The Moment The World Championships Were Won

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One metre, two metres. Alexey Lutsenko might have fancied his chances in a two-up sprint but Remco Evenepoel wasn’t going to risk that. Evenepoel attacks on the penultimate climb up Mount Plesant and it’s going, going, Wollongong.

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Under sunny skies the race had a lively start. The French coach Thomas Voeckler wanted to exploit the long climb of Mount Keira and deployed Bruno Armirail and Pavel Sivakov to blow the race apart. A maxi-breakaway went clear that was packed with star names like Wout van Aert and Tadej Pogačar. One rider who wasn’t there was Mathieu van der Poel, a hotel blue saw him arrested by the police overnight which left him both sleepy and with his mind elsewhere and he soon quit the race.

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Once you get a group of more then ten it loses cohesion, too many riders can sit on and even those taking turns can ease through. Sure enough it began to splinter, with even Pogačar himself hammering up the first climb of Mount Pleasant. But it all came back together except for a few survivors, a blend of the early breakaway and a handful who had gone clear on Mount Keira and it felt like the peloton, led by Germany and the Netherlands, had the measure of them.

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With 76km to go, France’s Quentin Pacher launched up the climb of Mount Pleasant and a sizeable group went clear with Remco Evenepoel in there. There were some strong riders in the move like Romain Bardet and Alexey Lutsenko but Evenepoel arguably the only top favoriet there.

Two laps later and with the gap out to two minutes riders in the bunch behind attacked up the climb but this was more a last roll of the dice, no team could bring back the breakaway. The flurry saw the gap almost halve to a minute but as ever, the last part of the gap is the hardest to close and the likes of Pogačar, Madouas and Van Aert marked each other.

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Evenepoel’s presence in the move was like a gun on the table in a Chekhov play: he was going to attack, it was just a matter of when. Rivals had two options, to pray they could stay with him when he attacked or to pre-empt his move and try to go clear themselves so that by the time he made his move he’d pass them at cruising speed and they might have a better chance of holding on. Romain Bardet went for the first plan and followed two of Evenepoel’s attacks; Alexey Lutsenko and Pascal Eenkhoorn tried the other tactic. Neither worked, nobody could get a gap… and then Bardet couldn’t follow another attack.

Evenepoel used a downhill run on the approach to the finish line and a tight bend for his attack, exploiting the speed and his compact position to get an advantage on the others. This time Lutsenko went with him and the pair worked together. You could see it was panic stations behind but a classic stand-off too, the Zugzwang scenario where if someone chased hard they’d be worse relative to their rivals.

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So we had a lead duo. Lutsenko’s a versatile rider and packs a potent sprint, he was not someone Evenepoel would have wanted to take to the line. Indeed Evenepoel never seems to take anyone to the line. So he used the climb to go clear. It was Going, going… Wollon-gone. He was away. There’s a certainty, an inevitability, an invincibility when Evenepoel goes clear that nobody else enjoys. Anyone else going solo with 35km to go would be struggling and liable to implode but with Evenepoel it feels different, it’s much more certain.

Attention quickly turned to who would join him on the podium. Lutsenko was by himself for a long while but got caught on the descent to the finish by others who’d been in the breakaway with Evenepoel since Pacher split the field. It looked like they’d be sprinting for the medals but then Jan Tratnik appeared out of nowhere and suddenly the bunch came in with Christophe Laporte outsprinting Michael Matthews, the surprise heightened by the sluggish TV production which struggled to keep up with a lot of the action. For Laporte, a surprise silver and salvation for the French who tried to shape the race only for their moves to pave the way for Evenepoel, he was always going to win but sitting tight on Mount Keira helped while the French got to work, Pacher’s later move was when Evenepoel slipped away from his big rivals. Matthews gets another podium finish, plus in these times a handy 400 UCI points to all but ensure BikeExchange stay in the World Tour but that’s a story for another day.

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The Verdict
A lively race with an enjoyable start. Mount Keira didn’t determine the result but it probably got plenty of Europeans out of bed early. The race took on a more habitual format with the early break and then ever-faster laps until Evenepoel attacked several times, finally going clear with Lutsenko and then solo. We don’t need hindsight to say the win was obvious, it felt like it in the moment. But the missing ingredient for a vintage edition was a sprinkling of more stars in the Evenepoel group, things could have been closer if, say, Pogačar was in the move.

The Worlds is a particular race where how it is won the day matters, but who wears the rainbow jersey for the year counts for plenty as well. Someone can snipe Sanremo or rob Roubaix and it’s great for them and a triumph for an underdog but with the Worlds, ideally a champion wins so they can show off the jersey next year. Evenepoel’s bound to wear the rainbow stripes in style but he’ll face an off-season with its challenges, he’s already public property in Belgium and now he’ll be even more in demand.

Liège-Bastogne-Liège, the Vuelta, the Worlds and more this season, Evenepoel’s palmarès is impressive. But he’s not the new Merckx. If there was an inevitability about Merckx winning each time, at least they never knew how he was going to win. Would he go solo, win from a group, or boss the bunch sprint? With Evenepoel it’s solo only, but that’s all the more impressive to pull off.

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88 thoughts on “The Moment The World Championships Were Won”

  1. 4000 metres of elevation gain on 266 km resulting in an impressive 42,6 kph (!!!) average speed. A fast race. That’s why heavy weight champions like Kristoff and Sagan sprinted for the medals despite that big elevation gain.
    So momentum probably helped a lot on those wide roads to overcome a considerable share of the elevation gain.
    But still the winner won with the biggest margin in a WC race for over 50 years.
    Let this sink in for a while.
    The kid is the real deal.

    • The winning margin is impressive… but also depends on what was happening behind. The chasers knew they couldn’t get him so started to play for the other medals but this looks to have cost them as the bunch, which was out of the picture for the final phase of the race suddenly reappeared.

      • I’d say that anything over 2 minutes is impressive regardless of what was happening behind. It was tough to keep track of precisely what the peloton was doing, but it appeared that the climb functioned to disrupt teams enough that they simply didn’t have the power to cohesively chase (either waiting for team leaders or domestiques to get back on as the peloton splintered – all the while Evenepoel was going at the same speed or quicker up the climb). The margin he put into the rest of break was similarly impressive – no other superstars but some super powerful riders working well together (until the last 2 km!).

      • There wasn’t much coverage of the peleton but we did see WvA bossing the climb and covering an attack so I’m guessing they more or less gave up too.

  2. Once the group that Evenepoel was in got a minute there was an air of inevitability that rather killed the race as a spectacle, as impressive as his rise undoubtedly was.

    Feels like we’re in a bit of a golden age at the moment with so many top riders around. A couple of iffy grand tours and an early DNF here and it already feels like MvdP is yesterdays news! I hope Evenepoel goes toe to toe with Pogacar in Lombardia next week but I’d imagine he’ll be a bit hungover.

  3. Really sorry for Van de Poel, it seems that a group of girls kept banging on his bedroom door when he had gone to bed early. Finally he opened it , confronted them and wooof , he’s in the police station. Of course, he should have phoned reception and complained, but that doesn’t always work in hotels with fewer staff now.

    Perhaps riders should be housed in Olympic type accommodation before these sorts of events?

      • Probably the nearest/best place for the Dutch team. Reminds me of the Bouhanni incident when he broke his hand punching a rowdy hotel guest and missed out on the Tour. Where’s team management in these incidents?

        • That’s the thing I don’t understand. Obviously they blew it by putting him on a floor with the general public. But, after that mistakethe right thing to do here is for MvDP to call one of the managers and have them sit outside the room to make sure no one disturbed him. Or even have his girlfriend do that.

          I wonder if he didn’t call or if they weren’t smart enough to handle the situation.

        • It had slipped my mind that the race actually started in Helensburg which makes the decision a bit less unusual. Just the same Brighton would seem well removed from the atmosphere of the race.

      • Wollongong is not a big city so the hotel options are a bit limited. Sydney is about 60 mins away and quite a few teams were staying in the southern areas.

        • The Dutch team were staying in Brighton-Le-Sands (the Novotel I think). It’s 20 mins south of Sydney and about an 45mins north of the race start. So not too badly located for the race. Brighton-Le-Sands is a very busy nightspot with lots of restaurants & often guys in their pimped up cars making lots of noise. It was a huge disappointment to miss MVDP race. He was one of the main drawcards for sure. Let’s see what happens in court tomorrow.

          • Athletes can only take so much, esp. with the pressures of big-time performances expected. VDP simply cracked, late at night when he was tired. Could he have handled it better? Obviously. But none of us make best decisions every single time.

            And the parents on holiday who bring, but refused to supervise, their children, well they always seem to get away with it like none of it at all was their fault.

            Best to let this pass and see if he still wants to have a go at the top of cycling. It’s a fickle thing, and little things have had significant changes to sporting history. Not suggesting or predicting anything. Hope he will carry on next year and stick it to his peers.

      • Possibly because they wanted to block-book a hotel for the WCs to get the best rate and to try keep costs down. The AU WCs have cost the unions a lot more than usual, cause of the extra-long-haul flights. KNWU reportedly spent €200k on this WC, and half of that just on the hotel (according to Raymond Kerckhoffs).

        • Also MvdP stayed on another floor, with his GF, because he had a cold and because he had arrived later to AU than rest of team. So he didn’t want to give the cold to others, and also he wanted to be able to have a different sleep schedule, as he was still adjusting to the time difference.

        • This year was expensive, but the previous 4 years were relatively cheap (especially last year, when you know half the Dutch riders live in or near Belgium, and could basically ride their bike to the worlds!), so they could have saved up some money in those years…

  4. This is probably the last time Evenepoel can get in a break without the other favourites. The other countries/teams are not going to make that mistake again, so the “Evenepoel goes early, Alaphillippe/Van Aert” wait in the favourite group tactic is dead. Of course, on a good day, Evenepoel might just drop all the other favourites, like Pogacar did in Strade Bianche.

    The life of cycling commenters will be much easier now; with Evenepoel in the rainbow jersey, it’s no longer possible to confuse him with his doppelganger Van Wilder.

    • Still not easy for the others. Riders were saying in the Vuelta he didn’t really attack on the climbs, he just rode away. They’re used to big attacks by the likes of Pogačar or Roglič and deciding whether to follow or not, to jump or to try and pace their way across but with Evenepoel it’s so different they said, they just couldn’t hold his wheel.

      • Right. He just dials up the power, and off he goes.
        The one real attack of him I remember seeing was at the top of La Redoute this year. That was huge. So he’s also capable of those massive bursts.
        He’s also so smooth that it doesn’t look so fast to me when he goes. One can only really tell when you look into the faces of those who try to hold his wheel.

      • But then there was La Clasica which he has won twice already, he attacked near the bottom of a grueling (for me) 4km 10 % climb and rode away from the likes of Simon Yates. Selective memories?

      • There is also the issue of sitting in his wheel, where normally you would be able to benefit from the drag, but most riders are taller than him and his position is so aerodynamic, meaning the rider in his wheel doesn’t actually benefit as much as one would think.

        • I had a similar experience riding behind Damjan Zabovnik in his recumbent. At that time he was a world hour record holder for “Streamlined Human Powered Vehicle”.
          In one word, brutal.

          • Could Remco get banned by the UCI as too aerodynamic to fit within road cycling rules? 😉 Or maybe he will be forced to glue a sombrero to his helmet to even the chances.

  5. A mighty demonstration by the young Belgian. I really like his riding style and he really is impressive. But – as was discussed in another thread some weeks ago – I have a hard time liking him. I have tried to explore this in myself, but came up emptyhanded so far. But he is one damned good bike rider.
    “Zugzwang” – Do we have a chess player at hand in Mr. INRNG? Well, it wouldn’t surprise 😉

    • Couldn’t agree more, he is far from my favourite young rider, but hat’s off to him after learning from last year’s world championships.

      Very impressive ride by the young belgian to cap off an unbelievable season.

      • It’s strange this, liking or disliking riders without quite knowing why. In Remco’s case, I’m certain it was the commentary of a favourite cycling writer of mine that put it in my head that I don’t like him very much. And then I realised I had no reason not to. It may just be as simple as that there’s only so much emotional energy I have to put into different riders, and once I’ve followed a few for a some seasons, a new rival means their chances of success are lower – and then, vague negative commentary about such a new arrival falls on fertile ground. In any case, Remco’s impressive attack on top of the Redoute in Spring put the first real crack into how I felt, and slowly but surely more and more sunlight shone in.

        • I think many can see him like some golden child who has everything so easy. When other kids would be happy to play for the school football team, he played for PSV Eindhoven and his country. Then he tries a half marathon and blitzes it, takes up cycling and the rest is history but with some provocative statements and victory celebrations along the way, it was easy to see it as arrogance. But the Lombardia crash and the rehab work shows it’s not all been easy.

          Some of the things he said were what any 19 year old could say with a microphone put in front of them, more so with 36 microphones in front. He’s grown up a lot. Personally I felt this a lot when I watched his interview on Belgian TV after Liège this year, the win really meant something to him rather than just another easy result. But cycling’s not a popularity contest.

          • To be honest I see MvdP as the golden boy who has it too easy and that’s why I don’t like him! That and his amateur dramatics. Whether that’s fair or not. It probably isn’t.

        • Coney Islander/Inrng – good point, most of my feelings towards him were due to his selfish riding (which hurt teammates’ chances) in the past – something a reaction that many (surely, no I) teenagers would have.

          Anyways, it’s clear he is a beast and he seemed very genuine after his Road World’s win…

          Perhaps, I’m not seeing or reading the interviews as much this year, every cycling outlet is now behind a paywall. I don’t think I went to cyclingnews once in August… I used to read that site multiple times per day.

  6. Great writeup. Everything from chess and Chekhov to Wollongone…!
    Evenepoel learned to climb this past season; can he now learn to be a good sprinter? I’m guessing not.
    (I’m glad to see he’s also learned to stop speaking of himself in the third person.)

    • He didn’t need to learn how to climb, but he certainly improved on the longer/higher climbs.

      But his explosiveness (“sprinting”) improved a lot too, maybe even more, over last winter. Obviously he’s not going to win a lot of mass sprints, but I wouldn’t rule him out in a small group at the end of a long hard race.

  7. I’ll have to rewatch, but it looked like Eenkhoorn squandered his best ever chance for a World’s medal. For a moment it looked like he was about to pull of a “Van Vleuten” attack on the chase group within sight of the finish, but then completely eased off just after he got his gap. I’m sure there were some very tired legs and I’m guilty of being a lazy armchair critic, but it seemed like a golden opportunity for him, as well as the soft pedalling 4-man group. I can just about see why Lutsenko wasn’t pulling much in the finish given his solo effort, but the others were in an incredible position as outsiders for this race. Guess it was a communication error regarding the gap to the main group?

    • I guess nobody knew. It wasn’t on tv and there were no radios anyway. The riders in the peloton probably didn’t know they were catching them until they caught them, and the cars were behind them. I suppose it’s fair to say that those in front should always ride as if those behind are trying to catch them.

    • Agree, he came flying up and should have put everything into a single attack. The break riders had already shown an inability to work together by letting him back in it. No way one of them would have pulled 100% with 1km left.

  8. The women’s race was significantly more entertaining. Once Remco made that split I’m not sure how teams with favorites in the back let that stay out there. I think the weaker teams this year due to all the opt outs and points chasing might have shown today. And obviously also the Belgium strategy of knocking on MvDP’s door last night was a smart play. I think he doesn’t let Remco go up the road.

    • Agreed about the women’s race. I actually sent a link of the highlights video to a friend who doesn’t “get” cycling. He wrote back saying, “yeah, now I understand.” That last aerial shot of Van Vleuten’s attack was glorious!

  9. “.. a classic stand-off too, the Zugzwang scenario where if someone chased hard they’d be worse relative to their rivals”. Highly enjoyable reading, as always.

    Thank you for a great writeup and another fantastic year of analysis Inner Ring!

  10. Remco has had a magical season. Only real obstacles now seem to be Jonas, Tadj and the Belgium expectations now! Hope he has a strong, dedicated mind and adds some drama to the Tour next year.

    • The real danger for him is the winter with a lot of awards ceremony, tv shows, flemish press… and his wedding.
      Let’s see if another home environment together with winter sollicitations and maybe a bit less motivation (how can next year(s) be better than this one?) lead to a decrease in his performance.

  11. Two rides to note today – huge congrats to Michael Matthews and Peter Sagan. Very solid performances.

    Matthews, a career defining medal on home soil. Not a prolific winner, but pulls off big performances for the last decade. Had many parts of his career where he came up short, but to keep trying year after year, month after month, is very impressive. I’m a big fan.

    Sagan – 7th… amazing. After the brutal few years of sicknesses, rough form phases, etc. this was a great placing to get back into the pointy end of things. Great job.

    Inrng – another amazing season. Merci

    • Re: Sagan, it was an impressive result. He is basically alone without the help of a strong team. I was surprised to see him in the week leading up to the race on several occasions out training by himself. Most of the other squads trained together. Despite his previous successes and in the “twilight’ of his career there is still some motivation there for the big races.

      • 100%, and you see his professionalism. Motivation and discipline/will to focus, train solo and effectively race solo. Many other top athletes who’ve achieved what he has would call it quits in a similar situation.

  12. I dragged my family along to this. I thought it was a pretty good effort from a country that generally dislikes cyclists. Course and location seemed pretty good which is hard to admit because I generally don’t rate The Gong.

    My kids were punching on as Evenpoel went across the line so I suspect I haven’t sparked anything there but you never know.

  13. Why oh why were we not given proper time gaps? The race was on a lap, so it wouldn’t have been hard to update the composition and time on each group through the line.
    But yeah, it was a great Worlds.

  14. Great race, great scenery… awful TV production.

    So often even the usual long-time fan struggled to understand very meaningful details of what was going on, let alone unexperienced viewers. It’s a situation that went on all year long and needs to be tackled urgently, if possible. As I always underline, that’s a good example of why you need “minor” races and grassroots… it’s training ground for all the huge circus around the pedalling athletes, not just for them: that’s where in easier conditions and less dire consequences in case of mistake you grow up good moto-cameras, TV directors, roadside volunteers, police forces, even, need to learn how to manage a race (no reference to MvdP predicament implied).

    • Yes, shockingly bad production. I get that they probably didn’t have the A team there since it was so far away but they missed so much. A bit of a meh race to me regardless since it was so clear that Evenepoel was going to win very early. But good direction still could have made it a lot more exciting.

      • Might look silly on my part to say so afterwards, but I actually believe that Evenepoel’s victory wasn’t very obvious until the last couple of laps; which is a lot of course, but then there was the fight for the rest of medals which – wasn’t it for TV production – could have been even more of a nailbiter.
        And enjoying a long solo winning ride as a spectacle in itself is also part of cycling, even in a TV age, because, among other things, you can appreciate through closer and longer shots some aspects like body language, emotion while riding or gesturing which are normally (and rightly so) less highlighted because of the need to priorise action (exception, French TV when Voeckler was racing -____-).
        Moreover, a long solo ride usually implies some significant action *before* the solo itself takes place, just as at these Worlds. It’s not only the slam dunk as such, it’ s also the previous work which made it possible to achieve such an advantage position.
        All that said, TV production made it nearly boring, and surely all the rest appeared more confusing than enthralling. Sadly, it’s not the first time this year, and it happened a lot to *supposedly* first class crews at the Giro… and the Tour… which means that Australia being “far” isn’t the only explication, to say the least.

    • It was interesting. There were two different shots of the two of them celebrating together.

      In the first which I saw on the TV feed the rest of the team was celebrating with Remco and Van Aert was sitting on his bike facing the other way. Eventually Remco went over to him and Van Aert gave him what seemed to me a half hearted hug.

      In the second which I saw later on Twitter they had a much more full on celebration together. Of course for that one there were a bunch of photographers they seemed to be posing for….

    • You probably know the story of remco’s interview after last year worlds…
      Flemish press hasn’t stopped discussing it for the last 2 weeks.

  15. The race was won when Pog didn’t follow Remco at 70km. Who else was going to chase? The French got confused, Spanish too weak, Belgians sit on, Brits too weak, Italians half and half.

    The crowds seemed quite thin. Millions of tons of CO2e to transport the industry 24 hrs away – what a dreadful UCI decision.

    As for MVDP – welcome to Australia. Why would UCI want the biggest star staying in some dump 45 mins drive away? Why didn’t Dutch team deal with situation?!? I don’t blame him for getting annoyed.

    Chapeau to Remco who has transformed himself since Lombardia 2020.

    • @Derek – the discussion about the environmental impact is worthy no doubt and I don’t have a solution to cycling’s environmental footprint. That said your claim implies that cycling at the highest level can only take place in Europe to the exclusion of the rest of the world. In a time where much progress is being made to improve inclusiveness this argument seems at odds. Cycling is a global sport, cyclists come from all corners of the globe therefore races should be held outside of Europe from time to time.

        • Colombia (and probably other South American countries) certainly deserve more high-end races, if only because of it’s huge cycling fan base (even small local races will draw large crowds).

          But I suspect money is an issue to step up to WT level right now (both for races & teams)?

    • I,m not sure how big the crowd was but it was a 17km circuit so appearances can be deceptive. For some reason the race was not in a particularly big city. Probably because a sport event cannot close the big city down in Australia for the week except perhaps the Olympics.
      But from the point of the organisers and the all important government $ its not ultimately just about the size of the crowd on the day. Television ratings across the world plus cycling fans traveling to the race. The TDU for instance really lives on getting interstate travelers to come to Adelaide. Of course in australia unless you paid for the subscription service STAN you only got to watch the circuit around Wollongong a place i would never go to ride my bike. We missed out on any nice views along the coast that there may have been to attract us.

    • Very interest ( and possibly libellous) article in the British press this morning, with a grinning father of the 13 year old who was knocking on MDVP door late at night. No hint of shame or explanation of what he was doing allowing a young teenager to wander around a hotel full of strangers at night .

      I wonder what the betting patterns were before the race?

  16. To my mind the problem with the world championship race is that it is like one frame of snooker … not conclusive. Why would not the rider who finishes the year with the most UCI points be world champion? There are 138 points or so between Pogacar and Evenepoel at the moment.
    Having said that it appears that they are moving to a multi-discipline approach at the next event which should liven things up.

    • “The 2023 UCI Cycling World Championships will be the inaugural edition of the UCI Cycling World Championships, to be held every four years in the year preceding the Olympic Games, is scheduled to be held between 3 and 13 August 2023 in Glasgow, and across Scotland.
      The UCI Cycling World Championships will bring together various disciplines of cycling for them to be held as part of one event, including the UCI Road World Championships, UCI Mountain Bike World Championships and UCI Track Cycling World Championships.”

      It strikes me that the UCI is trying to emulate the success of the European Championships, a multisport event that can be presented as a “must-watch, must-attend experience”. Not a bad idea at all.

      But the real shocker is hidden in plain sight: the 2023 Championships will take place in early August, between the Tour and the Vuelta!
      (Two weeks between the last stage and the first race.)

  17. “… the 2023 Championships will take place in early August, between the Tour and the Vuelta!” Not guaranteed to attract the best of the best, I think. But the “glorious twelfth” does fall into those dates, so maybe a move to attract the landed gentry, en route to bag a brace or two.

    From another website, “Reported by Velonews, INEOS owner Jim Ratcliffe texted Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl Team’s manager Patrick Lefevere “do you want to sell him?” following his recent successes. The report hints that it may not have been a serious proposal, but instead light-hearted talk, however with the Belgian’s evolution, popularity and promise for years to come, there may be more to the story.” Personally I think Roglic is a more logical option, but Lefevere has some head scratching to do about a team to support Remco if he’s going for GT’s.

    • It’s a topic for another day but you wonder about Ratcliffe, billionaires like him presumably want the big trophy in sport, assembling a promising classics squad with Pidcock, Turner, Sheffield etc is great but he can’t brag about winning the E3 Harelbeke to friends over dinner on a superyacht, chances are none of the other guests have heard about it (likewise for other teams eg Emirates want the Tour de France and their home UAE Tour, everything else is a bonus).

      • Maybe I’m alone in thinking this, but if you were to design a Grand Tour parcours “made to order” for Remco, it would be this year’s Vuelta. Will he win another GT? I’m not convinced. If Remco had been leading Ineos, would he have been better than Thomas in this year’s TDF? In the TT, yes, but I struggle to imagine Remco holding onto Jonas’s wheel on Granon (or out-sprinting either Jonas or Pogacar on Super Planche). I’m not a fan of Ratcliffe, but it looks more to be a case of “if you don’t ask, you’ll never know” than a case of billionaire hubris.

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