Tag Archives: Gent-Wevelgem

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!

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Sagan’s Spring, episode 1: Sagan primed for greatness

If the talent of Peter Sagan wasn’t fully understood before this past couple of weeks, then worry no more. The way the young 23-year old Slovakian cyclist has ripped up the early part of the season has been nothing short of astonishing, leaving the likes of Mark Cavendish to refer to him as a “machine” and others to draw comparisons to the great Eddy Merckx.

That might be getting ahead of ourselves somewhat, though maybe not as much as you might think and it’s something I’ll look into further in a future article. Suffice to say though he’s the finest young talent in cycling today and despite being beaten into second in both Monument Classics so far, it’s the style in which he’s tried to win and how he’s featured in every big race he’s been involved in that’s made him the man of Spring thus far.

At 23 the future sure is bright and Fabian Cancellara aside, he might well be the most feared man in the professional peloton right now. Gerald Ciolek pipping him to the line at the Milan – San Remo a few weeks ago may hint at slight tactical naivety, but even in that loss he showed how good he can be. He attacked on the final climb — The Poggio — and descended away from the field bringing with him just a small selection of riders. The rest made him do the bulk of the work and took turns trying to attack him, letting him bring it back together each time. In the sprint in which he should have been favorite, he was forced to start it earlier than he might otherwise have done, and it cost him on the line.

But he’ll learn from it.

Indeed, at Gent-Wevelgem he got across to the leading break and rather than let them follow his wheel and try attack him ahead of a sprint he was favourite to win, he decided to attack them first, leaving them all for dead with 4km to go, riding alone to a victory that seen him wheelie over the line.

It’s that expression of love for riding the bike as seen in his aggressive style, not to mention his endless collection of entertaining celebrations when he wins, that endears him to cycling fans. In an era in which many athletes across the broad spectrum of sports are too well PR trained, too well paid to the point that the money can become their focus, and too far above the fans to give them the time of day, young Sagan looks like someone naively in love with the sport who enjoys entertaining us. Long may that playful innocence continue and to hell with the pompous few who feel offended by it.

Two days later Sagan was back on his bike in the Tour de Panne, a race he was calling — to the dismay of his rivals, I’d imagine — a “training ride” for the Tour of Flanders. That is, you see, if training rides result in you beating up on your opponents once again? He went on the attack with 20 kilometers to go on the final climb and then won the sprint from a small group of ten that he had dragged clear. A day later he sat up allowing the leaders jersey to pass onto the shoulders of Arnaud Demare as Mark Cavendish took the bunch gallop meaning he could withdraw from the race without doing so as race leader. Alexander Kristoff and Sylvain Chavanel went on to win the split stages on day three with Chavanel taking the overall.

We were heading into the final day of March and Sagan had already notched up seven wins on the season. He was the man to beat for Sunday’s Ronde van Vlaanderen, that much was certain.

Boonen back to his best in what is clearly his favourite race

The Gent-Wevelgem, also known as the Tom Boonen classic, took place this weekend. One of cycling’s popular spring classic races taking place in the heartland of cycling — Belgium — the race is a big notch on any good cyclists resume. Former cyclist turned cocaine sniffing party boy, turned cyclist again, Tom Boonen, took the win for the second year in-a-row and third time in all. It was his seventh race win of the season for a man really looking like he is back to his best. He out sprinted a group of 13 men including Peter Sagan, Oscar Freire, Edvald Boasson Hagen and Fabian Cancellara to take the glory, or at least that’s how the result sheet suggests it was won.

I sadly didn’t get to see it myself as I had hoped. Time and other stuff didn’t allow for it which is a shame because I’d have liked to have seen the video shots of Gent, a beautiful city that I’ve spent a good bit of time in over the years and of which i have many fond memories.

2012 Olympic Champion, Mark Cavendish missed the break and could only finish in the large second pack in which he didn’t feel there was any pride to be gained by sprinting for 37th place.

“I’ve found back my sprint,” cheered Boonen after the race. “I’m not the fastest man in the peloton — that’s probably Mark Cavendish — but if everybody is tired then I’m one of the best.” And Boonen makes a good point. It’s only worth being the fastest man on the planet if you’re at the stage of the race were being the fastest is most important. Granted, Cavendish often is, especially on those flat stages or in last years World Championship and British hopes are being pinned heavily on him being in the mix with 200 meters to go at the upcoming Olympics.

The Olympics though isn’t an out and out flat course however and that’ll be Cavs biggest challenge. There’s been talk that one day the man from the Isle of Man will one day amend his racing style to become more a classics rider and perhaps hang in over some of the tough climbs to put himself in contention by the finish, but right now he’s going to have to find a way to stick in there in the Olympic race in a way he couldn’t at Gent-Wevelgem.

Still, a big win for Boonen in what is becoming a big season for the Belgian. With three of the big Monuments just around the corner in the Tour of Flanders, the Paris-Roubaix and the Liège-Bastogne-Liège Boonen must surely be a favourite to win at least one of those.

Evans in yellow again

Following last years Tour de France it is clear that Cadel Evans is getting used to wearing a yellow jersey and holding a cuddly toy upon a podium. The defending Tour champion won the Critérium International by eight seconds over Pierrick Fedrigo and fellow countryman Michael Rogers, spelling out the Australian’s good form heading through spring. Given the nature of the 2012 Tour de France Evans will be confident about retaining his title, and wearing the Maillot Jaune on the top step here will only remind him of the pleasure.

A tip of the hat to Albasini

A tip of the hat to Swissman Michael Albasini who came from relative obscurity to take Green Edge’s first ever overall victory by winning the seven stages of the Volta a Catalunya. He thumped second place man Samuel Sanchez by a good 1-30 to take the general classification as other such cycling hero’s Daniel Martin, Damiano Cunego, Denis Menchov and Tom Danielson could only battle it out for third place from which they all finished on the same time, 1-32 behind Albasini.