Say what you like about Wout van Aert, he’s generous. Gifting the Gent-Wevelgem win to Christophe Laporte was the second time he’s given his French team mate a win after Paris-Nice and things were reversed at the GP E3 last year when they did a 1-2. These moments are fascinating for all the potential discussions and intrigue involved.
Normally in a two-up sprint we might compare the innate power and sprinting ability of each rider, adjust for their likely fatigue and so on. For two team mates together is it down to them to sprint – à la SD Works in Siena – or do they talk about it? Or does the team car get involved with commercial decisions from contractual matters to the marketing preferences of sponsors getting involved? It can be a lot harder to predict who will “win” when presented with this kind of finish. The rules say riders should sportingly defend their chances but making two riders sprint isn’t as simple as it sounds, one might have been working for the other, they’re team mates and friends rather than rivals and so on and just may not want to contest it, and often based on a rapport we don’t know much about. They could fake a sprint but that risks looking silly and besides, the rulebook doesn’t get opened for these kinds of finishes.
To problems of another kind and Soudal-Quickstep keep get a roasting for their lacklustre performance in the classics in a way that other teams don’t. Patrick Lefevere says his team’s the same as it was back in the day when it was getting results but that could be the problem: it’s often brought on riders and once they’ve made a name for themselves, they go elsewhere to cash in. Only now the roster looks too familiar, almost stale. It’s still packed with talent but just less dynamic and they lack a central rider to base their tactics on, Tim Merlier and Fabio Jakobsen are fast sprinters but both struggle to get over the climbs, even the bergs, and risk having their legs blunted for the finish.
— RTL sport (@RTLsportbe) March 27, 2023
Lefevere might have turned his TV off after watching Catalunya but others will be tuning in soon. Obviously a lot of Belgian media is focussed on Evenepoel, and the latest part of this is that the Giro d’Italia is now going to be shown on RTL, a mainstream TV channel in Belgium. The race is on Sporza but that’s for half the country in Dutch, it’s on Eurosport and so for subscribers who go looking for it. But given the big interest an extra rights deal has been rustled up with just over a month to go to show it in Wallonia too.
Belgian viewers on both sides of the and more have plenty to look forward to. The duel in Catalunya between Evenepoel and Primož Roglič was entertaining to watch as Evenepoel tried to attack and take time. He just wasn’t very subtle, launching uphills moves with the hope of breaking Roglič, the Slovenian who only started cycling in his 20s is now the deft pro who measures his efforts against the inexperienced rider. It sets things up nicely for the Giro but there we’re more likely to see Evenepoel ahead of Roglič after the time trials, so the Slovenian sniping time bonuses here and there. The risk is these two are so far ahead of the rest and then one of them has a problem and there’s no sport, others like João Almeida or Aleksandr Vlasov will be wondering how and where they’ll get opportunities.
Staying in Italy, if riders in pro cycling get nicknames based in the longstanding “activity + home” formula, which has given us monikers from the Eagle of Toledo to the Manx Missile, the “Cat Sniper of San Marino”, aka Antonio Tiberi is still in the news. La Gazzetta Dello Sport reports Trek-Segafredo is minded to drop him and Astana is among the teams in the running to recruit him. Only the rules say no. There’s a transfer window from 1-15 August so moving before is unlikely. Teams have tried in the past, take Alessandro Petacchi who “retired” and suddenly Quick-Step tried to sign him. But a loophole was closed largely because of this transfer saga so Astana or another team couldn’t get Tiberi in time for the Giro as any rider who belongs to a World Tour team can’t retire and suddenly become free. But Tiberi is a promising long term rider so could be worth waiting for, especially if he’s able to put the past behind him.
Talking of young riders and transfers, the UCI’s introducing a development fee payable when men’s World Tour teams sign a rider, it’ll involve a €2,000 payment for every year the rider in question rode with a UCI Conti development team or a club registered with a UCI federation. €2,000 is both a small sum and a significant one. Small as in an U23 team or junior squad collecting this is hardly cashing in a golden ticket; but at the same time a squad recruiting a neo-pro could be liable for up to eight years of payments or €16,000 which counts on the wage bill. One pinchpoint is the payment goes to the national federation who then pay it on… that’s the idea but some federations could be slow, invent a handling fee or in quarrel with the team in question, especially if their development work is better than the federation. But the main thing is the establishment of this system, there’s a path here now that could expand.
Staying with promising talent, the Tour du Pays de Vaud race has been cancelled this year. Even readers of a niche cycling blog would be forgiven for not having heard of this one but it’s a short stage race for juniors ridden by national teams held in Switzerland at the start of summer and crucially it’s got a mountain stage or two. This makes it almost the Tour de l’Avenir for juniors, albeit over a long weekend rather than eight days. The list of winners – Adrien Costa in 2013 and 2014, then Marc Hirschi, Andreas Leknessund, Mathias Skjelmose, Marco Brenner and after a Covid-break, Jan Christen last year says plenty by itself, the other podium places have been full of now famous names too. I think it might have been Jonas Vingegaard’s first race outside of Denmark and where he could race uphill. It’s certainly been a draw for top talent… as well as recruiters and rider agents as well looking to make signings. Now it’s off, with the amateur – in the noble sense – organisers cite rising costs and regulations and the trouble of finding sponsorship for a junior race.
Finally on the subject of cancelled races, two related stories to keep an eye on. The police in the Netherlands are cutting back the support they give to races due to staff shortages, which means fewer races are likely to go ahead but the impact on the calendar, amateur or pro, remains to be seen. Similarly, a more short term issue, there are widespread protests in France. Paris-Roubaix is not far away and this event relies on police support for road closures, something that will be harder if staff are being deployed elsewhere, or require rest periods. The prefet, a central-government appointee for the local area was only too happy to postpone the race in the past. Hopefully the race goes ahead and we’re only left worrying if it’ll rain.