Category Archives: Classics

Selected coverage of the one day classic races from the Cobbles and the Ardennes in spring to the summer and fall classics.

Van Avermaet completes one of the great cobbled campaigns

I didn’t see any of Paris-Roubaix live this year. I was out on the bike instead. I promised myself come Sunday morning that I wouldn’t fall victim to temptation and make an excuse to stay on the sofa watching the Hell of the North. It promised to be a great race as Peter Sagan looked to salvage his spring cake and Greg Van Avermaet looked to ice his. As it turned out it was the later who came through.

By all accounts it was a decent race though I have heard it was far from historic. No Paris-Roubaix is bad but I got the sense when Sagan punctured for a second time, ruling him out of contention, some of the drama went out of the race. Tom Boonen was of course competing in the final race of his career but the four-time winner could only manage 13th. The fairy tale finish was not meant to be.

No shock though at the winner. Van Avermaet has been a level above this spring. Sagan has been unlucky on several occasions, but the Belgian was always able to capitalize. Philippe Gilbert stole his thunder at the Tour of Flanders but didn’t race this one. Still, across the seven cobbled classics this spring Van Avermaet won four of them. He took Omloop Het Niewsblad to kick off the campaign, followed it up a month later with wins at E3 Harelbeke and Gent-Wevelgem, he was second at Flanders and returned to winning ways in Roubaix. Throw in a second place at Strade Bianche too and seventh at Kurrne-Brussles-Kuurne and you see an Olympic Champion on form.

I like to keep a running tally of the spring races from Het Niewsblad to Liège. I use the Formula One points system of 25 points for a win, 18 for 2nd, 15 for 3rd and 12, 10, 8 6, 4, 2 and 1 for 10th. Each race counts equal regardless of its status. There are 13 in total, and we have had 10 thus far. As it stands Van Avermaet is on 142 points with Sagan in second on 76.

To put Van Avermaet’s spring in perspective, Sagan’s great spring last year netted him only 104 points and he had 122 points in 2013. Gilbert’s epic spring in 2011 pulled in 117 points. Boonen’s 2005 was good for 109 points. Fine work Van Avermaet though over the past five seasons (2013-2017) combined, Sagan stands on top with 394 points to Van Avermaet’s 349.

For interests sake I’ve also kept a tally of the great one-day race seasons of all time. There are 12 events in total that include the five monuments, the worlds, Het Niewsblad (Het Volk), E3, Gent, Amstel, Fleche, and San Sebastian. For balance I only included events that were around going back into the 1960s, hence no Strade Bianche, for example. With six of the 12 complete, Van Avermaet is on 118, good for 11th all-time going back to the start of the 1960s. (I should point out I didn’t tally everyone, only the 80 best seasons I could find though I doubt there are any that crack the top ten that I have missed). Van Avermaet is currently one single 4th place this season from moving into second all-time in name, behind those of Eddy Merckx. Currently in that position is the 1978 season of Francesco Moser. Merckx has five seasons better (’70, ’71, ’72, ’73, ’75) with 1972 being the best with a colossal 172 points. To level that Van Avermaet would need 54 points more. Two wins and an 8th place would do it. It’s unlikely given the nature of the races to come, but last years Olympics showed the BMC rider is capable on a hilly course.

So suffice to say Van Avermaet’s 2017 season thus far has been one for the ages. He has been dominant in a way that few before him have matched. It’s been a fine cobbled campaign to watch, a lot of drama, talking points, twists and turns. I only hope the Ardennes classics coming up can rival it in their own way. It’ll take some going though whether I’m lying on the sofa watching it or still getting out on my bike remains to be seen. Likely determined by my moral following a couple of upcoming mountain bike races!

Van Avermaet’s revenge in Montreal

It was a 986km round trip to watch 205km of bike racing, but it was worth every metre, as always. This was my fourth year going to the GP Cycliste de Montreal. It has become a bit of a annual tradition (one that I hope to soon include the Quebec race into!) and call me biased, but this race must be one of the finest one-day races on the calendar outside of the five monuments.

It’s just a shame in many ways that it clashes with the final day of the Vuelta, as well as the Tour of Britain. It should be a stand alone event to further boost its prestige and give it more viability to those who maybe haven’t see it, as the great race it is. Not that the field has suffered as a result of the other races, such is the depth of the talent in world cycling. We had the World champion in Peter Sagan and the Olympic champion in Greg Van Avermaet present. And it was that pair who illuminated the racing in Quebec and here.

If Friday was all about Sagan out sprinting Van Avermaet, then Sunday was the Belgians revenge. Both leave Canada deadlocked with a win and second place each and the fans leave entertained.

It was an absolute privilege to watch the finest athletes in the world do their stuff. The crowds were as big as any previous year I had been up there, and why not? A day of action and for free. It was a wonder the entire city hadn’t come up to take a look. In few other sports can you get that close to the athletes. Action that lasted five hours over 17 laps of a 12.1km circuit that included two tough climbs. The total climbing of the 205.7km race was a brutal 3893m.

And it’s the climb of Camillien-Houde at 1.8km and 8% average gradient was were most spend their day. It comes right at the beginning of the lap and tops out 10km from the finish of the lap. so It can prove decisive in late selections but not the race winning move. That is often saved for the shorter 780m, 6% climb of the Cote de Polytechnique that summits 5.6km out. Or for the final kick out of the hairpin up to the finish line on a drag that lasts for 560m but at a tough 4% grade. It’s those climbs repeated, especially the Camillien-Houde, that provide the gradual weeding out process. The slow exhausting of the legs as they climb it 17 times.

You get a good idea of the kind of race it is when you look at the list of past winners. Since I started going in 2013, Sagan, Simon Gerrans, Tim Wellens and today, Van Avermaet. Yes, it’s a proper one-day classic.

And there’s no better way to watch a bike race than this kind of circuit. It’s long enough for the course to have plenty to it but with laps taking about 20 minutes or so, there’s plenty to see. I’m not sure I’d drive that far to watch it if it were a point-to-point race and I would only see them come past the once. With this kind of a course you can see the race develop as it ebbs and flows and takes shape. I like to pick out a rider or two, especially one who might feature come the end, and follow their progress each lap. It’s interesting to see how they read the race, how they position themselves and build towards the crucial moments.

It’s not easy to do when there are so many riders in a pack in team jerseys. I often think that for these kind of races the team leaders should wear different jerseys. The winner of a grand tour should wear that race winning jersey throughout the season, much like the world champion does. Speaking of whom, the one jersey you can pick out with ease is the rainbow stripes and this year it was on the back of the brilliant Peter Sagan.

He had won on Friday and was an obvious favourite for Montreal, so it was fascinating to watch him each lap to see how he went about it. Sagan spent a lot of time in the final third of the pack. I remember a few years ago when he won he would enter the main climb near the front and drift to the back thus saving energy on others. I seen no evidence of this time, though granted I spent a lot of my day up near the top of the hill. At one stage on the descent Sagan came past behind one of the team-cars near the back of the cavalcade. I’m not sure if he had a mechanical issue, but it was still a long way out and by the next race he was back in the field.

When Geraint Thomas forced the pace on the climb with about four laps to go, his move that split the field. The surge also reeled in the final four men of what had been six-man day-long break that included two Canadian riders. Sagan missed the move, but he didn’t panic and remained further back in the bunch while his team worked on the chase. There’s a coolness about the way Sagan races. Almost an understanding that the race will come to him. Had the Thomas move gotten away, you feel the laid-back Sagan might have shrugged his shoulders and said, well there’s always the next race. The was no panic and a lap later he was back in the mix.

Only with the crucial moves made in the final two laps did Sagan turn up. I’d like to have picked out Van Avermaet too, but wearing the BMC jersey like his team-mates it wasn’t always easy. Before I’d have through it too hilly for Van Avermaet, but his climbing has improved, highlighted by his Olympic win on a hilly circuit in Rio.

Late on Rui Costa attacked hard, on the final run up Camillien-Houde. He held a lead going into the final kilometre but it was a small group that got clear on the Cote de Polytechnique that brought him back. The group contained Sagan and Van Avermaet.

By then I was sitting up in a grandstand just 30m from the finish line. As I watched the chase blitz past on the opposite side of the road and under the red kite, I turned to the big screen to see what would come back up the road. Costa got swept up as they swung out of the final hairpin and made the drive for the line. It seemed made for Sagan. Having watched him all day I was desperate to see him pull it off, but it also had become clear that he had led the chase a little too much. He once again tried to close down a late move in the final straight and this allowed Van Avermaet to get onto his wheel. Into a heavy wind Sagan was in trouble and the Olympic champion cane around the world champion late to take the win.

So both took a turn beating the other and I was just glad to have been there for the Montreal race to see it come together. Safe to assume I’ll be back again next year, and I hope those two are also.

Result:

1. Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) in 5h27’04”

2. Peter Sagan (Tinkoff)

3. Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida)

4. Michael Matthews (Orica-BikeExchange)

5. Nathan Haas (Dimension Data)

6. Gianni Moscon (Sky) all s.t.

Top Canadian finisher: Ryder Hesjedal, 19th (Trek-Segafredo)

King of the Mountains: Ben Perry (Canada)

Quintana wraps up the Vuelta

Saturday’s stage was a giant with potential for mayhem. It contained several hills leading into a final 22km climb with a summit finish. As it turns out Quintana responded to everything Froome threw at him and rode into Madrid yesterday as the worthy winner of this race. The only major shakeup was the bad day for Alberto Contador and a great ride by Esteban Chaves that allowed the Colombian to join his national compatriot Quintana on the podium.

Could Froome have won this Vuelta had he not been part of the Olympics after his Tour win? I think so. People will say Quintana won this Vuelta last week when himself and Contador forced the split that caught Froome out. Which regards to the race itself is true. But I also think it was when Froome attended the Olympics. That isn’t to say this was a mistake – he did win a silver medal after all – but there’s no doubt he showed up in less than top form. Froome was not himself in the early going. It also perhaps limited his ability to shake Quintana from his wheel in the later stages.

Froome has said next year he will target both the Tour and the Vuelta with his Team Sky boss Dave Brailsford saying he believes the double is possible. From what I’ve seen I tend to agree, but Quintana will also believe it possible himself with the confidence gained from this victory.

Final classification:

1. Nairo Quintana (Movistar) in 83h31’28”

2. Chris Froome (Sky) @ 1’23”

3. Esteban Chaves (Orica-BikeExchange) @ 4’08”

4. Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) @ 4’21”

5. Andrew Talansky (Cannondale-Drapac) @ 7’43”

6. Simon Yates (Orica-BikeExchange) @ 8’33”

Tour of Britain musings

What with the Vuelta being on and then me being up in Montreal, I seen none of the Tour of Britain. That said, everything I’ve read and heard, it sounds like some brilliant racing. Steve Cummings of Dimension Data took the GC win by 26sec over Rohan Dennis and 38sec ahead of Tom Dumoulin. Both are time-trial specialists, but who could not overhaul the defecit to the Englishman after his time gains on a brilliant stage two ride. It wasn’t until stage six when Cummings finally took the race lead and from there he held it into London.

Rider of the week

I couldn’t split Sagan and Van Avermaet given both took a win and a second place in Canada. I couldn’t quite go for Froome despite his time-trial win and gritty effort to pull back his loses on Quintana. And I didn’t go for Quintana because he won the week before in what was his best week of the Vuelta. As a result it’s Steve Cummings and his brilliant Tour of Britain win.

Mollema redeems himself with win at San Sebastian

Bauke Mollema had to be feeling down after the Tour. He came out of the second rest day in second place overall, 1min 47sec behind Chris Froome, and looking strong for a podium position. But a disaster in the Alps seen him drop right out of the top 10 to 11th by Paris, 13min 13sec behind the Sky winner. You wouldn’t blame him if his confidence was shot and he fancied a little break from racing.

But that would have been the easy approach. Within six days of Paris, Mollema along with a host of other Tour riders, were back on their bikes in Spain for the Classica San Sebastian, and rather than plod his way around the race or worry about risking a move only to blow up again, Mollema was aggressive and put in the decisive move on the final climb to rid himself of Tony Gallopin, Alejandro Valverde and Joaqium Rodriguez to win solo by 17sec over that group, in that order.

The only other major race of the week came the following day at the Ride London classic were a late solo move from a breakaway group by Geraint Thomas was reeled in by the main bunch in time for Tom Boonen to win the gallop ahead of Mark Renshaw and Michael Matthews.

Early next week many of the riders will make their way south to Rio in a bid for Olympic glory. The road course favours the climbing type who can also shine in a one day race…so Alejandro Valverde, while the time-trial is on a long rolling route that should suit a specialist who can also climb to a decent level…so Tom Dumoulin. The woman’s race will also be hotly contested and you have to fancy reigning world champion Lizzie Armistead for at least the road race. I’ll check back next week on how that all came together.

Rider of the week:

Bauke Mollema of course. See above.

King of Spring 2016

On the right hand side of the site I’ve been running a league table throughout spring to track the most consistent rider of the one-day spring classics or, as I’ve come to call it, the King of Spring. The points format mirrors that of Formula One with 25 points for a win, 18 for second, 15 for third and then 12, 10, 8, 6, 4, 2 and 1 down to tenth.

14 World Tour or 1.HC races across spring starting with the Omloop Het Niewsblad and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne at the end of February, moving to Italy for Strade Bianche and Milan-San Remo, then into Flanders for the cobbled classics of Dwars Door Vlaanderen, E3 Harelbeke, Gent-Wevelgem, Tour of Flanders and Scheldeprijs and rounding out the cobble season with Paris-Roubaix. Then it’s into the hillier spring classics as racing transitions from Flanders to the Ardennes with Brabantse Pijl, Amstel Gold (not technically Ardennes), La Flèche Wallonne and finally Liège–Bastogne–Liège. Four Monuments in total though the points structure remains the same for all races regardless of their UCI ranking.

And now we’re done. So who won? Well I doubt you’ll be surprised but here’s a look at the top ten in the table (including each riders biggest results). 83 riders in total scored points, the same as last year when Alexander Kristoff won and one more than 2014 when Niki Terpstra came out on top.

King of Spring 2016, final standings:

1. Peter Sagan – 104 (1st Gent; 1st Flanders; 2nd Omloop; 3nd E3)
2. Fabian Cancellara – 67 (1st Strade; 2nd Flanders)
3. Enrico Gasparotto – 53 (1st Amstel; 2nd Brabantse Pijl)
4. Sep Vanmarcke – 49 (2nd Gent; 3rd Flanders; 4th Roubaix)
5. Greg Van Avermaet – 45 (1st Omloop)
6. Bryan Coquard – 42 (2nd Dwars Door)
7. Alexander Kristoff – 38 (2nd Kuurne; 4th Flanders)
8. Wout Poels – 37 (1st Liège; 4th Flèche)
9. Jasper Stuyven – 37 (1st Kuurne; 5th E3)
10. Arnaud Demare – 35 (1st San Remo; 5th Gent)

Note that the tiebreaker was the best results in Monuments. For that reason Poels finished 8th ahead of Stuyven because he won Liège, and Demare made the top ten on the back of his Milan-San Remo win despite tying Edward Theuns and Petr Vakoc on 35 points. Riders that failed to crack the top ten but who still won a race included Jens Debusschere (Dawars Door), Alejandro Valverde (Flèche), Michal Kwiatkowski (E3), Marcel Kittel (Scheldeprijs), and last but certainly not least, Mat Hayman (Paris-Roubaix).

So hands up who guessed Peter Sagan might have finished first? He won it with ease on 104 points. 3 points better off than Alexander Kristoff last year. It’s scary to think how far ahead he might have been had he decided to give the Ardennes races a crack. I could be wrong but Sunday’s Liège–Bastogne–Liège looked made for him.

Tro Bro Léon to the Ardennes classics

The Tro Bro Léon really should be a bigger race than it is, it has everything the road cycling fan loves about a classics race — especially following hot on the heels of Paris-Rouabix — and yet it remains on the fringes of fame, out there on the Brittany coast, lashing around in the wind, the farm tracks and cobbled roads that many don’t seem to notice. And maybe in some way that’s for the best; it’s kind of cool that this funky race flies a little under the radar.

That said I am sure the organisors would love for its appeal to grow and there is no doubt in recent years it has. It was formed in 1984 but only last year did I really learn what it was. Being held the weekend after Paris-Roubaix kind of hurts its hopes for larger appeal; the classics men have had a long spring and Rouabaix kind of wraps all that up. If Tro Bro Léon were held a few weeks before, it would surely attract a more elite field of names.

If you didn’t know by now, Tro Bro Léon is a race in the Paris-Roubaix mold but held out in Brittany. The Hell of the West it is known to some or Le Petit Paris-Roubaix. It includes 24 sectors of drit, cobblestones and gravel roads while also hugging the wind swept coast roads of Brittany. There is two prizes up for grabs: The winner of the race gets a trophy, the top Breton finisher gets a live piglet!

Because it hasn’t yet been gripped in the way some other classic races have, it kind of highlights the theory that if Paris-Roubaix had been invented in 2006 rather than 1896 it would never have gotten the go ahead. No rider would sign up for such a brutal course going along broken up cobbled tracks through the middle of the northern French countryside.

This years winner was Martin Mortensen of One Pro Cycling ahead of British team-mate Peter Williams, though it was Laurent Pichon as the first Breton (4th overall) who got the Piglet. A fine rider in his own right but I couldn’t help but think it would be cool to have seen Cancellara, Sagan, Vanmarcke or Hayman at it. How would they have delt with those conditions? Like Roubaix, but still different. Perhaps in its own right even more challenging but without history on its side.

But as I said, its place in the calendar comes on a weekend when the cycling world has begun to turn its attention to the hillier classics of spring. A move away from Flanders and towards the Ardennes; out with the strong men and in with the climbing sort. A shorter season to be sure with just the four races if you include last Wednesday’s Brabantse Pijl (won by Petr Vakoc in an exciting finish), though four races seems about enough. A criticism of these hilly classics tends to be that with a couple of major climbs right near the end, or in the case of La Flèche Wallonne right at the end, that all the action waits until these moments. Coming off the back of the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix in which we seen attacking, movement and drama from a long way out, fans expectations are at a season long high for constant action. But that’s just the style of these races and they make up for their quantity by the fact that three of the four are World Tour races and all come within 11 days.

The first World Tour of the three was Amstel Gold — though not in the Ardennes geographically — and it took place the same day as Tro Bro Léon (another problem for Tro Bro’s exposure) and was won by the in form Enrico Gasparotto to follow up on a second place finish earlier in the week at Brabantse Pijl. In recent years they have moved the finish away from the final climb to try and spice up the run in, though it was still the final climb of the Cauberg that major moves were made. Tim Wellens made a longer bid for glory but was swept up on that climb and settled for a 10th place finish.

Next up is Flèche Wallonne and the big one: Liège-Bastogne-Liège, though we now have a better idea as to who is in form. Wellens looks good, Gasparotto looks excellent, and Bryan Coquard (twice 4th) and Michael Matthews (twice 5th) look strong. But it will still be Alejandro Valverde who comes in as the mighty favourite. The Spaniard skipped the first two races to instead race in his home country at the Vuelta a Castilla y Leon in which he won two stages and took the general classification with ease. He is peaking at just the right time again. He must be the hot favourite to do the Flèche/Liège double once more.

Rider of the week:

As well as Valverde done with his two stage wins and GC in Spain, it was Enrico Gasparotto finishing second in Brabantse Pijl and winning Amstel Gold, were all the attention was, that takes the prize this week.

The Cobbled classics season ends but the Ardennes is still to come

Sunday’s Paris-Roubaix brought with it the end to the cobbled classic season, but what a run of races it was. We probably say that every year but I think I watched more intently this year than in any previous season and no time felt wasted. Eight major races in total and I watched them all, and throughout I kept a little league table on the sidebar of this site that I’ve now updated and completed. More on that below.

From the the Omloop Het Niewsblad and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne in late February, followed by a slight break in proceedings as riders and teams accessed their form ahead of the quick succession of Flandrian races in late March and early April up to Flanders and Scheldeprijs, before Paris-Roubaix in early April brought us to the climax. There was high drama throughout spring that built to a crescendo for the Monuments of Flanders and Roubaix. New hero’s were made, new Monument men crowned and some old hero’s said goodbye. And, sadly, there was tragedy with the death of young Belgian rider Antoine Demoitié at Gent-Wevelgem.

Demoitié’s death naturally left a shadow over further racing, not to mention the awful terrorist attacks on Belgian soil in the days leading into Flanders, but the riders done their best to keep spirits up and put on a show for the fans throughout, and nobody can say they failed us.

We had the good early form of Greg Van Avermaet (winning at Omloop), followed by an injury at Flanders; the continued rise of young Belgian hopeful Tiesj Benoot before he himself crashed out of the Flandrian epic; the attempt by Fabian Cancellara to go out in style with one last big win but which fell short, though through no shortage of panache; wins for two other new Belgian hopefuls: Jesper Stuyven (Kuurne) and Jens Debusschere (Dwars Door); Michal Kwiatkowski out dueling Peter Sagan in a two-up sprint (E3); Sagan bouncing back (Gent-Wevelgem) to round into perfrect form for his first Monument win in brilliant style (Ronde Van Vlaanderen); Tom Boonen coming oh-so-close to making it five Paris-Rouabix wins only to be beaten on the line by the popular veteran Mat Hayman.

There was so much to soak up and digest, so much to talk about afterwords and so much to miss now that those races are over. But, unless you are from Flanders and thus lamenting the passing of this calendar, you’ve probably already looked ahead and quickly remembered that the Wallonia classics are right upon us. The beauty in the diversity of the cycling calendar: Something for everyone across a long season, and if you’re like me, enjoying each season within the season. From those early season stage races to these brilliant cobbled classics to the Ardennes classics to come, continued stage racing and into the summer with the Grand Tours.

So while it briefly felt like the end of Christmas when Mat Hayman took victory in the Roubaix Velodrome, the reality is that in the cycling season the day after boxing day is Christmas again. But before moving onto what’s to come in these spring classics, a look at how the top 10 in that Cobbled Classics league table played out. Remember, it was the eight races in which point distribution was equal: 25 points for the win, 18 for 2nd, 15 for 3rd and working down to 1 point for 10th…following the Formula One point format essentially. No bias on Monument races versus regular World Tour race versus 1.HC race; just a table to see who the most consistent cobbled performer was in 2016. I bet you’ve a fair idea who it was…

Final Cobbled Classic league table after 7 races:

1. Peter Sagan, 92 pts (2x 1st, 2x 2nd, 1x 7th)

2. Sep Vanmarcke, 49 pts (1x 2nd, 1x 3rd, 1x 4th, 1x 8th)

3. Fabian Cancellara, 42 pts (2x 4th, 1x 2nd)

4. Jasper Stuyven, 37 pts (1x 1st, 1x 5th, 1x 9th)

5. Edward Theuns, 25 pts (1x 3rd, 1x 4th, 2x 8th)

6. Jens Debusschere, 33 pts (1x 1st, 1x 6th)

T7. Alexander Kristoff, 30 pts (1x 2nd, 1x 4th)

T7. Ian Stannard, 30 pts (2x 3rd)

9. Greg Van Avermaet, 27 pts (1x 1st, 1x 8th)

10. Michal Kwiatkowski, 25 pts (1x 1st)

It’s been fun following this so I figure I might as well keep it going in a separate table tracking the spring classics as a whole. I’ll add in the already completed Strade Bianche and Milan-San Remo and then continue with the four final hilly classics: Brabantse Pijl, Amstel Gold, Flèche Wallonne and Liège–Bastogne–Liège.

Sagan, Vanmarcke, Cancellara et al. won’t be racing those and new names will arrive in to take the spotlight. Can any of them win enough to make an impact on the standings? If Alejandro Valverde has the kind of run in the Ardennes that he did last year then he might feature though I think the only one that might threaten Sagan on the top of the standings is Kwiatkowski (already on 25 points) if he shines big time in what’s to come.

And we don’t have to wait long to start finding out. Brabantse Pijl is Thursday.

Below is the standings with Strande and San Remo added:

1. Peter Sagan, 104 pts
2. Fabian Cancellara, 67 pts
3. Sep Vanmarcke, 49 pts
4. Greg Van Avermaet, 45 pts
5. Alexander Kristoff, 38 pts
6. Jasper Stuyven, 37 pts
7. Edward Theuns, 35 pts
8. Arnaud Demare, 35 pts
9. Jens Debusschere, 33 pts
10. Ian Stannard, 30 pts

The all-round talented Michal Kwiatkowski

“What a talent Kwiatkowski is. Younger than Sagan by several months, the Polish phenom has proven himself capable in single day races as well as Grand Tours and must surely be seen as the finest young talent in the sport right now.”

I wrote that paragraph in the days after Michal Kwiatkowski’s World Championship victory back in September 2014. His mega-talent was evident then and he’s done little to disappoint since. A consistent performer across an entire season, Kwiatkowski has shown an ability to finish high up in Grand Tours, week long stage races, hilly classics in the Ardennes, and cobbled classics in Flanders.

This past winter Kwiatkowski moved to Team Sky and many wondered what this would mean for his rounded ability under the strict stewardship of the Sky machine, but he hasn’t disappointed. High placings in early season Spanish races, three top 10s at the Tirreno-Adriatico, a superb attack at Milan-San Remo, and then over the Easter long weekend a superb victory on the cobbled roads of Flanders in the E3 Harelbeke in a two-up sprint against the much hyped Peter Sagan. The pair got clear on a climb with 30km left, worked together to distance a pack of select favourites and contested a sprint in which Kwiatkowski comfortably won when he caught Sagan napping in the lead-out position.

But that hype of which I speak of that surrounds Sagan and which seen him as the outright favourite in their two-up sprint before it began, deserves all the hype he gets. He puts himself in a position to win almost every time he races a bicycle and he is, of course, the reigning World Champion, but when you look at how easily Kwiatkowski beat him on Saturday, you cannot help but wonder why the Pole isn’t himself considered the most complete rider in the sport?

Consider it: How many riders will enter the Tour of Flanders next week and Liège-Bastogne-Liège in the Ardennes next month with designs on winning them both, then later look with GC ambitions to week long stage races and later go to the Tour de France in service of Chris Froome in the high mountains with the potential of a high placing overall?

I’ll tell you: None.

To be fair to Sagan, either man deserves the honour of the most complete rider. Sagan’s palmares tells you all you need to know and as far as top placings go, is all but unmatched in the sport today. He featured in the top 5 in about half the stages in last years Tour de France, and he easily won the Green jersey again; he finished last year winning the World Championship, and this season had finished 2nd at the Omloop and E3 with a 4th at the Strade Bianche before getting back to winning ways in Sunday’s Gent-Wevelgem, a race from which Kwiatkowski was absent. That’s his second victory in GW to go with a previous cobbled classic win at E3 in 2014.

But look too at Kwiatkowski, the man who supposedly shocked the odds in that two-up sprint on Friday: He won Strade Bianche in 2014 and also took a World Championship the same year; he was also 3rd in Fleche Wallonne and Liège–Bastogne–Liège that season and 1st in the Amstel Gold the following year. He has previously finished 2nd overall at Paris-Nice and 4th at Tirreno Adriatico, and he has even placed 11th overall in the Tour de France.

At the age of 25, Kwiatkowski has shown his huge versatility as a rider and the E3 win on the cobbles only affirmed how far that versatility stretches.

Of course, like Sagan, neither man has a Monument classic to his name and both now will be hoping to set that straight next weekend. Beyond that Sagan will go for Paris-Roubaix while Kwiatkowski, who will miss the Hell of the North, will make a run at the hillier Liège–Bastogne–Liège in the Ardennes.

Rider of the week

Some might be surprised to hear that I haven’t gone with Peter Sagan after his Gent-Wevelgem win and 2nd place at E3, nor the E3 winner Michal Kwiatkowski, who I have just spent several paragraphs above in praise of, but rather with Thibaut Pinot. The Frenchman won the overall at the three stage Criterium International and did so by winning the time-trial and the mountain stages in dominant fashion. No the Critermium International didn’t have the depth of field that the two classic races had, but nor has Pinot been considered much of a man against the clock before this season. The young Frenchman is showing excellent early season form. Cue the French hyperbole machine!