Highlights of 2022 – Part III

Another highlight of the year, and another stage of the Tour de France, this time Stage 14 from Saint-Etienne to Mende where Michael Matthews put on a masterpiece on a stage set buzzing by an early attack from Tadej Pogačar that had Jumbo-Visma scrambling to respond.

An incendiary stage. A big breakaway got away before the first climb of the day but only had a few seconds. Then when the road started climbing Tadej Pogačar attacked. It looked like he’d seen Jonas Vingegaard didn’t have team mates around and wanted to put the yellow jersey under pressure as his team mates scrambled to get back. Pogačar was unlikely to keep this up until the end but his move mowed down the breakaway and had the effect of poking an already buzzing wasps’ nest. Vingegaard was never on the ropes but if other teams had joined things could have got hectic.

Finally a maxi-breakaway of 23 riders got away. A group this big lacks cohesion, riders can tag on the back and miss turns. Because of this, others get frustrated and so the attacks started. Simon Geschke and Quinn Simmons were sprinting for mountains points only for Simmons to keep going and this prompted the others to chase, a first attack. When the group got back, more were sitting on and soon after Michael Matthews attacked with 53km to go, a bold move given he was notionally the sprinter but with so many climbers in the move, better to get ahead. He was away solo for 10km when a trio of Andreas Kron, L-L Sanchez and Felix Großschartner countered and rode across.

Amid the chasers behind Louis Meintjes was part of the breakaway and at one point close to becoming the virtual yellow jersey but Jumbo-Visma started chasing, but probably less to limit Meintjes and more to ensure a hard finish to soften Pogačar for the final climb.

Onto the final climb out of Mende and Sanchez and Großschartner were the climbers. But Sanchez is 38 years old and in his peak never a punchy climber, Großschartner a diesel. Their only chance was to push Matthews hard from the start. But Matthews hit them and rode off.

Alberto Bettiol winched his way across to Matthews from the breakaway chasers and the two were locked in a duel, a leg-press version of an arm-wrestling contest. Bettiol was gaining ground, but only by centimetres. His work to reach Matthews and overhaul him put him into oxygen debt and towards the top Bettiol had to start making repayments and defaulted. Matthews has long been a big trophy hunter, a collection of quality wins but his has to be his best win, he took on the field and won.

Behind Pogačar attacked but Vingegaard had him covered, as the Slovenian rocked his shoulders, the Dane was all dainty cadence and matched him. Behind the GC contenders were left to themselves on the climb where David Gaudu fared best, dropped at first but recovering to overhaul Geraint Thomas. But the only change in GC positions was Meintjes up to seventh.

Why the highlight?
The stage started so fast and then Pogačar was joining in the attacks and Jumbo-Visma were scrambling, this stage had a scrap for the stage win that lasted for hours and GC action at the start and then again at the finish, all with sunshine and scenery too. That said the only change overall was Meintjes climbing up to seventh, this didn’t turn out to be one of those mythical massif central ambush stages.

With hindsight…
It’s harder to find much wider significance in this stage but once again the breakaway made it and this helped reinforce a positive spiral where riders were going up the road believing in a stage win rather than praying it might just happen one day if they were lucky. Michael Matthews was being linked to other teams so the win helped him and it was also a boost for BikeExchange-Jayco, a Tour win from an Aussie rider must be very satisfying for their patron Gerry Ryan.

The real benefit of hindsight here is rewatch the stage with an eye on Matthews. Watching the stage live you could make a case that Matthews was getting it all wrong, the sprinter going solo with over 50km to go on a hilly route was just blunting his legs when he just needed to snipe the win, only to then get joined by better climbers before a notoriously tough summit finish… only he got it all right. Of course he’s not really a sprinter and his moves reduced the number of rivals to mark and meant he wasn’t caught out wave after wave of attacks from an unwieldy group. It was a masterpiece of a win.

Highlights of 2022 – Part I
Highlights of 2022 – Part II

25 thoughts on “Highlights of 2022 – Part III”

  1. It’s interesting that these last two highlights have featured a Bike Exchange win, encapsulating their recent seasons: Notable high points, incredible high points, but with little to stop a precipitous descent into a deep trough afterwards. I don’t expect them to chase points in the way (e.g.) Intermarche did so well last season, but I hope they further adapt their race programme, and maybe ambitions, to reflect the new reality of relegation. I wonder also if Simon Yates will give up his GC ambitions and turn fully into the swashbuckling stage hunter he so clearly excels at.

    • It also highlights how their marquee riders aren’t competing against the best. Yates left to go because he’s no threat on GC and Matthews going in a break. I think the two of them haven’t really lived up to some of their promise. Though this above was an exciting win for Matthews who too often is following wheels in my view.

    • Yeah. Was so happy to see him nab this. Always enjoy riders like Matthews who are excellent riders but just shy of the best in their chosen discipline getting their day in the sun.

      That final climb is also absolutely brilliant – never fails to be exciting, I loved the Cummings year also.

  2. A thrilling finale as you don’t see that often, and nothing happened in GC, indeed, but watt analysts can gather here one of the very few example in now so many years of present-day riders putting in a serious 90s-like athletic performance (speaking of Pogacar and Vingegaard). Context included, which is the most relevant aspect – on some single climbs, the 90s were already outclimbed, albeit not that often. Yet, on the Montée Jalabert we got a record equalling time (or so, didn’t check) after nearly 200 kms and some 3,500 m of altitude gain of an hard-fought stage, as inrng well explained above. Even more important, this came after two full weeks, but especially as the 5th consecutive challenging stage after a block of four complicated, hard or extremely hard stages, most of them raced ‘à bloc’.

    All that said (not a bad pick, I mean), I found some other TDF stages even more compelling this year (Hautacam above all)… but, yes, this represents something different.

    And yet again, now it won’t be easy for inrng to keep things within the traditional “V highlights” framework. Or I’d peesonally struggle a lot, at least.

    Keeping such a Ronde out would be crazy, same for the Worlds, men & women ones (both…”!!!!!”-level) or a Liège which was finally made “great again”, and on the Redoute, too.

    Unless… one decides to label a whole “Evenepoel” highlight, which would include a devastating San Sebastián, too. The women TDF was also rich in highlights, and the Giro had at least a brutal one, too (uhmmmm… let’s label an other “personal highlight” as AVV? Or perhaps should we have a general thematic highlight for brutal solo rides, which would keep most of them together, be them by Remco or Annemiek, and several others? It would allow to include double Roubaix, plus Pogi at Strade Bianche and the Carpegna, both of them quite impressive, although not as much as the Liège, the Worlds, Markstein or Cesena… which were all just *incredible*).
    Somehow I feel that inrng hasn’t much love to share for this kind of solo stages (which, anyway, vary quite much and in these cases do include a lot of compelling action before the final raid), but although I’d be ready to leave out Strade and Tirreno and San Sebastián (and women Liège, and Roubaix both men & women) out of pure abundance, yet the significance and emotional impact of the Worlds, Doyenne and AVV’s cited feats is really huge, for a broad range of different reasons.

    Women cycling could be another sort of inclusive highlight? Not named above, also great racing at Strade, Binda, Ronde, Flèche, even…

    Among those which perhaps don’t make the cut, we still have the heart-attack downhill Sanremo win by Mohoric, Roglic finally getting his Pa-Ni among the usual final chaos with hints of JV things to come, Catalunya won by talented Higuita through a crazy long range attack promoted by a hugely proactive though never top-form Carapaz (see his Vuelta, too), then at Itzulia one of the *most lively ever* (seriously!) stages in any race I can remember (and I remember quite a lot). All these would no doubt overcome the Mende stage and on top of that would make my top 5 highlights during most seasons, but maybe not this year 0__0… and I’m surely forgetting something else!

    Perhaps the real highlight should be those two or three quite much boring races, dunno, Suisse and Dauphiné…

    • I concur, this is one of those seasons where a handful of seriously epic efforts need to be honoured. On the face of it, today’s highlight is “only” a tdf stage, however it signals an epic performance from a rider who is doubted all the time but clearly has serious power. Plus, he has managed to pick his spots over the years and has very high quality stage wins. So when you say TdF 2022 St 14 stage winner Matthews, I hope it is remembered as one of the classic stages that came after a serious block of stages and significant effort to make the break and then big battles to create the gap and maintain it, ahead of everyone (GC men, yellow shirt, other roleurs/one-day guys, etc). It seemed at the time that this was a memorable stage.

      Now, is this the top five of the season? I’m not sure – we have a handful of Wout Van Aert stages, Pogacar Monument efforts and Worlds to choose from.

      But either way, this was one of my favourite seasons in a long time. Or, without being over dramatic it might have been my favourite ever.

      Inrng – great write-up usual.

      • I’m being picky here but curiously while both WVA and Pogacar might be serious contenders for the title of “best 2022 male cyclist” (probably both of them actually podiuming behind Remco, at the end of the day), I’d say that none of their 2022 victories would easily enter a selection of top races. WVA won… essentially nothing! Calais was athletically impressive but it’s “just” a TDF flattish stage and the rest is 2-3 second-level Classics, a declining Plouay plus Omloop and E3 which are prep races after all. As for Pogi’s Monuments, Lombardia was fine but lacked sheer quantity of action. OTOH, of course I agree with you that, albeit eventually losing the race, at Flanders Pogacar no doubt offered an impressive “Monument effort”, probably worth making a top 5 cut of sort… thanks to MvdP winning presence, too. The most impressive race by Pogacar was probably Tirreno and the Carpegna (Strade Bianche was also impressive but maybe lacked a pinch of competitive field). With a Monument win, two top-5 in another couple of Monuments, one major Classic win and two lesser but good ones (Tre Valli and Montreal), Pogacar is probably the “top male Classic rider in 2022″… again, a tight duel against Remco, but in this case I’d give the title to Pogi.

        • I meant some of WvA’s rides in the TdF deserve mention purely for the effect he had on the race… this year the highlight is not just about the win.

          Or Pogacar’s Spring Campaign needs mention too. He factored in races he really should not have.

    • One more point, yes, AVV deserves to be one of the top five riders of the season.

      I don’t think we can discount the female peloton any longer. The level of talent, preparation and strategy to pull off the season she did in 2022 must go down in history. This is not the young peloton of the past that was full of solid pro-am riders. These are now seasoned pros with significant depth. Any race has multiple race winners. So for AVV to win what she did is something to really celebrate and honour.

      • “This is not the young peloton of the past…”. *Recent* past, you mean (say a couple of decades), and I’d agree. As I often need to stress, women cycling had hit notable peaks (partly yet to be equalled) in the 90s, too. Preventing women cycling from being ‘robbed’ its history is important both to acknowledge the relevance of those athletes *and* to try to avoid the same sort of backward steps and subsequent oblivion which happened from the year 2000s on.

        • Excellent point! Note I was not following cycling in the 90’s.

          But apologies… my point was the women’s side of the peloton is very legit and AVV is one of the best athletes on the planet in 2022.

  3. I like these picks. All 3 are stages raced so aggressively that there was complete chaos before the final result (and likely some who limited damages on the day only to suffer cumulative fatigue later).
    To me part of the beauty of modern cycling is that so many races/stages are ridden very aggressively making for very exciting spectating. Definitely different than the more controlled trains of only a few years ago.
    I know no one wants any ‘lowlights’ but I’d mention that crashes continue to be a very significant issue in a lot of races. For all the hand wringing after particularly egregious ones – very little seems to be happening to lower the risk of the next one. Lots of riders who all have the ability to go the same speed with limited space and pinch points seems like a dangerous recipe. I’ll point out the tour’s cobbled stage as bad and within a whisker of catastrophic. Having Roglic break bones in his back bc a moto clips a hay bale right into his path (and Caleb’s I think) after Wout came within a whisker of a very serious crash into a car while chasing back (how is chasing through distracted driving team cars while drafting them at 35mph a good idea?). If Wout crashes (besides the obvious super champion being out) Pog wins the tour right there. Wout saved Vinge minutes with his freight train chase that day.
    back to point A – you picked some Gems in these highlights from a bounty of riches of great racing.

    • I think you’re complaining about two things here –
      1) Cobbled stages, should they be in the TdF?
      2) Crashes.
      These are two well worn topics that get argued about mainly when favourite riders get into difficulties. The TdF does not have cobbled stages every year, but it seems the public likes them so they’ll carry on being a part. Crashes occur all the time (just think of how many times Roglic has crashed for example) and Wout nearly riding into the back of DSM’s car (after he crashed riding into Kruijswijk) was his own fault for drafting. Riders take risks and they don’t always pay off and races are on public roads so there’s always the risk of dogs, kids, people looking at their phones and of course race motorcycles.

        • Some of that lack of stability is from after-market modifications (like narrower handlebars) though, so not only the fault of the original design or manufacturer…

          Although I guess it would also be possible to make bikes a bit more stable by e.g. increasing their wheel-base?

    • Crashes – unfortunately you are barking up the wrong tree. There is no practical solution to this. And any possible solutions to mitigate the effects of crashes are unthinkable – eg. Slowing the races down.

      This topic is not worth discussing. These athletes take extreme risks and all we can do is honour them by respecting this.

      • On open roads and in the mountains there’s not much can be done, other than to make sure equipment standards are good and to keep convoy vehicles clear.
        BUT a lot more needs to be done on street furniture, especially the sort that sits typically waist-high or lower and is therefore hidden from all but the front-most riders. Everything should either be removed or marked in a way that it can be seen above the peloton i e 2.4m above ground level.
        -Since these markers must be highly visible (and audible?), it’s amazing that no sponsor has come forward with the offer of funding a dedicated road crew to out these things up. Opthalmics, travel, automotive, makers of baguettes, anybody.. please get this done

        • As I travel through France in my van and encounter the mass of street furniture I often think how the hell can they hold a bike race here

        • Boplan (a company specialised in crash & other safety protection in warehouses & factories) has done that, sort of, by actually designing & providing the equipment you can use for that (under the Boplan Sport brand), and by sponsoring a couple races to showcase its equipment, but they can’t sponsor that for all races, of course.

          Their “Race Totem” is pretty much what you described to protect street furniture: high, audible, and with ample space for publicity (I wonder if you based your description on them?), but they also have other types of protection for other situations (barriers, bumpers, …).

          For now it seems like they are (almost) only used in some Belgian races. 😕

  4. Very very interesting point by CA above about this season being so satisfactory as a whole. Thinking about it, I became aware that while I can recall many races and their history one by one, or even “a Classics season” or “a GT season”, orn”the season a given rider had”, surprisingly enough it’s very hard (for me at least) to keep track of the experience of each season “as a whole”, I need sort of putting the pieces together. However, among recent ones I think that 2016 was a very cool one, too, despite a poor TDF (but cycling ain’t be just the TDF, is it?).

  5. Good number by Matthews, but there was no real GC action that day. To me, the 4 highlights of the year were Granon, Sierra Nevada, Flanders and Montreal, in this order.

  6. “An incendiary stage” indeed as the day was very hot (40C I saw in one report). Pogacar going with some 180km to the finish seemed a bit rash (especially on his own) but he did not know how well Roglic felt so, in dropping Roglic, Pogacar could concentrate on Vingegaard.

    • After watching the stage again, I think one of the highlights of the year has been Wout van Aert’s racing for others and himself when possible. Absolutely monster rides when needed – Fireman of the Year award!

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