rest are smaller than ever but the race winning efforts are no less spectacular. Degendts precision of effort and brute all day power were awe inducing.

  • John Irvine Monday, 2 December 2019, 6:37 pm

    Just re-watched the last 25k. I think MVdP’s own reaction to his win also made it something else. He seemed as stunned and shocked as anyone. Watching the collapse and exhaustion turn to shock and amazement and joy was really great.

  • Scott Tuesday, 3 December 2019, 9:19 am

    Amstel Gold was an okay race but one I feel could have been summed up in an hours highlights show. The women’s race on the other hand was extremely enjoyable. There were some exciting moves and Kasia Niewiadoma really showed wisdom beyond her years to win the race.